The Wicklow Hills (near Dublin, Ireland), the same night
The stately Georgian mansion stood wreathed in darkness. A storm cloud stroked a velvet-black finger across the moon, threatening rain. A flicker of lightening licked soundlessly over the sky and with it came the noise that Lady Catherine de Lacy was dreading.
A long, keening wail sliced through the quiet darkness like a cavalry sabre. The cry spoke of indescribable loss and untold sorrow. It had an unearthly pitch and rose to a terrifying crescendo then descended to an uncanny growl.
Lady de Lacy clasped the bedclothes to her.
"The Banshee!" she moaned.
She turned to her husband who lay beside her in the huge four poster bed. Lord Arthur de Lacy, his corpulent body stuffed full of after-dinner port and Stilton, lay sound asleep. His breath wheezed in and out in little snores. The strange wail reached into his slumber and to her dread his wife saw his face twitch with the first stirrings of awakening.
"Mmph?! Wassat?" the Lord mumbled.
A new terror gripped Lady Catherine. The doctor had issued a stark warning about the perilous state of her husband's heart. She dreaded to think what effect this ghastly visitation could have on him.
"Shush, dear." Lady Catherine stroked the silver-grey hair on her husband's temple, soothing him back into deep repose.
The terrible phenomenon had first occurred a week before, one night after the doctor's worrying pronouncement on the state of her husband's health. The awful keening began shortly after midnight and Lady de Lacy had known straight away what it was and just what it meant. Though born in Dorset, England, for the last thirty-five years since her marriage to Lord de Lacy she had lived in Ireland, and the servants had ensured she was well versed in the lore of the land. She knew all about the little people, the Pooka, the Dullahan and especially the Banshee, the ghastly female spirit whose wailing heralded imminent death for whatever noble family she haunted.
The morning after that first strange visitation, Lady de Lacy spoke of her experience to her husband as they sat at breakfast. Maria-their eighteen year old niece and ward-gasped in delighted teenage horror. Mrs Doran, the redoubtable old housekeeper who had just arrived with some fresh toast, crossed herself and muttered "Saints preserve us!"
With characteristic brusqueness, Lord de Lacy poo-pooed the idea.
"My dear," de Lacy set down the marmalade and peered across the breakfast table with a condescending smile, "The Banshee is nothing but superstitious nonsense popular among the natives here."
Mrs Doran tutted loudly. "I hope his Lordship doesn't have to learn the hard way to respect tradition," she said. "The Banshee's howl is a warning. Them for whom she calls had best make their peace with their Maker, for they will soon meet him!"
Lady de Lacy and Maria both let out little involuntary cries, but Lord de Lacy merely sighed and shook his head. "Even if there is such thing as the Banshee, I have no fear of it. The de Lacy family have lived here in this Castle for six-hundred years. We have our own messenger of impending doom. You know the history of my family, dear. From time immemorial, the traditional herald of the death of a de Lacy is the arrival of a black coach outside the door of the Castle at midnight."
The next night Lady de Lacy had lain awake long into the wee small hours, dreading the return of the awful screeching. Mercifully the howling had not come. Neither did it the following night and she began to suspect that her weird experience had been nothing more than a bad dream, invoked by too much cheese after dinner. On the third night she fell quickly into an exhausted sleep.
Shortly after midnight she had been torn from her slumber by the same horrific screech: A sound like a cross between a woman wailing and a baby crying. It rose and fell on the wind, somehow expressing a terrible sense of the utter desolation of bereavement and the loneliness that it brought for those left behind.
This time, to her terror, the sound was followed by the unmistakable sound of horses' hooves and the crunching rumble of carriage wheels coming up the gravel of the driveway to the castle.
Lady de Lacy had lain, petrified, listening in the darkness. Fear seized her throat and paralyzed her vocal chords. The sound of the carriage wheels could be heard turning around in front of the castle and to her relief began retreating once more back down the long, tree-lined driveway.
Emboldened, Lady de Lacy had got up and ran to the window. The scene outside was bathed in moonlight, but she could see no sign of a carriage or horses; Only the tree-lined driveway and the wide, expansive garden that lay before the house and stretched through trees and bushes into the extensive parkland that surrounded the Castle. A faint mist hugged the neatly coiffured Lawn. There was nothing else there. Lady de Lacy sighed with relief.
Then the sigh caught in her throat.
Below the window, walking across the garden, she could see the unmistakable figure of a woman. She wore a long, white gown and was walking away from the castle, her face concealed by a large, loose hood that was pulled up over her head. The sight sent a chill through Catherine de Lacy and somehow, instinctively, she knew that this was the being who had created the awful wailing. She was actually watching a Banshee, her message of doom delivered, crossing the lawn.
Frozen with dread, Lady de Lacy looked on as the figure in white drifted through the mist until it reached a gap between two hedges that led out into the parkland.
Then the figure simply vanished.
Lady de Lacy gasped. She blinked, but the woman was simply not there any more. One moment she had been, the next she was gone.
With a little shriek, Lady de Lacy fled back to the four-poster bed, pulled the curtains and ducked under the covers.
The next morning when she related the story her husband was less sceptical. This time Lord de Lacy visibly paled, though he still muttered about it all being a load of rubbish.
"I saw her Patrick! I saw the Banshee!" Lady de Lacy wailed. "She disappeared into thin air in the garden!"
Her husband looked vexed, but nevertheless he retorted "Now, Catherine. You must stop all this nonsense. This is nothing more than the conjurations of your nerves, combined with too rich a supper before bed."
His denials, however, lacked his customary certainty. Lord de Lacy seemed distracted through the rest of breakfast and soon afterwards announced suddenly that he had to go into Dublin.
Lady de Lacy spent a nervous day, on the one hand longing for the evening and her husband's return but on the other dreading the darkness and any further uncanny terrors it might bring.
Just before dark, Lord de Lacy returned. They ate a quiet dinner during which her husband pointedly avoided her questions as to what his business had been in the city. She watched in growing trepidation as her husband drank more claret than usual and after dinner sank most of the decanter of port. Finally, after a strained evening the moment she had been tk dreading arrived and they retired to bed.
Aided by what he had imbibed, her husband dropped off to sleep immediately. For Lady de Lacy sleep was impossible. She passed several woebegone hours; first reading, then-as the candle guttered out and the waiting darkness conquered the room, she simply lay in silent, expectant terror.
Now the sound she dreaded had returned. The Banshee's wail tore the night's stillness again and Lady de Lacy thought her heart would seize in her chest. She could bear it no more. Her terror overcame her desperate fear for her husband's weak heart and she gave him a hefty kick.
"Patrick! It's back. Listen!"
Lord de Lacy woke with a confused "Mwah?" and sat bolt upright. For a second he stared at his wife in a mixture of annoyance and anger, then he swung his considerable bulk, still clad in his linen nightshirt, out of bed. He was about to say something when the weird wail came a third time. This time, however, also came the unmistakable sound of horses' hooves, accompanied by the rattle of iron-rimmed wheels on gravel, echoing up the driveway outside.
A carriage was approaching the castle.
"Bloody Hell....." Lord de Lacy breathed.
"Patrick darling." Lady de Lacy whined. "it's the Banshee!"
From what she could see in the silver moonlight, Lord de Lacy looked genuinely worried. Then his usual character re-asserted itself and a look of annoyed resolve came over his face.
"Right," he said. "Let's sort this out once and for all."
With that, still wearing his nightgown and cap, he strode out of the bedroom.
Lady de Lacy ran after him, wringing her hands in worried terror.
"What are you going to do?" she squeaked.
"I'm going to find out what the hell is going on!" Lord de Lacy said.
"Oh please be careful dear. This is not good for your heart!" his wife begged as they swept down the darkened staircase and into the moonlit hall. Without hesitation, Lord de Lacy unlocked the heavy wooden front door of the castle and swung it open.
He stopped. A little gasp escaped the lips of his wife.
Outside the front door of the Castle stood a black coach. Four coal-black horses stood in its traces, impatiently stamping their feet. The windows of the coach seemed to be made of smoked glass, making it impossible to see inside. There was no sign of any driver. As they watched, the door of the carriage opened slowly and swung wide, as if in invitation for Lord de Lacy to enter. The interior of the carriage was black as pitch. Nothing could be discerned inside. An strange white fog rolled out from inside the coach and spilt into a pool onto the ground.
Lord de Lacy made as if to walk forward.
"No! Don't go in there," his wife implored, tears now streaking down her face.
Lord de Lacy stopped and clutched a hand to his chest, a wince of sudden pain creasing his face.Almost immediately the awful cry of the banshee split the night air again.