Witch Hands, Part 2

Lian kept the hands in a cedar chest at the foot of her bed (which was also my father’s bed) and kept the keys to the cuffs on a chain around her neck. The hands were not to be used unless she was around to supervise. “It’s not that I don’t trust you,” she said, “it’s the hands.”

I wondered if it would have been better to buy a pair of regular hands that could be trusted and left to work alone, but she said that witch hands worked twice as hard and lasted three times as long. So that was that.

The hands did work very well. They washed the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, emptied the litter box, made the beds, changed the twins’ diapers, dusted and vacuumed, took out the garbage, got the mail, made dinner, did the laundry (including ironing) and took dictation, both hand- and typewritten. And that was all before having to be cuffed and charged again. I could see why Lian would pay so much for them.

(But I still sometimes thought wistfully of the cloak that wouldn’t be made for a very long time.)

Things went very well for a week, until the day Lian took a nap and I decided to sneak the witch hands out to help with doing my homework. I was allowed to use the hands to clean my room, but not permitted to make them do my homework. But Lian was a very deep sleeper and I was confident I could get all my homework done, tidy up my room a bit, make a snack, and have the hands back in the trunk before she woke up.

The twins were sleeping peacefully in their crib, for once, and so the situation seemed ideal.

I carefully eased the key away from Lian’s neck and unlocked the cuffs. The hands twitched and the fingers wiggled curiously as I carried each arm to my bedroom. I set them on my desk, letting the right hand find the pencil by itself. All I had to do was think about what I wanted the hands to do for a moment, while I held them by their forearms, and they would complete the task to perfection when I let go. I made sure to think hard that I wanted my homework to be done in my handwriting, and I noted with satisfaction that the hands could forge my writing excellently.

I plopped down on my bed with a magazine and covered my ears with headphones, letting music wash over my consciousness. For a while I was oblivious to the hands, busily working away, and I dozed a little.

I woke up to the sensation of being gently poked, and opened my eyes to see the hands hovering beside me. “What?” I mumbled, though words meant nothing to the hands, you had to touch them to make them understand your thoughts.

I noticed then that the left hand held my snowglobe. The right hand took my own in its grip and turned my palm upright, while the other placed the globe in my hand. I half sat up and leaned on one elbow, looking from globe to witch hands, puzzled. “What do you want?” I asked. The right hand still touched mine. In reply, the left hand made a turning motion, as if it still held the snowglobe.

I looked down at the snowglobe and thought, stupidly, that the hands wanted me to play with the snowglobe, or something. I shrugged and gave the globe a quick turn. The birds flitted about in the air above the treetops, and I said, “Happy?”

The left hand took my left and shook it, as if nodding, then guided it to the snowglobe. My left hand covered the top of the globe, covered by the witch’s left hand, and my right held the base in its palm, which was cupped by the witch’s. The hands were still, and I fuzzily thought they were being very strange and probably hadn’t been recharged all the way. I turned the globe, hoping they would be appeased or get tired of this game.

Suddenly, I felt a lurch in my stomach and a jolt as if someone had picked me up and given me a shake. I fell from my elbow onto my back, and strangely I didn’t feel my bed under me, but the hardness of packed ground. My vision swam for only a second but when it came back into focus, I saw the blue and white of the sky and little birds flying around above me.

The hands released me and I dropped the snowglobe, forgetting in my shock that I was holding it. It bounced off my stomach and rolled a little ways away. I sat up and looked around, finding myself seated on a dirt road in a field near the edge of a forest. To my right was a sign post, and I scramble to my feet to read it. It said WEBBLEWOOD in bold, blocky letters.

I was just taking this in and getting my head around the fact that I’d leapt from my bedroom to Webblewood in the turn of a wrist, when I realized that I didn’t know where the hands were. I looked around and didn’t see them, though I did catch sight of my snowglobe lying on the ground. Only it didn’t look quite right. I picked it up and dusted it off with the bottom of my t-shirt. Sure enough, when I peered inside, I saw a tiny version of my bedroom. I shook the globe and saw dust motes dance across the ceiling. I turned it, wiggled it, shook it, but nothing happened.

Panic rose chokingly in my throat, but I swallowed it down and looked around again for the hands. Unfortunately, hands could float and move around at the same speed they would if attached to a person, so the hands could have “ran” away in the time I was spluttering on the ground and admiring the sky. “Okay,” I said, trying to calm myself, “if I were a pair of magical severed hands, where would I go?”

The answer was clear. The road led straight into the murky forest of Webblewood, and what better place to hide than that? I cradled the snowglobe protectively in my arms like a football and took off into the woods at a run.

Soon I saw the hands up ahead of me, white and strange as they floated along the road. “Hey!” I cried, even knowing they couldn’t hear me. “Come back!”

For a pair of floating hands they were remarkably quick, and I could barely keep up with them.  They remained always out of reach, and I ran after them on the shadowy forest path winding its way up and down hills, twisting around boulders and tall old trees.  I don’t know how long I followed the hands without seeing or hearing from anyone (or anything) else, but I must have gone quite deep by the time I stopped, exhausted and defeated, and sat myself down on a fallen tree next to the path.

The hands fled silently away and I just watched them.  Lian would be furious but I had never been much of a runner and I was sure I would never catch them this way.  I had some hope their magic would wear off and they would slow down, but their magic outlasted my energy.

It was only then that I really stopped to think about where I was.  I peered around at Webblewood and decided that it looked much like any dense forest.  A little dark but no more forbidding than most.  I wondered why Lian said bad things about it.  If it really was filled with dark and loathsome things I should have met at least one of them by now.

“Not meeting your expectationsss, isss it?” said a slithery voice near my feet, conversationally.

I jumped a little and looked down.  There, curling its way around my ankles, was a rather large snake.  It looked up at me and stuck out its tongue.  “Hellllo,” it hissed.

“I, er, hello,” I said, gingerly moving my feet away.

“Think I’m going to eat you?” the snake asked.

“N-no,” I lied, and the snake smiled, knowingly.

“But of courssse you are.  I can sssee you thinking about it.”

“You can. . . . read my mind?”

“Yesss.  Of courssse.”

“Oh.”  I shrugged.  It was strange enough that the snake was speaking to me, why shouldn’t he also be able to read my mind?  “Well please don’t eat me.”

“Nonsssensse.  You’re ssskinny, and humansss don’t tassste very good anyway.”

“Oh, well, that’s good, right?”

“For you,” the snake flicked its tongue and tossed its head, looking a bit grumpy.  “You’ve lossst your step-mother’sss handsss, I sssee.”

The snake slithered up next to me on the tree branch and raised its head up to eye level.  “Tsssk tsssk.”

“I haven’t lost them yet,” I objected.  “I’m just resting here for a moment.  They’re bound to run out of magic and fall down soon, and I’ll just pick them up.”

The snake chuckled.  “That easssy, eh?  Sssure no one elssse will get to them firssst?”

I stood up.  “Well that would be bad.  So I guess I’d better be going and make sure I don’t let them get too far ahead.”  I started walking, forcing one tired foot in front of the other.  “It was nice talking to you.”

“Likewissse.”  The snake slid off the tree and swished after me.  “I could tell you where they’re going, you know.”

“You could?”

“Yesss.  Going to the witch’sss houssse, I sssussspect.”

I stopped, interested.  “Where is that?”

Again the snake chuckled.  “I could ssshow you.  For a priccce.”

“What kind of price?” I asked suspiciously.  I didn’t think the snake meant money — I saw what kind of payment Lian used in this place, and I didn’t have any lizards, rodents, or other edibles on me.  I just had me.

That forked tongue flickered out again.  “Apple pie,” the snake said, eyes rolling a little as if the very thought sent it into rapture.

“Pardon me?”  I was sure I heard it wrong.

“Apple pie,” it confirmed.  “Warm and fresssh.  If I tell you were to find the witch, you mussst get me an apple pie from her windowsssill.”

“Erm, okay.  That sounds easy enough.”

“Excccellent.  Now, follow me, I’ll ssshow you where ssshe livesss.”

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