Read The Hunt Online

Authors: Andrew Fukuda

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

The Hunt (33 page)

BOOK: The Hunt
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I’m @ Intro. Will wait 4 U.

Be quick, stable

Never forget

And there the letter ends, seemingly in midsentence. She was rushed toward the end, her words screeching across the page, for-feiting grammar, scratches of her panic.

I read the letter over and over until the words are carved indelibly into my memory, until the impossibility of what she’s asking sinks in.

Bring the hepers back.
Those words speak to me, in Ashley June’s voice, with a haunting realness. I hear the hushed, urgent in-fl ections of her voice. But there’s nothing I can do— she must know this. I can’t bring them back. The hepers are gone, and I have no idea 244 ANDREW FUKUDA

where they are. And I can’t randomly set off into the Vast, hoping to run into them. That’s tantamount to randomly plunging my hand into the desert sand in the wild hope of coming up with a long- lost coin. And when night fals and I’m stil out there, it’s over for me.

They’l sniff me out, hunt me down, as surely as they wil the hepers.

I open my eyes, let the sun rip into my eyebals, hoping the bright glare wil erase her words from my mind. I walk to the training glare wil erase her words from my mind. I walk to the training ground, looking for something to vent my frustration on, a spear to snap in two or a dagger to thrust at the side of a mud hut. But I can’t fi nd anything. I kick at rocks on the ground, throw stones as far into the Vast as I can. And al the while, I have the gnawing sense that I’m missing something, not reading her letter right.

Bring the hepers back.

I ignore those words, pick up more stones and rocks. I’l head over to the apple tree to see if—

Bring the hepers back.

“How am I supposed to do that?” I shout into the air. “When I don’t even know where they are!”

Be quick, stable.

I crumple the paper in both hands, fl ing it as far as possible.

Be quick, stable
. Her voice is audible in my head.

After a few moments, I walk over and pick up the baled paper, put out by my own histrionics.

The paper is now more crinkled than a smashed mirror, the words and phrases hung up in it like insects caught in a spider’s web. A crease runs from top to bottom, right between “be quick”

crease runs from top to bottom, right between “be quick”

and “stable.”

My head shoots up, suddenly seeing, understanding.

Be quick, stable

Be quick, stable

THE HUNT 245

Be stable.

Be stable

stable

The stable is attached to the southern wing of the Institute. I stand outside the chrome- reinforced stable doors and listen carefuly.

Silence. No snarling, mewling, or hissing. My fi ngers drum against my legs, indecision halting me. I reach for the door handle, give it a pul. It doesn’t budge. Solidly locked and fastened.

Then I hear it: the sound of a horse nickering. Oddly, it’s coming from the outside, on the other side. I walk around: there’s a parked brougham carriage, the jet black Arabian horse stil harnessed to the frame. Probably belonging to a late guest who arrived after the stable hands had already retired and simply rushed off to join the stable hands had already retired and simply rushed off to join the festivities. Leaving behind the perfect gift.

I know better than to startle the horse by approaching from behind.

I come at it on a diagonal, treading loudly on the ground.

Its head perks up immediately as it swings its muzzle in my direction.

“Atta boy, nice and easy,” I say as soothingly as possible.

It snorts, agitated, a spew of spit shooting out. Its large nostrils fl are wet and wide, almost as if blinking in surprise.
A heper?
it seems to be asking.

That’s a good thing. A horse that can sniff out hepers— exactly what I’m looking for.

I hold out my hand for it to sniff. Its whis kers brush against my fi ngers, prickly because they’ve been trimmed short. I stroke its neck, back and forth, not too light that I’m tickling it, but fi rm enough to be comforting and sure. The horse is wel groomed and, with its high- carried tail, arched neck, and powerfuly muscled hindquar-ters, clearly of good stock. And likely wel trained.

246 ANDREW FUKUDA

Agitated at fi rst, it calms quickly. When I sense it is ready, I un-hook the rein from the hitching post and lead the horse away. Its hook the rein from the hitching post and lead the horse away. Its hooves
clip- clop
noisily on the gravel, not that I care. Nobody’s rushing out in the daylight after me.

“Good boy, you’re a good boy, aren’t you?” It turns to look at me with large, inteligent eyes.

The carriage is also in tiptop shape. Wel oiled, the wheels turn smoothly and noiselessly. The horse snorts disagreeably. It thought I was taking it inside the stable to rest.

“Not yet, my boy. We stil have some running to do today.”

It snorts again, in protest. But when I stroke its muzzle along its star and strip, it quiets. I pul it forward, and it folows with only a little urging. A good horse. I’ve lucked out.

I climb into the carriage, place the Scientist’s journal next to me, and grab the reins in the driver’s seat. The horse should get some nourishment before we take off, but its food is probably in the locked stable. I can’t take that risk. Or time.

“Ha!” I yel out, fl icking the reins.

The horse doesn’t move.

“Ha!
Ha!
” I yel louder. It stands stationary, unimpressed.

I’m not sure what to do. I’ve always ridden on horse back, never I’m not sure what to do. I’ve always ridden on horse back, never in a carriage. “Please,” I say softly, “let’s go.”

And with a neigh, the horse trots out. Head held up high, confi dent and proud.

I could love this horse.

I stop by the Dome, letting the horse drink from the pond as I re-trieve clothes— the hepers’— from the mud huts. When I get back, the horse is stil drinking, its muzzle half- submerged in the water. It lifts his head, snorting in appreciation. Sensing it’s in a cooperative THE HUNT 247

mood, I lift up the clothes to its muzzle. It seems to understand; its nostrils press into the shirts and shorts, one at a time, sniffi ng deep and hard until sure of the scent. A pause; it snorts one more time, a mist of water and mucus spraying out. Then, like a wise sage, it gazes with its large, sad eyes at the horizon. Blinks once, twice.

Then trots forward without further beckoning, not even waiting for me to hop back into the carriage. I grab hold of the rail, hoist myself up and onto the driver’s bench.

Bring the hepers back.

Ashley June’s handwritten words fl ash before me again.
I’m
trying
, I want to tel her
, fast as I can
. There are so many things I wish I could tel her. That I’m alive. That her sacrifi ce wasn’t in wish I could tel her. That I’m alive. That her sacrifi ce wasn’t in vain. That I got her letter. And that I’m now doing my best to save her. I want to send her my thoughts, across the stretch of land between us, through the cement and metal and trapdoors, right into her mind.

Be quick.

I don’t know
, I want to tel her. I don’t know if there’s time. I don’t know if I’l ever fi nd the hepers or convince them to come back with me. Don’t know if they’l see right through my act, know that I’m just gaming them. That I mean to use them as bait, to bring them back here, into the hornets’ nest, where they’l be so tantalizingly near that nobody— not the hunters, the guests, the staffers, the stable hands, sentries, escorts, kitchen help, the tailors, the reporters, the camera crew— wil be able to resist. Certainly not once the blood of heper begins to fl ow and seep into the ground, the odor lifting and spreading into the air. And in that moment when not just dozens but
hundreds
of the disalowed and unauthorized join the feasting, that is when . . .

Even then, Ashley June, I don’t know if I’l have time to slip in and rescue you.

Be quick.

248 ANDREW FUKUDA

“Tah!” I shout, snapping the reins harshly, more than the horse

“Tah!” I shout, snapping the reins harshly, more than the horse deserves.
“Tah!”
And the horse picks up speed— the ground becoming a blur beneath us— as ribbons of muscle ripple out of its haunches. The sudden pickup in speed is exhilarating, takes me out of myself; it
whoosh
es my breath away, making it hard to fi l my lungs. And as the Institute fals away behind us, diminishing into a dot, as we begin to delve deeper into the unexplored Vast, something about the moment catches me. Perhaps it is the feel of wind in my hair, the sun splashing down on my face, the eastern mountains drifting ever so slowly closer, the briliant black sheen of the horse, its mane fl owing so freely behind. But it’s more than just the beauty.

It’s the
contradiction
that does me in: how in this moment of un-speakable horror, I can be graced with this unexpected beauty. Of this place, of a horse. I tear up uncontrolably. I don’t know how to handle this contradiction.

“Ha!” I yel out at the top of my voice. The dust kicked up by the horse makes my voice craggy and hoarse.
“Hah!”

Bring the hepers back.

I’m coming, Ashley June. Coming.

The Heper Hunt

THE SAPPHIRE SKY spans high above as we ride deeper into THE SAPPHIRE SKY spans high above as we ride deeper into the Vast. Isolated clouds blotch the sky like the untouched white spaces of a canvas otherwise painted deep blue.

As the terrain gives way to a hard, shalow crust, the horse picks up speed, plowing ahead with a relentless fury. So fast that when we hit larger bumps, I get bounced off my seat; for a few exhilarating seconds, I’m fl ying.

I scan the land as best I can. Other than the rare sighting of a Joshua tree, there is little that interrupts the barren monotony of coarse grass and coarser terrain. No wildlife at al, not a single hyena or wild dog. Only vultures circling in the sky, disconcertingly over me.

And after half an hour of hard riding, not a heper in sight.

“Whoa, boy, whoa,” I shout, puling hard on the reins. It slows to a trot, then stops. A sheen of sweat glistens on its black body, streaming down its barrel chest and haunches. “Gonna give you a little break, okay, horsey?”

I undo the twines of the journal and open to the blank page. In the sunlight, the colors and lines of the map bleed out onto the 250

ANDREW FUKUDA

page. A fi erce wind has picked up, and I have to clamp down the pages with my hands to stop them from fl uttering. I fi nd my location on the map, using a pile of large boulders on my right as a location on the map, using a pile of large boulders on my right as a reference point. The detail of the map impresses me again, right down to not only the color of the boulders (washed gray), but also the exact number (four).

Where are the hepers? They can’t have walked this far out. Even if they’d run, I should have come upon them by now.

I grab the heper clothes out of the carriage and lift them to the horse to sniff. But it’s having none of that. Globs of saliva stretch between its lips as hot air huffs out of its mouth. Not in the mood to smel, thank you very much.

“It’s okay, boy, you’ve done wel. We’l rest a bit more, okay?”

It stares at me with those inteligent eyes again, blinks, then stares off vacantly into the distance.

I climb back into the carriage and stand on the driver’s seat, scanning the endless expanse. Rising in front, looming larger than I’ve ever seen them, the eastern mountains, snow- capped at the peak; to my left and right, nothing but the barren plains, the horizon bereft of any movement. I look down at the horse. Is it possible it’s been taking me for a ride al this time? Perhaps it has no idea where it’s been maniacaly running, and I’ve mistaken the glint of insanity for the shine of sagacity.

As if overhearing my thoughts, it suddenly cocks its head, turning its left ear toward me. Then it points its muzzle into the air, sniffi ng.

its left ear toward me. Then it points its muzzle into the air, sniffi ng.

The wind is gusting about us now, kicking up sand. I see the horse’s whis kers fl uttering in the crosswinds. It nickers, and just like that, we’re off again. I barely have time to jump off the seat and grab the reins before we’re fl ying across the plains, in a more southerly direction this time. In a much more southerly direction, as in a ninety- degree turn.

THE HUNT 251

Now I’m realy questioning if this horse knows what it’s doing.

It’s not running with conviction anymore, and every so often it’l slow down to a trot, muzzle in the air. Then, changing direction, it wil charge off again. Maybe it’s the wind that has realy picked up, blowing every which way: one second blowing easterly, then shifting north, before heading south. That might explain why the horse is having a tough time folowing the scent.

The fi rst time I see the black dot in the sky, I mistake it for a distant fl ock of vultures. Then it grows in size and darkness, and I realize that it’s a dark cloud growing like an inkblot. A tide of clouds folows it, black as the horse.

Be quick.

Wind lashes at me; the pages of the journal whip to and fro, almost dog- eared by the sheer force and fi ckle direction of the wind.

dog- eared by the sheer force and fi ckle direction of the wind.

“Hah!”
I yel, snapping the reins. The horse understands; it pounds its legs harder, as if my growing panic has somehow been absorbed into its body. Drifts of sand blow across the plains with astonishing speed, yelow brown apparitions spiraling swiftly across the land.

BOOK: The Hunt
7.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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