Read The Hunt Online

Authors: Andrew Fukuda

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

The Hunt (38 page)

BOOK: The Hunt
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“Did you see it?” Sissy yels at me, her hand suddenly gripping my arm. “Did you see it!”

“I know, I know, but don’t worry—”

“The boat!” she shrieks, and she’s jumping up and down. “I saw it, I saw it, it’s realy there!” She spins around, yeling to the others,

“I saw the boat, it’s right in front—”

The carriage suddenly hits a mud patch; the wheels sink into the sludge and get caught. Sissy goes fl ying in the air, disappearing into 282 ANDREW FUKUDA

the night. I’m fl ung off the seat as wel; my feet catch the railing in front, cutting short my trajectory. I land on the horse, his back slick with sweat and rain.

The whole world is spinning as I pick myself up. Where is up, where is down, left, right, north, south, everything has become intermingled and indifferent. The sound of a young boy crying to intermingled and indifferent. The sound of a young boy crying to my right: Ben. I run over to him, pick him up out of the mud. Like me, he’s al covered in it.

“Ben! It’s okay! Does anything hurt? Did you break anything?”

The sound of growls, the snapping of teeth, drawing close.

Ben’s not saying anything, but he’s looking at me and shaking his head. I pick him up. “We have to move. Sissy! Where are you?”

A short fl icker of lightning, briefl y iluminating the landscape.

Too short to see anything but the hepers, al picking themselves up off the ground. Except Sissy, farthest away, stil lying in the mud. I run to her as a peal of thunder ripples across the skies.

“You’ve got to get up, Sissy! We’ve got to move.” She’s groggy, but I stand her on her feet. “Sissy!” I yel, and her eyes snap to.

Panic and fear clears out the cloudiness in them.

“Where is everyone? Are they okay?” she asks.

“They’re fi ne, we’ve got to get going. Point us to where the boat is!”

“No! Our supplies, the FLUN, we need them!”

“There’s no time, they’re on us already!”

“There’s no time, they’re on us already!”

“We won’t survive without—”

Peals of hyenalike laughter rip toward us, so close that I can hear the individual intonations, the salivary wetness slung between sylables.

“Sissy! Listen to me,” I shout, pointing at the other hepers,

“they won’t listen to me. Only to you. Make them run for the boat.

Make them—”

THE HUNT 283

A fl ash of lightning lights the sky and wet land. I see it, the boat, blessedly close by, a hundred yards away. But then I see the teeming masses.

They are already upon us. Even in the short fl ash, I see their pale, glistening fi gures bounding toward us with frightening speed, like skipping stones.

In the fl ash of lightning, they al fl atten against the land, like the quils of a porcupine in retreat, howling with anger.

“Now, Sissy!” I shout.

But she’s already running, already gathering up the others, urging But she’s already running, already gathering up the others, urging them on. I take after them, racing, the muddy ground squelch-ing beneath me. The mud sucks eagerly at my shoes like kisses of death, turning my speed into slow motion.

Darkness again. Then peal after peal of thunder rumbling the sky.

Slivery shouts of desire rain down on us again.

They’re coming.

I hear the wet sludge of mud being stepped on behind me.

Whispers, whispers, whispers, breathing at my neck.

“Dear God!” I shout. Words I have not uttered in years, words I used to say every night to my mother, her eyes soft with kindness, my clasped hands enfolded by hers. Words forgotten, embedded so deep in me, only the shovel of abject fear dislodges them. “Dear God!”

It is not a single strike of lightning that lights the sky, but a network of intersecting fl ashes that rips across the dome of the world.

So bright that even I am blinded momentarily, the whole world bleached an impossible white. But I don’t stop running, even as my eyes close. Because I can stil see the boat, its negative image singed in my shut eyes, black and white.

“Don’t stop, keep going!” I shout, even as the howls of anguish

“Don’t stop, keep going!” I shout, even as the howls of anguish and pain break out al around us. When I open my eyes, I’m at the 284 ANDREW FUKUDA

dock. “Over here!” I shout before I realize they’re al ahead of me, running down the dock, their feet echoing holowly on the wooden boards. I race down after them. They’re jumping into the boat, Sissy already throwing off the anchor rope, Epap manning a long pole curiously hooked at the top, to push away from the shore.

Because I’m bringing up the rear, I’m the only one who can see what’s wrong. What is so terribly wrong.

I spin around, trying to see up the dock. It’s too dark.

“Get in!” Epap shouts at me. “What are you waiting for?”

I bend my knees to jump in, pause.

“Get in!”

And I’m frozen in place, unable to push off my legs. I spin around again. The dock is stil empty.

The howls of anguish are building. Soon they’l be on their feet again. On us in mere seconds.

“Start without me,” I shout. “Keep going, I’l catch up with you!”

“No, Gene, leave the horse, don’t be stupid—”

“No, Gene, leave the horse, don’t be stupid—”

But I’m already sprinting up the dock.

Smal fl ashes of lightning, aftermaths of the apocalyptic one, sweep across the sky. Enough to keep them at bay for a few seconds more, to give me the light I need to see.

There. In front of the carriage. Not the horse.

But Ben.

Franticaly working the reins, trying to untie it, his face covered in mud except where rain and tears have smeared it away. His mouth is open, and random odd sounds escape: “Ahh ahh no no please ugg . . .”

I grab him by the chest and heave him over my shoulders even as I spin around to race back to the dock. As I do, he undoes the last knot, and the horse breaks free. Its eyes are bulging with fear; THE HUNT 285

it’s ready to bolt. An idea comes to me; I grab the reins before the horse can get away.

From around me, I hear the sloshing of mud, mewling sounds of desire.

I throw Ben atop the horse.

I throw Ben atop the horse.

Piercing, ear- shattering screams fal al around me. Behind me, behind me, they’re leaping for me.

I bend my leg, readying to mount the horse.

The horse shoots off into the dark, leaving me behind. I see Ben clinging around its neck for dear life, then they quickly disappear into the darkness.

I grab the FLUN strapped around my neck, disengage the safety.

Primal screams fi l the air.

I start sprinting, hands at the ready on the FLUN, head turned back, on the watch.
Don’t get disoriented, don’t lose your bear-ings
. I shade closer to the riverbank on my right.

Be quick.

I steal a look backward. Dark shapes bob like fl oats in a pool, a wave of them fl owing toward me. Another shape comes screaming at me, its stark naked body glistening like wet marble, its bared fangs almost a halo of light. I fi re the FLUN. The fi rst beam misses but the second strikes its stomach, and it doubles over in the air, landing right at my feet, its eyes clenched in pain, its scream unbearable. I feel its spindly fi ngers grip my ankle, its warm breath on my shin.

on my shin.

“Ja!” I shout as I force my legs to turn and run.

A hiss to my left. I turn—

And duck. A shape sails over me, landing on its feet. Spins. Is at me, hands on my neck, mouth open. I see the fangs, then the dark wel at the back of its mouth. If I miss, my fl esh, my blood, my bones, wil disappear down that black wel.

286 ANDREW FUKUDA

The beam hits right into the open mouth, right down the throat.

It doesn’t scream; it can’t.

I fl ing the FLUN away, completely expended now. And I’m running again, the dock coming into sight.

A wave of them seep into view on my left. In front of me.

They’ve cut me off. Half of them streak down the dock for the boat, the other half come after me. I’m trapped on al sides: behind, my left, in front. They’re everywhere.

Except the river.

I make a harsh right, dashing for the riverbank now. The ones who I make a harsh right, dashing for the riverbank now. The ones who were behind me, they’re on my right now and closing in on me with furious intent.

I’m thirty yards away.

They pour into view from the right, like the waters of a broken dam a hundred yards away.

Twenty more yards. My knees buckle.

Then it’s over. Just like that, they’ve cut me off. I see a string of them pour in front of me, lining the bank, crouched down, readying to pounce on me.

But I don’t stop. Even as my eyes tear over, even as my legs threaten to colapse under me, even as my lungs fi naly burst in a spray of acid within, I don’t stop. I wil not die standing. I wil not die kneeling. I wil die fi ghting and running. I wil meet them head-on. And a sudden surge of anger fl ushes into me, hotter and brighter than the lightning that streaked the night sky, a bolt of energy that charges my body.

Never forget.
The voice of Ashley June so clear in my ears.

Never forget who you are.
And it is the voice of my father, deep and solemn.

With a shout, I hurl myself toward them.

With a shout, I hurl myself toward them.

THE HUNT 287

They charge at me.

And then I leap in the air, higher than I ever have, sailing over them, fl ying toward the river. The waters rush up to meet me.

“The forbidden stroke!”
I scream.

And then I am in the river, its waters surprisingly warm. The quietness underwater is a momentary but wonderful reprieve from the howls and screams. Just the sound of bubbles and a background churning. Then the sound of splashes, one after the other. They’re jumping in after me.

I extend my arm in front of me, gloriously stretched out, and stroke down. I feel the propulsion of my body, the fl ow of water past my head. Then I start kicking, extending my other arm and stroking down. The way I’ve always wanted to swim, the way it has always felt to swim. I lift my head for a moment: they’re in the river now, but harmless. In here, they’re the plodding dog to my swift dolphin.

The boat has pushed off the dock and is safely downstream, in the center of the river. The dock is overfl owing with people hissing and snarling with anger. I see Epap and Jacob working the poles, pushing away at good speed.

I try caling out to them, but I can’t be heard above the din of rage or the pelting of rain on the river. I shout louder, but the wind now carries my voice away from the boat, from the hepers. I swim a few more strokes, but though I’m fast, the boat, catching the downstream better than I, is faster. It puls away just as I feel a sudden drop in energy. My body feels impossibly heavy, arms and legs bloated with heavy fl uid. My lungs seem unable to draw in air.

“Hey!” I shout. “Wait!”

It’s my clothes, I realize. Soaked through, they’ve become dead weights. But I can’t take them off; no way I can tread water and 288 ANDREW FUKUDA

undress at the same time. So I slog on, concentrating on putting one arm after the other, stroking as hard as I can. But as much as I try, the boat is getting farther and farther away.

They are leaving me behind. The hepers.

I fl ip onto my back and fl oat, too tired now; raindrops fal on my face. I fi naly understand what it is to be discarded. I’ve felt it al my life, but now I know it.

Ashley June once described to me how she would stand in the schoolyard and be tempted to prick her fi nger. To let the end come, to give in. It would be so easy now. To close my eyes, let my body drift, let them come after me. To fi naly succumb. With my body drift, let them come after me. To fi naly succumb. With so many of them, the end would come quickly.

But to let it end now would be to discard the only person who refused to discard me. Ashley June.

I fl ip over, force one stroke after the next. My strokes are vapid, my arms feel like clumps of mud sloshing through water. I begin to sink.

Then I hear the sound of splashing near me.

Hands grab my back, turning me over. An arm snakes around my chest; a face rises up from underneath, presses up next to mine.

“I’ve got you now, just fl oat, I’ve got you now.”

In my fatigued state, I think it’s Ashley June, her voice whispery, water spitting out onto the back of my neck and ear, the breathing husky and warm. I want to ask how she broke out of the pit, how she got here so quickly—

But then I am being hauled up like a net of fi sh into the boat.

They pul me to the center, faces gazing down at me with concern.

It’s David. Jacob. A body fl ops next to mine, wet and black like a seal.

Sissy.

Sissy.

“Turn him to his side,” she says, sputtering water.

THE HUNT 289

I feel the press of wood against the side of my face, weathered and smooth, the soft clap of water smacking the underside of the boat.

I hoist myself into a sitting position.

The boat is little more than a glorifi ed raft, but a wide and sturdy one at that. In the center is the cabin, little more than a wooden dugout. At the back of the boat, Epap and Jacob are stil pushing down on the poles, guiding the boat downstream, away from the bank. And there is Ben: sitting under an enclosure, hug-ging his knees. He looks at me; a smal smile breaks out from his tear-streaked face. He thumbs to the back of the cabin, and when I hear a whinny sound from behind it, folowed by the holow clump of hooves on wood, I understand.

Al night long, they folow us along the bank of the river, hundreds of them snarling with the hatred of the cheated and unjustly deprived. It is an endless night, fi led with rain and darkness and the incessant sound of their primal screams. Eventualy, the rain subsides and the clouds move on. The moon and stars come out, shining their sickly light on the hundreds of people crowding the bank, their eyes wide with desire even now. The moonlight infuriates them, but they stay with us yet, refusing to leave. The infuriates them, but they stay with us yet, refusing to leave. The night sky lightens as it always does eventualy, and a hint of gray intrudes on the blackness.

BOOK: The Hunt
11.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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