Empty Hearts

by Anna Brown

Boy, dressed in poorly patched scraps of clothes, perched on top of the crumbling wall and watched as the seven Crablers crawled their way across the wide barren ocean of sand and wading past large buildings sinking into the sands' unknown depths. He tilted his head in fascination and amusement at the large machines that frightened the other Hawks, the underground child tribe of this forsaken city. He leapt off his perch, his pouch bouncing against his back, as his Floater-boots whirled as they circulated the sand through the engine and carried him across the ocean and through the bergs of sinking abandoned buildings. His long spear clasped in his left hand, prepared for any type of attack.

The Hawks' flat-boat was tied off at the center of a ring of crumbling building. Boy bent his knees and the engine roared as it gathered sand and then in a loud roar the Floater-boots pushed him up and over the buildings. He landed and floated across the sand toward the flat-boat. He stepped up onto the boat and entered the three storied house that rested in the middle of it. He climbed to the third story and dropped onto his cot in the farthest right-hand corner. He hung his pack on the rusted nail behind his cot and set his spear on the thin mattress. He unbuckled his Floater-boots and slid his feet out from their confines. He opened the chest by his cot and gently set them atop his few and meager worldly possessions.

The flat-boat's house was small but perfect for their humble tribe. The first floor acted as common-room and kitchen. Moldy chairs and lopsided tables were scattered about the room and a metal fire stove in the middle with its tall thin chimney poking through the other floors and through the roof. The second floor was used for meetings and storage. Large crates of various necessities stacked along the walls and a long table buried under sheets of papers and maps. The third floor was used for sleeping quarters. Thin cots lay in evenly spaced rows down the length of the room with clutter filling what little excess space there was. The floors had a steep stair case that was more of a ladder and a square opening. The walls and roof of the house were rusted sheet metal and the floors old timber gathered from many scavenging trips.

Boy walked bare foot to the second floor were King would be waiting for his report. The younger Hawks looked up in wonder at him as he walked down the stairs and entered the room. The elder Hawks flushed the younger ones down into the commons to prepare dinner. The elders included King, Red-eyes, Whale, and him. King was there leader on account of him being the oldest, toughest, and meanest of them all. Red-eyes was a scrawny guy who was their navigator on account of him being the only one who could read and write which in everyone's opinion made him all red-eyed. Whale was the cook and general on account of him being the best cook of them all and was the biggest and strongest fighter.

"Lefty, what news?" Red-eyes asked, calling Boy by the nickname that Red-eyes made for him due to the fact that Boy was the only left handed person he knew. Boy was the tribe's scout because of his small stature, ability to see and hear from far away, innate sense of direction, picture perfect memory, silent nature, and fast reflexes.

"It's Boy," he said irritably. He never liked Red-eyes, even if he was close to his own height.

"Just tell what's out." Whale said.

"All well, seven new Crablers."

"You mind there not the same as the watch before?" King asked.

"I mind. Seven new to the six before."

"Too much, too much," Whale said.

"How seven?" Red-eye asked.

"Don't well know. Them different. New colors."

"Any clear paths?" King asked.

"Sand storm comin' fast from the Spire Mount's. Should hit by mornin'."

"Red-eye, think we can ride?" King asked.

"Ride the sand storm?" Red-eyes stared at him in astonishment.

"What do you think the askin'?" Whale asked.

"Well, if the flat holds and the engine don't break." Red-eyes said.

"We leavin'?" Boy asked, a bit disappointed. He wanted to find out why the Crablers were in such a wondering frenzy.

"You a cat, you a cat lookin' for mice." Whale said laughing.

"Don't you be gettin' no ideas." King said sharply remembering the last time Boy was being a cat. Red-eyes shifted uncomfortably and fingering the scar on his face from the last time he went on a outing with Boy being a cat. They walked down the stairs where the smell of boiling sand snakes filled the commons and made the elders' stomachs growl in hunger. After eating and a few rounds of Papers-an-Coins the Hawks retired to their cots.

v

He watched from the old building as the rebel tribe ate and played their foolish human games. A boy looked out at him almost seeming to see him, though that was impossible. No human could possibly see him in this kind of night, especially from this distant, in fact not even most of his own kind could have been able to spot him. Still, He held his breath and shrank deeper into the shadows till the boy turned back to the festivities and joined in the groups unintelligent speech and laughter. He watched as they walked up the stairs to the second and third floor where there were no windows. He jumped onto his Sand-walker that waited outside the ring of buildings and quickly headed off to the waiting Royal, just outside the city.

v

The younger Hawks held in their protest understanding the need for stealth. They sat on the right and left edges of the flat-boat and rowed to the beats that Whale pounded out silently on an old drum. Boy had stopped them on the second floor and watched through a hidden window that no one on the outside could see through. King watched Boy in patient silence as he waited for an explanation. Boy turned to them and told them of the Long-limb that had been spying on them during the game. The other elders didn't question him and quickly whipped into action.

Sand pulled at the paddles as the Hawks made their departure of the city and into the vast ocean. Boy led them toward their second hide out that King had chosen, in case of such a situation as this, when they first arrived at the city two weeks ago. The younger hawks stared at the elder that was unlike any human they ever saw before. Boy was no more than eleven years old, an age most people hope to be able to live to when outside of the bowls. Boy was the youngest of the elders, though only by a couple of months.

King and Red-eyes talked quietly over an open book and a small sun-tube. As they entered the half sunken building, their second hide out a few miles away from the city, Boy stepped back onto the flat-boat after doing a quick perimeter check. The Hawks quickly claimed the stairs in wait of the sand storm that Boy promised would arrive come morning.

v

Boy sat on his cot with the rest of the Hawks. The building shook as the sand storm engulfed the flat-boat. The engines that Red-eyes made shrieked as it struggled to push the boat on top of the wall of sand. Red-eyes was the best at making sand ocean machines. He had created the flat-boat's engine so that no one outside the tribe would even know it was there. The only reason they didn't use the engine every day, instead using the paddles, was to keep the engine a secret.

The flat-boat seemed to float in silence as it finally broke to the top of the sand storm. The flat-boat shook once more as the flat-boat landed and the engine began tearing into the sand as at struggled to keep pace with the storm. The small flat-boat was carried by the storm to the Metal Mount's, seventy miles from the city. As the storm settled the flat-boat was lowered and Red-eyes turned off the engine. As the last of the storm passed them, Boy strapped on his boots and set out to scope the surroundings and find a first and a second hide out. Boy returned a few hours and lead them to the hide outs. The first was a large cave made when liquid fire cooled and solidified. The second was a skeleton of a large metal machine from old.

"The sand storm worked," Red-eyes said in astonishment. King smiled in triumph as Whale patted Boy on the back. The younger Hawks cheered and jumped around in joy of surviving the sand storm.

"Being a cat ain't that bad," Boy said.

"Only when it means saving our necks and not puttin' it in harm's way," Whale bellowed.

"I say we have a feast. In celebration to our survival of this adventure, to survive all the others that are to come," King shouted in good manner. The Hawks cheered in anticipation to the feast.

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