The Crawling Hand (with a gun)
The Crawling Hand (with a gun) crept toward the man in the fancy leather reading chair. It wasn’t just a hand. There were a few inches of forearm too, pale and springy with hair, but this gave way soon enough to streamers and flaps of flesh. Twitching and quivering, it crabbed in the spaces between the room’s dusty furnishings, somehow managing to drive the handgun along with it.
The crackling fire glinted on the gun’s silver barrel as the hand emerged from behind the davenport, and when it reached a point about two yards from where Anthony Schmeegle sat—adjacent to the ashy bluestone hearth—the Crawling Hand (with a gun) deftly shifted the .45 until its sights fixed on the large man.
Schmeegle had witnessed the hand’s entire approach and did nothing. He couldn’t move. The moment he’d first caught sight of the thing on the floor he fell prey to a paralyzing fear that had less to do with the personal danger implicit in the creature’s high-caliber firearm, and more to do with the likelihood that, after so many years on the brink of it, his overburdened mind had finally snapped. The snifter of absinthe clutched in his right hand probably hadn’t helped matters. Frost cornered the window behind him, obscuring an otherwise serene vista of the empty moonlit beach, and as he sat there gazing upon the thing on the floor his breath punched from his lips and quick little clouds.
Below, the Crawling Hand (with a gun) shifted its grip until its pointer finger found solid purchase on the gun’s trigger. Then, when it had everything lined up nice, the hand contracted all the necessary muscles. The gun discharged with a riotous crash. The kickback spun the hand counter-clockwise ninety degrees. Some blood from the forearm’s flesh-streamers spritzed the smooth oak legs of a nearby chair. The precariously placed glass bottle on the hearth, from which Schmeegle had thrice refilled his snifter, toppled forward and rolled noisily to a stop. It was already mostly empty.
Between Anthony’s legs, in the thick flesh of the leather reading chair, there now showed a definite, value-depreciating hole. His ears were still ringing as the acrid and sour smell of gunpowder reached his nostrils. That’s what did it. Schmeegle’s jaw dropped like an attic door and he issued the most appalling, high-pitched cry a man of his bulk could possibly generate without the benefit of helium or castration. A damp spot bloomed in the crotch of his slacks, throwing twirls of steam into the chilly air to commingle with the black smoke of singed leather.
The Crawling Hand (with a gun) crawled and dragged its way back to firing position and, seeming to understand there was no great rush, trained the gun with far greater care than before on the man’s bosom. When the hand was good and ready, it pulled the trigger.
Click. No more cartridges!
For a moment the hand bobbed irresolutely on the wrist as if, for the very first time, it were considering the technicalities of reloading a firearm with only five fingers. But in moments the Crawling Hand (with a gun) seemed to understand that the cartridge-crisis wasn’t going to hamper its devilish agenda after all. The moment the gun’s hammer had clicked uselessly into the cylinder, Schmeegle’s heart, already under duress from supporting such rotundity in the first place, simply burst. In the chair by the window the man now sat bolt upright, his eyes bulging glass orbs, his stark expression frozen solid in a visage of blood-curdling fright. The fingers with which he’d been cradling the snifter of absinthe had hardened into gnarled tree roots; his tongue had stiffened and planked sideways in his gaping mouth.
It was in this frightful posture that the other gentlemen of the Monocled Manatee Beach Club found him later the next day. And not a one of them noticed a smear of blood along the floorboards, nor a bullet-hole in the chair. When it had left, The Crawling Hand (with a gun) cleanly restored the room to as it was before, with just one curious exception: the glass bottle on the hearth still rested on its side, mostly empty.