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.
Winnie wore her wheelchair like it was a second skin. It fitted her like a glove, and with her wheels, she could soar the streets and bistros, the places normal people plied. She could feel the surface below her wheels like it was under her bare feet, and with her hands on the smooth chromed rim, she could flow among the pedestrians.
She wasn’t blind to barriers, and she encountered them everywhere: the ramps that weren’t there, the potholed parking lots, and the corridors filled with junk that turned the office into a maze. She shrugged those off like it was water running past her, but the guys that parked too close so she couldn’t stow or deploy her chair made her blood boil. Winnie had not come easily to her mobility. She regarded it as a miracle that she had found a biomedical technician willing and able to customize and modify her wheelchair until it fitted her well. She was very aware how lucky this was, and how privileged.
A second miracle came one day when she arrived for her weekly physiotherapy session and found that they had installed a ramp at the front entrance. For 4 years, the wheelchair users, the therapists, and even a local charity had begged, scolded, and threatened the building owner without the slightest success. Then he remarried a far younger trophy wife, and she had changed his mind about the ramp with the single statement that she would look stunning rollerblading down a ramp at the clinic in her new latex outfit. A week later, the ramp was in, photographs were taken of the grinning owner and his bride, and those who had been fighting for it applauded with a delicious agony of conflicted emotions. The press releases were all about the community and patient benefits of investment in adding the ramp. They liberally mined and reused arguments, examples, and language from the years of petitioning that the owner had previously dismissed. This fact was not lost on the various stakeholders, but it seemed pointless to argue about it when the result they wanted had materialized. They all grumbled to each other a little, some eyes were rolled, but everyone was just happy that the goal had been achieved, even if it was for the most trivial and inane of reasons. If the owner wanted to please his new squeeze, they eventually conceded to each other, why look a gift horse in the mouth after all these years.
As much as one might be tempted to see a change of heart in the owner, Bruce was not a changed man so much as a man simply using whatever tool was at hand to get what he wanted. He wanted to please his new bride because she was sexy and made his heart race. For as long as she could do that to him, he would be happy to install the odd ramp or add new water and sewer lines to the mall that he owned. His darling was hosting a fashion show at the mall for a number of apparel retailers who leased shops, and she was including participants from two of the local high schools as models. In the planning stage, she was revolted by the state of some of the women’s toilets, complaining to Bruce that she could hardly hold an upmarket amateur modeling show if the toilets were a rank bog. She explained that there was no way she could host a fashion show with a dozen young beauties if the “restrooms were grody.” To keep her happy and make it a successful show, he had a team dig up part of the parking lot and lay in another sewer line and additional water.
Bruce scoured the parking lot with his Hummer, hunting for a space. With the sewer works almost complete and piles of dirt still to be replaced, the double-sized spots were all occupied. Fat, gleaming SUVs squatted in their docks, and all the big berths were filled. Bruce was irritable. His Hummer with the expensive custom paint job, imported alloy rims, and the photo-grey tinted windows prowled with growing impatience. Every spot was either for one of those dainty electrics, foreign sub-compacts, or too tight for him to turn. At last, he spotted an open space right by the mall entrance. Ignoring the sign, the chevron paint, and nudging a roadwork cone aside with his bull-bar, Bruce eased his beast home. He was too late for the fashion show opening, but he would still get to see his little fashion queen on display.
Rolling out of the mall with her shopping on her lap, Winnie turned toward the handicap parking, eager to get back to the office and show off her new finds. She slowed, and took in a familiar and infuriating sight: a bloated black block of a vehicle straddling the space next to her car, where she needed to get her wheelchair onto the lift. There was barely enough space to roll between the cars and nowhere near enough to get the chair onto the roof. “Excuse me, please,” she had forced herself to announce to the suit who emerged sleekly from the monster. He barely spared the effort to dismiss her with a wave of his hand, and he busied himself with closing his door.
As any practitioner or scholar of the occult might attest, miracles often come in threes. First the chair, then the ramp, and now it took just a little nudge from her chair, and like a miracle, Bruce had vanished down the open manhole with a yelp, into the sewer 15 feet below. The splash as he belly-flopped into the fetid stream below was quite audible, but the rusted rebar that pierced him was silent. Winnie felt a thrill surge through her body at the sound of the suit hitting the sewer water. She basked in the warm glow that pulled a cackle from her core as she sped back to the shopping center to complain about the car blocking the handicapped zone.