Another example of things hands can do, from North Carolina: the hands of a murdered woman take a fiery revenge. Fred T. Morgan collected this story in his 1968 book Ghost Tales of the Uwharries.
Everybody knew that Rance Bullock was a drunk and a wifebeater, but they still were shocked when, on an April morning, one of the Bullock children showed up at the home of a neighbor. With all the emotion of a robot, the little girl recited: Daddy sent me to tell you Mommy’s dead. He wants y’all to come.
The neighbors found once pretty Rose Bullock lying in a back room of the house, where Rance had carried her after allegedly finding her dead in a brush fire she’d been tending, out on some new ground they’d been clearing to plant. Her clothes were mostly burnt off, her skin–mostly from her shoulders down–was charred black, and her face and hair were dark with ashes and soot.
Well, some of the the women took over cleaning her body for burial; others took the children off to clean them up and feed them; and the menfolk stayed with Rance, who was in a continual state of the jerks. DTs, possibly; the whiskey on his breath would knock down a mule.
The preacher came by, and Rance told him he didn’t care what kind of service he held for poor Rose, as long as it was over soon, so he and “my pore little babies” could get on with living.
Some of the younger men wandered off to keep an eye on that fire, still smoldering on the new ground. They hadn’t been there long when something strange happened:
two clouds of smoke rose up from that brushpile. One was huge, and looked like a man; the other, much smaller, looked like a woman: a woman with long hair. . .
like Rose Bullock’s.
As the men watched, mesmerized, the man-thing in the smoke reached out and grabbed the small woman-thing by the throat, wringing her neck like he was killing a chicken.
That was strange.
What was stranger was that this smoky little drama was played out twice more, before their very eyes.
Suspicious–as if they hadn’t been already–the men slipped back to the house. One of them went for the sheriff, while the others told the women who were washing Rose’s pitiful remains to look for signs of bruising on her neck, which, while begrimed with smoke and soot, was not burnt.
The women had already seen marks like fingers on her neck. Her face, too, showed signs of a fearful beating.
By the time the sheriff arrived, the neighbors knew what had happened: Rance Bullock, in a drunken rage, had beaten and throttled his wife to death, then put her body on the fire in the new ground to cover the murderous marks. He hadn’t put the body on the flames exactly right, though, and the fire hadn’t burned away the evidence of his wicked deed.
The sheriff arrived, and agreed with the neighbors. Unfortunately, Rance Bullock, hung over and stubborn, kept insisting that his wife had gone out on her own in the night to tend the fire and had fallen into it, burning to death before anyone could find her.
Without more direct evidence, the sheriff refused to arrest him, and there the matter stood, for more than twenty years.
The children were taken away from their drunkard father in very short order; they were given decent raisings by neighbors and by their mother’s family. Rance Bullock, after his children were taken, wandered off and was gone for twenty years.
Throughout those twenty years, people in the area reported that, in the spring when they’d burn off logs and brush cut from new ground, that same little drama, of a giant of a man throttling a small woman, would play out in the smoke. Feelings ran so high about it that men would reverently remove their hats when it appeared, in memory of Rose.
Rance came back to the mountains, eventually; an old man now, white-haired, dirty, and still hopelessly alcoholic. He went back to the dilapidated cabin he’d shared, once, with Rose and their children–grown now, and refusing to have anything to do with their old man–, cut away the brush that had grown up to the doors and made some minor repairs, and moved in. He fished a little, farmed a little, made a little money making and selling moonshine–although, truth to tell, he drank more than he sold.
A few years after the murderer’s return, a big farming concern bought a huge plat of land along the creek. Among the acreage they bought was the Bullock farm; Rance lost the land in a delinquent-tax sale.
The farming operation brought in bulldozers and other heavy equipment and cleared the land, shoving logs and brush into mighty piles in the middle. One day, happening up on old Rance Bullock, living in his shack, they hired him to watch over one such pile as it burned.
The next morning, the nearest neighbor–one who remembered the horrifying death of Rose Bullock, so long before–stepped out onto his porch to see how the clearing of the new ground was coming along, and saw something lying on the ground beside the big fire on the old Bullock place that didn’t look like a log.
It looked like a man.
He walked down to the fireside and saw that, indeed, it was a man: Rance Bullock, his clothes burnt off, his body charred, and his face badly burned except for one eye, which was wide open and scared-looking. Whatever Rance Bullock had seen last, it had terrified him.
Around his neck were marks of burns in the shape of fingers.
By the look of it, Rance Bullock had been throttled to death by fingers of fire.
Rose had had her revenge, at long last.