Finish up your chicken, child;
those potatoes and green beans.
Seventh-Hour Man will get’cha
if your supper plate’s not clean.
     — A childhood cautionary

The Canuck Territories | 1 September 1905

Charlie Haggard always felt more alive after a wedding, as if such a ceremony stirred his soul. Eyes closed, he savored the mingled scent of cherry logs, spice apples and roasted pork; the reflected heat from the massive stone fireplace, and the sounds of folks at play.

Outside, winds might be rising, daylight all but gone, but everything inside the new grange hall was bright and warm and fine.

He sipped apple jack from his jar and watched Bethany stomp across the pegged-plank floor with her new husband. She was Charlie’s favorite, his only daughter, so he’d never say it to her face, but she couldn’t dance a lick; not to save her life. Her man, Ray Maguire, didn’t seem to mind, but he had no great skills himself — and neither would ever win a beauty contest.

That hadn’t hampered Ray in any way the world knew, but Bethany took her looks from Charlie, not her mother, Meribelle, dead now a quarter-century. At thirty-two, Bethany showed too much chin and nose; too little curve at hip and breast. Always offered too much lip, as well, some people liked to say.

Even so, it didn’t matter the bride and groom had grown up a pair of bucket calves. From this day on, they would never be alone for long, nor have to hope to dance with anyone again.

Out on the floor, Bethany ran her hands back from her brow to smooth her hair, then grabbed a hold on Ray again. He grabbed right back, emboldened by the alcohol beyond his usual taciturn ways, it seemed, and swung his new wife to the high, fast whine of that old traveler’s fiddle.

“Great party, Haggard.” Ray’s daddy, Ed Maguire, stood across the room at the fieldstone fireplace.

Ed held his jar of cider high and offered a toast. “To the father of the bride!”

Charlie raised his own jar. “To the father of the groom!”

Ed took a healthy swallow of Charlie’s best apple jack and grinned just like a fool. No, that wasn’t right. Ed grinned like a happy father at his youngest child’s wedding. Charlie returned the silly grin.

“Been a grand day, ain’t it, Haggard?” Ed called.

“Amen to that.”

It seemed he and Ed had schemed near on to forever to bring Bethany and Ray together. Hadn’t been an easy task. Ray was big and strong; good enough with cows and horses, but couldn’t say two words without a stutter to women near his age. Anything but shy, Bethany could be impatient and quick to speak her mind. Never at a loss for words.

Even so, he and Ed had managed a miracle today. They had forged a dynasty.

Charlie had a mind to climb into the rafters and crow for joy. That wouldn’t do, though; wouldn’t do at all. If she were alive, Meribelle would pull him down to earth. She’d whisper, “You run your mouth too much, old man.” God in Heaven, Charlie missed the woman, even after all these years.

The fiddle player took up another piece. The crowd roared its approval of Johnny Jump-Up, an old-country drinking tune. Everybody clapped, as Bethany and Ray picked up the pace.

As he moved toward the apple jack barrels, Charlie called to Ed. “How’s Charles Edward sound for the first boy?”

Ed held one hand behind his ear. Charlie roared. “I said, do you like …”

The sly bastard waved Charlie’s words away; he had been funning. “Rather hear it the other way around,” he yelled.

Charlie gestured. “Come and fill your jar. Let’s talk.”

“You bet’cha.” Ed began to pick his way across the room.

The woman tending bar hadn’t drawn a drop for Charlie’s jar before the entry doors exploded. A massive figure, swathed in black leather and wetted wool, roared into the hall, dragging winds and shadows in its wake.

“Christ step down from Heaven,” Charlie cursed.

It was the recurrent killer Quebec newspapers had labeled l’Bonhomme Sept Heures. Bethany knew French from that fancy college down in Boston. She told him it meant Seventh-Hour Man.

“They call him that because he likes to do his nasty business come the twilight,” she had said.

Right off, the wanker grabbed Ray and pulled the boy’s head from his shoulders, the way a man would pop a cork from a bottle of well-aged apple wine. Bethany’s screams tore Charlie’s heart to bits. He watched the room erupt, as all the whilst that damned fiddle shrieked. As if in a broken nickelodeon, Charlie caught flashes of the goings-on. Men and women scrambled for babes and weapons. Ed Maguire dropped down on his knees, his right arm a ragged stump.

And Bethany sprawled akimbo, Ray’s crumpled body in her arms, her wedding dress gone all an apple red. That one hurt the most.

Charlie hurried to his pistols; turned to face the killer, a Colt Peacemaker in each big-knuckled hand. “Come take your bloody medicine, you git,” he roared.

He thumbed the revolvers’ hammers in the syncopated pattern he had been taught, even as the Seventh-Hour Man roared across the room like a freight train thundering along the Territorial Rail. They came together and pain ripped through Charlie, savaging his strength. Jesus, Lord and Savior, how it hurt. Claws ripped at his innards, and as his senses faded, he caught a familiar stink.

Half a century ago, young Charlie Haggard went off to war for God and country. Enemy wizards had been free and easy with wicked-clever spells, and now Charlie recognized the scent of a dark enchantment he first smelled those years ago. The Seventh-Hour Man wasn’t human, but a monster. Necromancer’s work.

“Christ step down from Heaven,” Charlie whispered.

And his favorite curse became his dying prayer.

K.C. Ball lives in Seattle with her wife, Rachael. In addition to Every Day Fiction, K.C.’s stories have appeared in various online and print publication, including Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Lightspeed, and podcast at such sites as Pod Castle and Escape Pod. She is a 2010 graduate of the Clarion West writers workshop and won the Hubbard Writers of the Future award in 2009.

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