“I just got us tickets to see Banshee!” Sarah tossed her phone and purse onto the table next to me.
I looked up from my phone, “What? Wait, what? I thought they were sold out!”
“Happy birthday,” she said smugly, and flopped down in a chair. “It should be a…Oh. My. God. Look!” Sarah punctuated her statement with a sharp elbow to my stomach.
“What the hell, Sarah?” I grunted, “I was looking right at you!” I glared at her, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was staring straight ahead, her eyes wide, a huge grin on her face.
Turning my gaze, I spotted the focus of her attention immediately.
The woman had clearly once been gorgeous. What kept her from true beauty was the fact that she was extremely thin, almost emaciated. She was also really tall, at least six feet. Her cheekbones protruded in a way that left her face looking cadaverous. Besides all of that, it was her outfit that had gotten the attention of the entire coffee shop. She was wearing a black leather gown, but the dress didn’t fit her well, it hung in loose folds around her body, flapping softly as she strode through the doors. But the high-necked, sleeveless gown wasn’t even the best or most unusual part of her ensemble. On her head she wore what could only be described as a stuffed bat. The head of the creature rose proudly above her forehead, giving her another few inches of height, and the wings were spread in flight, they were wider than her broad, skeletal shoulders. The creature’s eyes were glittering rubies, its mouth was agape, revealing sharp looking white teeth that shone wetly in the overhead lights.
I stifled a gasp of surprise before I could stop myself. Without turning to Sarah, I leaned close to my friend’s ear, “Does she realize it’s April and not Halloween?” I murmured.
Sarah chuckled, “Where do you think she’s going dressed like that at eight in the morning on a Tuesday?”
I shook my head, “To sacrifice naughty children to her overlord?”
We giggled, but I felt a twinge of guilt. I looked away from the woman and noticed that every eye in the coffee shop was focused on her, and the looks were not kind. Like Sarah and I, their faces revealed mocking smiles and pointed, judgmental looks.
However, Maude, an old woman who I saw every morning at the coffee shop and was friendly with, gave me pause. Maude stared at the strange woman with pure fear sketched across her wrinkled face. As I watched, Maude raised her arm and pointed directly at the woman. When the old woman tried to speak, only a whisper came out. But Maude was close enough to Sarah and I that I heard what she said. I wasn’t quite sure I had heard her right, it sounded like she said banshee.
Before I could make sense of what Maude had said, the strange woman turned and eyed the older woman for a moment, her surprisingly simple brown eyes sharply evaluating the scene around her before turning back to the counter. She seemed either oblivious or uninterested in the stir she had created.
I felt a chill wash over me as those brown eyes glanced my way. I wanted to duck under the table I was sitting at, but instead I shook my head, amused at myself. What was I so afraid of?
I could now only see the back of the woman’s head as she leaned down to speak to the boy at the counter, who looked uneasy. His eyes were boring a hole into the counter, avoiding the woman’s. Having seen those dark eyes myself moments before, and how intense they were, I understood why he was avoiding eye contact. It was then I noticed that silence had descended over the coffee shop. The other patrons were still as statutes, as if we were all just waiting to see what happened next. As if we knew something bad was coming.
The counter boy swallowed hard and shook his head, speaking loud in the eerily quiet shop, “I’m sorry ma’am, we don’t have that.”
“What do you think she wants to order?” Sarah asked and giggled, her voice in the silence making me jump. She seemed oblivious to fear that hung thick in the air.
I shook my head. My tongue felt dry and too big for my mouth. We needed to get the hell out of here. I tugged Sarah’s sleeve. “Let’s go,” I mumbled.
Sarah ignored me and continued to stare at the woman, who had now straightened and was turning away from the counter. I caught a glimpse of her bright red lips curled in a grotesque smile. I quickly lowered my gaze. I couldn’t meet those dark eyes again. The silence in the coffee shop was thick and heavy. It felt as if we were all collectively holding our breath.
“Sarah, let’s go,” I whispered, stuffing my phone into my bag and picking up my coffee cup.
Sarah looked at me, startled, “What? And miss this? No way dude.” As she spoke, she pulled out her phone, held it up and snapped a picture.
The sound of the shutter snapped like thunder in the silence around us, and my heart dropped into my stomach.
The woman snapped her head around and glared directly at Sarah. The movement was sudden, animalistic, and utterly terrifying. Other people in the shop gasped. Sarah jumped and stumbled off her stool, bumping into me, I dropped my coffee. I felt the lukewarm remnants of my beverage leak through my sneakers, but I didn’t look down. I didn’t dare look away from the woman now. I felt my breath catch in my chest and wished that I was anywhere other than here.
The woman smiled and opened her arms wide, her palms towards us. Her fingers were long, tipped with blood red nails that matched her lips. I stared at her hands, praying she would leave. Praying for this to end.
The woman began to speak, and to this day I couldn’t tell you exactly what she said, or even if she spoke English. All I know is that the sound of her voice made my head swim and my entire body clench in terror.
Her voice made the building shake, coffee mugs clatter and crash to the ground. The TVs fell off the wall with a crash and a spark of electricity. The smell of ozone filled the air, mingling with coffee and pastries. Cracks sprouted in the wall near where Sarah and I stood. No one moved, no one uttered a sound. It was perfect stillness within utter chaos.
With each word that spilled from the woman’s perfectly rouged lips a small piece of my soul withered and died. I felt hopeless. I wanted this woman to kill me. To end my suffering. I stared at her hands. Her palms began to glow with green light that grew brighter and brighter with each word she spoke. I wanted to close my eyes and block out the blinding light, but I was frozen.
From the corner of my eye I could see Maude suddenly fall to the ground, convulsing. Blood spewed from her nose and mouth as she made horrible choking sounds and gasped for breath. None of us could do anything to help her.
I smelled Maude’s blood.
Green light filled my vision.
On my other side, I could vaguely see Sarah looking at me, her eyes wide, tears running down her cheeks. I couldn’t meet her eyes. I was staring at the green light. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything but wait for the woman to release me. For the light to blind me, kill me, or free me.
Sarah gagged and fell to the ground twitching. I could do nothing but stare at the green light. A man fell out of his chair next to me and collapsed in a pool of blood. I could do nothing but stare at the green light.
I could hear the sounds of people falling to the ground, the awful choking and gasping sounds echoed all around me, but I could do nothing but stare at the green light.
The smell of blood overwhelmed me. I felt sick.
The green light would keep me safe, would keep me sane. If I just focused on that and nothing else, I would survive this moment.
Finally, the woman fell silent.
The green light faded from her palms. Immediately, I fell to my knees beside Sarah, who was alive, though unconscious. Blood dripped from her nose.
I felt wetness on my own cheeks. Wiping at it, I saw red on my fingers.
I was suddenly terrified that I would look up and the woman would be standing over me, those red lips curled in a vicious sneer as she leaned down to wrap her long thin fingers around my neck. I envisioned the bat on her head was alive and flying around the room, looking for flesh to tear with its tiny sharp teeth. I jerked back from my friend, anticipating the pain of those teeth sinking into me, but I only managed to ram my shoulder into a table with a loud thud. The woman wasn’t anywhere near me. She had vanished.
The bell on the coffee shop door jingled as the door swung shut.