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Last Day at the Mill

By Gryffgirl

Other / Drama

Chapter 1

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

"Jerusalem" by William Blake

Work in the cotton mill all my life,
I ain't got nothing but a Barlow knife,
And it's hard times in this old mill,
It's hard times in here.

"Hard Times in the Mill" Traditional folk song


The late afternoon sky was bright and clear, a mocking contrast to the dim, dark town. Dull brick row houses were crowded together, blocking the rays of the sun from the gardens, where only weeds seemed to flourish. The pavement was cracked by the roots of elm trees which had been planted a century before, when the town had flourished. Now they were gnarled and bare of leaves, even though it was summer. They were dying a slow death in a town which also had been dying since the end of the First Great War. 

The source of the town's life and death was the mill which sat on the river banks on the outskirts of the town. It had been built when the textile industry had been king and had made the small town of Cokeworth rich. The mill had employed thousands of workers at its height. The company that owned the mill had built houses for the workers. The cloth woven by the workers had built large houses for the owners on the other side of town. Churches, a grand city hall and a theater were added to the town. Merchants opened shops on the main street, displaying the fine clothes made from the cloth spun at the Cokeworth mill. 

Today only a few hundred workers were employed at the mill. They watched in collective anger, shouting and cursing as the doors and gates of the mill were locked for good. Two men, one young, one middle-aged, watched with contemptuous eyes. They were father and son, but the only physical trait that they shared was a large, hooked nose. The father was tall and broad-shouldered.  The son, who was seventeen, was slightly built.

Tobias' frown deepened. As a child he had always thought that the great chimney of the factory looked like a giant finger. He hadn't been far off the mark. The factory was certainly giving the finger to Cokeworth and all of the people who were too poor to move away. Who in his right mind would stay in this shit-hole? Poor people and unlucky bastards like him who were cursed. He lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. The doctors said that smoking these fags would kill you, but after decades of breathing the foul fumes which hung in the air of the town he figured that cancer and emphysema had already overtaken his lungs. Why give up one of the few things that still brought him pleasure? He turned to his son.

"Let's go."

 They strode away from the factory, down the street which had at one time been the center of activity. The dilapidated theater had been deserted for years. Well, not quite deserted; it was a refuge for drug addicts. The shops had mostly boarded up, save for the pawn shop, a shabby fish and chips take-away, and the pub. It was this last place that was Tobias' destination.

"I ain't waiting for you all day, Severus!" he barked at his son who was ambling behind him at his own pace. The boy shuffled down the pavement slowly, hands in the pockets of his tattered jeans. His shoulders were hunched and his head was down, his face hidden by his long, greasy black hair. His left forearm was bandaged. The idiot had gotten tattooed while he was away at school and it had not gone well.

"Serves him right if he gets blood poisoning," Tobias thought darkly. When he was the boy's age the only people with tattoos were in the armed services and they had earned them. The others, prostitutes and carnival workers, destroyed their skin with cheap ones, but they were the dregs of society. Here was his son marking himself up with some feckin' death head symbol featuring a skull and a snake. Who would hire him now with that bleedin' thing on his arm? Severus had tried unsuccessfully to hide it from his mother, but the witch didn't miss much. As soon as his arm had turned red and throbbing she had torn off the bandage.

"You Goddamn fool!" she screamed at him. The witch usually didn't vent her spleen on her son; for once Tobias was in rare agreement with her. 

"That the symbol of one of those feckin' rock bands you listen to?" Tobias shouted at his son. The boy had taken to blasting cacophonous music when he was alone in his room (often) or when he was brewing one of his foul concoctions in the kitchen (rare, since Tobias had forbidden it and he did it on the sly). Tobias was convinced that his son blasted the music to make him angrier. He didn't want to give the boy the satisfaction that he had succeeded, but the kid angered him by his mere existence.

Eileen whirled around and fixed a death glare at her husband.

"You are such a fool, Tobias! You have no idea what this means!"

"No idea what it means! How's about you tell me what it means!" he bawled at her.

 The witch stood stock still, her fists clenched, her mouth set in a firm line. Tobias felt the hot rage inside of him boiling over. Another shared secret between the witch and her brat! He was again the outsider, the non-magical one, the one who was to blame for everything that went wrong in their family. It had always been two against one in this house ever since the brat was born. This was his house, damn them! It was the house in which he had been born and raised. It was the house that he had intended to leave until she came into his life.

Tobias grabbed at a glass globe that Eileen had placed on the kitchen shelves along with a small clock and some photos of Severus. It was a paperweight with a seahorse inside. The little creature could not be alive, yet it had swum around in that glass globe for years, blowing tiny bubbles. Another one of her useless magical devices! Tobias threw it against the brick hearth where it shattered to smithereens. Eileen shrieked and let loose a string of curses. Weeping, she tried in vain to mend the shattered object with her wand. Severus glared at his father with raw hatred.

Let him glare! Let her cry! There was nothing that they could do. Just let them try cursing him with their magic wands. The wizard law enforcement would be there in minutes. Tobias was no fool. The witch and her brat might be magical, but their hands were tied when it came to using their magic to do serious harm to someone like him. He had overheard the witch telling the brat this fact when she was reading to him from one of her cursed black magic books. There were strict laws against using magic against non-magical people. A serious spell would land their sorry arses in the wizard prison which sounded like a God forsaken hell hole. 

The spells that they did cast his way were strictly child's play. A scalding hot cup of tea that would overflow into his lap even though the cup was only half-filled. Shoes sticking to the floor. Doorknobs burning his hands. Nothing that would alert the authorities to haul them off and remove them from his life. Perversely, he sometimes wished that they would use a serious spell against him instead of the minor curses that they used to torture him. 

"What a life it is!" Tobias muttered over his pint. He looked up at his son. Severus was staring down into his beer, but had not touched it.

"You work like a dog all your life in the mill to make them folks rich! Living in their big houses with their big cars! Never see the likes of them living in Spinners End; oh no! Sitting in offices looking at ledgers. Deciding that weaving the cloth in China will make them more money at less cost. Oh, don't worry about the workers, oh no! Oh, they'll be fine, won't they! It's a free country; let them find work elsewhere! They don't have to stay! Just like us; they can pick up and leave!" Tobias took a long swig of his beer and slammed the empty glass on the table. He signaled the barman for another and turned to his son.

"You ain't fixin' to stay here, are you?" he asked. It was a question to which he already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it from the boy's own mouth.

"Of course not." Severus slowly sipped his beer.

"Of course not!" Tobias mimicked his son. "Goin' to that fancy magic school I'm sure that you learned some tricks o' the trade, so to speak. Didn't want you to get too big for your breeches. That's why I had you workin' summers at the mill. Nothing wrong with honest manual labor and getting your hands dirty."

"I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty," Severus replied coldly. His black eyes stared through his father, unblinking. 

Tobias flinched. Jesus, he was an odd one. When the boy stared at him he felt as if he was looking into his inner soul. It was unnerving. Severus had been doing it ever since he was a little one, staring and glaring at him with those blazing black eyes. Her eyes. He looked just like the witch, save for the conk. That was his. A reminder that the boy was indeed his son, erasing any initial doubts he had when Eileen told him that she was pregnant and that he was the father. 

"Well, I'm sure that you won't be getting your hands dirty with whatever magic work you will be doing," Tobias said nervously. His mouth felt dry, even though he had downed two pints. He signaled the barman for a third. "What are you planning to do once you finish school next June?"

He had meant to be friendly, conversational. His own son was a stranger to him. Severus smiled a ghastly grin at him. His black eyes continued to bore through his father.

"Oh, I have some friends who have asked me to join their business."

"Hmmph. What kind of business might that be?" Tobias asked. Severus pulled a cigarette out of the pack on the table. He lit it and took a long drag before answering.

"It's a new venture in social engineering."

"Bollocks!" Tobias sneered. "Social engineering! You sound like one of them poofs at the university! Oh, we have plans for the common man to help him contribute to society! That's what all this was!" Tobias waved his arm around in a full circle. "All this was green hills and pasture at one time! Then they built the mills! The new Jerusalem they called it! What a joke!"

"Oh, it was no joke, Dad. It was simply a failed experiment. There will be a new Jerusalem. Just not the one you pictured." Severus continued to smile his unpleasant smile. 

"Eh," Tobias shifted uneasily in his seat. What the hell was the boy talking about? 

"I have to go now, Dad," Severus stood up abruptly. "I have some things to do. Here, have a pint on me. To our last day at the mill." He tossed some money on the table and headed out the door.

"The cheek!" Tobias began to rise from his seat, but sat down again. His son's words had shaken him, but he could not say why. He felt safe and alone in the dark room with his drink, far away from the turmoil at home.

"Here's to your new Jerusalem, son, whatever the hell that may be." Tobias tipped the glass to his lips and swallowed the bitter ale.


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