Polydactylism by Josh Pearce


Something big was coming down the line, some big change in Yusuf’s life. He could tell because there was a bump on the outside edge of his pinky. Like a wart, but resistant to medicines, scrapings, and liquid nitrogen. He picked at it idly and wondered what the catalyst could be this time. The changes were never frightening anymore, not after the first few times, just curious.

By lunch, the bump had grown into a discernible branch with a developing fingernail. Yusuf flexed it. The new finger curled against his palm in response. Marissa from Sales passed the breakroom and flashed him a smile. He waved with all six fingers.

Taking the train home, checking on its progress every time he turned his wrist to look at his watch. The new pinky was fully grown and a spreading growth of flesh was pushing it away from his original five fingers, being crowded out by yet another new finger. His seventh. He’d have to stop by the store and pick up some energy bars, he thought, to fuel the extra body parts.

Yusuf opened the door to his house and Samira said, “Can you watch the baby for an hour? I need to pop by the store for diapers.”

Right, the store. He’d forgotten. “Can you get energy bars, too?” He looked down. His hand had nine fingers now, the beginning of a second palm to accommodate their expanding radius, extra wrist bones to support the weight. He’d have to guess about tomorrow’s wardrobe tonight, lay out a few different options depending on how much further it progressed while he slept.

Right, the baby. That was the last big change that had caused a split in him, their decision to have a child. He’d been the one to stick around. Right now there was some version of himself walking around carefree without a family to lock him down, lucky fucker. But he hadn’t considered leaving Samira since then. Was it time to start thinking about that again? Was that the next big choice to make?

Only life-altering decisions created a split in his body. Scientists liked to talk about how every decision, no matter how small, created infinite resulting parallel universes, where the consequences of every action played out, but only big changes could affect a creature as complex as Yusuf.

Lying in bed with one hand behind his head, one hand on his stomach, and one hand on Samira’s thigh. His arm had split up to the elbow like a tree struck by lightning. Wouldn’t be able to fit any of his shirts in the morning, oh well. When he dressed for work the next day, he chose instead a wrap with lots of extra cloth and a covering kaftan. He caught a look from Marissa when he passed her desk. It’d been two years since they called things off—was she looking to get back together? That would be a tough decision to make. He’d been the one to stay faithful to Samira last time while another version of himself carried on with his coworker. Would things be different this time?

After that had ended, his other self came crawling back into bed with him as their lifelines converged onto the same path again. The usual debate over who was going to be the asshole and who the dick. Then his doppelganger spooned up close to him and over the course of three hours slowly absorbed into the skin of his back until they were one person. Not everyone came back. Some decisions veered so wildly away from his normal life that he never saw them again. Some were only a few small choices out of step, just a couple of blocks over, living a parallel life with a different family.

He didn’t have a chance to talk to Marissa that day and find out because he was called into his boss’s office just before lunch. There’d been talk of a possible transfer, with a raise, naturally. Somewhere warmer, farther from his in-laws. But the meeting was too short for good news and his body wasn’t ready for the decision anyway. His second head was coming along nicely; the mouths had separated and he had almost split the third eye from where it was undergoing mitosis like an amoeba. His head lolled to that side. The neck muscles would take another half hour or so.

Yusuf finished his work quickly. Improved typing speed with all the extra fingers. Even though he had to keep going into the bathroom to adjust the drape of his robes as his extra arms and legs came in. His chest expansion. Armchair ass like no other. At one trip, he opened his robe to find that a second penis had grown in full while he wasn’t looking. Maybe he could leave work early and get back to Samira before the split was complete. She’d enjoyed it so much last time. That was how Yusuf became a father. The one who got her pregnant was the one who stayed. The other man pulled out of a different orifice, broke away from Yusuf’s skin like peeling a scab, wiped himself off, and walked out the door to his own single life.

And again, there wasn’t enough time. He was standing on the platform, watching his train approach, when he felt the last connection give out. The robes unwrapped into two coverings, one for him, one for his other self. The train rattled down the tracks, still at speed, and Yusuf felt a hand on his shoulder. Seems like he’d have to make a decision. He closed his eyes in relief. The hand on his shoulder tightened. Maybe someone else would make the choice for him.


Josh has been published in Analog, Asimov’s, and Clarkesworld. 

Published 8/25/22