I first must apologise for such a long story. You see, I never dared write down what happened to me that day; parts of me don't know if I am mad, and another part of me desperately needs to share it. As I sit this evening, I finally feel I have the courage to tell you. But, before I begin, can I ask you a question. Do any of you believe that something can take a part of your soul? What I mean is, do you think that some part of you could be living or stuck somewhere else?
I used to be a writer-photographer. Or should I say a photographer/blogger? At the time of my story, I was underpaid and desperate. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around. I used to write about art and décor. Interior design is my passion. 8 years ago, I was asked to write about an old building in the city, an old factory building that they were thinking of turning into an art gallery. It has been vacant since the factory closed in 1976. Because it was a magazine job for a building contractor, it paid a little extra, so I grabbed hold of the opportunity, even though the setting was a grimy factory.
I took the drive downtown with my camera and notepad and parked outside on the street. It is a quiet neighbourhood, cold and lifeless, eerily silent actually. A small empty road trapped behind high mesh fences and many warehouses scattered around. There wasn’t a human to be seen anywhere. But, I distinctly remember feeling like someone was watching me. Quite possible, I think. I am in a strange new neighbourhood. There could be someone in one of the warehouses or some drunk guy half comatose hidden between a wood door and dustbin, a solitary security guard. I walk up to the factory that was partly boarded up and is somewhat dangerous looking. Like, probably crumbling on the inside. A “shit hole”, I mutter under my breath. Good thing they are breaking the place down to rebuild, I thought. Now, I know, this sounds ridiculous already, but I simply touch the door handle, and the door opens.” That’s strange.” I think as I put the keys back into my camera bag. I take a step back, looking up and down the road one last time to see if there was anyone around, you know, in case someone follows me inside or something. I just had that eerie feeling.
The first room is the reception room, still, in pretty good shape, I mean, it’s a bit musty, and the red velvet carpet has seen better days, but it doesn’t look like it’s been abandoned for 30 years. You can smell the damp and see the dust everywhere…. Smelt a bit like an aquarium. Pieces of furniture exactly how the reception must have been set up when they closed down. Old wooden chairs and a reception desk. My eyes skim the walls that are plastered with posters and pictures of dolls, not just ordinary dolls, but puppets, you know, with strings and wooden sticks to hold them up. Factory for dolls, I presume. I walked past the desk and noticed a real doll sitting on the reception chair. It must have been forgotten here. “hello,” I say with a friendly yet slightly freaked out tone while walking towards it. Marionette dolls. That’s the word I was looking for. A factory for marionette dolls.
Although I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the doll sitting on the chair, I smile at it and take note of its crooked nose and weary smile, even though its jaw was hanging open. It wasn’t the prettiest looking doll. It had actual human features in miniature form.
Enough! I had to shake the feeling off and remember a job that needs to be done and rent to be paid.
I continue walking through the rest of the factory to get an idea of the photos I’d be taking. I enter a passageway framed with a long trophy cabinet running down the passage. Three maybe four more dolls dispersed behind the glass. As I walk down the dark corridor, I meet the eyes of each doll looking back at me. Eerie as fuck, I walk a little faster towards the door. They all had weird expressions and human-like features, like real little people. “Who would want one of those. Creepy.” I thought.
The uneasy feeling of being watched stayed with me as I scurried down the hallway. You must understand, I am a girl all alone in an abandoned factory… there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t feel uneasy. I was new to the city and didn’t have any friends; I could just string along.
Still moving down the long hallway, I couldn’t understand why all these dolls would still be here. The thought quickly vanished at the sound of a machine, a sewing machine … the sound of a sewing machine through the door I am about to open. Working with textiles and interior design had given me the skill of sewing too, plus my mom used to sew, so I recognised the noise immediately.
There must be someone here, I confirmed with myself. Although the building is abandoned – the contractors might have other people visiting and preparing for the renovation. I got to the end of the long corridor and looked back just in case someone had followed me. I couldn’t throw away the feeling of being watched. I opened the door to a large room, a massive open plan room with windows on the top of the walls with the sun glaring in. In front of me are what I am sure are machines and conveyer belts dotted around the room with chairs and working tables in between, most covered in sandy coloured sheets.
The door slams behind me and gives me such a fright. I run forward, looking back and seeing no one. It must be wind.
The sewing machine is still at it … I walk around the room looking behind machines and corners for the person sewing, but I see no one. Then suddenly, it stops.
I hear my voice echoing across the factory floor. Dead silence. I take out my camera and accidentally drop the keys on the floor. I leave them by my feet as I’m going to pick them up later after setting my camera. I want to take photos of the room before I remove the sheets. Take in the beautiful shimmering light cascading across the room.
“Hello, anyone here?”
I call out again. Still no response.
“I am Casey; I’m taking photos for the art gallery,” I say so as not to worry anyone with my presence. It’s actually me who is worried.
Silence, still no response. So, I start snapping away, thinking I will meet the person soon.
I take a shot of the whole room with the sunlight pouring in across the floor. I looked at the camera to make sure I have the right setting, and I hear the noise as if someone is mimicking the sound of the camera flashing right behind me.
I turn around, and the passageway door is open now.
“Hello,” I say again and walk towards the passageway.
“Hello?” I walk into the hallway, and I notice that the dark hallway is now lit up with spotlights in the glass cabinets. I’m 100 per cent sure there were no lights on when I came in. I walk down the corridor towards reception to check if anyone has come in. Maybe the person sewing quickly went to turn the lights on or something. Each Spotlight is focused on a doll face; they are even more freaky now.
Hello? I say, walking down the corridor.
I notice that the two spots where dolls used to be are empty. Doll’s that I am sure were there before. I speed up a little and arrive at the reception; no one is there, but the front door it’s locked. I don’t remember locking it, but I must have. I walk past the reception desk again and look immediately at the chair, and the doll is not there anymore. That’s weird. I bend down to look on the floor under the desk; maybe it has fallen on the floor. That gust of wind was rather big.
Instead of the doll, I find a piece of paper. The paper has blue ink scribbled on it. Freshly scribbled blue ink. It says, “we aren’t on show anymore.” I cautiously put it in my pocket and grab my camera. I have a job to do and bills to pay! I head back down the corridor to the factory floor, I need this job, and I want to get out of there fast. I walk fast around down the hall past the dolls. I feel like I am being watched again in the corner of my eye, but this time I distinctly feel it coming from the dolls… like their eyes are on me. I try to ignore the feeling, but it’s so overpowering, so before I get through the door, I look back down the corridor at the dolls up in the cabinets. All their heads are turned, facing in my direction.
I know, I know, it’s like the door just opening when I touched the handle. Unbelievable. But it’s true.
I can’t remember how they were sitting before, but something is really starting to make me feel uncomfortable. I’m even thinking how ridiculous my head voice sounds being scared and imagining dolls like Chucky possessed. I shut down all my worries. “It’s impossible,” I whisper. I enter the factory floor armed with my camera and ready for work.
This is when things really start freaking me out. When I walk into the room, all the sandy sheets have been removed. The machinery and furniture are fully exposed, and I am 100% sure that it wasn’t when I started taking the pictures. I am prompted to question my own memory. I look through my camera to see the last photo I took to confirm my sanity. The sewing machine starts up again. “tetetetetetetetetetete” followed by a clicking sound, mimicking the sound of my camera flash. “click-click.”
I spin around, hear laughter and the sound of wood tapping together running around my feet. “Fuck! This cannot be happening.”
“Hello”, I shout out loud. Now panicking and hoping someone will respond.
Then suddenly, everything stops.
I see a sewing machine in the corner of my eye; it must have been under one of the sheets the first time; otherwise, I would have seen it. I walk over to it, now completely shaken up. There is freshly sewn material on the table next to the machine and a piece of cotton attached to a garment still attached to the needle. I pick up the garment, and it looks like a puppets dress… just a larger version. Like for a human, a person size. The same style fitted to the dolls in the cabinets and the front desk. I think someone is still making dolls and dressing them here. There is a small pair of jeans and a shirt already sewn together next to the big outfit. The jeans and shirt are small to fit a doll.
I won’t lie; I am frightened now and ready to leave. I am basically taking photos while walking out. Praying I capture something good. I will fix whatever I get in post. My adrenalin is pumping, and I know I just need to get a few good shots. I start snapping away and praying I won’t hear any mimicking sounds.
There is silence for some time, and my nerves are relaxed. The atmosphere changes, and finally, I am inflow and capturing the beauty of this old building. I must have just had some weird manic moment where my imagination got the better of me.
I am capturing magic when I feel a tug on my jeans. I move my leg, thinking I’ve got it caught on the side of a table. With my eye in the frame and focusing on capturing the sunlight pouring over the old conveyer belt, the tug happens again. I look down, and my heart stops. I freeze. I cannot believe what I see. It’s the doll from the front desk. Lying on the floor next to my foot. “What the fuck” I jump, and immediately the sewing machine starts again.
“Tetetetetetetetetetete.” the voices mimicking the flash, and the giggling starts again. Like a bad dream.
There is movement behind one sandy sheet that wasn’t removed when I came in; it looks like a clothing wrack with what looks like puppet legs dangling underneath the sheet. The legs are moving.
I’m done; I don’t care about the job anymore … I’m leaving. I start to make a run for the corridor. Once again, I know this sounds unreal, but the door to the hallway bangs closed in front of me. I now know that there is no wind, no nothing.
All of a sudden, a thunderous noise of the sewing machine explodes in the room. Clicking of the camera, flashes, giggling, footsteps starts pounding on my eardrums like a suction of noise directly focused around my head and ears. Then Blank. Everything goes black.
I cannot tell you what happened next because I must have passed out or collapsed. There is this dark space in my mind. Remember when I asked if you think a part of your soul can be taken? It’s in this moment where… I don’t even know how to say it, but I think something was taken from me.
I don’t know how long it was, but eventually, I woke up. When I opened my eyes, I heard whispering. The late afternoon sun was slowly disappearing… as I was trying to open my eyes, the shimmer of sunlight was interrupted by shadows dancing around and giggling. I was on the floor looking around, and strangely all the machinery and furniture had been covered again. I looked down the corridor, and the spotlights were off. The factory looked the way it had when I first came in. Everything before felt like a dream. I rubbed my eyes. Everything was the same as before.
I must have had a fit or passed out from low blood pressure or something.
As I stood up and looked down, I realised I wasn’t wearing my jeans and shirt anymore … I was dressed – redressed in an outfit I’d seen before. The same pattern and fabric as that which I found at the sewing machine. My heart stopped.
As I stood up, something touched my back; I swung around fearfully and draped or attached to me were pieces of string and two wooden sticks … just like the marionette puppets.
What the fuck. What the actual fuck. I swing around and catch a reflection of myself in a mirror. I’m dressed in a marionette dolls outfit.
Suddenly, I see movement in the reflection of the mirror. Something scurries on the floor. Everything in me wishing it was a rat. Something darts under a sheet, and by now, I’m so scared all I can do is get angry and fight the fuckers who are playing this sick joke on me. I pull the cloth off the railing, and dangling from the rails are dolls. The same dolls I’ve seen today. Hanging lifeless. Including the doll from the front desk. I count them, there should be 8, but there are 9. I lift the face of the 9th doll, and I freeze in terror. The 9th doll is me. In my jeans and shirt with freckles and blonde hair, it’s me; it’s my face.
It was at that moment that I made a run for it. I bolted through the factory floor with the wood and strings dangling off my body. I saw the keys I had left on the floor in front of me, and to this day, I wonder what would have happened to me if I didn’t have those keys. I bolted down the corridor, and the glass cabinets were left open and the dolls all gone. They were now all hanging on that railing next to mine. Next to me, the doll. The doll with my face.
I ran like lightning and practically bashed the door down to find myself standing in the middle of the road, gasping for breath. I ran to my car and locked the doors. I sat there for a few minutes, trying to pull myself together. I looked down at my lap, and I was wearing my jeans, my shirt … no strings attached, no doll dress or anything. “What the fuck.” I must be going mad. I don’t care. All I can do is drive. I have this sickening feeling like I had just woken up from a very real and horrible nightmare. I looked back through my review mirror, and of course, I saw nothing. This whole experience was unreal. Not possible.
I’ve looked at the photos, and my agent and the developers love what I captured. She says I captured the soul and life of the factory. I can’t come to tell her what happened in there because, well, there is no evidence, there is no reason or explanation. My photos make me feel ill, I look at them, and I want to get sick.
The developers decided to just restore and renovate the building and have it turned into a gallery. They even kept some of the machinery and the dolls all the dolls. They asked me to please photograph the second phase of their building and story, I politely declined. The new photographer and writer’s photos show my doll dangling on the side of the other eight. They say the character and the soul of the factory brings a unique energy to the gallery. I read this in the write up in the magazine. The picture of my doll haunts me. I can see the fear in her eyes, in my eyes.
I was invited to the opening, but I declined.
To this day, I wake up hearing a sewing machine and my camera clicking. Sometimes I hear little voices chattering, and whispering and parts of me feel lost, missing. It’s a feeling I can’t explain. I can’t get the image out of my head or feel that part of my soul is dangling on that clothing rack amongst the other dolls where people come and stare at me.
I’m scared if I go back, they will take what’s left of me.