AMANDA STOPPED OUTSIDE ELDON'S office suite and quickly brushed a tear away from her eye. She looked up and down the hallway. It was deserted this time of night. Slowly she began walking toward the elevator at the end of the hall, passing one door after another. Only the muffled sound of her footsteps and the low, almost subsonic noise of the great building registered in her hearing.
Suddenly Amanda heard what she could have sworn was the sound of a bird flapping its wings as it flew by. She whirled.
A flash of something black passed the outer range of her peripheral vision. Again, she turned quickly to see—
Nothing, that is, except for a door left ajar. A door labelled “PRIVATE ABSOLUTELY NO ADMITTANCE” in bold red letters that begged to be defied by one such as Amanda Laslow.
She was drawn slowly, irresistibly to the forbidden door. Looking around the hallway one last time, she slipped inside.
The dimly lit, windowless room was filled from floor to ceiling with file cabinets. Again, she heard the sound of flapping wings. She turned, facing the sound, and started moving toward it.
Amanda could swear she saw a large, black bird atop a file cabinet at the far end, an over sized crow or a raven. She started toward it when the sound of flapping wings came from right behind her head. She whirled and found—
Turning back, what she thought was a bird turned out to be a number of small, black cases, the kind used to store compact discs and DVDs.
One of the drawers of the file cabinet was open.
Cautiously, Amanda moved closer. The open drawer was labelled with the year and the letter “T.” She looked in it. There was an empty space approximately the size of one of the black cases. She picked up one of the cases on top of the cabinet.
It had a label on it that read “TYEE WETLANDS FILES.”
“Hello? Hello, there!”
Amanda turned in the half darkness. A security guard stood in the entrance of the room holding a flashlight.
She quickly grabbed the cases on top of the filing cabinet and stuffed them in her handbag.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”
Amanda began to run toward the far wall and turned left. She could hear the sound of the security guard running to intercept her.
On the other side of the room, near the farthest corner, was another door. Amanda turned just in time to see the security guard with his flashlight.
“Come back here!”
She made a final dash for the door, praying it would be unlocked. She grabbed the handle, gave it a twist and shoved her way through. Just before the security guard reached her, she slammed the door and twisted the little knob above the handle to lock it.
Breathing a sigh of relief, she closed her eyes, turned and leaned back against the door—
— and fell back on her ass in a pile of dirt.
The foul stench of a landfill suddenly assaulted her nostrils. She heard the sound of breaking glass, the distant roar of earth moving machinery and the sound of high-pitched whistles.
Amanda opened her eyes slowly and got to her feet, doubting her sanity.
The door, the office building, and the security guard were all gone. Instead, Amanda found herself in the middle of a huge landfill under a hot, merciless daytime sky. A bedraggled young man in front of her was attempting to throw an empty wine bottle into a huge, navy blue metal bin with white lettering that said “GREEN GLASS ONLY.” Each time the hapless young man threw the bottle toward the bin it somehow wound up on the ground, shattering. Then, a clone of the broken bottle rolled off a huge pile of glass, metal and cardboard next to the bin, stopping on the ground in front of him.
He picked the bottle and heaved it toward the large bin. Instead of going in, it shattered against the side.
Again, the bottle’s clone rolled off the pile and stopped near his feet. He picked it up and tossed it toward the bin in a graceful arc. Against all laws of physics, the bottle stopped short, dropped and broke into shards on the rocks.
“God damn it!”
He ran over to the shattered bottle—which was mysteriously whole again—and picked it up. “Go in, you mother-grabbing son of a bitch!”
He backed up, took a running start and tossed the bottle with all his might. The bottle flew straight up this time, then came down to land on the young man’s skull and shatter.
The impact appeared to cause more rage than injury. The young man emitted a string of obscenities that even Amanda found shocking. A woman in a dark lab coat appeared at this, walking from behind the large bin. She had a name tag that said “Supervisor,” and definitely strutted like someone with authority.
“This would be easier if you’d stop breaking the recyclables,” she admonished the young man. She then looked straight at Amanda. “You—come with me!” she commanded.
Still stunned, Amanda followed the woman as she walked back around the far side of the bin.
About thirty-five feet away stood a long, low, run down building. Over the door was a sign that read “Recycling Department.” It was hard to see inside, but Amanda could detect considerable activity going on. Out another door on the far side, men and women in coveralls and hard hats ran out carrying large, black garbage bags over to the pile of bottles, cans and other material. They dumped the contents—more of the same—then ran back toward the building and disappeared inside. Next to the pile was a shack, out of which ran a conveyor belt that carried material from an opening in the large bin to the long “recycling” building.
A bizarre sight greeted Amanda as they entered the building. An assorted group of people in white lab coats wearing whistles attached to lanyards around their necks stood at various stations behind the conveyor belt. Recyclables entered on the conveyor belt. The men and women in lab coats were frantically grabbing bottles, cans and other materials off of the conveyor belt and dropping them into black plastic garbage bags in front of them, trying to sort everything: green glass, brown glass, clear glass, aluminum cans, tin cans, plastic milk jugs, plastic water bottles, newspaper, cardboard, the works. Once a bag was filled, the worker in the lab coat hoisted his or her bag back up onto the conveyor belt and blew his or her shrill sounding whistle. That was the signal for one of the hard hats to run over, pick up the bag and run it out the other door toward the pile.
The noise level was terrific.
It took only a moment for Amanda to take in this operation. All at once, the Supervisor took out what appeared to be a large cell phone, pushed a button and spoke into it. The conveyor belt stopped, although the lab coats continued to work frantically. She then stood in front of Amanda and handed her a white lab coat and a whistle on a lanyard, then pointed at an empty spot behind the conveyor belt.
Still dazed, Amanda complied, walking toward her assigned station with the Supervisor following close behind. As they passed one worker, the Supervisor snapped, “Not like that! You don’t mix tin and aluminum!”
Another worker was blubbering.
“What’s your problem?” the Supervisor demanded.
The miserable worker who had been sorting glass into green, brown and clear piles held up a bottle that had once contained milk of magnesia.
Blue. Dark, sapphire blue.
“Give me that!” the Supervisor snapped, grabbing the blue bottle and tossing it away. Then she turned to Amanda and pointed at the empty station. “You—get to work!”
Amanda took her place. The Supervisor spoke into her cell phone.
“Okay, Willy—let ‘er rip!”
The conveyor belt immediately started up again, faster than before. A huge pile of recyclables passed in front of Amanda. The Supervisor strode off, inspecting the other workers as she went, making sure they moved at a furious pace.
Amanda just stood there for a moment, looking around the room in a daze. Her eyes found a rail to a stairway going down that she could have sworn hadn’t been there before. She looked over at the Supervisor who was giving another worker a dressing down. The workers on either side were too preoccupied with their own sorting to notice as she moved toward the stairs. Seeing her chance, she started down.
The Supervisor chose that moment to look her way. She blew her own whistle. All activity abruptly came to a halt.
“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?” she demanded.
Amanda froze. Suddenly, the conveyor belt stopped and everything was eerily silent. Nobody moved. The Supervisor's eyes grew wide as her face took on an expression Amanda had last seen in the 1970s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. She slowly raised her hand and pointed. All the lab coats, all the hard hats turned toward her, wearing the same maniacal expression.
They began shuffling towards her. Amanda plunged down the stairs. At the bottom was a long, concrete corridor. Doors lit with harsh neon lights lined both sides of it. It seemed to stretch into infinity. She looked behind her and saw that the lab coats and the hard hats continued to follow her..
Amanda fled down the corridor, her head pounding with terror.
Another corridor branched off of the first one. She ran down it. Behind her, the workers continued their pursuit. Ahead, Amanda could see that the second corridor ended at yet a third, running perpendicular to the second. She turned to her right when she reached it, only to see more workers coming for her. She turned and ran the other way.
She came to a four way intersection. Workers advanced relentlessly behind her, their hands outstretched. To the left, yet another group was coming for her. She took a right turn and saw yet more workers coming for her, shuffling, dead looks in their eyes, their hands reaching out...
This is not happening, she thought.
She ran straight ahead and smack into a dead end. She was trapped.
This is not happening, she repeated to herself, more terrified than she had ever been in her life. She backed up against the wall behind her as the un-dead army of landfill workers came toward her. They suddenly stopped about twenty feet from her. The group parted to make way for six others who were carrying a green coffin made of No. 2 industrial-grade, recycled plastic. The universal three-arrowed triangular symbol and the words 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' were imprinted on it.
The six eco-pallbearers moved toward her.
Amanda opened her mouth to scream, but all that came out was a high-pitched whistle. She backed against the wall and felt something dig into her. She reached behind her and felt something that seemed to be a door latch. Unable to tear her eyes away from the sight of the pallbearer/un-dead workers coming toward her, she shoved down on the handle. A door swung open behind her. She fell through, spinning, and found herself—
—in an alley behind the NOG Biotics building. It was still an autumn night in Portland, Oregon.
Amanda looked around. Behind her was a nondescript grey door. Hesitantly, she tried the handle. It was locked.
She looked down at herself. She was wearing the same clothing she’d put on earlier in the day, no white lab coat. She still had her handbag, though. She checked it and found the purloined CD/DVD cases were still there.
She suddenly heard the flapping of wings again and saw and a flash of black out of the corner of her eyes. She whirled to look but there was nothing there. A door across the alley opened instead and a young man in a waiter's uniform came out with a large bag of garbage, which he placed in an ordinary metal trash can. As he turned and went back inside, a dog appeared out of nowhere. To Amanda it looked like a miniature grey wolf, but was probably just a stray mutt.
Must have been behind the garbage bin waiting, she thought, watching the creature as it sniffed around the can.
Amanda turned again, and suddenly noticed something dangling from around her neck. She looked down.
It was a whistle on a lanyard.
Amanda began to run down the alley toward the lights of Southwest Yamhill Street.