Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Short Story: "Dumpster Diver" – Finally Finished!

I started this story in a post way back on February 3rd of this year. I liked the story, and had even planned to use it in my short-story collection, but I couldn't figure out how to end it. So I just let it sit there for a while. Almost two months, in fact. I didn't want to just leave the main character's fate hanging there indefinitely. So I decided to start writing and figure out what happens to him. And I found my ending! As usual, the outcome of the story surprised me. I didn't see it heading in that direction at all. But there it went, and here it is. I've significantly rewritten parts of what I wrote originally, and added about 1200 more words to it. Hope you will enjoy it!


Garry was looking for a bite to eat. It never ceased to amaze him how much good food people will throw away. What a waste! But it would not go to waste.

He was sure there was some validity to the common thinking, or science or what have you, that it was unhealthy or unsanitary to eat food that had been tossed away. That flies or other creatures would get to the food first and sully it, leave behind germs or even disease. It didn't matter to Garry. Eating food that could make him sick was much better than eating no food at all and eventually dying.

Thirst wasn't a problem. There were plenty of public restrooms and even the occasional water fountain (though those seemed to be harder to find these days) where he could get a free drink of water. As long as no one saw him doing it, he could even wash his face and arms in the restroom sinks. The rest of his body was not so fortunate as his face and arms, but that was the way it was.

Garry knew if he could maintain a modicum of cleanliness, at least the appearance of it, that he would be less likely to be thrown out of public establishments, unlike some brazen bums who walked in like they owned the place.

He could get away with walking around some places just as he was without looking over his shoulder every five seconds. Like Walmart, for instance. They'd let anybody in, and would only throw you out if they saw you stealing something. Even then, you might get lucky, as some of the employees understood what it was like to have nothing, and would look the other way if they pitied you enough.

But Garry never stole. He didn't have to. There were always things that people left behind, whether it was the remnants of a lunch or a ballpoint pen. He could find a use for it all, and he did.

He never begged for money, though every now and then a sympathetic soul would offer him a coin or two, or maybe even a dollar. He'd use it to buy himself an actual meal, if he ever scraped together enough to do so. Not that he needed to. There was always something to eat.

Dumpsters were an abundant source of edibles, especially the ones behind restaurants or grocery stores. Produce that had gone just beyond its out-date was an everyday delicacy for Garry. He actually ate a more balanced diet than most of the people who could afford to eat what they chose.

Garry's favorite place to check for food was the Burger King just off the main drag. Customers often left their food half-eaten, and simply tossed it away. Burger King employees regularly took out the "garbage", but only haphazardly disposed of it. Often a bag would be peeking over the top of the Dumpster, and Garry needed only to reach up to grab it and abscond with it behind the Dumpster to see what treasures he could find.

Today was Thursday. He knew this because he had just passed the bank on Main with its digital scrolling message, which welcomed you to the bank and informed you of the day, time, and temperature (it was currently 87° F). Burger King had already weathered the lunch rush, and was languishing in the mid-afternoon drag before the after-work crowd arrived.

Garry stepped into the bushes just beyond the Dumpster as a young black man approached, carrying three bags of garbage which he tossed over the side of the trash receptacle. Garry had once bumped into the young fellow when he’d gone inside the Burger King to use the restroom, and had glimpsed the name “MARVIN” on the man’s name badge. Marvin had done a better-than-usual job of getting the bags all the way inside the Dumpster this time, which would make Garry's job considerably more difficult, but not impossible.

He waited for Marvin to return to the restaurant, then for two cars in the drive-thru lane to circle around to the other side of the building. Lifting himself up by his calloused hands, Garry peered inside the Dumpster and spotted the recently added bags, but they were just out of reach.

He leaned in just a bit farther, trying to maintain his balance. Suddenly, a car horn honked nearby, startling Garry and causing him to lose his equilibrium and fall forward, too fast to stop himself. Even as he tumbled into the Dumpster, Garry braced himself for what would surely be a hard fall. Numerous bags of garbage notwithstanding, Garry knew he far outweighed them and that their cushioning power would be greatly diminished by his weight.

He was not mistaken. With a deafening thud, his head smashed into the side of the Dumpster even as his body careened downward. Garry hit the bottom with one leg bent beneath him, and an arm bent backward in the wrong direction.

A series of sickening snaps confirmed what the simultaneous wave of pain was already telling him. His left leg and his right arm were badly fractured.

Garry could only cry out in pain, helpless to form words he knew would be of no use anyway. But his cries were short-lived. Gradually but definitively, the blackness engulfed him, and he lost consciousness.


“Hey!” A somewhat slurred voice from above roused Garry from his slumber. He looked up at the opening of the Dumpster, wincing as the sudden realization of great pain overtook him again.

The face that stared back at Garry was not one he recognized. The man was about Garry’s age, forty to forty-five by the looks of him. The other man’s graying hair was closely cropped, his eyes were wide and a bit wild, and his lower lip hung open like a trap door.

“Please, can you help me?” pleaded Garry through anguished tears. He extended his one good arm briefly, unable to brace himself with the broken arm for long.

“Hey!” the man repeated, and this time Garry caught the vacant look in his eyes, and the insensible tone in his voice. The man was clearly not in possession of his full mental faculties. As if to confirm what Garry had just realized, the other man’s face transformed into a wide grin, obviously uncomprehending the dire situation upon which he had stumbled.

“Please,” said Garry, “I need your help. I’m hurt real bad.” To emphasize the point, Garry pointed to his own arm and leg and winced with each touch to demonstrate his pain.

“Hurt?” the other man asked, his grin evening out to almost a frown – a look Garry could only hope was one of concern.

“Yes, my arm and my leg are hurt,” replied Garry. “Help me. Please.”

“Help!” the man blurted, grinning broadly again.

Garry extended his good arm again, reaching as far as he could toward the other man, whose face was all he could see of him.

The man looked down at something Garry couldn’t see which made a crinkling sound, a plastic grocery bag perhaps. Suddenly, the man’s face reappeared and he reached his arm down inside the Dumpster, extending a hand toward Garry. But his hand wasn’t empty; apparently, the other man was offering Garry a shiny red apple. Unsure what to do, Garry took the proffered fruit and slipped it into his pocket.

“Thank you,” Garry said, looking directly in the man’s eyes. “Now, can you please help me out of here?”

“Out?” the man inquired, screwing up his face in confusion.

“Yes. Out. Help.” Garry figured that keeping his words simple might help the other man understand him better.

“No apple?” The man had finally strung together more than one word at a time, which Garry saw as a positive sign.

“Yes, apple good. Help out,” Garry replied, and again lifted his hand toward the other man, groaning as he was forced to put part of his weight on the fractured arm.

The man’s confusion relaxed to a frown, then back to the broad grin he’d borne before. The man reached his hand out to Garry, but the gap between them was too great. Garry lowered his hand and braced himself against the wall of the Dumpster in an attempt to raise himself up on his uninjured leg. The pain in his arm and his other leg was overwhelming, but Garry was able to stand long enough to reach the other man’s hand.

“Pull?” the man asked.

“Please pull!” cried Garry, gritting his teeth to withstand the shooting pains emanating from his wrecked limbs.

Remarkably, the man did pull, and with greater strength than Garry had imagined was possible. But Garry was still a good foot away from the opening.

“Keep pulling!” Garry pleaded, trying not to shout and startle the man, who was clearly functioning as best he could.

The other man yanked his good arm one more time, and Garry was just able to pull himself up over the edge. Both his arms quivered as Garry teetered at the lip of the Dumpster, the pain too great to remain there for long.

“Catch me!” Garry exclaimed, and the man reacted – again – more quickly than expected, dropping what appeared to be a tote bag full of  grocery bags and reaching his arms out just in time as Garry fell from the Dumpster.

It wasn’t a clean catch, but neither Garry nor the other man were hurt any more in the ensuing fall to the pavement. Relieved but still in excruciating pain, Garry patted the man on the shoulder and smiled gratefully.

“Get help,” said Garry, calmly pointing toward the Burger King. The man turned toward the building, then quickly looked back at Garry, who nodded approvingly. “Help.”

The other man nodded back, then broke out into a wide grin as he stood. Garry was left alone on the pavement as the man ran excitedly toward the Burger King. He was alive, thank God – broken, but alive. His tears came suddenly and in multitudes.

A minute later, Marvin and the restaurant manager exited the building and rushed over to where Garry lay.

“Are you hurt, Mister?” inquired Marvin.

“My arm and my leg. I think they’re broken,” Garry replied softly, sobbing helplessly.

“Call 911!” said the manager. Marvin lingered, unsure what to do. “Go! Now!” The young man sprang into action and sprinted back toward the building.

“Thank you,” whispered Garry.

“What were you doing back here anyway?” asked the manager.

“L-l-lunch,” Garry managed to mumble through the pain.

“Out the Dumpster?” the manager asked. Garry nodded. “Well, next time, you just come in and ask for something. As long as I’m working here, you don’t need to worry about no Dumpster diving. That’s just crazy. And apparently, it’s dangerous too.”

“Thank you,” repeated Garry.

“How’d you get yourself out of there anyway?” said the manager.

Garry was confused. The manager knew how he’d gotten out, of course. The man with the grocery bags had rescued him, then he had run inside for help.

“The man,” mumbled Garry. “The man…who came in…and told you I was…here.”

“What man?” cried the store manager, incredulously. “Nobody didn’t come in and tell us you was here. Marvin seen you out the window. Said you just appeared over the top of the Dumpster, fell out, and landed on the ground right here. There wasn’t nobody else around as far as Marvin could tell.”

“Are you…are you sure?” Garry whispered. The manager nodded. “But I…saw him. He helped me out…of the Dumpster. He gave me…an apple.”

Ambulance sirens blared in the distance, approaching the restaurant at top speed from the main drag.

Garry reached into his pocket with his good arm to produce the apple, but came up empty. He looked around for the bag full of bags that the other man had dropped when he caught Garry. It was nowhere to be seen.

“Are you sure…there was no one?” Garry repeated.

“You can ask Marvin, but he said there wasn’t,” replied the manager, matter-of-factly.

“I don’t understand,” Gary breathed.

“Maybe you aren’t supposed to. Seems somebody was looking out for you.” The manager stood and smiled, as the ambulance pulled into the Burger King parking lot. “Take care of yourself, you hear?”

Garry nodded weakly, and reached to shake the manager’s hand.

“And I mean it about the food,” said the manager. “Anytime you want, just come on by. And stay away from them Dumpsters!”

Gary nodded again. His stomach growled in response. But that could wait. He had much more on his mind than food at the moment.

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