There was a hand in the middle of the floor. Jack had no idea how it had gotten there, or what business it thought it had, sitting there on his hardwood floor as though it had always been there, taking up space in a most disturbing way. But his lack of knowledge did nothing to change the fact that it was there all the same.
It was a woman’s hand, the nails recently done in a harlot’s red, the fingers long and thin and unremarkable except for a faint scar on the middle finger, the delicate tracings of blue tangled at the base of the wrist showing that it was getting blood from somewhere. The where remained a mystery, though, as the hand simply stopped there. No bloody edge or trauma marked the end of that hand. It just stopped, as though the hand had always said to itself, “self, I am but a hand. Past the wrist, I don’t exist.”
Jack didn’t know why the hand was telling bad rhymes in his head, either. As he stared down at the hand, a growing sense of dread building up in his gut and dewdrops beginning to form on his brow, he thought to himself that there was quite a lot he didn’t know this morning. More piling up all the time, really. Not that there was anything special about that. He had always been out of the loop.
As he stared, Jack realized he could see the hand shivering. For a moment he wondered if it was cold, then scolded himself for the stupidity of the idea. Like severed hands would worry about being cold, he thought. Then he remembered it wasn’t actually severed; it seemed complete, and that gave him a worse idea.
Maybe it wasn’t shivering. Maybe it was beating. He could see the veins. That meant it had blood. It was whole, which meant the blood had to be coming from somewhere inside. Didn’t it? Somewhere in the palm of the intruder, an alien heart was throbbing with life, keeping this hand alive and his mind at the edge of a pit filled with questions that he couldn’t begin to ask, let alone answer.
Jack stared at it for at least ten minutes. The ticking of his great-grandmother’s clock seemed very loud, but that was alright. The sound was a known factor, a wonderfully normal aspect of life that he had been familiar with for years. The way it echoed in his ears kept him rooted in reality, served as a life preserver against the insanity of what he was seeing on his floor. Then the sound was ruined, by picking up an extra echo.
Tick. Tick tick. Tock. Tock tock. Each clack of the clock’s pendulum was greeted by two clicks in return.
The index finger of the hand was rapping it’s lacquered nail against the hardwood. Somehow the idea that the hand could move, even though he’d already accepted that it was somehow alive, was the worst yet, and he felt a scream building up in his throat. All that was loosed when he unwired his jaw and spread wide his teeth to scream was a breathy shriek that likely only dogs could hear.
The hand seemed to hear, though. That tapping finger ceased for a moment, then began tapping to the side rather than straight on. The side he was on. The nail was leaving marks in the wax he had laid down the day before, and each tap dug a little deeper. Once the hand seemed satisfied that it had dug in deep enough, it pulled. Pivoted. Just a quarter inch, mind you, but enough to make it appear to Jack as though it was spinning to face him.
His breath was coming in small hiccups, and he couldn’t seem to get all the air out before more came rushing in. His chest was tightening in a way he hadn’t felt in years, not since a childhood bout of pneumonia. His vision was beginning to pulse in and out, a visual strobe counterpointing the awful searching sound of the nail against the floor as it continued to drag itself about to face him.
Jack went to his knees, clutching at his chest. He knew this was a terrible idea. Knew he should run, maybe just out of the room, maybe down the street to Mrs. Joplin’s house, but either way to a phone. Someone should be told. Someone else could see the hand, could make it go away, or at least tell him he hadn’t gone mad in the night.
The hand had turned fully to face him, and now raised its middle finger in a horribly serpentine way. Jack thought the nail on that finger – which had been daubed with a single spot of blue, the color of Josie’s eyes, he thought randomly – was looking at him, as it jabbed at the air. Beneath it, he could see shadows crossing the bit of palm that had been exposed by the movement, saw the crop-circle like burn scar at the base of the finger, the first hints of the crease in the flesh. Life line, he thought, but he’d never cared for palmistry. Maybe it was the money line. Or the love line. Or the weird shit that’ll happen to you line.
Chalk one more up for things Jack didn’t know today.
He couldn’t take another breath. His lungs were already filled to the brim with panicky sips of air that tasted like copper, and refused to let go. He was caught between trying to force it out and needing more, unable to swing the vote either way.
The hand tented the thumb, ring and pinky fingers, pushing itself upwards unsteadily. It wobbled as it rose up from the floor, with the index still thrust forward like an obscene fleshy lance and the middle a bizarre periscope. By flexing the other three fingers in sequence, it began to scuttle-scurry towards him, tottering a bit with the first few steps, then gaining confidence and speed.
The tightness in his chest was spreading, moving down his left arm. It felt numb and tingly, and he could no longer hold it against his chest. As it dropped, he felt an almost pleasant cold fill him, followed by a throbbing pain in his side.
The hand, now only a foot away – or three; his depth perception was beginning to fade as his cone of vision shrank under assault from inky tendrils – crouched, tensing itself.
Jack might not have known much… but he did know what something about to jump looked like. Another bolt of agony ripped through his chest, banishing the numbness in his arm for a moment before clamping down like a vice again. No, he thought, please, no, no, no no.
The middle finger cocked sideways, crinkling the scar along the side into a scowl. Jack wondered, just for a moment, if there was mercy in the gesture. The idea left quickly, as the hand shuffled its position ever so slightly, then tensed again. It had merely been making sure it was aimed properly.
What, Jack thought, did I do to deserve this?
The hand leapt.