by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
The night outside was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of the Lakesnam Inn, it was warm and secure. Father and son were staring intently at the chessboard between them, both highly engrossed in their nightly game of chess. The mother sat by the fireplace, engrossed in a copy of The Sun, a tabloid whose headline blared, Sex Secrets of the JLA! Beneath this gaudy headline was a picture of the new Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter. The Whites, who ran the inn, were a contented family, satisfied with what life had given them. Above the fireplace was a framed cross-stitching with the words, God bless our happy home.
“Listen to the wind,” said Mr. White, trying to keep his son from seeing a fatal mistake he had made.
“I’m listening,” said his son Herbert, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. “Check.”
“I should hardly think our guest will make it tonight,” said his father, with his hand poised over the board.
“Mate,” replied Herbert.
“That’s the worst of living so far out,” bawled Mr. White. “Of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway’s a bog, and the road’s a torrent, even with four-wheel drive. What fool’s business could John have that would drag him to such a forsaken place?”
“Never mind, dear,” said his wife soothingly as she raised her eyes up from her tabloid and looked at her husband over the tops of her reading glasses. “Perhaps you’ll win the next one.”
Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to intercept a knowing smile between mother and son. He hid a guilty grin in his thin, greying beard.
“There’s old John now,” said Herbert White as the gate banged too loudly, and heavy footsteps came toward the door.
Mr. White rose with hospitable haste and, opening the door, was heard laughing and chatting with the new arrival. He entered the room, followed by a tall, dapper blond man wearing a damp overcoat and blue suit. “You’re looking as lovely as ever, Anna.”
“Still the flatterer,” Anna White said, rising to her feet to give him a hug and a peck upon the cheek. “It’s been much too long since we’ve had you for a visit.”
John Constantine took the proffered seat by the fire. “Fancy a song, Barry?” he said to his host, drawing a chuckle. It was an old joke between the two of them, based on the fact that his host had a famous name but was a crusty white Englishman rather than a soulful black American. The joke dated back to the night they had first met in a pub two years earlier.
“I don’t know about a song, Johnny, but how about a little something to take the chill off?” Barry said.
“You’ve read me mind, Barry,” Constantine said, watching as his friend pulled out a bottle of whiskey and tumblers. By the third glass, Constantine’s eyes had become brighter, and he began to talk about his activities since last summer, the little family circle regarding him with eager interest as he spoke. He told them of strange scenes and unearthly deeds at the side of allies such as the Swamp Thing, Steve Dayton, and Zatanna the Magician, of a war in Hell and plagues and strange peoples. (*) His hosts hung on his every word.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Night Force: The War of Darkness and Light.]
“Sounds like you’ve had quite a life,” said Barry, nodding at his wife and son, who nodded back in agreement.
“I especially enjoyed the tales of your recent adventures in India,” said Anna politely. John Constantine had spent most of the last half-year there, staying for several months after once again finding himself pulled into a nasty business with an occult group that was quickly gaining power over the people there. As usual, he’d also had to gather a small army of his own, including Sargon the Sorcerer and Nadir the Master of Magic, to battle this occult power. The battle was devastating but utterly unknown to the rest of the world. The version he told the Whites was not exactly the entire truth, but it was the version he knew they wanted to hear.
“I’d like to go to India myself,” said the older man, “just to look round a bit, you know.”
“Better where you are,” said Constantine, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass and, sighing softly, held it out for a refill. “Frankly, I envy you your life here.”
Constantine was sincere in this bit of flattery. He enjoyed his visits with the Whites and appreciated the sense of security and of being at home he felt whenever he came to the country inn, where time always seemed to stop.
“I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers,” said the older man as he filled Constantine’s glass. “What was that you started telling me the other day when you called from the airport? Something about having trouble getting a talisman or something through customs?”
“Nothing,” said Constantine. “At least, nothing worth hearing.”
“Talisman?” said Anna curiously.
“Well, it’s just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps,” said Constantine offhandedly.
His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absentmindedly put his empty glass to his lips and then set it down again. His host filled it for him.
“To look at it,” said Constantine, fumbling in the pocket of his rumpled overcoat, “it’s just an ordinary hand from some kind of monkey, dried to a mummy.”
He took something out of his pocket, set it on the table, and slid it forward. Anna drew back with a grimace, but her son, taking it, examined it curiously.
“Kind of big for a monkey. But not so big as an ape,” Herbert said, holding it up as he looked at it curiously.
“What’s so special about it, anyway?” inquired Barry as he took it from his son and, having examined it, placed it upon the table.
“There are a lot of stories surrounding its origin,” Constantine said. “One is that it had a spell put on it by an old fakir. He put a spell on it, so that whoever possessed it would have three wishes from it. Of course, with most things like this, those wishes usually turn out to bring sorrow rather than fortune.”
“Well, why don’t you have three wishes?” said Herbert cleverly.
John Constantine regarded the young man in the way that those experienced in such matters often regarded the uninitiated. “I have,” he said, taking a drag off his cigarette and blowing a smoke ring. All three of the Whites watched as it rose into the air and then disappeared.
“And did you really have the three wishes granted?” asked Anna.
“I did,” said Constantine, pulling out a pack of Silk Cuts and lighting one.
“And has anybody else wished?” inquired Anna.
“The first man had his three wishes, yes,” was the reply. “I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That’s how I got the paw. Muzaffar was a good friend. I’ll miss him.” His tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group.
“If you’ve had your three wishes, it’s no good to you now, then, John,” said Barry at last. “What do you keep it for?”
“A souvenir, I suppose,” he said slowly. “I usually keep some sort of memento of my cases. Anna, if you’re interested, I’ve got some tubers from my last trip to the States in my bags that would make a great stew.”
“If you could have another three wishes,” said Barry, eyeing him keenly as he dodged Constantine’s attempt to change the subject, “would you have them?”
“I don’t know,” said Constantine. “I don’t know.” He took the paw and, dangling it between his front finger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire. Barry, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it off.
“Better to let it burn,” said Constantine.
“If you don’t want it, John,” said the older man, “give it to me.”
“I won’t,” said his friend doggedly. “I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don’t blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again, like a sensible bloke.”
The other shook his head and examined his new possession closely. “How do you do it?” he inquired.
“Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud,” said Constantine, “but remember, I warned you of the consequences.”
“Sounds like Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” said Anna as she rose and began to set the table. “Don’t you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?”
Her husband drew the talisman from his pocket, and then all three burst into laughter as Constantine, with a look of alarm on his face, caught him by the arm.
“Are you bloody daft, Barry? If you must wish,” he said gruffly, letting go of his arm, “wish for something sensible.” He pulled out another cigarette and said, “Mine were for two pints and another carton of Silk Cuts.”
“You wasted them on that?” Barry said, aghast. “John, sometimes I just don’t understand you.”
“If you ever do, you’ll be the first,” Constantine said with an exhale of smoke. “And I’ll think I must be doing something wrong.”
Barry laughed as he dropped the talisman back into his pocket and motioned his friend to the table. Over supper, the talisman was partly forgotten, and afterward the three sat enthralled to tales of Constantine’s adventures in America.
Eventually, John Constantine let out a yawn and said, “Well, I’m beat. I think I’ll turn in. The food was excellent as always, Anna. Don’t bother setting a place for me at the table tomorrow, though. I have an early start ahead of me.” After he left, the three were free to talk of what was on all their minds.
“If the tale about this magic monkey hand is as fanciful as those other crazy stories he told us,” said Herbert, “we shan’t make much out of it.”
“I believe he believes in it,” Barry said. “Just before he went up the stairs, he asked me again to throw it away.”
“Not bloody likely,” said Herbert, grinning.
Barry took the paw from his pocket and eyed it dubiously. “I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact,” he said slowly. “It seems to me I’ve got all I want.”
“If you had the mortgage on the inn paid off, you’d be really happy, wouldn’t you?” said Herbert, his hand on his shoulder. “Well, wish for two-hundred-thousand pounds, then. That should do it.”
His father, smiling at his son’s good thinking, held up the talisman as his son, with a solemn face somewhat marred by a wink at his mother, sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive chords.
“I wish for two-hundred-thousand pounds,” said Barry distinctly.
A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.
“It moved!” he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object as it lay on the floor. “As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake. I half-expected the bloody thing to bite me.”
“Well, I don’t see the money,” said his son, as he picked it up and placed it on the table, “and I bet I never shall.”
“It must have been your imagination, luv,” said his wife, regarding him anxiously.
He shook his head. “Never mind, though. There’s no harm done, but it gave me a shock just the same. I suppose John was having a bit of fun with us. He always did have a peculiar sense of humour.”
Outside, the wind whistled louder than ever, and the old man started nervously at the sound of banging shutters from outside. A silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three, which lasted until the old couple rose to retire for the night.
“I expect you’ll find the cash tied up in a big canvas sack in the middle of your bed,” called out Herbert as he walked up the stairs to his room, “and some horrible ghoulie squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your ill-gotten gains.”