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August 15, 2022

The Dream Factory

By David Byron

CLASSIFIED AD:

Factory seeks labor force team with immediate job openings available.

"We are currently in the process of organizing over 100 top-paying positions in your area through a local facility that we recently bought out. Top entry-level paying positions for skilled, hard working manual laborers with positive team spirit are now being awarded to the right individuals who desire better opportunity. We need motivated and dedicated individuals who are willing to trade their time for a share in our dream. Our enterprise is thriving in a tough economical marketplace. If you are committed and focused and want to be part of something bigger and greater unlimited opportunities await you. Our doors are now open. Come join us and grow with us together as one. Great pay, outstanding benefits, time and a half pay above normal working hours. Our motto: There can be no bad dreams if there is only one dream; The American Dream! Come work for a winning team with a strong vision and job security. Apply to Andersen & Company where visions and dreams come true."

I responded to a big classified ad in the local Sunday newspaper with promising job openings. I was interviewed and hired by an outsourcing labor force agency that gainfully employed me to work at the factory which had just reopened under new ownership. It sounded very promising at first, but the true nature of their intent quickly began to rear its ugly head and show its true face underneath. By that time it was too late to do anything about it as I was already sucked into its unrelenting vortex ...

I would be carpooling to work with my team of four, including myself, who worked on the same assembly line at the manufacturing facility; or as I intimately referred to it -- the human slave factory of lost souls. Naturally I did not vocalize such taboo thoughts with my fellow workers as it was not allowed by corporate. So I kept to myself and went about my day, busy as a bee making its little hive.

The factory was located in one of those small decaying towns with windmills in the background and industrial buildings in the foreground. The sky was layered with grayish milky fog most of the year, indeterminate of clouds and mist; more like black sheep without legs hovering in cattle formation with no direction or cause other than to be a foggy blanket choking the once fresh atmosphere. The smoke stacks looked like large cigarettes in the sky, burning the low lying skyline. A child who didn't know better might have accidentally mistaken them as the machines that made all the clouds in the town where they lived. But our fellow block workers knew better.

The actual building where we worked was nondescript at best. It was simple one story structure of faded brick and cement coated in a nuclear ash like substance that stained both the building and air alike. It was a rectangular shaped building with cinder blocks surrounding non-transparent rectangular windows. It had one main entrance in front and a loading dock in back as its only points of access.

The infrastructure of the manufacturing facility consisted of one large open floor area with high ceilings that sheltered various assembly blocks of four man teams. Off to the side was a square office of heavily fogged glass windows, much like the sky overhead, where the supervisor was stationed to monitor the factory's productivity. Within the confines of the supervisor's office stood a few filing cabinets and a desk and chair where the supervisor sat. The walls were littered with newspaper articles carelessly hung, but otherwise colorless; devoid of paintings or pictures of loved ones. On his desk lay an old computer of enormous size and a printer which was as equally outdated and antiquated as the computer. Printing reports and employee's payroll were its only function. The office was mostly dark at all times but for the faint glow of the computer screen.

Our assembly block was no different in any way from the other assembly blocks where teams of four stood posted at their stations facing each other. This is where we labored day in and day out. Our only task was assembling pieces of metal parts by hand that fit inside other metal parts. Once assembled, they would be shipped out to another facility where other metal parts were added to complete whatever we had started. No one I ever asked had the slightest notion of what the other parts made in their grand design, or even the purpose of what our parts were even destined for. But nonetheless, more parts would always arrive promptly to our block post everyday.

When I first accepted the job to work at the factory, it was not my intention to work there for very long. I had possessed higher flown ambitions and hopes for my life to one day become a writer. While the work itself was not heavy physical labor, it was tedious and never ending. I often wondered what part I played in the making of my parts, but no one else wanted any part of that knowledge. And while the other workers were cordial enough, I did not envision myself forever standing at my designated work station assembling and fitting pieces of metal into each other.

Seldom were there interruptions throughout the day but for two breaks from the tedium of our labors that were supposed to refresh our minds and bodies. Only thirty minutes in the middle of the day were we allowed meal breaks to nourish ourselves. It never occurred to me that the town outside the factory where I and the other workers lived held no opportunities for us for good fruit bearing labor. Other dying factories merged into this new one, while other small businesses were consolidating or downsizing just to keep their doors open. Some just simply gave up and closed altogether. This was the only job in the entire twenty mile business district that paid double digits in an hourly dollar amount. All of $12 per every hour worked, with time and half pay only after 50 hours per week, which was pro-rated down to the minute for any absence or tardiness, including even a few minutes late back from break. Everything was micromanaged down to an exact mad science. Minimal rewards were easily overshadowed by maximum penalties.

I had only been employed by Andersen & Company for a few monotonous months before I dawned upon the realization that the only disturbance from my daily routine of piece assembling was thoughts of the bigger overall picture. Most disturbing of my thoughts was: for how many years had this ritual of an operation been going on and what was it before that? The meaning of this mystery in my working life did not cause serious anxiety or apprehension at first, but rather over time. The long-term workers who had been there before were prescribed doses of some strange medication, manufactured by a pharmaceutical partner of the factory, where other workers poured various ailments and anxiety cures from one bottle into another. It was a mutual symbiosis of sorts that kept one hand feeding off the other in a land of living standing zombies that were all a part of the same dream, although I'm not exactly sure how American. Nor was I allowed to inquire or ever comment about it according to Corporate. Whatever Corporate actually was, was another taboo not open for public discussion either.

But there was always pride in our assembly and completing it, although it was never actually complete even when it was completed. The likes of which were beginning to make me feel incomplete, so long as I never talked about it to feel whole myself; just a part and piece of someone else's incomplete dream. I was merely a human jigsaw fitter to an incomplete puzzle of a mysterious maker.

I guess my story really begins here, where things took a shift from our interminable daily routines; there was an interruption from the monotony, aside from our allotted breaks. The supervisor, Mr. Clayman, emerged from his office of heavily fogged glass windows that resembled the skies overhead and made a rare special appearance on the assembly line. The rest of us stood positioned at our stations of close quarters on the block looking a little bit perplexed. Mr. Clayman was a rather massive individual of excessive weight, though not menacingly so, who moved and spoke with a certain lethargy that was perhaps the result of his plus-sized bulk. Or maybe his overall sluggishness was the result of the medication the pharmaceutical division had prescribed him. It was either the side effect or primary one, I'm not exactly sure which. Mr. Clayman, like a ball of clay, laboriously made his way toward our block and addressed us in his slow-mannered typical way like a turtle rearing its ugly head from its shell.

"I'm being called away on company business," he began. We looked at each other, processing this newsflash. "In my absence a new temporary supervisor will be overseeing the operation. He will be taking over my duties for the time being to ensure everything runs smoothly. This situation will be in place effective tomorrow when you come into work. I can't say exactly how long this will last, but I expect operations to continue as always. I thank you in advance for your understanding."

He then asked us in a robotic tone if we had any question regarding his agonizing speech, although the rarity of breaking our routine was quite momentous. Although his reason for leaving still remained a mystery, no one had any questions for Mr. Clayman, at least none they voiced. He then returned to his netherworld of heavily fogged glass windows and so we continued on with our labors as always.

Immediately following our supervisor's abrupt announcement of leaving and being replaced by a temporary supervisor, there were some audible murmurings of dissent amongst the other workers about what all of this might mean. Nothing of this sort had ever happened before at the factory; there was always 'the always' factor. So why all of a sudden now? According to some of the more senior employees that had lasted any substantial length of time, there is was a first occurrence in the history of the factory's management. But by the fall of the day, the murmurings closed to an idle chatter, now focused on the pains and arthritis in their hands, some with carpal tunnel, others with steady shakes. We proceeded to Edgar's car, after having our usual cigarette at sunset. We drove down the grey twisting asphalt looking at the grey milky sky heading into town, where all of us lived alone in some apartment or efficiency.

That night I had difficulty falling asleep in my quaint one-bedroom, cold-water-only apartment. Usually sleep for me was not a problem after the standing repetition for a day at work. I found my hands repeating the configurations of my assembly; my fingers kneading the air as if to stretch out and unwind. My mind was racing with everything and nothing. I tossed and turned in bed, consumed by the endless repetitious motion of my job and what it did to me. I couldn't help but wonder what tomorrow would bring with the new supervisor arriving.

Part of my job entailed a pattern of familiarity, so any change was both disturbing and uncomfortable. For me repetition breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds contempt. In this case, change instilled a sense of instability. A few more hours of anxiety passed before I finally found sleep after twitching and turning myself into a state of fatigue and exhaustion.

Each morning when we entered the factory, it was standard procedure that he who entered first would switch on the cone shaped lights, which dangled on long rods from the high ceiling. Another panel of lights on the walls would invariably illuminate the supervisor's office and the supervisor himself would turn them on when his day began three hours after ours. Of course, the factory had punch clocks and video cameras surveying the operation like an eye in the sky, monitoring each post of each assembly block. We carried on about our morning as normal, assuming the new supervisor would arrive at 9:00 A.M. just like the reliable Mr. Clayman always had up until now.

Since the supervisor's office was absent of light, it was only natural to assume that no one was residing in it. There was no green glow emanating from the computer monitor, no AM radio news being broadcast through staticky means, nor were there any dark blobs of shadows rolling off the heavily fogged glass windows of his office.

Now, as daylight shone over the trees through the rectangular shaped windows of the factory and supervisor's office, we began to suspect that someone was inside it; either now, or had been all along. Still, if he was in fact dwelling in there, he was not moving about in a way that would suggest his presence. We simply could not distinguish a blur of a shape that could be easily detected against the heavily fogged glass windows.

Nevertheless, all of us behaved as if the corner office was indeed occupied and we conducted ourselves as employees performing our duties under the most scrutinizing eyes of close supervision. As the hours passed, it became more apparent that the office was occupied with some kind of inhabitance. We exchanged some occasional 'what do you think' glances between our work. I thought I had noticed some movement myself, but there was no definite shape or anatomy by way of a solid form to conclude that it was actually human.

Some of the workers mentioned a dark ripple behind the glass, but whenever they fixed their gaze upon it they said it would suddenly come to a halt or just disperse altogether like a patch of fog. By the time we had taken our last afternoon break of the day, more observations were shared amongst workers in the break room at the far end of the building by the loading docks. Many argued that they'd witnessed some kind of dark outline or something disturbing the light reflecting through it like it was being consumed. One worker thought he saw a dark globulant form like a phantasmagoric hooded figure that was quite tall. To me it appeared like a shadow blockading the light, but unlike anything humanly creating it. At one point it seemed to move back and forth in a purposeful way then simply retract into pure nothingness. We all agreed there was a type of body configuration with long limbs, however elusive and intangible.

"He didn't seem to be sitting behind the desk?almost standing on it, unless his shadow just appeared closer as he moved forward," said Mitch who was the closest to my age on our assembly block.

"Yeah, there is definitely some optical illusion without the lights on in there," I replied.

"Well I no see nothing 'cuz my back face the office, I'm too busy working," said Edgar in a very broken and disconnected English.

"I'm not sure what I saw ... but I didn't like it one bit," added our esteemed team leader. In fact, Norm was the senior most employee in the entire factory.

"I don't think any of us did," I said more lightheartedly.

"It was as if he was almost crawling along the window and moving sideways." Norm said as an afterthought. Suddenly Norm didn't exude his typical team leader confidence.

Break time was over and there we were once again, back on the assembly block like ants in a colony. I kept a subtle eye on our trusted team leader and observed a steady decline in his demeanor. He worked the remainder of the day with his eyes fixated downward, focused exclusively on the metal contraptions he was fitting. Not once did I notice him glancing toward the office, but rather nervously fitting metal pieces with shaky hands. He was also sweating in a fairly cool climate. Toward the end of the day, Norm had some kind of breakdown and almost passed out on his feet, but caught himself at the last moment.

"No more," he said almost to himself.

"Are you okay, Norm?" I asked our leader.

"No more!" he repeated louder and again with a vehemence of something he had been holding back for a long while.

"What's wrong, Norm?" asked Edgar, right next to him.

Norm turned away from his post and fixed his attention on the supervisor's office like nothing else existed. He proceeded with determination and marched right into the darkened office without even knocking. The door shut abruptly behind him, but none of us were sure if it was Norm who shut it. All eyes in the factory were now focused exclusively on the square office in the corner. While all of us had confusion and conflict over the arrival of the temporary supervisor, there was no obstruction in seeing Norm's figure whose back was facing the glass.

From there, everything happened very rapidly as the rest of us stood there stricken with some paralysis. Our appointed team leader began to falter as his shadow seemed to expand against the glass door, fully encompassed by the larger shadow of the new supervisor. The voices were muffled by the hum of the factory's generator and mutterings of the workers. Yes, the shadows seemed to be struggling against each other with arm protrusions thrashing about. Not so much fighting, perhaps pointing or arguing with their hands to emphasize certain points. Next it seemed one of the two shadows had crashed into a filing cabinet, followed by a muffled thud onto the floor. Any conversation they were having was still not audible, even their shouts. The dark cloud then shifted its mass over Norm, who seemed to have fallen to the floor, or perhaps tripped -- it was difficult to say which. A louder slam ensued soon after, like a back being slammed against the door that echoed throughout the factory. We thought for a moment that the heavily fogged glass of the door was going to give way and shatter, but it didn't even crack it. The smaller shadow rose again and scrambled full about and came stumbling out of the office, somehow managing to exit and escape. He paused for a second to stare back at us and we returned his stare faithfully. He beheld a look of derangement and incomprehension in his maniacal expression. The supervisor's door slammed shut and Norm walked straight out of the factory without so much as a single word.

With still over an hour to go before the work day's end, we completed the task before us at 75% capacity. It wasn't easy as we had lost the strongest cog in our wheel; a wheel that had no vehicle in which to attach our final product. All the events of the day -- both routine and out of the ordinary -- had left us exhausted. We clocked out punctually at the sound of the bell, indicating we could go back to our lives again for a while. I'm sure we all wondered how our productivity would suffer without Norm, who approved the final assembly product. Three men couldn't possibly meet quota or keep up with the other teams of four, whose only individual pride was derived from group productivity. If Norm did in fact quit or was fired, our once-busy assembly hive would stir up a whole new hornet's nest amongst the others. None of us discussed these matters openly on the ride home as we carpooled back to town, one man less. With such a distance to walk under the hot summer sun, I couldn't help but wonder how Norm had gotten back, or if he'd still be walking along the road.

Sure enough there was no sign of Norm as the guys dropped me off first, since I was the closest. There still needed to be some reinforcement of morale and inspiration of team spirit. Edgar was the one to provide that, even though his words were distracted by his own thoughts of concern. As I exited the vehicle he said "We still a team. Here, take these to help you sleep. You need a early night." He handed me a leftover bottle of Norm's medication prescription.

I returned to my rather quaint one-bedroom cold-water-only apartment; physically and mentally drained. That evening I wanted to go to bed early to be whole and revitalized so that we could compensate for our loss. I consumed a substantial amount of the medication, not sure of the correct dosage to induce sleep. I didn't want my mind to wander or race like it had been.

I woke earlier than usual the following morning. I did not even require the use of my snooze button, which was a much practiced ritual that had become habitual with me until today. Trying to break my usual pattern so everything wouldn't seem so predictable, I decided to leave early and stop by a nearby diner that I knew would be open for breakfast. It could only be a welcome change from lingering around in a fog of thoughts before dragging my zombified carcass into work.

Upon entering the diner, I noticed it was unusually crowded that morning. Most of the booths were occupied with factory laborers, my fellow workers. I was actually glad to see familiar faces from a place I pictured myself not being employed at for too long, considering my higher flown ambitions and hopes of becoming a writer. I greeted a number of others as I forced my way to an available stool at the counter, but no one returned my gesture; rather they were preoccupied talking amongst themselves. I almost didn't even realize that Edgar and Mitch were sitting right next to me.

"Did ya hear what happened to Norm?" asked Mitch of me as he spun around on his stool to face me with an anxious look on his face.

"No, did he catch a ride yesterday, or what?" I inquired.

"No -- he's dead!" he said, wild-eyed in a low whisper.

"Dead?" I exclaimed, in a voice loud enough to cause most of the patron's heads to turn in my direction. I continued on in much more quieter tones henceforth. "What happened?" I asked Edgar, who seemed to know more of the specifics.

Edgar proceeded with his monotone broken English explanation. "The boarding house where he live ... the woman who run it say he was acting crazy outside and he went to his room. This was right after work, he went. He no show up for dinner. She go check and knock his door, but he no answer. The door open a little and she see him inside. Him face down on the bed, all his med bottles empty. He drink all the meds and die of overdose. No good."

"Are you serious?" I asked, already knowing by his look.

"Yes. Norm die last night," he said, mechanically scooping pieces of food into his mouth with a disturbed look on his face.

"I can't believe it. What the hell happened in that office that would make him do that?" I asked, stunned in a state of shock and disbelief.

"Maybe lose job?" said Edgar.

"The poor guy," I said in consolation.

"Shouldn't we take time off to mourn and pay respect?" asked Mitch.

"Company not allow. He not employee no more. I call them to ask and that what they tell to me," grunted Edgar, who had somehow already established this fact with the company.

"So they already knew?" was my next question.

"She the lady call where he live and told them."

"The company always knows everything before we do," added Mitch, going on his third coffee round, shaking noticeably.

"Well that sucks. Nice retirement plan. The company won't even let us attend our co-worker's funeral," I said in rebellion at their lack of human compassion.

"It's no good," said Edgar.

"I'll say," I said sarcastically and with resentment.

We left for work, silently grieving for the loss of Norm. Startled back into a transient reality, we mentally prepared ourselves for the day. Now in a fully wakened state after three coffees each, our grief was accelerated and our minds were racing. Driving at a measured steady pace, we could see the fog as grey and dense as I had ever witnessed. Like nuclear debris, or perhaps ashes of the dead, it appeared as a smoldering formation of oozing, spilling fog, milky and lava-like in its texture, hanging over the factory in a halo of smoke. None of us spoke about what happened to Norm for the rest of the way to work, as if we had a pact of silence. Dead silence if you will.

To be continued ...

Article © David Byron. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-11-26
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