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.
Ellen was a radiology technician at a 300-bed hospital, located in a landmark building in what used to be the upper crust area of town. Times had changed over the last century, and it was now an aged and somewhat decrepit structure with dubious plumbing and ancient architecture. Because of the weight restrictions on the upper floors of the building, her radiology equipment was housed in a somewhat cramped basement location down a veritable warren of passages.
The radiology room itself was composed of thick, lead-lined walls that were meant to enclose smaller and radiologically leakier equipment than the reasonably modern camera currently in use. The operator cubicle was set outside the room in a wide passageway that led to the elevator and a stairway to the old emergency room. Access from the camera room to the cubicle was gained through a massively thick and 72″ wide steel sliding door. The door had evidence of at least half a dozen different layers of flaking paint; Ellen thought it was probably pre-WW2 vintage. Yellowed and crumbling remnants of technical notes for long departed machines still festooned the door and it had a sturdy but well-worn brass vertical bar handle on either side.
Age and accumulated wear and grit had made the door hard to open and close, so it usually stood halfway open. Techs and clinicians hurriedly entering or exiting the radiology room often used the door as a sort of fulcrum to make the sharp turn and pivot into the room or passageway at a fast walking speed. It was, however, becoming a problem for Ellen because getting equipment or bedridden patients from the elevator into the camera room meant a sweaty process of wrestling with the door. Anticipating the arrival of new ancillary equipment, Ellen called in some favors with the maintenance team to clean up the door rollers and track.
After several attempts at cleaning, removing scratches, and polishing the tracks, the door moved a lot better. Replacing the ancient rollers was a far bigger job; even after liberal application of Teflon, the door was still not quite right. It was far better than it had been for half a century, but the final eight inches or so were still gritty and sticky and required considerable effort to open. Ellen was very grateful, though, and it was far easier on her back and shoulders. Compared to its previous state, it slid like oiled ice.
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Lester was a quality and safety guy in his mid-forties. His slicked pomade hair partially covered a growing bald spot and terminated in a short ponytail. He was the type of man who was prone to stand just a bit too close when talking with female staff, was a little bit handsy, and always seemed to steer the conversation to inappropriate topics. Most female staff just rolled their eyes when he commented on their looks, tried to solicit personal details, or asked them to smile more. Lester had developed somewhat of a crush on, or obsession with, one of the younger nurses and often stared at her. He seemed to frequently have reason to squeeze past her at work or put a hand on her waist to get around her. Scarcely a day passed without him offering her a ride home.
Debbie’s unit manager wanted to report Lester, but Debbie had begged her not to, because she felt it would mark her as a complainer and just escalate things. The manager pushed for a formal reprimand, or at the very least, a stern warning to knock it the hell off, but Debbie was adamant that it would just make things worse. As a compromise, the manager assigned Debbie to leave her current team and go downstairs to help in radiology, to shadow Ellen in particular. Even though she murmured to herself that she would like to see Lester fired, or “carried out feet first!,” she was satisfied with the accommodation. The arrangement worked out really well for Debbie—Ellen could provide a growth experience for her, potentially opening up a whole new career interest in radiological nursing. Being in the basement with Ellen felt safe and out of sight, but was also filled with interesting new work.
Three weeks later, at approximately 7:30 a.m. on a chilly February morning, Lester figured out where Debbie had gone to. He eagerly took the elevator to the radiology rooms with the intent of making up for lost time. Ellen was up in the administration block sorting out some details for a pending arrival of new equipment. When Lester entered the camera room, Debbie had her back to the door and was fitting a sled to the scanner’s patient table. So engrossed was she in her task that she did not notice him until his arms were around her waist, his musk-scented jowls pressed against her neck. Shrieking, Debbie broke free and vaulted over the table. As Lester clambered after her, she circled around the back of the scanner and bolted for the passage. Lester was in hot pursuit from the other end of the scanner, hoofing it from the acute angle at the far end of the table and sprinting after her.
To negotiate the hairpin bend into the passageway, Lester grabbed the big brass handle and used the door as a pivot to swing himself around and into the passage. In the past, this may have worked, but with recent renovations, the heavy steel door slid sleekly along its Teflon-coated tracks. Instead of catapulting around the door, Lester’s back hit the doorframe with enough force to wind him, and his head collided with the frame on a jarring impact. Momentarily stunned, Lester was not able to stop the door from hitting his chest just to the right of his sternum with enough force to crack three ribs.
A nurse scurrying through the ER and out of the emergency entrance was surprising enough to cause several clinicians and patients to look up briefly, but not enough for anyone to run after Debbie to discover what was going on. By the time Ellen returned to radiology and discovered Lester pinned by the heavy steel door, he was long past assistance. He was soon being rolled out of the ER feet first in a sturdy black bag.