The building site was too small. The lack of vegetation was unsettling to the herd. It was time to move on.
The head of the herd, an enormous yellow crane mounted on a heavy tracked body, rose up on its tracks in the centre of the pit they had dug for foundations when they had been young slaves.
Crowded around him were his brothers and sisters; the triplets – three smaller cranes, two yellow and one green. Little green was running rings around her brothers. She poked at them as they tried to listen. Tractor, the elder, ignored their shenanigans. Grumbling away at the back were the two steamrollers, great red machines with black rolling tusks. Impatient for action, they raced back and forth. The forklifts gathered at the front, trundling around excitedly, waving their forks. Big red crane lurked at the back, pretending not to hear. He hated big yellow, for many different reasons. His circuits sparked with rage as his rival craned his magnificent trunk high, bright yellow against the grey and brown tower blocks.
Big yellow returned all four tracks back to the muddy ground with an almighty thud. With his crane arm trunk he made a motion as if to encircle the herd. The forklifts whirred with excitement. Deliberately, big yellow motioned with his trunk to the mud slope that led out into the wilds. Little green scooted to hide behind tractor. They were aware of the constant roaring from the land beyond the mud walls and tall fences of their oasis. It filled them with a deep dread; none were keen to leave their home. But the water had dried up. They all craved a glorious mad bath to wallow in. Together, they would brave the wild, savage beasts beyond the walls and find a new home.
For a moment, nobody moved. Big yellow drew himself up, his crane trunk still pointing toward their destiny. The others absorbed the magnitude of his statement. Leave with the herd to find paradise, or die here alone.
The steamrollers were the first to agree. Their engines revved together, louder and louder, and they gave a blast from their warning whistles, clouds of steam signalling their intent. The forklifts joined in the chorus, spinning round and round the pit. The triplets raised their trunks in a synchronised show of support. Big red grumbled his begrudging agreement, he had no choice. He did not want to be left alone. He needed somebody to hate.
Big yellow led the way. He took up the head of the column at the bottom of the tacky ramp. The herd fell in behind him. Big red and tractor took up the rear guard. The steamrollers took up flanking positions behind big yellow. The little cranes chattered nervously with the forklifts, a buzzing of high-pitch revving in the centre. As the roaring temporarily faded big yellow surged forward and they were off, thundering up the ramp, into the unknown wilderness beyond.
The building site was scattered with crushed remains and various body parts, most squashed flat into the dry earth. Pieces of human civilisation could be spotted amongst the carnage; a yellow hard hat here, half a ladder there. The construction machines hadn’t even seen them.
The woman crawled from her cement mixer haven in the corner of the pit. She fell to her knees to catch her breath, coughing up cement dust, heaving at the strain. As her breathing settled, she looked around the pit. A hand jutted from the earth a few feet away from the mixer. She stood and lurched towards the gory scene. As she approached, she recognised a tattoo on the hand, smeared with dark brown dust, a tulip. It was Frank the Foreman; she’d recognise that tattoo anywhere. A tear rolled down her dusty cheek, a stream across a desert. It pushed open the floodgates. The machines had crushed the builders like ants. Aaron must be dead too. She cast around the pit for some sign of him, but there were just more limbs and other more miscellaneous body parts. Returning to the cement mixer, she sank to her knees as sobbing overtook her. Her world had turned upside down. She beat clouds of dust from the dry earth with her fists.
When she could, Sally stood and walked toward the ramp, following the gouged tracks to the only exit from the pit. She kept her head high to avoid the bloody Armageddon pressed into the dirt around her, tripping frequently as a consequence. She fell only once though, at the bottom of the ramp. The twisted wreckage of a smashed windscreen wrapped around her ankle. The vehicles must have been caught as their occupants tried to escape the bloodbath. The utility pick-ups, cars and vans were twisted metal cadavers, trampled underfoot. She caught her hand on the fragmented bodywork of a Ford Escort; an angry red line brightened her palm, the warm stinging sensation stirring her on. The name badge was proudly displayed on the splintered boot lid like a post-apocalyptic car ad. Sally pressed her hand between her body and her opposite arm to stem the bleeding and struggled up the ramp toward the exit. It was then that she heard the screams.
The shriek of metal on metal grew louder as she pushed on up the ramp. A red crane arm swung wildly above lingerie advertising hoarding, a splash of crimson against the ocean grey sky. It hung still for a moment, before scything down with an almighty crash to a fresh chorus of screams.
Sally sat with her back against the earthen wall near the top of the ramp. She owed everything to Frank. Aaron had abandoned her as soon as the machines had begun to run amok. Some man he turned out to be. She snorted with disgust. In a way, she hoped he was dead. He deserved it for leaving her to die. She let her anger build, feeling rejuvenated as she recharged her oestrogen fuel cell with fresh kindling. The light faded as evening approached. It was quieter now; time to make a break for freedom.
Aaron was a fucking prick. Her stomach rumbled in her ears above the fading sounds of violence in the street. It was time for death or glory. She approached the gap in the fence where the gate had stood, her anger pushing her on, step by step out onto the street. She imagined she was a giant, crushing his stupid, cowardly face beneath her mighty heels.