Prelude to The Factory: Thread of Days

or After the Fall — Alternate Reality Ending

Art by illustrator Dave McKean. His work can be found at DaveMckean.com .

This piece is the result of random and useless things rearranged and spliced together in a world we know as “tweets”. A minimum of dialogue and narrative has been added.

Sometimes the factory blinked in the dust like an ephemeral vision of all that could have been but never was. Sometimes the churning and grinding was there, even when it wasn’t.

The ultimate ruse was, as the assembly line rolled by, and you pushed and loaded and unloaded, is that no one ever said good job. They kept you nervous, on the cusp, as if you were working off all the wrongs you had ever done; securing a place in Factory heaven.

But the factory maintained the illusion of order, and anything on the outside was so utterly mired in confusion; you would sink to your gills in the quicksand of pure primal survival, the beauties of all the things inside us that could not be sorted, labeled, and put into containers for confinement. Outside was just downright scary, but something in us longed for the escape; there were things you could do to find it. Some turned to the bottle, others to the wrappers they sold on the street that went by many names. Some just disappeared in an electronic buzz of white noise.

“How much of this is really real, and how much smoke and mirrors?”

This place, one long reverie.Turn up the sound and a world explodes into being. Put the conch shell of the real up to your ear, you can hear it — a vacuous and beguiling swish. Cars become sunflowers at 90 mph. 

This one next to me is crashing. He’s trying to stay clean. That’s my purpose on earth, Miss Tidy Bowl. His head nods in the car. Our kids are in the back. They are both turning five this Fall. The daughter is stunning and perfect — it’s her birthday. My son shows her his biceps. She reminds me of me, so shy she whispers everything in her daddy’s ear.

Time to wake, sweet. You blink but the dream continues. 

For reasons unknown, Will’s stepfather is in the same state at the same time on the same slow-moving stop sign street behind us and he honks his horn for me to pull over. So this one, I throw his hand off my thigh. How cold it must have seemed. How calculating.

It was. But I never said the reason why. There was a sniper rifle with his name in the sites if this thing gets out. How can I say I’m not allowed to have any life at all? I am hunted.

Devour. In your loneliest hour, the straight up down low. Bury it in dirt and the tick tock of days of a fall into arms that could not hold you, brothers in arms, and a reckoning for the things I never told you… to soak up your tears with the mantle of a failed christ, and how I pushed away your caress to save your soul. 

“It’s nothing. No big deal,” you say, before everything goes horribly wrong.

Beyond the cryptic curtains, I watched a mystery unfold in the subtle shadow lines of his betrayal, the agony of my corruption, the dance of probability, still a kid on the wrong side of a window of shiny things. Viking DNA coarses through my veins like a berserker — it wants to slash and burn, to clear the air with conquest. Horns on your helmet, beat your head on the doors of Valhalla. When it’s all over, let it burn, and blow rings of prophecy with the smoke.

After you learn to dodge the betrayals, faith uprooted, and the unfamiliar streets are all that’s left to hold you; nothing can disturb the Judas kisses, the whipped scars and bared teeth, the game face that gets more real every day. These are things no one can take away.

Drive to work in the dark — conversations with those long dead and those who will be. 

“Why?”

“Where?”

“How?”

Sometimes there are sirens. Buildings that crumble. Put your hand through a lamppost like a god and wipe it all away. Give me liberty or give me death. That was the way. When you’re done scratching and kicking at your life, the liberty tastes like poverty, sounds like silence. And you are held by the tantrum of the renegade sunset over cityscapes, looking for a face to recognize.

The house with the hand outside was now a salon. I found the soothsayer on Third St. with a shopping cart, and took her home.

“The world is winding down,” she said. “The cards don’t make sense anymore. Nor the runes.”

She stared down at her cup of tea. At the bottom were just squirmy leaves.

I walk with all the symbols lifted from the world, real or unreal, on cracked sidewalk and vacant lot, with no predestination.

There was a random man on a plane. All the things that were said got under his skin. He scratched at the itchy patch until the words flaked off. Mid-morning it crawled between seats to other passengers. Quarantine failed; they stormed the gates and cut themselves open, bleeding a viral anarchy of language. 

As the cities slipped into disorder, love became an increasingly valuable commodity. It could be bribed, blackmailed, and betrayed. Street kids only knew its price, not what it was. A fence like him could make a killing on the black market, until he found her looking for it between the slats of the sewer grate, and she emptied his pockets.

“Oh, you. Where have you been? You’re late for a very important date.”

He thumps out a tune with his knuckle. A slot opens in the door, a pair of eyes look out, and the door opens. We take our seats at the renegade Emporium. Music and smell, you see, has the deepest connection with the synapses of memory. In a place with the memory of a dragonfly, it is forbidden. We lean back and let the symphony of smell wash over; so deep in the city we are outside of it, for the space of a song, we absorb what time forgot. 

We whisper brick stories of the rise and fall of empires, the cracks between us filled with dust. A new regime has tagged the wall with letters, spectral outlines of maybes — the city sheds her skin and walks in nude beauty this evening, drips shadow in-between us. 

“Meaningless.” Your words bounce off my dirty shoes onto the concrete and roll away like pennies, gleaming just the same.

During plague-time, the windows were shuttered against the contamination of desire. This was no day and age for frolic. It came anyway. It came like a pebble’s tap on the glass. Like a message passed from mouth to mouth, like a splinter of infection you can’t get out.

It’s too hot in the south to sleep in an old house. I toss and turn, sweat tickles, until a ghost breeze lifts the curtains and bothers my skin. I feel your heat just on the other side of the wall. I almost tiptoe to the cell of your private world, almost. 

He stood out like a red vixen in winter snow before she creeps to her underground lair and, haughty, begs you to follow her there. Downstairs naked parts are luminescent as doves while an old vinyl turns and turns scratching regrets into the grooves.

We stood in the bare night and watched the house burn into skeleton frames. Sparks showered over the grass. A snake of flame wound its way, licked at my toes, wrapped a tendril of desire around my calves and spread into a fever of want that flushed into burns. It was not the house that was possessed. 

Before the mushroom cloud of regret that leveled the city, blew out windows and scorched seven miles in circumference, the zenith of power was only surface tension, a shared look between you and me. Fire down below. War, God, Desire…all twisted up together on the tip of your tongue like Peter Piper. Overwhelming, damage a certainty; we lock ourselves up against fallout. It does no good. Our strain is deep as DNA, and this scorched silence wrecks the world. 

Temperature’s rising. I sit alone in dark confessionals, soaking up leftover secrets, a catalyst to the crucible of downfall and uprising –your priestess. Hush, now. Whisper ten Hail Mary’s in my ear while embers of light drip into stained glass colors on the altar. 

The storm broke through calm lunar love with torrential downpours and moving ground, lightning splayed across the kitchen table with white heat of plus and minus that split open everything preconceived — even then he did not take off his mask for me. 

There was a bright spot in the distance. It looked like shelter, but it was only the world going up in smoke, the catch of my breath only lack of that which sustains it, the butterflies in my stomach a hunger that will consume us all. 

“It’s heresy! It is treason.”

The Factory will burn all our words and let them float like cinders into the sky. They beat you, drag you, hold my arms pinned powerless before the pistol-whip that turns it all black.

“Authorities are sorry to announce that it has all ended. Evacuations will begin immediately. Transportation will not be provided. In local news, all major grocery outlets are out of milk and bread.”

A new captor has me now, bound to his experiments.

He strokes my ears through the bars, pats my head. There are black floaters everywhere from yesterday’s games.

“Good little test subject. Does it want a treat?”

This vile condescension. Next time his fingers breach the bars, they are coming off. 

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. 

First it was my hand in handcuffs. Then arms, scrubbed floors, good intentions. I mailed the good head on my shoulders somewhere safe. He still notices when someone looks at tits and legs. Tears and bruises, invisible. Bit by bit I escaped, the incredible vanishing woman. 

Now I have a tail, and there’s something wrong in my head.

When did the hate surface? You took it all. It refracts and scatters, a thousand sharp diamonds. Even voiceless I coil you in siren song, wrap you in the scales of my scorn, pull you down until light is just a choked prayer a thousand leagues away.

Here in the aphotic zone, unable to breath, I kick down further, toward some bioluminescent savior– perhaps a merman with a  light on his head, some god of fishes. Deeper, reality gurgles, dense and surreal as a compass spin in a wormhole, true north lost to the tides.

Underwater eclipses, gossamer web of shattered light, a milky sun — breaking surface I suck down a breath in rattled lungs; my sea is only runoff in a ditch by the factory, me and other mutations. I kick back down to enchanted plains and settle like garbage. 

A broken highway led to the outskirts of the city. Fingers of vine and roots the size of trees clawed across concrete faces and through smashed out windows with blacked eyes; her skeleton contours spliced the memory of madness with the verdant synapses of a primal mind. 

Years of drought drenched the sapling in beads of dust. We spent the last decade in the scrapyard with mechanical men, eyes trained on destruction. A rider shows like a dent on the horizon, awash in storms and petrichor; if her grim veins run green, I might trust him.

“Meet me back in that grove where all the promises were bled out of fingertips, in the house of skulls and bare bones. Neither your desire nor your hatred was a spell. I swear. It was only what was already there, hidden in the crevices of your darkest ruins.”

The grove was a scrapyard, but it was him.

In the dry distance, the station rose wavering out of asphalt mirage. The tanks were bright blue, vined with rust. We sputtered on fumes, coasted in to the End of the Line filling station right across the border from Forever, population zero.

His curves were not built to entice. They are a winding road that leads to the mountains, the heady cologne of fresh baked asphalt and sweat, the sillage of wood and metal, trails of chaos and underground tremors waiting to be turned, unearthed.

The demure landscape rolls heavy-lidded arching to the moon, dusted with light, and peaks into wooded mystery. You and I stroll towards getting lost for our midnight picnic and I hope we do, MIA me and you.

I love like bubbles rising, voiceless, from the steam. My love slides against you, rough and cool as rocks spanning the tide. My love will make you a little blue and a little green; it is silent.

His wings didn’t bother me much.  They folded peacefully while we slept. They were more like a bat’s than a bird’s, with sharp vein fingers that magnified when he was excited. He hid in the attic when people came looking, and swung happily by his feet from the rafters.

Lithe fingers flay out from the cooling towers to tickle the wind, clouds giggle and turn into teddy bears and insects. A radioactive breeze strokes the trees; dappled sunlight turns our faces to gigabytes as we lie side by side in the grass, my love, after the fall. 

The Chariot

Photo by Cindi Primm

Paul was already gone when we pulled out in a borrowed truck. He left for work at 4am. There was a note.

I’ll be gone when you guys leave. Probably better that way, because I’m going to cry when I get back and the house is empty.

I argued for Colorado, which means we were bound for Reno. Will’s boss and buddy, Craig, had work waiting for him there. Leslie and Markus would be headed west in another month, by the northern route, back to her hometown in Rochester, Minnesota. Their journey would involve more stops and happy adventures, Paul Bunyan statues and crooked houses and such.

At dusk, the empty fields blurred into dark shadows of trees and fencelines outside the window. Will was quiet and intent on the road, so I stared out the passenger window and thought of Josey Wales and Missouri boat rides. The Show-Me State. We hit St. Louis by nightfall. My Siamese, Hagar, was fed up and crying in her carrier. Our drag queen neighbor called her Ha-gre when he came over. He also made suggestive comments about Will’s long fingers. I didn’t know if I would miss any of it except Paul and my family at the French Quarter Food Shop. Will didn’t want to stop for the night in the city, so he pulled off at a shady motel on the outskirts. We had to smuggle Hagar into the room.


The following day we crossed part of  Kansas, which was a whole lot of nothing. We spent the night in another roadside motel, but this one had a swimming pool. It was moving towards Fall, and the water was cold. Will popped his head out of the room to check on me. It felt good. I can count on one hand the times this happened. Maybe things would be different out west.

It was a little nothing town. We went out to explore and, I thought, to eat. The strip club was right on Main Street. They didn’t have food, just some girls behind glass and some salty old men. 

It was a quiet trip the next day. Will didn’t talk much sober. We filled up the tank and switched places at a gas station. I grabbed snacks, a cup of coffee, and drove.

“Hey, did you pay for gas inside?” he asked.

“No. I thought you did.”

“Shit.”

We were relieved to cross the border. We were spending the night where Will’s sister was living with a military guy and her two kids in Colorado Springs. I didn’t know Danae well, then. I didn’t know she was the devil. All I knew was what Will told me, how she used to play “Hell is For Children” for him when he was little. How he lived with her when she was a dancer in Jacksonville and the kids were so hungry the boy was eating a stick of butter. Danae and Will picked up beer and proceeded to get drunk immediately, joked about the altitude and alcohol content. They were awfully chummy for hating each other so much. And Danae was chock full of stories about Will’s past conquests.

“Remember that one girl you picked up?” she said, and told the story about the dumb girl.

“Oh, yeah. She gave me a decent hand job in the car.”

I wished I was drunk as fuck and on a bus anywhere.

“Oh, baby, you aren’t crying are you?” Danae asked. “Will, you better take care of your girl.”

The next day she took us to see rock formations, kissing camels. The military guy and the kids were silent shadows of people.

We headed north through Denver and into Wyoming the next morning. The soundtrack of our entire journey was Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.

Barrooms and bedrooms are just faces and faces and names,

One’s for the pleasure and, lord knows, one’s for the pain…” .

Wyoming went up and down through open plains and rock cliffs. I didn’t know there was so much empty space in the US. It was like another planet.

I had been begging Will to stop somewhere, anywhere. Finally, he pulled off at a roadside attraction. We gave six dollars to a small, wrinkled woman with a perm. The ground out back was pickled with prairie dog holes, and it was funny to see them pop their heads. They were the only free things there.

I got sicker and sicker. There was a coyote, a fox, a mountain lion, all in barren steel cages with no toys, pacing manically to and fro as they smelled the air and looked out on the hills.

“Oh, God. Let’s leave,” I said.

I shook with fury for 50 miles.

“I think you should turn back. I think we should go back tonight and let them out, then burn it down.”

“You wanted to stop there.”

We switched off and he fell asleep. There was a detour that wound me through the streets of Salt Lake City, in a complete circle, it seemed. The afternoon sun glinted on the lake. 

The sky turned pink and orange on the western horizon far across the salt flats, which were tinged blue, the sky overhead beginning to show a star or two, rock hills black across the flats. There was something amazing there — miles and miles of words along the road, spelled out in pitch pebbles. Love. Peace. Names linked together with plus signs, as temporary as the lovers who put them there.

He hit the first casino across the Nevada border. I couldn’t get him out until it was too late, and he was slurring and shouting. I drove him to the motel. He went inside with the cat and locked the door. I knocked. Tried to sleep in the truck, knocked again. After an hour he answered.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“Let me in.”

Next morning, he drove the rest of the way to our new home. The valley opened up before us, a dust bowl, with dark tangles of sagebrush scattered here and there on the hills.