We retreated to the Recycling Depot. It cost us one twenty-character palindrome to get in. We were all reusing language. That night’s show was billed as a lecture. It didn’t matter. We had plenty of poisonous food and ashy water. What we lacked was entertainment.

The lecture featured a man chewing and sucking on aluminum soda cans. It was bloody and slow. He was demonstrating his theory that there were enough nutrients left in these cans, sticky and dirty, to sustain us. The lecture had been ongoing for weeks. It was awful, regardless of whether it was true.

There was another reason to hand over such an elaborate palindrome. Beyond this exhibition were The Piles, and within them, every item we ever slipped into a blue bin. They sparkled or hummed or vibrated among the heaps in such a way their previous owner would recognize them, remember their circumstance and context. It was a strenuous jog of the memory, painful and euphoric.

Paper. Cardboard. Aluminum. Clear glass. Colored glass. We weren’t being judged or punished. This wasn’t hell.

Sean Ennis

Sean Ennis is the author of CUNNING, BAFFLING, POWERFUL (Thirty West) and his fiction has recently appeared in New World Writing, Flash Boulevard, Bruiser and the Best Microfiction 2023 anthology. More of his work can be found at seanennis.net.

Hailey Renee Brown

Hailey Renee Brown (Ren) is a professional illustrator born and raised in mid Michigan. A former field biologist, they moved across the country from Michigan to Pennsylvania, also moving from science to commercial art. A professionally trained artist, they attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ, where they were selected the recipient of the 2017 Norman Maurer Memorial Award as well as the 2019 Joe Kubert Jumpstart Project. They have since worked for a variety of clients from Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment to the Brink Literacy Project.