The boy slept fitfully beside Chrissy and Jerry. None of them slept well. She wasn’t sure how he had come to be with them. They were all walking north out of Florida and he just sort of took up with them and they with him. He had quite an arsenal in his backpack – mace, strings he used for snares, a small hatchet, two knives, a fold-up and expandable fishing rod, reel, line and hooks, a compass and a first aide kit. Strapped to the bag was an array of water bottles, sunscreen and mosquito spray.
To balance the boy’s supplies, the Troughtons had food – dehydrated vegetables and fruit, jerky, teabags, sugar and bouillon cubes. Jerry carried the kettle and the pot.
The road they traveled beside, Highway 301, hadn’t been scoured by city-eaters. That’s what the invaders were called – city-eaters. They were alien machines made up of one-hundred and forty four mechanical monsters in a twelve by twelve linked grid. It did exactly what its name implied – it ate entire cities, one forty-eight foot swatch at a time. The Troughtons had to watch out for individual mechmon (mechanical monsters became mechmonsters became mechmons over the six months since they arrived) but mechmons were easily evaded because the metal aliens made so much noise and traveled in packs of three. As long as humans didn’t congregate too much metal together, they were pretty much ignored.
The highways were empty. When the mechmons first landed (actually, they were dropped off along the arctic tree line by the mother ship in thousands of bunches of one gross – like a factory spewing out one-hundred-forty-four four foot by four foot sized cubes at a time), humans stood and gaped in amazement. They went viral on the net, and people looked on them as harbingers of hope and a new alliance with whatever was “out there”. The mechmons, however, totally ignored their adoring fans and opened their mandibles, unfurled their appendages, and began to eat. Humans watched in disbelief as their world changed. The mechmons joined together into twelve by twelve masses – the city-eaters, and the ones left over joined into groups of three by three – the roadsters, or just stayed single. The mechmons were the scouts and moved in triplets, dashing around the countryside with their three appendages: the concave-shaped one hunting for metal, the spatula-shaped one communicating with each other, and the net-shaped one – the horrible net-shaped grabby-thing absorbing and infiltrating anything it came in contact with -- eating. Roadsters also moved in triplets; as scavengers attacking anything larger than a mechmon could handle in less than an hour – which actually and mind-numbingly – was a great deal of metal. The roadsters traveled from the mechmons to the city-eaters and back again, like secret agents couriering the where-abouts of precious metals. Once the mechmons discovered roads, to be specific – cars on roads, the roadsters dashed back and communicated the information to the city-eaters, and humanity watched as the bulks moved at a slow pace to the roads, which led to small towns, which led to highways, which led to major cities. Humans were resistant to the idea that they were not, in fact, masters of the roads, and continued to use them as pathways of escape, clogging them with trucks, cars, motorcycles, busses and vans. Each city-eater would plod along the highway, scooping up every vehicle in its path. Cars disappeared inside it whether there were people in them or not. People disappeared inside the machines and were spewed out along with rubber and plastic and cloth and glass as great globs of gelatinous machine-generated excrement. The stench of a fresh pile was horrific for up to four months. Ants and roaches flourished, scouring sustenance from the minutia.
If the people got out of the vehicles and ran off the road, they were generally left alone. Occasionally, an alien – a four-foot by four-foot cube with black tentacles – would bear down on a flock of survivors, confiscating metal coins, jewelry and glasses and any body parts that might still be attached to them.
Chrissy shuddered and rolled over, refusing to think about the poor soul yesterday. The old woman had had a metal replacement hip and thigh bone: surgical steel – too rich for a mechmon to ignore.
The boy sat up, looking around first in terror and then in resignation.
“It’s almost dawn, Doug,” Chrissy commented.
“I’ll go check my snares.”
“Would you teach me how to do that?”
Doug shrugged and then smiled, “Sure, Chrissy.”
In Doug’s four snares were a rabbit and a rat; the other two had been yanked away from their anchors. “I guess in time, we might need to think of rats as food, but not yet. Right?”
“You can make a snare out of any type of string or wire. But, I don’t use any type of metal. I started out using shoe strings, but then you had that yarn. And you could use any type of string or rope, too. I read about snares made from grass woven together into a rope.”
“That makes sense, since grass fibers were the first kind of yarn.”
“You make a loop, like a slipknot on one end. Then feed the other end through the loop. Tie the noose a little above the ground and anchor it to a branch or shrub. Sometimes you need to hold the noose open with two little twigs. The noose has to be small enough for the head but not too big for the shoulders. See, the animal goes through the noose head first and gets caught. It struggles and strangles.”
Chrissy tried not to show how squeamish she felt. Hunger took priority to the thoughts of cute little bunnies. So she nodded again.
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.