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I heard this on the radio in the UK in the '90s, probably BBC R4. It was partly dramatised, aired on Hallowe'en, and is likely to have been adapted from a written short story. It was set in the past, probably within the last 500 years. I think it counts as (low) fantasy because it was based around a magic-style curse that had real effects.

The two main characters were women and there may have been some kind of rivalry between them. One of them was troubled by a recurring nightmare in which the second walked around her, taunting her and pointing with a withered arm. Eventually the first lost her temper and verbally lashed out, in one of the dreams, cursing the second and specifically cursing her arm.

The second character knew nothing of the dreams, but her arm started to wither in real life and she sought medical help. Someone determined that she'd been cursed and recommended reversing the curse by holding the arm against the neck of a corpse "until the blood turns". She did so with the help of a sexton, who later commented that she "didn't seem the type" for blood-turning. The conclusion, which might have been narrated by the sexton, went something like "The blood turned alright - she died".

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This sounds very much like "The Withered Arm", a classic horror short story by Thomas Hardy.

As in the question, the two main characters are women, Gertrude and Rhoda. Gertrude marries a young farmer with whom Rhoda was in love. Maddened by her rejection, Rhoda "visits the young wife in her dreams", and

Gasping for breath, Rhoda, in a last desperate effort, swung out her right hand, seized the confronting spectre by its obtrusive left arm, and whirled it backward to the floor, starting up herself as she did so with a low cry.

The result is that Gertrude's arm begins to wither. After some years in desperation she visits a conjurer (rather than a sexton), who tells her of the cure called "blood turning":

There is only one chance of doing it known to me. It has never failed in kindred afflictions - that I can declare. But it is hard to carry out, and especially for a woman.'

'Tell me!' said she.

'You must touch with the limb the neck of a man who's been hanged.'

She started a little at the image he had raised.

'Before he's cold - just after he's cut down,' continued the conjuror impassively.

'How can that do good?'

'It will turn the blood and change the constitution.

Her blood "turned too far" though, and the woman dies three days later.

A complete text is available here (thank you to John Rennie). It has been dramatised on Radio 4 a few times, although the earliest instance I can find was from 2006.

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  • Thanks, that's the one. Looks like what I thought was a sexton was the hangman, I remembered that he worked with the dead. Presumably some other details were changed to give the characters more dialogue, but it's the same story. Aug 26, 2021 at 9:27

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