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 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.
Brian and Meg were an item, or so Meg hoped. He was a great guy, and she felt relief when he complimented her or paid attention to her. He often said how he admired her. He loved her smile, and admired how she flashed it even though her teeth were a bit askew. He also thought her figure was gorgeous and admired her for showing it off, even though he said she had a bit of a muffin top thing going on. Meg felt grateful that he overlooked all her faults and still wanted to be with her, but she always had a fear that he would dump her.
When they were parked outside the nurse’s residence and he suggested she leave her window open so he and a friend could lift some jewelry on the weekend, she tried to change his mind, she tried to resist, she tried to say no. Then he gave her a gold pendant with ruby inset. A little cherub with a bow and arrow and a happy grin. She put it on and flipped down the car visor and looked at herself in the mirror. Meg whispered to herself “I wish cupid would find you,” and gave Brian a heartfelt smile. In the end, she couldn’t refuse, and before she left for the long weekend, she made sure her dorm room window was unlatched.
Brandi was starting an adventure. With high school firmly behind her, a successful application exam and interview a memory, and a long drive with a fully packed pickup truck completed, she had arrived at the nurse’s residence to start her training as a student nurse.
During the interviews, her academic record had been scrutinized, but not nearly as much as her character, goals, and her history of volunteering. They were impressed with her sporting achievements in soccer and archery, and one explained the importance of fitness in being an effective nurse. They wanted candidates with the intellectual firepower to get through the heavy coursework, but more importantly, they needed nurses who would have the mental and physical stamina to deliver high-quality care every time. They had liked that she had completed a Red Cross “First Aid for Severe Trauma” course and had volunteered for Red Cross and St. Johns at sporting events. They did, however, grill her over this to make sure she wasn’t a “Trauma junkie,” and they took pains to tell her that she would be learning from scratch and would be restricted to standard operating procedures and strict rules regarding what care level she would be allowed to deliver. One of the more severe interviewers had made it very plain that as a student nurse, Brandi would be treated as if she had no medical training and would be required to act accordingly. Brandi was somewhat surprised by this attitude but kept her mouth shut and her thoughts to herself, and she got high scores on her interviews.
The read-ahead for orientation described the sporting and fitness facilities available in the area, and Brandi found, to her surprise, that archery was available. The campus offered a 20m indoor range with six lanes and an outdoor 70m range with twelve lanes. Brandi packed a take-down recurve bow and her archery bag. She also packed her fishing tackle, hiking gear, and a tennis racquet. Brandi planned to leave home on the Thursday before the long weekend, intending to get to the campus on Friday midday, but things didn’t quite work to plan. Because of a late start and some delays due to road work, by the time she arrived at the nurse’s residence on Friday evening, it was deserted. The residence manager was called out by security, who in a very grumpy way informed her that everyone had checked out for the long weekend, with the earliest only due back on the Monday night. The manager softened somewhat when she realized that Brandi had not been sent the updated check-in information to arrive on the day after the long weekend. Feeling sorry for Brandi, the manager checked her in, took her to her dorm room on the 1st floor of the three-story residence, and handed over the keys. The outlets worked and A/C was on, but until Maintenance came in, she wouldn’t have any ceiling lights in her room. The main hallway was fully lit though, so with a table lamp and an open door, she had enough light to get on with.
Brandi woke up early and spent Saturday morning carrying in boxes from her truck. By midday, she had cleared the truck and could start unpacking. A quick trip into town got her some basic food, and she splurged on sushi for lunch.
Unpacking went quickly, and after a break for coffee, she got stuck into lining and packing her cupboard and the dresser, packed out her books and a poster of a Porsche 986 Boxster, and then did some ironing to get her uniform ready. She flattened the cardboard boxes, stacked them vertically in one of the larger empty boxes, and then stuffed it tight with the remaining bubble wrap. As she hung her recurve bow on the wall, it occurred to Brandi that the cardboard box would make a very functional indoor target if she ever needed it. Next to the bow, she hung up her bright pink Easton four-tube flipside hip quiver and filled it with 12 red-vaned carbon fiber target-point arrows.
Once all her housework was done, Brandi sat on her bed and ate a salad, watched sports on her tablet, and browsed some old issues of Motor Trend magazine. She cleaned up and then watched a slasher movie, which she immediately regretted. The empty building seemed to echo and amplify every creak and every whisper of the wind outside. If she shut her door, her room was too dark, but if she left it open, the echoing sounds creeped her out. Unable to sleep, she tried studying but couldn’t concentrate and kept imagining she heard whispered voices and soft footsteps outside. Eventually, she gave up, got dressed in gym shorts and a T-shirt, grabbed some gear, and headed down the hallway.
With his buddy holding lookout, Brian carefully climbed through Meg’s unlocked window. They had first walked around the building to make sure nobody was around and then waited for the security van to pass by. This wasn’t the first time they had used a nurse to gain access to a residence, and they anticipated a similar haul—jewelry, some expensive clothing, electronics, and maybe the best score, diaries. With a diary, they could sell personal info on the dark web or use the info to blackmail individuals. Meg had been a pushover and rolled like an eager puppy. He collected some of her better jewelry and an expensive handbag he had given her and put them in a black plastic garden bag. She had a nice Bluetooth speaker, so he put that in the bag too, along with her laptop.
Brian paused at her door, listening to make sure nobody was about and there would be no surprise meetings when he stepped into the passage. No voices or movement, but he heard something that sounded mechanical. Whip … Thack … Whip … Thack. The pair of sounds repeated in sets of three, then a pause, and then it started again. He figured it was maybe an A/C unit trying to start, or a water cooler or vending machine fridge. Not people anyway, he thought eventually, and silently unlocked and opened Meg’s door. He stepped out into the passage, skeleton keys in his one hand and several empty garden bags in the other, ready to start collecting from the other rooms.
At the moment Brandi became aware of Brian’s presence in the hallway, she had just let out a long, slow, mindful breath. Her eyes were open, she was focused on the far distance, and her mind was centered and clear. She felt at peace, and all worries and fears had been edged out by a single pure focus of muscle tension, breathing, and release. The moment Brian became aware of Brandi was born of shock and sudden agony as a 28″ carbon fiber arrow splintered his ribs and passed through both his left lung and his heart.
With her right hand still craned beside her neck where it had settled after releasing the bowstring, Brandi gasped in astonishment, and then alarm. She dropped her bow and ran toward Brian’s crumpled body where it lay in front of the cardboard box target that she had perched atop a barstool. The red vanes of the arrow were visible from a distance, but it was only when she kneeled by his side that the black lettering on a white wrapping with the brand name “Cupid” was just visible where the shaft disappeared into the side of his chest. Cupid had found Brian at last, but he was forever not going to be Meg’s.