Tanner and Addison stood by the buffet, reaching down every few minutes to help clear away plates and food, but mostly they were just talking, talking with that half-smile on their faces that meant gossip. That wore that half-smile all the time. Tanner was somewhere near blonde, Addison had browner tones with blonde highlights and hair that changed lengths so often that it had to be clipped in somewhere, but both women had the same weirdly doe-like brown eyes. So alike were the color and shape that they could be related. Though, they weren’t.
Hartly stood apart from them, putting rolls and lunch meat into a plastic-topped bin. They couldn’t convince anyone else to take leftovers from the buffet so this would go into the fridge in the back for the workers. Hartly’s phone buzzed, she checked it but knew who it was.
A text message checking in on her. It was her friend, Virginia.
So, you are….?
Surviving. Packing everything up and should be back home in an hour, Hartly texted.
Survive faster. Virginia texted back.
The funeral had been horrible, awkward and draining. A mass event for Shadelynn Max, the young woman from the office. She was two years younger than everyone else and cover-of-a-magazine beautiful. And smart. All of those things made her hated.
The entire thing just reminded Hartly that, when she died, only those closest would be allowed to remember her this way. The obscenity of those who didn’t care, or who hated Shadelynn, crawling all over the place was enough to make Hartly feel ill. Tanner and Addison, who really only seemed to like each other, still attended and even attempted to run every event dealing with personnel.
It was a strange phenomenon.
Hartly finished shoving the trays of food and one lopsided coconut cake into the fridge. She turned to find both of them waiting for her, blocking the tiny prep kitchen’s only entrance.
“Thanks so much for staying to help,” Tanner said. “You sure you don’t need to take any of the food home?”
“Yeah, I mean you don’t have to leave it if you can use it,” Addison said, “Not that you’d want to eat any of this stuff. Shame about the lousy catering, but if I were her husband, I wouldn’t have even spent the cash for soggy ass sandwiches from that dump.”
“Right,” Tanner said. “This whole thing, it’s just weird. Killed on the wrong side of town probably visiting her little side action boyfriend.”
“That’s how it goes, so sad,” Addison said. “Were you friends?” Addison flipped her hair over her shoulder, but one of the clip-on pieces stuck weirdly out to the side. Tanner eventually smoothed it back.
“Yeah,” Hartly said, “She was nice to everyone.”
“Aww, I bet this is hard,” Addison opened her arms for a hug.
“I’m sorry, I’d hug you, but I’m not feeling well. Probably coming down with something,” Hartly said. It was the truth. Her head was killing her, and her body was sore like it was awaiting a fever. She couldn’t wait to get home. To get distance from the oddly pastoral funeral home and everything in it.
“Oh, I imagine. Living downtown like that, in that cramped space with all that dust and dirt nearby. My allergies would murder me,” Tanner said.
There was a loud sound, a kind of bashing noise that made all three of them jump.
Then another bash.
“Where is it coming from? That’s creepy,” Tanner said. Looking around wildly with those eyes, she’d never looked more like a deer.
“Someone fell, or something fell over I bet,” Hartly said.
“Seriously? There’s nobody else here right now. What the hell could make that noise,” Addison’s voice changed to something darker and more dramatic.
Another loud noise, a scraping sound.
It was coming from the reception hall.
Hartly moved to open the door. Addison pushed her back.
“What are you doing? We don’t know what’s out there, let’s just go,” Addison said. She and Tanner were already moving toward the exit.
Hartly hesitated. The noises were scary, but this was real life. Real life in a funeral home, maybe, but real life. Someone could be hurt and need help. She twisted open the door.
There was nothing behind it, an empty space of off-white and pastel pink wallpaper.
“Hello?” Hartly said, not really loud enough to be a yell. It was still too scary to yell.
She leaned out of the doorway, long black hair swishing forward ahead of her.
There was a dark spot on the floor. No, not a dark spot. Something far more impossible.
An arm. Gray like old burnt charcoal, but definitely a human arm. It whipped around violently, bashing against the hallway wall.
Hartly ran, disoriented and dizzy, she ran out of the reception room and accidentally back into the chapel. There was nobody, nobody left to help, nobody to tell, not even a body for the arm to belong to.
The sound of what had to be the reception hall door. Could that thing open doors?
Hartly ran through the giant wooden entrance doors, doors she could remember going to an exit.
There were Tanner And Addison, just opening the double glass doors to get the hell out.
Hartly crashed into both of them but never lost her balance because she was larger and could not afford to. “Run! Just run!”
They argued with each other about how stupid either this was or that Hartly was, but thankfully understood they were in danger and ran.
“My car is right here,” Tanner said, and she swiftly unlocked her door with the remote on her keys, hopping in.
Hartly stood there for a second, she couldn’t decide whether a vehicle was better or running was safer, but Addison was already climbing into the car. “Get the fuck in here and tell me what’s going on,” She screamed. Hartly did, but as she pulled herself into the backseat of the Suburban, something crashed against her door, closing it for her, and nearly on her.
Against the window’s tinted glass, the gray ashy palm pressed against it so fiercely that the grass began to crack. “Drive! Go,” Hartly screamed.
“It’s just a hand, it’s a fucking hand,” Addison said. “What the fuck is this shit?”
Tanner was crying instead of screaming and drove the three of them over a curb, they bounced onto the dirt backroads of the funeral home and floored it. Hartly hoped the noise and the speed would get someone’s attention, anyone’s attention.
But this place was in the heart of the rural area.
And nobody seemed to be around. They passed a restaurant and gas station, but it looked closed, and they couldn’t risk stopping there, even though none of the women could see the severed arm anymore.
“What was that?” Tanner asked.
“It’s just…an arm, just a hand. It was moving, thrashing around in the hallway.” Hartly said. “It flew after me. I mean I think it flew, it had to. It could open the doors.”
“Flew after you? So it wants you? Why the fuck are you in the car with us?” Addison said.
“Stop it, it started when we were all there. Hartly was probably just the slowest.” Tanner said, wiping her eyes, and staring into the rearview mirror.
“It went after her door, too.” Addison reminded her. “Probably some bullshit magic curse, whatever the fuck she’s into. And now it’s following us because it’s following her.”
Hartly realized being in the car with these two might be just as dangerous as facing the hand.
“Look out!” Hartly shouted. Neither of the two seemed to see it or register if they did, but the thing was flying right toward the front windshield.
It crashed through, Hartly saw it press against Tanner. It went right through her. A gush of blood and the meatier pieces that make up a person flew everywhere, blocking out the afternoon sun that had been cascading from the windows. Addison, who’d been in the passenger seat, was trying to grab the wheel.
She must have succeeded because they were turning. Or spinning. And the Suburban flipped. Hartly’s head felt like it would burst and kill her as well. Her vision was leaving. Hanging upside down by the seatbelt, but with no strength to unbuckle it, she still fumbled for it. Blood was stinging her eyes, Tanner’s blood.
Was the thing still in the car? Addison was getting out, running. Finally, the seatbelt button clicked, Hartly hit the top of the vehicle, her head made it hard to even breathe, but nothing else mattered except for getting out of the damn car. She heard the sloshing of Tanner’s insides, and the long fingers of the gray hand appeared, grasping the side of the black leather car seat, almost delicately.
Hartly rolled out of her partially open door and ran, nearly throwing up from the pain.
Addison was just in front of her. “No, it’s still alive in the car, we can’t outrun it!” Hartly yelled, she turned and made a dash to the restaurant and gas station they’d just passed.
It felt like it took too long to get to, she half expected the thing to be right behind her but it didn’t happen.
The store and diner were as closed as they looked when driving by. Hartly took off her shirt and wrapped it around her hand and arm to break the glass and unlock the front door. Addison surprised her, nearly making her heart stop, but together they pushed through the county store and ran to the bathrooms.
Closing the door behind them and sitting against it, they tried to silence their breathing. Hartly wondered if it could actually hear. It had to be tracking them somehow.
“You know what? I’m sorry.” Addison whispered. Hartly just nodded. They were both covered in blood, but Addison looked cut and bleeding from her own body. Probably from the glass shattering in the front of the vehicle. Hartly realized she was just in her sports bra, a gothic affair that seemed grotesque under the circumstances-a cotton black bra that showed a painted on rib cage and a heart. Her shirt was still around her arm and she unwound it, shaking out the glass, and began to tear it into strips, holding the fabric to tear it as quietly as possible.
Hartly pointed to the giant cut on Addison’s arm and wrapped it. She used on more on Addison’s right leg. She wondered what they must look like, Addison in her expensive floral dress and beat up, and herself in just a bra and skirt and blood. Both of them in dress shoes. Hartly wondered how she’d explain that a flying hand killed Tanner to the police. And then wondered if they would live to say anything to the police at all.
Things like this probably happened all the time. And just the victims never lived through it to talk about it.
The pain in her head gave Hartly no choice but to slump against the door. Thankfully it was dark, with a thin line of glass as a window that even a ghost hand probably couldn’t fit through.
And it was quiet. Finally quiet. Hartly’s breathing slowed. She closed her eyes.
The pain was unbearable. Near her temples it felt like something was digging, cracking into her skull. She began to see things, flickers of light. And her last rational thought was that she must have a blood clot because speaking and moving were impossible now.
There was an old man sitting by a small campfire, his glasses and bald head reflected the dancing light. He had dark skin and a soft smile, a smile like her own. It was her grandfather.
Her long-dead grandfather.
Hartly found herself sitting near the campfire, in a cheap lawn chair. A towel was around her. She’d been swimming in the lake. And this was the best part of her summers as a girl.
She wanted to ask if she was dying, but her silence was unbreakable in the hallucination, too. Her grandfather smiled at her, that soft smile. “You know,” he said, “Unkind words do nothing for anyone. Someone has wronged you, been unkind, what can your words do? Nothing. The creator didn’t intend for us to use language as a careless weapon. And there are punishments for the people who use it that way. Make sure you stay on the other side of that.” He said.
Hartly nodded, but it took everything out of her even for that little movement. And it rattled her already shaken brain, she put her hands on her temples. “Oniate,” her grandfather waved his hand in a ghostly motion, “Dry fingers. Look into the fire, watch the flames. I can only distract it for a short time. But, you must not run. The guilty run, so you must not. You must keep walking on the other side of it. Look into the fire, Hartly. Time to survive faster,” he said. Her grandfather reached beside him and took his trucker’s cap and placed it on her head. She couldn’t remember what golden logo had been embroidered his favorite hat. But her headache was gone.
“Get up or I swear to God I’ll leave you here,” Addison said, shaking Hartley’s shoulders. The shaking hurt in the spots sore from the crash. But her head didn’t anymore. The sight of her grandfather and his fire were long gone, and it was just the quiet and darkly dingy rustic bathroom, and Addison, whose brown doe eyes were wide. “I’ve tried everything and everyone, I can’t get phone service. It doesn’t make any sense. The thing hit the goddamn window,” Addison said. “We probably need to go out the front before it decides to break in that way.”
“Might already be too late,” Hartly whispered, but Addison was already peering out of the bathroom door, already starting to sneak into the country store aisle. “Listen, I had a vision-”
“Your witchcraft shit probably brought this thing here. Not sure I give a fuck about your vision unless it told you how to kill a floating hand,” Addison said. They moved quietly to the front entrance. “We have to run when we open this, it’s nearby and this makes noise,” she whispered.
Hartly grabbed her shoulder. “No. I know what this is. It’s Dry Fingers. What they once called Oniate. It’s the vengeance for those wrongfully spoken against, especially the dead. It left us alone back there. Right after you apologized. Anything that can go through a car, through a person’s rib cage, is powerful, and it could have gotten us there. You’re only chance is to apologize.”
“For fucking what? Are you insane? I’m not doing that. Because I didn’t do anything wrong. And if it’s me, why the hell is the thing chasing you, too?”
“I don’t know,” Hartly said, “I don’t know that. But why for once in your life don’t you try apologizing for hurting other people. This is a spirit of retribution. This is all it does. It might not work, but if it can…” Hartly let go of Addison. Either she’d listen or she wouldn’t. And there wasn’t anything else to do.
It was Hartly that pushed open the broken glass entrance door, and both women ran outside, kicking up dust. Hartly kicked off her shoes and Addison did the same. The sun was nearly setting now, just a sliver of pink gold in a cold twilight sky.
Hartly’s lungs hurt, she turned to see behind them. Dry Fingers was there, flying after them both. It was fast and it would catch and kill them. She tried to keep running into the evening sky, following the last light of a retiring sun. But Hartly was not a runner, not a good one. And she realized that this was pointless. The whole thing. If that creature wanted them dead, they would die. And better to die here and not risk anyone else. Better to be an obscure happening, a story not told anymore, than expose other people to a monster.
Suddenly Hartly just stopped. Didn’t fall, but stopped. “Addison,” she yelled. But Addison didn’t stop. Didn’t look back. And the arm pulled her highlighted hair, pulled her body backward onto the dirt road.
The gray, dead hand closed over Addison’s face, squeezing, Hartly head bones pop. And beside them was an unexplainable shadow cast by no light on the road. One Hartly knew well. It was her grandfather, talking to the thing, pleading with it. She knew those gestures the shadow was making. She stood for a minute, hoping his intercessions would save Addison, that the thing would let her go.
But blood was oozing out of her face. And she was making a wet noise as her breath came out, but there were no screams, and eventually, no noise.
Hartly turned and wiped the tears from her face and began walking down the road.
Every few seconds, Hartly turned around, expecting Dry Fingers to be at her back. But it was there still in the distance, tearing apart what had once been Addison. And eventually, that sight was gone. And even in the darkness, the hand never reached out for her.
When Hartly saw the lights, the headlights of cars on the highway, it was like walking into another dimension, like a bubble she’d been trapped in had suddenly burst. She was back. Back in reality. Her phone buzzed, then set off a noisy trance song, it was a call from her best friend. She answered and just began speaking before there were questions. She felt like she could barely find the energy to explain.
“Call the police for me,” Hartly said. “Tell them I’m just down the intersection of Tuckett, near the funeral home and two people have been murdered.”
“Hartly! Don’t hang up! Don’t! What happened?” Virginia’s voice sounded so sweet. She’d forgotten what it was like to hear that in someone’s voice, that caring.
“I survived.” She said.
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