The Factory — Section 2

Aknowledgements: For my grandparents. For L. For Zan.

copyright AES 2020

The draft took all the girls and boys I used to hole up with in High Point, those that survived the streets. It passed over my swaddled figure on the road with a blind eye, like Thunderbird, wings beating what I was to a thousand pieces. I forever lived in its shadow. 

People come and go. Every now and then there is a rush of steam, the lowering of the boom that drives the crows from the fields. The scent of alfalfa wafts across our dingy lives, with the promise of a spring that never came.

I miss being on the road sometimes.

People on the road looked at me like I was crazy. Girls don’t just up and hit the road on their own, they said. Too many things could go wrong. 

I had this heavy, military-grade backpack that wasn’t too destroyed or too ripped. It was in an abandoned fuel station. Not too many girls went in those places, either, but you could find supplies if they hadn’t been stripped.

You had to wait, and watch. People were living in some of these places, and would come and go. Sometimes whole families came and went, with scrawny little kids that smiled, and I felt rotten that they didn’t go somewhere better. I felt even more rotten thinking of all those who didn’t make it at all from the time before I was born, so it was best to quit thinking and do what you had to do.

I couldn’t figure why these people lived in nowhere places on their own, pecking around in the dirt with the chickens. But then, who was I? I left safety for something less defined. Sometimes I might stay a night in the camp cities, where the structures were pieced together with dull saw blades and sheets of aluminum, walls and fences of scrap wood and sharpened sticks, ladders and stairs and bridges made of broom handles, axe handles, rope, all kinds of objects sewed the whole camp together, and many of them had a common area where we sat around a fire. A smallish, long-haired child, shirtless and not yet girl or boy, would take a long stick to stir the coals. Then the adults would shoo the fire keeper back while the wood hissed and popped. 

People are fascinated by strangers. It was easy enough to find a friendly lap to curl up in by the fire, to laugh the night away in someone’s tent, temporary comfort. But you wake up and remember that one day strangers aren’t strangers anymore. Familiarity breeds contempt, I’ve heard it told.

I liked going place to place, and maybe I would return someday, but I just couldn’t seem to be still.

These human encampments all had different rules that seemed to change daily, and had no bearing on making anyone’s life any better. There were religious sanctuaries that were very dull. Sometimes those didn’t allow outsiders to enter at all. Those that did — its occupants feasted on the driest kind of lives — keeping themselves separate and above but still paying taxes to the collectors that came through. No one knew for sure where those goods went. 

“But, we give to the collectors so they will keep us safe,” a woman in one of the sanctuaries explained. She wore a long dress and head covering. A scarf covered her face to keep temptation away from the males in the sanctuary. Everything about the way she spoke and moved radiated fear.

“Safe from what?”

“Well, the raiders that will take all of our belongings and hurt us,” she said, like I was bothering her with my stupid questions. “What do you mean?”

They had books at the sanctuaries. They were all one kind of Bible, so I read that in the lonely hours. It was the most violent, incestuous, absurd mythology I had ever heard and the point, it seemed, was something about control.

The other kinds of camps, the ones that were wild and on the verge of anarchy at any given moment, were at least more real and fun. But when the collectors came, the whole place would scatter, and sometimes the whole village was wiped out. The villagers would rebuild, or go their own ways down the road.

I told myself I was just going to find Leslie and see what her new city was like. She had been sent to Cloud, pronounced Clood. Maybe it was the Factory pulling me the whole time.

Near the end of a long journey of empty space between one place and another, I caught a ride.The dirt buggy was held together with cord and pilfered ends, and shook as if it was going to spring apart any minute. We jolted down the incline toward an open plain of dry fields and hundred-year-old farm equipment, which the driver and passengers would jump out and ransack for parts. Dust spiraled up from the wheels and stuck in our teeth. I was wedged between two grown boys; two more were in the driver and passenger seat. It was time to rethink things. 

They offered me a ride when I was walking alone, and I accepted out of carelessness or exhaustion. They weren’t staring, or saying anything out of the way, but I couldn’t quite pick up on what they were about. They didn’t say anything at all. It was like looking at me made them nervous, which made me nervous. I was glad when they dropped me off in the center of the nearest town.

The days had cooled off, so it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a warm scarf that would cover my head and mouth. Add a few layers of clothing. That would keep people from staring so much on the road. I found what I needed in the store there, an old funny-smelling store with green and white  tile and a few supplies clinging to the shelves. The man there kept staring at me, my clothes and the knife strapped on my belt.

“Come far?” he asked.

“Not far enough, yet.” 

Then I laughed, in case he thought I was insulting his depressing town. He stared.

I thought I was real tough, with my machete that I would sharpen at night until the edge cut my finger. 

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 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.