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.

Tim Danser was a diesel head at heart, but also had strong feelings for the nasal sound of a turbo-charged hemi gasoline engine, and the bigger, the better.

Tim drove a 20-seater shuttle bus for the hospital, running a route that had stops at two hotels, a motel, the train station, and the airport. He picked up on the west side of the hospital and his first stop was the station, followed by the airport, and then he looped back past the hotels to drop off arrivals and pick up visitors to the hospital. It was a busy route. Depending on the time of day and day of the week, he was almost always at least 50% full, and often had standing room only. To pick up extra cash, he did two shifts on weekdays and one on alternating Saturdays or Sundays. Starting at 6:00 and ending at 6:00 was no big deal in summer, but winter got a bit grim because he started and finished in the dark.

When COVID hit, he was cut back from two shifts to one, and no weekend work, but then after the lockdown expired, elective procedures were back, and there was some pent-up demand. Tim wasn’t complaining, and some weekends he did double shifts on both days. Because he was in the saddle all day, so to speak, his radio was a constant companion, and between the easy rock music segments, he listened to the talk shows. The shows were engaging, amusing, and made the time fly. They were also very informative and raised questions he might never have considered. Was COVID a bioweapon, was it actually being way overblown by left-wing media and big pharma, and was the whole thing just the government trying to squeeze its tendrils into the cracks? It made him think.

Then came the vaccination, and it was a nightmare to get the shot. Not every drugstore gave it, and each drugstore had their own scheduling system. The hospital offered shots, but it was tiered, so doctors and nurses came first, and he was only in the fifth tier. By the time he was eligible for the mRNA shot, Talk Radio was raising some issues about the vax. He laughed about the loons who were saying it made them magnetic. As a kid, he had played the same trick of making a spoon stick to his face, so he wasn’t fooled one bit, but it did underline how much of the whole deal was bullshit. He wasn’t convinced about the “tracking chip” story, either, because he had chipped his dogs himself, and it was a huge needle. There was no way someone could slip one of those fat chips into you without you knowing… but then maybe the Pentagon or big pharma had much smaller tech these days. It stood to reason that if they could shrink the size of a GPS to fit into a cellphone, maybe they could shrink an RFID chip from the size of a fat rice grain to maybe something smaller than a grain of salt. He just wasn’t sure. What he was certain of, though, was that the vaccine was rushed. From what he had heard, new drugs cost millions to produce and took 10 years or more. Now the government was saying their “lightning speed” program had produced a free vaccine in a year? It just sounded like bullshit to him. Plus, like the radio host had asked, where had you ever heard of the government doing anything faster than the free market? Tim was pretty sure that they were right. If the government carried on like this, the economy would crash and burn.

Tim skipped the vaccine and booster. There had just been too many stories on the radio about people dying from the shots, and like the guy on the radio said, where are all the bodies? If this virus was so damn deadly, why weren’t the streets filled with dead bodies like all the movies about pandemics? It just didn’t wash.

Masking was a whole other bunch of bullshit, too, and like the guy on the radio said, if three layers of cloth didn’t stop farts getting through, why would a face-diaper do a damned thing? Besides, the ones with the ear loops just popped off all the time, and even the ones with head and neck elastics fogged his glasses up, made it hard for passengers to understand him. He gave up on masking unless he had to go into the hospital building itself.

When winter came, a lot of the passengers were coughing, and some sounded like they were going to hack up a piece of lung right there on the bus. One of the guests on the morning radio show was saying how the government was covering up the fact that there were perfectly good and cheap drugs you could get without a prescription if you just knew how. Tim tried hydroxychloroquine, but it made him dizzy, and that was no good for a driver with 20 passengers. Ivermectin seemed to work fine, but in the third week of dosing himself he had a big bowel accident while lifting a piece of heavy luggage into the back of the van. He had felt that his guts were a bit more unhappy than usual, but the sharts caught him totally by surprise. It was a heck of a thing, and running into the motel clutching his ass cheeks was not an experience he wanted to try again. He had cleaned up in the motel toilet and washed his pants in the sink, but that meant driving in damp pants until he got to the hospital and could borrow a pair of scrub bottoms. Tim figured that the evening radio guy was probably right, that getting the COVID was serious for really fat, sick, or old people, but for a guy of 40 in reasonable shape, it would be like getting a cold. Once you had it, the guy said, you were immune for life because natural immunity was far better than any stupid experimental jab from the government.

Tim was pretty sure that he caught COVID from a passenger that had been coughing all the way from the motel to the hospital. It had hit him like a really heavy tackle in football, and he was winded and ached like he had been in a 10-round kickboxing match. It took him a few weeks to taste food again, but as he said to the other drivers, at least he now had natural immunity.

The second time he caught it, he wasn’t sure it was COVID. The cough wasn’t as bad this time, and he didn’t feel so bruised and short of breath, so he figured that the natural immunity thing was working. Then his mouth started aching. It was the darndest thing, but all his teeth were aching like hell. Ibuprofen did nothing for the pain, and he ended up sitting in the dentist’s waiting room forced to wear a face diaper like a clown. By the time he left, he was drooling red streaks from the corner of his mouth no matter how often he dabbed it, and he was missing three teeth. He went home feeling miserable, slumped in front of the TV, and for the first time in his life since he was 6 years old, he burst into tears.

Tim took a week off work, which was as much as he could afford. The hospital now required that he test negative before he could return, but shoving a stupid elephant earbud up his nose so far that it hit his spine made him want to throw up. Eventually, he just got a friend to give him his negative test for 10 bucks and went back to work. It took 3 weeks for Tim to get COVID again. This time there was no “just like a cold” to it, and he went from a cough that left him breathless and dizzy to collapsing outside the hospital pickup point. He was only dimly aware of being lifted and seeing the ceiling lights floating past like they were blurry parts of a dream. Awareness came and went, and in a brief lucid moment, he heard a masked and shielded doctor say his oxygen was too low for him to keep breathing on his own, and that he was going to be put on a ventilator in the ICU. He blacked out and was not aware of quick hands on his head and neck, drugs being pushed through an IV, and a tube being slid into his airway and secured. For 2 weeks, his consciousness was vapor-thin, but he slowly surfaced.

Tim left the hospital feeling like he was a hundred years old. Everything hurt or was weak, and everything trembled. Nothing worked normally anymore, and he had lost four toes. “Toes?” he had asked in a cracked voice that even to his own ears sounded distant and feeble. “What the hell do toes have to do with a chest infection?”

The doctor had pulled out a sheet with a drawing of a dissected man. “The major target of the virus is the ACE2 receptor, and it is found in many parts of the body.” She ticked off places: “Lungs, eyes, brain, … testicles.” Then she explained blood clotting. “Yes, that’s probably why you lost the teeth before, and also why your toes were going gangrenous. There are clots right down in the tiny vessels, where we can’t reach, and the tissue starts dying.” He had also lost all his toenails, and socks felt super weird.

Back home, Tim discovered there were a few more things that COVID had stolen from him. He couldn’t vape at all. For one, it had no taste or scent anymore, and secondly, it made him cough so badly that he greyed out and needed to put his head between his knees. His hair had thinned, and it was like he had a giant bald patch with hair like grass seedlings poking out. It was useless trying to comb it and brushing just hurt his scalp. The biggest surprise was when his girlfriend tried to cheer him up with a bit of what she called “mouth to groin resurrection.” Although his brain was on fire and his heart was pounding in response, nothing was happening down south, and nothing that she did, said, or wore made the slightest difference. Resurrection was just not on the menu anymore. That night, they both cried.

The chest pains sneaked up on Tim like a pickpocket. The first time he noticed was when he was on the toilet, when the room spun and his chest felt tight. It wasn’t quite pain, but more like a notice about pain. A sneeze actually did cause pain in his chest. The pain was short and sharp, but attention-grabbing. It was like being in church when somebody farted; it got your undivided attention for a moment regardless of what else was going on. Lifting anything was suddenly an issue, and if he heaved a suitcase into the van, his chest ached for a few minutes all the way up his neck and to his teeth. When he blacked out for a few minutes on the garage floor after taking off a wheel on his 4×4, he went to see the doctor.

Tim spent 80 minutes in the waiting room and 5 more with the doctor to be told he needed to get to a cardiologist urgently. The doctor called and got him an appointment in a few hours, but Tim declined an ambulance ride, firstly because his medical aid wasn’t likely to pay for a big fat ambulance bill, and secondly, it just felt like a big fuss over nothing. He needed help so he could heave luggage and lift wheels again, not be hauled off in an ambulance like he was an invalid. He was soon behind the wheel of his own black 4×4 pickup truck. He was a little short of breath climbing up into the seat, but in and ready to go.

Tim found the office block easily and followed the signs to the undercover parking entrance. He leaned out and took his ticket, and started the climb up the floors to find an open spot that his truck would fit into. By level five, the parking was opening up nicely, and there was a great spot straight ahead on the far end. Tim blipped the gas and the big hemi engine grunted. As he pulled into the parking spot, Tim felt the world tilt, and he blacked out. The truck bumped the barrier just hard enough to make his head tip to his chest and his leg slide forward, pressing down on the gas pedal. With ample torque and no load in the back, the rear wheels spun on the concrete floor, raising a cloud of smoke. After a minute, the left rear tire burst, and the rim spun an arc of sparks from the concrete, setting the remnants of the tire alight. Flames rippled like water around the underside of the chassis and ignited all three remaining tires. The heat weakened the barrier, and finally, the magnesium rim caught fire with a blinding white light in the evening gloom. Tim and his truck burst from the side of the building and fell like a comet shrouded in smoke and flames, crashing and burning fiercely onto the street below.