It was the middle of the day, Mae, her mother and their escort reached their destination. They had stuck to the forest, pushing past trees and shrubs. Finally, through the trees a massive building loomed up ahead.
As they got closer, they could make out the giant sign painted on the side proclaiming it to be the home of Bailey’s Baby Bottles. At least it did once upon a time. It had been six years since anyone had thought to freshen it up and it was looking a little worse for wear, now all that was left was B.i…..Bab..Bot…s.
Beneath the sign was a picture of a baby’s smiling face, with cute rosy, chubby cheeks and a toothless grin. Except that was looking a bit shabby too, and only one green eye was completely intact, the other had all but washed away, leaving a weird, slightly surreal, vaguely horrifying image behind.
The building itself was huge. Made from solid, brown concrete, and rusted iron the building dominated its space. Like a colossal, man-made mountain. From the roof, a collection of smoke stacks, pipes and chimneys rose up into the sky. A dark grey metal fence, topped with barbed wire, encircled the whole thing. The gate consisted of a black boom gate with a great big stop sign, beside a small guard house.
The boom gate was down, and the guard house was empty. There was no smoke coming from any of the chimneys and not a sound could be heard. What was once a big, noisy, thriving factory full of people and life, was nothing more than an empty shell.
Hector lead the women towards the old factory. The younger looked about her new surroundings with curiosity, while the older looked wary. When they got to the guard house, Hector lifted the boom gate with one hand, and gestured with his other for the women to go underneath. Missy, the dog, needed no further instruction and raced ahead towards the back of the building.
Mae was intrigued by their guide’s nonchalant use of strength. The boom gate was clearly quite heavy, but seemed to weigh nothing at all in his hand. She said nothing, however, just storing the information for later. Their whole trek had been like that, with the three of them saying nothing at all. Only Missy had uttered any kind of sound.
They followed Hector to the back of the building, and a heavy, metal door. He rummaged in his pocket, and produced a bunch of keys, one of which he put into the lock and opened the door, with far less effort than seemed necessary. He made a sweeping gesture with his free arm, and bowed from the waist. “Mi ladies.”
The women entered. It was almost completely dark.They could hardly see at all, except for where the open door allowed some light in. Hector came in, closing and bolting the door behind him with and clank. Mae noted that this meant no one could get in, or out, without this man knowing about it. She wondered if perhaps she should have listened to her mother.
Despite the pitch darkness, Hector moved about quite easily, he was clearly at home here. He brushed past Mae, and she heard the metallic squeal off hinges, as he opened some kind of metal box on the wall. She heard him twist knobs, push buttons, and flip switches. Then he pulled a big heavy lever down. With a shudder and a thud, a machine somewhere beneath their feet, came to life, and the whole room became illuminated. After being in darkness, even for such a short time, it took a moment to adjust to the bright light.
It was a small office or some sort. One wall was lined with assorted control panels, and the other with a workbench. There was a door at either end. One being the door they had just used, the other, it could be assumed lead to the rest of the building. The workbench was cluttered with all kinds of objects some familiar like wrenches, screwdrivers, tape dispensers and things, others were not. But, one thing it all had in common, it appeared that none of it had been used in a long time, if at all. It was almost like each item had been carefully placed to create the illusion of a work space. The other thing that it all had in common, was that it was all covered in dust.
On the wall, above the workbench were various charts and clipboards holding assorted paperwork. There was also a poster on the wall telling people that “Idleness was the enemy of productivity.”
Hector, with the dog at his heels, preceded to the second door and moved through it. The women followed . On the other side of the door was a massive, cavernous area. But, where Mae had expected to see the assorted machinery of a baby bottle factory, instead she saw giant printing presses, weapons cases and other strange equipment. Mae turned to her mother to make a face like, “What’s going on?”, but most surprising of all, her mother didn’t seem surprised at all. Just wary, and a bit cross.
Beatrice looked around. “I see you’ve got it all up and running again.”
Hector was still moving across the space ahead of them, he seemed not to hear. But then said, “Hmm… oh yeah. It’s taken ages. I’ve mostly been working alone. Getting the parts and everything has taken the most time. But, I’ve got it just about ready to be operational again.”
“Do you think it wise?”
“Do you think we have a choice?”
“I guess not. It’s just I thought we might have peace a little while longer.”
“You call this peace? I call it regrouping.”
They continued until they had crossed to the other side of the space. Hector opened a door, and they moved into what appeared to be a staff lunchroom. There was a fridge, a stove, an oven, and a microwave. In the middle were tables and chairs. There was a noticeboard with faded rosters pinned to it.
Hector moved to the fridge and opened it. “I’m guessing you two are hungry. I don’t have much but I’m guessing it’ll be better than some stale bread. Am I right?” He looked at Mae, his eyes smiling at her. He was laughing. Despite herself, Mae smiled back, also laughing, even though by now she wasn’t really in a laughing mood. It was clear there was more going on than she knew. It was also clear that her mother had been hiding things from her. It was that, more than the sudden flight from her home, and meeting up with this strange man, that she found the most unsettling.
Before long, the three of them were eating. They were hungry so they eat in silence. Once they had eaten, their other basic needs started to make themselves know. They were tired. Except for the brief sleep in the woods, the women had been on the move for over a day. But, the adrenalin was wearing off, since they appeared to be safe, at least for now, and their physical exertions were starting to make an impact on their tired bodies. But, Mae wanted answers.
“So, now will you tell me what on earth is going on?” Her mother looked at her. Thinking. Deciding.
“Yes, my love. I will tell you. I promise. But, I ask you to wait just a while longer.”
“Why? Why should I wait? This is ridiculous. Just tell me.”
“Bea,” Hector spoke gently, “I think the girl has a right to know.”
“I know. I know she does. It’s just that I know once I do, things will change. I’m not ready for that yet.” She looked at them both, exhaustion and worry written across her face.
Hector sighed. “Oh Bea.” He turned to Mae, “Perhaps indulge your mother a little longer, “
“No, listen. You and your mother are tired. Once we get into it all, it will be a long conversation. I don’t think either of you are up to it. Get some sleep, and then we’ll talk. I promise.”
As much as she wanted answers, the prospect of sleep was appealing so Mae agreed.
Hector then lead the women to another room, that contained rows and rows of bunk beds. About a dozen of them. The sheets and blankets were a bit stiff from being in place for so long, but they appeared to be clean.
“This is one of the dormitories. Pick whichever one you like.”
Each women lay down on a bed, and despite everything that had happened, and all the thoughts racing through their heads. They promptly fell to sleep.