Angus Mackay was waiting for his mate, when an old lady dressed in ragged clothes came up to him and muttered in a heavy Scottish accent, “You poor boy. You poor, sad, boy. Beware, beware…” Her voice rose to a wail.
The poor thing was touched, daft.
Angus took her for a bag lady. She was terribly thin and pale, and her long red hair was knotted with filth. She had a battered green shawl enveloping her chest and shoulders. Her black dress was dripping, damp with rust-coloured water, and it was a fine, hot day. There hadn’t been any rain all week.
“Are you all right?” he asked kindly. “Do you need money for a meal? Here, take this, me old sweetheart.”
He pressed a note into her hand, noticing her fingers were all cold and gnarled like tree roots. What dreadful arthritis she must suffer from, he thought.
The old lady stopped shrieking. She looked at Angus with something like surprise. “You have gifted me? Me?” she said. She grinned, “For that, I will tell how ye can avoid ye wyrd. Don’t go to the ceilidh tonight.”
“Hey? How d’you know I am off to a party?”
The old biddy’s brogue was rich and strong, “I ha’ my ways, ye ken.” A crow, or a crow-like bird, flew down to sit upon her shoulder.
Angus felt a sudden chill. Dimly, he could remember tales of the Caointeach, the banshee of the Mackay family. His Grandfa had told him many traditional Highland stories, up until the old man’s death when Angus was fourteen. He could also remember stories about the Bean-nighe, the little washer woman who would foretell your death. She washed the clothes of those about to die, and they would run with blood.
He stared at the pinkish water still dripping from the hem of her dress.
Angus glanced down further, to the woman’s feet. A Bean-nighe had webbed feet, that much he could remember.
The woman had strong, broad feet that looked as if they had never seen the inside of a shoe. Between her toes were delicate folds of skin.
With a sudden rash of goosebumps, Angus looked back up into the old woman’s face. Her eyes were inhuman. Oh, they looked like the eyes of an ordinary lady, except they were old, ancient, weary beyond words. And yet, they were still kind eyes.
“I’m going straight home,” he said. “And I’m going to bed, where I will pull the covers over my head, and I won’t be coming out until tomorrow.”
“Ye be a clever boyo,” said the daft old biddy. She reached up to pat her bird. “I hope our paths are destined never to cross again.”
With that, she strode off down the street.
And Angus scuttled home to the safety of his bed.
Lynne Lumsden Green has twin bachelor degrees in both Science and the Arts, and writes both fiction and creative nonfiction. As a science writer, she spent fifteen years as the Science Queen for HarperCollins Voyager Online and supplies science articles to other magazines.