This is my second story. I'm not sure how to create a new page on the main wiki, but I'm posting it here to get some feedback on it first anyway. I don't like the title much either. Input welcome. Thanks!
We lock our doors at night and draw the shades. Maybe you do as well. For most people they close their curtains for privacy, to be good neighbors, but where I live, we have to.
I live near a small Irish-settled town of about 500 people called Trepassey. It's located on a southernmost peninsula on an island in the North Atlantic called Newfoundland. The town itself gets its name from the large number of shipwrecks that happened over the years in the icy waters along the coast. Many settlers headed for the new world, sailors, and fishermen have perished when their boats became trapped in the ice, run aground on the dangerously rocky shores, when arctic storms surge and smash ships against the sheer cliffs that plunge straight into the deep waters that ring this part of the island, or lost their way in the fog and were never heard from again. The name Trepassey itself is morbidly suited to this piece of rock in the Atlantic where so many have perished, as it means just that - 'many deaths'.
Facts like that make for some interesting trivia for the few tourists who venture this far. They come to see the small wharves and quaint fishing villages that dot the shores of the island. Irish families that have fished and hunted the same places for generations, carving out a living in the rugged north, and made it their home despite the cold long winters and harsh conditions. We sing old folk songs while serving up hearty traditional stews and fresh fish caught earlier that day. Many here still have an Irish-like accent despite having been separated from our motherland by hundreds of miles and hundreds of years. But singsong and recipes aren't the only things that the first to arrive here brought with them. Folklore, legends, and curses accompanied the Irish. Even today we still tell our children stories of woodland fairies and magical places, many of them having the purpose of imparting wisdom or lessons not to wander off, get too close to cliff edges, or play in the road. I look back in fondness at the stories my grandfather would tell us when we were little.
"Come my wee ones and listen well!" was how he always began.
I was close with my grandfather right up until the day he passed. I was the youngest of four children and my mother had me very late. Many people expected there to be complications, but by the grace of God, I came into the world a healthy young lad. My older siblings had grown up and gone off to seek their fortunes in the city, as had many of the younger families in the area. One-by-one they all left and the town has shrunk steadily over the years. Such is the sad fate of many of the remote fishing villages around Newfoundland still stuck in the turn of the century while the rest of the world has moved on.
With no one to keep an eye on me, I spent much of my time with my grandfather who taught me a lot of the useful knowledge I possess. A few years ago, my parents sold granddad's house and moved to St. John's, the nearest city and capital of the province, to be closer to the hospitals and conveniences of living near a larger city. I was ok with this because what I inherited was the place I really wanted and loved; my grandfather's cabin.
He had taken me up here many times and told me of the many superstitions the area held. Stories of the fairies in the pools and rivers nearby, woodland trolls, magical creatures that lived in burrows out on the bog, and tree elves that lived in the stunted windswept forests along the edges of the barrens. All the years I knew my grandfather, he also always kept an eye on the time. Every night at 10 pm, regardless of what my grandfather was doing, he would get up, draw the curtains and lock the front door. All the locals down in the nearby town also do the same. As a child, it had always just seemed part of the bedtime routine, and keeping a schedule with the passing of the sun was just part of being rural people. It wasn't until very late in his years however that he told me about the woman in the fog.
"Listen now to what I tells ya," he began, "few have ever heard or seen her, but she's been out there for as long back as the stories go. No one knows why her soul cannot rest. She brings the wind. The rain and fog follow her wherever she goes. Some say she's the grieving wife of a sailor who never returned, others say the daughter of a wealthy fishing merchant who died at sea near these shores. Some believe she came from Ireland haunting passengers aboard a ship crossing the sea. We pray for the dead, that their souls can be free from purgatory. We pray for an end to this too. Until then, lock the doors at night and cover the windows after it gets dark, and you'll live a long life, me son. She won't bother ya, and you'll be a happy man."
I did as my grandfather told me and I have lived happily out on the barrens near Trepassey for a few years now since his passing. The cabin was built by my great-great-grandfather over 100 years ago as a hunting and fishing cabin up in the wilderness along one of the large salmon rivers that eventually flow back into the bay. At the time there were no vehicles to get way out where the caribou herds were, so you needed a place to stay once you were far from the town. Even today, you need some serious boots to get out here, or an ATV in the summer and snowmobile in the winter. It's an old wooden cabin and we've improved and cared for it for that long time. We built a screened-in front porch for warm summer nights without being eaten alive by the mosquitos, installed a propane range for easier cooking, and a pump that runs off a generator draws water to a bathhouse to wash in. Wood is stacked behind the cabin in large piles and the old iron wood stove heats the place on cold winter nights just as well as it ever has.
On a clear day, you can see for miles in any direction, which is very good when hunting caribou or moose in the fall. The mossy green rocks, tufts of grass, and tuckamore bushes hide rabbits and partridge as well. Aside from fishing for a living, I also hunt in the fall and winter. In the warmer months, I plant small crops, nothing fancy, mostly root vegetables since even with help, not much else grows out here. Nature is so competitive over the small opportunities for growth on the barrens that some of the plant life here is carnivorous. The pitcher plant is bulb-shaped, almost like a hollow rose, but without a stem, instead, growing directly on the ground in small clusters. The center of each bulb is filled with liquid and black flies, seemingly the only other thing out here in abundance, go inside to drink and get stuck in the liquid. If you look inside, many have dead flies stuck down in the bottom and the plant digests the flies to obtain the nutrients that it cannot receive from the poor soil.
A lack of good soil is due in part to the fickle weather. As I mentioned before, arctic storms are fairly frequent, and thick fog can roll in off the ocean any day of the year, not only a danger to sailors and fishermen but to anyone out on the barrens where getting lost can mean wandering for days with no shelter from the wind and cold rain. But for an Irishman and Newfoundlander alike, a cold, rainy, foggy, and windy green expanse is exactly what we would call home. Additionally, being so far north the summer days are long but never get very warm. In the winter, the days grow short, barely getting light well into the morning as the sun swings low across the horizon before disappearing by late afternoon, leaving a completely dark sky. When the snow falls, the barrens become an endless expanse of white, smoke rising only from the chimney of my solitary cabin. Such conditions prohibit life from thriving and visitors from staying very long.
One morning in the mid-summer of this past year, I got up early with the sunrise as usual and checked the progress of the year harvest which was only a month or so away from being ready. Potatoes, turnip, carrots, and cabbage being the main staples that would last well into the winter months, but today was a special day. Every year around the beginning of August a unique golden-orange berry grows out on the barrens. Locally it's called a bakeapple, but also is sometimes called a cloudberry. These berries fetch a high price as they only grow for a few short days each year and there are only a couple of places in the whole world that they can be found. The largest number of which grow right here on the barrens of the Avalon on either side of Trepassey. I can make a whole month’s worth of pay in a few days picking these elusive berries, so I start early and pick late into the evening to make the most of it. If you've never had the pleasure of trying them, you might find them in a jam form, but like strawberry jam or blueberry jam, it is not the same as a ripe freshly picked berry. The taste is hard to explain, but it is somewhat like a sour raspberry mixed with an apricot. Few are so lucky to try them, so I don't know anyone else who might be able to better describe it.
Picking bakeapples is slow tedious work. Unlike other berries, they do not grow in clusters or bushes, but as a single berry on a short stem a few inches above the ground, and spaced about a foot or more apart, so there is constant bending over, pick a few berries, standing up, taking a step forward and down again to pick another half dozen. Up, down, up, down, step, step, step. It can take hours to even get a few cups full. The berries are also so soft in the few days before the season is over, that one has to delicately lift the berry from underneath as to not squish it. All this work is compounded by how few may be in a given location. Many people cannot find these little treasures, particularly folks from the larger towns and cities, but once you know where to look and your eyes get used to seeing - much like one can come to know the forest - the smaller details become clearer and the little orange dots stand out like chickenpox against the greens and browns of the bogs.
It was a little damp with some lingering fog as I headed out in the fresh morning air. The day was still young when I arrived at the area I would pick that day. I hopped off the ATV and my boots squished on the boggy ground. I pulled a clean margarine tub from my pack and surveyed the area that I would pick most of the day. All around a trove of bakeapples, the tiny golden specks scattered about - a real treasure. The air is almost always humid in the boggier low laying places on the barrens. If the area is not covered in mist or fog that rolls in off the grand banks, the sun comes out and burns off the fog, but replaces the moisture with evaporation from the damp ground. Today, the eastern winds brought mauzy weather, damp cool air off the ocean, and abolished any chance the fog would lift. This was just as well since I would prefer working slightly cool to hot and damp. I spent the day picking, taking only a short lunch break to stretch out my back, and boil-up a bit of tea, before working well into the evening.
The fog thickened in the evening air as I gathered up and mounted the ATV to head home. I followed the tracks I had made coming in between the rock cairns that locals use to navigate the wide-open spaces in heavy weather, heading back to the dirt road where I would turn toward Trepassey and home. I was nearly back to the road when I felt the tires of the ATV sink into a muddy patch I had ridden over on the way in. The dampness of the past few days had caused this previously drier spot to soften and the lurch forward as it got stuck. If you’ve ever stepped in deep mud and pulled so hard that your foot came out of its shoe, you may be familiar with the great amount of suction some really good mud can create. I tried reversing and rocking back and forth, but the ATV only sank deeper and the underside of the chassis now rested firmly on the surface of the muck. It started to rain. I turned off the ignition and the quietness of the evening took over, with just the patter of rainfall and the tink-tink of the cooling engine to be heard in the failing light. Even if I wasn’t too tired and sore from a long day out on the bog, the rain would make it useless to bother trying to free the vehicle from the grip of the barrens. All the Hail Marys in the world wouldn’t free it tonight. I reached into my pack and pulled out my phone as I prepared to begin the trudge back to the road. Reception is patchy but could be had along some sections and since I was near enough to town, I was able to get a signal. The phone rang a few times before the other end picked up.
“Whadda y’at?” came the answer.
“Wonderin’ if you'd give me a hand, Cy?" I replied, "ATV’s bottomed out here near Biscay Bay, too much to get her out tonight I figure. I’m near the sign on the way into town if you don’t mind comin’. I can start heading toward town and meet you part way.”
“I’ll come where you’re at, Stay where you’re to. I’ll have the missus put on the kettle.” the voice answered and hung up.
Cyril Molloy and his wife Marlene were good folk, both in their eighties and long time residents of the area. He was good friends with my grandpa and had gone hunting with my grandfather and me many times, splitting the game between us. After granddad’s passing, Cy and I had sort of become friends and still helped each other out. Having lived here his whole life, he knew exactly where I was even from such a brief description. They had a small blue house out on a point that stretched out into the waters of the bay near town so he wouldn’t be long coming. I reached the road and waited by the sign, standing close to it in an attempt to get out of the worst of the rain. Even with good rain gear, I was still pretty damp and getting quite cold. Before long I saw a pair of dim yellowish-white lights crest the top of the hill and Cyril’s truck rolled to a stop on the gravel in front of me. No more than a few moments after I got in, the skies really opened up and it began to pour. I peeled off my wet jacket and placed it on the floor of the cab in front of me.
“Wicked night out,” Cy remarked as we started back to town, “Marlene’s got a stew on, so you’re welcome to stay awhile.”
When we arrived, Marlene greeted us at the door with some dry clothes and had already made up a spare bed. Given how tired I was and the fact that Cyril would just have to come back the next day to take me back out to free the abandoned ATV, it wasn’t hard convincing me to stay the night and save ourselves the extra trip. After dinner, Marlene opened a can of heavy cream and added some of my fresh bakeapples to it for dessert. The bed that night was warm and I slept well having been out in the fresh air all day.
The next morning, after a small breakfast with tea, Cy and I were back out at the stuck ATV. The weather was still grey and raining lightly, but after some good pulling and getting covered in mud, the machine was pulled free. I thanked Cy and decided I would skip picking today and head home to tend to a few things back at the cabin instead.
Arriving back at the cabin, I pulled up and noticed curiously that the front door was open. I walked up the outside steps onto the covered porch and stepped into the house. I looked around expecting someone had possibly broken in, but aside from a breeze blowing through nothing seemed amiss. A bottle of whiskey sat on the bookshelf near the woodstove. Surely someone would’ve at least taken that, I thought considering the possibility of a break-in and figured maybe I simply hadn’t pulled the door shut firmly enough to catch the latch and the wind last night blew it open. The window by the fire was also still open a crack. The night before going bakeapple picking had been particularly warm and muggy, as it often tends to get before a southern storm passes through, and I had opened it just slightly to allow a breeze through. I thought back to the previous morning and in my excitement of collecting bakeapples, I had neglected to close it. I didn’t remember locking the door either for that matter. Had I gotten back last night before dark I would’ve closed them both before the worst of the rain, but even now it wasn’t really a problem aside from the bit of water that had gotten in and made a wet spot on the floor. After cleaning up, I spent the rest of the day shucking and preparing berries to sell. I placed some select fresh ones in a container and made a large pot of jam with the rest. I worked late into the day preparing dozens of jars that I set to cool on the counter, filling the air with a sweet smell that would permeate the house for the next few days.
That night I awoke from a rather restless sleep. I stumbled half-asleep in the dark toward the washroom at the back of the cabin, making my way to use the toilet, when I heard what sounded like the creaking of the wood steps on the front porch outside. I stood up straight and listened. I would have attributed it to the wind, but I didn’t hear any, and the rain had stopped earlier that day. I peeked out the window near the back. It was a perfectly calm night, not so much as a breeze in the thick standing fog, illuminated just barely by a small light on the back of the house over the rear door. Another crack of the floorboards was emitted from the porch at the other end of the small cabin. I stood in the back between the washroom and the kitchen, my eyes adjusting to the near darkness, only illuminated by the small night light near the toilet for such late-night bathroom emergencies. My hearing heightened as I came fully awake and I heard the distinct tick-tick-tick of a key being inserted into the handle of the front door.
“Cy?!” I called, thinking he was perhaps coming to check on me that I had gotten home safely earlier that day. Then again, he would have knocked, and surely I would’ve heard his truck, seen the headlights cast shadows on the walls inside as he pulled up, or heard the clunk of the heavy driver door closing. I glanced at the key hook by the back door where the spare had always hung. I had not noticed something so small before, but now it was missing! It wasn’t Cyril outside. I reached cautiously for the old over-under shotgun I kept with my hunting gear at the back door next to the washroom and lifted it to my chest, as the door handle clicked and turned from the other side. My other hand reached for the pocket of my hunting jacket hanging at the back entrance, searching for a few shells to load into the chamber of the gun. It would only have been birdshot, and while that was unlikely to kill a possible intruder, it would surely injure and scare the hell out of them if it came to pulling the trigger. The front door opened as my hand desperately felt around inside the empty pocket. It had of course been many months since grouse and small game season, and I had put away any loose ammunition in a locked box I kept under the bed. I abandoned my search and stepped backward into the washroom as the front door swung open. Briefly, I caught a glimpse of the edge of a ghostly-white robe, like a shredded and stained sheet, the rest being just out of view beyond the threshold. The long spindly bone-white fingers of the entity released its clutch on the doorknob and let out a long hollow exhale before it drifted in through the unlocked and open front door.
I knew, if it was what I thought it was, the legend passed down from grandfather to father, father to son over the decades, possibly centuries on these shores, if I saw her face I would be paralyzed as she closed in. Not knowing what else to do, I quickly closed and locked the washroom door, pressing my body to brace it. Even if in doing so I attracted its attention, there was nowhere else to go, nowhere else to hide from its deadly gaze. As soon as the washroom door shut, the lady let out a deafening shriek as she flung herself against the other side of the door. The whole cabin shook as she slammed into the door. My heart felt like it was going to explode out of the front of my chest as she battered against the washroom door, howling like a woman who had her child torn from her. She was relentless and I wondered how long the door and I could hold out, but as abruptly as the ramming had started, she stopped. The cabin fell silent.
I wouldn’t dare open the door. It was nowhere near first light and I could still hear a faint shuffling and a low sob on the other side. I waited, listening to the shuffle and footsteps that paced around the main area of the cabin. I was shaken but still had mind enough to seize the opportunity. I heaved and slid the shelf that held towels and toiletries and wedged it between the tub and the door to brace it for the next attack. My movement inside provoked her once more as she pounded on the door again and dragged nails against the wood. She wailed unholy cries as I heard cupboard doors being flung open. Dishes smashed, pot and pans crashed to the floor, as she ripped apart everything not nailed down with unbridled wrath. The screeching and thumping of the house being torn apart were intermittent, with periods of her sobbing and cries, before enraged again she resumed her reign of terror upon the house. I stayed in the washroom, terrified and praying, as the hours passed, until dawn. As the first sunlight could be seen through the gaps around the edges of the washroom window curtain, the cabin became still. With my chest sore from the labored and panicked breathing and my whole body exhausted from the surges of adrenaline and fear, I passed out on the floor of the washroom, the door still barricaded and the useless empty shotgun laying at my side.
I awoke mid-afternoon as the heat of the mid-summer day warmed the cabin. When I finally emerged from the washroom I saw the state of the place. Curtains had been torn down from the windows, the contents of every drawers and cupboard either smashed or strewn around the entire room. Every one of the bottles of jam that I had prepared, were crushed and broken, bakeapple jam dripping from the counter and smeared on the walls and floor. The fireplace door was open and the coals and ash lay on the floor. Soot coated the furniture and hung in the air. Had I still had a fire in last night, the whole cabin would have gone up in flames with me trapped inside. I retrieved a staple gun from the pumphouse where I kept my tools and stapled the drapery to the window trim before I left, closing and locking the door behind me.
I stayed the next night at Cyril and Marlene’s house and recounted the events to their shock that I had come out alive. Since that night I have changed the lock on the door, had a priest come up to bless the cabin, and each night I pray for the souls of the departed, hoping someday she will be set free. She has never gotten back inside the cabin since I changed the lock, but she still visits every night, and each time I wake to the creaking sound of her footsteps and the old key in the front door.
Haven't seen one of these in a while now. This more aligned with Chekhov's idea of what theatre should be like, representing all the boring bits and pieces of life along with the dramatic elements. While many people might say "trim the fat" or "there's a lot of needless information here". Well, I don't think so. This story builds on very basic elements and a very realistic sutble sort of take on what I can describe best as a ghost story.
Now, I say this because the monster seems more like a ghost than an actual Banshee. These don't tend to do much other alert people of someone's impending death and her origin story, or propose ones are more than of a wailing ghost per se as opposed to a Aos So. Honestly, I'm not the biggest fan of "This Banshee doesn't just wail and mourn the death of people, it also eats brains" or something. It's just sort of weird to me, considering the ludicrous amount of popular folk and mythology based monsters and violent spirits. I'm going to bet it's just a matter of convinience for you, so it's me neat picking here. If you're ever interested in doing another Celtic/Gaelic based antagonistic creature, look up Baobhan sith.
Lastly, I'd suggest maintaining some sort of Irish speech mannerisms and maybe some Irish slang from wherever you think the settlers originate, if you already decided to mention they've a slight Irish accent.
Overall, it's a nice ghost encounter story that draws on traditional fiction, I like it.
Now, I say this because the monster seems more like a ghost than an actual Banshee.
I do agree. The word banshee was only in the title, so that might simply be resolved with a title change. A 'ghost' is certainly more apt.
I'll look into the things you mentioned. I tried to tone down the Newfoundland accent because it's very difficult to spell out and the atrocious grammar used in rural fishing towns might be enough to horrify an English professor. Maybe it's because I can hear the accent in my head since I'm from there, that I still thought the accents were present, I'll take a look into dialing it back up a bit.
EDIT: I've renamed the title from 'Banshee on the Barrens' to "Fog on the Barrens" to avoid a slightly misleading title, but it's not a great title yet. I've been working on a follow-up story from the town of St Brides on the other side of the shore. Perhaps I'll figure out a better title as I work on that. Thanks for your input!