by Melissa Anderson, 31st October 2022
Becoming a ghost.
Oscar picked the castle for our last night of a 10-day trip to Ireland. We’d worn on each other, like the ragged curtains that adorned the arched window looking out on the estate, and Oscar wouldn’t stop complaining about the cold.
“What did you expect?” I asked. “Did you think they were going to have double-paned windows and central heating?”
“It’s, like, $500 a night,” he said. “There should be heat, at least.”
We climbed into the four-poster bed and under the thick duvet, the linens heavy with the scent of peat smoke and the sour lingering body odor of a former visitor, and faced away from each other.
I awoke in the middle of the night to a howl creeping through the room, the shutters banging outside. Cold dug into my skin. I curled against Oscar and siphoned off his warmth.
In the morning, we packed our things. Oscar left the bags on the wet ground leaning against the bark of a birch tree. He held out his phone to take three selfies with the castle in the background. Slipping his phone into his back pocket, he collected the bags and complained about mine.
“What the fuck did you put in your bag, Casey? I can hardly lift it.”
“I didn’t put anything in it. Maybe it’s that giant bottle of Irish Whiskey you had to buy.”
We both knew it wasn’t. He’d finished off that bottle halfway through the trip.
My bag weighed 10 lbs. over the limit at check-in. I asked the attendant to weigh it again. I had packed exactly the same things coming as going.
At home when I opened the bag, a rush of wind came out and I felt that cold seep into my skin again, burrowing beneath my fingernails and making my teeth ache. I lifted out a pair of yoga pants and a T-shirt to find them shredded and wet.
“This your fault for putting the bags down in the mud at that fucking castle,” I said.
“Don’t blame me. Baggage handlers must have fucked with your stuff.”
Too jetlagged to fight, I left it all in a heap and we went to sleep, the air in my Phoenix apartment arid and still.
I woke up an hour later, with a start, like in Ireland, the chill running deep into my pores.
I shook Oscar awake.
“Do you feel that?” I asked. “The cold?”
He grumbled and turned toward the wall. “Go back to sleep, Casey.”
I thought I saw something gray move in the corner. I sat quiet, with the eerie sense of eyes on me I couldn’t see. I left the apartment, seeking out the sun on my skin, and walked to the corner market in a pair of old flip flops.
When I got home, Oscar sat on the couch and started on the remnants of his bottle of whiskey. Even before the trip, his drinking had been getting on my nerves, but I’d tried to hold it in. Seemed unfair to take him along with me to a country known for its alcohol and then needle him not to imbibe.
“Don’t you have work early tomorrow?” I asked.
He didn’t usually stay at my place when he had to work, but now he couldn’t drive.
“Damn, Casey. I just woke up. Give me a break.”
I didn’t say more.
Oscar crawled out of bed before the sun rose and when the lock clicked, I heard the echo of the howls and the cold grabbed me again. I rolled into his spot on my mattress, to soak in his warmth still trapped under the comforter. I dozed and dreamt of a peat bog we had visited in Kildare. I sat up in bed and the sweet smell of decay filled my room, like I was back in the bog, and I thought I might still be dreaming.
As I got up to go the kitchen for coffee, I saw it, hovering over a chair. A gray figure, like a mist. I stumbled back into the wall, my hands pressed against the spot where Oscar had kissed me the first night I’d brought him home three months before.
“Casey,” a voice whispered and I found myself unable to move, as though the cold had frozen me in place. “Casey, do not be afraid.”
“I’m just dreaming, right? This has to be a dream.”
Cold wind ebbed around the floor, like weeds grabbing at my ankles. And then I knew what it was. I’d read the myths as a little girl.
“Please. I don’t want to die. I don’t want anyone I love to die.”
I knew Banshees were the harbingers of death, an early warning signal of what was to come.
“You’ve got it wrong, Casey,” the voice whispered and now I could see the features of a woman, withered around the eyes, with teeth missing, leathery skin. “I came to protect you from it. The one who sleeps beside you will only destroy you.”
“Is Oscar sick? Is he going to die?”
The banshee shook her head and exhaled a cold breath.
“They always get it wrong. We don’t bring death. We warn when two people should be separated. And when our warnings go unheeded, chaos can ensue.”
The banshee took on a more solid form and now I could see she had dark hair and the ends of her clothes were tied up with strips of mine.
“Did you follow me all the way here? Why not say something in Ireland?”
“You weren’t ready to hear it yet. But now you know that cold you’ve been feeling, that’s not love.”
Oscar texted me that afternoon. I didn’t respond back. He called and I didn’t answer. When he stopped by the apartment, I didn’t open the door. The longer, I ignored him, the more the banshee faded away and the warmth returned to my flesh.
That is how I became a ghost.