The Factory — Section 1

First published as an excerpt by Malarkey Books.

Feel free to contact me if you enjoy and want to donate something to myself or others, but it’s not necessary.

The current monetary system is a game, an illusion, and I couldn’t care less. I feel the same about elitism and publishing contracts bestowing worth. The people who need to see it will see it. My gifts and Fuck You’s to the world are free.

Acknowledgements:

For my grandparents, Aaron and Verna, who I never thanked. And for L.

Photo by AES

`Section 1

Like a big maze that you can’t find your way out of, that’s how I thought of the Factory when I first saw it. I even had nightmares. The time clock was ticking on and on and I took one dark turn after another but could never find the way to my department. After a while I forgot where I was going and why.

“You’ll get used to it,” Leslie said. It was the night before my first day and she was sitting against a pillow, flipping through a Factory- issue booklet, wearing her nightgown and reading glasses. I took the tour just that morning, to my department only. They wouldn’t even let me in the front door until my paperwork came through.

So I walked the eight blocks feeling worse every minute and my palms sweating. The dress I had chosen was blue and seemed too loud. I stood outside the colossal metal gates wondering what to do. Then, a tiny door opened off to the side, where before there had been no defect in the plane of gleaming walls.

“This way,” said a man in a gray uniform.

I followed him across a small paved courtyard to the face of the entrance, where a wall of curved windows stared back at you with images of yourself. He stopped in front of a steel door and turned around.

“This will be your entry and exit,” he said with no emotion. It seemed like minutes ticked by while he waited for a response. The door buzzed and we went through.

It was a small reception room. To the left was a curving counter with two women behind it. The counter was bare. To the right were four or five narrow jagged brick walls, all at odd angles, with a door in each face. I followed the man to the counter.

“Number 3675120002,” he said as she punched in the numbers on a small machine that clicked with each digit. The machine spat out a card.

The woman was middle-aged with skin tinged gray from long hours indoors. She had brown, curled hair that was very smooth, and red lipstick and nails that glared against the bare counter. Her uniform was gray, a little lighter than the man’s. Her eyes went over my face and dress and I began to sweat again. I knew the dress wasn’t serious enough. She handed me the card and a lanyard.

“Ok. You can go, 3-2,” she said.

The man turned on his heel. 

“Follow me,” he said.

The first door to the right buzzed and he opened it.

It was a tiny room, the size of a janitor’s closet, with a myriad of dingy walls, again all at odd angles, like a Fun House at a carnival. A single square metal box was attached to one of the walls. Below was with a bare brown table with sharp corners.

“Give me your card,” he said.

I held it out to him.

“First rule. Never…ever…give anyone your card!”

His voice bounced off all the corners and edges in that room. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“That card, from now on, is like your soul. It is what you will use to enter and exit your workplace, and what identifies you as a worker. It will tell other people that you belong here. It will be your identification to authorities outside of the Factory, as well. It is what you will use to log your time, and therefore be rewarded for your time. This card will be your currency.”

“You will not let anyone hold your card. You will not show your card to anyone unless they identify themselves as a Tier Two or above. Here.”

He pointed to a card on his left breast pocket. It said, beside his identification, “Tier II”.

“You will not leave, lose, or misplace your card. If you do lose or misplace it, or believe it to be stolen, you must report it to a Tier Two or above authority immediately, and there will be penalties. If I were you, I would sleep with it.”

I wondered if he slept with his card.

“Now, attach it to the lanyard and put it on.”

Being not very mechanically inclined, it took me several tries of fumbling, dropping it once, all with his eyes on me. I put it over my head.

“Now you will use the timeclock, as you will do every day from now on when entering and when exiting. Punch in.”

The lanyard was just long enough to reach the square box on the wall, and I put the card in the slot. It made a loud ka-chungt noise.

“Now I will show you to your department,” he said.

“What is the table for?”

He stared at me, then turned on his heel and began walking through the crooked room. I followed.

It was the kind of room that kind of pushed you through it, like a water pump, and chunked you out on the other side. In fact, the whole place was like a machine, thrumming and humming with mechanized activity behind the walls. After we turned the last corner in the time room, there was another door.

Now we stood in what seemed to be a cave, or a dungeon. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust. The floor was made of loose stone bricks, very uneven, so you had to be careful not to trip. A few bluish light bulbs behind wire mounts were fixed to the stone walls. The ceiling was arched and dark and you couldn’t see the top. It was cold…goose bumps popped up on my naked arms. We walked through an arched doorway. Water trickled behind the walls. The brick path sloped down to a small footbridge that went over a concrete gutter with no water in it. The gutter disappeared into black arches on either side. 

We climbed up the other side and walked through another arch into an expansive system of tunnels that was well-lit with lamps. To the left, the broad tunnel ended in an arch with iron bars blocking the way. We went right, then right again into a smaller passage, then left. It seemed like it would never end. Our footsteps echoed against the walls of the old drainage system, and behind the walls was a throbbing hum.

An aluminum staircase took us up a level or two. Now the floors were planks and the walls brick. We went down another set of stairs, then up again.

“Is there a map?” .

“There are no maps of the factory.”

“But how will I ever find the way?”

“You will arrive and depart with your group. You won’t be lost.”

Was that a hint of softness in his voice? I could have imagined anything, at that point.

He stopped abruptly outside a door with a glass window in it.

“Here is your area. You will not enter your area until you arrive for work tomorrow.”

There was so much noise behind that door… . And so many colors! The boys wore common brown pants with suspenders and caps, and the girls had on their street dresses and bright kerchiefs. Workers were moving in all directions at once, carrying boxes and pushing carts that rolled on thunderous wheels, calling out to each other, swinging wooden crates on ropes, whistling, singing even.

“The work you will do here, that everyone does, is very important.”

Again, there seemed to be nothing for me to say, but this time he did not wait for it. We continued down the hallway, opposite the way we had come. We took other stairwells, and passed more doors with people behind them.  I tried to map the way as we walked. Maybe it was a shortcut. 

As we descended a long flight of stairs and passed a room of assembly lines where everyone wore gray uniforms and dour faces, I asked what they did in that department.

“That division is none of your concern. You will never go in that division, or any of the other departments, other than the one you are assigned to. You will never use this route to exit again.”

We were funneled through the hallway to the door at the end, which put us back in the lobby. The woman behind the counter buzzed us into the time room, I clocked out, and I was ushered through the door.

And that was the tour.

I stood blinking in the sunlight as it splintered off all those blinding metal gates as if I had just woken from a dream, or fallen into one.

SOS — A Short Dystopian Fairy Tale

Photo from Atomic Jane corset

The orphanage was an abandoned mental institution, three floors, with faulty wiring that buzzed and flickered the lights when someone plugged in the slump-maker in the kitchen, or sometimes for no reason at all. Hallways and stairwells were unavoidable, and a lot of smoking and sex and fights happened there. You could not squeeze past your enemies unnoticed. The other girls would go after you if you were too pretty, or ugly, or looked at her sideways, or looked at her boo sideways, or had a new placement, or sometimes for no reason at all. The whole place smelled of disposed garbage and vomit diluted with industrial cleanser, so the building kind of suited us. They didn’t call it an orphanage, but “Youth Center 64, Where We Grow Character”.

Us kids formed little gangs and roamed the city, when we weren’t being fostered out and brought back stamped “Return to Sender”. We rolled our cigarettes and messages in receipts we found on the ground. The SOS messages were placed in plastic bottles, capped, and set afloat on the filthy river like a barge of desperation.

My best friend, Joey, was the best plastic shipbuilder in our gang. He had ways of stringing the bottles together with wire and cords to make fine sailing galleons.

“See, if the ships are bigger, I can make more words, and someone will come help us,” he said. “Here, write a message and put it in with mine. I won’t look.”

I wrote it, and he stuck the rolled paper into the SS Embargo and christened her journey by hurling her out into the current. She bobbed upon the choppy, opaque waves, sailed under the bridge and out of sight to a plastic island somewhere where bottles filled with our lost souls went to settle.

It seemed like I just went from place to place, waiting to be adopted, wanting to be wanted, my shoes and bags more worn at every turn, making families of whoever remembered my name. 

When our characters were done being grown they farmed us out to the highest bidder. Gender equality prevailed. It didn’t matter if you were boy or girl or something in-between; we were all whores one nation under God.

The uniform is sexy in its own way, designed to keep emotion from flying loose. Two rows of buttons, a built-in corset, stockings that snap to garters at the thigh. It is like a second skin. I take it off at night. It still squeezes, and not a single feeling escapes. 

I guess I can count myself lucky. The condo is luxurious, in a highrise uptown. When I clean the windows I can see the skyline, the sharp points of all the precipices and towers, the cathedrals and bridges, and far out beyond the city limits a horizon that hints at an edge, a dropping-off place, an end to it all.

Herr Humer is a placid man. He is not very big nor small, with fine hair sucked dry of color that falls in wisps across his ghost of a forehead. He does not touch me, but enjoys sitting in his armchair and watching as I go about my chores. That is, if he could be said to enjoy anything. The shadow of an expression never crosses his face. He is a man of few words.

“That could use a polish. Those frames need to be touched up. Take a look to see if my glasses have landed beneath the sofa.”

This is the extent of our conversation.

There is a framed pastoral scene, as dry in color and tone as the man himself, that hangs above the mantel, which he insists I dust daily. To reach it, I must bring the ladder. I climb up, and whisk, whisk, whisk, with the duster. This whole time I can see his meaningless face watching, reflected in the glass. Until one day he says “Stay there. Don’t move. Don’t turn around.”

I don’t sleep well. The next day I climb the ladder and see his gaunt, moon-pale face reflected in the glass.

“I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Pardon?”

I turn. “I don’t want it. Any of it. I don’t need to work here for my keep.”

I climb down off the ladder. Herr Humer is in front of me like a bullet. I never thought he was capable of moving so fast. He points his ruddy finger at my nose. His face, for the first time, is red.

“Get back up there and turn around.”

As I bite down on the finger, the blood fills my mouth, and the bone crunches. I didn’t know I was so angry, but the finger comes off and I spit out the shreds and gag. There is so much blood, it has drained all the rest of the color from him. He stares at the spurt and his missing appendage, then down at the spat-out finger on the carpet. He falls, grips the spurt, and flails, screaming and cussing like a holy roller filled with the spirit.

I drop the duster and run, through the front door, down the three flights of emergency stairs. The front of my corset is stained red and soaked through. There is nothing to cover that or me in my ridiculous outfit as I scramble down the streets, lost. I slip into an alley where a drunk is sleeping in a cardboard shanty. He has covered himself with a black coat, which I snatch. I stick my arms in the sleeves of the oversized, smelly coat and run.

The pedestrians give me a sour look when I ask directions to 73rd South. Finally, a man playing bongos on garbage can lids points to the west. 

“Ten blocks down.”

My feet are blistered and bleeding when I reach the door where Joey was sent as an apprentice. The houseman sniffs at my ragged coat.

“Joey is gone. He will never set foot here again.” In the back of the dark room are pained-looking boys dressed in chains and black stockings. The houseman slams the door in my face.

There is nothing to do but wander the streets, looking for a high precipice to throw myself from. By late afternoon my bloody feet carry me to the riverfront, where the day’s trash and debris lap against the shore. I wander along the waterfront until I see the battered piece of land where we used to launch our plastic ships. I guess our tradition spread, because there is a plastic bottle wedged almost out of sight in the tangled branches of a bush. And, yes, there is a paper inside. 

He had sailed to the plastic island, and read all the cries for help. 

Then there was a sketch map to the place where the world drops off.