Gidday. Tomorrow evening I'll be reading my (mercifully) short story 'The Phantom Limb' at a charity fund-raising event organised by Den of Geek. This is it. You know, in case you can't make it.
The Phantom Limb
The doctors who amputated Alex’s left arm below the elbow told him he would suffer phantom pains in it as the nerve endings in his stump tried to keep telling his brain that something was very wrong down there. They didn’t tell him that he’d also be able to clench his non-existent fist and snap his non-existent fingers. And certainly no-one, least of all Alex, guessed that he might be able to touch anything in that place where the ghost of his dead arm still lived.
Or that anything there might reach out to touch him.
It had been a stupid accident. A weekend’s narrowboat holiday, for him and Kirsty to lazily meander through the heart of Birmingham’s canal system, because at three miles an hour in a straight line, how hard could it be, right? Harder than it looked. The straight line became a zigzagging ricochet from bank to bank, and when they started heading towards another boat he panicked, tried to fend them off with a pole, slipped, and fifteen tons of steel-hulled narrow-boat lazily crushed everything below his elbow to the consistency of corned beef.
So off it came.
There was pain at first – but it became sporadic, and eventually nothing more than the occasional burst of pins and needles in his ghost flesh. There was talk of fitting him with a prosthesis, but when he found himself able to make a fist, and touch his fingers with his thumb, he decided against it. He couldn’t move anything – at least not in the physical sense – but he could feel differences in temperature wherever his hand was. Warm breezes. Sudden chills. He was convinced that somehow, somewhere, his hand was still working.
And then, one day, another hand grasped his.
It was sudden, the grip of someone in desperation. He freaked and pulled away with a yell. More carefully, as if reluctant to scare him away, the other hand returned, and with gentle, tentative touches convinced him that it meant no harm. It felt like a woman’s hand – the fingers were slender, the skin smooth, the nails long and pointed. But her fingers quickly became agitated again, restlessly tapping a complex rhythm on his palm. She was trying to tell him something.
He taught himself the deafblind manual alphabet, which was basically sign-language by touch, and avoided mentioning anything about it to Kirsty, since there was something peculiarly intimate about communicating with another person purely by the sensation of their skin.
The first message came through: one simple word.
‘Help how?’ he asked. ‘Who are you?’
Trapped, came the reply. Please help. Pull.
So he pulled with all the strength of his dead limb. Agonisingly, an inch of his lost fore-arm began to reappear. Then another inch. Then his hand. Then the hand that gripped his own. And when he saw that it wasn’t really a hand, and that the ravening creature it belonged to wasn’t in the least bit like a woman, he began to scream.