From across the hills of forgotten objects, she was hard to see. She crouched among discarded lampshades, couch cushions and mattress springs. A mistake, a reject, just like the rest of the detritus surrounding her. She was used to being equated to garbage. Cast off.
Quinn was barely distinguishable amid the rubble, her body huddled over the treasure she had found.
A toaster. It buzzed to life as she touched a finger to it. The intricate wires inside glowed a dark red, slowly heating up to a bright orange as she picked it up.
She inspected her face in the grimy, silver surface. Distorted in the rectangular curve of the toaster’s side, she saw a long nose, speckled with grime, a wide pout, and white-blonde hair reflected back at her. Her eyes, two embers deeply set in her face, stared back at her through the dirt. Quinn wiped away some of the dirt, to better see her protruding cheekbones. Her thinness was a product of exclusion: she could never return to civilization, that much was clear.
The toaster sparked, hissing and sizzling at the excess wattage. Jolted back to the present, Quinn threw the thing away, watching it arc through the multicolored sunset sky like a comet, crashing to earth on some empty buckets and cans.
She went back to sifting. A light bulb lit up for a moment at her touch before going out with a POP! Back into darkness. Bedding, bottles, boxes, books. Shoes and shelves, candles and car parts. She sorted as the sun sank down low. A refrigerator emerged in the wreckage. She put her hands on either side, and an ear to the door. It hummed hesitantly back to life, quietly at first, then more loudly as she hugged the hulking machine.
She felt at home here, where she didn’t have to be afraid. No one else would ever come out to the dump, so far away from civilization. Digging through heaps of remnants, on the fringe, she didn’t have to be afraid, to be careful. She could let herself be free.
“Don’t touch!” had been her parents’ constant refrain. She had only been a toddler. She hadn’t understood that the lamp wasn’t meant to be a firework, that the computer was more than a laser light show. Even her mother’s hand drew back in fear of shock when the girl had reached out for a hug. Sometimes these things happened — something would go wrong.
She tried to remember a time before she changed. A time before her playthings were Christmas lights and coffee makers, before her parents wore rubber gloves to tuck her in to bed. Before the fear and the hiding, the controlling. She could not.
Upon opening the fridge, she was greeted by a stale smell carried on a wave of cold air. If she held her breath, the chill settled on her skin like a cold compress and took her mind away the constant buzzing in her fingertips, the need to transmit, to conduct, to release. The light in the refrigerator glowed dimly. It was now the only spark to be seen in the expanse of garbage. The sun had disappeared at last, leaving the lights of a far away town to blink alone in the distance.
She looked at the collection of lights on the horizon — street lights, lamps through windows. A whole world she could never rejoin. A foolish mistake as a girl, alone in the night, she had grabbed hold of a lamp post. Immediately, it shone brighter than its neighbors, a dazzling star amid fireflies. Soon it was blinding, super nova. Intoxicated by the thrill, she had laughed aloud with excitement. Her laugh was drowned out by the explosion of her creation, and the street burst into darkness.
“Would you please keep an eye on her?”
“I think we should call the police.”
“Don’t they usually… take care of people like her?”
And so she and her parents would move again. Out of sight, out of mind. A lone silhouette in the light of the fridge, she stood surrounded by the rest of society’s detritus. The need to connect consumed her, controlled her, thrust her forward. And so she moved to another hill, looking for another way to turn on the light.