When Mia wakes up, she can’t feel her left hand.
That isn’t too odd; everyone has slept wrong at some point or another—passed out in a strange location or in an awkward position, and one part of the body or another falls asleep from a lack of circulation. Even just sitting in one spot for too long can make your legs take a nap, and standing up shocks them awake, leaving you with that awful pins and needles feeling crawling up and down your skin. It’s just one of those unavoidable annoyances in life.
The odd thing is that it didn’t wake back up.
She has no problem moving it or using it, same as any other day, but she can’t feel a single thing. Not the loose weave of the sweater she pulls on after her shower, not the sharp burn of the teapot when she brushes against it on accident at breakfast, and not the cream she ends up having to rub into the red, patchy burn. Nothing.
Mia’s heard of nerve paralysis before, the phrase thrown around on one of the many medical dramas that she’d been idly watching, but could that happen in real life without a traumatic trigger? Wouldn’t she have had to injure herself in some way, first? Searching the internet for a cause brings up way too many terrifying suspects, with prognoses like limb removal and loss of use and even death. She has to stop searching altogether after that. It isn’t helping, just making her panic while she’s trying her hardest not to worry.
Throughout the day, Mia tries to ignore how much it worries her that she can’t feel her left hand, still. Could it be like the reverse of phantom limb syndrome? The limb was still there, her brain just couldn’t recognize it. Or maybe there was nerve damage, somehow. God, she really regrets watching all those medical mystery shows and docudramas about rare diseases and disorders, now.
Halfway through the afternoon, she catches it tapping out a beat she doesn’t recognize, out of the corner of her eye. When Mia jerks her head around to look, it’s completely still, perched atop the sofa arm where she left it last, but she knows she saw it. She’d been paying attention to something on the television, but she’d caught the movement, she wasn’t imagining it. She taps another beat with the hand, one she knows well, and watches it. It doesn’t falter once. She stops tapping her fingers after a few minutes; she can’t feel the coarse fabric of her second-hand couch under them and watching them move is unnerving, even knowing she’s the one doing it.
She passes the day as normally as she possibly can, after that, careful to make sure she doesn’t injure her unfeeling hand. It’s a lot harder to be mindful of that when she’s so used to the presence of pain—of any feeling—to keep her aware and unharmed. It’s hard to remember to look, to keep an eye on the numb limb when she has other things to do, but…
But it does things when Mia’s not paying attention to it. Taps or fiddles with pencils or pieces of paper, clenches and unclenches itself. Little movements that manage to catch her eye, no matter how quickly it stops when she turns to look. And those are only the things she happens to spot when it catches her attention or she remembers to glance over at it. What is it doing when Mia isn’t looking?
Why is it even doing anything out of her control? What makes it move, especially on its own?
They aren’t muscle spasms, they’re too precise, too exact for that. Spasms are unpredictable things, uncontrollable movements. The things her hand does looks like…well, like practice, almost. Like it’s trying to get used to moving of its own volition, and the movements are becoming more and more fluid.
Mia goes to bed once the sky outside the windows goes dark, too agitated to stay awake any longer, too unsure. She stares at her hand on the bed next to her pillow, hopes that when she gets up in the morning, it will wake up with her.
Something startles her out of sleep, jerking her out of her dreams. She blinks a few times, face scrunched as she tries to process what’s going on, woke her, what’s touching her. It’s her hand, pressed over her face, feeling all over her features with its fingers as if it can see through touch alone. Mia sits up with a shout, throws her arm to the side. That’s when she notices that the numbness has crept past her wrist during the night, all the way up to the elbow.
As she watches, the fingers start to move, forming a fist repeatedly. Her elbow bends, bringing her fist closer to her face.
“Oh, my God,” Mia whispers to herself, absolutely horrified. She’s watching her body move without her control. It’s not just something out of the corner of her eye that she could have imagined. It’s actually happening.
The fingers start bending and forming shapes she doesn’t understand, jerking quicker and quicker the longer she stays still, uncomprehending.
She quickly clenches both hands into fists, burying them in the covers so she doesn’t have to look at either of them. Her right hand can feel the softness of her quilt, the rough grain of her flannel shirt against the wrist, but the left still feels nothing. She can see it moving under the quilt and she looks away. Would the numbness spread all the way up until she was trapped in a body she couldn’t feel? Couldn’t control?
She spends the day in fear.
The numbness keeps moving up her arm, slowly, inch by inch, until it stops around her left collarbone in the late afternoon. Every time she tries to move her arm, she feels less and less sensation, until it’s like there’s nothing at her left side at all. Mia tries to keep herself busy, to stop her panicked thoughts from spiraling, but it’s too hard. She keeps imagining the hand strangling her or picking up a knife and stabbing her. She still has control of the numb parts—she can move the arm and do what she needs with it, but even that is starting to slip out of her grasp. Mia can feel the arm trying to do things without her permission, even when she’s using it. Like whatever was numbing it was completely taking over.
She sits at her kitchen table as the clock over the oven blinks the time at her. The minutes slowly tick over until it’s past nine o’clock and fully night out. The only light on in the apartment is above the table, everything else shrouded in the darkness of the evening. She nibbles on her right thumbnail and tries not to think of anything at all. Maybe if she ignores it, it’ll all go away.
Her body is jerked to the left and Mia sprawls across the table, watching with horror as the arm reaches out, grasping a pen and then the nearby newspaper she hadn’t been able to finish reading earlier.
As Mia watches, the hand holds the pen and starts to scribble on the newspaper, curling things and shapes that have no meaning. It’s awkward—she’s right handed, has never held a pen or pencil in her left hand for any real purpose—but it seems determined, trying to figure out the correct way to position the pen properly. It should be funny, watching it try to get the right grip with one hand, but she doesn’t feel anything other than terrified. This shows intelligence, shows that all the things it was doing before really was practice.
Finally, when it seems like there will never be an end to its scribblings, the hand writes something and pulls the newspaper closer to her, scooting it in when she tries to recoil away from it. Unfortunately, the thing is attached to her body, so there’s only so far she can go without it.
Hello, it says in wobbly, slightly lilted letters.
Mia puts her right hand to her mouth, covering up what might be a gasp or a moan of pain. Just seeing the word, seeing the hand communicate makes her feel sick to her stomach.
The hand underlines the hello three times, each line using more pressure than the last, and then taps the newspaper with the tip of the pen.
“Hello,” she manages to get out between her fingers. “What do you want? What are you? How are you doing this?” The questions blurt out before she can stop them.
The hand grips the pen tightly, scribbles against the paper again before writing out, So sorry to have frightened you yesterday and today. The penmanship gets better with every new word. I needed to get your attention and I couldn’t think of any other way. You didn’t understand me, before
“What? Why did you need to get my attention?”
The pen is set down and the newspaper gets flipped to a different page with wide, clean margins. Mia wonders how it knows, how it can see. Is it looking out of her eyes? Seeing what she’s seeing? That thought makes the panic start to spiral again, chest tight with it.
It picks the pen up again and writes, There’s a carbon monoxide leak in the apartment. It’s quite dangerous, you could die if you stay in here much longer. You need to inform someone before it’s too
She lets out a laugh that’s somewhere close to a sob. “Is that why this has been happening? You were just trying to warn me? I’m not going crazy? You aren’t a ghost or an alien or a demon or something?”
The hand taps the pen against the newspaper three times, as if contemplating its answer. After a few tense moments, it starts to write again.
I didn’t say that.
A. Poythress is currently working towards a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. She primarily writes horror-themed short stories and surreal flash fiction. She’s been published in Thresholds UK, The Future Fire, and Jitter Press. She can be found on Twitter at @ap_mess