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The Hand

by Zigeroon 

Posted: 22 May 2006
Word Count: 3856
Summary: Short horror story.

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She pushed at the heavy, scarred wooden door. It caught at the bottom, a semi-circle of deep scratches in the surface of the stone flags revealing a lack of maintenance. The fallen rusted hinges creaked, complaining at being disturbed. The air that drifted tiredly out of the cellar was dank. She stood at the threshold. Her eyes failed to pick out any detail beyond the doorway. The darkness was complete.

Should she wait for one of the others searching the old house to join her? He might get away. If he was in there he would have to come out through the door she inadvertently guarded there was no access from the house. They hadn’t found any other way in during the previous search, when they had discovered the old couple, their bodies discarded upon the cellar floor like rags dolls, their flesh flailed from the bone.

The man they hunted, Greg Bilton, was a big man. Her training would help when he attacked although she remembered her trainer’s advice was to run if confronted by a bigger, stronger opponent. She had used that tactic in the past. ‘When he attacked’, why had she been so sure that he would? Greg had no previous record there was nothing to suggest that he would be violent. She knew him now. She gained no comfort from that knowledge. They didn’t always run true to previous form especially if they were cornered.

She knew that if he were guilty of the murder he would be frightened, willing to fight his way out. What if the story he had told her, however far fetched it seemed, was true and he was innocent? He would have given himself up to her, surely? You never could tell which way they would go, innocent or guilty. She was experienced enough to know that backup was essential in a situation like this and it had become personal; him against her, masculine strength versus feminine guile. She regretted getting too close. She knew she had lost perspective. Love had that effect.

She didn’t want to wait for her partner, Kirstie Brown. She hesitated about calling her boss, telling him she was at the entrance to the cellar hidden by thick leafed creepers, her and the door. She sensed that Greg wanted it to end, here, one way or the other. That’s why he had called and arranged the meeting, just the two of them, alone, together, one on one. It was how he operated, a loner, no one else to blame if things went wrong. They had gone wrong. Spectacularly.

It might be love but she hadn’t been stupid enough to come to the meeting alone. Seeing the squad cars, hearing the heavy booted coppers tramping through his home, that would have upset him. She tried not to feel anything for him being run to ground in his own lair. It was his choice after all. He would have known what she would do. He was too intelligent to think she would have come on her own. No. He had wanted it this way. Why?

They knew he had to be in the house, somewhere. He had been followed from the town centre where he had made the phone call to entice her to their meeting and he hadn’t gone out again. So where was he?

Her mobile vibrated silently. She slid it out of the pocket easily, a size ten body in size twelve jeans. She checked the screen. It wasn’t him. It was her husband. She pressed the red button and closed the screen. No distractions.
‘Greg?’ she called into the black void before her.
No reply.
‘Greg. It’s Rosie. If you want to chat, with me, on our own, you’d better do it now, before the others get here.’ She winced. What a stupid thing to say. He now knew she was waiting out here alone. And yet, if she screamed they would come running. Would they hear her if she entered the cellar? Would they miss her before he had done what he intended to do her? What about his parents? If he was capable of doing that, what else was he capable of? Did he intend to do anything other than talk? Could he follow through on his intentions now that he was aware she was not alone? Again there was no reply to her suggestion to talk.

She listened intently for any sound that might indicate his presence. Birds spoke softly to each other in amongst the heavy blossom of the fruit trees in the back garden behind her. A gentle murmur of traffic created white noise filling the background preventing her from discerning if he was waiting within the darkness. She stepped back and looked up at the sound of voices coming from a room at first floor level. A silver dot at the head of a white pathway running across the bright blue sky caught her attention adding to her surreal moment of indecision. She thought she could hear the plane on its journey thousands of feet above her head. The voices quieted. Nobody had found Greg, obviously.

As she stepped tentatively over the threshold the sun’s warmth ceased and the chilled air of the cellar grabbed at the exposed skin of her face and hands. She stepped sideways and leant back against the wall, the cold of the surface striking through her thin cotton jacket. The sounds of summer were instantly replaced by silent darkness. Her imagination filled the absence of sound with horrors to come.

Her eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness. The light from the door penetrated for the length of the oblong shape of the doorway onto the floor and no further. It was as though the sunlight was scared to intrude upon the thick, cloying, dead air inside what she could now see was a small ante-room to what she assumed to be the cellar proper. Another door, partially opened into the room beyond, beckoned her on.

A shiver ran up her spine, physically shaking her upper body and head. She waited. Listening. There was a scuttling, shuffling sound coming from the other side of the part open door. She fought with the urge to run back out into the sunlight. Flight or fight? It was a close run thing, only decided when a rat ran out into the ante-room, paused as he caught sight of her and ran back the way it had come. In her state of heightened awareness the rat’s behaviour suggested that nobody was waiting for her. The rat wouldn’t run back into danger. Would it?

The inner door moved on oiled hinges. No sound. She stepped forward and sideways reducing the possibility of whoever was inside rushing at her back lit silhouette. The door slammed shut.

She had walked the beat. She knew that nighttime darkness is rarely complete. The moon, starlight, light pollution of streetlights and illumination spilling from curtained windows allowed night vision even in the darkest alley. She had never experienced total blackness. No light. It left her vertiginous, as though she was standing on a high cliff the long, long drop pulling her forward, urging her to step out into the void.

She had been told there was no electricity down here. Rosie quickly shifted position, pushed the on button on the torch she carried and holding it out ahead of her scanned the room with the powerful beam of light. Shadows flitted around her. Her brain registered wooden boxes set out on the floor in no pattern. A strong smell of apples filled the air. The walls were part lined with shelving on which stood glass jars, old paint cans. Tools hung from hooks. Thin black threads of dusty cobwebs trailed from the exposed joists and clung to the walls. Brick piers rose from the undulating cobbled brick flooring, supporting the thick ground floor joists and providing an ideal place to hide behind. She switched off the torch and changed position, her foot caught the corner of a box of apples and she fell, the torch flying from her grip. Her shin hit then ground along the edge of a box. Tears sprang to her eyes as she tried to contain the pain. In the far corner a soft fluttering fed her terror. On her knees she groped for the torch. The sharp, raised edges of the bricks scratched her fingers.

The torch remained illusive. Her knees and the tops of her feet hurt where she knelt on the floor. She whimpered. Why hadn’t Greg revealed himself? Anything would be better than fighting with her fear. The sound in the corner became louder. She hated rats and yet…the noise was not of something running, the scratchy rhythmic clatter of tiny claws on stone it was more…human. As if someone was drumming their fingers on the hard flooring as they waited impatiently for someone to turn up or maybe something to happen.
‘Greg? Come on, stop messing about, if you want to talk, now would be as good as time as any. I’m here, on my own, with you, waiting…Greg?’ She paused, trying not to listen to her fear filled words, pleading to be answered. She felt like a child again when her brother used to come into her room at night and stand perfectly still, without speaking, refusing to answer her and then shrieking and running from the room leaving her unable to speak. Suddenly it occurred to her, leave the room. Image association, she had to leave the room.

She crawled across the floor attempting to retrace her steps back towards the door. She should have waited for back up, easy to say now. Her breath came in ragged bursts, opened mouthed, as silent as she could. The boxes forced her to zigzag between them, confusing her sense of direction. She came to a wall.

The finger drumming had stopped. There was a shushing sound, nylon brushes on drums. She loved jazz, not improvised like this though, not here. Was he rubbing his hand on the dusty floor, playing with her? She moved slowly edging along the wall, her shoes rubbing against the plasterwork, gaining comfort from the solid support behind her. The trailing cobwebs caressed her face, she felt unable to brush them off as if any unnecessary movement might pin point where she was. Their tender touch filled her with dread.

Her hands slid over the clammy surface of the wall. She came to the corner. Which one was it? Which wall was she sliding along? Which way to go now? The questions came slowly, marching across the blank, featureless screen her mind had become. Wraiths and ghosts and Greg armed with a long bladed knife were held at bay by her fading will power. For now she refused to scream.

Rosie moved on to the next wall. Never go back. Her mother had said that. When they left a place and maybe they had forgotten something she had refused to go back. It was bad luck. Rosie wasn’t superstitious, normally, today though she would allow an element of intuition to tell her what she should do. Her brother had helped her now here was her mother guiding her. Her foot banged into a box. She shuffled around it, keeping her hands glued to the wall, not willing to be cast adrift from the safety of her own personal quayside. The practical security of the wall was more real than the voices from the past.

She continued her mysterious journey, stopping every few steps to listen out for Greg’s childish attempts to frighten her. Whatever age he was pitching his foolish games at he was succeeding. She was terrified.

Her left hand contacted a vertical length of wood. She ran her fingers up and over the wavy shaped architrave. Her breathing slowed to a more regular pace, her heart beat faster. Her hand traversed the surface of the panelled door. She bent down following the gap between the frame and the edge of the door. The sharp end of the cold metal barrel of the middle hinge cut her finger. She placed her finger to her mouth and licked it, the warm, moist touch of her tongue a counterpoint to the metallic taste of her blood. Eagerly she twisted her body so that her left hand could trace the line of the door and the frame back up towards the door handle.
‘No. No. No.’ She lost control, her voice growing louder as her flailing hands confirmed what her fingers had already told her frantic mind. There wasn’t a handle on the inside of the door.

Silence. Greg had stopped his four/four shuffle. She didn’t move. Couldn’t move. She opened her mouth to scream. A torch beam split the dark. It waved wildly around then spinning end over end there was a dull clatter and the torch rolled into her foot, still on, the beam shining along the wall to her right, away from the door. She waited a few moments. There was no further movement. She bent down and retrieved the torch, holding it in her hand like a truncheon, the cone of light pointed up to the ceiling. It was steady, unwavering. The beacon of courage surprised her. Her legs were like jelly and her stomach felt as if it was filled with expanding foam, bubbling and acidic.

Rosie made sure there were no boxes in her way, switched the torch off stepped into the clear patch of floor and screamed as loud as she could. She carried on screaming until her throat was sore. She stopped screaming and waited, listening to the silence. She chuckled. How stupid? She pulled out her mobile phone and opened it up. It was off. She pressed the on button, there was a momentary flash of life from the screen and then it died with a sad bleep. The battery was dead. That couldn’t be right she always made sure her phone was charged before she came on shift. Her scream this time was filled with panic.

Nobody responded. It was as if she didn’t exist. If she did it was in a different time zone, outside time? She could stand and wait or she could go on the offensive. She realised she didn’t have a choice. She switched the torch back on. She felt better. With a purpose came renewed confidence.
‘Time’s up Greg. We finish this now.’ At least she sounded confident.

As she moved forward she kept the beam pointed down on the floor in front of her feet, she couldn’t afford to fall down again. When she stopped she traversed the beam all around, making sure Greg wasn’t trying to outflank her. She cleared the area immediately inside the door and headed for the darkened space behind the line of brick piers. She walked slowly now, the tight width of the torch beam cutting through the dark, sliding over the floor, up the walls and back again, seeking to cover as much ground without allowing the darkness any time to regroup and hide the bulk she expected to see.

Rosie almost missed it, a dull flash in the fast moving slither of light. It took time to register, it was so unexpected, an abhorrence in the normality of her newly limited world. The searching light was not so steady now, the shaking beam more truthfully reflecting her inner turmoil. Reluctantly she searched for what she hoped she hadn’t seen. Perhaps it had been missed, left behind by the scene of crime guys.

She took one more step. Steadying the torch and allowing the light to slide down the wall she took another step forward. They were pigeon steps now. She told herself it was probably a trick of the light. Her imagination in overdrive, it was a crumpled handkerchief, nothing more sinister than that.

She knew where it was. On the floor two metres to the left of where she had stopped the torch beam. She didn’t want to allow the light to reveal the nightmare and yet perversely she knew, no, hoped it would show that Greg wasn’t here. She moved the beam to the left. It wasn’t where it had been. That was impossible. She washed the floor with light and found it. Had it moved? It couldn’t have. And yet she was sure it had been more to the right of where it now sat, lay, lay, sitting made it somehow animate. She was almost sure that severed hands were inanimate.

There was no blood.

The hand twitched. It seemed to sense her presence. She moved to the left, feeling for the comfort of the door even though she knew that she wouldn’t be able to open it. The hand slid sideways across the floor, matching her move. She took two steps to the right. The hand rose onto its fingers, pirouetted and followed her. Blinking rapidly she hoped it was the trick of the torchlight. She switched the torch off. Complete darkness.

There was a shuffling, dry skin on a dusty floor. No beat this time, just a continuous dry slithering. She knew what was there and equally she knew it couldn’t exist, her imagination developed the terror that gripped her, freezing muscles and slowing down her mind.

Unable to resist she switched the torch back on. The bright beam filled the cellar with light. The hand was three feet from her, lying flat on the floor, quivering with anticipation. It leapt off the floor reaching out, grabbing for her unprotected throat. Her hands waved madly, protecting her face, the torch beam twitching and slashing through the darkness. Her fingers connected with the hand, its touch was dead drawing heat from her body so quickly it was like she was on fire.

Unable to grab her throat the hand reached down inside her blouse, ripping at her clothing, sliding down across her stomach, all the while extracting her body warmth, its touch becoming less cold, more human. It seemed to be draining her energy, absorbing her life force.

Her mouth was open, the air from her lungs gushing soundlessly through her sore, tortured throat. As the hand gripped her right thigh and its sharp nails ripped through the fabric of her jeans into her flesh she somehow found the strength to scream and scream and scream and scream.

She heard banging on the door behind her. Somebody was shouting her name. The door vibrated, rattling on its hinges. She tried to move out of the way but was bowled over by the impact of the door into her back as it disintegrated under the onslaught from outside.

Sprawled out on the floor she clawed at the hand that clung tenaciously to her leg. People were rushing into the room. Surely the thing would run and hide.
‘Are you OK?’ said a male voice, Tommy, her boss. He lifted her up into a sitting position, patting her back, a line drawn between concerns as a colleague and the more human comfort of taking her in his arms and hugging her like a child..
She thanked him as she swivelled and writhed around, making sure that the hand wasn’t on her. ‘Is there anything on my back?’
‘Scared of spiders Rosie?’
‘Look at this,’ she said showing him her torn blouse and the holes in her jeans the edges of which were darkened with her blood.
‘Jesus,’ said Tommy. ‘Who did that, Greg?’
‘Not Greg, no, something else,’ she said unable to describe The Hand, explaining it might make it tangible. There was some other explanation, there had to be.
‘Come on, lets get you out of here, we’ll do a proper search, get the bastard,’ he said gently admonishing her for going in alone.

Rosie breathed deeply on the sweet air of the rear garden as she sat sobbing on a weathered wooden bench. Kirstie Brown alongside her. Kirstie’s arm was wrapped around her shoulders, her hand hanging loose. Rosie had told Kirstie not to squeeze her arm with her hand. She couldn’t cope with the cold shudders Kirstie’s friendly gesture sent raging throughout her body. Her mobile phone rang.
‘Rosie Warner,’ she said without looking at the screen.
‘Hello Rosie, have you found it yet?’
‘Greg,’ she said, his voice stopping her sobbing, focusing her thoughts. ‘It found me.’
‘Do you believe me now?’
She thought about his query, a single heartbeat filled with a million images, a thousand questions, she couldn’t lie. ‘Yes,’ the word soft, almost lost in the expulsion of her withheld breath.
‘They haven’t found it then?’
She looked around checking the windows of the houses opposite to see if he was watching her. ‘Can you see me?’
He laughed. ‘Hardly, I’m not even in the country.’
‘But how? They followed you.’
‘Not me, my brother. Ask them if the person they followed only had one hand.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘He never liked my parents, after they locked him in the cellar. He never forgave them, never had the chance. He was dead when they remembered him. They went down to find him. His hand had been chewed off, eaten by rats. They never went back down there, together, not until...well you know.’

It was a good story. One she knew couldn’t be true, however much she wanted it to be.
‘What are you going to do?’
‘What can I do?’
‘But your inheritance, the house, all the money, I promise I’ll be the star defence witness,’ she sounded desperate, she was desperate, she wanted to nail the bastard. The Hand, what about The Hand? She shook her head violently, no, no, no, there had to be an explanation for that. Kirstie stared at her, concerned. Rosie floundered in a miasma of confusion. There couldn’t have been a hand. If there was, Greg was innocent, as much as she loved him she had convinced herself of his guilt. He had slaughtered his parents.
‘No one will believe us. They’d accuse you of unprofessional conduct, falling in love with the prime suspect, you would lose all credibility and your career.’
She was silent.
‘But you could have everything…’ She held onto the word, not willing to reveal her vulnerability. It was no good the word slipped out anyway. ‘…me?’
‘I’ve got everything I want, my life, the knowledge that you believe me, my freedom. I don’t need anything else, I’m sorry Rosie.’

When she closed the phone with a sharp click she became aware of a shadow. Her head jerked up. Tommy stood, tousled haired, a big grin on his thin face, holding The Hand in a plastic evidence bag. Rosie tried to back up over the chair.
‘Must have missed it first time round,’ said Tommy initially oblivious and then quickly becoming aware of Rosie’s fear. ‘It’s all right Rosie, it’s dead. But trust me, we’ll get the bastard no matter how long it takes.’

The hand twitched. She was sure the hand twitched inside the plastic bag. Neither Tommy nor Kirstie seemed bothered by it.

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Comments by other Members

Vixen at 14:02 on 22 May 2006  Report this post
I really liked this. You built the tension up very well. One question: I understood from an early part of the story that she was married to Greg. At the end, it appeared they were not married, but she fell in love with him during the investigation. I like the husband interpretation myself. A happily married couple, her a cop, then the slaughter of his parents...

But, of course, either works quite well.

Zigeroon at 15:19 on 22 May 2006  Report this post

Thanks very much for your comments. The earlier phone call was from her husband but she's not married to Greg. I'll have to make that point a little clearer although I like your take on it that they are married, makes it more rounded.

Thanks for that and your time.


Dreamer at 18:38 on 22 May 2006  Report this post
Hi Andrew,

A nice well written stroy, totally different from what I was used to with Ben.

Not sure about the ending. Is this to be a self contained story? It feels like something longer?

Not much to pick at here, but thought I'd leave you with a few observations.

Don't know if you need this bit of 'tell' as you show it well: 'revealing a lack of maintenance'. I have been experimenting with description lately and find that the sense of smeel is often neglected. Why not here:
The air that drifted tiredly out of the cellar was dank.
and something like, 'and smelt of mold' or something.

Glad to see your uploads have not ended with the ending of 'Listen'.


Zigeroon at 09:24 on 23 May 2006  Report this post

Thanks for your comments. This show and tell thing is always an imponderable. I know they say show everything but I'm reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova at the momment and a lot of that is told through documents which 'tell' rather than show. I suppose being documents they would tell. Interesting point though and I'll review!

It is a one off but thought I'd leave the reader with a hint at the possibilities of their story continuing.

Thanks for your time.


Y-not at 14:30 on 30 May 2006  Report this post
Hi Andrew

Thought I'd have a look despite it being a few days now.

Reminded me of that old horror film, The Beast With Five Fingers!

Did you mean to avoid naming Rosie until after you'd named a couple of the others' names?

The odd missed comma, I would say, but then that could be deliberate.

Overall, a gripping story - get it?



Zigeroon at 18:29 on 30 May 2006  Report this post

Thanks for your comments and the handy joke. Not aware of the horror story you refer to but good to see I'm in tune with what's been exploited before!


Vixen at 04:21 on 31 May 2006  Report this post
Wasn't there a short story about a hand on its own? Something about the hand of a murder who had been executed sewn onto a man who had last hand. The hand tried to strangle him, among other things, and he chopped it off and it went running away...I don't remember who it's by -- one of the old masters of horror. I remember reading it an anthology years ago.

Zigeroon at 09:43 on 31 May 2006  Report this post

Intriguing story. I'd be interested to read it if you remember the title at any time.


Jenniren at 19:54 on 07 June 2006  Report this post
Oh this is good. I really like all the dramatic tension you build up in the begining.
In such a short story it can be hard to get all the information in but i think you've managed it beautifully without shoe horning it in.
I got a really clear picture of everything.
Although the bit at the end when she's on the phone i found a little confusing but maybe thats just me.
I really liked it.

Zigeroon at 10:47 on 08 June 2006  Report this post

Thanks very much for your comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

I'll work on the phone call, seek to clarify, can't have confused readers out there! Bad enough being a confused author.


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