Warning Signs


Jack searches the rearview mirror as a line of streetlights pulse through the back windows of the ambulance. He’s alarmed to see his new partner,Rick, holding defibrillator paddles up to his head.

“What are you doing?”

“Just locking shit down so it doesn’t slide.”

“Well, I’d keep those away from your dome,” Jacks says. “Unless you wanna lose your multiplication tables forever. Don’t you read warning labels?”

“Like this?”

Rick holds up a paddle to show Jack a childlike drawing of a stick figure with huge cymbals over its ears, jagged electric Z’s shooting everywhere.

“Christ. Must be for stupid fuckers who can’t read.”

“I know,” Rick laughs. “Looks like a warning not to wear headphones while driving. Wait, what if it’s actually a warning for us, if we use ‘em too much?”

“You about done back there?”

Rick ignores the question.

“It’s like those cartoons of babies crashing through windshields.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Those cartoons on visors? Babies through windshields. Like airbag warnings. C’mon, you’ve seen them.”

“Uh, I’ve seen warnings to correctly put babies in car seats. But I’ve never in my life seen what you’re describing.”

“You’re nuts. The signs are everywhere now. Standard in every car.”

“Everywhere, huh.”


They’re on a dark stretch of road, and Rick is lost in the shadows again.

“So you’re telling me that in new cars there are cartoons of bloody babies crashing headfirst through fucking windshields?” Jack snickers.

“Sorta. Not bloody. Ready to hit the glass.”

“Next you’re gonna tell me every bottle comes with drawings of the jagged end sticking out of babies’ necks.”

“Maybe,” Rick shrugs. “Never checked.”

“And on the bottom of your shoes are stickers of babies getting punted through uprights?” Jack asks, smiling. “With a red circle and a line through them so there’s no confusion?”

“Ever looked?”

A red hotel “Vacancy” glow reveals Rick now rubbing the paddles together thoughtfully.

“Maybe they’re warning us not to put these next to our heads so that…”

“They warn us not to put them on our patient’s head!” Jack almost shouts.

“…so we don’t try it ourselves. You know, out of curiosity. Just to see what would happen.”

“Who would try that?”

“Maybe it’s harmless,” Rick whispers, moving closer. “Maybe it just changes the color of your eyes.”

“Stay the fuck away from me, Frankenstein.”

Rick flips a switch, and the unit powers up like a turbine.

“You know what drives me nuts?” he says. “When people think Frankenstein is the asshole with the bolts in his neck. That’s Frankenstein’s Monster. Frankenstein’s the doctor. Always has been. Are we clear?”

“That’s what I meant. Hey, what are you doing?”

“Maybe it makes us smarter…”

“In that case, give me a jolt,” Jack laughs.

“Clear?” Rick asks again, sincerely. Then he leans over and pushes both buttons, marked “apex” and “sternum,” and electricity arcs from the paddles through the metal frame of Jack’s glasses. The whip crack of a thousand volts freezes his eyes in surprise, teeth bared like a dog. Jack sucks in one last breath as if through a straw, both feet suddenly concrete, stomping the gas and brake at the same time. The engine screams in protest while the ambulance slows, slows, then stops.

A week later, Rick’s new partner is adjusting the steering wheel while Rick organizes the equipment in the dark.

“Hey, man, you sure you want me to drive?”

“Yeah,” Rick says. “But we should eat early before calls start coming in.”

“Cool. I heard this is the most stressful time of the night.”

“Some can’t take the stress. Coronaries ain’t uncommon.”

“Don’t worry. I just had my physical.”

“So, what do you wanna eat?”

“Let’s hit the drive-through. Hey, what are you doing back there anyway?”

“Tying everything down, in case you take a bad turn.” Then, “Drive-through, huh? Haven’t you seen the warnings?”

“On the burgers?”

“No,” Rick sighs. “On the drive-through. Right next to the speaker. A cartoon of what happens when someone leans out too far pulling up. Dangerous world, man…”

The driver tilts the rear view mirror around to search the shadows behind him as an electric whine worms into their ears.

~ fin ~

David James Keaton's work has appeared in over 50 publications, including Grift, Chicago Quarterly Review, Thuglit, PANK, and Noir at the Bar II. His contribution to Plots With Guns #10 was named a Notable Story of 2010 by storySouth's Million Writers Award, and he won a 2012 Spinetingler Award for the Best Short Story on the Web. His first collection, FISH BITES COP! Stories to Bash Authorities, was named the 2013 Short Story Collection of the Year by This Is Horror and was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. He has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and was the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Flywheel Magazine. These days, he's tinkering with several screenplays, including a prison movie, a thriller, and a western, also adapting them into novels. He realizes this method is probably backwards. His books are available wherever insanity is sold, and his first novel, THE LAST PROJECTOR (Broken River Books), just landed. He can be contacted at davidjameskeaton[at]gmail[dot]com.