Mutant 59-the Plastic Eaters

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Science Fiction,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: My interpretation of a very old book I once found in a library. A bug was created in a lab that escaped. It ate plastic, and reproduced very very fast. Here's my 21st century version of it.

Many years ago I found a library book titled "Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters". It was very up-beat. It's been swimming around in my head for nigh onto forty five years now. I think that it's time for a different impression. Since so much of our society depends on plastics now compared to the 1960s. Let's just imagine what a catastrophe it would be.

The first thing that let me know something was wrong was my shoes fell off my feet. They disintegrated. Then the lights in the grocery store went out. People were shoving, running and screaming like idiots. I saw clothes fall off people's backs, then the cloth shredded as they tried to pick it up. The synthetics were disintegrating before my eyes. I left my cart where it was, then took a new one. My prorities had just shifted. I took canned beans, fruit and chicken. I took yeast in glass jars and ghee. I found big cotton bags of rice and paper bags & boxes of dehydrated potatoes, sugar and flour. Disguised by the confusion I walked behind the butcher's line and paper wrapped several steaks. I found several pork tenderloins and beef tenderloins in the display case that didn't have any slime on them from decomposing plastic. I wrapped them up in butcher's paper and paper tape. I made my way back into the produce staging area where I discovered several large waxed cardboard boxes. I packed everything up, keeping the meat separate in a big waxed bananna box. They had a cooler full of dry ice at the front of the store. I took ten pounds to keep the meat fresh.

It was a superstore with a hardware department. The paint aisle was a disaster area--the spray paint was squirting into the air like some sort of pointless LGBT parade. Nobody could get near the garden department at all--the pesticides were jetting out of their spray cans like oversized fumigators. I found their spools of wire and took it all. They had nothing but cheap socket rachet sets with plastic clutches. I found mason jars of different sizes along with their lids. I snatched all that would fit on my cart. I filled the bottom with the larger jars. Then I went back to the hardware department. I emptied all the carpenter's glue I could find into a couple pint-sized mason jars just as the plastic bottles sagged and developed holes. I found a stack of galvanized buckets that I absconded with. The tool aisle had hacksaws, hacksaw blades and files which I had no compunction against stealing. I filled the rest of my cart with bags of charcoal and cans of lighter fluid. When the tops pulled off in my hands I transferred several cans of the lighter fluid to two big Ball quart-sized canning jars with rubber seals. Note the use of rubber...

The tires on the cart turned to mush. They fell away in chunks as I rolled and then dragged the cart out the door. I had to back through the door because no power meant no power-assist to the automatic doors. My cart screeched across the lot as I dragged the thing to the car. I was about naked as I walked out the door, but I didn't care. If I could get home I'd be happy.

I'll say one thing for the bug. It sure improved the scenery! Naked women of all ages were milling around the parking lot with dead cars, trying to figure out what to do. Some were crying and squatting down, trying to be good 'christians' and cover up. Others--even young pre-teen girls!--were strutting their stuff. I saw proud little titties under big flashing smiles everywhere I looked. It made my best friend stand proud and pay attention, which got my own share of appreciative stares.

My jeep made it to the apartment, about a mile and a half. I parked next to my patio--screw the parking lot restrictions. What were they going to do? Evict me? The tires disintegrated under the load with a 'bang'. The plastic covering on the steel steering wheel fell apart in my hands. Deep down I knew that it would never start again. The door handle came off in my hand. I considered myself lucky that I didn't have to break out the window to get out of the driver's seat.

I unlocked the sliding glass door and slid it open. It was rough going--the little nylon rollers at the bottom had broken down. What a disaster! The power was out. The breakers had fallen apart. Besides, the wires in the conduit were insulated with plastic and were bound to short out as soon as whatever was destroying plastic penetrated the conduit runs. Water was squirting everywhere from the sinks and toilets. I turned off the wall valves. Their valve surfaces were metal on metal. Then I unscrewed the cold water supply hose from the kitchen sink and filled all the buckets I had with water before turning it off again. I cut up a perfectly good cotton canvas painter's tarp and used most of a ball of cotton twine to make lids for the buckets. Then I made myself a canvas poncho and tied it off with a rope for a belt.

I'd been a reenactor for a long time before diabetes screwed me up. I'd always hung onto my gear in the fond hopes that one day I'd be able to go out on a rendezvous again. My packrat tendencies just paid off, in spades!

I had balls of cotton string, hundred foot spools of quarter inch sisal rope, blacksmith-made tent stakes and plenty of canvas tarps, not to mention period clothing--and--shoes!

Getting upstairs with bare feet was chancy. The nylon carpeting over the stairs and second floor was a gummy mess. There were sharp bars of cleats hiding under that goo as well. Two doubled-over pieces of that canvas tarp went to make quick booties with cotton cord wrapped around my ankles before I attacked the stairs. I cleared out my camping gear and lowered it over the railing to the first floor. I also secured my cotton sheets, pillow cases, bar soap and towels. The shampoo had made it down the shower drain after the bottles melted.

I had a few camping and work knives that had wood scales riveted to the tangs, with leather sheaths. I had an old canvas musette bag, an over-the-shoulder 'possibles' bag and an army surplus canvas Alice pack with a frame. They all held up well except for the waist belt on the Alice pack. I had to split the waist on a pair of knee-length shorts to get my fat butt into them but it sufficed to get me dressed. No underwear, of course. Elastic was nothing but a memory. I had wool socks and brogans, otherwise known as Jefferson booties, made with leather uppers, leather soles and stitched together with waxed cotton thread. I'd paid good money for authentic stitching and heel work. The leather heels were attached with pegs and had metal plates to keep them from quickly wearing away. I used cotton strapping to tie my socks to my calves. Did you know that "Jeffersons" are the name for linen or cotton underwear that ties around the waist with cloth tapes? The man was a frigging genius.

My bed collapsed. The futon and cover were cotton but the old busted up frame had been supported by--you guessed it--plastic--six-pack coolers. My pillow had been synthetic as well. I packed a pillow case full of T-shirts and towels for a pillow. I fired up the grill, pulled some meat out of the freezer and gorged on chicken breasts and pork tenderloin. I drank a couple of what I figured were the last cold beers I'd ever have. Thank God that the toilet paper didn't disintegrate. I'd be needing some soon.

It stormed that night. That's bullshit. A killing winter storm blew in from Canada that night with forty to fifty mile an hour winds and thirty below temperatures.

The snow blew sideways and beat pieces off of the tree limbs. I realized that I was about to get a lot more up front and personal with mother nature the next day. My usual blankets were synthetic and had decomposed. I slept under a linen sheet and two heavy wool blankets from my stash. I covered my bed with two layers of canvas painters tarps. It got damned cold in that apartment overnight. I could see my breath even before I went to bed.

I didn't know it, but an oil company had hired a bio-synthesis lab to work on a culture that could be released after a catastrophic oil spill and decompose the bio-hazardous waste down to relatively harmless byproducts. Regrettably their culture mutated. Now, consider this. How are you going to confine a culture hell-bent on decomposing any oil-based long chain polymers when you're using lexan test tubes with plastic lids? The stuff got into the door seals and was tracked out into the hallway. What happened afterwards was like watching a landslide. One little rock moves, then everything seems so horrifyingly inevitable, like watching a bridge support pier get larger and larger in your windshield...

The next morning I couldn't even brush my teeth. My toothbrushes had disintegrated. The apartment was FUCKING cold. The fiberglass insulation around my fancy new windows and sliding glass door had fallen away as the plastic trim turned into gunk. Snow had swirled across the floor. It made little drifts inside the door and window, driven by the storm's wind. The tile floor was covered with ice where the water which escaped from the toilet and sinks had frozen. I wondered how many people had died that night.

I had to find someplace to keep warm. I would also need to move all the food that I'd accumulated to wherever I was going to live.

I wondered what the hell I'd do for transportation. With no water, no heat and no power my apartment was soon going to be a death trap. It was only March 8 and there was still plenty of snow on the ground. Think northern Illinois.

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