Ken Foxe is a writer and transparency activist in Ireland. He is the author of two non-fiction books based on his journalism and writes short stories of horror, sci-fi, and speculative fiction.

Previous Stories: www.kenfoxe.com/short-stories/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/kenfoxe
Instagram: www.instagram.com/kenfoxe


by Ken Foxe


I’m drinking brandy through a straw now because I can’t be sure that my hands won’t disappear again.

The first time it happened, I was at a barbecue lying back in a garden chair. It was the beginning of an autumn that was hanging on by a wisp to the coat-tails of summer. We were trying to pretend the cold weather wasn’t coming and I had shorts on. But I was already regretting that choice as the evening chilled and the hairs on my legs half-stood on end.

My friend Marcus and I were chatting about nothing in particular. It was the type of conversation that seemed important in the moment. I remember the distinct feeling of ease that came from a full belly and a long languorous evening stretched out in front of me like a lazy dog. A shuffle of 90s music was playing in the background and the pleasing smell of charred meat still lingered in the air.

There was an almost full glass of beer securely gripped in my hand. But just as I went to raise it towards my mouth to take a sip, it seemed to slip, shattered on the patio tiles, and splashed liquid all up my calf. I glanced down and looked at my fingers. They appeared translucent as though seen through a windscreen in a rain storm. I thought, What just happened?

Everybody turned around, my wife Gráinne among them. She had a quizzical look on her face as she realized what I had done. I shrugged my shoulders, spread my arms, gave a little grimace as if to say “guilty as charged.” It was hard, though, to stop myself looking at my right hand, which was no longer semi-transparent.

“You rest yourself,” said Marcus. “I’ll get the sweeping brush. And there I was thinking you could hold your drink.” He laughed as he pulled himself up from his seat.

“So did I,” I said, winking, “so did I.”

Once Marcus’s back was turned to me, I ran the index finger of my left hand along my right palm like I was trying to read my own fortune. Then I pressed down hard with my thumb, and checked each joint and knuckle. Everything seemed to be normal, apart from the slightest film of clammy sweat.

Marcus returned with one of his children’s beakers and joked that I couldn’t be trusted with a real glass. Normally, I would’ve found it funny but the smile I manufactured was as artificial as the plastic cup he handed me. My earlier ease had been crow-barred ajar like a rotting wooden door.

For the remainder of the evening, I drank directly from the plastic cup, and far too many of them. By the time Gráinne told me our taxi arrived, my words were slurring out slantwise.

As I followed my wife down the parquet floor hallway, I was wobbling a little. I could hear how cursory her farewell was, see her quick steps and tightly closed hands. Her low heels crunched in the gravel driveway and she walked to the far side of the cab without saying a word. Marcus stood at his front door, telling me to watch my step. I turned and waved goodbye, and I could have sworn I could see his face right through the surface of my palm.

I found myself gently shivering and wasn’t sure if it was just the midnight air. I shoveled through my mind to remember if I had taken my anti-depressant that morning. Had I forgotten, or accidentally taken a double dose? I’d only been on these ones about six weeks so it wasn’t always easy to remember.

I moved to open the door of the taxi, but it felt almost like my hand dissolved. As I tried to grasp the handle with my non-existent fingers, I was sure I could feel my wrist rapping back and forth against the car’s exterior.

I pulled my arm back violently, almost like I’d been testing bath water only to find it scalding. I looked to where my hand was. I could see the small bones moving over one another, the pulsing ulnar artery, the cephalic vein, and the median nerve almost crackling beneath the street lamp. I had a sudden urge to vomit and emptied my stomach onto the close-cut grass verge. By the time I was finished retching, my hand had returned to its permanent state.

There was a voice then, but not necessarily the one I was expecting. “Are you okay, sir?” the taxi driver asked, his concern half-torn between my pale face and the interior fabric of his immaculately-maintained Mercedes.

“I’ll be all right in a second,” I said, “a bad prawn from the barbecue I think.”

“I have a sick-bag if you need it,” the driver said. “I’m sorry, but I can’t have vomit on my upholstery. I’m sure you understand.”

“I’m fine,” I assured him.

I steadied my hand and directed it again towards the handle of the door. This time, I was greeted with cold metal and a gentle click as I gingerly pulled it towards me.

Very deliberately, I lowered myself into my seat, taking a deep breath that sent some of the bile in my mouth back burning down my throat. I looked over at Gráinne. She was staring out the window, holding the grab handle so tight it looked like she might tear it loose.

“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice trailing away. “I’m sorry.”

There were only a handful of words spoken in the back of the taxi. Gráinne had evidently told the driver where we were headed and as we sped down the Navan Road, I opened my window a crack to let some fresh air cleanse the fugue that had fastened onto me.

“Close that window,” she said, each word even frostier than the night air. “It’s freezing.”

The taxi driver didn’t get involved and switched the radio to a classical music station, occasionally glancing in his mirror to check on me. It made me feel like a naughty child.

As we came to a stop outside our terraced red-brick in Phibsboro, I was relieved to be home. By then, I had managed to convince myself that a cocktail of my new medication and too much beer had created the ‘hallucination.’ I couldn’t bring myself to entertain any other explanation.

Gráinne paid the taxi driver and I followed her along the short terracotta-tiled path to our front door. I lingered there a moment, each exhalation suspended on the crisp night air. By the time I got inside, she had already gone up the stairs and I could hear her shoes tapping on the wooden floor. Whatever harsh words she had were to be put aside until the morning. And I was thinking if I just slept on the couch, she might feel sorry for me by then.

In the kitchen, I opened the cabinet where the medicines were stored. There were numerous boxes of anti-depressants, three-quarter-full with pills that hadn’t worked during my six-month steeplechase of insomnia, panic, and nausea. I found the pack of tricyclics I was looking for, the latest prescription, the ones that finally seemed to be helping. I pulled the insert out, tried to focus my eyes enough to read. There among the side effects were visual hallucinations and the words Stop taking this medicine immediately if this side-effect occurs.

I looked down at the back of my hands—they were steady as concrete. I turned them over and flexed them. I wondered if I should take my sleeping tablet? The idea of another long night with a racing mind frightened me.

Just a half, I thought as I took the Zopiclone, split it, and washed it down with a cold glass of water. I had no work in the morning. I could sleep in. My eyes were heavy with a craving for sleep and maybe a good rest was exactly what I needed.


It was shortly after seven when Gráinne woke me, just as she was about to leave for the kids’ hospital where she worked as a physiotherapist. My head was pounding and I had a crick in my neck.

“You scared me last night. If you’re taking your meds, don’t drink.”

“I know,” I said, my voice hoarse and quavering.

“Go on upstairs to bed and get a proper rest.”

She kissed me softly on the forehead, the type of kiss your mother might give you on a morning you were too sick to go to school.

As I heard the front door click shut, I dragged myself halfway off the couch. I put my feet out first, feeling for the wooden boards. My medication had been making me light-headed when I stood up too quickly, so I paused a few seconds before standing. I steadied myself, waiting to see if a bout of dizziness would come. It didn’t so I went to the kitchen, opened the cupboard, and took the insert from the box of tablets out. I read the small print again.

I tried to imagine how I would explain to my doctor what had happened. I envisioned Dr. McClelland sitting there, tapping at his keyboard, gently nodding, asking me how things had been since I’d last seen him. What would I say—that my hand had disappeared? How I dropped a glass of beer and a few hours later, while drunk, had seen the inside of my wrist? And all the while, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of straitjackets and men in white coats, though I’m sure they didn’t wear those anymore.

Give it a few more days, I thought. These have been working up until now.

All these reassurances reared up like startled horses in my mind. I didn’t want to go cold turkey. I remembered the withdrawals from the last medication, the sweating and heart palpitations. And I found myself pressing the anti-depressant out from the blister pack. I placed one inside my mouth, where it immediately began to dissolve, its sickly sweet taste on my tongue. At the sink, I filled a glass of water to help wash it away and as I gulped it down, I noticed I was holding the glass in two hands.

The worst part of misplacing your mind is the uncertainty of it. Everything that was normal becomes abnormal. A walk to the local shop can feel like an Arctic expedition, standing in a queue as if at the open door of a cruising airplane. Even the most humdrum task requires a risk assessment. How long will it take, how many other people will be there, will I have to speak to anybody? Questions that would never have even occurred before have now become a checklist. And most awful of all, asking yourself a hundred times a day when will it stop, will it ever stop?

There are times you think you’re getting better and times you know you’re getting worse. A good day can suddenly become a bad day. Sometimes, you think you’re headed deep into the hole again, but somehow manage to cling on to the edge. Other times, you feel you’re climbing out but your fingers lose purchase. The different medications do things to you, good and bad. But which bits are side-effects and which bits are all of your own making?

That Monday was a bad day, far too much of it spent in bed. And yet the sun rose brighter on Tuesday and a week passed in which my hands remained resolute and staunch. The office chair in the accountancy firm I worked at felt comfortable amid the hum of the air conditioning and whirring hard drives.

There were only two or three moments each day when I would feel like fleeing. And I could always manage them through breathing exercises or a few minutes steadying myself in the bathroom. I was ready to consign the peculiar events at the barbecue and my disintegrating fingers to a dark, obscure corner of my brain. Nobody ever needed to know about it.


It was just over a week later—a relentlessly miserable Wednesday evening—and I was driving home under the arch of Christchurch Cathedral. There was a heavy sort of drizzle falling; rain that seemed light but would soak you. The sky was mostly dark beneath a blanket of dour clouds. I was waiting in a line of traffic, semi-listening to the radio.

As the light turned green ahead of me, I went to put my left hand on the gearstick but seemed to miss. I felt a light thwack on my wrist as the butt of my arm hit against the rubber. I went to grasp the stick again but where my fingers should’ve been there was only air.

Looking down, I could see the digits had evaporated, my eyes fixed on the strange severance. As panic fizzed like a shaken bottle of Coke, the car began to slowly roll down the slope of Winetavern Street. It was too late by the time I noticed, and my car came to rest with a grinding crunch against the car waiting at the traffic light in front of me.

I yanked the handbrake back, my hands instinctively rising to cover my eyes. My left palm was across my eye but I could almost feel it being absorbed into my cheek and forehead, the tissue inside being pressed and squeezed. Worst of all was seeing the driver of the other vehicle striding towards me, his heavy deliberate steps seen through a hideous mosaic of tiny blood vessels and nerve strings.

The other driver knocked on my window but I could not bring myself to lower it down. His words were a muffle through the glass: “You’d better have good insurance!”

He held up his cell phone, his fingers jabbing at the touch screen, dialing what I assumed was 911. Something took hold of me, and I pushed the car’s door open with such force that it sent the man’s phone tumbling from his grip.

“The fuck!” he shouted.

I began to run. Why? I do not know. To where? I had no idea.

My legs carried me off down Cook Street through puddles that splashed water up my trouser legs. I almost knocked over an elderly woman whose face seemed puzzled by why a man in a neat gray suit was sprinting down the rain-sodden road.

The austere back wall of the Polish church stood brooding above me and as my lungs began to burn, I slowed to a jog. There was a small rise of ivy-covered rocks off to the left of me, and I scaled them before climbing over the fence that brought me into St. Audeon’s Park. Out of breath and gasping, I sat down on a wooden bench and wept.

I heard a police siren nearby but whether they were coming for me or not, I did not know. Two rays of torch light arced through the quarter-light of the small park. A couple of uniformed gardaí approached warily.

“You’re not going to cause us any trouble, are you?” The voice sliced through the light fog that had now fallen over the River Liffey.

“No, I just panicked.”

“Panicked? What did you do that would make you feel panic? Have you been drinking?” the officer said.

For some reason, I had to pause and think, as if my mind—just like my hands—could not be trusted. “I haven’t had any alcohol,” I said at last but the words dripped with uncertainty.

When he asked for my identification, he looked at it and said, “We’ve had a call about a hit-and-run. Do you agree to a roadside sobriety test?”

Thinking of all the medications I was prescribed, I said, “I’d rather not.”

“Then you’re coming with us.” He must have sensed my uncertainty because he added, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

I’d never even been in a police car, and certainly never seen the inside of a garda station. The officer was talking into his radio with a colleague: “Suspect fled the scene of an accident.” Suspect? It was almost impossible to believe he was speaking about me. I strained at the handcuffs so that the cold metal pressed hard against the flesh of my wrists. The pain at least gave my galloping mind something to focus on.

The lights of Dame Street rushed by as we sped past the Olympia and the Central Bank. There was a low chatter from the police radio but the two officers sat silently. One of them took long sips of coffee from a KeepCup. I let my hands release for a moment, then pressed again waiting to feel the cut of the steel. But they broke free instead and I just sat there looking down in disbelief, as my wrist, palms, and fingers flashed in and out of existence.

I was still looking at them as we pulled up outside Pearse Street. I began to move them, and as I rubbed them together, I could feel the cartilage and sinews getting snagged. I tore them loose, feeling an exquisite pain as if my skin was being flayed.

The officer in the passenger seat turned around: “Holy shit,” he said. “He’s fucking slipped his cuffs off.”

Our eyes met in mutual incomprehension. “Don’t do anything stupid,” he said, repeating his words from the park bench.

“They must be defective,” I said and I truly didn’t know if I meant my hands or the cuffs.

When we reached the garda station, they cuffed me again and led me into a small booking area with a linoleum floor and insipid cream walls. There was a measuring strip on the wall for taking photos and the height of each suspect. My anxiety was starting to burn itself out, replaced instead by a deep exhaustion like every last joule of my energy had gone up in flames.

A new officer unwrapped a plastic tube from its packaging and asked me to blow into a small black machine twice. He patiently explained how the two readings would be averaged to determine if I was over the drunk-driving limit. As instructed, I pursed my lips and blew deeply into the device. A small printout emerged giving the results. “That’s clear anyway,” he said.

I felt only a miniscule relief from knowing the test had not been faulty. My mind was elsewhere, on my hands and how I had escaped the cuffs.

“We’re going to have to take some other samples,” he said, “to see if there are any drugs in your system. Have you taken anything you shouldn’t, Robert?”

“Nothing I don’t have a prescription for.”

“Have you somebody that can come collect you when you’re ready?”

“My wife Gráinne will.”

The witching hour had passed by the time I was released from custody. The police officers grew more gentle as it became obvious how out of character my flight from the scene of the accident was. I answered their questions without a hint of confusion or inebriation.

At the front desk, the station sergeant told me a file would be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and that I should find myself a good solicitor. He said my damaged car could be retrieved from the pound the following day. “You mind yourself,” he said as I walked out the door into a bracing cold.

I heard a gentle horn beep from a car, looked and saw Gráinne was parked right outside. The road was mostly quiet except for taxi drivers cruising for a fare. It was a week night, so there weren’t many people around, the pubs long-since closed. I sat into the car like a schoolboy sent home for misbehavior in the yard.

“What’s going on?” said Gráinne quietly.

What could I tell her apart from a truth that seemed like insanity?

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, tears spilling as if through a broken roof tile in a rainstorm. “The panic just got the better of me.”

“You have to go back to the doctor tomorrow,” she said. “Promise me.”

“I will.”


In the two weeks that followed, I hardly left the house save for medical appointments. Dr. McClelland prescribed Xanax three-times daily to be taken in addition to my anti-depressant and sleeping tablet. He typed out an urgent referral letter for a consultant psychiatrist. He never said it outright, but it was clear he thought I was too far gone for him to help. He said he had studied with Professor Ward, that he was one of the best in the country. He would see about getting a quick appointment.

I was squeezed in as a “personal favor” outside of normal office hours. Prof. Ward altered my prescription once more but I already knew it wasn’t going to make any difference. And as for the strange phenomenon of my de-and-recomposing hands, which was now happening almost daily, I was too terrified to say a word.

The days passed in an abstract fugue between bed, couch, and toilet, along with a diet of tea and chocolate. When my thoughts would scuttle and scamper beyond my control, I would drink a can of strong Belgian beer and use it to wash down my tranquilizer.

I would crush the can under my foot before burying it at the bottom of the outside recycling bin beneath the unread newspapers, junk mail, and empty cereal boxes. I watched old films by John Carpenter and Werner Herzog but so little of them registered, it hardly made a difference which was which. I never had any trouble dropping asleep in the day; it was the nights that were my tormentor.

On one of those nights, I found no rest despite my sleeping tablet. I would switch violently between my left and right sides, then lay on my back, next curl up into a fetal position. But nothing would work; every limb seemed to be in a froth of disease. I was in a partial stupor, neither able to sleep nor with enough wherewithal to get up out of bed. I must have dozed at some stage but when I “woke” the following morning, I was more tired than when I had gone to bed.

I pulled on a raggedy pair of gray tracksuit bottoms and trudged down the stairs. Curling up underneath a soft blanket, I lay down on the Chesterfield couch. There was an antiques show on the TV and I let it play in the background as I scrolled through social media on my phone. I knew I needed to go to the toilet but I held off until it became too uncomfortable.

As I stood up, I had a sense of being off balance like I had just gotten off an amusement park ride, nothing like the usual light-headedness I would get from standing up too quickly.

I looked down. I could see the stained planks of the wood floor shimmering through my toes. I shut my eyes tight, desperately trying to subdue the seizure of adrenalin that was taking over my mind. In the second it took to open them again, the digits of my feet had returned. I could feel the warmth of urine in my boxer shorts, a faint trickle running down my upper thigh.

I knew I needed to move and I thought of the Xanax in the kitchen cupboard. It was too early to take my second or third dose but what did it matter. Standing up, my eyes closely watching my feet, I stumbled. It was as if a knife had been taken to my Achilles tendon as my right side gave way. I crashed into the door, my head glancing off it, just enough to stun me but with no serious damage. As I lay on the floor, I could see the tendrils of the ligaments that connected my ankle to the tibia and fibula.

My foot and toes flashed like one of those anatomy pages in an old medical book where you could flick transparent pages back and forth to see what was beneath the skin. I resisted the urge to vomit, instead reaching for my phone to take a video.

Lying on the cold wood, the facial recognition system would not work for me. And as I keyed in the six figure pass code with my fingers trembling, I must have entered a digit wrong the first time around. By the time I finally managed to activate the camera, it was already too late.

I hauled myself up using the door knob for leverage. There was a speckle of blood on the white paint where I’d hit it. I looked into the mirror, a small cut and a fair-sized bump already blossoming.

As I walked to the kitchen, I used the walls for support for fear that either, or both, my feet might disappear. From the press, I grabbed the two sedative tablets, chewed them despite the awful metallic taste. I poured a tall glass half full with brandy, filled it to the brim with ice, and flipped open my laptop.

I began to write, sipping the liquor through this plastic straw, hoping my hands would not desert me as I type frantically. My words pour into this Word document as I ponder what else might disappear next: an eye, a lung, my heart? I need to hurry and type so if I completely disappear, there would be proof that I really was once here.