The hand was discovered in hedgerow on Ghost House Lane in early summer; somewhat ironically, the first Monday of the Wimbledon Championships. It had four fingers and one thumb and was otherwise unremarkable, save for the obvious fact of being severed from its corresponding limb.
Marjory Sharkington at number twelve was absolutely beside herself at the news but her husband, Gerald said it was nothing to worry about — hands turn up missing in other villages all the time (probably), people should stop making a fuss.
Gregory Fist of flat 2b was suspicious. He was ninety-nice percent certain no unaccompanied hands had ever appeared on Ghost House Lane in the entire six and a half years he'd lived there. Now hands were just popping up in hedges. What was the real story? The one the mainstream media (in this case the Blatherwick Chronicle) didn't want them to know?
Tom Tum at Number One hadn't seen his daughter, Jennifer, in over a year. She'd bought him an iPad so he could "FaceTime" the grandkids but it wasn't the same as seeing their faces in real life. Still, it's not every day they find a hand, and it seemed like a good reason to give Jennifer a call. ‘It's not every day they find a hand!' He'd said, to her voicemail.
Genevieve Corgi-Slippers was no stranger to adversity. She'd made individual trifles in martini glasses for her dinner party, meaning the martinis had to be served in champagne saucers and the champagne in coupe glasses! But that didn't put her off — improvise, adapt and overcome, she'd told herself. She was halfway through her eighties power ballad kitchen dancing playlist when she heard the news about the hand. Genevieve had never felt she needed a man about the house to protect her, and that remained the case. She'd taken a six week course in Jeet Kune Do at the community centre and if some hand-filching ne'er-do-well wanted to come and try it with her, she'd give them short shrift.
William Felcher hadn't a prejudiced bone in his body. No, sir. He just thought it quite the coincidence, this hand suddenly materialising out of thin air only months after the new Buddhism Centre opened in the next village. He wasn't exactly au fait with what this so-called "religion" purportedly espoused, but he was fairly sure the central tenet was: extreme violence.
An ill wind blew through the village of Blatherwick. And if the residents of Ghost House Lane could've licked the tips of four icy fingers and held them up to the air, they might've known whence it came. But the dead lack agency, their counsel is worthless, and a bloodless hand will always point at trouble.
This spectral appendage, this insidious portent. It clawed its way into the lives of everyone in the village; spreading like poison in a well, until none were left untouched by its sickness. It threatened all life as they knew it — for what is a community, other than a group of strangers who agree to live by a covenant? Passing in and out of each other's lives in graceful deference, koi carp in a glassy pond.
Now the balance had been disturbed, and folk retreated into their lizard brains, powered only by primal impulse. Men with vacant stares stood naked in their front gardens. Women fought each other with brooms in the street. Shopkeepers covered themselves in boot polish, armed with sharpened biros. Teachers captured small children in nets. Vicars drowned wasps in holy water. Cats slept.
But there was kindness too, amongst the doom, as if the hand were two sides of the same coin — the yin and the yang. Marjory Sharkington baked a plum and ginger crumble specially for Tom Tum, who was old, and diabetic. Genevieve Corgi-Slippers began hosting a pie and gin night, frequently forgetting to bake any pies. And through the wailing and howling of tears, fists beating at his own temples, William Felcher was finally able to tell his fourteen-year-old son, Bartleby, he loved him.
The hand was taken away to be fingerprinted, DNA tested, carbon-dated. Its absence served only to deepen the town's malaise. The waiting was interminable, time warped and stretched into a pitch-black, gaping maw — swallowing every hope, every dream, every fear of every resident of Ghost House Lane, whose thoughts now began to coalesce into one consciousness, one hive mind — with one single entity at the centre of it all. They relinquished all individual thoughts. They could not eat or sleep or wash or bathe, or water the plants, or answer the door to the postman or make an omelette, until its secrets were revealed. The more they thought about it, the more sway it held over them. They craved its guidance, longed to reach out and touch it, and for it to touch them back. They became the wasted-living — their existence, purgatory — their street a hinterland for stupefied suburban tramps.
This lasted the whole fortnight of Wimbledon.
Until — on the final Sunday — a pristinely-white marquee was erected on the village green. The residents, instinctively sensing its purpose, drifted in somnolence through alleyways and ginnels, along canal paths and through allotment gates. They walked obediently towards the shining pavilion, and gathered.
A flock of starlings swooped and chattered overhead, intruding on the almost tomb-like hush inside the tent. After a few minutes, nothing happened. After a few more, the whispers began. Something was very wrong. Everyone had expected the hand to be there to greet them — displayed proudly atop an altar, encased in an ornate glass dome, in a manner conveying the appropriate degree of reverence.
But it was missing. Where was it? Had the police been careless and lost it? Had it perished once removed from its erstwhile nest in the hedgerow? Its home. These questions led inexorably to the one at which everyone now arrived, but none dared utter — had anyone actually seen the hand?
A man ascended the wooden steps to a small plinth, a stage of sorts. He stood at a lectern and faced the residents of the village of Blatherwick. He was a small man, pink and sweaty. He looked like the result of some clandestine experiment in the nineteen-sixties where in some off-grid laboratory, for no reason anyone could fathom, a beloved pet gerbil had been cross-bred with a sentient ham.
The man spoke.
‘We know you have many questions,' he said.
‘TELL US!' someone shouted in response.
‘YES, FOR GOD'S SAKE TELL US! WE'VE WAITED LONG ENOUGH.'
‘LET HIM SPEAK!' said a villager no one recognised. Maybe they'd seen him before. Maybe they'd chatted over garden fences or stood behind him in the newsagents, or stopped their car to give way to him at a pedestrian crossing. It didn't matter now.
Above them all, the sun shone brightly, like a sherbet lemon in an azure sky. Miles away, Novak Djokovic hammered an ace right down the middle of Centre Court, to thunderous applause. The smell of seared meat came wafting over the air. And in the gardens of Blatherwick, unattended children splashed in paddling pools and bounced majestically skyward on trampolines. Their laughter twinkly, high, indifferent.
is a fiction writer from Manchester, UK whose work can be found in many fine lit journals including Trampset, Milk Candy Review
. Rick's debut collection "Talking to Ghosts at Parties" is available now via Storgy Books. His website is www.ricketywhite.com