This stub of a story showed up in my imagination today. I’ve added a bit more to it, with an eye to doing more and trying to get it published.
“Oh no!” Lewis Ryan barely got the words out of his mouth before the wailing rose up in his throat and burst from between his lips.
It would go on that way for two minutes, and he couldn’t help it. There was no way in heaven or on earth to make it go away until it was complete.
The older gentleman who’d just walked through the door of Creme Kapoosh triggered him. Sure, he looked incredibly healthy, aside from the expensive cane, and assorted liver spots, but he’d be stiff as a board in twenty-four hours.
Everyone in the coffee shop was staring at him, and it really wasn’t a surprise. When an average customer suddenly starts wailing like an air raid siren, it tends to get noticed. Lewis just stared back at them, and pulled a sign out of his blazer pocket.
“I have Tourette’s Syndrome,” it read.
A collective “Oh,” went up from the accidental audience, and they stopped worrying. The sign was the best solution he’d found to dealing with his unstoppable vocalizations: it kept him from getting thrown out of every bar, restaurant, coffee shop, and store he visited.
Of course, the sign is a lie.
Lewis Ryan is a Banshee.
It isn’t his fault. In all honesty, it isn’t anybody’s fault. He would love to have someone to blame, but the closest he could come to finding a scapegoat to point his finger at was God. Needless-to-say, it adversely impacted his Catholic upbringing.
When the last notes of his wail left his mouth, he took a deep breath and reflexively squeezed his coffee cup tightly between his hands. People didn’t realize screaming like that is incredibly painful, to say nothing of exhausting. Shuddering, he raised the coffee to his lips and drank, grateful the cup had cooled during his two-minute solo show.
The dapper gentleman who set off Lewis’ heritage sat down opposite him at the table.
“Son, that’s a difficult condition you have there.” The older fellow said.
Lewis was unnerved, incredibly so. Then again, he didn’t usually stick around after a wail, so there wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to sit down with him… much less the person who triggered the reaction in the first place.
“Yes.” Lewis rasped. “It is.”
His vocal chords were raw, making his Irish Tenor into something much rougher. There’d been times when he couldn’t speak from the screams scouring his throat raw.
September 10th, 1991 was a day he’d never forget, and those memories contained every reason he’d never visit New York City ever again. He’d screamed until he passed out on the street, during lunch hour, across from the Twin Towers. When he woke up at the hospital, he was in handcuffs, and the nurses were suctioning blood out of his mouth so he could breathe.
It was the first time his “I have…” sign saved his bacon. Regardless, he spent an uncomfortable balance of his day answering questions “down at the station”.
He didn’t try to tell them about the airplanes. Just because you know people are going to die, doesn’t mean you can do anything to stop it.
His great-grandmother taught him that lesson at the very start.
Lewis snapped back into focus. The older gentleman had reached out across the table to shake hands.
“I saw you remembering something unpleasant.” The soon-to-die man said. “My name is Wilmer Philpot. You are?”
“Lewis Ryan,” he croaked, and shook Mr. Philpot’s hand.
“Nice to meet you, Lewis. May I call you Lewis?”
“Thank you.” Mr. Philpot smiled, and sipped his single origin, fair trade, organically grown and processed, tea. “Please tell me if I’m prying, but I’m very curious about your condition.”
Lewis nodded, and pushed a stray lock of hair out of his eyes.
“Do you find it has kept you from being who or what you’ve wanted to be?” Philpot asked, after taking a second sip from his cup.
“I haven’t,” Lewis cleared his throat, “thought about it in quite that way before.” He lifted his coffee cup to his lips, blew across the surface of the hot liquid, and took a drink. “I can say that it really doesn’t impair me, but it does limit me in many ways.”
“I would imagine. Is it random, or do you have some sense when an episode will occur?”
For some reason, Lewis wasn’t comfortable lying, though he’d done so a hundred times before. Truly, leading the man on would be about as free of consequences as anything could be, considering Mr. Philpot would be dead by morning.
“No. I wish I did. Something triggers it, and then I’m along for the ride.” Lewis mimicked running on the tabletop with his fingers. “Two minutes of wailing, every single time, without fail.”
“Lord, young man! That’s a tough cross to carry.” Philpot shook his head. “You’ve got the same look on your face that my wife had.”
“What do you mean?”
“She passed away five years ago, today, after a long fight with cancer. About two months before she died, there was a look in her eyes very similar to the one you wear.”
“I’m so sorry, sir.” Lewis said, genuinely sympathetic for the stranger in the other chair. “I wish I could say more without sounding pedantic.”
Wilmer Philpot waved his hands as if he wanted to move the awkward atmosphere along, preferably far away.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve heard just about everything anyone could say, and imagined the rest. It just concerns me to see someone so young with that look about them.”
“What kind of look is it?” Lewis cocked his eyebrow.
Despite years of being a Banshee, and experiencing visions that no one should be made to endure, Mr. Philpot’s observation made Lewis’ blood run cold. Without having known one another, the older gentleman pinned him to the chair like an insect in a museum collection. How could he explain what it was like, being the Emcee of Death, or looking in the mirror every morning, wondering if his own reflection would trigger the wail?