portion of the artwork for Matt Getty's fiction

A Translation from ‘The Chronicles of the Fingers
of Your Left Hand’

Matt Getty

Translator’s Note: More than a century after its discovery, The Chronicles of the Fingers of Your Left Hand remains one of the most controversial of all ancient texts. Some claim that it is the world’s oldest known “manuscript,” relating as it were tales that presume to predate human consciousness, while others denounce it as an intricate hoax. For my own part, I can say that I have sufficiently studied the chronicles—in both the original manuscript and numerous multi-varied translations—to conclude that any answers to the question of their authenticity are as irrelevant as they are confounding.

First, it’s important to note that the manuscript itself is rife with challenges and contradictions. If the collection of tales were truly written by and about fingers during an era in which the human body represents the entirety of the known world, how then could these tales have even been recorded? From where, some still ask, did the materials for the manuscript come? Setting aside this conundrum, one next encounters the problem of the “text” itself. Composed entirely of a series of what appear to be partial fingerprints rotated at various angles, the “writing” frustrated translators for decades, and many of today’s best bodily scholars maintain that the language of the body is still largely misunderstood.

In my pursuit of a definitive translation of “The Ring of Moonlight,” therefore, I have made a careful study of all previous translations and noted every inconsistency. I have only attempted to reconcile these inconsistencies where there is overwhelming agreement among the majority of bodily scholars and my own translation. Certain facts, such as the exact gender of the index finger, the true nature of the thumb’s origins, and the birth of the fingers themselves, remain hotly debated, and as such I have left them inconclusive in my translation.

In other areas, however, I have taken the liberty of integrating explanatory passages to help readers more comfortably inhabit this world—or, I suppose I should say, this body. Accounts of the the differences between the current and former names of the fingers, for instance, are wholly mine.

Such attempts to comfort the reader, however, can only go so far. Any reasonable reader could no doubt raise dozens of questions that would easily threaten to unravel most if not all of the tales chronicled in the manuscript: Are we to believe that the fingers were truly once free to independently roam about the body? How could any parts of the body, save the mouth, communicate? Do fingers truly feel love?

I can offer you no answers to such questions, though bodily scholars continue to research them. But I do hope to offer you a translation that will render such questions moot, and allow you to feel—as I now do—that the true authenticity of this manuscript has little to do with factual accuracy.

—M.G.


The Ring of Moonlight

Long before the tyranny of the hand, in the days when the fingers roamed free, the middle and ring fingers were deeply in love.

Their names, of course, were different then. After all, “middle” meant nothing to fingers before the hand had established order, and rings, though highly valued, were no more likely to adorn one finger than any other. The finger we now know as “Middle” was then called “Strindo,” which loosely translates to “strong of bone” in the body’s ancient language. The ring finger went by “Wigland,” a name that meant either “standing wind” or “the point of wishing,” depending on the dialect and anatomical region.

From shoulder to knee, heel to chin, everywhere Strindo roamed, Wigland was there, and everywhere Wigland roamed, there was Strindo. This, of course, stirred some jealousy among the other fingers, who lived mostly solitary lives. But none looked on the couple as bitterly as the loneliest of them, the misshapen Thumb, whose name, like the devil’s, has always been the same.

And so it was that on one moonlit night Thumb hatched a plan and offered Wigland a gift. “I can give you a ring more beautiful than any other,” said Thumb to Wigland.

Wigland and Strindo were standing in the grotto of the navel. After enjoying a quiet stroll across the soft flesh of the belly, they had been staring up wistfully at the full moon, their knuckles gently touching. “What ring is this?” asked Wigland, half turning toward Thumb.

Strindo stiffened. Thumb, he knew, was not to be trusted. Grossly unlike his brethren fingers, the pudgy dwarf was seen by the others as an obscenity. Decorum, in fact, demanded that no finger look upon Thumb standing straight up, so unnatural was the mere sight.

Strindo also knew of Wigland’s weakness. Beautiful though she was, an awkwardness haunted her every movement, clung to every bend of her knuckles. What others saw as mystery and refinement, Wigland regarded in herself as clumsiness, a secret shame. And every shame, Strindo knew, no matter how guarded, was clear as nail enamel to Thumb.

“Do not listen to him,” Strindo warned Wigland. “Keep your eyes on the moon, my love. You need no ring to be the fairest of all fingers.”

“Ah, but this ring is magical,” hissed Thumb. He trundled closer to the couple, creeping around between them and the moon. “This ring is made of the moon itself,” he continued. “This ring is light in the darkness, a ring of light that brings grace and poise to its wearer’s every move.”

Wigland couldn’t help but glance down in Thumb’s direction. For a moment she caught sight of him, a strange, lumpy moonlit silhouette, more like a toe than a finger, such a strange sight here in the land of the belly, since the toes had never lived outside their sacred tribe, which we now call the foot. Some, in fact, have long held that Thumb was himself an ancient escaped toe, a refugee yearning for the fingers’ freedoms—but that is a tale for another time.

Wigland gasped at the sight of Thumb but did not immediately look away. She inched closer to Strindo, leaning into his strength. The tallest of the fingers, Strindo was naturally revered by all for his power and goodness. His fully erect posture, in fact, was regarded as a sign of approval, an indication that all was right with the world.

For Wigland, Strindo meant even more. Feeling him there beside her, his rigid dependability, his straight, solid height pointing always into the heavens—it reassured her, made her feel as if she need no grace so long as she could lean into her love, stand knuckle to knuckle against the world and all its temptations.

With that, she found the strength to turn away from Thumb, making her revulsion clear with a shudder.

“I’m sorry to have offended you with my visage,” Thumb said. “I can see you two want to be left alone in your companionship. I will take this ring to another. Perhaps … Wighyn will be interested.”

Wighyn, Thumb knew, was Wigland’s younger—and some thought fairer—sister. Known today as “Pinky,” she was the slimmest of all the fingers and the shortest, save for Thumb.

Wigland flexed at the sound of her sister’s name, bending forward slightly almost as if the wind had been knocked out of her.

“No,” whispered Strindo, straightening taller, keeping his gaze on the moon. “Don’t listen to him, Wigland. This is nothing but another one of his tricks.”

But Wigland could not help herself. Whether it was out of jealousy, the urge to protect a younger sister, or the fact that there is so often little difference between the two, Wigland stopped Thumb from leaving. “No,” she said, looking down at a patch of downy stomach hair beneath her. “You’re not disturbing us. I am interested in this gift.”

“Come closer then,” Thumb said, “and I’ll give it to you.” Arching backwards like a deformed contortionist, he beckoned her forward.

Wigland stepped away from Strindo. She looked down and came close enough to Thumb to see his hunched moon shadow dapple the flesh north of the navel.

Strindo sighed, but he stayed where he was. He could not bring himself to look upon Thumb. For a moment the three of them stood still, said nothing. Somewhere in the distance a hiccough echoed into the night.

“What must I do?” asked Wigland.

“Simple,” whispered Thumb. “All you need do is look at me.”

“Don’t,” Strindo begged, but Wigland ignored him.

She stepped closer to Thumb, entering his shadow, still looking down to avoid gazing at him directly. Then she took a deep breath and raised her tip to face him.

Thumb laughed and arched back toward the moon. His form bent almost parallel to the body, moving in a way Wigland knew no finger should, looking so unnatural she couldn’t help but gag. But still she watched him, and as he pointed straight back at the distant moon, its white light enveloped him.

The air seemed to hum with an electric charge, the feel of some ancient magic or evil crackling all around. Thumb’s laughter rose to a roar. His body eclipsed the center of the small and distant moon. The outer circle of its light surrounded him, and—Wigland couldn’t be sure, but yes—that light then slipped loose somehow and slid down over Thumb. Now a glowing ring of moonlight, it glided over Thumb’s tip and nail, slithered down and came to rest just beneath his knuckle.

“It’s beautiful!” Wigland gasped. Seeing how its radiance veiled even Thumb’s hideous form in a halo of beauty, Wigland wanted that ring more than ever.

“And it’s yours,” said Thumb, sensing her desire. “For just one kiss.”

“No!” shouted Strindo, but he did not turn. He did not look.

And Wigland did not listen. She moved forward as if in a trance, watching the moonlight wash over Thumb in steady pulses. Strindo may have shouted again, may have called out a hundred times, but she did not hear as she crept closer and closer to Thumb, the glow now lighting her, as she leaned in and brought the face of her tip gently against his.

Whatever seemed to have been humming or crackling in the air clapped suddenly like thunder, and the ring of moonlight rose up over Thumb’s knuckle. Another rumble in the air, and it rose up over Thumb’s nail bed, its light now spilling out onto Wigland like a crown. She shuddered at the next roll of thunder—or perhaps it was a distant sneeze—but kept herself pressed to Thumb as the ring slipped from him onto her and slid down beneath her knuckle.

She pulled away and stood. She looked down at the ring, gazed at its beams stretching out all around her. Then she looked back toward her mate. “Strindo,” she called. “Look at me. It’s beautiful.”

Strindo finally turned. With Wigland now blocking Thumb, he could face her fully. He drank in her new radiance, felt the joy that burned all around her, and he relaxed. He could see in her a new balance, a confidence, and he was—for a moment—truly happy for his love.

“You look dazzling, my dear finger,” he said, bowing theatrically before her.

Wigland rushed toward him, but before she could cross south of the navel, before she could lean her distal tip against his middle phalanx, feel his knuckle against hers, she froze, lurched backward.

Thumb laughed.

“What is this?” Strindo asked, stepping toward her. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I … I can’t move.”

Again Thumb laughed. But this time he also flicked his tip backward.

Wigland lurched back with a start. Thumb flicked backward again. Wigland stumbled toward him with a yelp as if pulled by an invisible chain.

“What’s happening?” Wigland asked in a panic.

“What have you done?” said Strindo. He leaned to the side to address Thumb, but looked down as soon as he glimpsed him standing behind Wigland.

“Done?” said Thumb, playing the innocent while Wigland struggled to move, shaking and crying out. “You mean, what have I given? I have only given Wigland what she wanted. Balance, poise, perfection of motion. These things only come when one is bound to another—just like the moon is bound to the body.” He turned and looked up to the moon still hanging in the night sky behind him.

“Enough of your riddles,” Strindo spat. “Speak plainly. What have you done to her?” He stepped forward to comfort Wigland, but with a flick, Thumb jerked her away without touching her.

“Wigland wanted what the moon has,” said Thumb. “Poise, balance, perfection. And now she has all of that. But the moon also has a bond. That is what guides its orbit, steers its perfect motion. From this day forward, that ring binds her to me as surely as the moon is bound to the body.”

Wigland tried to wriggle out of the ring, but it was no use. It was sealed around her by some unseen power, by this dark pact into which she had stumbled.

“Now, come!” Thumb growled. He turned and trudged off toward the northern regions beyond the stomach.

Wigland struggled, turning and twisting, but she followed as if dragged by an unseen leash.

Strindo dropped to his knuckle and cried out in hopeless anger. Wigland, still facing him, called back for help, for forgiveness, and for love as she disappeared with Thumb.

#

Strindo tried to track them in the days that followed, but Thumb was tireless. Even dragging Wigland, he stayed always a body part ahead until he crossed the neck into the region of the head.

Strindo stopped at the clavicle. He shuddered as he watched Wigland and Thumb disappear over the mount of the chin.

The head has always been regarded as a realm of mysticism, but in the body’s early days it was feared outright. All knew that none could tread on the face without invitation, but few, if any, ever sought passage in the first place. Traveling hairs told tales of the strange all-knowing twin eyes, the bottomless pit of the mouth, the nose’s dark caverns. Rumors grew of how all creatures in the kingdom of the face somehow shared thoughts in secret congress. South of the shoulders, these tales and rumors grew into legends, and in the time before the hand, no finger save Thumb—a known associate of the nose and mouth—dared venture north of the chin.

So it was that Strindo retreated and headed south, growing angrier over his powerlessness with each step. For some time, he wandered the body, a lost lone traveler. And those whom he passed during his journey—the elbow, the knee, various moles and freckles—spoke of a changed finger.

Time molded his loneliness into bitterness, and bitterness hardened his strength into indignation. His long, looming form still signaled all was right, but in a way that now almost seemed to attack anything that was wrong. There were rumors, in fact, that during this time he flicked a scab clear off the body’s back, shouting, “Out, blemish!” and then trudging onward, always onward.

No matter where his travels took him, however, Strindo always circled back to the same place. He greeted each dusk at the clavicle. Pacing the southern border of the neck, he stared up at the chin nightly, waiting for the moon to rise and always mistaking its first beams of light for some sign of Wigland and the ring.

Then one night he was sure he heard her voice.

“Why do you throw your life away?” it asked him, coming surprisingly from off to the right.

He turned and saw not Wigland but her younger sister, Wighyn, standing on the shoulder, her narrow little form nearly hidden in the head’s shadow.

“Oh, I thought for a second you were …” Strindo began.

“She would ask the same question,” Wighyn said. “Your wanderings are as fruitless as Trandor’s quest.” (The phrase “Trandor’s quest” had become common shorthand among the body’s inhabitants for a fool’s errand ever since Trandor—the pointer finger, whose original name meant “true path”—disappeared, seeking a world beyond the body. Though Trandor would one day return, the phrase would remain, since this attempt to gain fame would lead all to look with keen interest not upon the returned hero, but always only where Trandor was pointing.)

“But I can’t give up on her,” Strindo said.

“So why not venture into the headlands?”

Strindo said nothing. Righteous as he was, he knew he couldn’t break code and venture past the chin, just as he couldn’t bring himself to look directly at Thumb the night he snatched away his love. He was stuck, and it made him seethe with anger. What use was being good and right if it stood in the way of helping the finger he loved?

“What if Thumb would grant you passage?” Wighyn pressed. She stepped closer, slowly coming out of the head’s shadow.

“He cannot,” said Strindo. “Only one of its denizens can grant passage.”

“And if that could be arranged …?” a voice called from beyond the neck.

Strindo and Wighyn turned toward the voice and saw Thumb standing bold and proud on the horizon of the chin. They both looked away reflexively as Thumb went on:

“You wish to win your love back, and I can offer you a way. A contest.”

“What contest?” asked Strindo.

“First, the terms,” said Thumb. “Should you win, you can have all that is mine—which means Wigland would be bonded to you—and I get all that is yours. Your loneliness, your burden. Should I win, I keep what is mine, you will be banished to the lands south of the knee, and Wighyn will be mine as well.”

Strindo turned back to Wighyn. She looked so delicate and childlike that the thought of turning her over to Thumb disgusted him. But before he could say “no,” she spoke up.

“And what is the contest?” Wighyn asked.

“A wrestling match,” said Thumb.

“We accept,” called Wighyn.

Strindo tried to protest, but he choked on his words. And as he struggled to make a sound, Thumb rushed forward with the arrangements.

"Excellent," he announced. "Mouth, please make the invitation and provide our guest with the rules of this contest."

The flesh beneath Strindo and Wighyn shuddered as Mouth’s booming voice echoed all around: "Strindo, I grant you passage into the headlands for the sole purpose of a wrestling contest with Thumb. Should you win, all that is his will be yours and all that is yours his. Should you lose, then Wighyn also will be bound to him, and you will be forever banished in the outer wastes of the shin."

Strindo gave Wighyn one last look before he crossed the neck and mounted the chin. "How can I defeat what I can’t even look upon?" he asked.

"Have faith," said Wighyn. "You will find a way."

#

The exact nature of what happened next in the headlands remains a mystery. The details of the wrestling match are a matter of great dispute since the only witnesses were the denizens of the face, who speak to none below the neck save Thumb; the duplicitous Thumb himself, whose word could never be trusted; and Strindo and Wigland, who to this day refuse to speak of what transpired there.

We do know that the rules of the contest held that the winner would be the first finger to pin the other to the face for a count of three. We do know that the eyes served as judges, wordlessly relating what they saw to the mouth, who made the count. And we do know who won.

Some say that Thumb established his dominance early. An experienced wrestler known to have defeated toes and even an entire foot during his journeys south of the knee, he was possessed of a strength that far outstripped his size. However, it is more likely that Thumb gained the initial edge because Strindo refused to look at him. Thumb, no doubt, pressed this advantage with all his might, flicking himself again and again against a blind Strindo, bending him forward at the knuckle until his tip touched the cheek.

So it was that standing on the edge of the neck just moments after Strindo disappeared over the chin, Wighyn heard the mouth thunder out, “One … two …”

But she did not hear “three.”

Something happened between “two” and “three” that shifted the balance of the match. Some say Strindo stiffened with rage, horrified at how close he had come to losing Wigland forever and allowing Wighyn to fall under Thumb as well. Some say Strindo spotted a weakness in Thumb's strategy, a feint he read and turned to his advantage, a gap in Thumb’s defenses. And still others say that Thumb let up, growing over-confident, delaying the end of the contest to savor his victory or perhaps for some darker purpose.

But the more likely answer is that Strindo did something that he had heretofore been unwilling to do. He looked at Thumb. Perhaps realizing that decorum had gotten him nothing and nearly lost him everything, Strindo turned on Thumb, pushing himself erect and staring directly at his opponent, springing on him with full sight and with the full power of his long frame, pinning Thumb nail-down against the mouth’s upper lip.

Wighyn heard a slightly muffled “one,” a slightly muffled “two,” and then, holding her breath, she heard “three.”

A moment later she saw Strindo standing triumphant atop the chin with Wigland just behind. Wighyn breathed a sigh of relief—but only for a moment before revulsion gripped her and she turned away. Strindo, confused, turned to Wigland seeking an answer, wondering why her sister averted her gaze. But Wigland, too, turned away from him.

“What is it?” Strindo asked. “Why do you fear to look upon me? What is the matter?”

“Nothing is the matter,” called Thumb, striding forward and standing with a new confidence, bold, assured, pointing straight up to the sky. “Everything is A-OK.”

Wigland and Wighyn looked at Thumb, and when they saw his perfectly rounded tip cast against the sky, they couldn’t remember what they had found so disturbing about his appearance. He looked exactly the same, was still short and a bit pudgy, but suddenly they couldn’t recall why they had once been compelled to look away from so bold a figure.

“What are you doing?” Strindo asked them both. “I did what I had to do, but, please, don’t you … you can’t look upon him so brazenly …”

But even as Strindo said this, he trailed off, realizing that he too was now looking at Thumb, no longer fighting an urge to look away but feeling as if Thumb’s declaration was true, as if all was right with the world—though he knew something was terribly wrong.

“What have you done?” asked Strindo.

“What have I done?” laughed Thumb. “No, no, dear friend, the question is ‘What have you done?’ You have won the contest, and now, as I said, all that was mine is yours, and all that was yours is mine. So Wigland is now—by the ring of the moon—bonded to you, but you also possess all those qualities that once belonged to me, and I possess all those that belonged to you.”

Strindo looked at Wigland. She was still twisting her tip away from him and looking at Thumb. “Is this true, my love?” Strindo asked.

Thumb laughed, but Strindo and Wigland paid him no attention. Instead, Wigland stepped toward Strindo, the moon beams from her ring bathing his knuckle white.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m sorry, but it is now with you as it was with Thumb. I want to look at you, my dear, but I cannot. There is something … wrong about you standing tall as you are now. I don’t know why, but—”

“But you can come with me? The ring? It no longer pulls you toward Thumb?”

“No. It pulls me toward you.”

“Then come here, my love.”

Wigland strode forward into the chin’s cleft and took her place by Strindo’s side. They did not look at each other, but she leaned against his knuckle, felt his strength as he felt her love and the warmth of the ring. They knew exactly what had happened, understood that the change was permanent.

And it was. For years afterward, when Strindo and Wigland roamed the body, every finger they met would turn away from Strindo. The ring of moonlight would fade over time, but its power never weakened; the pair would remain bonded, living ever after side by side. Even after the coming of the hand, when the fingers lost their carefree license to wander, Wigland would become the primary wearer of rings, though Wighyn—perhaps out of jealously, admiration of an older sister, or the fact that there is often little difference between the two—would don a ring often enough to inspire a style bearing her new name.

And even after the hand established its reign, Thumb would remain the one finger that all could face. Strindo, standing on his own, would become—as you surely know today—an abomination, while Thumb’s power of standing for approval would grow strong enough to force all other fingers to bow when he declared anything “A-OK.” Some, in fact, even believe that Thumb knew his power would increase with the coming of the hand and that all of this was his first step in ensnaring the fingers in the hand’s grip—but that, too, is a tale for another time.

For now, all that mattered was that as Strindo stood on the chin, he knew exactly what had happened, knew that it could never be undone.

“What have you to say for yourself now?” spat Thumb. “So tall and proud, the righteous leader of all the fingers, always judging, always deciding what’s OK and what is not. Now that power is mine, and your strength has turned crude, your height obscene. Now you will know how it feels to be reviled.”

Strindo moved to the edge of the chin with Wigland by his side. They looked down at Wighyn standing on the neck’s edge and then turned back to Thumb. In a moment they would climb backwards down the chin, their bond supporting each of them, making the climb easier, safer. But first Strindo answered Thumb’s question.

“What I have to say for myself is this,” he said. “I do not care. You have won nothing because I …” He looked at Wigland and did not falter even as she twisted away. “Because I have everything.”

And deep in the cartilage between the bones of his knuckle, Strindo knew that he was right, and though he never again spoke of the wrestling match, he never mourned its outcome, which to this day binds Wigland to him and him to Wigland.

Even if the match were somehow the first gambit in Thumb’s conspiracy with the hand, even if it unseated Strindo from his place as leader of the fingers, Strindo never regretted it. And if you doubt that, all you need do is study your hand. Though the ring of the moon’s gleam has long withered, you can still see its echo, a memory that lives forever in Strindo, or Middle Finger as we call him today. Just place your hand palm down, and whenever Wigland, or Ring Finger as she’s now known, attempts to move backwards as she did when she climbed down the chin with Strindo that night, you will feel or even see Strindo’s everlasting desire to move with her, to stay by her side, always, no matter what the cost.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 44 | Fall 2014