male lead

Sixteen-year-old Reid thinks life is back to normal. His sister Lucy pulls herself together and cuts him free from a year of foster care. She promises to take care of him, that her new boss and her new life are what they both needed to start again. Until Reid is taken in the middle of the night, dumped in a wild stretch of forest far from home with no idea why he is there. Lost and afraid, he learns to run from the hunters who prowl the darkness, their only pleasure chasing down kids like him. And killing them.

HUNTED Series is created by Patti Larsen, an EGlobal Creative Publishing signed author.

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Chapter 1: Waking
Reid wakes in darkness. But not quiet, steady darkness like he's used to, the kind that lulls him to sleep and keeps him there. This blackness is full of motion and sound. Mind fog drifts around him, keeping his thoughts from forming clearly. He has only a moment to wonder what is happening when he is spun sideways and slammed into something hard. His right shoulder protests, recognizing the pain. It was a blow like this one that woke him in the first place. He knows he has to sit up, instincts warring with the disorientation and confusion in his mind. Flickers of memory only taunt him, offering no answers through the curtain of mist keeping him helpless. His hands and feet feel tight, almost numb. Reid shakes his head a little, cheek pressed to something harsh that scratches against his face when he moves. It smells like plastic and rusting metal. And someone else's vomit. At least, as far as he can tell it's someone else's. This time when the motion sends him flying, he realizes he is in a vehicle of some kind. His mind guesses a van. Even though he can't see, he can feel the space around him, hollow and empty. Reid blinks, trying to restore his vision, but his eyelashes meet fabric over and over, fluttering against the blindfold like a desperately trapped bird. Everything he does to work it loose fails, his coordination missing. The throbbing in his temples makes it impossible to focus. A moan rises in his throat. He can't stop it. His stomach clenches against a wave of nausea, heart beat pounding one moment before skipping erratically the next. Panic joins the party, taking him and shaking him until he finds himself thrashing against his bonds in an all-out struggle for freedom. The pounding in his head gets louder and more insistent and he can't keep it in anymore. "Hey!" His voice is raw and jagged, throat burning. He only then realizes how thirsty he is. "What the hell! Let me out!" His protests devolve into wordless yelling, as desperate as his fight against his captivity. It's not long before only silence emerges from his tortured throat. His strength is gone in moments. The fog in his mind is lifting, but with it comes a horrible, creeping weakness. Reid collapses, gasping for air, voice completely gone. This can't be happening. Stuff like this only happens in the movies, right? Besides, he has nothing anyone would want. Orphaned, broke, barely sixteen. His mind spikes fearfully at the thought of being in the hands of some kind of sick p*****t before shying from the idea. He does his best to flex his fingers and feet while his mind battles him for control of his body, feeling the subtle tingle of blood trying to reach his extremities. He finds if he keeps his attention on the job and it alone, he can stuff down a measure of the panic and hold himself in check. Reid swears to himself then and there, if he is under the control of a monster like that, he will fight until one of them dies. Someone laughs. Reid freezes, a lump of ice slamming into his already queasy stomach. But the sound is muffled, coming from in front of him, as though through a wall or panel. Another voice laughs with the first. Two of them then, as far as Reid can tell. Pedophiles don't work in pairs, do they? He has no idea, but decides not just to settle his mind. He rolls forward as the driver hits the brakes. Reid impacts the front of the compartment with his head, his neck buckling under the strain. He cries out, twisting his body forward, face tucked to his chest. His torso slides in a semicircle as the van comes to a hard halt, shoulders absorbing the rest of the impact. A flicker of light makes it past his blindfold and he instantly strains toward it, begging for it. More voices, new ones this time. Still muffled though, and impossible to identify. "Help me, please! Somebody!" Reid's dull and crusty shout for attention gets him nothing. No one answers him, saves him. He is on his own. The van starts forward again, Reid at the mercy of its momentum. He is already covered in protesting bruises and is just grateful nothing feels broken. The ride is rough and at one point he is almost weightless. Reid cries out from the shock of it, just before the van slams to a halt once more. He tucks just in time so his back bears the brunt of the assault, his body curled into a tight 'C'. Weight shifts at the front of the van. Two doors slam in rapid succession. Reid takes one more panicked moment to tear at the bonds holding him. He needs to get free before they can reach him. But they are already there. The door creaks near his feet, and cool, fresh air floods the back of the van. He wishes he could welcome it as it washes over him, but he fears the end of the journey. Until he catches a familiar scent that shifts him into happy memory. Reid isn't sure why the smell of trees and the outdoors makes him feel better, but it does. Hands grab his feet and jerk him out horizontal, dumping him on the ground, while his father's face swims in his mind. He cries out, attempting to lash around with his legs and hands, hard to do with them tied so tightly. "Quit it, you," one voice tells him, rough and old like the edge of a rusty saw. "Aw, let him struggle," the other laughs, nasal and piercing in the quiet. "He'll be needing the fight in him." They both laugh then. Like this whole thing is some big joke. Reid kicks out when hands settled on him again. Bright lights flash in his head as something bony and hot impacts his jaw. He drifts into the fog, wanting to fight back, but lost in the darkness. He is only aware enough of his surroundings to understand he is being carried somewhere, but has no way to stop his captors from doing with him as they wish. His mind tells him to quit. Reid almost listens. But his heart is too strong, his instincts taking control where his thoughts fail him. The moment he is able, he begins his struggle all over again. "Tough little bugger," the first voice says, then grunts as Reid feels his sneaker impact something soft but firm. "Ruddy bastard!" The second voice laughs. "That's it," the first grouses as the world tips and shifts so Reid's feet are pointed almost at the ground, his stomach aching from the disorientation of it, "you get the damned feet next time." The hands on him vanish. For an instant he hangs suspended in time and space. Gravity reasserts and he lands hard, flat on his back, the wind in his lungs gone from the sudden stop. Hands loosen his bonds, but he is too breathless to react to the chance of sudden freedom. "Good luck, kid," the first voice says. One of them hocks up phlegm and spits noisily. "You're going to need it." "Luck?" The other says, footsteps and voices fading in the distance as they leave him there. "Ain't no luck going to save him now." Their laughter leads them out. Alone, Reid gasps in a deep breath, then another. It hurts his ribs, his lungs. He manages to roll over on his right side and regrets it. His shoulder roars in protest. Still, he is finally able to wriggle his numb hands loose from what holds him and claw at the cloth around his eyes. Darkness. But not complete. The moon is up. Trees loom over him, the smell of spruce and fresh air so sharp it almost hurts. He doesn't take the time to look around, not yet, but jerks at the plastic ties that hold his ankles, gasping in pain as the circulation returns to his useless fingers. His vision swims through a veil of pain laden tears, but he manages somehow to force his screaming hands to work the ties loose and he is free. Reid's first instinct is to bolt. When he tries, he collapses immediately. His feet suffer the same fate as his hands. He spends a long time writhing on the ground in the dirt, suffering the agony of long lost blood flow. By the time he is able to wipe the tears from his face and sit up, the moon overhead has moved a fair distance. Reid tries to stand again and manages to get to his knees. He half walks, half crawls his way forward, his aching hands finding the bark of a thick tree. Touching it makes everything worse, because the roughness of it proves this nightmare is real. Reid uses the support of the oak to haul himself upright. He leans back against the gnarled trunk and fights to get his bearings, physically and mentally. His tongue runs over his teeth, furry with bacteria, an odd taste in his mouth making him gag. He works up some saliva and swishes it around, spitting it out like his captor did. The act of leaning forward to do so almost puts him back on his knees as a wave of dizziness sends him reeling. Reid clutches at the trunk again and hugs it, keeping himself upright, desperately grateful for its steadfast strength. He would have never thought before that night a lowly tree could be his best friend. He is feeling better, more alert, but the weariness still clings to him, the haze in his head slow to lift. He wants to collapse to the ground and close his eyes, to sleep and pretend this isn't happening. But he knows that isn't an option. No more than letting some p*****t have his way with him. Reid has to get out of there. Where is there exactly? He has no way of finding out, not from where he is standing. In his struggle to be upright he got turned around and hasn't a clue which way the voices went when they left him. And why kidnap him only to dump him in the woods? None of it makes sense. But Reid doesn't care about any of that right now. All he cares about is going home. At least there is a path. He can see it winding through the trees. Reid tries to scan further ahead and spots an upgrade. He remembers being carried like he was descending and a wave of relief, his first since this started, washes through him. His lips twist into a grin. Idiots. They totally gave it away. Now he knows where to go. He gathers himself for another moment before trying to walk. It's surprisingly easy considering what he's gone through. His feet have recovered enough he can feel the roughness of the path through his sneakers. Reid is grateful his captors didn't do any permanent damage. A broken bone or two would have made what he is trying much harder, if not impossible. But he is in relatively good shape, a natural athlete, and figures with enough time and rest he'll find his way out. After a few staggered steps, he gets his stride back and heads down the path. The moon is behind him, lighting his way, casting his shadow forward and to the left. He knows that means he is traveling in a certain direction, can hear his father telling him about it, but can't concentrate on it and lets it be. Not like it matters much, anyway. He has no intention of needing that information. The path should take him where he needs to go. Reid stumbles over a large root dividing the path and takes a sudden fall to the left. His hand instinctively reaches out for support and finds the bark of a tree. It saves him from falling, the hand that caught it sliding over the coarse coating of moss and loose wood. As it does, he feels a change in the contact. Something soft protrudes from the trunk. He turns to look, eyes settling on the moonlit gaze of a boy. It takes Reid a moment to register and another to process. The kid is as tall as he is, but looks a lot younger. His eyes are wide open, staring, glaring. There is something wrong with the front of his shirt. Reid takes in the blank stare, fingers still traveling over the boy's clothing until they come to rest on the large, dark patch over the kid's stomach. Wetness resides there. Reid pulls his hand back and looks. The liquid is black in the moonlight but has a distinctive aroma. Coppery. And now that he is paying attention, he notices another smell. A heavy and angry scent that makes his nose constrict, his stomach flutter, his mind shriek in fear even as he looks down and notices the boy's sneakers are a good foot off the ground. The kid smells like road kill, like some squashed skunk or car flattened raccoon left too long in the sun. Reid backs away in a hurry, slips on something slimy underfoot, stumbles and falls, not noticing the impact, eyes locked on the gaping wound in the boy's stomach. Someone is screaming into the darkness. When he realizes it's him, Reid shuts down. His own belly lurches, tries to expel something, anything, but only bile comes up. Reid hastily wipes his fingers on the ground, desperate to get the boy's blood off of him. It seems very important for some reason. The kid is pinned to the tree trunk with what looks like big metal spikes. He dangles there, a sick and twisted art project, thought up by a madman. Reid tries to rise, but the slick something that sent him to the ground is still stuck to his sneaker. He looks down and screams again. A length of sausage-like intestine clings to him. It drags after him like an obscene and putrid snake as he backpedals on his hands and feet further from the dead kid. When he understands he is bringing it with him, he kicks out. The coil flies off, the contents splattering into the forest with soft, wet sounds, the flattened section landing in the middle of the path, ridged with the impression of his shoe. Reid gasps for breath, chokes on the fresh air tainted with decay. He scrambles to his feet again, scraping his sneaker against the uneven ground, digging into the dirt of the path to get the boy's insides off of him. It isn't until he backs into a tree that his real fear kicks in. The boy stares at him, warns him with his empty eyes, blood running in black rivers from his gut and where the spikes hold his collarbone taut. Run, he seems to whisper. Run before it's too late. Reid can't. His body is frozen from dawning realization. The boy is dead. Dead. How, who, why, when...? The questions sputter through his mind, spin and twine around his fear and drive him to panic. But none of this matters. Not really. After the initial shock settles over him, all that really gets through to Reid is that he must be there for the same reason as this boy and that means he could be next. The very thought drives his heart to race harder, faster, so much so he struggles to stay conscious, feeling the darkness reaching out to grab him and drag him under. He almost gives in to it, would have, he is sure of it, if it weren't for the noise. It is nothing, really. The c***k of a small branch, easily explained away by the shifting of the wind or the natural release of deadwood. But to Reid, it is a gunshot right to his flight instinct. He doesn't think or breathe or flinch. Instead, Reid turns and runs. ***

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