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The day before, Peter spent the afternoon with Student Senate, cleaning out an abandoned house near the school. They had to log 100 community service hours in the year, and this was the project they’d chosen for November. The house represented the last remnant of a subdivision that went up when the coal mine opened on BLM land nearby, and was abandoned when the mine went out of business after a few years. The cheaply-made houses had no resale value, so over time the city had been razing them to keep the drug dealers out. Now the property was lined by streets and sidewalks, but the lots were scraped clean except for this last house.

Peter liked abandoned houses, just as he liked landfills and the secret dump in the woods. Treasure is everywhere! he thought. Standing in a back bedroom, he filled a trash bag with water-soaked National Geographics. A girl complained from another room that the house smelled funky, and she worried about spiders. Peter smiled. He liked the community service hours for Senate. In a couple of weeks, they’d be raking leaves from old folks’ yards, and after that they would spring into action with shovels and buckets of road salt anytime it snowed.

Sometimes the old people would give them tips, but they lived on fixed income, so it might be a plate of cookies, or once, memorably, three delicious lemon meringue pies.

But as much as helping out felt good, he liked digging through refuse. It’s an odd hobby, he thought as he picked up a moldy shoe from behind the magazines. He looked at it critically. At one time, it had been a brown businessman’s shoe. Now, the toe had separated from the sole, and the sole itself had a hole in the bottom. He’d heard somewhere that bums would line the bottoms of their holed shoes with newspaper to protect their feet. How many miles had this shoe seen? What was the person like who’d bought it? Did the man picture that one day a high school kid would be holding this same shoe, wondering about him? Had he lived in this room? Did he have big dreams about the money he’d make from mining? Maybe he’d been a foreman. This wasn’t a worker’s shoe. Or maybe this was his Sunday go-to-church shoe. A shoe like this could tell a hundred stories.

That’s what he liked about the dump in the woods. Every scrap hinted at some story. Everything broken once worked and was vital. An abandoned house had once been new and filled with dreams. When he dug through the dump, he uncovered histories. This old house held echoes of the people who used to live here. Peter shivered in delight while looking at a closet filled with boxes waiting to be cleaned out.

He brought the shoe into a beam of light coming through a dusty window. Where he would have put his foot, if he were going to put the shoe on, a film of spider web covered the opening. Hanging to the underside, bouncing a little as Peter moved the shoe, clung a black widow, its red hourglass vividly visible.

Good thing I’m not arachnophobic, he thought as he put the shoe in the trash bag, along with the magazines.

He went to warn the rest of the class to be careful what they picked up.

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