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.
Peter had the severest peanut allergy the world had ever seen—or so, at least, he adamantly told anyone who would listen. His allergist heard it at least every week, sometimes more often, and scarcely a day passed without Peter occupying a corner of the waiting room with a list of symptoms to be interpreted.
It had started last year with itchy skin and a bit of a rasp in his throat, but now he constantly felt a low-grade nausea and fatigue, and often had dry skin patches and a runny nose.
The problem was that the allergist could find no evidence in signs, symptoms, or repeated tests to support the idea that Peter had a peanut allergy. Whether they were skin tests, blood tests, or various other challenges, as soon as any kind of blind was introduced, the effects became randomly distributed. The allergist tried referring Peter to a clinical psychologist, but Peter would have none of it. He accused the allergist of trying to get rid of him and he left feeling unheard and undermined. “I’m going to die because of peanuts and you aren’t doing a darn thing about it!”
Peter was a firm believer in doing his own research and felt that most of science was just self-promotion or the fruits of big pharma money changing hands. He joined a wellness-themed Facebook group and slowly gravitated to a Reddit subgroup for people coping with allergies. Peter was aghast at how much more there seemed to be when he started delving into the topic. Searching online to validate his fears, he found ample sources and personal accounts that confirmed, deepened, and broadened his sense of alarm. The more he looked, the more peanut allergies seemed to be at the root of so many health problems. Not only that, but Peter also soon discovered testimonials, blogs, and YouTube videos that drew links to vaccines he had received as a child, 5G cell towers, and GMO foods. Peter was distraught, but oddly vindicated, and found warmth among the supportive members of a helpful online community.
Tammy Broadleaf was the owner-operator of an 18-wheeler rig. She had seen everything in her 15 years on the road and was one of the most skilled operators around. Today, she had dropped off a load of beets at a processing plant, and was lucky enough to pick up a return cargo of 50,000 pounds of unroasted, shelled peanuts. Even so, she had to wait 4 hours for loading, paperwork, and a dispatch order. Tammy wasn’t thrilled with an unsecured load like peanuts that could slosh around during cornering or high winds, but money was tight, there was competition for mileage, and she had bills to pay. Although she grossed nearly $180,000 in a good year, once she deducted installments for the rig, license fees, insurance, and all the other unavoidable business costs, she was barely earning enough to pay her mortgage and buy food. Some months, she went into the red just to stay on the road.
Tammy stopped off to refuel at the big interstate truck stop and took a voucher for a shower. Strapping a stainless steel .38 snub-nose to her waist, Tammy quickly showered, and used a dry rub hair product. It had been 2 weeks since she had shampooed her hair, but there was no way she was going to be standing naked in a public shower with both her eyes closed even for a second. She had seen, heard, and experienced enough to think that packing a piece to shower was a good precaution and that hanging about in the showers was not a good idea. Tammy finished up as fast as she could and headed back to her rig to catch a bit more mandatory sleep before her 1,200-mile return trip.
The online community helped Peter to find a local provider with great Yelp reviews who, in addition to providing allergy screenings, also carried a range of homeopathic and herbal remedies. At his first visit to the homely and welcoming practice, the provider spent a full 90 minutes listening attentively to Peter’s story and took copious notes on his thoughts and suspicions. The provider and his assistant made Peter part of the discussion, and they laid out a care plan that focused on well-being and Peter’s health goals.
The session ended with a soothing massage and meditation, and Peter was offered several cups of tea made from Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) because of the healthful properties it had that were related to relieving allergies. Peter bought a 2-pound cloth bag of the nettle tea mix, and on advice from the assistant, he also bought a bag of Perilla (Perilla frutescens) and one of Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). For good measure, Peter bought a beautifully illustrated hard-cover book on natural remedies, a granite mortar and pestle, and a balance scale to measure out accurate doses.
Compared with his primary care doctor and his allergist, who were always busy tapping stuff into a computer and seldom even looked him in the eye, the experience with the natural provider was affirming and supportive. He didn’t feel rushed at any point, and his every question and concern was treated seriously and thoroughly explored. Instead of out-of-date magazines and uncomfortable chairs, the waiting area came with sweet herbal tea, Turkish Delight, and calming music and incense.
Peter decided he was going to fire his allergist and his primary care doctor and instead come to the wellness center in the future. Pulling out of the parking in his smart car, Peter’s only regrets were that he hadn’t made the switch sooner, and—considering all the tea he had been drinking—not going to the toilet before he left. As he merged onto the highway, the 20-minute drive home seemed like it would be an eternity. Peter opened the sunroof and rolled down the windows as a distraction and drove as fast as he dared. Eventually nearing his exit, Peter found himself between two large trucks, and he accelerated past the truck to his right, growing ever more nervous at how close the exit was.
With hardly any distance left, and anxious not to miss his exit and thus add a 10-minute detour, Peter finally passed the truck, and made a fast lane change in front of it. Peter saw that the exit was closer than he had judged and hit the brakes to avoid overshooting.
Tammy had tapped her brakes evenly when the tiny green car had swerved in front of her rig, but now it was braking hard, and the gap narrowed fast. With nowhere else to go to avoid impact and no place to safely swerve, Tammy stood on her brakes. The air suddenly filled with the smell of rubber, brake pads, and a stream of cuss words as Tammy wrestled with the rig, trying to avoid a jackknife or leaving the road at this speed. The bull-bar on her rig hit the back of the tiny car, bouncing it forward, past the exit, and into the curving road ahead. With all the wheels smoking, in a desperate attempt to avoid rolling, Tammy kept the beast straight, but now headed directly at the tiny car that was stopped backward against the barrier. Tammy gritted her teeth, anticipating the crush of the toy car against the barrier.
Peter had barely comprehended the events unfolding around him. One moment, he was about to exit the interstate, and the next, he was flying through the air and crashing into the barrier way past the exit. His car had gone into the barrier backwards, and he was now looking at a huge truck headed straight at him, smoke pouring out like some sort of metal dragon. He wanted to close his eyes and just surrender to death, but he was transfixed. The huge monster was almost certainly going to crush his car, but then almost miraculously, it came to rest barely a foot from his front bumper. Peter heaved a huge sigh of relief and laughed nervously, still gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles.
However, the 20 tons of unroasted shelled peanuts were adamant that they wanted to keep moving—they were just obeying Newton’s law of inertia, after all—and they collectively swept aside the tarp cover, deluging the area in front of Tammy’s cab. A great wave flowed over her roof and a 20-foot pile formed over the open-top smart car, quickly filling every space. The added pressure around Peter’s brimming bladder was irresistible, and urine flooded his trousers and soaked the seat. This would have been excruciatingly embarrassing under normal circumstances, but right at that moment, Peter had bigger problems occupying his mind. For one, each time he exhaled, peanuts would crowd in and take up the space, and each breath he took was shallower and shorter than the last. In the end, it was not a peanut allergy that took his life, but their simple corporeal bulk.