The sun sits high in the sky as I climb up the hill to my destination. While out hiking through the trails around my house, I come upon a stump. The swirls in the stump whisper of an age around two hundred years. This tidbit of information is nice, but what catches my attention, besides the swirls, is the hand that is perched upon the stump.
I blink as I wipe the sweat from my eyes. I move closer to make sure I am not hallucinating. The mushrooms from earlier may have had hallucinogen properties, but I don’t think they did. As I draw closer I notice the hand is still there.
The hand is not shriveled, there is no sign of decay on the digits. All five fingers are in pristine condition. I pick up the hand and turn it over. Again, it is pristine. No callouses, the lifeline is long and curved.
“Who misplaced a hand? And why would they leave it in the woods?” I consider putting the hand down and walking away, but how often do you have three hands?
Instead of putting it back, I take it with me. As I walk through the woods, I consider the hand. “It could be someone who is an escaped prisoner or maybe it was something darker.” Either way, I make it back to my truck in record time.
I step on the gas and tear down the dirt trail, racing back toward my house. The sun has gone down, and twilight makes long shadows on the two-lane road. Behind me, red and blue lights flash. I pull over.
Pete Windsor, our duly-elected Sheriff, steps out into the shadows and pulls up his belt. He unsnaps the latch on his holster and steps toward my vehicle.
“Step out of the car.”
Windsor reaches through my rolled down window, his right hand firmly grasps my shoulder and his left yanks the door open. With one violent motion, he hurls me to the ground.
I lie still as he searches my vehicle. He rummages through the trash which litters the floor in my vehicle. Frustrated with his lack of success, he opens my backpack.
“You know, if you tell me what you’re looking for, I could speed up your search.”
Chuckling ruefully, Windsor walks around the car to where I lay prostrate on the ground.
I stand to my feet and look at Pete Windsor. He hasn’t changed much since high school. Red hair, a face full of freckles, bluish-gray eyes, and just shy of 6’, he appears to still suffer from low self-esteem.
“Where did you find this, weirdo?”
With a quick motion he flings the hand at me. I catch it and slap it against my open palm. He watches in amusement.
“It was on a stump at the top of Commo Hill.”
“What were you doing at Commo Hill? It hasn’t been used since the government shut down the National Guard base.”
“My property isn’t far from Commo Hill. I hike out to it. This morning, I went up the hill and saw this lying on a stump.”
“Any idea who it belongs to ?”
“Nope. The only thing on the stump was this hand.”
“Where did you hide the rest of the body?”
“Did you not hear me? I found the hand on the stump, that’s it.”
“Uh-huh. Give me the hand.”
Windsor extends his hand and I slam the loose hand into his palm. A loud slap sounds through the dark woods.
“You know, you and all the other chuckleheads from high school rode my butt pretty good. Put your hands on the hood.”
I comply. In my mind, my parents words come back to me. “Never fight the cops. Always obey, regardless of what happens. Don’t give them a reason to be violent.”
Windsor wrenches my arm behind my back and handcuffs my hands behind my back. He pushes me back against the car. My temper starts to rise. “I’ve had about enough of this clown and his games.”
“You know you were speeding, right?”
Windsor swings the loose hand and smacks me in the mouth with it. An evil smirk crosses his lips. I cough and wipe my mouth on my collar.
“You were saying.”
I glare at the Sheriff. He raises his eyebrows and motions for me to continue. Instead, I lean back and say nothing.
He smiles, and then whips the hand up and smacks me in the face. The assault continues as the Sheriff utilizes the loose hand to slap me repeatedly.
“Stop hitting yourself, stop, stop, stop hitting yourself.”
I hobble to my truck while Windsor and the loose hand continues to smack me in the back of my head.
“I’m sorry. It’s pretty funny don’t ya think?”
“No, I don’t-”
Again, he smacks with the hand. My vision goes red, but I breathe deep. “I don’t need the trouble. Just breathe.” Windsor laughs loudly. He begins to gasp and bends at the waist.
“Oh dear God, this is a hoot. It’s not a real hand. My sister Janie works for a film company. There are tons of this crap lying around. She brought it home so we could have some fun with it.”
Anger cuts the words off in my throat. “What did I do to deserve this type of treatment. Sure, high school was rough, but it was thirty years ago.” I look at the ground and take shallows breaths to help me calm down.
“Will you let me go now, Sheriff?”
“Don’t be so formal, Shame. You in a hurry to go home and be alone?” After all this time, I am still called by my nickname in high school. If I got punched in the face, I was crying Shame. If I walked home on the dirt road from school, I was dirty Shame. The kids at school hung it on me, and it’s been my name ever since.
“Please undo the cuffs and let me go home, please.”
Windsor walks behind me and undoes the handcuffs. I rub my wrists and pull out my keys, as I open the door Windsor clears his throat.
“I asked if you thought it was funny.”
“No, I don’t find handcuffing someone and smacking them with a hand funny.”
“Did you think it was from Michael Johns? Sure, sure, he bullied you but did you think it was his? This hand is in far better shape than Johns remaining body. But…did you freak out for a moment?”
I get in my truck and start it. As I pull away, I look at Windsor and he gives me a humorless smile.”Michael Johns was a bully, who tried to kill you over a girl. You defended yourself, it was no fault of yours he died. I feel like I’ve run up Commo Hill ten times. The hand was only an instrument for Windsor to get his revenge on me. Johns and Windsor were best friends. Thirty years later, I’m still a 17-year-old kid who’s crime was he didn’t die that day.”
Some days, it’s all I can do to keep the darkness at bay.