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The dead hand

The Dead Hand is a scary story about a bog in Ireland that is rumored to be haunted by strange and disturbing creatures. It is based on a folktale collected by MC Balfour in her book, "Legends of the Lincolnshire Cars". A version of this legend appeared in Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill your Bones

The Story

The village huddled on the edge of a vast swamp. As far as one could see, there were soggy meadows, holes filled with black water, and glistening sheets of wet spongy peat. Skeletons of giant trees, snags, the people called them, rose up out of the muck. Their dead branches reaching out, like long twisted arms. During the day, the men in the village cut the peat and hauled it home to dry and sell for fuel, but when the sun went down, and the wind sighing and moaning came in from the sea, the men were quick to leave. Strange creatures took over the swamp at night, and some even came into the village. That's what everyone said. People were so afraid, they would not go out alone after dark.

Young Tom Patterson was the only person in the village who did not believe in these creatures. On his way home from work, he'd whispered to his friends, "there's one!" and they would jump and run, and Tom would laugh and laugh. Finally, some of his friends turned on him. "If you know so much, go back into the swamps at night and see what comes of it. "I'll do it" said Tom, "I work out there every day, not once have I ever seen anything that frightened me, why should it be different at night? Tomorrow night, I'll take my lantern and walk out to the willow's snag. If I get scared and run, I'll never make fun of you again".

The next night, the men went to Tom Patterson's house to see him on his way. Thick clouds covered the moon. It was the blackest of nights. When they arrived, Tom's mother was pleading with him not to go. "I'll be alright" he said. "Nothing to be afraid of, don't be foolish like the rest". He took his lantern and singing to himself, headed down the spongy path toward the willow's snag. Some of the young men wondered if Tom was right. Maybe they were afraid of things that did not exist. A few decided to follow him and see for themselves, but they stayed far behind in case he ran into trouble. They were sure they saw dark shapes moving about, but Tom's lantern kept bobbing up and down and Tom's sounds kept floating back to them, and nothing happened.

Finally, they caught sight of the willow's snag. There was Tom standing in a circle of light looking this way and back. All of a sudden, the wind blew out his lantern, and Tom stopped singing. The men stood stuck still in the blackness, waiting for something awful to happen. The clouds shifted and the moon came out. There was Tom again, only now he had his back pushed up against the willow's snag and he had his arms out in front of him, as if he were fighting something off. From where the men stood, it looked like dark shapes were swirling in around him, then the clouds covered the moon again. Once more it was black as pitch. When the moon came out again, Tom was hanging on to the willow's snag with one arm. His other arm was stretched out in front of him, as if something was pulling it. It looked to the men as if, a rotting, molding hand with no arm, a dead hand, had grabbed Tom's hand with one final wrench whatever had hold of Tom jerked him into the muck. That's what the men said. When the clouds blotted out the moon once more, the men turned and ran through the blackness toward the village, again and again they lost the path and fell into the muck and water holes. In the end they crawled back on their hands and knees, but Tom Patterson was not with them.

In the morning, the people searched everywhere for Tom. Finally, they gave him up for lost. A few weeks later toward evening, the villagers heard a cry. It was Tom's mother. She was rushing down the path from the swamp shouting and waving. When she was sure the villagers had spotted her, she turned and ran back. Off they went after her. They found Tom Patterson by the willow snag, groaning and gibbering as if he had lost his mind. He kept pointing with one hand at something only he could see. Where his other hand should have been, there was nothing but a ragged stump oozing blood. The hand had been ripped cleaned off. Everybody said it was the dead hand that had done it, but nobody really knows. Nobody will ever know, except Tom Patterson, and he never spoke another word again.

Audio Tape

"The Dead Hand" Audio Tape

"The Dead Hand" Audio Tape