388 – Hands Off

Poem number 388
Hands Off
I found a box today in the garden. A wooden box
With silent silver hinges. It lay half hidden under a log
And I almost missed it, but I didn’t.
On such small margins things can change forever. If the dog
Had not lost the ball, if I hadn’t bent to find it
Then the box would be there still, and I would be asleep
And not fretting, worrying, ten cups of coffee to the wind
Alert to the sound of the stealth and the creep.
There were words carved into the side of the box
A precision job, no frenzied gouge with a salvaged screw
Careful. Precise. The work of a thoughtful man
“Hands Off” it said, and that alone. As if the writer knew
That that was all that was needed. No exposition,
No exclamation mark or further clue to his meaning
Just “Hands Off’. Simple. Direct. I smiled in misunderstanding
And, never one to do as I was told, picked up the box and took it inside for cleaning.
It was only then that I noted the spotless sides, the unmarked wood
Unblemished by earth or damp, showing no sign of its exposure to the season
But even then I ploughed on, little heeding the warning chill in my stomach
Or my racing heart. Ignoring logic, or reason
I raised the lid. Softly. Slowly. A sceptical gourmet opening a food parcel.
The lid, at last, fell back on those spotless hinges and I peered inside
And screamed. A scream to end all screams.
The box was full of fingers. Severed fingers piled side by side
In drifts a dozen deep. Finger after finger after finger.
Perfectly preserved, as if they’d been flexing and bending
Only moments before. They could have been prosthetic
But they weren’t. They were real. And dead. My scream was unending.
It’s ten hours later now I’m full of questions. And fears.
Who would leave a box of fingers in a garden? And why?
The terse inscription, which I first took as a simple childish warning
Now seems like a threat. Or even a prophecy. From the corner of my eye
I see a shadow flit through a doorway, and glance across the kitchen, fearful
But there is nothing there. Yet. I look back at the fingers, with their fragments of bone
That jut through the skin. Someone’s fingers, no longer attached to the rest of him.
And I remember the inscription once again. “Hands off”. Here, alone
With no one to talk me out of my terror I know, not think, but know
That it is a prophecy. A promise. “Hands Off”. Fingers off. Severed. Removed
Without my permission to leave me incomplete, just like all those other fools who ignored the warning
Of the spotless, squeakless, silver hinges and in doing so proved
That curiosity killed the cat. Or at least cost it a few of it’s claws.


I need to sleep now. I don’t want to, but I don’t think I’ll be able to help myself.
I’ll sleep, and I’ll dream of boxes and fingers and knives and scissors and then
When I wake up the box will be gone. And so will my fingers. Taken in the night
And stacked, neatly with all the others. The fingers of a hundred men
Just waiting for another fool, another curious gardener
Likely to open first and ask questions later. To reach through overgrown
Bushes and shrubs to let their poor, doomed hand caress the wooden sides
Just like I did. “Hands Off’. And now my fingers are no longer my own.


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