I should’ve known better. I blame instincts. The call was answered and the phone brought up to my ear before I could process anything.
A shuddering voice came through the other side. My brain had caught up to what my treacherous hands had done but it was too late. Everyone knows you can’t hang up now.
“I’m so sorry.” The woman said.
Her voice was rough like she had been crying for hours. I assumed she had been. Even now I could hear her trying to stifle her sobs. For a moment neither of us said anything. Her out of respect. Me, well, I suppose my body was shutting down.
“How many?” I finally managed to get out.
“2 cars full. I shook the dogs long enough to find this phone booth but it won’t be long now. Do you hear that?” I don’t know how she heard it over her heavy panting but there in the background of our call was a faint clicking noise. It reminded me of a metronome. Which reminded me of my father.
“They’ve already tapped the phone. Probably tracking it too. Do you have a plan?” The woman was starting to compose herself. The relief bleed through her voice though I’m sure she didn’t mean for me to pick up on it. Why shouldn’t she feel relieved? The end of her nightmare signalled the beginning of mine.
“A plan? I guess. I never thought…” I didn’t want to finish my sentence. I didn’t have to.
“Me too. Listen, I think these guys are rookies. They’re vicious but they make a lot of mistakes. You can do this” She sounded so earnest I wanted to cry.
“I hope your person is safe.” I said. A loved one is always taken as leverage.
“My wife has probably been giving them hell.” The affection softened her voice down to a whisper.
The new quiet revealed sirens and whopping in the distance. “Time’s up for me, love. Run.”
With that she hung up the phone leaving me alone in a shattered world. It hit me then, as the dial tone droned on that I never got her name. It bothered me more than it should’ve.
I wasted several precious minutes digging around in my closet for my emergency pack. It’s recommended to everyone in the country to have one filled with enough food, water and cash to last several days. My father and I packed ours together. It was right when I turned 18 and officially became a part of the Hunts. Over a decade ago I sat with my dad and joked as we picked the most palatable rations to pack.
My mind fell back in time as my body struggled to sling the heavy bag over my shoulder. The only positive I could focus on was the small mercy of dad safe from being taken. Even they hadn’t figured out how to bring back the dead. I had enough presence of mind to grab a heavy coat. The hood would help keep me hidden from the cameras.
The easiest way to do this would be to walk across the hall of my apartment building, kick in the neighbours door and pass on the torch. They passed laws after the first person exploited this loophole. Neighbours turned on neighbours and violence in the streets rose to an all time high. The exact opposite purpose of these damn Hunts.
Dad told me they started when he was in his mid twenties. The world was growing peaceful. The only violent crimes committed were by them. The cops once teeming with heroism, now had nowhere to unleash the results of their training and began turning on civilians. You were lucky to be brought into a precinct alive. The government didn’t want to outright disband the police so they came up with a lateral solution. A way to make use of their training and equipment and rage that needed to be focused somewhere.
The Hunts are a glorified game of tag. Or a messed up game of telephone. One person gets a call and must get to a safe point, dial a new number and that person becomes the new target. The cops get to treat the target (I heard they call us prey how fucked up is that, how fucked-) as hostile and resisting arrest. The longer we evade, the dirtier the tactics. Kidnapping loved ones, burning down your home. You name it and some cop somewhere has done it.
The Love Thy Neighbour act stated that targets could not call within 10km of their residence. Which would be fine if we could drive. But that's the easiest way to get caught. You’d be dragged out into the streets by the first red light.
There were rewards of course. The citizens would never have agreed to this bloodsport had there been no incentive. I think the current rate is 1000 dollars for every hour you stayed free. Greed got the better of people. They’d try to wait out the clock hunkered down somewhere. Dumbasses. I’m trying to get this over with as soon as possible.
By now I had left my building, hood up and walked with the crowd of people headed to the trains. I needed to get somewhere relatively safe to take stock of my pack and well, there’s safety in numbers. Blending into the crowd was the only defence I had.
Call it paranoia. Call it instincts. Whatever it was, it compelled me to look up and lock eyes with a grinning man. He was dressed casually in a windbreaker and jeans. Without breaking eye contact he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone.
I didn’t wait to see what he would do next. Putting myself on a train now would be suicide. They’d all be waiting at the next station. Instead I raced out of the underground squinting at the bright sun. I fumbled as I tried to take out cash and keep a brisk pace. Running would signal me out quicker than anything. I managed to free a twenty and hailed a nearby taxi.
“How far can I get with this?” I asked as I entered the cab. The driver must have seen the panic written on my face. He took the bill out of my hand and stepped on the gas without a word. He made a sharp turn but glancing back, I saw the man from the station standing on the curb, his manic grin had subsided into a smug smile.
That lady told me her guys were rookies. But mine somehow had time to plant someone at the station already? That kind of move reeked of expertise. Just my fucking luck. The driver and I rode on in silence but over time he kept looking into his rearview mirror.
“I’m gonna have to drop you off here. I got a tail. Don’t wanna be involved.” He spoke in clipped tones but had real concern in his eyes. I wonder if he’ll be looking for my face tonight on the news. I wonder if he’ll be more relieved if he sees it or not. There’s a comfort that comes with certainty. Not knowing my fate may haunt him for a few days before I just become a blurred image in his mind. Or maybe I think too highly of myself. Maybe he’ll move on with his life as soon as I step out of this cab.
“Keep the change.” I said as we rolled to a stop. This area of the city was less populated but had a fair amount of foot traffic. Looking to make sure no one was watching me, I ducked into an alley and pulled out my map. I ached to use my phone but I left it at home. The woman told me they had already begun to track it.
Dad taught me how to calculate distances on maps. I was hopeless with directions and I still am but at least I can do this. I had made it 2.8km. Not bad for my first hour. The only problem was I was heading south. I cursed myself for not specifying to the driver I wanted to go north. That stupid undercover plant rattled me. I have no choice now, I couldn’t double back.
I grew up in the northern neighbourhoods. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I was ever chosen as a target, I would fight on my home turf. That plan was out the window now. I took a second to look over the contents of the sack. 10 days of rations, 6 water bottles, 3 outfits, a bottle of mace and $280 left. This was optimistic but better safe than sorry. Buried under the clothes was a gold mine. Energy drinks. Enough to keep me awake through the night. A good number of targets get caught when they fall asleep.
I stuffed everything back into the sack but kept the map and mace in my pocket. The driver said he had a tail so it’d be best to stick to back alleys for awhile, try to cover some distance before trying a taxi again.
It was a good plan. I seem to have shit luck with good plans though because as I turned to leave the alley, the way was blocked off by two grinning figures. A man and a woman. They wore the signature black overcoats that marked them as Hunters. They had a baton hanging from one hip and their guns holstered.
“That’s-” I choked out. “That’s not fair. Give me a chance.” Neither replied as they simultaneously pulled their guns free and took aim.
“Kei Akana. 42 minute chase. Death by firing squad.” The woman said. She butchered the pronunciation of my name. It snapped something inside me. All the fear pumping through my veins morphed into pure rage. The scream that ripped through my throat startled the pair long enough for me to run up to them, mace in hand. The man recovered quickly but in the time it took him to load the gun, I had sprayed him in the face. He fell to the ground clutching his face and hacking. Dumbass must’ve breathed some in.
His partner tried to grab the bottle but I twisted out of her reach. As she straightened I sprayed the mace, grabbed her by the collar and fully decked across the face. The burst of pain in my hand was well worth the satisfying crunch as her nose broke. I could hear sirens wailing and drawing nearer. I grabbed the dropped guns and sprinted out of the alley into the streets.
Every logical thought had flown out of my head. Being cautious had gotten me spotted twice. All I could do was pick a direction and run. I lost track of time and focused on the rhythmic pounding of my feet, my heavy breathing and rapid heartbeat. The pedestrians grew sparse as I ran through neighbourhoods. The people I did pass steered clear of me. Good. That was one less thing to worry about.
When my lungs started to ache, I slowed to a walk. I couldn’t afford to stay still anymore. Checking the map I had made it another 3km. More than halfway there. I downed a bottle of water as I weighed my options. I could hail a taxi for the last four kilometres. But I had travelled into a suburban area. I’d have to call and wait for a taxi and I don’t have that luxury. I can’t keep walking straight either. I’m shocked they haven’t set up blockades for me yet. They must be gearing up to something.
I was an hour and fifteen minutes into my Hunt. Some people, hailed as heroes among civilians, could last days. They lived for the Hunt just as much as the cops. The bravest of them actually advertised their phone numbers, going on several Hunts a year. I was sick of this shit after half an hour. I had already vowed to never answer the phone ever again.
The next half hour was as quiet as the run. I was making my way at a diagonal from my starting point. It was slower but hopefully safer. I shouldn’t have let my guard down. One hour fifty minutes into the chase and for the first time, the streets were completely empty. I recognized the trap too late, four cop cars came tearing down the street. I did the first thing that popped into my head. I pulled out one of the stolen guns and fired three times.
It was pure luck that one of the bullets managed to hit the tire on the lead car. The driver panicked and jerked the wheel sharply but that only made the car flip over and roll. The car directly behind it collided while car three veered off into a yard to avoid the pileup. I didn’t stay to watch the fate of car four. I booked it. I zigzagged through the homes being mindful not to run the way I came. I was so close. So close to the end of this horror. 2 kilometres left. I just have to stick to where the cars can’t go. My running led to a deserted park. I can hide here. I can do this. I can-
The first bullet hit my shoulder and knocked me down. The momentum from running made me roll as I hit the dirt. The second bullet caught my calf. I could feel nothing but panic and a spreading warmth from the wounds. Behind me stood more cops than I could count at the awkward pile I landed in. They all wore that same crazed smile that distorted their features. I wasn’t looking at humans.
“Kei Akana. 1 hour 53 minute chase. Injured 7 and killed 2. Death by beating.” They said in unison. I scrambled backwards, willing my body to cooperate. The cops had pulled out their batons and started to march towards me.
My mind cleared as my death approached. So it was with a crazed smile of my own as I drew out both guns and fired them into the crowd. One, two, three, four bodies hit the ground by the time the first clip emptied out. The cops hurried their approach. I could practically smell their bloodlust and see their hatred in the way their hands clenched their weapons tightly and rolled up their sleeves. But I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.
Putting the gun to my head and squeezing the trigger was the easiest thing I’d done all day. I hope the pigs look up my last name and learn that I had carried on my father’s tradition.