Proving Your Metal

"We will have our picnic here," says Frost, indicating the center of the room. The shadows gather, spreading blankets, pulling out homemade pies, salad, casseroles, wine, olives, and bruschetta. A portable stereo materializes.

A search party is sent for photographer Seelie—he has the plates. People begin eating with their fingers. After a long while, Frost, Seelie, and the search party return.

"A buddy system is now in effect," says Frost.

An old factory experience: Dinner with abandon and industry
photo: Tod Seelie
An old factory experience: Dinner with abandon and industry

Plates are passed, and soft laughter fills the air.

"I thought I could come up with the second group, but I never saw them," says Seelie. "After an hour passed, I started to get worried. I couldn't hear anyone. It was so unbelievably silent."

Thoughts of cops and missing people dissipate slowly, but we feast and talk; wine is passed around, and lovers snuggle. Garbage bags will appear, and our presence will be is erased.

"Are you feeling relaxed?" asks Julia Solis, founder of Dark Passage.

"Not exactly," I say, moving between two holes.

"Good," she says as we walk to the far end of the building.

We find Freas, with her guitar, beneath a big window. Her delicate voice, joining the wind, wafts through the room.

Everyone claps softly, and sound designer Sxip Shirey rises from the crowd. "My father used to work in a steel mill in Gary, Indiana," he says, navigating the floor. "The number one cause of deaths in a grain elevator is suffocation; the second is due to explosions caused by dust raised by the grain. Danger was a part of people's daily lives, but their stories had meaning."

Shirey's meter changes slightly as he begins a tale about a boy and his mother: "A tube twines from underneath her dress through the table legs, snaking up to a conveniently placed portal next to the basement door. The tube is made from thin iron rings connected to what seems to be red canvas. It opens and closes slightly, like a concertina. Apparently, his mother is some sort of steam mother . . . "

We clap and snap our fingers appreciatively before Frost leads us up a short flight of stairs, to the "guts of the operation," and back down to the perforated floor below.

Scrivo emerges from the shadows wearing a harness attached to a belaying rope that is anchored by a column and manned by a person named Cramp. Scrivo kneels by a hole and slowly lowers himself until the white of his collar is swallowed by the darkness. A voice uncoils beneath our feet, growing in intensity, until we are all on our knees peering through the holes. We illuminate the yawning space where Scrivo hangs. He's confronting his fear of heights while he sings. Shadows bend in the reddish light, stretching along the curves of the walls. He sings, "There comes a time in the life of a boy . . . "

As he twists gently down into the chasm, his improvisation takes on the quality of a Gregorian chant: "Can you stare into the abyss. Listen to the sound of the angels falling from the sky . . . "

Even when Scrivo has passed from sight, we remain prone, watching the light playing across the walls, listening for his voice.

"It is finished now," sings Scrivo as he emerges from the hole 11 floors below.

Silently, the shadows on the top floor begin to gather their belongings. It is finished now.

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