It was late at night as I sat on the sofa watching the late night movie on TV. The rest of the house was already fast asleep. As the movie drew to a close, I glanced at my watch with weary eyes and saw that it was past midnight, the witching hour. It was time for the head to hit the pillow. I switched off the TV, locked the doors and windows and set the house alarm before climbing the stairs to the bedroom.
My wife was in bed and fast asleep so I tried to make my entrance into the room as quietly as possible. The air condition was on and I was pleased to feel the coolness of the room. I reflected on how fortunate I was to have air conditioning on such a hot and humid night. After brushing my teeth, I thought of just sitting up in bed for a few minutes longer to read some blogs on my laptop computer.
Then all of a sudden, all the lights and the air condition unit all went off and I found myself in pitch darkness. It was a power outage. I was not too surprised as earlier that evening, I had seen some lorries and trucks belonging to the electricity utility company in the neighborhood which usually meant they would be messing about with the power lines and substations. This often resulted in brief blackouts in the neighborhood that could last as briefly as a few minutes or in rare unfortunate occasions, as long as several hours.
I looked briefly out the window and could see that the entire street was is darkness and while it was still cool in the bedroom, one could almost sense the oppressive heat and humidity of the night weighing heavily in the darkness.
I knew the coolness in the room would not last and I tried to lie quietly in bed and even tried to get some sleep, all the time hoping that the blackout would be a short one. From sheer tiredness, I did get some sleep but woke up again at about 1.30 in the morning. By this time, the coolness in the room had dissipated and the oppressive heat from the outside had penetrated. With no ventilation, this room would soon become hot and stuffy.
I was beginning to sweat and feel very uncomfortable but knowing that I had a lot to do later that day, I willed myself to sleep again. My wife had remained unstirred as once she is asleep, it takes quite a bit to wake her.
I awoke again at about 3.00 am. I was drenched in sweat and even when I sat up, I could feel rivulets of sweat rolling down my head and dripping off my nose and chin. It felt like I had been in a sauna. Unable to sleep, I tried sitting up and meditating to reduce my heart rate and heat generation while I continued to sweat buckets. I kept looking at the bedside clock and hoped for the power to return soon.
If midnight is the start of the witching hour, then it has also been said that 4 am. in the morning is the darkest hour of the soul. I was still sitting up but nodding in and out of consciousness in a kind of fitful sleep when suddenly it started. It sounded like what one would imagine the wail of a Banshee might sound like. It was extremely loud and shrill and the wail seemed to penetrate the inky blackness and stab at one’s very senses and soul.
My wife who had so far managed to sleep despite the heat, woke up in alarm and I had to do my best to calm her. It took a minute for the sleep deprived senses to identify the shrill sound as our house security alarm going off. Fearing someone may be taking advantage of the blackout to break into our home, I went downstairs, armed with a heavy handled walking stick, to investigate.
When I checked downstairs, I found the place was secure but the alarm siren continued its loud and irritating wail. I then went to the alarm system panel and attempted to disarm it. To my horror, when I got there, I saw that the alarm system panel was not powered and I could not disarm the alarm.
The house alarm has backup batteries but after more than four hours without mains electricity, the batteries had died out and this triggers the system “tamper” warning which set the alarm blaring. The same batteries powered the alarm control panel and so I could not operate the panel to switch the alarm off. Unfortunately, the alarm system speakers seemed to be on its own battery power and showed no sign of stopping.
By now the entire household was awake and I felt sure so was most of the neighborhood. I spent the next hour and a half trying to get the alarm to stop wailing and failing that attempted with limited success in muffling the sound with the use of a cardboard box and some packing foam placed over the alarm loudspeaker. All of this involved me climbing up and down ladders, doing some acrobatics and body contortions while sweating profusely from the heat and exertion and stumbling about in the light of a torchlight.
However, there was no peace to be had until the electricity supply was restored at about 5.30 in the morning and I was able to disarm the alarm. By then, I was a hot, sweaty, sleepless wreck with a consistent ringing in my ear from close and prolonged exposure to the wailing Banshee. No longer able to get any sleep, I greeted the dawn with a cup of coffee and bloodshot eyes.
I wish no one the wail of the security alarm banshee at 4 in the morning.
Author’s Note: In Irish and Celtic cultures, the Banshee (or “woman of the side”) is a fairy creature that can appear as a beautiful woman but more often as a hideous hag. It is said that when a Banshee appears and lets loose its awful wail, it is a sign that someone will soon die.