Notorious for their satanic lyrics, drunken excess, and rumors of blood sacrifice, the Banshees shocked the world with their only album Beat the Manshees. Death stalked their concerts—lightning, stabbings, overdoses. The world heaved a sigh of relief when the Banshees all died in a plane crash. Or did they? Forty years later, with no fanfare, they appear in a seedy Prague nightclub. Ian St. James, son of original Banshees drummer Oaian St. James, can't believe his eyes.
A fellow Wisconsin writer, Mike is best known for his comics work, as co-creator of the popular NEXUS and THE BADGER, as well as stints on The Punisher, Star Wars, DeadMan, and The Flash. But he's also a visceral, powerful writer. I said "Mike Baron is like Quentin Tarantino on paper." My publishing house has released many of his books, and BANSHEES is his newest. – Kevin J. Anderson
"I am a HUGE fan of Mike Baron's work. The biggest influence on my Catman interpretation was the Badger, without question.This guy was scary/funny before that was even a thing. Get this book, dammit!"– Gail Simone
On a clear night in March, Kaspar Sinaiko coaxed his eleven-year-old Mercedes down a rutted dirt path that ended at an eight-foot hurricane fence topped with concertina wire. He turned off the engine, cutting short the Banshee's "One More for the Grave." One hundred feet inside the hurricane fence stood an old double-wide trailer that had once served as the construction HQ for a thriving shipbuilding factory.
But times changed. The shipbuilding factory had died in the 80s from poisoning, having sent thousands of workers to an early grave. Georgia had declared the site an environmental hazard, which hadn't stopped scavengers from removing everything but the concrete slabs and piles of slag. The parent company could no longer afford to guard the premises, so the vast industrial complex had been left to rot.
Kaspar got out of his car and stretched in the cool night air, inhaling the scent of chemicals and a hint of the salty Caspian Sea which lay on the other side of the blasted land. Despite the evening cool, Kaspar sweated through his white muscle shirt. Sweat beaded on his brow like rivets.
He was ripped like a cage-fighter, with a six-pack you could dig your nails into. Veins popped like cords on his muscular arms, blue/black from prison tattoos. He was clean-shaven, with small, close deep-set eyes of Arctic blue. His face had been flattened and his eyebrows scarred. His ears looked like tortellini. His torso was also covered in jailhouse tats, including the lifer's stars on each shoulder. The rose on his chest marked his initiation into the Russian Mafia. The executioner covering his gut indicated he was a killer. On his left bicep, a likeness of Rasputin. On his right, an edged saw. The barbed wire around his wrists were strictly decorative. The six Chinese characters on the left side of his skull meant, "True unto death."
Kaspar had visited this desolate hellhole, known as the Devil's Scab, a fortnight ago in preparation. Now all that remained was to transport the package from the car to the trailer and the ceremony itself. Kaspar looked down where the chain mesh fence met a steel stanchion. The mesh had been cut, but you couldn't tell unless you got right up to it.
Pulling a pair of heavy rubber gloves from the car, Kaspar knelt and bent back the corner, creating a triangle big enough to crawl through. God, what he wouldn't give for a snort of crystal. That could wait until he was inside the trailer. One misstep could result in his death. But if the texts were correct, if the dogma was solid, he was about to transform himself from a thug you'd avoid on the street into one of the most powerful and charismatic people on earth.
As head of the Mad Monks crime syndicate, he was already powerful. As president of the Skorzny Group, he traveled in rarefied circles. He was a natural leader. People looked up to him. He took over his cellblock day one. He'd hobnobbed with Trump, even attended Cannes in support of a Russian crime thriller he'd financed with drug money. A tux miraculously transformed him into a hard-nosed businessman. The long sleeves concealed his tats.
Kaspar knew business. He held no university degrees save the marks on his face from the School of Hard Knocks. He'd been a policeman once but stepped on the wrong toes and found himself in Lubyanka, and shortly after that at a labor camp above the Arctic Circle.
As a former cop his life expectancy in prison would have been infinitesimal save for one fact: the politician he'd offended was universally despised. Several gangs courted him, but he went with the Monks because their peculiar strain of evangelical mysticism and hands-on "spiritual ceremonies" satisfied a deep and twisted longing in his soul. He had always sensed this knot of perversity within himself. Always.
"You've got to believe in something, or you'll fall for anything," he sang atonally.
When I go to America I will see Mellencamp and the Boss.
Kaspar was a rocker and played a decent one-handed piano.
The car shifted and squeaked on its tired suspension. The package was coming out of it. Humming atonally Kaspar walked to the rear, sprung the hatch, and stared down at the thirty-seven-year-old woman, ankles and wrists bound with duct tape, her hair reduced to ragged stubble. He hadn't gagged her in case she had trouble breathing. She looked up at him with terrified eyes and croaked, "What…?"
Kaspar grabbed the roll of duct tape from the trunk, ripped off a piece and plastered it over her mouth. "Don't worry," he said in heavily accented English. "Will all be over soon." Bending at the knees, he gathered her into his arms and stood.
Her name was not important, although Kaspar had gone through her wallet with his usual efficiency. Fareeza Sollish was one of twelve known bastards sired by Paddy McGowan, lead singer of the Banshees. Fareeza was a teller for the Royal Bank of Scotland in London, unmarried, two cats.
It had taken Kaspar six years and a small fortune to track her down.
Kaspar had paid a contractor a thousand dollars to procure samples of Miss Sollish's hair from a salon. Using DNA from Paddy's discarded cigarette butts, saved by obsessive fans, Kaspar made his match, had found his key to a gate that would unlock another world.
Kaspar could not believe his luck when he learned (by following her tweets) that Fareeza planned to vacation in the Middle East. But it wasn't luck. The spheres were in alignment. The moon was in Capricorn. Civilization was unraveling. That Great Dread Thing that had lurked in the earth since time began was stirring. One need only look at the telly or the net. Food riots in China. War in the Middle East. Food riots in Greece and Ireland.
"In a time of mass confusion," he recited by rote, "When leaders fall, oceans rise, and men of goodwill are nowhere to be found, I shall come to lead my followers to the Kingdom of the Damned."
Like most Russians, Kaspar believed he was already damned. Nothing to lose and everything to gain.
He'd picked Miss Sollish up at a club in Istanbul. Kaspar could be quite charming. His tats covered with a cashmere sweater, he'd approached her at the bar.
The tall, ungainly woman with short brown hair beamed, eager to show she wasn't one of "those" tourists who stayed with the pack and disdained locals. How was she to know he was Russian? Later, he'd bought her a drink. As Miss Sollish began feeling giddy, Kaspar "helped" her into his car. High on meth, he'd driven straight through.
The meth was wearing off, but it would have to wait.
Fareeza struggled feebly as Kaspar carried her effortlessly to the fence and set her on the ground next to the triangular opening. He crawled through, turned around and pulled Fareeza through by her ankles, causing her skirt to rise up around her midriff and expose sensible white cotton underpants.
Kaspar, a kidnapper, rapist, and murderer, felt a vague guilt for subjecting her to these indignities but shrugged it off as residual bourgeoisie tendencies. What was one more life to a man who had killed dozens? Inside the fence, Kaspar crouched, reaching beneath the bound woman's knees and shoulders, hoisted her up, and draped her over one shoulder like a rolled up carpet as he strode across the blackened concrete and soil that glittered like diamonds from broken glass, silicon, mercury, and PCBs.
The double-wide sat on cinderblocks, a broken wood stair led to an aluminum door. Kaspar found the key in his pocket, unlocked the door, and pushed it open with a hair-raising screech. He carried the package into the big, hollowed-out space and set her on the spring and fungal sofa, the only piece of furniture. A Sony boom box with fresh batteries sat on the built-in kitchen counter. Kaspar opened the lower cabinet six inches, reached in, and slowly disarmed his homemade claymore, set to discharge a half pound of double-ought shot into the face of anyone foolish enough to get this far.
Opening the cabinet all the way, he pulled out a black leather satchel and opened it. Inside lay a curved kukri of Damascus steel. He drew it out, fixating on the whorls and patterns in the steel until they began to swim.
Kaspar had chosen this spot for its isolation as well as the spiritual energy, which came from the thousands of lost souls who had perished in the factory. They died from heavy metal poisoning. Mesothelioma. They fell from catwalks. Killed by shrapnel from exploding propane tanks. Pushed, knifed, or shot. No sane person wanted to work in the Bilyanka Ship Factory, so the state exerted gentle persuasion. Many who had worked and died here had been criminals not expected to survive. The shipyard had a frighteningly high attrition rate.
Kaspar felt the spirits of the dead now. They were all around him, intensely excited over what he was about to do. And why not? The spirits hungered for revenge. It was the only thing keeping them "alive."
Kaspar took a paper bindle from his pants, quickly and efficiently deposited a mound of white crystal on the kitchen counter, and laid it out in a line using Miss Smollish's Royal Bank of Scotland credit card. He took a drinking straw from a drawer and cut off two inches with the kukri. With a sigh that almost sounded like pleasure he placed the straw to his nostril and hoovered up the line.
Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am.
Stripping off his shirt, shoes, and socks, wearing only cargo pants, Kaspar hit the start button on the boom box's cassette player. The Banshees' "Moloch Loves Me" blasted from the speakers.
Hear Moloch, fear Moloch, feed him another child!
Face Moloch, taste Moloch, this is going to be wild!
Sound quality was poor. It was a bootleg of their first album he'd bought in a bazaar in Uzbekistan for three rubles. Banshees' music was designed to overcome flawed equipment, designed to sound piercingly bright through a car radio, ceding the lower register to the wheels and wind.
Hardly anyone played the Banshees anymore, mostly Goths in thrall to Satanism, and most of them lived in the rural American South. Back in the day, Pope John Paul had issued a condemnation. Churches held Banshee record burnings, furious denunciations not only from the pulpit but from Vanity Fair and the New York Times as well. Johnny Carson had ridiculed them. A congressman from Maine introduced a bill forbidding them from entering the United States.
It seemed at the time that there was a limit to what the public would stomach. A flurry of Banshees-inspired suicides fed the flames and the pockets of trial lawyers right up to the moment when the Banshees all died in a plane crash on the Scottish moors, flying from Gatwick to Helsinki for a gig.
August 19, 1975. Long before the ship factory burned, the Banshees' twin-engine Cessna buried its nose in the bog killing all three band members, two birds along for the ride, and the pilot. "Rough justice," said the families of suicide victims. "Good riddance," cried the social arbiters and ministers of every persuasion.
Bind the tainted tarts and chop off all their hair-e-o
Cut out their faithless hearts and throw them at the stereo!
Although suicides and riots had been attributed to the band, and particularly their record Beat the Manshees, no one had taken literally the lyrics to "Moloch Loves Me," no more than they acted out "Street Fighting Man" or "Cop Killer."
No one until now.
Kaspar dragged the struggling, mewling woman to the center of the floor, onto a once-magnificent Persian carpet.
Eyes glittering like ice, heart palpitating from the meth, face a rictus mask, legs in horse stance, Kaspar gripped the knife overhead in both hands and plunged the blade into the woman's chest just below the collarbone. He had observed and even assisted in autopsies while in Lubyanka. Kaspar carefully carved the coroner's Y cut from the collarbone to the pubis. Blood pulsed from the still breathing victim, who began choking into the duct tape covering her mouth.
Kaspar was not a brute. He didn't intend for her to suffer. He swiftly inserted the blade beneath the woman's jaw and with steroid-enhanced strength drove it all the way through her palate into her skull. She died instantly, legs twitching. Kaspar reflexively recited a Russian orthodox prayer then laughed at himself for his hypocrisy.
"Kaspar!" he rasped. "Tyi takoy zlobney!"
Using the blade and his immense strength he peeled back the flesh of the upper torso, exposing the rib cage. Raw viscera seeped into the carpet. Kaspar dug his fingers beneath the ends of the fifth and sixth ribs on either side. It was slippery going. He pried back both sides of the rib cage like Samson bringing down the temple to the sound of bones cracking. He exposed the heart, like some obscene fruit. Using the blade with the utmost delicacy, he severed the heart from its moorings, cutting through the veins and the aorta until at last the slippery thing came free, not much bigger than a tennis ball.
He rose and hurled the heart overhand. It struck the Sony boom box with a resounding thwap! The music stopped.
Thousands of miles away, something stirred beneath the Scottish moor.