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.
Neville was the kind of guy who took his shoes off in church. He was also the kind of guy to sit in the window bay of his 13th story office, back against the pillar, knees up, and shoes off—sometimes socks off, too.
Sitting in the window bay certainly had merits; the eight-by-eight window gave a spectacular vista of the city, the winding river to the west, and just a silvery hint of the ocean beyond. The 18″ deep ledge was indeed a great place to sit and read, drink a coffee, or even sip a martini as the sun set over the city. Some just did it without shoes or socks.
Neville was a marketing director for a health insurance company. He was responsible for those little TV ads that frightened the bejeezus out of people in their 50s and early 60s: Those too young for Medicare, but plenty old enough to have felt Death’s boney fingers brush their neck, or catch a glimpse of Death leering at them during a bout of gastric reflux or mysterious midnight pains that tiptoe out at dawn. He was a master of accentuating fear, multiplying uncertainty, and preying on doubt. The revenue from his effort was phenomenal, and he had shown time and again how frightening the living heck out of a narrowly targeted demographic was highly profitable. “Diamonds on the soles of my shoes, baby!” he had said on many occasions when people congratulated him for his laudatory effect on sales figures. Neville was also of great help with regulatory capture. Some of his best work was crafting social media campaigns, video clips, and strategically placed ads to damage some politicians and boost others. At the heart of these campaigns was a finely oiled process to deliver carefully crafted templates for new laws that would help the company by either opening markets to them, shutting out competitors, or reducing regulatory or tax barriers to maximizing profit.
Neville’s current project was, it may be grudgingly acknowledged, something akin to genius. The project sought to cast care providers as vaguely money grubbing and out of touch with their patients and portray the insurance companies as “on the side of the patient.” The ads played up images of a distracted physician banging away at a keyboard while missing half the patient’s concerns. In contrast, the ads showed how friendly and helpful nurses were, available 24/7 through the insurance company app. It described the gamification, prizes, and fitness communities that members could enjoy and how they could earn hundreds of dollars by using the app to track healthy habits and fitness.
“Diamonds, baby!” Neville crowed. Data was already showing a shift in public perceptions, with nurses still the most respected by the demographics of interest, but insurers now edging ahead of physicians and tied with teachers and firefighters. With any luck, membership in the gold and platinum plans that had in-house telemedicine options would squeeze out some of the less desirable providers in the network, shut the door to more out-of-network providers, and torpedo those that were trying to establish direct primary care networks. “Diamonds, baby.”
On this particular day, with a high heat bubble over the coast for 50 miles, and temperatures far beyond previous records, a peculiarity of glass explosion became a local point of discussion on news channels. Dozens of car windows, especially the larger windscreens, had suddenly shattered when the differential between external temperature and chilled air from the air-conditioner had caused intolerable internal stresses. The TV shows invited guest speakers on both sides of the debate—climate experts on the one side, and in contrast, a guy who sold mattresses but had very firm ideas that it was all a hoax. In the meantime, the autoglass franchises up and down the coast were doing a roaring trade in windscreen replacements.
Neville’s car was a candidate for this effect, since he was parked in a bay that was in direct afternoon sun, and he loved cranking up the air conditioning. High above the car, in Neville’s office, the afternoon sun was also streaming through the large plate glass window. He had adjusted the air conditioning way down, with his knees up, and shoes and socks off, sitting on the ledge, watching the video proofs for the next series in the campaign. It was a masterfully done clip: tight, punchy, emotionally gripping. So excited was he by the clip punchline that Neville let out a big yip and slapped his hands on his thighs, jostling the PC.
The impact between the metal corner of Neville’s laptop and the window was tiny, and Neville was not even aware of the tap, but the pane was dealing with a lot of internal issues right then, and a tiny tap in the wrong place was all it needed to transform from an implacable barrier to a rapidly expanding cloud of razor-edged pieces. With a loud bang, the window burst, and long daggers, slim shards, and countless little blades of glass flew inwards and filled the office space.
Neville rapidly exsanguinated as he blindly crawled across a floor shimmering in the late afternoon sun. The multitude of cuts across his arms, hands, shoulders, and face dribbled and oozed blood, but a deep slice across the left side of his neck and a blossoming ravine in his right inner thigh delivered bright crimson torrents that soon robbed him of thought, heartbeat, and breath. The bare soles of his feet glittered in the bright sunlight that angled into the ruined office: Diamonds on the soles of his feet.