Read The Hunt Online

Authors: Andrew Fukuda

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

The Hunt (2 page)

BOOK: The Hunt
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Just in time. People never clear their throats. I breathe in, forc-ing myself to slow down time. I resist the urge to wipe my upper lip where I suspect smal beads of sweat are starting to form.

“Do I need to ask you again?”

In front of me, Ashley June is staring more intently at me. For a moment, I wonder if she’s staring at my upper lip. Does she see a slight glisten of sweat there? Did I miss shaving a hair? Then she THE HUNT 9

puts up an arm, a long slender pale arm like a swan’s neck arising out of the water.

“I think I know,” she says, and gets up from her seat. She takes the chalk from the teacher, who is taken aback by her forthrightness.

Students don’t usualy approach the board uninvited. But then again, this is Ashley June, who pretty much gets by with what ever she wants. She gazes up at the equation, then writes with a quick fl ourish in large letters and numbers. Moments later, she’s done and adds her own check mark and an “A+” at the end. Dusting off her hands, she sits back down. Some of the students start scratching their wrists, as does the teacher. “That was pretty funny,” he says.

their wrists, as does the teacher. “That was pretty funny,” he says.

“I like that.” He scratches his wrist faster, demonstrably, and more students join him. I hear the
rasp rasp rasp
of nails scratching against wrists.

I join them, scratching my wrists with my long nails, hating it.

Because my wrists are defective. They don’t itch when I fi nd something humorous. My natural instinct is to smile— smiling is this thing I do by widening my mouth and exposing my teeth— and not to scratch my wrist. I have sensitive nerve endings there, not a funny bone.

A message on the PA system suddenly sounds over the loud-speakers. Instantly, everyone stops scratching and sits up. The voice is robotic, man- female, authoritative.

“An important announcement,” it blares. “To night, in just three hours at two A.M., there wil be a nationwide Declaration made by the Ruler. Al citizens are required to participate. Accordingly, al classes held at that time wil be canceled. Teachers, students, and al administrative staff wil gather in the assembly hal to watch the live broadcast from our beloved Ruler.”

And that’s it. After the sign- off chimes, nobody speaks. We’re 10

ANDREW FUKUDA

stunned by this news. The Ruler— who hasn’t been seen in public in decades— almost never makes a TV appearance. He usualy in decades— almost never makes a TV appearance. He usualy leaves Palatial and other administrative announcements to the four Ministers under him (Science, Education, Food, Law) or the fi fteen Directors (Horse Engineering, City Infrastructure, Heper Studies, and so on) under them.

And the fact that he is making a Declaration is missed by no one.

Everyone starts speculating about the Declaration. A nationwide Declaration is reserved for only the rarest of occasions. Over the past fi fteen years, it’s happened only twice. Once to announce the Ruler’s marriage. And second, most famously, to announce the Heper Hunt.

Although the last Heper Hunt occurred ten years ago, people stil talk about it. The Palace surprised the public when it announced it had been secretly harboring eight hepers. Eight living, blood- fi led hepers. To lift morale during a time of economic depression, the Ruler decided to release the hepers into the wild. These hepers, kept under confi nement for years, were fattened and slow, bewildered and frightened. Cast out into the wild like lambs to the slaughter, they never had a chance. They were given a twelve-hour head start. Then, a lucky group chosen by lottery were permitted to give chase after them. The Hunt was over in two hours. The event generated a surge in popularity for the Ruler.

As I walk to the cafeteria for lunch, I hear the buzz of excitement.

Many are hoping for an announcement of another Heper Hunt.

There is talk of a lottery for citizens again. Others are skeptical—

There is talk of a lottery for citizens again. Others are skeptical—

haven’t hepers become extinct?
But even the doubters are drooling at the possibility, lines of saliva dripping down their chins and under their shirts. Nobody has tasted a heper, drunken its blood, feasted on its fl esh, for years now. To think that the government might be harboring some hepers, to think that every citizen THE HUNT 11

might have a shot at winning the lottery for the Hunt . . . it sends the school into a tizzy.

I remember the Hunt from ten years ago. How for months afterward I didn’t dare fal asleep because of the nightmares that would invade my mind: hideous images of an imagined Hunt, wet and violent and ful of blood. Horrifi c cries of fear and panic, the sound of fl esh ripped and bones crushed puncturing the night stilness. I’d wake up screaming, inconsolable even as my father wrapped his arms protectively around me in a strong hug. He’d tel me everything was al right, that it was just a dream, that it wasn’t real; but what he didn’t know was that even as he spoke, I’d hear the lingering sounds of my sister’s and mother’s wretched screams echoing in my ears, spiling out of my nightmares and into the darkness of my al- too-real world.

The cafeteria is packed and boisterous. Even the kitchen staff are discussing the Declaration as they scoop food— synthetic meats—

onto plates. Lunchtime has always been a chalenge for me because I don’t have any friends. I’m a loner, partly because it’s because I don’t have any friends. I’m a loner, partly because it’s safer— less interaction, less chance of being found out. Mostly, though, it’s the prospect of being eaten alive by your so- caled friend that kils any possibility of shared intimacy. Cal me picky, but imminent death at the hands (or teeth) of a friend who would suckle blood out of you at the drop of a hat . . . that throws a monkey wrench into friend-ship building.

So I eat lunch alone most of the time. But today, by the time I pay for my food at the cash register, there’s barely a seat left. Then I spot F5 and F19 from math class sitting together, and I join them.

They’re both idiots, F19 slightly more so. In my mind, I cal them
Idiot
and
Doofus
.

12 ANDREW FUKUDA

“Guys,” I say.

“Hey,” Idiot replies, barely looking up.

“Everyone’s talking about the Declaration,” I say.

“Yes,” Doofus says, stuffi ng his mouth. We eat silently for a while.

That’s the way it is with Idiot and Doofus. They are computer geeks, staying up into the wee hours of the day. When I eat with them— maybe once a week— sometimes we don’t say anything at al. That’s when I feel closest to them.

al. That’s when I feel closest to them.

“I’ve been noticing something,” Doofus says after a while.

I glance up at him. “What’s that?”

“Somebody’s been paying quite a bit of attention to you.” He takes another bite into the meat, raw and bloody. It dribbles down his chin, plopping into his bowl.

“You mean the math teacher? I know what you mean, the guy won’t leave me alone in trig—”

“No, I meant somebody else. A girl.”

This time, both Idiot and I look up.

“For real?” Idiot asks.

Doofus nods. “She’s been looking at you for the past few minutes.”

“Not me.” I take another sip. “She’s probably staring at one of you.”

Idiot and Doofus look at each other. Idiot scratches his wrist a few times.

“Funny, that,” Doofus says. “I swear she’s been eyeing you for a while now. Not just today. But every lunchtime for the past few while now. Not just today. But every lunchtime for the past few weeks, I see her watching you.”

“What ever,” I say, feigning disinterest.

“No, look, she’s staring at you right now. Behind you at the table by the window.”

THE HUNT 13

Idiot spins around to look. When he turns back around, he’s scratching his wrist hard and fast.

“What’s so funny?” I ask, taking another sip, resisting the urge to turn around.

Idiot only scratches his wrist harder and faster. “You should take a look. He’s not kidding.”

Slowly, I turn around and steal a quick glance. There’s only one table by the window. A circle of girls eating there. The Desirables.

That’s what they are known as. And that round table is theirs, and everyone knows by some unwritten rule that you leave that table alone. It is the domain of the Desirables, the pop u lar girls, the ones with the cute boyfriends and designer clothes. You approach that table only if they let you. I’ve seen even their boyfriends waiting dutifuly off to the side until granted permission to approach.

approach.

Not one of them is looking at me. They are chitchatting, comparing jewelry, oblivious to the world outside the sphere of their table. But then one of them gives me a lingering look, her eyes meeting, then holding, mine. It is Ashley June. She looks at me with the same kind of wistful, longing glance she’s shot at me dozens of times over the past few years.

I fl ick my eyes away, spin back around. Idiot and Doofus are scratching their wrists maniacaly now. I feel the heat of a dangerous blush begin to hit my face, but they are thankfuly too busy scratching to notice. I quel my face, taking deep, slow breaths until the heat dissipates.

“Actualy,” Idiot says, “didn’t that girl have a thing for you before?

Yeah, yeah, I think that’s right. A couple of years back.”

“She’s stil pining after you, she’s got the hots for you after al this time,” Doofus wisecracks, and this time the two of them start scratching each other’s wrists uncontrolably.

14 ANDREW FUKUDA

Swimming practice after lunch— yes, my coach is a maniac— is almost caled off. None of the squad members can concentrate.

The locker room is abuzz with the latest rumors about the Declaration.

Declaration.

I wait for the room to clear before getting changed. I’m just slipping out of my clothes when someone walks in. “Yo,” Poser, the team captain, says, ripping off his clothes and slipping into his extra- tight Speedos. He drops down for push- ups, infl ating his tri-ceps and chest muscles. A dumbbel sits in his locker awaiting his biceps curls. His Buffness the Poser does this before every practice, jacking up to the max. He has a fan club out there, mostly fresh-men and sophomores on the girls’ squad. I’ve seen him let them touch his pecs. The girls used to gawk at me, the braver ones sidling up and trying to talk to me during practice until they realized I pre-ferred to be alone. Poser has thankfuly drawn away most of that attention.

He does ten more push- ups in quick succession. “It’s got to be about a Heper Hunt,” he says, pausing halfway down. “And they should forget about doing it by lottery this time. They should just pick the strongest among us. That would,” he says, fi nishing his push- up, “be me.”

“No doubt about,” I say. “It’s always been brawn over brains in the Hunt. Survival of the fi ttest—”

“And winner takes al,” he fi nishes as he pushes out ten more push- ups, the last three on one hand. “Life distiled down to its raw-est essence. Gotta love it. Because brute strength always wins. Always has, always wil.” He runs his hand over his bicep, looking approvingly, and heads out the door. Only then do I fuly looking approvingly, and heads out the door. Only then do I fuly remove my clothes and put on my trunks.

Coach is already barking at us as we jump in and continues to THE HUNT 15

berate us for our lack of focus as we swim our laps. The water, always too cold for me even on a normal day, is freezing today.

Even a few of my classmates complain about it, and they almost never complain about the water temperature. Water at cold temperatures affects me in a way it doesn’t anyone else. I shiver, get something my father caled “goose bumps.” It’s one of the many ways I’m different from everyone else. Because despite my near identical physiological similarity with them, there are seismic fundamental differences that lie beneath the frail and deceptive surface of similarity.

Everyone is slower today. Distracted, no doubt. I need more speed, more effort. It takes everything in me to stop shivering.

Even when the water is at its usual temperature, with everyone splashing away, it usualy takes a ful twenty minutes before I’m warm enough.

Today, instead of getting warmer, I feel my body getting colder. I need to swim faster.

After a warm- up lap, as we are resting up on the shalow end, I am almost overcome by a sudden urge to kick off and swim the am almost overcome by a sudden urge to kick off and swim the forbidden stroke.

Only my father has seen me use it. Years ago. During one of our daytime excursions to a local pool. For what ever reason, I dipped my head underwater. It is the fi rst sign of drowning, when-ever even the nose and ears dip below the surface. Lifeguards are trained to watch for this: see half a head submerge underwater, and they’re instantly reaching for their whistles and life preservers.

That’s why the water level, even at the deep end, goes up only to our waists. It’s the depth that gets to people, renders them inca-pacitated. If their feet can’t touch bottom without their jaw line sinking below water, a panic attack seizes them like a refl ex. They freeze up, sink, drown. So even though swimming is considered the domain of adrenaline junkies, those wiling to fl irt with death, realy, it’s not. Here in the pool, you can simply stand up at the fi rst 16 ANDREW FUKUDA

BOOK: The Hunt
10.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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