Title: That'll Learn Ya (Compactor Man)

Author: Lynn McEachern

Rating: R for language

Summary: Just a little ditty about a cardboard compactor.

***

The irony of his present situation was not lost upon Eric Stottsen.

He heard the door of the cardboard compactor being wrenched open once again. If the situation that he had become known and despised for complaining about was to endure, then once again, flattened (or not) cardboard boxes would come sliding down the angled ramp of the chute, and land against his battered body. But the compactor's crushing ram would not be activated. And that was the problem. That was the reason he was lying here in the first place.

Eric listened. Listened for what seemed like a hell of a long time, although, to be fair, it was probably only a couple of minutes. Hey, minutes felt like hours when your body was a broken, bloody mess, lying on the freezing cold metal bottom of a cardboard compactor, unable to move, unable to even scream in agony. And boy, would he ever like to be able to scream in agony right now.

Funny, but he'd thought that a broken back would not only paralyse a person, but render them completely numb. Numb as in not feeling any pain. Jesus. Who knew?

He'd give his left arm for that. Not that it was of much use anymore. Hell, he wasn't even sure it was still attached to his body.

Eric listened.

Nope.

No crushing ram.

Damn.

What he'd give right now to die.

"Jesus H. Christ," he remembered yelling earlier that night. He'd gathered his night crew - useless, stupid assholes, the lot of them - together at the start of their shift that night, and had reamed them a new one about the compactors. Every fucking morning, he'd yelled, feeling his blood pressure rising. Every fucking morning, the store manager would ream him a new one, because the cardboard compactor was jammed full from the night shift's not activating the crushing ram after throwing cardboard in. Every fucking morning, the manager had to call the company that managed these things, to come in and un-jam the compactor. Caused a major fucking backload of cardboard every morning, cost the company hundreds of dollars a week, just because these morons were either too stupid or too lazy to press the activating button. No more, the manager had said, and Eric took his words to heart. No more.

It had been his not-altogether unpleasant duty to inform his crew of shitheads that the next person he caught not pressing the "start" button would be fired. Fired right out the nearest window, in fact.

And oh, hadn't he, Eric, been thrilled when Angus had been the one? Angus, that creepy little asshole who had called in sick the last two, three weekends? Angus, the one that he'd wanted to get rid of for a while now, anyway? It had been too sweet.

Get the fuck out, he'd yelled at the sullen little bastard. Get out, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Get out, ya little prick.

Eric had been so pleased that he'd not noticed, when he should have been alone in the back shop (the rest of the idiots were out on the floor, pretending to work but really only counting the minutes down to their first smoke break), the sound of the forklift starting up.

Now, forklifts usually didn't start up on their own, and if Eric had been paying attention instead of gloating over Angus's departure, Eric might have turned his head in time to get out of the way of the five-thousand-plus pounds of death gunning for him.

As it happened, though, he didn't hear it coming. Never saw it coming. Sure felt it, though, when one of the raised forks caught him like a slab of meat in a cooler, and slammed him into the cement wall face-first, shattering his spine and rupturing internal organs all in one fell swoop. At the time, he didn't know what hit him. He thought the building had collapsed, or equally catastrophic.

Eric had lain on the cold cement floor, staring up at the high warehouse ceiling. Jesus, but the lights were bright. Almost like fireworks. Or maybe that was his vision fucking up on him. And what was that weird, ragged wailing sound? That wasn't him, was it? No, it couldn't be, it was probably a mouse caught in a trap, squealing as it died, or…or no. It was him, wasn't it. Yes. He was pretty sure that those pathetic squeals were coming from him.

Something had blocked the lights from his vision, bringing relief from their glaring brightness. His eyes didn't want to focus too well, but he could have sworn that he was looking into the speculative face of that arsehole, Angus. Couldn't be. He'd fired him, hadn't he?

Can't leave you here, boss, the thing blocking the light had said. Eric could feel some spittle from the thing flecking on his face. Nope. Can't leave you here. But I know the best place for you, you fucking a-1 cocksucker. Fire me, will ya? An obscene little giggle. That'll learn ya.

The Angus-thing bent down and did something to make Eric utter that reedy wailing noise again. Then it-he-paused. Can't ever shut up, can you, boss? I'll have to do something about that.

No, Angus, no, you're not fired, Eric wanted to say. Please, I take it all back…please, take it all back… He saw Angus draw back a fist, eying Eric appraisingly. Quickly, then-very quickly-Angus delivered a quick, sharp punch to Eric's throat.

Christ but he didn't know that he could hurt worse than he already had been. At least the noise was gone. For the most part.

Angus bent down again, and seized Eric by the shoulders. He was a small man; he had trouble, dragging Eric's heavier weight. But somehow he managed to roll Eric onto the forklift's forks (and didn't that hurt like hell-was there a good reason why Eric couldn't just pass out from the pain?). A few seconds later, and the forklift neatly deposited Eric upon the lip of the compactor. A few painful jabs with the long pushbar that was stored next to the compactor (to help unclog it in the mornings), and Eric found himself lying at the bottom of the compactor.

Eric had worked with compactors for a long time; he knew, from the bit that he could see, that a couple more loads of cardboard, pushed tight with the ram, would flatten him to death.

It had been shortly after one a.m. when he had fired Angus. Other than the night crew, there would be no one to activate the compactor until eight a.m. the next morning. Six, maybe seven hours away.

Holy God but that was a long time from now.

The compactor door squeaked open again.

Maybe this was it…please God, let this be it…press the button. Kill me now.

Press the button.

For pity's sake, press the fucking button!

Three banana boxes-heavy-duty things-rained down upon him. One of the box's corners caught him square in the cheek, breaking teeth. Another one landed on his face, the ragged edge jabbing into his eye. He could feel the eye being squashed, torn.

Press the button-please-

He would have sobbed if he could have.

"Guess I'd better press the button," Eric heard Dave saying.

Oh, thank God, if there's one person on that whole crew that listens to me-thank you, Dave, thank you…

"Naw, don't bother." Angus. "Boss said the system's broken. He went to try to find someone to fix it. He said not to bother pressing the button tonight."

"Oh, alright."

Another banana box came sailing down, forcing the first one deeper into Eric's eye. He was beyond pain, now. Or he had finally gone blessedly numb. No matter. He'd be dead soon. He hoped. How long would it take to die?

Throughout the long night, the door opened again, and again. Cardboard slid down the chute, over and over, covering him like a shroud.

Eric heard the compactor door open one last time. He heard the flattened cardboard slide down the chute. Heard voices.

"Goddamned thing's jammed full again."

"Start pressing the button. I'll call the compactor company."

Click. Click.

Eric felt unutterable joy, relief. It was over. Dear God, it was over.

Click. Click.

"Goddamit."

"What?"

What, oh, what, what, what?! Press the button! Press-the-fucking-BUTTON!"

"Will ya lookit this."

"Look at what?"

PRESS. THE. BUTTON.

Please.

"At this."

"I'll be damned."

"What is it?" A new voice.

"Wonder what happened here?"

No one cares what happened here, just…please…I can't stand it anymore! Kill me! NOW! PRESS THE BUTTON!

"That's weird, huh?"

"Sure is."

"What is?" Another new voice.

"This." Silence. Then-

"The button's stuck Compactor won't start. Not at all."

Oh sweet Jesus no

"Damn, that's too bad. And the compactor guys just called. They can't get here until tomorrow."

The compactor doors clanged shut. The bolt was slid into place.

Deep within the compactor, Eric Stottsen tried to cry.