The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Lead Kindly Light…
by Alex Grey
Midnight, Sunday June 16th, 1799
The celestial light glows all day, but it is always at its finest in this quiet hour before the night shift. I tell my workers that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’, so the manufactory gleams. Aye, the children have done their work well, crawling under, over and between the mechanisms, cleaning every speck of dust and dander that might mark the fine sheets that we make here.
I tell my rivals that the light which enables me to spin and weave cotton all hours is generated by a science so extraordinary as to seem like magic. They nod, the curls of their periwigs jouncing gently. They are men of honour and reason, they do not doubt my word. They believe that my generous philanthropy drives my manufactory’s miraculous productivity.
The close-knit ranks of looms sit quiet, expectant, an army waiting for its marching orders. Machines are obedient, for they do nothing but that for which they were built; they are not bothered by the small doings of life, neither do they laze or become weary. Yet the world works best when man and machine toil together.
A machine, if kept clean and well-oiled will give of its best, so it is with man. Therefore, I built a town for my workers, each brick-built terrace a palace for the poor. Families may earn a living wage, fathers, mothers, children; all have their part to play. I provide good food, clean water. The works chapel gives them a place to worship, to learn their gospels, to celebrate marriages, births and deaths. I bring them this light, which does not burn or fume like filthy tallow candles, thus my machines stay free of soot and my workers prosper.
Martha was the first.
It is hard to imagine, in this stillness, how these looms may weave cloth and un-weave a life with equal facility. She was leaning over the heddle reed when her hair sprang free of its scarf and caught in the warp. The flying shuttle, steam driven and fierce, soon bound her to the sheet, the last pass striking a ferocious blow to her head. I remember shouting for the foreman to stop the machines. I remember reaching for shears to free her before her blood ruined a whole day’s weaving.
She was still alive, whispering lead kindly light, though the day was overcast and there was naught but gloom in the mean windows. I cut her hair close, freeing her from the loom. She grasped my hand. Suddenly I saw her vision, a seraphic glow, white and pure, brighter than the sun at noontide yet it did not blind; the light illuminated the manufactory with perfect clarity. It was an eternal moment before her hand slackened and her soul merged with the light and vanished.
I longed to see that divine radiance again, to capture it for my own ends. I turned to the good book, but my answers lay in darker texts. I cut vast windows into the manufactory walls, paid a fortune to fill them with tiny glass panes, framed by a filigree of lead, charmed by the devil’s blacksmith.
The looms are implacable, and workers are careless; there are always souls aplenty to keep open the portal to Heaven. Sometimes I hear them moaning, for all that we buried their bodies with due Christian ceremony. Their cries are full of craving, their souls caught in a mesh of enchantment which prevents their ascension. The open portal floods the manufactory with wholesome heavenly light, my workers labour in its rapture, even as the longing souls suffer.
The devil warned me there would be a price to pay, but I care not, for I am a wealthy man.
Fiction © Copyright Alex Grey
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More about Alex Grey:
After a lifetime of writing technical non-fiction, Alex Grey is fulfilling her dream of writing poems and stories that engage the reader’s emotions. Her ingredients for contentment are narrowboating, greyhounds, singing and chocolate – it’s a sweet life. Her poems and short stories have been published by a number of ezines including The Siren’s Call, Raconteur and Toasted Cheese. One of her comic poems is also available via a worldwide network of public fiction dispensers managed by French publisher, Short Edition. Alex’s original view of the world, which shines through her writing, has led to her best friend to say “For someone so lovely, you’re very twisted!”
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