This three-part story 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.

In this story, a young couple wishes they would inherit enough to make the down payment on a small cottage.  After a fatal accident, insurance pays out the exact amount for which they had wished…


After the Honeymoon

Returning from their low-cost, but exciting, honeymoon package in Greece, Nancy and William moved into a small, two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of a seven-story block. It was well-situated workwise and had a balcony overlooking a park. William could just make out the river from one corner of the balcony if he stood on a bucket. They had enough furniture already moved in to meet basic needs but needed to fully furnish the flat. Their most used pieces were the faux-leather couch in pale blue from his Aunt Polly, a long wooden coffee table with ball and claw legs (with only a few tooth marks) from Nancy’s Aunt Betty who had several Dachshunds, and a new queen-size bed they had ordered online.

In one corner of the living area, a small but respectable array of wedding presents had been dropped off by William’s brother, Joseph. Nancy had set up a registry when the wedding was announced, and they were now eager owners of many of the necessities a new couple might need, including a Ninja blender, Cuisinart toaster, Kitchen Aid mixer, a Lodge skillet set, and a set of two Boom Bluetooth speakers. Other necessities, such as a cutlery set, crockery, and linen, had been scavenged from both families, leading to a functional but eclectic household.

Finances

Nancy and William spent the last 2 days of their honeymoon in their little utopia, before the gravitational pull of working life tugged them into a routine of commuting to work, studying, and running the roster of household chores—cooking, tidying, cleaning, and laundry. The apartment didn’t have a washer or dryer, and they couldn’t afford appliances at the moment anyway, but there was a communal laundry every second floor, and large coin-operated washers and driers were a cost-effective alternative to shuttling laundry to parents’ homes. This was particularly important to them, because as a nurse assistant, Nancy worked shifts at a hospital and generated a lot of laundry.

By the third month of near-bliss, William applied his auditing training to their finances and soon had an “end of week balance” graph of their savings and current accounts. What he saw made his heart sink, and his exclamation of “uh oh” had them both clustered around his laptop to examine a graph that showed their total balance in a slow downward slope. Every payday popped up a little peak, but each peak was a little lower than the one before. William had seen this pattern when he helped low-income customers. Rent, student debt, car payments, and all the things needed to put food on the table and a roof over their heads were collectively pulling their balance ever lower.

There were also medical bills to pay from Nancy’s car accident 6 months earlier. A driver had skipped a red light, hit her car just ahead of the front passenger-side door, and spun her around and into a concrete barrier. The impact had bounced her head off the door, and the front airbag had left her with a black eye from where her right hand had been thrown up into her face. The car was totaled, and although insurance covered much of her medical bills, the emergency room visit and one overnight “observation” stay (not covered by the insurance) had left her with more than $3,000 of medical debt.

The next day, and with a great tug on his heart, William put his blue Subaru turbocharged WRX on Craigslist. Nancy took photos of the car with her phone, and with her eye for composition, got in a backdrop that made it look appealing to the young adventurous speed enthusiast. Within an hour, William’s phone had buzzed with the first text message, asking to see the car. On the third day, he and Nancy were watching it drive off with a new owner. They went inside and reviewed the stakes. He had owed $11,500 on the car, and after something approaching haggling, had sold it to the fourth person that responded for $18,000 including the workshop manual, a few Subaru-specific tools, and some spare parts and accessories that he had collected.

A Car

That night, they opened a bottle of low-budget white wine and curled up on the coach with the laptop, looking at car auctions. The car payment was gone, but they still needed at least one car between them. William had done his homework, and the depreciation curve of secondhand cars favored sellers in person-to-person direct sales and favored buyers for auctions, so long, of course, as the buyer was well-informed and disciplined to the point of stubbornness. With $6,500 in hand and a bank guarantee of $4,000, William took a bus to his first car auction. It was a miserable experience, and he was outbid on everything he had even remotely wanted. No matter what he bid, someone always went just $100 higher, until he hit his limit and had to back out. That night, he described the experience to Nancy, and they decided to try the next one together.

Saturday arrived, and Nancy was just off nights, so they made it an outing. She liked the old Mercedes 220, and he found a Ford F150 4×4 pickup—leather interior, really nice sound system, and it showed none of the subtle signs of abuse. It also had only 134,000 miles on the clock, and the docket showed no history of accidents or major work. He looked under the hood for signs of overheating and any work that had needed the cylinder head to be removed, while Nancy scrutinized the upholstery, headliner, and paintwork. The maintenance record looked complete, and there were no signs of rust underneath. William made the first bid enthusiastically, but several others showed interest too, and bids climbed steadily. At $11,000, William dropped out of the bidding, and they went back home slightly despondent. The following day, they tried again, but there was nothing in their price range or that they would have wanted. “Maybe a car auction isn’t the best place, honey?” Nancy suggested, “I mean, you get car enthusiasts and resellers there. Maybe estate auctions or auctions for business closings would be a better bet?” William agreed, and the next day he broadened his search. He scoured the trade auction notices all week. The following Saturday, William and Nancy caught the bus and then walked to the auction yard in an industrial area that was selling off equipment from businesses that had closed or were cutting back. True enough, this was a different crowd, and the buyers were milling around heavy equipment more than near the cars that were in the corner of the yard. More people were scrutinizing the forklifts than the cars.

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Of the five vehicles, William could skip two immediately—one was a five-ton truck, and the other was a very sad and dented blue panel van. He also eliminated the black Mercedes delivery van. Nancy peered inside the van, “Would make a great patient shuttle,” she whispered to him. The two remaining candidates weren’t at all bad. A GMC double cab with a canopy and a white Toyota 4×4. The GMC was 2 years old, and the Toyota was 8. The GMC had a larger engine, but the Toyota showed signs of better maintenance. The thing that put him off the Toyota a bit was that it had clearly been in service with an electrician, and this was borne out by the manifest, and it had rows of equipment boxes mounted in the back. On the other hand, he thought, that might actually mean he could get it at a lower price. Nancy asked which he preferred, and he really couldn’t say. “Let’s bid on both,” she suggested, and asked if she could do the bidding this time. “OK, sure, honey, but $10,500, is our limit.”

The crowd had thinned out a little by the time the bidding got to the cars, and most of the action had been around wire machines, welding equipment, and the forklifts. Bidding started with the sad looking panel van. Only two bids, and it went for $1,300. The five-ton truck went for $18,500. Next up was the GMC, and William felt a surge of excitement. First bid was slow in coming, and then $1,000 was bid by a man in faded brown coveralls. “Two thousand,” Nancy’s voice interrupted the auctioneer who had advanced the biding to $1,200. William gasped, but quickly shut his mouth. This was her show, and she seemed to have a plan. Coveralls offered $2,200. “Four thousand,” came Nancy’s bid. Coveralls dropped out and a new bidder in a plaid shirt offered $5,000. “Eight,” Nancy called out. Coveralls re-entered, and he and plaid shirt juggled each other up to $14,500. Plaid shirt took the bid and walked off to go pay.

Next up was the Toyota, starting at $1,000. Coveralls raised his hand, and Nancy doubled. Coveralls bid $2,200. “Five,” called Nancy. Coveralls bid $5,200. “Ten,” called Nancy. Coveralls hesitated, biting his lip. The auctioneer queried him, but he was done. The auctioneer surveyed the small throng. “Any advances on $10,000? He looked at Coveralls who looked away. “Going twice at $10,000,” he looked slowly across the throng. William was gripping the edge of his trousers so tightly his fingers were aching. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. “Done at $10,000!” called the auctioneer, and he brought down the gavel with a bang that jerked William’s eyes open.

“Good buy” the elderly clerk rasped as she filled out details and took payment from Nancy. “We were expecting that Toyota to go for $15,500”, she said looking up at Nancy and handing her the receipt, the papers, and the keys.

“You were amazing!” William blurted out as soon as they were out of earshot and gave Nancy a big sideways hug as they approached the Toyota. “I couldn’t watch anymore!” Nancy handed him the keys, “There you go, lover, your very own bigass truck.” She smiled broadly and gave him a big theatrical wink.

The next week saw William making small fixes to the truck. New tires, a seat cover, and a few new pipes and filters ran to the tune of $986. William declared the truck perfect.

They crowded around the graph that weekend. The truck had depleted much of their savings but they had eliminated the monthly car payments and reduced insurance, so the graph showed a small but perceptible upward movement going forward, but it was still a negative slope.

Nancy looked up at William. “I’m still only a CNA for the next few months, so I don’t qualify yet to take extra shifts at the hospital, but I know the care home down the block is looking. They put a job ad on our notice board.” This sounded like a plan, but they both reflected on how a second job would make a dent in their homelife as much as it would in the graph. Between studies and the new workload, there wasn’t going to be much home life.


 

Read Part 2 of this story, “Jobs and Homes.”