This is a story I read as a child in the early 80s, very likely a short story in a collection and not the first story in the collection. I don't 100% remember the name of the hero, but I think he was called Chris.

Chris is a young boy in a future society who lives on the lowest level, Level 3, with his parents where they lead a middle-class life. Chris asks his parents questions like 'Where do the spoons come from? What happens if we lose one?' which they have no interest in - 'They came with the apartment'.

One day Chris spots two scruffy boys a little older than him in the corridors, and when they see him they dive into a garbage chute. Curious, he follows them down the chute onto Level 4, a level he didn't know existed. The boys aren't there, but he's quickly spotted by two men in uniforms who shout at him, and to get away he dives into another garbage chute that takes him down to Level 5. This is a dark factory where they deal with the garbage from the levels above.

Chris is grabbed by the supervisor who listens to his story then rounds up all the workers. He asks Chris to pick out the two boys that he saw on level 3, which he does. The supervisor orders two men (by surname) to 'process' one of them. That one is carried away screaming and (it's implied) fed into one of the grinding machines and killed. The supervisor thanks Chris. Chris asks the supervisor how he can get back to his parents on Level 3, but the supervisor tells him he can't – he works on Level 5 now.

Thanks for any pointers!

  • 1
    Reminds me a little of T. J. Bass' Half Past Human, though I'm pretty sure that's not what you're looking for.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 23:58
  • I can’t help you sadly but I’m here because I do remember this story. I was only young at the time but I remember it bothered me a lot. I haven’t really trusted a garbage chute since!!! Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 8:45
  • Thanks! I did end up reading a lot of very dark science fiction when I was young. There was another one, maybe in the same book, about an astronaut who brought back an adorable doll he bartered for on a primitive alien planet: soon all children on Earth had one, and then in the middle of the night the dolls woke up, pulled a poisoned needle out of their insides and murdered everyone, as secret hangar doors opened on the alien planet with an invasion fleet. This was all in my school library!
    – Rup
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 9:28

1 Answer 1


Have you looked at Book of Names, from the Diadem series by John Peel? It's not a perfect match, but there are similarities. The character I'm thinking of is called Pixel (a screenname, he has a real name and I can't recall if its Chris). He and his parents live in a house, where everything is provided (including a lot of virtual reality and internet). No one, parents or friends, is curious about the outside world, he is discouraged when he asks. At some point, he decides to leave, and experience the outdoors. He is lead to a factory, where he sees workers who are made to provide the things that were sent to the houses to take are of people. I think he may be mistaken for, or is going to be made, to be one of the workers. And afterwards, he is not allowed to return home.

The differences are - it is a novel, not a short story (though it is a short episode in a longer story). The setting is houses and outside, not levels and corridors. there's a great emphasis on Virtual Reality, which your question doesn't mention. I think he is lead to the factory and is caught because of a man, not kids, and I don't think a worker is processed for him to replace. And he isn't, in the end, forced to be a worker - he manages to escape outward (to the rest of the series). Like I said, I'm not sure if this is it, but I thought it worth offering. I hope it helps.

  • Thanks - I'll check that out. This was roughly 1982 though, so I don't think there was internet or VR in the one I remember. (Wow, I didn't twig it was /that/ John Peel.)
    – Rup
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 10:26
  • Oh, missed that. Sorry.
    – Megha
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 10:27

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