The WORST Thing
Sam breathed heavily as he pedalled up the dusty incline. The midday sun robbed him of any shade he'd hoped for from the green, wooded areas on either side of the road. Hot and sweaty, he glanced over his shoulder to the group gathered at the bottom of the hill. Bunch of vultures. Word had got out about the dare and now they circled, sensing a kill. Even the oppressive heat didn’t deter them from coming. He climbed off his bike and pushed it the last few metres up the hill.
Small jeers rang out from the group gathered below. They thought he was giving up already. Sam stared down at them as he reached the top. He saw Jerry standing alone in the shade, staring back, challenging him. Sam knew Jerry didn’t want him to give up so soon. Jerry wanted to see him suffer, to come back filthy and empty-handed. That was the kind of victory Jerry loved. Sorry to disappoint you, Jerry. Sam climbed back on his bike and looked ahead – ready to finish the task. But what he saw made him stop.
At the bottom of the hill lay an immense, grey wasteland. He’d never seen anything like it. Until recently, he’d been a city kid, used to the dirt and grime that came with densely populated, high-rise living. But what lay ahead of him was worse than any garbage he'd encountered in his twelve years in the city. It was dull and endless, made worse by the fact that it was hidden amongst such beautiful surroundings. It seemed impossible to Sam that the lush, green woods that made him feel so alive could hide something so bleak. But there it was. Right in front of him. The result of all those chip packets and lolly wrappers that he, and everyone else, threw away every day without a thought for where they went. Well now he knew. The local dump.
It was huge. So much bigger than he’d expected. He coasted towards it, mesmerised by the sight. When he’d accepted the dare, Sam had pictured a great big pile of empty boxes and wrappers amongst apple cores and bits of old junk and the odd nasty surprise just to make it interesting. But what lay ahead of him was so different. Monster piles of leftovers engulfed the landscape, oozing out to the edge of the forest. The only break in the sea of drab came from the roughly cleared paths at the base of the colossal mounds. Here the garbage had been pushed aside by a bulldozer that now sat idly beside two dump trucks. The grey paths snaked around the mounds like tree roots trying to take hold. It was a disgusting sight. But what was more disgusting was the smell.
The closer Sam got to the mounds, the more it invaded his nostrils. He couldn’t identify any one particular smell. It was all mixed together with the hot, heavy, summer air. Sort of sweet, but sour, sickly, damp, mouldy and rotten. It clung to his tongue while the saliva in his mouth multiplied, requiring him to swallow constantly. He glanced at the water bottle attached to his bike but decided against using any of the precious, clean water. He would need every drop to get him through the worst of the search.
There was no gate or barrier at the entrance to the dump, just a sign announcing ‘Willow County Refuse Depot’ and another stating ‘No Trespassing’. Sam ignored the warning and pedalled towards the silent equipment, half expecting the trucks to rumble to life and go about their business. He would have welcomed the interruption. Being Sunday, there was nobody about. It seemed unnaturally quiet. Except for the occasional breeze that rustled a plastic bag or set into flight a piece of paper lucky enough to escape, the place was eerily still. Sam felt small and alone amongst the vastness of the garbage, and it spooked him.
He leaned his bike against the bulldozer and dug into his rucksack. From it he pulled a long-sleeved shirt and Mum's gardening gloves. Together with his jeans and sneakers, Sam hoped they’d be enough to protect him from the worst of the filth. He unhooked his water bottle and scanned the scene, wondering where to start. Now that he was closer to the mounds, they no longer looked drab and lifeless. Small splashes of colour dotted the masses of grey, although they weren’t crisp and clean. The colours had lost their vibrancy, slowly being swallowed up by their surroundings. Sam took a gamble and chose the mound with the most colour, hoping it would yield the prize he needed. Something so foul it would satisfy Jerry.