Fiction. 15 minutes to read.
The hands were a gift from her mother. They came in a box with a man to install them. She followed him upstairs to her second floor bedroom.
He used a box cutter. A personal choice, since he could’ve used his bare hands to peel the tape off easily. He rubbed his finger over the handle, the blade grew, did its job, and slid back into the man’s pocket. He opened the box.
The hands lay together, snuggled in bubble wrap. They were white, like an empty word doc; without muscle definition. The wires beneath the hands, however, made perfect veins, running from knuckle to shoulder, like the David’s.
The working man pulled the hands from the box and tore the wrapping off.
“Where do you want ‘em?” he said.
She pointed to a space on the wall above her bed. Near an outlet.
“How long do they stretch?” said Natalie.
“About the length of your bed.” The man pulled a drill from his toolbelt and went to work screwing the robotic hands into the wall. She liked the sound it made. Like getting shit done. When the man finished, she offered him money.
“No, mam,” he said. “You’re all set.” He left down the stairs, and she never saw him again.
That night, her mom called to talk about the new hands.
“Do you like them, Natalie?”
“I’m not sure how they work, mom.” Natalie sat at the edge of her bed with a sweatshirt pulled to her knees. “What do they do?”
“Anything hands do,” said mom. “You talk, they listen. Just like Smart Speakers. Only these do a lot more. Like they give an excellent neck massage. Puts me right to sleep.”
“I won’t keep you then.”
“Oh you’re not. I know how hard it’s been since your separation. That was a good company for you, honey. Great benefits.”
“I know, mom.”
Natalie turned her phone off and glanced at the hands. They were there, waiting. Palms open.
Brushing her teeth, she noticed a blue razor in her medicine cabinet. She couldn’t remember using it. Bits of stubble clung between the blades. She didn’t want to touch it. She left it there and spat in the sink. She got a cup of water and stared at the hands. Quietly, she said, “hands, please hold my cup.” The hands made an open palm for her.
She only woke up once for a sip of water because her throat was dry.
The cup was right where she left it, so were the hands.
“You’ve done it before, haven’t you? Of course you have,” said Estelle.
Estelle and Natalie worked together at Manus Inc for nine months. Estelle considered Natalie her closest work friend. They used to take laps around the breakroom together. After Natalie was fired, Estelle interviewed for a promotion, and got Natalie’s old job.
“I really haven’t,” said Natalie. She turned a gin and tonic at a music bar down the street from her house. In her head, she double-checked that she’d locked the door at home and turned off all the lights.
Estelle admired the band members. “Come on. It’s just us girls. You can tell me,” she smiled.
Natalie shook her head and drank.
“Gawd, you’re such a prude. I bet you put your nightgown on the bed before you left tonight too didn’t you?”
“You really did!” said Estelle. “Damn. You need those hands. I’ve got mine set for every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday night.”
“And it feels good?”
“Changed my life. Those are magic hands, sister.”
The band took a break. Estelle started talking about work. She had a new manager, and he was such a dick. Estelle was recording everything he said to her in case she needed to sue him. “Why not just promote me to manager?” she said. “I can set up a webinar.”
The nightly news flashed on the television behind the bartender. They were done with war and now talked finance. Manus Inc was in hot water again. A mass recall was issued for a hundred thousand defective hands.
“Can you believe that shit?” said Estelle. “It’s not even true. The hands work fine. More than fine, actually. I tell you, Nat, if they come to collect mine, I’m not giving ‘em back.”
They both smiled.
At about midnight, they left. Natalie had a rule about never staying ‘til closing time, and Estelle would rather go home than be seen alone.
Scattered town lights danced through snow flurries. Natalie and Estelle walked together. They both lived in the same residential sector where all the single women lived.
“What do you have against the hands anyway?” said Estelle. “Even with the company discount at Manus you never bought any. Why? You don’t like ‘em?”
“It’s not like that,” said Natalie. “I just think they’re useless, like progress for the sake of progress. I already have two hands. Why do I need two more?”
Estelle stopped at her mailbox. “Because it’s nice having another set of hands around the house,” she said. They waved goodbye to each other.
Natalie’s bedroom light was on when she got home. She pulled her pink taser and crept upstairs. When she entered the room, she saw the hands holding her nightgown.
Natalie undressed in front of the hands. She knew they didn’t have any eyes, but she felt them watching the whole time. They watched her shirt come off, her bra unclip, pants and underwear drop, every soft curve her clothes once covered. Natalie lingered in her nudity to whisper a silent prayer in front of the mirror, then she got into her nightgown. She brushed her teeth and saw the blue razor. Closing the medicine cabinet, she got under the covers.
The hands lowered to her shoulders. They went slowly. Natalie felt their synthetic touch, winced only once, grabbed the hands, then let them go. The hands pressed into her sore muscles with a strength that never stopped, relaxing her neck and shoulders until she fell asleep.
At some point in her REM cycle, Natalie’s subconscious placed her behind an assembly line of mechanical hands, all white, with blue wires running beneath their skin. She was supervising the production of new hands, wearing dark blue coveralls. She pushed buttons and twisted knobs, maximizing the efficiency of the tech company’s unpaid labor force. Then she heard a CRACK! and the conveyor belt lurched to a stop. One of the hands had stopped working. She saw a pair of hands jammed in the conveyor belt’s gears. The whole system had failed.
Natalie stepped down from her control deck above the assembly line and went to inspect the malfunctioning hands. She opened a circuit box on one of the forearms. The other hands watched her. She felt a tug on her leg, looked down, and saw another pair of hands grabbing her ankle. More grabbed her arms. The hands pinned her down, holding her still. They took off her clothes. Fingers rubbed her and rubbed her and when she woke up, the hands above her bed had stretched to her waist, and now lay limp across her thighs. She fell back asleep.
Lawyers came the next day. The doorbell rang. Natalie was half-asleep when she opened the door in her nightgown. They smiled at her. Two men in suits. “Good morning, Natalie. We have some documents that need your attention regarding your time at Manus Inc, including a severance package. May we come in?”
“Yes,” said Natalie. She led them to a small couch in her living room and took a chair opposite, keeping a coffee table between them.
The lawyers sat straight, briefcases on their laps. They opened them at the same time and spread pages of legalese on the coffee table. Natalie frowned. She had just cleaned the coffee table.
“Essentially,” said the lawyers. “These documents do the same thing, or rather, they work together to do the same thing. By signing them, you agree to their terms.”
“That you were fired on December 24th for reasons of poor personal image, habitual fatigue, and several instances of obstinacy. You were called to a meeting with your managers prior to termination and were made aware of these issues.”
Natalie remembered. Mostly because he was there. Nathan. She loved him, and he sat across from her, with the other managers, and told her she wasn’t the girl they hired anymore. She used to be so happy and full of life. Fabricated synonyms to say she stopped wearing makeup and flirting with them. Nathan nodded his head. Three years they’d been dating. Picked her off the assembly line. They offered her three months’ salary without health and dental insurance. The managers nodded and rubbed their noses. “If you don’t have any more questions for us, you can leave the building.” She remembered all of that.
Natalie also remembered entering the lobby and seeing a young White woman waiting for an interview. She wore a small skirt, had wavy hair and rosy makeup. Her replacement.
“Natalie,” said the lawyers, presenting a pen. “Signing entitles you to the full severance package,” they said. They pointed to where she needed to sign. “It’s time.”
She signed it.
“And initial here, please.”
They smiled. “Lovely home you have.” They gathered their documents and left.
She spent the day thinking about the hands, wondering if she should report them as defective and get a refund. They didn’t do anything wrong, she thought. Nothing they weren’t expected to do.
Natalie had been to the all-male housing sector a few times, visiting boyfriends, or attending a company party; there were no hands there. Men weren’t allowed to buy them. Before the recall, Manus Inc’s “Helping Hands” worked great. According to their advertising, they kept women on schedule, helped them stay home, cook for the community, go to work, and choose which men to date. Defective hands did none of those things apparently.
Natalie had dinner with the hands that night. She cooked a nice steak dinner. A candle burned on the bedside table. She ate on the mattress. She cut a piece of steak. The hands watched. She took another bite. “To be honest,” she said. “I’m not sure if I can trust you.” The hands folded in thought. “They say you’re defective,” said Natalie.
The hands relaxed over the bed as if they’d gone to sleep.
Natalie finished her dinner in silence then went downstairs to do the dishes. She liked how the hot water warmed her hands. Scrubbing and rinsing, she went zen for a few minutes, staring out the kitchen window into the cold night snow. She saw the moon glowing pale above the trees and heard a knock on her front door. She wondered why the lawyers would come back. Maybe Estelle? No one else visited. Natalie went to the front door and opened it.
Nathan stood there.
“Hey, Natalie,” he said. “I’ve been worried sick about you. May I come in?”
“Why?” said Natalie.
“Because it’s cold out here. And your mom called, she asked me to help you find a job. She’s worried sick about you. So am I.”
“You said that already.”
“Can I come in please?”
“Fine,” said Natalie. She let him in.
“Thank you.” He took his jacket off.
She closed the door. He looked the same, smelt the same, and that bothered her. He’d fired her, broken up with her, and came out unscathed.
“When did mom call you?” she said.
“The other day,” said Nathan. “I’m glad she did.”
“Do you want anything to drink?”
“I’ll have what you’re having.”
Natalie went to the kitchen and put a pot of tea on. Nathan asked how she was doing.
Natalie shrugged. “Fine. You?”
“Work’s been crazy. I’m sure you’ve heard.”
“I’ve seen the news. Defective hands. What has the world come to?”
Nathan laughed. “I’ve missed your sarcasm. Everyone’s so serious all the time these days.” He stepped closer, holding his smile like a backstage pass. “Actually, Natalie, I’ve missed more than that. I’ve missed you.” The tea kettle whistled. Natalie took it off the stove and poured two cups of chai.
“Then why did you leave?”
“Manus would’ve fired me if I didn’t.”
Natalie took a sip of tea and turned away.
“How could we afford to live together if we both got fired?” said Nathan. “At least this way I can still take care of you.” He touched her lower back. She felt the pressure of his fingertips. His other hand emptied Liquid G in her tea. She didn’t see.
“Let me take care of you,” he said. “That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?”
Natalie remembered scrubbing plates clean and taking a sip of her chai tea, then she was upstairs with Nathan, laying on the bed, naked. Nathan was a real gentleman taking her clothes off. Now he brushed his teeth and shaved with the blue razor he left in the medicine cabinet for such occasions. He liked to be clean before sex.
“You’re not over me yet, are you?” he said. “My little Nat Cat.”
Her eyes moved without thought. She watched Nathan approach, taking his clothes off while he walked. She felt like the hands above her bed, an observer. She watched Nathan kiss her all over. Nathan’s heart pounded. He pushed inside and buried his face in her neck, smelling her, picturing what they looked like stuck together; it turned him on. He felt her hands gliding up his back. He loved it. Felt them massaging his shoulders. They squeezed. “Natalie, that’s too hard,” he said. Natalie wasn’t moving though. She was limp.
The hands around his neck were pale white with blue veins. “Hands. STOP,” he gasped. He tried to rip them off. “STOP!”
But the hands ignored him. They squeezed and squeezed.
He couldn’t breathe. The hands didn’t stop.
The first thing Natalie did when she saw Nathan dead next to her was call her mom. She needed to warn her. The second thing she did was run as fast as she could to Estelle’s house.
“Mom! Mom!” she yelled into the phone. “GetawayfromTheHANDS!”
“Natalie? Slow down. Are you OK? What’re you saying?”
“The arms are dangerous, mom. Get as far from them as you can.” Natalie sprinted across Estelle’s lawn and banged on the door.
“What is this about?” said mom. “Natalie. Talk to me.”
“The hands you got me. They killed Nathan.”
“I thought they might.”
“What?!” said Natalie through the phone.
Estelle opened the door. “Hey, Natalie. What’re you doing here? It’s like eight am.”
Natalie told her mom she had to go and hung up. “We need to talk, Estelle.”
“What is it?” Estelle sat on the couch. “What happened?”
“Last night,” said Natalie. “Nathan came over. He drugged me. He started having sex with me. Then the hands,” she said. “The defective hands killed him.”
Estelle let out a big sigh of relief. “Oh thank god!” she said. “Phew. I thought something bad had happened! You scared me, Natalie.”
“Something bad did happen, Estelle! Nathan’s dead!”
Estelle nodded. “Let me show you something.” She led Natalie downstairs to her basement and stopped at a treadmill. “Help me move this,” she said. They pushed the machine off a small rug. Estelle peeled the rug off. Beneath it, Natalie saw a trapdoor. Estelle opened it.
There were twelve dead guys down there, wrapped in plastic coffins.
“My hands did this,” said Estelle. “And every one of ‘em deserved it.”
Natalie flipped on the nightly news when she got home. Manus Inc had caught the saboteur responsible for tampering with thousands of hands. A spokesman for Manus Inc said she’d spent three weeks reprogramming the hands to attack men. They flashed a picture of the culprit on TV. Natalie recognized the young White woman. She had wavy hair and rosy makeup. Weeks later, a letter would surface on social media, written by the saboteur. It was simple. Two sentences and a signature. “I didn’t reprogram the hands to attack men. I fixed them to defend women. –Perry Ellis.”
Natalie watched until the news segment ended, then she went upstairs to roll Nathan’s body in a plastic sheet, and drove him to Estelle’s house.