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.
Dirk was a brawler and had been since he could swing a fist at any face he didn’t like. On his first day of primary school, he learned that other kids might laugh at you if your shoes were hand-me-downs and mismatched and your pants were patched. He also learned that a clenched fist to the nose stopped the laughter quickly. That act of defiance bought him a trip to the principal’s office and a long speech about violence. It taught him that the school was full of bluster, but had few teeth. On his way home from school, the older brother of the kid he had punched was waiting for him; he slapped Dirk across the face as a lesson. Violence worked, but the trick was to be there first and with the best fist.
As an adult, Dirk stayed just out of arm’s reach of the law for the most part, and he was frequently on the periphery of chop shops, drug deals, and prostitution. That was more due to natural slyness than actual distance; Dirk tended to have a sixth sense when it came to how a police raid was likely to go down. It helped that several members of the local police force were relatives of members of his crew or clients. Another change in Dirk’s adult life was that he had developed territorial ambitions and was expanding into areas beyond the south side of the city in which his crew traditionally operated. Expansion came through pushing out or absorbing other gangs, and that often involved violence. The first few moves surprised neighboring gangs, but soon the remaining gangs were forewarned, and frequently, heavily forearmed.
The rumble had not gone well for Dirk’s crew. They had brought enough muscle, but the tide turned quickly when they were blind-sided. They were ready for knives and chains, they were ready for clubs and brass knuckles, they were even ready for tear gas. They weren’t ready for a screeching firework that made most of them swivel and look; they weren’t ready for the flash. The flash was silent, but it was hot, and then the world was just a big green swirl. What followed after the military-grade laser fired was that half of the crew were blind, staggering around in a sea of green swirls. What came next was a flurry of bats and chains and knives being swung at them from everywhere.
Even though they were now outnumbered two to one in able-bodied fighters, Dirk rallied his crew. They were soon giving as good as they got and beating back the attack. Dirk drove a tight group right through the line that had encircled them, and now he was folding people left and right. He slammed a bat into the side of a head here, and drove his brass knuckles into a face there, and his roar was the loudest thing in the world. One of his crew had split the blinded from the rest with good use of teargas and smoke, and now his blind crew members were in the fight with a chance. In thick smoke, being able to see was less important than listening. Dirk bore down on a skinny, bearded fighter, and used his bat to break a collarbone.
It was the teenager’s first rumble, and he was terrified. He had been told to stay with the leader and keep behind him, but got separated by the tear gas and smoke. Someone had hit him, and he went down with his ear throbbing and wet. He crawled around scrabbling for a weapon, cover, an exit, anything. His hand closed around something cold and hard. The small hatchet that had fallen from someone’s belt was styled after the Norse “Bearded Axe,” with a five-inch blade atop a 16-inch shaft. He grasped the braided handle tightly and stood up uncertainly out of the smoke. He heard a roar behind him and turned, and was two feet from a huge guy from the crew with his back to him. He had obviously just swung a bat across the shoulder of the kid’s leader. His leader was now kneeling with one arm drooping, looking like he was about to die. The big guy drew back his bat, winding up for another swing. The teenager’s bowels released, and his heart fluttered, but he swung his axe at the broad back and felt it bite. Then he fainted and dropped back into the smokey gloom. Dirk bellowed and clutched at his back, trying to pull the axe out, but was knocked over by a press of bodies swinging clubs. With Dirk down, the crew faltered and was taking heavy casualties. Dirk took a boot to the head before the two sides melted away and the sirens got near.
The EMT crew quickly triaged 17 injured into transport and treatment groups. Dirk was one of those prepped for quick evacuation. The EMTs cut away his jacket and shirt, cleaned his wound, and packed it to stop bleeding. They cut off his jeans, now soiled with blood and grit, and marked several other cuts and wounds on his thighs. As they prepared to cut away his biking boots, Dirk came to, grabbed the EMT’s arm, and snarled at her. “Cut the boots and I cut you!” Shrugging, she left the feet and cleaned around the wound. She adjusted his oxygen and nitrous oxide, finished a secondary scan, and then covered his naked body with a sheet just as they pulled into the ED bay.
In the ED, the triage team transferred him to a bed, rechecked vitals, replaced the nearly empty saline bag for his drip, and wheeled him off for an MRI. At radiology, the technician removed Dirk’s watch, bracelets, and dog tags, and questioned him about body jewelry and any metal in his body. With the soothing effects of the nitrous gone, and no replacement drugs yet in his bloodstream, Dirk was in no mood for playing “20 questions” and let loose a torrent of abuse at the technician. The tech largely ignored him, but after looking under the sheet and seeing that Dirk was naked, moved on to positioning him on his left side, and gave him the standard speech about lying still, things getting noisy, and pressing the call button in his hand if he needed them to stop. Dirk responded by treating her to another string of curses and a firm encouragement to get the hell on with it.
Dirk was a bit of a white-knuckle flyer, and tensely gripped the sides of the table as it moved him into the aperture. He stiffened when the clattering started and then felt something move near his right calf. He immediately knew what it was. In a panic, he reached down to his leg, but the sheath knife clipped on the inside of his right boot pulled free under the intense tug of the magnetic field, flipped, and hurtled towards the center of the field. Before Dirk could press the button, the sturdy black four-inch blade pierced his throat just below his chin and buried its tip in his spine.
By the time the radiology team had sprinted to the MRI, it was too late, and there was no retrieving Dirk. He had, as he had frequently wished, died with his boots on.