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.
Hubert fired his girlfriend when her labradoodle dug up his herb garden. At first dumbfounded, she tried to argue that nothing was broken, but Hubert was quite adamant that she and her dog had to go. It was a matter of excess Yang in his life, and disruption to his herbs threw the Feng Shui of his home into a negative place.
Hubert was the director of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) at a 600-bed hospital in the city and ran CAM sections at 9 of the 15 facilities in the system. He was actively working on expanding to all facilities over the next few years. Initially dubious, the board soon grew to like the increased Press-Ganey scores, rising revenue, and low overhead that CAM units provided at the pilot facilities. CAM units required no expensive equipment, the practitioners were cheaper, and the insurance costs were far lower than units that used MRI, CAT, or had ORs. Under the marketing umbrella of “Total Care”, CAM was an effective and low-cost way to increase profits. All was not plain sailing though, and the hospital directors sometimes had sharp disagreements with Hubert – drugs, for example, automation, and the question of terminal care. Hubert felt strongly that drug companies were influencing care policies, that automation brought in questionable radiation technologies, and that spending one’s last days at home was far to be preferred than in an inpatient bed.
Hubert was himself a provider as well as handling the CAM administration, and was certified in chiropractic, homeopathy, and energy therapies. His home was organized to conform with Feng Shui principles, and he followed a mostly vegan diet. His hands-on approach included making his own homeopathic and herbal remedies, meals, and of course, incense.
Hubert felt torn at present, an exhausting tension between joy and dismay, pleasure and psychic pain. The pleasure and joy stemmed from having found a new source of organic foods, and the pain was from the hospital’s decision to introduce robots. Mount Dharma Organics was a hydroponics farm and natural supplies cooperative that he had found through a Facebook group of like-minded souls. Based in a rural area far from the toxins of city life, the co-op was reclaiming an old mining site that had closed in the mid-1800s. Part of their mission was to heal the landscape and restore the mountain where the tunnels and excavations had cut into the granite formations.
As a staunch believer in the modern adage of “Do your own research,” Hubert looked for customer testimonials, and then visited the farm for an audit. While the general feeling of the place was part of his evaluation, Hubert used a checklist to record compliance with Feng Shui principles, staff happiness, and product handling and manufacturing quality. He noted that true to their word, they were returning the mine to a natural state, planting trees and indigenous grasses, and were using some of the mine tunnels to grow organic mushrooms, store harvest in a cool and quiet environment, and draw water for the hydroponics from the ancient granite aquifer.
Two months ago, Hubert had ordered three 50lb bags of brown rice from the co-op, and the rice now formed the basis of many interwoven parts of his diet. Besides eating the rice as a dish, he boiled some down to make rice sheets, noodles, balls, and fermented some to make rice wine and vinegar. Being careful to waste as little as possible, Hubert used the water from soaking or washing the rice as a drink, as a hair rinse, and to water his herb and vegetable garden and ferns.
Around the time that the first robots entered service at the hospital, trundling up and down the corridors delivering medications, linens, and meals, Hubert noticed dark patches on his arms and chest. He could have sworn the skin on his hands had also become thicker. He was alarmed and scoured the internet and naturopathic websites for the potential effects of the 5G radio transmissions used by the robots. Other people in his chat groups agreed that 5G was the likely cause, and had various suggestions on how to heal the existing damage, and ways to prevent further harm.
Hubert started working from home more, and increased his daily intake of rice water and kombucha, as well as putting himself on a course of homeopathic pills. On the third week, he noticed several small growths on his chest and more starting on his hands. They looked a bit like warts or corns, and were darker than the surrounding skin. Feeling a bit panicked, Hubert consulted two fellow CAM practitioners, who felt that the warts were likely his body getting rid of toxins. On hearing that Hubert had also experienced watery diarrhea, one suggested colonic irrigation, and the other agreed, but added that it might be wise to add Brake Fern to his diet, since the sori under fern leaves resembled warts. They both recommended ginseng for the drowsiness he sometimes felt.
Hubert increased his rice water intake from 8 glasses a day to 12, added fern fiddles to his salad, and administered a series of three rice-water enemas. When he experienced a garlicky metallic taste, and felt abdominal pains, and was vomiting, he called them again, and all three concurred that it was the toxins working their way out of his body, and to continue with the enema treatment.
As the moon rose in a darkened sky, Hubert felt numbness in his fingertips and toes. He struggled to lift the phone and found he couldn’t dial the natural helpline. Nevertheless, he could clearly hear his colleagues talking, discussing his case. He agreed with them that 5G radiation was the best explanation for his symptoms, and they all laughed at the ignorance of the hospital board. Hubert felt exhausted, curled up on the carpet. After a short sequence of seizures, Hubert died in his home, surrounded by his plants, his favorite books, and bathed in moonlight.