Hand Swallowing
by R.L. Summerling, 31st October 2022

Ruth found the photograph tucked behind The Moon card in Teacher’s tarot deck. She’d wanted to leave The Hanged Man on his desk, a fuck you for locking her in his study. The picture was of a wiry haired old man, his eyes wide, neck bulging. There were raw, bloodied stumps where his hands should have been. Ruth turned the photo over; in faded pencil it read “the hand swallower, 1917.” She pocketed the photograph, spat on the cards and returned them to the box.


That night, after she’d eaten a late supper alone, she started to feel unwell. It felt like her throat was clenching around a stone. When she finally slept, she dreamt of finding the man’s putrid hands, sinking her teeth into the too soft flesh. The tendons snapped as she tore off rotten chunks.


At breakfast, the other girls guzzled down watery porridge, but her swollen throat had killed Ruth’s appetite. Teacher approached her table.


“Good Morning Ruth, I trust your behaviour will be much ameliorated today.”


The urge to flip her bowl of slop over his polyester suit, to spatter his ugly pockmarked face was irresistible. Ruth rose from the bench, their eyes locking, but, as she went to snatch the bowl, something stopped her. A probing finger squirmed inside her throat, the nail scraping over her larynx. She doubled over, breathless, gagging, panic churning through her. Teacher smirked, tapping his jagged fingernails on the table, the sound of insects skittering across the chipped wood.