It had been some kind of factory once, in the decades before the boy and his friend had found it. The grass and the weeds had moved in since then, bursting between the bricks and growing to cover the collapsed walls. The red bricks had once been home to some mysterious, mechanised creation and despite the weight and wear of time, some parts of the crumbling factory still stood. Almost three stories remained near it’s entrance, with an uneven, ever-decreasing sprawl stretching away behind.
The boy and his friend would race through the archways that leaped about the crumbling factory’s once-grand courtyard and they would explore the mouldering spaces within. Dank, red-bricked caves that shaded them from the summer sun and kept the wind from the fires that they set in the winter. There were shadows that moved in the corners of those damp, dark spaces. Shadows that sometimes whispered to them while the wind howled. Shadows that would frighten them back into the daylight, where they would pass the time by climbing the disembowelled heaps of bricks that had spilled from the crumbling factory. Loose piles of faded crimson, spreading low and uneven along the valley’s slope in squared and jagged dunes.
The boy and his friend learned to tell time by the shadow of the chimney that rose proud and straight a short way back from the crumbling factory. A home for birds now, roosting in the broken brickwork that towered precarious over where the boy and his friend played. They would occasionally harry the birds, hurling rocks high and clumsy towards the bird’s roosts, when boredom or the mood for violence took them. And the boy and his friend were harried in their turn by older ones, by Not-Yet-Men that would gather in that place as the daylight began to leave it. On some evenings, girls would join those older ones, after they’d dislodged the boy and his friend with their insults and threats. On those evenings, the crumbling factory would become home to awkward, adolescent fumblings. Excited, clumsy explorations that had a habit of becoming their own accidental acts of creation.
The boy and his friend were terribly afraid of those older ones. Afraid that the threats of terror and shame would be visited upon them, should their flight from the crumbling factory be too slow. But that fear eventually gave-way to curiosity. They set themselves to finding a place to hide, a vantage from which they could watch the mysterious goings-on in the crumbling factory at twilight. Searching the upper levels, around the old production floor, they eventually settled on a room that suited them, the wall and floor on one side of it having fallen away to provide a clear view of the space below. The cavernous room beneath was littered with old mattresses and abandoned car seats, beer bottles and cigarette butts, and all the collected detritus of bored adolescence. From the corner in their room, the boy and his friend would be able to survey, in secret, the site of the older-ones’ evening rituals.
The boy and his friend worked the day transporting piles of the old, red bricks up to their new hide-away and they worked the afternoon stacking them into a rough wall near the edge of the room’s fallen floor, leaving gaps here and there through which they could view evening’s activity. And as the sun fell, the older ones came. Shouting their threats and warnings while roaming the crumbling factory’s exterior, before making a lazy search of the spaces within. The boy and his friend held one another tight as the older-ones stalked and called out to them. But their reconnoiter was half-hearted and they soon quieted, settling into their appointed places. Before any activities began in earnest though, the boy, growing a little too curious and leaning a little too far forward, disturbed his makeshift bunker. The wall give out with a painfully-slow, grinding moan while the boy and his friend crouched, frozen as their world fell away before them, disappearing with a clatter into the room below.
In the short silence that followed, the boy and his friend did not wait. They turned and raced through the nearest broken doorway, scrambling together, deeper into the crumbling factory. They heard footfalls and threats from a corridor behind them as they spun wildly in the gloom, looking for an escape. The boy saw a staircase at the end of the hall. Rough concrete stairs with an iron scaffold railing spiralling down. The boy grasped his friend’s hand, rushing onward and down. Together they fled from the terror behind as the stairs twisted deep into the dark.
The boy lead his friend at random, desperate to put some distance between them and the older ones. The gloom soon grew too dark to see and they were forced to stop. The boy felt out a corner in which to settle and to soothe his crying friend. He held his friend in a tight embrace, both for comfort and to stifle the sobbing. Time passed slowly in the dark but the consistent silence assured them that the older ones had not braved the factory’s bowels. The boy grew bored and brave while his friend sobbed. He decided to scout out the darkness in search of a way out, promising to return and lead his friend to safety.
The boy fumbled at the walls, guiding himself away from the sound of his friend’s tears. Onward into the dark depths of that crumbling factory, he stumbled, turning this way and that, going forward then back, growing increasingly convinced that he was lost. Eventually, tired and afraid, he came to a stop, leaning back and sliding down the wet stone wall. The boy rocked back and forth, hugging his knees. And then he began to cry.
After a time, between his sniffs and sobs, the boy heard a voice. It was a voice of many whispers and it seeped out from the shadows that wrapped themselves about him. The voice scared him at first but he soon calmed himself enough to listen, straining to understanding the hissing cacophony. And within that whispered static the boy heard promises. The darkness said it would show him, said it would open itself to him and lead the way out. The darkness would deliver him to the surface, but at a cost. He must give up his friend. That other must remain, a sacrifice to the darkness.
The boy knew his answer immediately. It had settled in his mind as soon as the offer was presented. But he pretended think. He made a show of wrestling with his conscience, set to building himself a more noble memory. So that, in time, when the boy might recall this moment, he would be able live with himself.