October 23, 2012

"Junkyard Sprites" (Formerly "Junkyard Guardians")

What wonders can we find if we just stop and look a little closer to even the most unsuspecting of places? What happens when we let obsession blind us?
There they were. They’re so small, probably 4 inches tall. Little humanoid bodies, like dainty metal dolls. They each had a glow of a different color about them. Like pulsing LEDs getting brighter and dimmer. Yet, through the light, I could see their bodies were a dull gray. Every so often little puffs of steam would shoot out of one or another. 
In the faint dusk light, I could barely make out their shimmering, insect-like wings. When the bustle of the city ebbed, I thought I could hear what sounded like the whir of servos coming off them. 
Their movement was so graceful, yet so mechanical. Like a choreographed dance of industrial robots. So smooth, so exact. Yet they moved with the breeze, so carefree. They were nimble and precise as they picked up pieces of metal or electronic junk, sorting and discarding pieces with some sort of mysterious intent. Puzzling and entrancing all at once, their strange behavior was. 
In the air there was the smell of old motor oil and wet dirt. A junkyard is never a pretty sight, let alone after a rain, but that’s when they come out. I didn’t know what they were, but they were the closest things to fairies I’ve ever seen. 
As the sunlight faded, their distinct colors stood out more: blue, orange, red, violet and a dozen or so more. Each had a distinct personality. The one that caught my eye more and more each visit was the turquoise one. She was always the first, always the last. She seemed more curious, more courageous than the others. I don’t know why exactly, but she became my favorite. 
As the sun finally set, the orange street lights came on. That’s when they left. They dashed off towards the East where its dark and hard to follow. They lived deep in the heart of the junkyard, amongst the exposed graves of steel carcasses, all dull gray and red, rusted from the elements. At least, as far as I could tell, that’s where they must have lived. 
I had only been living here for a few weeks, but I saw them out there every night I walked past the dump, and I was just fascinated. There hadn’t been a day that went by when I hadn’t thought about them: the glint of their metallic bodies, the whine of their mechanisms. At the same time they were magical and alien and yet very much of this Earth, of this dirty city. 
Even the rain, as much as it poured, couldn’t clean the filth off this city, and the dump was a testament to that. Yet, that was what the fairies called their home. I often wondered how they ended up living there. 
Where did they come from? I knew they weren’t simply someone’s creation. They were too mystical. It was almost as if they were born of the junkyard, like the fairies and sprites of old forests. 
Once again, I found myself crossing the bridge that went over and around the the junkyard. My pace was fast. Cars sped past me. They were all filled with sad people mindlessly stuck in their ruts, going from boring jobs to boring homes. Not me. That magic, that moment was all mine. The sunlight shone through the chain link fence. I knew I didn’t have long. 
I was practically running when I got to the spot. I was giddy and anxious. This time was going to be special. I just knew it. 
I stopped and caught my breath, then I crouched. I could never tell if they were able to see me, but I wanted to be careful. I didn’t want to scare them and risk never seeing them again. I loved those fairies. 
Then I saw her. First, as always, she was cautious at first, staying low and hopping from one perch to another. Then the next came out. Soon, one by one, there were a dozen or so fluttering about with their graceful precision. Each of their individual iridescence darted and danced. It was a beautiful show. 
I sat, mesmerized, as usual for minutes. Then, I didn’t know what came over me, but I had to get closer, closer to her. I found the opening in the fence and silently made my way towards them. I was careful not to make a sound. 
The sun was approaching the horizon. The lights would come on soon. I didn’t know what I wanted to to then, nor do I know now. I just had to get close. 
I was almost at arms length from the turquoise one, and had managed not to be noticed. Up close, her glow was very bright. I found cover behind a rusted street sign. I peaked over the top resting both my hand on either side of my face. The only part of me visible was the top of my head, from my eyes up.
She was so close, I could feel on my face, the puffs of steam she gave off. Then something amazing happened. She saw me. I know she did. I know she was looking at me and didn’t fly away. I couldn’t tell if it was a few seconds or a few minutes, but I swear she was looking at me with her shiny black little eyes. My heartbeat quickened. I knew today was going to be special. 
In my excitement, I probably put more weight on the sign than I should have because it collapsed and brought down more trash with it. The fairies scattered, but not her. She couldn’t. 
What happened seemed to progress in slow motion. A pipe that fell with the sign hit her. I nearly screamed as I saw her get flung into the mud. 
I was breathless as i went to her. I found her in the mud. I got down on my knees and picked her up. I delicately wiped off as much mud as I could. She was even lighter than I expected. Up close I could tell how delicate she really was. Between thin plates that made up her “skin,” I saw tiny gears and thin wires. Her limbs on her left side were torn off. Sparks flew from the torn wires. 
Her turquoise glow was flickering and getting dimmer. Her crushed wings twitched, uselessly. Her one good arm was reaching up, grasping for anything. The other, half gone, moved in an aimless circle. The little body was writhing, slowly in my hands. 
I didn’t know what to do with myself, with this beautiful creature that I just destroyed. I just sat there on my knees in the mud. I was on the brink of bawling, but I couldn’t. The noise itself could do even more damage. I watched this delicate thing die in my hands. It moved less and less; the light became dimmer and dimmer, until finally... 
image credit: Late Night Junkyard CC BY-NC-SA havehart on deviantart.com