This is one of a collection of stories that are like “Final Destination” meets “The Monkey’s Paw” (WW 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.
Virgil was not the type of man to easily lose his head, or so he steadfastly believed. He saw himself as a very masculine person, a man who took charge of things, who was prepared, who didn’t just go with the flow. He kept a multi-use tool on his belt, a lock blade knife in his pocket, and a Taser on his hip. Virgil was well equipped for everything from wild weather to riots, and was very critical of the “woke” hospital management who seemingly prostrated themselves at the feet of every tree-hugging fad. His ex-wife of him did not entirely concur with his self-assessment of him, and she suggested strongly and in perhaps somewhat impolite terms that his frequent focus on outlandish and unlikely threats was in fact evidence that he frequently lost his head. She had pointed out, unfairly he had thought, that his collections of firearms, meal kits, and wilderness survival gear ate money, space, and her patience de ella, while doing absolutely nothing to reduce the risks of actual threats. As a nurse, she had explained that he was far more likely at his age to die of accidents, cancer, or heart disease than invaders or rioters. She had also shown him the CDC Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System data tool and seemed to delight in demonstrating that he was three times more likely to die of suicide than homicide. “Your big greasy expensive guns,” she had laughed, “actually make you more likely to die of both than if you had spent that money on fixing up the kitchen!” She had gone on to read him that not only did he constantly lose his head about silly threats, but that he was not paying attention to the stuff that really could kill him. Their marriage was not to last.
As a security officer at a 300-bed hospital, he was very serious about vigilance and readiness, and took great pride in knowing how the real world worked. He knew for instance that most men were cowards and didn’t take ownership of their lives, or take the initiative to solve their own problems. Like the talk radio guys said, most guys were just drones, waiting for the government to tell them what to do and when to do it. In contrast, Virgil did his own research, knew how to survive in the woods, and didn’t wait for permission when it came to solving his own problems. He had been selective about which vaccines to get, what prescriptions to fill, and what advice to heed. One of the perks of being a security officer was that he could wear his keycard on a chain along with several keys that bounced noisily as he strode around the hospital. The black uniform was also far more impressive than the scrubs worn by the clinical staff or the business suits worn by the administrative drones. When he strode by, people noticed him.
Virgil strode purposefully on his way to the reception area. He had been radioed to come check out a potential perp. From the sounds of it, someone parked illegally and was refusing to identify themselves to the junior officer. I have strode into the elevator and prodded the button for the 1st floor. There was an administrative lady with a trolley full of files and a doctor coming off the night shift who looked barely awake, leaning into one corner, apparently oblivious to the world. Virgil gritted his teeth impatiently and moved to the back as the elevator car filled up with noisy nursing students. When the car stopped one floor down, and even more pushed in, Virgil made an executive decision to trot down the stairs instead. He squeezed past the students, some of whom bumped the trolley in their eagerness to avoid him. The trolley hooked Virgil’s keys as he tried to squeeze past, and several of his keys broke loose from their ring and clattered on the floor. His security keycard fell, clipped the blue Crocs of one of the students, spun briefly, and dropped through the space between the elevator shaft and the car.
Virgil cursed them all roundly under his breath but knew exactly what to do. Instead of waiting around for the maintenance guys, and looking like a weakling and a fool, he was going to get his card himself. To access the elevator shaft and retrieve his keycard, he needed to ride the car to the first floor, stop it, and then open a panel to get to the ladder.
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There were two elevator cars that operated in the elevator shaft. Virgil put on his most authoritative security officer voice to instruct everyone that this car was going to be out of service and suggested they use car #1. Once car #2 reached the first floor, I locked the doors and flipped the power switch behind the doors. The cars could also be stopped by an electrical disconnect breaker on the third floor but he felt that it would just be a waste of time. Using a flat-head screwdriver on his multi-use tool, Virgil removed the 76″ tall by 16″ wide access panel from the inner side wall of the car. Looking into the shaft, he could see the 6″ wide steel beam that ran horizontally between the two cars in the shaft, to which a 10-foot metal ladder was welded. The ladder could be accessed from either car. Virgil swung himself through the hole and onto the ladder, taking care to keep a firm grip and establish a firm footing each step down. He reflected to himself how specks of grease and dirt might have coated the rungs and handholds, so he took extra care moving slowly down between the cars. Shining his flashlight down to the floor, he could see years of accumulated junk, and felt his heart sink at how long it might take before he found his keycard from him. On the other hand, looking closer, he could see that everything looked pretty well coated by dust and grime, so maybe the card would be easier to spot. From where he was on the ladder, he could partially see beneath car #2, and nothing looked very new, so he flashed his light to the open area of the shaft under car #1 and was rewarded by a glint that looked very promising. Leaning over, he looked more intently, and could see something that looked fresh and white but slightly obscured by the shadow of some rubble. I have hung out from the ladder, trying to get a better view before further descent.
Virgil was so intent on the keycard lying at the bottom of the shaft that he did not hear as car #1 came down from one of the floors above, filled with people eager to end their shift. The edge of the car struck Virgil and decapitated him without much effort, and so Virgil had indeed lost his head, for the very final time ever.