Augustus Hopperton slipped through the streets of Whitehall and away from his home on the outskirts of the village. No one saw him; no one ever did. He was a small man, short, thin, with a balding pate and not much to lend itself to acknowledgement. He had no real skills, other than his ability to pass unnoticed, and no acquaintances to reprimand him for his behavior. He was a scavenger, plain and simple, and he had no desire to be anything more.
The village was quiet this late in the evening. Most folks were home with their lights out and their kids tucked into bed. Businesses had closed at the dinner hour, and the nightly rainstorm was in progress. Drops fell in sheets, and runoff from the nearby mountains threatened to turn the streets into rivers. But Augustus didn’t care. Tomorrow was burning day, and he had to reach the Heap before the light shone.
Augustus skulked by the last house and made his way through the swamp grass to the place where the Heap rested. Putrescent pools surrounded it, and rot saturated the ground. But that didn’t bother Augustus. All he cared about were the treasures he’d find in the Heap, things he could take home and save from destruction.
The Heap rose before him, almost head high. It spanned the several feet of dry land in the middle of the swamp and was nothing more than a tangled mass of garbage. Food scraps lay side-by-side with broken furniture and garden instruments, and a few moldy books were tossed in for good measure. It had always amazed Augustus that the people of Whitehall could throw away such treasures, things that could be mended and used, and the food, while not fresh, was rarely rotten. There was good stuff here, if one cared to look. Augustus himself hadn’t had a meal from anywhere else in years, and he was as fit as he’d ever been.
Wasteful. That was the word. The people of Whitehall were wasteful. It was bad enough that they threw away valuable items and food, but them burning the pile once per month made it even worse. There was no point in it, and Augustus saved as much as he could carry.
Lightning cracked the sky, and Augustus took a moment to peer upwards. Dark clouds rolled across the heavens, and thunder shook the ground. The swamp itself seemed angry, and Augustus shivered. The storm was worse than usual tonight, and he wanted to finish his business and get home to his fire.
Augustus raised his lantern to better see the mound of trash before him. He spotted a chair leg and pulled it from its resting place. He could use this, he was sure, and there was no point in wasting good wood. He also found a lamp, cracked down the side so it would never hold oil again, but he was positive he had an adhesive at home that could mend it. His heart lifted when he found the freshly tossed remains of a roast, and he shoved it in his pocket to have for dinner. If he could just find some fruit, he’d eat well.
The rain’s intensity increased, its fury beating the swamp grass into submission. The mountains groaned as lightning touched their tops, and thunder shook the ground so much that Augustus stumbled. It wasn’t safe here, not tonight. He’d have to just grab what he could and get back to his dwelling, no time for dilly-dallying. Even his treasures weren’t worth his life. Not in this storm.