Flash Fiction: Ernie

It was two hours into my shift when I heard the crash of metal hitting concrete followed by a shrill cry. I dropped my tools and shuffled toward the sound. One of the foam operators, Ernie, laid under a 400 pound mold which covered him from the neck to his knees. Above him the broken, twisted chain links hung like sedated acrobats casting thin shadows across his grimacing face.

I had never spoken to this man in the two months I worked at the plastics factory. I always observed him when he walked by my station and thought how he reminded me of a cool biker dude with his thick handlebar mustache and a short, wiry beard burned yellow and brown from years of cigarette smoke. He always wore a serious expression above a gold chain around a tan, wrinkled neck and sported flat brimmed hats every day to work. Today, none of those things mattered. I dropped to my knees and stared down at him and pulled off his cap.

“It hurts so damn bad,” Ernie said.

I smoothed his hair out of his face and pulled off his safety glasses. At this point my supervisor ran over and kept saying “Jesus Christ,” and I told him to call 9-1-1 and he told me to get back on the machine and I repeated for him to call 9-1-1 and he said, “I’ve got it handled,” to which Ernie replied, “I’m going to fucking die in here. I’m going to die at work, oh god no please.”

And my eyes began to well-up and I screamed at my supervisor to call a fucking ambulance and he backed away as more machine operators drew in closer to observe the scene. A chorus of “holy shit’s” and “What happened?” echoed endlessly.

“They’re calling for an ambulance now,” I said. Then to the crowd, “Help me lift this off of him.”

Three people immediately came forward and we all grabbed a corner. It was difficult maintaining grip considering the mold was in the process of being built and had only the smooth walls and bottom welded together and so I suggested we tilt it to one side and we did and that’s when another cry shot out of the crowd as we all gazed upon Ernie’s mangled legs and caved in chest cavity with blood soaked completely through and dripping off the mold and my ears started to ring because Ernie was screaming into my ear and crying and I noticed his hand looked like one massive piece of flesh melted together and there were no fingers on either hand, just flesh and bone sticking out.

We pushed the mold onto its side. Retching could be heard from the other employees as well as cries of panic and the stammering of my supervisor who was now back on the scene with the production manager who simply said, “Holy fuck, Ernie. My god. My god.” before slowly backing away. I brought my face close to Ernie’s and told him it was going to be okay and he still hadn’t stopped screaming or crying but he managed to say, “I can’t die here, I have to pick my daughter up from school and I have to feed Cooper or he’ll bark until the neighbors go mad.”

He tried to say something more but was wracked with more screams of agony. I didn’t know what to say other than, “You aren’t going to die alone,” and he stopped screaming and looked at me with terrible sad blue eyes and his forehead bore countless tiny wrinkles and he said, “So you do think I’m going to die?” And I told him yes and cradled his head in my lap and reminded him that he was not alone and it was all going to end anyway and there is no better time than the present.

Ernie let out a wet cough and said, “I don’t want to.”

I said, “That’s beautiful.” And Ernie felt heavier for a moment and the maintenance guy pointed at Ernie and said, “His eyes are closed. He’s dead!”

I checked his pulse and felt no sign of a beating heart but kept my fingers buried within the folds of his elastic skin, waiting. I kept my finger where his pulse should’ve been but all I could feel was my own heartbeat and maybe that’s what it all meant after all.

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