He found the first hand sitting on a tuft of scrub grass, fingers splayed up in the air, like sprouts from a weed, the bloodless stump of a wrist balanced perfectly against the ground.
Andrew was walking home from school across the moors when he spied the hand on the side of the road. He stopped. The wind howled against his small body, blowing his knit scarf back around his chaffed red face. Andrew drew his coat tighter around him, eyes never wavering from the hand.
Looking down the worn path in either direction, he saw no one approaching from town or the farms. He was alone, alone with the strangely alluring hand waving him closer. With slight hesitation, Andrew stepped off the road. He paused there for a moment, as if waiting for the hand to make an appreciative gesture. It did not.
The smell of snow hit Andrew like a downy pillow, making him pleasurably dizzy for a moment. It would be winter soon. Soon the isolation would begin. He and his mother would be snowed in on their farm; they wouldn’t see another soul for months and months. If only he had something to keep him busy during those long, dark days; a friend or sibling to play with. But it would be only him; him and his mother and the snow.
Squaring his shoulders, Andrew tramped towards the hand. He reached its perch and nudged it with the toe of his worn shoe. The hand wobbled. Andrew reached down and picked it up. The hand felt warm and soft and alive, though it was very obviously not. With a grimace, Andrew turned the hand upside down and looked at the wrist. The hand didn’t look as though it had been severed from an actual person – Andrew could see no bones, no blood, and no muscle; there was just a smooth white cap of skin on the end of the wrist, like a rubber seal on a wheel of cheese.
Andrew stared at the hand he was clutching. He bit his bottom lip, shaking his long bangs out of his eyes. There was something very familiar about the hand, about the shape and the weight of it, of the cut of the nails and the color of the skin. It unsettled him, but he couldn’t say why.
Andrew sighed and considered what to do next. He could walk back to town and tell one of the adults there about it; but that would mean a long half hour walk against the bitter wind and he had dinner waiting for him at home. Andrew shrugged and slipped the hand into his pocket. He would take it home and decide what to do with it later.
Andrew ought to have told his mother what he had found, but when he got home she looked so tired that he didn’t want to bother her. He ate his dinner, washed up, and went to bed, hiding the hand under the creaky wooden frame which held up his mattress.
Andrew didn’t give the hand another thought until its mate appeared on the same exact spot later that week. He retrieved it, examining it with growing curiosity. It looked like a doll’s hand; it was smooth and perfect and the wrist was capped off again with the same white skin as before. But it was the same size as his hand, not small like a toy. Still, maybe the toy maker had been dropping pieces of his wares as he trumped back and forth between town and the countryside. Andrew convinced himself that this was true, despite the pulsing warmth that the hand exuded, proof that it was made of neither porcelain nor wood. He brought it home and put it under his bed with the other.
Two more pieces joined the collection over the next week: a left foot and a right foot. Again they were bloodless and capped, again there was something so familiar about them that Andrew just couldn’t leave them behind. Yet, their very existence disturbed his young mind, the look of them prodding at a realization just beyond his reach.
But winter was coming quickly and there was so much for him to do around the farm, too much for him to waste time on the mysterious pieces. Andrew had scarcely put one piece of the doll, as he had come to think of it, under his bed, before he immediately forgot all about it, too focused on fixing the roof, on getting hay in for the horses before the frost, or on chopping enough wood to get them through the freezing nights ahead.
By the time the first snowflakes fell, Andrew had collected two arms, two legs, two thighs, and a torso from the path on the moor. Sometimes they had appeared in the same spot as before; sometimes he didn’t find them until he was almost home. But appear they did, upright and bloodless on the grass, begging to be collected. With the winter’s first storm depositing thick layers of fluffy white ice outside the farmhouse, Andrew at last pulled all the pieces of the doll out from under his bed and laid them across the floor. His mother had gone to bed hours ago. He could hear her breathing heavily on the other side of his bedroom wall.
Piece by piece, Andrew put the doll together. Though he could see no snaps or edges, each segment seemed to suction onto the next when he touched them together. The pieces sucked together with a high-pitched slurp, like drinking the last bit of milk through a straw. Andrew’s uneasiness grew as he put the doll together. With each part slotting into its proper place, the feeling of vague recognition grew stronger. There was something familiar about the doll. Something so second nature to him he couldn’t even articulate what it was.
When the final arm was attached to the torso, Andrew stood up from where he had been crouching and stared down at the doll. Only a head was missing now.
Andrew’s stomach gave a lurch. The doll’s body looked very real lying there on his floor. Very real indeed. And very, very familiar.
With slow, jerky movements, Andrew took off his nightshirt and pants. He went to the mirror by his window and looked at his naked body. His eyes began to water. He drew his hands close to his face, examining every inch of them as he never had before. His blood screamed through his veins like an out of control stallion racing across the moors, his young heart aching to keep up.
He and the doll were identical. Save for one piece.
Andrew spun round on his heels, his mouth open, ready to scream, but the cry died in his throat at the sight of the doll on its feet behind him, hands outstretched. It was too late. All the doll needed was a head. And there was only one that would be a perfect fit.
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