This Heavy Metal Earth

(The following is an excerpt from a longer work.)

Jacob wandered to the far side of the dead road in the cold of night and climbed over a ditch. There was a grassy hill that moved up past a chain-link fence, over into a dense forest of light snow and green fir trees. There was a pile of garbage on the edge of the forest, with plastic bags and some non-recyclable plastic bottles. The forest was dark but sparse, and there was plenty of space between the trees. Moss covered the ground and little bike paths crisscrossed throughout. A house could be seen to one side, backyard trampoline and garden, special little working-class place. Toys littered the lawn covered in light snow. There he was in the silence moving slowly, the sound of dry twigs breaking beneath his feet. He was sure that no one else was here, and that now here in this small copse he could wander for several miles until he reached another suburban neighborhood, caught a bus and found his way back to the city. 

The forest soon became very thick and there were lots of broken logs, no sight of houses, no sound of the highway. Up ahead he saw something through a break in the trees, a rusted car with smashed windows, bullet holes, mildewed upholstery, rotting for ages untold here. The tape from a cassette dangled like webs from the branches. He ran his hand over the side of the car’s shell, looking through the windows at this beast that once floated down highways—a beached whale. At the back, a long protruding shaft of wood and metal stuck out of the car as if it really were a hunted and dead ocean leviathan. He stepped over a car door and silently walked on into the forest, deeper, darker and without sense of time. It was like a drifting dream, the night playing with shapes, the sparkling of static that floats behind the lids of a closed eye.

And then, there they were, amidst the trees, apocalypse, with the ionized soft-purple glow of a freshly dropped bomb. There were faces coming from the haze, clothing woven from plastic bags, weapons made of sports equipment, PVC-tube rifles, tattooed faces and skinny arms that once held needles, lips dried and teeth missing from mountains of methamphetamines. Here they stood like Woad warriors in ancient Scotland.

The massive cities had been broken down to dust, and in this forest the men snorted the ashes of a billion dead businessmen through giant pipes, sitting in tarpaulin wigwams. The food was animals found in backyards of gated communities. There was no money. They were wild. They had running fights with law enforcement while children played on suburban streets. They used the city as it used them—ruthlessly.

The chief of the tribe gathered his men around and they sat by fire and dreamed while smoking homegrown tobacco. They were not watching him anymore. They knew that the city and its gunk still pulsated through his veins. They saw the look of the young burned-out soul, the dead stare of a man who had never really been alive. His muscle and flesh were sick through with drugged foods and the stink of an electronic aura.

When sleep came, he laid his head on the ground and like dying, fluttered his lids as he watched, his head on its side, his mouth opened, his eyes slowly shifting and flickering. The smoke of the fire and yellow flames shot upward to where his own soul wished to go.

They awoke early in the morning with dew coating everything in a glassy sheen, the synthetic fibers of clothing in the early morning light like spider webs. A baby was crying to the coming sun. A skinny three-legged dog shuffled amidst the waste of the night. The fire was an ashen smoking cage of charcoal. Jacob opened his eyes and felt for the first time that there was no weariness or panic. He was merely there and, though cold in the coming daylight, alive and sound. His head was the clearest it had ever been.

The men of the camp were now awake, also. They had gathered in small groups. Coffee smells and the clanking of pots as water was boiled. Sitting, Jacob had his knees pressed against his chin, watching and listening. The men had gathered weaponry of wood, metal fashioned from machines, pounded in makeshift furnaces into swords. They motioned to him. He stood and joined them. They made their way down a path, ferns and trees edging the way. They were back on the highway, the cars fizzing by on their way to the glass temples in the walled cities. They tossed their gear over the chain-link fence and then they climbed over so that they were standing on the side of the road. They were near a bridge. The pillars blocked the view of the oncoming cars.

They spoke hushed and then prepared a long heavy industrial chain. They didn’t speak to him. Jacob was a bystander to this strange new ritual. He was afraid if he spoke he would violate some taboo, that his presence would bring bad luck to the hunt. All was tense and they prodded a young skinny guy to bring the chain to the other side of the highway. A car passed over it. They looped it around a pillar and made sure it was tight and would hold.

“We first draw off one of the smaller ones,” a bearded man next to Jacob said. His eyes never left the highway.

“Here comes a good model!” someone yelled in the fog. Everyone focused.

The chain was grabbed and pulled higher. It was head level with the coming car. The driver could be seen, sipping coffee from a foam cup, his eyes forward and then down at his radio on the dash, his speed a steady clip. The chain was pulled taught. The car came around the bend, the man inside still fiddling with the dial. Jacob saw the man’s eyes as he looked up from the radio and they locked for a moment—just some regular guy on his way to work.

The chain sliced neatly through the canopy. With shards of crystal glass and sparks and fire the car began to turn onto its side, its wheels squealing as a fountain of blood sprayed back over the road covering all who sat ready with a mist of crimson. The car spun to the right and then leveled with its left tire turned inward it flipped over and began to somersault through the air, coming to rest down the road. A truck came fast with horn blaring and the sound of 18 tires braking at once. The driver was spinning the steering wheel in his hands and he hit the chain, breaking through. Now the men of the road had gathered their ropes and sharp implements. The driver was grinding gears. They could see that the truck was trying desperately to get started and continue driving. The driver knew. He had heard of this before. He had been trained for this. He had prepared a pistol and watched a whole bunch of safety videos on this—the hunters of the highway.

Rushing out into the highway the small band of hunters attached a rope to the car and then tied it to a harpoon. A man in a jean jacket hurled it across the road. It sunk into the flesh of the truck’s back loading doors. The driver of the rig had regained his composure and fired up a black pall of smoke. Then, with all his power, he lurched back onto the highway, all the while pulling the car wreck loaded with men behind him. Jacob, heart beating, ran up and jumped into the back seat of the car.

Other men were pulling themselves onto the rig with chains and ropes. Then a guy was on the trailer roof brandishing an axe. He rushed headlong across the rig, and when he finally reached the driver he swung hard and tore open a great hole in the front window. The blade found flesh, with a gush of blood that sprayed out like a fountain. The rig began to swerve and weave along the road. The dying trucker held his foot down on the gas as long as his heart would hold, then finally, dramatically, the front end burst into a ball of flames killing the guy with the axe in a hot spit of death. The truck hit the side of an embankment and then fell onto its side and slid, groaning like a dead bull before finally coming to a stop up the highway.

The rig’s shell was distended, there with its silver flesh on the cold road. All of its goods scattered, looted and pillaged.

The tribe used every part of the felled beast, its skin for new homes, its bones for metal swords and spears.

 

By John Edward Garnett

 

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