Posted in Books & Stories

The Distant Factory — Chapter One

Morning sun rose just like it did every other day. Woke up in someone else’s bed just like I did every other day. That morning it just happened to be in Ritchie’s bed. Actually, it was Eddie’s bed, but Ricardo was in it. I passed my fingers quickly through my hair, and then touched my face. It was still there, just like I remembered it. I had lived through yet another cold night without Jeff’s warm body to snuggle against. I didn’t remember Ricardo’s snoring waking me up and irritating the life out of me. I must not have slept for long since nobody had woken me up. My head was not pounding either, surprisingly. I breathed in the cold morning air as my senses slowly became awake.

“Morning Drifter,” Eddie’s voice said from behind me.
“Morning Eddie,” I replied in an absent-minded tone of voice as I sat up on the bed.

I had known Eddie DeSalvo most of my life, my street life at least. Since I was eleven years old, he had always been there in the shadows. He was quiet, reserved and always kept to himself behind those brown eyes and those 145 pounds of muscle. A twenty-two-year-old drifter from Buffalo, he was a lot like me. Except I was the Drifter. He was so different from me at the same time. He was a 5’10” merciless kill-for-hire hitman of Italian descent living in Yonkers, yet he was one of the nicest people I had ever known. I was nothing but Jeff’s little sister, 5’3” and 89 pounds. Blue eyes just like him with formerly the same blonde hair until I dyed it black. I didn’t want to think about him, Jeffrey.

Eddie had short dark hair under a forest green beanie. He rarely ever took it off, even when the weather was hot. He looked much older than he actually was with lines appearing on his dark skin and those bags under his eyes. He looked a thousand years old! I was beginning to look older too, it wasn’t just Eddie. Things become quite different when you don’t know whether or not you are going eat on any given day or find a decent place to sleep at night. Thankfully though, I wasn’t on my own. At least most days they didn’t let me be alone.

“Slept well?” Eddie asked me, yawning with his mouth wide open and tongue sticking out like a cat would.
“Not as well as him,” I looked over at Ricardo.
“Sleeps all day and is up all night, that’s just Ritchie,” he added, chuckling.

Nobody ever called him Ritchie apart from me. He never let anyone call him Ritchie apart from me. Nobody apart from little Anastasia Sims. Even Jeff had to call him Richard since he didn’t like Ricardo and couldn’t stand Ritchie. He was another drifter but he wasn’t like Eddie. There wasn’t that kindness and warmth to him. I always asked myself why he didn’t just stay in California. Maybe he wouldn’t have been in the mess he was in if he had just stayed where he came from. I didn’t like him very much, and I wasn’t shy to let him know, but he was an essential part to the gang despite that I absolutely couldn’t stand him. I understood that we needed him and most of all, that he needed us too.

I sighed and rubbed my tired, bloodshot eyes. I tried to carefully move over Ricardo so I wouldn’t wake him because I knew he would be angry and get off the makeshift bed without making a sound but my effort miserably failed. I came crashing down onto Eddie’s wooden floor, landing flat on my face and waking up the Californian beast. Eddie laughed uncontrollably, irritating me completely.

“Qué?” Ricardo asked, half-awake.
“Maybe if you moved your ass outta bed this wouldn’t have happen!” I angrily snapped back.
“Excuse me, Drifter but this is a single bed. It’s your own fault that you got in after me.” he replied with his signature grin.

I looked over at Eddie.

“You actually brought her in,” Eddie told him, “she was sound asleep in your arms.”
“Well, if it isn’t for lucky little Miss Sims to be escorted to bed!” Ricardo teased.
“You could’ve just left me there, I’m not your responsibility!” I snapped back at him in irritation.

I was old enough to take care of myself. I had just turned sixteen a little over a month ago on June 22nd. I didn’t need anyone to watch over me anymore. I had been on my own since Jeff died almost three years ago anyway. Yeah, maybe Lennie took me in and the boys took care of me but I was still by myself. My mother and my brother dead, my father in federal prison, it was just me and no one else. There would never be anybody else. Not ever. I was alone yet never alone. Surrounded yet so isolated. In truth, I loved to be alone but there came times when the loneliness just wouldn’t leave me alone. Maybe it was just something in my blood that made me that way.

Through the small dusty window over the mattress sitting on top of industrial crates, the sun was rising. I knew the sun rose just before six every July morning but I never bothered to look at the old clock Eddie had on the wall. It’s not like it even worked in the first place anyway. Time was just another inconvenient of life in my opinion. The orange light was starting to illuminate parts of the room. Eddie never cleaned his room. It wasn’t exactly dirty but it wasn’t particularly clean either. Old clothes were scattered all over the floor along with dust accumulating everywhere. His room without any lights, apart from the natural sunlight, was barely the size of a one-man jail cell. An old wooden desk sat lonely at the end of the room, with the bed on a stack of old boxes and various tools used in break-ins and robberies hanging on the opposite wall.

Nobody bothered us in there. The three story building once belonged to a wealthy family in the late 1800s but the neighborhood had since decayed and consisted of mostly abandoned buildings since then, slowly crumbling apart from the inside out. Eddie’s room was formerly some sort of closet, but it was the only livable room in the entire building. The ceiling didn’t leak, and the floor boards weren’t missing. Yeah there were other buildings, but it was as good as we could get. Welcome to the street life, in one of the apparent best countries in the world, one in which the government turns a blind eye to you and all your needs. At least that’s what it was like for me. And what are you supposed to do about it? At least I had Eddie to count on.

With his short brown hair and no distinguishable facial features, Eddie could be anybody else after a robbery. It was still hard to believe even after five years that a young man with such perfect white teeth could be one of the lead criminals in the whole gang. I didn’t know much about him, nobody did, but I was still closer to him than any of the other guys. Eddie didn’t present himself as a criminal, and avoided going on crime sprees when I was around. But I had learned the hard way that a life like the one we were all living on the street was a tough one when I witnessed Jeff and Nick’s first murder, nearly five years ago.

Cobalt was a village of a few hundred people tucked away in an isolated area behind Dobbs Ferry. It wasn’t even on the map, because nobody had developed the area after the great depression. Everything closed down and nobody bothered to reopen anything. Things were always quiet up there, with most people only owning cottages or seasonal properties on the side of the river, far away from any civilization that once existed there. Cobalt-On-The-Lake was a different story though. Nobody lived there but most of the land was owned by wine companies. Fields of all sorts of grapes stretched as far as the eye could see. The boys and I would often sneak into the fields and devour the Chardonnay grapes, they were my favorite.

On the outskirts of Cobalt stood an old factory of some sort. It was obviously abandoned because in the five years that I had been hanging around in the yard, there had never been any sort of activity at the plant. The road to it was blocked decades ago when it closed down, and no one ventured there. Except us of course. I only been inside once, and I swore I never, ever, wanted to return. The property was huge back at the factory. Securely hidden behind a conservation area of forest, the industrial land stretched almost as far as the eye could see, kinda like the vineyards. The ground only consisted of sand and gravel, with some rocks between the rails for the trains that once passed through. The railroad tracks were everywhere in the yard, they all led to the hangars and garages behind the factory. Storage containers lied here and there, old and rusty like the factory itself. A small metal building, similar to a shed but much bigger, was where the gang hung out.

Neither one of us was ever able to break open the large steel doors on the left side. Nobody knew what was inside. Nobody cared. We only hung out there because we could be in the shade during periods of scorching heat in the afternoon while not having to be stuck indoors. And we loved to sit on the steel boxes, crates and containers on the side of the building. We could watch every sunset from there, at the same time we could tilt our heads back and rest them against the hard and uneven steel rusted away by years of oxidation. That was as comfortable as we could get. We could sit and watch the waters nearby, or turn around and look at the sun illuminate the various shades of rust on the old factory. It was all the way back there in the distance, quite a ways to walk from where we hung out, but it always loomed over there with its multiple structures and three huge towers that once polluted the air with toxic black smoke and dumped the rest of the waste into the river.

The sun illuminated my colorless face. My skin was nothing but white. White like a dead person’s skin. Colorless, emotionless, lifeless. Only I wasn’t dead, I wasn’t like Jeff. I looked at my skinny white fingers. Only skin and bones. If my skin had been darker, I might have looked like Ricardo. He was 6’2” and only 146 pounds. He was just skin and bones too. We also had the same shoulder-length black hair. His was real, but mine was dyed. Mine was cut in a bob while his was just outrageously messy. His wide jaw and small dark brown eyes made him very handsome despite being so thin. My favorite thing about the twenty-four-year-old drifter from San Francisco was by far his narrow cheekbones and dark Hispanic skin. Devilishly handsome, if only his personality was the same.

I suddenly though of Jeffrey. His personality matched his looks. I immediately shrugged off the thought of my brother. I didn’t want to think about him. I sighed again and rubbed my cheek, where it had just kissed the floor. Ricardo go up after me and stretched his long skinny legs before he walked out of the room with Eddie and I. We passed through the narrow hallway, being very, very careful not to fall through the missing floor boards, and slowly made our way down the cheap metal staircase spiraling down to the main floor. I imagined that once upon a time the place had been beautiful, fancy and expensive, but that beauty had long since faded away. Ricardo pushed open the hefty steel door since it was too heavy for me, and Eddie trailed too far behind us. Ricardo just couldn’t wait for him, he plowed through the doorway and landed all of us outside on the sidewalk.

The chilly early morning air was fresh and pure. It wasn’t polluted, not yet. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with the most fresh air they could possibly hold. I felt better almost instantly. Most of my life was spent outside, and the air in confined spaces made me sick. Especially with Ritchie around. He probably washed once a month or once every few weeks because he didn’t smell like flowers. The stench of sweat and filth was evident as soon as you passed near him and his breath was no better. With every breath he took, disgust swept over me. The streets of eastern Yonkers were quiet, it was just passed six in the morning. There would soon be crowded though, so we hopped into the little red Acura Ricardo had stollen a few days prior. We needed to get down to Dobbs Ferry and meet the others before we ran into more trouble.

“Did Byron tell us to pick him up?” Ricardo asked speeding down the street, “I don’t remember if he did or not.”
“Yeah he did,” I replied, still half-sleeping in the passenger’s seat, looking at the buildings fly by.

I was able to relax and go into an almost dream-like state. I closed my eyes, still conscious of the speeding car I was riding in, and thought back to when times weren’t so miserable. Back to when New York wasn’t in a recession. Times were so grim and the evidence was present on everyone’s faces. My eyes only opened when the vehicle came to a screeching halt. I peered out the window and saw Byron waiting on the side of the street. He just stood there with his army green satchel swung over his shoulder. He wore the same old jean jacket that was too small for him with a plain white shirt sticking out under it. He always wore a beautiful smile on his face no matter the situation. And he always tried to look good despite the situation. Out of us all, only Byron looked completely normal, and deep inside I knew he was. He hopped into the backseat with Eddie and I and Ricardo soon sped away towards Dobbs Ferry. Things were becoming more and more hectic in the streets as the city slowly started to wake up.

“Anybody else?” Ricardo asked, tired.
“Nope,” I replied, not wanting to hear his voice.
Eddie and Byron conversed a little bit in the backseat while I returned to my dream-like state as Ricardo kept on speeding down the streets. Standing at only 5’9” Byron wasn’t much taller than I was. I didn’t have to break my neck when I looked into his deep green eyes. His black hair was combed back out of his face, revealing his bushy eyebrows. I especially liked it when he held me in his arms compared to any of the other guys in the gang. He somewhat reminded me of my brother. At 150 pounds, Byron weighted the most and every time I wrapped my arms around him in a hug, I realized how much I really missed being held by Jeff. I missed taking someone into an embrace and actually feeling something in between the bones and the skin.

Byron and I were never really close but he was so easy to get along with. We both shared a special, unbreakable bond with each other. His presence was always warm and friendly, his smile always kind and his dark green eyes always loving. He had just turned eighteen but didn’t look a day older than fifteen. His face still bore the same features it did when I first saw him and brought him to Lennie’s apartment with the rest of the gang. His chubby cheeks and little lips made him look like a teddy bear you could just squeeze and never let go of. His features remained innocent despite the corruption and the violence. Even after all those years, I still felt so attached to him, yet I couldn’t bring myself to be close to him. The bittersweet memories always got in the way.

Author:

Liberal Muslim, social justice and human rights activist, cat lover, author and fellow human.

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