Bosco and the mortal delights

This is part of a collection of stories that resemble the encounter between “Final Destination” and “The Monkey’s Paw” (WW Jacobs, 1902). As such, they are tragedies more than mysteries or horror, and would appeal most to readers who appreciate the inexorable pull of a story arc that leads to doom. In each story, a protagonist makes a wish which comes true with fatal results for someone, often the person making the wish. Nothing supernatural, but just how things work. (Or is it?) The technical details surrounding the fatal (or near-fatal) event are taken from actual cases in the US OSHA Incident Reporting Database or similar sources and are therefore quite realistic, even if they seem far-fetched. 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.


Some people are curious and pushy by nature, and some are pushed in that direction by their profession or role. Billy had always been nosy and insistent. He was further encouraged by the culture around him and self-selected into a profession that encouraged being curious, pushy and bullying. Billy was a lieutenant in the city police and he had a good case.

Billy, and several others in his department, were part of a bonus program. The more citations issued and the more arrests they made, the higher the bounty payment. They also qualified for a small percentage of fines resulting from their work. The consultants who designed and recommended the program cited case studies and models that showed bonuses increased efficiency and performance. In practice, of course, what extrinsic rewards like bonuses have done has encouraged them to focus on system play for higher bonuses and seek more extrinsic rewards, like pocketing some of the things they have confiscated. It wasn’t that they were bad cops; they just focused more on self-fulfillment.

Opal G. Otter, MD, was a toxicologist with a wild garden and a love of dogs. When Drs. Felix and Felicity Knochenzauberer reluctantly sought another home for Bosco, the white Great Pyrenees mountain dog, Opal eagerly took him in. Bosco had been somewhat bloated before the Knochenzauberers got him, but regular walks, a dog gym, and better nutrition had reduced Bosco to a fit, muscular woofster.

However, it was just too much for the young couple to handle and needed more space. Opal lived on three acres of land, on which Bosco could run, dig, and hunt various rabbits, squirrels, and voles as he pleased. On the property were three gardens: the large expanse of meadows and mostly native flora, an enclosed garden of herbs and vegetables, and an enclosed garden which included a small greenhouse.

On either side of the locked door were panels of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, and above the door was an archway with a carved hardwood panel with faded lettering reading “The Garden of Mortal Delights”. It was a joke, a gift from medical students from a previous year who enjoyed his lectures and anecdotes about accidental poisonings. The enclosed garden was his private museum of rare and curious plants: some culinary, some medicinal, and some poisonous. His prize specimen was a small patch of Yartsa Gunbu mushrooms that were so rare and sought after that they could fetch up to $63,000 a pound on the market. What Opal liked to explain to the casual visitor or group of students is that the fungus had a horrible, predatory life cycle. It started when the spores infected a ghost moth caterpillar, pushing out and consuming the caterpillar from within. The caterpillar became mummified during the winter, and in the spring the fungus bloomed from the corpse. She also had a square of Maitake, or “Hen of the woods”, this ounce for ounce was the tastiest mushroom in the world. Opal was excited to show people her special garden and saw it as an opportunity to dispel myths and correct misunderstandings about plants and fungi.

Lt. Billy Broom had seen Opal walking Bosco and had a plan. The fine for “loose” dogs was $100 and an additional $1,000 if there was no collar or license displayed. If the rabies token was not displayed, an additional $100 was added. Billy opened the outer garden door and walked over to where Opal was on one of her special garden tours. He heard her talking about mushrooms, and a slow smile crept across her face as a thought formed in her mind. As Opal moved towards the water feature area, he picked up snippets of his speech. Something about watercress and lettuce, then something about “…all parts of the plant…” and “…it smells like carrots”. Billy was all smiles, looking forward to seeing the special garden and was very impressed with the mushroom section. As they exited the locked area, Billy asked after Bosco. With a sinking feeling, Opal spotted the open gate leading to the street. “Oh, not yet,” she muttered to herself, and with a cursory goodbye, hurriedly ran down the street to see if Bosco was still nearby.

Billy tapped his microphone and quietly asked one of his team members to find the big white dog, remembering to remove the collar immediately. This would be the third dog without a collar today. Billy smiled at that thought, then went back to his previous thought that fancy mushrooms and wild carrot cress would be welcome on the barbecue that night. He would enjoy telling the guys about the $63,000 mushroom burgers they were eating. He took out a plastic bag of evidence and went back to the special garden.

The barbecue was indeed memorable. Billy roasted the carrots and sliced ​​mushrooms and flipped the bison patties while telling them his mushroom story. The guys poked fun at the thin and furious $1,200 “garden gnome lady” who had to shell out money to get her big white dog out of the pound. They were blown away by Billy’s story about their $63,000 burgers. They all grilled “the best fucking burgers ever” and heartily tucked into mushroom burgers and wild greens. Billy had been munching on the greens while managing the barbecue, but was almost drooling in anticipation of the burger.

When they got to the whiskey and cigar part of the evening, the truly memorable barbecue part began. It started with Billy feeling a little indigestion and getting up to get a Tums. He collapsed on the kitchen floor and had a fit while outside on the patio the others recounted aloud the origin of the confiscated cigars and how they had come to possess them. Over the next 10 minutes, they all began to experience symptoms as they ate the roasted roots of the water hemlock that Billy had misinterpreted as “wild carrot of watercress”. He had also misinterpreted the phrase “all parts of the plant” when he added the chopped leaves and young stems to his salad greens.

Someone had the foresight to call 911, but supportive care at the ER couldn’t control the seizures, and the toxicologist on call simply arrived too late to make a difference. All five officers received the ultimate bounty payment, a notable death that made headlines and an article in a prestigious medical journal.

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