Banshee in the Basement

By Ed Staskus

   “You’ve got to help me Ollie,” Tommy One Shoe said.

   Tommy always wore two shoes, but the one time he didn’t was in public, and after that he became near far and wide the One Shoe boy.

   “What’s the matter?” Oliver asked throwing himself on Tommy’s bed.

   Tommy lived in the same development in Perry, Ohio as Oliver did. They were practically best friends. They rode pedal power go karts together on the empty development streets all the time.

   “I was drawing monsters last week and now one of them has come to life,” Tommy said.

   “Oh, that’s not good. Can you show me the drawing?”

   Tommy brought a legal pad to the bed and threw himself down next to Oliver. He flipped to the second-last page. There was Balor of the Evil Eye, the headless Dullahan, and the three-headed Ellen Trehend. The space next to Evil Eye Balor was empty.

   “Are you Irish?”

   “My granny is Irish. She lives with us in the basement. My dad put a kitchen and a bathroom down there. She’s got her own sitting room and bedroom. She never has to leave if she doesn’t want to. She can hardly walk so she stays in the basement most of the time, anyway.”

   “That’s too bad.”

   “Yeah.”

   “Which one came to life?”

   “The Banshee. After she wasn’t on the paper anymore, I started hearing noises in the basement at night. Mom and dad said they haven’t heard anything, but they both sleep like logs. My sister snores and only ever hears her own snoring. When I asked granny, she just grumbled and said she hasn’t heard a thing.”

   “What kind of a noise is it?”

   “It’s like crying.”

   “Is it crying or more like wailing?”

   “What’s wailing?”

   “It’s like really bad crying, like if you cut your finger off by accident.”

   “It’s more like that.”

   “That’s a Banshee, for sure,” Oliver said. “Thank goodness it’s not the Babadook.”

   Banshees are fairy women who keen shriek and wail, most of the time because they know somebody in the family is going to die. They have long streaming hair and wear dark cloaks and green dresses. Sometimes they are young and sometimes they are old. Sometimes they are tall. Other times they are short.

   “Was your Banshee tall or short?”

   “She was short, about half the size of Evil Eye.”

   “Then she’s the older kind of Banshee,” Oliver said. “Was she outside under a full moon?”

   “Yes, how did you know?”

   Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. He made it his business to know everything about monsters. He knew if the Banshee was short and wailing at night under a full moon it meant certain death to somebody in Tommy One Shoe’s family. The cry of the banshee is sad and mournful beyond all other sounds.

   “Does the crying make you feel like a funeral?”

   “Just like that,” Tommy said.

    How are your mom and dad doing?”

   “Good.”

   “No problems?”

   “No, except they are always watching gruesome shows on the TV.” 

   “How about your sister?”

   “All she ever does is ask mom and dad when she can start dating.”

   “How about your grandma?”

   “She’s always saying most her friends are dead, and she just wants to die, too.”

   “When did your grandpa die?”

   “Last winter. That’s the funeral I went to. It was the coldest day ever. They had something like a wedding reception tent over the grave, except they lowered the flaps to keep the icy wind off us. We all squeezed in like sardines. I thought I was going to get freezer burn.”

   “When’s the best time to talk to your grandma?”

   “Anytime except daytime. She’s always watching masses on TV, if she’s not napping, which she does a whole lot of. Mom and dad are going out to dinner tomorrow and my sister will probably sneak out on a top-secret date.”

   “All right, I’ll walk over tomorrow after dinner.”

   The next day Oliver and Tommy tiptoed down to the basement. Tommy’s grandma Orla was playing solitaire at her reading knitting crossword puzzle table. There were stacks of Sudoku number puzzle paperbacks under the table. Oliver pegged her at close to a thousand years old.

   “How old is she?” he whispered asking Tommy.

   “She says she 94, but she’s been saying that for as long as I can remember.”

   “Who are you two?” she asked.

   “I’m your grandson”

   “Who’s he?”

   “That’s my friend Oliver.”

   “Where are we?”

   “We’re at your house.”

   “How long have I been here?”

   “Ever since grandpa got sick three years ago.”

   “Who’s grandpa?”

   “Her memory is bad,” Tommy said to Oliver.

   She was trimming her fingernails with a pair of scissors. 

   “My thinking has gone bad. I never thought I would get as wacky as I’ve become,” the old woman said. 

   When she stood up to make tea she couldn’t straighten up, remaining hunched over. She shuffled to the stove, one hand always on something, the back of a chair, the countertop, or a wall, for balance. The teacup wobbled in her hand coming back to the table. She didn’t spill a drop though, having filled the cup only to the half.

   “I wish my husband was here, but he went somewhere,” Orla said. “He hasn’t come back yet. I’ve been waiting for him.”

   Neither Tommy nor Oliver knew what to say. Neither of them wanted to say her husband was dead and gone. Neither wanted to be the first to say he was never coming back.

   “Have you heard any crying in the middle of the night?” Oliver asked.

   “I never cry,” Orla said.

   “I meant somebody else crying.”

   “I’m dead to the world when I sleep,” she said.

   “Granny, we think there’s a Banshee on the loose down here,” Tommy said.

   “That would be bad,” she said.

   “Where were you born?” Oliver asked.

   “I’m from Gortnadeeve, not far from Keeloges Bog.”

   “Did you ever fall into the bog?”

   “No, mum always warned us to stay away from it. We lived on a lovely farm, and I stayed on the farm, but pa and my older brother were killed after the Rising, and we had to come to America.”

   “When was that, what year?” 

   “Let’s see, I would have been nine or ten, so maybe 1930.”

   “So, you’re not 106 years old?”

   “No, not yet my boy.”

    Banshees don’t bring death but warn that death is near. It gives the family a chance to prepare. Oliver knew it was going to be a family member and it seemed most likely to be Orla, who was about a hundred years old. However, she wasn’t the fateful 106 years old yet. That was when Banshees were always right.

   “Can we come back tomorrow?” Oliver asked. “I think I know a way to banish the Banshee.”

   “Of course.”

   The next evening after dinner Oliver knocked on Tommy’s front door and they went down to the basement. Oliver had a knapsack and his older sister Emma’s jackknife. Orla made tea and the three of them sat at the round table. Oliver mixed rosemary, sage, oregano, coriander, his green tea, yarrow powder, and a handful of chicken bones in a bowl.

   “I need some of your blood,” he said to Orla.

   “Don’t take too much,” she said.

   Oliver made a cut on the tip of her right index finger with the jackknife and squeezed three drops of blood into the bowl. He stirred the goop and waited. Orla and Tommy waited. Nothing happened. Suddenly a blinding blue light streamed out of the bowl and flew in circles. A terrible wailing tore the heart out of the room. A banshee appeared, struggling, and in a flash was gone right through the closed door up the stairs and out of the house. The next second all was quiet in the basement

   “I think I need a good stiff snort of John Barleycorn,” Orla said reaching for the cabinet door behind her.

  “Granny!” Tommy exclaimed.

   “Save your breath to cool your soup,” Oliver said.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”