Ned knew he had bad luck and it only seemed to be worsening. His razor bit into his sensitive skin leaving dozens of painful bumps and pimples that slowly bloomed throughout the morning like daffodils on his ashen face. The coffee maker stopped working. The toaster briefly caught fire. Both shoelaces of his boots ripped.
Ned stepped out of his door, late, adjusting his tie as he walked. He dropped his briefcase, which sprang open on contact with the concrete, and all of his papers went fluttering up in the wind. A passing car sent muddy water cascading over the sidewalk, soaking his pants and boots. He got to the bus stop in time to see the bus’s taillights fading in the morning mist.
Ned tried calling for a taxi, he couldn’t be late, not on the day of the TRS Report, but his phone kept dropping the call. He tried to request an Uber but there were no drivers in his section of the city. Ned put his head down and started walking for the office. He knew it was at least three miles and he only had forty-five minutes before he had to deliver his report, now without some of his documentation. He gritted his teeth and walked at just under a jog.
The sun rose steadily, casting long, hot rays down on Ned as he walked. Steam rose off the wet streets and sidewalks. Sweat soaked through his shirt and stained his jacket. His soaked shoes wore blisters into his heels and toes. A pigeon shat on his shoulder as he crossed State Street. He tried to wipe it off with his handkerchief but only managed to smear the white and purple mess.
In front of his office, Ned stepped in a massive pile of dog shit. He got some on his socks when he tried to use the curb to wipe his foot clean. He got his tie caught in the elevator doors and was nearly strangled. It ripped free from the closed doors, leaving him a little over half a tie. He stepped off the elevator on his floor and tripped over his own foot and fell onto his knees, ripping holes in his still wet pants.
Timothy Freeman, a co-worker, somehow tore twin tears in Ned’s jackets’ sleeves trying to help him to his feet.
“They’re waiting for you, Ned,” Timothy Freeman said, pointing to the open door of the conference room. “Jesus, Ned, you look like you’ve been through the wringer.”
Ned could see his coworkers sitting around the conference room table; they all looked aggravated at having been made to wait. Ned clipped the side of the door with his right knuckle on his entrance into the room and nearly cursed out loud. His scraped knuckle began to bleed and steadily trickled blood down into the webbing between his fingers as he tried to deliver the TRS Report without the majority of his notes and documentation. He saw the way they looked at his disheveled appearance and tried his best to ignore it.
Just get through with it, he told himself. Everybody has bad days.
Yesterday had been quite a doozy too. He’d fallen down the flight of stairs in his apartment and put a massive whole in the wall of the landing. His right side was covered in bruises.
Mr. Vincent, Ned’s boss, stopped him not halfway through his presentation.
“We’ll have to continue this after lunch,” Mr. Vincent said. “Ned will email us his slides in the meantime, yes?”
Ned, just then, remembered that he’d left his laptop sitting on his kitchen table.
“Yes, sir,” Ned said.
He watched his co-workers file out of the conference room, breathing slowly in through his nose then out through his mouth. His heart felt twice its normal size.
Mr. Vincent remained seated.
“Ned, you look terrible,” Mr. Vincent said. “Did you get attacked by a pack of wildcats on the way into work this morning?”
“I’m having a bit of a bad day, sir.”
“Well, chin up, Bodkins,” Mr. Vincent said. “I’m going to need you to make an addendum to your report. We got the Sheldon numbers in this morning. Just emailed ‘em to you. If you start now, you should be able to get it done before we reconvene after lunch.”
Ned called a taxi from his cubicle then rode the elevator down to the ground floor and waited. The taxi took twenty minutes getting there. In his haste, Ned slammed the door on his right foot. The driver took a wrong turn and got stuck following a funeral procession for nearly ten agonizing minutes. Ned raced up the stairs to his porch then broke his key off in the doorknob. He stared at it dumbly for some three minutes in stunned stupefaction.
Ned called his landlady, who lived a few houses down, and she came over, grumbling, and unlocked the back door for him. He grabbed his computer, ran around the house, and hit his head reentering the waiting cab. He felt the goose egg rise as the cab raced back uptown to Ned’s office.
The taxi rear-ended an Uber four blocks from Ned’s office building. No one was injured but Ned was detained, having to give a statement to the bored looking police officer for the accident report. By the time he’d finished at the scene of the accident, a pop-up thunderstorm had descended with a booming fury. Ned had to seek shelter in the foyer of Hometown Insurance for nearly half an hour until the storm passed. Ned made it back just in time to be reamed for not getting the email sent out during the lunch break.
Mr. Vincent postponed the rest of Ned’s TRS Report to the following day, which Ned had requested off for his birthday.
Ned spent the rest of the afternoon answering emails about the TRS Report and working on his presentation notes. His laptop, having gotten rained on earlier, overheated and crapped out. Ned called IT, waited on hold for half an hour, then was told to bring his laptop down the hall to the IT Department. Derek Hammonds examined the laptop, determined it destroyed, and informed Ned that it was a total loss. Ned would have to put in a Work Order request to try and salvage the hard drive, which would take up to three weeks. In the meantime, he had to put in a Special-Order Request for a replacement. Derek Hammonds hinted that Ned would be charged for the damaged laptop.
The overhead fluorescent lights went out in Ned’s office when he flipped the switch. He turned on the standing lamp in the corner and was stung with static shock. The back of his rolling chair broke when he sat down. He called maintenance and was told there were no other chairs available in the office. They gave him one of those gigantic exercise balls to use in the meantime. It had a slow leak and Ned had to pump it back up every half hour or so. After an hour on the ball, his lower back began to ache.
He used the laptop in the empty cubicle three down from his own and worked on the TRS Report. He thought he felt something drip on his head but when he felt his disheveled hair, he found no wetness. He went back to work, another half-hour passing simultaneously in the blink of an eye and an anxiety ridden eternity. There was a muffled sound from above, then part of the partitioned ceiling collapsed down onto him. He was covered in wet insulation and powdered crust from the broken partitioning.
Ned broke down and cried softly to himself while waiting on maintenance to come see the damage to the cubicle and ceiling. He couldn’t help himself.
“Why don’t you go on home, Bodkins,” Mr. Vincent said, looking at the wrecked cubicle and Ned’s tattered appearance. “Come back tomorrow ready to deliver the TRS Report.”
“I’m supposed to be off tomorrow for my birthday,” Ned said.
“The TRS Report is very important,” Mr. Vincent said.
“OK,” Ned said. “Of course.”
“We would’ve liked for the report to have been given today,” Mr. Vincent said, “but it seems things were mostly out of your control.”
Ned avoided all eye contact leaving the office. He noticed his right boot squeaked loudly as he walked. He didn’t bother with hailing a taxi or calling an Uber. On the long walk home, Ned tried to avoid stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk but found his gait made this nearly impossible; he felt born to step on cracks. He stepped on more than he missed.
Ned spent the entire evening making notes and preparing for the TRS Report. His home computer was malfunctioning, not allowing Ned to save any of the work so he printed out the documents and put them in his briefcase.
The power to Ned’s building went out sometime during the night. He woke in the hazy light of midmorning and saw the flashing numbers on his alarm clock.
He rushed like crazy to get ready for work. He nearly forgot his briefcase, making it halfway to the bus stop before turning around and sprinting back to retrieve it.
He got back to the bus stop just in time. The bus was crowded, the only open seat next to a three-hundred-pound woman in a tattered nightgown and house slippers. He squeezed himself in the tiny space beside the woman and tried not to breathe in her vinegar smell. The bus got a flat tire and they had to wait for another bus to come pick them up, making Ned fifteen minutes late for work.
Ned got the hiccups not five minutes into the TRS Report. At one point, he simultaneously hiccupped and burped. He spent the rest of the presentation trying not to openly cringe.
When he was finished giving the TRS Report, Mr. Vincent asked about the addendum with the Sheldon numbers and Ned was embarrassed to admit he’d somehow forgotten about it. He could see the disappointment on Mr. Vincent’s face, a rather sour expression, and kicked himself internally.
On the bus ride home a toddler peeked over her mother’s shoulders and smiled at Ned. When Ned returned the smile a ripple of disgusted fear broke out on the child’s face and it began to wail and cry. The child must’ve shat itself because the rest of the bus ride smelled strongly of shit.
Ned stepped off the bus at his stop and took in a long pull of cool, early evening air. The streetlamps were on and some kids were kicking a soccer ball half a block down the street. The ball smashed into Ned’s face just as he was readjusting his grip on his briefcase.
There’d been a bright spot in a big hollow darkness then he was trying to sit up but having a rough go of it. His head felt woozy and his stomach roiled oily.
“You OK, mister?”
Ned’s nose felt like it’d been hit repeatedly with a hammer. He appraised it gingerly with his fingers. It was crooked and still tickling blood. He felt it dried all over his lips, cheeks, and chin and he could taste it in his mouth too, the blood.
Today’s been even worse than yesterday, he thought.
The children scattered as Ned slowly climbed to his feet. He was sure he was going to vomit for one paralyzing second then it passed and Ned walked the short distance to his building, his steps strangely in time with the headache beating at each of his temples.
He stripped free of his clothes and crawled into bed wanting nothing more than to sleep a few hours away but just as he was getting comfortable a spring broke loose in his mattress, jabbing Ned in his ribs.
Ned worked on the addendum to the TRS Report until he could ignore the complaints of his belly no longer. He slid two pieces of white bread into the toaster and carefully adjusted the timer. Somehow while attempting to make a half pot of coffee Ned had forgotten to put in a filter and he had to pour the whole mess out. He made another pot of coffee and sat down at the table with his toast to eat and work.
He was nearing the end of the Sheldon numbers when Ned registered the burning smell. Something in the toaster was steadily burning. He saw the flames when he turned on the kitchen lights. He unplugged the toaster from the outlet then grabbed the fire extinguisher from under the sink. The bottom of his dinnerware cabinet was singed. A night with all the windows opened wide and an entire can of Febreze did nothing to dampen the burnt smell.
Ned woke more tired than when he’d fallen asleep. He forgot to put in the coffee filter again, noticing after his first grainy sip. He remade the coffee, ate more toast, carefully adjusting the toaster to the lowest setting, then put on his boots. He had to fandangle the knots because of the ripped laces. It was either these or an old pair of tennis shoes, he didn’t have any others.
Ned caught the bus and had nearly made it to his work when a man sitting behind him threw up. The puke splashed against the back of Ned’s seat and he nearly vomited himself at the acrid smell of it. The vomit splashed his coat and dripped down onto his pants legs and shoes.
Ned cleaned himself up in the bathroom at work as best he could. He wetted paper towels and scrubbed at the splotches of puke. He ran bits of his jacket under the water and scrubbed with his bare fingers. He raised the fabric to his nose and sniffed swearing he could just catch the faintest wisp of malodor. He took off his shoes and cleaned them in the sink. Charles Tonie, one of his coworkers, came in, stared at Ned for several moments, then went about his business.
Ned had just sat down in the little cubicle and logged onto the computer when Mr. Vincent popped his head over the partitioning.
“Got the TRS addendum ready, Bodkins?”
Ned had emailed it to his office account before he went to bed the previous evening.
“Yessir,” he said, entering his email password. “I was getting ready to email it out now.”
The screen pixelated into a snowy static.
“There a problem, Bodkins?”
Ned wanted nothing more than to say ‘no, there’s no problem, sir’ but a pixelated skull had formed in the center of the monitor.
“I’m not sure what’s going on, Mr. Vincent,” Ned said.
His boss came around the partitioning and stared over Ned’s shoulder.
“I have no clue, sir.”
“Some kind of virus?”
“Could be. I’ll call IT.”
“Is this the third computer you’ve destroyed in the past two days?”
Ned could tell the question wasn’t really a question besides there was a lump in Ned’s throat preventing him from replying.
“Just get me that addendum, Bodkins,” Mr. Vincent said, his face dour.
Ned called IT but they said they were backed up and it’d probably be later in the afternoon before they could get to Ned’s computer. In the meantime, they had an older laptop he could use. Ned walked down the hall to the IT Department. Somehow he got his feet tangled up together and nearly fell headlong through the door. He caught himself on the corner of the IT Department’s administrative assistant’s desk, overturning a cup of coffee onto a stack of papers.
“I’m so sorry,” Ned said.
The woman worked quickly: running around the desk to the IT’s bathroom and returning with a roll of paper towels. She dabbed and wiped the black coffee and Ned saw the stained pages and cringed.
“You must be Ned Bodkins,” she said.
Ned nodded his head.
“Well I’m glad you didn’t choose that desk to fall into,” she pointed at the desk beside hers, which had three laptops sitting on it. “The one on the left is yours to use.”
Ned apologized again, then picked up the laptop.
“Thank you,” he said.
Ned clipped the metal frame of the door with his shoulder as he turned to leave and very nearly apologized to it. He walked back down the hall to his cubicle then sat down and got the laptop up and running. It was much older and very slow; it didn’t have Wi-Fi capability and Ned spent fifteen minutes tracking down an ethernet cable, which he eventually found in a rarely used supplies closet. When he got logged into his work email the addendum to the TRS Report wasn’t there. He checked his deleted and spam message folders but it wasn’t in either of them either.
Ned felt the beat of his pounding heart in each of his eyes and at his temples. His tongue felt strange and overly big in his dry mouth.
Why is this happening? he wondered.
He decided to try logging out then logging back in. Maybe there was a gremlin in there and it just needed a good shaking out. Just as he was moving the cursor towards the logout button, the screen pixelated and the skull reappeared.
Ned’s jaw dropped.
Not again. No way.
He tried moving the mouse but nothing happened. He punched the enter key, then the escape, then Control-Alt-Delete but nothing happened. The pixelated skull slowly revolved in a complete circle, grinning its dead man’s grin.
Ned picked up the phone and called IT.
“You must be the unluckiest person I know,” Mr. Vincent said, after Ned explained the chain of circumstances leading up to his failure to get the addendum to the TRS Report completed. “And the most expensive! You know how much money you’ve cost the company in the past week? I could tell you, but my wife says I only speak in dollar amounts, which is probably true, and I’m working on that, so I won’t, but I want you to know that I could. I could.”
Ned shifted his weight in the molded plastic chair in front of Mr. Vincent’s desk. The chair leg bent and Ned was dropped onto the floor before he could brace himself. There was a deafening bang then everything seemed to dance and flutter. All the air was knocked out of his lungs. He writhed on his boss’s rug like a carp on the riverbank, fighting to get his lungs opened back up.
“Jesus, Bodkins!” Mr. Vincent cried.
Ned passed out and when he woke he was in the back of an ambulance. A uniformed man was trying to stick a needle into Ned’s left forearm. Ned saw the bloody spots where the man had tried to hit vein but had missed. This appeared to be the third try. The needle entered the skin just as the ambulance hit a pothole. It bent and a shot of blood arced out of Ned’s arm onto the EMT’s face.
The ambulance screeched to a stop. The backdoors were opened and the gurney was wheeled to the edge then lifted out by the two EMTs. As they were rolling Ned through the automatic doors of the ED one of the gurney’s wheels gave out and Ned was flung down onto the tiled floor.
After they’d gotten Ned on an examination table a young doctor entered the room.
“Took a shot to the head?” the doctor asked.
“Twice. Also got the wind knocked out of me,” he said.
The doctor nodded then shined a penlight in each of Ned’s eyes.
“I’d like to get a CT scan.”
Ned was transferred to another gurney and wheeled down to the gigantic CT scanning machine. His head was strapped down and he was positioned with his head inside the machine.
“Hold very still, Mr. Bodkins,” a man in green scrubs said.
Ned sneezed as soon as the machine started moving. They redid the scan but Ned got a sudden Charlie horse in his neck and jerked against his restraints. The third scan attempt was successful. Ned was wheeled back into an examination room, rubbing his aching neck.
The doctor brought in the results fifteen minutes later. He put them up on the lighted screen then flipped off the overhead lights.
“Here’s what we’re looking at,” the doctor said using a capped pen as a pointer. “This part of your brain shouldn’t be this dark. That means there’s something there obstructing the scan. We’re going to need to run a few more tests to see what’s going on but this doesn’t look like something you’d get from a knock on the noggin.”
Ned felt his stomach drop.
“I’m not sure what it is, Mr. Bodkins, it could be that you’d moved again and we didn’t get a clear scan,” the doctor said, flipping the room’s lights back on.
Ned could tell the man didn’t believe that.
“We’re going to have to wait and see what the tests show us.”
Ned watched the six o’clock news on the little television hanging on the wall picturing a little black cloud hovering over his brain. The TV was muted but Ned was tired and just wanted something, anything to stare at. He was watching the way the anchors’ mouths move when the man brought in a tray of food. He set it on a little foldout attachment on the bed. Ned’s stomach grumbled.
How had he not realized he was hungry?
Ned ate the mashed potatoes en masse then the Salisbury steak, a piece of which became temporarily lodged in his throat. He’d choked then vomited, shitting a little in the bed. There was a long moment of silence from the nurse’s station when Ned called them from the phone in his room. He was led down the hall to a room with a shower.
The water only seemed to have two temperatures: scalding or freezing. Ned chose scalding and cleaned the shit from his ass. Just as he was stepping out of the shower, the lights winked out. He stumped his toe on the lip of the tiling and fell forward onto his hands and knees. The lights flashed two times then came back on. Ned studied his deformed big toenail for some time before rising and drying off.
They’d changed the bedclothes by the time Ned got back to his room. They’d taken his food too. Ned climbed back under the covers feeling more tired than he’d ever believed he could feel. Just as he was drifting off into an uncomfortable sleep the door to his room opened and a nurse came in. She set about taking his vitals as if he weren’t even really there.
“When can I leave?” he asked.
She punched something into the computer then turned and said, “Not sure. Doctor’s call, not mine.”
She made to leave the room but stopped and opened a drawer instead. She pulled out a bedpan and handed it to Ned.
“Listen, hon, I know you’re not feeling well and all but I’m the only one on the floor tonight. That means I’d have to change your bedclothes if you had another accident. Use the bedpan, please.”
Ned couldn’t recall a more embarrassing moment in his life. Then he remembered his disheveled appearance at his first attempt at presenting the TRS Report. He cringed and got another Charlie horse in his neck. It had just about subsided when the doctor returned.
“I’m not sure what to tell you, Mr. Bodkins,” the doctor said. “Some of the scans showed a darkening of the area where the occipital and parietal lobes meet and the others didn’t. We took extras this go around and we still can’t tell what’s happening in there. We’ve ruled out machine malfunction. I’m referring you to neurology. They’ll be able to get to the bottom of this.”
Ned watched the sunset through the window with tears in his eyes. He pictured the black cloud in his brain shooting little bolts of lightning and hail. He wanted to call someone on the hospital phone but didn’t have a person to call. April had left him three months ago and he hadn’t gone anywhere but home and work since then. He hadn’t reached out to his small circle of friends and they hadn’t gotten ahold of him so Ned assumed he’d poisoned those relationships somehow.
One of the machines beside the bed was beeping. A nurse came in and flipped a button to silence it. She checked Ned’s blood pressure manually, her face scrunching up. She checked it again. There was more beeping from the machines; Ned wasn’t sure if it was the same one or a different one.
“What’s wrong?” Ned asked.
“Your blood pressure is through the roof,” the nurse said, sliding the cuff off Ned’s arm.
A weight settled onto Ned’s chest.
“I’m going to go call the doctor right quick.”
The last bit of sun sank below the horizon.
Ned was given some medications then he was taken to different parts of the hospital where a barrage of tests was administered. His blood was drawn but it took the nurse two attempts at hitting the vein. Ned felt dizzy and faint. All of the hospital lights seemed to blur together as he was wheeled around.
After what felt like hours, Ned was returned to the room with the muted television. The sky outside the window was black and starless. Ned wished he had someone to call and come wait with him.
After a time, the doctor came in and spoke with Ned. He told him that several of the tests they’d conducted came back inconclusive or in error; they’d have to run several of them again. The doctor told Ned his cholesterol was high as was his blood pressure and sugars. He said Ned was now considered pre-diabetic. Also, his white blood cell count was higher than it should’ve been, which the doctor told Ned could mean a number of things.
Ned realized he was watching the doctor speak, the man’s mouth moving mechanically, but his ears had completely tuned him out. He saw the closely shaven jaw work and he heard the monotonous sound of the man’s voice but not the individual words he spoke. Ned worried that he wasn’t going to be able to complete the addendum to the TRS Report.
Eventually the doctor left. The hospital was much quieter at night. Ned listened to a man’s rough coughing from several rooms down until he felt a faint tickle at the back of his own throat. He coughed into his hand then listened to the mechanical sounds of the machines around him; a steady buzz and whir. Somewhere outside the hospital a car alarm went off for several minutes.
It was nearly three in the morning when the nurse came into the room.
“Good, you’re awake,” she said. “I need to check your vitals.”
Ned set up in the hospital bed.
“I heard you were about the unluckiest patient we’ve had,” the nurse said. “They had to unplug the machine after your third CAT scan. I’ve never seen so many missed sticks either.”
She was studying the crooks of his arms. Ned looked at all the angry red holes and cringed.
They’ll think I’m a junkie at work, he thought. I’ll have to keep my arms covered until they all heal.
“And they dropped the vials of the first and second batches of your blood too,” the nurse said. “Don’t know if they told you that. That’s why you had to be stuck that third time. The phlebotomy tech was about as red as a tomato. Dropped the vial and your blood went everywhere.”
Ned’s mind filled with the elevator of blood from The Shining. He recalled the spurt of blood hitting the EMT in the ambulance.
“Listen,” the nurse said, leaning over the railing of the bed. “I’ve got a sociology friend that’s running this study. I think you should participate. It’s about luck.”
The nurse nodded her head as she scribbled something into Ned’s chart. The lead of her pencil broke and she made a face.
“Uh huh,” she said, returning the chart. “She’s seeking out outliers, people that seem to have lots of luck, bad or good, and running a series of tests on them.”
The nurse pulled out her cellphone and gave Ned the sociologist’s contact information. Ned tried to save the information to his phone but was told the memory was full. He had the nurse write down the name and telephone number.
After she left, Ned tried to recline the hospital bed but the motorized mechanism jammed and the bed remained mostly upright.
Ned called the sociologist’s number early the next morning and left a mumbled voicemail message.
“This is Ned Bodkins, I’ve got a case of really bad luck. A nurse at First General told me to call you.”
The sociologist called back later in the morning, just as Ned was getting discharged. It seemed all the tests ran were inconclusive or contradicting and Ned’s insurance wouldn’t cover another night’s stay at the hospital without a definite medical reasoning.
“I’m Navelene Reemis,” the sociologist said. “Why would you say you’re experiencing bad luck?”
Ned explained things briefly.
“I see,” Navelene Reemis said. “I’d like you to come to the lab and let us run a few tests.”
Ned got the address and drove straight over from the hospital. He was let into a large dimly lit room. There was a long table with people sitting on each side. On one side were people wearing lab coats, on the other were people in everyday clothing. Ned watched the people in regular clothes flip quarters and the people in lab coats record the results on their clipboards.
Navelene Reemis showed Ned to a seat at the end of the table and sat down across from him. She handed Ned a quarter and asked him to flip it. Ned flipped the quarter and it landed on tails. The rest of the coins flipped at the table landed on tails as well.
Ned flipped the coin again: tails.
All the eyes slowly turned to Ned. He flipped the coin again and again it landed on tails. He waited and watched the rest of the table flip their coins, each landed on tails.
Navelene Reemis asked Ned to face the coin heads up before flipping again. It landed on tails. The rest of the table’s flips landed on tails as well.
“Very interesting,” she said. “Come with me, Mr. Bodkins.”
She led Ned away from the table further into the room. There was a small office in the corner with a desk and two chairs. Navelene Reemis offered Ned a chair then sat down behind the desk.
She asked Ned several questions about his bad luck. She tried to document his replies but her computer crashed.
“I have this effect on computers,” Ned said. “They tend to destroy themselves or malfunction around me.”
“I see,” she said. “Let me go grab another computer and we’ll run the Lottery test.”
When Navelene Reemis returned with the laptop, she tripped and dropped it. It clattered down on the thin carpet and she dropped to her hands and knees. Ned knocked over his chair in his haste to help the woman off the floor and it landed on the laptop with a muffled crunch.
“Oh shit,” Ned said, helping the woman to her feet.
The screen was a spiderwebbed mess when Navelene Reemis opened the laptop. She looked up from the screen and stared at Ned for a full minute before speaking.
“You weren’t kidding,” she said.
A young man in a lab coat rapped on the doorframe then stepped into the little office.
“Dr. Reemis, they’re all flipping tails,” he said. “Even the weighted ones.”
They both turned to Ned and he felt his face flush hot and crimson. Somehow he felt he owed them an explanation. When he opened his mouth to speak he choked on his own spit.