Read The Hunt Online

Authors: Andrew Fukuda

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Survival Stories, #Dystopian, #Science Fiction

The Hunt (16 page)

BOOK: The Hunt
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

When I come up for air the second time, the heper has made its way down to the pond. It sits in a crouched position, its arms placed fl at atop its kneecaps, the way monkeys do. Figures. It is stil half gripping a dagger strapped to its hip, but with less urgency now.

The water’s effect on me is almost instant. Synapses in my brain start refi ring; my head feels freed of cotton wool, more like a wel-oiled machine. Things begin to dawn on me quickly. The dusk, for one, how it is so quickly ceding to the night. Very soon— within moments— the Dome is going to emerge from the ground.

I take off my underwear and leap into the pond.

The water is overpowering at fi rst; the sudden cold pummels air out of me. But there’s no time to dilydaly. I submerge my whole out of me. But there’s no time to dilydaly. I submerge my whole body under water, the frigid liquidity a shock to my system. The water, even in the subdued light of disappearing dusk, is surprisingly clear.

I can stand. The bottom is a gentle decline, smooth and metalic to the touch. I don’t waste any time. I scrub myself, my face, my underarm, al the crevices and nooks in my body. I am not gentle with myself: I scrub myself raw. I turn my fi ngers into pitchforks and rake my scalp, washing my hair as best and quickly as I can.

Then I feel it. A deep vibration coming from the bottom of the pond, weak at fi rst but getting stronger quickly.

The heper stands up. It’s looking at the perimeter of the vilage, then back at me. I understand immediately. The Dome is about to start closing. I need to get out now.

I run out of the pond, spraying up water with my thighs and knees.

Hop over the edge, start sprinting.

The vibration is now a ful- fl edged thrumming that shakes the THE HUNT 115

ground. Then a loud click, and the hum turns into a loud groan. A wal of glass emerges out of the ground, encircling me.

It ascends faster than I expect. Much faster. It is shin- high and then knee- high in a matter of seconds. I sprint to the glass wal, then knee- high in a matter of seconds. I sprint to the glass wal, leaping up from a few yards away. My hands land on the top of the glass; they fi nd a tenuous grip on the near corner of the smooth top. My legs scrabble and thrash on the glass wals for traction even as it continues to rise. But the glass is made slippery by the water dripping off my body. I’m about to slip off. If I fal now, there’s no way I’d be able to mount it again. I’d be trapped inside.

I close my eyes, shout a silent scream, and heave my arm across the top of the glass width. My hand fi nds the outer edge, and from there it’s easier. I pul myself up, rol over the top width, and fal on the other side of the Dome, on the outside.

It’s not a graceful fal. I land on my side; my vision whites out momentarily. Already the wal is twice my height and stil rising.

The heper girl is standing beside the pond. It picks up my briefs, holds them up for closer examination. Its nose crinkles—“crinkle”

is this thing hepers do when they pul their facial skin together— in mild disgust. And another emotion crosses its face, an unfamiliar, nuanced one. It’s disgust, but there is a hint of something else: laughter? No, that’s too strong. A hint of a smile touches its lips and mouth, barely perceptible. As if the smile doesn’t quite have enough energy to break the surface.

The heper girl impales my briefs on one of its fl ying daggers.

One quick look at me, and it fl ings its arm. The dagger sails One quick look at me, and it fl ings its arm. The dagger sails through the air, my briefs waving like a fl ag, arching just over the enclosing Dome. The dagger lands a few yards from me, my briefs draped over it like slain prey.

The Dome closes with surprising quietness.

I dislodge my briefs from the arrow. They
do
stink. In fact, now 116 ANDREW FUKUDA

that I’ve washed myself, the briefs positively reek. And then I do something I’ve never done before. I crinkle my nose. Just for size, to see how it feels. It feels forced and alien on my face, as if something artifi cial were cinching my nose.

The heper girl walks over to the glass wals of the Dome. I can’t see it too clearly; the purpling skies cast a refl ective smear over its face. I walk over until we’re standing only a few yards apart, separated by the glass wal. It stands close to the Dome, its breath frosting the glass. A smal foggy circle that disappears as quickly as it appears.

There’s fear on its face, there’s anger, there’s curiosity. And something else. I look into its eyes, and instead of the glossy plastic shine I’m used to in people’s eyes, I see something different.

Flecks dance in them, like the trapped fl akes in a snow globe.

I turn and walk away. On the way back, I pick up my clothes, I turn and walk away. On the way back, I pick up my clothes, quickly put them on. I turn around to take one last look at the Dome. The heper hasn’t moved; it stands stationary, watching me.

Hunt Minus Two Nights

THE EVENTS THAT transpired yesternight at the Introduction,”

the Director says, “were a tad on the aggressive side.”

We are back in the lecture hal after a quick and somber breakfast.

Gaunt Man and Crimson Lips had sat ner vous ly at their own table during breakfast while everyone else veered far away. By their look, neither one had slept a wink al day. A strange quietness hung over everything, the tables, the chairs, the soppy breakfast food, like the mist that hovers over a beaker of acid. And the dining hal was emptier than usual, the escorts oddly absent. We were half expecting staff offi cials to come trooping in during the meal to lead away Gaunt Man and Crimson Lips. But they never came. That seemed to set Gaunt Man and Crimson Lips at ease as we headed over to the lecture hal after breakfast.

I’m also relieved, but for a different reason: I don’t smel anymore.

At least, not enough to attract attention. The quick scrub down at the pond seems to have done the trick— nobody seems hot and bothered by any odor. Or perhaps after the heper kiling at the 118

ANDREW FUKUDA

Introduction yesternight, everyone’s become desensitized to smaler amounts of heper odor. Either way, I win.

smaler amounts of heper odor. Either way, I win.

The Director is anchored behind the lectern as he speaks. If anger brews within, he hides it wel beneath his clinicaly precise articulation. His eyebrows do not arch, his head does not snap forward. He speaks with the disinterested emotion of one reading random epitaphs, without a hint of reproof for the very serious breach that was committed. His slender voice: the quietness of a razor blade sashaying from side to side, daring contact.

“You had your fun. But consequences . . .

There are conse-

quences to your actions.” His eyes don’t gaze anywhere close to Gaunt Man and Crimson Lips, who are now sitting especialy rigid in their seats. “In society, the pa ram e ters are clear. It is a capital offense to hunt and kil a heper. Kil and be kiled. However, yesternight’s kiling was not— shal we say,
technically
— an ilegal hunt. It was part of the training of the Palace- endorsed Heper Hunt. As such, it fals under the overal auspices of the Hunt.”

I see Gaunt Man and Crimson Lips relax a touch.

“But there are consequences. Because a heper who, old and emaciated as it may have been, was kiled. Gone. No more. Years of possible scientifi c research never brought to fruition. It wil of possible scientifi c research never brought to fruition. It wil simply not do for its death to go unaccounted for. A crime against a heper is a crime against the Palace. And so there must be consequences for these dastardly acts. Punishment must be meted out.”

Gaunt Man and Crimson Lips stiffen in their seats again. “Of course,” the Director continues, his eyes drifting down and settling upon them, “nothing can be done against you.”

Their heads cock to the side.

“We have invested too much in you,” the Director continues.

“To expel you and seek a replacement so late in the game, mere nights from the Hunt, is simply not a feasible option.” His voice THE HUNT 119

drops off as he gazes at the empty seats in the back row. “But punishment must be meted out. So nobody gets any notion that the government is getting soft. Because a capital offense demands a capital punishment. Or two. Or three. Or seven.”

His next words are razor- sharp. “You wil have noticed that the escorts are gone.” It is an ambiguous statement. And then it is not.

A chil runs down my spine. And he says nothing else as he walks slowly across the stage to another lectern, this one made of glass.

“So, with that unpleasantry out of the way, some good news to report. A rather pleasant surprise, in fact. The Palace has directed us to host a banquet Gala. Hundreds of dignitaries wil be arriving, high- standing offi cials, men of infl uence, their wives and mis-tresses. It is very short notice, but we do have a smidge of a window tomorrow eve ning. This Institute used to host many a banquet Gala back in the day, so it’s shovel- ready. The facility just needs a dusting up. It’l be ready. And so wil you. We’re canceling al other training events. Who needs training, anyway, just chase down the damn things and eat them.” He peels back his sleeve like a snake shedding skin and delicately scratches his bony wrist.

“And one more thing. The media wil be covering the Gala.

We want you looking your best. Tailors are arriving in a couple of hours to mea sure each of you. They’l be busy with you the rest of the night.” He runs his hand back along the geled arc of his hair.

“Two nights after the banquet, the Hunt wil begin. Al guests to the banquet are required to stay for the start of the Hunt. And so you wil have quite the send- off, what with the hundreds of spectators and media coverage. Should make for quite the spectacle.”

He stares at us, then scratches his wrist. “My, my, my, don’t you al look so petrifi ed. You should see your sily, worried faces. I know exactly what your concern is: you’re afraid the hundreds of guests wil al rush out after the hepers. You needn’t worry. This guests wil al rush out after the hepers. You needn’t worry. This 120 ANDREW FUKUDA

building wil be locked down three hours before dusk on the night of the Hunt. A total lockdown. No one wil be able to leave the building except the hunters.”

Without saying more, the Director, as is his wont, recedes into the shadows; and in his place, as usual, emerges Frily Dress. This has happened so many times, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not the same person. If their physiques weren’t so different— his lithe, hers doughy— it realy would have given me pause.

With the Director gone, the release of tension is almost palpa-ble.

Frily Dress has a far less imposing presence and usualy has so little of substance to say that it takes a moment before we realize she is saying something important.

“. . . so it has falen on me to give you some specifi cs about the Hunt. The dawn before the Hunt is to begin, the hepers wil be informed by letter that the Dome has suffered a malfunction: the sensor has broken down and there is a good chance that the Dome wil fail to arise at dusk. As a precautionary mea sure, the hepers wil need to journey immediately to a temporary shelter as indicated on a map we’l provide them. The journey should take only eight hours, assuming they don’t dilydaly, alowing them to reach the shelter before dark. The shelter wil provide them with food, water, and shutters. They are to return after a week.

food, water, and shutters. They are to return after a week.

Questions?”

Phys Ed raises his arm. “I don’t get it. If they get there before dark, they’l be safely holed up before we even get to start. This is supposed to be a Hunt, not a siege.”

By the number of head jerks al around, it’s clear that Phys Ed has struck a common nerve.

But Frily Dress is unperturbed, slowly scratching her wrist.

“My, my, a little antsy this eve ning, aren’t we? One thing you have al forgotten is the sheer gulibility of the hepers. They’l believe anything we tel them. After al, we domesticated them, we know THE HUNT 121

how to pul their strings.” Her face suddenly turns stern. “There is no shelter. No building, no shutters, no wals, not even so much as a brick. The hepers wil be completely exposed for you to hunt.”

At this, a smacking of lips ensues, so loud that, again, we can barely hear Frily Dress speaking.

“. . . stash of weapons,” she says, fi nishing her sentence.

Phys Ed raises his arm again. “What did you mean by ‘a stash of weapons’?”

Frily Dress scratches her wrist, obviously pleased with herself.

She pauses, knowing she has our attention. “There is a very signifi

-

cant change from the previous Heper Hunts. We’ve decided to arm the hepers. With a stash of weapons. This wil undoubtedly slow down the Hunt, make it more chalenging, and help you derive greater enjoyment out of it. Raise the stakes, raise the plea sure.”

“Arm them? With what kind of weapons?” asks Beefy, his voice gruff, more curious than alarmed.

An image of a spear and dagger is projected on the large screen.

I recognize them as the ones the female heper had brandished—

and thrown at me— the day before. “It was once hoped that the hepers would learn to use the spear and dagger as weapons. They did, but their lack of strength rendered these weapons as useless as toothpicks. Fortunately, however, our staffers here at the Institute have come up with some more robust weaponry, something with real zing. Something that can actualy hurt. And possibly maim.”

BOOK: The Hunt
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

For Life by Lorie O'Clare
Knives and Sheaths by Nalini Singh
The Shadow Protocol by Andy McDermott
Witch Fall by Amber Argyle
Tete-a-Tete by Hazel Rowley
Just Desserts by Tricia Quinnies