This is not to say I did not entertain my own terrors at that moment. I have before mentioned my fear that the beast that possessed me would not, despite the gravity of the injury involved, allow me to die. What if, I thought as I sat there, the Hand did catch me, did crush my every bone and pound my flesh to a sodden pulp, and yet I still found myself alive? To live on, to exist in such a state! How long might this last? Would it ever end? And the pain involved!
Yes, I knew my own horrors at just that time. But I could not abandon my quest to them. I could not.
“The Hand is fast,” I said, thinking out loud. “But how fast?”
Against my side, fastened to my belt, I felt it. The leather pouch which contained the powder the old woman had given me.
“Swallow some of that,” she had promised me, “and you will become the werewolf, even without the full moon! Even in broad daylight!”
Only the thin fabric of my shirt, the fabric of the pouch separated me from the monster. Could the Doghead overcome the Devil’s Hand? I did not think the hand could prove quick enough to catch the beast, and yet…
“The Doghead would have no desire to get across the chamber,” I muttered to myself. “It would not even try! It would turn on you, my companions, and after killing you would flee this temple to stalk the woods. I would come back to myself somewhere in this forest, no better off than I am now. No, worse, for then my comrades would be dead and I would be lost!”
“My lord,” Oran said, “we could always return to the village. We could seal you up inside the shrine when the moon grows full each month.”
“No!” I snapped. “Having seen a cure, having tasted it, I will not give up on it now! I will not settle for being locked up as a mindless animal every month! I will have the cure or die trying to get it!”
“We will all die,” one of the men grumbled.
“I told you not to come!” I shouted, getting to my feet. “I tried to dissuade you! Your blood on your own heads, remember?”
“My lord, calm yourself.” Oran reached towards me but I slapped his hand away.
“No! You all had your damned duty, didn’t you? You couldn’t leave me as long as I am alive! Well maybe you’ll all go home if you see me die!”
With that I wheeled and started walking towards the hand.
“Reprobus, no!” Oran tried to grab me but I drove my elbow into his solar plexus. He dropped to his knees and I pushed past him.
“You are fast,” I said to the Devil’s Hand, walking, not running, towards it. “But are you fast enough when a man knows you are coming?”
Fear and horror drove me on, fear and horror greater than that which would have held me back. I feared the beast more than the Devil’s Hand. I feared myself more.
The hand, groaning in motion, reached for me. So fast…
But not quite fast enough.
As it reached for me I ducked and ran, not away from it but towards it, towards the very base of the wrist. I dove and my shoulder collided with the solid stone with a crunch. It hurt—but I was out of reach of the hand.
It could not curve itself back to reach me, as I had hoped, had gambled. It moved as a real hand, upon a real wrist, and at the base where it protruded from the chamber floor it could not reach me. It raked the floor with its huge fingers in a futile effort, raised itself and fell, trying to crush me with its wrist; it rose up even farther from the floor, as an arm extending from a sleeve, but the joint, what would have, I suppose, been its elbow, remained above my head and, with me pressed against its base, it could not get at me. I sat there and I laughed.
“Missed me!” I said.
But, I reminded myself, you are only halfway past it.
“Master, get ready!” Oran shouted, having gotten back his wind. He had seen what I had done and this had given him his own idea.
“Oran, no! Don’t!”
He didn’t listen. He rushed at the hand. It moved.
I didn’t wait to see if it caught him. Cursing him for a madman, I leapt up and ran. My foot slipped; the stones of the floor wet with still-warm blood. An instant’s delay that almost cost me.
I felt the fingers of the giant hand graze my boot as I leapt clear, towards the opposite side of the room.
“Praise God!” I heard Oran say. “You made it!”
I breathed a little prayer of praise myself, that my good-hearted fool of a friend had also gotten out of the way in time.
“You made it, my lord!” Oran shouted, waving at me from across the room.
“Yes,” I said, sitting on the floor, my back to the yawning doorway of the next chamber. “But unless I can find some other way out, I still have to get back again!”