The Handless are a common sight. Their stumps show that they were not worthy, they were not chosen, they were too tainted for the Box. I am used to seeing them, but not one of the people surrounding me are Handless.A million fingers touch me as I make my way to the stage, to the Box. They look happy like they’re supposed to though most of their smiles don’t reach their eyes. The Pure are not supposed to judge but they do. The scar along my back proves it.The metal stairs clang under my feet. Everything is dull, grey metal. Everything, but the wooden Box. The sun reflects off the diamonds inlaid into its design, making the edges appear sharper, ready to cut.I stop in front of the Box, my last step dying in the air. The tips of my fingers tingle. I turn my head to the side, look across the stage to the sidewalk that signals the end of the Unmarked ground. My mother stands as close to the grass as she dares. She catches my eye and smiles, raising her arm to wave. Her smile stutters, and she shoves her arm back into her altered pocket. They say you never get used to the absence. I believe it.The Purist clears his throat. He stands to the side, ready to begin the Ceremony. My eyes jump back to the Box. The music begins, light but primitive. It vibrates my every nerve.“Jas Wilbro, do you agree to accept the judgment of the Box, no matter what it may be?” Each word feels like a needle pushed into my palms.“I do.”The front of the Box slowly opens. Black swirls inside, a never-ending tunnel.“The Box asks for your hand.”I raise my right. It visibly shakes. My knuckles jerk but I keep my hand flat. A sign of compliance. A sign of faith. That is their reasoning behind it.My arm is in the Box up to the elbow. Goosebumps run up my skin, traveling all over my body. The music stops and the air hangs limp, ready to be filled with a scream at any moment.The muscles in my shoulders relax one by one as the seconds tick by. I am a hundred pounds lighter.The Purist seems to wait longer than usual before saying the next words. “Please display the Box’s verdict.”I throw my hand into the air, fingers splayed. The applause builds from a drizzle to a downpour. I look to my mother, relief splashed all across my face. Tears shine on her cheeks.The offering of the second hand is simply traditional. The Box has made its decision and will stick with it. I thrust my left arm inside its maw, not allowing myself to think of how this would have changed if the Box had chosen differently.I rest flat on my feet, but when the pain comes, they arch high as well as my back. A loud keening spills from my mouth. The tendons of my arm stand out as I try to wrench my hand away. The Box refuses to give it up.Finally, finally, my arm comes free. I stumble backward. The Purist catches me before I fall off the stage.I cradle the stub that was my left hand. It throbs along with the pulse in my ear. The severed bone is clearly visible. I cannot take my eyes off of it.Everything, everyone, is quiet, except me, soft sounds continuing to drop from my lips. The Purist sets his hand against my back and turns me to face the crowd.“Jas Wilbro, the Box has deemed you its equal in matters of the Pure and the Tainted.”I hear it, but I don’t care. The only thing I care about is the fact that I can still feel my fingers moving, even though they’re not there.
There is no longer such a thing as the Handless. I have done away with that practice. I myself have a mechanical hand to replace the one I lost. It neither looks nor feels the same, but it works when it’s needed.Sometimes I go back to what was once known as the Unmarked ground but is now just a piece of history. I stand in front of the rusted metal stage. Then I walk up the steps. They make just as much noise as they did that day. And I stop at the place where it happened, a foot away from the box.And that is where I am now, today, this very second.It sits on its table, forlorn and forgotten. I don’t remember what about it intimidated me. It was just a box. Just a wooden box.I stretch my right hand out to touch it, to feel its grooves beneath my fingers. It feels cool. I step closer, letting my hand run along the back side. I press my check down against the top and close my eyes.My finger finds a hole. A frown crosses my face and my eyes flicker open. My hand wraps around a thin rope, almost completely weathered through. I lean forward, trailing the rope as it goes from the hole in the box to a hole in the stage.The sound of my heart is loud and my hand starts to tingle as it always does in times of stress or excitement. I jump from the back of the stage. The rope almost touches the ground. I grip it and pull. A squeaky hinge splits the air as the box falls open.My mouth goes dry. I climb back onto the stage. With the rope in my hand, I can’t stand directly in front of the box, but if I stretch, I can still see inside. I pull the rope one more time. A little bit of light reflects off the metal blade as it falls right where a wrist would go.I work my numb fingers, forcing them to relieve the rope. I am frozen, as if I have turned into metal as well. Rage brings the warmth back to my body, flooding my limbs. I grab the box, my mechanical hand scraping awkwardly against it. I throw it off the stage as hard as I can, the frayed rope trailing behind it like some sort of demonic tail. It hits, the edges cracking, bounces, and falls to pieces.Then I leave and call an assembly of those who still call themselves the Pure.