Muddling Through. Flash Fiction.

Diana shifted uncomfortably, the line was moving slowly and she’d been standing for hours. She shuffled forward slightly as the person ahead of her moved up. The line snaked back and forth on itself, with stained and rusting metal barriers corralling the crowd, the people in line didn’t speak for the most part, they stood in silence, reading or listening to music. Guards stood around idly, one or two rested their hands on the butt of their guns but most just looked bored. Overhead a plane screamed past, Diana’s heart jumped, her body telling her to run, but she, like everyone else in the line, ignored it. There hadn’t been an attack in months, but still that noise got to her. The man in front of her pulled a thermos out of his bag and unscrewed it, pouring himself a cup of watery looking tea. He caught her glance,
“Would you like some?”
Diana smiled, “No, thank you though.” She didn’t like tea, never had, but the offer meant more to her than anything. It was these little moments of kindness that reminded her they were all in it together, the entire human race was just trying to muddle through the best they could.

The line shuffled forward.

Diana looked up at the large posters around the square, faded and tattered they gently undulated in the light breeze. She remembered when those posters had been put up, when the words “We Will Defend our Planet!” actually inspired hope, when they thought they had a chance to win. Now she wasn’t so sure, the war had been raging but it didn’t seem as though there was any end in sight. The broadcasts boasted about victories and how they were keeping the lines together, but Diana wasn’t convinced. Her sister had lived near the border until a few months ago and she said that every day the aliens were pushing just a little bit further. There were also the rumours of conscription, no one seemed to know if it would happen or not but the rumours said anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 would be conscripted.

Diana could see the doors of the warehouse ahead of her, if anything it made the waiting worse, she was so close she could just about hear the people at the front chatting. She felt a spike of annoyance, why couldn’t they just get their shit and move on quickly? From somewhere at the back there was a shout, then another, Diana looked around but couldn’t see anything, a second later there was a loud gunshot. Diana ducked, as did everyone else in the crowd, then the armed guards started shouting it had been taken care of. Diana straightened up, probably just a scuffle over food, she was just glad it wasn’t bad enough for them to clear the square, they wouldn’t let you save your place in line when that happened.

Finally she was at the front, she handed over her list and tokens. The man behind the counter grabbed out two boxes, stacked on top of each other, then he vanished into the warehouse to grab a few things for her. She always hated waiting like this, she always felt guilty, like she was doing something wrong, the guards all eyed her suspiciously as she waited. The man returned a moment later and threw a few things into the boxes, “we were out of some of the items you requested, I’ve marked them on the list, if you’re here a bit earlier next time we might still have them.”
Diana bit her tongue, it wouldn’t do her any good to get into an argument and it wasn’t like he’d care that she’d been in line since six A.M. She grabbed the boxes, “Thanks.” and with that she left.

The walk home was the worst part, she always had a nagging fear that someone was going to attack her and steal her food, it hadn’t happened to her, yet, but it was happening to others. She walked with the boxes gripped tightly, her head down and shoulders slightly hunched. She walked quickly and didn’t make eye contact. This was always the worst part of her week. Up ahead was her building, at the door she pressed her side against the card scanner, it beeped as it registered the card in her pocket and the door clicked open. She pulled it the rest of the way and stepped inside. The lobby was small and dimly lit in the afternoon sun, the lifts weren’t running, they only worked for two half hour periods a day to save electricity. As the door clicked closed behind her she felt ehrself relax. Diana ignored the lifts and went into the stair well, she had wanted an apartment as high as possible when she first moved to the city, she wanted an impressive view, now she was happy she could only afford a place on the second floor.

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Final Job. Short Story.

“Are you sure about this?”
“Yes, completely. We’re not going to get caught, no one even knows this place exists, besides me and the owner and he’s dead now.”
“But a place like this has to have some security, its only defence can’t be that it’s out in the middle of fucking nowhere.”
“Nah, there’s a system outside, but I got all the access codes. Don’t worry about this. Just trust me OK?”
Sam scanned the horizon, there were nothing but a group of trees in the distance, behind him Ted worked on the lock. The door itself had been built right into the mountain face, if they hadn’t known where it was they’d have gone right past it. Even now knowing where it was Sam found it difficult to make out the seams of the door. It had been a four hour drive from the nearest town, though calling it a town was being generous. Population of only four hundred and as they drove through it seemed like every damned one of them was watching them. Behind him he heard a click, “we’re in!” Sam turned to see the door already open, the large slab of rock moved easily and Sam saw that he’d gotten the dimensions of the door wrong. Ted stepped inside the door and reached around for a second, “here it is.” he flicked the three switches in the correct order as he turned the last one a light came on above him revealing a metal staircase that lead downwards.

They stood at the bottom of the staircase, Sam didn’t like it, he could feel the weight of the mountain pressing down above them, just waiting to trap them down here forever. Ted was working on the second door, which was based on a coded question and answer system. It didn’t take him long to type in the answers and the door popped open revealing the vault.

The room consisted of a large sitting room, the walls were covered in fine art and artefacts, the floors were carpeted in thick, plush carpet. On one end of the sitting room there was a door that lead to the kitchen, a door to the right lead deeper into the vault. “This place is basically a bomb shelter and he said it was more than enough to house a few hundred people. We’re probably going to have to empty this place in multiple trips, there’s no way we’re gonna fit even a tenth of this stuff inside the car and we haven’t even gotten to the next rooms!” Ted went to the wall and slid his hand around a glass case, looking for the catch on it. Sam looked around, the room was well lit and spacious, but still it felt off, there were no windows, not even a hint of the outside world. “Can we just grab whatever and go?”
“No, I don’t think we can. We should stay for a bit, take inventory. There’s food and water in here to last for decades so we can camp out here if we need to. We’ll figure out what we want to sell and what we want to keep then go from there.”

There was a bright flash of light and an attractive young woman stood in the middle of the room. She had long blonde hair, bright red lips, smoky eyes and breasts that looked uncomfortably large.
“Hello, I am Vanessa. How may I serve you?”
“Guess old Jeremy was a bit of a perv. He didn’t mention the hologram program. Probably has a sex doll of her stashed away somewhere too.”
Vanessa looked at him blankly, “Maybe you can help, do you have an inventory list of all the items in the place?”
“Yes. I do.”
Sam and Ted looked at each other, Ted sighed, “Well, can I have a copy?”
“Do you have the password?”
“Password? No.”
“Well, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you then. To use me you will have to provide the password.”
Behind them the door swung shut.
“As I have no record of you and you do not know the password you are assumed to be intruders. You cannot leave until Mr. Cochrane either releases you personally or gives me the password. I have alerted him to your presence.”
“Uhhh…What if Mr. Cochrane is dead?”
“I’m sorry I don’t understand the question.”
“What if Mr. Cochrane cannot respond?”
“He is currently the only authorized user. I cannot release you until he has been contacted.”
“What the fuck? What kind of stupid system is that? There has to be back ups, work arounds. What if he was here and was injured or unconscious?”
“I am sorry, you are not authorized to access that information. Please provide the password or ask a different question.”

Ted stood from the door, “It’s no good. We’re not getting through here, the door was like a foot thick and there’s no manual way for the door to be opened, least not that I can see.”
Sam looked at him from the couch, “we have to figure out a way through. No one else knows where here, Jeremy is dead. There’s no one coming for us, we’re on our own out here.”

Ted shook his head. “unless there’s power tools stashed away in here I don’t think we’ll have much luck.”
Sam stood “well you’d better figure something the fuck out because it’s your fault we’re out here in the first place and it’s your fault we’re locked in this fucking thing.”
“Look, just calm down OK. I’ll get us out of here. I’ve gotten us out of worse spots haven’t I?”
“Really? Name one time we were worse off than we are now…Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

Sam left the sitting room and went into the kitchen, the place was supposed to be well stocked, at the very least there should be some booze squirrelled away somewhere. Probably some drugs too, rich people wouldn’t cut themselves off from their supply, it was just a matter of finding it. He quickly found a bottle of rum, he twisted off the cap and took three big swallows, feeling it burn his throat and stomach, before he started coughing. Eyes watering he took another swig. If he was going to end up dying here he wasn’t going to do that sober.

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Always With You. Flash Fiction.

Eve looked down at her watch, there was still another twenty minutes left in the presentation and she’d checked out of it a few minutes in. She glanced around the room, going by the yawns and vacant stares she wasn’t the only one that was bored. Over head there was the hum of the projector which created a soothing background drone. Eve twirled her pen in her fingers, soon this bullshit would end and she could get back to work.

The heat was beginning to build, making the room stuffy and stifling, they’d been stuck in here for an hour already. She could feel the antsy energy in the room, people were starting to shuffle papers and put stuff away. The presenter was starting to wind down now and Eve felt a surge of relief as he clicked into his last slide. “OK, I think that about covers it, does anyone have any questions?”
The room stilled, “No? Well, if anyone walks to talk to me after they’re more than welcome.” a light smattering of applause cut across the last few words as people began to stand and leave the room. Eve stood, grabbed her doodle-filled notebook and joined the others in filing out of the room. The crowd shuffled through the doors before branching off, as Eve stepped outside the room she spotted him. Her feet slowed for a second, her heart thudded heavily. She let her eyes move over him without stopping, maybe he hadn’t spotted her, she moved to the left as discretely as she could, trying to stay with the bulk of the crowd. She didn’t look behind herself as she walked, she kept her eyes straight ahead. She couldn’t turn this into a big deal, it would reflect badly on her, she needed to find some building security to take care of it. She picked up the pace a little, trying to put some distance between them, she longed to look back, to make sure he wasn’t following but that would be a dead giveaway. She needed to keep things calm, controlled. Up ahead she spotted the door to the women’s bathroom, perfect, she could hide in there and call the building reception on her cell. She pushed open the door and walked in, sparing a quick look behind herself. There he was, not ten feet back, that familiar vacant smile on his face, his dead eyes boring into her soul. The door closed and broke her eye contact. Eve was trembling, she searched her pockets for her phone before pulling it out with shaking fingers. Eve checked the bathroom and saw it was empty, that meant he knew she was in here and if he came in they’d be all alone. She moved into one of the stalls and locked the door, then she sat down and started looking up the phone number for the building. As she was waiting for the webpage to load she heard the door open and close, the footsteps that followed were heavy and slow. Eve’s mouth dried up, it was hard to breathe, it was him, it had to be him. The footsteps were getting closer until they stopped outside her stall, she looked down and saw a pair of men’s leather shoes. There was a faint rapping on the door. “Are you in there?” there was a light chuckle but it sounded forced, “of course you are, I don’t peg you as someone who’d climb out a window. No, you’re too good for that kind of thing, aren’t you?” he slammed his fist into the door, Eve jumped, a small squeak escaping from her mouth. The webpage loaded and she quickly pressed the number, the phone started ringing. “Do you really think anyone is going to get here before I’m through with you?”
There was another bang on the door. “Just open the door and make it easier for us all, OK? I promise it won’t hurt.”
“Hello Jefferson Build-”
“I’m trapped in the women’s bathroom on the first floor there’s a man in here trying to hurt me send security.”
He banged on the door again, “What are you telling them? All your lies no doubt. Did they tell you security is on their way yet? I like a challenge.”
Eve whimpered, she couldn’t hear what the voice on the phone was saying over the s ound of her own heart, her harsh, gasping breaths. He had found her, how had he found her? there was another bang as the door rattled in its frame, there was a faint cracking sound this time. Eve moaned. The door flew open, slamming into the wall, Eve screamed as he lunged towards her.

When security arrived he was already gone, they found Eve still sitting in the stall, shaking and crying. She had a steadily growing bruise around her eye, there was no sign of the man, he was gone but his words as he’d stood over her would haunt her dreams for years to come, “I will always find you.”

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From Above. Short Story.

Hope everyone is having a good week, haven’t been feeling great myself. Been really exhausted the last few days but what can ya do? Didn’t get up to a whole lot on Paddy’s weekend, watched some movies with a friend, enjoyed the brief snow (heavy enough for Ireland but was gone within 24-36 hours.)

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It was a Wednesday, that meant it was shopping day. Karen Franklin pushed her rattling trolley through the car park of the big Shop-N-Save, just off Westland street. The sun was high in the sky and glinting off the too shiny cars, Karen squinted as she walked, she’d forgotten her sunglasses at the house and each flash of light stabbed at her eyes. She’d had slightly too much wine last night and now she was paying the price. Really it was Harold’s fault, he’d come in from work pissed off about something and he’d taken it out on her and Karen, stressed from trying to help Anthony with his damn math homework, had given back as good as she got. She didn’t know how long they’d be screaming at each other but by the time they’d wound down the dinner was cold and the kids had eaten and put themselves to bed. Karen sat in the sitting room, curled up on the couch with the TV on and a glass of wine clutched tightly in one hand. She didn’t know where Harold had gone and frankly she didn’t care. If it weren’t for the kids she’d have been gone long ago, but she had been young and they thought a baby would fix things, that it would give them something else to focus on. Anthony, the second child, was the result of grudgingly given birthday sex and a broken condom.

Just ahead three women stood in a huddle, gossiping with one another intensely, Karen didn’t know them by name, but she’d see them around the town together and they were always looking around furtively. Above her there was a faint whining noise, so faint she almost missed it, Karen turned and looked up, the sky was full of small black dots, she squinted as they started to descend. They looked like drones, small black things with little rotor blades, Vanessa had been going on about wanting one for Christmas. Karen rolled her eyes, must be some kind of new promotion or viral marketing, no doubt the drones would start dropping leaflets or candy. She’d heard about them in one or two of the bigger cities, though slightly surprised it was happening here, she didn’t have time to wait around and enjoy the spectacle. She’d been late getting out of bed and the kids would be home soon, she’d need to get a start on dinner for them. Her mind flashed to Anthony’s math homework and she pushed down the flare of irritation, there was that to look forward to as well, god love him he tried but Anthony just wasn’t that bright. Sighing to herself she pushed her trolley a little faster, one of the women in the trio pointed at a drone, “What the hell is that thing?”
Karen opened her mouth to tell her when there was a loud pop and hot blood splashed across her face, the coppery taste spreading across her tongue. One of the women, slightly older with a short, severe haircut and equally severe lips started screaming, the other who was wearing too high heels and a pair of too tight jeans, took off running there was another pop and the screams stopped. The one in high heels stumbled, there was a loud crack as she slipped, her foot turning sideways she screamed as she fell. She didn’t even try to stand, the woman started to crawl, sobbing as she dragged her leg behind her, her foot limp and useless. Karen couldn’t move, around her she could hear more popping, it was almost like popcorn. There were more screams and shouts now, there was a loud crash as a car ran into a lamppost. The jarring shriek of rending metal startled Karen from her stupor. The sky was full of the things, there were thousands, hundreds of thousands. It looked like there were enough to kill every man woman and child in the entire town. Karen knew she needed to get out of here, get somewhere safe, she looked behind her shoulder, the entrance to the Shop-N-Save was too far, she’d never make it through the swarm of drones, that left the car. She turned and started to sprint, it was just ahead. Karen grabbed her keys from her pocket and started stabbing at the unlock button with shaking scrabbling fingers. She was going to get out of here, she was going to make it home. This wasn’t her time to die, she was going to survive this, she knew with absolutely certainty that she was going to get out of this, she knew it right up until there was a loud pop and everything went black as Karen’s head exploded, coating the cars around her in gore. She was among the first to die but was not the last. Over the course of the next hour all one hundred thousand residents of the town died. Harold was hiding under a park bench when he died, cursing his stupid bitch of a wife, if she had remembered to make his goddamn lunch he would have been safe in his office. Anthony was walking across the playground, he had so much homework to do tonight he’d never get it finished in time to watch the new episode of Vampire Unlimited, he couldn’t wait to find out if Brad survived the fight. There was a loud pop as Anthony’s head exploded and the girl walking behind him started screaming. Vanessa was hiding in the girls bathrooms, the stall door was closed and she sat on the toilet lid, arms around her legs as she cried. Something was happening outside but she didn’t know what, she’d dropped her phone when peoples heads stared exploding. She thought maybe there was a shooting in the school, but she couldn’t be sure. She’d just ran in and locked the door behind herself before locking herself into a stall. She was safe in the bathroom, the only other way in was the windows, but they had bars across them, no one would climb in or out. A low buzzing filled the bathroom, the sound bouncing off the tiles. First there was a shooter and now there was a goddamned bee trapped in here with her. No, it didn’t sound like a bee, it was more like a whine, like a wasp. Vanessa cursed herself, she should have closed the windows, she just needed to stay calm. The whine moved closer to the door, she looked up just as the drone come into view, she screamed, there was a loud pop followed by a squelch as her brains and skull coated the walls of the stall. Her body slumped forward, falling against the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Storage. Flash Fiction.

“How many are stored here?”
“Well, at the moment we have just under a billion residents, but we are at only 23% capacity, there’s still plenty of space.”
Joanne knew it wasn’t one of the larger storage facilities, but that still seemed almost incomprehensible. How could so many people fit inside such a place? She couldn’t even imagine it, she’d grown up in a small, exclusive town with only ten million people.
“it didn’t look that big from the air.”
The woman giving the tour smiled, “It never does. It’s pretty unassuming and that is both for our protection and the protection of our clients. There are a lot of groups out there against storage, but we have great security to deal with any threats that come our way.”
“Do you get many threats?”
“Nothing we can’t handle, a couple of hundred a week or so. Usually they’re just letters, maybe once every year or two someone will try to sneak in and blow the place up but our state of the art scanners and security system find and neutralise them quickly. The current average is about three seconds for detection time and elimination”
“Wow.”
“We keep the main facility deep underground for maximum protection and space. We keep the main building above ground as an entrance portal, it’s the only way in or out of the facility. You will be completely safe during storage.”
“Oh, it isn’t for me, it’s for my father. He asked me to tour a few of the places. He wants somewhere safe and discrete.”
“Of course and here we provide both safety and discretion.”
“How often do you rotate the bodies in storage?”
“Every three hours the bodies are moved to prevent bed sores. We have advanced medical technology built right into the chambers that keep constant track of the clients. Should they detect anything wrong that they cannot handle alone they immediately notify the hospital wing and the client is sent there for treatment. We have not lost a single client in over a two hundred years of operating.”
“May I see one of the storage chambers?”
“Of course, for privacy reasons we cannot show you one that currently has a client inside, but we’re more than happy to showcase an empty model.”

the tour guide walked through the corridors, still talking but Joanne had stopped listening, the place seemed good enough so far and really she was only here because her father refused to do his own legwork and she was in need of funds. The guide stopped in the middle of a corridor and pressed against the wall though Joanne could see no button, a section of it slid aside revealing a metal bed about waist height. It seemed small and dark, but the person inside wouldn’t care, not while they were unconscious.

After a moment the panel slid closed again, “This concludes the tour, unless you have any more questions. If you want a more in-depth tour I’m afraid it will take a few hours to clear you to enter. We keep the space extremely clean and you will be required to wear a full biohazard suit to prevent the introduction of pathogens.”
“No, thank you I’ve seen more than enough.” The tour guide started walking again, Joanne trailed after.

At the exit she was handed a packet of brochures and information leaflets before she was ushered out the door. Joanne stood for a moment, looking at the vast, flat wasteland around her. There was nothing here but that building and low, dead looking bushes. She smirked, the setting would really suit him. She walked to the shuttle, the door opening as she approached, “Are you ready to return?”
“Yes, thank you.”
She got onto the shuttle and chose a seat, then she spread the brochures out on the small table in front of her. The shuttle rumbled faintly as it came to life, she barely even felt the take off. She scanned over the brochures then tidied them into a little pile before leaning back in her seat. Already she could see space outside the windows of the shuttle, wouldn’t be long until she was back on the ship. This was the place, she could feel it. Her father could rot away here for millions of years and no one would ever find him, small enough to be over looked, but not too small that it would provide shoddy care. She had heard how these places worked and she didn’t want to kill her father, not outright, but if someone happened to mix up his paper work and he was lost for a few millennia, well, it would just be a tragic mistake, that was all. One that would allow her to take everything her father was refusing to give to her, she would have her birthright one way or another.

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Preservation. Flash Fiction.

Brad grabbed his bag and got out of the truck, several men in uniform jumped out and quickly gathered in formation before moving off, leaving Brad and another man alone at the truck. The man ignored Brad, he was focused entirely on a laptop. Brad looked around at the empty town, just like the others. It was the sixth town so far to go silent, each of the towns appeared normal enough, no fires, no damage. Cars were parked neatly at the side of the road, stores had their shutters open and their doors unlocked, houses had family meals laid out on the tables. The only things missing were the living, there seemed to be no life, animal or human, inside the town. Brad leaned against the truck, as a doctor there was little he could do until there was an injury or a survivor was found. He wasn’t sure why they insisted he go on every mission, particularly after the fourth empty town. At that point the pattern was pretty obvious to anyone with a brain.
“I’m going for a look around.”
The man didn’t look up from the laptop, “Don’t go to far, don’t turn the radio off. Don’t go inside anywhere.”
Brad rolled his eyes and walked away from the truck, as the sounds of clacking keys faded he realised how truly quiet it was in the town, no sound of engines rumbling or birds singing, there wasn’t even a breeze to rattle the trees.

Almost two hours later and the team was back at the truck, Brad had spent most of his time in the town square, sitting on a comfortable enough wooden bench while he waited for something, anything to happen. “Same situation as everywhere else, like the people just vanished en masse. No signs of struggles or injury.”
“Hey, what the hell is that?” one of the soldiers was pointing over Brads head, he turned quickly and saw a bright wall of light moving towards them rapidly, Brad heard shouting behind him, someone grabbed his shoulder roughly and started dragging him. Brad shook off the hand and started running, the truck was only ten feet away if they could get in then-the light washed over him, blindingly bright.

When Brad opened his eyes again he was standing in the middle of a large, silent crowd. He tried to turn his head but couldn’t, the only thing he could move were his eyes. He spotted one of the soldiers standing a few feet away from him, his name was Joey or Jack, something with a J. His eyes were wide and moving back and forth. Brad tried to signal him but the solider wasn’t looking at him, he was looking at something behind and above Brad’s head. Somewhere there was a loud sharp siren, then the rumble of water in pipes before he could hear it splashing to the ground. The room was filling up quickly, already he could feel the water at shin height, after another minute it was just below his chin and a few seconds after that started filling his mouth. The liquid was bitter and burned as it began rushing down his throat, he tried to move, to swim, to cough but he couldn’t. The burning in his lungs intensified then everything went dark.

Brad woke suddenly, one moment everything was darkness, the next it was absurdly bright. The sun was rising and it was right in his eyes, he was in the town square again. Had he fallen asleep on the bench? He went to shade his eyes but couldn’t. His heart started beating faster, thudding heavily in his chest. He spotted other people they all looked like statues, from this distance he couldn’t see if their eyes were moving too. He felt something poke at his back, a short, sharp prod. An alarm blared, “Please do not touch the attractions. This is a protected area.” someone was yelling behind him, but he couldn’t make out the words, it was English, but the speaker seemed to have some kind of speech impediment. Brad tried to scream as something stepped into view, it was above five foot tall, with two long arms that reached to the ground, its face was circular and wide, with several eyes dotted around it’s skull in a ring. It opened it’s mouth. Thin and full of sharp teeth, it spoke and he recognised the speech impediment. A second later a smaller one ran into view and grabbed the taller ones hand, pulling it towards another frozen person.

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The Factory. Short Story.

Hope everyone has had a good weekend! I haven’t been feeling the best the last few days but getting better!

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Douglas pushed open the door to the factory, he expected a groaning shriek but it opened smoothly and quietly. He stepped into the darkness and groped at the wall in the gloom. After a minute of searching he felt the familiar hard plastic of a light switch, he flipped it and a second later the overheads started flickering to life. As he waited for them to fully light he looked around the large factory, the machinery seemed to be in great condition, and was more modern looking than he expected. Sleek, silver metal gleamed in the overheads, it didn’t even look like anything needed a wipe down. Douglas closed the door behind himself and walked down the length of the factory, looking at the machines as he went. He didn’t know what most of it did, but it looked impressive, tall shining things that promised him the world, if he could just get them working again. The factory had closed down almost a two decades before, when his grandfather had retired and no one else had been willing to step in and take up the reigns. All that was about to change, it seemed that the factory went to Douglas’ deadbeat father, heavy emphasis on the dead now, and that it had been passed along to him when his father had died a few weeks before.

Douglas paused at one of the machines, he climbed the short ladder attached to the large drum and peered into the chute, he felt a rumble of unease as he looked at the gleaming blades, one slip was all it would take. He climbed down again, they’d need to improve safety standards no doubt, someone could fall right in. He studied the control panel, which was deceptively simple. A large red button that seemed to be the on/off switch, a bunch of buttons that seemed to control speed and a row of final buttons simply labelled “output.” Douglas pressed the red button and the machine groaned to life, the rumbling was peppered with a few grinding shrieks and then it smoothed out. The machine chugged along, almost gently, in a way that reminded Douglas of a train, the steady, even beat that was oddly soothing. The sound started to speed up slightly, as though the machine was impatient to get started. Smiling to himself Douglas pressed the button again and the machine slowed to a halt. Yes, this place was going to be great.

Douglas flicked on the overheads and started walking, the machines looked almost alive in the flashing lights, the quick shines and gleams made them look as though they were lurching through the darkness. Douglas smiled to himself as he walked, it had been ten years since he opened the place and it was more successful than he could have imagined, he didn’t understand why his grandfather had closed the place down. Douglas suspected it might have been the maintenance ritual, or perhaps he thought his sons would run the place into the ground. Douglas went into his office and walked behind the desk, the office was smaller than he would have liked, but that was going to change soon once they expanded. A whole new factory, hundreds of machines, maybe even thousands. He unlocked then pulled open his top drawer, inside was a sheaf of long, thin fronds. They were pale yellow and though slightly pretty they unremarkable. Douglas took out a handful and started weaving them together with deft fingers. It didn’t take long for him to have a small doll in his hands, the first one had taken him hours and had been a lopsided mess this one however was almost perfect. Douglas closed the drawer and locked it, then he went back onto the factory floor. He picked a machine and turned it on. It groaned and clanked to life, faster than usual, or so Douglas thought. He carefully climbed the ladder and dropped the doll inside. It disappeared almost instantly, torn apart by the sharp, merciless blades. Douglas hopped down from the machine and grabbed the mop and bucket as blood started to ooze from every gap.

The machine stopped bleeding a half an hour later and a half an hour after that Douglas had it gleaming again, no one would ever know. As if right on queue the door to the factory opened and a homeless man stumbled in. He was dressed in layers and layers of filthy rags. Douglas stepped to the side and hid in the shadow of the machine. He watched as the homeless man scurried forward, head down and shoulders hunched. Machines would momentarily spring to life as he passed, pushing him forward with a threatening whirr or groan. The homeless man himself started moaning as he approached the machine, the machine spun to life. The homeless man didn’t paused or slow, with the same steady pace he climbed the ladder and with one final short scream, he dove head first into the blades. The machine shuddered underneath Douglas’ hand, then slowly stopped. Douglas stepped back from the machine smiling, it seemed to be glowing brighter in the harsh light of the overhead, he brought the mop and bucket to the back room and gave them a thorough cleaning with bleach. As he left the building he turned off the lights but didn’t bother locking the door. Any criminal stupid enough to enter the factory would get a nasty surprise. Douglas strolled into the darkness, humming to himself, it was a good nights work.

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