In a crowded tavern called the Bull’s Head in County Cork, Ireland, a beautiful girl with long black hair and flashing dark eyes swayed slowly back and forth to the music as she sang a soulful song on a small raised stage.
“I recall you, but I won’t call you!” she sang in a lilting manner that captivating the audience as they sat around the tables or stood near the back walls of the small and cozy tavern.
A handsome and rugged man with red hair and a pleasing, good-natured expression on his face nodded appreciatively as he watched the girl and her siblings perform, occasionally taking a bite from the food on his plate.
“Daniel Cormac! ‘Tis a pleasant thing to see a man so openly in love, but would you be withering away for your feelings like one ensnared by the Leanhan Shee? Eat, man, eat!” said a blonde woman who sat across from Daniel with her arm around her companion, a blond man, gaunt in appearance, who wore an amused expression on his own sensitive and rather timid face.
Daniel blushed furiously as he smiled broadly. “Seamus O’Mara, can’t you teach your woman to stop her merciless teasing?” he joked. “I’ll gladly order a sizeable shipment from your farm-supply business if you’ll only tame her fiery tongue!”
Seamus and his wife Rose laughed in response, and the shy salesman replied, “Daniel, I wouldn’t dare try to change her. I love the girl too dearly just as she is! I’d say you feel the same about the fair Andrea.”
“Am I so obvious?” said Daniel. “I admit the girl has me driven to distraction, but sure and it’s a right enjoyable trip.”
As Andrea concluded her song and stepped off the small stage, a burly man with long black hair and a thin mustache approached her with a swaggering and disapproving manner. “Andrea, I’ve told ye before, woman, I won’t be havin’ my bride to be makin’ a show of herself! We Hanrohan’s are big in the county! It won’t look fittin’ for one of our women to be cavortin’ on a stage in a common tavern!”
Andrea’s midnight-black eyes flashed with passion as she placed both hands on her hips and glared at the cocky newcomer. “Bryan Hanrohan, I’ve told ye more than once that I’m my own woman!” she said. “In fact, I’ve made it as clear as a girl can without shrieking like a living banshee that I want no part of you!”
Hanrohan scowled and raised one hand as if to strike the singer when her brother and two sisters rushed over to crowd around her.
“Don’t try it. Your old man may own half the county, but you can’t buy Andrea, nor can you strike her!” warned a plump man with a guitar who was clearly Andrea’s brother.
“This is between me and Andrea,” said Hanrohan. “She’s mine, and I tell you all that she will be mine or regret it. This music nonsense won’t take ye from me. In fact, it will lead you to sorrowful ruin!”
Daniel had crossed the room and now faced the wealthy farmer. “Bryan, leave them alone!” he said. “Why don’t you take your fancy car and be off to the city, where you can find girls who are all the more willing to go with you?”
Bryan Hanrohan sneered in contempt as he gazed up at the rugged farmer. Daniel Cormac came from one of the oldest families in Ireland, and he was respected by most in spite of the fact that the family farm was a modest one in comparison to the many Hanrohan holdings. “Cormac, mind your own business!” he said. “I don’t care if ye come from the old kings themselves, you are barely more than a pauper in my eyes. I was but a wee one myself when your old grandpa used to come hat in hand to the farm and be askin’ for a loan!”
“He paid back every coin he owed your father,” said Daniel. “There’s no shame in such an honest deal. What is shameful is a man trying to force himself on a girl who loathes him!”
Bryan grabbed Daniel by the shirt and shoved him backward. Daniel fell hard but rose back up and confronted the drunken lout. He lifted him off the ground and dropped his struggling form in the wet puddles near the door.
“Let’s be takin’ this outside!” he said.
“You aren’t worth my time,” said Hanrohan. “I’ll go now, but I’ll not soon forget your impudence. You best hope that little farm o’ yours keeps on as it does, for you’ll not be getting any loans from me!”
“Daniel’s farm is the best in the county,” said Andrea. “Nobody can equal his crops or his cattle for quality. He doesn’t have to crawl to you. If we ever get a record deal, then we won’t be having to see your face anymore, either!”
Hanrohan stalked out into the windy night and left the musicians to return to their stage while Daniel silently watched as Andrea joined her family and gave him a passing smile.
Seamus came over and whispered, “Daniel, I fear you’ve made a bad enemy. Truth be told, old friend, I wonder myself how your place prospers so, when…”
Daniel grinned as he replied, “When I never do any work? I’ve heard the like from some gossipy old spalpeens in the district, but I promise you that I do keep very busy! Either that, or I have the favor of the Good People themselves, eh?”
Seamus threw up his hands in mock protest and said, “Daniel, considering how you turned your grandpa’s place into the best farm around these parts without seeming to work overly hard at it, I’d not deny you any such claims of being loved by the Sidhe.”
Daniel said nothing, since in spite of his joking with his trusted friend, he did not want the community to know that it was entirely due to the favor of Ireland’s fairies and other magical beings that his farm yielded such successful produce in spite of the fact that Dan spent most days in bed. He required his rest, since the night hours were usually filled with heroic deeds performed with the help of the magical lantern he employed in his masked and costumed guise as Ireland’s champion, Jack O’Lantern.
He watched and listened as Andrea and her group performed a fast song called Unforgettable and wondered if there was some way his magical prowess could help the girl find the success she wanted.
Other concerns filled Daniel Cormac’s mind later that evening as he soared through the stormy sky over Dublin in his costumed identity of Jack O’Lantern. A tiny being in quaintly rustic clothing perched on his shoulder, complaining incessantly.
“Tch! Tis not a fit night for e’en a trooping fairy to be out and about!” said the odd magical being named Fergus. “Anyone with proper sense would be home by a fireside with a good ale and a fair wench!”
Jack’s mask concealed his features and muffled his voice, but his own amusement was still evident. “Fergus, have you forgotten that it was on such a stormy night as this one that I first met you and gave you shelter?” he said. “For a Fear Dearg, your memory is faulty.”
Fergus nodded and said, “And it was for such acts of kindness to the Good People that our very own beloved Queen Maev gave ye yon magical lantern and made you our champion. I’m not daft, mind ye, for all that I am four hundred years old.”
“I’m not accusing you of being daft,” said Jack. “I’m merely pointing out that good can come from nights like this one. And we’d better help that eventuality become a reality by helping that plane.”
The green-and-purple-costumed hero raised his magical lantern by its handle and allowed the brilliant light it emitted to illuminate the dark sky. The light revealed a small plane struggling along against the storm and apparent mechanical problems.
“Ach! Why any dolt would be wanting to ride in a metal bird is beyond me!” said Fergus. “Is there no good sense to be found among the lot of ye?”
Jack O’Lantern ignored the little fairy’s diatribe and flew closer to the plane. “I could magically animate the engine and let it bring the plane down safely, but after that run in I had with Hanrohan, I’d as soon use my muscles!” he said.
He hovered above the plane and concentrated until the magical lantern’s glow enveloped the plane and solidified to form a brilliantly shining cocoon. Jack exerted his will power carefully and lowered the buffered plane to safety below. He willed the light to fade away and carefully helped the two pilots out of their damaged vehicle.
“Jack O’Lantern, thank goodness you came along when you did!” said the older, balding pilot.
“Ireland’s very own Superman never fails us!” added the younger and more slender co-pilot.
“High praise indeed, gentlemen. I’ve met Superman, and I can assure you that he’s an example to us all in every way,” said Jack. “But if I may ask, what brings you boys out on such a night? I know running a private charter service requires plenty of hustle, but I don’t see any passengers.”
“We just returned from a meeting with a rather illustrious client,” explained the pilot, “Raymond Waterford, the music executive. He’s going to hire us to fly him over to London on St. Patrick’s Day for an open music audition. Some lucky soul will be signed by his nibs for a recording deal!”
“That’s amazing!” said Jack. “Talk about the luck of the Irish!” He waved to the pilots and flew off into the night in a wild series of acrobatic circles and dives.
“I just credited ye with a margin of good sense, and ye have to go a galloping like someone bein’ chased by the Coach-a-Bower itself!” cried Fergus as he grabbed Jack’s cape tightly.
“I’m sorry, Fergus,” said Jack. “But didn’t you hear that pilot? Raymond Waterford himself is holding auditions for the public! If I can get Andrea to sing for him, she’ll be certain to win! It will make the girl’s dreams come true!”
Fergus spat into the wind and said, “Bah! Ye’ve got it bad for the wench, and I admit she’s a comely one, but still, why give her an opportunity to leave ye?”
“I hate to think of her leaving,” replied Jack. “Seeing her at the Bull’s Head is a joy to me, pure and simple. Yet not being able to win her heart is a pain true and deep. Still, I’d rather do without her company than see her dreams die! Singing is what she lives for, Fergus.”
Fergus remained silent for once. He cared for Jack O’Lantern, and beneath his gruff manner, he felt the young man’s pain as a friend would do.
The next night found Daniel Cormac eagerly sitting at his usual table in the Bull’s Head waiting for Andrea and her siblings to arrive.
Cathal MacBride, the cheerful, ruddy-complexioned owner of the tavern, wiped away some food from the table and said, “Daniel, I hate to tell you, lad, but there will be no show tonight. Perhaps never again, and more is the pity!”
Daniel frowned and said, “You don’t mean that rogue Hanrohan has interfered in some way, do you?”
Cathal sat down with a weary sign and said, “No, he had nothing to do with it, although I would not put such ill wishes past him. He is like the very bull whose image hangs over the door. A stubborn and bad mannered man, he is! He is against Andrea’s singing, and he made it mighty clear last night. I’d ban him from my hearth, but the lout supplies me with ale from his father’s brewery.”
Daniel asked him, “Cathal, what’s wrong? Is Andrea ill?”
Cathal rubbed one thick hand across his mustache and said, “Heartsick, I fear! Have you not heard the news? Surely you’ve noticed how silent the town was today. You’re my first customer tonight.”
Daniel shook his head and said, “I’ve not been away from the farm before now.”
In truth, he had been sleeping during the day in order to prepare for his nightly patrol as Jack O’Lantern.
“Lad, all my regulars are ill,” said Cathal. “The one thing they have in common beside the sickness is that they all were here last night.”
“I ate the special, and I feel fine,” said Daniel. “But I didn’t see Andrea or her sisters touch a bite all night.”
Cathal raised one thick eyebrow in indignation. “It’s not my food that made folks ill,” he said. “Some of those who are ill didn’t eat here at all! Andrea’s not sick, either. She’s heartsick. You see, this is the second time folks became ill after hearing her sing. The same thing has happened over at Rooney’s Crossing. The family played there two nights ago. Word just reached here today. The old folks are saying Andrea has the curse of the Banshee! Her voice can kill! She’s taken it all to heart and says she doesn’t dare sing again!”
“That’s nonsense,” said Daniel. “I know the old ways are strong here to this day, but who could think a sweet girl like that could possess a death knell in her voice. Her singing is as pure as a crystal stream! I heard her sing. You heard her as well.”
“Daniel, I wasn’t here last night,” said Cathal. “Don’t you think I would have stepped in when that loudmouth started bothering the girl? I hear you handled him right and proper, though. You seem to be the only person who heard her sing other than her family who is not sick today!”
“But what does the doctor say?” asked Daniel. “Surely it’s some virus or a flu.”
“Old Dr. O’Toole can’t figure out the cause of the malady. He can’t remedy what he can’t understand. Word has spread that it is a wasting illness brought on by Andrea’s singing. Folks are whispering that the family is cursed!”
Daniel stood up and said, “Such rumors could not have spread so swiftly without some very deliberate help. I’d say Hanrohan is behind this. He’s taking advantage of other people’s suffering to ruin Andrea’s career. I’m not going to let it happen!”
He stormed out, and Cathal watched in surprise. I never thought Daniel Cormac would show such fire, he thought. For all his size, the boy’s never been one to raise a fuss. He’s as good natured as they come!