The monster has shut down for the day. Its eight identical smoke stacks have stopped coughing and spluttering, and the black smoke they spew into the sky has dissipated. As they approach the chain link fence surrounding the beast, its many straight-shuttered eyes observe them. They walk towards it across the vacant lot, looking for the place where the fence is most bowed and bent, and where behind a cluster of bushes, an entrance has been cut. Above them, the conveyors are like folded arms, objecting to their presence.
Franky doesn’t cry when the loose, jagged flap of the cut fence skins his shoulders as he wiggles through. He shakes the grit off and says nothing as he holds the flap open for the others, two boys and his little sister. Once they’re in, he races towards the scaffolding, hollering a bawdy song as he goes. He leaps towards his target and wraps his outstretched arms around the first rung, holding on with the crook of his elbow as he swings around like a rusty gate to see how far behind the others are.
“Come on, Slow-Pokes!” he calls.
The wind tugs at his hair. His bare toes make contact with cold, dirty metal. He strains his arms to reach as high as they will go, holding on so tight the pads of his fingers turn white. His little hand only makes it around three-quarters of the way around each bar.
The scaffolding shivers and shakes as the other two boys jump on. The twanging hum of the metal goes straight up the poles and through Franky’s body. His ribcage seems to thrum. Each step boys below him take reverberates— he abandons his song and begins to sing along with the iron-shod footsteps instead.
The wind gets stronger the higher he climbs. It roars past his ears, cold and insistent. His breath catches as he forces it past his teeth. The scaffolding grows hot and sticky under his sweaty palms. He no longer holds on tight for the fun of it. Each white knuckled grasp makes the joints in his fingers seize up. The thudding has stopped. Franky swings his weight backwards to look down the length of his body and his vision fluctuates between out of focus and sharp. He blinks and sweaty tendrils of black hair fall into his eyes.
He tries to lift one foot off the rung but it’s stuck to the bar like a magnet. The muscles in his thighs shake as he wrenches it off and lowers it. He cannot bring himself to look down again, so his foot swings about. The fumble creates a vacuum in Franky’s gut. He sucks in his cheeks, until, at last, his toenails drag along a piece of freezing metal. It’s the cross bar. A cheer rises from below, and emboldened, Franky takes his other foot off the rung.
But then something snaps, and the cross bar falls. Franky’s feet run in the open air. His sweaty fingers lose their hand-hold joint by joint. Beneath his dangling feet, he sees the little girl. From so high up, she is little more than a pink dress.
“Don’t look!” he calls.
Then, Franky lets go.