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A Tale of Rubbish


by bouncyhanyou

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I trudge up the hill towards the rubbish dump; there is a crisp chill in the predawn air, but it will dissipate in the next few hours. Because of the early hour, there are only a few people already here. I choose an undisturbed spot in the dump, and begin to slowly, repetitively sift through the junk Neopia deemed not good enough for even the regular garbage. Eventually, my sense of smell will grow accustomed enough to the stench that I won’t even notice it, but here at the beginning, the nauseating scent of decomposing organic matter—not to mention the literal piles of dung plopped about—forces me to breathe through my mouth, tamp down my gag reflex.

      I’m dressed to the nines for the job. Rubber boots, rubber gloves up to my elbows, a canvas jumpsuit that somehow manages to repel the stains and odors of the dump, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. It doesn’t bother me, then, to scoop up handfuls of gravy, no doubt a days-old castoff from the castle nearby in Meridell proper. I scatter with my feet small piles of seeds and crouton crumbs. I hardly even see the muck anymore, single-minded as I am, searching for a gem hidden within the trash.

      My neighbors and I are polite but wary of each other. We ignore one another almost completely, knowing that we are all competing for a prize that we’ll probably never see anyway. It didn’t use to be this cutthroat at the dump. Most people couldn’t be bothered, the time commitment not worth a payoff that they’d likely never see. But then, the Powers That Be added an incentive. Grab a rare item from the dump, get a bonus prize. Now, this disgusting place simply can’t be ignored; not with that reward dangled juicy and ripe over our heads.

      When I reach down to search through the next pile, I pull my paw back with a wince. A bit of barbed wire clings to my glove where it pierced through the rubber and straight into my skin. It's not bad, it doesn’t hurt much. It’s happened to me hundreds of times by now. I peel off the glove and pull a fresh one out of my bag, tossing the punctured one on the ubiquitous pile of garbage for someone else to sift through.

      The sun is climbing in the sky, and more competition is arriving by the minute. The ultimate paradox; the more people at the Dump, the higher turnover, and thus a better chance of one of The Items appearing, but at the same time more competition, a better chance that someone else walks away with the prize. I don’t mind the company, sometimes. It keeps it from getting quite so mindless here, keeps the dump moving along. I hate it the most when I come late at night, the only one here, checking and re-checking the same few piles. Or worse, when the Dump is completely empty, for ages and ages, and when I finally spot something new and its just a wooden spoon with its handle snapped nearly in half, barely held in one piece by a few splinters.

      I stand up for a moment, to wipe the sweat off my brow with the sleeve of my jumpsuit and rest for a moment. I walk a few feet to a new pile, nearly losing my footing as I slip on a Zeenana peel. I lean over to dig in, and—there! Something glints in the sunlight, peeking out from under the edge of a sodden cardboard box. Quick as a flash, my paw shoots out to grab the object, heart racing, adrenaline zinging sharply through my body, lungs holding their air in as I wait to see—did I get it? There were others, so close by, maybe they saw it first, maybe their reflexes are better than mine, I know my reaction time could be better, but it’s so rare that I get the chance—yes! I got the item, it’s mine, all mine, it’s—

      It’s a freaking healing potion. Oh, Fyora. 26 Neopoints at the Healing Springs. I had thought—I was sure… The glass bottles of the healing potions are nearly identical to those that contain the fading bottled faeries. What a cheap trick, Rubbish Dump. Har de har har. Toss out a healing potion or two, watch the plebes dance. Well, like it or not, it’s mine now. Ten items a day we can take, and there goes my first spot.

      I stay for a while longer, but my heart isn’t in it after the healing potion. You can find some good stuff here, if you wait long enough. When I finally call it quits for the day, I leave with my pack a little fuller, having nabbed a book about composting and a few codestones. I missed more than I claimed, but at least I’m not going home completely empty-handed.

      I spend many hours here at the Dump, as often as I can. I stay until my eyes cross, the items scattered about blurring together. I hear stories, every few months, of a lucky soul finding the real prize. One guy, an old Scorchio who said he’d been here daily for over six months, found a Petpet. A little Turtum, who just crawled out from under a haystack and into his arms. Another girl said she found a fading bottled dark faerie, just nestled there between the bits of rubbish like it had been there for a while, and somehow nobody noticed it. She had only been visiting the Dump casually for a couple of weeks when she found it.

      The odds are impossibly low; on average, maybe three or four Neopets a year find one of these special prizes. A fading bottled faerie, a Petpet, there have even been rumors of folks seeing a paint brush flash by. One ranting Xweetok swears up and down that one of the eligible items is an apple core, of all things. I wouldn’t have believed her, but to be honest, I’ve never seen one in all my time spent at the Dump, and I’ve heard they can go for millions. I don’t know who would pay millions for something you could get by eating an apple yourself, but I keep my eyes peeled for one all the same.

      But even someone as dedicated as me can lose hope. I’ve known all along that the odds aren’t in my favor, but after a while, I get tired of wasting my time sitting in literal trash for hours. I question whether it’s worth it. Sometimes, I’ll take a break for a few days, a week or two. If I hear a rumor that someone found a prize, though, I always throw myself back in with renewed determination.

      Another early morning at the Rubbish Dump. There’s a hint of autumn in the air, the cold biting my cheeks. I’m here earlier than usual, and I can’t stay long. I’ve got other plans today, but Meridell was on my way, so I thought I’d pop in while I had a few minutes to burn. It’s empty now, all the discarded refuse collected by Neopians with lower standards than I sometime in the night. I glance around casually, my attention more on the swirling mists that creep along the ground than anything else. The breeze picks up, sending something skittering up to my boots.

      I glance down, curiously bending over to retrieve the item, reflexes quick out of habit, but casual because I don’t know what this is. It’s not one of the items I keep an eye out for. I seem to have missed the confirmation, but when I check, there it is in my inventory. It’s—well, it’s just a bit of old paper. It doesn’t seem like much at first, but I look at it more closely. My eyes start to take in the details in the weak light of early morning. This isn’t just some old scrap of notebook paper; this is ancient. It is heavy, for paper, and it looks to be made from papyrus or a thick vellum, maybe. I feel the first inkling of excitement. I’ve heard stories, from years ago, of the Dump divulging some bits of old paper. But they’re insanely rare; it’s been several years since the last one turned up. People pay millions for these. If this paper is what I think it is… It is literally the rarest thing one can find at the Dump.

      My heart kicks into overdrive. The bonus prize—the extra incentive that you get when you find something rare at the Rubbish Dump—did I get it? Did I just casually pick up this incredibly valuable piece of paper and completely miss the Something Has Happened? The adrenaline is sure humming along now, as I race to check for that 50-by-50 square of pixels, and… nothing. Nada. Zip.

      How could this be?

      Are you freaking kidding me?!

      There must be some mistake.

      I take my old paper to some experts, to get some help, try and understand what I have and, more importantly, what I don’t have. Really, I should be happy. They confirm that my old paper is indeed very valuable. One of them expresses interest in the item; he wants to know how I found it, where I found it, the exact circumstances that led to its discovery. He tells me he wants it. Would I part with it for 10 million? I almost sell it then and there, but I can’t just accept that the rarest thing to come out of the Dump in years is somehow the only rare item ineligible for the bonus. This must be an error, a glitch.

      So, I appeal to the Powers That Be. I contact them, explaining my windfall, my treasure. I tell them where I got it, and ask—surely this was just an oopsie, an oversight, a mistake. I should have gotten the prize, right?

      I get in response a polite, “No, sorry, the prize is being awarded correctly to all eligible items.”

      I’m not sad. I’m not disappointed. I am pissed. After all the hours, days, weeks, months I spent at that rubbish Rubbish Dump, I manage to snag the rarest, most valuable prize it has to offer—and that’s not enough? I’m apoplectic with rage. The unfairness, the wrongness, the plain defiance of logic has me boiling with red-hot anger. I did everything I was supposed to do. I paid my dues and waited patiently, and when my luck finally came, it granted me the one rare item that I didn’t want.

      I sell that stinking old paper to that collector for 10 million Neopoints and roll around in my wealth and bitterness. It is that bad; Neopoints are not my main goal. They’re a means to an end. What I wanted was that shiny mass of pixels. I wanted that AVATAR.

      I am not strong enough to start the hunt at the Dump again; the crushing disappointment is too much. I have soured towards the whole goal now. I set it aside. I cannot waste even more months of my life at that depraved place, hoping to beat the infinitesimal odds a second time. I spread my cautionary tale to other hopeful collectors, so that they may avoid feeling the utter desolation now inside myself. I am bitter, so bitter, whenever another tale reaches my ears of someone successfully claiming a special item. But more than that, I am happy for them, that they are finally, finally free of the Rubbish Dump and its torment. For while I now avoid that place, it haunts me still, the unearned prize.

     

      Three years have passed, and I am content. Well, mostly. I have accepted that the Rubbish Dump will forever hold an unattainable prize from me. I know that the strong emotions have dulled with time, and I could try again. But I’ve grown, since then. I can recognize how unhealthy it was for me to spend so much of my time solely focused on such an unlikely goal. I have made peace with myself.

      But then, I hear rumblings, rumors… and suddenly, I’m faced with word from reputable sources. Others have appealed to the Powers That Be. They begged for an intervention at the Rubbish Dump and, against all odds, the Powers That Be listened. What was once a lucky three or four individuals a year has skyrocketed to dozens, hundreds, thousands. Those special items, once so impossibly rare, are suddenly much more common. What once took months or years to achieve has now been made possible within weeks or even days!

      I wait for a week or so, for the fervor to die down, the competition to thin out. And then, finally, I decide to give it a try. I return to my much-loathed Rubbish Dump; I’ve been here a few times since the incident with the old paper, but I had hardly entered before I was leaving again, reminding myself how it wasn’t worth it. But now, I’m here for real. And the place is packed, rubbish of all sorts flying about and changing hands at lightning speed. Other items have become common, it seems. A preponderance of fish skeletons and bags of gravel inexplicably litter the ground, amid the more familiar squished tomatoes and soggy old boxes.

      And suddenly—I can’t freaking believe it—another piece of old paper flashes by me. I cannot believe the monumental amount of irony this place is pumping out right now. I snag it, because hey, I’m not turning down another 10 mil. And shockingly, I get it. Despite the high volume of folks here all vying for the prizes, somehow I snagged it first. That’s my first inkling that something’s hinky. When the second, and then the third bits of paper flutter to the ground around me, I do some investigating. And I learn that these bits of old paper, once netting me millions of Neopoints, are now all but worthless.

      Maybe it’s not the Dump with the sense of irony, but rather the Powers That Be. Regardless, I’m sure glad I sold my paper when I did.

      It takes me another day at the Dump before the payoff comes. It's the middle of the workday, so it’s not as busy here as it could be. I’m collecting more wooden spoons, because it’s novel, and they used to be more rare than they are now. And there it is, a Darigan paintbrush. I grab for it, spazzing out a bit if I’m being honest. I think I missed it, when suddenly, hello! Silver paintbrush. But where’s my Something Has Happened? Are you kidding me? After all that, I miss the notification. I got it with the Darigan brush and somehow brushed right by it.

      I sell the brushes in my shop, a quick 500k of profit. But that’s just icing on top of the cake for me. Because now, three years and a bit of crushing disappointment, resentment and heartbreak later, it is mine. And let me tell you, as far as prizes go, That’s Not Rubbish.

     The End.

 
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