“Iron Boy Kills the Devil” was the third place winner of our latest Short Story Award for New Writers. This exacting story is told from the point of view of fourteen-year-old Iron Boy. He lives in a depressed, rural town where drones from a large company deliver all the necessary supplies. In this world, teenagers sometimes turn into monsters, leaving their parents to decide whether to send them away. “Iron Boy” explores what it is like to come of age in a beautiful, rough, and unforgiving world.
“For years, Iron Boy has theorized that he’s a machine. Specifically: one of his mother’s. Perhaps her greatest work. He might look like a normal fourteen-year-old boy—pudgy, short, his eyes and mouth too close to his crooked nose—but he knows the truth. Underneath his skin, he is all whirring gears and sliding plates, cogs and actuators.”
At the junkyard, Iron Boy dreams of an afterlife for machines. He watches the heat shimmer over the heaps of trash and imagines the souls of all the gathered refuse ascending to the other side. He likes to think that in heaven, each piece of rubbish would find itself replenished, the blenders and refrigerators and the husks of old cars once again new and glimmering on the factory floor, ready to be useful again.
The summer heat has turned his world radioactive. Sorting scrap with his mother, Iron Boy can’t help but feel like some urchin of the apocalypse, thumbing his way through the ruins of civilization. It’s not a bad sensation, despite the sweat gathering in uncomfortable creases along his underwear. The hot air is cleansing. Every time he breathes he knows he is simply expelling exhaust, clearing a little room inside himself to make way for all his inner machinery.
He holds a burnished hubcap in one hand and a rusted pipe in the other, willing the junk into sword and shield. He licks his upper lip and tastes salt. When he bashes the metal together like a centurion calling out for war, his mother pulls her torso from the mouth of a discarded washing machine, a smile already on her face. She runs a thick hand along her forehead and leaves a shimmering trail of grease behind.
“Careful, Road Warrior,” she says. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
Behind his mother, Mr. Ramirez stands sentinel, arms crossed and face locked in the usual scowl. He scrutinizes each spring and screw that Iron Boy’s mother gently extracts from stained mattresses and old window frames. He is looking for hidden treasure—wondering if she is going to find some precious antique or valuable bit of metal that he missed in his own survey. But for all the years she has been coming here, Iron Boy’s mother has never taken anything of obvious value. She mostly gathers large hunks of scrap metal, easily melted down in the foundry she’s constructed in the backyard, and anything—thin strings of wire from the insides of clocks, chains unwound from rusted bicycles, torn fan belts brought in from the abandoned factories nearby—that can be reworked into the creaking interiors of her machines.