Bad Omen

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here.

Bad Omen
January 1961 ~ Tumbleweed Motel, Coldwater, N.M.

An icy draft found its way in around the newspapers Shirley had stuffed in the cracks around the windows, but the chill that racked her body as she sat up in bed wasn’t coming from outside.

Something was wrong with the baby. Something was very wrong. She wrapped her arms around her belly and tried not to wake John as she sent a silent message to her unborn child. Mama’s here, little one. Hang in there with me. I’m doing the best I can for you. Stay with me. I’ve got you. Stay with me.

The dream had seemed so vivid. Even now, wide awake, eyes open, blinking in the dim light that filtered through the curtains from the pole light that illuminated the park just behind her property, Shirley could almost make out a dark shape crouching in the corner next to the dresser.

“Stay the hell away from my family,” she whispered, so quietly as to be almost inaudible.

The shape faded into the familiarity of a wastebasket perched atop a hatbox, but Shirley remembered what it had done in the dream, and she wasn’t fooled.

“I’m not playing around. You stay away from my family,” she whispered again.

She’d been holding the baby, nuzzling the fine red hair on top of his head and singing “The Gypsy Rover” to try to soothe him to sleep, but he was inconsolable, and she could feel the dark thing reaching for them as she made a desperate attempt to quiet him. She’d screamed with him, trembling, trying to hold back the creature that was taking possession of her, but it was too strong for her to overpower. She’d sobbed helplessly as it commandeered her body, its presence like an inky mist seeping into her veins and taking control of her muscles, using her arms to carry the hysterical infant to the washtub she’d used to bathe him earlier, forcing her hands to hold his head below the water, leaving her only when it was too late to save him.

John didn’t put much stock in dreams.

Shirley did. All the Kavanaugh women did. The bean sidhe’s influence ran in their blood. The stories stretched back to Ireland, long before the famine, back and back and back, to a churchyard guarded by a sheela and a tale of a young novice who, after being raped by a corrupt bishop, turned up pregnant and killed herself to keep the infant from being born into a life of ignominy. As the legend went, an old woman — in some versions of the story, the mother superior; in others, St. Brigid, the Morrígan, the sheela-na-gig, or any of various other faeries and goddesses — found the poor wretch bleeding in the courtyard, prised the knife from her dying hands, and cut the infant from her womb. The tiny girl survived and grew up in the abbey, and on certain nights, she would run to one of the sisters, wailing, insisting she could hear her mother crying outside. Invariably, the order would awaken the next morning to the news someone had died in the night, just about the same hour the girl had reported hearing her mother’s voice.

Fifteen generations later, Shirley had learned to fear her own screams in the night, and tonight, more than three centuries and 4,500 miles from the origin of the Kavanaughs’ bean sidhe, she wept in silence for the little one dying in her dreams.

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