Read The Hunt Online

Authors: Andrew Fukuda

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

The Hunt (35 page)

BOOK: The Hunt
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I feel my internal organs faling through a trapdoor suddenly opened.

The hunters are coming. How fast.

I try not to think of Ashley June. Stil in a dark, cold cel, holding out hope—

Somebody grabs me by the scruff of my neck. “You’ve got some explaining to do.” Epap’s voice. “What’s going on?”

“Let go of me!” I shout, swinging my arm back. I connect with his cheekbone. His head goes fl ying back, then snaps forward, rage raving in his eyes. He smacks back, a stony fi st surprising me with its bite. Before I can respond, he’s pummeled me in my stomach, winding me. I double over, fal to my knees. But he’s not done with me yet. He kicks me in the side of my ribs. A fl ash of white washes across my vision.

“You’re just a wimp! You’re just an emaciated, emolient fake!

You couldn’t blow the pods off a daffodil if your life depended on it.”

Bring the hepers back.

“Tel us what’s going on!” he yels.

I spit blood out on the ground. It splatters the dirt, splintered, 260

ANDREW FUKUDA

like a pigeon’s footprint. I close my eyes: everything’s stil a washed-out white.

“They’re coming,” I say.

“Who’s coming?!”

“The hunters!”

There is a long silence. I can’t lift my head to meet their eyes.

Then we hear it again. This time not just a solitary howl, but a chorus of them.

My blood. They’ve picked up the scent already.

“Now you’ve done it, you idiot,” I say. “Now you’ve made it

“Now you’ve done it, you idiot,” I say. “Now you’ve made it easier for them to fi nd us.”

“No. To fi nd you, not us.” Epap turns to the others. “I say we leave this guy here. We take off in the carriage. That wil—”

“No,” Sissy says.

“But Sissy, we—”

“No, Epap! You’re right: we can’t trust him. There’s more going on than he’s letting on. But that’s exactly why we can’t leave him.

We need what he knows.” She walks over, dirt kicking onto me.

“He’s a survivor,” she says. “We know that much. If he can survive, then sticking around him wil only increase our own chances of survival.” Her eyes blaze into mine. “So start speaking.

What do we do?”

I stand up, my crestfalen heart suddenly galvanizing. “We go toe-to- toe with them and fi ght.” I dust off sand from my clothes.

“We surprise them by not fl eeing. Because that would be the very last thing they’d expect from you. They think you’re weak, cow-ardly, disor ga nized. But to stand toe- to- toe with them, go blow for blow. That would catch them by surprise.”

Epap starts to interrupt: “We don’t stand a chance—”

Epap starts to interrupt: “We don’t stand a chance—”

“Yes, we do! Look, I’ve seen the way you handle the fl ying daggers and spears. You could infl ict real damage. They never expected THE HUNT 261

you to become so adept— those weapons were only supposed to serve a cosmetic purpose. And look at us. We’ve got numbers on them. There’s only three hunters left. And there’s six of us.
And
we’ve got fi ve freakin’ FLUNs between us. We can do this. We can take them down. And then there’l be nothing between us and safety, the Dome.”

“You’re nuts, you know that?” Epap shouts. “You have no idea what they’re capable of. One of them has the power and speed of ten of us. So we’re actualy outnumbered, you idiot, thirty to six.

Outnumbered, outpowered, outsped. Fighting them is pure suicide.”

Epap is right; I know that. There’s not a chance of defeating the hunters. But the only hope I have of rescuing Ashley June is if the hepers and I can somehow pummel past the hunters and make it to the Institute. And for that to happen, I fi rst need to convince the hepers to dig in their heels and fi ght rather than fl ee. We fl ee, Ashley June dies. It’s as simple as that. But as long as we stay and fi ght, there’s stil a glimmer of hope for her, no matter how smal.

Epap spins around to Sissy. “We need to run. Right now. We leave this guy behind, he’l buy us the time we need to get some leave this guy behind, he’l buy us the time we need to get some distance between us and them.”

I’m already shaking my head. “You just don’t get it, do you?

Running wil buy you maybe twenty minutes, if that. Less. The horse is tired, it’s been running al day. They’l overtake us, sooner than later.”

They grow quiet at that. They know I’m right. On the carriage, Ben starts to cry. Even the horse, gazing at the cloud, starts to whinny.

Sissy takes two steps toward me. “What about the map?” she asks. I’m surprised by the softness in her voice, how quiet she is despite the situation.

“What about it?”

262 ANDREW FUKUDA

“It shows a boat to the north of us. Tied to a dock. If we can get there in time, there might be a chance.”

“Are you nuts? You can’t trust that map. The Scientist was crazy.”

“Not to us. He seemed reasonable.”

I stare north, in the direction of where the boat would be. “If the boat is real, why didn’t he ever tel you about it?”

boat is real, why didn’t he ever tel you about it?”

A frown creases her brow. “I don’t know. But what I do know is that everything else in the map is accurate. The ridges, the mountains, everything is where it’s depicted on the map. Even the boulders over there,” she says, pointing at them. “And so why not the boat?”

I shake my head. “Look, even if it exists— and it doesn’t— you’l never get to it in time.”

“I’d rather die trying.”

We can’t fl ee, we must stay and fi ght,
I remind myself.
The
only
chance of saving Ashley June is to fi ght back against the
hunters.
I raise my voice: “And I’m teling you the only option for survival is to fi ght them head- on.”

Epap lurches forward. “C’mon, Sissy. Let’s go. Leave him here, already.”

The hepers aren’t stupid. They know a doomed fi ght when they see one, they know their chances are better if they fl ee. I need to come up with a plan. One that wil convince them to stay and fi ght.

I stare at the hepers. Fear has shriveled their faces; they look tiny and vulnerable out here in the Vast, without the protection of the Dome around them. And then a thought occurs to me. The hunters don’t even know I’m with the hepers. They must think I’m alone, separated from the hepers, a solo fugitive, and there’s no reason for them to believe otherwise. And the smel of my blood, even across the miles of the Vast, now overpowers any trail of the hepers’

odor.

THE HUNT 263

I look at the hepers, their weapons, the FLUNs. And at the boulders toppled atop one another, high and encaving. I blink. And there it is. A plan.

Sissy steps forward, stands right in front of me with a look of curiosity. “What is it? You look like you thought of something.”

I look at them in turn, locking in on each pair of eyes for a few seconds. “Tuck tail, run away if you’re too scared. But if you want to join me and fi ght back, I have a plan,” I fi naly say.

The night merges with black. Not a speck of light in the skies, the stars hidden by gargantuan dark clouds shifting above, bloated continents of brooding darkness. The eastern mountains are gone, their once silhouetted borders breached by blackness.

I am alone. Sitting on the ground, leaning back on a boulder. In my hand is a spear that Sissy gave me right before she disappeared into the darkness. I place the tip of the spear against the palm of into the darkness. I place the tip of the spear against the palm of my hand and pause. It is al emptiness before me, the Vast stretched in an endless gray that is not quite black yet. Only the boulder I lean back on keeps me company. Its surface is cold and brittle against my back, but in this endless sea of aqueous darkness, its solidity is strangely consoling.

I press the spear tip into my fl esh and slice downward.

It leaves a smal slash, and only a dribble of blood trickles out.

But for the hunters chasing me down, that is more than enough; it is a light house fl ashing in a sea of darkness.

And only a few seconds later, the cry of hunger slices across the Vast. Already so close, so much louder, the intonations of desire heightened. They wil be here soon, in less than a minute.

I fi st my hand and squeeze. More blood sluices out. Enough now to overwhelm their olfactory senses; not a chance they wil be 264

ANDREW FUKUDA

distracted by any faint heper odor. I feel the pulse of blood against the cut, a push- push of seepage, oddly unsynchronized with the rapid, frightful beating of my heart.

The hepers left me with this spear and nothing else.

A skittering sound, sand tossed harshly across the ground, A skittering sound, sand tossed harshly across the ground, whispery hisses lisp into my ears.

The hunters have arrived.

I stand up, my knees buckling.

A hazy fl ush of movement, darting from left to right. Then another in the opposite direction, just outside my cone of vision.

Three shapes emerge from the darkness, faintly at fi rst, then attain-ing defi nition.

Abs.

Crimson Lips.

Gaunt Man.

And then, solidifying out of the milky gray, two more shapes emerge, phantomlike at fi rst, then al too horrifyingly real.

Frily Dress.

The Director.

I expected only three of them, not fi ve.

Al fi ve of them are gruesomely naked, SunBlock Lotion whipped over their bodies like buttercream frosting. Where the lotion has over their bodies like buttercream frosting. Where the lotion has worn off, open sores gouge their skin like volcanic craters, glistening red raw even in the dark. The effects of a whole day in the library with sunlight pouring in. It is their eyes that are the most chiling, the naked anger bristling behind their eyebals, raw hatred mixed with a pulsating lust for my blood.

“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” I say.

They edge forward, snarling at me. Slowly, a few yards at a time, creeping toward me.

Something is wrong: this is not how I envisioned the scene THE

HUNT 265

would play out. They are much too controled; an unbridled feeding frenzy was what I imagined, bodies soaring at me, fangs bared, a race to get me, to tear through me. That I would be ripped into a dozen different pieces within seconds. But this seems too methodical.

“Did you not get your beauty sleep today?” I say. “Because you al look terrible.”

They start to spread out in a wide arc.

My eyes are on al of them, but especialy the Director, directly in front of me. He is the calmest of the lot, his breathing steady, his feet stepping with fastidiousness on the desert gravel. His long left feet stepping with fastidiousness on the desert gravel. His long left arm is dangling down, his nails delicately tapping his kneecap, his right arm kept strangely behind his back.

“We’ve decided to play a game,” he says.

“Do tel.”

Gaunt Man is on my far left, hunkering lower even as he continues to move down an imaginary arc.

“I’m trying to decide what to cal this game. The Sharing Game and the Savoring Game are probably the top contenders.”

Frily Dress is roling on my right, slowly, like a guttered bowling bal, her eyes fi led with wet anticipation. Her mounds of fat lol downward off her body, like pregnant water droplets about to drip off. Her teeth are bared, a faint hiss sluicing out. She continues to rol right until she hits up against the boulder.

As does Gaunt Man on my left. Each of the hunters holds position; they look at the Director as if for further instructions. Then they edge closer, the circle shortening, tightening.

“See, we need to make an example of you,” the Director continues. “You’ve made a mockery of the Hunt, of the Institution, of the Ruler. And of me. My reputation has been irreparably damaged. What kind of heper expert wouldn’t be able to detect a damaged. What kind of heper expert wouldn’t be able to detect a heper 266 ANDREW FUKUDA

right under his nose?” And for the fi rst time, his voice betrays emotion. A hitch. “It is not enough to simply devour you. That would be too quick— for us and for you. So, we have decided—

my suggestion, of course— to
share
you, to
savor
you. Slowly.

Luxuriantly.

One piece at a time.”

And stil they inch forward, eyes swiveling back and forth, examining me, behind me.

Crimson Lips suddenly darts forward at me.

“Stop!”
the Director yels, and Crimson Lips fals into a frozen crouch, her body erect, like a startled cat. And for the fi rst time I see a FLUN in the Director’s right hand, pointed at Crimson Lips.

It must be Ashley June’s FLUN, the one left behind in the library.

Crimson Lips retreats back into formation.

“It’s hard to play this game, sometimes our excitement can get the better of us.” He swivels his head about at each of the hunters.

“Proceed,” he says.

They creep closer, the circle enclosing, everyone staying in They creep closer, the circle enclosing, everyone staying in formation. Eyes constantly on the move, scrutinizing me. “We wil take you piece by piece, each of your limbs at a time,” the Director says.

“The two male hunters wil rip off each of your arms, and the two ladies wil rip off your legs, one by one. We’l space it out, maybe fi ve minutes between limbs? We’l be sure to keep you alive through it al. It wil play out
so
wel for the book, see? Draw out this ending, realy keep the readers on edge. A heart- thumping climax like no other.” He stares at me, his eyes glistening wetly over as if drooling. “Last to go wil be me. I get your head.”

BOOK: The Hunt
11.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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