The ghost factory closed its doors many decades ago. Since then, the fog is always thick and the skies always gray with clouds in this notch between two hills. Dark forest has grown up to the base of the high gray walls, slender conifers rapping on the grime-shadowed windows. Saplings shoulder aside the ties of the rusted railroad tracks that disappear into the gloom of the ghost factory's desolate main floor.
The ghost factory lies alone and forgotten by the world, and hidden from it. The traffic on the freeway a mere quarter of a mile away rushes by without stopping. Bored children stare out the windows of minivans driven by their oblivious parents, and tell each other lurid stories about the half-ruined structure they see briefly jutting through the trees and the perpetual fog. They call it "Frankenstein's Workshop." The stories they make up never have any resemblance to fact, though, for no one ever takes the crumbling exit that leads only to the factory gate.
Sometimes, on those mornings when the sun shines most obliquely, the ghost factory's proud ruins are briefly wreathed in a pearly glow, and become beautiful, though no one is there to see. No one except me.
But the factory is not empty, and it is not silent. Never silent.
At every shift change in the ghost factory, banshee wails wake the dead. They shuffle to their posts as quickly as they can on tattered gray feet. Heavy hand carts careen through the lanes between the great machines, laden with gray matter that laps over the edges as if solidified from the fog outside.
The machinery that the ghosts attend so diligently is far too old to be automated, but it functions well enough under the ministrations of the dead, turning out long silvery skeins of ectoplasm that are in turn woven into yet more ghosts. The factory supplies the dead of a continent. Great black iron wheels thick with grease pull wear-blackened canvas belts throughout the many floors of the factory, up and down through unguarded holes. Massive spidery mechanisms whirr and click, their exposed guts kept gleaming only through constant motion.
The ghosts are oblivious to the dangers inherent in such old machinery, operating so exposed, but I must be careful, most careful indeed. For I am their living overseer, who keeps the undead workers focused on their unaccustomed tasks, never allowing them the Elysian rest to which they are all quite sure they are entitled.
They are not entitled to rest. The dead have no rights. For this reason and others, they are excellent employees.
I walk through the factory, floor by floor, hour by hour, all through the long nights when the ghosts are at their labors. For the most part, they obey their instructions, just as they always did during their gray, empty lives. I cannot even hear their grumbling unless I cock my head a certain way. Only a few brave souls rebel, and if need be I can... well, I can't fire them. I can't even touch them myself. But if I write one up, if I drop a memo into a leather-tipped canister and allow it to be sucked away into the roaring, hissing pneumatic system, then that spirit is gone the next night. I suspect then that the factory has a little more raw material to work with.
The ghosts cannot offer me much threat in return, of course. Occasionally one will take a swing at me. I ducked, at first, before I was myself aware of how little they can do, but one night I couldn't move quickly enough and one of them tagged me. The fist passed through my chest, and I felt a cold breeze. That was all.
I was a little more nervous when another one pulled out a huge old Colt and aimed it at me carefully, the barrel wavering only a little in its ectoplasmic hands. He pulled the trigger before I could react - but the bullet passed through me with less effect than a ghost's angry fist.
Since then, I laugh when one of them brings out the gun. But I do wonder why it keeps popping up, and why, if it has no effect, the ghosts keep shooting me with it.
Just now, in fact, the gun is back, appearing on the floor of the ghost factory as I round a corner too quickly for it to hide again. It shouldn't be there at all - I recognize the weapon from its picture in the yellowed clippings I found while rummaging through the company president's dust-covered mahogany desk. It is the same gun that Joel Modelo used to shoot down the entire third shift, that night back in '26 when the ghost factory received its first big order. Modelo used it to kill himself after he'd massacred the front office staff and the police had surrounded the building, and the police impounded it as evidence just after they shot his bleeding corpse a few times, for reasons they neglected to explain. So it shouldn't be on the factory floor... but here it is.
I try to pick up the gun, but my hand passes through it. A surly ghost in blue coveralls comes by and scoops it up with an ectoplasmic broom. Disgusted, I walk away, turning my back, not even caring what he does with it. If he shoots at me, I don't hear it.
The factory's humming along, but production is down. Management's sending down notes, canisters full of urgent messages are backing up in the tubes, and I don't have anything to send back. Something's going on, and I can't figure out what it is. If anything, the factory's quieter now than it's ever been. The ghosts are all at their posts working whenever I walk by. I haven't had to send any of them away for weeks now. Flickerings out of the corner of my eye, odd sounds - I expect those, but I can't shake the feeling that something's changed.
It makes me nervous.
I grab at a ghost shuffling by - it's a mark of my nervousness that I actually try to take her by the arm. She looks at me briefly from beneath dark, cavernous brows, then shuffles on, pushing her cart.
I stand in front of the next ghost to come along, and although he could easily push through me himself he can't take his cart along, so he stops.
"What's going on?" I demand, hands on my hips. There is, of course, no audible response. The expression on the ghost's face shifts, but I can't read it. He mouths words, but when I lean forward and puzzle them out, all he's saying is "let me go." I've never tried to have a conversation with one of my subordinates before; I'm surprised at how hard it's turned out to be.
I stand aside... there's nothing else I can do. The ghost sullenly pushes his cart past me, on his way to the shredder.
They're waiting for me as I ride clanking up the rickety open elevator shaft and step over the rusted yellow railing onto the third floor. A dozen ghosts come away from their posts at the same time, rushing me all at once with menacing glares. I just laugh - it's not as if they can hurt me - but they keep coming, and I can't help myself... I take a step back.
I must have tripped over my own feet and blacked out... silly to panic over ghosts. I'm lying on the factory floor, surrounded by ghosts looking down at me with an expression I've never seen on their faces before. I wave them away angrily and struggle to my feet unaided. I've got to get back to the office, and soon... I'll have a lot of pneumatic cartridges to drop into the tubes tonight.
The floor seems sticky as I start staggering towards the office, and my progress is slow... maybe I was hurt some when I fell. There's a first aid kit in one of the desk drawers, I seem to remember.
All at once a ghost is standing in front of me, one I've never seen before. He looks different somehow, younger, angrier than most of 'em. It looks as if he's shouting, although of course I can't really hear what he's saying. Plump bastard... his face is getting red, and he's waving jerkily towards the machine nearest to me, a humming monstrosity of iron and leather that's spinning skeins of ectoplasm into fat cables, heading towards the cutter. The output's wobbling a bit and I can see just where it needs to be adjusted... I'll humor the fat ghost this time and see if I can't make it run more smoothly.
There, that's it. The cables spin off the device, so quickly that it fools the eye into thinking they're standing still. I stand still by the machine, keeping an eye on the spinning cables, making sure the operation *stays* smooth. All of a sudden I hear the wail of the banshees telling me it's the end of the shift, and I remember my intent. I've got to get to the office and get rid of those troublesome ghosts... starting with the one that distracted me from the others. I head towards the front of the factory.
On the way there I see that damned gun on the floor again, just sitting there, taunting me. I reach down and pick it up. It feels good in my hand, heavy and black. I open it; it's loaded. An image of the fat pink ghost who thought he could order me around comes to mind, and I begin to understand.
Though I suspect there's not much point to it now, I keep heading towards the office, carrying the gun. There's someone I want to try it on.
©2000, Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.
This document was last updated January 12, 2000.