Welcome to Dark Factory! You may experience strobe effects, Y reality, DJ beats, love, sex, betrayal, triple shot espresso, broken bones, broken dreams, ecstasy, self-knowledge, and the void.
Dark Factory is a dance club: three floors of DJs, drinks, and customizable reality, everything you see and hear and feel. Ari Regon is the club’s wild card floor manager, Max Caspar is a stubborn DIY artist, both chasing a vision of true reality. And rogue journalist Marfa Carpenter is there to write it all down. Then a rooftop rave sets in motion a fathomless energy that may drive Ari and Max to the edge of the ultimate experience.
Dark Factory is Kathe Koja’s wholly original new novel from Meerkat Press, that combines her award-winning writing and her skill directing immersive events, to create a story that unfolds on the page, online, and in the reader’s creative mind.
Join us at DarkFactory.club. The story has already begun.
“Ari! Hey Ari, how’s it going?”
“Hey,” his nod to the skinny DJ on the bench opposite Jonas’s office, blue glass walls half-covered with overlapping Dark Factory posters, the effect is like peering into a paper aquarium. “It’s going good. Tight.”
“I just got in from Chromefest, I played some crazy great shit,” the DJ digging into his bag, a dangle of fake gold giveaway charms, too many stickers, TOOT SWEET, U DONT REDLINE U DONT HEADLINE, pulling out a mix stick. “You got a minute?”
“Got a meeting,” with a shrug, a smile, his public smile—
—but inside the office no Jonas, only his spoor: empty NooJuice cans, Causabon trainers still new in the box, a white dinner jacket hung on the hulking recliner, and between the tilting piles on the blue glass table that is Jonas’s desk, two burner phones, both vibrating like wind-up toys: Ari takes up one, then the other, neither are numbers he knows. Also on the desk is a flat delivery box stacked with t-shirts, a new streamlined design, and “Y makes the logo move,” Jonas at the door, slamming the door, Jonas wearing last summer’s t-shirt, black and sleeveless beneath a clear plastic wrap jacket; with his hair sheared at the sides he looks like a brand-new cleaning brush, Ari hides a smile. “Lee thinks it’s too subtle. What do you think?”
“Not if it moves,” an answer and a parry, Jonas likes to test everyone, Ari most of all. “Chockablock thinks of everything.”
“And overcharges for everything too. Wear it around, see what people say,” and as Ari drapes a shirt around his neck, “I know it’s your day off, but I need you in the box tonight.”
“You and whoever else I stick in there. Be good, or it’ll be Lee.”
“I don’t have a problem with Lee.”
“That’s not what she says.”
“Then that’s her problem.”
“True. Got a smoke? Darcy’s after me to quit,” as Ari offers one of the black blunts he gets from the boys in the clubs, Jonas rooting in the desk’s mess for an ashtray, and “Lee said,” Jonas’s shrug half-annoyed, ”some woman gave birth on the floor last night? To an actual baby? What a mess.”
And Ari laughs—“The Factory’s first natural-born citizen”—and after a moment Jonas laughs too: “Your brain, Ari, your fucking brain,” pulling out his real phone, a quick dictating bark, “Lee, find those baby people, give the baby free admission for life. Tell Media to make a big deal out of it—”
—as Ari exits in a puff of smoke and a flutter of posters, past the still-waiting DJ, and two runners toting scent canisters like oversized silver bullets, another runner wrangling a wobbling rack of boxed NooJuice, provided to the production in exchange for ad placement, another of Ari’s ideas that Jonas approves, Jonas drinks half a dozen cans of that swill a day. Lee drinks it too, though Ari knows she hates it; sometimes he catches Lee studying him when she thinks no one can see.
In the performers’ lounge he slips on the new t-shirt—a little loose across the chest, he likes his shirts tighter—smooths back his hair, then heads for the NOT AN EXIT sign over the loading dock doors: a delivery van rolling out, another just backing in that he sidesteps, out to the street, Neuberg Street . . . A teenager, the first time, he came here to drink cheap lager and fuck and dance to loud music with boys—he still fucks and dances, but Jonas has taught him something about wine, so he drinks that instead, chilled and white, it pairs nicely with the blunts—sixteen then and wide open, new to the scene, new to joy: his look changed, his slang, even his walk, more swagger, more aware of his body as he roamed past the schnapps bars and phone stores and crumbled brick alleys, the corner charging stations shaped like top hats where the boys hung out, flirting and sparring in the noise of sidewalk speakers and the whirring purr of the trains, the muezzin’s call floating over avenues of beech and linden trees and the black-washed façades of the remodeled industrial flats, cafés hot with espresso and frothing oat milk, and the clubs’ 4 a.m. aroma of lager and latex and Club-Mate, dancing panting bodies, moisturizer and tobacco and tears. And now these streets are his streets, he lives in one of those expensive flats, he has everything he wants in this world, almost everything.
The October sky is overcast as a tarnished mirror, heat still radiating from the pavement, he stops at a Kaffee Kart for an iced espresso and “Your shirt’s really cool,” says the freckled barista, as Ari records her reaction for Jonas’s eventual benefit. “Dark Factory! I’d go every weekend if I could, it’s like the world if the world was perfect. You go a lot?”
“I go every night. I work there.”
“You work at Dark Factory? Oh cool! What do you do?”
And Ari smiles, because there is no name for what he does, what he is, what Jonas needs most, what Lee for all her stats and apps and 24/7 devotion can never be: the bridge between the Factory and the world, a native of both because “I’m the ambassador,” he says, and lifts his cup to toast—the barista, the Factory, his job, himself—as a sudden gust of steam surrounds him, like a saint’s silver halo, or a personal storm.
“Where are the other masks?” Max asks, foraging behind the salvaged kitchen table that serves as a production desk, through cut burlap squares and twiggy detritus, little plastic bags of dusty white quartz, a drift of unused Bitter Lake flyers. “Teresa, where—”
“In here—Oh,” Teresa tipping a water-stained cardboard box to show less than a dozen inside, heavy black waxed paper with fake fur ears. “Is this all we have? It’s a good thing no one’s booked today.”
“That’s not a good thing—”
—as the door opens on Mila in a sleeveless hoodie, soft braids the brown of leaves in winter water, carrying a paper sack filled with “Seedpods,” she says, “moth’s bane, look,” showing Teresa who smiles, Max who frowns: “You came all the way out here just to drop off seeds?”
“Katya drove me. They should be planted right away, but I have a class. Will you do it?” setting the bag to the desk as he follows her out, to share a kiss, then hangs back from Katya’s car and its burst of dust, Katya accelerating down the graveled access road, away from him and the isolated copse that is Bitter Lake.
No signage, no way to be sure where the production begins or ends, every action taken must be a conscious choice, Max’s choice to enforce full participation in this experience, his experience: on a fully booked day there could be forty people on these paths, wearing those masks, dancing with Mila, splashing through the stream, picking the apples carefully tied onto the trees, tasting the honey Teresa adds to the papier-mâché “hive,” he had envisioned a real beehive and apple tree but Bees are a liability, Teresa had warned, what if someone gets stung? And we can’t book at night, without artificial light they could fall, maybe get hurt—
There’s this thing called the moon.
We just can’t afford the risk—
—because the production has no money, last week the only day booked was Saturday, and only for five people, how long can they keep on? But still—as he tramps down that half-gravel track, the dividing line between the real world and his own—still he is made to make worlds, he believes that, quixote or not . . . Last week Adam Kaiser had invited him for a lager at Apostles’, How’s it going at Bitter Water, still spinning those windmills? I’ve been meaning to stop out there.
Bitter Lake. Bring your students, maybe they’ll learn something.
My students? All they talk about is Y subsuming MR—
Good luck with that. And you shouldn’t use that term, you shouldn’t let them use it either. There’s no such thing as “meat reality.”
Did you see Ari Regon’s Q&A for Storyboard? They loved that.
Fuck Dark Factory. And fuck Ari Regon. Especially Ari Regon—
—but he had had to leave for work then, refusing Adam’s treat for the drinks, though his café wage has no room for a splurge. Adam and Teresa, shepherds of creativity, they each would say so: Adam the art professor, Teresa the former theater manager, the property owner who replenishes the apples and the farmers’ market honey, picks up stray trash on the paths, keeps the lights on—
—Teresa leaning now from the doorway, paper sack in hand: “We just got a booking! A school outing, a teacher and twelve students, upper-level art students—”
“Good,” again, even though Thursday is one of his workdays, he needs every single day’s pay, but “I can do a Q&A afterward, with the teacher too. And I—Where are you going?”
“The seeds. Mila said they needed to be planted right away—”
“Masks,” taking the sack from her, leading her back inside. “We need to make more masks.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kathe Koja writes novels and short fiction, and creates and produces immersive fiction performances, both solo and with a rotating ensemble of artists. Her work crosses and combines genres, and her books have won awards, been multiply translated, and optioned for film and performance. She is based in Detroit and thinks globally. She can be found at kathekoja.com.
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