The winner of the first Hunger Games was a boy from District 3 named Brad Colbert. He was seventeen years old.
When the Games were first announced, the country was horrified. But what could they do? They had just suffered a horrible loss at the hands of their government - districts were still mourning the loss of their family members and friends, and the Capitol was only just getting started. Before anyone knew it, every child in every district, age twelve to eighteen, was brought together and the reaping began.
When Brad’s name was called, he didn’t know what to expect - no one did - and he walked up to the stage with his expression blank. Then he was whisked away to the Capitol and paraded around for the citizens there. They were a little weary of the idea at first, but once the newly elected Gamemakers started treating the whole thing like one big sporting event, they ate everything up. The tributes were just what they needed after the Dark Days, and the Games became a giant celebration.
Brad was assigned a stylist and mentor from the Capitol, a man just called “Poke” who was apparently there to help his image.
“What does my image have to do with anything,” Brad asked, his tone short. “I thought I was just here to kill children and keep myself alive.”
Poke laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Keep that up, boy. You’re going to go far.”
The people of District 3 were never known for their physical strength, even during the Dark Days. But Brad was tall and strong and intimidating and looked far beyond his years. He had a confidence that shone through in the pre-Games interviews and the citizens of the Capitol found him mysterious and intriguing. Poke advised him to take that and run with it.
“Be brooding and cool towards everyone,” He told him in one of their private sessions. “Don’t make friends.”
“I hadn’t planned to.” Brad replied. He even avoided talking to the other tribute from District 3.
The week of training was up before Brad knew it. Though he didn’t show it, he was terrified of what was going to happen. Since it was the first games, the Gamemakers had briefed all the tributes privately beforehand. There would be sixty seconds after they were raised into the arena via platform for them to take in the surroundings. Then it was every tribute for his or herself.
“I don’t like this any more than you do, Brad.” Poke told him when they were beneath the arena, helping him get dressed in the clothing chosen by the Capitol. They were thick, made for someplace cold, Poke guessed. “Perfect for the show you’ve already been putting on.”
Brad smirked. He liked Poke a lot and thought that the two of them could have been good friends if the circumstances were different.
“I hope we’ll see each other again,” Brad confessed as he was stepping onto the platform.
Poke just grinned and shook his hand. “Good luck Brad.”
The arena for Brad’s Games was a dense coniferous forest as far as he could see, except for the clearing his platform had emerged in. In front of him was a huge cornucopia filled with weapons and supplies. After what felt like simultaneously the shortest and longest minute in his entire life, the cannon sounds and Brad took off running at the cornucopia.
His intimidating height and the reputation he worked to build up the previous week really helped, and he knocked other tributes out of his way as he ran. At the edge of the pile was a small but dangerous looking dagger and Brad grabbed it without thinking. He turned towards the trees and took off, stopping only to ram the dagger into the thigh of another tribute who tried to stand in his way. Brad gave the dagger a twist and the boy fell to the ground. He had managed to grab a canteen and bag from the cornucopia before he turned on Brad with another dagger, and Brad took all of them as the boy writhed on the ground, clutching his bleeding leg until another tribute could pick him off. But by then, Brad was gone.
He ran deep into the forest, dodging trees and fallen logs put there by the Capitol to make things more difficult for them. He ran until the sun set and the cannons rang out, signifying that eight tributes had died that day. The temperature dropped and Brad zipped up the thick jacket he was given and raised the hood. In the bag he stole from the boy was a pair of gloves and a strange, thin but still warm blanket. He couldn’t imagine the Capitol wanted to see many of their tributes freeze to death on the first night. No game in that, he thought as he pulled the blanket around him tightly and sat down to sleep for an hour or two.
The forest didn’t change much over the next few days as Brad continued travelling. He limited his water intake to help prolong what was in his canteen, though he was more thirsty than he ever remembered being. He hadn’t found any other source of water, but he also hadn’t found any other tributes.
On the fourth night, however, he did find something strange. He was settling into his makeshift blanket cocoon when he saw a small flashing blue light in one of the trees above him. He stuffed the blanket back into his bag and climbed, slowly and carefully, worried that the branches up top might not hold his weight. What he found was a small device jammed into the bark, something that looked like district 3 handiwork. As he got closer, the blue light flashed more and more.
It was something they were probably never supposed to find, he thought as he pulled it from its perch. Hidden high in the trees and out of harm’s way. Brad spent the night tinkering with it, taking it apart and putting it back together, trying to figure out what it was for.
He finally understood when the first tribute he saw in four days passed under the tree he was sat in. The little blue light began flashing rapidly again, and everything clicked in Brad’s mind. Radar. They put tracking devices in their arms before releasing them into the arena, but he had completely forgotten about it in lieu of concentrating on keeping himself alive. This was helping the Gamemakers keep tabs on them, broadcasting signals from the tracking devices.
The light’s flashing slowed down, signalling that the tribute was moving on. Brad decided now was as good a time as any to start giving the public the show they wanted.
Carefully, he climbed down from the tree and took one of the daggers from his bag. He stowed the radar device in his sleeve - the fabric was just thick enough that it dulled the flashing light, but not so much that he couldn’t see it was still there. Silently, he moved through the woods, stalking the other tribute as a predator might stalk its prey. She wasn’t expecting a thing when Brad’s dagger found and slit her throat. He took all of her useful supplies and moved onward.
The rest of that night was spent modifying the radar device's programming. As the sun was rising, he had it perfected and the following night, he set off. His newly modified radar led him to each tribute and in the dark he picked them off one by one. It was nothing at all.
He spread the deaths out over the next week to keep everyone watching on their toes. If they wanted this whole ordeal to be a show, he was going to make it a show.
Later, after all the other tributes were dead and Brad finally emerged from the shadows for a showdown to the death with a girl from District 2, Poke told him that the citizens of the Capitol nicknamed him the Phantom from District 3.
Everyone adored him, he was their first victor. A symbol for all Games to come.
The Capitol enlisted him to help them design new technology for them, to fix the bugs that he found in the Games’ tracking system, to come up with new and innovative ideas for Games security. Who knew what would work better than the boy - man - who lived them? Almost everything that made up the following Games was thanks to Brad Colbert.
District 3 wouldn’t have another victor for four years. And then came a boy named Ray Person.
When Brad won his Games, Ray was eleven years old. He watched in amazement as someone from his district won out over the strong, muscled tributes from 2 and 4. He did it by being smarter than everyone else and Ray thought he was a hero. He wanted nothing more than to get to meet him some day.
Ray got his wish when he was fifteen and his name was chosen in the reaping.
District 3 wasn’t like the other Districts closer to the Capitol; there were parts that very very rich and then there were parts that were very poor. Ray grew up in one of the poor parts. He never knew his father, and his mother never wanted to get pregnant. She could barely afford to feed herself while he was growing up, let alone him. No one thought he would amount to anything - he was the boy with a smart mouth and nothing else. When he was chosen for the Games, no one even bat en eye.
But Brad could tell there was something more to him than what everyone else saw. They spent the entire train ride to the Capitol talking, talking about the Games and talking about everything else. Brad told him that he thought Ray was smart enough to actually win this thing, and Ray felt legitimately touched. It was the first real compliment that he could ever remember receiving.
The citizens of the Capitol didn’t know what to make of Ray. Since Brad won in the first Games, the tributes from District 3 hadn’t been anything special. He wasn’t the giant, intimidating force that Brad had been - to them, Ray was just a scrawny boy that probably wouldn’t make it through the first night. He joked his way through his initial interviews, which might have gained him some attention if he hadn’t been put up against some of the most impressive looking tributes the Capitol had seen since the Games began. He was forgettable. The Gamemasters gave him a rating of 4.
“It might be a good thing,” Brad told him one night in a meeting between the two of them and Poke. “To the other Tributes, you won’t be a threat. They’ll spend their time and energy taking out the kids that they think will actually have a chance of winning. That’s when you spend your time coming up with something to blow them all away in the end.”
After the first Games, the act of sponsoring a tribute was set up. Brad assured him that he would find a way to get whatever he needed to him, even if he had to buy the items himself.
Before he knew it, he was getting dressed beneath the arena. The clothing given to him by Poke was light and airy, made for somewhere very warm.
“You remind me a lot of him,” Poke confessed as he helped get him ready. “Though you’re more of a little shithead.”
Ray grinned, knowing that that tone of his voice was fond. Poke, like Brad, had seen every one of his tributes since the first Games killed off. It was hard for him to get attached.
“Make sure you show them exactly what a fucking pain in the ass you are, Person.”
“Don’t worry about me, homes,” Ray said as the platform began to rise. “I got this.”
And suddenly, everything was bright. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, precious seconds he needed to formulate an idea wasted. Around him, as far as he could see, was a giant grassy plain. In the distance, surrounding the perimeter of the arena, were rolling hills and tall, imposing mountains. Ray had never seen anything like it before, and had to force himself to shake off the awe he was feeling standing in it. In front of him was the cornucopia, but it didn’t look like Brad’s. There were the usual weapons piled up in the center, but scattered around the edges, just far enough from the weapon pile, were bags, each labeled with a large number - two for each district. Ray could either make a run for the weapon pile, or make a run for the bag. Trying to go for both would just maximize his chances of getting caught in the bloodbath.
And then the cannons rang and Ray was off without thinking. He might not have had the strength that Brad did, but he was damn fast. He made a beeline for one of the bags marked ‘3’ and took off away from the cornucopia and quickly as he could. He ran and ran, but the terrain never changed. There was nowhere to hide. Eventually he just had to stop.
He chose that moment to finally sit down and examine the contents of the bag. No water, barely enough food for the night, but instead a few tools and spools of electrical wiring. Each bag must have contained something to do with their district’s specialty, but what would he do with this out here? Frustrated, he stuffed everything back into the bag and started walking again. He knew Brad was watching, waiting for him to come up with something good, but he was out of his element. Ray had never been outside of a crappy city in District 3.
He walked for another hour and a half, hoping to finally find some source of water. What he found instead made him stop dead in his tracks. What he thought had just been part of one of the mountains from far away turned into a massive heard of beasts when he got closer. Mutts of some sort, ones that looked like photos of large animals that used to roam through parts of Panem before it was even called Panem, only these had much larger horns and dangerous looking tusks.
Ray wasn’t sure what to do, the previous year’s Games had numerous packs of vicious mutts that attacked any tribute who came within a certain distance of them. Would the Capitol play the same card twice?
Did he want to find out?
When he turned around, deciding to try his luck somewhere else, he realized that he didn’t really have a choice. Lumbering towards him at full speed was the boy from District 11. He was huge, twice the size of Ray, and armed with a sword. Ray panicked, turned back to the herd, and ran.
The boy was closing on him, ready to take him out. Above them, dark and ominous clouds were rolling in, but getting caught in the rain was far from his mind. He was glad to see that the herd didn’t even flinch when Ray approached them, stood there passively as he darted in between them to avoid the other tribute, but the boy followed on. The people watching would be on the edge of their seats right now, he thought bitterly. His concentration faltered and his foot caught a rock, sending him barreling into the ground behind one of the beasts.
He wanted to scream out in anger, in frustration at himself for letting Brad down, for proving that maybe everyone back home was right about him, when at that moment, in the greatest streak of luck he ever had, thunder boomed in the sky and a bolt of lightning flashed. The mutts around him brayed loudly and angrily, and the one in front of him reared up in a way that he would have never thought possible given its size. What Ray had initially thought was thick fur around their necks turned out to be quills, like a giant porcupine. Before Ray could even blink, one shot out and pierced the heart of the boy from District 11. He fell to the ground in a crumpled heap and Ray couldn’t do anything but stare in amazement and disbelief.
He stayed a still as possible until the storm passed, then tentatively stood up to examine the other boy’s body before the hovercrafts could come take it away. Stuck in his heart was a thick quill the size of Ray’s leg, even larger than the sword the boy was wielding. And suddenly, he laughed. It came from nowhere, most likely the product of pure relief.
“Oh fuck,” he cried out with joy, turning back to the mutt that had inadvertently protected him. “You, you giant awesome motherfucker.” The mutt just eyed him blankly and Ray reached out to pat it on the nose gently. “You are brilliant. Fucking awesome.”
He continued onwards through the herd, beaming the whole way. By the time he reached the other side, the hovercraft had come to collect the other tribute and he had finally hit the mountains. Waiting there to greet him was a giant lake and it took everything in his power to not disregard the fact that he didn’t know how to swim and dive right in. He slowly waded into the water up to his knees, not daring to go any further, and bent down to drink his fill. He felt safe for the first time since entering the arena, confident that other tributes would choose to avoid the herd like he so very nearly did. This lake was his, and now all he had to do was come up with a plan.
It hit him when the lightning storm came the following day, at roughly the same time as it did the day before. But to pull it off, he needed things that were not going to be so easily found on this plain. He turned his head to the sky and called out, “Brad. I think it’s time for me to blow them away,” he paused. “You know, really give em a shock.”
He and Brad thought so similarly, he was confident that Brad would understand what he was going for. His luck with the mutts the previous day must have done something to win some of the crowd over for him, because within the hour came dozens of silver parachutes, some small, some large, landing all over the valley he had claimed as his own. He opened each one with a gleeful cry, shouting promises of sexual favours for Brad to the sky as he collected them all together and started to work throughout the night and the following day, pausing only during the lightning storm that again came at the same time as the other two.
The cannons each night rang out, signalling that more tributes were killed each day. From what Ray could tell, the Careers were particularly vicious this year and by the end of the third night, it was just Ray and the six of them. He remembered how intimidating they all looked in their pre-Games interviews and training. They were the ones who the crowd had loved and rooted for at the start. He couldn’t help but wonder what they citizens of the Capitol were thinking now.
His plan was ready to set into action on the fourth day, which meant it was finally time for him to leave his safe haven. The six of them would be looking for him now. Would they still think he was no threat? Just the final step left before they turn on each other?
He was counting on them to find him if he left himself out in the open. By now they probably would have been all over the rest of the arena, the only place left to search was the area beyond the mutts. He made his way through the herd for the second time, only now he held a small metal device in his hands. A small device that had to work for his plan to work. He tested it on a small prairie-dog looking mutt back near the lake and it had worked then, but Ray didn’t trust his luck to be so good the second time facing another tribute as it was the first time.
He climbed onto the back of one of the mutts to get a better luck, and sure enough, in the distance and making their way towards him, were the six Careers. It was now or never. “Hey you fuckers,” he called out at the top of his lung. “I’m right here!”
That got them moving, he thought as he climbed down from the mutt and darted between them. He needed to stay hidden until they got to the other side. Sure enough, the Careers came barreling through the herd, who paid them no attention. The sky became dark and filled with storm clouds again, right on cue as the Careers managed to get to the edge of the lake. Ray snuck through the herd and came out on the opposite side, he had to work quickly to beat the storm.
“I’m sorry bro,” he muttered as he pat the side of one of the mutts. “You guys saved me once and now I’m gonna be a dick and make you do it again.” He fumbled with the small device in his hand and, in one swift movement, jammed it into the mutt’s flank. In the course of two days, he had managed to create a makeshift cattle prod.
The mutt brayed loudly and barreled forward into two other mutts, who in turn did the same to two others and in a few seconds, Ray had started a full-on stampede. The charged forward, towards the lake and towards the Careers, who had no choice but to jump into the water and swim to the deepest part that the mutts couldn’t get to. The herd stopped at the edge of the lake, still angrily thrashing about. Ray’s side was nicked by more than one giant quill as he tried to get to the other end. The Careers were trapped. And then came the lightning.
It shot right to a giant metal tower that Ray had put together with everything that Brad sent him and some of the wiring from his first bag. A giant tower that Ray had stuck right in the lake, as deep as he trusted himself to go. He managed to sneak through the space between the panicking herd and the mountain side to watch and see if his handiwork was successful and was greeted by the sight of the Careers floating on the surface of the water. The six of them were dead, and Ray did the only thing he could do - he laughed.
It was the same laugh that had happened when the mutt had killed the tribute from District 11, born from relief and accompanied by tears that flowed freely down his face and he didn’t stop until well after the hovercrafts came to take him out of the arena.
It was amazing, he heard them say in his post-Games interviews, he won in a record four days. The shortest Games yet by far. Ray beamed up at the crowds and charmed his way into their hearts. He was loved by more people than he could have ever imagined, and though he knew it wasn’t really people loving him the way he wanted, he would gladly take it.
He moved to the Capitol right away after his victory tour and embraced their lifestyle, played with their ideas of body modification that were unheard of in the other Districts. His first tattoo was on the back of his calf, and it was of one of the bison mutts that helped him win. After that, he just couldn’t stop.
When the people of the Capitol wanted to try something new, he was their lab rat. He was the one they tested full-body dyes on and his skin was bright red for a year before he got bored with it. He was their trendsetter, right down to the way he styled his hair.
And he and Brad (who thought the way he looked was ridiculous, of course) became the closest of friends. Brad beamed with pride when Ray came out of that hovercraft, told him that he knew Ray had to be more than just a fuck-up.
With each year’s new Games, they sat together in the Victor’s lounges and screamed loudly and wildly at the screens, cheering right up until the moment that the district 3 tributes were taken out. (He was chosen as a mentor for the Games following his, but both tributes were killed so horribly that he couldn’t bring himself to do it again. He decided that it was always going to be a job for Brad, not him.)
And it was another year’s Games that brought more trouble into their lives. Trouble in the form of two boys who had to face off against each other in a Game where only one was allowed to stay standing.