art by Agata Maciagowska
by K.S. Dearsley
"Sebastian, come look!" Madeleine called her brother to come and see what she had found. It was not the first time.
"Not now, Maddy. Pitches'll sack me if I'm late again." Sebastian pulled on the palm guards he had made from a tire. They protected his hands and helped him grip the sharp edges of the metal drums he spent his days fashioning into walls and roofs. It had been a great find. As well as the palm guards he had been able to put new soles on their sandals and make Maddy pads for her shins and elbows. She was always picking up scrapes and bruises gleaning with the other scavs who were too young or too old for other work.
Once, so myth said, the hills were a valley, a huge empty bowl. Year upon year the valley was sown with everything that no one wanted--things that were ugly or old, broken or decayed--until they became the slopes upon which Maddy and Sebastian tiptoed, two of the equally unwanted people who scavenged the hillsides like gulls following a plough.
Madeleine pulled at Sebastian's T-shirt. "Now. Please?"
He looked at her. She was too short and too thin for an eight-year-old, but so full of life that she almost fizzed.
"What is it this time?" He allowed himself to be pulled outside their hut. "One day," he told Madeleine, "we'll live in a place with plastic bottle windows and tire insulation. We'll never be cold or damp again."
Madeleine nodded at him round-eyed, as she always did. One day, when he had saved enough barter tokens. If Pitches did not sack him for being late.
"We'd better be quick, Maddy."
They set out. The spindly-legged girl pulled Sebastian along by one hand and clutched another of her precious finds in the other. They had had to take it to the oldest to find out what it was, although Madeleine had been careful not to let go of it while the oldest, so wrinkled and feeble with age that it was genderless, examined it.
"I remember, when I was little. It's a book." The voice rasped like the pages as it turned them.
"And what are these?" Madeleine pointed to a picture of something straight and brown with bits of green dotted all over it and a bird sitting amongst them unlike any of the crows and gulls that flapped and screamed over the hillsides.
"Pictures of things that don't exist any more," said the oldest. "It's a tree. Once you used to find bits of them on the hills, but they didn't last long." It sniffed. "Plastic's better."