Mary of the Factory by Jaap Boekestein

The National Archives

Thud-thud. Thud-thud, go the new machines in the old factory.

British engineering, the best in the world.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud. Punching holes in metal sheets. Bending steel. Hammering it. Big wheels and hungry machines, fed with coal.

Steam is the future, Sir. And on our new line forty laborers can work at the same time! You won’t find any better! O yes, they are extremely reliable, Sir. No explosions with our machines.

Sir Jasper walks through the hall, accompanied by the foreman and the manager.

This is the young Sir Jasper, not his late father. This is the one with ambitions and plans.

Quite handsome, he is.

The girls secretly look at him, quick, not missing a beat from the steel giant they serve.

He is handsome.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

Jas-per. Jas-per.

The machines sing. Sir Jasper stops, looks around. Is he the only one hearing this?

Jas-per. Jas-per, the steel hearts moan. Jas-per. Jas-per.

It is like a heavy whisper. Longing, sensual, melancholic.

Sir Jasper shakes his head. He must be imagining…

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

The machines sound like machines.

Yes he has been imagining things. For a moment he thought…

No, Mary is dead.

*

So handsome, the young Jasper. But so is Mary.

She catches his eye, young Jasper’s, when he first tours the factory with his father.

“This all will be yours after I am gone. Do with it what you want, son.” Those are not old Sir Jasper’s exact words, but it boils down to that.

Do with it what you want.

The girl, she is so pretty. A red head, lovely eyes, beautiful face. The young Jasper finds out her name is Mary.

*

In secret, so very discrete, the handsome Lord’s son and the common labor girl. He conquers her, with his appearance, his money but mostly his charm. She catches him with her beauty, her sense of humor and her love.

She loves him, and he loves her. Sort of. As much as possible.

“Mary, Mary,” he moans in bed, just before the little death.

“Jasper, o sweet Jasper,” she answers.

*

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

The new machines go on and on. The next day young Sir Young Jasper is back, like he wants to check something. He walks around. He looks a bit nervous actually.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

Jas-thud. Thud-per.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

O-sweet. Jas-per.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

Young Sir Jasper looks around, bewildered. There! Someone must have heard that! Of all the workers in the hall?

They all look down, avoid his eyes. They serve the never faltering machines.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

He flees. Yes he flees.

Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

*

“Those old machines, they are not safe,” Mary says in bed. After love.

“The foreman and the manager say they are,” the young Sir Jasper says. It is Sir Jasper by now. He buried his father last week. The title feels strange, like he hasn’t earned it. But he will, he has plans.

“They don’t have to work the bloody things.”

“And neither do you, love,” young Sir Jasper says, stroking her red head. “I can set you up and…”

“No, I want to be my own woman. If you want me to stop working, marry me.”

They both know that will never happen.

*

Jas-per. Jas-per.

He hears it clearly, even in his office on the top floor of the factory.

Jas-per. Jas-per.

Mary calls him.

Young Sir Jasper locks the door of his office, sweat on his forehead, wild eyes.

Jas-per. Jas-per.

He knows everyone hears it. They just won’t admit it! Everyone knows. Everyone.

*

An explosion. Hot steam sprays around. Fifteen die. The old machine has ruptured.

Luckily no fire, no damage to the factory itself. Just an old machine that can be replaced by a new, better model.

And fifteen labor girls dead.

Yes. Mary.

*

Young Sir Jasper attends the funeral. Pays for them. For all of them. Such a noble gesture.

You can’t buy off your dead love, dear young Sir Jasper. You will find out.

*

Jas-per. Jas-per.

Jas-per. Jas-per.

Jas-per. Jas-per.

Relentless the new machines call his name. Never stopping. She wants him to join her. In love and in death. Forever.

O Mary, sweet Mary.

Jas-per. Jas-per.

Jas-per. Jas-per.

Jas-per. Jas-per.

*

Young Lord Jasper loses his mind. He storms out off the office, shouting. He throws himself down from the gangway above the factory hall. Right in the enormous cog wheels of the new machine.

Some of the girls swear he calls out her name. You know, Mary’s.

*

The machines run, tragedy or not. The new owners want their investment back. Steel and flesh, working metal, day in, day out.

The labor girls don’t complain, they don’t talk about. Only whisper.

They hear it all, the singsong of the machine.

Jas-per, Ma-ry.

Jas-per, Ma-ry.

Forever and ever.


Jaap Boekestein (1968) is an award winning Dutch writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers and whatever takes his fancy. He usually writes his stories in trains, coffeehouses and in the 16th century taverns of his native The Hague, the Netherlands. Over the years he has made his living as a bouncer, working for a detective agency and as an editor. Currently he works for the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice. His English publications include stories in: Cyäegha, Nonbianary Review, Strange Shifters, Lovecraft after Dark, Surreal Nightmares, Urban Temples of Cthulhu, Sirens Call, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Double Feature Magazine, After The Happily Ever After, Cliterature, No Safe Word, Sex & Sorcery 3 and Brave

 

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