13th Hour

13th Hour: Tales from Light to Midnight

13th hour, short story, tammie painter(Please scroll down for a sample from the book.)

From light tales of legends and love to dark stories of ancient beasts and a desperate chef’s secrets, 13th Hour will delight you, mystify you and make you cringe.

13th Hour’s seventeen tales tick through questions such as….Can you dream forever? What is it really like working for the gods? What would you do for love? Or for revenge? Do ancient creatures still stalk the earth? What lurks in paradise? What is your family’s darkest secret? …and many more.

So sit down and unwind your clocks because it’s time for the 13th Hour.

What Readers Are Saying

  • “I usually don’t read fiction but this I really liked. The stories were varied in the type of suspense/horror. To me these stories seem like a cross between Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock.”
  • I’m a huge fan of supernatural short stories, and this book was perfect. My favorite story, ‘Island Ways’ creeped me out in the way I only thought Stephen King could. Loved it!”
  • “This is a great collection of short stories! So well written, each story totally unique, a really great read! I will be recommending this book to all of my friends!”

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Full-Story Sample from 13th Hour…

Island Ways

With a harsh jolt, I landed in the sand and a scrawny brown man stood over me clucking away as if spitting venom with sounds. A boy in crimson shorts plopped down next to my head.

“He say, ‘Crazy white fool, she not ready for you yet.’”

Then the old man spat on the ground so close to my ear I heard it thunk into the sand. He stepped over me and continued on with whatever he’d been up to before dashing me to the ground.

I flicked my eyes to the boy who grinned at my glance and then readjusted to rest on my elbows.

“What was that about?” The tide rippled rhythmically and I longed to get in to wash the sand off.

“You almost touch the water,” the boy chirped.

Of course I did. With palm trees, thatched huts, blinding sand and a warm turquoise expanse calling for me to dive in, this remote South Pacific island was a living postcard. My magazine had assigned me an enviable task: report on the island culture and photograph the scenery as part of a compare-contrast feature of “undiscovered” locales. After eighteen hours of flights and being motored over by a crew who refused to speak to me or look me in the eye, I was dying to rinse the travel grunge off in this paradisiac sea that whispered my name.

But the instant I stepped forward, my toes only centimeters from the sea, that old codger threw me down with more force than I could have believed possible from such a little fellow. From the glare beneath his furrowed brow and harsh string of syllables, he was obviously not happy about me being here. I thought perhaps he didn’t want his home’s beauty splashed across six pages of glossy urging other “crazy white fools” to come with their condo developments and Micky Ds.

So, I was confused by the boy’s answer that the man’s anger stemmed, not from my existence, but from me almost touching the water. I expected something like “my grandfather thinks you’re a right bastard,” but the comment of this puppy-like boy who’d followed me since I unpacked in his father’s guest hut (which was surprisingly luxurious) made no sense.

“What do you mean? I want to go for a swim.”

The boy stared at me as if I’d just asked to have sex with his goat.

“No, you no swim here. Up to river is where swim is safe.”

I looked to the glass-like water, then back to him. Before leaving home I’d read about this area and, for the tropics, it sounded risk-free – sea snakes were unheard of, sharks didn’t like the shallow, and only the roughest storm caused any wave action. “Perfectly safe here.” I stood to wade into the water that swelled with invitation.

The boy seized my ankle.

“Sir, no,” he pleaded. Tears rimmed his eyes. “I show you good place.”

Worrying his father might arrive and wonder what I’d done to make his child cry, I gave in. We trudged through the jungle to a lovely swimming hole. It wasn’t the warm, buoyant South Pacific I longed for – even paddling behind the waterfall I wanted to leave the boy and run back to the sea’s aquamarine embrace – but I felt refreshed.

“We having big banquet for you tonight,” he said between splashes.

“Really, why?”

“To show you island ways.”

Ah yes, the dog and pony show all small island chiefs felt compelled to put on. The festivities stretched the food supply, inconvenienced the women who made all the preparations, and were completely unlike the daily life of the island. But the chiefs liked to show off.

Evening approached and the bustle made me feel I should be helping. Instead, I was repeatedly told to sit. Finally, I did, making notes of the activity and weaseling over to question the women about what they were cooking as the boy translated. Long lists of fruits and birds in spicy sauces rambled out of him as he tried to keep up with the cooks’ menu.

“Why no fish?” I asked.

The boy again shot me the you-offend-my-goat look. I waited for his translation. Why wouldn’t island people eat fish? It didn’t get any simpler than stepping in and jabbing or grabbing something to grill up.

“We only eat fish that wash up on beach.”

“But you have a whole fish market only steps away. You just swim out and get some. I could show you.” I wanted to show him. Despite my hunger and exhaustion, I yearned to dive into that sea and swim away. The child appraised me with his eyes looking for the possibility of my insanity.

His father approached us alongside an attractive woman dressed in a flowery sarong and hair decorated with shells and ribbons. I thought she might be his wife, but the child, seeing his opportunity for escape, ran off calling for his “mama.” I stood feeling awkward as I towered over the two.

“Mister, this is Atiri. She would like to be with you before the festivities.”

A whore? This lovely thing was passed around to visitors my host wanted to impress? I shook my head, “No offense, but I’m married.”

Atiri giggled, “I only want to talk to you. We’ll sit in public view if you’re worried you can’t resist me.”

At her phrase “can’t resist” my thoughts flew not to her, not to my wife, but to the ocean whose waves taunted me as each ripple licked the sand.

“Sorry, my mistake.” I gestured and we sat down. “You want to talk to me?”

She looked to my host. He nodded back, and then clasped my shoulder, “Listen to her, we are not naïve islanders. What she says is true.” He stroked Atiri’s hair and walked away.

Atiri began her tale.

“I don’t know when my people arrived here or how long we spent at sea, but once we came we loved this land. Too long in boats, many think instills a love of the sea, but we wanted land. Once we got here, we stayed. Unfortunately, the ocean wanted us back after having us for so long. She saw us as hers and became jealous of our love for our island. She hated seeing us feeding ourselves on something other than her gifts as we gathered fruit and ate the land’s small animals. She thought—“

“The sea thought?”

Atiri scolded me with her eyes. I tried to still my judgment.

“The sea thought she was the only one for us, that we had turned our backs on her. When we tried to go back in, to fish or play, she became angry and conjured up terrible storms. We cursed her and this angered her further. It came to the point where she refused to forgive us. The moment one of us stepped in, she formed into a monster to devour us. Any guests we gave host to were treated as one of us and also taken by her. She hates us, but still taunts us by not letting us abandon our desire for her. All men are drawn to the sea, but we on this island feel it tenfold.”

I smiled at the fable, but held my tongue. She seemed intelligent, how could she believe these tales? We sat together through the meal with my host on my opposite side smiling at my companionship with Atiri. As the sun began to crawl down the sky toward the ocean’s line, I again fought the urge to go for a swim and thought of Atiri’s story. Could the sea really beckon people in? I smirked at my own thought, picturing the ocean as an old barfly trying to sweet talk the barkeep for “just one more” vodka martini. My grin didn’t go unnoticed.

“You are happy with this evening?” Atiri asked.

“Quite,” I suppressed my giggle.

“Good,” said my host, “now we show you the essence of our island.”

I expected a native dance I would politely applaud. Instead, Atiri stood up and dropped her clothes. Any sarcasm within me lost itself at the sight of her.

“Follow me.”

I did. Her voice urged me just as the ocean had done all day. I couldn’t resist. I thought of the head bashing my wife would give me before realizing my host and several others were following. I breathed a sigh of relief – and perhaps a little frustration.

We paused on the beach although I wanted to continue running toward the water. I stopped at the sight of my elderly assailant glaring at me while muttering. It seemed the waves grew louder, but I put it off as an illusion created by the old man’s rhythmic incantations. Then I looked at the sea. The water that barely rippled this afternoon now churned into foam as it bit into the beach. Instinctively, I stepped back.

Atiri stepped in front of the old man. He continued chanting as the waves gained volume and size. It sounded like a heavy storm approaching, but no wind stirred the trees and the sky remained clear.

The sun met the horizon as Atiri stepped toward the jet engine noise of furious waves.

“Atiri, no.” I ran forward, but someone grabbed me.

“This is our island,” my host hissed into my ear. “This is our way. You believe now, don’t you?”

Atiri glanced back at me and pointed. White water washed over her feet. That’s all it took. The sea had gotten a taste and wanted more. In a scene my nightmares couldn’t create, the water shaped itself into a creature more tooth and claw than body. In a cat-like motion it sprang at Atiri and yanked her from us. The sea calmed itself before the horizon swallowed the sun. Blood washed onto the shore as I stared in disbelief. My host loosened his grip.

“This is the truth of our island. We are not a place for travelers.”

“Just visitors though. Atiri,” my throat tightened, “said the ocean only hated your people.”

“Visitors are seen as our guests, as one of us. White men have come, it is how we learned English, but few can resist the Demon’s call. We do not want more to die for the ocean’s jealousy. We appease her on occasion, much like your spousal support in a divorce. And she tolerates us, but will never let us forget the wrongs she thinks we did her.”

“You kill your own people,” I accused.

“One sacrifice a year, but for that year the chosen person lives as a god in luxury. The ocean is tricked into thinking we are losing our best. This makes her happy. Still, she will take anyone who steps in. And we want to go in; we feel the pull just as you have. We hope one day she will forget her feud, but until then this island will never be more than it is.”

The old man approached us and dragged his index finger in the space between my eyebrows. Whatever he’d smeared on crinkled my skin underneath as it dried. He clucked his sounds at me. The boy, again by my side, interpreted:

“He say, ‘Your year begins.'” He turned to his father, “We go back to the Next One’s party now?”

A rush of confusion was replaced with realization. I was too shocked to scream, painfully aware I’d been trapped by Atiri’s pointing finger. My entire body pulsated with the need to escape.

My host cowered me with a look that told me not to try anything. I wanted to run, but to where? This tiny island and its carnivorous sea served better than any prison bars or city walls. I shook with the knowledge of my impending death until my eyes found the old man shooting me a snide brown-toothed grin.

It steadied me.

I would live my year as a god and, as I waded in to meet my doom, I knew to whom my finger would point.

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