THE THIRTEENTH HOUR - October 2019 - Table of Contents

Enchanted Conversation
presents the
October 2019 Issue:
THE
THIRTEENTH HOUR

When the thirteenth hour came,
reality melted away,
and from out of the shadows
something new and strange emerged.

Some tales are meant to be told before the clock strikes midnight, and then there are those that are meant to be told after...in the thirteenth hour, where candles hang weightless in the air, and shadows at the edge of our vision beckon us to follow them.

Here, a dozen writers take us through that thirteenth hour with dark tales to fascinate, terrify, and beguile us. After all, All Hallow's Eve is at the end of this month, and these authors have opened the door for you to follow the shadows through.


She painted from her dreams,
shadowed and ominous...
Amy Bennett-Zendzian

Their grey bodies surrounded her.
Their howls swept through her
like a winter wind...
M.P. McCune

"They still can't be vengeful, after all this time.
They'll take their treats and go..."
The Turnip and The Trick
Madison McSweeney

"I have no use for Death,
not anymore;
there are better ways to mend a broken heart..."
Deathless
Karina Steffens

"Remember what I told you about the teddies?"
"They only ever speak one word,
and that's their secret name..."
Bedtime Story
Wendy Lynn Newton

"You don't want those spoons.
The curse on them is bad.
People die because of that curse..."
Ten Silver Spoons
Chip Jett

"It's not real," she whispered.
"I am real," the ghostly voice whispered back...
Carol Scheina

She was buried beneath the ghostberry bush,
so her ghost could have the white berries
to eat as it wandered ...
The Ghostberry Bush
Allyson Shaw

The wind poured in the open window
with a sound that seemed as if
it were a living thing...
Woe Betide
Paul Alex Gray

This was not the first winter of the wolf.
I know the history of our dark times,
of our hunger...
The History of
Our Survival
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

The mirror's dark glass
mirrored one thing:
her dark, sunless heart...
Black Glass
Julia Stilchen

The others already gather,
outside the pool of light,
watching...
Welcome Home,
Dear Ones
Donna J.W. Munro



And finally,
To everyone who reads this issue, I want to say, thank you. This is one of my favorite issues to produce, (as I am a gothic girl at heart) and I was so fortunate to work with fantastic authors who shared my vision. So, on behalf of myself and the writers, we want to tell you that your support means everything! I want to wish everyone a magical October, and please enjoy the song that accompanies this issue below.
Until next time my friends,
Amanda Bergloff
Editor-in-Chief


ALL COPYRIGHT
to the written works in this issue belong to the individual authors.

Cover Painting: Study for the Magic Circle, John William Waterhouse, 1886
Cover Layout: Amanda Bergloff

THE GIRL WHO PAINTED DEATH by Amy Bennett-Zendzian

She painted from her dreams,
shadowed and ominous.
Her paintings were as dark
as the room was light...
Once upon a time a farmer’s wife stood looking out of her window. “If only I had a daughter with hair the color of our wheatfield,” she sighed, “I would love her, even if she could speak no more than the wind rustling through the sheaves.”

And soon enough a little girl was born to the farmer and his wife; her hair was a golden as ripened wheat, but she never made a sound. They named her Hush, and she learned to write and draw, chattering away as gaily through her scribbles and drawings as any child ever did through speech.

The girl was as pretty as a picture and as good as gold, and no one ever minded her silence, or the way she had of staring as if drinking them up. Hush drew things into herself and poured them out again in paint.

By the time she was a young maiden the farmhouse was decorated with Hush’s paintings, beautiful things that glowed as if with an inner light. But one day the farmer’s wife fell ill. Hush sat by her mother’s bedside, stroking her hand, but her mother did not respond.

Days went by, and her mother worsened. Hush and her father sat silently together as the mother’s breath slowed, and finally stopped. Hush looked up through her tears to see Death standing at the head of the bed.

But Death was not looking at her mother. He was looking at the painting behind Hush, a golden summer afternoon. Then Death looked at Hush. “There is little beauty in my home,” he said. “Come to my house, paint the most beautiful picture of your heart for me, and I will spare your mother.”

Hush nodded.

At the empty castle of Death the dead souls filed by the arched windows, silently, endlessly. Death brought paints and canvases and brushes, and gave Hush a wide dark room lit by many candles. “Paint,” he said.

Hush painted. She painted from her memory, the animals and landscapes and people she had loved every day of her life. But she felt that something was not right, and tore the canvases apart. 

More paints, Hush wrote to Death. Silent, he brought pots and tubes and jars from all over the world. He bought colors she had never seen before, heavy blocks that had be ground into fine powder and mixed with water.

Hush painted. She painted from her imagination, storybook creatures and mysterious grottos and fairy lights dancing. The wondrous pigments gave her paintings an ethereal quality they had never possessed before. Yet still something was not right, and again Hush destroyed her paintings. 

More candles, Hush wrote. Death brought tall white pillars and surrounded the easel with flames so that the room was as bright as noon. The souls filing by the windows shielded their eyes with their withered hands.

Hush painted. She painted from her dreams, shadowed and ominous. Her paintings were as dark as the room was light. Grim faces seemed to leer from her backgrounds, and her subjects grew strange and tormented, mouths twisted in silent screams.

She did not destroy these, but sat troubled, looking at them as they dried. Death came to look at her latest works. “You can no longer paint beauty,” he said. “You must return and I will take your mother.”

Hush raised her hands in mute despair.

“One last night,” he said.

All night Hush sat in front of her canvas. Not a single beautiful image would come; her mind was in darkness and turmoil. Finally she began painting, slowly at first but then faster and faster, as the candles burned lower. When morning came she collapsed to the floor and slept.

Death returned and looked at Hush’s final painting. It was not beautiful. It was a portrait of Death himself, and he saw that it was more terrible and magnificent than anything she had painted yet. He leaned in and looked closer, seeing himself the mirror of Hush’s despair. She had drawn him into herself and poured him out again on the canvas. 

Hush awoke in her own bed, with her father and mother holding her hands on either side, crying with joy at her return. Hush squeezed her parents’ hands and smiled. But she did not understand why Death had sent her back and spared her mother when she had not fulfilled her promise.

She stood by the window, staring out at the wheatfield. As the wind rustled through the sheaves, she felt her heart lift. She picked up her brush.
Amy Bennett-Zendzian holds an MA/MFA from Simmons College and an MA from Boston University. She is a Lecturer in Writing at Boston University, where she teaches courses on fairy tales. She has published poetry in Gingerbread House Literary Magazine and the NonBinary Review, and her short plays have been produced around the Boston area. Follow @FairyTalePapers. 

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff
Follow her on Twitter @karenleestreet
and
Check out Karen's books
Edgar Allan Poe and the Empire of the Dead
AND
Edgar Allan Poe and the Jewel of Peru 

HUNTER'S MOON by M.P. McCune

Their grey bodies surrounded her.
Their howls swept through her
like a winter wind...
When she first met the wolf, he was a man. He sat on a fallen tree trunk by the side of the path leading to her grandmother’s house, clothes perched uneasily on his slight frame, his clean-shaven face luminous in the trees’ shadows. They acknowledged each other with a nod, as people do when they meet in the woods, and he fell in step beside her. His silence wrapped around her like a blanket, protecting her from the sharp edges of the sounds of the forest: twigs snapping, squirrels scolding, the cry of a horned owl. When they reached the clearing where her grandmother lived, he walked on, leaving her with a farewell glance to mark the place they’d parted until they met again.

The house treated her like a stranger. Its windows stared blankly as if they’d never seen her before and the boards of the front porch shuddered indignantly at her touch. Shadows spilled out of the half open door, lapping at her feet until an undertow of darkness pulled her inside.

The next morning, the whiteness of the girl’s skin alternated with purple bruises, resembling the pattern of sunlight filtered through tree leaves.

“It’s hunting season. We don’t want anyone to mistake you for a deer,” her grandmother said from behind her, draping a red cloak over her shoulders. The girl shook like a wet dog, throwing off her grandmother’s touch.

The girl had a closet full of shawls and sweaters from past visits: “to protect her from the wind,” “to shield her from the sun,” “to keep the rain off,” “to keep the warmth in.” Curious glances stuck to pretty clothes like flies to a web, keeping anyone from looking beneath them.

“Run along now! I’ll see you next week!”

The man joined the girl on her way back. Wind fluttered the cape, exposing her arms. They walked in a silence brittle as ice. When they reached the forest’s edge, he loitered under the trees to listen to her mother scold her loud enough for the people at the end of the street to hear: “Just look at you! How many times have I told you not to leave the path, it’s dangerous! There are wild things in the woods, you’re lucky you only had a fall!”


The next time she saw the man, he was a wolf. He sat alone in the meadow between the village and the woods the night of the full moon, staring at her window. When their eyes met, he nodded. She climbed out and followed him into the trees. More wolves met them one by one until restless grey bodies surrounded her. Their howls swept through her like a winter wind, scooping up her voiceless anguish and carrying it with them out into the air, leaving her empty. She fell asleep in their midst but woke up in her own bed. Muddy footprints too large to be her own trailed to and from the window.

Every week the man waited for her at the edge of the forest, until the day of the next full moon. She walked slowly until the sun sank, then raced the moon to her grandmother’s house. Light streamed through the windows and the open door. Her grandmother’s body sprawled across the floor, dozens of wolves eddying around it. One nodded at the girl. She nodded back.

“Wolf! Wolf!” the girl cried as she ran into the woodcutter’s cottage. “In my grandmother’s house! It attacked her! I think she’s dead! Help!”  She turned without stopping and ran back to the house. The woodcutter snatched up his axe and followed.

The girl stopped at the door and pointed wordlessly to a lone wolf worrying the body of the old woman. The woodcutter pushed past and ran inside. When the wolf leaped at him, he knocked it to the floor with his axe. He chopped off its head and kept chopping until it was all in pieces.

“What was your grandmother thinking to leave the door open like that!” he asked.

“She was expecting me,” the girl said. “She didn’t want to have to get out of bed to let me in.” She burst into tears.

He reached over to pat her hand, but stopped when he saw his own was covered in blood.

“You’re safe now,” he said. “It was a lone wolf, not a pack. You can stay with me tonight and I’ll walk you home in the morning.”

“I’m not allowed to go with strangers.”

The woodcutter was at a loss. “But you can’t walk home through the woods by yourself at night!”

“I’ll stay here.”

“By yourself?” He glanced at what was left of the wolf and her grandmother.

“The wolf’s dead, so there’s no danger. Besides someone needs to clean up and watch over her body.”

The woodsman hesitated. “You’ll shut the door after me?”

“I will.”

Once he left, the girl reassembled the wolf’s carcass. As soon as they touched, the severed pieces knit themselves back into one whole and the wolf opened his eyes. He nodded.

They dug a hole together behind the house, then dragged the body outside and rolled it in. The girl shoveled in clods of dirt that fell on her grandmother like blows.

Before they left to join the others, the girl covered the grave with the red cape.
 
M.P. McCune lives in New York City with her family, which includes a bearded dragon. She primarily writes flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has appeared or will be appearing in Atlas and Alice, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Mythic Picnic Tweet Story Project and The Vestal Review. She frequents Twitter as @MPMcCune2

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

THE TURNIP AND THE TRICK by Madison McSweeney

"They can't still be vengeful, after all this time.
They'll take their treats and go..."
Rose could feel the weather turn as she set the carved turnip on the stoop. The wind took on a crisp, wintry chill as it whisked orange and brown leaves across the fields, and the sky, blue just yesterday, seemed profoundly grey. The turnip wobbled before finding a precarious balance, its ghastly face grinning malevolently at the road. Rose shuddered and shut the door behind her, her hand landing unconsciously on her rounded belly.

On the other side of the door, a black plastic tub sat on a wooden stool, filled to the brim with generous heaps of wrapped candies, dried fruits, and full-sized chocolate bars: Hershey, Aero, Coffee Crisp, KitKat. She wondered, with no shortage of bitterness, if she shouldn’t have bought more of the latter.

The little monsters were partial to KitKats. 
The afternoon of October 31st, Rose’s nearest neighbor paid a visit.
Nancy McCarthy had given birth just two months prior, and her daughter yawned agitatedly as she gently pulled her from the car seat. She’d been nervous about this visit; thankfully, Rose was pregnant again, which eased the tension somewhat.
As Rose greeted her at the door, Nancy dutifully admired the turnip, but laughed at the tub of candy. “Are those going to survive ‘til Halloween?” she asked.
Rose’s reply was uncharacteristically humorless. “Yes.”
Nancy wasn’t sure how to respond. “I wouldn’t think you’d get trick-or-treaters all the way out here. We never do.”
Rose’s tone didn’t lighten. “One year, we did.”
Nancy didn’t see how this was possible – Rose, like herself, lived on the outskirts of a farming community, where there was rarely any foot traffic, and certainly not at night – but she didn’t want to argue. “Better safe than sorry, I suppose.”
The visit progressed with similar awkwardness, with Rose giving terse answers to even the pleasantest of questions and the prominently-displayed photo of her first child adding a morbid air to the proceedings. Nancy chastised herself for thinking like that; but nonetheless, it was true.
It was only as she pulled into her own driveway that she realized the cause of her friend’s distress, and cursed herself for her ignorance. It had been around this time of year, two autumns ago, that Rose had lost her son.  
I should sleep, Rose thought, as the sky grew dim and the sun sank below the cornfields on Halloween night. She looked to the candy tub and mulled just leaving it on the porch next to the jack-o-lantern – but if she did that, there was the chance that something else might abscond with it before her visitors arrived. No, that wouldn’t do, she decided, placing a protective hand on her swollen stomach.
“It’s okay,” she whispered to her unborn child, speaking to herself more than anyone. “They can’t still be vengeful, after all this time. They’ll take their treats and go.”
And so the sky grew darker and the night grew colder as Rose sat in the den with the window half open, waiting for the goblins to arrive.
She was alerted to their presence not by a knock on the door or the ringing of a doorbell, but by the thwack of an egg hitting the side of the house, cracking and smearing yellow and red goo across the window glass.
At first, Rose thought the red guck was an optical illusion, a trick of the fading light; but no. It was, in fact, the remains of a half-formed baby bird, expelled from its tiny womb and left to rot on her porch. Her teeth clenched, and she was consumed with hatred for them.
She could hear them outside now, laughing like demons and chattering like squirrels, and for a moment she found herself filled with the wild hope that if she just ignored them, they would go away. No treats for you, she imagined herself hissing; go suck the meat from the defenseless eggs you stole from their mothers’s nests. Starve to death, for all she cared. But then she remembered her own child inside of her, and her hate turned to fear. The goblins demanded a treat tonight, and they wouldn’t leave unsated.
Fearful that she’d missed her chance to make the offering, Rose jumped up and rushed to the foyer, throwing the door open in a mad panic. The porch was empty. For a second, she thought they’d grown tired of waiting, and her heart sank. They’d be back, she knew, and when they returned, candy wouldn’t suffice. She was about to call out when she saw the first of the creatures emerge from the tangle of dead bushes along her walkway.
It was a freakish-looking thing, no bigger than a pumpkin and covered with warts and pus-filled boils, ready to pop. It walked with the uncertain gait of a toddler, but its teeth were sharp and its eyes were cruel. Behind it, five others followed, identical in structure but each boasting their own distinct deformities.
In her haste, she’d knocked over the candy bowl, sending a few excess chocolate bars scattering across the floor. Her whole body trembling, she picked up the bowl and dangled it over the threshold, her arm extended to put as much distance as possible between herself and the creatures. The head goblin – the tallest of the group, although that was a dubious distinction – looked past the bowl and over her shoulder, but the leering visage of the turnip warned it not to violate the house.
Shifting its gaze to the candy bowl, the goblin snatched it from her hands and began to dig greedily through the chocolates, shoving the KitKats and full-sized Coffee Crisps into its soiled overalls. Two of the lesser beasts, enraged at their leader’s greed but secure in their own, pounced on him and began to pull his clothes apart to get at the pilfered chocolate. The three others waited on the sidelines to catch any stray sweets that flew out of the bowl, swallowing handfuls of hard candy, plastic and all.
Rose barely registered any of this, though, because her eyes had fallen on a seventh visitor. This one was smaller than the others, and lingered shyly a few paces behind them, staring at her from the brush. The sight of it made her want to weep.
The creature wasn’t remotely human anymore, if it had ever been – in fact, it was perhaps even uglier than the others, the delicacy of its features throwing its grotesqueries into even sharper relief. Its face was also scarred and marred by angry protuberances, but its eyes were a lovely robin’s egg blue, bright and wide and strangely guileless. She would have recognized them anywhere.
Do you remember me? Rose wanted to ask, but the words curdled on her tongue. Instead, she knelt and groped for one of the fallen candy bars. Never abandoning eye contact with the little goblin, she wrapped her hand around a bar – Hershey, cookies and cream, her husband’s favourite – and silently offered it up.
The young goblin approached tentatively at first, before darting up the porch in a sudden burst of speed and snatching the bar from her hand. It paused to regard her suspiciously before tearing the wrapping and taking a bite; but it barely had a chance to sink its teeth into the chocolate before one of the larger goblins knocked it out of his hand.
Those incongruously beautiful blue eyes welled up with tears, but the other goblin subdued them with a snarl. The monsters had finished their bickering and were ready to move on.
As the goblins hobbled down the walkway, the blue-eyed one once again hesitated.
He knows me, Rose thought. He still knows me.
Looking nervously over its shoulder, the pitiful creature slunk back towards the open door, its hand extended, the tiny fist clutched around something small but precious. He wanted to give something to her, Rose realized, and reached to receive it.
The child-goblin was now in front of her, its hand close enough to hold hers. She waited patiently, palm open, although she wanted nothing more than to pull him into the house and lock the door behind them. The little hand opened, and the bloody remains of an aborted fetal bird fell into hers.
Rose gagged, stifling a scream. The creature looked into her eyes one final time, giggled, and ran off to join its companions.
Later in the evening, Nancy received her first trick-or-treaters in years.
She was surprised to see them – and even more surprised to find them unaccompanied by adults of any kind. Then again, perhaps their parents were parked somewhere behind the trees at the edge of the driveway. Even so, she thought, it couldn’t be wise to let children so young wander across a vast and darkened farmhouse yard by themselves. At least they looked young – it was hard to tell under the masks.
Regardless, she had no candy for them, and told them so regretfully. Perhaps Rose had been wise to stock up. She’d make sure to buy some next year.
The kids left without making too much of a fuss (then again, had they said anything at all? Other than trick or treat?), and Nancy returned to her sofa where a grainy television and lukewarm bowl of popcorn awaited. Harvey was working late at the police station – there was always lots of trouble on Halloween night – and the baby was asleep, so for all intents and purposes, she had the house to herself.
She tried to keep her eyes open until the end of the late movie, but started fading fast. She flicked the TV off and dumped the remnants of the popcorn into the kitchen garbage before heading straight up the stairs and towards her bedroom, pausing only to peek into the baby’s room, where she found the crib empty.
Madison McSweeney is a Canadian author and poet with an interest in all things weird and macabre. She has published horror, science fiction, and fantasy stories in outlets such as American Gothic, Under the Full Moon's Light, Rhythm & Bones Lit, and Zombie Punks F*ck Off. She also blogs about music and genre fiction at www.madisonmcsweeney.com and tweets (mostly about heavy metal and horror movies) from @MMcSw13. She lives in Ottawa with her family and her cat, and celebrates Halloween year-round. 
Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff