I had to stop, the windshield was caked solid.
Shifting the engine to neutral, I heaved on the lever that moved the scraping bar back and forth. It almost wasn’t worth it, pushing the mass of twitching legs and wings into a large sticky log-shaped roll of green bile and yellow innards to the side. Even though I had sealed the doors myself, I still imagined I could smell it – that sharp alkaline stink of pheromones and burst venom sacs.
I couldn’t stay stopped for long. Even with the extra shielding on the engine and my heavily-modified exhaust system, the bastards would still pack themselves into any cavity and clog the works, leaving me stranded. I tried not to think of the other cars occupants I saw on the road, windows tightly shut seething with flies and maggots from the inside.
The drooping cylinder of bug guts melted on to the hood, becoming a double-peaked dune of chitinous residue. I was in a hurry or I would’ve pushed the cars I saw off the road, into a ditch or down a hillside. Mostly so I wouldn’t have to look at them anymore. You didn’t bury the dead, because there wasn’t anything left but gleaming bones.
Shifting back into first gear, I slowly pulled into the center of the abandoned four-lane highway. Most of this stretch was clear, thanks to my efforts and of a few others. I was on the way to Robert’s place, to see if I could barter for some food and water. The best finds were always canned or bottled, since cardboard and plastic didn’t do jack to stop the swarm from feeding.
Five more miles.
I had to gingerly pace myself. Anything too fast and I’d clog the air intakes. Too slow, and the bugs would start to work their way into the exhaust, no matter how many baffles I put in there. Screens, filters — they got through them all eventually. That was a symptom of the larger problem. It wasn’t just one type of bug going crazy, every damned thing that hatched in thousands just turned on us.
It was the ants that changed first.
I remember, before, when the first hysterical reports started coming in. People overwhelmed by flowing carpets of red ants. The broadcast spasms of the dying, trying to scream with their mouths full of legs and segmented bodies. Some scientists said it was inevitable, that somehow a latent genetic switch flipped every billion generations or so, causing them to go berzerk. It was if the bugs were trying to purge the earth.
Like it did any good to remember now, crawling down the highway in an ancient junker towards my destination.
Bumping lightly from a pothole, I eased the truck towards a defunct off-ramp. Another reason for slow speed was nobody had any rubber tires anymore, the enraged termites had seen to that. Between them and the other crawling horrors, anything close the consistency of flesh was stripped off and digested for nesting material and feeding their teeming millions.
If it was edible it was stored in huge vaulted spaces underground to be consumed later or used as fertilizer for the rows of fungus that fed the super-colony. I know, because I had to be lowered into such a vault to take a sample once. I’ll never do that shit again.
My solution for tires was taking whatever the bugs hadn’t eaten, binding it up into lumpy ropes, and wrapping it around the steel rims. It made for a rough ride on even flat roadways, but I wasn’t trying to go anywhere near the old speed limit.
Nearing Robert’s shelter, I glanced at the rear-view mirror. The cityscape glinted back, spires of buildings dotted with huge hornet and bees nests. Several columns of ants were always crawling up the glass exterior, making it look like dark veins pulsing and heaving.
I remembered a former life, working in an office with sterile air and bright lights. Funny thing, I didn’t really miss it.
Turning the corner, I pulled into the airlock-like arrangement that protected Robert’s living quarters from the seething mass outside. It would take a while to get the car decontaminated, so I sat back in the vinyl seat and closed my eyes. The soothing white noise of chemical spray lulling me into a short nap.
I hoped he had canned peaches this time.