The first few days were just weird and annoying. You’d come out in the morning and find one of the damn things had chewed most of the way through your car’s antenna. A week later, people were crashing because the bugs had eaten through brake lines or the cars wouldn’t start at all ’cause the bugs had gone for all the copper wire. And remember, they just bud off another bug when they’ve eaten enough so their numbers increased geometrically. By the end of the first month they’d done for the entire car, finishing off the engine block and every last steel wire in the radial tires. By the end of the first week people were driving out of the southwest. By the end of the first month they were walking.
We didn’t realize they’d go for your fillings and crowns until they’d done for most of the infrastructure in Arizona and New Mexico. What? Yeah, that’s what caused the scarring. There was extensive reconstructive surgery too, or it would be worse. Would I go back? Huh. I’d have to have some of my dental work replaced but it’s not like I have a pacemaker or an artificial joint. But no. I don’t think so. It may be more crowded outside the territory, but who wants to live without metal?
Excerpt: When the Metal Eaters Came: First-Person Accounts
This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.
* * *
The second day after leaving the Rio Grande, on the downslope east of the Manzanos, Kimball pulled over the lip of a hill and found an argument in progress.
Mrs. Pedecaris, the mule drawing his cart, had apparently heard them first for her ears twitched forward well before the top of the hill. Kimball was not surprised. The trail they were following had become more of a road, well-defined wheel ruts with fresh tracks, and fresh horse manure just beginning to dry.
Kimball had looped the reins over the brake lever while he was weaving the last bit of a wide-brimmed green cattail hat—and Mrs. Pedecaris slowed as she approached the cluster of vehicles just over the hill.
There were five carts similar to Kimball’s, high-wheeled boxes with composite wheels and axles. Three were horse-drawn, one mule-drawn, and one cart had lowered shafts and a cross bar to be pulled by hand, like a Mormon cart. Then three freight wagons with six-horse teams stood in a row, and there were a couple of saddle horses in front of them.
Kimball took Mrs. Pedecaris off the edge of the road to where a tough patch of dry buffalo grass was doing all right in the shade of some low mesquite bushes. He pulled off her bridle so she could crop the grass and said, “Pull up a chair, Mrs. P.” The mule snorted and dipped her head into the grass.
The road dipped sharply, into a cut leading down into a broad arroyo running down from the mountains. That’s where the cluster of people stood, crouched, or sat.
“—dehydration is really the issue.”
“Maybe we could throw a canteen?”
“Dammit, how many times do we gotta argue this? You crush a bug they’ll swarm her for sure. Us too.”