The Howl Of The Banshee

This month’s short story is a blast from the past – in more ways than one. I wrote this back in 2010 (or 2011?) for a mystery novel course in my undergrad. The goal of the assignment was to write a classic, gothic mystery that incorporated some of the things we had learned about the earlier works in this genre. It will come as no surprise to those of you who read this that I based my sleuths on Holmes and Watson.

I think this is probably the only mystery story I’ve ever written. Based on my own personal interests, as well as the rules of the assignment, there is a touch of horror in here. This was right around the time I was starting to realize I liked horror. And with gothic stories of this nature, my professor explained that if the culprit is a human, it’s a mystery novel; but if the culprit is supernatural, it’s a horror story.

Do I think this is a strong short story? Absolutely not. But it is an example of past writing that I am still proud of.

Enjoy!

“A what?!”

“A ghost of some sort.  At least, that’s what I’ve been told.”

“How are we supposed to arrest a ghost?” I asked doubtfully.

“I don’t know; I’ve never tried,” Wilson replied contemplatively.  “However, I’m sure it would be an interesting experience.”

“What else have you been told about the case?”

“Only that the coroner found a grey substance on the neck of the corpse. It could be ectoplasm,” he joked.

When we arrived at the Hillgrave mansion, I was awestruck by the sheer feeling of discomfort that the dark premises emitted.  The mansion was grand, but the richness of the architecture was hidden behind a sinister mask of ivy that had crept up the face of the old building.

The door was answered by the butler, and he led us into a lavish sitting room where the young Miss Willamina Hillgrave was waiting for us.  Sitting beside her was her older brother, Lord Michael Hillgrave.  Standing attentively beside them was their uncle, a man by the name of Johnson, who was temporarily residing with the family as he set to order the finances of his recently departed sister and her husband, the late Lord Hillgrave.

“Thank you for coming,” said Miss Hillgrave with a trembling voice when we entered.

“Is this all really necessary, Mina?” yawned her brother.  He did not seem too pleased with our presence; few aristocrats were ever pleased with the presence of a police officer in their home.  Even Miss Hillgrave appeared to be somewhat bothered by our presence, despite the fact that she was the one who had sent for us.

“Yes, Michael, it is absolutely necessary!” cried Miss Hillgrave as she jumped up from her seat.  “Margaret is dead, and that could have been me.  The banshee has been calling out my name for over four nights now.”

“A banshee,” explained my colleague when he noticed my look of confusion, “Is a ghostly maiden of folklore who foretells the death of those who hear her cry.”

“Then you see,” said Miss Hillgrave excitedly, “I don’t have much time left!”

“Miss,” began Wilson in a soothing tone, “Perhaps you had best explain the particulars of the situation to us.”

“Of course,” said Miss Hillgrave with a quick nod of her head as she sat down again.  “You see, about a month ago I became engaged to the most wonderful gentleman – and I couldn’t be happier – but that is when all of the trouble started.  It seems that the banshee does not wish for me to be married.  One night, I heard her calling to me in a low moan.  That morning, I awoke to find that one of the maids, Margaret, had been strangled to death just outside my door.  She was wearing one of my gowns and some of my jewellery.  It would appear that she had sought to steal them from me; this would not be the first time my belongings have gone missing. When she exited my room, dressed as me, the banshee killed Margaret.  That could have been meI could have been killed!  The banshee has continued to call for me, but she hasn’t approached me yet. Although, I could have sworn that I saw her walking through the halls a few nights ago.  Recently, I heard her whisper in the dead of night that if I end my engagement I will be permitted to live.  I have been given only a few days to make my decision.  I thought that it would be best to enlist some help before my time is up.”

“Oh Mina,” said her brother almost too comfortingly as he placed his hands on her shoulders.  “This banshee is nothing but a dream brought on by the anxiety of your impending marriage.”

“Then how do you explain the death of the servant, Sir?” Wilson asked.

“Perhaps she killed herself out of shame from stealing from her employer,” he suggested almost mockingly and with a cold look in his eye.

“Miss” continued Wilson, as if he had not heard the previous comment, “Perhaps you would be so kind as to show us the scene of the crime so that we may look for clues.”

“Of course,” she said, rising shakily. 

I was just about to follow them when I was stopped by Mr. Johnson.

“I want nothing more than the safety of my niece,” he whispered to me somewhat aggressively, “But I suggest that you keep your nose out of our personal business.” 

With that, he left the room and I turned my attention back to my colleague.

“What a lovely tapestry,” I heard Wilson exclaim as he and Miss Hillgrave stepped into the hallway.  “Such an interesting family tree…”

Once in Miss Hillgrave’s room, Wilson and I examined every inch of the space while the young lady watched nervously.  I saw nothing of interest, but Wilson seemed to be particularly fascinated by the wall behind her bed.

“Miss, what is the room next to yours?” said Wilson.

“Why, that’s Michael’s room.”

“I see.  How is your relationship with your brother, Miss Hillgrave?”

“We have always been very close…”  Her voice began to trail off. Then suddenly she snapped at him.  “But what does this have to do with–?”

Wilson shrugged.

“I would prefer if you refrained from asking personal questions,” she snarled.

“My apologies.”  From the almost smug look on his face, it appeared that Wilson had gained the answer to an unasked question.  “Miss, I believe that we will be able to apprehend your tormentor this very night.”  Her face lit up when he said this.  “However, I do not want you to mention a word of this to your family.  Is that clear?”

“Yes, of course,” she said eagerly.

Wilson and I left the house but remained hidden on the grounds until a servant of the Hillgraves came to fetch us. By then, everyone was asleep and Miss Hillgrave was spending the night waiting in one of the empty bedrooms of the house.  Wilson and I silently positioned ourselves in Miss Hillgrave’s bedroom and waited.  We were there for less than an hour when a low moan was heard coming from the wall behind the bed.  After a little while, the moaning stopped, and the sound was soon replaced by creaking footsteps coming from the hallway.  The door slowly opened and, when the ghastly figure stepped through, Wilson and I wasted no time.  We pounced on the banshee, pinned the creature to the ground, and handcuffed its wrists.  Just then, the butler entered the room, for I’m afraid we made quite a lot of noise. 

“Good heavens…” was all he said before Wilson sent him to wake the others.  Within minutes, Miss Hillgrave arrived with her uncle.  She gasped when she saw the creature, which was made of nothing more than a wig, a white sheet, and grey paint.

“Here is your banshee,” said Wilson triumphantly as he removed the wig and wiped away some of the paint to reveal Michael Hillgrave. 

“Michael?!” gasped Miss Hillgrave.  “But why?”

“Allow me,” offered Wilson.  “I first realised that it was not a real ghost when the coroner told me that something had been found on Margaret’s neck: grey paint.  This meant that it was the doing of a man and not a ghost.  Now, all that was left was finding which man committed the crime and why.  At first, I thought that your parent’s death was the key and that by ending your engagement the culprit would gain access to your inheritance.  But I was mistaken.  The next thing I noticed was that your name does not appear on the tapestry of your family tree.  This led me to believe that although you are the daughter of Lord Hillgrave, you are not his legitimate daughter, a fact that your family desires to hide from the rest of the world.  It would appear that Lady Hillgrave decided to claim you as her own daughter in order to avoid a scandal.”

Mr. Johnson nodded angrily, confirming the fact.

“But what does this have to do with Michael?” Miss Hillgrave asked.

“You see, he was jealous of your fiancé and wished to keep you for himself.  In his perverse mind, he believed it was acceptable to love a half-sister as one would love a wife.  At first, he was enraged by your engagement and desired to kill you, but he unknowingly attacked Margaret instead.  Afterwards, his resolve faltered and he thought that perhaps he could scare you into ending your engagement.  However, you decided to ask for help from the police, and he then decided that he had to act quickly before it was discovered that he was the banshee.  Shame,” sighed Wilson to himself.  “It would have been rather interesting to have arrested a real ghost.”

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