Some folks may have heard of Jason Morningstar’s little title, The Plant. Some may have even played through it. I had come across it before, but it wasn’t until Gnome Stew guru Martin Ralya posted to Google Plus about his play through that I really checked it out.
Tonight I finished my own journal for my play through, do here it is. Warning that it’s not necessarily for timid or easily upset readers, so please avoid if you’re one of those.
Feel free to critique or thumb it up or down, whatever. I realize the tense changes throughout, and the writing is a bit scattered and frantic in places, but pauses in others. I think this is the nature of the game.
While generally I understood the rules, I can’t say I fully understood the phrase “if you have either of the edge letters”… Which would’ve led to crucially different outcome if I interpreted it differently. By my understanding, this phrase means the left or right edges. I mean, you need to have at least one of the edges to have gotten onto the card… Anyway, that quibble aside, here is my journal:
I’m going to get my daughter.
I enter the first unlocked door I come to, despite the fact there are no lights on outside or inside the door. I step in and walk down a dark hallway, toward a faint glow up ahead.
It appears to be the work line. Not that much of that remains. A stained mattress is propped against the wall in the far corner, and it smells faintly like a men’s restroom that hasn’t seen a mop in a good while.
I remember the room as it stood 15 years ago, when I had a job here working the milling machine… This is where I saw an accident that would haunt my dreams for years before Alyssa was born.
At the time, I was too stoned to care about much outside my own mounting hunger and my coworker JD’s hilarious joke. I can’t recall the joke now, but at the time I nearly fell over from laughter. My carelessness nearly got a woman killed.
As I stumbled sideways, my large frame smashed headlong into an older dude carrying a just-out-of-the-furnace tray of parts – extruded copper pipes, ready to be fitted into rubber stoppers and the whole shebang inserted into various size junction boxes of some kind. I never knew what any of it was for, we just prepped it here and shipped it off to other, presumably more-enlightened sections of the plant where it was assembled into whatever it was Acme Metalworks Industries considered final products…
So the older fellow stumbled with his cart, various pieces skittering across the floor to crack apart from stresses their superheated frames weren’t meant for. Several of the larger pipes flew straight forward off the cart toward Marion. Marion was the butt of many jokes before this incident, many of the male coworkers insisting they had been with her in all sorts of compromising scenarios, many of which supposedly happened right at her station – the guillotine. Her job was to position fitted corrugated pipes on the rubberized platform beneath the menacing blade, and once their positions had been verified by the computer’s laser gauge, to drop that blade, removing the perfectly slivered shredded ends of rubber and PVC, copper and aluminum and dumping them in a pile…
It seemed as if there was still a big pile of these leavings from her station here today, over a decade later…
The pipes from the cart flew forward at Marion, and before she could fully realize what was happening she had reeled backward, half a second after she had pressed the button to release the horrific blade and gravity pulled it inexorably toward her head and hands, flailing above her in some unconscious attempt to protect her from the unavoidable danger.
No one made any jokes about Marion after that. She was gone from the company, her family having settled out of court for some outrageous sum we were never privy to. The company kept on, adding new safety precautions and enforcing new mandatory quarterly drug tests. It would be years before I felt relaxed enough to light up again.
I met Alyssa’s mom a year or so after the incident. Anise was a counselor for the company. I had been assigned her for some reason I no longer remembered. The years flew by and I had completely buried this memory until just now…
Picking up the pace, I move through once-familiar building into the mill hall. Memories flood back once more. The scent of… blood? No, copper… filling the air as incredibly long tubes of it roll into raceways where workers guide it through its procession.
Why the confusion with blood? The only time I could ever remember actually smelling blood like that was a visit to a kosher butcher as a kid. Maybe ten years old. My old man was just having a laugh, he held no god in esteem.
The customers and butchers present surely would’ve sent him packing sooner if they had heard some of the words he called them. I didn’t know these words, but be sure said them with gusto! It was almost like he was rooting for his second-favorite football team, (the animals being cut into and drained?) whose players he didn’t really know by name but whose opponents (the jews, I suppose) he knew to be proper villains. It wasn’t till several years later that I realized what a real jerk my pop was. Back then, on the butcher’s, all I could focus on was blood.
There was so much of it! I knew animals had the stuff in them, just like people, but wow had I underestimated the quantities it must take to keep a cow upright. Holy jeez, my gob fell open on astonishment and I don’t think it closed until we’d got home and I calmed down watching G.I. Joe for a bit.
Surely my mother never found out about pop’s little forays with us into odd dens of the unknown where our childhood died in small sputters and spurts, eventually trickling down the dirty floor drain of adulthood.
I made damned sure Alyssa had a proper childhood. At least, I thought I had.
I had walked on through the halls for some minutes on autopilot. Suddenly I was in the furnace room, where just about anything manmade or not could go to die a fiery death. I shivered involuntarily as I recalled just how hot the air in this room got…
It was the day I learned I would be a father. It hadn’t exactly come as a surprise, Anise and I had been trying for a few months before we found success. one day the machinery just seemed to click into place and we had liftoff! The foreman came in himself to tell me when the word came down the strange, roundabout pipeline to reach me on the job.
I was ecstatic, to be sure, but also gripped by a fear I’d not known before. A worry that I was going to screw up not only my own life, but that of a helpless, innocent little thing. Not a thing – no, a girl, I was sure of it, even before any imaging. And I was right.
During the run-up to pregnancy, My mother had shaken her fat index finger at both of us, claiming that either godless living or chemicals in the water were responsible for her barren womb. The irony of her own hubby’s lack of belief was completely lost on her; he was a closeted atheist most of his life, even from his own wife.
I sure hope I hadn’t managed to not screw up this long, only to lose her in this place – THIS PLACE, of all the places she could run to, the source of so much pain and also so much joy in my life. Damn it, Alyssa!
Again I passed without conscious effort from one room to the next. I found myself in the trunk room. Where the hell were the stairs again? I knew she would have fled down them, as sure as I had known my baby girl would indeed be a girl.
The room brings the sensation of damp hot air to mind while itself remaining cold and dry. I’d been present for at least one steam valve blowout here, though thankfully not for any of the more dangerous gas pipe incidents that on the job lore told tell of.
One of these occasions was different. One of them was the day I finally quit. After years of breaking my back for the man, we had saved up enough, and Anise was finished earning her doctorate. She would be taking a job at a nearby university in the fall. I was going to be a stay at home dad, and that was damned fine by me!
On this occasion, I was hauling parts from one section of the plant to another, when a sudden blast of steam sprayed over me, scalding me and scaring the piss out of me at once. The cart I was pushing crashed in it’s side when I jolted, and that was it; I had had enough. I left the fallen parts where they fell, stomped my soppy ass to HR, and hit the lockers before leaving the plant for what I thought would be the last time…
Even though it freed me, the outage I felt the moment after being hit by that steam cloud infuriated me to this day. I clenched my teeth, balled my fists and continued onward.
At the end of the corridor, I finally found a set of stairs. I clattered down them hastily, the tension only slightly easing.
At the bottom of the stairwell, I found the coil room. More vast machinery than I could ever account for, nothing I’d personally operated, but I had friends who worked in here. If they could see it now they wouldn’t recognize it. Chunks of ceiling were missing, pieces of pipe lay scattered here and there. Someone had clearly gotten cathartic up in here.
Suddenly I remembered. A year or so before I quit the job at the plant, I had stopped by the coil room to grab my buddy Tim for lunch. We ate outside in the courtyard as usual, shooting the shit and talking trash about bosses and broads. I had been with Anise at least a year now, and was starting to feel I could really settle down with this woman.
Tim must not have realized how I felt. Either that, or he was in a piss poor mood and aching for a beating. Because this man started shooting off at the mouth with vulgarities your grandmother would’ve fainted to hear. All directed at my girl. Things he’d do, things he’d heard others had done with her.
At first I took it as good natured ribbing. I tried to feign a smile, or at least a smirk. But as he continued to rant, his words began to eat at me. Pretty soon my temperature was rising and before I knew what had happened I had doped my sandwich and let loose a volley of blows to my good friend’s face that left him a bloodied mess.
In my head he was still making with the inanity, and I didn’t let up until someone pulled me off him. My hands were a mess. When I looked up, I could’ve sworn I saw a woman who looked just like Anise laughing at the whole scene from beside the courtyard tree. It was all in my head. I never discussed this bit with Anise, didn’t want to upset her even more. I don’t really even know what I ended up telling her to this day…
I was put on unpaid suspension for two weeks, during which Tim recuperated in hospital. I failed to make an appearance at his bedside. Anise tried to make him feel like I cared. We failed to remain friends after. Anise arranged for another counselor to consult with me, convince the suits I wouldn’t blow my top again. I guess it worked.
When I ate lunch out there after the beating, I ate it alone. But I always found myself looking for the doppelgänger, the lookalike who enjoyed seeing me give in to my lower self.
Another flight of stairs. Another couple minutes wasted as I yelled out. “Alyssa! I’m here baby!”
These stairs were endless. I couldn’t remember having ever ventured this deep into the guts of the plant like this before.
I had reached the control room. Whatever it used to amount to, it didn’t anymore. Almost all the wiring was stripped out, monitors torn apart and terminals gutted for parts, legitimately or not. Dead rats, clerical ephemera no longer functioning… the place was a horrific mess, like the rest of this fucking visit. Like my mind, wondering where my daughter was!
But years before, this room was a whole different world. Bright lights, closed circuit TV to laugh at fellow employees as they moped about their jobs same as us. Myself, Tim, and another employee whose name always escaped me sat before a monitoring station and barked harsh words at our compatriots through the loudspeakers as they passed by the cameras…
Looking over the overturned desk on one side of the room, I spot a hat, a fishing hat with hooks run through it and the name of some of bate shop in cursive. It was Alyssa’s, she always clung to it since she has found it during one if our beach vacations, Bethany or Myrtle or one of the Ocean Cities. I snatched it up, she must have forgotten it. She would want it back of course. She must be nearby!
“Alyssa?” I call out for the nth time during my search. Still no response.
The break room. Faded posters pushing safety tips to employees who couldn’t care less. Graffiti from gangs who must have overtaken this space at some point – my heart raced as I thought of the implications for Alyssa. Pipes and syringes lie scattered all over the floor, counterpoint to the same safety posters on the walls.
Not a soul around.
There! Beside an overturned folding table is a crumpled form. I run to her, knowing as I do so that my world is crashing down around me. I always felt that no matter how far she ran – and she had run over and over, through the years – I felt I would always find her. I was wrong. This time she found a way to outrun me. This time there is no catching up. Her face is wet with tears, but her body is as cold as my heart now. Any paraphernalia clinging to her tumbles loose and falls to the floor as I nestle her in my arms.
I can only imagine carrying her fragile form out of this wretched tomb, this center for so much pain and wonder in my life. I certainly can’t actually remember it. I scarcely recall the following days – a blur of funeral arrangements and debating what to tell people about what happened. The ceremonies were too much for me, I couldn’t attend.
I only wish I’d found her sooner, so much sooner. Anise is dealing with things clinically. I don’t know of this distancing act will keep us together or tear us apart. Me, I just keep running the last days through my head, hoping to find a way to change what’s already come and gone.