Forgotten Fiction: Hand of Death

Matthew Tansek
Dec 26, 2019 · 7 min read

Right now, as you are reading this there are thousands of works of fiction sitting on dusty shelves waiting for our adventurous minds to seek them out. It is the goal of this little effort of mine to seek out these shuttered tales and see how well they hold up. Are they hidden gems full of contemporary meaning? Or are they clunky relics of the past whose time has long slipped through the hourglass? Let us find out.

The Story

Hand of Death by Marjorie Murch Stanley

“The theory that anyone could use an extra arm might sound humorous; it could breed horror upon horror.”

I went looking for a story that was written by a female author, and one that was of course obscure. Way in the back of the issue I found this one, sadly sandwiched between countless advertisements. It gave me the feeling that either this was a new author that they allowed being stuck in the back of the issue, as a way for them to get their foot in the door so to speak, or this was a terrible treatment for a female author. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Then I read the tag line for the story, about extra limbs and thought that even if the story was terrible, it would at least be worth a laugh and so here we are :)

The story begins with a female protagonist, definitely, a nice change from the male-dominated characters we usually get in these things. We are not given a name, but we find out that she is in love with a scientist (Tom) who is working with her father on some grand medical experiment. She and her man have been waiting for some time to get married, and have only the completion of this last experiment standing between them and marriage. Now, knowing what we do about this being a story about people with additional limbs, I made the prediction that her beloved is going to freakify himself in the name of science, and then totally ruin his life as a consequence. So we continue on…

We learn that Tom lives with his father in a secluded little house above a laboratory on the outskirts of town. Of course, he does, because you wouldn’t want to just go strolling down the street with an extra arm coming out of your back in the center of town!

Our narrator tells us that she was getting her outfit ready for her big date with Tom that evening. Her narration seems to almost pity her past self, about how nieve she was and how she didn’t have even the slightest inkling of the things to come. She gets a call from Tom’s friend Paul, who is looking for him. He tells her that there is no answer at Tom’s office and that he had a strange encounter with Tom that morning as he was walking a dachshund. And here I was thinking, aw shit the dude is going to have dog parts!

Our narrator doesn’t know where Tom is, and can’t explain why he might have a dachshund, but pays it no mind and goes back to prepping for her date. Now, I think it’s kind of clever here what the author does. We have a slight brush with things that are laying the groundwork for the strange to come, but it is done in such a way that you can’t fault the protagonist for not seeing anything in the events. So far we are passing the idiot plot! /woot.

The date night goes terribly as you might imagine. Tom is distant at best and a downright jerk at worst. He pays no attention to our narrator, gets terribly drunk, and only carries on a conversation with Paul and Paul’s girlfriend (who has a cool name, Bettina), who has joined them for dinner. He wears a bulky topcoat to the theater despite the unusually warm weather, which I thought was a dead giveaway for concealing a third arm or something, but he takes it off at the theater, so I guess my assumptions were wrong. Then he ditches our narrator and zooms off in a cab after the meal.

And then the plot turns as we find out that after a period of a few days where neither Paul or our narrator can get in touch with Tom, Tom’s father is found dead. Murder by strangulation! Bum-bum-buuummmm.

The police question everyone, but without much to go on other than an unidentified fingerprint on the table, they release everyone. Tom doesn’t stop to even say hello to the narrator, and just bolts from the scene. Our narrator is understandably distraught.

A few days pass without any sight of Tom. Then our narrator gets a call from Paul. He tells her that the fingerprint has been identified as belonging to a man that died a week prior to the murder of Tom’s father. They are both confused and perplexed by this, and so decide that they are going to break into the lab that night and find out what they can. And it was at this point I was wondering how the fingerprint came to be on the table. Obviously it belongs to a body that was donated or obtained by the two scientists to do research with, or so I figured, but must still contain a mind of its own.

So the narrator and Paul break into the lab. And like a couple of dummies, they aren’t armed with anything. Anyway, they just get into the house/lab and start rooting around with Tom appears, totally all emotionless and nutzo. They try again to reach out to him, to get him to snap out of this crazy stupor that he is in, and eventually get him to tell them what has been going on.

He tells them that Tom’s father was obsessed with his work and on the verge of discovery. Right we knew that. He tells them that he wanted to take what they theorized to the greater medical community, but his father wouldn’t let him until they had successfully tested it. Right, ok, no surprise. Then he tells them that his father knocked him out with drugs and used him as the test case. Then, to ensure that he is believed, Tom takes his shirt off to reveal a huge hairy twisting arm that jerks itself free when it is unbound.

I have to say, that when I anticipated this moment I thought it would be far more comical than it actually was. Something about the way it’s described as “twisting” and “spidery” and how Tom has to hold it with both of his own arms just to control it made it far more creepy. Kudos to Ms. Stanley.

So Paul and our narrator say to Tom, fuck it man let’s chop the damn thing off of you. Tom agrees, and so they work to make preparations to do it that night. Now obviously this is going to be more of a medical endeavor than something you could, say, do with a fire ax. Nerves and arteries and what-not.

They get everything set, and our narrator goes up to get Tom…but finds that Top has purposefully cut the straps to his third arm and let it strangle himself. On-ho!

Then the story concludes with two things. The first is that after the whole ordeal Paul and our narrator become very close and get marries. Sorry, Bettina. Then second, that after a few months of closeness our narrator says that Paul is spending an unusual amount of time out at the old lab and with that dachshund. Implying that perhaps he has caught the madness and that she no longer feels close to Paul anymore…

Final Thoughts

Enjoyable albeit a bit cheesy. It was fun to have a female narrator and a female author. An over the top medical abomination story that I would recommend reading on your commute. It’s not a story that is going to resonate or linger in your mind after you put it down, however.

Weirdness| 2/10

Horror | 04/10

Novelty | 4/10

Entertainment | 5/10


Originally published at https://www.matthewtansek.com on December 26, 2019.

Matthew Tansek

Written by

Speculative fiction and horror writer, tabletop gamer, and librarian, in no particular order. My creative works can be found at matthewtansek.com

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