The machines are always humming, and the conveyer belts move so slowly you can barely tell, unless you’re still and staring. The workers scurry across the linoleum like ants, heads nodding in time to the rustle of their stiff gleaming uniforms. Every once in a while you will see one of them yawn, swiping a wrist across a mouth and looking embarrassed, checking to make sure that nobody saw.
There are different stations in the factory. Over in the northwest corner, the worker’s uniforms are made of lace and mesh, and the floor squelches slightly as they step over it. The conveyer belts rise and fall over the hills of the machine, undulating with a faint glimmer. The manager of this section leans against the wall, one leg crossed over the other, fingers curling and uncurling on the handle of a whip that trails in whorls on the tile. The workers steal glances at the manager, but mostly they pay attention to what they’re doing – some of them caressing the products, fingers slipping into the crevices, checking for flaws. Some of them fold hands around the dreams that pass before them, pressing with firm attentive care to mold the packaging to their contours.
In the southwest corner, the ceiling rises and lowers like a melting cave. The shape of the room slopes so low that the workers there have to stoop their heads and huddle past, until they get to the part where it suddenly opens into a vast cavern of darkness again. Then they duck their heads yet lower, trying their best to avoid turning stray glances above. They’re afraid to see what’s there. If you wander too far into this quadrant of the factory, you will start to hear the shrieks and rumbles that emanate from the corners. The conveyer belts slant down, in a straight line toward a dark hole that fits neatly into the edge of wall and floor. The belt sinks into it and is lost in a few feet, draped in shadow until you can barely see the dreams at all. It’s better that way – everyone tries to avoid staring at the dreams as they writhe and flop on the surface of the belt. The workers handle them delicately, fingers dancing over the edges and shapes, fluttering away from the surfaces sticky with slime or sharp with needles and razor edges. They transfer from the southwest corner as quickly as possible. It’s mostly an assignment given to new hires, or those who’ve made some mistake in another section. It doesn’t matter so much what they do with the nightmares, even if they’ve let dreams slip by upside-down in the other parts of the factory.
The southeast quadrant of the factory is more varied than these other two. Some of the dreams that glide by on the conveyer belt are beautiful, crafted of shimmering glass that unfurls in splendid lacy spirals. Some of them are absolutely plain, perfect and tiny crafted shapes like models of Mrs. Dashwood’s day at the office. If you peer closely, you can see the coffee stain on her skirt and the bald spot on her boss’s head. Some dreams are ugly, flat things, marked with the shapes of missing clothes and missed trains. One or two of them even smells like old cheese – though, of course, the smell will be mostly stamped out by the time they’re packaged and sent off. The workers go about their jobs somewhat mindlessly here, plodding from one station to the next, fingering the dreams carelessly. The monotony of a day filled with the utterly ordinary is broken now and again by the beauty of a dream that stops them. They turn then, lean in and gaze at it as their fingers work smooth and sure on its surface. Their eyes widen and lips part, and their hands linger on the edges of the dream until the conveyer belt pulls it away. They will return then to the rote routine of their work until another lovely dream draws their attention. Go on and look at one – you might hear the music drifting from it and the notes falling aimlessly through the air. Touch it, even, for some of them have a warmth that spreads up your arm or a soft and aching sweetness that reaches your bones. Some of those dreams smell of vanilla and cinnamon, or bread baking, or wildflowers. Don’t touch too long, though.
The northeast section of the factory is closed off. There’s a tall forbidding wall around it, reaching into the center of the factory, studded with locked doors. Workers rarely go in and out of doors, and when you see one walking out of the northeast it is with a solemn expression and downcast eyes. Generally everyone has a hidden and secret desire to work in the northeast part, even if just for a day. Just to know, for the secret is enticing, seductive. When the workers whisper amongst themselves, that is often what they speak of. They gossip in lowered voices during their breaks, turning to one another and flicking glances at the managers.
They don’t talk for long, though. They don’t get a lot of breaks. Their work is more interesting than anything else they could be doing, even the dull unending hours in the southeast on a quiet day or the heart-thudding work in the nightmare section. The workers look at dreams as their life’s purpose. It’s intricate and important work that they shape and check and send along. They talk about it, think about it, and if they could dream they would dream about it too. The workers at the dream factory don’t dream, of course. They only work at dreams, smoothing the edges and twisting the corners. They work hard at their jobs, take pride in what they make, and they never sleep at all.