Read The Hunt Online

Authors: Andrew Fukuda

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

The Hunt (29 page)

BOOK: The Hunt
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I don’t say anything.

Tears start to wel in her eyes, and perhaps for the fi rst time in her life, she doesn’t hold them back. They stream out and trail down her cheeks. I reach out with my arm, meaning to wipe them away her cheeks. I reach out with my arm, meaning to wipe them away with my sleeve; but she grabs my hand and places it on her THE

HUNT 213

cheek, palm pressed right atop the trail of tears. Her soft skin, the wetness of her tears, tingling my open palm. My heart, melting everywhere now, her tears intermingling.

“Please?” she whispers, and the plea in her voice breaks me inside.

Our shoulders touch. When I turn, she has already turned to face me. So close, I can see a tiny mole at the corner of her eye. I brush it lightly with my fi ngertips, back and forth.

“It’s a mole. No amount of rubbing wil wipe it away,” she whispers.

“I’m not trying to wipe it away.” I don’t know what I’m doing.

Al I know is that my heart is bursting out and overfl owing, and I don’t know what to do with myself.

She lifts her sleeveless arm slightly. Her eyes are wide, inviting.

The skin of her armpit is exposed, and she is waiting. She gazes at my elbow, then at me.

As gently as I can, I reach out and lower her arm. “Please,” I say softly, a whisper’s whisper, “don’t misunderstand. But . . .

softly, a whisper’s whisper, “don’t misunderstand. But . . .

I

never . . . it’s never done anything for me.”

Instead of hurt in her eyes, relief and emotion fl ood them. She lowers her arm. “It’s the same for me. I’ve always faked how much I enjoyed it.” She turns her head the other direction. “The times with the boyfriend, the one time with you in the closet. I felt like something was wrong with me.” She sighs with a shudder. “Of course something was wrong with me,” she says, her voice hitching. “I’m not normal. I’m a heper.” The last word comes out like a release, the fi nal plea of guilt.

Hardly knowing what I’m doing, I grab her hand with my open palm placed on top of the back of her hand. I feel the smal ripple of bones, the slight startle in her fi ngers. I pul my hand away, but she reaches for it. And places her open palm in my hand, the skin 214 ANDREW FUKUDA

of her palm touching the skin of my palm, a ful embrace. We stare at each other, eyes wide. The sensation, unlike anything I’ve felt before, is overpowering. I don’t dare to breathe. Her eyes close, her head tips upward. With that, her lips part, ful and strangely beckoning.

And then her fi ngers interlace with mine. I’ve never seen that before, never knew such a thing was even possible. But the soft before, never knew such a thing was even possible. But the soft skin on the sides of her fi ngers as they graze the sides of my fi ngers is like the nape of her neck, tender and smooth, sending a chil and a heat up and through my body.

“Ashley June,” I whisper.

She doesn’t say anything, just keeps her head tilted heavenward, eyes closed. “I know,” she fi naly whispers, “I know.”

Stars blinking down. Ashley June’s head on my shoulder, her arm draped across my chest, stil holding my hand. We haven’t let go, even as we lay down and drifted to sleep. I hear smal puffs of her even breathing, the faint thump of her heartbeat against my rib cage. My eyes close. I fal asleep again.

When I wake up, the sky has lightened, the muted stars receded into the gray sky. The scent of dawn hangs ripe in the air. Ashley June is gone from my side. I sit up, the pebbles shifting under me.

She’s nowhere on the rooftop. I head over to the ledge, puzzled.

I see her in the distance. Walking, deep in thought.

Minutes later, I’m outside on the brick path, hurrying toward her.

Evidence of the eve ning’s revelry is littered everywhere: paper plates, kabob skewers, wineglasses, empty bottles, strewn al along THE HUNT 215

the path. Even puddles of vomit. As I draw closer to her, she senses me and turns around, waits for me to catch up.

“Hey,” she says with a faint smile, and reaches for my hand.

“Hope no one sees us.”

“Nah, everyone’s completely sloshed.”

“Hope so. What are you doing?”

“Something was weighing on me. I had to take a walk to clear my mind.” She squeezes my hand. “I’m glad you came. Come with me,” she says, and we head toward the Dome.

Hand in hand, we walk under the brightening skies, our hands fi tting perfectly, our arms intertwining with surprising ease, her skin soft against my own. Our bodies lilt toward each other intimately as we approach the Dome. It is easy to forget what this day is. A day that wil end in the Hunt, in violence and death.

And then we stop in front of the Umbilical.

“Open it,” she says.

Inside, sitting dead center on the conveyor belt, is a large envelope.

I look at Ashley June and she nods with her wide, penetrating eyes.

eyes.

I take it out, feeling the large embossed lettering in al caps:
URGENT: OPEN IMMEDIATELY.

“I thought it would be here by now. It’s the letter informing the hepers about the supposed Dome malfunction. It’s what gets them out of the Dome, out into the Vast. It’s what turns them from the protected into unwitting prey. It’s what makes the Hunt possible.

It’s what kils the hepers.”

I stare at her, then back down at the letter. “Why are you showing this to me?” I ask.

216 ANDREW FUKUDA

“Because I wasn’t fair to you before, Gene.” I try to interrupt, but she shakes her head. “No, this is important, so let me speak. I feel like I may have forced you to agree to something you’l later regret.”

“That’s not—”

“No, Gene, listen! I don’t want you to feel you were coaxed into something. So I want to give you one more chance. To realy think about it, and make up your own mind about what you want to do.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?”

“If you put that letter back into the Umbilical, then the Hunt happens.
We
happen. But you can also not put it back; you can rip it to shreds. Then the hepers live. It’s up to you. It realy is up to you, I mean that.”

“If I rip it up, the Hunt gets delayed. Maybe by a few days, possibly as long as a week. I won’t last that long. I’l be found out wel before then.”

“I know,” she says.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because,” she says, her voice wavering, “I can see how something like this might eat you up. I couldn’t live with myself knowing I did this to you. But now, look, it’s in your hands now, literaly.

You choose.”

I stare at the envelope in my hands, square and fat. I shake my head. I cannot decide.

“Don’t do this,” I say, but she looks away from me, biting her lower lip, her eyes shining with a new wetness. I look at the Dome, the mud huts inside, doors and windows stil closed. I think of the hepers inside, asleep in their beds, chests rising, faling, eyes hepers inside, asleep in their beds, chests rising, faling, eyes closed, skin pulsing delicately with the pulse of blood.

The dawn sun peeks over the crest of the eastern mountains. A slate of pink orange radiates across the Vast, hitting the top of the THE HUNT 217

Dome; the refracted rays bounce inside, shimmering the pond underneath with a refl ected glow. Dawn has come.

Ashley June cannot look at me. Her eyes dart left and right over my shoulder. I stare at her, waiting for her eyes to fi naly come to a rest on mine. Sunrise orange lights a fi re in her auburn hair. And fi naly, her green eyes, sparkling with diamond intensity behind the screen of tears, fi nd mine.

That is al it takes, apparently. To fuly convert me, to slay me.

The warm glow of dawn’s light, the most beautiful girl I’ve ever known, the possibility of joining her in a life I’ve never even dared wish for.

“Okay,” I whisper. I open the slot door and place the letter back into the Umbilical. The slot door clangs shut with fi nality.

We leave quickly after that, not wanting to be seen by any early-rising heper. Despite our longing to be together, we decide it’s best if we separate to our respective abodes. The Director’s order that we sleep separately—

we sleep separately—

or, technicaly, awaken separately—

seems

pretty charged; and even though no one’s awake to notice, it’s probably best not to risk drawing his negative attention at this point.

Plus, we need to have our wits about us to night when the Heper Hunt starts, and some shut- eye—which we’re not likely to get much of if together— wil only help.

“We’re doing the right thing,” she says reassuringly outside the doors to the Institute.

“I know,” I tel her, I tel myself, “I know.”

“You don’t have to take me up to my room. I can make it from here. Sun’s out now, we shouldn’t open and close these doors more than we have to.”

“Okay.”

218 ANDREW FUKUDA

“I’l see you in a few hours. We’l join up with the hunters for the start of the Hunt. By that time, people wil start realizing that the start of the Hunt. By that time, people wil start realizing that the lockdown failed. The mass stampede wil begin. We’l fi nd a place to hide.”

“Okay.” I frown.

“What is it?”

“Just wondering where al the hunters are. The staffers should have let us know where we need to be gathering for the start of the Hunt by now.”

“Don’t worry. I’m sure they’l let us know.”

“Okay.”

“Oh,” she says, “if you come to my room and I’m not there, check the Control Center. I’l be there, disengaging the lockdown.

And I want to check out the monitors, fi nd the best place to hide out during the stampede.”

We embrace, long and tight, our bodies tired but hearts afl ame.

She opens the door a sliver, slips in. The door closes quickly, quietly.

Minutes later, I’m back in the library. The door clicks shut behind me. Darkness inside broods, saturates everything; I need to give my eyes time to adjust. I walk slowly into the heart of the library, my eyes time to adjust. I walk slowly into the heart of the library, the darkness no different were my eyes closed, until I see a distant dot of light in the main section of the library. It’s the driled hole in the shutter. No beam of light yet; it wil be hours before the sun swings into position on that side of the library. For now, it’s merely a faint dot of light, like an eye staring at me.

Fatigue hits me like a waterfal. I lurch toward a nearby sofa chair.

It doesn’t take long to fal asleep. Even as my body plummets into the THE HUNT 219

sofa cushioning, even as my eyelids colapse down like velvet theater curtains, I’m already tumbling headlong into sleep. And in that last moment before I succumb completely to slumber, a little thought raises its hand like a splinter, that something is amiss, something not altogether
right
. But by then it is too late and I am fast asleep.

I wake up, my heart racing. Even without opening my eyes, I sense
wrongness
. My muscles are tense, my back stiff. Slowly, I crack open my eyes. For a moment, al I can see is a splotch of light on the other side of the room, spouting out of the hole in the shutter, lan-guidly, but solidifying by the second. And even now, as I watch, I see a beam start to form, angled and hazy, but lengthening like the stigma of a fl ower.

Judging from its intensity and columned angle, hours have passed since I colapsed asleep.

since I colapsed asleep.

And stil that feeling that something is awry permeates the air, only heightened now. I stand up very slowly, fear and thirst creak-ing my bones. The hazy light is cratered and splintered, like the fragmented face of the moon seen through the bare branches of a winter forest.

I make my way toward it, arms stretched forward, drowsiness stil lingering despite the fear.

And then.

Long strands of hair brush against my face, a sickeningly intimate caress. A smal, involuntary shriek slips out of my mouth. Like walking into a spiderweb, but so much worse; strands of hair that don’t dissipate on contact but drag upward along my face, across my cheekbones, along the sides of my nose, intertwining with my eyelashes and eyebrows, wispy fi ngers feeling my face like a blind person reading Braile.

220 ANDREW FUKUDA

It takes everything in me not to fl ail away at the hair. I drop to the fl oor and look up. Someone is asleep at the sleep- holds. Abs.

Her long black hair fl ows down like a waterfal of disease, her white face looming above it like a sickened moon. The rest of her body is hidden over in the ceiling shadows, creating the ilusion of a body is hidden over in the ceiling shadows, creating the ilusion of a hovering, decapitated head.

I shut my eyes, count the seconds, wiling her not to stir. I listen.

Nothing but a faint, short creak of wood from across the room. I open my eyes, see the books on the fl oor, hundreds of them shoved roughly off the shelves, piled up at the bottom of the bookshelves like the canted slope of snow after an avalanche.

Phys Ed is dangling upside down on a bookshelf, asleep. His legs are tucked into the top shelf, his shoes wedged into a smal opening to support him. He has found sleep in this shelf- turned- cot.

And not just him. As the room brightens, I see Crimson Lips a few shelves down, also hanging off the top shelf. And there is Gaunt Man, his belt looped around an air duct, dangling from the ceiling.

Frily Dress is tied to the center chandelier; she rotates in a slow spin, the chandelier puled askew by her weight. Al the hunters.

They came here last night. I’m not sure why.

BOOK: The Hunt
4.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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