by Mike Phillips
Steel creaked and popped as it buckled, giving way to the relentless strength of the hydraulic ram. Headlights popped. What remained unscavanged of the window glass shattered into countless glittering stars. The old Chevy was pushed into a smaller and smaller space until it was compressed into a monolithic slab.
"Would you quit foolin' around?"
Andy was caught off guard. He shook in surprise, turning from the car crusher to see that his friend Mick had climbed down from the forklift. "Just tryin' to have a little fun," he said as he smiled slowly and shrugged.
"Keep havin' fun and we'll be here all night," Mick snapped.
"Dude, what are you so uptight about?" Andy asked, taking a packet of cigarettes from the front pocket of his flannel shirt. "With all that stuff we got to get rid of in the shed, that special project the old man has for us, we'll be here late anyway. We might as well make the best of it. I'm sure it will be a night to remember."
"That's right, the shed," Mick repeated with disgust. "I almost forgot."
"Don't worry. I got a treat for you, a surprise." Andy flicked out a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth, slowly putting the pack back in his pocket.
"Man, I thought we weren't gonna smoke no more," Mick replied angrily.
"Correction," Andy said, taking a stainless steel lighter from the other pocket of his shirt. He placed the lighter between his thumb and two fingers and with a motion like snapping his fingers, he popped open the lid and sparked a flame. "There ain't no we about it. Your woman's the one who's makin' you quit. No use me bein' miserable too."
"Linda ain't makin' me do shit. Hand me one of those."
Andy puffed happily on the cigarette, arms folded, leaning casually against the controls of the car crusher. "What about cousin Jim?"
"Shit, stupid cousin Jim can talk all he wants. I don't care."
Andy offered Mick one of the cigarettes and then the lighter. "That's what you say until she finds out."
"I know. I should just punch him in the nose, maybe cure him of his diarrhea of the mouth."
"He's awfully big."
"Big and dumb, I ain't scared of him."
"Yeah?" Andy took a deep drag off the cigarette, contemplating. "He's awfully big."
"Who gives a shit?"
"Hey you two, get back to work," a shout came from another forklift, now idling nearby. It was cousin Jim who had spoken.
"He's got you now," said Andy, unmoving.
Mick didn't move either. "Yep, I guess."
Now angry at being ignored, cousin Jim said, "Come on you two, I'm leaving at six no matter what. You can be here all night if you want, but not me." Gunning the engine of the forklift, he drove off.
"Let him go," Mick said. "We don't need him, get done faster without him."
Andy looked around the salvage yard, the stack of cars that were destined for the crusher, those that had already been flattened. With a quick calculation, he said, "Seems like the old man always waits until there's too many cars for one day, but not enough for a full 'nother day."
"Yeah, he can squeeze pearls from a frog's butt."
"A frog's butt?" Andy said, chuckling.
"Yeah," Mick replied. He turned his back to cousin Jim, enjoying the smoke and cool fall breeze. "You rent the crusher for the day, don't matter how much you use it, so we get to work until the job's done."
"And he pays us to work overtime? Kind of makes me think I should ask for a raise."
"Hey, I told you guys to get back to work." Jim had now returned from the yard, a late model sedan, ruined in some horrible front-end collision, ready to be crushed.
"Why do we have to listen to that stupid fuck?" Andy asked.
"He's the big shot certified mechanic, that's why," Mick said sarcastically. "He's technically our boss."
Andy finished his smoke, flicking away the spent butt and exhaling a long white cloud. "Crush-er, I love the crush-er," he said in the deep, simple voice of cavemen he had seen in the movies.
Later that evening, long after cousin Jim had gone home and when only five cars remained to be crushed, Andy and Mick decided to take a break for a late dinner. They went down to the edge of the property, near the river. There was a pile of old tires there and they each climbed to the top of the tire pile, finding a comfortable place to sit under the light of the quarter moon.
Andy took a slice of pizza from a box and then placed the rest between them. "Here you go."
"Thanks," Mick said, handing Andy a forty-ounce beer, then taking a piece of pizza for himself.
"Hey, you ready to get that stuff from the shed?" Andy asked between bites.
"Yeah, I suppose. You think old lady Schmitt's sleepin' by now?"
"Hope so, but it never hurts to make sure."
"Well, it's dark over there." Mick took a pair of binoculars from his coat pocket, set them to his nose after a long swallow of beer. He gazed across the river to a row of houses, some two hundred yards away. He scanned the windows for any sign of movement. "Nope, nothin'. That's good. The old man said if she sees us, she'll call the EPA for sure, get us all put in jail."
"She's got a point, all that crap in the river makes for bad huntin' and fishin'."
"What do you know?" Mick said with a flash of temper. "They still catch plenty of fish on this river, down at the lake too. Besides, we ain't gonna dump it in the river. We'll put that stuff in a car and then it goes to the smelter, not into the river, stupid. They burn it all up with all the foam and rubber and plastic and shit that's left over, all burned up 'til there ain't nothin' left."
"Yeah, well why is it a big secret then?"
"So we ain't got to do all the paper work," Mick explained, annoyed. "That's how they get rid of that stuff, you know, just burn it anyway. Now we just get paid to burn it other than we got to pay. It's pearls from a frog's butt."
"Okay, okay, don't get mad. Dude, you're such a hothead sometimes. You need to learn how to take it easy." Remembering, Andy clamped the forty-ouncer between his legs and dug into the front pocket of his jeans. "Here, this is the treat I told you about." He said, handing over a plastic bag, inside of which were six, hand rolled cigarettes.
Mick looked up, and for the first time all day, he smiled. "Nice."
"Yeah, worth workin' late for. I figure the last few cars are going to be a lot of fun." Andy imitated the caveman voice again, "I love the crush-er."
When the pair had finished dinner and a cigarette each, they went to the shed and began to work on the old man's special project. Inside were over a hundred old batteries and a large number of jugs and bottles full of chemicals. All of these were loaded into cars destined for the crusher.
"Hey, you know what any of that stuff is?" Andy asked, referring to the jugs and bottles.
"No, but it's whatever won't burn in the heater."
"Yeah, like anything but oil and gas and shit?"
"Will it hurt us?" Andy asked, concerned, eyeing what he now carried. "Maybe I should get some gloves, or a mask."
Peeved, impatient, Mick replied, "Ain't never hurt me, and I've been doing this for three years. I'm fine, look at me."
"Yeah, I know, but I mean cancer," Andy said, now even more concerned.
"Sure, like cigarettes, now let's get back to work. We still have to be done before morning or we're in for it."
Andy didn't argue further. They loaded all the chemicals and batteries from the shed into the cars and then packed the empty spaces with old seats and useless car parts and whatever other trash they could find. The labor took them some time. After a final break they each had another smoke and then began to finish up for the night.
Unknown to the two friends as they worked, some of the old batteries and bottles ruptured as they were encased in their automotive tombs. Small amounts of chemicals drained from the crusher and seeped into the ground. There the liquids came together with fifty other years of criminal irresponsibility. Something began to happen.
Under the quarter moon, the mix of hydrocarbons, acids, and heavy metals combined in the light of some wayward cosmic ray and were just enough to make something more, something unexpected. This mix of strange and indefinite nature began to grow and pulse and to envy heat and light as energy. It boiled to the surface to fill this emptiness, this desire for energy, and attacked.
"What the hell is that?" Andy screamed, sparks flying all round him. He pushed away from the crusher controls and ran just as the fuel in the engine compartment exploded, setting off another explosion in the tank. The blast knocked him to the ground and the next thing he knew, Mick was shaking him by the shoulders.
"What the fuck did you do, you idiot?" Mick pulled Andy to his feet and dragged him away from the fire as best he could. "What the fuck happened?"
"I don't know," Andy moaned.
Then the fire suddenly stopped, as if sucked into a vacuum. "What is that?" Mick gasped, not believing what he saw.
A creature roared, a bawling, babbling, throat ripping roar. As it stepped away from the spent fuel of the car crusher, its liquid form took shape, a beast like a gushing fountain, but with purpose and direction. It went straight for the idling forklift that Mick had only recently been driving. It quickly enveloped the forklift, seeking its energy. The forklift exploded as Andy and Mick watched, dumbfounded by what they saw.
"What do we do?" Mick screamed.
"Run, man! Get to the other forklift!" Andy yelled, standing.
They ran to cousin Jim's forklift, making it just as the fire went out on the forklift Mick drove, suddenly snuffed into nothingness as before. The creature, now much larger, began again its search for power. It formed a column and reached up, taking hold of one of the few lamps that lit the yard. Sparks flew wildly all around, bursting every bulb on the circuit. The creature grew as it sucked the energy, changing in color, glowing in the dark. Then the breaker tripped and the electricity cut.
Mick turned the key on the forklift and the engine came to life. The creature howled, chasing after them as they fled.
"It's coming after us," Andy yelled, looking out behind them as Mick threaded his way between the rows of junk cars. "And it's fast."
Hardly sooner than he had uttered those words the thing caught them. It took hold of the forklift and sought the engine even as they continued to move.
"I've lost steering," Mick shouted, clawing desperately at the wheel. They crashed through and over the pile of old tires, diving straight into the river.
"Jump!" Andy shouted. But they had no time to jump.
The forklift plummeted into the stream. Andy and Mick swam away from the sinking forklift, flailing their arms toward the opposite bank with all their strength.
The creature had neither interest in them nor strength to follow. It came apart. As it was washed away, one last time the thing roared. Then all that was left of it was a luminescent sheen upon the water, glistening in the moonlight.
"Well, shit. I guess all that stuff ended up in the river after all," Mick said, sitting at the far side of the river. "But I'm glad that's over."
"Yeah," Andy said. "It was kinda exciting, though." He checked his pockets, found the plastic bag with four joints in it still dry. "You think we can we do that again?"
© 2011 Mike Phillips
Bio: Mike Phillips is the author of Reign of the Nightmare Prince available in bookstores, online booksellers, Kindle and Nook. He has published several short stories both in print and online, including ParABnormal Digest, Sinister Tales, Dark Horizons and many others. He is best known for his Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series. This is Mike's fourth appearance in Aphelion; the most recent was A Peril in Trophies, in the May 2011 edition.
E-mail: Mike Phillips
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