There's an old toy factory on the edge of town. It's been there for as long as I can remember. From the outside, it looks old, decrepit, and abandoned. But inside is a different story. Inside, the factory hides a secret and I know what it is.
I was always the curious sort of kid. I couldn't keep out of trouble because stuck my nose where it didn't belong and was wandering off to explore. Got me grounded plenty of times. But it's how I discovered the secret of Alhumbra toys. One evening, when I was a teenager, I got in. If you live in the area you would be impressed. Even though it's supposedly abandoned the security is legit. High thick electrified fences with razor wire at the top to ward of invaders. The guard shack in front of the massive gate that not even the skinniest of children could squeeze through is always manned. Why? Why would an old abandoned factory need that type of security? What on earth could they have been building that would need someone to watch over it? I got friendly with the security guards but they all were from here and knew of my reputation. Only when they hired the new guy was I able to make my move.
Travis had just moved here, his wife's family from the area. Not this town exactly, but in the neighborhood. They knew of Alhumbra toys and that there was a factory nearby, but not any details about it and most importantly, did not know of my reputation. I was out for my evening stroll and I stopped at the guardhouse but didn't recognize the person inside. Travis was nice enough and I knew I'd have the opportunity once I buttered him up. I introduced myself. "Hey, I'm Carl. You must be the new guy! Nice to meet you!"
Travis responded in turn, introducing himself and giving me a little background information. He was from Georgia but hated the heat. His wife did too. They wanted a fresh start somewhere but with ties to their heritage, which is how they settled on Emporium up here in Pennsylvania. I told him about the walks I liked to take and that I knew the other guards. We chatted for a bit and I discovered he would be working the weekend and that's where I got my idea. I didn't want to stay too long and set off his suspicions so I promised to return the next night with some homemade goodies. Security guards cannot say no to fresh baked cookies.
It was going to be his first weekend alone and I knew it would be the perfect opportunity. I couldn't pass it up. I had perfected a sleeping potion if you would call it that, in chemistry class. Odorless, colorless and tasteless, you could knock a three-hundred-pound man flat on his back within 30 seconds of ingesting it and kept them asleep for about 8 hours. I, of course, added this to several cookies I had baked, making sure they would be the one's Travis would consume. I felt a twinge of regret that he might lose his job, but I was more curious about what was inside to care.
The next night I arrived at 10:30. Just late enough most townsfolk would be in bed, but not so late as to be suspicious. I gave Travis the cookies and then he was out. I pushed the sequence code to open the gate. They never changed it. I followed the rutted road down a hill and found an underground parking garage. It was full of cars. I hopped the wall and hid amongst them. I could feel the heat radiating off of the warm vehicles. That got me curiouser still. I made my way through the garage to the elevators and got in. It had one button leading to the lobby. I pushed it and saw the darkness disappear. Instrumental holiday music started playing. It was the middle of June, why on earth was Christmas music playing?
The elevator doors opened to a spacious lobby that was empty, not even a reception area. I followed the candy cane striped line on the floor across it to the other wall where a green and red door loomed. I gently pressed on it and it swung open to a massive locker room. I opened the closest locker, none had locks on them and found a uniform inside. It was an elf uniform. One of those silly ones that people wear when they go visit Santa. It was too small for me so I searched the lockers till I found one that would fit. The whole thing was very bizarre but piqued my curiosity further. I was just putting the hat on my head when a few people came in. At least I think they were people; they were awfully short and funny looking. The shorter of the two, a squat fat wrinkled thing of a man spoke, "You new?" I nodded, not sure what to say. "You don't even have a nametag! You should at least have ur nametag!" I noticed theirs at that point. Twinkletoes and Sugarpuff. I wrinkled my eyes in confusion. "What's your name, son?" I stared at the man, not sure what to say.
"Twinkletoes, don't scare him. He's probably just arrived from the North pole! Never even been anywhere else! Am I right?" The taller of the two and obviously female one said. I nodded again just to get more information. Were these people elves?!
"Sugarpuff, take him to HR and get him sorted out." He barked. "I'm getting back to work. Those toys won't make themselves."
Sugarpuff looped her arm through mine and led me from the room rambling all about how exciting it was to get new recruits from the pole. Twice a year they were sent down to make the toys for Santa because he'd set up shops all around the world. He wanted to utilize the local communities. To branch out from the pole so he could really get to know the kids he was tasked with figuring out were naughty or nice. She got in a small vehicle of some kind, like a golf cart and I got in the passenger side. Sugarpuff continued to ramble on in my ear as she drove along a hallway. The closer we got to the main floor the more festive the walls became. Snowflakes, pine trees, reindeer, candy canes, ornaments, Christmas lights, all Christmas symbols adorned the walls. Then we passed through an arched doorway to the factory. My eyes widen at the sheer number of elves. Christmas jingles filtered down from overhead loudspeakers as the elves worked. There were at least 20 different assembly lines as we drove one of the many bridges that loomed over the large room.
She finally got my attention when we come to a stop near a double door marked HR. "You're a bit tall for an elf, the most human one I've seen before." She says. Her eyes widen. "You are an elf, aren't you?" She reaches over and pulls the hat off my head. With a little gasp, she covers her mouth. "Your ears! You're not!" She throws the har back at me. "Quick! Put that back on!" Then she jams the vehicle into gear and heads back the way we've come. "Oh crap! I'm going to be in so much trouble if someone finds out you were here!" I hear her mutter under her breath. When she reaches the locker room she's out of breath. "How did you get in here, young man?!" I continue to stare at her. "Answer me!"
"I... I snuck in. I'm sorry. I thought it was weird that an old place like this had such high security I had to know!" I tell her.
"Get changed back into your clothes. You have to get out of here. If someone finds out...we could both be in serious trouble. I highly doubt you want to spend the rest of your life trapped in a place like this, do you?" She says in the most serious of tones.
"Do you mean to tell me you're a prisoner here?" I say as I quickly change, not caring about modesty.
"Oh no! Nothing of the sort." She smiles, but it's genuine and I know she's telling me the truth. "It's only the intruders that we find that have to keep here. You're so young, I'd hate to resign you to that fate."
"And you're willing to let me go?! Won't you get in trouble?" I ask incredulously.
"Twinkletoes is the only other person that knows you're here. He'll just ask me if I got you taken care of and that will be that once I tell him you were sent to building F. There's no way he'd ever go over there and check. He barely goes to building B and his wife works there." Sugarpuff informs me. "Now hurry up and go back the way you came!" She checks the clock. It's only 11:15. "If you are not off these premises by 11:30, you are going to regret ever coming in here. You get me, boy?"
I give a nod of gratitude. "Thank you Sugarpuff. Thank you!" I stumble out of the locker room and trip onto the floor in the lobby in a rush to get going.
Sugarpuff looms over me. "You are strange, youngling. Very strange. Now get."
"I'm still curious. There's so much more I want to know!" I hiss back at her from the floor.
She helps me up. "I know. I can tell that about you." She seems to consider something. "I'll tell you what. If in fifty years, you're still curious about the operation here, you can come back. I'll still be here and I'll tell you everything. Show you everything. But then you won't be able to leave. It's up to you if you want to return. I'm only telling you about your options. The choice is up to you, Carl."
"How do you know my name?" I gasp.
"I'm an elf. We know things. Now go! I'm not telling you again." So, I did. I ran out of there so fast if I was a cartoon, I would have left dust in the shape of my body.
I haven't been back since. It's been 45 years. 45 years and I still think about what happened that day. I still live in the same town, down the street from where I grew up in fact. I have 5 years left before I have to make my decision but I think I already know the answer. I never married, never had kids, never really could forget what I saw there. I tried. I really did try, but I couldn't get Sugarpuff and the elves out of my mind. I ended up starting my own business online and that's kept me comfortable enough to live on. There are only 5 years left, and then I will know everything I've tried my whole life to forget. I can't wait to know the truth.