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A Mind of my Own - Read the winning entry in our Frankenfic competition

Posted on 5 October 2019

To celebrate Mary Shelley’s birthday on Friday 30 August, we asked you to get creative ahead of our production of Frankenstein this October, and we were overwhelmed by your response! Inspired by Lord Byron’s writing challenge to his friends, which led to the creation of Frankenstein during the summer of 1816, we challenged you to write your own horror stories, and received an amazing 23 entries.

Submissions varied from intimate family dramas to gruesome body horror, and from the comic to the genuinely terrifying. It was certainly a tough decision for our judges – who included Coventry Geeks co-founder and writer Amy Turner, and YA author Lauren James (The Next Together, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Quiet at the End of the World) -and a shortlist of 11 stories were read out at a special event at Fargo Village’s Big Comfy Bookshop on Wednesday 2 October.

The overall winner was James Rose with A Mind of my Own, which you can read in full below. Look out for the runners-up coming soon!

Horror Storytelling at the Big Comfy Bookshop

A Mind of My Own

by James Rose

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I’m innocent.

I know I am innocent.

Yet I have a fluid feeling of doubt.

Know yourself, said a philosopher but I don’t any more. I have changed radically, dramatically, tragically.

It began soon after I went into our loft to treat the timbers; crawling along the joists, watching not to put my hand through the ceiling laths. I don’t remember hurting myself but I must have done. I got ill, felt I was dying, which I was.

I woke with a head full of nightmares and a body full of tubes: up my nose, down my throat, in my arms, even up my whatsit. I didn’t believe them until they took the bandages off. My gaze followed as they unwrapped my arm – elbow, forearm, wrist. Keep unwrapping, I thought. There’s more. But there wasn’t. A pathetic stump with black stitches poking through the red suture lines. I looked at the faces round me. I shut my eyes, wiggled my fingers, made a fist. No problem. They were wrong.

I opened my eyes and saw that they weren’t. I cried. I didn’t have enough energy to be brave.

Of course, the nurses, the doctors, my family were all wonderful, supportive – all the rest – but being told I was a survivor, a sepsis survivor didn’t help. Something had come and stolen my life. There was no-one to blame, no-one to prosecute, no-one to sue. I’d been violated and now I was to be pitied. I was a victim.

I overheard conversations: ‘It is terrible but he’s trying ever so hard. Lucky it wasn’t his right hand, though. Thanks for ringing, anyway. I’ll tell him you called.’ But I was bitter. That was new.

My arm had become an appendage, like a capital L but sans serif, if you get me. That’s the printer in me. As all the graft, most of the craft and some of the art has gone, I could see me getting some part of my job back. But I was disabled now and had to face it.

Slowly my old life slipped away. At least the war wounded were heroes. I had to get used to being driven, tolerate the Physio Department with its odour of floor cleaner and a hint of sweat, put up with the machine coffee in the waiting rooms, and the waiting, waiting. I entertained myself reading the books and periodicals. Not for the content, the printing: paper too cheap, margins too small, rivers of white snaking down the page, typos, unimaginative typefaces. I was desperate to get back to work. I couldn’t remain positive all the time. I got depressed.

The therapist was cleverer than I gave her credit for. She treated me as if I’d been bereaved. She was right. I had. But discreetly she was also assessing my suitability: very keen to have normal appearance and function; meticulous, that’s part of the job; good with routines. So they put it to me.

In my fantasy, I should have said something like, ‘A transplant? I’d bite your hand off for one.’ Glad I didn’t, really. Pathetically, all I said was, ‘Please,’ and went away to wait for some poor sod not to make it out of ITU.

Revealing my new hand had a curious, almost melodramatic parallel to revealing my lack of one. I examined what was newly part of me. At the join, there was an obvious colour difference and it didn’t feel or look like my hand. Its otherness bothered me. Fingernails neatly trimmed, no doubt in preparation for the big day, but they had a history that wasn’t mine; scratched itches I’d never had. The fingers too had touched things that I’d never touched. I wasn’t sure I wanted them to touch me. I didn’t know if it had been a dominant hand and how it might feel if it had been demoted. I made a fist. It twitched. I moved my arm and could dimly feel the sensation of the surface on which the hand rested, as if it were recovering from a local anaesthetic.

I found it frustrating trying to get full function back and would swear silently at the new hand for its clumsiness, knowing that the problem lay with me. Eventually, we became adequately competent. It became my hand and life began to return towards normal.

The first worrying event occurred one morning when I was washing. I’d run both taps to get the water temperature right. I moved my new hand to turn the cold off but it seemed to slip and turned it on full blast. Irritated, I swore at it aloud. Then, as I was bringing my hands up to wash, my hand slapped me hard in the face. There had been the odd involuntary spasm initially but this seemed purposeful.

Later, my wife asked, ‘What are those marks on your leg?’ On my left thigh were several bruises. With the medication, I do bruise easily but these bruises were in pairs. ‘It’s as if you’ve pinched yourself,’ she said. From then on, I tried to sleep on my front with my arm behind me.

The trust and love of a granddaughter is a wondrous thing, a healing balm and the fact that she wasn’t bothered by my new hand helped. I would sit with her for ages reading a book with my arm round her, rubbing her back, stroking her neck. I was so involved with the story that at first I didn’t hear her protests and only became aware something was wrong when she dived forward off the settee screaming, ‘Grandpa! You’re hurting.’ Sad reproachful tear-filled looks followed and a demand to go home. As she turned to go, I saw the darkening bruises on either side of her neck.

I tried to explain this away as another spasm but then something happened that even my wife couldn’t take.

‘I’ve stood by you throughout,’ she said. ‘But this has got to stop. Sort yourself out. Get help. Whatever. I’m staying with my mother till you do.’

I hate even thinking about this. I was on a crowded train, standing room only; the woman next me screamed, turned and pushed me away.

‘You pervert! You fucking perv!’ The carriage went silent and everyone looked at me. My mouth opened as if I needed more air to understand, but a sick feeling of comprehension dawned. ‘He stuck his mucky paw up my skirt. I’m getting the police.’

After explaining to the officer about the twitches and showing him the line of the scar, I was let off with a caution. The complainant didn’t believe a word. And I wondered whether there were other reasons for my wife’s leaving.

I started to have dark dreams, difficult to describe because they had no narrative, only a feeling of self-loathing. I think I began to sleep walk. My clothes would be damp in the morning. People would say they’d seen me out, when I knew I’d been in bed. Awake, I thought about my dreams, about the hand. Any resentment or reproof uttered aloud and the hand would try to retaliate. It seemed able to hear but not read my thoughts, which made any plans I had to, as it were, sneak up on myself a little easier.

Two events persuaded me to follow my wife’s advice. Firstly, I ‘caught’ the hand adding too many immunosuppressants to my medicine pot. I was proud of the dexterity that I had achieved with my new hand and counting my pills had become virtually subconscious. This time something made me look and I saw too many pills in the pot and the hand held two more. I picked up the pot as if to swallow the pills, spilled them, declared aloud, ‘Clumsy me!’ and counted the correct dose with my right hand. I got my blood count checked on the pretext of having a sore throat. Happily it was not dangerously low, but this must have been going on for a while.

I was lucky to survive the second event. On my way to work, I pull out into a fast road just outside the 30 limit and cars come at a pace in both directions. In rush hour, you must move out promptly and accelerate quickly away. I’ve been doing it for years and no longer think about it. I pressed the accelerator firmly and knew something had gone disastrously wrong. The car crept forward, bunny-hopped and stalled. I’d been in fourth: not first. There wasn’t enough time. I can still hear the lorry’s horn, the tyre noises, the scrunch of metal.

I was lucky. Bruised, cut, concussed but no more and no-one else was hurt. There was, of course, a tedious aftermath of insurance claims and police inquiries but I finally stopped believing in accidents and coincidences. The hand meant me serious harm.

I could see people thought I was mad or making excuses, when I started to talk about my suspicions. And the hand didn’t like it. Desperate for an answer, I read philosophy, psychology, practised meditation but bizarrely, from a sceptic’s point of view, got most help from The Bible: The New Testament; Matthew 5:30. Having decided what to do, I said nothing. Tried to think nothing. Pretend everything was normal.

Disabling the safety mechanism was difficult, especially while keeping my mind empty. Meditation had helped. I pushed the pile of pages to be squared-up into the machine. With my right hand, I pressed the button, turned my whole body sideways and leant as hard as I could to keep The Hand beneath the guillotine blade. I didn’t look. I didn’t feel pain at first but the crunching and sudden lightness told me I was free.

I pulled my arm back, blood spurting from the stump. Horrified at the sight, I opened my mouth to scream but the stump came at me, forcing its way in, blocking my airway, pumping blood into my lungs. I was being choked, drowning in my own blood.

Back in A&E, they saved my life but no chance the team would spend another nine hours on me. I’d played that hand too well but now it was gone. Yet it wasn’t the hand that had tried to kill me. It was my arm.

The neurologists said the sepsis had damaged the connexions between the two parts of my brain. There are two ‘mes’ and the ‘I’ that I feel is me is not in control of all of me. I am not a whole person. I am made of parts.

I have to be on constant guard. I strap my stump to my side when I sleep but it has usually worked free in the morning. Can I trust my leg? It might give way, precipitating me into the traffic or trip me up at the top of the stairs. Mustn’t give it ideas.

This morning, the local radio reports the body of a girl found in the park, suffocated somehow. Not strangled. No fingerprints.

I’m innocent.

I know I am innocent.