‘What the hell was that?’ Katie said.
‘See, we should never have come here,’ Ray said, turning and making for the end of the path.
‘Come on, this could be the coolest story since the original Harry Land story,’ Gerard grinned.
‘Or a gruesome footnote,’ Katie grinned. ‘Either way, it’ll be a rush.’
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Ray said as Katie put her hand to the damp-rotted wood and pushed gently.
The door swung open, letting out the dim light from a trio of pumpkins in the middle of the hallway.
‘Come on,’ she said, moving into the house, her feet making the charred floorboard creak.
Ray gulped hard and followed. His dinner jumped up to sternum height but he managed to swallow it as he moved into the house.
Gerard was keen as mustard, shoving past him and into the hallway.
‘Is anyone there?’ Katie shouted, her voice echoing ominously off the walls. ‘We heard a scream. Are you hurt?’
‘It’s Jeremy pissing about,’ Ray said, suddenly furious. His fear evaporated until he saw the bright flecks of blood on the three pumpkins.
The door slammed shut behind them, sounding like a bomb blast in the silent house.
The pumpkin nearest to Ray began to squirm, the lid of it moving around as if something inside was trying to push its way out.
What looked like the leg of some hairless tarantula poked out through the gap and began to claw its way slowly out of the pumpkin. Soon there were four more legs.
‘Who left a spider in here?’ Gerard laughed. ‘Nice one, but we ain’t fooled.’
They all drew a sharp intake of breath when they realised that it was a child’s hand in there, not a spider.
‘Well they must have drilled through the floor in the basement and poked their hand through,’ Katie said, trying to rationalise the creeping dread that threatened to freeze her heart.
‘Yeah, come on out, Jeremy,’ Ray said, his hatred and disdain for the nerd again overriding his terror for a second.
He grabbed the hand, and his mind screamed at him the skin was too cold, the flesh too squidgy, to be Jeremy’s, but he ignored it and pulled hard.
‘Come on out, you prick,’ Ray shouted, pulling with all he was worth. A grin of triumph lit his face as the hand began to slide out.
Ray screamed himself when he saw that the hand ended in a bloody stump. Maggots, deathly pale in the darkness, squirmed in the open bones and veins therein.
‘Relax, it’s a fake hand,’ Katie said, but the tone of her voice wasn’t convincing any of them.
This was proved to be false when the fingers wriggled as if waving at Ray. He threw it to one side. It bounced off the wall with a meaty thud and began to race across the floor towards him.
Another hand was emerging from the pumpkin nearest the door now and it was larger, almost big enough to be a man’s hand.
They ran to the stairs, being shepherded there by the hands and another pair that had emerged from the darkness of the kitchen.
They saw the smears of wet blood on the stairs and barely avoided slipping on them.
Halfway up the stairs they found a blood-covered white bed sheet.
‘Jeremy,’ Ray said, his face now as white as the sheet in his quaking hands.
They all let out a little cry at the realisation of what was going on; they were trapped in a nightmare from which there was no waking. The hands were making their way up the stairs now, crawling like huge, horrific insects.
The sight made their skin crawl as if covered with ants.
At the top of the stairs they found Jeremy. His right hand was missing, a surprisingly neat wound still gushing with blood that slid over the edge of the top step and began to drip down onto the next. His eyes had been plucked out of his skull and blood was pouring from the sockets like his sorrow was being expressed in scarlet.
‘Get out of here,’ Jeremy said, his voice racked with agony and despair. ‘Harry’s here. He’ll come for you too.’
They dragged him into the bedroom carefully, eager to avoid the hands which were moving quickly up the stairs behind them.
Ray unfastened his belt and tied it tightly around Jeremy’s wrist.
‘It’ll stop the blood flow,’ he said when he saw Katie and Gerard’s baffled expressions.
The room in which they found themselves was in utter darkness.
No sooner had they noticed the darkness than a candle flame flickered in the furthest corner of the room. A pumpkin was there, rotting and stinking, flies forming a foul cloud around it, but still holding its shape.
On the wall were dozens, no, hundreds of severed hands. They were large and small, old and young, male and female. Those of the curious, the stupid, the fearless.
‘The disbelievers,’ said a hissing voice from behind them. They looked up and there was Harry, blackened and dead and rotting. His right arm ended in a horrid bloody stump that dripped diseased blood onto the bare floorboards. His voice was hard to understand, kind of muffled.
They soon saw why.
His tongue was huge and swollen. It seemed to have two forks in it, although more soon appeared. A hideous black hand emerged from his jaws which opened wide, like those of a snake.
The skin at the sides of Harry’s leering face ripped with sickly sounds that echoed around the room. More of the dark, reeking blood slid down from the wounds.
The hand emerged, black, distended and deadly, the arm pouring from his throat, growing longer and longer, far longer than any arm could or indeed should have been.
It grabbed Ray round the throat and squeezed so hard it looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his skull.
Just before his peripheral vision faded into oblivion, he saw the hands on the walls begin to twitch and judder, suddenly alive after a year of hibernation and decay.
They began to haul themselves down from the nails which pinned them to the plasterboard. The sickly popping noises stuck in the heads of the three terrified kids.
The hands grabbed Ray’s arms and legs. He cried out as two crawled onto his face and their clammy, putrescent fingers sunk into his mouth.
One gripped his lower jaw in a grip harder than that of any vice.
The other matched the force on his upper lip, pulling so hard it felt like his lip was going to come off.
His lower jaw was yanked down with a force that tore the remaining breath from him. A third hand seized the opportunity and darted into his open mouth. Its slimy, maggot-infested fingers gripped his tongue.
He gagged as a maggot crawled into the back of his throat.
The hand gripped tight on his tongue, despite the moisture on there, despite the vomit that began to swamp it.
There was a horrendous pain as the hand tried to tear his tongue out at the root. Blood began to fill his mouth, settling in the vomit like some vile emulsion they’d use to paint the walls of hell, the flow increasing to a gush as the back of his tongue came loose. Blood jetted down his throat and he let out a dumb cry that sent blood bubbling down over his lips and onto his flabby chest.
He glanced around and saw Katie pinned to the floor by her chest and legs. Dozens of the rotting, foul hands held her down so hard it looked as though she was going to pass out through lack of oxygen.
I hope you do, Katie, he thought. Better that than what I’m feeling right now.
A set of hands gripped her left arm and pulled with a sudden savagery that wrenched the limb from its socket. Her cry of agony bounced off the walls and seemed to echo for an eternity.
The arms kept pulling and Ray was certain he heard the pop of each individual ligament as it came free.
Finally the limb was torn loose in a hot geyser of blood and thrown to one side.
The hands made their inexorable way across to the other arm.
Mercifully, the pain and shock had made Katie pass out.
The last thing Gerard saw was the hands pulling apart his ribcage in a shower of gore and holding aloft his still-beating heart. Then his head slumped back onto his chest and his eyes slowly closed.
The now-mute Ray gawped at the nightmare scene before him. Blood washed across the bare floorboards towards him but he was too lazy from the blood loss to move. The hands clamped him to the floor as surely as if he’d been nailed there.
His eyes struggled to focus on the scene before him.
The many hands seemed to have calmed their frantic gouging and wrenching and tearing. Now they were sat on his chest, as if waiting for instructions.
Harry himself leaned over, the thick black arm still protruding from his jaws which were forced open wide enough to almost cleave his skull in two. The tongue itself was stretched out to truly epic proportions, pulsing rhythmically.
Harry and Ray both turned as the door opened.
Ray’s blood-slicked jaw dropped open further – almost as much as Harry’s – when he saw the identity of the visitor.
‘Fiona?’ Harry said, the words thick and distorted by the obscenity pouring from his mouth. ‘Is that you?’
‘There should be more of the little shits on the way,’ a familiar voice said.
Miss Hopper stood there before Ray, somehow different to how he normally perceived her.
Then his eyes, with an effort that seemed to leech the breath from him, fell upon her left forearm, which ended in a ragged stump where her hand should have been.
The end was a thick mass of fish-belly white scar tissue.
She seemed to feel his eyes upon her and pointed to the prosthetic hand poking out of her jacket pocket.
‘I told you that you ought to pay more attention in class, Raymond,’ she said, the demonic grin on her face again like when she was telling Harry’s story. ‘You must be the only one who hadn’t noticed my false hand.’
His brow furrowed again, the mating caterpillars going in for their last hurrah as his final breath rushed into his lungs.
His eyes watched as she leaned into Harry, kissed his putrefying cheek.
‘I’m so sorry, Harry,’ she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. ‘Do you forgive me yet?’
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