THE NEXT DAY • by Michael T Schaper

He wakes up the next day, surprised to discover that his missing thumb is back.

The doctor, who had advised Ted yesterday that she couldn’t fix the smashed digit, is even more perplexed. She’d amputated the limb just 24 hours ago, yet here it is once more. A little too pink, the nail not fully formed, but even these right themselves in the days that follow.

The regrowth hurts like hell. A whiplash thread of chilli-hot pain rushes through his hand occasionally, almost causing him to faint. It takes a long time, weeks, to fade.

When he accidentally slices the top of a toe off when mowing his lawn a year later, the same physician attends. On a hunch, she holds off surgically re-attaching the rescued piece, and is vindicated when a small nub of bone and gristle emerges within hours. Ted is too heavily sedated with painkillers to notice.

Once again he wakes up the next day to a restored limb and the feeling that his body is being burnt. Excruciating.

His doctor is silent, musing. She closes the hospital room door so they have some privacy. She’s so excited her words all come out in a rush.

Can’t you see, Ted, what you’ve got? This is amazing.

We could do so much with this, she continues. Make a huge difference to humanity — think about it. You may have just cracked the code. New body parts.

She pauses. And we could make a lot of money, you and I. Gene technology. Copyrights. I can sort it all out.

His head is dizzy with pain. Regeneration. Something that belongs to reptiles, not people. It’s too hard to take it all in, much less read the document she then proffers him. Her greed is almost palpable.

He puts the contract aside and closes his eyes.

Fine if you’re a lobster, a gecko, a salamander, he thinks. Not so good if you’re human. It can’t be as painful for them as it is for me.

She tries to convince him a few more times as he recuperates. Ted’s an only child, both parents dead, no known relatives. He is, literally, the only one of his kind. She reminds him that what he has is unique and perhaps irreplaceable.

He waves the doctor away, but that’s not the end.

Word gets out, as these things inevitably do. Gossip in the hospital corridors first, which soon migrates onto social media and then the press.

There are scientists who want to do more exhaustive tests, publish papers and share any findings for the common good. Big pharma sees the potential for its own massive profits. Religious zealots sense a divine miracle, a gift. Eugenicists want this chance to remodel the human race.

His doctor keeps Ted sedated, isolated, off limits to them all. He awakens occasionally to find she has surreptitiously been snipping off new pieces every few days. Part of an ear lobe. A fingernail, another time. Once, even an eyeball.

No matter. They all start to reappear the following day when he awakens, painful as it is.

Ted knows he can’t keep doing this anymore. Too much. He drags himself over to the window and looks out. What to do?

This is no life; it has become a mere painful existence. Then the answer is there, staring at him. He’s ten stories up.

Of course. He’s looking out from the top floor of this private hospital, where access to him — and his own movements — can be easily controlled. A prison of sorts, but he also starts to realise it can be a way to escape, if he’s brave enough.

No need to continue this anymore.

He slides open the window, pauses for a moment, then tumbles out into the cool wind. The fall is quick and the concrete paving hard as rock. His last thought is one of relief. There’ll be no more problems now, no more pain.

He wakes up the next day.

Michael T Schaper is an Australian-based writer whose works have also previously appeared in Every Day Fiction.

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