To begin with, it looked to be a sort of mummified hand with a few tufts of fur still sticking to the wrist. Maddy could not, for the life of her, figure out exactly what it was or where it had come from. She realized that it must have belonged to her father, that he nust have brought it back with him on one of his overseas voyages.
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She found it in a box with a lot of other relics: old clothing, books that were fallling to pieces, a compass and spyglass, and a dozen or so maps of unknown little islands, somewhere in the middle of the churning sea. Most of the items failed to interest her; the claw did.
For that was what it was, a claw. There was no doubt but that it must have belonged to some creature that was shot on one of her father’s expeditions. Perhaps it belonged to some sort of an ape. She shuddered to think of it. She took the thing, which was very stiff and hard, and felt like leather in her palm, and put it up on the mantle. There it rested until her mother, not liking the look of it, took it down and nearly threw it out despite Maddy’s protests. Finally, her mother, seeing that her daughter meant to keep the beastly thing, relented. Maddy took the claw to her room, and put it on her shelf amidst a tumble of dolls.
It was at night that Maddy fancied she could hear the claw moving. It made a skittering noise that, at first, she took to be the movements of a beetle, or perhaps even a mouse, across the surface of her shelf. She rolled over on her side snd tried to dismiss it. But the scrit-scrit sound grew louder and more frequent, and finally, one night, she got up and tiptoed to the high shelf which held her dolls and other keepsakes…and the claw. She stood on the edge of her toes, craning her neck upward in the moonlight, and got a glimpse that made her almost reel backward in astonishment. She rubbed her eyes, wondering perhaps if she wasn’t still dreaming. No; she had most definitely seen the little claw move of its own accord. She put her hand out as if to touch it, then thought better of it. It seemed to her, somehow, as if it didn’t want to be touched right now, as if touching it might hurt her in some way.
She crept back to bed. She lay there a long while, looking up at the shadows in the ceiling, wondering if, perhaps, she should tell her mother. She finally decided against it: her mother would only say that she had been dreaming, and would furthermore tell her to stop making up fantastic tales. She finally got to sleep, though her dreams were troubled.
The next night, she heard the scrit-scrit sound again, and screwed her eyes tightly shut, burying her head in her pillow and vowing that, as soon as daybreak came, she would get rid of the claw.
She awoke that morning with the express purpose of doing just that. However, as she approached her shelf, putting her hand out slowly to grasp the thing (as if it were some sort of strange insect) she found, unaccountably, that she couldn’t do it. For some strange reason, something inside of her resisted, and so she crept out of the room and went down to breakfast, keeping mum about the strange claw and wondering what on earth it could all possibly mean.
That night, she awoke from troubling dreams, and heard a skittering across the floor. She wondered for a moment if a mouse had not invaded her bedroom when, suddenly, she remembered the claw. She sat up in bed and leaned over, peering down at the floor in the moonlight.
Something was skittering across it.
It moved quickly.
She had just set her bleary vision to it when it scampered into a dark corner. She sat in bed, her breath coming in little gasps, as she heard what she then took to be the sound of the thing climbing the curtain.
She felt a scream rise in her throat, but nothing came out but a whistle of air. Her knuckles held the bedclothes tightly.
She sat in the darkness like that for interminable hours, and did not go to sleep again that night.
The next day her mother asked her, “Dear, you look as if you haven’t been getting any sleep! Is something the matter?”
Maddy didn’t know how to tell her about the claw and its strange doings, but simply smiled and said, “Mother, I’ve been having such queer dreams lately, I suppose I just haven’t been sleeping as well as I should.”
“Well,” said her mother, “I think you must certainly pay closer attention to the sorts of things you eat and drink…diet, that’s the key to everything. A sound diet means no more troubling dreams. Maddy, you must promise me that you won’t eat any candy or cookies before you go to bed at night. Do you understand me?”
“Yes Mother,” said Maddy, shaking her head slowly. She wondered, for a moment, if her mother wasn’t partly right: perhaps she had been imagining all this business about the claw and its moving around at night. Perhaps she was eating too many cookies, or drinking too much warm milk before she went to sleep.
That afternoon she crept into her bedroom again, intent upon getting rid of the claw. She stood on her tiptoes to reach the top shelf, but, as she put her hand out, she found that, once again, she could not bring herself to simply scoop the thing up and do away with it. She could not bring herself to quite close her hand around the leathery little thing (which did in fact look like some strange species of bug, now that she considered it) and so she went back out slowly, closed the door behind her, and prayed that all of the noisy doings of the mysterious object were nothing more than the overheated imaginings of her dreaming brain.
That night she was cruelly interrupted froma most excellent dream by something tugging at her blanket.
Her head shot up. She grabbed the sheets in a frenzy of terror, and began to gasp for breath. Her eyes nearly shot out of her head in wonder for, there, crawling toward her slowly across the foot of the bed, was the claw.
It grasped the sheets in its leathery fingers, holding them tightly, and soon, she knew, it would crawl up her body and be at her throat.
And I’ll scream, she thought madly. I’ll scream and scream and then I’ll pitch over dead from fright. And in the morning when they find me I’ll have the marks of the claw around my throat, but the thing itself will have crawled into a corner and gotten away.
But she found that she could not scream, and not even whisper, and the ugly, mummified hand crawled halfway up her chest and lay there, small and repugnant, until she, finally, found the courage to move.
She slid out of bed, shaking, and cast the thing to the covers, where it lay, only slightly throbbing, as if there was little energy left to it. She went to the closet on watery legs and fished out an old shoe box, then slowly crept back to the bed, opening the lid, and gesturing as if to say, “You can stay in here if you like. In fact, I’d much rather prefer that you did, all things considered. I can’t have you crawling about at all hours of the night, disturbing my sleep. So c’mon old boy, in you go.”
The claw raised itself upon its pointed digits like a macabre spider, but seemed to understand. After what seemed a moment’s consideration, it crawled across the bed sheets slowly and went into the box. She quickly put the lid on it, and, tying several sections of yarn around it, decided that it must go into the closet for the time being. She could feel it move around inside the box, feel it thump against the lid, but the yarn seemed to hold it secure, and so she went to the closet, moved far back into the darkness, and put it beneath a pile of castaway clothes. Then, feeling a little better, she went back to bed. Surprisingly, she found herself quite exhausted, and sleep came easily for her.
It was only in the light of the morning that she found last night’s adventure almost impossible to believe, She sat up in bed, uncertain as to whether or not it had all been a dream, and realized there was only one way to make certain. She got up from bed and went to the closet. She opened the door with trembling fingers and stepped into the musty darkness. She spied the pile of old clothing.
She picked it up hurriedly and almost yelled.
It had not been a dream.
She held up the shoe box in her trembling grasp, feeling the weight of the claw as it skittered around inside, thumping occasionally against the lid, and for a panicked moment she had no idea what to do. Then, she got an idea.
“H-hello? Are you okay in there? Do you need me to poke some air holes for you? Oh, I guess not. Can you hear me alright?”
At the sound of her voice the claw stopped moving. She went to her bed slowly, put the box down on the coverlet, and sat down to consider. Suddenly, she spied her slate on the floor, where she had been practicing her alphabet yesterday. She wondered if the moving claw, despite its not having a mouth, might be able to communicate with her in other ways…
She took the slate and laid it on the bed, got out her box of chalk, and carefully unwound the yarn from atop the box. She slowly took off the lid and goggled down in wonder at the skittering, crab-like claw as it cowered in one corner of the box.
Suddenly, it leapt out and onto the coverlet, startling her. It crab-walked around for a moment, as if stretching its digits, and then crept toward the slate slowly. She tried hard to control her fear, said, trembling a little, “My name is Maddy. M-a-d-d-y–that spells Maddy. See–”
And she took up a piece of bright yellow chalk and began to write her name on the slate. She then laid the chalk on top of the slate and said, “can you write your name for me?”
Slowly, the claw approached the chalk, as if it might be dangerous, and then, with it’s little wrist held firmly up at an angle, managed to grasp the chalk and slowly began to move across the face of the slate.
It wrote in large, shaky, child-like letters:
Maddy cocked her haid and said, with some dfifficulty, “Nu…ulu…ef. Nuluef. Oh, that’s your name! Nuluef! Alright then, pleased to me you Mr. Nuluef!”
The little claw seemed very excited for a moment, and shook furiously before writing:
Maddy suddenly realized her and her new friend were going to have hours of fun together.
Several days later she had found out a great many strange things about Mr. Nuluef, the Talking Claw.
One, that he was born long ago in a fierce forest, that he had been killed by a hunter, and that now he was someplace “lonely in a dark place that calls out…blood and fire and nighttime forever.” She wasn’t sure where such a place could be or what much of it meant, but she knew that she was having the time of her life with her new toy. And all the fear of it had vanished from her now. It was, she decided, like having the most perfect pet in the entire world. She didn’t have to clean it or feed it, and she could have long conversations with it by slate. She had to be careful, though, that her mother didn’t find out, as surely she wouldn’t understand a creature as remarkable as Mr. Nuluef.
And she also discovered that Mr. Nuluef knew things, things that were hidden, or things that were going to happen soon. For instance, Mr. Nuluef wrote her:
MATHER WIL LOOSE RING BUT NOT WORRE IT IS IN VAYSE
And sure enough, her mother did lose her wedding ring, and the entire household was tuened upside down to look for it, it being the most valuable item from her marriage that she still owned. Amazingly, just as Mr. Nuluef predicted, the huge porcelain vase on the mantel was searched last, and yielded the ring which, apparently, had dropped from Maddy’s mother’s finger when she was absentmindedly watering the flowers. And that was only one instance.
When their maid, Millie, had tripped and fallen down the stairs, Mr. Nuluef had predicted it several days beforehand, and when Aunt Gertrude had come down with a nasty infection in her bronchial tubes, Mr. Nuluef had predicted that. Furthermore, when Mr. Garrity who rented the empty apartment upstairs, had begun to have serious chest pains and needed the immediate attention of a doctor, Mr. Nuluef had predicted that, as well.
Maddy was fast becoming aware that there was very little that Mr. Nuluef didn’t not know. And it troubled her, a little.
In time, even his spelling improved.
Mr. Nuluef was fast becoming pushy about things.
“But I could never do anything like that, Mr Nuluef!”
YOR MOTHER. I WANT TO TOCH HER
“But, why? What good do you think it will do?” The little claw picked up the chalk again, and wrote:
IS WUT I WANT
To which she replied:
“No, she must never know about you!”
To which he replied:
YOU WIL DO AS I SAY PUT ME ON HER PILLOW
“No. Never in a million years will I do as you say!”
And she found that she was starting to cry. Mr. Nuluef picked up the chalk again and began to scribble frantically. The message read:
PUT ME ON HER PILLO TONITE OR YOU WIL
“Or I will what?”
Slowly the chalk scraped across the board in horrific large letters.
She screamed then. She hoped no one else in the house could hear her. She fought back a flood of tears, and said, “But I don’t understand why I must be the one to take you to her. Can’t you just crawl there yourself?”
I MUST BE TAKEN TO HER
Maddy had heard all she could bear of this. Scooping up the little creature, she quickly found the strangest sack in her room and, using a loop of string, fought down her. disgust as she tied the writhing thing inside. She then swore to herself that, tonight, she would cast the thing into the fireplace where she thought now that it quite rightfully belonged.
She felt a sudden pain in her hand. There were three claw marks on her palm, where Nuluef had scratched her while he was fighting being put into the bag. She quickly went to the cupboard for something to put on the wound, and then went back to her room to stare at the little sack as it flopped around with Nuluef inside of it. She sat on her bed, vowing that, soon after dark, she would destroy it.
She fell asleep. When she woke up, it was dark and quiet in the house, and the servants had already retired for the evening. Her eyes fell, suddenly, on the little burlap sack.
It had been ripped open from the inside. Nuluef had escaped.
She got up on wobbly legs, casting her glance about her in the murk, trying to discern if the claw was not creeping in the corner, waiting to pounce upon her. A quick look about convinced her that Nuluef had slipped out under the door and down the hall.
She went out, walking slowly. Her breath was sucked in and out very quickly, and every creak of the floorboard sent her nerves soaring. It could be anywhere, she knew, waiting to fly at her, to cut her again with those hellish, sharp claws. Oh, why had she not destroyed the thing when she had the chance? But it was too late to worry about that now.
She walked down the hallway to her mother’s room. She noted that the door was ajar. She said her mother’s name, softly, but received no response. She was obviously asleep. She strained to see through the crack of the door, but the moonlight shifted outside, throwing the room in darkness.
She tiptoed inside.
Her mouth fell open.
Nuluef was on the edge of her mother’s pillow. He had grown enormous. He was now almost the size of a man’s closed fist. Before he had been small and wiry.
He seemed to throb with coursing blood.
Suddenly, Nuluef turned noting her entrance, but before she could make another step he flew to her mother’s throat, twisting his fingers around it and sinking his nails in deep. Maddy screamed as her mother shot upward, her hands at the thing around her throat, her voice a gurgling scream.
Maddy grabbed Nuluef and pulled with all her might. It seemed agonized moments before she was able to finally wrench the little beast away from her mother’ s throat, freeing the woman to gasp for air as she flailed.
Nuluef grabbed Maddy’s hands in a rage, and whipped her about the room. Holding on to him was like trying to hold a small, powerful animal in her hands. She fell from the doorway and down the hall, Nuluef jerking her into the walls and causing pictures to come crashing down to the floor. She stumbled out inot the parlor. Before her, the fireplace crackled.
With one last great gasp of strength she flung the thing away from her, her hands and wrists bleeding badly now. She didn’t notice the pain.
Nuluef sailed with a thud into the fireplace.
Suddenly, there was an explosion of sparks, a cloud of smoke, and a horrible smell filled the room. She sat upon the rug, gasping for air, bleeding onto the floor, knowing that it was, thankfully, finally over.
She sat like that for a long time.
Her mother came out into the parlor in her nightgown.
Maddy looked up at her mother and smiled. It was wonderful that her mother was still alive, that she had managed to save her, that everything would be alright henceforth.
Her mother opened her mouth to speak, her voice clotted with phlegm. She spoke one word.
Is what she said.