He was awake. Noises had woken him and he listened for them beneath the lie of silence. His bladder ached for action and he would be out of bed and following its demands as soon as he could persuade himself. He looked at the clock and it informed him that another hour had passed. It was now four o’clock.
There was something echoing in his mind. He did not dream and he did not imagine, but some distant bell was tolling for an image that would not lay still. A howl, soon greeted by others, started him upon his memory trail.
He had been out into the pastures and there had been wolves, many of them. The wolves had long-since ceased to be in this part of the world, but they were waiting for him. He had been checking for the source of the first disturbance, the scratching at the door. Snow had fallen quickly and heavily, yet there were no tracks. He was far out and needed to piss. Oh, that had been so relieving. He heard the howls and ran, but he was old and fell. He found…
He found a hand.
A hand was not any ordinary thing to find. In the span of his many years, he had found extraordinary items. He once discovered a rock that had buried itself into a large crater in the middle of a hillside. The material was neither rock nor metal. It was still burning hot when he found it, which meant that he couldn’t carry it home. When it had cooled down, he tried picking it up but the weight of it defeated him. He tried again and again without success. Eventually, he buried it so that no other person would find it. Another time, he found a newly-born goat that had two heads. Yes, two very distinct heads that moved in different directions at the same time. He watched the goat, fascinated by this freak of nature, before taking out a knife and slitting its two throats. The stew that he made of it tasted just as it should.
There was the story of a couple of walkers on the other side of the mountain discovering a body in a glacier’s melt pool. The police were called and an investigation ensued. When the scientists came to investigate the corpse, they ended proceedings immediately and brought in special equipment to extract it from its watery resting place and to a place of analysis. The corpse was not recently deceased; it had perished over 4000 years previously and had fallen into an emerging glacier, only to be reunited with the rest of time after its long, cold winter. He liked that story, but it also concerned him.
He had found a hand. Or had he just dreamt that he had found a hand? He did not dream.
He climbed out of the relative warmth of his bed and made to put on his slippers which were now blocks of unwelcoming ice. Nevertheless, he slipped his feet into them and made his way to the lavatory. His water-closet was a tomb of cold and his poorly fired piss had already turned to sheens of ice upon the floor and walls. He had never known that happen before, either. The bed would be a doubly welcoming refuge from this night. But he didn’t go straight back to the warmth. Instead, he went into the kitchen where the vaguest of lights flickered.
On the small timber table, sat the hand he had been unsure about. He had found it. And it was waiting for him.
He shuffled across to the table and its intriguing offering. He had never seen a dismembered hand before and certainly not one that looked like this. It was as if it had been brought from the Valley of the Pharaohs. He had seen photographs of the mummified bodies once before. They were made not of skin, like other humans, but of leather; dark brown, almost black leather. Theirs was the skin to survive the ages with and they were cursed. This hand, he would have imagined if his mind would let him, was the product of some returning explorer dropping it during a storm upon the mountains. It had been lost until some animal, perhaps a wolf, had seized upon it and carried the object to where he had happened upon it. In his mind, he had just solved one of the greatest puzzles that mankind had ever faced. He had never been gifted with thoughts, but that had now been remedied. He had found an ancient treasure that would bring him all that he desired. God most certainly was great.
A lone wolf howled. It spanned the night and fell upon the land. Perhaps that was the wolf that had brought the thing to him. If his father were alive, he would have had to take notice. His brother would have been envious. Yet, that was all buried, now.
He reached out to touch the treasure and it moved. It could have been that it had been frozen and now it was thawing. It could have been an automatic shortening of the muscles. It could have been just his imagination playing tricks with him. This was magnificent, a find beyond any other. He reached out again, unafraid of what might happen. He wanted to hold it, let its dried flesh meet his own; he wanted to commune with it.
The moment his hand touched the artefact, it flinch in alarm.
That was when the knocking on the door began.