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As Paul stood beside his truck, forking heaps of debris into the Reagan Memorial Disposal Facility, a rope from a demolished breezer-room looped about his left ankle just as one of the graders passed below within the first circle of garbage.

The grader caught the edge of a refectory window from a decommissioned church that had once stood on the corner of San Anselmo Avenue and Central.  This church had been ministered by a man who was caught by the head of the San Rafael PTA in the act of supplying booze to children while photographing them in the nude performing various unsavory acts upon and with barnyard animals.  The congregation dispersed soon after this unfortunate episode and the church building fell into disrepair before finally being condemned to everyone’s relief.

But this story is not about the ex-Minister – who had been of the “fire and brimstone” variety – nor of the church –- which had been a sort of modified Edwardian structure garnished with nautical filigree and stained glass possessed of marine motifs done in a rather insipid art deco style.  This story is about what happened when the window frame swung about to catch the other end of the rope that was looped about a cable that was in turn wrapped about a sixty-pound brass fantod that was,  in its own turn securely bound by another rope that ended within a maze of chicken-wire that emitted the rope now looped about Paul’s left ankle.

The grader, piloted by Old Blind Sven, who had been running this grader on this circuit for approximately 23 years and who even now was shouting along with Junior Wells to the tune of “Messing with the Kid”  that was blasting through the portable Walkperson into his barely capable eardrums,  dragged the window frame down into the debris pit, slinging along with it the rope, the sixty-pound fantod, the cable, and, needless to say, the chicken-wire with all attachments thereto.

The window dropped down a cliff into the second circle, yanking the fantod, which plummeted with significant energy to the bottom with the chicken-wire.  At this point the rope about Paul’s ankle, some 100 yards from the cause of this energetic activity, drew suddenly taut and most convincingly persuasive.  So persuasive in fact, that, with a single yank, Paul was catapulted clean over the first and second circles of debris in a marvelous arc only Pythagoras could have described with proper attention to its beatific parabola. He landed somewhat on his side at the edge of the third circle and slid with great gusto across a scree of smashed-up wallboard over the edge into the fourth lower pit where he managed to free his ankle before a wave of debris cast by the grader threw him deeper down into the fifth circle, where he finally came to a stop after having traveled a distance of about three quarters of a mile as the crow flies and some 1.5 miles in linear descent.  Altitude measurements were not possible at this point but let us say that the top of the pit was very high indeed with relation to where he lay.

And from where he lay he saw the dim white form of his truck drop neatly out of sight into the first circle where it was soon graded to smithereens by Old Blind Sven.  There no longer was any evidence of Paul’s visit at the edge.

“Heyey!” said Paul, as he jumped up and ran forward to encounter the edge of the  circle.  But no one could hear him.  The din of the graders --  there were at least three of them going at once – together with some clattering machinery – probably coming from the recycle plant or the power kilns caused such an infernal racket that Metallica could have held a concert at full blast without a note coming through.

While trying to scrabble up the slope of the fifth circle from the edge, a wave of garbage came cascading down, pushing him back further than he had been before and covering him up completely in banana peels, old tomato vines, and used wrappers from Just Desserts plus many other things too disgusting to mention.  Underneath the pile he began to suffocate and for the first time began to think that this would be a place he would never leave.  Until he felt hands pulling at him from above and he was dragged down over the lip of a cliff to drop in a heap with three others into the fifth circle.

“You don’t  want to be up there. The wave cycles come every few minutes.  Here we get a breathing spell at least.”

When he stood up he looked about him.  He stood in the middle of a vast bowl of debris, loosely marked by  eight rings of earth, not including the upper lip.  In the distance he could see the graders coursing along and flinging waves of garbage down further into the center.  It seemed that each pass tossed a fair amount into the next two levels, where another grader came along and tossed the accumulation yet further down.  Two graders worked the upper two circles and a third operated much more slowly a bit lower.  Each grader remained in its assigned track and appeared not to deviate the slightest from its internal program as if robots ran the machines.  At a certain point the accumulation at the third level tumbled down to the fourth and fifth levels and as time passed the entire mass moved further down in great sudden waves, pushed by the material from above.  In this way, the pit was constantly filled and yet never filled up and the surface terrain was kept under constant motion.  What happened at the very bottom, where a plume of reek smoke constantly jetted, Paul could not see.

“You don’t want to go down there,” someone said.  “That’s a devilish place for sure.”

A small crowd of people had gathered about him.  A fellow wearing a tattered tweed jacket, stained “beater” t-shirt, corduroy slacks of unknown color and style which were much too short and mismatched socks of blue and green inside scuffed penny loafers spoke to him.  “Welcome to the RMDF. “  Upon a head of white hair that looked as if an electrical charge had jolted each strand sat a porkpie hat.  “Name’s Doyle. Be yer guide for a bit.  Tell ya the rules so we don’t have no trouble.”

Before any such tour could take place Paul had a question.

“How do we get out of here?”

Doyle rocked back on his heels and placed his hands in his pockets as if the question caused some serious deliberation.  After a moment he said, “Can’t”

As Doyle led Paul around the circle past temporary tenements of cardboard and grade C plywood, mobile gardens set on medical dollies, and numerous BBQs which smoked and gave off odd smells, he explained that, because of the constant motion of the upper levels and the height of the final cliffs, no one who had tried to escape had ever succeeded.  All of them had tried many times.  As to the issue of rescue, Doyle replied, “We’re garbage.  No one wants us back up there anywhoo.”

As they passed the opening of what appeared to be a large sewer pipe, a wizened figure appeared dressed in faded khaki and rope-soled sandals.

“That’s Cookie. His is the only place that never moves for some reason.”

“Cookie glared at both of them in disgust.  “Ah, Crumbcakes!”  He then disappeared inside.

“After a few years of living here, the place can make a guy pretty loopy,” Doyle explained.  The two of them paused to watch a mountain of garbage weighing several tons creep along like a huge animal before dropping off the edge to the lower pit with a great “POOMP!”  Behind them a river of some fetid material suddenly sluiced its way along, carrying along with it lumps of excrement, condoms, tin cans and whatever down to the lower levels.

“Uhg!” Said Doyle.  “Smells like santorum.”

At this Paul resolved to gird up his loins and depart immediately for this was not the sort of neighborhood he enjoyed.  He picked his way up over a pile of tumbled masonry to the next level, dodged a pile that sledded down with a great crash and found himself after an hour of steady climbing on the constantly shifting third just in front of a grader which seemed to have the power of skating over the roiling mass despite its size – the wheels were at least nine feet high and the operator sat in a cab no less than 25 feet up.  Paul had in mind the idea of hailing down the machine and hitching a ride, but before he could get the man’s attention, the great wave of trash that preceded the blade of the machine like the furrow made by an ocean liner lifted him up and tossed him like a rag doll back down the slope where he landed, fortunately, upon a Sealy posture-pedic box-spring that coursed down the slope right back to the fifth level where he had started some two hours previously.

“Welcome back,” said Doyle who looked down upon the dazed and battered Paul.  “You didn’t think yer stuff would let go of you that easily, now did you?”  His cackle sounded as evil as it was unnerving.

Sunset was a noisy affair.  There was a great deal of clanging and howling of machines as the graders disappeared from up above, and the shifting mountains of refuse increased in number and velocity such that the entire community got busy hopping from one island to the next, hauling BBQs, gardens, knapsacks and whatnot along with them, for whatever useful that had been scavenged would surely vanish in a moment if not taken with.  Down below jets of fire roared into the sky with plumes of dense, oily smoke.  After a bit, the commotion slowed to a stop and people settled down around a fire built in a toilet as the stars came out and then it became almost like a pleasant campfire there. Someone handed Paul a piece of savory meat on a stick and he remembered then he had not eaten at all that day.

“Finest Silverhair there was, “Doyle said.  “Won Best of Breed in 1984 according to its tag.  Vender over there got him with a .357.”

Vender, a bald man in a leather jacket, grunted.

“Snickerdoodles.” , commented Cookie.

“What is santorum?” asked Paul

“Its what comes outta yer old lady’s bum after ya done bumming her there.” Crazy Mary informed him.  “It be a mix of stuff.”

“Lorna Doone.” said Cookie, somewhat wistfully.

At night the place quieted down somewhat, except for the scampering of rats, the occasional dog howl and strange twitterings underneath the slabs of tangled junk.  Sometimes during the night an avalanche of junk could be heard in the distance.  They posted a watch armed with discarded flashlights and piles of old batteries to keep an eye out for all of them and Paul fell asleep upon his Sealy and slept the sleep of the damned weary.

Sunrise, by contrast, arose with brief calm as birds flitted about the piles.  Then, unholy terror filled the bowl as the graders started up and began dislodging whatever had come to rest during the night.  Day had begun.

And during the day, Paul tried four more times to climb out of the pit without success, each time getting more and more battered and bruised in the process.  He tried hailing down a grader again, but the operators either could not or would not see him – they continued their stoic course about the ring, expressionless and implacable beneath dark sunglasses.

Paul then tried timing his climb so that the third level grader would be on the opposite side of the pit, but then he found that the second level grader came along just at this point and sent Paul hurtling down again.  By his fourth try, he was so exhausted that he could not step aside from a seemingly random avalanche and so was swept down and through a deluge of noxious fluid.

“Whew!” Doyle said. “You really stink!”  Doyle took him to a guy he knew who had been a plumber in his past life.  The man, a short fellow with a belly and a Santa Claus beard stood eyeing Paul while smoking a stogie.  “Jim, this here is Paul.  He done fell inta  effluent.” Doyle leaned over to Paul.  “Smells like santorum again.  Jim’ll fix ya up.”

Jim puffed his cigar a moment.  Then motioned with his hand.  “Shuck em.”

Before the clear gaze of a woman wearing a broad and tattered straw hat, fuchsia blouse and bright green petticoats, Paul removed his shirt, his pants, his socks and his work shoes.  And his underwear.  Which had become rather odorous.  The woman stuck one finger in her nose and the other in her ear.

Jim commanded Paul to stand in a place underneath a white plastic pipe before disappearing for a moment. Suddenly a deluge of cold water splashed over Paul’s head and body, instantly putting him into violent shivers.  When he opened his eyes in a splutter, he saw the woman scampering away with his clothes on a stick.

Paul looked at the blank and unyielding heavens.  “What did I ever do to deserve this?” he howled.

Jim tapped his cigar philosophically upon a shattered statue of Venus.  “Ya got hooked ta yer stuff. Now go find yerself some clothes.”

As Paul pulled a leather biker vest from underneath a calliope horse’s head, he heard Cookie snarling from his tunnel.  “Scones!  Tollhousssse!   Sugar Snapssss . . . ! “

* * *

It was on the evening of the Fifth Day that Paul witnessed the Death of Cookie.  It was during the time of the Shutdown, when all hell was breaking loose before the calm of night.  Cookie was out on the edge of the Sixth Circle where he found a photograph held beneath fractured glass in a battered frame that seemed to resurrect some aspect of a past life lived long ago, a life on top of this Pit.  “Ahhh. Madeline.” He said.  It was a simple studio photograph of a wife and child.  He who had held onto nothing else, held onto this thing at the last.

What is there to say when a man dies in this life?  A great hill of garbage glaciered along with accelerating speed, collecting the wrack of the world and all its memories along with it as he crouched over his find, and swept Cookie down into the pit below and the circles of fire.  With a single cry he was gone.

That night, wretched depression and anger prevailed about the campfire.  Vendor ran about, shooting his .357 into a collection of discarded statues from a  bankrupt funeral parlor, and images of angels exploded into dust.  Mad Mary wept the entire night and the sounds of her sobbing echoed as a dirge for Cookie across the 9 Circles of the Pit all night long.

In the morning, Doyle held a brief eulogy at the edge of the Fifth Circle. “Friends, we glimmer a moment in this life.  Friends we have seen come and gone and all of us are destined for the same fate: the smoke of the 9th Pit, with all the refuse and the Refused.”  A few articles found in the entrance to Cookie’s tunnel were tossed down and the contents of a whiskey bottle were passed around.  Then it was back to the day’s scavenging for food and things of use.

Paul, however, had grown heartily sick of this place, for memories of his life above clung to him like wisteria vines and the memory of his lovely wife, Mary Beth also came to him and filled him with a tremendous loneliness.

That night he tossed and turned on his Sealy Posture-Pedic.  In the morning, he returned to the entrance of Cookie’s tunnel with Jim, Vender and Doyle.  The tunnel entrance had remained fixed for years, notwithstanding the incredible forces swirling around it.  It had to have been the outflow for the time when the Sixth Circle was the Bottom.  The Supply pipe for the ovens when the ovens needed fuel and were not  self-fueled by an unquenchable tire-fire.  It was the opening through Time, through History.  Through this opening Paul crept with the Companions that would follow and leave behind this life.

Cookie had never ventured more than twenty feet into the depths.  After  a few yards, the light of their glowlamps and flashlights, powered with expired batteries, lost all trace of napkins and burnt pots and Betty Crocker packages.

 Behind them, successive waves of trash carried the Sealy mattress down to the pit with the few belongings Paul had pulled from the wrack.  With no one to portage its assembly, the complicated toilet shower built by Jim also swept down as did various tended gardens, a mantel-piece of portraits of women once cherished by Doyle with magazine pictures of townhouses and dream mansions.  All of this and more swirled down into the fire of the 9th pit.  Paul and his followers could hear it go down.   A few heard this sound and ran back to save these precious things and these things and those people were neither seen nor heard of ever again.

The Pipe made a sharp incline upwards, but the ridges enabled them to climb hand over hand in filth and darkness, among rats, camel crickets and spider webs.  Here each of them had to make a decision, for the pipe became a vertical shaft which meant that they had to leave behind any and all effects scrounged from the Pit for the climb would demand the most extreme attention.  Sadly each of them dropped bags of coveted potato peelers, Swiss army knives, woolen shawls, and crankcase handles. Up they went.

At one point, a gout of filth spouted from a crack in the walls over all of them.  After a mile of crawling this way, the darkness began to give way to dissipated light and a faint hole of light could be seen above.  With a clatter and a bang something heavy fell past Paul’s head and rebounded several times into the darkness below. 

“Jesus Christ and Moses, what was that?” said Doyle. 

“Mah .357 come loose.” Said a voice. It was Vender.

There was no turning back.  Each of them began climbing again.

Each moment they expected a river of garbage to come swooshing down the tube, drowning all of them in a suffocating flow back to the Place below.  They rested every few hundred yards by spread-eagling with legs split from one side to the other. 

Jim took one of these moments to ignite his last cigar and toss the match down into the tube.  Unknown to him, the match found a pocket of methane and blew a tremendous gout of flame out the lower end before collapsing the entire tunnel after them with a KAWHOOMP!  Felt by the climbers as a brief rush of warm air but entirely destroying the entrance to Cookie’s tunnel.  Much to the astonishment of Mad Mary, who ran shrieking into the depths below the Sixth Circle.

But as this happened, Paul resumed climbing with Doyle and Jim, each climbing after each, determinedly toward the light above.  Determined climbers, each shed with a light from above as from a distant stained-glass window.

 

   

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Copyright 2003 by owen Montana.  All rights reserved.  Conditional permission to download this material is granted provided this material is printed, copied and/or stored on electronic media for personal use only.  Additional information can be obtained by contacting the address listed below.

 

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ALL CHARACTERS DEPICTED HEREIN ARE ENTIRELY FICTIONAL.  ANY RESEMBLANCE TO ACTUAL PERSONS OR ALIENS, WHETHER LIVING OR DEAD IS PURELY COINCIDENTAL.

 

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