Resource Mining

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Resource Mining

Flash Fiction

by Daniel Addercouth

The location wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I signed up for a week’s conservation volunteering. I think the other five participants had also imagined something different under “Waste Management & Recycling”.

“I’m sure we’re all going to have fun sorting out this place,” said Dave, the cheery project leader.

“But it’s a landfill site,” said the woman next to me, holding a scarf over her nose.

“Exactly,” Dave said. ”It may not look like much now, but imagine how nice it’ll be after we spend five days cleaning it up.”

Dave gave each of us a colour-coded rubbish bag. Yellow was plastic, blue was paper, red was metal. I got a red bag. I felt sorry for the guy who got green, organic waste. Dave instructed us to fill our bags with the appropriate materials. “We call it resource mining.”

I scoured the landfill for tin cans and scrap metal, feeling satisfied every time I spotted something. The smell made me nauseous at first, but it disappeared after a few minutes as my brain filtered it out, and I stopped noticing the squawks of the seagulls fighting over scraps of food. I even got used to the disturbing way the surface of the rubbish heap yielded with each step, as if I was walking on a giant mound of moss.

Soon my bag was too heavy to carry and I made my way to Dave’s designated collection point, where I dropped it next to the others. Dave gave me a yellow bag this time. “Just to mix things up.” I had a vision of an endless rotation of different coloured bags over the course of the week. I was wondering if I’d be able to stand it when I heard an excited shout.

One of the volunteers, who’d introduced herself as Sarah, was staring at something she’d found. I followed Dave and the others as they hurried over.

“I don’t believe it,” Sarah was saying. “This is the collar from my first pet dog. I lost it years ago when we were moving house.”

“Are you sure it’s the same one?” someone asked.

“Definitely.” Sarah pointed to the tag. “His name was Boris. And I remember this pattern of studs.” She clutched it to her chest. “I thought I’d lost it forever.”

When we were eating our packed lunches, huddled out of the wind next to Dave’s white van, I noticed Sarah wasn’t there. I asked Dave where she was. “I told her to take the rest of the day off,” he said. “She was very emotional.”
As the afternoon wore on and the autumnal sun began to set, I found myself thinking of the incident with my husband. It would soon be a year since it happened. Signing up for the course had been an attempt to take my mind off the anniversary. I shook my head and got back to work.

The next day I was on my third bag when I noticed some of the volunteers huddled together. I went over to see what was going on. Tom was holding his face in his hands.

“Is he OK?” I asked Dave.

“He’s absolutely fine. He found a collection of his daughter’s old drawings.”

Tom wiped away his tears with a cloth handkerchief. “My ex-wife threw them out when we got divorced. I never thought I’d see them again.”

Dave told Tom to take the rest of the day off. He walked towards the car park carrying the folder of drawings in both hands.

Over the next couple of days, all the other volunteers found things that were meaningful to them. Samir discovered a box of letters from his first love. Jake found his childhood collection of Star Wars figures. Michaela came across a bottle of sand she’d brought home from Bali. Each left after their discovery and never returned.

By Friday, it was just me and Dave. “One more vanload and we’re done,” Dave said, chipper as ever.

I worked hard that day, aware I didn’t have much time left. Part of me wondered if I was also going to find something, but I knew the other volunteers’ discoveries had just been luck.

The sun was going down when I pulled up an aluminium sheet and noticed something glinting in the dark space below. I took a closer look and saw a signet ring. A ring I recognised. It was attached to a finger. I moved the sheet further out of the way and saw an arm.

“We should probably call it a day.” I hadn’t heard Dave come up behind me. I quickly replaced the sheet and stood up.

“You go ahead. I might stay here for a moment and enjoy the sunset.”

I watched as Dave walked off towards the car park, his figure silhouetted against the orange sky. Then I turned back and started digging.

About the Author

Daniel Addercouth grew up on a remote farm in the north of Scotland but now lives in Berlin, Germany. His stories have appeared in Free Flash Fiction, New Flash Fiction Review, and Ink Sweat & Tears, among other places. You can find him on Twitter/X and Bluesky at @RuralUnease.