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.
Rheba was in the revenge business. Since she seldom took money for exacting revenge, it was probably more like a hobby, or maybe a calling, than a business. It had started when she was 12, and one of the seniors was bullying her friends. His name was Trevor, he was on the wrestling team, and he took things he liked: things like a smaller kid’s lunch money, possessions, and pride. He enjoyed causing pain, like giving a kid a wedgie until their underpants tore, or twisting sensitive flesh until they bawled and wet themselves. One time, Rheba had asked him to stop, her lips pursed and her face serious, but he paused only to snort like a big cruel pig, before continuing to shake a boy up and down by the elastic of his undies.
Aliza had been composing songs since she was 4, which may have had something to do with her entire family being musical. She had expanded into singing and arranging while still in school, but also found she was gifted at creating jewelry. Over the years, she had built a community and social network around her songwriting, singing, and jewelry craft, and was starting to see a grassroots business emerging that could support her without needing side gigs. It was a relief to have the steady income, but she was always slightly nervous about losing traction. To keep a pure spirit and clear head, Aliza maintained a vegan lifestyle, focused on the love of family, friends, and supporters, and made sure she was always paying forward in life.
Rheba met her at a music camp where Aliza was mentoring young people with an interest in music. Rheba felt a strong connection and perhaps a tiny crush, and when the school principal announced that they were looking for performers to be part of the school’s upcoming 50th anniversary, she knew exactly who she wanted to be included. Rheba started a small campaign among her school friends to invite Aliza to sing at the ceremony, and soon had over 50 supporters in a petition to the school. Engrossed in the joy of so many of her friends and schoolmates helping her campaign for Aliza, Rheba had not been aware that her enthusiasm and obvious affection for Aliza had also drawn the attention of another faction in the school. Trevor had picked up on the fact that Rheba and her friends were more than a little invested in this singer, and the more Rheba and her friends committed to getting Aliza, the more he started to think that this was a ripe opportunity for some fun. When the school agreed with Rheba and her friends, and booked Aliza to sing two songs at the celebration, Rheba was ecstatic, and Trevor made a plan.
On the Friday of the celebration, the assembly hall was decorated with streamers and posters detailing the school’s history, and the general mood was one of excitement and joy. Rheba had been so excited that she barely slept the previous night, and she and her friends got to school early to help with decorations and handing out flyers about Aliza and her music. Trevor and his friends were also excited and had firm plans. When Aliza arrived, she was met at the entrance by Rheba and her friends, with flowers and open autograph books. Trevor and his friends got into the hall early and took positions near the front.
The ceremony started with speeches by the current headmistress, past headmasters, and one of the original students, who was now the head of a big hospital and had a career in surgery. The speakers were thankfully short, mindful of how long a fidgety crowd of schoolchildren could sit still when they knew there was music and a band in the schedule. On cue, Aliza was introduced, the band started up, and she launched into a Regina Spektor song that she loved. The students loved it, too, and there was enthusiastic applause until she introduced her next song, one of her own composition. Rheba was in the wings, mesmerized by the performance.
As Aliza started her next song, Trevor and his friends put their plan into action. They started by heckling and then produced airhorns, drowning out the band. Aliza was startled and humiliated, but pushed through, even though she was distraught. As she left the stage, Rheba could see the emotion on her face, and it felt like her heart had been torn out.
That Sunday, Rheba had done the most wicked thing in revenge that she could imagine. She had shoved a potato up Trevor’s truck tailpipe, because she had heard it could damage a car quite badly if you did it right, and she badly wanted him to suffer damage to something he loved. As it happened, she didn’t have a potato, so she used a quince fruit. With the aid of a sturdy stick and some effort, she had pushed it deep down the fat tailpipe and walked away well pleased with herself, unaware that it was the wrong truck. After church, people were bidding each other health, happiness, and good fortune, and a small crowd collected around the truck where a frustrated and cantankerous farmer was cussing, spitting, and yelling about his truck not wanting to start. Always up for fun and games, Trevor was yucking it up something fierce, offering the old timer a lighter to get his skidonk truck going. Having pulled the same prank himself, Trevor wandered around to the back of the truck to offer some more advice. As he bent down to take a gander, the tailpipe convulsed as compressed gas ignited, and the quince finally freed itself and accelerated fiercely. With a colossal bang and a black cloud of diesel soot, it shot out of the rusty tailpipe, and the hard fruit hit Trevor in the throat so hard that it smashed his voice box and every other bone and blood vessel in a 3-inch radius.
Trevor staggered around for a few seconds, coughing up little spurts of blood and shards of cartilage and bone. By the time anyone noticed, he had dropped to the ground like a particularly unhappy sack of moldy potatoes. He lay on the lawn, his face buried in the grass, and little rivulets of blood and sputum trickled a path through the black soot and dripped from his chin. His chest heaved spasmodically as he tried to suck air through a collapsed windpipe, but soon the spasms grew smaller and further apart, until he was still, and the trickle of blood stopped.
By the time the county volunteer ambulance arrived, Trevor was quite solidly dead, and the ambulance crew were spared the indignity of trying to figure out how to use an artificial airway.
Rheba was transfixed by the whole ensemble of events and took in several lessons. First, she reflected, sometimes luck acts in one’s favor. Second, getting the wrong truck was a grave mistake that told her that attention to detail was critical. Lastly, she reflected on the outcome. She had intended Trevor to suffer embarrassment and perhaps some car damage, but instead he was now lying dead on the church lawn. This was not, in her view, a bad outcome. It was just not the one she had planned, and she would put these lessons into play in the future, when revenge became a hobby.
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