Because You Left Us~ by Crunch

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Not Gods, but the children, among the clashing of helmets say their prayers . . . ~ Bei Dao

~*~

2045, THE AREA FORMERLY KNOWN AS LONG ISLAND

Pilot was building a boat.

Darby sat at a short distance, perched on the broken ivory bowl of an abandoned toilet that stood as a porcine statue in the middle of The Dump. Chin in his smallish hands and feet on the base of the throne, he watched his friend work up a sweat.

The boy crouched over his work and paid Darby no mind. He let out a sigh that sliced through the stale summer air, thick with the stench of exhaust fumes and rotting debris across the hushed lot, and frowned. His features, young and pretty, twisted with the effort, tongue between his teeth and the muscles in his tanned arms bulging like bungee cords, he sifted through the tangle of gleaming scrap metal and shrapnel at his feet. But his plans just weren't working out.

Pilot tugged at his tubes of copper piping, his bundles of electrical wires, his bits of plastic casing and chips of fiberglass- just a bit of the rubbish found peppering the streets like flotsam on a gray and wind- scrubbed shore. What he really needed was wood, but the nearest pocket of fauna was three hours by bike, five by foot. A boy whose name they couldn't remember had timed it once, counting off "one locomotive, two locomotive. . ." and so on, before he died. So the cookie crumbled, as Pilot said.

Really, he was doing his best with what he had. He just wasn't doing very well.

"Are you sure that's how it goes?" Darby tugged at his shag of flaming red hair; hair he usually wore tucked under a dusty black cap so it wouldn't attract attention from the skies.

Pilot threw a broken phone cradle at his friend and stooped in the dust, flexing his naked brown shoulders under the angry eyes of a broiling white sun. "Yeah, that's how it goes."

"But that stuff don't even float."

Pilot turned to him, using his newly deepened voice to grunt his annoyance. "You ever seen a boat?"

"No."

"Then how do you know how they're made?"

Darby shrugged and tugged at his hair again. He supposed Pilot was right, because Pilot knew an awful lot about these things. How to keep them safe from the Sky Thingies that had hunted them since the boy was little, a bazillion years ago, as he always told them often. How to play games called Red Rover and TV tag and Gin Rummy. How to fire the AK-47 the little girls had dragged into The House from a withered old stream bed. . .

But Darby wasn't sure about this boat. Not that it mattered much; all the old pools were infected or stale, their Swimming Pond was small enough to walk around, and Pilot had always stopped the children from swimming in The Drinking Place. Said it made the water taste like broccoli, something enough of the bigger ones vaguely remembered. They kept out the little ones at all costs.

Pilot did talk about a big river he'd visited in the time Before, one that tasted like the hamburger helper they got in cans from The Store. One that was so big you couldn't see across it, and if you threw yourself into it, you'd never have to come back. A river where the Sky Thingies couldn't swoop down and carry you away. But even the kids who hung on Pilot's every word- and that was most of them, including Darby- even they found the big river hard to believe in.

So no one knew why Pilot was building a boat. He himself didn't know, but now that the little ones were getting older, and the very little ones were being taken care of by the big ones, he had more time on his hands. Times when he didn't have to look after all the children in his care, and so he'd taken to doing things on his own. Usually Darby came along, and sometimes Gio and Bean, only because Pilot had told everyone to travel in groups- better protection.

But Pilot was the leader, he was the oldest and the smartest, and he remembered things from the time Before. So, they let him do what he wanted. Sometimes they did what he wanted for him. But they couldn't build a boat.

Pilot sank towards the dust, bare and calloused feet shifting restlessly on the sun-broiled soil, legs coiled and rear end resting on his ankles. He sifted through the pile, pulling at odds and ends and pieces that shined like sea glass in the sun, the kind he used to pick through and stuff in his pockets, a bazillion years ago. He'd found this lot on a sugary, sand covered sidewalk outside The Store, where they got their food out of cans, and their pills as well. Pilot always kept a big basket of pills on the counter of The House- giant purple ones and tiny striped ones, orange and cherry flavored ones, pills shaped like animals and pills shaped like little cartoon men. Whenever a kid was sick, they took loads and loads of the funny shaped pills, hoping against hope that they wouldn't get sicker and start coughing up red. Because if they started coughing up red, they were sent away from The House, away from the children. It was the only way, Pilot told them. And so the cookie crumbled.

Everything the children needed, they took from The Store. Some of it they took back to The House; things like small plastic toys and balls and batteries and candy bars in wrappers. But most of it ended up at The Dump, like the soap and the tissues and the broccoli. Things that Pilot said would hurt the children. And of course, they believed him. Pilot had kept the children alive for this long, and he hadn't done it by lying to them about the dangers of broccoli.

Just then, something stirred, sending Pilot's teeth on edge and raising shivers up his spine. The boy squinted up into a sky the color of bruised skin, then scanned The Dump for Bean. A ways behind Darby on his gleaming ivory toilet, past Gio, digging in the muck for something or other with a muddied syringe, he spotted Bean. Naked from the waste up, her small and fairly new breasts bouncing each time she clapped her hands, Bean was playing a game with Super Man, who'd tagged along on her hip. Super Man was a very little one, a baby, small and shiny and wet, who Pilot himself had named, because he had been inside of the very big girl who made Super Man.

But now, Pilot wanted Bean, because that shivery feeling kept creeping and crawling across the base of his neck, and rumbling his stomach like a fist full of bees. Bean was very good at hearing, and she snapped her eyes upwards the moment Pilot hissed her name. She may have had the ears, but Pilot had the intissue, as he called it. Everyone trusted Pilot's intissue, or they died.

"Bean. . . heya Bean!"

"Whadya want me for?" Pilot answered her with a skywards glance.

She followed his lead, eyes the color of cold oatmeal darting towards the sun. Ears cocked and rail-thin shoulders tensed, the little girl listened. Then she shook her head.

"No buzz?"

"Nope. No buzz." She turned back to Super Man.

Pilot frowned. His intissue rarely failed him- he'd had feelings, premonitions, a sinking in the bottom of his gut and a rustling in his ears, ever since the time Before. But Bean was right- there was no buzz. No buzz, no faint whirring of blades in the distance, and no big-bellied Sky thingy breaching the red horizon line.

And then it came. The clanging of a clothesline pinned to a jumble of rusted soup cans, from just over the crest of The Dump. It was the alarm, an excellent system worked out by Darby in one of his finer moments. A string of cans was tied between telephone polls by The House, to be rattled incase of trouble. Another string was set up down the street, and another at the Drinking Place, and still another at the Swimming Pond, only a hillside away from The Dump. If a child pulled on any one of the strings at any one of those places, the cans would be set off down the line, until everyone had heard the alarm. It was simple and brilliant, and very fun.

They'd even made up secret codes- an idea that had sent the little ones and big ones alike into thralls of excitement. Pilot didn't need Bean to hear the code clanking out at the moment: Ching. Ching Ching Ching. Ching. Ching Ching Ching. . . and so on. It was a code rarely heard, but every child knew what it meant.

Intruder at The House.

Pilot took off at full speed, his lithe young limbs pumping and the blood stirring inside of him as he ran, a bronzed blur against the charred landscape. Darby stood. Bean grabbed the baby. Pilot fumbled in his trouser pockets as he ran and wrapped a fist around his gun.

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So. . .*crosses fingers* what do you think? Decent? Acceptable? A waste of my time and yours? Review and let me know, and all will be revealed! Come on, I see you shiver with antici-pation! Any constructive criticism or full on flames are greatly appreciated.