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.
Gary worked in the laundry of a large hospital, serving a monster that terrified him. His primary job was tending a continuous batch tunnel washer that cleaned 4,000 pounds of soiled linen per hour and was affectionately known as “The Beast.” The room in which The Beast lived was a cavernous concrete structure as big as a hangar, and a steady supply of 150-pound bags of dirty laundry would scoot along ceiling rails, swaying like big grey bats. Every two and a half minutes, a bag would drop its load into the open jaws of a steel hopper at one end of The Beast. Big churning pre-wash drums, washing receptacles, and rinsing drums made up most of the length of The Beast, but somewhere towards the other end was “Grinder.” Grinder was a centrifuge that had the raw torque and gusto to spin a big batch of wet, freshly washed laundry at up to 800 times the force of gravity. When Grinder spun up, you could feel the vibration throughout the concrete floor of the facility.
Gary wasn’t dim, but he had a soft spot for unlikely facts, conspiracy theories, and opinionated hogwash that he saw on TV, gleaned from Facebook, or heard from friends. Gary had fallen for a number of hoaxes and balderdash over the years, and his workmates sometimes deliberately fueled his weakness for these stories. They did so in part out of a sense of camaraderie, but more because it was great fun to see Gary get all spun up and agitated. They had led him to believe that The Beast was haunted because of using recycled steel from the scrapped car of a serial killer. For months, they made Gary as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, and would delight in walking up quietly behind him on night shift and grabbing his shoulder. They had convinced Gary that death was stalking him, and it took more than a year after the prank was revealed for him to shake the constant feeling that The Beast was watching him balefully.
They had also once convinced Gary that his clothes had hidden microchips that monitored his activities. As a result, many of his pants and shirts were coming apart at the seams where he had picked at them searching for electronics. He had taken to leaving his clothes in a steel box in the garage, in the belief that this might curtail any spying. He had eventually realized it was a joke, but never quite shook the concern. His older sisters had tried to talk him straight and at least get him to ask them before he went scampering after yet another conspiracy theory. “Seriously, Gary, getting all spun up like this is going to harm your health!” Jenny said. Clara had agreed. “You’re going to have a heart attack or pop a blood vessel in your brain at this rate. Just take this stuff with a pinch of salt, and don’t get so sucked in!” Jenny was a surgeon and Clara was a nurse manager, so he did take their advice seriously, but he didn’t think they really understood how the real world worked. The world was full of secrets and evils and people plotting to mess stuff up.
The latest prank at Gary’s expense was a story about someone discovering a diamond in one of The Beast’s filter traps. Conspiratorially whispered conversations were held, just loud enough for Gary to catch a few details, but not enough for him to form a complete picture. As soon as he asked, they would deny it, or suddenly change the topic, or break up and scatter in different directions. It made Gary frantic. What he could glean from the various snippets was that a sizable cache of stolen loot had been dropped into a laundry chute when criminals were evading the police, but that the bag had been routed to The Beast before the criminals had time to recover it. To bolster the effect, someone had put a small citrine semi-precious stone in one of the filter traps where Gary would find it on his night shift. It worked like a charm: Thinking it was a rare yellow diamond, Gary was hooked. He firmly believed that somewhere in the guts of The Beast, the bulk of the gems were still to be found, and he had a shrewd idea where that might be.
Gary became frantic over the thought that he was being excluded, that others might get to the loot before him and not give him a share. They were clearly keeping him out of the loop, so he decided to go it alone. He poured over blogs and posts on the Internet about stolen jewels, how to find them, how to fence them, and how to tell if a jewel was just glass. Gary ordered an ultraviolet lamp after reading about diamonds and some other jewels being fluorescent under X-rays.
A week later, on his next night shift, when nobody else was around, Gary set about finding those hidden jewels. With a headlamp, his mail-order ultraviolet light that he figured would make jewels glow brightly in the dark, and a canvas bag to hold the loot, he sneaked to the maintenance panel of The Beast. He knew he could temporarily pause The Beast without tripping alarms or causing a big noticeable traffic jam of bags. Gary opened a service hatch and paused in front of the opening that went into the depths of The Beast, fear welling up inside him. It wasn’t all that long ago that he had been convinced that The Beast was hungrily waiting to kill him, and the desire to find the jewels and his raw fear arm-wrestled in his guts. Fear of missing out eventually beat out his fear of The Beast. Swallowing hard, Gary crawled inside the dark depths of The Beast. It took longer to access his ultimate target than he had anticipated, but he eventually eased himself into Grinder’s big stainless-steel vessel, switched off his headlamp, and turned on his UV light.
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Whether Grinder reacted to the weight, the UV light, or some combination of factors, it was never determined, but it was a fact that it did. Grinder treated its human contents like it did every other kind; big motors spun the rotor and the cage swiftly gathered speed. Sensing a slightly lighter load than the usual 250-300 pounds of wet laundry, but above its lower safety margin of 100 pounds, Grinder was perfectly happy with Gary’s 198 pounds, getting him up to 800 gravities in short order. The exact cause of death was also not determined beyond what the medical examiner outlined on part 32(b) of the death certificate as “comprehensive polytrauma.” When there is total internal organ destruction and the contents of the neurocranium and spine are largely missing, who’s to say what marked the last time that Gary would get spun up by anything, ever again? In the end, all that they found of Gary were his skin and bones, still mostly contained within his overalls.