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Art by Melissa Mead

J is for Junk

Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and other nice places. He's won a Hugo for his short fiction (and lost Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards). He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and son. Find him online at timpratt.org

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles and is currently writing a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, gardener and aikidoka living in Berkeley, California with her husband and son. She's had fiction in Strange Horizons, Polyphony, The Year's Best Fantasy, Escape Pod and other nice places. She just finished her first middle-grade novel, "Keaton T., Junior Gene Hacker" and is looking for representation. For more, visit heathershaw.org

Greg van Eekhout's fiction for adults and children includes the novels Norse Code and Kid vs. Squid and stories published in Asimov's, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other places. He lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit writingandsnacks.com.

We arrived in calm seas off the North Pacific Gyre shortly after dawn. I confess, when I saw that everything we knew about this place appeared to be wrong, my strongest emotion was delight.
We had come in our chartered ship, O'Brien, to study the Pacific Trash Vortex, a great soup of partially broken down plastics--bottle caps, trash bags, cigarette lighters--believed to span an area the size of Texas.
Instead, we found an island.
Our crew consisted of me, my three research associates, a man named John Black who was filming our expedition for Discovery Networks with camera and sound men, and the beautiful Jessica Bridges, a former journalist who was Black's on-camera talent. All of us were silent as O'Brien glided into a towering cove constructed of yellowed plastic water bottles.
We landed and marched up a beach made of white smartphone cases, plastic cracking beneath our boots. I picked up a case and held it under my magnifier. I recognized the model. I'd discarded mine last year for a newer one.
In the center of the island rose a black mountain. Through my binoculars, I saw that it was composed of large, black, rectangular sheets: Flat-screen televisions. The same material formed a wall that separated the milk-bottle forest from the beach.
"What is this place?" breathed Jessica Bridges.
"Ask that again," said Black. "But this time on camera."
He filmed all that day and all that night. I did science. We slept only a few hours. In the morning, Jessica was missing. We had some adventures finding her that involved giant lizards and an indigenous people who were as frightened of us as we were by them.
Eventually we found Jessica with her wrists bound to two PVC pipes erected as posts. She was being offered to the island's god, a fifty-foot tall anthropomorphic abomination with plastic sheets for eyes that crinkled when it blinked, and muscles made of plastic barrels bound by nylon cords, and bristling fur of plastic twist ties, all filled out with plastic bottles and plastic consumer electronic parts.
It roared, and not even Jessica's piercing scream could match my own.
We took the monster to New York and displayed it to the public at live shows and Pay Per View and on several Discovery Network shows. For a while I led a bleak but lucrative show biz life. There was a bad day when the monster broke loose and had to be corralled by the military; they threatened to sue me but backed off when I offered them a share of my profits.
Then the monster died, and I will confess initial relief. We tried to use its body to launch a recycling campaign, but a lot of it wasn't recyclable in most municipalities, such as the bottle caps. Fortunately, we were able to negotiate an agreement with a commercial landfill company.
I will offer you no moral, no aphorism, no ironic observation about beauty and beasts, not even a pun to let you walk away with my tale neatly closed, like a Polyethylene Terephthalate bottle sealed with a Polypropylene cap and a HDPE retaining ring.
Instead, I will say merely this: plastics are awfully damn convenient, until you need to get rid of them.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
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