by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
The Whites buried their son and came back to a house steeped in shadow and silence. It was all over so quickly that it hardly seemed real — as if, at any moment, Herbert White would walk through the door with a smile and another funny story about something that had happened at work. They remained in a state of expectation, as though something else would happen, something to lighten a load too heavy for their hearts to bear.
It was about a week after Herbert’s death that Barry White awoke suddenly in the night, stretched out his hand, and found himself alone. The room was in darkness, and the sound of subdued weeping came from the window. He raised himself in bed and listened.
“Come back, dear,” he said tenderly. “You’ll be cold.”
“It is colder for my son,” Anna White moaned, her memories starting her weeping all over again.
The sound of her sobs died away on his ears. The bed was warm, and his eyes were heavy with sleep. He dozed fitfully and then slept until a sudden cry from his wife awoke him with a start.
“The talisman!” she cried wildly. “The talisman!”
He started up in alarm. “Where? What is it? What’s the matter?”
She came stumbling across the room toward him. “I want it,” she said quietly. “You’ve not destroyed it, have you?”
“It’s in the parlour on the bracket,” he replied, marvelling at her. “Why?”
She cried and laughed at the same time as she bent over and kissed his cheek. “I only just thought of it,” she said hysterically. “My God! Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’t you think of it?”
“Think of what?” he questioned.
“The other two wishes,” she replied rapidly. “We’ve only had one. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.”
The man sat up in bed and flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs. “Good God, you are mad!” he cried, aghast.
“Get it,” she panted. “Get it quickly, and wish — Oh, my boy, my boy!”
Her husband turned on the bedside lamp, lighting up the room. “Get back to bed,” he said unsteadily. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“We had the first wish granted,” Anna said feverishly. “Why not the second?”
“A — a coincidence,” he stammered.
“Go and get it and wish!” Anna cried, pulling him out of bed and toward the door.
Barry went downstairs in the dim light shining from the bedroom, and as the darkness became more absolute, he made his way to the parlour and then to the mantelpiece. The talisman was in its place. He caught his breath as he found that he had lost the direction of the door. His brow was cold with sweat as he felt his way around the table and groped along the wall until he found himself in the small passage with the hairy, claw-like thing in his hand.
Even his wife’s face seemed changed as he reentered the bedroom. It was white and expectant, and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He found himself actually afraid of her.
“Wish!” she cried in a strong voice.
“This is foolish,” he faltered, “and wrong.”
“Wish!” repeated his wife.
He raised his hand in obedience. “I wish my son alive again.”
The talisman fell to the floor, and he regarded it, shuddering. Then he sank trembling into a chair as Anna walked to the window with burning eyes and raised the blind.
The minute hand of the clock did a full revolution with nothing happening, and then another. With an unspeakable sense of relief at the failure of the talisman, Barry crept back to his bed, and a minute or two afterward, Anna came silently and apathetically beside him. Neither spoke, but both lay silently listening to the ticking of the clock.
In his own room, John Constantine had lain awake for many guilty hours. He had come here to recuperate after the catastrophic events in India over the last few months, only to bring catastrophe with him here. The Whites had been a few of the mere handful of people who hadn’t been damned by friendship with him. Now they, too, had been cursed. It laid heavy upon his soul. After many fitful hours, he had finally fallen asleep. But his dreams brought no more peace than the waking world had.
He dreamed of India. But not the India he had only recently seen. It was the ancient India of a time when gods still walked the earth. He saw the great warrior Hanuman, the monkey god who was the favoured one of Rama, upon the field of battle. Many fell before his blade, but one fighter managed to get in a good blow, lopping off his hand. The man lost his head for his trouble, since he made the mistake of not picking the hand with the blade. And, for a god, such a thing was really only a flesh wound.
After the battle, a fakir had found this hand and cast a spell upon it, hoping to tap into its godly power. He, of course, fell to a bad fate, as did every owner afterward. All who tried to use the hand of Hanuman for material gain would suffer, because no mortal could exploit the power of the gods for such gain and enjoy its rewards.
“Well, that explains a lot,” Constantine muttered as he awoke from his dream. The cigarettes had been stale, and the pints were bitter and flat. Sadness suddenly came over him as he remembered the events of the past week, and he brought his hands up, covering his face. “Oh, Herbert. Oh, Christ…”
In the White’s bedroom, the darkness was oppressive. After lying awake for some time, Barry screwed up his courage and went downstairs. At the foot of the stairs he paused, and at the same moment a knock, so quiet and stealthy as to be scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.
He stood motionless, his breath suspended until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his room and closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.
“What’s that?” cried the old woman, starting up.
His wife bolted upright in bed, listening. A loud knock resounded through the house. “It’s Herbert!” she screamed, bolting out of bed and into the hall. “It’s Herbert!”
John Constantine, clad in an undershirt and scrub pants, was suddenly in the hallway with them. “What have the two of you done?”
“He’s our son, John,” Barry said guiltily. “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same thing.”
“He was your son,” Constantine said. “That–!” He pointed toward the door, not bothering to finish his sentence.
Anna started to run to the door, but her husband was before her and, catching her by the arm, held her tightly.
“You can’t,” he whispered hoarsely.
“It’s my boy! It’s Herbert!” she cried, struggling mechanically. “I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door.”
“For God’s sake, don’t let it in,” cried Barry, trembling.
“You’re afraid of your own son,” she cried, struggling. “Let me go. I’m coming, Herbert. I’m coming.”
“He’s right,” Constantine warned. “You don’t want to see what’s down there. Trust me on this.”
“I’ve listened to you enough,” she cried. “The last time it nearly cost me my child. Well, you’re not going to take him from me again!”
There was another knock, and then another. With a sudden wrench, Anna broke free of Barry’s grasp and ran from the room. Her husband and Constantine followed to the landing. Barry called after her appealingly as she hurried downstairs. They heard the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket.
“The bolt,” Anna cried loudly. “One of you two come down here and help me! I can’t reach it.”
But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the hand of Hanuman as a low, frantic cry escaped his throat. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back.
Constantine was the first to find the talisman. He quickly handed it to the older man, who frantically breathed his third and last wish.
The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. They could hear the chair as it was drawn back and the door as it opened. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long, loud wail of disappointment and misery from Anna filled the house.
“You’d better go to her, mate,” Constantine said. “She needs you now.”
Constantine walked passed the Whites as they sat on their knees in the front doorway, holding each other and sobbing. He moved then to the den to do what he had originally intended to do with the cursed piece of god-flesh in the first place — burn the bloody thing.