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WEIRD TALES March 1935


Harold Ward is a prolific writer, surpassing even the late Edgar Wallace in the fecundity of his facile typewriter. He is the author of many published novels and serials, and manages to keep a very high standard of excellence in all that he writes. He is known to the readers of WEIRD TALES as author of "The House of the Living Dead" and other sensational stories of the oecult. He is at his best in this story of weird surgery: "Clutching Hands of Death."


Clutching Hands of Death

By HAROLD WARD

A tale of terrorof a weird surgical operation performed in France—and a ghastly horror that stalked by night

JOHN HURST met death in the electric chair today. Standing on the brink of eternity, he refused to make any statement, maintaining the same enigmatical silence that had marked his demeanor from the day of his arrest.

Those who followed the case will remember that I represented Hurst at the trial. There was little I could do, for he positively declined to allow me to put up any defense. From the very first he knew that he was doomed; in fact, he told me several times that he wanted to die.

Yesterday I visited him for the last time, conveying to him the sad—to me—news that the governor had refused to grant a reprieve. He received the information with a smile.

"You didn't think that he would, did you?" he asked. "But, nevertheless, I appreciate what you have done for me."

He accompanied me to the cell door. Then, as we shook hands for the last time, he handed me a sealed envelope.

"The truth is in this," he said. "When I am gone, give it to the press. Nobody will believe what I have written, but I, at least, have had the pleasure of putting it down without interference from——"

He hesitated for the infinitesimal part of a second.

"Never mind," he finally resumed. "It is all in there. I'd like my friends to know the whole damnable story."

This morning I sat beside the radio waiting for the flash that told me John Hurst had gone to his maker. Then I opened the envelope. For a moment the thought came over me that the man had gone insane. But as I reconstructed the crime for which he was executed, I realized that John Hurst was telling the truth. But the reader must be his own judge. The narrative follows:

 John Hurst's Statement 

THIS is not a war story. Yet the horrible series of events which I am about to relate had their beginning in a base hospital somewhere in France.

My last distinct recollection before that was the nightmarish, indescribable second when the captain held his hand aloft, his eyes glued on his wrist-watch. He dropped his arm to indicate that the zero hour had come. We went over the top, a scattered khaki line. I recall no more.

I have a faint remembrance of jolting along in an ambulance on the way to the rear. I was sick—horribly sick—and weak. My arms felt numb, dead. I glanced down at them. My right hand was gone—evidently shattered by the premature explosion of the hand grenade I had been carrying when we went over the top. My left hand was so badly mangled that even I, a layman, could see that amputation would be necessary. I knew, too, that my chances for recovery were about one in ten thousand. Nor did I care.

I was reconciled to death, when I thought of it, which was seldom, for most of the time I was unconscious. Some first-aid man had bandaged me after a fashion, putting ligatures on my arms to halt the bleeding; I lacked the strength or I would have pulled them off; for what man cares to go through life with two stumps for hands?

I do not remember when I reached the hospital. My mind is a blank on many points. In fact, most of the events which I am about to relate happened while I was in a sort of trance. At other times I was in a sort of "twilight sleep," catching indistinct snatches of conversation, but paying no attention to what was going on about me.

Two men were talking.

"I've been wanting to do an operati...

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