The Wishing Hour
By: The Earthotic Way
In my home, there is an ancient grandfather clock as tall as I am. It sits in the hallway that leads to the front door where it ticks and chimes away day to day and year to year. When I was a boy, I learned to crawl at its carved feet as my father did before me, but it never seems to age. My grandfather claimed Adam and Eve set their watches by our clock. I half wonder if he was right.
It’s both beautiful and priceless having been hand carved and pieced together by Swiss clockmakers back when you could count the total number of Presidents America had had on one hand.
It keeps flawless time. We would joke that Big Ben kept time from this clock. Now we joke that it’s where the internet gets its time because it’s so reliable. It never runs fast or slow. The only adjustment that needs to be made is to pull its chain once a month so it can keep on ticking and to adjust for daylight savings time. Even though it counted the hours long before we leapt forward or fell back. It’s unthinkable to let the clock stop ticking as if the world depended on it somehow.
Our immigrant ancestors lugged its immensity across Europe and the sea and another continent to set it up in a home hewn from the wild frontier. I would love to see the appraiser’s face if I ever took it on Antiques Roadshow. I could probably buy the town in Switzerland it came from with the auction proceeds.
But even thinking of selling it is akin to blasphemy. None of us would dare part from it. Because apart from being beautiful and stately, from being accurate and precise, from being ancient and honored, our heirloom clock will, from time to time, grant wishes. Horrible. Terrible. Wishes.
I first saw the Reversal of the Hands when I was sixteen. I was coming home late from an illicit Halloween party my parents had forbidden me from attending. The clock was striking midnight when I inched down the hallway, attempting to keep the floorboards from creaking beneath my awkward teenage feet, too big for their own good.
It finished its chiming and the minute hand pointed to a minute past midnight. The silence was now suffocating as I listened to the sound of raging angry parents who would surely descend upon me like predatory beasts any second now. So, you can imagine my fright as I nearly leaped through the ceiling when it began to chime twelve. Again.
My curiosity somehow overcame my fright and the looming horror of the punishment that would soon be levied my way should my parents find me in this fugitive state. The clock’s legendary accuracy was a feature that had been imprinted on my mind since I was old enough to look at it. Suddenly, I thought in even greater horror how dead I would be if somehow its breaking would be blamed on my delinquency.
The chiming again stopped. I expected that it was some sort of malfunction and that the hands would be in the same place as before. But to my surprise, the long, elegantly shaped minute hand was steadily progressing counterclockwise at a smooth and moderate rate like the speedometer of a car coming gradually to a halt. I was convinced I was doomed. Priceless family heirloom destroyed by my desire to see Hannah Lindusky in a skimpy skeleton costume!
“Please!” I begged the face of the clock, “Please! Don’t be broken! Don’t let my parents wake up!”
No sooner had I said the words than the reversing hand stopped in its arc, paused for a moment, and slowly found three minutes past twelve in the morning on November the First.
I sidled past their cracked bedroom door in my socks across the carpet to my own room. I shut my door behind me and flopped safely in my bed. My ears rang as the blood surged through them from my panicked heart. I calmed myself. The worst was over, I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I cracked my eyes open as the clock struck nine in the morning. The clock! The bizarre memory materialized in my groggy mind. Surely that was just a figment of my anxious mind. I woke up in search of a bathroom and food. My parents’ door remained cracked open. I did my business and ate a bowl of cereal. There was something odd. It took my mind a moment to place what it was. The lawnmower wasn’t running. My dad always mowed the lawn on Sunday morning and the fall leaves gave him a reason to do so even after the grass lay dormant. I went to the window and looked out at the carpet of oranges, yellows and red leaves that still hugged the ground under our backyard trees. The clock chimed nine-thirty in the morning.
I felt uneasy and scared, though at the time there was no mortal reason for me to be so. I went back down the hall to my parents’ cracked doorway. It was silent on the other side of the gap. I pressed my shoulder against the door, and it gave a complaining creak. I could see that my parents were still in bed, I could clearly see their legs. I still do in my recurring nightmares.
“Mom? Dad?” I called.
Silence. The door groaned louder as I pushed it open.
The scene of horror came over me like a tsunami. My parents were lying in bed. Their faces were twisted and swollen blue and black as though they had been throttled in their sleep. Their bare feet had turned to blue and ivory things, not the feet of my parents anymore. The feet of the dead. Their arms were bent and twisted over their heads, their fingers bent horrible backwards over their hands, the tips of their fingers already turning black from death. Each one had their arms configured in a position that, on the face of a clock, would read three minutes past twelve.
I don’t remember how the police and paramedics got there. I don’t remember the week after. It has dissolved into a blur of pain and depression and sleep trying to escape it all. But I saw their faces every night in my nightmares. I remember the surreal reality of their funeral as I shook the hands of their friends and colleagues and weeping family.
The only thing that I could think of as I saw their faces in the obituary and in the framed pictures next to their closed caskets was the words that I had said that night to the clock face in the hall. Please don’t let them wake up. They hadn’t.
You can believe me now when I say that the clock had indeed granted me a wish. A grisly, ghoulish wish that I never intended to utter. I went to live with my Grandmother after that. Unlike everyone else in the world, she seemed to not be interested in discussing with me my parents’ death. She was only interested in making sure I was well taken care of. I was forever grateful to her for that.
It wasn’t until nearly two years had passed that she finally said something to me about the clock even though it sat in her hallway now, ticking away the passing of time. I was eighteen now, ready to head out the door to college and a new independent life. One evening she switched off the television as we were in the middle of a show.
“You’ve seen the reversing of the hands, haven’t you?” she said to me. Her eyes were glassy, staring at nothing in particular.
“What?” I asked, my heart turning to ice in my chest.
“The hands on the clock went backwards, didn’t they? The night your parents died?”
Years of therapy was instantaneously undone at this sudden and cold mentioning of their deaths. All I could do was nod.
“My father told me about it when I was about your age. It’s known as the Wishing Hour. It’s our family’s greatest secret and its greatest curse.”
She went on to tell me that it happens to some, but not all, of the members of our family. You can never know when although it tends to happen most often around Halloween and in late June when it does. She had waited her whole life to see the Wishing Hour with a host of wishes built up in her mind to make. But when she witnessed the Reversal of the Hands, only one wish was prominent on her lips:
“I wished that my husband would stop drinking.” She held her hands up to her face and sobbed deeply. I hadn’t known that my grandfather had been a drunk. He’d died when my father was still a young child and my grandmother had never remarried.
She told me that he would drink and gamble and see other women all while drunk and that if only she could somehow wish that away, things could be right again between them. As the clock struck midnight twice for her, she whispered her earnest prayer to its eyeless face and waited.
My grandfather’s car broke down in the California desert on a business trip. They found the car a day after he was reported overdue. They found his body two days later, vulture pecked wearing a coat of flies under a Joshua Tree. His stomach was full of sand as he tried to drink something, anything to keep off the terrible thirst. He had stopped drinking. Her wish had come true.
In my mind it was clear that the wishes were poisoned, and I promised to never wish for anything again by the face of the clock. But when I returned home from college two years later, strapped for money and tuition due before the fall term and I managed to catch the Wishing Hour again, I wished for a million dollars. A million dollars! Like some five-year-old who’s just learning the concept of money and the incomprehensible value of a million.
My grandmother died that night in her sleep. She was eighty-three years old and it was expected. After the life insurance payment and selling her house and taxes, I was the heir to $989,750.42.
And so I sit here you see, in my chair in the hallway of my house where a grandfather clock sits, ticking away never moving. Never leaving this spot until I catch that wishing hour again! And oh! Such a wish I have prepared now!
Any moment now.
The clock will strike.
The double stroke of midnight.