The Hunters. Short Story.

My weekend was pretty awesome, went out for my friends birthday, drank lots, danced lots, got stuck talking in a Northern Irish accent, ya know, the usual.

Beyond that I didn’t really do much, I’ve been planning out my thesis thingy now and doing some reading. I’m currently going through Feed by Mira Grant, which is really awesome. I found it when I went on a dystopian novel search on Amazon and I had heard some good things about it previously so I decided why not? And I’m pretty glad I did. I’ve almost finished the first book in the trilogy, will definitely be getting the second, hope it’s as good as the first.

On with the show!

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In the distance he could hear the whoops and yelling, the gentle hum of idling engines. He leaned against the tree, breathing deeply and slowly, relieved to finally have a break. He didn’t know how long they had been chasing him, only that it was still dark. It couldn’t have been longer than an hour, but it felt like much longer. He didn’t even know he could run that far, or that fast. He was losing strength fast though, even now his legs trembled, if he sat down he wouldn’t be able to stand again. If he survived, he’d be in serious pain tomorrow. He chuckled between gasps, if he was in pain tomorrow, he’d just be thankful to be feeling anything. The engines were being revved, no doubt they’d continue the chase any second, shit. He needed to get moving again. He pushed himself from the tree and started to walk quickly, no bothering to try and hide the noise of his movement, they wouldn’t be able to hear him over the revving of their engines or their whoops and catcalls. He stumbled, almost falling, damn branches were everywhere, he caught himself against the trunk of another tree and used that to propel himself onwards. He needed to get away from them, as far as possible, but they had their bikes and quads and an almost eerie talent for tracking him. If he was more paranoid he’d think they’d marked him somehow. The noise of an engine grew louder behind him, he took a right and started moving parallel to it, trying to get away, a headlight flooded the area to his left with blinding light before the bike and its passengers disappeared, he turned again and started to move away. There’d be no one to help him out here and if anyone did come across him, well they wouldn’t interfere, it was sink or swim time and he was struggling to merely stay afloat. There were only supposed to hunt him, technically there weren’t allowed to kill him, no that was to come later, but it was rare someone actually returned from a hunt, more often than not there would be an accident, the harpoon went too high or a throwing knife lodged itself into the neck rather than the leg. No one was questioned or punished when this happened, it saved the government time and money, the expensive chemicals for his execution wouldn’t need to be wasted on him.  If he could avoid getting caught, he would be free. In a way he was lucky, if his crime had been more serious he would have no chance of escape. He had heard stories from other prisoners, about how you might find a wall suddenly blocking your path when you were almost free, or a tree would fall down in front of you, giving your pursuers enough time to catch up. Those stories had been around for years, though there was no way to know if they were true, not for him anyway, as soon as they were confirmed it would mean his death and the truth would mean very little then.

He could have been more careful, they both should have but it was his fault they were caught, he had been the one that was followed, not her, not his Sandy. Even now he didn’t blame her for what she did, if she hadn’t said it, she would be right here with him. There had been no way out of it, they had burst into the room while they were together, and she had started to scream. It was then he knew it was all over and there was very little chance of escape. Still, he’d keep running.

They had been meeting for months now, it started off innocuously, they met for drinks and dinner outside of work, as friends, that was always completely fine. The trouble only started when they were selected for breeding together. Participants were usually friends, it made the process easier, but sometimes feelings did develop. They had stopped their inhibitors, as they were supposed to and copulated. Sandy hadn’t gotten pregnant, which wasn’t any big shock, it was happening more and more frequently. They would be given another two tries and if she didn’t fall pregnant by then, well, obviously there was a problem and they would be matched with other partners. Well, Sandy would be matched with another partner. He would be struck from the record until Sandy had her sixteenth unsuccessful try, then the problem would be with her. They both tested positive for sterility, but that meant little these days and no one could quite figure out why.

After their first time, he felt something more, something he didn’t even know was possible and he thought it was just his own feelings. Even on the inhibitor they were there, just slightly under the surface, small enough to ignore and that was what he had done, until Sandy had drunkenly told him of her feelings too. That started the meetings. They both stopped taking the inhibitor too, to fully feel what it was like. He had even found some condoms on the black market, it was difficult and expensive, but he managed it so there was no worry of an accidental pregnancy.

Her defence was simple, he coerced her, forced her to stop taking her pill. He was expendable, she wasn’t. You needed women to carry a child, you only needed men for sperm and there were plenty of men. She was going to get off no matter what, everyone knew it. It was always the way, women were important. It had been fun, when it was happening, but was it worth it? Not that it mattered now of course. He couldn’t quite decide, all through the trial, waiting in jail, he just couldn’t figure out if it was actually worth it or not. Sure, he had moments of joy, but if he had lived longer, he would have had more. If only she’d gotten pregnant when they were trying, they’d have been able to stay together, at least for a few years anyway. After their child reach its fifth year it would be taken from them and they would both be relocated but they would have had time together.

A bike crashed through the trees in front of him, he skidded to a stop and fell, jolting his arm against the ground, pain flared along it, he couldn’t breathe the air driven from him. He groaned and rolled over onto his front and struggled to his feet, he didn’t think they’d seen him. He started to walk again, staggering along. He could hear them all now, so close, so very close. He wouldn’t get away, he couldn’t, there was no escape. He dove to the left he wouldn’t give up. Someone shouted behind him, he turned, light illuminating their grotesque masks, distorted animal faces, a woman’s shrieky laughter filled his ears as the harpoon left her hand. Pain, hot and bright from his midsection, the impact forced him backwards, into a tree.  Breathing was difficult, coming in short gasps, there was so much pain. They got off their bikes and slowly surrounded him, cackling and whooping still, it would be over soon, but first they’d have their fun. As they moved closer around him he finally reached his decision.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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