Banshees rarely had to wait in line.
“No, please, after you,” said the woman ahead of Ariel. “I’m still deciding.”
Human superstition made her life harder in a lot of ways, but here was one way it made it easier. She stepped up to the counter, and the newest barista, eyes focused on the register, asked for her order.
It was always the newest one who got stuck with her. This one was a tall, attractive young man who was trying, and only somewhat succeeding, in growing a beard. His name tag read Waldo.
“How are the cookies today?” she asked.
Waldo shrugged indifferently. “I don’t know. Same as always.”
“They’re not always the same,” said Ariel. “I know they come from the same factory somewhere, but sometimes, something goes wrong in the process or they get delayed or whatever.”
“Well, they’re always wrapped in plastic, so I don’t know how we’d know if they were good or not?” he said. “And are they ever really that good in the first place?”
She chuckled. “Good point.”
Waldo turned his attention from the regiester. Her burning eyes burrowed into him. Some said her gaze pierced their soul, seeing their darkest secrets, most painful memories, and fated tragedies that had yet to unfold. This was wrong. She needed to concentrate to do that. And squint.
He didn’t smile at her, but neither did he avert his gaze. “You’re the banshee, huh?”
She smiled. She’d been told her smile was predatory. It was the pointed teeth. “I’m Ariel. You’ve heard of me.”
“They talk about you a little.”
The employees on the other side fo the place all retreated a few more steps.
“Only a little?” she asked.
“They think it’s bad luck to talk about you too much,” he said.
“And you, Waldo? What do you think?”
He shrugged wisely. “I don’t know. I don’t believe in luck. I mean, sure, I believe in it. I just don’t know if it’s something we have any control over, y’know. Like everything I’ve read about banshees says they are harbingers of things to come, but none of them said they actually cause those things.”
“You’ve read up on banshees?”
He shrugged. She noticed that while it was his go to, each had its own distinct nuance. This shrug was flavored with curiosity.
“They said a banshee came in on Tuesdays, so I read up on banshees.”
“A wise precaution,” she said.
“They also said you like a large espresso with a shot of vanilla, low foam.” He set the cup before her with her name already written on it.
She took a drink and frowned. “This is not low foam.”
He shrugged apologetically. “I’m still figuring out the machine. So can I ask you a question?”
“Do you want to know the day you’ll die?”
“No, thanks. Unless it’s tomorrow. God, I’d hate to die tomorrow.”
“Who wants to die on a Wednesday? That would suck.”
She squinted with one eye. “You won’t die on a Wednesday.”
“Well, that’s something, right?”
“You had a question, Waldo?”
He leaned forward on the counter. “How did you end up in Sacramento?”
“There was this castle in the Irish countryside where I was born. Or made. I think I might have been a mortal at some point, but it’s kind of hazy. I spent centuries there, lurking in the mists, foreshadowing dooms, all that kind of stuff. Then one day they took the castle apart, and one brick ended up here in a building just around the corner. And that apparently is the brick that I’m attached to, and I appear here on Tuesdays. Don’t ask me why?”
“Bad luck, huh?” he said.
“Maybe not so bad. I do enjoy the coffee.” She took a sip. “Even if it isn’t exactly to my liking.”
“I can make another.”
“Don’t trouble yourself,” she said. “I do enjoy a bit of dissatisfaction with my pleasure.”
Her boney fingers weren’t quite as bony as they normally were. Her blackened fingernails, while still sharp, were not quite as talon-like as normal. A glance in the glass of the baked goods case confirmed that her wild red hair had settled around her shoulders. She still had the slight glow of her skull under her alabaster flesh.
Her appearance depended on the people around her. As an embodiment of the unknowable future most saw in her pain and doom. Mortals knew that this was always their inevitable end, even if they rarely admitted it aloud. But those things they never said were made manifest in her.
There’d been a farmer a long time ago who had allowed her to appear nearly human. And a child now and then. But it’d been a while since she’d been this passably mortal.
“I like you, Waldo.”
He shrugged humbly. “Thanks.”
“I do hope you’ll be here next Tuesday,” she said.
“Depends on the schedule.”
She studied the other employees, all pretending not to cower beneath her red gaze. “Oh, I have a feeling you’ll find no competition for this particular shift.”
She smiled at the other customers who had squeezed to the side. Her feet touched the floor. It was a pleasant change. She’d hovered with a chill fog trailing behind her for years. The linoleum felt cool under her feet, even if she did leave an icy patch behind with each step. As she left, someone slipped on the ice. They’d blame her for that, but it was just not watching where they walked.
She waved to Waldo, who waved back before returning to wrestling with the machine. Ariel walked down the street, enjoying the sunny day, until she disappeared, leaving only a cup in the garbage and a lingering wisp of fog.