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.
Dr. Horace Percival Ogilvy was not a giant of a man by anyone’s standards. He was short, slim, and slightly balding, one of the few OB/GYNs on this side of town. He had an extravagant black mustache and horn-rimmed spectacles that were slightly too large for his narrow face. They made him look like a bewildered owl in a thunderstorm.
Horace was rated well by his patients. He was attentive, considerate, and took time to carefully assess their needs and priorities when making recommendations. The only issues they had with his otherwise exemplary bedside manner were his nervousness and his cold hands. Because Horace was small, quiet, and even timid, he sometimes made women feel a little bigger than they really were. The cold hands were something he tried hard to mitigate, but sometimes he forgot to hold a warmed towel before touching a patient, and he jumped when they yelped.
Pam was not a quiet woman, but she had an easy manner and an even easier sense of humor. Her fruity laughter could be heard from down the hall and intimidated Horace a little. A connoisseur of laughter might have placed Pam’s laugh at the center of his collection. It was not the delicate glassy tinkle of a respectable and refined lady, like a radiant angel falling down a flight of stairs, nor was it the hoarse bray of someone who might heartily slap people on the back, start their day with a slug of vodka, and end it with a cheap cigar and a game of poker. Her laughter was not quite as much infectious as it was compelling. One couldn’t carry on working on the crossword, finishing a college writing assignment, or daydreaming about the weekend if Pam started laughing. It was the kind of laugh that banished thought, interrupted work, and demanded observation, if not participation. These were also the things that bothered Horace about her. If Pam was laughing, which she almost always was, his staff would join in, his workload would unravel, and his peace of mind would splinter like an old dry beam hit by a 10-pound cannonball. “That woman will be the death of me,” Horace often lamented to himself while trimming his mustache in the mirror.
Her laughter was not the only remarkable thing about Pam. Pam also did fads. Some lasted as long as a fruit fly, some barely outlasted a hairdo, and some survived as long as the varnish on a sunny deck. Pam had recently developed an enthusiasm for weight training. Of all the training, thigh exercises seemed to be her favorite. She could startle the men by doing 500 lb. leg presses and beat the range of most people on leg curves and extensions. Pam easily put most members to shame with the inner/outer thigh machine, and her trainer had once observed in admiration that Pam could crack nuts between her thighs. Pam’s comeback and laughter made him blush deeply, extracting a stumbling reply about not meaning “those kinds of nuts.”
Due to a brief fad in which Pam performed Kegel exercises with a jade egg, she picked up an infection due to the egg’s porous nature. Undergoing a hysteroscopy or D&C was not something she relished, but she found humor in that the “rosy glow” the jade egg was advertised to bring had turned out to be inflammation. Instead of a trip to the beach followed by a hot date at a swanky restaurant, like the ad had portrayed, she was taking a trip past the beach and going to an appointment with Dr. Ogilvy.
Today Horace was running late, and from the raucous laughter in the waiting room, he knew that Pam had arrived. Pam joked with the other patients, then stopped to chat with reception, and then had the nurse in hiccups before finally getting to where Horace was fidgeting impatiently for her. He had tried to shush her, but Pam had said that he sounded like an antiquated and dilapidated steam engine with a leak. By the time Pam had her legs in the stirrups, Horace’s carefully crafted routine was in tatters.
Editor’s Note: Want to be featured in a medical fiction piece? Use the form below to let us know!
For the procedure, Pam was lightly sedated, but not paralyzed. She was not quite conscious and, as she might put it, maybe not completely “out of it,” but she wasn’t aware of herself. It had taken longer for the sedation to take effect, and with a late start exacerbated by Pam chatting with the nurses, Horace was feeling discombobulated and jittery. He turned on the lamp, peeled back the surgical sheet, and peering closely, placed his hands on Pam’s inner thighs to position correctly. Although Pam was unaware, the icy cold hands on her thighs resulted in a reflex response, and her legs slammed closed. Her ankles locked, and with a low growl, she squeezed like she was sitting in a thigh machine and competing for a Black Forrest chocolate cake. Pam instinctively lifted her knees to her chest, dragging the hapless Horace along by his neck. As he was lifted off his little stool, his arms flapping wildly, Horace yelped in a plaintive tenor, “help me! … help me! … help me!”
Before any of his startled team could react, there was a sharp crack, and Horace grew quiet, his arms were still, and his body was limp. Horace was gone.