The tale that you are about to read is an ineffable horror that I had witnessed occur to one of my closest acquaintances in life. His name was Maarten Van der Meer, a renowned Dutch pianist from the city of Amsterdam. It was precisely in that immemorial city of the Netherlands in the year of 1888, where this unprecedented story had unfolded tragically. My name is Peter Jansen, and I was in the local conservatory seated in the audience, when my good friend Martin was playing a rendition of the Ode to Joy of Friedrich Schiller. His magnificent fingers had possessed an electric and masterful splendour incomparable, to other contemporary pianists of his epoch. He was a precocious child, who had truly developed into one of the best pianists of Europe. Thus, I had admired his brilliance and compositions, as a noticeable composer of classical music. After his fabulous performance we had agreed to take a drink to celebrate and commemorate his recent success. He was a man of exclusive fine Parisian wine and taste, who had lavished and indulged in the cultivated veneer of refinement of a proper gentleman.
We had shared a fascinating conversation on the topic of the cultural Renaissance and he made mention of his next engagement, at the Opera House in Amsterdam within a week. Naturally, I was content for him and even more, when he had offered me an invitation for that specific date. I told him I would assist and that it was an immense honour to attend, as one of the members of the audience. I was running late on the night of the concert and had arrived in my carriage. It had been raining I recall and the theatre was full from top to bottom, with the expected members of Dutch Society present. The performance was excellent, and Maarten was duly applauded and praised, for his meritorious effort. Afterwards, we spoke before the front gate of the theatre at length.
When we had abated the conversation, we parted ways, and Maarten had decided to cross the street to wait for his carriage. But as he was crossing the street, a heavy waggon had passed uncontrollably and struck Maarten suddenly. I had descried the horrible incident and hastened to succour him. Fortunately, he had survived the brutal impact, but his right hand was badly mangled and crippled. There was this horrendous look in his eyes, when he had realised that his gifted hand would no longer be able to play the piano. This would soon be confirmed afterwards, with the doctor's examination of his right hand. Maarten would never retrieve or recuperate his stellar ability to perform anew, with his horrific deformity.
Thereafter, he would become a social recluse, in quotidian isolation and gloom. He had rejected every visitor, who came to see him, including myself his dearest of all friends. His sullen nature and indisposition had alarmed me and made me speculate, on his well-being and mental faculties. I thought of how I could enlighten his wretched pall and distress, but he did not seem to be receptive to any convivial visitor at his estate. Thus, I abided my time and had hoped that he would recapacitate his thoughts and attempt to resume his life, without his musical endeavours. This would require indeed, a difficult recognition to acknowledge on his part. No one had tidings of him for manifold months, as he was forced to cancel his scheduled performances. He began to lose revenue and acclaim, and speculations were rampant in the newspapers of his misfortune and his life, as a crippled man. I could only fathom what it was like for him to endure the unthinkable notion of never performing, before a live audience. It must have been absolute madness to overcome so unbearably. Yet, only he knew the whole extent of his awful misery and ordeal.
One day, I had received a letter from him requesting to see me, at his home on Kalverstraat Street. I was uncertain of his swift change in behaviour and deliberation. Notwithstanding, I was extremely eager to see my old friend in person. When I arrived, one of the servants had escorted me to the parlour inside the house, where Maarten was waiting for me. I had perceived that he was contemplative in a profound meditative thought, before I entered the parlour. There was this drear and dull moroseness that had pervaded over his shadow constantly. He was seated in a fine oak chair, with his back facing me. When he finally turned around to address me, I had noticed immediately, his dishevelled and worn appearance that surprised me. At first, I did not know how to respond, so I had remained quiescent, until he uttered a startling revelation that flabbergasted me, in my intuitive expression. It was enough to ask him to repeat his words again, and he did promptly.
'Peter, it is good to see you. I have excellent tidings to give you. I found a surgeon, who had operated me!'
'What do you mean Maarten?'
'Dr Herbert Bierman had agreed to amputate my hand and replace it, with another that was perfect in condition'.
He showed me his new hand, as he had perceived my hesitance in my reaction, 'Do you not seem pleased, my friend?'
'Oh, indeed Maarten, but it is incredible to know that this unique procedure was done. How was this even possible?'
He had explained to me all the details of his operation and how successful it was, 'The surgeon was truly magnificent, in his technique and precision elaborated'.
'I must commend him then, for his remarkable accomplishment'.
He proceeded to invite me to hear him play his piano, 'Please sit my friend and listen to me play!'
I sat and heard him play and I was astonished by his unbelievable capability to master the piano once more. I applauded his effort, 'Remarkable Maarten! No one who knew you would ever notice that you had suffered a terrible accident'.
He did not want to be reminded of that haunting episode in his life and instead concentrated on his recovery, 'Now, that I have regain my ability to play, I must let the world know about my immediate return!'
There was a genuine thrill and conviction demonstrated, as the tone of his voice had intensified. I was happy for him and was eager to attend his next performance that was a concert in Paris. After I departed his home, I had returned to my own. I was confounded, by the miraculous recovery of Maarten that the pure thought of that was indeed indescribable. I had never known about a previous case of this type of surgical operation, but then again, who was I to doubt the medical advancement of recent science? The expectation of his return was what all of Amsterdam was yearning and waiting for. How he was able to perform with such a masterful display of optimal perfection again, I do not know. I had heard of several cases of unnatural phenomena ere, but this was the first I had witnessed in person of this fascinating nature. Why had Maarten not confided in me, about the contemplation of his decision, before the surgery? Nonetheless, it was an apparent success, and it was good to see him be rid of his whilom anguish and despair. I had not mentioned to any member of Amsterdam Society, about his operation and plan to return to the theatre. He had specifically made that small petition and I had agreed to adhere to that earnest request.
I had left the city for a few days to attend to a personal engagement I had in Belgium, but I was not going to be idle and miss Maarten's performance. After all, there was no event that was comparable to this exciting spectacle programmed. The local newspapers that had once written about the premature demise of Maarten's musical career had been notified of his scheduled concert beforehand. There would be this obvious reluctance in them to believe that he could play as he did before, when he had filled the halls and auditoriums of the conservatories, theatres and Opera Houses of Europe and America, with every performance of his lengthy repertoire.
The memorable night of the concert in Paris had begun with a sudden anticipation, amongst the members of the audience, who had attended. I was one of those curious members and had been seated, within the front row of the proscenium. Maarten's performance was better than expected, and he had in sooth, regained his prominent status once more. His triumph had eclipsed the uncertainty of the sceptics, who had doubted his glorious return. He was raved, by the newspapers and Parisian Society, as a genius of European prestige. He had a distinctive manner of his persona that was descriptive of his impeccable Dutch character. Afterwards, I had joined him for a drink at a reputable bar that was located, within the main thoroughfare of Paris. We passed our time there, until the late hours, when I had excused myself. The alcohol had gradually affected my cognition, and I was forced to take a cab back to my hotel. Maarten had remained behind, with his other acquaintances. My memory of that occasion at the bar was not totally pellucid or detailed for that matter. All that I had seemed to recall was the marvelous concert at the theatre.
The next morning, I was awakened by a tapping at the door. It was Maarten, who had sobered enough to wish me well on my trip back to Amsterdam. I had noticed that he was extremely fidgety, as if something had unsettled him. At the time, I did not bother to enquire, since I did not desire to inopportune him. Instead, I bid him farewell with a firm shake of the hands, until we saw each other in Amsterdam. But before I departed Paris, I had read an article in the newspaper that had mentioned a murder committed, nearby the vicinity of the bar we were at the prior night. I did not think much of the murder, except for the unusual coincidence of the location. The murder was heinous in nature, and the victim was a poor wretch, whose name had not yet been revealed to the public.
Upon my return to Amsterdam, I did not see Maarten, for several weeks. He had been travelling through Europe, whilst I had tended to my business of the promotion of my wine and vineyards. We were both busied with our endeavours and engagements. I had sent him a casual correspondence to Vienna. I had offered him to be my bidden guest at my home that I shared, with my fiancée Francis. He did not respond to my correspondence, and this was peculiar, since he was always meticulous in his actions. When I heard he had returned to the city, I went to visit him at his home. I was greeted by him at the front door. He was in the process of leaving, as I stood before him. Naturally, I asked him where he was going and he appeared to be disingenuous in his response. His mien had changed towards me, and this was swiftly noticed by my keen perception. Ever since that night in Paris, some unknown thing had altered him and our friendship completely. The inducement to that alteration was an insoluble mystery that had complicated the understanding.
I had departed his estate and returned to my home, with the growing confusion in my mind. I was worry that his behaviour would start to overshadow his tremendous accomplishments. Perhaps regaining his fame had not prepared him for the ramifications of that success. Whatever it was had disturbed his human conscience. That much I had detected in him. A week would transpire, before I saw him again. But this time it was at the front door of my home. I was in the study, when I heard a loud banging on my side window. It was Maarten, who had been banging so forcedly. When I let him entered through the window, there stood before me the terrifying image of a frightened man. His eyes were totally dilated and enlarged, with madness I had never witnessed in him. He had profuse blood on his clothing and dripping, from his right hand. He had desperately urged me to conceal him from the police, who was searching for him. I was aghast by the sight of blood and with immediacy, I asked him to tell me what had occurred. The following account is the implicit words expressed by him, with the actual veracity found in the sheer horror of his grievous actions.
'What is happening Maarten that I don’t understand anything!’
‘I don’t have time to explain, for the police will find me at once!’
‘We could speak here plainly, for I shall close the windows and shutters. But before I shall do that, I must be apprised of what you are fleeing and attempting to abscond yourself from. At least, tell me this!’
He sensed he had no other option, but to disclose the horrid truth of his direful situation. It was a truth that would shock me to the core of my troubling soul, ‘I am a murderer, but it is not I who have murdered. It is the despicable hand that wields total dominion over me. I tell you it compels me to murder at his command!’
‘Good God Maarten, what are you insinuating? Do you expect me to believe this version?’
‘It is all true Peter, the dreadful hand that was given to me murders, for its absolute satisfaction. I have murdered countless people in the European cities I have been. I abhor that gruesome reality, but I am feckless to impede its volition upon me!’
His words were more indecipherable than his unstable posture, ‘For the love of God Maarten, do you know what you have uttered to me now? When did this all begin?’
‘It all began that horrible night after the concert in Paris, when you had left me in that bar. I was walking the dark streets of the city, when suddenly the hand had commanded me to kill that poor vagabond’.
‘The one that was reported in the newspaper?’
‘Yes, precisely that same individual! I never meant to kill him I swear by the grace of God!’
‘Then it is true what you say! But how? I cannot fully comprehend this implausible story of yours. It has no logical rationale’.
He then rose his hand up, and I saw the hand tightened in a powerful clutch as it came towards me, with the imminent desire to kill me, ‘You must help me Peter, before it murders again. I don’t want to kill you, but the hand will command me to do so! You don’t understand the devilish hand!’
I was not certain what had beclouded his judgment or if these murders were deliberate actions of a conscious decision taken to murder in his part. For an instant I had that lingering doubt in me, ‘I shall allow you to hide in the cellar for now, until I can determine what to do next. However, I cannot promise you what will happen afterwards’.
‘Thank you Peter!’
I hid him in the cellar, until the police had dispersed from the area entirely. When they did, I opened the door to the cellar and Maarten was gone. He had somehow followed a passage from the cellar on to the underground conduits of the city and vanished into thin air. I had followed his path and had reached the edge of Damrak that was close to the square of Oudekerksplein. My home was on Warmoesstraat Street parallel to the river Amstel. I then managed to climb out of the underground conduit and saw Maarten running pass the narrow houses, with gable façades and Gothic architecture. He was running away from the police, who were on his rapid trail. The area was comprised of the main canals of Amsterdam and difficult to escape on foot. He had climbed the houses and leapt from roof to roof, fleeing from the police, until he was able to outwit and beguile them. In the morning the newspapers had reported that a mysterious maniac had been killing people and was being sought by the police forthwith. There was no mention at all of Maarten’s name or description. Apparently, they did not get a good look at his face or features. However for Maarten, the threat of being identified and arrested for the murders was too much to bear.
Thus, he left Amsterdam and hid outside of the country for the time being. He had gone to Ghent in Belgium to not be recognised and had disguised himself from everyone, who could possibly identify him. At my house, I was visited by a certain detective by the name of Gerhard Visser. He had come to ask me several questions that included the murder of a Mr Albert De Vries. He was the poor fellow, who supposedly was murdered by Maarten the night before. I could not fathom Maarten as the sadistic murderer that they had been seeking, but if this was the real truth, I knew I was assisting a criminal at large. I told the detective that I did not see anything out of the ordinary, and I had regretted that I had to lie to him. I could not concede the fact that my dearest friend Maarten Van der Meer was that heartless fiend. What had gone wrong for him to deviate from his wholesome nature? Could his unbelievable tale of the murdering hand be true? There were too many unanswered questions and little time afforded to distinguish the truth from falsehood.
I had received another correspondence from Maarten, this time from the city of Ghent in Belgium. His words were disconcerting and had reflected the utter desperation that was unnerving him daily. He had pleaded and begged me to visit him in Ghent, and I did. When I found Maarten he was in an abhorrent slum area of the city at night, with an unkempt appearance hiding from the police. His clothing was not that of his typical attire and predilection. Regardless of his shabby appearance, I spoke to him and had urged him to surrender himself to the local authorities. He had refused and made another request from me. One that I thought was totally of a mind non compos mentis. I saw this horrendous stare, in his eyes of natural bewilderment and apprehension. He had grabbed from inside his pocket a sharp knife and screamed at me to do the unthinkable cut off his right hand. I was speechless at first, and I did not know how to react to this precarious suggestion. Once more he begged me to cut off his right hand and after seeing the terrible anguish he was in, I walked away forever, from my dear friend Maarten Van der Meer. However, as I did that he proceeded to cut off his right hand and threw the bloody hand into the nearest canal. Then he ran from the spot, as the police had heard the stirring commotion and had arrived to investigate. When they saw me, they asked me what had transpired and if I had seen the murderer nearby. I said nothing, except that I had vaguely seen someone running on to the Riverside. They left straightaway in search of the dastard culprit.
I had returned to my hotel near the centre of the city and had pondered the harrowing encounter I had with Maarten. Never would I imagine the daunting trepidation that would manifest soon, into a dreadful consequence I would regret the day after. I could not sleep the remainder of the night, thinking where he was hiding and doing. A lamentable guilt had entered in me and caused me to cogitate the relevant significance of my refusal to help him in his extreme distress. Was I imagining all of this, as a terrible nightmare that had no justifiable explanation? If not, then my best friend was a detestable murderer!
That following morning, I awoke to a loud banging on the front door of my room at the hotel. This time, it was not Maarten who was knocking on my door, but the police that had come to speak to me, about him. In the beginning, I was startled that they even knew where to locate me. They had asked me, if I was Peter Jansen and I acknowledged that I was indeed. I was certain that they had come to arrest me or enquire, about his present whereabouts. However, they only ordered me to come with them. They did not tell me where, but I went voluntarily. There at the East side of the Citadelpark in Ghent was the inanimate body of Maarten Van der Meer hanging from a lone tree. He had taken his life and with it, the secret behind the mysterious murders as well. I was crestfallen and perplexed with his ghastly death, but I had endeavoured to remember him, for his immense talent and priceless friendship of so many years appreciated. I had received another correspondence from Maarten after his unfortunate death. The letter was written before his suicide had taken place. In the letter he described the unspeakable terror that he had been experimenting uncontrollably, with the murdering hand. I shall only share the last paragraph of that letter, out of my deep reverence for him.
From the letter of Maarten Van der Meer
I do not expect you, Peter, to understand the brutality of the murders I have committed or the nature of my greed for ultimate success. I know that what you are about to read will disturb you immensely, but you must know that the hand that was given to me had belonged to a callous murderer by the name of Adolf Van Dijk, who had been hanged a few days before my surgery. His spirit and hand did not die with the rest of his body. I know that it may seem insane to believe in this unimaginative story, but I can attest to its accuracy. For many months I have been haunted by its diabolical influence and thirst for blood. Do not judge me solely for my deplorable actions and know, although I cannot prove any of this, I know that the good lord shall forgive me for my shameful sins on this earth. Before I leave this earth at last, I shall be deemed the worse person that you have ever known by the world. I shall be called a monster. Goodbye my friend!
In the end the inexplicable murders were accredited to his name, and his reputation was forever to be ostracised and attached to these murders. Perhaps I was the only one who truly understood Maarten, but the madman that he had become, I had failed to recognise in its entirety. What if Maarten was telling the truth, about the murdering hand? Within the days that had passed I could not help but express that laden thought within me. As I was seated in my chair in the study, I began to hear a rare tapping on my window. Odd I thought, who could it be? When I rose to my feet to investigate, I saw no one standing by the window at all. There was a slight breeze, but I had opened the window and still saw no one. I took my seat and had resumed my contemplation thoroughly. Whilst I was doing that, a strange object had entered the study unbeknownst to me. It began to crawl on to my chair from behind. Suddenly, I felt a taut grasp attempting to choke me. I had grabbed the object and threw it to the ground discomposed in my reaction. Once I saw the horrific object, I had realised that it was a menacing and crawling hand. It was the morbid hand of Maarten Van Der Meer.