Read The Hunt Online

Authors: Andrew Fukuda

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

The Hunt (37 page)

BOOK: The Hunt
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“It doesn’t work,” he says. “I tried to shoot it, but it wouldn’t fi re

—”

“The safety,” Sissy says. “Gene told you to disengage—”

“How?! I don’t know how—”

The horse’s head suddenly snaps to the left, its nose fl aring in panic.

A black shape fl ows out of the darkness, unnervingly fast. The Director comes at us silently, bounding on al fours, twenty yards at a time, the speed puling his cheeks back, peeling his lips away, leaving his teeth bared in what looks like a sickening, jovial smile.

He fl ings his body upward, toward me. He is coming for me fi rst.

I close my eyes to die.

Seconds later, I’m stil alive; when I open my eyes, he’s standing in front of us, ten yards away. He is not looking at me. Or at Sissy.

He’s looking behind us.

I turn. David is standing on the driver’s seat, the FLUN pointing at the Director. Behind his hand, hidden from the Director, I see the safety switch. Stil engaged.

“It’s on the highest setting,” David says, his voice sturdy. “Set to kil.”

The Director scratches his wrist. “A little boy wants to play hero.

So cute.”

“The FLUN that’s strapped on your back,” David says, ignoring his words, “throw it over here.”

“What’s it to you? I can’t possibly hurt you with it—”

THE HUNT 275

“Just throw it now!” David yels, fear sparking off his words.

His eyes fl icker toward the boulders. Dark shapes are beginning to pick themselves up off the ground.

“Ahh, I see,” the Director says, observing. “You’re worried about the other hunters.”

“No,” David says. “Just you. You’re the only one I’m worried about right now. And that’s why I’m about to shoot you in three about right now. And that’s why I’m about to shoot you in three seconds unless you hand over the FLUN.”

And there must be something about David’s tone, because the Director does just that. The FLUN lands at Sissy’s feet. She picks it up.

“Now what?” the Director asks. He studies David’s face. “Are you realy going to kil me? Why, I’ve known you since you were born.

I’ve seen you grow up, from when you were just a little bay- be. I was the one who sent you al those gifts on your birthday, the books, the cake, do you remember that? Are you realy—”

“Yes,” Sissy says, and fi res a round into his chest.

In a blur, the Director darts back. The beam grazes off his chest, superfi cial damage. But enough to slow him down. He fl its away into the dark, retreating.

Sissy nods at us; everyone quickly piles into the carriage. I jump onto the driver’s seat, grab the reins. Sissy sits next to me, her body twisted around, scanning the dark, her fi nger on the trigger of the FLUN.

“You think you’ve won?” The Director’s voice, booming out from the darkness. “You think you’ve gotten the better of us?
You?

the darkness. “You think you’ve gotten the better of us?
You?

You
stinkin’
hepers.”

I look at Sissy; she shakes her head:
Can’t see him
.

“You’ve just delayed the inevitable. Listen: Can you hear it?”

Nothing but the wind.

And then I hear it. A faint rustling, like dry autumn leaves 276

ANDREW FUKUDA

trampled on. But mixed in, sharp, nattering sounds, metal fi lings rubbed in glass shards. Sissy turns in the direction of the noise, toward the distant Institute. Her face drops, aghast with horror.

A hazy wal of deeper darkness rises up like a tsunami wave crashing toward us.

“The good citizens are coming,” the Director jeers. “Al the guests, al the staffers, al the media. Hundreds of them. Somebody disengaged the lockdown. Once they realized that, there was no holding them back, the good citizens, no containing them. I could only hope to beat them, the hunters and I, by using the hunting accessories to get a head start. Alas . . .” His voice droops off.

More sounds from afar now, distant cries and squeals of desire.

“My goodness, can you imagine the frenzy when they realize
all
the

“My goodness, can you imagine the frenzy when they realize
all
the hepers are stil alive?”

I grab the reins, pound them on the horse. We lurch forward.

Toward the only option left to us. The boat. If it even exists.

I’m sorry, Ashley June, I’m sorry. . . .

“They’re coming!” he screams, his voice trailing us as we begin to fl y across the plains. “They’re coming, they’re coming, they’re coming, they’re . . .”

We skim along the harsh terrain, the horse fl ying faster than ever before. But where its form was once graceful, it is now jerky, desperate, panicked. As the minutes pass, the strain becomes more obvious.

The pursuing wal of dust has faded slightly. But it is the deepen-ing darkness, and not increasing distance, that gives the ilusion of disappearance. The volume of snarls and screams has only grown.

Sissy sits next to me now, looking at the map. With sunlight long gone, the map is fading on the page, colors receding into the blank-THE HUNT 277

ness of white. Her fi ngers trail a rough path across the map, her head swiveling around for landmarks.

“We’ve got to go faster!” she yels into my ear.

Blood stil seeps from the cut on my hand. I do my best to stem the fl ow, pressing a cloth against it, a tricky maneuver while trying to steer a horse.

I feel fi ngers on my hand, prying the cloth away.

She folds it over, presses it in hard. “You’ve got to stop bleeding,”

she says.

“It’s okay, it doesn’t realy hurt that much.”

She presses in deeper. “I’m not worried about the pain. I’m worried about how your blood is giving our position away.”

I reach out and pul off the cloth. “Don’t worry about stanch-ing the blood. They can see us perfectly fi ne in this darkness.”

She looks back for a few second, and when she turns around, worry is etched on her face. I don’t need to ask. The sound of the charging masses behind us grows by the minute.

“The map’s gone white,” she says, disheartened.

“It’s okay,” I say, eyes focused ahead. “We don’t need it. Just need to keep going straight, and we’l hit the river. Folow the river north, and soon enough we’l come upon the boat. Simple as that.”

north, and soon enough we’l come upon the boat. Simple as that.”

“Simple as that,” she repeats. She shakes her head. “That’s what you said about your plan against the hunters. It was a catastrophe back there. I thought you said there were only going to be three of them, not fi ve.”

“Al of you assured me you could handle the FLUNs. Instead you had Epap in utter panic and shooting off al his rounds in the fi rst fi ve seconds. And then there’s Jacob, who couldn’t get off even a single shot. How many more times could I have said: ‘Don’t forget to disengage the safety’?”

She turns her head away, biting her tongue, I realize.

278 ANDREW FUKUDA

After a few minutes, I say, “Thanks for not abandoning me. For staying to fi ght with me.”

“We don’t do that.”

“What?”

“We don’t desert our own. It’s not our way.”

“Epap was—”

“Empty talk. I know him wel enough to know that. We don’t

“Empty talk. I know him wel enough to know that. We don’t abandon our own.”

Her words sink into me deeply. It’s my turn to be quiet. I’m thinking of Ashley June, alone in her cel. And then I’m hearing the Director’s accusing voice:
You, running away like a squirrel and
leaving her all by her lonesome.

I fl ick the reins to tease out more speed. The horse pounds on, snorting, sweat glistening al over its body now.

A wail breaks clear across the sky. Too loud, too close, too fast.

And then I feel it. Drops of rain, splattering on my cheeks. I look up at the sky in horror. Dark clouds, blacker than the night sky, swolen and bulbous. The rain wil soften the ground; to the horse, it wil feel like glue.

Sissy feels the drops, too. She turns to me, her eyes gripping mine.

They are asking:
Did you feel those drops? Did you feel those
drops?
There is answer enough in my silence; she bites her lower lip.

Then she stands up, right on the bench, the horse stil galoping away, the carriage jostling and rattling. Her clothes are puled back by the wind, fl uttering madly behind her. Rain starts faling down in earnest, the drops splatting on her bare arms, neck, face, and legs like miniature stars.

“There!” she shouts, and her long arm, muscled and creviced like a bronze statute, points directly in front of us. “I see it, Gene!

I see it. The river! The freaking river!”

“What about the boat? Do you see the boat?”

THE HUNT 279

“No,” she shouts, getting back down, “but it’s only a matter of time.”

Behind us, the thundering of the ground grows louder, the snarls, the hisses. So much closer. I steal a quick look. Can’t see anything, just darkness now.
Only a matter of time
. Sissy is right.

Either way, it’s only a matter of time now.

The river is a marvel. Even over the rattling of the carriage and the clamor of the chasing mob, we hear it from afar, a gentle gurgle that is deep and sonorous. When we come upon it minutes later, its size initialy catches us by surprise, the banks spread far apart with a masculine broadness, at least two hundred yards across. Yet even under a sky weighed down with heavy clouds, the river seems light and feminine, fi led with a sprinkling of sparkles that I at fi rst mistake for fi refl ies. Its waters fl ow down like slowly undulating plates of smooth armor.

The horse has slowed considerably. Its breathing grows labored The horse has slowed considerably. Its breathing grows labored even as its stride shortens. A few times, it veers dangerously close to the riverbank before correcting itself. I have pushed it too far. It slows to a trot, then to a stop. I snap the reins, but I know it’s useless. The horse needs to rest.

“Why are we stopping?” Epap shouts from the carriage. When no one answers, he jumps out. “What’s going on? We can’t afford to stop.”

“We can’t afford not to,” I say. “This horse is about to drop dead.

Just for a minute, let it catch its breath.”

“We don’t have a minute. In a minute they’l be upon us!” He’s pointing now into the darkness from which squeals of excitement shoot out.

I ignore him, because he’s right, and jump down. The horse’s 280

ANDREW FUKUDA

leg muscles, when I place my hand on them, are convulsing. “Good horse, good horse, pushed you too hard, did I?”

Epap spins around, his arm gesturing at me in disbelief. “Would you believe this guy? Trying to be a horse whisperer at a time like this? Sissy, where are you going?”

Sissy is running for the river. She bends down at the bank, comes running back with a bowl, the water inside sloshing about. The horses dips his muzzle in, messily slurps in the water. In less than fi ve seconds, it’s done. It whinnies for more.

Sissy strokes the horse’s head. “Wish I could give you more, but there’s no time. You keep going, though, fi nd us that boat, and I promise you, you’l have al the water you’d want. But fi nd us that boat. Quickly. Quickly!” And those last words come out as a roar as she slaps the horse on its haunches. It blinks, whinnies, then bulets forward. We al leap back onto the carriage. The horse is off again.

The sounds from behind roar closer. Raindrops fal down, fat and heavy.

We plow on. First fi guratively, then literaly. The ground becomes sodden and soaked, soft sponges sucking in the wheels of the carriage, the hooves of the horse. Even the bracing wind works against us, fi erce as a gale, pushing us back, fl ushing our scent backward to the enclosing horde, inciting them further. Rain cuts into our eyes.

Then the darkness, saturating the air, dissolving the horse into the night. Only the sound of its labored breathing and the forward push of the carriage are evidence that it is even there.

Sissy has withdrawn into silence. With quick sideways glances, I catch only her lips, tightly drawn, her eyes squinting against the catch only her lips, tightly drawn, her eyes squinting against the rain. Strands of her hair are matted down against her forehead, THE HUNT 281

cutting diagonaly across her face. A howl sounds across the plains, disconcertingly close. She looks at me and I nod.

She straps the FLUN around my back, grips the other FLUN in her hand tightly.

A snarl hisses, joined by a phalanx of other snarls and jaw snaps.

Not behind but now
adjacent
to us.

Sissy disengages the safety switch.

Thunder rumbles, a deep reverberation in the skies. I snap my head up, suddenly hopeful.

A howl breaks out, fi led with dis plea sure.

And then lightning strikes across the skies, a harsh, overpowering fl ash. The land is instantly iluminated in an embossed black and white, the eastern mountains ridden with black crevices, the river refl ective like melted silver. I shoot my head for a look backward, and in that milisecond before the land plunges into darkness again, I see them: an endless number streaming toward us, momentarily fl attened like cards against the ground, cowering from the lightning.

But so many. So close. A stone’s throw away. Their eyes shining But so many. So close. A stone’s throw away. Their eyes shining in the glare, fangs glistening.

A violent clap of thunder explodes, shaking the land. It rumbles away, and in its stead, the cries of agony and anger. They’ve al been blinded. By the lightning. That’l buy us maybe one more minute.

BOOK: The Hunt
5.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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