A Little Strange

A drizzle of rain water rolled off the umbrella held by the thirty year old, unmarried, Polly Alexander and dripped to the ground in a splatter of patterns. Polly turned her attention from the casket being lowered into the ground and watched the steady flow of the raindrops bouncing off of the earth in front of her boots. It was one of the hottest July's known to the modern world, and yet a single black cloud gained visitation to her darkened world. She wondered why the sky was crying when she could only muster one single tear.

Her father was not a popular man in any measure; he worked the floor of the cotton weaving factory, and like many black British residents in Fulham he was subjected to discrimination and poverty.

She looked around the very few faces in attendance, no one she really recognised as a friend to Geoff, her father. A couple of his colleagues, two representatives of the company, and three people she did not recognise at all.

After the service was complete they each approached Polly and said their condolences before leaving. "Thank you," she responded to each.

The solitary grieving woman stood in front of her father's grave for several minutes after the six feet had been filled before turning and leaving herself.

Polly opted to wave away the horse and carriage waiting for her outside of the cemetery, deciding she would much rather walk instead. Fully dressed in her funeral wear; full black gown, deep skirts, that dragged across the pavement. Her bonnet was small but enough to help keep her usual frizzy black hair pulled back in a bun with ties.

Turning left she headed towards the industrial estate, towards the factory where her father was tragically killed. The rain had eased and the sun was out raging with temper from being hid behind the stubborn black cloud.

It took forty minutes to reach the gate where her father worked. Polly could feel her not-so-fitted stockings starting to droop around her thighs, her boots were heavy, and the weight was felt in her ankles. The sun was now at its full height away from any cloud, and the stench that rose from the sewers amalgamated with the ash of the coal burning from the surrounding factories made it difficult to breathe. The air was not clean in London, and one could feel it in their lungs after a long walk

Standing outside the gate, Polly glowered at the building scornfully. It was still closed and padlocked, standing empty as it had been for several days. The clock tower still ticked away; she remembered her father hating that clock in the early days, especially since he had some difficulty learning how to tell the time.

Polly thought she could see a faint glow of light coming from a window on the first floor. She pressed against the gate and squinted her gaze, focusing her attention on that window. After a few moments a distant clang could be heard coming from the building, possibly that window, and the light suddenly vanished.

Two men walked alongside the fenced off compound, Polly collared them as they reached the gate, "Excuse me," she said. "Is somebody working in the factory today?"

They both stood still and took off their bowler hats to reply, the taller of the two looked frightened. "No, ma'am, not one soul has stepped foot in there for a few days now." Was his reply.

The shorter one stepped forward, "There have been strange noises coming from that factory since... Pardon me, ma'am, since the black Briton died."

"What kind of noises?" Polly asked.

"Lots of banging and clanging, machinery breaking. Queer tidings," the shorter man said.

The tall man quivered before speaking, "And groans, and moaning. I'd wager five and twenty shillings that the place is haunted."

"Haunted? That's absurd!" Polly responded abruptly.

"Sorry, ma'am. What my companion means to say is that something has Mr Picking spooked as it is the only explainable reason as to why he did not reopen the factory the very next day. Keep your shillings Arnold, there is no haunting, less you make it up to stave off work yourself."

"So what do you propose spooked him?" Polly asked impatiently.

"My guess would be the trade unions threatening closure. This is just one of many deaths here. Nothing unusual at all on paper, at least not until the unions get involved."

"I see, Mr..?" Asked Polly.

"Please, call me Malcolm, ma'am. We work in the office next door. We have not seen anyone enter nor leave these premises but I believe there is someone inside." Malcolm and Arnold nodded to Polly and replaced their hats to continue walking.

Polly nodded back, "Thank you, Malcolm."

"Pleasure," was the last word from the men before walking out of earshot.

Polly refocused her attention on the window of the first floor. Suddenly, there were flashes of light coming from there again and the adjacent windows. She stared intently then gasped, the shape of a gormless man appeared briefly, looking out of the window and directly at her. The moment was short and he disappeared quickly. If Polly did not know better she would have sworn he looked very similar to her father.

"Help me..." Came a coarse whisper in her ear.

Polly quickly turned around but saw no one. She faced the factory again and saw a series of flashing lights in quick succession, alongside more banging noises that could also be heard. Not knowing what to do, she looked about her surroundings and noticed on her right there were two broken panels of wood in the fence, large enough for one to squeeze through.

Without thinking she forced her way through the gap and ran towards the large doors of the factory. She pushed against the doors but to no use, they were locked. As if suddenly remembering what she was doing Polly turned her back to the door and slumped down against it. "What are you doing Polly Alexander? Trying to break into a factory, and for what?" She dropped her head into folded arms on her knees.

Not realising that she was crying; possibly the first real cry since her father's demise. She began to think of the times she had been with him inside, despite never working there herself. Polly was fortunate to have some education and gained a respectable role as a clerk in the Chelsea postal office. However, she did enjoy bringing him lunch in her free time, a small gesture to show she would always care for him.

She did not see her father growing up as often as she would have liked; often blaming him for working long hours, and preferring to stay at the factory rather than at home. They were not very close until after her mother had passed away well into her late teens.

His only story he told over and over again, being how he was born into slavery, serving a cruel master right up into his teens, where eventually his freedom was granted after the abolition of slavery in the thirties. That chapter of his life was all very well for the entertainment of white people but Polly felt she had heard the story one too many times.

There was a loud clicking sound, like a padlock opening which startled Polly, followed by the sound of large iron chains slamming against the brick flooring. Polly clambered backwards, ruffling up her long skirts as she scrapped along the ash covered ground. The door slowly creeped open. She waited a few seconds before realising nobody was there.

"Hello!" Polly called as she peered her head through the door. The light from the door alarmed a few rats back into hiding, but the hall was otherwise empty.

The clerk crept forward cautiously, silence now filled the air. Passing the clock-in desk she pushed open the next door and peered into the large central room. Various steam powered machinery and looms lay untouched, taking up much of the space. "Hello!" She called again.

Polly continued across the factory floor until she reached the stairs leading up to the offices. She crept slowly up the wooden steps, the timber creaked under her boots. Upon reaching the top, she placed her hands onto the railings but instantly retracted when she felt something other than wood.

A liquid like ooze was coated onto the railings and across the wooden beams of the floor. It began to drip from her hands as Polly contemplated what the strange ooze was. She let out a groan as she rubbed her gloved fingers together studying the matter.

Oil or lubricant I'll be sure, she thought dryly. It better wipe out easily enough.

While inspecting the strange liquid around her the clang of metal rods falling to the floor behind the office door in front startled her once more. She tensed up and stared at the door, almost forgetting about the ooze completely. As she stepped forward, the door burst open with a crash. The frame splintered around the hinges. A white light illuminated the doorway and Polly covered her face, splashing specks of ooze across her cheek.

"Who goes there?" Said a raspy voice.

As the light faded, Polly lowered her arms and stared in disbelief at the figure coming from the office. He, or it, did not have any legs and it had a transparent glow about it, and with a long finger pointing towards Polly. Another tear came to her eye as she looked into the blurred eyes on the ghoulish face.

"Father?" She gasped shyly.

"Poll..." He replied. They stared at each other for several seconds without another word. Eventually he moved forward slightly. "Poll I need your he-" He began but abruptly evaporated into smoke and was gone.

A blue spark of electricity appeared followed by a metal rod where her father stood, or floated. Another man came into view waving the metal rod. He wore a long white lab coat, opened over a fitted dark grey doublet and a white shirt tucked into charcoal breeches. Leather shoes with hard soles that tapped rhythmically against the boards as he sprung forward. Polly could not help but laugh slightly at the oversized goggles across his face; deep green lenses and sturdy metal frames, wrapped around his head with a thick leather strap, tying back his blond locks of hair which she would have guessed almost shoulder length if released. She could not make out the colour of his eyes, but noticed his teeth were extraordinarily bright, even against his pale white skin.

He stopped suddenly as he noticed Polly before him. Polly stared at him blankly now, not sure what to expect.

"How do you do?" He asked after a moment.

Silence from Polly.

"I'm sorry, this may seem a little strange," he spoke politely.

Polly gulped, "A little?"

"My name is Professor Henry Neville. Please call me Henry."

More silence from Polly.

Henry lowered his rod and placed a tin box onto the floor that Polly did not realise he was holding until that moment. He watched her carefully. Something about her intrigued him. He knew something had brought her here at this moment, but figured he would have to find out what later.

"Miss, I have enjoyed this little pleasantry, but I'm afraid I must get back to you as soon as I catch a ghost. Please don't leave until I come back," he paused for a moment before repeating, "Ma'am," then ran across the wooden platform into another room.

It all happened so suddenly, Polly, a little stunned. A little strange indeed, she thought, before wondering what he meant by ghost. Don't follow him Polly, she told herself before she ruffled up her skirts in a bunch and chased after the bizarre man.