I can’t remember exactly when I first saw the factory. I know I always passed it on my walk to school. Even without looking at it, you were aware of its existence. For a start, there was the smell. Not a smell that is easy to describe, just a smell. It wasn’t there all the time, just when the prevailing winds allowed it to drift over our house. And then there were the sounds. Once again, I find them hard to describe. If I put my ear to the ground in my garden, I could hear a type of gurgling noise coming from deep down. This would be followed by a large growl and puff of smoke from the tall chimney.
You could see that chimney for miles; it was something of a local landmark. There wasn’t much else in my little town, just the usual shops and small businesses, a few pubs, and a school, that’s about it. The factory sat near the edge of the town, just before my school on Factory Road. It had been there for as long as anyone could remember. It seemed almost inevitable to me that I would end up working at the factory one day, but I didn’t. When I left school, I went on to university. It was there I discovered my love of writing. I went to university expecting to become a doctor. Instead, I ended up studying journalism.
On graduating, I moved to the city and found a job with a national newspaper. My parents were really proud of me. I would go to see them whenever possible. I always knew when I was nearing home as I would see the chimney in the distance. It was on one of these visits that the mystery started. It was on a Sunday in the middle of summer. That was a journey I’d made many times. I had no need for maps, as I would navigate my way home using visual markers. Like many, I was almost on autopilot as I drove past my usual turn-off. It wasn’t until I saw the sign for Lankan that I realised my mistake. I was in the next town. Somehow, I’d missed the visual clue of the chimney.
It wasn’t until I’d turned around that I realised how I’d missed it, it was gone. The chimney that had always served as a guiding light was no longer there. The once-familiar landscape now looked almost alien to me. Nonetheless, I knew where I lived and took the backroads home. As I arrived at the edge of town, I passed my old school. The factory was in the process of being demolished. A huge pile of bricks and rubble now occupied the space where the chimney once stood. I pulled up outside to get a better look. The large wrought iron gates were closed and bound by a rusty chain and lock. Hanging from the gates was a sign that read. WE ARE MOVING. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.
This all came as a bit of a surprise to me. Nobody had mentioned that the factory was closed. It’s not as if I don’t keep in touch with my old town. I phone my parents weekly, and even a few of my old school friends. Not much happens in this town. The factory closing and the chimney being demolished must have been a big deal. Yet nobody thought to tell me. As soon as I arrived at my parent’s house, I asked about the factory. It seemed that they were as much in the dark as I was. One minute the chimney was there, the next it had gone. How a huge chimney such as that could be demolished without anyone noticing was beyond me.
As if a chimney silently disappearing wasn’t bad enough, the conversation was about to become even weirder. Neither of my parents knew what the factory made. Not only that, they didn’t even know anyone who had ever worked there. It was just a factory, and it was always there. They just never thought to ask. Like me, they took it for granted. Something strange was going on, and my journalistic nose was twitching. I couldn’t just let this pass without finding out more about the factory. My curiosity needed to be satisfied, I was determined to get answers. Pamela Wadsworth, a childhood friend of mine, was the editor of the local paper. If anyone knew about the factory, it would be her.
The following morning, I gave Pam a call and arranged to meet her at her office. Unfortunately, she was as much in the dark as I was. Like me, and everyone else it seems, it was just a factory that had always been there. This was indeed a mystery that needed to be solved, and now Pam was on board. I was sure that together we could get to the bottom of it. The newspaper was founded in 1943. Pam had worked there since leaving school. Recently, the archives had been scanned and put on the computer. This made finding old articles easy.
Within moments, Pam had the archive program running on her computer. We both watched in anticipation as the screen flickered. Only three results came back. A few column inches about a young child who had been knocked over outside the factory. The other two stories were about an abandoned dog found at the factory gates, and the gas lamps in Factory Road being replaced with electric lighting. That was it, nothing else. In seventy-five years of local news, not a single mention of the factory, not even a picture. The largest and most prominent building, a landmark for many, had somehow gone unnoticed.
This was fast becoming like a story from The Twilight Zone. Our best hope of getting any information was from the local council. Pam had a few contacts there and soon got busy on the phone. Amazingly, they had no record that the factory even existed. They knew of it, of course, and just assumed some other department was taking care of it. I guess every department must have thought the same thing. After all, a factory that size couldn’t just exist without a paper trail of some sort. And yet, the factory did exist. Everyone in the town and the local area was aware of it. You couldn’t miss it, it was huge.
Pam had an idea; we should go and have a chat with the landlord of The Farmers Arms, the only pub on Factory Road. Surely he would know all about the goings-on at the factory. Many of the workers must have had a drink there at some time or another. It was getting near to lunchtime, and I fancied a drink, so we went. Given how the morning went, I supposed it was inevitable that he would be just as clueless as the rest of us, and he was. Since the factory closed, his pub was neither more nor less busy. Nothing had changed, but he had an idea, an excellent idea.
He suggested that Pam place an advert in her paper. It should be an invitation to all the old factory workers to attend a reunion at his pub. We could use his small function room at the back. Like me, Pam thought this was a marvellous idea. Later that afternoon, Pam worded the invitation and had it ready for the next edition. We thought it best that people would have time to make arrangements, so set the date for two weeks. That was perfect; I had to return to work in the city the next day. Two weeks was more than enough time for me to book a few days off.
As the date grew closer, I could feel the excitement building in me. I felt sure that someone would turn up. Finally, the mystery would be solved. On the drive up, I had to remember to take my turn-off. No longer could I rely on the chimney to guide me home. The reunion was set for 8 PM, I arrived early. Pam was sitting at the bar; she too was getting excited at the prospect of solving the mystery. She told me how she had spent the previous two weeks digging into the origins and purpose of the factory. Alas, she came up empty-handed. The reunion would be the final throw of the dice.
Anxiously, we waited as we nursed our drinks. We chatted about the old days whilst keeping an eye on the door to the function room. One hour went by, then another, but nobody showed. The pub was quite busy, as you would expect for a Friday night. Jim, the landlord, was just as interested as us to see if anyone arrived for the reunion. It was getting close to closing time when he stood behind the bar and shouted. “Listen up. Has anyone here ever worked at the factory across the road?” It goes without saying that nobody responded.
If you were looking for answers, I just don’t have any. I lived in a small town that once had a factory. It had a smell, a sound, and people went in and out. It did something, but exactly what, I really have no idea. The only human contact I had with it was the sign left on the padlocked gates.
WE ARE MOVING. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.
Perhaps you know. Maybe there is a factory near you, in your little town. The sign said it was moving, but where to? I don’t know, nobody I know knows. It was there, and then it wasn’t. Every day we pass factories. We assume that someone knows about them. Perhaps we take too much for granted. If you do find out, please let me know. We can’t leave it hanging like this, it’s not right, I need to know.