Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror


Peter Henderson sold a lot of strange things in his Occult shop, and he wasn't picky about where they came least, not until now...

The Severed Hand (of Glory)

By Talbot Pratt

"I heard you can help me."

Peter Henderson glanced up sharply from the inventory, mildly startled by the high, nervous voice from across the counter. The shop, Not Just Newts, was only dimly lit, sounds muted by rich, exotic drapes, and he hadn't noticed the customer until that moment. Once again, he made a mental note to buy a bell for the door.

"Yes?" he replied, quietly closing the inventory and folding his hands over the generous curve of his belly. "What is it you're looking for? We have the finest collection of Occult and New Age paraphernalia in Montreal." He waved one ringed hand, taking in the clutter of fortuneteller's globes, scryer's crystals, planchettes and the like that jostled for space amongst the shadows. "We have a special on tarot cards until Sunday. You won't find a better deal anywhere."

The customer was a young man, hair dyed green, with thick-rimmed glasses. He wore a black tee-shirt with a picture of H.P. Lovecraft and the logo: "Necronomi-Con '99". He had been in once before, as Henderson recalled, when he had put in an order for some Joss sticks. Jack something.

Nervously dropping his eyes, Jack Something fidgeted with a crystal strung around his turkey neck. He swallowed. "Actually, I was looking for something a little more... intense."

"Oh?" Henderson's brow arched archly. "Intense, you say? And what would that be?"

But he had a pretty good idea. The customer didn't disappoint him.

The boy -- and that was all he was; he couldn't have been old enough to shave -- shot a furtive glance over his shoulder, then turned back. "I was told you could get me a... a hand-of-glory."

Henderson gave a good long space before he responded. He kept his features inscrutable. Then, quietly, he said: "You know that it's illegal to sell human body parts without a licence?"

The boy wilted as if caught masturbating in the school john. For a moment, Henderson wondered if he'd layed it on a little too thick. But then the kid rallied, straightening and looking him square in the eye.

"Sure, I know that. Sure. But I was told you could help me. I was told you were the man to see."

Again, Henderson allowed the silence to play, studying the kid with a tight, appraising eye. The kid squirmed under that look, and that gave Henderson a certain pleasure. But that wasn't why he did it. He did it because he had been in this business all his life and, if there was one thing he knew, it was how to haggle.

"And what if I could help you?" he said. "What would that be worth to you?"

"What would you want?"

Good answer. Henderson chewed thoughtfully on his lip, then quietly ventured, "Assuming I could get ahold of a hand-of-glory, assuming I could do that, I couldn't let it go for anything less than...say, fifty."

The kid hardly batted an eye. "I can pay. No problem. When can you get it in?"

Henderson sniffed and shot a glance toward the front door. Without a word, he lifted the flip-part of the counter, slipped through and past the boy. He went to the door and turned the CLOSED sign around. A man in a trenchcoat had just been about to enter, but stopped as Henderson locked the door.

The boy watched all this, thoroughly impressed. As Henderson returned and slipped back around to the other side of the counter, the kid's eyes followed as if mesmerized by a slithering snake.

"Wait here."

Henderson ducked through dark purple curtains into the back store room. The store room was lined with metal shelves lit by a single hanging lightbulb.

The shelves were heaped with hands. There were a couple hundred of them, all brown and wrinkled, severed at the wrists, hands piled on hands in grisly, nightmarish mounds.

For a moment, Henderson stood there, looking over his vast stock, a deep sense of satisfaction welling up inside. Those hands-of-glory were making him rich. It seemed every kid in town had to have one, had to have several, and they didn't care how much they had to shell out to get them. The very fact that the sale of human body parts was illegal allowed him to drive up the price. The kids thought they were into something dark and sinister, tapping into some unholy black market. As long as they didn't figure out the truth, he was cruising up easy street.

The truth was, the hands were fake. Every last one of them, fake. Henderson ordered them from Sanjanta, a small banana republic down in South America.

His kind of people.

They were quite remarkable imitations, considering that they were really made of seaweed and animal bones. The effect was impressive -- so long as you didn't check too closely. They certainly had the kids fooled. And from Henderson's point of view, it was the perfect set up. The kids paid through the nose believing they were getting the real pickled hands of hanged criminals, "hands-of-glory" which, according to occult lore, could be used to weave powerful spells. Meanwhile, because the hands weren't real, Henderson wasn't doing anything illegal. If he was caught, the most they could do was charge him with tricking customers into thinking they were buying illegal merchandise. And he'd like to see them argue that one in court.

Henderson went to a shelf and selected a hand off the top, a nice fat one, not too wrinkled. Then he went back out front where the kid was still waiting with wide nervous eyes.

"I thought so," Henderson told him, placing the hand-of-glory on the counter. The fingers crabbed like the legs of a spider. The boy flinched with a grimace. "I ordered this for another customer but he never showed up." Henderson said this with a significant arching of the brows. "It happens sometimes, you know. Something as... intense as this, they get cold feet." He studied the boy doubtfully. "Are you sure you want to go through with this? The hand-of-glory -- a kid like you, it's not something you want to fool around with...if you don't know what you're doing."

"I know what I'm doing."

The boy's offended tone was everything Henderson could have asked for. He slapped fifty dollars on the counter and Henderson moved it into the cash register with practiced ease. "Just wanted to be sure."

He slipped the hand into a brown paper bag and handed it across. The boy, to his credit, accepted the gory package with only a mild pallour to his face. Henderson had known one or two to actually faint. One had even tossed her cookies. Now that had been one sale he could have done without.

"Have a nice day."

The kid laughed in a high giggle. "Yeah, you too."

As the kid vanished down the street, Henderson went to the door and turned the sign around again. Then he noticed the time, and decided he might as well close up a few minutes early. As he returned to the counter, the phone rang.

"Not Just Newts. Can I help you?"

"You have a collect call from...Sanjanta. Will you accept the charges?"

"Er...I guess."

The voice that came on the line had a thick Spanish accent. "Hello, may I please speak with...Peter Henderson?"

"You've got him."

"Oh, Senor Henderson, I'm calling from the republic of Sanjanta. I believe you have done business with my employer. You have purchased several consignments of, ah, hands-of-glory. That is, artificial hands made of sea weed and animal bones. Is this correct?"

Henderson frowned. He'd done all his business by mail. This was the first time he'd ever talked to anyone from Sanjanta. He wondered why they'd call him now.

"That's right," he said carefully. "I bought some fake hands from your country. What about it?"

There was a long pause on the other end, and Henderson's unease continued to grow. "Well, you see, Senor Henderson," the voice continued hesitantly, "there was a small, uh, mix-up in your last purchase."

Henderson's features darkened. "What sort of mix-up?"

"Oh, nothing to worry about, I assure you. It is merely that...well... it seems a real hand found its way into your purchase."

"A real hand!" Henderson exploded. He could get in a lot of trouble if the police found out. He could lose his shop.

"You see, Senor, Sanjanta sells real hands-of-glory as well as the fake ones which you purchased. We are a poor country and it is a very lucrative trade. The real hands are, of course, remarkably similar to the false ones, and you can see how the mistake might happen. This hand, it belonged to a vicious killer, a madman who had killed thirteen people in my country before he was caught. To a real collector of occult talismans it would be very powerful indeed. It would have fetched a high price on the market."

Henderson was barely listening. His thoughts were on the store room in back, thinking of all those shelves heaped with hands. Somewhere in that ghastly mass of fingers and knuckles and severed wrists...a real hand. The hand of a madman.

Ah, crumb.

"All right," Henderson snarled. "Can you give me something to look for? Is there any way I'll know this madman's hand when I see it?"

"Thankfully there is," the man replied. "There was a small gold ring on the middle finger."

"Great. So I'll find your stupid hand and mail it back to you. But this had better not happen again!"

He slammed down the receiver. For a moment, he stood there in the darkness of the shop. Outside, rain began to sprinkle and lightning flickered silently in the distance. Why couldn't anything be easy? he asked himself. Why did there always have to be a catch?

With another snarl, he turned and shrugged through the purple drapes into the store room. He paused and scanned the cluttered shelves with their grisly burden. God, there must be at least two hundred of the things. How was he supposed to find it in all that mess?

Still, there was no point in putting it off. If anyone found out he had a real hand in here, he could kiss his shop goodbye. He had to find it fast and get rid of it.

Quickly, he set to work. An hour later he was still looking. He had worked his way through about three quarters of the things, checking each one for the gold ring. But so far, no luck. All the while, the storm outside had gotten worse. Now, suddenly, there was a crash of thunder. Henderson jumped.

On the heels of the crash -- the single lightbulb went out.

The store room was plunged into darkness. For a moment, Henderson just stood there, waiting for the lights to come back on. No light came through the curtains, so he knew the power was out. Usually, you could expect Ontario Hydro to have things up and running within a few minutes. But not this time. Five minutes passed and still the darkness remained.

All right, Henderson decided. I'm nearly done and it'd be crazy to quit now.

There was only one shelf left. He could do this. He could find the ring without having to see it.

He would know it when he felt it.

In the darkness, he slowly reached into the pile of hands and selected one at random. He was surprised how realistic it felt. The skin felt cold and clammy, like real tissue over dead bone. In fact, it felt a little too realistic. With a purely involuntary reaction, he tossed it back into the heap. He even gave a weak gasp of revulsion.

Immediately he felt like a fool.

What was he doing? Even if that had been the hand, it couldn't hurt him. It was just a severed hand from a hanged murderer. Though Henderson sold occult talismans, he didn't believe in the things. He didn't buy into that paranormal baloney.

And yet?

And yet, just the same, he found himself recalling what the man had said on the phone. To a real collector of occult talismans it would be very powerful indeed.
The hand of a madman. A man who killed thirteen people before he was caught.

Suddenly, Henderson found himself wondering -- how did he kill those people? With his hands? With his bare hands? In the darkness, he had an image, a horrible image of a hand dripping with blood. He swallowed tightly.

Very powerful indeed...

Get a grip, Henderson, he told himself. You're almost done. Don't lose it now.

He selected another hand. It felt just like the one before, just as real, but there was no ring on the fingers. It was fake. Breathing tightly, he began to work his way through the hands, picking them up in the darkness, one after the other, feeling the cool spidery fingers, then quickly tossing them back. They would land amongst the others with a sickly dead-fish flopping. He found his heart was racing, getting faster with the passing seconds. Crazy as it seemed, he found he was scared, really scared. He didn't know why, but that didn't calm his heart.

All those hands were getting to him. He would never have believed it, but they were...

And then he froze.

He had just reached into the darkness, into the pile of hands. His left hand had just closed on yet another limp, flaccid hand-of-glory -- when he felt that hand move.

It gave a sudden sharp, spastic lurch, nearly slipping eel-like from his grip. At the same moment, he felt fingers curl tight around his other wrist, also deep in the pile, cool, clammy fingers like thick damp worms. Instantly, he knew what he was feeling. The hand he had grabbed had grabbed his other hand in turn. For a moment, he stood there, unable to move, telling himself he must be imagining things. It was just one of the many fake hands, the fingers accidentally curling around his wrist. That was all it was.

But then he felt the fingers move again.

There could be no mistaking that sudden spasming motion this time. Fingers had just tightened against his skin, ghastly frigid fingers -- dead fingers. It wasn't possible. He knew it wasn't. But he could feel it just the same. In an instant, his skin seemed supersensitized, all his concentration centred on that area of wrist beneath the pressing fingers. Beads of sweat ran into his eyes. He felt ice water flooding his limbs. The hair rose on his scalp. He had a sudden image -- they would find him in the morning, his hair gone white, and the marks of fingers on this throat. The fingers from a severed hand. The hand of a madman.

A little whine rose to his lips. Like a puppy dog. He couldn't move. He could barely breathe.

The hand continued to hold his wrist. His other hand continued to hold that hand. He wanted to pry it off, but he couldn't find the strength. Every time he tried again to tell himself that it must be his imagination, the fingers would twitch again, as if just to let him know it wasn't. It wasn't his imagination.

Finally, slowly, he began to draw his hands out of the grisly mound. The hand, the severed hand, came with them. His whimpering grew louder.

Then, sharply, he pulled his hands clear of the shelf. The dead hand was fixed around his wrist, still hanging there with a hideous tenacity. He could take it no longer.

With a horrified scream, he began to shake his arm. He flung it left and right, desperately banging it against the side of the shelves -- but the hand continued to grip, impossibly clinging, refusing to be dislodged. He tore at the clinging hand with his free hand, but it just tightened its grip, fighting, literally fighting to hold on.

And that just added to his horror. He began to blunder about in the dark of the store room. He crashed into a shelf, toppling it. Hands rained down on his head, floppy hands, landing on his shoulders and staying there. He kept screaming, careening blindingly against the walls, searching for the curtains, searching for a way out --

And then suddenly he found it. He staggered through the curtains and out into the shop. At that same moment, the lights came back on...

He found himself holding his own wrist.

For a moment, even then, he didn't realize that was what it was. He screamed again and bashed his own wrist against the counter, crushing his hand. Even as the pain surged up his arm in a fiery burst, he finally awoke to the realization that he had been gripping his own hand all along. His own goddamned hand!

"Ah, crumb!" he swore, finally releasing his grip and shaking his battered limb.

And then he saw the ring.

It was a small gold ring, little more than a wire circle. It lay on the counter beside the cash register. He stared at it dumbly, barely even aware now of the throbbing in his hand. Slowly, his scattered thoughts came together -- and he understood.

The kid. He had sold the kid the real hand-of-glory!

After all that, the hand wasn't even in the back store room. For a moment, he felt a strange mix of relief and despair. He was relieved to know that he didn't have to go back there and finish the search. But the kid already had it! What was he going to do? Tell the kid there'd been a mistake? The hand was defective? Sure, the kid would really buy that one.

Then he realized -- he had no way of finding the kid again. Unless, the boy came back, there was no way to track down that...

No, wait. The kid had been in once before. He'd put in an order for Joss sticks. It would still be on file. If only he could remember the kid's name. Jack... Jack...Weins, that was it, Jack Weins --


Henderson just about went through the roof. He clutched his chest, catching his breath, while the phone rang again, then again. Finally, he picked up the receiver.

Before he could speak, a familiar high kid's voice shrilled out. "Help me! You've got to help me! Oh, Jesus, help -- eeugh!"

That was what he said. Eeugh! And then there was only silence. A long ominous pause that just seemed to pull everything else into it. The line was still open. For a full minute, Henderson stood there, unable to believe it. His mouth was dry. He didn't know what to do. Finally, weakly, he asked, "Hello? Hey, kid -- Jack, are you all right?"

The silence went on and on. Then:


Someone hung up.

Numbly, Henderson replaced his own receiver. His eyes were staring like a shell-shocked grunt. He tried to swallow but found there wasn't enough spittle for the job. What should he do? Phone the police? But what if the police found the hand? The paper bag had the shop logo on it. They would know where the kid had bought the thing.

Quickly, he flipped through his files until he found the order slip Jack Weins had filled out. It had his home address. Thank God. It also had the kid's phone number. He tried that first. After twenty rings, he gave up.

Ten minutes later, Henderson pulled up in front of a quaint, brick bungalow set in a friendly suburban neighbourhood. When he rang the door, nobody answered. Feeling a sudden queasy premontion, he pressed his palm against the door.

It swung silently open.


There was only hushed stillness from the dark interior. Swallowing, he entered and tried the light switch. Klick. It didn't work. A flash of lightning filled the hallway throwing his shadow into the darkness. Thunder boomed a moment later.

"Hello, is anybody home?"

So far, he hadn't given himself time to think too clearly about what he might find. The kid had hung up, right? So, the kid couldn't be that badly hurt. Maybe he was an epileptic or something. Maybe he had been doing drugs. A lot of kids who came by the shop did drugs. Sure, that was probably all it was. Drugs...

But then he found the body. And he knew it wasn't drugs.

The kid lay in the living room face-down on the rug. He was surrounded by black unlit candles, obviously having been in the middle of some sort of magic ritual. There was no denying -- he was dead. The body was covered with blood, soaked with it, still wet and glistening with the lightning flashes playing through the windows. Henderson just stared, all the colour draining from his face.

And then he heard a board creak behind him.

He turned with a startled cry. The lightning flashed again, obligingly silhouetting a figure standing in the doorway. It was a moment before he recognized the figure. It was the man in a trenchcoat, the man who had been going to enter the shop when Henderson turned the CLOSED sign around. Now he saw that beneath the trenchcoat the man was wearing black and white striped prison garb.

The man's features were hidden in the darkness, his eyes two glittering stones. He stepped forward and held out his left hand. In that hand, was another hand. The hand-of-glory.

Then, he held out the right hand -- only it wasn't a hand.

It was a bloody hook.

Quite suddenly, Henderson found himself recalling something he had read in the newspaper a few months back -- back before he started ordering fake hands-of-glory by mail. A little fact which, apparently, had not prevented the good citizens of Sanjanta from carrying on a most lucrative trade. Something that he really, really wished he had remembered before this moment.

The republic of Sanjanta doesn't have the death penalty...

The End.

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The Severed Hand (of Glory) is copyright 1999, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)