Over the past few weeks, we have been publishing work by horror writer Angel Zapata.
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The Hired Hand
The witch severed the corpse’s hand with a hatchet and quickly withdrew it from the coffin. Loraine stifled her screams in the silent graveyard and followed the hunchbacked woman to her dilapidated trailer on the other side of the cemetery.
Once inside, the old witch went promptly to work.
“It’s the only way you’ll ever know.” She slapped the stiff hand down on the stained butcher block. “We gotta give these bones some eyes.” She peeled away the rotted flesh and popped a gray chunk in her mouth.
Loraine gagged over a rusted basin while the witch swallowed.
About eight months earlier, Loraine’s twenty-six year old daughter went missing. She had posted flyers throughout the neighborhood and frantically pled on live television for anyone with information to please come forward. When the officers came to her front door a week later, she knew that her beautiful daughter was dead. Her only child had been horribly disfigured and hastily buried in a shallow grave.
All leads went cold and no one had been brought to justice for her murder.
“She wasn’t raped, was she?” The witch was wiping her desiccated lips with a bloodstained rag. “It won’t work if she was.”
“No,” Loraine trembled and swabbed hot tears. “The coroner said she hadn’t been…touched.”
“Good,” she cackled and hobbled toward the wood-burning fireplace. A black cauldron of liquefied remains boiled on the dark hearth. She mumbled something unintelligible and tossed the hand into the greasy gruel. “Stand by the fire,” she directed, “and speak your daughter’s name.”
“Eva,” Loraine whispered urgently. “Eva, baby.”
Shadows of flame fluttered on the walls, shifted into demonic silhouettes. Both women peered into the iron pot, anticipating a response. Small, murky bubbles rose to the surface like the final, futile cries of drowning men.
“I guess this was a bad idea.” Loraine’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “I should have never—”
Her dead daughter’s skeletal hand leapt from the brackish fluid like an albino spider. It gripped Loraine’s throat and squeezed firmly. One wet finger slid past her chin and pressed to her mouth.
“It wants you to hush now, momma.” The witch reached out and touched the hot bone.
“Lead us there, child.”
The hand spread from pinkie to thumb like thin, white wings and took flight. There was the snap of the deadbolt lock before the door swung open and the amputated appendage sought out its prey. Loraine was on the verge of collapse, gasping for breath.
The witch viciously smacked Loraine’s face and pushed her outside. “Get going! It’s time to hunt a monster.”
Loraine’s eyes needed a moment to focus. She scanned the woods. A sudden moonbeam exposed Eva’s hand dangling from a nearby branch. It beckoned with a slow curl of bone. She tracked its movements as it sprung from tree bark to rock, clung to railings and lampposts. The journey was less than an hour.
Finally, it dashed over a dirt road ditch on the outskirts of town and slipped between the slats of a privacy fence.
Loraine recognized the house.
It can’t be, she thought. Please God, not him.
But the hand was adamant. It rapped its bare knuckles on the front door with a dead persistence.
“It’s two o’clock in the fuckin’ morning!” Carlton was pissed. “This had better be important.” He switched on the porch light and threw open the door.
“Jesus, Mrs. Abernathy.” Carlton rubbed sleep sand out of his eyes and adjusted his robe. He had half-expected it to be one of his deputies. “What are you doing here?”
“Good evening, Sheriff Locke.” Loraine gritted her teeth. “Hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Well…” He yawned, rubbed the back of his neck, and studied her. She looked terrible. Her blond hair was a mess and her clothes were filthy, like she’d been up making mud pies. “I understand what you must still be going through, but— to my knowledge— there haven’t been any new leads.”
“Actually,” Loraine fought back tears, “there have been some very recent developments in my daughter’s case.”
“Oh?” Sheriff Locke glanced side to side and stepped out. “Maybe we should talk about this inside the house.”
Eva’s hand unfurled itself from the aluminum siding, coiled around the doorframe, and soundlessly scurried inside.
“That won’t be necessary, Sheriff.” Loraine shuffled down the three porch steps. “I haven’t been sleeping well, but I think that’s all going to change now. Sorry to have troubled you.”
Psycho, Carlton thought. “Yeah, sure. Whatever.” He slammed the door shut. He entered the living room and stretched out on the couch of his bachelor pad. In his uncontainable, lupine excitement, he’d accidentally killed Eva before he could properly enjoy her young body. Maybe it would be different with her mother. He was tempted to go back out and snatch her off the street like he’d done the others, but the moon wouldn’t be full for another two nights.
“Fuck it.” He closed his eyes. “She’s not worth the effort.”
The hand concealed itself beneath the coffee table and remained perfectly still.
Loraine waited behind Sheriff Locke’s fence. The air shifted beside her and the witch appeared.
“Satisfaction guaranteed, eh?” The witch clucked her tongue.
“I don’t understand.” Loraine was crying. “Why’d he do it? What kind of monster is he?”
The silver bullet breed, the witch mused. “The kind of monster only the dead can avenge,” she spoke aloud.
“Will I see my daughter again?” Loraine sniffled.
“She’s here,” the witch pointed. “Look.”
Eva’s decimated body staggered up the Sheriff’s porch steps. Gradually, she faltered and turned in her mother’s direction.
Loraine smiled. “She’s so beautiful.”
“Lovely,” the witch agreed and frowned regretfully. “There is the matter of payment for services rendered.”
“I understand,” Loraine said. “The price of seeing her one last time was worth it.”
“Don’t worry.” The witch flashed her knife. “I’ll take great care of your eyes.”
Sheriff Locke ignored the woman screaming outside. Crazy bitch probably twisted her ankle in the dark, he thought happily, and then drifted into fitful sleep.
In his dream, he heard Eva’s muffled voice. She was calling to something in the room with him. The last thing he heard was her telling it to open the door.