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 or similar sources 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.

Silas was a police officer, but his wife just called him “Boss.” He was a forceful person, with very firm ideas on a very large number of topics, and generally accepted no contradictions. Mary had learned early in their marriage that Silas did things his way and it could be unhealthy or painful to get in his path. His temperament was very advantageous in his work and meant that few colleagues or subordinates ever thwarted him in his desire to climb the police ranks.

His superiors at work had two mindsets about Silas. Some certainly liked his effectiveness and aggressive manner and were somewhat taken by his “kick down, kiss up” habit with his underlings, though he was unctuous towards his bosses. Another group saw through his ploy and were waiting for the day that his behavior and ambition would turn into a dumpster fire for the department. Those observers felt that sooner or later, mishandling of suspects was going to get someone killed and lead to the downfall of Silas and anyone that was supporting him. As things turned out, despite several deaths in custody or shootings that were questionable, Silas seemed to have the luck of the devil himself. In fact, his record of on-scene shootings instead seemed to make him a magnet for support and followers, and despite some mutterings about “live by the gun, die by the gun,” he seemed untouchable.

Silas indeed felt untouchable, especially when dealing with the public. Specifically, he felt least constrained when dealing with marginalized members of minority groups whose access to power meant that there would be little or no repercussions when he overstepped the boundaries. When dealing with those groups, Silas was in full “kick down” mode and was less cautious about using his fists, baton, Taser, or even his gun. During traffic stops, Silas would be polite and cautious with well-heeled motorists but might provoke a situation in which he could claim a need to use force on anyone else.

Melissa Freeman, MD, worked at a 600-bed regional hospital and received patients from the surrounding blue-collar and agricultural areas. As a psychiatrist, she saw the mental health effects of economic and social pressures and the slow downward spiral of the region that generated those pressures as inexorably as continental drift and fast enough to see with the naked eye. When she arrived as a new employee at the hospital, the town and surrounding areas were not Nirvana by any means, but most families were intact, coping, and had reason to look forward to the future. That was a long time ago, though, and now most families and marriages were fractured, few of the big employers were still around, and hardly anyone thought the future was something to look forward to. It wasn’t that business for the car plant, the biggest employer, was bad, but by relocating offshore, they could gain. They could squeeze more concessions from the new host state, their tax bill would drop, and they could pay lower wages. All in all, a few percentage points of better profit and an extra bonus for the executives was motivation enough to sign a deal that would cripple the town. Melissa had a large patient panel, but she made time for the most vulnerable. There were little habits that she employed to signal to them that they were welcome, invited, and safe. Melissa could also be a little flamboyant about it, too, and her shimmering rainbow combat boots were as eye-catching as they were a broadcast to the LGBTQ community that this doctor acknowledged them, saw them, and made a safe space for them.

Once the car plant left, many of the ancillary industries left to join them. The air-conditioning plant closed and moved, as did the place that did upholstery, the outfit that did car windows, and the constellation of little industries that orbit auto plants but are invisible outside the industry. Many of the local retailers and service employers soon closed or moved elsewhere, and the unemployment rate went from three points below the national average to seven points above it. With health insurance gone, many people turned to cheaper street drugs, and as a result, crime climbed like a little black party balloon caught by the breeze. The three businesses that didn’t see a sharp downturn were the mortician, the bail bonds place, and the pawnshop.

There were many groups within the remaining population who did worse in the new reality than the average. Some of the autoworkers had accumulated injuries along with their years of service and were too old to relocate to better towns, too injured to become laborers, and too disillusioned to try. There were women who had devoted their working life to raising children in an environment where employment was never in question and a stable future was never doubted. Now they were left with infirm husbands, widowed, or abandoned, and had few ways to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. There were the people of color who had never been high on the hog, but at least trusted in a sort of grinding but workable existence at the plant or with suppliers. These people scratched together a life on the edges that was neither desirable nor safe, but it was all they had. For all these people there was at least solace in companionship, the support of church, and the meager but gladly offered help of fellow travelers. One group was as badly off as the others, but enjoyed far less support, and found themselves ignored by some, rejected by others, and actively despised by the rest. Silas actively despised its members.

Erin liked glitter, and her soft fragrant hair had a steak of electric blue.  Although she felt comfortable in her own skin, constant vigilance and daily threats had weighed on her shoulders, and she clenched her fists and her teeth in her sleep. It was also what led her to cross paths with Melissa and helped her find a way through the looming world around her. Erin was a member of the despised group simply by being who she was, and she had to pick her way through life with extra care to avoid the kind of violence that dogged members of her group. Simply walking into the wrong bar, or being alone on the street, or being stopped for a faulty tail light could quickly turn nasty. Being trans had its benefits, but attention from police was not one, and Erin avoided driving at night if she could; she traveled to unfamiliar places on her own only if she absolutely couldn’t avoid it. Tonight, was one of those times where she couldn’t. It was raining. She was picking a friend up at the airport because there was no one else to do it, taxis were unsafe, and hanging around at the bus stop at night as a trans girl was just asking for trouble. So, Erin was making the trip to pick up her friend at the airport.

Silas was irritable. It was late, his acid reflux was troubling him, and it was raining again. He had decided to pull over random cars to breathalyze drivers. On the downside, it meant getting out in the rain, but on the upside, it was often a laugh to spook people, and there was always a chance of getting lucky and busting a hooker. That usually meant payment in kind and no paperwork. Almost as good was getting someone whose mouth outran their status, and Silas had ways to turn that into entertainment. Tonight was proving to be a bust, though; the few cars coming through the airport offramp were too upmarket to mess with, and he was starting to give up hope of any outlet for his mounting irritation. It was then that a jalopy with one slightly dim headlamp came over the hill, and Silas felt his excitement build as he pulled it over.

Shining his flashlight into the interior, he took his time to take stock. Perhaps it was her clothing, or something about Erin’s voice, or even the copy of OMG! on the passenger seat that made him suspicious, but equally, either the rainbow air freshener or the multi-colored “Coexist” bumper sticker could have triggered a man who was already primed and spring-loaded for violence. Silas ordered Erin out of the car and things rapidly spun out in a violent direction. Silas first used his Taser and then repeated blows to turn her body into a heaving tangle of pain, blood, and tears slumped across the steaming hood. It would likely have ended differently but for a passing motorist who used what social position he had to stop, yell, and start recording.

As a result, an ambulance arrived, but the crew did not oppose Silas’ insistence on accompanying them on the grounds that Erin was under arrest. At the hospital, the security team acknowledged this and did not oppose Silas being present in the ED. His assumed authority did not, however, prevent one of the ED physicians from ticking a flag of suspicious injury in Erin’s medical history, which warned all other staff looking at her record to be alert. While his presence at the periphery continued to be tolerated, there was a subtle shift in the behavior of the nurses and doctors, and increasingly, they placed their bodies between Silas and Erin, and when she was put in a room, he was firmly asked to stay outside, the door politely shut in his face.

Silas grew angry and frightened that he was losing control over her body and what she might say. When she was sent to radiology, he grew forceful and stayed at the side of the gurney. The radiologist was unimpressed with his insistence that Erin was his prisoner, but after calling her manager, had to concede the right of law enforcement to accompany a prisoner. The handcuffs, however, she flatly refused to allow. She also instructed him to leave his gun, Taser, and even his belt and boots in a plastic tub. She quizzed him repeatedly on any other metal devices he might be carrying before she finally let him stand next to Erin as she underwent an MRI. Over the intercom, the radiology tech tersely instructed him to move further from the platform as it slid slowly into the machine with Erin.

Silas was furious. The obstruction by the staff in the ED and dirty looks had angered him, but he had to bite his lip not to yell at the radiologist and her insolent requests. Taking off his belt and boots was obviously just a way to make him look foolish and humiliate him, and nobody had ever been able to force him to leave his gun, badge, and cuffs behind. With a sneer, he curled his lip at how easily fooled she was, though, and he stepped closer to the MRI machine as it started clicking and thumping. Nobody was going to trick him; he had a backup.

Things moved quickly, and Silas had barely stepped forward when there was a sudden tug on his calf as his backup gun was pulled by the powerful magnets in the MRI. He reached down and grabbed at his leg, not understanding why his gun was writhing in its holster. He fumbled as it leapt from the holster and clutched at it frantically when it spun loose. There was a moment when he thought he had caught it, but it was an awkward catch at all the wrong angles, and there was a deafening concussion in the small room. The bullet tore through his groin at an upward, sideways angle, puncturing his bladder, passing through his colon, and narrowly missing a kidney, before exiting and hitting the wall just above the control room window.

Members of the same ED team were attending to Silas within minutes, and before he realized where he was, he was in the same bay that Erin had occupied only 20 minutes before. Within an hour, Silas had been stabilized, fitted with IV fluids, and was back to radiology for a CT scan to check for fragments and evaluate damage. Within the next hour, Silas had been admitted to an inpatient bed, a treatment plan entered into his record, and he was already out of surgery. By midnight, Silas was his normal combative self, but the nightshift nurse flagged that he was showing concerning breathing patterns and had a slightly elevated temperature. After precautionary antibiotics, Silas was still alert enough to show anger and frustration at his situation, and the nurse didn’t detect that beneath the anger, he was getting names wrong and yelling about a prisoner from an arrest several weeks before. However, she did notice when his angry monologue became slurred and raised the alarm.

Over the next day, Erin had recovered enough to be discharged to a group of friends, including Dr. Freeman, who was there in her glittering rainbow combat boots to give her support. Silas, in the meantime, sank further into an angry delirium. His cold, clammy skin, rapid heartbeat, and loud and proud breathing announced the organism that was rapidly colonizing his bloodstream. By the time Erin arrived home and was being pampered by friends, sepsis had claimed Silas, and his naked body was being wheeled to a cold steel tray in the hospital morgue. Nobody would ever call Silas “Boss” again, but Erin would live a long and fruitful life among friends.