I’ve waited over twenty-five years to tell my story. I could have taken it to my grave, but I wish to unburden myself before I meet my maker. I’m not much longer for this world you see. Years of heavy smoking have caught up with me, and the cancer has spread from my lungs to the point that nothing can be done. The doctors tell me I’ve got six months to live at most, so it’s now or never for my last confession.
In theory the Historical Enquiries Team may still pursue me for the crimes I’ll admit to in this account, but the odds are I’ll be dead and buried before the case ever gets to court. And so, this is my story – for better or for worse.
I was born and raised in North Belfast during the 1970s, and like many of my unfortunate generation I was pulled into the maelstrom of violence occurring on my home streets, as my country was plunged into the bloody violence of The Troubles.
I grew up on the Protestant side of the divide, my father an ex-soldier and my mother a housewife and keen follower of the notorious Reverend Ian Paisley. There was no doubt of my allegiance growing up. I was an Ulsterman and considered myself British, and I was determined to fight to maintain my identity and defend the future of my people.
I started getting involved in my early teens, skipping school to riot and fight Catholic youths from across the divide. But as I grew older, the violence escalated and I got drawn into the world of loyalist paramilitaries – local hard men who decided the police and army weren’t doing enough and it was our responsibility to take the law into our own hands, waging war against the IRA and their supporters in the Catholic community.
Well, that’s what I told myself in the beginning, but I now realise I was part of a ruthless sectarian killing machine. But I’m getting ahead of myself. My story begins during the long hot summer of 1998. The Good Friday Agreement had been signed only a few months before and in theory our country was now at peace. But in reality the violence continued, as loyalists waged war on the security forces over the banning of the Drumcree march and republican dissidents slaughtered innocents in the Omagh bombing.
At the time I lived in what’s known in Belfast as an interface area. That means we were on the boundary between a Protestant and a Catholic neighbourhood, separated by a so-called peace wall – a physical barrier of brick and steel, constructed to keep the two communities apart and reduce the prospect of violence.
My house faced directly out onto the wall which was literally located across the street from me. At the end of our road and at the wall’s end was a roundabout and a small row of shops which were used by both communities. This flashpoint was the scene of many riots over the years, not to mention several murders.
As for me, I’d just finished a four-year stretch in the Maze prison for a paramilitary conviction and had promised my wife that I’d stay out of trouble and focus on my young family. To my eternal shame this was a promise I didn’t keep. Several of my neighbours fled the area during the heavy rioting that summer, but those of us who stayed had a standard defensive set-up inside our homes.
The father or man of the house would sleep on the ground floor, usually with a hatchet or baseball bat close to hand for defence, while the wife and children would sleep at the rear of the house, close to an escape route in case of an attack during the night. Windows would either be reinforced or covered by steel cages to protect against petrol bomb attacks, but to be on the safe side you would fill your bath with cold water and keep a bucket nearby in case you needed to quickly put out a fire.
Needless to say, this wasn’t the best environment to raise a family in. My wife wouldn’t stay, leaving with the kids and going to live with her parents. I’ll never forget the day they left me, as she screamed in fury whilst our son and daughter sobbed by her side.
“Four years! Four bloody years I waited for you! All the struggles I went through…the shame of my man being in prison! You promised me this was over. You said you’d stay away from those bastards and look after your family. What the hell is wrong with you? You really care so much about the flag…about your damned cause! What about your children? What about me?”
I didn’t say a word during her angry tirade. What could I say? I didn’t want to lose my family but knew they’d be safer away from here. And why didn’t I go with them, you might well ask? Well, I don’t really have a good answer. At the time I was committed to staying and defending our home. I thought my children would thank me one day once they realised I’d made this stand to defend their future. But now I realise it was only my pride which kept me there and it’s a decision I’ll regret until my dying breath.
In some respects the ’98 riots were no different from those we’d seen many times before, as youngsters from both sides fought hand-to-hand or pelted each other with half bricks and other improvised missiles. Occasionally, paramilitary gunmen from one or both sides would emerge to spray the riot zone with bullets. Eventually, the security forces would arrive in strength – driving into the area in a convoy of armoured land-rovers and APCs as they deployed between the warring factions, firing plastic bullets in a heavy-handed attempt to disperse the rioters.
But predictably both sides would pelt the armoured vehicles with rocks and petrol bombs as the familiar cycle of violence played out. All this was sadly the norm back them but the rioting that summer was different somehow. Everyone who lived in the area knew there was something very wrong but few would talk about it, bar the odd whispered rumour in the back rooms of public houses or unlicensed drinking dens.
No one wanted to admit the truth, but we all sensed the darkness which crept into our long-suffering community during those chaotic days. We could hear it late at night after the rioters had scattered and the armoured vehicles had rolled off the streets. That’s when we heard the hellish, inhuman wailing – high-pitched and impossibly loud as it shattered the silence of the early hours.
I vividly recall lying on the sofa in my front room, clutching hold of my hatchet as the terrible screaming assaulted my ears. The awful, gut-wrenching sound chilled me to my bones, awakening an almost primitive fear deep within me. And the worst thing is – I’d heard the wail before, and I knew what it meant.
My story takes place over three consecutive nights in July 1998, coinciding with The Twelfth – the day of Protestant celebration as we commemorate the victory by William of Orange over the Catholic James II during the late 17th century. But there was little to celebrate that year as both communities were forced to face the consequences of our nasty little conflict – a harsh lesson delivered by a supernatural entity from beyond our mortal realm.
On the afternoon of the tenth I took advantage of a quiet period to walk up to the shops and buy a pack of cigarettes. I had an unpleasant encounter with the young shop assistant behind the till who I recognised as a girl from the Catholic side of the divide. She surely recognised me too, shooting me a hateful glare as she wordlessly took my money and aggressively threw my change down on the counter.
I shot her back a look and thought about saying something but decided against it, knowing that even a simple argument in a shop could be enough to start a full-scale riot. Instead, I silently gathered up the coins and exited the shop, still seething with anger when I bumped into a former comrade-in-arms.
I saw the figure swaggering down the pavement towards me, dressed in a black bomber jacket and jeans and with a baseball cap covering his bald head. He grinned inanely as he approached with the upmost confidence, holding out his hand as he greeted me enthusiastically.
“What about you, big man!” he exclaimed.
I reluctantly took his hand and shook it, somehow feeling like I was degrading myself by doing so.
“Alright Victor, how are you mate?” I replied without much enthusiasm.
“All good mate. All good. Busy. Those bastards over there are keeping us on our toes!”
He nodded across towards the wall, making it clear who he was referring to.
I nodded my head, avoiding the killer’s eyes as I replied. “Aye, it’s been bad recently. Bound to get worse over the next few days.”
“Fucking right!” Victor answered with a cruel smirk, “But we’ll give the bastards a dose of their own medicine…mark my words mate!”
He pointed up to the tattered Union Jack which was mounted to a lamp post above our heads, slowly flapping in the wind.
“We’ll make sure our flag keeps flying over this district, no doubt about it.” He paused, looking at me coldly before adding, “Shame you don’t have the balls to fight with us.”
This comment struck a nerve, and my initial impulse was to punch Victor right in his smug face, but I knew this would land me in a lot of bother, so I resisted the urge. Victor was the local ‘OC’ or Officer Commanding of the loyalist paramilitary unit operating in this area. This meant that he nominally had responsibility for the defence of the district, although in actual fact he and his men spent most of their time selling drugs and squeezing local businesses for protection money to line their own pockets.
Nevertheless, Victor had become a powerful man during my time away and so I needed to grant him a certain level of respect. So, I swallowed my pride and anger before answering.
“Aye Victor. I’ll do my bit when the time comes, but I’m out of the organisation now. I’ve done my bit.”
Victor’s smirk widened as he shrugged and nodded his head.
“Yeah, you’ve done your time. Remind me, how long did they give you?”
He already knew the answer but I told him anyway, speaking through clenched teeth.
“Seven years I was sentenced to. I served four. Possession of an illegal firearm and membership of a proscribed organisation.”
Victor looked me straight in the eye before speaking his next words.
“Aye. They got you on that charge, but not on the big one – isn’t that right?”
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach as a deluge of painful memories came flooding back. I struggled to open my mouth, finally answering through trembling lips.
“No. I wasn’t convicted for that one.”
Victor grinned sadistically. “You and me go way back. Just remember that before you get all high and mighty on me son!”
With that he slapped me on the back before continuing down the road, shouting back over his shoulder.
“Cheerio mate. See you tomorrow night!”
And then he was gone, leaving me to my thoughts.
I didn’t fancy sitting in an empty house and dwelling on the past so I decided to go down to the nearby social club for some company and a couple of pints. I stood at the security gate in front of the heavily fortified drinking den, pushing the button and looking up at the camera before they buzzed me in.
The club’s interior was decorated with worn-out couches and stools and peeling wallpaper dating back to the 70s. The walls were also adorned with symbols and pictures celebrating Ulster’s imperial tradition – photographs of men in uniform, banners from local Orange lodges, and memorial plaques for our brethren killed in action. And above the bar another Union Jack flag took pride of place, a symbol of our enclave of empire standing on the very edge of enemy territory.
The club was near empty with only a few regulars propping up the bar while a few others lingered in corner booths. I strolled up to the bar and greeted the club manager Johnny, ordering a pint of lager and paying with the spare change in my pocket. Nodding to the barman, I strolled over to one of the side tables where two of my neighbours were sitting together and nursing their drinks.
The man sipping a pint was called Chris. He was an affable and well-liked family man in his thirties who drove a taxi for a living. He smiled as I approached, shaking my hand and offering me a seat. Chris was one of those nice blokes who got on with everyone. He never talked politics or religion and as a result was able to drive his cab back and forth across the peace wall, taking custom from both communities.
That said, Chris was naïve about the dangers of driving on the troubled streets of North Belfast late at night. I’d warned him many times but he’d always laughed it off, saying – “Sure, why would anyone want to shoot me?”
Beside the happy-go-lucky Chris sat a grim-faced widow named Mary, a woman in her late forties whose husband had died in a bombing twenty years before. Her loss had been a terrible tragedy from which she’d never fully recovered, and her life had long since been consumed by grief and bitterness, as the conflict which had taken her husband’s life raged on around her.
She nodded curtly at me as I sat, taking a gulp of white wine before lighting a cigarette.
“Well,” I said, as I laid my pint glass down on the wooden table, “I’m surprised to see the two of you drinking together. What is this? Protestant solidarity?”
Mary scoffed with contempt while Chris laughed boisterously at my joke, further highlighting their different personalities.
“You’ll never guess what Mary’s been telling me mate!” exclaimed Chris, “This you’ve got to hear!”
Mary shot him a furious look and for a second I thought she’d throw her drink in Chris’s face.
“So, what’s the story Mary?” I asked, half in jest.
She took a long drag on her cigarette before answering. “You foolish men like to mock me. But I see through your bravado! We’ve all heard it. The wailing late at night. You know it’s not normal.”
“Sure, that’s just some kids fooling around.” I shot back, trying to sound confident even though this talk of screaming in the dead of night chilled me to my very bones.
Mary shook her head vigorously. “You’re dead wrong. The creature out there isn’t human, not anymore at least. The stories say she was once a young woman living in this very city, but tragedy struck her down and she became possessed by an evil spirit from the other side. And now she stalks the streets and villages of this country, seeking vengeance on those who wronged her in life.”
She paused, briefly looking me directly in the eye with a glare of fiery intensity. “You understand, don’t you? Deep down you know the truth. That monster out there is the banshee. She is the harbinger of death, and she won’t leave this place until she’s claimed a soul!”
As soon as she finished speaking Chris and I looked at each other across the table and we simultaneously burst into hysterical laughter.
“The banshee!” I cried out, as tears of hilarity rolled down my cheeks, “The harbinger of death! What a load of old bollocks!”
We kept laughing as Mary stood up, grabbing her glass before furiously storming away from our table, shouting angrily over her shoulder.
“You’ll see! You foolish men will learn the hard way! Evil is coming to our street, mark my words!”
Once she was safely out of earshot I whispered to Chris, saying – “Crazy old bat. She hasn’t been right in the head for years.”
“Aye.” Chris replied, as the smile disappeared from her face, “It’s sad really. I guess I feel sorry for her.”
“Yeah.” I agreed solemnly, whilst emptying my pint glass. “Want another one?”
The second pint turned into a third, a fourth, and then a fifth. Soon the two of us were stumbling out the door, slapping each other on the backs as we said our goodbyes. It was dark now and the street was abandoned, or so it appeared.
I’d walked halfway down the road whilst keeping a weary eye on the peace wall as I expected trouble to break out at any moment. But I was shocked when I saw a dark figure standing on the street in front of me, blocking my route home. Most of the streetlights had been smashed by the rioters and so the road was shrouded in darkness. I couldn’t make out the features of the mysterious person but somehow I knew that he or she was staring directly at me.
I’ve been in more than a few dangerous situations in my time and I don’t scare easily, but in that moment I experienced an almost primal terror as I felt cold all over and found myself frozen to the spot. A moment of appalling tension followed as the shadowy figure glared at me across the void and I was unable to avert my gaze. I wanted to open my mouth to challenge the interloper but couldn’t find the words.
It seemed like an eternity passed as I was trapped in this terrifying deadlock. Suddenly, I heard shouting from behind me, closely followed by the sound of smashing glass. I turned abruptly to see a gang of youths throwing bottles and crying out obscenities as they began the nightly ritual of violence.
I only watched the young rioters for a few brief seconds before turning back towards the street ahead. I was astonished when I did so because the mysterious stranger has disappeared, leaving the road empty and abandoned. I still felt extremely uneasy as I walked briskly back to my house, scanning back and forth whilst thinking I might be set upon by an unseen attacker.
My hands were shaking almost uncontrollably as I fumbled for my keys and forced them into the lock. I stumbled inside of my house, slamming the door shut behind me. I felt an immense relief once I was safely indoors, silently chastising myself for being so foolish.
I was already tipsy after my drinking session in the club but my nerves were shot, so I unwisely decided to start on the whiskey to help me sleep, and I slowly drifted off into the world of dreams.
I was thrown back in time, finding myself in a place I never wanted to return to. The young me sat in the passenger seat of a stolen Ford Cortina, gloves on my hands and I nervously fiddled with a heavy .357 Magnum revolver. I glanced over to my companion who sat in the driver’s seat – Victor.
The young paramilitary put on a brave front but I could tell he was as nervous as I was, tapping his finger on his knee as he smoked a cigarette. We both kept a close watch on the street, impatiently waiting for our target whilst fearing we could be discovered at any moment.
We were deep in enemy territory – a working class Catholic district and known IRA stronghold. Our target was a known republican activist who lived on this street and our orders were to kill him. Victor and I were still youngsters – barely out of our teens and sent out on ‘active service’ for the first time. Our OC had assigned us this job and we knew we couldn’t fuck it up.
But our target was late. The intelligence said he should have been home from work hours ago, but we were still waiting. We had good reason to be nervous. If the RUC or Army found us in a stolen car with balaclavas and a loaded gun we’d both be facing a lengthy prison sentence. Worse still, if the IRA found us on their turf we’d likely end up in the morgue.
Victor finished his cigarette, putting out the butt on the dashboard.
“For fuck’s sake! Where the hell is this bastard?” he growled.
I didn’t answer, simply shaking my head in angry frustration.
Victor tutted before continuing. “If he doesn’t turn up soon we’ll need to abort the mission.”
I shot him a furious look and spat – “Really mate? You want to go back and tell the boss we failed?”
Victor turned away, not wanting to meet my gaze. He knew I was right. Failure wasn’t an option and we couldn’t go home until we’d taken a life.
Suddenly there was movement on the dimly lit street as a figure casually strolled down the pavement across from us. I saw a middle-aged man with a stout belly and bald head, dressed in a tweed suit and trench coat. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I sat forward in the car seat, trying to get a closer look at the man as he walked under the streetlights.
Victor saw him too, asking – “Is that your man?”
“I’m not sure.” I replied anxiously.
We’d seen photographs from stolen intelligence files but it was difficult to identify the man in the dark.
“I’m not sure it’s him mate.” Victor said solemnly.
I don’t know what happened, but something snapped inside of me in that moment. My heart was filled with rage and my mind was overwhelmed with images of Union Jacks draped over coffins and bombed buildings with fleeing civilians screaming in terror. I wanted bloody vengeance for the atrocities I’d witnessed and for the continuous attacks upon our people, and – in that moment – I didn’t care who paid the price.
“Fuck it!” I spat with venom, “He’ll do!”
And with that I opened the car door, pulling the balaclava over my face, clutching a tight hold of my revolver as I stormed down the street towards my intended victim.
He didn’t see me coming, at least not at first. I was almost right on top of him before our eyes met under the dim light. At first his expression was one of confusion, but this turned to fear once he saw the gun in my hand. My intended victim was paralysed in terror, unable to move from the spot as he stared down the barrel of my gun.
My finger was poised on the trigger but I couldn’t pull it. I experienced a moment of self-doubt and just stood there, my hand shaking as I looked into the man’s pleading eyes. I don’t know how long passed as we faced off on the darkened pavement. Probably it was only seconds but it felt like hours.
But the tense standoff came to an abrupt end when the night air was suddenly filled with a god-awful scream – a hellish, almost inhuman wailing which almost deafened me.
My victim’s eyes widened and he tried to run. My instincts kicked in and I squeezed the trigger. BANG.
The gun kicked back heavily in my hand and the bullet exploded in the man’s chest, throwing his body backwards as he opened his mouth to emit a silent scream. Meanwhile, the disembodied shrieking continued, increasing in volume and pitch…assaulting my ears until I thought my head would explode.
My victim was down on the pavement now, reeling in agony as he clawed at the gaping, bloody wound in his chest. I re-aimed and fired again, and again…Each round was a ‘dum-dum’ bullet and so the poor bastard’s chest was torn open, revealing a bloody viscera of flesh and bone.
I kept on shooting until I head an empty click, indicating that I’d fired all six rounds from the chamber. The victim lay motionless on the blood-soaked pavement, his dead eyes looking upwards at the night sky.
Suddenly the screaming stopped and I found myself alone on the street, standing over the corpse of the man I’d just brutally killed. My attention was then drawn to a window on the far side of the street as a curtain twitched and a face appeared at the window.
It was a young girl – perhaps 7 or 8 – her eyes filled with horror as she witnessed the bloody scene, her innocence shattered forever.
“Come on, for fuck’s sake!” came the sudden cry.
I turned around and saw Victor shouting from the open window of the stolen car. His words brought me back to reality as I fled from the scene, jumping into the Cortina’s passenger side and slamming the door shut. A second later, Victor put his foot down on the accelerator and we sped down the street, making good our escape.
Half an hour later and we were standing on top of Cave Hill, looking down on the city lights as the stolen car burned behind us. A second vehicle had arrived, driven by one of our comrades and tasked with bringing us to a nearby safe house.
Once there we would burn our clothes to destroy any forensic evidence and the murder weapon would be wiped clean and returned to a hidden arms dump. And so, I’d gotten away with murder but knew I could never escape what I’d done. In that moment I looked up into the night sky and wished God would summon a bolt of lightning to strike me down. But of course, I wouldn’t get off so easily.
Suddenly I awoke, jumping up from the sofa – my body covered in cold sweat as I struggled to breathe. Once again, I’d been forced to relive that fateful night from so many years ago in the form of a vivid nightmare. Now I was awake and all should have returned to normal, but something wasn’t right.
I had this awful feeling that I was being watched, as my eyes quickly scanned the darkened room in a panic. My gaze was drawn to my closed curtains as I saw the dark shadow cast by a figure standing right outside my living room window.
My eyes widened and whole body shook as I carefully crept towards the window, reaching out with a trembling hand as I slowly pulled the curtains back. What I saw on the other side was a living nightmare staring back at me – the face of what had once been a woman but was now transformed into something horrifying.
I noted the creature’s straggly black hair, pale white skin which was somehow illuminated by an unnatural light, and dark soulless eyes like those of a shark.
I stood there for a time, paralysed in terror as I imagined I must still be dreaming. But then she opened her vile mouth to reveal a dark, gaping hole. And the sound she emitted was horrific but familiar. The banshee’s wail – a high-pitched, inhuman scream which forced me back from the window as I covered my ears and rolled up into a ball, silently begging for the god-awful din to stop.
The pain inside my skull was so intense that I thought I would pass out, but mercifully the hellish sound ended abruptly. My ears were still ringing as I shakingly pulled myself up onto my feet, grabbing the hatchet from behind my sofa and charging to the front door in an act of foolish bravado.
A moment later and I was out on the street, but the creature was nowhere to be seen, having apparently disappeared without a trace. So I just stood there in a state of shocked awe, staring up at the stars as my body continued to shake and tears rolled down my cheeks.
The next night came around and I made my way to the eleventh night bonfire, standing on a patch of wasteland and watching as a towering pyre built of wood pallets and discarded tires were set alight. This was a part of our annual tradition as bonfires were lit across all the loyalist districts of Belfast as a fiery prelude to the marches and bands the next day.
I didn’t really want to be here. I was in no mood to celebrate after the events of the previous evening, but I didn’t want to spend another night at home alone and risk a further encounter with that…thing.
There would usually be a party atmosphere at the event, but not this year. Sure, there were a few locals chatting and drinking cans of beer, but the overall atmosphere was tense and subdued. The violence of the previous days had put people on edge, but this was only part of the story.
I think everyone in the whole estate had heard the banshee’s hellish wails in the dead of night. Perhaps others had been targeted by the demon like I had. It all seemed crazy and a big part of me thought I had lost my mind, but then I remembered Mary’s terrifying prophecy and wondered whether she was the only one who could see the truth.
Somebody handed me a lukewarm beer and I sipped it whilst staring blankly into the flames, taking some small comfort from the warmth generated by the fire. But suddenly I was distracted by a ruckus from behind me as someone cried out – “Victor! What about you son?”
I turned in time to see my old comrade arriving in the clearing, greeted by the locals who ever feared or respected him, if not a combination of both. I watched closely as he pushed his way through the crowds, and I quickly realised something wasn’t right.
Gone was Victor’s usual charm and swaggering bravado. Now his eyes were dead and emotionless and his face was drained of colour as he marched forward with deadly intent, ignoring those trying to engage him as he focussed on the burning fire before him.
I watched in astonishment as my former comrade marched straight past me without a glance, not missing a beat as he walked directly into the fire.
“Victor! What the hell?” I screamed.
But it was too late.
The flames set Victor’s clothes alight and soon his skin and flesh were burning, resulting in a horrifying smell like a human barbeque. Suddenly, Victor came back to reality, screaming in agony as he retreated from the flames, although by now his whole body was ablaze.
I jumped into action along with several of Victor’s men, pushing him down to the grass as we rolled his body to put out the flames. We succeeded in doing so, but not before Victor was severely burnt – his clothes melted into his skin as he continued to scream uncontrollably.
“Call an ambulance for fuck’s sake!” I screamed, as I tried to give some comfort to my old friend.
About ten minutes later I was standing watching the badly injured Victor being put on a gurney and loaded into the back of a waiting ambulance. I was shocked and sickened by what had occurred, still not understanding why he’d done such a thing.
It was Mary who offered an explanation as she walked up beside me with a stern and almost smug look on her lips.
“She came for Victor. Showed him the darkness deep inside his own soul. Evidently, it was too much for him to handle, as he tried to sacrifice himself to the fire. You saved his life tonight, but it will make no difference in the end. The banshee shall not leave us until she claims her victim…And if Victor lives, someone else will surely suffer.”
I shot the old widow an angry look but found myself unable to challenge her. Just 24 hours before I’d been laughing at Mary’s ghost stories, but I wasn’t laughing now. With her ominous message communicated, she walked away, and I watched the ambulance doors close as Victor was taken to hospital.
The morning of the twelfth arrived and I stood at the end of the street across from the shops, waiting for the marching bands to make their appearance. The sky above was grey and a miserable rain was falling to the earth, with the few spectators being slowly soaked to the skin.
The mood was sombre – more like a funeral than a community celebration. Few had turned out to watch and even the nationalist counter-protestors had avoided the scene, presumably electing to stay at home and ignore the event altogether. I reckoned that whatever evil entity was stalking our streets must have targeted both communities, spreading terror and fear without discrimination.
I saw the drenched band members marching down the road, their orange sashes and black suits soaked from the relentless rain. They marched to the tune of a single Lambeg drum, a slow but continuous beat like it was accompanying a grim death march. Perhaps this was appropriate given the circumstances.
The half-drowned Orangmen didn’t look up as they marched by in their grim procession, their heads down as they acted like this event was a burden rather than an honour. The small number of spectators were similarly unenthusiastic, and it seemed we all just wanted it to end.
This was meant to be the greatest day in the Protestant calendar – a celebration of our historical victory and our continued battle to preserve our identity. But on this occasion we all sensed an awful darkness hanging over our community and I think we all knew something terrible was going to happen that night.
I returned home straight after the march, not even bothering to change out of my wet clothes as I sat on the sofa in my front room and waited, chain-smoking in a futile attempt to calm my nerves. I didn’t know what exactly was happening but did have the distinct feeling that the end was near. My sins had caught up with me and the banshee had surely come to deliver my punishment.
I was so sure she was coming for me next, and I never could have predicted the horrific tragedy which would occur that night. It was shortly after dusk when I heard it – the hellish and now all too familiar wailing as the banshee made her presence known.
My heart skipped a beat as I jumped up off the sofa, not bothering to grab my hatchet because I knew it would do me no good. I expected an attack on my home at any moment but soon realised the shrieking was coming from outside and further down the street.
The banshee’s wail continued for several more minutes before stopping abruptly. And a moment later I heard another sound – the deadly rat-a-tat of automatic gunfire as a paramilitary gunman went about his lethal business.
I darted out through my front door and onto the street. Looking towards the roundabout, I saw a taxicab in the middle of the road, its windscreen shattered by bullets as the familiar smell of cordite hung in the air. And there was the banshee, her form glowing in the darkness as she silently glared towards me, her jet-black eyes devoid of emotion or any shred of humanity.
We stood there staring at each other across the void for what seemed like an eternity before she turned away from me in contempt, making me feel like my soul wasn’t even worth claiming.
I continued to watch as the banshee slowly glided down the street, and her light diminished until she inexplicably melted away into the dark night.
I ran forwards once she was gone, already fearing the worst as I approached the bullet-ridden car. Others were on the street now too, all converging on the bloody scene as the community came together in the face of tragedy. Mary was there of course, but her expression was no longer smug and self-satisfied, now replaced by one of sorrow and grief.
I was the first to reach the cab and was horrified by the sight as my worst fears were realised. My friend Chris was slumped over the steering wheel, his body riddled with bullets and his blood soaking into the fabric of the driver’s seat.
Chris wasn’t moving and I could tell straight away that he was dead. I felt like screaming out in fury as my exhausted brain tried to make sense of this atrocity. Why Chris? Why murder an innocent family man who’d never hurt anyone? Why did a good man have to die while a killer like me got off scot-free?
It wasn’t right, but nothing was in this vile conflict without honour. And there was nothing to be done. The banshee had claimed her soul, assisted by an unidentified paramilitary gunman who could have come from either side. And now, the long-suffering community was left to pick up the pieces.
This is my story – the sordid tale of the violent summer of ’98 when the banshee came to my street and a darkness fell over me which never lifted. For the last twenty-five years I’ve lived a pitiful existence. My family never returned and I succumbed to loneliness, depression and alcoholism, eventually falling into ill health.
And now I have mere months to live as the cancer slowly but surely eats away at me from the inside out. I lie in a hospital bed as I write my final confession, and at night I hear her – the banshee’s awful howl reverberating through the walls of my cramped room.
She never really left me you see, haunting me all these years as I’ve suffered due to my cycle of self-destructive behaviours. She didn’t claim my soul during that summer of ’98 but the banshee is patient, and I suppose I always knew she’d get me in the end.
I have accepted my fate and yearn for the sweet release of death, no matter what comes after. As for the banshee – I’ve learnt more of her story in recent years and I can’t help but feel sympathy for the girl she once was.
I’m not her first victim but I pray I’ll be the last…because, sooner or later, this madness has to end.
Credit: Finn MacCool
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