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There’s a strange building that is on the outskirts of town. It’s big and metal, with no sign on it at all. It has no windows, and very few doors that are visible at the front. No-one knows what it is. Some people say maybe it’s to do with the military, because I live in a town that has a lot to do with the army. People go in…
And people come out.
Of course, because this is no fantasy story; there is no Willy Wonka Oompa Loompas' hanging around. Around 8 to 9 am, people who look normal, who drive normal cars, wear normal clothes, drive up to the huge metal gates, speak into the silver intercom, and drive through when the gates are opened. I don’t stick around there often, but I have yet to see someone go in on foot, and there is no pedestrian entrance, just the one for cars. It seems it would be a dark place to work, with no windows for natural light and the metal couldn’t have made for the best building material. Regardless, at the end of the day, between 5 and 6, people drive out again, after speaking into another intercom. You could, of course, never see if the lights went on and off, when the building ‘opened’ and ‘closed’ – you could only guess the pattern by the people coming in and out. No-one seemed to leave early, or pop out for lunch; they only went home at the end of the day.
It may seem weird that I was so obsessed with this building that I knew the routine of it, but you have to understand I grew up in this town with this strange building. When I was a kid, it didn’t matter. It was another place some adults went, not kids. Besides, as it was on the outskirts and next to a cemetery, I didn’t have reason to go there often. Yet when you get older, you expect for things to start making sense. You learn to read signs, to understand the place you live in, especially if you grow up there. You go to the local school, visit the local doctor when you’re sick, go to the same old shops to get the same old things…Hell, as you and your friends got jobs you learn about all sorts of random places and buildings you knew nothing about.
So not to even have a name, let alone a reason, for this building bothered me.
The only thing I knew about the building is that it buzzes – but only at night. It sounds like the low hum of an electricity hub, and maybe that’s what they do there, I thought. Only, you don’t need a whole building to do that, and there were no visible wires ducking in and out like there was in the small electricity stations I knew of. Maybe it used a lot of electricity, like something with computers, so much that it had to generate its own. Then why doesn’t it buzz during the day, when people are there, supposedly working?
I don’t live in the town anymore. I live in a city, less than a hundred miles away, but my work routine stops me from coming down to see my parents – who still live in the town – as much as I’d like. I’ve also got friends who still live and work in the town, so when I come down, I see them. It was on one of these routine trips down that I got the most stupid idea in my head.
I had been out that night, meeting up with a few old names. At some point, I had looked at my phone and it was nearly 2 am, which was kicking out time of the bar we were in. I decided to leave before that, so I could get my proper goodbyes in, knowing it may be months before I saw my friends again. They tried to persuade me to stay around or go to a club that was open until 3 am, but really I had enough. After some whining and stropping, I managed to squeeze out of the packed bar and into the night air.
I was quick to light a cigarette, glad to be finally allowed to now I was outside. Honestly, I was gasping for a smoke as much as anything else right then. Thinking up my options and checking the change in my wallet, I decided to walk back to my parents’. They were out that night, staying in a luxury hotel, lucky bastards. Still, I hadn’t had such a bad evening myself.
I wasn’t drunk, not truly. A little wobbly even though I was in my favourite Dr Martens rather than high heels, but a few breaths of cold air and my cigarette soon fixed that, and I became pretty clear headed. To walk home, I had to go past – but not through – the graveyard, then past that strange building that had been there since I was a kid.
The walk up until that point was uneventful, apart from my chain-smoking and managing to flick a cigarette stub into someone’s guttering. When I saw the building and heard the familiar night-time hum, a bouncy and most definitely drunken thought popped up into my head.
“You should explore it. You know, like those urban explorer people. Then when anyone town says ‘what the hell is that building, you can go… well, you can say what it is. Then people will be like ‘oh’. And then you’ll be celebrated.”
I knew it was drunken because it was rambley and didn’t really make sense, but as I peeled away the fantasy of somehow being given the key to the town for knowing what a building was, I decided I agreed with the basic element of the thought – people needed to know what this building was, and I was in a position where I could find out. If I didn’t know then, I certainly know now not to listen to thoughts pushed along by rum and whiskey.
I was certainly wearing the shoes – well, boots – for it. The rest of my outfit wasn’t exactly suitable for scaling the 8 foot metal fence, but my feet would take the most damage. I walked around to the side of the building where there was a brick-built block around two foot high I could stand on, and if I stretched I could grab the fence, giving me only 6 foot to conquer rather than 8.
When I was a kid, I was a tomboy – I spent a hell of a lot of time climbing trees and going places I wasn’t supposed to be. So even if that was over ten years ago and I was a little rusty, my skills fell back into place as I flung myself at the fence and started pulling myself up. My tights ripped on the metal edges, and provided little protection to the small nicks I got on my legs, but it wasn’t the end of the world. The rest of my outfit fared better, with only my vest-top getting a small slash mark on its side. When I got to the top and realised I was there, and nothing was bleeding horrifically, and that I hadn’t fallen down like an ass, I couldn’t help but to smile.
There was no barbed wire at the top – which probably really would have told me this place was military, and to leave it the hell alone – but there were spikes on top of each metal post. The gap in between was small, but I could just about slide in place and carefully swing my legs around, keeping my balance only by sheer luck. I would have to jump from the top, and getting back over may not have been as easy – but I was here now.
So I jumped, landing with a soft thud and letting my DMs take most of the impact. The low humming noise was even more evident in here – the sort of noise that, if you heard it too long, it felt like it could cause a headache. Now I was there, I didn’t know how to start. I didn’t exactly plan this expedition and I had no-one else to ask for an opinion, just my own liquored up brain. At the back, I decided. At the back, because no-one could see there, so maybe there were some windows, or a sign, or even just a skip with rubbish in that could give me some clue.
A sudden chill washed over me as I started walking towards the back of the building, towards the car park. What the fuck was I doing? I rarely broke the rules, and I had never broken the law, but here I was, probably risking at least arrest for trespassing, all for the sake of curiosity! I wasn’t a little kid anymore, I couldn’t really get away with doing whatever popped into my head and blame it on inexperience.
I looked at the dark, looming building. I couldn’t see any security cameras, private or government ones, but it didn’t mean there wasn’t any. They could be so insidious these days – so small that no-one could see them. It didn’t reassure me much, and I paused in the middle of the car park, suddenly feeling chilled in the summer evening, and anxious.
But I was here. I was here now – if I was already trespassing, it had already been caught on camera, so I may as well push on. Besides, I realised as I looked around, getting out of there may have been harder than getting in – I could see nothing to stand on to help me in the climb. At this rate, I was going to have to hide somewhere and wait for the next morning, thankfully a Monday, and run out as an employee drove in.
So I continued on my walk forward, scanning the front of the building, which gave me nothing I hadn’t seen before, hadn’t seen for years. Nothing was new, the car park was empty, and there were two single-sized doors on the front of the building, with no windows, no air vents, and the ever present hum, which got louder as I approached the building.
As I got closer, I realised my phone was vibrating in my back pocket. Figuring it was a friend who was seeing if I got home safe, I fished it out and paused to look at it.
There was no text or call. Instead, my phone was freaking the hell out, vibrating in a pattern that was unknown to me, and opening every single app, one at a time, starting from the top and working across, then down. I was just confused at first, but when it opened my contacts and started trying to call every single number from my ‘recent calls’ list (which happened to start with my mum, probably blissfully asleep in her hotel room miles away) I outright panicked and tried to stop it. After several times of stabbing the buttons and then the screen, pressing the ‘end call’ button over and over as the phone rang, I had to turn it off.
When I tried to turn it on again, it would turn on as usual, to only go back to what it was doing all over again. Frustrated, I turned it off – whatever was pitching that low humming noise was obviously messing with it, maybe there was some sort of blanket security in this place that messed with mobiles when people had then on onsite. Maybe in that case it was something to do with the army, but still – wouldn’t just a blocking system be easier than something that caused havoc? I remember just hoping at that point that my phone wasn’t damaged, because I couldn’t afford to get it fixed. What I really should have been worrying about was needing to use the phone when I was stuck here.
I continued my walk forward and finally reached the back of the building. It looked like the back of your standard warehouse – a big door for deliveries, without any windows, a fire escape that lead up to the first and second level with big metal stairs, and a huge skip for rubbish. That was the first place I went, getting a little tired now and wanting to just get out to go home – the novelty of the idea had worn off. So if I could just find some rubbish that had a company name or logo, I would grab that and leave. I knew in the morning, sober headed, I would worry about the legal implications, but right then, I was just tired and cold.
The skip was totally empty. There wasn’t a lick of rubbish in there – in fact, it looked brand new. It wasn’t stained, there was no puddle of suspicious liquid from months of workers’ lunches being dumped in there – it was just empty. I knew bin day for my parents’ house wasn’t until Thursday, but maybe this place got its bins emptied daily, and this was just how it was since Friday. It didn’t bother me too much then.
I saw this as more of a challenge – the building was a mystery, a Pandora’s box, and I had to figure it out. It had simply become a challenge when there was no-one challenging me, I just had to prove it to myself. I’m very stubborn, and when I set my mind on something, I don’t stop until there’s a conclusion. So as much as I wanted this mystery to resolve itself easily with a normal piece of rubbish, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I steeled myself and headed towards the fire escape.
Despite looking solid, the stairs up were a little rickety and that made me nervous – both that they could collapse, and the noise could alert someone outside to my presence. To be honest, I hadn’t heard anyone for a while now, not since I got here, just that continued hum. I trod as light as I could in my heavy boots, stopping on the first floor. The platform of the fire escape – and probable exit for the smokers too, if I knew anything about working where smoking inside was prohibited – ran alongside the first floor, stopping at a door at around the middle of the building. I slowly walked across the platform, holding on to the rail that surrounded it. The platform seemed more sturdy than the stairs, but I still didn’t fully trust it.
I wasn’t sure what made me want to try the door. Did I want to add breaking and entering to my lawlessness sheet? Was it breaking and entering if the door was unlocked – if you didn’t break, and you just entered? The thought made me giggle slightly, and then there was a noise from inside. I pulled my hand off the door handle as if it were red hot. When the door didn’t open with some angry security guard coming out, I gingerly put my ear against the wood instead.
The noise I was greeted with was like the sound of metal gears turning slowly. A noise of machinery, a noise of something being moved, but there was no pattern to it like a machine may produce – it was more inconsistent, as if being controlled by a human. The hum, I realised, was louder in there, almost louder than speaking volume. How could the staff work with that always going on, and always at that volume? I realised they must have to wear ear muffs, and how much it would suck never being able to talk to a co-worker with that noise and your ears covered.
The noise of grinding gears continued until I pulled my ear away. That noise must have always been there, it didn’t start just because I touched the door handle – I must have just not heard it until then, too busy thinking of my own stupid joke. I chewed my lip as I decided to leave that door alone. Maybe this floor was dedicated to some huge, gear-grinding machine that did…something. I wasn’t sure what. I was, however, becoming more sure this place was a factory, rather than an office or a warehouse.
I edged back across to the fire exit stairs. There was a second set to go up yet, to get to what seemed to be the top floor – the building was huge, but it seemed, if this fire exit was to be trusted, that it was only composed of two stories. They must have been huge, however – the next set of stairs, just as rickety as the first step, went up at least 30 feet and I was feeling a little woozy as I got to the top and glanced down.
The platform mirrored the first floor, edging along to around the middle of the building, and then a door. I followed it, finding this platform rattled a bit more, and in places the rail I held onto was looser than its twin downstairs. In my slightly wobbly state I stayed closer to the outer metal wall of the building, and held the rail only lightly.
When I reached the door, I pressed my ear to it again. I couldn’t hear gears this time, though I could hear the hum, even louder still, like a thousand pissed off bees. After a short time of listening for anything that could indicate someone inside, like a security guy patrolling, I decided to gently try the door. It didn’t even cross my mind that maybe the hum could block out all noise of other people, or even that it was being used to cover up noise – I just didn’t think of it. But for some reason, the door was unlocked, and I opened it a little bit at a time.
I guess I was weary that if I suddenly heard footsteps or a voice above the imposing hum, I could close the door and run away, rather than opening the door fully and not prepared for who could be in there. When no noises came for me, I opened the door and stepped inside.
The room was huge, and incredibly dusty, as if it had not been used for some time. There was light, though it was very dim, just enough to see by with the additional moon and street light from outside. The floor wasn’t whole – there were four large squares cut in a two by two grid, so you could see down to the next level, which seemed to be lit intensely, the glaring lights that were in supermarkets. It made the floor more like a series of connected cat walks, providing around twelve feet of floor between each square, with metal railings around the edge of the squares so people wouldn’t fall down. I frowned as I kicked up a cloud of dust and suppressed a cough, even though it probably wouldn’t have been heard above the humming sound, even more intense in here.
I reasoned that maybe they didn’t use this level, or only used it for storage. Hell, there were some crates and boxes all crammed on one side, so that seemed feasible. A sad looking plastic Christmas tree was shunted on the top of some of the boxes, just as dusty as the floor. With no footprints, it was obvious no-one had come up here for a while, storage or not.
To keep the noise to a minimum, even though the buzzing probably would drown it out, I shuffled – dragging my feet – to the nearest of the squares, pulling myself up to the metal fence that was stronger than the ones outside, and staying on the close to the floor, crouching. Peering down to the next floor, I could see two rows of white tables, eight on each side. Each one was very clean, and the set up was identical – a pair of scissors lying on the right hand side, and a long, narrow, metal container with a lid that sat on the left hand side. There was a plain, white chair pushed neatly under the middle of each table, and a black bucket on the left hand side of the chair. That was the only thing that truly confused me at this point. I was thinking maybe it was a factory that still did hand-sewing, maybe on old antique pieces, and assumed that the boxes held needles and thread. But what was the bucket for? Maybe just cast off material, I thought, frowning at the neatness of it all. There was nothing personal about each desk like you would see at a cubicle, nothing human about what I was seeing; no coffee cup saying ‘Life’s a Beach’ that had mouldy coffee and biscuit crumbs in it.
I slowly moved along to the next square, moving up rather than along. I could see what looked to be the top of a huge metal machine, level with the floor of the square – that must have been what was making the noise of gears earlier, though it was silent now. I decided it must have had some sort of cleaning or repair cycle it went through at a certain time each weekend, and I must have just stumbled across it. I could reach down – and did – and rest my hand gently on top of the metal. It was a little warm, the only sign it had been running less than ten minutes ago, but otherwise still and silent.
The machine took up most of the space, though from the angle I was at I could also see the tables on the other side. I thought I saw something else too, something like an arm coming into view, but it was too white, too utterly pale to be an arm – the same white as the tables. I instantly dismissed it as a trick of the dim light and the tiredness of my eyes in the early hour. I couldn’t check my phone, but I guessed it was at least 2.30 by now, and this place with its hum was getting to me.
I was nearly done. I could at least say what was inside here, and then maybe people would be able to tell me what it was. I could almost see a friend laughing in my face and saying that it must have been a reupholsters, and that all of them were laid out in a similar way, and of course it seemed like it lacked a human touch because it was the weekend – people had cleaned up on the Friday, maybe they had a strict boss who liked a clean workspace. But still, with the hum and the sterile, cold feeling of this place, I was starting to feel strange.
Before I went to the next square, I put my hands over my ears for a moment to see if I could block out the hum, even for just a moment. I had my headphones with me, but I didn’t want to make myself vulnerable to someone sneaking up on me, so they weren’t an option. The hum still happened. The tighter I pressed, the louder it got. The hum was in my head. Was this building even humming at all, or had it been in my head the whole time? If it hadn’t been in my head, when did it get in there, when did it somehow get trapped? I took a deep breath. This was just all getting on top of me and I couldn’t reason it out. That was natural; that was normal. Just two more squares, and I could go home.
I crept over to the next one, and crouched down in between the rails to get a clearer view. This showed the machine, again – it was huge in length, running almost the same length as the building itself, but not especially wide – maybe six feet, from what I could figure out. The machine had an opening with a belt sticking out like a tongue, like the kind in supermarkets to push the products down to the cashier. What were they producing from that machine? Did something go in the other end, and come out here? As I tried to figure it out, I realised that the machine was starting up again. Gears slowly whirring into action as if as tired as me, gradually becoming faster but never quite consistent, never quite in a pattern. I was going to dash the other side to see if I could see something being put in the other side, but before I could even get up, I realised there was something coming out the gaping mouth of the machine.
It was a person. That much was obvious, straight away. It all happened so slowly, like the machine was giving birth to it – as fast as the gears were whirring, the belt as moving quite slowly. I saw the feet first, pale grey in colour, with bruises marring the backs of the heels, then the legs which were more beige coloured, but still pale, the bruising on the back of the legs. I was so involved in this process I wasn’t even embarrassed when I saw the flaccid genitals of what I now knew was a gentleman, and just kept my eyes fixed on the body. The chest had autopsy marks, the famous ‘Y’ incision even I knew from CSI. I had my doubts this person was alive when I saw the feet, due to the dull colour, but the autopsy signs sealed the deal. I put my hand over my own mouth as if I were to scream or vomit if I didn’t, and I wasn’t sure which. The head and face came last, with the face oddly coloured in comparison to the body – I realised then that it must have had the undertakers’ make-up on him, to make it more pleasant to the family at the funeral.
It didn’t take a doctor or med student long to look at the clues and figure out this was a relatively fresh dead person. He wasn’t decomposing, there wasn’t much of a smell (I couldn’t tell anyway, with so much dust up my nose) and he still had bruising from where his blood had settled. It didn’t look violent, his death. The idea of death didn’t disgust or disturb me at all – but what did was why there was a fresh corpse there, in the middle of the night, in this strange and lonely building.
Once the man was fully revealed, I backed off slightly. If I had heard the machine working before and that had been retrieving a body from somewhere, where had that body gone? If someone collected it, that meant someone was going to collect this body too – and if they happened to look up, I would be in bigger trouble. Maybe even bigger than the legal trouble I was worried about.
I could still see, but hopefully not be seen, unless I was being looked for. It was pretty dim up on this floor, and I suppose whoever was down there would have no reason to look up here. After a few moments, a tall man came over to the body and hauled it up. His stature didn’t look as though he should have been able to handle the slightly overweight corpse, but he had no difficulty slinging the man over his shoulder.
The outfit the man was wearing was unusual, to say the least. A top hat covered his head and hair, as well as most of his face – well, from the position I was in – and the outfit wasn’t dissimilar to one a funeral director may wear, all in black and well presented. There wasn’t a lick of dirt or dust on the outfit.
His voice came booming and at first I was terrified it was directed at me. I jumped, and just hoped the humming covered up the noise of the scuffle, which it seemed to do as he didn’t look up. I edged closer to see him not addressing me, and not addressing anyone, seemingly talking to himself.
“He must be clean.”
This time the voice was softer and I barely heard it above the hum, whether it was in the surrounding area or in my head. I watched as the man walked with ease, apparently not burdened by the new addition over his shoulder, in a diagonal way to head to the first square. I waited until he was out of sight and scuffled over there, doing a belly crawl – I probably looked ridiculous and I got covered in dust, but right now all I cared about was not being caught by this strange man.
By the time I got to the edge of the other square, the man had already walked to a table, one the first row, on the further left. I positioned myself so I was at the back of the tables, so hopefully the man wouldn’t see me.
He dumped the body down without much care, and it landed like a sack of potatoes, but with a gross, almost squishy sound. I shuddered, and watched as he picked up the scissors to his right. Carefully, he cut down the ‘Y’ incision, cutting the stitches away, which only opened up the body slightly – it didn’t just fall apart like I thought it would. He then opened the box to his left hand side, drawing out a knife. It looked like a normal kitchen knife, painfully clean and even from where I was it looked sharp, glinting in the harsh light. He took to the man with gentle precision, cutting down where the ‘Y’ incision already was – diagonally across the collarbone, and down the chest, all the way to his groin. It was then he used his hands to prise the man open – a job normally reserved for surgeons’ tools, because human bones and flesh didn’t yield easily to the hand. But this man made it look easy, pulling the ribs open as if they were doors. I could hear the crack, even from with the buzz interfering with me. It was when he was doing all this work that I noticed for the first time he was wearing gloves – not the neat gloves of a surgeon, but black leather gloves, which were quickly coated in blood. The man didn’t seem to care.
He was muttering to himself, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I’m not a squeamish person anyway, and maybe the novelty of the situation - as well as the blur of alcohol giving a hazy, dreamlike fog around the whole thing - was what made me curious rather than disgusted, so I squinted down to see more. The man was intact – all his organs there, from what I could see. The man in the tall black hat ripped them out one by one, throwing them into the bucket carelessly, though he never missed. He started at the top, and went down to the bottom, until the man was without any organs.
The man in a black suit wiped a bloodied glove across his forehead, as if wiping sweat away. Then he took out a smaller, more precise knife from the box and began to slice away at the mush that was left inside the man – the connecting tissues, muscles, and fat. When he was done, the man was hollowed out, like a pumpkin. He retrieved a spray bottle from under the table, and sprayed inside the man – the smell wafted up to me, and it was like bleach and pissed mixed up into one. I gagged, but luckily didn’t throw up, as it would have gone down to the next floor. The man then wiped down the inside of the man, who was now a perfect husk, and pulled his ribs back into position. He noticed the cracks in where they had been broken, and retrieved super-glue from inside the box. He carefully glued the cracks as if they were in a coffee cup, rather than in a human being, and then put the skin back where it was supposed to be, though it lay slightly oddly now.
The man didn’t stitch the guy up as the coroner had done – instead, he put a line of superglue down each edge and pushed the flesh together, leaving strange, raised edges. The man seemed happy with his work, though, and stood back to admire it. All this time I was trying to think what was happening here. Was it a black market organ theft? No, even the most…eccentric, which was one way to describe this guy (along with almost definitely psychotic and dangerous) of organ snatchers would know you have to put them, individually, on ice – not dump them in a bucket. Besides, the man really seemed concerned with the state of the body over the state of the organs.
As I was in thought, I barely registered that the man had gotten out a larger knife, something like a machete, not that I had ever seen one outside of films, and was holding it to his chest.
“NO MORE HEADS!” He suddenly screamed, and bought the machete down on the neck of the man, neatly slicing the head off. It went bouncing along the floor, and I jumped, scooting back, hand over my mouth. I didn’t know what startled me more, the screaming or the actual action, but the whole thing was terrifying, and, at that point, far from over for me.
I persuaded myself to move back to the edge, so I could see what was going on. Of course I should have run away then. Of course I should have gotten out of there, ran for miles to get help if I needed. But I didn’t do that. I stayed there, and just got back to the edge to see him cutting the arms and legs off now, sawing consistently, with less aggression and no words I could hear, although he was still mumbling. He pushed the limbs off the table without much care, and then cut off the groin and hips in a neat, straight line, just below the poor corpse’s navel.
He seemed to be pleased with himself – I couldn’t see his face, but his stance was of someone looking at his work with pride. He hefted up the body, turned (I moved back a bit as his face turned in the direction, though not height, of where I was), stepped unfazed over the man’s left leg, and went over to the fourth square, the square I hadn’t looked into yet.
After a moment of pause, looking at the closed fire exit door, I scrambled – belly crawling again, this outfit could go in the bin – to the other side and once more positioned myself behind the man. This area was surrounded by tarp, which struck me as weird. Surely, if you wanted to hide whatever the hell was going on here, you would use tarp in the area that got covered with blood and body parts? I swallowed hard and forced myself to look on. I had seen the worst. I must have seen the worst.
He laid the body out on the only table, in the centre of the room. It was bigger than the other tables, and covered by a tarp, with nothing else on it. Around the edge of the room, there were body parts lined up, all looked quite fresh, not decomposed. I wondered how many bodies they had used, how they got them – and then I realised the graveyard across the road, the way there was a bump in the road that everyone assumed was a speed bump. The machinery must have gone through there and to the graveyard and then, somehow, they caught wind of a new burial and…
And what? Did the machine find it, fish it out? Or was it human hands, the ones who came here Monday through Friday, with this oddball picking up some sort of nightshift? Just what the hell was this?
The man sprayed down the outside of the body with the same disgusting formula, but this time I knew to pinch my nose. I could hear, just above the hum, the soft noise of movement from behind me – not literally behind me, but down on the next floor, at the square I had just left. I was torn between seeing what this man planned to do with the torso, and investigating the noises from the other side.
I decided to wait it out here, as the man retrieved a tub of something from under the bench, and a paint brush. Frowning, it didn’t take long to put the two together. White paint, and a paint brush – he was going to paint the corpse. But why? I saw a flash of the man’s face as he stood at the corpse’s feet – he had sunglasses on, so black that it was impossible to see his eyes; maybe the light down there bothered him. He was pale, though there was a rosy glow in his cheeks, almost childish glee as he began slathering the torso in paint. This was the only thing he didn’t do with great care and precision, deciding to act more like a kid painting a wall and put the paint wherever he felt like. It was obviously his intent to paint the whole thing, but I still didn’t understand why, what this place wanted to do.
I swallowed hard and decided it was time to man up, and dragged myself over to the other side to see what was causing the noise. It was then that I really felt my heart begin to try and fight its way out of my chest with fear.
Standing, apparently in the midst of cleaning up, were four mannequins. They weren’t identical – they were different heights, one was missing its left arm, two were missing heads, so only one was a complete, human form. They were all pure, bright white. Their joints were fused – or superglued – together, so every motion was clumsy; their hands couldn’t grip so they pushed the limbs into a bin bag placed on the floor, their knees couldn’t bend so they had to awkwardly kick things they couldn’t reach.
Was I dreaming? I must have been dreaming. I must have drunkenly walked home, and fallen into bed, dead asleep, and now my choice of cocktails was giving me a fucked up dream. But I knew that wasn’t true. None of it was true. I was here, that man was here, and these mannequins were here.
I watched them clear up, hypnotised. They were walking, albeit with difficulty, but not breathing, and the ones with no heads acted as though they could see, getting things in the bin bag with as much success as the other two. I was so engaged in looking that I didn’t notice one of the fashionable badges on my vest top strap had slowly been working itself free due to all my awkward movements, and decided at that point to loosen itself and land on the ground on the floor below.
I couldn’t hear it. But one of the mannequins clearly did, and turned their head stiffly to the side. They looked at the badge, then, just as stiffly, tilted their head to look at me. I saw a sudden flash of red, and then the humming got so intense I could barely move, see, or think. Next I knew all four were looking at me, even the ones without heads adopted the same staring poses. Were they the things humming? It didn’t matter. I had to get the fuck out, and now, before the thing I thought posed the most risk – the man, on the other side of the room, noticed.
I scrambled to my feet, not thinking anything but ‘RUN, YOU STUPID FUCK!’. I stumbled over my own boots and almost fell instantly – one of my legs had gone to sleep from the position I had been in. I dragged myself up and stumbled to the door, flinging it open. I started to run on the platform, and it wobbled dangerously. At one point I reached out to the handrail for support only to see that section come away, freefalling onto the ground. I didn’t want the same fate, so I stuck to the wall, whilst still running.
Down the first set of stairs, quick, then straight down the second set, ignoring the unsteadiness of them. My head pounded with blood and the hum persisted, my heart racing, unused to running, but the adrenaline pushed me on. Below the hum, I could feet following me. More than two pairs – the mannequins, and maybe the man. I didn’t want to turn around and see. Red kept flashing in my vision, disorientating me, but I kept going, because I didn’t want to think about what would happen when I stopped.
When my feet touched tarmac, I kept running. Running past the strangely empty bin, running through the car park, pounding feet following me. But then – they stopped. As soon as I got out from behind the building, to a place that could be seen by the public, the footsteps stopped. I still didn’t turn back. I just got to the fence and flung myself at it, thankfully securing my grip on the first try, and I didn’t stop climbing until I reached the top, ripping my vest on the iron spike, and jumping down the other side.
Then, even though I wasn’t being followed, I kept running. I kept running until the red flashes stopped, and the humming in my head reduced to something quiet, but persistent. It must have been at least half a mile away when I finally stopped, my breathing fast and my heart racing. Home wasn’t far, and I was grateful to get there – even if I didn’t sleep a wink.
No-one believes me about that night. Of course I told the police – they said they went there and saw no sign of anything criminal. It was just a normal factory, they said, producing food products. The employees were ‘a little odd’, with confused expressions and monotonous speech, as well as ‘moving weirdly’, but they were courteous and helpful. The police even scolded me for interrupting their work day and, of course, for trespassing. They, like most people, put my experience down to a drunken bender where I somehow drank so much that I saw things. I know that isn’t true.
I also know why those employees seemed so unusual. I know why they moved oddly, spoke weirdly. I still have that hum, too, though the red flashes only come back in my dreams about the place – as does the man in the top hat, with his sunglasses, staring at me with that childlike grin of joy. My mum told me she got a missed call from me around 2 am that morning – she said I spoke in a flat voice and said “I am sorry. I incorrectly dialled you. Goodbye”. There were a couple of friends who apparently got the same message, in the same tone, but it was definitely my voice. They all said I sounded weird, but they all assumed that I was drunk, even my mum – they deleted the messages. Why wouldn’t they? I told them it wasn’t me, that my phone fucked up, and I never called them. The call logs on my phone, though, show I did, and show roughly twenty seconds of call time on each 2 to 2.05am call, enough time for it to ring and go to the voicemail. My friend showed me the text message I sent her, around 2.30 am – when I know my phone was off, as I couldn’t get it to work right until 3 am, when I was finally home - simply stating, “I am home safe. Nice evening with you friend. Goodbye”. Again, she put my weird phrasing up to being drunk, even though she saw I wasn’t so wasted that I wasn’t myself.
I still walk past that place sometimes, when I come back home, though I get a headache for it every time – and I never walk past it a night. I’m a fan of cabs now, despite their extra expense. I noticed something weird, since my experience there - every time I’m somewhere with mannequins, like a clothes shop, I swear they all turn and look at me the second my back is turned; I’ve seen some heads stiffly turning back if I look over quickly enough. I keep seeing ‘them’ everywhere now – on the streets, fully formed, at the end of my bed - headless, in windows where I know a second ago there was nothing. I managed to take one blurry photo at night of where a mannequin was that had never been before. It proves nothing, but I swear… I swear it wasn’t there before, the first time I looked.