Disclaimer: There are no publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc in this story, but if there were, they would be the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
My name is Steve Machell. I'm a line operative at Femina, one of the biggest manufacturers of sanitary products in the country.
On the fateful evening, I had been working on a line that used a new method of producing tampons that the R & D people had been working on. They'd somehow come up with a way of shrinking the products using a special light. This was shone on the materials for a precise time, and would make everything fifty percent smaller.
This was going to be massive! Packaging costs would be reduced by almost 60%. Our new range of shrunk products would be far more discrete than anything else on the market, and since they expanded again when exposed to warmth and moisture, they formed a compact, leak free seal. We'd trialled the products on a small scale, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
So we were going ahead with a full scale trial, ramping up production, and automating things as far as we could. The line could almost run itself, and we'd worked out that we needed only a handful of staff to ensure everything kept running smoothly.
Unfortunately, when you're setting up something new, there will always be a few bugs to iron out, and sadly for me, this was no exception. A loud beep and a flashing amber light indicated that the hopper containing the cotton waste had jammed up.
I went over to the hopper, and leaning over the edge, attempted to prod the mass of cotton that had jammed the chute at the bottom of the hopper with a metal pole that was leaning against the hopper. These things jammed up fairly regularly, and a few prods would normally be enough to get things moving again.
And then I slipped. My feet just went from under me, and I found myself tumbling into the hopper, still grasping the stick. That's happened before too, but since we always got a soft landing, and because the chute is far too small for us to pass onto more dangerous parts of the production line, it was generally seen as comic relief.
The chute is where the new light had been installed, and as I hit the bottom of the hopper, (dislodging the jammed cotton as I landed), my feet and legs went through into the chute. I realised that something was wrong straight away, as I found myself going further and further in. My body, which would normally have been too big to go through was being shrunk to half it's normal size.
Then the pole caught across the top of the chute, leaving me hanging in the light. It got bigger and bigger in my hands until I was forced to let go and I dropped...
...onto a fast moving conveyor that was about 4 times as wide as I was tall, and it ran quickly in a deep metal trough, taking the cotton waste into the compacting moulds.
The entrance to the machine yawned wide in front of me, and I was plunged into noise and darkness as it swallowed me. I shouted with fear, but there was nobody to hear me, even if my voice had been audible over the din of the machinery.
Then I tumbled into a mould, along with a load of cotton, and a moment later I felt an intense crushing pressure as everything was squeezed into shape. I didn't expect to survive, but a moment later, the pressure eased a little, and I found myself ejected into a circular hopper. This one contained thousands of half formed tampons, and they were all swirling and rolling towards a hole in the centre. I swirled and rolled too. My arms and legs were pinned by the compressed cotton around me, but I hadn't been exactly in the middle of the mould. My face was clear, and I could see, and breathe.
Not that this gave me any great relief. I knew where I was heading next. The hole in the hopper led to a machine that sewed 4 neat rows of stitching into the lobes of the tampon, before finally attaching the blue string to it's base. It could do hundreds every minute, and I was about to fall helplessly into it.
I rolled around, bumping my face and forehead into the brushed aluminium surface of the hopper, and all the time, more unfinished tampons were landing on and around me. I got closer and closer to the hole and inevitably, after a minute or so, I fell through into the dark and clatter.
Once again, you could say that luck was on my side. The needles passed to either side of me, constricting the tampon into 4 compact lobes, with me sort of in the middle. I already couldn't move, but these rows of blue thread made sure that no matter how hard I struggled, nothing was going to work loose.
I bumped and tumbled onto my feet, and a final stitch was put in, securing a long strong string to the end of the tampon. I could see nothing of this, but I'd worked there long enough to know exactly what happened. And so I knew what came next.
The string lifted, taking me up with it, and it was deposited into a hole, on a conveyor belt full of small round holes. The next stage would be to put the tampon together with it's applicator. Quickly, we sped along to another machine. A thick cardboard tube was positioned above me, and as it came down, something shoved the bottom of the hole I was stood in upwards, and forcing me into the tube. I could feel another, slightly smaller tube, pressing on my shoulder, and then I was out into the open again, although barely any light filtered through from where I was in my new predicament.
Another conveyor. this one was textured with shallow grooves that made the tampons line up horizontally next to each other. All the same way. All in exactly the same position. We were all heading for a machine that would wrap us, firstly in a paper wrap, and then in bundles of twenty, we were packed into a cardboard box. The box was picked up and put in a bigger box, ready to go out into the world. That box would be sealed with packing tape, I knew, and a label stuck onto it with barcodes and text labelling it's contents and destination.
And that was the end of the line. For me too, I thought. Despite somehow surviving the rigours of the production process, I couldn't see how I'd last for too much longer. How could I eat? How could I drink? Was I to die some ignominious death, here, in pitch darkness, in a carboard box, inside the warehouse, or on the shelves of some supermarket? After the noise and violent motion of the past few minutes, it felt good to have calm stillness, the sounds of the factory muffled by layers of cardboard and cotton, but as time drew on, the immobility and quiet unchanging circumstances became first boring, then stultifying.
I slept a lot, although fitfully. Each time I awoke, I found that nothing had changed. I got hungry, and thirsty, but after a while it didn't seem to get any worse. I could only put it down to a side effect of the shrinking process, but somehow, my normal bodily processes seemed to have been put on hold.
There isn't much to tell about the days that followed.
I lay, unable to move, in the dark, in near silence. I was barely able to breathe, and I'd long since realised that no matter how loudly I called, nobody could hear me.
Eventually, things did change, and not for the better, but I'll tell you all about that in chapter two.