This is one of a collection of stories that are like “Final Destination” meets “The Monkey’s Paw” (W. W. Jacobs, 1902). As such, they are tragedies more than either mysteries or horror, and would appeal most to readers who enjoy the inexorable pull of a story arc that leads to doom. In each story, a protagonist makes a wish that comes true with fatal results for someone, often the person making the wish. Nothing supernatural, but just how things work out. (Or is it?) The technical details surrounding the fatal (or near-fatal) event are drawn from real cases in the US OSHA incident report database or similar sources and are therefore entirely realistic, even if seemingly outlandish. The plots draw lightly from cultural beliefs around actions such as pointing at someone with a stick or knife, wishing in front of a mirror, or stepping on a crack.
Andrew was a “get out of my way” kinda guy. He was apt to take charge of things when others were still sizing up the situation. Typically, this was a professional advantage: As a neurosurgeon, time mattered, and indecision killed.
It wasn’t that he was a bully so much as he took it upon himself to make decisions and press an advantage, even when there wasn’t one to be made or pressed. However, that wasn’t quite how others saw him, and while he certainly had his admirers amongst the staff of Jackson Memorial Hospital, there were more who saw him as pushy, arrogant, and overbearing.
One of those who didn’t sing his praises was the chief nursing officer, Hildegard Bonaventure. They had never seen eye to eye, but when Andrew loudly “fired” a surgical nurse because they were “too slow” and “not in tune” with him, Hilda had developed an acrid dislike for Andrew. The phrase had irked Hilda when she read the memo: “Attuned, not in tune, she isn’t a damn radio!” Hilda hissed to herself. However, it was the sheer intolerability of impugning the skills and professionalism of her staff that most irritated her.
There was a showdown of sorts at one of the quarterly leadership meetings and Hilda lost. Andrew had talked his boss into proposing that neurosurgery bring on their own nursing staff from outside. Ostensibly, this was necessary because of specialized skills that the existing nurses supposedly lacked, but in Hilda’s view, it was just a naked power grab. Andrew was vying for second in command in neurosurgery, and pushing this was apparently what he thought was a wedge issue. In any event, surgery outranked nursing, physicians banded together on protecting their privilege to select their own teams, and the head of surgery made an impassioned speech comparing nurses to surgical tools, invoking the example of “physician preference cards.” It was insufferable to Hilda that they were talking about flesh and blood nurses as though they were mere instruments, but the argument resonated with the rest of the department heads, and Hilda was outvoted. After the meeting, Andrew came past Hilda to gloat, but she cut him short. “When you fall, Andrew, as you undoubtedly will do in the fullness of time, I pray that you do us all the small favor of not crushing any of us on your way down.” She left before he could summon anything better than a fumbled “Oh yeah? Well, that will be a snowy day in…” and his voice trailed off as she left the room.
Another group who had developed an antipathy to Andrew was the maintenance team. His habit of parking in no parking areas, or not paying attention to seasonal parking changes and snow clearance notices, was a constant irritation. When they posted signs in no parking areas, he simply ignored the signs and mounted curbs and medians with casual disregard. There was little point in arguing with him or reporting these infractions to management, since surgeons occupied a relatively stratospheric position in the hospital pecking order.
It was mid-January and it had been a blustery day, with cold air sweeping down from the Rockies and a steady snowfall since surgery had started at 6:30. Since most patients were already inpatients and weren’t trying to fight the traffic or wait for snowplows, Andrew and his team had a full roster and had started on time. It was now 3:00 and Andrew wanted to get to the club for a game of racquetball, a swim in the indoor pool, and then home for some quality dining. His car was, however, almost invisible behind a wall of snow and he was pretty sure that Maintenance had deliberately pushed snow to block his SUV. Although the ride home on snowy roads would be a cinch in his black, $150,000, custom-painted Range Rover, a six-foot snowbank was another matter. Andrew rushed back to the front desk to call Maintenance and got a “sorry, not sorry” reply stating that, since he had parked in a spot clearly marked as a “no plow” area, he would have to wait an hour or two for them to get the appropriate plow and snow blower to free his car. He was sure that he detected a smirk at the other end of the line, and as Andrew put the phone down, he glanced at his $3,000 Breitling Endurance watch. He muttered in irritation and, as he turned abruptly from the reception desk, almost collided with a redhead whose lab coat was decorated with a leprechaun next to a big handwritten badge that read “Shannon (Shenanigator) – Subatomic Medicine.” Noting his irritation, she grinned broadly. “Random science fact: Laughing is good for you. It reduces stress, lowers your blood pressure, increases blood flow and oxygenation to your organs and tissues, releases endorphins, and a whole slew of other positive health benefits. Laughter is the best medicine!” Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on Andrew. As he stiffly strode away in fury, he gritted his teeth and craned his head to peer along the side of the building. “What bullshit,” he snorted. “Appropriate plow, my ass!” Just to the side of the building, he could clearly see a white and red Bobcat snowplow.
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Five minutes later, Andrew was in moderately better spirits and almost chortling to himself. He was glowing with a sense of mastery and self reliance reserved for those of high social standing and wealth to spare as he steered the 92-horsepower Bobcat T770 toward the section where his Range Rover was currently entombed. If Maintenance wouldn’t plow this damned snow, he reflected, he would just do it himself. Andrew wasn’t reckless, though, and cautiously gouged away the snowbank, careful not to get too close to the cars. It was like a surgical procedure, moving, angling, and slicing precisely to debride and ablate. The Maintenance guy had finally seen him and was running toward the Bobcat, waving his arms and yelling something that was drowned out as Andrew gunned the engine. He needed to back up over the sidewalk so he could swivel and get the right angle for one more precise slice of the snowbank before he could get to the Range Rover.
Below the tracks of the 10,515-pound Bobcat that was not meant for this area of the parking garage, a steel grate collapsed under the weight, and Andrew had but a short time to grasp the gravity of the situation before he hit the ground 35 feet below the parking garage. As luck would have it, there was nothing in the way of his plunge, and nobody else was crushed when the Bobcat and Andrew crashed and then burned.