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May 16, 2012 / Daniel

Trial and Error 1: Outgoing

(Read the complete Trial and Error series in the GSU: The Wastes section.)

[856 words, rated PG]

“It’s glass today, Liam. Bring buckets and shovels and best get the yoke. Glass buckets. Glass shovels.”

“Okay, Toby, I got it, glass.” Liam uprighted two crudely formed glass buckets, slid into them shovels made from a similar bubbly glass, and fastened them onto the ends of a shoulder yoke. This he lifted and balanced, and followed Toby out toward the western rim.

Other boys and girls, none quite adult age, with yokes and glassware, walked in a wandering line westward as the sun rose across the rubble.

They marched along to the dig site as the sun broke through the open roofs and window holes in what was left of the buildings. The beams of light bounced through the bubbles in their glass tools and refracted rainbows onto an otherwise gray and crumbled ruins of landscape.

“This sucks. Why do we have to keep doing this.”

“Shut up and get it done, Liam.”

“That’s your answer for everyth-” Liam’s complaint was cut short as he stumbled over a spill of broken bricks.

“The only way out is through. Trap your yap and pay attention to what you’re doing.”

By the time Toby and Liam had gotten close to the dig, the first of those in line were already making their return trip. Each of them with a bucket or jar or container of some sort, all glass, all full of the same gray powdery stuff.

“What a surprise. Gray shit again.”


“I know. Shut up and get it done.”

As the first of them passed, Toby stopped and adjusted his headset so that the seeker tone was in harmony with the dig powder. The seeker tone made a pleasing hum when tuned, and the sound seemed to move to follow the powder’s location. Tuned, Toby walked on past those on the return.

As Liam approached, he screamed and crumpled to the ground, dropping his yoke and scattering his buckets. Clutching at his headset, he raked at the controls to find a compatible seeker tone. The shrieking stopped once he was tuned in to a harmony that matched today’s dig, and he gathered his gear again.

Toby looked back over his shoulder, “Forgot to tune out last time, did you? Did I not remind you about that? Can you even hear me past the ringing in your head yet?”

“I’m tuned, I’m tuned.” Liam stomped onward toward the dig.

The dig site was an orchestrated chaos of boys and girls arriving, leaving, filling buckets and jars. The group of ambient seeker tones all pleasantly tuned made a weird sort of music when this activity was going on, and it was the only thing Liam liked about the work. The ballet of movements, the seeker tones harmonizing and guiding the workers; it was all very fluid and soothing.


Liam spun around toward the yelling; one of the boys had fallen to his knees and was clutching his one hand with the other, terrified.

He ran over as fast as he could and fell to the boys side, “Where’s it on you, WHERE’S IT ON YOU?”

The boy looked up, eyes as wide as nightmares, and showed his hidden hand to Liam, the middle finger entirely missing at the second knuckle. “IT’S GONE LIAM, IT’S FUCKING GONE MY FINGER IS FUCKING GONE!!”

Liam’s heart vomited into his neck and stuck there like a fist, he fell backward in a panic, with no idea how to help his friend. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move.

The boy curled his whole hand into a fist, the popped his middle finger up straight and high. “BOOM! Gotcha!”

Liam’s vision was blurred by tears, he couldn’t process what he was seeing, but the wave of nearby laughter snapped him out of it. His heart fell back into the abyss of his chest like a pebble in a pond.

The boy rolled in the dirt, holding his sides, laughing almost as loudly as the crowd.

Liam stood up and went back to his yoke. Toby’s bucket was already filled and the shovel was resting inside; Toby waiting there with his arms crossed, ready to start the return back.

Liam took his bucket and shovel over to the rim and scooped. The tears bulged at the edge of his eyelashes, pooling there but not yet falling.

The seeker tone was centered in his head and panned forward, focused on the gray stuff. He pushed his shovel in, and it sank into the pile almost without friction. He poured it into the bucket, and it settled without shifting; there was none of it swirling on the air, it just lay flat and dead in the bucket like heavy dried water. Liam carefully continued until the bucket was full.

The tears did not fall.

“Anytime now,” Toby said.

Liam yoked up the buckets and slowly stood. Toby started the walk back, and Liam followed, steadying himself under the weight.

They trudged on, following the others returning, and passing by the outgoing line, still making its first trip to the dig.

[Jump to Part 2]

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