The Factory’s cast iron gates creaked open when I arrived, allowing me to pull into a lot specially designated for visitor parking. Scores of other cars glared from the worker’s lot, their grills turned in a perpetual scowl accented with streaks of rust. Dark smoke billowed from above smokestacks, meshing with the clouds and tainting the snow.
Gravel crunched beneath my feet as I made my way to the entrance. To my left a pack of feral cats flitted in and out of the neighboring wood, yowling and hissing as they fought among themselves. One stopped to watch me, cupping his one ear in my direction and his yellow eyes blinking slowly.
Inside The Factory was almost as dim as outside. An elderly lady with curled grey hair hunched over in the front desk, hardly raising her drawn face as the door slammed shut behind me.
“What do you want,” She said.
“I’m Michael. You should be expecting me.”
Her eyes met his, the area around her iris yellowed in a way that sent shivers down my spine. They looked like aged parchment, or coffee stains on a white shirt, and I later learned that it was a condition caused by a gaseous chemical spill in the plant fifteen years prior.
“Yes, the new hire. I do hope you’ll be around longer than the last one. Lasted only two years, and too skinny for my liking. Needed more meat on his bones.” She ran her tongue across the sharpened nubs that remained of her teeth, and pushed him a stack of papers across the desk.
“Fill them out. You start at nine, report to housekeeping at eight thirty.”
I began by scribbling his name on the line, and continued through the monatomy of pen strokes. A date at the bottom of the first page indicated the copies had been made in 1994.
Name: Michael Edgar Andrews-Taylor
Andrews-Taylor, the name I was christened with because my mother was too stubborn to give her maiden name away. He had thought of changing it after his parent’s death the year prior, but that hyphen was all that was left of their memory.
I finished and pushed the paper back, where it bumped past rows of deep gauges scored into the wood. Scores that looked all too much like they were caused by human fingernails.
Another shiver ran up my spine.
That should have been my first clue.
Rows of static jumped across the lunch break room TV. It had been three weeks since I had been hired, and I had yet to grow accustomed to the backwards ways of The Factory. It was like stepping through a portal to the past.
Everything was far away. The grocery store, the library, even the gas station. There were roads, and The Factory. Nothing more. And almost all the workers were old- with the same yellow eyed condition as the receptionist. In my head I called them the Yellow Eyes, and they sat together at their own lunch table, with Lonnie at their head.
Lonnie was a leader of sorts to the Yellow Eyes. He far outsized any of them, with broad muscles that withstood his age, a perpetual frown that creased his brow, and tattoos laced up his right arm. Never had I heard him talk.
He had a yellow aluminum lunchbox, somewhat dulled from countless years of use, whose hinges squeaked at every meal. The Yellow Eyes always waited on him to eat, their wrinkled hands poised above their own portions.
I avoided contact with the Yellow Eyes, preferring the company of more youthful workers. But since day one I noticed something strange about their meal routine.
Every day, the Yellow Eyes ate together, and they ate the same. When Lonnie pulled pork from his lunchbox, so did they. When he took spaghetti and meatballs, so did they. But never anything else. For the past two weeks, it had been pasta- word around the office was that times were tough, and the Yellow Eyes had to make their rations last.
“Any close friends, relatives?” My interviewer had asked when I applied. The position was simple, a janitorial gig in the deep country. The question seemed odd, but the job was good money, especially for someone with only a GED. I wouldn’t let queer questions deter me.
“What? No. They moved away to college, and I stopped education after high school. And my parents are no longer with me. Why?”
“I apologize for your loss, Michael. It’s a long drive to The Factory, Michael. Often people can’t stand that much time away from their family.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem.” I said.
“We wouldn’t want you to be missed.”
His eyes were yellow.
“Andrew left all his stuff here, you’ll have to move it.” Said Maria, the only other janitor at The Factory. I was Andrew’s replacement, and inherited his locker at the back of the housekeeping closet. Andrew’s packed lunch was still there, and the rank smell of spoiled hard boiled eggs permanently clung to the inside of the locker.
“What a slob.” I said, “Where’d he go to?”
“Apparently just up and left one day. He never was the reliable sort. Heard he kept getting in arguments with Lonnie, and just didn’t want to deal with him anymore.”
“Ah, Lonnie’s a decent fellow. Runs the maintenance of this whole place.” Said Dave. He was a low level mechanic and had worked at the plant the last two years and propped his legs up onto his workbench. His unkempt hair flowed down to his shoulders and twitched as he talked. “Just don’t let him order you around. Stand up for yourself a bit. Like last week, he tried to push past me in the vending machine line. I just shoved him back, and haven’t been bothered since.”
He twirled a wrench in the air, letting it clatter to the ground. Dave was clumsy, always bumping into things, and it was a wonder to me that he could fix the heavy duty machinery that was constantly breaking in the run down plant.
Maria and I were the janitors on duty called to clean the remains of Dave’s body. His hair had tangled in one of the plant’s generators that he was fixing, and the turbines ensured no bits of him were left that would not fit in a dust pan.
I should’ve left then. But I didn’t. The money was too good.
For weeks I avoided the Yellow Eyes. I kept my eyes down at meals, and only talked to Maria. Times seemed up again for them, and Lonnie pulled out hearty helpings of Bar B Q during lunch. After the shock of Dave’s death, The Factory almost seemed cheerful, and the spring months turned to summer.
Maria cut her hair down to her shoulders after the incident. Previously, the long red locks had reached down to her waist, but the clanking machinery threatened to cut it for her. She was no longer her chatty self, and Michael felt his earlier suspicions that she had been dating Dave confirmed. Her eyes were now perpetually swollen.
“There’s death in this place,” He heard her mutter, clutching to a crucifix wrapped around her neck. “No one stays here. No one but the Yellow Eyes.”
It was only a matter of time before she cracked. After breaks, fresh tear stains accompanied the blood stain on the factory floor where Dave had died.
“He did it,” She would hiss while cleaning the restrooms. “I’ll find out how he did it. I’ll set this right.”
For a month this continued. The once cheery air in the lunch room died down as hard times hit again, and the Yellow Eye’s meals diminished. Maria had eyes only for Lonnie, and cursed when their eyes met across the lunch room.
I wasn’t surprised when Maria finally did leave the plant. It was sudden, without goodbyes, with only the tear stains to remember her by.
I calculated the days until my bank account would let me arrive back to the city. Three more weeks I had to spend with the Yellow Eyes, then I would be free.
I ate lunch alone without Maria. The Yellow Eyes never bothered me, occupied by themselves. I assumed plant wide bonuses had given out for the quarter, because it was Bar B Q day again.
I had already written my resignation letter when I went to lunch on my last day. Already I had rushed through my daily tasks, and crammed my turkey and cheese sandwich into my mouth to escape the lunch room quicker. In my haste to throw away my food, I bumped into Lonnie, and his lunch box clattered to the floor.
"Watch it, boy." I heard, but my attention was focused downward. There, among the meat, were four strands of Maria's red hair.
When I started my car to leave early ten minutes later, The Factory’s cast iron gates refused to open.