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.
Dr. Jimothy Trebaux III was the gayest toxicologist to ever strut the wards of the Ocean View Hospital. He was more stylish than Dr. Jethro Krueger, wittier than Dr. Park Poofnagle, and clearly more of a social influencer than Dr. Bryan Martino.
As an emergency medicine physician, Jimothy dealt with the outcomes of poor decisions, unwise actions, and failure of self-control every day, such as the worker who decided not to wear protective equipment and now sat on a bed in the ED with a nail in their eye. There were more: the commuter who jumped onto a moving train, whose ankle was now a bag of broken bones and torn gristle, and the person whose temper with their spouse ended with a face full of scalding fettuccine alfredo. This was the everyday passing parade of patients in the ED. It was a carnival that was filled with almost equal measures of heartache and joy: heartache for the harm that was often due to people’s own actions, and joy when those same people did amazingly heroic or selfless things, or overcame or coped with unimaginable challenges.
Everyone who knew Francis had at some point thought that he had a short fuse. Francis had discovered early in life that violence worked, and society often made way for the person with the fiercest demeanor and the wherewithal to deliver on a promise. He had discovered that twisting some nerd’s nipple in gym class could get homework completed a lot quicker and easier than cracking open a book. He had found that taking another student’s lunch was easier and cheaper than making his own. He had learned that losing his temper usually triumphed over a good argument, facts, or being right. Francis respected those who had power and the will to inflict pain on others to get things done. As a corollary, he despised the weak, the indecisive, and the vulnerable. They made him sense his own fears and potential frailties, that sneaking feeling people might be putting one over on him, that some smart-ass might make him look foolish, or that those clever “experts” could take advantage of him. Most of all, he despised the sandal-wearing, blue-haired, artsy types that always seemed to be hiding behind fake smiles and saying things about him, laughing behind his back, or getting ahead of him in any way. As a 6-foot, 230-pound adult, he had often used his fists and steel-capped boots to show those people who was boss.
Shannon was the tiniest lab tech in the hospital, but she had a fierce sense of justice. Whenever the occasion arose at work, one might spot her blaze of red hair in the thick of the argument. Shannon had been the one to make “gay pride” an event at the hospital and the one who had stood up to the CMO when he wanted to trim the personal protective equipment budget by using cheaper products. She was known throughout the hospital for her science trivia. On her way to the lab, she had spotted Jimothy in the ED. “Hey Jimothy, did you know that of all the elements on the periodic table, only mercury and bromine are liquids at room temperature? Gallium has a melting point of 29.76⁰ C, and Francium has a melting point of 27⁰ C. With my apartment as hot as it was today, good thing we aren’t made of Gallium!”
Tonight, Shannon had been cutting a ton of samples with a pair of dissection scissors, hunched awkwardly over her bench for too long. Sometimes on her evening shift, she would stroll the hallways past the ED, singing, stretching, and trying to focus her eyes on distant objects. After staring into a microscope for hours, she often needed the relief of pacing and looking at anything other than an illuminated slide. She pushed back from her bench, pocketed a few things, stretched, and went on a walkabout.
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Francis had been admitted to the ED after a drunken brawl. A disagreement over where motorcycles were parked had led to knives being used, and Francis needed minor surgery and two units of blood. One might make a case that the amphetamines in his bloodstream and the beers and chasers he had been drinking made him particularly irritable this evening. One might also say that being punched in the head during the fight may have made him suspicious and combative, even more than usual. But one might also just point out that Francis was habitually aggressive and needed little reason other than that to get violent. Whatever the cause, Francis reacted to Jimothy explaining that two units of blood had been administered by bellowing about being given “gay blood.” The more Jimothy tried to explain the facts, the more Francis grew convinced that this doctor was trying to trick him, and the angrier he became. When Jimothy threatened to call security, Francis reached for his gun, but luckily that had been stored safely during admission. Unable to simply shoot Jimothy, Francis lunged at him, grabbed the rainbow lanyard holding Jimothy’s ID badge, and tried to throttle him by lifting him off his feet with it. The lanyard safety breakaway clip functioned as designed, and instead of being hoisted by his lanyard, Jimothy dropped to the floor gagging, and ran for his life.
With Francis bellowing in pursuit and screaming for his blood, Jimothy kicked off his black $125 Dansko clogs and ran squealing from the ED, turned left, and sprinted down the long hallway. Trailing IV lines behind him, Francis was gaining on Jimothy as they passed the lab. He was so intent on his quarry that he barely noticed the tiny redhead step out. The first he knew of her presence was a white lab coat thrown in his face. Shannon punched Francis in the chest while he struggled with the lab coat, and Francis made a small, surprised “oh” sound. With her fist still against his chest, Shannon rotated her wrist and slowly drew out the 6-inch curved blade Metzenbaum scissors she had been gripping tightly. “Oops,” she murmured. “I guess I was supposed to leave that in.”