Alright! Look, listen…this here story is somethin’ I’m not too keen on sharin’, mainly because I ain’t got too much to say about it all but, also, because it’s more a flashback of something from my ravaged brain. Due to it being from my ravaged brain, I ain’t to certain it’s a real memory or something implanted to make me a more sympathetic type person. Either way, if you ask me to explain who I am, it might start like this: A long, long time ago…
The icy clash of shattered glass mixed with the shrill scream of twisting metal as the crushing weight of the cylinder bared down on the old car. First, its hood crunched down to pop the headlights, and to make the fenders press and slice into the tires, tires already flattened by time and now made completely useless. Then the windshield crackled and the cabin crumpled. One rear tire still inflated suddenly deflated as the load of weight popped the sidewall to release a long, loud hiss. The rest of the car’s windows were missing already and, as the conveyor fed the last of the junkheap in the crusher, Alex looked on in satisfaction.
“Didn’t think we’d get that pile finished before sundown!” Alex said as he reached up to pull off his hat and wipe sweat from his brow. As he let his foot off from one actuator on the ground and, also, he let go of a large handle that sprung back into place. As he did so, the large crusher came to a slow grinding stop. When the glass settled and all was quiet, he pulled off his gloves and breathed a sigh of relief.
“You want me to get the truck?” Little Alex, his young daughter asked, her high voice came from behind to surprise her father.
He turned around with a jump. “What in the?!” He was startled, not just by his little girl, but by the fact that she was in the wrecking yard at all. “Who let you back you here?” he looked around before looking to his girl. “You know you’re not supposed be back here, LA.”
The little long-haired brunette did not shy away as she used her thumb to point over her shoulder, back at the door. “Mom said I’m big enough to be back here,” she smirked.
“Listen…” he knelt down to her, eye to eye and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. “Where the truck is at…” he nodded in that direction, over her shoulder, but was careful to keep eye contact. “And…out around the side-yard with the dogs Butch and Cassidy…yes…you’re big enough to be back there. But, look,” he pointed to a sign that said ‘Hardhat Area.’ “Signs like that are important and you need to pay attention to things like them.” He stood and took off his hard hat and looked at it as he continued. “LA, when your mom or I say the phrase ‘back there…’ well, it’s what we say when we go behind the office…it makes things easy for the customers to understand. But, you’re old enough to know the difference now, so, let me show you something.” He took the hardhat and placed it on little Alex’s little head. “First thing’s first: you’re gonna’ need one of these.”
“Are we going to get the truck?”
“Not just yet. You need to learn about the signs of danger back here.”
Only a few minutes had passed before the two found themselves standing at the back door entrance to the office. LA could hear her mom faintly talking with a customer up front, and started to reach for the doorknob, but Alex spoke up to say, “Hey, take a look at this.” LA stopped and turned to look. There, covered in years of grime and smudged with all manner of grease and oil, an assortment of signs had been nailed to the wall, adjacent to the threshold. “Have you ever noticed these before?” he looked to LA as she scanned the signs and slowly nodded. “Have you figured out what they mean?” Again, he watched her slowly nod. “Okay…” he raised his head in curiosity and pointed to a Hardhat sign, one that resembled what he had pointed out earlier near the crusher. It did not have any of the wording, it only had a little black figure of a man with a bright yellow hardhat, all surrounded by a thick bright-red circle. It did not click with LA, and Alex could see that. “Here, let me give you a hint.” He reached out and took the hardhat from her head and put in on his own, making sure to take a step sideways, just right enough to be in the same view of the sign so that LA could visually compare them.
She gasped with realization and a smile. “You need a hard hat!”
“That’s right!” Alex said excitedly as he bent down, grabbed her by the waist and hoisted her up into his arms. Even being nine, LA felt as light as a leaf in Alex’s muscled arms and, with one arm, he held her close as she wrapped her legs around his waist. He was about to point to the sign about needing to wear gloves in the back but, just then, he caught the scent of something unwelcome and, with his free hand he pointed to another sign. “What’s this one mean?” He asked as he scanned the area.
LA looked at it with concentration on her face.
The sign had what she knew to be a cigarette on it with a huge red circle that crossed through the cigarette. She crooked her head in slight recognition and pointed at it, “I’ve seen that at the diner, but…”
Alex found what he was looking for, and, with a smile and raised brow, he nodded. “That’s right. Do you know what it means though?” Trying not to break LA’s focus, Alex wiggled off the glove of his free hand and began snapping his fingers towards Jim, a man standing towards the back of the room.
As Jim looked up, a cigarette dangling from his lips, Alex’s face became stern as he discreetly motioned about the cigarette.
LA thought about it and, finally, shook her head to make her pony tail lightly whip and tickle against Alex’s neck, bringing his attention back. “What’s it means, dad?”
“It means No Smoking,” he said just loud enough for Jim to hear, looking at him one more time. “Cigarettes are bad for many reasons but, back here, they can set things on fire.” He watched as Jim, dejected, snuffed out the little fire-starter. He looked back to LA, then, the sign and pointed out a couple more items. “There’s lots of things back here that can hurt you. Corrosive stuff. Electrical things…you remember what happened in Robocop 2, when Murphy grabbed that electrical box?”
LA’s eyes went wide. “His name was Alex, too!”
Alex let loose a roaring laugh. “Yes! But you’re missing my point…remember how he got fried?”
LA nodded with her eyes growing even wider.
“Well…I don’t want THIS Alex fried!” He bopped her on the nose with his index finger. “You understand?”
With a giggle and a smile, LA gave a short little nod.
Hoping she understood, Alex turned to make sure Jim had really put his cig out but found no sign of the man. He set LA down, turned and opened the door and, in an instant, he saw the orange flick of firelight flash up. Not wanting to hurt LA, but it was all he could think to do in such a short time, he kicked her in the butt to send her sailing up the hall.
LA tumbled to the floor as thunder and orange light slammed the door closed behind her, throwing off the Employees Only sign that skipped across the floor to a stop at LA’s feet.
When I woke up, the Crossout was well underway…but that’s a story for another time.