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The Garbage Collector: A SciFi Short Story

Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.

The Garbage Collector by Jennifer Wilber

The Garbage Collector by Jennifer Wilber

Gus was a sanitation engineer. A common garbage man. He didn't have a fancy degree in astrophysics like the scientists who developed the new garbage disposal system, but he worked just as hard. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

The planet's landfills were filled to the brim centuries ago. Luckily, scientists had finally devised a solution to Earth's waste problem: black holes. Initially, Earth's garbage was loaded up onto huge space barges that were sent directly to the back hole at the center of our galaxy once a year. Building new barges every year and launching them into space quickly became a huge burden on the taxpayers and the government pressured the scientists to come up with a better solution to the waste problem.

Eventually, scientists developed a more cost-effective solution as soon as a method for creating stable wormholes was discovered. After years of testing and experimentation, the scientists finally managed to create a wormhole between the Earth and the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

A single wormhole connected to each major metropolitan area on Earth through interconnected branching paths. It took scientists years to figure out how to create a stable wormhole with multiple entrance points, but in the end, it still proved more cost effective than requiring each city to transport their garbage in more conventional ways, and that’s what mattered to the officials.

Gus was one of many garbage collectors in his city. He collected garbage from the street-side bins left out by residents and dumped the contents of his garbage truck into the wormhole receptacle at the end of the day. It wasn't the most glamorous career, but the pay was good, and he was happy to be useful to his community.

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Gus arrived back at the waste disposal facility. It appeared he was the first driver to finish his route today. He backed his garbage truck up to the disposal receptacle and pressed the button on the dashboard to remotely open the receptacle's hatch, just as he did every day. But today, a grinding sound emitted from behind the truck. Gus checked the mirror and saw that the hatch was jammed.

This wasn't the first time the hatch had gotten stuck. The equipment was about seventeen years old and was due to be replaced as soon as a tax levy passed. As he had done many times before, Gus got out of the truck and climbed onto the edge of the receptacle. He bent his knees, wedged his hands underneath the hatch door, and started to push up. The door creaked as he pushed it up against the adjacent fence, revealing the depth of the garbage chute below. It was empty, of course. The receptacle was designed so that the bottom hatch would open to send the garbage directly into the wormhole each time the top hatch was closed. This system allowed the waste collection facility to get rid of the refuse immediately and eliminated the need to store garbage for any amount of time after the weekly pickup.

As Gus began to climb down from the edge of the garbage receptacle, he lost his balance, misjudging the distance between steps. His arms flailed in a wild attempt to grab a hold of something as he fell forward into the empty chute, but his hands weren’t as agile as they once were. It was a twenty-five-foot drop to the bottom.

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Gus wasn't injured from the fall, save for a few bruises. He took a few deep breaths and looked up toward the top of the chute. The old man wasn’t one to hurry to a panic, and his calm demeanor didn’t waver. If he could get out before anyone closed the hatch at the top of the receptacle, he would be fine.

Gus tried to climb up the side of the garbage receptacle. The surface was too smooth. Gus yelled for help. Nobody came. Surely someone would be around to help him out soon, if only because his truck was blocking the way of the other drivers. It was just a matter of waiting for the next guy to finish his route.

This was no time to panic. He told himself to stay calm. Everything would be alright. Another driver would be along to help him out any moment now. There was nothing to fear.

A creaking sound came from above. Gus looked up in time to see the hatch door at the top of the garbage chute crash down, the dim light extinguished as the door closed. He was trapped inside in the darkness with no way out.

Before Gus could even think to panic, rotating gears creaked beneath his feet. The metallic ground below him shuddered. The hatch below was about to open. There was nothing he could do now to save himself from being thrown into the wormhole. The floor beneath him gave way and he fell. He fell, and he fell, and he fell, endlessly, into the wormhole below.

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A mix of every color imaginable swirled around Gus as he fell, though he didn't feel like he was falling at all. It felt as though he was suspended in space. Gus looked up. The garbage shoot was shrinking away above his head, becoming endlessly smaller as it disappeared into a single point. Every color of existence swirled around, circling him as he fell, sliding further and further down a cosmic waterslide.

Several moments passed. Gus continued to fall through the wormhole. It was becoming more and more difficult to breathe. His oxygen supply, sucked into the wormhole alongside him, was nearly depleted. Gus felt his head spinning, and he wasn’t sure if his dizziness was the result of the swirling colors of radiation spinning around him or the lack of oxygen.

Gus looked down below his feet. After what could have been an eternity or mere minutes, Gus saw a dark spot at the end of the endless tunnel. It grew bigger and bigger as he fell further through the wormhole. He felt weak. He didn’t know how much longer his consciousness could hold out.

As Gus fell further into the wormhole, he felt some tremendous heavy force pulling on his body. Suddenly, he found himself ripped from the end of the wormhole, yanked by the gravity of the black hole on the other side. Now Gus couldn't breathe at all. A crushing pressure built in his chest as lungs collapsed in on themselves. His desperate attempts to catch his breath in the vacuum of space were futile.

Gus was pulled ever closer and closer to the black hole’s its event horizon. The wormhole swirling above his head was lost in a sea of stars and the heat rose exponentially as the gravity dragged Gus ever nearer to the event horizon. These were his final moments, he was sure.

The gravitational force of the black hole finally pulled Gus through the event horizon. His body stretched out like a grisly string of cosmic spaghetti as he screamed in agony. It was useless. He could do nothing to save himself now. Each atom of his body was torn apart, one by one, as the tidal forces of the black hole stretched his body apart, until there was nothing left of him but a spaghettified string of atoms marching single file as they were drawn ever closer to the dark, mysterious center of the black hole.

© 2021 Jennifer Wilber

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