One Man’s Trash-Part Four

After washing up, Eli entered the kitchen. It was filled with people preparing food. He’d never seen that before or even conceived of it as an activity. Up to very recently, all the food he ate was processed and sealed in wrappers or picked from the garbage.

Like the Workshop, the kitchen was filled with people who appeared to enjoy what they were doing. Chatting and laughing as they worked. Alanna was chopping some bright objects, which he later learned were vegetables. Others were stirring pots, some were tossing chunks of meat in a wok and pouring sauce over them. Jae pulled large, tan lozenges out of an oven.

It was overwhelming and it smelled amazing. He was grabbed by one of the other people who put bowls and platters in his hands and told him to bring them to the table.

The table was outside. It was long and had a brightly colored piece of fabric running lengthwise. He placed the bowls and platters (also made with colors and patterns) in the middle, which was the only place he could find. Others followed soon after, bringing more food, and before he knew it, he was sitting down with Alanna on his right side and a heavily muscled man in overalls named Gunter, on his left.

At the head of the table, a thin, older man with silver hair and wearing wire-rim eyeglasses stood and tapped his glass with a fork. All conversation ended as he did this.

Thank you all for joining the feast tonight!” he began.

Gibson, thank you for all this great food!” said a woman with a shaved head and a big grin.

I hope you remember that when it’s time to wash the dishes,” replied Gibson.

Everyone laughed.

We are all thankful for the food on our tables and everything else we’ve worked for so let’s drink to that.”

Glassed were raised and they all drank.

These are all excellent things but without a community, they mean nothing. We are here because everybody works hard to make it happen. Let us never forget this.”

Never forget this,” echoed the rest of the table.

And we have a new friend with us tonight and his name is Luis,” said Gibson.

Everyone stared at Eli who had to fight an impulse to run.

Glad to meet you, man.”


Hey there.”

Everyone had a greeting. They seemed genuinely happy to meet him and he didn’t know why. He mumbled some replies but this level of attention made his skin crawl. One of the people at the table said, “Can we eat now?” Which they did.

Eli thought that the broth and crackers he had earlier were the best things he had ever eaten but this was something else entirely. The tan lozenges were bread, soft and pillowy in the center with a crust that was crunchy but not too hard. Vegetables cut into pieces and fried or roasted with flavors that he didn’t know existed. Meat! Real meat, not the slurry that was pressed into cubes with a rubbery texture! Rice that wasn’t waxy!

It might be said that he ate with gusto, but it was more like a starving dog who is terrified someone is going to try to take his food. Shoveling a spoonful of food in his mouth, he noticed that everyone else had stopped eating and was staring at him.

I’m sorry you don’t like it,” said Jae.

Before he could respond, the table burst into laughter and someone served him some more food.

Gunter leaned in and said, “They’re just happy to see you enjoying the food.”


He smiled and said, “Well, they worked hard on it and it’s always nice to know your work is appreciated.”

But why me?” asked Eli.

I guess because you’re new here.”

Do they care less about you?”

That’s not how it works.”

How does it work?”

People just like knowing other people are happy.”

That did not jibe with the vast majority of Eli’s life experience so he just went back to eating.

Luis, you must have some questions. What would you like to know?” asked Gibson.

For a moment, Eli forgot his alias but then looked up quickly.

Is that allowed?” he said cautiously, still wary of a trap.

It’s not a trick,” replied the silver-haired man.

Okay… I have a lot of questions.”

Ask away!”

What happened to the sun?” Eli whispered.

At this, the table went silent. Gibson turned to Alanna and asked, “You didn’t tell him?”

I was going to but I thought he might get more out of the Workshop than a walking tour and history lesson,” said Alanna.

You really should’ve said something,” said Gibson with a sigh.

I didn’t know there was going to be a drill today,” countered Alanna.

People began to offer their opinions when Eli shouted, “How can you turn the sun off and on?” A question that got everyone’s attention.

Luis, that’s a fair question,” said Gibson calmly, “The truth is we are not outside.”

Eli looked around and as far as he could tell, they were.

That doesn’t make any sense,” he said with rising panic.

We’re underground Luis,” said Alanna.

This made less and less sense.

Let me give you the short version. A long time ago, before any of us were born, the United States government created a series of subterranean bunkers in case there was a nuclear war. Which there was, but because things went south so quickly, they never got used.

For years they sat empty. Until some people, a lot like you, were searching for tech or supplies and found it. They brought others that they trusted and this community was born. While there was food, it wouldn’t last forever. They started to experiment with hydroponics. Then they explored deeper and found an underground river giving them fresh water, and then they used it as a hydroelectric power source.

Time went on, they started to make it more than just a hiding place, they made it a home. Life being what it is, they started having children.”

The sun,” said Eli who was feeling overwhelmed.

Right, the sun. The sky is made from video panels, all linked together, running images that replicate sunlight. It went out when our sentries saw a corporate aircraft approaching so we shut everything down till it passed. I can see how that would freak you out.”

It was a fantastic story. Crazy. Improbable. Eli looked at everyone. He’d met some skilled liars in his life. Even been taken in by a few of them. After a while, he got a feeling when someone was trying to pull something. Looking at everyone here, none of his alarms were going off.

Why did you bring me here?” he asked.

We do raids on the drone trucks ever so often. We can’t make new tech here so we take what we can and repurpose it,” said Gibson.

Like the corps do,” said Eli.

Actually, they just dump that stuff in burn pits. Cheaper than recycling,” said Jae.

That made a perverse sort of sense.

A rather ordinary-looking person said, “When we found you in the truck, it was clear you’d been hurt badly. So we brought you back here.”

Why?” asked Eli.

The ordinary person cocked their head and said, as if it were obvious, “Because you needed help.”

His head spinning Eli slowly stood up, turned around, and vomited. The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. Lots of fragmented moments of voices and movement. He was cleaned up and Alanna walked them back to her house. She brought him to the room he woke up in.

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you where you were before,” she said as she gave him some fresh clothes, “It’s a lot to take in.”

Are you going to throw me out?”

No! Why would we do that?”

I threw up. A lot.”

She gently laid a hand on his shoulder and he flinched.

We don’t kick people out for vomiting.”

Right. Umm… Thank you.”

You’re welcome. I’m sure we could’ve handled this better. If it’s any consolation, you’re the first new person we’ve had in a while. We’re a little out of practice.”

Eli looked at her for a moment, then asked, “How did you know I wasn’t working for a corp or a psycho or murderer or something worse.”

Honestly, we didn’t.”

Then why help me?”

Because you needed it.”

This was the same answer he got at dinner and it still didn’t make sense to him. Eli then asked a question that scared him.

Can I… Can I stay?”

She smiled and said, “If you want to. This isn’t a prison. No one is here against their will.”

Right. Does everyone just get along?” he asked Eli.

Well, people will argue and not everyone likes everyone equally. But they put that aside for the most part.”

How?!” he nearly shouted.

It’s not always easy. But everyone here believes in what we’re doing. When we struggle, we struggle together and that makes it easier.”

I think… I think I need to sleep,” said Eli, the day catching up with him.

It’s been a day, right? Get some rest. I’ll give you a proper tour tomorrow. Sleep well.”

With that, Alanna left him alone. Even though he was exhausted, Eli looked at his coveralls and satchel sitting at the end of the bed. He had fought and scrounged for those and up till very recently, were the most important items he owned.

Maybe. Maybe he could stay here. Everyone was so kind, it would take some getting used to. Could he be happy? Maybe. He got undressed and got into bed. As he drifted off into sleep, one thought entered his head. ‘Your name isn’t Luis. Liar.’

Author’s note: This is the end of Eli AKA Luis’ story. Is everything resolved? Nope. I had an intent with this tale and I hope it got across. What was that intent? If I have to say it, I’ve already failed. So give it some thought. Will I ever return to this world? As our protagonist might say, maybe. Maybe.

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