Worried about going into hospital? Benn Tate wasn’t.
Until he woke from a general anaesthetic in a body he didn’t know.
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An extract from Switch
(The Lords of Misrule: a short story) By Andy Graham
A grid of shadows lay across the bed, rigid lines of moonlight that sliced the crumpled sheets into squares. Benn screwed his eyes shut and lay still, listening to his breathing.
Had it worked?
Reaching across with his left hand, he probed at the flesh around his hip. It was tender, but it didn’t hurt.
Maybe it had worked?
He opened his eyes.
Benn twitched the thin sheet to one side and pulled his knee up to his chest. He was gritting his teeth, biting back the pain that was always there. Only today, with his bare legs bathed in the bright moonlight, his hip didn’t hurt. There was a red dot on his hip where they’d injected him with this miracle compound of theirs, but otherwise he was unmarked. He took a deep breath, and, before he could change his mind, pushed himself to his feet. A momentary stumble, and he was standing: cane free, no pain. He stoodstill, reveling in the feeling.
His hip was stiff, but no more so than the other. In fact, the other one felt worse. Could body parts be jealous? Could he ever truly get rid of the pain, or would his body just shift it around until it found an anatomical corner to hibernate in?
The moon shadows both legs cast on the floor looked fine. He had a relative, a bonesetter, in the Bucket Towns (Free Towns, he reminded himself. Cousin Lenka didn’t like it when he called them Bucket Towns.), who maintained that doctors and witches both claimed to be able to read the shadows to get answers, but neither was any closer to the truth than the other.
“You can’t see pain in a picture,” she’d said, “especially not a still image like all those X-rays you’ve had.”
She was right. None of Benn’s X-rays had found anything, but this new doctor had claimed she could fix him without a single scan. Not one. Not even a cursory hip examination.
He forced his weight onto what had been his almost-as- good leg (he’d never thought calling it bad was helpful), and realised there were goosebumps prickling across his skin. He was as naked as he’d been on his wedding night. He stamped his feet against the cold; sparks fired in his toes.
The medical team had described the operation as ‘a retroviral solution that will make the butchery of conventional surgery obsolete’. That tagline had been tempting in itself, but what had sold him, snared his heart and soul, was the fishing hook of hope that he could be pain free. He was no medic or marketer (and they were two professions that should be as intimate as siblings in a brothel, in his opinion), but he wasn’t stupid. Hope and fear were the two most powerful (and ubiquitous) advertising tools under the moons. Especially where health and wealth were concerned, they appealed to the old brain, the lizard brain, and would smother reason and intellect. He’d taken a chance. Wouldn’t everyone?
What would you do if you woke up in a hospital with bars on the window, screams in the hall, and discover you’ve already been officially buried?
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