Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Green Hands By Jacqueline Hesse

Day six, pick up sticks. Beware Santa's scary green mitts! Today's story comes from Jacqueline Hesse, the most gleeful scaremongerer I know. Take a seat and sit back, but do not relax, for it is time for the Tale of ...

The Green Hands

By Jacqueline Hesse
            "Long ago," Grandpop said as he crouched in his big wool red sweater and tapped his pipe into the dying blue embers at the bottom of the fireplace. "This whole acreage was nothing but swamp."
            Little Virginia eyed her grandfather. Was he telling another one of his tales? Her gaze fell to the broken vase in the far corner of her mom's study. The door was open a few inches, she hadn't had time to relock it. Had Grandpop seen the vase? Was she in trouble?
            "Swampland is no good," Granpop said. "Can't farm it, too wet. And it's dangerous. People who walked through it never came out."
            "Why? What happened?" Virginia asked as she sat on the edge of the rocking chair.  
            Grandpop closed his eyes and said in a gravelly voice, "It was the green hands."
            Virginia's eyes grew wide. "The green hands?" she said and winced. She scooted back into the chair. She shivered in her flannel nightdress and tucked her cold feet up under her.  If she could make the story last longer maybe she could fall asleep here in the rocker and he would let her sleep out here. She wouldn't have to go to that creepy room.
            "The green hands," Grandpop's voice whispered, as if saying it too loud would conjure them up.  "People of yore didn't have cars like we do nowadays. They would walk to the city to buy their toys, and cakes and clothes. Some of them tried to take a shortcut through the Nortpol swamp." He turned his rheumy eyes to his granddaughter. "But most of them never made it out!"
            Virginia gasped. "Why? What happened?"
            "Because," Granpop pulled on his pipe, rubbing the smooth black stem with his thumb. "The green hands would come up like snakes, up, up, and grab them by the ankles. Pull them down! Into the muck."
            "And then what? What happened to them?"
            "Nobody knows. They were never seen again."
            "But why?" Virginia said. Her eyes welled with tears. "Just because they walked in there?"
            Grandpop shook his head. "The green hands only took the bad ones. The liars. The cheaters. Some people, who told the truth, the good people, they got through."
            "Why did people walk in there? If they knew about the green hands?" Virginia's voice was high, almost a squeal.
            "The swamp was off limits! Everyone knew that. There was a locked gate around it. But people thought they knew better. They thought they could go anywhere, that they didn't have to follow rules." Slowly Grandpop stood. The last thin splinter of wood of the fire crackled in the grate. A plume of blue smoke wafted into the small room as the wind howled rattled the windows and shook the walls. Tiny glittering snowflakes came down the chimney and floated into the room.
            "But," Virginia shifted uncomfortably in the hard rocking chair. "What if the people had to go to the city, because they needed a pencil to write a letter or something? What if they weren't bad people but they just wanted to go through Nortpol swamp? Maybe all there were was curious, that was all. Not bad people."
            Grandpop shook his head, flecks of amber tobacco caught in his white beard. "It didn't matter. The green hands came up. The green hands knew which people were good and which were bad. " He stepped closer to her chair. "As they walked," he slowly reached out his hand, "the hands would slither through the moss, following them, until..." His fingers touched one of her toes. "They'd GRAB THEM!" he grabbed her foot and tugged.
            "Ahh!" Virginia screamed and pulled her foot from his grasp. "But where did the green hands come from?"
            Grandpop put his hands on his round belly. Then he arched slightly and moaned. "Oh, oh, oh," he said as he stretched. "The green hands knew because they were controlled by Zanta Claws."
            "Zanta Claws?"
            Grandpop nodded. "An old wizard who lived in Nortpol swamp. Old Zanta just wanted to be left alone to do his magic, but the people did not obey." Grandpop wagged a finger at Virginia. "Nay, they trudged right in there, through that locked gate to see what he was up to."
            "But maybe," Virginia said her voice now shrill, "They just wanted to peek quick at the ...  I mean, at his magic. Just a peek."
            Grandpop shook his head no, and adjusted his red stocking cap. "The green hands know," he said. He held out his hands. "Time for bed now."
            "But, but," Virginia said as she inched backwards against the hard wood back of the chair, "Where are the green hands now?"
            Grandpop's thick white eyebrows raised. He pointed down.  "Under the house."
            Virginia trembled.
            "Now, run along to bed," Grandpop said.
            Slowly Virginia managed to push herself out of the chair. She moved toward the dark hallway and reached over to touch the prickly needles of the decorated fir tree.  A bell tied with a red ribbon tinkled as she dropped the branch.
            "Is there really a Zanta Claws?" She said and turned to Grandpop.
            He shrugged, nodded, and put another log on the fire.
            She tip-toed down the dark hallway to the doorway of her bedroom. She could just make out the faint rectangle of her bed in the far corner. She turned back the rocking chair. No, he would tell her to go to bed. He knew what she'd done and this was her punishment.
            She took a deep breath, dashed across the cold wood floor, and leapt. Just before she fell to the bed long green hands shot up from under the bed, grabbed her ankles and pulled her down.


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