One evening, a group of college friends gathered at Louis R.'s house to drink punch, smoke, and discuss literature and art. A childhood friend of the narrator burst into the room, excitedly announcing that he had brought a skinned hand from a notorious criminal who had been executed in 1736. The hand was black and dried, with long, contracted fingers and yellow nails. The friend claimed that the hand had belonged to a man who had committed numerous crimes, including throwing his wife into a well and hanging a priest.
The group joked about the hand, with one suggesting it should be used as a bell handle to scare away creditors. Another advised giving it a Christian burial to avoid any potential supernatural consequences. The hand was eventually hung on the bedroom bell of the friend who had brought it.
The next day, the narrator visited his friend and found him reading and smoking. The friend mentioned that someone had tried to play a prank on him by ringing his doorbell at midnight, but he had simply gone back to sleep. Later, the landlord demanded that the hand be removed from the bell handle, so the friend moved it to his bedroom.
That night, the narrator had trouble sleeping and was startled awake by a knock at his door. It was his friend's servant, who informed him that his friend had been attacked and was in critical condition. The narrator rushed to his friend's house, where he found him unconscious with deep finger marks on his throat. The skinned hand had disappeared.
The friend eventually regained consciousness but was left insane, haunted by the specter of the hand. He died after a violent episode in which he claimed the hand was strangling him.
Take it! Take it! He is strangling me! Help! Help!
The narrator accompanied his friend's body to his hometown in Normandy for burial. While digging the grave, the gravediggers discovered a coffin containing a tall skeleton with a severed hand. The priest instructed them to leave the dead in peace and dig a new grave for the friend.
Leave the dead in peace, and close that coffin again.
The next day, the friend was buried, and the narrator returned to Paris, leaving money with the priest for masses to be said for the soul of the man whose grave they had disturbed.