Banshee Of The Bad Lands





Hell, with the fires out, is what the Bad Lands of Dakota have been

called. The fearless Western nomenclature fits the place. It is an

ancient sea-bottom, with its clay strata worn by frost and flood into

forms like pagodas, pyramids, and terraced cities. Labyrinthine canons

wind among these fantastic peaks, which are brilliant in color, but

bleak, savage, and oppressive. Game courses over the castellated hills,

rattlesnakes bask at the edge of the crater above burning coal seams, and

wild men have made despairing stand here against advancing civilization.

It may have been the white victim of a red man's jealousy that haunts the

region of the butte called Watch Dog, or it may have been an Indian

woman who was killed there, but there is a banshee in the desert whose

cries have chilled the blood that would not have cooled at the sight of a

bear or panther. By moonlight, when the scenery is most suggestive and

unearthly, and the noises of wolves and owls inspire uneasy feelings, the

ghost is seen on a hill a mile south of the Watch Dog, her hair blowing,

her arms tossing in strange gestures.



If war parties, emigrants, cowboys, hunters, any who for good or ill are

going through this country, pass the haunted butte at night, the rocks

are lighted with phosphor flashes and the banshee sweeps upon them. As if

wishing to speak, or as if waiting a question that it has occurred to

none to ask, she stands beside them in an attitude of appeal, but if

asked what she wants she flings her arms aloft and with a shriek that

echoes through the blasted gulches for a mile she disappears and an

instant later is seen wringing her hands on her hill-top. Cattle will not

graze near the haunted butte and the cowboys keep aloof from it, for the

word has never been spoken that will solve the mystery of the region or

quiet the unhappy banshee.



The creature has a companion, sometimes, in an unfleshed skeleton that

trudges about the ash and clay and haunts the camps in a search for

music. If he hears it he will sit outside the door and nod in time to it,

while a violin left within his reach is eagerly seized and will be played

on through half the night. The music is wondrous: now as soft as the stir

of wind in the sage, anon as harsh as the cry of a wolf or startling as

the stir of a rattler. As the east begins to brighten the music grows

fainter, and when it is fairly light it has ceased altogether. But he who

listens to it must on no account follow the player if the skeleton moves

away, for not only will it lead him into rocky pitfalls, whence escape is

hopeless, but when there the music will intoxicate, madden, and will

finally charm his soul from his body.





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