A noise stopped her.
She cocked her head to listen.
Nothing but the softer hum of the wind.
Two steps later, there it was again.
So faint, but was it...screaming?
She rushed toward the end of the hallway and a closed set of doors, and when she pulled them open, the day’s first hit of adrenaline entered her bloodstream.
That wasn’t a baby.
Those were the screams of an adult.
HE was coming back now carrying a briefcase.
When he reached the gurney, he set it down on the floor and flipped the hasps.
“It’s a rare earth metal,” he said as I tried to crane my neck, though my head was strapped into place. I was desperate to see what he was prying out of the hard black foam. “Neodymium is used to make the strongest magnets on earth.” He ran a finger down the first line of solder he’d laid into my skin. “I think we’re good,” he said, holding up a small, U-shaped magnet—smooth, shiny, and silver. “Hardest part was finding the right solder. I needed an alloy that would bond to skin cells. My friend, Javier, taught me this method, showed me the right brand. Jav runs with the Alphas in the southwestern border towns. Very bad news, that one. I think you’d like him, Andy. Quiet guy. All business. Total psychopath.”
Luther quickly lowered the ends of the magnet toward my leg.
They locked down on the solder.
He was smiling now through those brown, disgusting teeth.
“So,” he said, “can you guess what’s going to happen next?”
SHE was standing just inside another factory, this one without the benefit of windows, though it didn’t need them. Globe lights shined down from high above, casting everything—the concrete floor, the strange and varied machinery as far as she could see—in a harsh glare.
She kicked the door-stops down with the toe of her tennis shoe and propped open the doors.
It felt like something physically held her back from proceeding, but Violet broke through and pushed on, tightening her grip on the knife.
There were more machines than she’d ever seen in one place, her hands grazing the cold metal and congealed grease.
It all looked ancient.
Giant drill bits.
The dulled blades of circular saws that hadn’t spun in years.
Massive planers and boring mills.
Machines that fixed machines.
The screams were getting louder, and they tore her guts out, so much agony behind them that she finally stopped and knelt down and plugged her ears and prayed.
It was a long time before she stood up again, and when she did, silence flooded in.
She glanced back over her shoulder, now a hundred and fifty feet away from those double doors.
She went on, got another fifty feet before the noise stopped her.
Somewhere in the factory—the tiny, helpless wail of her son.
“Max!” she shouted, spinning around.
She made her way toward him, pushing through a series of wheel presses, the cries getting louder.
“Max, I’m coming!”
He sounded in pain, but her heart was soaring because he was alive.
A vertical milling machine, twenty feet tall, stood against the far wall, and it sounded like Max’s cries were coming from the top of the machine.
Vi reached the base of the mill and scrambled up onto the table, grabbing the overarm and straining to pull herself up. Digging her shoes into the cutter, she hoisted herself on top of the machine, Max’s screaming now right in her ear.
She wiped the sweat out of her eyes and looked for him in the lowlight.
“Max!” she yelled. “Max!”
And then she saw it, and her heart stopped.
A small, digital recorder stood several feet away on the top of the machine. Violet crawled over and lifted it, staring down at the speaker her son’s voice was coming through.
She threw it as hard as she could and it disappeared among the machines and shattered.
For three seconds, everything was silent again.
The doors behind her slammed shut.
She looked back across the forest of machinery, eyes locking in on him.
A man with long black hair stood in front of the double doors, and even from this distance, she could see that he was smiling.
Lines of sweat trailed down her sides and her head was swimming and the taste of metal on the roof of her mouth.
Neither of them moved for what seemed ages.
Violet could hear the hum of the lights overhead.
Despite the distance between them, she could see that he wore a black tracksuit and black shoes. His face, so pale it bordered on luminescent, seemed to have its own light source.
He turned away from her and reached toward something beside the door, Violet squinting to see what he was doing.
At first, it sounded like another door slamming, but the sound accompanied the first row of lights at the other end of the building winking out, the noise echoing through the factory, ricocheting between the walls.
Then came the next row, and the next, and the next, Vi watching in horror as the lights above her head went dark, everything beginning to dim around her, and then the final row of lights at the far end of the factory shut off, leaving her stranded in darkness.
Vi eased off the edge of the vertical mill and lowered herself onto the table.
When she finally reached the floor, she extended her hands and slowly turned a complete circle, grasping for a tactile sense of her surroundings, to set her bearings, but all she accomplished was losing track of which direction she was facing.
The panic and the sheer darkness overwhelmed her, and she dropped to her knees and crawled across the concrete, through puddles of old grease and rat droppings until her head impacted the metal facade of some invisible machine.
Blood ran down the bridge of her nose from a gash in her forehead.
She still couldn’t see her hand in front of her face, but when she reached up, her fingers touched a metal roof just inches above her head. Steel legs surrounded her—she’d crawled under a machine.
Far across the room, she heard a sound like hanging chains clanging against each other.
“Violet?” he said, just a voice in the dark, still on the far side of the factory. “There’s eighty thousand square feet of floor space in here. I just locked the doors behind me. You could still escape through the doors on the other end, though that’s doubtful. Did you hear Andy screaming?”
She shut her eyes, trying to reorient herself and realizing there was no conceivable chance she might find her way to the other end of the room without inflicting serious bodily damage. She’d have to hunker down. Stay put. If she didn’t make a sound, he couldn’t find her. He was as blind as she—