Lady Fingers

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Amanda Divine


“Holy crap. Look at this.” Taj set down the book and stared at the photograph. “I always want to find money in books, not fingers.”

“How can you find a finger in a book? Seriously,” said Lana, shutting the cash drawer and waving goodbye to a customer.

“Well, not a finger. But a picture of a finger. Is this for real?” She handed Lana the picture and rubbed her eyes. “Tell me that’s not a finger.”

“Did you read the back?”

“What? Gimme that.”

“No, no, I’ll read it,” said Lana. “‘You know what you owe us. You have two days. Every hour after is another snapshot.'”

“It has to be a joke,” said Taj, taking back the picture. “The date stamp is two days ago.”

“That is really creepy.”

“This is the book it was in.”

Lana peered at the title: “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found? There aren’t enough words for how creepy that is.”

“And guess who brought it in. That Craig guy.”

“Oh my god. And we thought he was a wacko before. Do you think…?”

“He put it there? I’m sure he’s on the receiving end… unless… what if this is for us?”

“Well, I don’t owe anyone any money. And I don’t recognize that finger.” Lana held up her hands. “See? All ten…”

“How can you just forget about a ransom note? Did he think he was going to get extra store credit for it?”

“He is insane…”

“But he thinks he’s rational. How else could he have written an entire website devoted to ending all wars through the use of hypnotism?”

“Don’t forget his plan to kill the president…”

“…endorsed by his contact at the CIA…”

“But I really doubt the CIA would send him a ransom note.”

“Well I really doubt the Tri-Cities has a mafia.” Taj sighed. “So do we think this is a prank, or do we report it to someone?”

Lana smiled. “Why don’t we ask him? You still have that crazy email he sent you about interpreting the Bible through the use of secret hand signals.”

“To my great regret. And what do we ask him? ‘Excuse me, Craig, is this photo of a severed finger yours? Really? You owe how much? That’s a shame, really it is. Perhaps you could offer them some of your store credit. Of course we’d be glad to help.'”

Lana said nothing, just continued smiling.

Taj shook her head. “I don’t think I like the way you’re looking at me.”

“Please? We need an adventure.”

“Okay, fine, whatever. Just be glad it’s almost closing. And if we get blindfolded and tied to chairs, they damn well better be your fingers and toes that get cut off first.”

After locking up the bookstore for the night, even Taj had to admit she felt intrigued. After the mundane bookmarks and ticket stubs she found every day in the books people brought in, there would occasionally be money, family photos, clippings, and even a pot leaf, once. But never before had she found anything more intriguing than someone’s Scotch-tape covered page of instructions for an unknown nanny. A picture of a severed finger, just sitting there on a paper plate. It looked real, but with so much digital reconfiguring anymore it was impossible to tell. And anyway she’d never actually seen a finger chopped off before, and certainly wasn’t going to test for authenticity with her own fingers.

“All right,” said Lana, leaning over Taj’s shoulder. “You type; I’ll dictate.”

“Okay. But you’d better make it sound good. Time’s running out, you know.” She opened the old email and hit Reply.

“Sure. I’m all about authentic. How about: ‘Craig. We know you’re in trouble, but we don’t know how we can help. Who is after you? We have connections that can give you time…’ How’s that?”

“Super. Great.” Taj tapped the screen. “‘We have connections?'”

“Well, why else would he tell us what’s going on?”

“Because he wants us to bear his children?”

“Eww… no, I’m sure he rather have an alien baby.”

“Maybe this is the finger of his alien baby. Maybe he kidnapped an alien baby and the aliens want their baby back and this is his mother’s finger.”

Lana poked her in the back of the head. “Just hit Send.”

The response was almost immediate. Taj had assumed they wouldn’t even get a reply, much less one that indicated Craig was psychic, or stalking them. They both read it on the screen:

“Thank you so much for contacting me!! You are blessed and must help me. I have so much to tell you and not much time. I will be at the Richland Public Library in the occult section until they kick me out tonight. Bring resources and prepare your mind for mental combat!”

“So do we do it?” asked Lana. She twisted her silver pinky ring, as she always did when she wanted something.

“Do what? Are you crazy? There’s no way I’m gonna go meet him somewhere.”

“Oh, come on. It’s at a public place. It’ll be a good laugh. What else were you going to do tonight?”

“Not get murdered? You’re gonna owe me a drink when this is done.”

“I’ll drive; you stare at the picture.”

In ten minutes they were parking under the oak trees at the library. The October chill made Taj shiver. “Are you seeing men in trenchcoats under every tree or is that just me?”

“Don’t be silly. I’m sure he just got some kind of Halloween prop and thought this would be a great joke. You have to admit this is better than going bowling after work.”

“I will admit to nothing.”

“Then I hope they’re not after your fingers. Come on already. It’s cold. Let’s go inside. I think I see him through the window. They close at seven so we don’t have to stay very long.”

Taj and Lana strode in, moving quickly before they became cowards. Craig sat at a reference table with four or five open books in front of him, running his fingers over the columns of words in two different volumes.

“Ah, excellent,” he said as they approached. “How did you find me? Wait, nevermind. We don’t have time for that. I only hope it’s not too late.”

“Too late for what?” asked Lana.

Taj tossed the picture onto one of the open books. “Whose finger is that?”

“I can’t…” Craig sighed, cradling his forehead. “I can’t tell you that… yet. But the rest of those fingers are very important to me. And since you have connections…” He looked around the room, trying to appear casual but instead giving the obvious impression of someone guilty and paranoid.

“If you want our help you have to tell us more,” said Lana sternly.

He craned his head toward them. “I know that since you sell sci-fi books you are familiar with convincing people to believe the unusual.”

Taj and Lana exchanged glances, then leaned on the table like two bad cops.

Craig spoke in a whisper. “You have to convince them to give me more time. If they take the rest of my fingers I will be doomed to fail and the world will meet its demise.”

Taj straightened and rubbed her chin. “Let me confer with my associate.” She and Lana stepped a few feet away and turned their backs on him. “What is he talking about? The rest of his fingers? I count all ten.”

“I have no idea,” said Lana. “But he’s pretty obviously still nutso. Just play along.”

They sat down across from Craig. Lana spoke first. “We can push for a delay, but we need specifics.”

“I don’t think you understand how important this is. This is worldwide. This is cosmic.” He seemed petulant.

Lana crossed her arms.

“Alright, alright. You win. They’re trying to get rid of me, because of the news that I spread. They have crossed through time to do this. Listen, right now, at this particular time intersection, I have all of my fingers.” He held up his hands and wiggled the stubby digits. “But they are crossing through time. Each hour I waste is another finger gone. You see them now, but somewhere else in time they are being pincered off with pruning shears. That’s how I got the picture. You must have gotten it through some other jump in time. But it’s all intertwined, see? You belong here helping me destroy them. I can already feel my fingers being saved.”

“Who are ‘they’ again?” asked Taj.

“The people running this machine, this video game we live in. The ones who control us. That’s why they want me, do you understand? Because I’m spreading the truth about your sense of reality. I’m the disrupter.”

Lana picked up the picture, holding it up as if to compare to Craig’s finger. They did look similar. “And how did the date stamp get to be in the past, if your fingers aren’t chopped off until the future?”

“Their technologies are quite advanced… and that was the date when my warning began. I would have thought it would be a countdown to a date in the future, that the date would change on the picture itself, but it seems firm.”

“And what, exactly, do you owe them?” Taj leaned back in her chair, looking at the picture rather than making eye contact. A severed finger was starting to look pretty normal, whether or not he purchased it from a Halloween store.

“I owe them revision of history. But I’ve laid too many loops and traps for them, and now it’s payable with my life.”

Lana looked at Taj and raised her eyebrows. “Well,” she said, “Our work here is complete. We’ll do what we can.”

“You’ve probably already done it.”

“Right,” said Taj, as they all stood up. “Good luck.” She put the picture in her back pocket. “I’m sure you’re… ah… doing a great service for humanity.”

“Luck is the devil’s business, and that’s a whole different plane of existence. My future fingers thank you.”

Outside, Lana whooped with laughter, breath exhaling in thin white clouds. Taj began to giggle. They barely made it to Lana’s car, but once inside were able to calm themselves. “Ah,” said Taj. “That was awesome. If not incredibly awkward and pathetic.”

“The only mystery now is how he got to be so crazy.”

The next morning, before the bookstore opened, Taj paced back and forth in the breakroom, unable to drink her coffee. Something didn’t feel right with the world.

The breakroom door handle rattled and she jumped. Lana entered and tossed a newspaper on the table. “He’s dead.”

“Dead?” Taj paled. “Craig? How can he be dead? We just saw him.” Lana collapsed onto the couch and recited from the article. “Richland man found dismembered at library. All fingers removed and missing. Indication of foul play.”

“I thought he was crazy,” said Taj, sitting down next to her.

“He was crazy. Completely whacko. And now I must be going crazy, because he’s dead.”

“He could have died of natural causes. Maybe he was on drugs. His website said he was on drugs.”

“Yes, that’s the rational explanation for why his fingers had all been chopped off!”

Taj shrugged. “People on drugs do crazy things.”

“They don’t chop off all of their fingers and then make said fingers disappear completely without a trace.”

Taj stared at her, and slowly moved her hand to her back pocket where she had put the picture the previous night. “I can’t look…”

“We’re not crazy. Photographs can’t change.”

Taj placed the picture upside down on the table. “On the count of three…” The picture of the severed finger remained the same—the same fat pinky finger set in the middle of a paper plate—except, and they only noticed this after a moment, the date stamp on the edge no longer reflected a date three days in the past, but read yesterday’s date, followed by a time of 19:08:32. And as they watched, another finger appeared on the paper plate, initially vague and transparent, but quickly looking just as real as the first. It was shorter and more slender, perhaps a woman’s pinky this time, and at the base, just above the bloody gash, was a thin, silver ring.
pencil

Amanda Divine lives in the Tri-Cities, WA and sells books, comics, games, and words for a living. She has several pieces appearing in Northwest Boulevard and Toasted Cheese, and will never be a kung fu master. E-mail: amanda[at]advunderground.com

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