Friday, October 14, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: Factory Ghost

Factory Ghost

Jennifer E. Miller

Frank switched on the factory lights. They flickered and hummed to life. Throwing the apron over his head, he stuffed a rag in the front pocket. He grabbed the wheeled trash bin with a standard broom, dustpan, and push broom hanging off the side.
                The work was boring, but employment was hard to find during the 30s. Frank’s wages helped his family make ends meet. Mr. Manzini, the factory owner, allowed Frank to work later shifts which allowed him to continue high school. He preferred that someone cleaned after the plant closed, but was apprehensive about who he should let into his building without supervision. Frank was best friends with his son, Carlo, and had earned Mr. Manzini’s trust. Carlo worked on the factory floor after school, learning the skills of pasta making. He was to take over the business when the time came. Frank swept the floors and wiped down portions of the machinery. Mr. Manzini couldn’t pay him much, but, regardless, he was thankful.
There was a strange rule, however. He was not, under any circumstances, remove the crucifix off the wall in the hand-operated elevator. Mr. Manzini was adamant that it was never to be touched.
“When cleaning the elevator’s floor, take precaution not to even accidentally bump it with your broom handle.”
“Sure thing, sir. May I ask why?”
Mr. Manzini gave him a mafia-like stone cold hard stare. Leaning forward he said, “Just don’t do it,” was his answer.
Frank had gotten a chill. He couldn’t explain it, but he sure as hell wasn’t gonna touch that thing. He also did not want to lose his job over a religious icon.
It was now October 30. Halloween was tomorrow and he was looking forward to festivities. He helped his high school put together a haunted house in the gym and carnival games for younger kids. It was also All Saints Day on November 1st. Halloween was the day the evil spirits roamed freely to terrorize the Saints. Dressing up confused them, which kept the Saints safe for All Saints Day. Italians sure take that day seriously, he thought. Mrs. Manzini had nailed ropes of braided garlic over the doors and windows and placed additional statues of Mother Mary around the factory. Frank shrugged. A day early, but I guess they aren’t taking any chances.
He got to work. Starting on the first floor, he swept the office area and lunchroom. These were relatively neat and tidy. Mr. Manzini hadn’t asked him to, but he polished the brass doorknobs and name plates. If a business partner stopped by, there would be a little extra shine to the otherwise drab and ordinary offices. Frank felt those details matter.
Next he moved to the main factory floor. Here was the majority of his cleanup effort. Flour sprinkled the cement floor, dotted with the worker’s shoe imprints. He used the large push broom to sweep it into a pile. Then shoveled it into a wheeled trash bin with the broom and dustpan.
“Whew,” sighed Frank as he finished, wiping his brow.
He stepped off toward the breakroom for a drink of water. Grabbing a chipped glass from the cupboard, he filled it from the sink faucet. He took several gulps then dumped out the rest. Mrs. Manzini must have placed a remarkable about of garlic around this area because he tasted it in the water. He washed the glass to replace it in the cupboard, when he heard a noise. It sounded like something wobbling. Like a glass shaking in the cupboard.
Puzzled, he opened the cabinet door. Sometimes mice made their way in and Mr. Manzini wanted to be informed of the problem. He saw no evidence of the little critters.
Another noise.
Frank whirled around. This time it came from the factory floor. It sounded like the wheeled trash bin moved.
But I’m alone here, he said to himself. He sighed. The weather was getting cooler. Stray dogs or cats may have found a way in to keep warm at night. If that was the case, he must remove them. Animals cannot be in a place where food was made. It was unsanitary.
Annoyed, Frank made his way back to the factory floor.
He halted in his tracks.
The lights were out on the floor. Without the hum of the fluorescent bulbs, there was an eerie silence. Even though Frank couldn’t see a thing, he scanned the darkness, listening for anything out of place. His heart pounded and he told it to stop. Nearly a man, he couldn’t be scared of trifle things like the dark.
He ran his hand along the wall, found the switch, and flicked it up. The comforting hum resumed as the lights glowed once again. Someone had to have turned off the lights because he left the switch in the on position.
“Carlo, knock it off,” he said aloud. He listened for any snickering. If his friends wanted to pull a prank, this would be an ideal place; Carlo had access to the factory. “Come out you weasels.”
“C’mon show your ugly faces.” He was getting irritated. “I don’t have time for this shit, guys.”
After a pause he said, “I’m going back to work. Save your pranks for tomorrow.”
He turned and angrily walked over to grab the standard broom he left next to the trash bin. There was a dusting of flour on the floor.
“You guys are just giving me extra work to do,” Frank voiced. “Don’t wanna clean up after your sorry asses—“
Before him wasn’t just a dusting of flour. It was prints. When he arrived the flour covered the floor; obvious that the workers stepped in the flour. This was a print from flour. Someone had stepped into the trash bin, covering the soles of their feet, each step fading as the substance wore off.
Frank looked around again but saw no clues as to who was teasing him. He cleaned up the mess. He wheeled his supplies over to the hand-operated elevator. It tended to gather debris, too. He would clean it up and proceed to the second floor, which was more of a catwalk. Everything tended to fall to the ground floor anyway. It was really just the machinery that needed to be wiped down.
As he reached the elevator, he gulped. On the floor was the crucifix. That explained the wobbling noise, but Carlo knew better than to mess with that thing.
He got a chill again. If his friends weren’t here, who was? And what does he do about the crucifix? Replace it and tell Mr. Manzini tomorrow? He decided that was the best option. Scooping up the crucifix, he replaced it on the designated nail. As he secured it, he felt a rush of cold heavy air and an inexplicable feeling of dread. The hair on his arms stood straight up, and his hands began shaking. He
was suddenly gripped with fear, but he couldn’t leave the factory. His family relied on him to help pay bills. Frank took a deep breath and made the sign of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. That felt better.
             He swept the elevator’s wood floor. It was an interesting old contraption. At one time it was simply a platform. Heavier items were loaded onto it and hoisted to the upper floor by a rope and pulley system, operated with hand-over-hand effort. As industry safety standards advanced, three walls were added around it. The fourth side was left open for loading and unloading. Frank found the elevator interesting. He thought it would make a good sci-fi subject as a portal to another parallel.
             All Frank had left now was the second floor and he could get the hell outta there. He pulled on the rope, slowly ascending. The pulley creaked and rattled, echoing in the vacant space. Reaching the top, he wheeled his cleaning supplies behind him and toward one of the machines. He grabbed his rag from his apron pocket, squirted some solvent, and began wiping. A thin metal railing separated him form the ground floor. He looked over to see if he could spy the prank culprit.
He finished up, tucking the rag back into his apron pocket.
Frank was whacked from behind--hard. It knocked the air out of him as he fell to his knees. Gasping for air he turned around, but saw no one.
            He managed to make it to his feet when another blow hit him. This time to the chest, forcing him back against the railing. Frank let out a groan.
            Still not seeing anyone, he began to panic. He thought about many telltale signs lately.
           “Just don’t do it.”
           Garlic. Mother Marys.
            A portal to a parallel universe.
            The day before Halloween.
            Could that be it? Did the Manzinis know something? If Carlo knew, why didn’t he inform Frank? Oh God. What evil is here now? And what will it do?
            Frank didn’t have another moment to think about it. The lights went out again. Stuck in the deafening quiet of the darkness, he whimpered like a frightened puppy. His body shook, involuntarily chattering his teeth.
            Soon he sensed a presence. It was close and preying on his fear.
            Frank suddenly began to gagged. His throat tightened and he couldn’t breathe. Instinctually, he threw his hands to his neck to remove whatever was strangling him, but felt nothing. There was nothing to latch on to and wrestle with.
            As the sensation intensified, he began to feel light-headed. His body became limp as he flopped over the railing, bending backwards. He saw a window near the ceiling where the moon shone brightly. As he tumbled over the railing, head first to the floor, he saw an apparition float through the window and into the night. 

Copyrighted 2016 by Jennifer E. Miller

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