Chapter 1: Banshee
“A horrible decision, really.”
Tarka Price was daydreaming about nothing in particular until Scout’s remark brought her out of her reverie.
“This school trip is going to be a disaster, a horrible decision.” Scout was adamant on not going on this trip, for no real reason. Aya and Tarka exchanged a glance from across the table, mindful to avoid Scout’s gaze.
Tarka pushed her glasses up her freckled nose. “What could be so bad? At seventeen years of age and none of us have seen one. So why not now?”
“They freak me out. The thought of them freaks me out. I mean, being able to read someone’s aura? That’s some supernatural stuff that I don’t want to get into.” Scout shivered and grimaced, as if to back up her point.
Aya’s musical chirp interrupted, “They wouldn’t have organised this trip if they didn’t think it was safe, Scout. Just have faith in Mrs Weeks, she knows what she’s doing.”
The trio sat in comfortable silence after that, to avoid frustrating Scout further. The rain pounded against the tall glass paned windows in the classroom, the dim light offering nothing but some atmosphere. It illuminated the gaudy hand-made posters, and the weary bookshelves beneath them. Muffled footsteps padded around outside the door in the hallway, the only reminder that the girls weren’t alone in the school. The final bell had rung half an hour ago, yet none of them had bothered to move. In the ease of each other’s company, they could have talked for hours on end without realising time had passed. However, they all had plans and chores that needed doing that night.
As the rain continued to beat against the windows with the wind outside howling in earnest, the light began to fade to nothing outside. Each girl packed up their things, and mutually agreed to pick up the same topic tomorrow, on the way to the school trip which Scout so clearly despised. Tarka was last to leave the room, switching the lights of as she went, and ventured into the enveloping darkness of the isolated neighbourhood.
The town they lived in was small, but big enough to have a high school. There were few streetlights, a corner shop and post office, and a couple of charity shops. Nothing big, but it’s all they needed to get by. Tarka loved her little town, as quiet as it was, because it made her feel safe. Everyone in the town knew everyone, so there were no secrets, no conspiracies, only friendly faces. However, she did hate the lack of streetlamps. From the school to her house it was a half hour walk, but in this weather, it would take longer. Aya and Scout both lived the other way so they separated as soon as they left the school.
Alone and with only a handful of lights to see with, Tarka pulled her yellow raincoat against herself and tucked her chin into her chest. Her sight was blurred by the fat raindrops hitting her glasses, and she tried to wipe them away in vain. At night, it’s not the people you worry about, it’s everything else. Banshees, harpies, and wyverns. Especially wyverns. Over the past few years there have been relatively no incidents, other than a few missing crops and such. At night, however, it changes. The night is their environment, as the day belongs to the people. Anyone out at night is left at their own risk and it is recommended you go in pairs. However, Tarka had never had a problem with them before, so she wasn’t going to start now.
She soldiered on, headstrong against the wind, raindrops stinging her eyes. She’d only ever seen a harpy before, and even that was at a distance. When she was younger, on a hill overlooking her village, she was walking the family dog, a border collie named Sam. Just a dark, harrowing figure in the sky, with a beak big enough to tear an arm off. It took one fleeting glimpse at young Tarka and flew off, not looking back. Tarka was fascinated with such creatures since, but was mindful to keep her distance from them. Often, she’d get her binoculars, venture into the woods at the top of her lane, and go harpy-spotting with Aya. Scout was strictly against any of those creatures, for superstitious reasons. Unfortunately, she’d never been able to see another harpy since that first sighting.
Directly opposite her house now, the streetlamps beginning to turn off one by one, Tarka rushed to her door. A wave of relief washed over her, despite not being in any real danger, as she reached for the door handle. But as she did, she felt paralysed, with a pins and needles sensation all along her back and neck, her hairs standing on end. She felt like she was being watched. Not wanting to know what it was, she quickly hopped through the door and didn’t look back.
For the rest of the night, she couldn’t sleep. Her mind fixated on the feeling of her being watched. She wasn’t scared, as she wasn’t alone and shared a bedroom with the rest of her family; her parents, aunt, and younger brother. But mind wouldn’t rest. Reaching to her phone, the time was 3:02. Without thinking, she slipped out of bed and crept to the window, mindful to not wake anyone up.
Illuminated only by the moonlight, the street outside looked unfamiliar. The light reflected off the wet pavements, making it almost glow. But that’s not what Tarka focused on. With a deep dread and fear she felt deep in her chest, she saw a woman, facing her house, staring into nothingness. She was hunched over, face shaded by a hood, haggard hair trailed down each side of her face, robes weary and torn. The woman had noticed Tarka, and snapped her neck instantly to look her straight in the eye. Her hood fell back so her face was exposed, and Tarka was paralysed with fear. The woman’s eyes were red and bloodshot from what looked like crying, with a grotesquely wrinkled face to match. But that’s not what scared Tarka the most. The woman then opened her mouth and screamed, never breaking eye contact with Tarka. She shrieked so horrendously loud that it could be heard through the window, and woke everyone in the house up. Her brother, Kieran, was the first to be at Tarka’s side by the window.
“What was it, Tark?” He looked puzzled, staring onto the empty street below. The woman was gone, but the horrific image was burned into Tarka’s mind.
“There was a woman. She was old, and sad. She looked directly at me Kieran, and she shrieked. You heard that, right? I wasn’t imagining it?”
It was dad’s turn to speak, as he put a reassuring but shaky hand on my shoulder. “You didn’t imagine that, alright. What you just saw was a banshee. Which means someone is going to die.”