Read The Hunt Online

Authors: Andrew Fukuda

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

The Hunt (32 page)

BOOK: The Hunt
5.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

On the monitor, she suddenly does something strange. She snatches a knife from a hanging knife rack, a long swirling blade.

Places the blade in the palm of her left hand and, before I understand what she’s doing, squeezes.


Her mouth widens in pain, stretches into a scream.

Then I understand. And I scream:
“Ashley June!”

On the screen, she drops the knife and sprints away.

The door bends inwardly but holds. Just barely. One more hit is al it wil take.

Then, suddenly, a fever- pitched wail breaks out on the other side, and I hear a scrabbling of nails on the fl oor and wals and ceiling.

Away from the door. Then silence. They’re al gone.

I look at the monitor and see Ashley June fl ying down the I look at the monitor and see Ashley June fl ying down the stairwel, her hair fl owing behind her. She’s leaping from one landing to the next; barely after she’s landed, she’s already leaping for the next landing. She’s headed down, al the way to the Introduction.

On the other monitors, I see hordes of people, in a synchronized stampede, racing down the stairs.

For the blood and fl esh of a female virgin heper.

They move as one, wordlessly but ferociously, their blurred speed astonishing on the monitors. The pul of gravity gives them even more speed as they fl y down the stairwel. Faling like black rain.

Ashley June races down, panic etched on her face. Each time her feet land, she grabs the rail with her left hand, pivots her body around quickly, and leaps down to the next landing.

The black rain continues to fal, continues to close in on her.

She reaches the bottom fl oor. Her face is fl ushed, sweat pouring off her and, creating a damp ring of darkness around her neck.

Strands of wet hair lie pressed against her face. Her breathing is ragged; she fl ies toward the doors leading into the Introduction.

They land behind her, a viscous black waterfal crashing down, spraying onto the wals and fl oor. They go right at her.

spraying onto the wals and fl oor. They go right at her.

She squeezes through the tiny opening between the doors, mi-raculously opened. A half second later, a dozen of them jump that very spot. Their sheer mass jams them, prevents a single one from THE HUNT 237

slipping through the doors. She has time, maybe a few more seconds of life.

I switch over to a different monitor. Now I see what she has planned al along. She’s heading for the chamber where the old male heper lived. She sprints past one of the poles, past dark stains in the ground, and toward the manhole- shaped door of the chamber, tilted up and open. Three people— two men and a woman—

have slipped through; stark naked, their clothes stripped during the chase, they’re bounding right for her. Their mouths are hideously wide in a scream that, though silent to me through the monitor, must be ear- shattering for Ashley June. Yards out, Ashley June does a running slide right into opening, her arm grasping the bar as she fals through, puling it down. It fals with a thud, kicking up dust.

The three of them slide right across it; they circle around, their muscles bunched, fi ngers jamming around the edges, trying to pry open the cover.

open the cover.

With horror, I see the cover start to rise. She hasn’t been able to apply the locks yet. The steel door rises high enough for them to wrap their fi ngers around the bottom—

—when a galeon of bodies pummels into them, knocking them off.

Naked bodies everywhere, elbows jockeying for position, arms striking randomly in the air. The cover fals back down. And this time, even with a dozen hands grabbing for the edges, the cover stays down. She’s applied the locks.

a voice in my head shouts. It’s my own voice, barking at me.

But my feet are cemented to the ground, my eyes glued to the monitors. I need to be sure she’s fi ne.

She’s fi ne,
my voice tels me again.
She’s locked in, there’s no
way they can break in. Everyone knows this

Or wil, and very soon. Wil know there’s no way to get to the virgin female heper.


And they wil remember, very soon, something else: the virgin male heper stil in the Control Center. And that the male, unlike the female, is very accessible.

Run, Gene!
And this time the voice is not my own, but Ashley
Run, Gene!
And this time the voice is not my own, but Ashley June’s.
Run! Now’s your chance to get out!

This is why she cut her palm. This is why she lured them al the way down to the Introduction. To give me the slimmest of windows through which to escape to the outside.

Run, Gene!

I run.

For the moment, the corridors are eerily quiet. Even the stairwel harbors only a faint murmuring, a backwater of hisses. I need to go down four fl ights, toward them, to get to the ground fl oor and then out.

I place my foot down on the fi rst step . . . and it’s as if I’ve inadvertently triggered a button. Instantly, a roar shrieks up the stairwel, a below of anger, frustration, realization, lust. And then a grab bag of sounds: nails, teeth, hissing, clawing, bounding up the wals and stairs. Toward me.

So soon, and they’re coming.

I leap down to the next landing— toward them— and the impact sends a reverberation shooting up my legs and along my spine.

Ashley June made it look easy. I grab for the railing with my left hand and— imitating her— swing my body around, leaping for the hand and— imitating her— swing my body around, leaping for the next landing, my body stil rattling.

From below, the below of shrieks intensifi es. It’s my fear, oozing off me in waves, they smel. I fl ing my body down another landing, just one more to go, even as they race up toward me. The impact is THE HUNT 239

a sucker punch to my intestines. I colapse to my legs, cradling my midsection, doubled over in pain. My vision goes yelow, red, black.

I get up, gritting my teeth against the pain, and heave my body to the landing on the ground fl oor. I glance down the wel just before I land: long- nailed hands on the railing, a fl urry of bodies fl ashing by on the stairs, eyes glowing in the dark. Black oil gushing up at me, unleashed.

I burst through the doors on my left, get my legs working under me. Turn right, right, left, then I’l be in the foyer. Twenty seconds away.

They are fi ve, ten seconds away.

With my legs fi ling with lactic acid, I push for the exit, ignoring the mathematical certainty of my own demise. That is the exact phrase as it enters my turbulent head:
the mathematical certainty of
own demise

I turn right, knowing I have at most only two seconds of life left.

Race down the corridor, my form al but forgotten, just a rag dol puled along by fear, arms fl ailing out.

Five seconds later, as I turn down the last corridor into the foyer, I’m stil alive. I’m almost blinking in surprise.

They must have shot past the ground- fl oor landing, thinking I was stil up in the Control Center. I’m safe, I’m going to make—

An explosive bang. They’ve burst through the doors on the ground fl oor, are already racing down the corridors toward me, fast and furious and desirous, panic now driving them, the panic that they might lose me to the sun outside. A dark sea, an incoming tide of black acid.

My feet sink into the cool Turkish- knotted royal carpet in the foyer. I turn to my left. There. The double- paneled front doors, thinly rimmed by the daylight outside. Twenty yards to freedom. I 240 ANDREW FUKUDA

take off for them, every last ounce of energy long gone, somehow fi nding speed.

The deranged voices behind, the scrabble of nails on marble, skittering and slipping.

Ten yards away. My arms stretch forward, reaching for the door handle.

Something grabs my ankle.

It is warm and moist and sticky. But with enough solidity and strength to keep its hold on me, to bring me to the ground.

I crash with a thud, air pushed out like a bagpipe squashed.

It’s Phys Ed, the spongy stickiness of what remains of him, anyway, holding my ankle, puling himself toward me. Yelow pus runs down his pizza face. His mouth, partialy toothless now (I see his falen teeth scattered on his chest and the carpet), opens to hiss, but what comes out instead is a blubbering, sloppy mess of sounds.

I kick at him with my foot, but his grip around my ankle tightens.

“Gah!” I shout.
I strike out with my other foot, missing his hand but fi nding his face instead. My foot sinks in through the gooey stickiness— for one stomach- churning moment, I feel his eyebal pressed against the sole of my foot— before fi nding bone.

What used to be bone. The head not so much explodes as
off his neck.

No time to dwel. I’m on my feet, hand on the handle, pushing through the front doors. The brightness is blinding, but I don’t stop.

Not with the cries of anger and frustration baying right behind me. I run with squinting eyes, barely seeing, my feet slapping at the sand run with squinting eyes, barely seeing, my feet slapping at the sand beneath me, intent only on creating more distance, more distance between me and the doors; and I don’t stop, even when I know I’m far enough, but keep pounding the ground, and I’m shouting,

“Gah! Gah! Gah!”
not sure if this is because of anger or victory or defeat or love or fear. But I just keep shouting it over and over THE HUNT 241

until I’m no longer shouting it but sobbing it, no longer running but facedown in the sand, bent over with fatigue, my hands clenching and unclenching sand, sand in my fi st, sand in my nostrils, sand in my mouth, throat, and the only sounds are my ragged breath and raspy sobs, my tears dripping down into the sand, bathed in the wonderful, painful, blinding light of day.

I am emptied of energy, thought, emotion, as I pick myself up and walk to the Dome. My bones are stil jangling from the pounding they took on the stairwel. I examine my ankles: no sweling and, more important, no cuts or scratches on my left ankle where I was grabbed. It is quiet, not even the sound of wind blowing. I make a wide arc around the library; I’m not overly worried that any other hunter wil charge out, especialy with the SunCloak gone, but I’m not taking any chances. I think I hear a hissing, wet and slushy, coming from inside. But that recedes as I draw closer to the Dome.

And in the heper vilage, al is quiet.

“Hey!” Silence. “Hey!”

“Hey!” Silence. “Hey!”

I walk into a mud hut. Empty, as expected. And the second mud hut is just as empty. Dust motes fl oat in a beam of sunlight.

And everywhere I go, it’s the same. Empty. Not a heper in sight.

Not in the vegetable patch, not under the apple trees, not on their training ground, not in any of the mud huts.

They’re gone. From what I can gather, they left in a hurry. Their breakfast sits half- eaten in the mess hal, slices of bread nibbled at, glasses half- ful with milk. I scan the plains, looking for a moving dot or a cloud of dust. But they’re nowhere to be seen.

The pond offers the reprieve I seek: water. And space and sunlight and silence. I take a long drink, then lie down next to the pond, dangling my right arm and leg into the cool water. In about 242


four hours, the wals of the Dome wil rise up, emptied of its former occupants. A new occupant wil have taken their place— no, not an occupant, a prisoner. For that is what it is going to feel to me, alone within its glass wals. A prisoner as surely as Ashley June is a prisoner within the wals of the pit, down in the dark recesses of the earth.

How long can she last down there? The old male heper, they’d said, had stored enough food and water to last a month. But how said, had stored enough food and water to last a month. But how long, alone in the darkness and cold, before you lost al hope?

How long before your mind snapped under the constant scratching and tapping and pounding of the door above?

And why had she done it?

I know the answer, it’s obvious, but I don’t understand it.

She did it for me. She knew, as soon as she saw the SunCloaked man burst into the main building, that I’d be dead within minutes.

She did the only thing that would save me.

I run my left hand along the gravel, letting the sharpness pierce my palm. I bite my lower lip, unable to shake a feeling that I’m missing something crucialy important. An indelible sense that I’m loaf-ing when I should be hustling. I should be doing something— but what? I slap at the pond in frustration, letting water splash onto my body, my face.

I sit up. What am I missing? I replay in my mind the last images of Ashley June in reverse order: jumping into the pit, rushing into the Introduction, fl ying down the stairs, in the kitchen writing a letter, throwing it into the oven—

I jolt up.

That wasn’t an oven.

That wasn’t an oven.

It was the Umbilical.

I leap to my feet and run over to it. Even yards away, I see a THE

HUNT 243

blinking green light, right above the slot, a steady pulsing. I’m there in seconds. I grab the slot, pul it open.

There. In the corner, a smal folded piece of paper.

It crinkles lightly in my fi ngers as I unfold it. A short letter, written hurriedly, if not franticaly.


If you’re reading this, you made it. Don’t be mad at me.

Or yourself. It was the only way.

I’ll be fi ne. You’ve given me something to remember; no
matter how dark or lonely it gets down here, I’ll always have
the memories we share. Those few hours when we
There’s still
time. Bring the hepers back. When you
return, as everyone’s
rushing out at them, use that as cover
to come get me.

BOOK: The Hunt
5.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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