I'm looking for a science-fiction story I read back in the 80s about a man who was able to miraculously alter things in real life - I believe he was able to 'fix' a girl's badly burnt skin with a flick of his hand(?), I think he also produced [instantly] a snack that a friend deeply desired since childhood.

Eventually it was explained that such miracles were due to his ability to access and switch elements between parallel universes, so the advantages acquired in this universe were in fact simply taken away from its other-dimensional counterparts, i.e., his healing the girl in this universe meant he disfigured the same girl in a different dimension. I believe it was a short to medium story, not a novel. The realization happened within the story, much to the dismay of those helped by the healing switching.

  • You say this is a story, is is a novel, short story? Can you remember if the consequences of his actions are explained or does it end there? Can you remember any plot to this? If you remember anything else you can edit your question to include that information.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 9:11

1 Answer 1


"What Rough Beast?", a novelette by Damon Knight, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1959, available at the Internet Archive. You may have read it in one of these compilations.

Here's the part where he fixes the girl's burnt skin; a slow process, not a flick of the hand:

She jumped when hand touched her, but then sat still. I felt under my fingertips cold skin, touch like lizard. Inside me was big hurt jumping, I could not hold in very long. I rubbed her very easy, very slow with my fingers, looking and feeling where was inside the wrong kind of skin. Was not easy to do. But if I did not do it this way, then I knew I would do it without wanting, all at once, and it would be worse.

To make well all at once is no good. Each cell must fit with next cell. With my fingertips I felt where down inside the bottom part of bad skin was, and I made it turn, and change to good skin, one little bit at a time.

She sat still and let me do it. After while she said, "It was a fire, two years ago. Pop left a blowtorch lit, and I moved it, and there was a can of plastic stuff with the top off. And it went up—"

I said, "Not to talk. Not necessary. Wait. Wait." And always I rubbed softly the bad skin.

But she could not bear to have me rub without talking, and she said, "We couldn't collect anything. It said right on the can, keep away from flame. It was our fault. I was in the hospital twice. They fixed it, but it just grew back the same way. It's what they call keloid tissue."

I said, "Yes, yes, my dear, I know."

Now was one layer on the bottom, soft skin instead of hard; and she moved a little in the chair, and said small voice, "It feels better."

Under my fingertips the skin was still hard, but now more soft than before. When I pushed it, was not like lizard any more, but like glove.

[. . . .]

Under my fingers was a little place of good, soft skin, smooth like cream. While I moved my fingers, slowly this place got bigger. She looked down, and she forgot to breathe.

Here he tells us how he works his miracles by reaching into parallel worlds:

Since I was small boy in Novo Russie—what they call here Canada, but it is all different— always I could see where beside this world is many other worlds, so many you could not count. To me is hard thing to understand that other people only see what is here.

But then I learned also to reach, not with hands but with mind. And where this world touches other world, I learned to turn so that little piece of it would be different. At first I did this without knowing, when I was very sick, and frightened that I would die. Without knowing it I reached, and turned, and suddenly, I was not sick. Doctor was not believing, and my mother prayed a long time, because she thought God saved my life by a miracle.

Then I learned I could do it. When I learned badly in school, or if something else I would not like would happen, I could reach and turn, and change it. Little by a little, I was changing pieces of world.

  • 1
    Fascinating, I believe this is it, I will check it out in the morning as I didn't bring my glasses tonight. Thanks 14111!
    – Chris
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 10:26
  • This might be the same as one I've been trying to remember. Is there a bit near the story beginning where he puts his hand on the pavement and 'turns' until a dropped coin is there? (I think so he could make a phone call). If anyone has read it please let me know - there doesn't seem much point in posting it as a fresh question.
    – Danny Mc G
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 11:19
  • 2
    @DannyMcG Was in my pocket, no dimes. I thought to go back and ask, but it would take minute. I thought maybe Mr. Frank would die because I was not quick. So I put fingers in the metal hole where coin is supposed to come back, and was no coin there; but I felt deeper, down where turning place was, and I found it and I turned. Then, was a dime lying in coin hole. So I took it and put in top of telephone. I called ambulance for Mr. Frank. Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 11:43
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    Damon Knight used a similar concept in his 1984 novel THE MAN IN THE TREE. I read the book a long time ago, but in the novel, the man acquires a reputation as a miracle worker by bringing in objects from parallel worlds, though in the novel (I think) he can only bring in things rather than, as in excerpts, swap parts of a person's body.
    – Ria Byss
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 15:27
  • 4
    I have just finished reading "What Rough Beast?" by Damon Knight, and I can confirm that IT IS the story I've been looking for years! Thanks again for your dedicated passion, what a prodigious memory you have.
    – Chris
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 7:28

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