By Corey Farrenkopf
Ecotourists gathered to watch the Great New England Clothing Heap scale the Berkshire Mountains. The amorphous mass of t-shirts and dresses, jackets and jeans seethed and swelled as it hobbled over a pine-heavy peak. Dregs slipped off, fouling creeks at the mountain’s base with socks and basketball jerseys. The tourists lingered on protected outcroppings and viewing platforms, binoculars pressed to faces, fishing poles slung over shoulders. In the Heap’s wake, where the mass crossed soft ground, it hauled up earth, leaving deep crevices like glacial fissures. Some said whole forests had been gathered inside the bulging skin of the Heap. Others suggested it expanded with recent castoffs from mall outlets when season’s styles were no longer fashionable.
“That looks like my yellow dress,” Helg said, letting her binoculars droop to her chest. “The one I bought at Forever 21. Remember?”
“The one you wore for Halloween Freshman year? The infamous pineapple costume,” Jake replied.
“That’s the one,” Helg said, thinking about the scratchy leaflike headdress and subsequent rash. “Think we can get to it?”
“If we move now,” Jake answered, checking his weighted fishing hook looped through one of the rod’s eyelets.
The two broke from the cluster of tourists, pressing through thinning trees, stumbling over loose gravel, shuffling up the incline to where the Clothing Heap slugged along. At its zenith, a globular bulge formed, giving the Heap a perfunctory head. Scientists ran studies. The Heap had no consciousness, no brain, and no direction. They compared its movements to that of jellyfish, guided by currents or the direction of the wind. People ascribed familiar likenings to it: a balled up panda, bubblegum pink mold sprouting after rain storms, sewage monsters from 80’s B-horror flicks. Helg didn’t agree with any of them. She only saw a past mistake, her yellow dress emblematic of her own role in the Heaps creation.
She had tossed the dress, wine stained, thanks to Jake’s poor depth perception, into the dorm’s dumpster without a cleaning attempt. Jake had apologized, but was too drunk to suggest solutions, the baking soda and vinegar needed. Helg declared a major in Sustainability Studies her sophomore year, too late to retrieve the waste left behind from twenty years of life. She’d wake to night terrors of the dress and the countless others subsumed by the Heap, how the thing rambled on, uprooting forests, damming rivers with stained overalls. Jake would pull her back into sleep, a warm arm wrapped about her chest, a whispered reminder that she didn’t know back then and couldn’t be blamed for lack of childhood education.
“Think you can get it from here?” Jake asked, extending the fishing pole to Helg, who was tying back her hair with a scrunchy.
“Who knows,” she replied, unhitching the hook.
“Just don’t touch it,” Jake reminded her.
They read reports of others who quested after waste they’d pumped into the Heap. In the early days, people thought they could climb its heights and retrieve past belongings like plucking apples from a tree. Clyde Simsdale had been swallowed whole going after a pair of Nikes. Val Dixon met a similar demise reaching for her high school prom dress. Fishing lines were deemed the only safe means of removal and had become a staple of the Ecotourists’ attire. Fishing stores sold weighted hooks for the cause, a simple double barbed point with no eye catching, minnow-like lure at the end.
When the line draped over her shoulder, Helg flicked her wrist as she’d practiced in their backyard, letting fly into the throng of forgotten apparel. When it caught, she reeled in, drawing forth a lace dressing gown. She recast, coming up with a suit jacket torn at the cuffs. These she handed to Jake, who draped them over a tree limb like a dressing room maybe-rack.
There had been talk in government about creating a task force to do exactly what Helg and Jake were attempting, but on a larger scale. No consensus swept the House or Senate. Some politicians thought there was money to be made in tourism, bed and breakfasts overlooking the Heap’s migratory paths. Others feared what they’d find at the Heap’s core, some concrete truth they’d missed in themselves. Most people stayed away from the mass unless it crept through their backyards, in which case, it became impossible to ignore so close to home.
“You’ve got to work on your aim,” Jake said.
“Shut it, Jake. You think I don’t know that,” Helg replied, winding back for a third flick.
“Do you think it still fits?” Jake asked.
“That’s not the point,” Helg said.
With a grunt, Helg let fly, the silver hook zipping through the cool mountain air, plunging into the Heap right on top of the yellow dress. With a yank, the fabric broke free of the churning darkness that was the Heap’s inner lining, fluttering on the breeze like a childhood kite. For a moment, it hovered there on a pine scented updraft before Helg began to reel in, the fluttering bird of a yellow dress fighting the pull.
Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his partner, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. His fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Catapult, Redivider, Blue Earth Review, JMWW, Lunch Ticket, Slushpile Magazine, Gravel, Literary Orphans Journal, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at CoreyFarrenkopf.com.
Art by Michelle Johnsen, art editor
Michelle Johnsen is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.