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The Nature of Hands

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Dear Diary,

Today I am writing you under a rather extraordinary set of circumstances. I recognize what I write may soon be washed away by the abstract and impermanent way objects are treated in this realm, but since this is only a diary entry, it should not matter much.

I started this day—if it may even be called that—in the company of several young children, each at least fifteen years younger than me if I were to wager a guess. We stood clumped around a chalkboard on the beached and decomposing remains of an old ship. The wood was moist and rich with mold and fungus. The kids didn’t seem to mind. I saw a little boy on his hands and knees, inspecting the rotten wood. He tore off a chunk and flew it around his head like an airplane.

I turned my attention to the blackboard. Amidst the sketches of whale skeletons and nerve paths, I saw a name written in small, bold letters: “Prof. Stan.” I panned my eyes a touch and caught sight of a towering man—at least I think he was a man. The blackboard, almost my height, only came up to his waist. He donned a vibrant rouge dress, and adorning his lips was glittering neon lipstick. I should perhaps call such a thing lipsick, if the feeling in the pit of my stomach was any indication. The man held a long, pitch-black baton, which he waved haphazardly toward the chalkboard at regular intervals. I wondered what kind of reputable professor would think to set up class in the middle of a mildewing shipwreck. I did not dare to ask the professor this question.

The professor marched back and forth in front of the chalkboard, staring at us with an eerie grin, like a hyena trapping its prey. “Now, having discussed nerve endings and tendons,” he began—I did not remember discussing such things, having only been there since several minutes ago—“you will answer me this.”

The professor pointed his baton at a sketch of a skeletal thumb and gave a fakey girl-scout smile. “What is a hand?” he cheered through his teeth. The children stared absently. The little boy who liked to play with fungus picked his nose. How could they not know what a hand is? I scratched my leg and surveyed the children, completely mystified. Everyone knows what a hand is.

The teacher’s laser gaze gnawed through the crowd. He stepped forward. “What is a hand?” he asked again, straining the sides of his mouth from stretching them so far.

A beautiful little girl’s hand shot up. The professor shot her a look, then stepped back and gave a deep, flowery chuckle. “Very funny, Sally. An excellent example. Now, class, you may define a hand for me.” Sally’s hand plummeted. The class gave blank stares. In what absurd sort of classroom setting is one to refrain from raising her hand? I did not dare to ask the professor this question either. Frankly I preferred to refrain from asking him anything at all.

Silence. The professor swam through us like a fat, merry shark ready to snatch up more prey. In passing he tapped a girl on the legs with his baton. She instantly straightened her posture.

He was coming my way. I was ready.

“John.”

I stood up straight and turned to face the man’s navel. I was not fond of this sight.

“Tell the class, John. What is a hand?” I looked up at the professor and saw the first genuine smile I’d seen that day. I stepped up to the blackboard and planted my hands firmly on my hips.

I looked out to see several bright, admiring gazes. I supposed this was the perspective of a teacher. This made me wonder how any teacher who got to see such a sight every morning could possibly be such an insufferable bitch.

“A hand,” I began, and then stopped. My mouth hung open in mid-sentence. What is a hand? Such a simple question, but no simple answer. My mind began to race as I broke out in a sweat. What is a hand? Can I just say it’s an appendage? No, that’s too broad. Feet and arms are appendages too.

The professor’s smile twisted into a sneer. I shut my eyes. What’s a hand? It’s five appendages attached to something, but what do I call the middle thing? A palm? Isn’t it pretty dumb to define a hand in terms of a palm, which is itself defined in terms of a hand? I heard mirthful, high-pitched laughter echo around me. My head started to spin. I heard a train horn.

I woke with a start and stared at the ceiling. My pillow was hot and gross so I turned it over.

Have you ever had a dream where you have to do something and you wake up without being able to finish? At first you’re thinking to yourself that you couldn’t complete your task and now something terrible will happen to you, but you realize that nothing terrible can happen to you because you never really had to complete the task in the first place; you were just dreaming you did. That reasonably approximates the thought process I went through in that moment.

“Daddy, what’s wrong?”

I looked up at the brown-haired little girl who stood over my bed. Sally. My daughter. What a sweet smile.

What a precious, innocent, delectable smile.

Sally pouted. “I heard a big noise.”

I rubbed my eyes and yawned. “Everything is fine, sweetie. Go back to bed, okay?” She nodded and skipped away, swinging her teddy bear as she went.

I looked over my nightstand to my photo of her. I caressed it. What a darling child. I worked my eyes down her body and paused.

Hands?

I shook my head. I thought for some reason she had been wearing a dress made of hands. No, it was just her favorite fairy princess outfit, as usual.

I put the photo back on the nightstand. I sighed, laid my head back down, and closed my eyes.

Cold. White. Snow? I crawled through the sparkling void, trying to work out left from right. I looked around for something to relate myself to, a tree or some footprints to judge my position in space. Nothing. I crawled forward without aim, headed toward the soothing sounds of a violin.

The icy snow under my hands and knees began to feel softer and wetter as I continued on my way. I thought I saw a slight hint of red, ever so faint, glowing across the flakes like butter on mashed potatoes. The violin grew louder, ripping furiously across scales that transcended my very ears. The red oozed in, ever more prominent, violating my eyes like the glare of fresh sun. I started to sweat.

An opening ahead. A cave? I crawled faster. Had to escape the heat. Had to escape this dreadful, noisy light. Time for shade, for darkness, for sleep.

The snow started to give way, caving under its weight. I tried to pull my hand out, but the ravenous hole tugged and slurped and gnashed its snowflaky teeth. I cried out for help, but my cries fell under the white silence of snow. I struggled, desperate. The snow wasn’t cold anymore. It gleamed with a sickly warmth, damp and gooey as it slurped at my face. I tried to scream, but my mouth filled with bright-red snow.

I tasted blood.

I struggled to turn my head toward my body. No flailing arms or kicking legs. No writhing and wrenching abdomen greeted my eyes. Just hands. Swarms and swarms of disembodied hands, spurting blood at the wrists as they clawed and jabbed at the snow.

One of the hands opened up to reveal a single dead, baggy eye at the center of its palm. It looked at me. The hands all stopped and began to turn toward my face, fingers eagerly cricking and popping.

The snow shifted. I tumbled helplessly down the drain. The hands followed, beginning to melt, skin first, then flesh, and at last bone and marrow.

I rolled out into the open, along with several pounds of snow. I was happy to see it had resumed being white and cold as per usual.

I looked around. A cave. An old cave, from the looks of it, full of vines and plants. There seemed to be some statues as well. Monuments, resembling gargoyles. Carved drawings on the walls that seemed to depict nothing in particular. I panted. I could see my breath. I hung my head and breathed a sigh of relief.

I opened my eyes. The snow under my feet had begun to move, forming a pattern.

I? B? … R.

R.

R-U.

R-U-N.

I looked behind me and saw a large, striped paw emerging from the hole in the wall, outfitted with fierce claws. It groped around. Rumbling. The wall began to crack.

I stole another glance at the snow on the ground. I didn’t need to be told twice. Scarcely could I finish climbing to my knees before my feet flew like the wind, nearly tripping me as I tore away from my imminent fate. Daring to look back, I watched the huge Bengal tiger burst forth from the stone wall and lick its chops. I didn’t need to watch any longer to know it was coming after me.

I continued screaming and running for my life for what seemed like hours, the tiger close behind all the while, its paws thumping against the tunnel ground. I eventually ran out of breath to yell and just gasped and panted as I ran. A dead end fast approached. My bacon was cooked.

The wall at the dead end started to get brighter. The ancient runes were scrambled, but I could just barely make them out.

WH#T I& A HA$D?

I started to run out of room. I stopped myself before running into the wall. I inched up against it, the space between the tiger’s jaws and my relatively tiny human head becoming smaller and smaller. I could feel its breath on my face. It smelled like rotten meat. The tiger licked its chops again. I shrunk down and cowered in the corner, shaking.

It roared.

I woke with a start and stared at the ceiling. I turned my head down to see a precious little girl standing over my bed.

“Daddy, what’s wrong?” She pouted. “I heard a big noise.”

I rubbed my eyes and yawned. “Everything is fine, sweetie. Go back to bed, okay?” She nodded and skipped away, swinging her teddy bear as she went.

I turned to the nightstand and removed the PCP syringe from its case. The doctor said I need angel dust to sleep. It sounded like bullshit, but it seemed to work pretty well.

I hastily put the needle back as I saw Sally stop dead in her tracks. The teddy bear dropped to the floor.

I shook my head and blinked. “Sweetheart?”

“I almost forgot!” She giggled and turned back to face me. “Daddy, can you help me with my homework?” She bounced back to my bedside and looked up at me with her bright hazel eyes.

I smiled in a way that I hoped seemed sufficiently paternal. “Well, of course I can. But then it’s time for bed.” I lifted her up under her arms, kissed her nose, and sat her down next to me. “Now, what are we looking at here?” Sally eagerly pressed the open book into my face.

I plucked the book from her little paws and took a look for her. “The body, huh? I was never too good at this class when I was a kid.”

“You were a kid?” She stared at me wide-eyed, her fascination plainly obvious.

I chuckled. “Everyone’s a kid at some point. Even your daddy.” I read through the questions and her answers. “Let’s see: can you lick your elbow, what is puberty and when does it happen…” I stopped.

WHAT IS A HAND?

I dropped the book in my lap, shaking.

“What’s wrong, daddy?” I looked down at Sally, half her face rotting away, her wrinkled eyeball dangling from its socket. “Aren’t my answers good?” I felt my eye twitch. Static. Hands. Hands crawling all over my beautiful daughter. Their fingernails sunk into her delicate flesh and clawed at it. Desperate. Hungry.

“Don’t you love me, daddy?” She took my hand and drew it closer to her body. Her intestines chomped through her flesh like piranhas and started to crawl on her silky skin. Tiny dark holes like the gaps between spiders’ threads festered open all over her cheeks. Her hanging eye struggled to rise up and look at me. “Aren’t I a pretty girl?”

My hand drew closer to the festering, rotting mess that sat beside me. I felt an erection thump in my pants. I blacked out.

A hand is what bullies use to push people down the stairs. A hand is what men used long ago to reap the land barren and establish buildings upon its surface.

A hand is an instrument of defacement.

I found myself standing in the center of a shipwreck. The wood was moist and rich with mold and fungus.

I saw my little Sally on her hands and knees, inspecting the rotten wood. She tore off a chunk and flew it around her head like an airplane.

I turned my attention to the blackboard. Amidst the sketches of whale skeletons and nerve paths, I saw a name written in small, bold letters.

PROF STAN

I dusted my flamboyant clothing and added in an “A” between the “S” and the “T.” I set down the chalk and turned to face my bright, happy class.

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