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.
Jayden Somerfield was a brat. He had been a cute but cheeky child, given to smarmy wit and insolence. His mother subtly encouraged this because she found it entertaining that he could get under the skin of everyone else in her family. Jayden coasted through his teenage years breaking hearts and social rules with impunity, and had become a handsome but self-centered young adult, more focused on his image and looks than accomplishment.
His “bad boy” persona was infuriatingly effective at attracting admirers, and he was never short of girlfriends and hangers-on. At 19, a motorcycle and black leather jacket were the cornerstones of an image that he cultivated with great care and much effort. Jayden had learned that looks and tricks were effective in getting attention, affection, and the desirable goodies of life
Jayden was married at 22 to the prettiest debutante in his small town but soon found this a drag. Mia had thought his insolence toward social norms was thrilling and had liked his smooth talk and snappy wit, and she had also seen Jayden as a sort of James Dean figure destined for greater things. Lately though, Mia really wished he would be a little more serious about their future. She wished he would spend less time with his drinking buddies and his appearance and more effort in planning a career. She thought the bike was out of place for a married man and wished he would get past that image.
Jayden had finished a trade curriculum at the local combined high-school and then completed a 2-year trade certificate at the community college where Mia worked as an accounts clerk. Their first date was something she had never experienced before—she rode on the back of his bike, clutching him tightly, and feeling the wind roar past her. The acceleration made her heart leap, and his nimble handling made her just know he was going to give her an exciting life and take her places beyond this small town.
Mia introduced him to her father, Bob, who was the aircraft maintenance foreman at the regional airstrip for a medical transport company. As a result of her influence and Bob’s devotion to his family, Jayden got work as an apprentice technician in Bob’s department. Mia saw Jayden as a future executive at the firm, and she could picture him with an expensive tailored suit and a fast car. She pictured them taking business trips to Europe and dressing in the very best lines.
It was 3 years later, and Bob thought Jayden a bit too cocky for his own good, but he grudgingly admitted that Jayden had ticked all the boxes to be promoted to technician and gave him the training for the next level of competencies. There was also the constant nagging by his daughter to give Jayden more responsibility, backed up by Bob’s wife Evangeline, who dropped the odd hint about the need for youngsters to be encouraged. They both seemed to think that Jayden’s cocky attitude was a sign of leadership, of executive material even.
Bob had married Evangeline when he was still an apprentice, and maybe also a bit youthful in attitude. He didn’t really have ambition as such and was focused on doing a good job of everything he touched, and making sure his staff worked well, worked safe, and got opportunities to grow. He just wished Jayden was more focused, had more attention to detail, was just more … Bob mulled the thought over. It wasn’t that Jayden was incompetent, but something about his priorities and seeming lack of thinking things through had made Bob assign the more critical jobs to others rather than Jayden.
Bob let out a long breath and signed the staff action card that would trigger a promotion and a salary raise for Jayden. The raise would be backdated by 4 months and include a small achievement bonus payment. Bob specified that as part of Jayden’s on-the-job training, the next competency he needed to master was to marshal the medevac aircraft, and Bob wrote Jayden in on apron duty for the next few weeks. For the rest of the day, he assigned Jayden to shadow several of the more qualified ground crew members to see marshalling close up and get ready to do it himself.
When Jayden picked up his clock card to punch out that afternoon, there was an envelope with his notice of advancement, a printout showing $2,500 in backdated pay increase, and a bonus check for $1,200. By the time he had finished changing into street clothes and was dangling his keys, he had decided to pay a deposit on a blue custom-painted 2nd hand Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa he had been lusting over for months. Two hours later, he had signed a trade-in for his current 750cc Suzuki GSX, handed over the bonus check, taken ownership of the 1300cc Hayabusa, and was buying a round of drinks for his buddies at the “Flying Spanner” to celebrate. His friends were envious and congratulatory in equal measures, and he soaked in both. He now had the biggest and fastest bike in the group, and could dine on this fact for many months to come. The congratulations warmed his core, but the envy was delicious.
By the time Jayden sneaked clumsily through the front door, Mia had dumped his dried-out dinner in the trash, cleaned off her make-up, hung up her clothes, and put her shoes back in the closet. Mia took a long, rage-filled shower and had gone to bed. She had heard from her father that Jayden had been given the promotion, and had intended to celebrate this success with a rib-eye steak meal, a glass of wine, and a lot of intimacy. Mia had taken off early from work after her father called, and had managed to cram in shopping, tidying up, cooking, and getting herself ready in time for Jayden to get home from work. This promotion was a joint effort, with a lot of social work on her part, and she meant to celebrate it as a milestone toward a glamorous future.
After being woken up by Jayden stumbling up the stairs and giggling after bumping into the bathroom door, Mia was in no mood for yet another drunken bulldust story about having to help his mates, or having bike trouble, or even (the best ever), having to help an old lady find her missing dog. He reeked of beer and smoke, and his attempts to do a “let’s discuss this” session was maybe not the best approach right then.
The discussion didn’t go well and progressed from bedroom to kitchen, and from Mia arguing about his lack of consideration to his complaints about being stifled. Then he let slip that he had been given raise and a bonus (“Yes, because I bugged my Dad,” Mia had thought to herself) and that he had blown it all on a new bike and drinks for his friends. Mia stared at him across the kitchen table. Her neck was stiff, her lips pursed, and her fists clenched into white knots of frustration. “You bought a … BIKE?” Mia screamed at him, “Are you kidding me?” Mia picked up the large chef’s knife, a wedding present from her parents. She lifted it from the kitchen table, and pointing it at him, snarled through gritted teeth “your childish choices are going be the death of this marriage, if not one of us!” She stomped up the stairs and slammed the bedroom door in punctuation.
Jayden slept it off on the couch and had left before Mia came down to the kitchen the next morning half ready to talk. Before leaving, he cleaned up in the guest bathroom, and got clothes from the drier. He was angry with Mia and slightly embarrassed about missing supper with her, but then angry at her for making him feel embarrassed about it. He stared into the mirror and muttered to himself, “She has become such a drag. I wish I could be out of this marriage and never see her face again.”
Jayden whipped out of the parking on his new bike, thrilled with its muscular acceleration and crisp handling, and reveling in its throaty growl as he opened the throttle and felt the world slide past in a blur, crisp morning air gusting into his face. He arrived at the airstrip just as the sun broke over the parked aircraft, throwing long shadows and eerie silhouettes.
Jayden arrived at the airstrip early because today was his first time marshaling out on his own. In spite of his normal cocky attitude, he was a little nervous. He was also a bit hung over, a bit queasy, and rattled by the fight with Mia. “What was that thing with the knife and death?” he wondered.
Jayden took in the sleek lines of the 107 ft. high-wing Twin turboprop DeHavilland Dash-8 aircraft out on the apron. This would be the first aircraft he was to marshal out, and it was scheduled for an 07:30 departure. The twin engines crouched over the landing gear, and the large blades extended 12ft in front of the wheels, giving the Dash-8 it’s short take-off capabilities and making it look like it was in a hurry to get somewhere. On any other day, he would have appreciated this physical expression of power and speed, but today it somehow made Jayden a little anxious.
By 07:00, the aircrew was onboard, and the medical staff were hurriedly getting settled. They were on an emergency flight to Canada, and the pilot let the ground crew know they needed to move things along “tout de suite.” Jayden had a headset and throat mic connected to an interphone jack on the port nose section. After listening distractedly to the crew going through preflight checks, Jayden heard the pilot call out “Ground, starting number 1,” and then the steadily climbing whine of the turbine. The prop slowly turned, gained speed, and then melted in a haze of motion as the pilot set it to full idle at 780 rpm. The copilot announced, “number one, idle, check.” In theory, the marshaling ground crew member was supposed to confirm this, but the local habit was to just get on with business. In 25 years of operation, this airstrip had not needed ground crew to confirm elementary stuff like whether an engine was running. Much of marshalling out was just towing, plugging in and unplugging power, and waving goodbye, and Bob had factored this in when assigning it to Jayden. For good measure, Bob watched the preparations from the refueling bowser. Not that he thought Jayden would mess up, but just to confirm to himself that the promotion was correct and that Jayden was ready for more responsibility. Besides, Mia and Evangeline would be expecting him to report back.
The pilot repeated the process with the second engine, and the combined roar of the jet engines and the propeller whine pierced Jayden’s hangover like steel claws. His mouth was dry, and he felt a little ill. Jayden tried to focus as the pilot and copilot continued their checklist, and then the pilot’s request for taxi clearance from the control tower. The dialogue abruptly swung in Jayden’s direction. “Roger taxi strip Bravo to runway Two East. Ground crew, clear chocks.”
This was the signal for Jayden to remove the nose wheel chock. His role was to run up to the nose wheel, grab the short chain attached to the chock, and give it a robust tug to free the chock. He was then to heave the chock clear, so that the aircraft could taxi out. Darting forward made his head throb, and bending down and heaving the big yellow chock clear was almost punctuated by Jayden vomiting over the nose wheel. It was a somewhat feeble throw, and the chock landed only a few yards to his left instead of way behind him.
“Chocks clear,” he rasped through the throat mic, and stepping around the nose to his right, disconnected the communication cable from the port nose interphone connector. Jayden signed to the pilot and walked backward toward the edge of the apron so the plane could begin its taxi.
The engine revs climbed sharply, and the Dash-8 began rolling forward in a leftward curve toward the taxi strip when Jayden realized that the chock was not clear of the path the starboard wheel was taking. He ran forward again, holding his arms up and crossing them to show the pilot to stop. Jayden signaled that there was a ground obstruction, and the pilot braked evenly and cut the engines back to idle, stopping just short of the chock. Jayden was flustered and his head filled with pain as he rushed toward the chock. Jayden could not hear Bob shouting at him over the whine of the engines, and without the headset plugged in, could not register the sudden alarm of the copilot yelling at him to stop.
Jayden saw only the offending yellow chock, felt only the throbbing headache, and thought only of how he would be teased for this ineffectual performance. Jayden did not notice the blur of the starboard prop between himself and the chock, and he trotted unseeing into its hazy shimmering corona. Before Jayden hit the concrete, five of the almost 6ft blades had made contact, breaking three of them, and sending a spray of tissue and shards of metal and composite in a wild arc.
As death spread its black cloak over Jayden’s crumpled and cooling form, it granted him his wish to be free of Mia. He was now decidedly out of the relationship for good and would very certainly never see her again.