You are here Home page > OTHER GREAT SCIENCE-FICTION STORIES > "The Wishes We Make" (1943) by E. Mayne Hull
Published 27 April 2013

"The Wishes We Make" (1943) by E. Mayne Hull

A genie suddenly appears before a condemned man in his death cell and offers him not just one wish but six - what is the problem? you might ask. Well, avoiding one’s destiny is not as easy as it sounds, as this quite brilliant and very amusing golden-age tale with the most sombre of overtones, first published in the June 1943 issue of Unknown Worlds, shows us.

Its author, Edna Mayne Hull was born and brought up in Manitoba, Canada, as was her husband, our favourite science-fiction writer A. E. van Vogt.

There is an interesting comment on her upbringing in her biographical notice on the cover of the 1948 anthology Out of the Unknown [1]: "Edna Mayne Hull is the daughter of J.T. Hull, Canadian economist, editor and Wheat Pool executive. Her father’s idea for bringing up children was to let his six youngsters read at will in one of the largest private libraries in Western Canada. Then when they expressed an opinion, he would take the opposite viewpoint. Result: fireworks."

Another extremely interesting comment in that biographical notice is about her role in A.E. van Vogt’s literary activities: "Mayne", as she is called, has worked on virtually every story written by her husband since their marriage [2]". Many thanks, Edna Mayne!


e-book versions of the story are available for downloading below.

THE WISHES WE MAKE

"I THEREFORE SENTENCE YOU, WILLIAM KENNIJAHN — two months from this date — to be hanged by the neck until you are dead. May God have mercy on your soul."
For a month and three weeks now, Kennijahn had poured an almost unceasing stream of vituperation at the walls of the death cell, at any turnkeys who came near him, at the judge who had delivered the sentence, at the whole human race.
"You’ve run into one of those miserable periods," his lawyer, Clissold, told him, "when the people are on a moral warpath. The bare suggestion of commutation made in the press the other day brought a thousand howling letters about a law for the rich and a law for the poor. It’s unfortunate that the State proved so conclusively that you murdered your partner, Harmsworth, when he threatened to expose that stock swindle."
The lawyer shrugged helplessly. "I’ve been offering money right and left, vainly. And when a politician is cold to money, it’s like the end of the world. Frankly, Bill, you’re sunk. I’ll keep on trying to the last hour, but there’s an inevitability about it all now that’s final." He stood up. "I don’t think I’ll come to see you again unless I have something to report. Good-bye."
Kennijahn was only dimly aware of the tall, thin figure being escorted out. Nine days, he was thinking, nine short days! His mind twisted off into uncontrollable fury. When the passion final­ly wearied him, he looked up—the creature was standing before him.
The creature regarded him intently from its one gleaming red eve, its fantastic black body twisted curiously, as if that half-human shape was but a part of its form, the remaining portion being somehow out of sight.
Kennijahn blinked at it. He was not afraid, only astounded. He expected it to go away if he shut his eyes, then opened them rapidly. He thought of it as a mind distortion that had somehow synchronized into his vision. After a moment, however, it was still there. Amazingly, then, it said:
"Oh ! You didn’t call me purposely. You don’t know the method. Very well—have your wishes and release me."
Kennijahn’s mind was away in the rear. "Call you!" he said. "Call you!" A spasm of horror jerked him erect on his bunk. "Get away from me," he yelled. "What in hell’s name are you? What—" He stopped, horror fading before the matter-of-fact way the creature was regarding him.
"Certainly, you called me," it said. "You shaped a thought pattern—apparently, you didn’t know what it was or how to do it again. But it created a strain in space, and plummetted me into your presence. By the ancient Hyernetic law, I must give you your wishes, whereupon I will be released to return whence I came."
For a long second, Kennijahn’s mind held hard on the idea of the thought pattern that could have produced such a monstrosity. He shivered a little with the memory of his fury, but nothing came clear. He gave it up and, because his mind was basically quick on the uptake, his own black destiny receded fractionally from the forefront of his thoughts, and yielded to the tremendous meaning of one word.
"Wishes!" he said. "You mean, I can wish?"
"One is the principle," said the monster, "two is the word. The monad is Bohas; the duad is Jakin. The triad is formed by union, which is doubled by ignorance to become a sesad." The thing finished, "Six wishes."

"One is the principle, two is the word. The monad is Bohas; the duad is Jakin. The triad is formed by union, which is doubled by ignorance to become a sesad. Six wishes."

"Six wishes?" Kennijahn echoed, his voice sounding crazily queer in his own ears. He almost whispered, "About—anything?"
"Within the limits set by the Fates, of course. So have your wishes and—"
"Wait a minute, wait a minute." Kennijahn put up his hand as if he would ward off the words. "You’re not doing this because you want to do it. You have to."
The thing nodded a little curtly. "Have to."
"You’re a demon?" Kennijahn spoke with gathering interest.
"I’m a Drdr."
"A what?" The thing only looked at him. Kennijahn went on, "You say, take my wishes. Do you mean I’ve got to take six wishes all at once?"
The Drdr looked almost sullen. "No."
"It makes no difference how long I take?"
"No difference. But if you hurry, I can return from whence I came."
"Thanks for the information." Kennijahn spoke dryly. Then he frowned. He said sharply, "What do you mean, limits set by the Fates?"
"Your destiny cannot be changed."
Some of the high hope trickled out of Kennijahn. "Destiny?" he echoed hollowly.
"Every man," said the creature, "has his predestined fate. It is inexorable, and in your case the situation is that wishes will do you no good. You are doomed to die by hanging."
Kennijahn took the tremendous shock of the words with scarcely more than a shudder. He said incredulously, "Suppose I were to wish myself in Buenos Aires, a prosperous-looking American busi­nessman from the States. You mean to tell me that I will hang here in this prison next week regardless?"
"Not necessarily here, or next week. Is that your first wish?"
"You can actually do it?"
The great, blazing eye stared at him unwinkingly; and suddenly the ultimate thrill of this opportunity came to Kennijahn, that this was real, no nightmare, no phantasmagoria, nothing but won­drous truth. Six wishes! Good God, six! Why with six wishes he could grab the whole earth. And what did it matter if a hun­dred years hence his destiny caught up with him? First of all, then, get out of this hell hole. And where else but Buenos Aires, where he had salted away money under the name of Peter Clare­mont? He had almost escaped there before after the ruinous fight with that fool, Harmsworth.
"Let’s go!" he cried wildly. "Get me out of here ... out of here—"
There was blackness.

"The señor has his papers?"
The polite voice of the bank clerk sounded like a knell of doom. Kennijahn looked across the shiny desk at the dark, oily face of the clerk.
"Papers?" He attempted a smile. "Oh, you mean you want my signature so that you can compare it with the one I have on file?"
"No, señor." The man was firm. "Your passport and documents relating to entry into the Argentine. The government regulations have become very strict."
"Oh, yes, those papers !" In truth he had forgotten. Kennijahn explained clumsily, "I left them at the hotel, of course. I shall go and get them."
"If you will be so kind, señor."
It was hot out in the street, a dense, suffocating heat that grew as the morning lengthened. Kennijahn thought furiously: Damned if he’d waste a wish on getting out of this silly jam. After all, he had his false papers. Or rather, Nina had them. He’d cable her, and she could take a Pan-American plane, and be here in whatever short time it took. She had her papers ready, too. He thought about Nina with a rising excitement. Thank God, the police had never found out about her.
The cable was off before another thought occurred to him. He phoned the bank, and asked for the clerk who had served him.
"This is Peter Claremont speaking."
"Si, Señor Claremont."
"When I arrived back at my hotel, I found some urgent business awaiting my attention. I will come in to see you tomorrow, or the day after."
"Si, Señor."
Kennijahn hung up with a complacent smile. Nothing like gathering up all the threads.
The wire from Nina that came two hours later said:

ARRIVING THURSDAY. IF I DO NOT HEAR FROM YOU TO CONTRARY WILL EXPECT YOU TO MEET ME AT AIRPORT.

The only thing wrong with that was that he spent the next two nights in the main jailhouse. The officers who had come to the hotel to arrest him were polite and cold:
"You are to be held, señor, for the American police, who, it seems, intercepted a telegram from you to your señora."
So that was that, Kennijahn thought grayly. It was all perfectly natural; and the mistake was in assuming the reason the police had never mentioned Nina was because they didn’t know about her. His impulse, the moment he was behind bars, was to call Drdr, but he decided against that. His next wish was going to be planned; and his best bet by far was to make a dramatic disappearance from the plane taking him back to America.
The roar of the big plane was a soft throb against the back­ground of Kennijahn’s thoughts. He could see dark splotches of forest below, dimly visible in the bright moonlight. At last, far ahead, a vast brightness showed. The ocean gleamed and sparkled. The moon made a path of dazzling light toward an horizon that, at this height, was so remote that it seemed an infinite distance away. Kennijahn said in a low tone:
"Drdr."
He started in spite of himself as the black caricature of human shape jerked into sight beside him. The enormous single eye of the creature peered at him, a scant two feet from his own face. The thing said:
"Do not worry about your guards. They can neither see me, nor hear any conversation between us. You desire your second wish?"
Kennijahn nodded, a little numbly. The chill of that abrupt materialization was still upon him, and he felt amazed that even his pre-knowledge hadn’t helped him. There was something about the monstrous little devil-thing that did things to his insides; and knowledge that it was harmless made no difference. He shook himself finally and said:
"I want to find out the exact limitations of a wish. When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I found myself on the street with five hundred dollars in my pocket. Is that your idea of how much a prosperous business man would be carrying? But never mind that. What I want to know is this: Suppose I had said to you: Put me into Buenos Aires in a swanky hotel suite with all my papers for entry into the Argentine on me, and a million dollars in a trunk—would that all have been one wish?"
"I can only give you about seven hundred thousand dollars,"
as the flat-voiced reply. "A set value was fixed by universal law long ago; I can only transpose it into your type of wealth."
"All right, all right, seven hundred thousand dollars," Kenni­jahn said testily. And then he stopped. "Good God!" he gasped. "Anything that I can think of at one time is one wish."
The creature nodded. "Within the limits set by the Fates, as I have said. Is your second wish, then, to go back to Buenos Aires as you described?"
"To hell with that. I don’t want to live in no damned foreign country. I’m an American. And I’ve got a better idea. You said any wish—anything?"
"Within the limits—" began the Drdr, but Kennijahn inter­rupted roughly:
Can you put me back into the past before the murder took place?" He grinned at the jet-black monstrosity. "See what I’m getting at: No swindle, no murder, no destiny."
"No one," came the calm reply, "can escape his destiny." Kennijahn made an impatient chut of sound with his tongue.
"But you can do what I want?"
The thing’s hideous mouth twisted sullenly. "I can, but would prefer not to. Because Drdr cannot go back to give you wishes in the past. Before you could have your third wish, you would have to return to the period after you called me. And if you should get into trouble—"
"Trouble!" Kennijahn echoed. "Listen, I’m going to live the life of an angel." He paused, frowning. "But I see your point. It wouldn’t do to go too far back. And that’s all right. I didn’t really begin to get involved financially until five months ago, and it all happened so damned fast— Make it six months. There wasn’t a cloud on the horizon six months ago. So shoot me back into time—"
The next second he was in the death cell.
Kennijahn stared around him with a gathering horror. The gray walls seemed to close in on him The bunk felt hard and uncomfortable underneath him. Beyond the door, electric lights glowed dimly, but the cell itself was in darkness. It took nearly a minute before he made out Drdr sitting on the floor in one corner. Simultaneously, the thing’s great, blazing eye, which must have been closed, opened and regarded him redly.
A black rage twisted through Kennijahn. "You scum," he roared. "What the devil have you done?"
The red eye glowed at him expressionlessly out of the darkness, an unnatural sphere of light. The thing’s voice said unemotionally, "Gave you your second wish, naturally."
"You liar!" Kennijahn shouted. And stopped. He had a sudden, horrible sinking sensation that he was the victim of some subtle, incomprehensible hoax. "I don’t remember a thing," he finished weakly.
"You didn’t ask for memory," the thing replied calmly. "Ac­cordingly, you went back into time, re-enacted the murder and the trial, and here you are, facing your inevitable destiny."
Kennijahn burst out, "Why you miserable scoundrel. You knew I wanted memory."
"I did not. You never mentioned it, or even thought of it."
"But it was obvious."
The monstrosity was staring at him. "I tell you and give you everything you ask for. Nothing more. And the sooner you have your wishes, the quicker I can return to the place from where I came."
Kennijahn caught his fury into a tight, grim thought. So that was it. He had been so intent on his own problem that he had dismissed too readily the fact that the creature also had a purpose. He said, "Where did you come from, anyway, that you’re so anx­ious to get back?"
Drdr was placid. "Is that question a wish?"
"No, of course not." Kennijahn spoke hastily. But his rage was cooling rapidly. With thoughtful eyes, he studied the shad­ow shape in the darkness on the floor. He’d have to watch out, plan more carefully, leave no loopholes.
"So I did it all over again a second time?" he said slowly. "In other words, my character got me into the same mess. That settles it. Change my character. Put me back six months, with memory, but in addition, make me more honest, strong, mind you, and—" He thought of Nina; he added, "No nonsense about women, of course. I want no change in my outlook there. Is that clear?"
"I don’t understand." The creature sounded puzzled. "Change your character? You mean, give you a different body, perhaps better looking?"
"No, my character!" said Kennijahn. He paused helplessly. It struck him suddenly that this creature had marked limits of understanding. "You know—my character. Me!"
"You! Change the essence that is you. Why, that is impossible. You are you, a definite pattern in the universe, with an assigned role. You cannot be different. The Fates made you as you are."
Kennijahn shrugged impatiently. "0. K. I get it. I am what I am. Perhaps it’s just as well. After all, I know my situation. if I were different I might develop some screwy religious notion about accepting my fate. I guess I can handle this best as myself. All right, then, put me back six months with complete memory of you. Get that—and wait! This is only my third wish. You didn’t put anything over on me that I can’t remember?"
"This is your third wish," agreed the thing. "After this, you will have three more. But I warn you. I cannot help you in the past."
"Let’s go!" said Kennijahn curtly.

He was sitting at his desk in his private office. A brilliant sun touched the edge of the great window behind him; but he was still too taut, too cold from his brief sojourn in the death cell. He went to the door leading to the outer office, opened it, and said to the nearest clerk, "What day is it ... what date?"
"July 7th, Wednesday," said the girl.
He was so intent that he forgot to thank her. He closed the door, his mind dark with calculation. Slowly, then, he bright­ened. It was true. Six months to the day. He sat down before his desk and picked up the cradle phone. A moment later, the familiar voice was sounding in his ear.
"’Lo, Nina," he said; then, "Nina, will you marry me?"
"The devil!" Nina said, "Have you gone crazy?"
Kennijahn grinned. He pictured the lithe, svelte Nina stretched out slinkily on her living-room chesterfield, her eyes narrowed around the idea that he was trying to get a rise out of her. Trust Nina not to go out on a limb.
"I mean it," he said. "I’m thinking of retiring to a country estate—within half an hour’s drive of town, of course," he added hastily as swift memory came of Nina’s utter boredom the time he had taken her to a mountain resort. He went on, "We’ll raise a couple of kids, and live a merry life generally."
Her laughter trilled on the phone. "Kids—you! Don’t make me laugh. Besides, I’m not the mother type."
"O. K., we’ll skip the kids. How about it?"
The woman laughed again. "My dear," she said, "tonight you bring around the most expensive engagement ring you can find, and I’ll begin to believe you."
"It’s a deal," said Kennijahn. "Good-bye, dear."
He hung up, smiling. That was the first break from character. He stood up, opened the connecting door between his office and Harrnsworth’s. It was the sight of the man sitting there alive that did it. Kennijahn swayed. Then he licked dry lips. Finally, with a terrible effort, he caught himself and stood blinking at the man he had once murdered. God, he thought, this business was enough to give anybody the creeps. He managed to say finally:
"Hello, Andy." And he was himself again. Swiftly, then, he made his demand.

"But you can’t draw out now," Harmsworth gasped when Kenni­jahn had finished. The man’s thin face was flushed. He looked, Kennijahn thought in annoyance, on the verge of becoming vastly excited. He blazed on, "Why, if you pull out without apparent reason people will think it strange, think that you’re getting out from under before a crash. You’ve got a reputation for that, you know. Damn it, how did I ever get mixed up with a shyster like you." He was beet red now. He fumbled at a drawer. His hand came out, holding a revolver. His voice shrilled, "I won’t let you do this. I won’t, do you hear?"
Kennijahn ignored the revolver. After all, he thought coolly, a man who was born to be hanged wasn’t going to be killed by a bullet from a chap who was scheduled to be murdered. With a vicious amazement, he cut the thought off. What the devil was he thinking, he whose whole present existence was based on the con­viction that destiny was not inevitable? Abruptly, he was startled by the rapid turn of events. He said hurriedly:
"Put away that gun, you fool, before you hurt somebody."
"I want you to promise," Harmsworth said wildly, "that you’ll give me at least six months to get our customers used to the idea of your leaving."
Six months! Why, that would take him deep into the period where—formerly—the murder and the trial had taken place. ’Nothing doing," Kennijahn said flatly. "I’m making a complete break now, this week."
The first shot struck the door jamb behind Kennijahn. And then he had rushed in, grabbing at the gun, roaring in his bass voice:
"You idiot. I’ll—"
The second shot came as he twisted the gun free from the other’s fingers. Gun in hand, he stepped back. He felt a vague amazement and horror as Harmsworth fell like a log to the floor and lay there. Even more vaguely, he was aware that a door had burst open, and that a girl was standing there, her mouth opening and shutting, making sounds. Then the door slammed. He heard a frantic dialing, and a high-pitched girl’s voice screaming some­thing about police.
With a gasp, Kennijahn dropped the gun and sank into a chair. For a moment, he was taut and cold. Finally, the realization pene­trated that the police were due in minutes. Instantly, his mind cleared. He snatched the phone on Harmsworth’s desk, dialed Clissold’s number, and described tersely to the lawyer what had happened.
Clissold said in his barking voice, "Bill, frankly, I don’t think that’s such a good story. You retiring at thirty-eight. Who else knew about your decision?"
"For Heaven’s sake!" Kennijahn rasped. "Does anybody have to know? It’s a common enough decision, isn’t it?"
"Not for you, Bill. Don’t take this personal, but you have a reputation for grabbing all you can get. I repeat, did anybody know you had decided to retire?"
Kennijahn thought of Nina, and a bead of sweat trickled down his cheek. "Only Nina," he said finally, heavily.
"Worthless," said Clissold succinctly. "We’ll have to change that story, Bill."
"Look here," Kennijahn began. "Are you trying to tell me—"
"I’m not trying anything," the lawyer barked. "But now, what about that stenographer who barged in while you were still strug­gling with Harmsworth—what did she see?"
"How the devil do I know?" Kennijahn groaned. He felt suddenly hopeless. It was the swiftness of it that brought the paralyzing realization of how this thing might be twisted against him He snapped, "Clissold, get over here and shut that girl up, and make her think she saw what we want."
"Now, don’t get excited," the lawyer’s voice soothed. "I’m just checking up all the angles. After all, the big thing in your favor is that it’s Harmsworth’s gun."
"Eh!" said Kennijahn, and his brain seemed to twist crazily. He had a mind’s-eye picture of himself explaining why he had turned his gun over to Harmsworth more than a year before because the coward was an alarmist who was always seeing bandits stalking into the office. It was such a natural thing for a man of Kenni­jahn’s size and physical confidence to hand over a gun that—that no one would ever believe it. And six months would have to pass before he could get in touch with Drdr. Six months of warding off the rope, six months of—hell.
There were black days when he thought that it couldn’t be done. The trial court reached the point where it denied further stays, and rejected motions based on technicalities. And then the court of first appeal had a small agenda and took his appeal in four days straight within a month of his first conviction. Finally, the supreme court of the United States refused an application for a further appeal on the grounds that new evidence was not being offered. It found, in addition, that the lower courts had handled the trial in exemplary fashion.
The sentence was due to be carried out one month before the end of the six months. With a final, desperate cunning, Kennijahn applied through Clissold for a three-month stay of execution, using the full weight of four hundred thousand dollars in bribes, his entire liquid assets. Not even the governor could see why that much money couldn’t be gotten hold of, somehow, for the party, of course, especially when it was not an attempt to break the sen­tence. But they were all very moral about it. Three months was too long. The public wouldn’t like three months. They could make it—well, six weeks.
Six weeks it was.
In its proper time, the Drdr flashed darkly into his cell. Kenni­jahn stared at the thing wanly, said finally, wearily, "How could a miscarriage of justice like that happen? What is the matter with the world?"
The creature stood up easily on the shadowed cement floor, its flat face expressionless. "Nothing is the matter. Everything is taking place as fated. Innocent men have been hung before, and afterwards people wonder how it could have happened, how they could have supported the crime. But it was simply the victim’s destiny." The thing shrugged. "No matter how you plan your wishes, it will always be like that. So have them please, and re­lease me."
Kennijahn sat for a long, stolid moment, letting that sink in. Abruptly, his head throbbed with reaction, and he was afraid, desperately, horribly, ultimately afraid. He said shakily, "What kind of a hellish universe is this? Why should I be fated to hang? It’s not fair."
"You don’t understand." The black shape spoke calmly. "Your death is part of a pattern. No matter what you do, the pattern resumes its shape, new threads covering the places where you have tried to break through. It is all necessary to a cosmic balance of forces."
Kennijahn swallowed hard, then he scowled. "O. K. If this body’s got to hang, that’s all right with me. I’ve had six month’s to think of wishes, and believe me, I’ve got a good one." He paused to gather his thoughts, then:
"Listen, can you transfer me, with my thoughts, my memories—­me—into the body of Henry Pearsall, the millionaire ?"
"Yes."
Kennijahn almost slobbered in his joy. His whole body shook with horrendous relief. He gasped at last, triumphantly, "Well, what do you think of it? My destiny is fulfilled. Kennijahn hangs at the appointed hour; and I, in the body of Pearsall, go on." The red eye fixed on him unwinkingly. "Only one thing is wrong: Pearsall is not destined to hang."
"But this way he won’t—don’t you see? Pearsall’s body goes on."
The thing said simply, "This then is your fourth wish?"
It was the quietness of the question that got Kennijahn He thought in a stark dismay: Three wishes gone, and three to go. Three gone. And he had expected to be sitting on top of the world after his first. The fourth wish coming up, and he wasn’t even out of jail yet. Of course, there was that wretched business of a wasted wish. That wouldn’t happen again. Slowly, his mind steadied. Courage, the sheer physical courage that had en­abled him to smash his way ruthlessly to the top, came back. Three wishes left, and actually that was good. Surely, with all his facul­ties about him, and the experience he’d had, he should be able to hold off that damnable destiny for years.
"Yes," he said, "that’s my fourth wish, but don’t rush me. I want to get everything straight. You know the Henry Pearsall I mean. He lives on Oriole Parkway Drive."
"I know the one."
Kennijahn persisted. "The one with that absolutely gorgeous wife; her name is Edith. She’s about twenty-eight. He’s thirty-four and worth about seventeen million. You’ve got that clear?"
The creature looked at him without speaking, and Kennijahn remembered that it had refused once before to answer a question the second time. He said:
"All right, all right, don’t get mad. You can’t blame me for checking up after what’s happened. One last question—" His hard, steel-gray eyes stared straight at the thing. "Have you any faintest idea of what could go wrong with my wish?"
"None. Something will, of course. Don’t know what." Kennijahn smiled grimly. "I’ll take my chances. Let’s go."

He had arrived home from the office rather late. Even with the memory of the real Henry Pearsall to help him, it was difficult to pick up the threads of another man’s life and work. But he would get it. A matter of time was involved. In the meantime, let people think him a little off par.
"The madam," the butler had said, "has gone out for dinner. She left this note for you."
Pearsall-Kennijahn read the note with a pleasant expansiveness. It was full of little affectionate phrases, and ended with:

... darling, going out tonight was a "must". You know I’d rather be with you, particularly these last ten days since you’ve taken such a renewed interest in your loving but once sadly neglected wife. I feel as if we’re on a second honeymoon. All my heart.

Edith.

Kennijahn folded the note with a tolerant smile, and put it in his pocket. What a life, getting the pure, full-blossomed love of another man’s lovely wife without having to do any preliminary spadework. There had been a little worry in his mind that she would acquire one of those instinctive dislikes for him that you read about in stories. But that fear was past now.
It was while he was eating his dinner that thought of Nina came. He frowned. He’d have to get acquainted with her somehow, perhaps if necessary through his fifth wish. Nina would mourn him, he knew, but not for long. And if she was going to be faith­less to his memory, the lucky man might as well be Henry Pearsall. Funny, how the bare thought of Nina got him going.
From the dining room he went into the spacious study, with its hunting lodge, overhead-beam construction, and its shelf on shelf of books. Some day, he would read a few of those books just to see what were the springs that moved the real Pearsall’s being. He settled himself cozily under a reading lamp, picked up the evening paper and glanced idly at the headlines. The two-inch caption that topped the page was about a ship explosion. Under­neath, in smaller type was:

BROKER ESCAPES FROM DEATH HOUSE

"Huh!" gasped Pearsall-Kennijahn. And there was such a dizzy feeling all over him that he grasped at the arm of the chair. The wild sensation came that he was on the edge of an abyss. With a titanic effort, he slowed his whirling mind and read on:

William J Kennijahn, former stock broker, senten­ced to hang three days from today, made a daring escape from the death house late this afternoon. The ex-broker, who was recently convicted of murdering his partner, Andrew Harmsworth, is physically an enormously strong man, and, while authorities have as yet issued no statement as to the method of escape, it is believed that this strength enabled him to—

It was the sound of a door opening that tore Pearsall-Kennijahn’s gaze from the horrifying and fascinating account. The paper slipped from his grasp, and slid to the floor with a dull thump. It was the queerest, most terrible thing in the world to sit there staring at himself. Pearsall had somehow squeezed the larger body into one of—Pearsall’s—suits. It made a tight fit that looked unnatural.
"And now, you devil from hell," the familiar bass voice lashed at him, "you’re going to get yours. I don’t know what in Satan’s name you’ve done to me, but you’re going to pay for it."
Kennijahn opened his lips to scream for help, but the sound shattered to a gulp in his throat as his former two-hundred-pound body smashed at the hundred and sixty pounds of flesh and bone that was now his human form. It wasn’t even a fight. He strug­gled, breathing hoarsely, and then a fist of sledge-hammer potency connected with his jaw.
When he came to, there was a cruel gag in his mouth, and his hands were bound behind his back with cords so tight that he winced from the cutting pain. And then he saw what his captor was doing.
The man was chuckling under his breath; an inhuman sound. He had already flung the rope over one of the overhead beams, with the dangling noose neatly tied. Still chuckling, he came to the bound man.
"We mustn’t waste any time," he giggled. "We’ll just fit your head into the rope, and then I’ll do the pulling. Come, come, now—no shrinking. Fixed it up myself while I was waiting for you. And I know your neck size. Fifteen inches, isn’t it? It’ll be a little tighter than that, actually, in the final issue, but—"
Kennijahn was thinking so hard, so piercingly of Drdr that, in addition to all his other pains, his head began to ache agonizingly from the appalling effort. But the seconds passed, and there was no Drdr. He thought despairingly: The gag, the damnable gag was preventing him from calling the creature.
He was under the rope when it happened. There was blackness, and then he was lying on his back. It took a long moment to grasp that he was stretched out on the hard bunk of a prison cell.
He lay there, and gradually grew conscious of an incongruous fact—the fact that he was sighing with relief at being in the death cell again. He was trembling. His fingers shook as he took a package of cigarettes out of his pocket and went to the "foolproof" electric lighter on the wall. The cigarette nearly fell to the floor. Abruptly, his knees felt so weak that he had to sit down. The creature said from the corner:
"I saved you just in time. It is important to me that you have all your wishes, so that I may return to my abode."
So that was it. For its own selfish reasons, the Drdr had pulled him out of a nasty mess. Well, the reason didn’t matter. Here he was, four wishes gone, and his destiny still to beat. Destiny. The ague came back. For he believed. His body shook, and his face felt hot and feverish. He believed. The whole, hellish thing was true. He was born to be hanged, and each time now, each wish that had seemed so sure-fire, so normally bound to produce the desired results, had brought him closer to his black doom. The time for normal wishes was past.
"Look," he said breathlessly, "isn’t there anybody who has ever escaped their destiny? Are there no exceptions? Does the pat­tern always run true?" He saw that the creature was hesitating, its eyes narrowed. With a roar, Kennijahn clutched at the straw.
"There is something. Tell me. Quick!"
"There are always exceptions," came the slow answer. "It is not a good thing to talk about the failures, or even call them failures. Sooner or later, they fulfill their destiny. It is only a matter of time."
"A matter of time," Kennijahn shouted. "You fool, what do you think I’m fighting for? Time, time—anything to hold off the rope. What kind of people are these exceptions?"
"Usually wealthy men who have slid off into some bypath. Or who accidentally received money as the result of some involved plan that was not originally intended to include them."
"Oh!" Kennijahn sat intent. His mind clenched; his voice sounded unnormal in his ears, as he said finally, "Is there any young, reasonably good-looking, wealthy man among them whose destiny is to die by hanging?"
"There is."
Kennijahn sagged, so great was the reaction. He lay there on the bunk, breathing heavily, the black doubts raging through his mind. Slowly, he roused himself, and quavered:
"After all, I’ve still got wishes five and six. If anything should go wrong—but I can see now, this is the best bet: Taking the body of a man who is destined to hang but who has been missed in the shuffle. There won’t be any escaping from jail for him, the way Pearsall did."
Thought of Pearsall sent a cold shiver down his spine. Then a wave of anger came. He snarled, "I’ve a good mind to wait until the night before the hanging, and try that wish again. After all, he couldn’t escape a second time." Something in the creature’s gaze made him say sharply, "Or can he?"
The thing shrugged, said, "A man not fated to hang will not hang. Has it occurred to you to wonder how he succeeded in escaping from his cell in the first place?"
"What do you mean?"
"For a while he was simply stunned. Then he grew desperate and made his attempt—and no bars could hold him If they had tried to hang him, the rope would have slipped from his neck. It has happened, you know, several times."
Kennijahn shuddered. He managed finally, "You know what I want. So put me into that body before the Fates grow impatient and send a mob to lynch me."

There was a blinding, choking, terrible pain. A long moment of that sustained, racking agony, and then came the most awful realization that had ever pierced his brain: He was hanging by his neck.
He couldn’t see, he couldn’t breathe. Dimly, in a blaze of horror, he was conscious that his hands were tied behind him; and there was a stark memory, the other man’s memory, of a determina­tion that life was not worth living, and that suicide was the answer.
Drdr, had put him in the body of a man in the act of committing suicide by hanging.
Drdr, you scum, you betrayer, what about the sixth wish? Get hands—free hands. Man must have tied his own hands—couldn’t do that perfectly.
His hands were free for long seconds before realization came that they were fumbling at the rope around his throat, fighting for easement. With a final, all-out effort, he grabbed the rope above his head, and hoisted himself like a man chinning a bar. The deadly, cutting, choking horror on his neck relaxed.
Desperately, then, he clung there, conscious of the utter physical weakness of this body, the inability of this man’s muscles to main­tain for any time his present position. But after a moment his vision came blurrily back. He saw distortedly a great room full of packing cases and, through a window, the top of a tree. An attic. He was in the attic of the millionaire would-be-suicide’s home. His voice came back. It was a harsh, raspy voice that kept catching, as if hooks were snagging it. But he managed to scream:
"Drdr!"
The sound of that scratchy voice echoed hollowly as he repeated the name shrilly; and then, there was the black, the loathsome, the treacherous beast. The demonlike thing stood on the floor below him and looked curiously up at him from its enormous red eye.
"Get me down from here," Kennijahn croaked. "Get me down safely. My ... sixth ... wish. Hurry, hurry. .. , I can’t hold on much longer; and I haven’t ... the strength ... to climb up farther and ... untie the rope. I—"
The enormous casualness of the other’s manner struck him mo­mentarily dumb. Then he raged:
"Hurry ... my sixth wish. I tell you, you’ve got to ... you can’t get out of it. You said so yourself."
The little monster stared up at him with unblinking eye. "You’ve had your sixth wish," it said coolly. "This is your sixth wish."
Kennijahn had the curious feeling that his nerves were shatter­ing into a million pieces. There was something in the manner of the creature, a casual positivity that—
"Whaddaya mean?" he gasped. "You said I had two more. You said—"
"If you will remember," came the precise reply, "it was you who said that you had two more. And as you did not actually ask if it were so, naturally I was not compelled to volunteer the infor­mation.
"Where you went astray was in assuming that I only answered wishes that were spoken. When I released you from Henry Pearsail’s body, it was in response to the strongest wish that had ever been in your mind, but it was a thought-wish. I am not account­able for your assumptions, though I must satisfy you that I have fulfilled all your wishes. This is now done, and I am free."
He whisked out of sight; and Kennijahn clung there with a queer, fascinated awareness that he could hold on for only seconds longer.

William J. Kennijahn was alone with his destiny.


The Wishes We Make - Kindle version
The Wishes We Make - ePub version

Notes

[1an anthology of "strange/unusual/startling/bizarre stories" by A.E. van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull, Fantasy Publishing Company, 1948.

[2in 1939, in Canada, before van Vogt had published any science-fiction stories!