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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Contest · #1467990
A garbage truck worker finds a very INTERESTING new friend.
The smell.

You got used to it after a while, but when you're a greenhorn, that smell could turn your nostrals inside out and burn off any hair that even thought of growing.

Frank didn't believe he would be able to stand it. After his first day, he went home, puked, and had a scalding shower that left his palid skin flaming red. The second day was only slightly better.

After a week, he was down to just filling his nightmare book with dreams of piles of disgusting trash following him around dark endless streets, leaving trails of rotten food residue, moldy puddles, and random used tampons. The used tampons were the worst.

But he found a way around it - the other trashmen would laugh to themselves seeing rolled up pieces of tissue shoved up his nose and his mouth hanging open so he could breathe.

Frank Guerra was twenty years old, and he was a Trashman. He was the second guy on the garbage truck who stood on a little platform in the back, leaping like a squirrel to empty the curbed dumpster cans and put them back.

Oh, sure, the tenure Trashmen only had to bang on the side of the dumpster whenever they were ready. Greenhorns had fifty-three seconds to do their job. Of course, no one explained this to Frank - he figured it out the hard way, standing in the middle of a street at five thirty in the morning with a half empty garbage can in the air, staring blankly at the truck as it drove to the next stop.

After his second week, he had tuned into thirty-two second stops and his driver had a microcasm of respect for the 'quick little mexican boy'. Despite all the hazards and 'initiation' of the others, Frank showed a real affinity to his job, something that couldn't have been said for the entire of his twenty years.

He was a short, skinny kid with black hair that wasn't so much styled, but cut so that it wouldnt hang in his face. Really, he was only half Mexican from his father's side, and he looked more like his anglo-american mother, but his name gave him away.

In High School, he was very nearly invisible. He says 'very nearly' because his name in combination with his blue eyes (and not pretty blue either - rather like a piece of chalk that was left out in the rain) and freckles were always a laughing oppurtunity when popular society was bored.

And if you went to any of his classmates who remembered him (if there were any) and told them he was a Trashman, they wouldn't be surprised. Frank never showed much promise elsewhere, anyway.

This didn't bother him - well, as much as anyone's exsistance and struggle of personal choices didn't bother them, which is not often. He was - content because he didn't have any other way to be. In his very large family of six siblings and countless cousins and aunts, he could afford to be plain. Plain in a sea of chaos wasn't noticed, and wasn't bothered, which is what he liked. So he thought.

Frank often heard of and read about plain people who were introduced to great things, and that underneath it all, they had a vein of originality needed for whatever problem/adventure that was at hand. He heard about it, but didn't believe it could happen to him.

Which is, he would be surprised to learn, the exact mindset that attracts great things. As he soon found out. It was a Tuesday.


As any good Trashman, Frank was up and out by three-thirty, being one of those rare morning people. Bright eyed, if unable to be physically bushy tailed, he clocked in, suited up, and went out into the still-dark morning in more or less a good mood.

His driver today, Lawrence, was a pot bellied man who creeped Frank out, for no other reason then that the guy didn't talk. He grunted for questions, and assumed you knew what he meant.

The only good thing about that was he didn't ask Frank any uncomfortable questions about his love life, home life, or his general life. That was alright.

About an hour in, Frank was surprised that this job wasn't getting boring for him. Not better - just not boring. If he possessed any writing talent, he would write a book titled, 'What People Throw Away', made up entirely of all the bizarre and the disgusting things everyday self proclaimed normal people threw away.

Besides the usual wasted food, plastic disposibles, and mysterious wrapped up plastic bags, there were pieces of busted furniture, random diamonds of broken glass, perfectly good dishwear and silver, among a many of other odds and ends Frank couldn't even guess what they were once used for.

It was about three blocks in, and the sun was just shaking off the night to blearily get up for the day, when Frank pulled up to a huge three story house with a blue door. He had seen this house before, of course - the blue door intrigued him. Growing up in a one story house with eight people, he was intrigued by these giant houses with maybe three occupants at a time.

What did they do? He wondered. How can you keep a house that big clean without spending hours inspecting it? But then he supposed they had maids. Rich people, he shook his head. He just couldn't understand them.

Jumping down, reflexes tuned into getting the two steel cans emptied as fast as possible, he had the first up and done in the first fifteen seconds. The second (after he'd placed the empty one back) took only twelve. He was getting better.

Into the routine, he climbed up on his platform and was so shocked that he nearly fell off when the truck revved up. Frank was just tall enough (at five foot four inches) to see into the great belly of the trash beast, and his brief glance had him wide eyed and frozen.

Now, it might not seem very impressive to shock this feeble looking kid, but after working his job, Frank could have told you that it was hard to shock him, anymore.

But a sneaker attached to a foot would have shocked anybody had it been sticking out of a pile of trash they just emptied into a dump truck.

Frank yelled, and was actually heard after the third shout over the loud machine. It died off as the driver door opened and Lawrence shuffled out, looking at an animated Frank with intense black eyes. He grunted, which Frank took as, 'What?'

"There's a - a sneaker! Someone was in there, a kid maybe - could be a body." He clenched his teeth to head off any bile that could be sneaking up his throat. Frank, like any normal young man, was not keen on seeing a reminder of how he and everyone he knew would end up someday.

Lawrence grunted again, and climbed up on Frank's vacant pedestal, poking his head in while Frank twisted on the ground. It seemed like forever, but was only thirty seconds, before Lawrence climbed down again.

"Well? Did you see it?"

Lawrence grunted again, and shook his head. Patting the younger man on the shoulder he grunted again. Frank didn't know what to take from that. Standing stupidly for a moment, he realized Lawrence was getting back into the truck.

"Wait!" Frank yelled, and jumped up to peer into the garbage heap again. The mysterious foot was gone. Rubbing his eyes, trying to quiet his gut, he looked again. Nothing.

Maybe I've been working too hard, he thought as he felt the great trash gobbling beast roar back to life and jerk forward. Maybe that's what Lawrence was trying to tell me.

The rest of his shift was unremarkable - but he was unable to shake off the eerie experience, and he could have sworn he was being watched.


The little one bedroom, one bath, four room total apartment seemed like heaven the first time he saw it. For a reason he couldn't explain, he was terrified of large rooms, and found he could relax this fear with the cosy atmosphere of the small living area going for five hundred fifty dollars a month. It seemed like a steal, for Frank.

After all, what else did he really need?

Flopping down on his withered couch after his shift felt good to his cramped muscles, and he groaned out loud. Why did nothing seem to hurt until you try to get comfortable? Madness.

The other good thing about his job was the employee showers. After a particularly bad shift, all you have to do is strip off your jumpsuit and wash the stink away before heading on home, so as not to infect your family with the job.

Frank didn't have to worry about infecting anyone, but he was rather concerned about his furniture. Arching his back to try and relieve the soreness, he sighed and turned over, throwing an arm over his shoulder just to keep it out of the way.

Sleep was nudging him, but he couldn't afford to give in - or else he'd be up at eleven o'clock at night unable to sleep, and be even more tired the next day. A devestating cycle, to a Trashman.

His apartment was built some odd twenty years ago, and there was an ongoing battle with the maintanence man about various problems, from the minor of a leaky pipe to the major of having your floor cave in. That last one hadn't happened to Frank, but to a very nice and hideously obese woman a few doors down from him.

Ms. Carla had told anyone who would listen that she was minding her own business sitting on her sofa when there was a loud snap and the floor underneath her television gave in and took her tellie to the bottom apartment, luckily empty at the time.

She was currently engaged in a vicious passive agressive war with the Super for the last three days.

He had his own personal suspicions of what had happened, but he'd rather not get involved in a fight between a guy who could make his life hell and an angry woman who could easily crush his tiny body. Ho hum.

Anyway, being that the building was well traveled, it creaked something awful in certain places, and Frank had given up trying to be quiet long ago. The kitchen was by far the worst, but since he didn't cook outside of sandwiches and soup, he wasn't in there much. Stepping on the cracked linoleum was like chopping down a forest of oak trees with a blunk katana.

And since it was distintive, the loud crunch had Frank jumping up and staring at the walkway where the noise had come from. The kitchen. But no one was in there, because only Frank was there, and Frank was right here, not there.

Grabbing the first thing he saw, which was a lamp he had mostly for show, he creeped slowly to the wall, scrunching himself agaisnt it. Just what he needed, a robber...

Frank was by no means braver then the average Tom, Dick, or even Harry, but he was hoping he had the element of surprise. There is something in all of us that if provoked, it calls a need inside of us to defend what defines our life, be it family, money, or in Frank's case, his shabby lifestyle in his cramped comfortability.

Of course, when that essence is provoked, it doesn't necessarily mean it makes you any smarter. It was dark in that area of the apartment, and though he was smart enough not to turn on the light, he forgot that if whoever was in there made the floor creak, he did too.

The crunch made him leap and crunch it even more. Startled badly, he swung his lamp weapon and hit something, which smashed the cheap thing into pieces in Frank's hands. Running on adreneline, he smacked behind him to hit the light switch and his heart sank.

He hadn't hit a person, after all, but his innocent coffeemaker his mother had given him as a house warming present. Frowning, embarressed, he looked down at the shattered remains of plastic and glass and forgot why he'd come in swinging in the first place.

"Wow, that wasn't very smart, was it?"

Whirling to the unused sound of another's voice in the apartment, he stared. Blinked. Stared some more. His brain couldn't catch up with his eyes.

When it did, this is what he saw that Tuesday at 4:55 pm, it was 78 degrees and 2% chance of rain. Cloudy.

It was a young girl, around her late teens, and she stood with one hand on her hip, staring back at him with the bored dissapointed look all teenagers perfect without any lessons. Her hair was an impossible curly flame red, poofing out at chin level in a semi-bob style. Her skin was ghostly pale, with the exception of three moles going down from her left cheek under her eyelid in a perfect line.

This is where all normalcy ended.

The quirked eyes said asian, but the vibrant dark red of them was like nothing he'd ever seen before. Her clothes could be considered normal, if they were seperate items. Together, she seemed more like a patchwork doll then an actual person. Frayed jeans under a rainbow short skirt, with three belts of lime green, aquamarine, and a black studded bondage like thing. She had on what looked like a white fitted tank top, overlayed with a grey long sleeve shirt that was very short in the torso. The only things that matched were the rainbow skirt and the rainbow gloves.

He must have been staring quite a while, because she cleared her throat.

"Hello? Anyone home?"


"You alright? You seem real jumpy."


She waved her hand in front of him and frowned. Scoffed.

Finally, Frank got back on his train of thought. "What are you doing in my house?" He tried to make it sound accusing, but it just sounded helplessly confused.

She shrugged. "You might want to clean up that glass. Cut your feet, or somethin'."

"Who...are you?"

"Greta," she said shortly, "Come on, get out of there if you're not going to clean it up. I don't need to be watching some guy bleed to death in his kitchen because he was being a silly monkey."

And she turned, and walked away, leaving Frank to follow or not. He chose to follow.

He found her in the living room, looking around with her hands on her hips, her back to him. "Sparce place, doncha think?" She - Greta - shook her head. "Shame."

"I'm sorry..." He didn't like how that sounded. He shouldn't be apologizing to some teenager cat burgler in his own house.

Greta shrugged again. "I can make it better, I think. Just gimme a week."

"Wh-what? Wait, I'm lost, who are you and what the hell are you doing in my apartment?"

"Beats me. It's the rules."

"What rules?"

She turned and looked at him. "The rules of being an IF." She cleared her throat. "Section XIII clearly states, 'If claimed girl or boy humanoid no longer believes in their designated IF, then said IF is to report to the closest vessel of friendship ASAP. That stands for 'as soon as possible', you know."

"I know what it means," he grumbled. "And I still have no idea what's going on."

She frowned. "I'm an IF - Imaginary Friend." When he didn't react, she hit her forehead. "God, don't you know anything? Imaginary Friends, you know, invisible friends of lonely children."

Frank started laughing. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." Still laughing, he leaned agaisnt the nearest wall. "Did the guys put you up to this? I must say, that was pretty slick getting inside without me knowing about it."

Greta's frown deepened so that a fine line appeared between her eyebrows. "It's not a joke. I really am an IF. I was drawn here because of the rules."

"Sure." Frank felt sincerely better. It was just some prank or joke someone was pulling. Granted, it was a bad one, but his relief made him loose with the giggles. The more he laughed the more Greta got angry.

"Hey! Quit it!" She advanced on him. Thinking she was going to hit him, he held out a hand, still laughing. Growling in frustraition, Greta stomped her foot and turned.


"Hey, wait," he called. He felt bad that she was getting so riled - maybe she'd really wanted him to fall for her little joke. He followed her, wiping tears from his eyes as the last of his laugh left him. The front door was wide open, and he went out on the stairwell to see Greta stomping down the two story steps in a huff.

"Greta! Wait up!" He called, but she chose not to hear him. As he looked over the railing, he saw the stormy teenager suddenly stop and crumple to the ground. Worried, Frank took the steps two at a time.

"Ow!" Greta cried as he got to her. She was on her back, sniffling.

"You ok? What happened?"

"Dammit! I forgot about the wall, I should never forget about the wall, what a rookie mistake!" She sat up and hit her temple.


"The wall. It's..." She glared up at him. "Why should I tell you? You don't even believe me, anyway."

Feeling bad, Frank helped Greta up. "Look, I'm sorry. I believe you, okay?"

She looked suspicious. "You do?"

"Yeah, sure. Crazier things are true." He shrugged. He didn't really mean it, of course - but this girl seemed a bit hostile to what he called healthy reality.

She stared at him a few minutes more. "When you get assigned a new vessel," she said slowly. "There's this period of time where you can't go more then a certain distance from them, or you run right smack into a wall."

"Like probation?"

"Yeah, I guess," Sniffing again, she rubbed her nose. "I forgot. I haven't been in probation for a while. It was stupid of me."

He had to give it to her. She was creative. "Does the same apply to me?"

Red curls shook negative. "You can go whereever, it's my job to follow you around."

"Seems weird."

Greta found her first smile. "Of course. It binds you closer together with your vessel, gets you better acquainted."

"Uh huh. Well, come on, let's go back inside. I don't want to hear my neighbors talk about how I lure young girls into my apartment with talk of imaginary friends."

Frank went up the stairs first, but since Greta had six inches on him plus most of that in her legs, she caught up easily. "Oh, they can't see me."


"Other people. They can't see me unless they know I'm here. Even then, it's pretty hard." Her hair bounced as she took the stairs, the sun catching it aflame. He felt like a heel for noticing. "So, what's your name?"

"If I don't give it to you, will you just call me vessel?" he tried to joke.

"No! That wouldn't be good, your name is the least important thing about you, but it's a big part of our new relationship together. It'd be better if you told me."


She tilted her head. "Huh. That's pretty plain."

Blushing, he opened his door but didn't enter. "It's not like I picked it."

"Oh, really? I picked mine," she smiled and passed him inside, calling over her shoulder, "It took me three weeks, but it was the best day of my life when I got my name."

Coming in behind her, he closed the door, thought about locking it, and then decided agaisnt it. "Why?"

She looked at him, eyes serious. "Because that was the day I was born. That's the day I became real. It was..." she searched for the word. "Amazing."

Frank thought suddenly that maybe this wasn't a joke. Maybe this girl really did believe that she was a...what did she call it? An IF? But how dangerous could she be?

For the second time that day, he turned out to be wrong.


.:Part Two:.
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