Authors: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Tags: #ghosts, #demon, #fantasy, #paranormal, #devil, #devils, #demons, #music, #ghost, #saga, #songs, #musician, #musicians, #gypsy shadow, #ballad, #folk song, #banjo, #elizabeth ann scarborough, #songkiller, #folk singer, #folk singers, #song killer
THE SONGKILLER SAGA
PICKING THE BALLAD'S
Original Copyright © 1991 by Elizabeth
Discover other titles by Elizabeth Ann
Scarborough at Smashwords.com
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Copyright © October, 2010, Elizabeth
Cover Art Copyright © 2010, Karen
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For Linden Staciokas and Ted Sponsel,
who showed me Scotland.
The woman had promised in her ad to
"Make a Spook-tacle" of herself for children's Halloween parties
and was doing her best to keep her word. The children could tell
the person in the black, hooded robe was a woman because of her
voice, which was a very odd one, of a crackling, country quality
such as a female of the jack-o'-lantern species might have. What
would a female jack-o'-lantern be, a jane-o'-lantern?
Seven-year-old Minda Moloney giggled at the thought and the
flashlight she held in her lap jiggled in sympathy. The beam
pointing toward her snub nose in order to cast demonic light on her
cherubic features did a little shadow dance on the ceiling
"Shut up," hissed third-grader Sass
Pulaski, punching her remedially in the arm and sending his own
flashlight beam gyrating wildly around the room.
All of the children sat in a circle on
the floor, some of them seated on Minda's mother's sofa pillows,
some merely sitting with the seats of their costumes on the cold
tile floors. Each child had been provided at the request of the
entertainer with a flashlight before all the lights had been turned
out. The storyteller herself had then made her entrance, her robes
flowing around her, her elongated shadow folding up over the wall
and ceiling so that she looked twelve feet tall, and
Then she had glided to a halt, her
long black robes spreading around her as she sat so it looked as if
she were melting into the floor. She drew a candle, as if from
nowhere, though of course it actually came from one of those big
wide sleeves, from which her hands emerged white as a corpse's with
long red nails that looked like a vampire's but probably came from
the Pay 'n' Save cosmetics department just like the ones Minda's
mom wore. The candle was a tall black column and already had
squiggles of wax melting down from it. The woman lit it, making it
look as if she had fire at the ends of her fingers.
"Well, now. Let's see," the voice from
inside the hood said. "I'm supposed to tell you a love story. That
"Yuck!" Sass Pulaski
"No, it's Halloween," said Minda's
younger sister, Sandy. "You're s'posed to tell scary
"Oh, well, then. I guess I'll begin it
the way all scary stories begin. Does anybody know how that
"Once upon a time?" ventured Selena
"Nope. That's for fairy tales. This
one has fairies in it, sort of, but it should begin as all dread
tales begin, 'It was a dark and stormy night . . ."
"It was a dark and stormy night when
the airplane landed at Heathrow and all the barf bags were
"I like this story already," Sass
"The nine-hour flight from Seattle had
started out pleasantly enough, with music all around. A very merry
red-haired stewardess who wanted the passengers to call her Torchy
danced impromptu jigs to the tunes played by the banjo accompanying
the group. I say the banjo accompanied the group, rather than that
it was played by one of them, you notice. The reason for that is
that while it's true that all the passengers were musicians and
singers who occasionally did pick a specific tune on the banjo,
much of the time the instrument simply played itself, all by its
lonesome. It was that kind of a banjo."
"What kind?" Sass wanted to know. "Was
it like a keyboard that looked and sounded like a
"Nope, it was like magic. It had been
made by a luthier, which is what you call an instrument maker, who
was a white witch from back in the Appalachian Mountains. He made
it for a man named Sam Hawthorne who spent his life finding and
singing special, important songs, songs that made a difference in
people's lives and taught them to look at things in new ways. Songs
that made Certain Parties very uncomfortable. And it was these
Certain Parties who were after the magic banjo now, trying to
destroy it and destroy all the people who protected it and who were
guided by it, the people who were the keepers of its
"Well, who were they? The Certain
Parties, I mean?" Jason Collins asked.
"Music critics, dopey, who else?" Sass
"Well, son, you're only part right,"
the spooky lady said. "Music critics at least need to listen to
music before they trash it. These particular parties couldn't bear
to so much as hear a single chorus, they hated it so bad. Of
course, sometimes they worked through music critics, but basically,
I believe you'd call them devils."
"Devils?"Selena asked suspiciously.
"You aren't going to start trying to preach religion here at our
party, are you? Because my mom doesn't like that and she would sue
"Yeah, and my mom doesn't want me to
listen to stuff about witches and demons and stuff either," Selena,
sensing she had the upper hand, added.
"No demons or witches or devils or
religious stuff—I suppose that means angels too?"
Selena nodded and said, unrepentantly,
"How about ghosts then?"
"Will they give me
"Oh, not intentionally. This is the
ghost of a pretty nice man. An interesting one anyway. And he's not
anybody you might run into around here. He's a Scottish
"That might be okay."
"Well, now, keeping in mind that we're
talking about old Scottish people here, who believed in such
antediluvian stuff as religion, talking purely about what they
believed so you understand I'm not preaching at you, do you suppose
your mama would have kittens if I told you first that there is a
Scottish prayer that this reminds me of? Sort of like 'Now I lay me
down to sleep.'"
"Now I WHAT?" Selena asked
said Minda. "Honestly, you are so dumb. If you spoil this party I
will never ever invite you again and I won't talk to you anymore
"Me neither," said her
"Oh, I guess its okay just so she's
not trying to convert me or preach creationism or anything like
"That's real nice of you, honey," the
voice from deep in the cowl said. "Now then, there is this ancient
Scottish prayer that says, and I quote, 'From ghosties and ghoulies
and long-leggit beasties and things that go bump in the night may
the Good Lord preserve us.'"
"Hey, I know, I know!" Minda's brother
said, waving his hand wildly to be called on. "I bet it's not a
prayer at all. I bet the Lord is like the KING lord and they're
wanting him to save them from, you know, like the bad guys and all
the animals that eat up dead people and mortars and nighttime
artillery fire and stuff, huh?"
"Interesting theory," the spook in the
hood said. "You should look into that sometime. But I'm talking a
little more literally here. It is Halloween and this is a ghost
"Oh, okay. But I'd like a battle
"You know, you and the ghost I'm going
to tell you about have a lot in common. You'll like him, I
The candle flame died down and the
voice changed, so that the accent in it shifted shape, from
southern to something with a's as soft and broad as the back of an
old horse and r's that buzzed around the room like bees. And as the
children stared into the candlelight, the story the woman told
seemed to gain life within the flame, so that they could see the
whole thing happening, all of it, and even the big words she used
were easy to understand because the pictures they made were so
clear, hanging over the candle's flickering flame.
* * *
Things were going bump in the night in
the study at Abbotsford, which is a famous Scottish landmark, being
the former home of Sir Walter Scott, who was a novelist, a
folklorist, and, for his day job, a lawyer, what they call a
barrister in Scotland. Sir Walter, who you might call the "ghostie"
in this instance, heard the barking of the border collie who was
the "long-leggit beastie" who guarded the house at night. The dog's
carrying on was so loud it made poor Sir Walter turn right over in
his grave. "My word," said Sir Walter, rolling onto his side to
assume his favorite sleeping position from when he was alive,
"strange sort of time for the Scottish Trust to start
And the "ghoulie" who had been rifling
through the library at the behest of Certain Parties paused for a
moment, catching its breath, in a manner of speaking (since it is
debatable whether or not ghouls, being deadish sorts, have need of
respiration). The ghost of Sir Walter had been aroused by the
disturbance the ghoul created in the ether when he manhandled Sir
Walter's books and notes, which were as much a part of the great
author's immortality as his immaterial self. The same ethereal
disturbance rebounded to shake the ghoul to its rotting core as Sir
Walter awoke and rotated in his resting place.
"Blimey," the ghoul said to himself.
(He was not a very high-class sort of ghoul, merely the remnant of
a burglar shot in the crossfire of a gun battle between his
associates of similar low degree and the police. But he was the
best Certain Parties could come up with on the spur of the moment.
Besides, they hadn't reckoned that destroying part of a historic
library required the assistance of a more refined thug, which
showed a certain lack of respect for the material they wanted
destroyed and its former owner.)
Mind you, Sir Walter Scott was not
your typical sort of spirit. Not that his somewhat baroque field of
interest had ever given him delusions of grandeur. When he invoked
the common broad speech of the common Scot, he was not slumming, as
some implied. Nor was he copying Robert Burns, as others would have
it. His title might make him a “toff", but it was part of his
romanticism that Sir Walter was very proud to be not two
generations removed from border raiders and brigands, and that the
wife of a former Walter Scott had been known, when the larder was
empty, to serve her lord husband his spurs on a plate as a
not-too-subtle hint that it was time to take to horse and go rustle
a head or two of cattle from the Sassenachs in Northumberland. The
"refined" English speech had come later in the family's history.
But the qualities of leadership needed in a brigand lord, more than
manners and speech, remained even after the outlawry was duly