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WITCH GRANNIES

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The Case of the Lonely Banshee

 

By Gary J Byrnes


Published by Gary J Byrnes, 2011.

Copyright Gary J Byrnes, 2011.

 

The right of Gary J Byrnes to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright & Related Rights Act, 2000. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

 

http://www.WitchGrannies.com

 

This book is available in print at most online retailers.

 

Also available: Witch Grannies - The Case of the Evil Schoolmaster

 


Acknowledgements

For my wife, Bernadette. Thank you for your love, encouragement and inspiration. Special thanks also to Tara, Eden and Mylie Rose for their love of bedtime tales. A big shout out to Mary and Suzanne. And thank you, dear reader, for picking up this story. I hope that you really enjoy it. Now turn the page and into the night with you…

 

 


Witch Grannies

The Case of the Lonely Banshee

By Gary J Byrnes

2011

 

 

CHAPTER 1. THE WIND IN HER HAIR

 

They flew across the deep night sky, Emily holding tight to her granny as the broomstick rose and fell.

‘A bit of clear air turbulence, darlin’. Nothing to worry about,’ said Granny Annie over her shoulder.

‘You okay, love?’ asked Granny Smith, zooming in close.

‘This is great!’ cried Emily. ‘I missed you both so much.’

The air was clear and crisp, not a cloud in sight. Away I the distance, a cool moon shone, the stars glistened, the night birds shrieked. Emily wanted to ask her grannies why they’d come for her in the middle of the night, why they’d taken her from her bedroom and away into the sky. But she knew they’d only say ‘All in good time’ or something like that. So she didn’t ask. She just enjoyed the trip.

After a time - which could’ve been a minute, could’ve been an hour – a ribbon of glistening silver appeared against the grey landscape far below. The moon caused it to shine dully and Emily knew it must be the River Shannon. They were nearly home. The broomsticks began to slowly descend. Emily’s ears popped, so she worked her jaw up and down and that made it better.

As they got lower, Emily began to make out shapes in the landscape. A big oak tree here, a house on a hillside there, little lights glowing in a farmyard, a car driving along a dark country lane.

Then they swooped down to the river, barely skimming above its smooth surface. Vast volumes of cold water flowed. Bats, hunting for moths, made way for the broomsticks and their passengers. Emily felt her granny tensing, noted that both witches seemed to be watching the river intently, scanning the depths as if with some kind of X-ray vision.

‘Nothing,’ said Granny Annie.

‘Let’s get home,’ said Granny Smith. ‘Then we’ll tell you all about it, Emily.’

The sun crept over the horizon to the east, back where Emily lived. Rushing pinks and oranges bled across the sky and the dark shapes along the river showed their greens and browns.

As they landed at the front door to the grannies’ cottage, a cock crowed at Farmer Blue’s down the road. Granny Smith opened the front door and the smell of freshly baked brown bread wafted out.

‘Home,’ thought Emily.


 

 

CHAPTER 2. MONSTER

 

She darted towards some reeds, all green and wet and flowing. The shadow of the monster loomed behind. Not enough shelter, it’s coming! There, some rocks. The sun shone cruelly, its beams dappling the floor, failing to penetrate the deep shadows between the rocks. A cave, that’s it!

She paused and took breath. The monster circled nearby, prepared to mount the final assault. An invisible cloud passed before the sun and the scene was cast into a murky greyness. Her chance!

She tasted, she breathed, she bolted. With a flash of silver she was in the rocks, then squeezing, pushing between them and into a little cave, black as night, sweet as spring.

The monster came near, so she shrank back, pushed against the smooth rocks, quartz glinting for those who could see it. The monster seemed confused, probing this way and that, rumbling displeasure. She believed that she could taste its breath.

After a time, the monster was distracted by another prey. A shrimp bumbled across the riverbed, oblivious to the nearby drama. So the dragonfly nymph coiled, positioned the ambush.

And the young salmon watched it all, tasting, tasting, always tasting. The fear now succumbing to the tasting and the place and the need to find food.

The dragonfly nymph pounced in a cloud of gravel, its jaws reaching out and lancing through the shrimp. The poor thing didn’t stand a chance. But the baby salmon took her opportunity and escaped.

She met a brother fish, born in the same week, just as scared and tiny. They chatted for a time. Then he wished her well and left, seeking a fresh hiding place.

And over the months that followed, she grew strong and beautiful, commanded the river like a silver missile, fearing nothing but the sleek otters and the humans with their temptations and the strange spirit who lived under the riverbed.


 

 

CHAPTER 3. BREAKFAST

 

Emily sat at the kitchen table and drank tea from a huge, steaming mug. The brown bread tasted as good as it smelled and the butter melted all over her fingers, so she licked them clean.

‘Goodness!’ she exclaimed. ‘I forgot to say hello to the table!’

She wiped her fingers on her shirt and went out to the dining room and the huge talking table, the only piece of furniture that she would ever call friend. She spread her arms across its surface, hugged it as best she could, rubbed her cheek against its knotty, smooth surface.

‘Nice to see you again, Emily,’ said the table. ‘Where’s your little brother?’

‘Malcolm’s at home. Good question, though. Granny!’

Both Emily’s grannies appeared. ‘Yes darling?’ they chimed in unison.

‘Why didn’t you bring Malcolm? And what will mum do when I’m gone. She’ll think I was abducted or something.’

‘Calm down, dearie,’ said Granny Smith. ‘We left a clone in your place. Your mam won’t spot a thing.’

‘It’s a lovely spell,’ said Granny Annie.

‘A lovely spell,’ agreed Granny Smith.

‘Great,’ said Emily, ‘a soulless zombie fills in for me and nobody notices.’

‘Just your parents and other grown-ups, dearie,’ said Granny Annie. ‘Only those who are lost in the Fog of Adulthood won’t twig. Malcolm or any of your good friends won’t be fooled.’

‘What then?’

‘When Malcolm calls, we’ll fill him in.’

Emily’s phone chimed.

‘It’s Malcolm,’ she said. ‘He’s pretty sharp. For a boy.’

‘Tell him the truth,’ said Granny Annie.

So she did.

‘He wants to know when he can come,’ said Emily.

Granny Smith sighed. Granny Annie muttered under her breath.

‘Tell him we’ll call him tonight. When we know more. For now, tell him to keep an eye on your mam,’ said Granny Smith.

So she did.

‘He’s not happy,’ Emily said, snapping her phone shut, as if it were castanets.

‘Olé,’ said her grannies, together.

‘Is my mum in trouble?’ asked Emily worriedly, the joke having passed over her head.

Her grannies exchanged worried looks.

‘Let’s sit down, dearie. The four of us can have a little chat about why you’re here.’

Suddenly, Emily’s sense of adventure and excitement vanished. It was replaced by a creeping fear.


 

 

CHAPTER 4. WHAT EMILY LEARNED ABOUT THE BANSHEE

 

So they sat at the table, Emily’s hand absentmindedly stroking its shiny surface. The table purred, but nobody, witch nor human, could hear it.

‘It started just a little while after all that evil schoolmaster malarkey,’ said Granny Annie. ‘You know about banshees, don’t you?’

The hairs on the back of Emily’s neck stood up. ‘I’ve heard of banshees,’ she said. ‘They’re some kind of ghosts, aren’t they?’

‘It’s a bit more complicated than that. The banshee, or wailing woman, is part of our lore here in Ireland. She can appear as a beautiful woman or an old hag. Her cries can be heard on certain nights and they strike fear into the hearts of mortals, for those cries foretell a death. In the long ago past, the banshee’s cries were reserved for five great Irish families: the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys and the Kavanaghs. It seems that it’s the O’Brien name that’s important here, what with O’Brien’s Bridge just up the river and, sure, wasn’t this whole area the homeland of Brian Boru, the first and last true king of Ireland? And that’s where the name comes from.’

Emily shivered. ‘Do you mean?’

‘Yes, Emily. We have a banshee.’

Emily’s mouth went dry. She put her mug to her mouth but it was empty. Granny Annie took it gently from her fingers and went to the kitchen for a fresh drop of tea, while Granny Smith continued.

‘Banshees are lonely spirits, Emily. They’re not like us witches, not at all sociable or interested in helping others. They have a kind of emptiness deep inside and, we believe, they try to fill that emptiness by luring other souls to them.’

‘Edna?’

‘We fear that Edna may have gone to her, to offer some kindness.’

Granny Annie returned with Emily’s tea, which Emily gulped so that she scalded the roof of her mouth.

‘Poor Edna.’

‘We must find her, child. We must.’

‘Have there been any other disappearances?’

‘A local man went missing a week ago. It’s said he was down fishing for salmon in the middle of the night. He never came home. His gear was found on the bank down by the footbridge. They reckon he was drowned, his body swept out to sea. We think the banshee has him.’

‘Will the banshee hurt them?’

‘We don’t think so,’ said Granny Smith. ‘The banshee has always been seen as a passive force. She never killed, it’s just that she was aware of the future and expressed her sadness at what she saw. Banshees are magical creatures, often associated with fairy rings and water. So this is the perfect place for her.’

‘Has she always been here?’

‘A good question. Probably.’

‘Have you heard her?’

‘Yes. These last nights have been full of her cries. You’ll hear her. I’d bet on that.’

‘I wonder what’s made her, you know, come out again?’

‘If we can answer that, maybe we can solve the case of the lonely banshee.’

‘I need a map,’ said Emily. ‘We need to identify where all the fairy rings are. That’s the best way to start. We also need to check out the missing persons records, if there are any. Maybe this banshee has been collecting souls for a good while. Are there any O’Briens still living in Castleconnell?’

‘There’s an odd man just out the road.’

‘We need to talk to him as well. Do you know him?’

‘Keeps himself to himself. His family’s always been like that. A bad sort, I’d say.’

Emily frowned.

‘Let’s call a meeting of the coven,’ she said. ‘Tonight!’


 

 

CHAPTER 5. THE GATHERING

 

Emily cranked up the computer – literally, with a little wind-up handle on the side - and sent out the w-mails inviting all the local coven around. There was an autoreply from Edna’s mailbox – ‘The intended recipient of this email has mysteriously disappeared.’ Everybody else got their’s.

There was a ton of stuff to be done and, without some magic, it’s doubtful that they would have been prepared for the sudden arrival of a dozen or so witches. Emily flew into town with Granny Smith in the old stationwagon that ran on magic petrol, a million miles to the gallon, with zero emissions.

Emily asked ‘Granny, why don’t you put your magic petrol on the market? You’d save people fortunes and save the planet as well! You’d probably make billions.’

‘It wouldn’t work, darlin’. People don’t believe in magic any more. This car is only working for us because we believe in it.’

The lush countryside blurred past. Yes, the car was definitely moving. The day was overcast, with a drizzle that got in your hair. The car was lovely and warm and dry and the old radio played a song by Buddy Holly and they sang along. Even though she’d never even heard of Buddy Holly before, Emily knew all the words.

Emily decided that she would try to make everyone believe in magic again. But not today. It was more of a long-term plan.

They shuddered to a stop outside the village shop and the rain stopped. They went in with a shopping list as long as a snake and filled their canvas shopping bags with Limerick hams, loaves of doorstop bread, butter from the local creamery, tea from India, more hams and a little bottle of sherry for after the sandwiches.

Emily got her choice from the jars of multicoloured sweets and opted for a mixed quarter pound of pear drops and bull’s eyes. She had a pear drop first, while Granny Annie had a good long chat with the nice lady behind the counter. Then a bull’s eye on the way home.

Lots had been done and the house was looking shipshape so they got stuck in to making the sandwiches. When the last slice of bread had been buttered and the last slice of ham placed on top, the doorknocker knocked and the guests arrived, all at once. Emily made the tea, then helped get everyone settled. They ate and drank their fill. Then Granny Annie stood up and cleared her throat to speak. As she opened her mouth, the night was filled with the cries of the banshee.


 

 

CHAPTER 6. A CRY IN THE NIGHT

 

The night was grey and wet. The wet leaves underfoot barely troubled the banshee as she seemed to float up the boreen. She would stop every few paces and smell the air. Then she would fumble in the folds of her cloak and bring out a silver comb. She would run the comb through her long hair. Then she would put the comb away, move forward a few paces then stop, sniff, comb.

She made her way towards the little cottage, all its lights on. People, souls, gathered outside, their laughter carried to her, making her feel oddly sad inside.

She got closer still and hid in a clump of blackberry bushes, just a few paces away from the house. The women stood around outside, chatting and laughing. Witches. The banshee knew that they could help her.

So she waited until they had all gone inside. Then she brushed her hair one last time, gazed at her comb, her favourite comb, with feeling. Then she threw it towards the house and it landed half in a  puddle. There was no moon out, but still the comb glistened, as though lit from within.

Then she drew back from the house, a good bit back down the laneway. She stopped and bent forward. Then she rose back, filled her lungs with the moist night air. Then she left out a wail that would wake the dead.

Everybody in the house froze.

‘She’s right outside,’ exclaimed Emily, jumping up. ‘Well, come on!’

They were up in a flash, all swirling capes, spilt tea and colourful language.

Granny Smith barked out orders, sending witches in all directions. Emily spotted a silvery glint in a puddle. ‘And don’t touch any combs!’ was the last thing Granny Smith said.

‘Too late,’ said Emily, as she held the banshee’s comb, felt a powerful urge to run it through her own hair.

There was not a sniff of the banshee anywhere. The witches went up and down the laneway, around the back of the house, into all the surrounding fields. Granny Annie even got on to the All-Seeing Eye and asked her to turn on her banshee detector, train it on the cottage.

The banshee had vanished into thin air, leaving just her comb behind. Emily cradled the comb in her hands, bewitched by its lustre and beauty.

‘Don’t touch it too much,’ said the witches, who couldn’t take their eyes off it.

‘We’ll have to keep a close eye on this one’ said Granny Annie, nodding at Emily. ‘She’ll be off before the break of dawn. Mark my words. We’ll have to take it in shifts.’

‘Where will I be off to?’ asked Emily.

‘The touch of the comb is all it takes. Now you’ll be drawn to her lair and that’s that. Unless we put a protective spell on you. Only…’

‘Only what?’

‘The whole thing about the banshee’s cry foretelling a death. I just hope…’

They all looked a bit downcast then.

‘Are you joking me?’ said Emily incredulously. ‘Are you telling me that this coven doesn’t have the power to match one silly old woman? I don’t believe that for a second. Don’t bother with your spell to protect me. Let’s just play her game for a while. If I’m going to be drawn to her, isn’t that the best way to find her lair? Rescue Edna?’

‘She’s right,’ said Granny Smith to the group. ‘It’s our best chance. I’m only worried about you, child. We don’t want to lose you.’

Emily held the comb, rubbed its smooth and mysteriously gleaming edges. Something caught her eye.

‘I think the banshee has left us a clue,’ she said, as she pulled a grey hair from the comb. ‘Did ye ever watch CSI?’

The witches shrugged. They never watched TV – the picture was too flat and lifeless for their eyes.

‘Crime Scene Investigation,’ explained Emily. ‘My parents watch it. I’m not allowed. But I know that it’s about these American investigators with ultraviolet lights and electron microscopes and that. But basically you can get a lot of information from a single hair. Can the All-Seeing Eye analyse DNA?’

‘There’s only one way to find out,’ smiled Granny Smith. ‘Let’s go.’

 

The car roared down the familiar, bumpy lane to the All-Seeing Eye’s mountain top lair. Guard trees jumped out of their way, waving mighty branches as they zoomed by. Emily sat up front with her Granny, while four more witches crammed in the back, the last curled up in the rear of the stationwagon where the cats normally travelled. Because they were all so worried about Emily, three more witches flew behind the car. The last of the coven stayed back at the cottage, worrying and looking things up on the WWWW – the Witches’ World Wide Web.

When Emily’s crew arrived at the top of the mountain, the All-Seeing Eye was waiting for them. She looked utterly beautiful, as usual.

‘I’ve been expecting you,’ she said.

Well, we did ring you, thought Emily.

‘Emily,’ said the All-Seeing Eye, ‘you look absolutely fabulous, darling. You are, as they say, blossoming into a stunning young lady.’

Emily blushed, she wasn’t used to such direct compliments.

‘Thank you,’ she said, as it is the correct manners to accept a compliment graciously. Anyway, Emily really was blossoming into a stunning young lady and she kind of knew this, so it was great to hear it.

She winked. ‘You want to come and see my banshee detector?’

‘Did you spot anything?’

‘Come on girls!’

And the whole gang trooped up the spiral staircase, one witch staying down at the front door, just in case.

Up on the viewing platform, hidden by a permanent layer of cloud from the ground below, a new device had been brought out on the gleaming brass rail. It was like a giant, golden hairdryer.

‘They’re mad about their hair, those banshees’ said the All-Seeing Eye, shaking her head.

The detector was trained on the River Shannon. Emily had the first look through its viewing lens. As she pressed her eye against it, she felt the detector’s humming, felt a breeze on her face.

‘It works like a reverse hairdryer,’ explained the All-Seeing Eye. ‘It sucks in the air and picks up on banshee activity. The banshee’s scalp and hair are very powerful and fragments of it light up like fireworks. When ye rang me, I picked up a signal near the cottage and followed the trail back towards the river.

Emily saw the fireworks alright, bursts of them, coming from the one spot, seemingly in the middle of the river, just downstream from the footbridge across to Doonass in County Clare.

‘So this is banshee dandruff I’m looking at?’

‘Exactly. Good, isn’t it?’

Emily felt a shiver go down her spine. Everything was going weird. Deep inside her brain, she felt an urge. An urge to go there. To the river. Then she realised where she was and made herself focus on the job at hand.

‘We have a hair for you,’ said Emily.

The All-Seeing Eye seemed shocked.

She said ‘You have an actual banshee hair? Like, really?’

‘Like, really.’

‘Let’s see.’

Emily had placed the hair into a plastic bag, which she removed from her denim jacket pocket and opened carefully. The All-Seeing Eye peered into the bag. Even in the gentle moonlight, the hair gleamed like silver. As if it possessed some kind of a life force of its own.

‘A banshee hair,’ said the All-Seeing Eye, enthralled. ‘This is… incredible!’

Emily and the other witches brightened up considerably. This was progress.

‘So what can it tell us?’ asked Emily eagerly.

The All-Seeing Eye made a funny expression, said ‘That’s something I’m not too sure about. I’ll have to do some experiments. It’ll take the night, at least.’

Emily was disappointed, her shoulders slumping in unison with the other witches. The All-Seeing Eye took the plastic bag with the banshee hair and hurried off downstairs to her lab.

The urge came back over Emily. She could almost hear the river gurgling, smell its dampness, taste its wetness.

‘We have to get to the river,’ she said. ‘Come on, there isn’t much time.’