Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Suspense and Terror


The third of four brief little musings -- variations on a theme. Namely: a ring that grants the user one very special wish.
And this week, a gambler's luck may run out on the operating table, but he has one last card to play. But be careful, Fernando! You know the old medical joke "the operation was a success, but the patient died"?...


The Ring Quartet:
"Gambler's Odds"


By "Terrible" Talbot Pratt

Fernando Rodriguez lay back on the cold slab of the operating table and squinted his eyes against the glare of the overhead lights. Around him doctors and nurses, dressed in hospital green, moved with professional organization. Murderers all.

Well, perhaps not all. But certainly the doctor. Fernando had seen him talking with the man in the dark glasses. Had seen the money change hands. He knew he was a marked man. One lousy game, 40 000 down and before you know it you’re marked. They had to make an example of him. Oh, nothing suspicious. But to anyone in the circuit, the meaning would be clear. See Fernando. He didn’t pay. Naughty Fernando.

He wondered how they would do it. Not enough oxygen? Not enough blood? Certainly something minor. After all, he was only in for minor surgery. Removal of the appendix. Not like a heart transplant or anything.

It was interesting to speculate like a disinterested third party. Since, in truth, that was what he was…or was soon to be one.

Once more he rubbed the ruby ring which he held hidden beneath the sheets. Let them do their worst. This ring was his ticket to freedom. “Body exchange” was the expression Miguel had used. Their meeting down in Mexico had been the answer to a prayer. Miguel had sold it to him for a few hundred. Not bad for a new lease on life. Just say the name while holding the ring and you switch bodies. Oh, sure, it was incredible. But, then, there are a lot of incredible things in Mexico. And Miguel had never steered him wrong yet.

Even better, the effects need not be permanent. Only if one body should perish, that was what Miguel had said. So, if they did kill him on the table, he would be safe and free. If they didn’t, he would automatically return to his original body after a few hours. Who could ask for anything more?

It was really too bad that he didn’t know the names of his “hunters”. It would have been fitting to exchange with one of them. But on the circuit you didn’t use names -- at least, not if you wanted to walk away.

He had considered exchanging bodies with the doctor, but that would be tantamount to personally destroying his own body. He couldn’t do that. Not while there was the slightest chance of being wrong. No, Raoul would have to do.

Raoul had always been the black sheep of the family. While everyone else was busy gambling, drinking and generally looking out for number one, Raoul was going to university. Pathetic really. He was neither smart enough, nor ambitious enough, to make anything of himself by that route. But he always said, “I want to leave my mark upon the world.” Not so with Fernando. He didn’t intend to leave the world anything. Generosity wasn’t his line. But survival definitely was. And what better body to survive in than that of his brother?

“All right. We’re just going to put on a little mask,” said the doctor, far too cheerfully. “It may smell a bit but I want you to breath easily. Here we go.”

Even before the mask was over his face, Fernando felt his head begin to spin. Frantically he grasped the ring in his numb fist and shouted, “Raoul!”

Ten hours later, he was disturbed at dinner by the phone.

“Raoul Rodriguez?” asked a voice on the other end.

“Yes,” he replied, after only a slight hesitation. “This is…he.”

“I’m afraid that I have some very unfortunate news for you.”

This was it.

“Your brother, Fernando, went into hospital to have his appendix removed. Um, I’m afraid that he had some complications. He died on the operating table.”

“My God,” gasped Raoul, in apparent shock.

“I know. It was terribly tragic. We did everything we could. I’m sorry. If there’s anything we can…”

“No,” Raoul said. “No. I’ll be all right.”

“If it’s any comfort, it was very fortunate that he died on the operating table. With all the equipment on hand.”

“The equipment?” Raoul asked, suddenly white with horror.

“Yes, it’s amazing what we can do with the right equipment.”

Raoul was silent, trembling. Terrified of asking what he had to ask.

“My brother?” he stammered. “You did say he was dead, didn’t you?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“And he’s still dead?”

“Why, of course. There was no doubt.”

“I just wanted to make sure,” said Raoul, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

“I quite understand. But have no fear: we would never take anything if there was even the remotest possibility…”

“Take anything?!”

"Why, yes. You knew that he had dedicated his organs to medicine five years ago?”

“I had forgotten,” mumbled Raoul, dazedly.

“Oh, yes. He now lives on in the bodies of the needy. Terribly generous, don’t you think, Mr. Rodriguez?…Mr. Rodriguez?…”

The End

Table of ContentsPulp and Dagger icon

 The story is copyright the author. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)