War Factory
Michael Cadnum

In those days the biggest factories stood empty beside the long grass-grown railway tracks. Walls lifted empty windows and smokestacks under the summer clouds, deserted mills--we were told--for cooking beet root or crushing river gravel, monastery-like haunts where cement had been made, or window glass.

But more than that--we knew there were secrets. We could hide among the spilled fossil pools of silicon or lime, or hide-and-go-seek in the trenches of glassy, castoff brick, so much that had been tried and thrown away that we could wage mock-battles with it, shards and cutting chunks of what was going to have been city-stuff, loading docks of fireclay in paper sacks the rain had turned to rock. Our hushed laughter echoed in the cellars, and we made splashing footsteps among vaults where vats of stuff had boiled and now were rusty hulks or red stains among bent bolt heads.

We explored room after room of caved-in ceilings and meeting rooms with views of fennel-exploded courtyards, corridors of buckled tile down to the lavatories where urinals had left ghosts and gaping pipe-ends, milkweed along the window sills.

These were not ordinary foundries and finishing rooms, we convinced ourselves. Here we came to believe past wars had been fueled, ammunition belts or aircraft fittings or things even more man-like--gas masks and prosthetic limbs. They had been built by the thousands and packed into excelsior-lined cardboard for railway shipment to distant battlefields.

Here in the double-lined chambers parts of wounded soldiers had been steamed like puddings, even parts of living men, we whispered, in the tubs with single, plaster-clogged drain holes, they had labored in the sweating press rooms, using twenty-four hour shifts to fill the trains. Here along the concrete walls we could touch the scars where machinery had been demolished, drop-forges for bones and skulls, hooks along the dark where they had hung to dry the breathing men.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Want to comment on this story? Click Here to go the Literary Review Discussion Forum (for the subject, enter "Comment on story War Factory")