The Wires This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

June 25, 2011
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It’s late. I am alone. It’s cold, nearly freezing, but building a fire would be a fatal mistake. Instead, I am huddling in the cab of an abandoned pickup truck under a pile of sheet metal. I produce a pair of pliers and attempt to hot wire the vehicle, but it seems the battery has gone dead.

It’s most dangerous to travel at night. The machines that patrol the junk yards have excellent sensitivity, and even a small light is a luxury the wary traveler cannot afford. I am afraid, even, to light a cigarette, for fear a hunter might be lurking outside my sanctuary.

The stars are never out anymore. That’s probably the thing I miss the most. Occasionally, the clouds will open up for a split second and I can make out a fragment of a constellation; the handle of the Big Dipper, Orion’s belt, Scorpio’s tail.

I hear a low rustle outside the truck. Instinctively, I draw my pistol and pull my makeshift night goggles over my eyes. I see nothing out of the ordinary. Junk rats are scanning the barren ground for bits of rubbish. Crows and falcons perch atop the junk heaps, waiting for a chance to pick off a rat should it stray out into the open.

I lie down in the front seat of the pickup, clutching my pistol to my chest. Through the cracked sunroof, I see a break in the clouds. I can just make out the Lyre of Orpheus. I pray to the Gods for forgiveness and pass into a fitful sleep.

I wake at first light. The rats and crows have left, but songbirds are just beginning to emerge from their nesting places. They perch atop long-dead telephone wires and hop along the ground, scanning the barren earth for seeds and grubs. Most of these birds will starve before the week is out. Pickings are slim in the wastelands, and the scavengers always win out in the end.

I hop out of the cab, my rifle in hand. The scrap collectors will be patrolling soon, picking out materials to manufacture more of their wretched brethren. I weave in between great piles of scrap metal, broken glass and abandoned automobiles. I am wearing a mask of thick cotton to cover my face. Any hunter would instantly recognize me as armed and extremely dangerous, and signal for an entire legion of its make to join in my destruction.

It is earlier than I thought; not even the scrap collectors are out yet. The atmosphere is eerie, yet peaceful. Songbirds are bleating out their weak, pallid melodies like sickly homages to the endtimes; rats and other vermin scurry among the junk heaps, scavenging for nonexistent morsels. This is how I’ve always survived, by watching the animals. Junkyard vermin have a natural aversion to the machines. As long as there are animals present, the area is free of machines.

In spite of this comfort, I remain wary. My rifle is in hand, my silenced pistol within reach. That is the most important rule of living in the wastelands; act as if you are going to be ambushed at any, and every, moment. There is no such thing as being over-cautious anymore.

A small rabbit crosses my path. I fire at it, striking it dead-center in the throat.

“Damn,” I curse. I’m not thinking. Every hunter in the area will have heard that. I pick up the dead rabbit, stuff it into my canvas satchel and sprint to the nearest junk heap, taking shelter under a rusted air duct. Within seconds, three hunters have gathered in the clearing where I shot the rabbit.

I am dead silent. The hunters are raising their aluminum maws to the sky, then to the ground, flicking their metallic probosci along the saltpan. The beasts are great, hulking creatures, their bodies covered with thousands upon thousands of rubber-coated wires. Their snouts are made up of pieces of personal home computers. One still has a Dell label printed over its gaping maw, which is composed of what were once the blades of a blender. Their claws are great pieces of sheet metal, formed into horrific blades that mimic the pincers of a crustacean.

The creature furthest from me raises its terrible snout in my direction, screeching to its companions that it has spotted me. The three of them advance slowly, cautiously. I have to take them out quickly, or the entire area will be teeming with hunters before I can escape. I stand and fire at the furthest creature, hitting it square in the jaw. It falls with a great crash, oil spilling from its ghastly head.
The other two creatures instantly shuffle to either side, out of my sight. I roll out from under the duct and strafe along the edge of the junk heap. The creature to the left of me fires a steel spike in my direction, but I roll under it, and it shatters a windshield behind me. I shoot the beast and one of its wire-covered limbs falls to the ground, twitching and bleeding oil. The second creature advances on me from behind, and I turn and shoot it in the head.
It falls onto my leg, striking me deep in the thigh with one of its terrible claws. I scream in agony, and curse myself for it. Every machine in a half-mile will now be headed my way. The remaining hunter advances quickly, thinking it will be able to finish me off without struggle, but I draw my pistol and shoot it in the center of its chest, where its central motor lies. It falls to the ground and I am left to free myself.
After a hard minute of struggling, I am free of the beast’s deadly grip. The gash in my leg is hemorrhaging rapidly. I pull myself to my knees, then to my feet. I can hear beasts approaching from the West, so I limp towards the southern horizon. I’ve forgotten my pistol. I’m not particularly fazed; my life is far more important than a pistol, but it’s regrettable that I should have to go on without it.
I pass by a scrap collector, and it sounds a shrill, shrieking alarm. I raise my rifle and fire, sheering the beast’s head clean off. I move on, towards the west, now, to throw off the beasts on my trail. My leg is still bleeding profusely, and I’m doing my best not to leave a trail behind me. I take off my overcoat, despite the frigid temperature, to staunch the wound. I’m quickly growing weary as I proceed to the southwest.
As I walk, I can vaguely hear the sound of running water. There is a river nearby. I follow the sound of the water, shutting out every distraction around me. Despite the searing pain in my leg, I break into a run, then into a sprint. I can hear the hunters on my trail. Their heinous war-cries permeate the air with fear.
I can see the river ahead of me. It is a glacial flow; the water is pure and clear. There is sparse vegetation clinging to its banks. When I come to the shore, I turn and fall into the current. For a moment, I am submerged, but I bob up to the surface, and with a smile on my face, I let myself float downstream.
I’m not thinking about how cold the water is. I’m not thinking about the wound in my leg. All I can think about is that I’ve found safety. I’ve escaped once again. I’ll live to fight another day.
“Almost,” said the Gods.
I die bleeding to death as I float to the east. My body is washed into another river and yet another and then out to sea, where it is devoured by fish and seabirds and all manner of marine life, and I become one with this ruined planet.

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