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.
The funeral for the recently departed Dr. Bryan Martino was a miserable affair, albeit very well attended. It was the grim kind of cold, gray, gusty day that might turn your umbrella into a wet, flapping, useless spider. It was the kind of grim day on which you might step into a puddle of grimy water up to your ankle. It was the kind of grim day on which you might slip on a patch of black ice, and do that unnerving and embarrassing little jig trying not to fall. It was the kind of day on which you might grimly trudge into the church, one shoe squelching and leaving muddy prints as the water slopped from your sodden sock at every step, and on which, when you finally find a pew and sit, you realize that the seat of your pants are soaked and that everyone else is standing. For Dr. Joshula Trebaux, it was exactly that kind of day.
He had helped with the funeral planning, and had somehow been assigned the job of looking after Bosco, the Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog that Dr. Martino had left behind after his tragic accident with a large novelty skeleton. He had doted on Bosco, who was, as a result, a somewhat chonky 180 pounds of hairy mischief. Since arriving at Joshula’s apartment, Bosco had already eaten one pair of loafers, a new set of earbuds, and an entire vegetarian lasagna. He had also deposited on the white Flokati rug, the most prodigious poop that Joshula had ever seen. There was nothing to do but to take the rug to the basement where the hoses and cleaning equipment were kept and heave the rug into the dumpster. By the time he got back to his apartment, Bosco had discovered that some pillows contain delightfully large quantities of fine feathers, and the apartment was a veritable blizzard of them. Clearly, Bosco was more suited to a family who could keep him occupied, exercised, and away from expensive soft furnishings.
Drs. Felix and Felicity Knochenzauberer were young, energetic, and recently qualified osteopaths who lived in a townhouse in one of those “rust-belt to leafy suburb” conversion housing estates that were popping up like mushrooms near medical centers. Their garden was just a nominal patch of lawn and miscellaneous cookie-cutter shrubbery, but it opened onto a greenbelt that extended miles in both directions. Bosco loved this new home and was soon tunneling under the herbaceous borders, as well as startling the bejeezus out of people by throwing his weight against the back gate and bellowing like a fiend at random passers-by. In turn, Felix and Felicity dutifully refilled the holes, dodged the turds, and profusely apologized to unnerved pedestrians.
Bosco required personal grooming that very soon and very clearly exceeded the capabilities, skills, and equipment of the Knochenzauberer household. Their first attempt at washing Bosco in the shower swiftly became a misadventure when a newly shampooed and entirely wet Bosco launched himself from the shower, knocked them both over, dislodged the sliding shower door, and pelted down the passage into the living room. The broken ornaments were not irreplaceable, and the carpet was not too hard to clean, but they found that the effects of a large gyrating soapy dog on their leather sofa were mostly permanent. Being good-spirited people with great reserves of resilience and youthful optimism, the couple made grooming part of weekly outings: a drive to an off-leash park, followed by a short walk to the groomer, and a cup of fair-trade coffee and croissants or avocado toast while Bosco was keeping the groomers occupied. The weekly grooming outings, however, had a downside. The dog park was routinely surveilled by that unwholesome kind known as the dog napper.
Jasper was one of those prickly people whose sense of entitlement and expectations of an easy life were poorly aligned with the reality of what life would actually offer him. As a result of his habit of taking shortcuts in life, and an ingratiating and arrogant demeanor, Jasper had gravitated towards a lifestyle in which he was in a constant hustle of grift and gambits. His latest game was supplying a group of breeders and pet brokers with dogs. They would send him images and descriptions of dogs for which they saw demand, and they paid cash with no questions asked. Jasper also scouted for them, sending images of dogs that he thought might get a good price. He almost choked on his chewing gum when he saw Bosco prancing after a grooming session. For the next week, Jasper crawled the curb in his old model Chevy Express van and kept watch at the dog park. It didn’t take much to tail the Knochenzauberers to their home and figure out any routines that might provide an opportunity to take the dog.
Jasper made his move on a Wednesday morning when Felix was working the day shift at the hospital and Felicity was out shopping before her shift started in the afternoon. Since Bosco was instantly friends with anyone offering treats or compliments, it was easy for Jasper to click on a leash and walk out the back gate with him. Going between the two apartment blocks presented a small challenge; when Bosco tugged on the leash to investigate a squirrel, Jasper hauled him back and looped the leash around his arm. Things went smoothly until Jasper slid open the van door. Bosco spotted a cat and yanked Jasper around, almost pulling him off his feet. The cat sped across the road to escape this giant white woofing apparition, and an oncoming cement truck hit the air horn just as Jasper yelled at Bosco and yanked the leash hard. Bosco reacted as many young males of a certain temperament might and bolted. He pulled hard against the resistance, adrenaline surging through his body, muscles straining, claws extended. Bosco focused on getting away, following the cat’s scent. Suddenly, there was no more resistance, and with the cat gone from his sight and scent, he looped back across the road and made his way home, eager to see if there were any treats or scratches available.
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Felicity arrived home from shopping and went through her normal routine of checking to see if the front rooms were intact, that nothing left in the kitchen by accident had been discovered by Bosco, and that no fresh poops were on the lawn. As she stood in the kitchen, she saw the open garden gate, and her heart sank. She lifted her phone to check the tracker app, and intended to get going to find Bosco before the city animal control van did. They had said the next time would be a $1,500 fine, and she was eager to avoid that. As she got the app up, and the map started scrolling, Bosco bounded in through the doggy door. “Oh my God, there you are! … Ah … What? …” She trailed off, noticing he was dragging a branch or something on a leash. It took her a few seconds to identify the thing that was trailing behind the happy dog, the thing that wasn’t a stick, the thing was leaving a sticky red trail on the white kitchen tiles, the thing that wore a watch and had a tattoo.
The screaming didn’t last long, but did eventually attract the attention of a police officer. The officer was one of the crew attending to the mess left when a pedestrian had got under the wheels of a cement truck. The truck had taken several yards to skid to a halt, and not all of the pedestrian had been immediately recoverable.