Societal Decay | Rebecca Hadland


Societal Decay

Rebecca Hadland

The Collateral Landscape Award


Lieutenant Jeffrey Gillis was reasonably certain that Sandra Milkenny had been killed by her husband. He hadn’t seen the body yet, nor had he reviewed the case file, but he knew that Sandra had a husband. It was nearly always the husband; thirty years of husbands gone bad had soured him to this fact. It was something of a wonder that women married at all, considering. Spending so much of his time seeing only the poorer side of the coin had probably skewed his judgement though, he considered. He had a healthy enough relationship with his own wife, after all.

His police cruiser pulled up beside its twin brothers and sisters in the car park. He hadn’t been first on the scene in many years now. He felt for the handle and the driver’s side door creaked open, its sound identical to the squeak of the rusted hinges on his own front door at home, which he always meant to oil, but never did.

The smell of the garbage hit him before he took in the sight of it. It was so overpowering that his fingers instinctively twitched to thumb the bottom of his moustache, as if they could physically hold back the smell. He wondered if every scent in the world was gathered here, bundled together for a full nasal assault. The reek of used diapers, mouldy citrus, rotten eggs and spoilt milk, grouped together to turn even the strongest of stomachs. Yet he could hear seagulls cry as they wheeled above him merrily, as if he were about to enjoy a packet of chips by the seaside, rather than look for a body in landfill.

The call had come while he was still at home enjoying his breakfast. Sandra had only been reported missing the day before, less than twenty four hours ago, not long enough to have been considered a missing person yet. Someone in waste management had found her this morning whilst rolling the garbage into piles.

Jeffrey surveyed the scene. There were walls of filth as far as the eye could see, the perfect visual accompaniment to the cloying reek of human effluence. It was as if someone had taken everything foul that mankind had ever squandered and tried to make abstract art. The palette muddied and overworked, the colour in the water from washing the paint brush turning the whole canvas grey and sickly. Some items were nothing more than a smudge of substance, others were whole and recognisable. The wheels from a child’s push bike, a broken umbrella, remnants of wrapping paper with the card and ribbon still attached. Jeffrey had read somewhere that 38 million miles of ribbon were put into landfill every year. Enough to tie a bow around the earth, a man made ouroboros.

He felt disgusted. As his shoes crunched across thousands of unrecognisable elements he tried to keep his eyes on the three uniformed officers gathered ahead of him. The sun was peeking over the mountain of trash as he drew up to the small party. A familiar face nodded at him and took a sip of coffee that Jeffrey could hardly fathom.

The developing sunlight filtered down in dappled patches, casting what looked like bright shadows on the figure lying motionless before them, Sandra Milkenny. She had been stripped naked and abandoned; her skin was so pale that she looked like a discarded porcelain doll. Jeffrey could see wounds on her chest, like cracks in ceramic. She had likely been stabbed multiple times; the probable cause of her death, but there was no blood. It was as if the killer were making a statement by placing something so pure and otherwise unblemished into an environment of extreme contradiction.  He had cleaned her and staged this crime scene like an expert artist; her dead body a muse in repose.

The intent behind it made Jeffrey feel sick, and he glanced away from the young woman, his eyes escaping to the bare patches of land beyond the boundary of the landfill site. The landscape there was barren and bleak, clear felling had left the stunted corpses of trees behind, their remaining stumps still displaying evidence of the criss-cross which had called for their execution. The landfill site he stood on had reached capacity. It was set to expand into the allotment beyond. Again Jeffrey turned away from another site of desolation, and he was conflicted as to which was the more repugnant to him.