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.

The newspaper covered medical industry news and occupied a five-story brick building in what was once a swish part of town. The building itself reflected this shift in fortune, from the gaudy oak-paneled boardroom of the finance department on the fifth floor, to the paper-strewn offices of the writers on the third, to the thrumming and grubby domain of the print room in the basement.

The print room was run by Terrence Jonathan Drummond and Colin Anthony Deegan, cousins and bitter rivals since childhood. The rest of the company knew them collectively as Tweedledee and Tweedledum and stayed out of their way whenever possible. Terry did the early shift from 6 AM to 3 PM, and Colin worked from 3 PM to midnight. While they detested each other, they hated outside interference even more, and nothing quite got their goat like someone trying to rectify their mutual disagreements. Years before, the print department had been gifted a very fancy Wigomat filter coffee machine as an award in recognition of their productivity. The award was the brainchild of HR, and was immediately divisive and contentious. Other departments demanded to know why they had not been awarded, the HR department’s logic and mathematics were questioned, and Terry and Colin were soon bickering over the fancy machine. In theory, the filter apparatus and glass flask could be used for either tea or coffee, but Terry was somewhat of a tea perfectionist, and could not abide the infiltration of faint coffee tastes that he claimed clung to the filter housing and the beaker itself. After Terry had denounced the machine as delivering a “vile coffee-scented effluvium” into his imported Ceylon loose leaf premium tea, and repeatedly accused Colin of not cleaning it properly after use, he brought in his own variable temperature electric kettle and a Wedgwood teapot.

Colin had adopted the Wigomat and added a timer so that when he arrived at 6:00, the flask would be full of freshly brewed coffee, kept hot by the heating pad beneath it. HR tried to intervene to make the award more equitable, and their involvement had the salutary effect of uniting Tweedledee and Tweedledum against them. For the next 6 months, Colin peed in the vases in HR every night, while Terry messed with their air-conditioning timer and their various enthusiastic posters and announcements. Every night, the air conditioning in HR would heat the place up to 98° F, and the fresh air intake would be closed. As a result, every morning when the HR staff arrived, their office would be dank, muggy, and smell like the urinal at the county fair beer garden. They would also spend at least 3 hours sorting out errata in notices that placed the choir meeting in a railyard, the train spotter group meeting at the garbage dump, and the recycling group meeting at the church. Undoing errors in their notices further clogged their days, and there were daily calls to clarify why churros were part of the church choir. HR productivity essentially ground to a halt, for which the rest of the company were secretly grateful. Eventually, Colin and Terry bored with traumatizing HR, and returned to their own internal fights and traditions of finding fault with each other’s work or taste in beverages.

Each of the two had their little beverage rituals. Every day at 2:30, Colin would grind the beans for the next day, clean the flask, fill the reservoir with fresh water, and add a new filter paper and five scoops of freshly ground beans. Overnight, any residual chlorine in the water would evaporate, and at 7 minutes to 6:00 each weekday morning, the Wigomat would fire up and start brewing his coffee. On his way to work, Colin would pick up a pastry at a French bakery, selected to go with the choice of beans: apple turnover with the Wiener Mischung, chocolate croissant with the Sumatra Mandheling, and a honey-ginger snap with the Kenyan.

Things had ticked along just fine for years, but then the new CIO suggested that the print shop and writers be more integrated with an automated high-speed laser printer and a workflow application. He showed the executives how he could speed up the editing, approval, and printing workflow and automate several steps. The system would give department heads better insight into the progress of items and send early warning of items that looked likely to slip. To the board and CFO, he showed projections of cost savings the new system could bring, including the ability to trim staffing by 20%. One of the departments to be improved would be the print room, which would now need only one person instead of two.

The decision over whether to keep Tweedledee or Tweedledum was made as most such decisions are, haphazardly. It was also communicated to Terry that his position was to be terminated in much the same way such decisions are typically done: very poorly. Terry came to know he had been fired because he was left off a list of people whose birthdays would be celebrated next month, and he called HR to correct the mistake. The fumbled answer he got was embarrassing for both parties, and by the end of the call, he knew his job was gone, that the decision was due to the CIO and some faceless consultant, and that Colin, yes, Colin, would still have a job.

On his last shift, Terry packed up his personal belongings, cleaned the printer with solvent and a light coat of oil, and left Colin a farewell present. He cleaned the coffee flask, wiped down the Wigomat, and placed a dish filled with acid and carbon tetrachloride between the empty coffee flask and the Wigomat heating pad. Lastly, he took a quick trip to the fifth floor. There, he relieved himself in the HR director’s top desk drawer before hauling his box of effects to his car and driving to the airport.

The next morning, the CIO and the management consultant met in Colin’s office to discuss the new laser printer and Colin’s new duties. As Colin unlocked the door, the aroma of freshly brewed Sumatran coffee ushered them in. While the consultant poured them each a cup, Colin carefully removed three chocolate croissants from the box. The scent of chocolate and coffee mingled with the subtle presence of light machine oil, ink, and paper that gave the print shop an old-world ambiance. Also permeating the room was a fresh, almost rural scent that the CIO didn’t notice, the consultant didn’t know to comment on, and that Colin noticed without sparing it any further curiosity. This was a pity, because by the time the phosgene gas from the dish of heated solvent and acid caused blurry vision, it was far too late. They had each barely finished half their croissants and had not even begun to discuss the marvelous new laser printer and workflow software before coughing gave way to shortness of breath, collapse, and coma. By the time anyone came looking for them, their coffee, like their bodies, had dwindled to room temperature and were quite lifeless.