Some nights I thirst for real blood, for real knives, for real cries.
And then the flash of steel from real guns in real life really fills my mind.
FOR REAL - okkervil river
His first ever kill had been with a knife.
It had been a cat, a cat that his father had given him for his 5th birthday. He was brown with darker stripes, white speckles on his back. He called him Hector and slept with him in his bed. Hector was a good pet, his first pet. And he took care of him. That was what his father had told him. “If you’re going to have a pet, you’re the one who has to raise it,” he had been told. And so he did. He raised it, fed it, box trained it. When Hector got sick, Cato used his allowance to take him to the vet. He pulled out burrs when they got caught in his fur, played with string, and never went anywhere without him.
It had been a cat, and it had been a dinner knife. By this time he was 6. 6 was when you went into the training center, but only if you were strong enough. “Of course you’ll go,” his mother had reassured him. Cato had always been a strong boy. He was big when he was born, and even now he was taller than the other boys. In 12 years when it was time for him to go into the arena, he would be huge, towering over everyone else. “Of course you’ll go,” his father repeated, and then he pressed the knife into his hand.
It had been a cat, it had been a dinner knife, and it had been the final test. If you can’t kill an animal, there was no chance that you would ever be able to kill a human.
But knives are for girls, not for big, strong boys. So they gave him a sword when he was ready. The knives went to a dark little thing, all bone and freckles and curls. One boy joked that her bones were as thin as the blades, and she only smiled (he’d notice later how much she smiled). But he had the sword, because he was stronger.
Boys were special. They were strong and tough and nothing but muscle. And when they had steroids and growth hormones pumped into them, they only grew bigger. Cato spent his time in the academy being told that he was the best, that he was the strongest, that he would be the one to come out on top. Yet you forget when you’re in the moment that there are other Careers being told the exact same thing. But he ignores that and goes on with his training. He is the best; there is no question in his mind that he is the best there. There would be a question later.
He trains daily with Brutus, with other previous victors. They are the most precious things that District 2 has produced, and they are kept around once they serve their purpose. They hope that the children who go into the arena come out. Often one will. Not often enough.
The girl with the blades as bones, the one who smiled, is around him a lot. Even though she is a few years younger and skinny as, well, as a knife, she trains with the older children. When she throws the knives, she never misses. Sometimes they wind up near the heads of other kids, or in the limbs. She’ll smile and giver her best apology, but she’s not sorry. Because she never misses.
He fucks a lot of girls in the training academy, because he is the best. His ego is big. But he never fucks the girl with the knives. There’s something else about her. Something that makes him question if he really is the best.
He doesn’t like it.
They train for years in District 2 before being sent into the arena. Cato had been there since he was 6. It had been 12 years, 12 years of training and killing and preparation. The girl with the knives goes too, and it is only then that he allows himself to remember that her name is Clove.
Her name is Clove and it isn’t until she’s screaming for him that he allows himself to remember knives pressed against his throat and the way her lips would curl at him and how his hands could bruise her skin and the promises that he had made her. She could have the girl on fire as long as she put on a show (and she always did). But she was screaming his name and he was running as fast as he could. But he knew, in that moment, that it didn’t matter if she would put on a show because she wasn’t going to get the chance.
She snarls “11” at him when he kneels beside her, and he begs and begs and begs but her eyes are already dead. Her bones weren’t blades after all, or at least not strong like the blades she used. The swelling on her temple swirled blue and red and he wondered briefly when the world had stopped spinning.
His final kill was with her knife.
It was the boy from 11, the boy with the rock that had been smashed into Clove’s head. He was tall and strong and Cato thought that, if he had been fortunate enough to be born in a Career district, this boy might have been in his alliance. He was holding a sickle, still stained with the blood of previous kills, and he looked starved. He hadn’t been seen the whole Games. Until now, of course.
It was the boy from 11, and it was with her knife. Cato had pulled it off of her before the hovercraft whisked her away. It was tiny and thin and was almost too small for him to grasp the hilt, but it was hers. A final reminder of the girl with the blades as bones. He hit him first with his sword, then carved him to bits. Cato was not as artful as Clove, but he got the job done. And by the time it was done, the boy was dead (he had probably been dead for some time). And Cato was red and fierce and finished.
It was the boy from 11, it was her knife, and it was his final test.
He didn’t pass the last one.