Chapter 1: Part I, Chapter I
Swallowed by a Wave.
I open my eyes to sunlight trickling across the ceiling. District 4 comes fourth, of course. They go in order. Our reaping happens pretty early, but I'm used to getting up early, so I don't mind that part. I think it would be harder to have to wait.
Everything feels different on Reaping Day. Still, I get up and make my bed like it's an ordinary day, all the while knowing that I'm not going out on the boat with Papa and I'm not going to school and I'm not going to do chores and then hang out with my friends in the market.
I don't believe the lies I'm telling myself. It's not an ordinary day. I put on my best dress and that hammers home that things are definitely different today. I must have worn this dress only six or seven times since I got it because it just seems too nice for school or work. It's for special occasions. It's blue and white. Mrs. Mirande made it for me. I don't have a mother to do such things and Mrs. Mirande is happy to; she doesn't have any daughters.
Reaping day is only a special occasion because the Capitol says so, of course. When I was a little girl, there was no such thing. But there was fear then about other things. Planes would roar overhead and I would press my hands against my ears, trying to drown out the worrisome sound. I have a lot of friends without fathers because of those times. It took a while for them to make up their minds on something fittingly ominous and important-sounding, but the Capitol has decided to officially call them the "Dark Days" (at least until some new set of politicians arise who decide that some other moniker is better suited to their purposes and policies).
There are some people who don't like my father, as best as I can tell, simply because he's still around after all that. He would have fought the Capitol like everyone else, he's told me quietly some nights on the boat, but the recruiters wouldn't have him out there holding a gun because of the tremor in his hands. It isn't because he's nervous. When I was small I would hang onto his hands and try to hold them steady. It doesn't matter how hard he focuses- sometimes his hands just shake. He gets around just fine on the boat though and that's what matters when it comes to day to day life.
I can hear him clattering in the kitchen. If it's anyone else, they've broken into our house. Papa and I live alone.
I brush my teeth, fix my hair, and go downstairs. The kitchen smells like coffee and eggs, a pretty normal combination around here. "Hey," I say to Papa. I sit down at the table even though I'm too nervous to be hungry.
"Are you hungry, Mags?"
"Not really," I admit.
"Got to eat your breakfast, even if it's reaping day," Papa stirs the eggs around the pan.
I give it my best shot. Papa is doing the same. The flavor of each bite seems particularly intense this morning. Is it a result of my fear that this might be the last time I share in this familiar meal? Fear is a constant hum in the back of our lives. My whole life there's been fear of one kind or another, just the form has changed.
I wash the dishes and Papa dries them. "Let's walk there together," he says and I agree.
Our house isn't too far from the market square where the reapings take place, although we live on our boat about as much as we live in the house. The house is the better place to stay during the stormy season, and, of course, we stay there for the convenience when we have something planned that requires us to go into town early.
If there were actual cities in 4, this would be our capital. As things are, it's just the biggest town. Papa and I don't live in this town because we're any better off or more important than anyone else in 4, it just happens to be the house where my mother's parents lived. They weren't, socially speaking, any special sorts either. They fished. Of course there are all kinds of other occupations people have in 4, taking care of all the necessary aspects of everyday living, but it's the sea that the Capitol needs us for and things that come from it that inspire whatever love for us they might have for us.
I can see the trembling in Papa's hand as we lock the door and leave the house. He reaches out toward me, tentatively, thinking of holding my hand while we walk like I'm a little girl again, I guess, but doesn't follow through with the action. His fingers twitch and he curls them up into a fist.
I would have let him hold my hand if he had tried. I'm not embarrassed by that kind of thing. And, certainly, on reaping day of all days…
But I feel strange about reaching out for his hand myself and letting him know that I saw.
We reach the highest point between our house and the town center. There's a clear view from here out to the harbor. There are a lot of boats already moored and others coming in alongside them. "There's Odair," Papa points at a beautiful white and orange sail rising from their midst.
The boats and water slowly drift out of sight as the path slopes down into town.
District 4 is large, stretching along most of Panem's coastline. Its citizens live in boats and tiny communities spread from nearly one tip of it to the other, although Capitol efforts are gradually corralling people in closer together to make it easier for them to keep track of us. When it's old people living on the edges of the civilized parts of the district, they don't worry about it too much. It's the people they still might want to use that are important to them- adults to work in ways that will serve the Capitol and its interests; kids who are eligible to take part in their twisted games.
There are tables set up for sign-ins. Officially, everyone is required to be present. There are different lines forming for kids eligible for reaping and for everyone else. The punishments for failing to appear if you're eligible for reaping are the sternest. If your name was called and you weren't there, even if the Capitol managed to get their hands on you later, you would have humiliated them. If there's one thing that is absolutely unforgivable, it's making the rulers in the Capitol look bad. I would hazard that the more people view this embarrassment, the worse one's punishment would probably be. The Capitol doesn't just like to kill people though- they like to make them suffer. So Papa behaves for me and I behave for him and so on and so forth.
I always hate this part of the reaping. I don't like leaving him. The whole event would feel different if we could stand together and hold onto one another while the names were called. "See you soon," he promises me as we separate.
"Not soon enough," I half joke, half agree. Every year I picture myself staring in shock as my name is called. We don't talk about the fact that Papa probably imagines the exact same thing.
The line for girls isn't very straight. "Ooh, Mags, come stand with us," Azzie, a friend of mine from school, calls out and waves me over. No one complains when I cut the line to join her and Tylina. They're closer to each other than they are to me, but out of the girls I know, we're the closest. I've never quite recovered the depth of bonds of friendship I had when I was younger. I lost my best friend a bit too late to make any childhood friendships as strong. Teenage friendships are kind of different.
Each of us is signed in officially in turn and then we go stand in the designated area for "girls, age 17" as the sign says. It's just a section of the square marked off with blue chalk. "Boys, age 17" jostle in the space to the left of us. To a greater or lesser degree, I know the majority of them and those above or below me a year too. The population of 4 is just so small and with the end of the rebellion followed by the beginning of the Games, the repopulation efforts- one of the very few areas in which the Capitol seems willing to reward rather than punish us- aren't exactly catching on. I hardly see how anyone could think they would.
Saigo Kanno catches my eye and grins, flashing a local hand gesture that indicates how much he thinks this stinks. I poke at Tylina, but she doesn't notice in time. A dark-eyed classmate, uh, 'Lito, looks out of the boys' group at us sadly.
I turn my attention aside and try to find Papa in the thicker, unorganized crowd of other, ineligible citizens from 4, but I don't see him. I think it's because I'm too short.
The clock rings out the hour and Mayor Current rises from his seat and approaches the podium. He reads the same story he's read every year since the Hunger Games were instituted; the same litany of rebellion and punishment heard all around the country on this day.
The official airing of the reapings doesn't show the separate mayor of each of the twelve districts reading all of this stuff, or so I've heard. When I was small I'd asked Papa if hearing the history behind the Games twelve times in one day bored the people in the Capitol. A dozen repetitions all in a row like that and it might even lose some of its frightening formality. Papa didn't know. He suggested that I ask my teacher. So back at school the next day, I did. Apparently they only have to hear the tale once a year. The president reads it at the beginning of the reaping day celebrations. The way the reapings are staggered, even the Capitol viewers how spend all day with their eyes fixed on it watch the action in each successive district without having to waste their time on the "boring" parts.
Mayor Current is a stiff reader, but with a son and daughter eligible for reaping, I can't imagine any possible way he could relax. Apple Smitt, only the second escort our district has ever had, is his opposite in this sense. She speaks as easily as she smiles and always appears to be having a lovely time. Maybe she loves the Games. Maybe she's a good actor.
If District 4 had any past victors (that's the official name for the winners- the sole survivors- all glorified and grand), they'd be sitting up on the temporary stage alongside her.
It's supposed to be really amazing for your district if one of your tributes becomes the victor. I saw on TV some examples of the wealth Emmy Pollack's victory brought to her home in District 10. One month, every family received an allotment of sugar. The girl who'd won it all for them watched with a vacant kind of smile from the porch swing of her fancy victor's house as they gave it out. She perked up when some Capitol guy with a wildly waxed beard and hair appeared onscreen with her (they said his name, but he wasn't a known TV personality, so it didn't stick with me). She explained to this guy and a bunch of rowdy kids how to make some peculiar stretchy pink candy. The color matched her funny pointed boots. When the program cut back to Jeff Zimmer and Jack Umber to comment on it, Jack sang a little song. Apparently it was a commercial jingle for a kind of candy in the Capitol. I had never heard of the product, let alone the song. It was something too trendy and frivolous to make its way out here until its popularity in the Capitol had all but faded (I'd give it six months, but no one in 4 will probably have the spare cash to buy any).
Mayor Current finishes. It's Apple's turn now, and, as usual, she's happy, strutting along in the emerald heels that are the darkest part of her green gradient ensemble. There are silver bells in her hair and the microphone picks up their tinkling with every step. "The sea is green, the skies are blue- it's a lovely selection day," she gushes, "But I know you fine people haven't gathered to hear me blather on about the weather. Let's get started. …And it's only polite for girls to go first."
The entire assembly is dead silent as Apple's fingers rustle through the slips of paper. Beside me, Azzie's lips are pinched shut. She's holding her breath. She's certainly not the only one. I take a deep breath. Tylina keeps moving about with nervous energy, shifting her weight back and forth from heel to toe. She's squeezing Azzie's hand so tight I think that's practically the seal that's holding her breath in.
"Faline Beaumont!" Apple chirps. It's a pretty name, particularly the way that Apple says it.
And I think I know it.
Faline Beaumont, with two long pigtails streaming down her back, steps forward. Once she and her friends were playing in the waves hitting a ball back and forth. Someone's hit went wild and the ball smacked me in the head. I remember how red Faline's face was. "I am so, so sorry," she'd apologized to me. And once, Mr. Hawke, who sells fruit in the market, gave her some extra strawberries, and she shared them with me.
It's strange how slow this moment is passing. I have personally known five other kids who were reaped. One of them was my very best friend. All I did when her name was called was stand still in shock. She started to edge forward, but was stopped short because I hadn't let go of her hand. She was twelve years old, just like Faline is. What did I do but hold her back? What can I do here today?
Time moves again.
"I volunteer!" I shout, for a girl who is not my sister, my cousin, my friend, my anything, really. Before today it is true that I knew her name, but much more than that I can't really claim. She is a tiny little girl, so precious certainly to those who know and love her. She has a mother and father and two brothers, but none of them can step up to take her place. She has no sisters. Who are we? Who is District 4, if we can send a twelve year old off to die (because an untrained twelve year old surely will)?
Everyone is looking at me and many of their mouths hang open in shock. There are rules in place that allow for volunteers. There are. The way some of these people are looking I feel the need to reassure myself of that. Even if what I am doing is the height of foolishness when taking my own life and well-being into consideration, at least it has meaning.
"Come," our ridiculous district representative urges, waving her green false fingernails my way, "Come, come here!"
Staring girls part to let me through. I reach Faline. She's staring too. I pass her and climb the rickety wooden stairs up to the platform. Milly and Marc's father built these stairs at the request of our visitors from the Capitol, but not under their supervision. They wobble under my feet and I wonder if he hoped for some stuck-up Capitol citizen to fall awkwardly off of them on live television. If I fall now, I wonder if people will laugh, but fortunately I'm cautious enough and light on my feet. I hop up onto the sturdier platform and shuffle to Apple's side.
She's very thin, and tall for a woman. In her flamboyant outfit of greens, with hints of pink and lilac she looks like a rare and expensive green house orchid. I've never seen one in person, but pictures in books will serve where plants with no practical use are concerned.
"A very happy selection day to you, Miss!" Apple chirps. This is exciting for her, I think, if the way her unnaturally emerald eyes are widening is any indication. "Please," she turns the microphone toward me, "Why don't you let all of us know your name?"
"It's Mags," I say, and my quiet tone wavers and expands within the microphone, "Mags Gaudet." Well, everyone calls me Mags. …Should I have properly identified myself as "Margaret?"
"Mags Gaudet, everyone!" Apple repeats and things aren't so strange and scary when I find myself wanting to roll my eyes and say, "Pretty much all these people know me anyway, Ms. Smitt," except that it would be rude of me. …And I realize after a moment that she's doing it for all the other people who are or who will be watching. People in the other districts. People in the Capitol.
I almost feel like I'm not really there on the platform in front of the cameras. I feel like I'm somewhere else- still out in the crowd, maybe- watching myself and I look half like I'm some stoic lighthouse rising above the sea and half like I'm a seasick Capitol citizen about to faint onto the deck of a shuddering shrimp boat. …If that's what I look like to myself, what do the "viewers at home," like they like to say, think of me?
Faline Beaumont doesn't look anything like me, but she's enough younger that's she's probably not my close friend, so, presumably, Apple doesn't know what else to ask. "And the girl you've volunteered for, Mags, she's your…cousin?"
"No," I tell the truth, "Just a…girl I know." But when I say it like that it sounds weak and empty. Whether or not I am either of those things, the Mags that I want Panem to see is not. I'm probably going to die in a few days (the reality of it doesn't sink in immediately). But not because the Capitol chose me- because I chose myself. "In District Four," I begin, hoping that the words turn out all right, "We make it a priority to take care of our own. I'm sure a lot of you can relate to that. I might not be able to win, but at least I have a chance."
"My, how noble!" Apple responds with a cutesy stage gasp.
I force myself to decorate my face with a tiny smile to accent my modest nod. More than enough time has been spent on me when there's still a boy to draw. I take my seat as indicated and Apple moves on, back to the bowl full of names. The eyes of our District 4 audience are divided about evenly now between Apple and me.
Death is pretty much inevitable, but I hope that I've managed to leave my mark. I am the first volunteer out of District 4. To the best of my knowledge (as seen through the scope of the Capitol's presentation, that is), I am the first tribute who volunteered for someone she barely knew.
I realize there is someone important I have forgotten in my selfish moment. I stop staring at nothing and look at my father. He's frowning, gazing back at me. He probably never took his eyes off me from the moment I called out in the crowd.
It was Papa who taught me how minuscule the difference could be between martyrdom and insanity. Sometimes they're the same thing.
I lift up my hand and send my fingers sailing in a rippling wave. Papa gives an identical wave back.
What's Jeff Zimmer going to say about me during the recap tonight? "Margarete "Mags" Gaudet. Seventeen. A girl with an ace up her sleeve, or really, really stupid?"
Faline Beaumont is crying in her mother's arms. Mrs. Beaumont is crying too, but I can see her face and rate her emotion as relief. Tylina and Azzie and my other friends from school are caught somewhere between relief of their own and shock.
In a way, I'm as surprised as they are. Some feeling that had been building inside of me all these years (did it start when I was twelve, when Aoko, the girl they reaped, was also also twelve and my friend?) had exploded out of me in a way I had never imagined.
It must be because my thoughts are whirling around like they're caught in a hurricane that I miss Apple's lead-in to the boys' drawing. The next words I hear are, "Jean Paul Mirande!"
Lanky and suntanned Jean Paul Mirande. I clutch at the dress I'm wearing. The dress his mother made me. Reapings would be easier if I didn't have so many friends. They call him "Jean Paul," the same way the slips bearing my name would read "Margarete," but everyone who knows him calls him "Beanpole," from the way he's grown up so thin and tall.
The boys part like some strange sea before him, but he walks like a sleepwalker moving against the tide. Once he's finally onstage, he shakes Apple's hand. No one volunteers for Beanpole. Out in the crowd, Papa is moving toward the side of Mrs. Mirande as she faints into the arms of her surrounding relatives. There's a murmur from the crowd as she's looked after.
Mayor Current returns to the podium, but waits a beat before starting to read the Treaty of Treason. He's waiting, I think, to make sure Mrs. Mirande is okay. A tribute's grandfather died from a heart attack on reaping day three years ago. …Or maybe the mayor's brushing away bad memories of the sister and brother tributes from 12 in the Seventh Hunger Games. It's a nightmare that could have repeated with his kids. It could still happen next year.
Mrs. Mirande is white as a sheet, but she's standing again- or possibly being held up by my father and her sister. Beanpole's odds can't be worse than mine, I'd imagine, but Papa seems strong and rock solid compared to her.
Cameras are still trained on his, but based on what I was told previously, I imagine any live coverage of the event has switched over to 5. The mayor finishes with the treaty. This is the part where the tributes shake hands. Maybe it would be different with a boy I don't know, but since it's Beanpole, a handshake feels kind of awkward and stupid. He seems to finally come awake at my touch. We share a tiny smile as the national anthem begins to swell. It's the same standard recorded version as usual. Local musicians performed it in each district for the first few Hunger Games until the band in 11 decided to go off program and play another song in its place. No official statement was made as to the fate of the band, but it's hardly a stretch to guess they faced severe punishment.
"Why're you smiling?" I ask Beanpole as the music fades.
"What else can I do?" he answers.
Chapter 2: Part I, Chapter II
I - II.
What can we do? What can I do? …Can I kill? Maybe I can kill a stranger in self-defense. I won't know unless I find myself in that situation. I don't think there's anyway though that I could kill Beanpole.
"Ms. Gaudet," a Peacekeeper sets her hand on my shoulder and guides me off the platform and into the Justice Building. It's my first, and probably last, time inside it. There are watercolor paintings of sailboats on the walls. Beanpole is being lead along behind me until I'm pulled aside to sit in a small room by myself.
I feel like I've inherited Papa's tremor, except it runs through my whole body, not just my hands. How well do I remember the nice little things about home? Because I am never going to make it back there again. I'm glad to have a place to sit down. The rattan chair creaks as I settle my weight onto it. They're probably processing Papa in right now. Every tribute is given an hour to say good-bye. The less people one has to say farewell to, the more time one gets with those people, I suppose.
…I hope that my school friends will keep the pact we made about this a few weeks ago- the same one we remake in some form every year. If I were picked, I asked them not to come to leave me more time with Papa. Azzie wanted everyone to visit if it were her. Tylina said she'd leave it up to us.
I wonder what, if anything, this room is used for when it's not being employed for this sad and dramatic purpose.
The door opens and Papa comes in. He takes the other chair, pushed aside into the corner and pulls it up close to me. "You're brave like your mother," he says right off. "You do all the things that she would do. The things that I never could."
Papa has never seemed cowardly to me. "You're brave too," I answer back.
"No." There are depths to his look as he says that single word that I'm not sure I'm even meant to understand. I'm nervous that he's going to ask me now why I did it; what I was thinking, and I'm not going to have any reasonable answer to give. What I said on the stage, was that really me? But he doesn't ask that. Even if that question occupies his thoughts, it's too late and nothing I say will make any difference in regard to whether or not I go away to the Capitol and the Games.
"Mags," my father says, "Margarete." His face is very pale. "If you don't come back, you'll understand if I have to go with you, right?" Maybe this is what he means when he says he isn't brave. When my mother died, he had me to keep going for. If I die, he's just a middle-aged fisherman in an empty house and an empty boat. His supposed cowardice during the rebellion keeps him on the outs with many of the men.
I'm starting to feel a little dizzy as the enormity of this burden congeals over me. It's good that I'm sitting down. I wouldn't want to faint- to look so weak (even if I'm not on camera now), to waste the time I have left with my father. "I," I stammer, "I hope you wouldn't but…" It's bad enough that I'm forcing Papa to watch me go. Whatever he does after me is up to him. "But I can't say I wouldn't understand."
"Thank you," he holds my hand. Is his grasp really that warm or am I feeling abnormally cold? The air inside is as mild as the weather outside.
I don't have any other family members to talk to. We can afford a few moments of silence. Though eventually I have to ask it. "…Do you think I can win, Papa?"
"You want my honest opinion?"
That makes it sound like his answer will be no. I tense up a bit. "Of course."
"I think that maybe you could."
That isn't the answer I'm expecting. He actually smiles- I must look so incredulous. "No," I protest.
"Yes," he squeezes my hand, once purposefully, then a slight aftershock of his tremor follows it, "I think you might be able to. But if you do win, that might be the hardest thing you ever have to do. Mags, you're so kind."
"You're imagining yourself in my place," I say, because Papa is the kind one here. He's the kindest person I know.
"It would be the most amazing thing I've ever seen," he shakes his head, "If you could win and still stay kind."
I can't know what I'll do in the arena until I'm there. That's what all the victors say. I don't think I'm half as kind as Papa thinks I am, but I can't see myself any other way than I am now. "I'm not sure how realistic that would be, but, of course, I want the same thing." More silence follows, as we agonize inside our own minds. I'm not good at knowing what to say at moments like this. Papa is better, but this is a particularly difficult situation. It's no wonder that we're silently reeling at what has happened- at what I've done- like this.
"Mrs. Beaumont and her little girl are here too. So, this is probably good-bye for now."
"Oh, uh…" It makes sense that they want to talk to me, but after volunteering I became so caught up in my own wild thoughts (and second-guessing?) that it became less about Faline and more about me (and Papa and Beanpole and all the other people who were tied more directly to these Games through my actions or otherwise). "For now," I say.
Someone taps on the door. Papa gives me a tight hug, but I can still feel his hands shaking, and kisses me on the forehead before he steps away. A Peacekeeper opens the door and he backs away, but never turns his face from mine. "I'll be watching you every moment they allow me," he promises.
"I'll be thinking of you," I reply, and wiggle my fingers again in the tentative sort of wave I offered during the ceremony. It's not a goodbye forever wave. It's just goodbye for now.
The space Papa occupied is soon filled by Faline and Mrs. Beaumont. Faline is teary. Her mother, though outwardly composed, is, I can see, trembling with nervous energy. It only takes a few more seconds before both of them are hugging me. "You saved me!" Faline gasps out.
"I guess so," I agree, and, feeling very weak, hug her back. …What is it like to have a sister?
Her mother releases me first, and when it looks like I'm still not breathing, she puts her hand on Faline's shoulder and subtly convinces her to do the same. "…You're my hero. Really," Faline reiterates the importance of what I've done for her in the context of her life. "If you win- If you win, Mags, you'll be everyone's hero."
"Ha ha," I laugh awkwardly. What do I say?
"Whether or not you win," Mrs. Beaumont says, "What you said at the reaping puts some pressure on District Four. It goes against most people's instincts to volunteer, even for someone they're close to. Individually, that's a terrible burden to bear but, communally, we have to take responsibility somehow."
"No one should feel forced to volunteer themselves," I pipe up. That no one should actually be forced to volunteer goes without saying.
"When you get back," Faline says, "You can use all the free time you'll suddenly have to work on it."
"Get a head start on thinking about it before I'm back then," I sort of joke, "You're going to be my assistant on this. It's hardly the kind of problem one person can solve by herself."
Faline starts sniffling again. I wonder why I haven't cried any. I think it's just so startling. Just because, intellectually, I know this is real doesn't mean it's sinking in. I'll probably cry a bunch when District 4 is receding behind me.
"Do you have a token?" Faline asks through the tears she's wiping on the shoulder of her pretty lavender dress.
"I hadn't thought about that." Every tribute is allowed to wear a token into the arena, but I'm not sure if all of them take advantage of this tiny concession. For some tribes, I think it might actually be better not to avail themselves of this opportunity. Thinking too much about home can be a liability. I can't know now if I am one of those tributes who will ruin themselves by being unable to mentally leave their district behind (although to the viewers at home it may be obvious from the moment I set foot in the arena).
The winner of the Third Games, Hector Auric, talked a lot about how his life in 2 was in his thoughts as he fought. "I just told myself to do what I did in Two," he explained in the interview that proceeded his crowning.
"And what is it you do in Two, Hector?" the flashy Jeff Zimmer prompted him.
"I swing a sledgehammer and break rocks."
And what do I do? I go to school and I fish. I've never heard any victor claim that something they learned in school led to their victory (not to imply that it didn't, but obviously not consciously), so should I approach this like fishing? I find there's something creepy about that as a strategy. It's one thing when little kids chase fish around in the shallows. Most of the time when you're catching fish, you're tricking them.
"Take my ring then," Faline pushes what would have been her token upon me. It makes sense for me to take this now that I've stepped into her shoes, so to speak.
The ring is salmon pink. It was carved from a piece of coral. I think that might be what Faline's family does- make coral jewelry. Is it popular in the Capitol? Faline wears the ring around her middle finger, but my hands are bigger, so after examining it I slip it onto the ring finger of my right hand. "Thank you. It's really beautiful."
"…After your Games, you and I will be friends, right?"
I hope this little girl can get over her disappointment. "Yeah, of course." Doing otherwise would hardly be my decision.
The Peacekeepers enter without knocking, but my visitors don't resist. "Come back soon, Mags," are the last words I can make out from Faline.
I don't have much time to reflect on the things we've said here before Apple appears to collect me. Beanpole isn't crying when he joins us a second later, but he keeps sniffing in a way that lets me know he was.
It makes sense to cry at a time like this. I think most of the girl tributes cry and many of the boys do as well. The winner of the Eighth Games, from District 9, didn't shed a tear from her reaping day until her crowning, at which point a single tear ran down her perfect chestnut cheek. "As distant as the moon," they described her, "As cold as the hoarfrost." Sunny and Shy and Emmy, the other female victors, all cried at some point. Sunny Lightfoot, from 6, was pretty much hysterical for most of her time in the arena, but by her crowning she was calm and poised.
There's a car waiting for us behind the Justice Building. "Cool wheels," Beanpole perks up enough to note.
"If you like this, you would love the car I own back in the Capital," Apple sighs, "I'll have to get a picture of it to show you. I don't think our schedule will allow for a ride."
"If he wins, you should let him drive your car," I suggest, trying to cheer him up.
"You can drive, Jean Paul?" Apple regards him with one perfectly arched raised eyebrow.
"Uh, I can sail a boat," Beanpole offers, "How much harder could it be?"
Apple, Beanpole, and I all pile into the backseat together. The two of them bicker a bit about cars and make Peacekeeper Bryant, a regular in District 4, not one of these rushed in with the camera crews, laugh at them. I've only ridden in a car a few times in my life. They aren't very common in 4. The ride inland to the train station is quick compared to a walk there, but bumpier because of the speed involved. The cameramen are set up on the train platform. I can see the eyes of several curious cameras trained on our car as we arrive. Some are the same ones from the reaping ceremony, others are different. We get out of the car and Apple chats with one of the reporters. None of them ask us anything, and I assume they aren't supposed to.
"Come along," Apple guides us up onto the train. I've never been inside a train before, let alone ridden one. Trains are for the transport of goods and Capitol business. I've visited the station before as a kid though to watch them come and go.
There's that train whistle. We'll go in a second. I realize that some of the cameras can still see us through the window. How should I react? I decide to try and give them a smile. The train jerks to a start and I stumble, but at least I don't hit the ground.
"Are you okay?" Beanpole asks me.
"Fine," I shift my weight and stand up straight again, "Just stupid."
"Admitting that one is foolish is a necessary step to proceed in acquiring some polish," Apple tells me, "It's like finishing school." She laughs at her own private joke.
"Is it, uh, going to be a long ride to the Capitol?" Beanpole inquires.
Not at this speed, I'd guess. Trees and hills and vast empty wild lands are passing us by. I can't even be sure we're still in District 4 anymore. There are scars from missile impacts evident, dips in the ground although they're covered over in clumps of short, thin plants.
"Only a few hours," Apple informs us. "We'll have a nice lunch together on the train, but dinner will be in the Capitol."
Nothing much to say to that. "Oh, okay." Beanpole sniffs again. Just because he's stopped crying doesn't mean his runny nose wants to cooperate.
"The two of you are at your leisure until lunch," Apple dismisses us. "Have a look around, relax, have a seat," she gestures in an empty, florid manner.
"What are you going to do?"
"I am going to tune into the live selection broadcast and hope that I can still catch a little of that pompous fool Selenius Prime in Seven."
A name like that has got to be Capitol. "The escort with the blue facial tattoos?" I ask.
"The very same!"
"Is he your rival or something?" Beanpole chimes in.
"Since finishing school," Apple half scowls, half smiles. I can see she takes some pleasure in the annoyance.
"Well, don't let us keep you," I encourage her.
"Thank you then, Margarete, Jean Paul," she curtsies and excuses herself, heading forward into the next car.
"What kind of guy would have a rivalry with a lady like that?" Beanpole wonders aloud after a moment of silence has elapsed in Apple's wake.
"One who cares a lot about his hair," I offer my best guess, which makes both of us snicker. "Maybe it's about Kayta Hiro."
"Seven's got a victor and we don't."
If we did, that person would be with us right now, giving us tips or whatever it is victors do for their tributes at this point. In 6, the tributes each have their own victor to work with, as the only distract thus far to have a matched set- one male and one female victor. 2 has victors also, both big, powerful guys. I wonder if they work with their tributes each year the same as the ones from 6 or if they have to trade off or something.
"He carves miniatures animal figurines, doesn't he?" Beanpole reflects further.
"'Net-ski?'" I try to recall the peculiar word that he used to describe hem.
"Yeah, something like that."
The districts with victors have an edge. We won't be left completely to our own devices, but the person who will coach us is in the Capitol. He or she is just a cog in the machine, not some tortured reminder of what the Capitol plans on doing to us. Tributes with victors to talk to get a head start. Obviously, based on the spread of where the past eleven victors have come from, it's possible to win without one though.
"Can I ask you something morbid?" Beanpole drops into a chair and slouches over.
"Uh, go ahead." No point in avoiding the truth of the situation. I keep seeing Papa's sad face over and over in my mind. Should my biggest hope at this point be, "Please let me die in a quick and not terribly painful way?"
"What moment out of the past Games sticks with you the most? I think everyone- everyone around our age, at least, has gotta have one. The one you have nightmares about where you're part of the situation."
"What's yours?" I ask in reply. Beanpole definitely has one after telling me all of that.
"I'm a wimp," he states, "I have too many. You were making me think about Kayta Hiro though. …Stabbing that guy from, uh, Eleven, I think, and his sword getting stuck between the guy's ribs and him putting his foot against the dying kid's chest to help him pull it out. …I think I'd be a little scared to meet Kayta. …Maybe a District Four victor would be different, since they'd be one of ours and all, but I don't know… I'm not sure it bothers me that we don't have a victor to help us out."
"Jack Umber," I say succinctly, "Spitting out his teeth."
"Out of everything that's ever happened in the Games, that's it for you?" Beanpole isn't accusing or really laughing at me, but it's clear that we've been effected by the Games in different ways.
"Well, of course it's impossible to know entirely why something freaks you out if it didn't actually happen to you, but I think part of it is that I had my first loose tooth around that time and it made me sort of nervous. Then I see, in high definition detail, as this guy gets punched in the head and smacked around with a board and spits out two of his teeth in a handful of goopy blood. It took me a very long time to stop being afraid of losing my teeth after that."
"It is the stuff you see when you're little that's really seared into you, huh? I mean, I remember last year's Games just fine, but the year before that? The whole thing's kind of a blur of tall grass and Pal Fields going camouflage. But Jack and Teejay and Hector and Kayta? And the kids who died around them? I don't think I'd forget them even if I lived to be one hundred."
"The Capitol wants you to remember." I'm not sure exactly what I even mean by it. That's just how it is.
"They want me to have nightmares?"
"Sure? Why not?" I let out a wry laugh.
"Stinking Capitol." Beanpole pulls his legs up into the chair and leans his head on his knees.
I'm aching to do something. All sitting around will do is give me more time to freak out. "I'm going to check the train out," I state my intent, "You want to come?"
"Maybe I'll catch up to you. I'm just not feeling it, Mags."
"Oh, okay." Beanpole's more sensitive than I am, and probably smarter too. Little wonder it would get to him. There isn't anything I can really do for him though. I feel bad as I move to follow Apple's footsteps to the next car. There are two compartments, one on either side of the hall. A hand-written card on the door to the right reads "Margarete." The one on the left says "Jean Paul," as I expected.
I double back to the train car I came from, "There's a room for you, Beanpole." It would be kind of sad if he didn't even hear about it.
"What?" he lifts his tousled head and eyes me, confused.
"Really," I encourage him.
He hops to his feet and strides after me, his curiosity piqued. He rushes ahead to reach the door. "This must be Apple's handwriting." Well, it is in green ink, so… Beanpole flings open his door and looks inside the plush, but modest compartment, "Huh! How about some comfort before we die? Thank you, Mags, this is exactly what I wanted."
Now I'm the one who's confused.
"A pillow to put my head in," he explains and promptly enters the space provided for him and lies down on his stomach on the bed with his face in the pillow, leaving his door wide open. It scares me. I can picture him dead like that. I abandon my exploration now to go into my own room and close the door. Not to imply that I think I'll survive, but seeing that, I'm left with the eerie feeling that Beanpole won't either. I hope I don't see that.
I walk over to my bed and lay down, staring up at the gray ceiling. I'm not even going to entertain the idea of a scenario where either Beanpole or I are forced to kill the other. Frankly, the other tributes would have to be incompetent for it to come to that. …I'm not sure I could even give Beanpole a mercy kill, like one of the guys from 2 did for his partner when her stomach was slashed open.
What's the better thing to do? Try to strategize, even with so many unknown factors awaiting in the arena, or do my best not to think about it? I think if I had a past victor here to talk to, that's the thing I would want to ask him or her most. If I don't make up my mind, I won't fully commit either way and all I'll end up doing is wasting my time.
What did you do, Emmy Pollack? What are you telling your tributes, Luna Vetiver? What would you suggest to me, Jack Umber?
Actually, I think I know what Jack might say. This is evidence that he has been on television too much in the past eleven years.
Thinking about something so borderline ridiculous reignites my spirit of curiosity. I start up slowly, examining the room I'm in. There's a bathroom with a shower, a painting of some flowers I can't identify on the wall, and even clothes in the drawers of the dressers. I assume that since Apple didn't directly tell either of us to change, she considers us at least presentable. Still… I wonder… Even if the drawing is rigged (sometimes Rylan and Azzie and I would discuss this possibility), they couldn't have known an unrelated entity would volunteer… Would these clothes fit me? I pull out a puffy white dress and hold it up against myself. It looks like it would. And I may be on the slight side, but there's a large difference between Faline and me. Interesting.
I fold the dress up and put it back. I want to keep wearing my own clothes as long as possible.
The Capitol is inland and up in the mountains though. It makes me wonder if I should look for a sweater. I don't like being cold.
I short through the available garments. The best thing I can find is a floral scarf. I toss it around my shoulders and resume my investigations, leaving my compartment for other parts of the train. In the next car, there are two spaces set aside, but the doors are locked. They'd probably be used by victors, if we had any. Next is a dining room. A pretty Avox with really long blond hair is setting the table for lunch. I've never met an Avox before. They're made by, and work in, the Capitol. THe look she gives me is so neutral I can't guess what she thinks about me.
"Sorry to interrupt," I apologize, brushing around the edge of the room.
The Avox shakes her head and carries on with her work.
For some reason I feel kind of embarrassed. The moment I'm in the next car I pause and take a deep breath. And then I see Apple is sitting there on a small couch. She's taken her eyes away from the television to look at me. "Margarete?" She does that eyebrow-raising thing again.
"Really, you can call me 'Mags," I tell her, coming forward and around the couch to sit down with her. I keep some space between us. Apple has been nothing but hospitable, but it's not like I really know her. And she's Capitol too and probably twice my age at least. It's nothing personal, but there's blood between my people and hers. Suddenly, I find I'm wondering how Apple was affected by the Dark Days.
Onscreen, the District 9 reaping is going on. Their victor, Luna, is wearing a trailing headdress of feathers and examining her nails. The whole affair appears to bore her. Her behavior has the plump woman beside her, presumably the mayor of 9, squirming uncomfortably in her seat. The mayor and Luna share similar coloration, but in every other regard, they hardly seem like they could be more dissimilar.
"What's she like?" I ask on an impulse.
"Denia?" Apple thinks for a moment that I mean the jewel-clad escort. "Oh, Luna," she realizes. "She is not a very nice girl. I wouldn't encourage you to have anything to do with her given the opportunity."
I snicker. "Who's acceptable, then?"
"Are you making fun of me, Miss Gaudet?" Apple pushes.
"No, no," I rush to say, "I'm just curious."
We sit in silence as a chubby girl is called and takes her place onstage. The boy who's picked passes out. "Laurence Vetiver." He has the same last name as Luna. The camera cuts to her sienna red face, which is suddenly three shades paler. Her previously narrow eyes are as googly and wide as a squid's.
But there's a volunteer. Fortunately for Luna's nephew? Cousin? Brother? Luna grits her teeth, but color returns to her cheeks. After some investigative questions, it's determined that the boy who was called is Luna's brother and the one who took his place is her cousin. Is a victor's family member reaped through bad luck like the rest of us, or is it fixed? This is only the second time I have seen the close relative of a victor called. The other was the sister of Teejay Atticus. She tripped and sprained her ankle right off at the Cornucopia. It must have been awful for her family to watch and the bad start probably only added to the agony. She survived for three days. …There haven't been related victors yet.
"Sunny and Shy and Pal are all commendable young people," Apple answers me belatedly after the District 9 drama has played out in front of us. Luna's brother has been revived, but still looks pale and woozy.
"If one of us wins, Beanpole or I will automatically be your favorite, right?"
"Of course. …Even if you are rather cheeky."
The scene onscreen has shifted to District 10. There are a lot of hats in evidence in the crowd. "Well, come on now," Apple stands up and directs me to follow her, "Let's have some lunch." She instructs me to sit down at the dining table and wait while she goes to retrieve Beanpole. The blond Avox is standing to the side of the car with a tray and a dark-skinned male Avox has joined her. I stare uncomfortably at the table until Apple returns with Beanpole trailing behind her. I think about Papa. Is he having lunch on his boat or is he too upset to eat?
When Apple takes her seat, she gestures to the Avoxes, who come and pour our drinks. It's a blend of orange juice and some other fruit I can't identify. There's a bowl of soup and a chicken sandwich set before me. Apple encourages both of us to eat whatever fruit and crackers we like from the various bowls on the table. I feel like I'm at Mayor Current's annual New Years' party with so many things laid out for me to choose from. After several large spoonfuls of blueberries, it occurs to me that I should probably be careful not to make myself sick. There's more food on the table than Beanpole, Apple, and I are intended to eat. …Will the Avoxes eat when we're finished?
"So much for lunch conversation," Apple remarks. From the look on her face, I think something about the way we eat amuses her, but it's not like she hasn't met a dozen District 4 kids before us.
"Sorry," Beanpole wipes his fingers on his napkin, "I got carried away."
"The food's really good," I add.
"I thought you might appreciate a meal that didn't contain fish."
Ugh. I wish I were eating fish. I wish I were home frying fish in batter or stirring shrimp in a pan or salting squid to dry. If I get the opportunity to eat food more like the stuff back home, should I take it?
"And if you two are ready, there's also desert." The Avoxes clear away some of the dishes to make room for a fairytale sort of cake covered in cherries and pineapple slices and flakes of coconut.
"I would have been happy eating just this," I announce after my first bite.
"You would get sick if I let you eat nothing but this cake." I detect a hint of remembrance and regret in Apple's tight, toothless smile. "It's too sweet." This probably isn't the right time to ask about it. Beanpole's been eating just as heartily as I have and I don't want to upset him unnecessarily.
And even with that warning, I still eat more cake than I should. The Avoxes smile when Beanpole and I thank them for the great meal, but Apple tells us that it's not necessary. Beanpole protests that our families taught us manners. Our families both go way back to Norleans, a city the existed sometime before Panem, or so says Mrs. Mirande. It shows in our names. Honestly though, the roots of everyone in District 4 are all mixed up, so I'm not sure how much it matters where the forefathers of my father came from, because the ancestors of my mother came from more than somewhere else anyway.
Beanpole and I both go along with Apple this time and see the District 11 reaping is in progress. Beanpole points out a man in the crowd who looks like Mr. Kiet, the school principal. District 11's Mr. Kiet lookalike keeping wiping his fat face with handkerchief does like ours does. We stop joking around though when the selection process begins. My stomach shifts unpleasantly from all the fancy food. It's a bad combination.
I excuse myself to wash my face and lie down on my bed. I stare at the painting on the wall because looking toward the window as the country rushes by only makes me feel sicker. Eventually I close my eyes. I wish I could go to sleep until I feel better, but as emotionally exhausting as the day has been so far, I can't manage it. I decide that I'll at least spare myself the last of the live reaping footage. The recap tonight with all the chipper announcer commentary will be easier to swallow. I'm interested in what remarks will be made about Luna Vetiver and her family in 9. Alternately, I hate to think of how awkward and embarrassing it will be to watch myself volunteer.
When I do return to the parlor sort of compartment, Apple's watching a rather raucous gossip program and Beanpole is sleeping with his head on an arm of the couch and drool pooling by his cheek. With how bothered he was, I'm surprised he can nap. Maybe the big meal put him to sleep.
Jeff Zimmer, one of the hosts of the Games- the personable one who always interviews the tributes- was photographed out having dinner with a woman whose (insert scandalized gasp here) gray roots were showing! Apple tsks disapprovingly over this and invites me to sit down with her. I sit politely through the show until it cutes to commercials.
"Do you have a favorite tribute?" I ask. If Beanpole can sleep through this silly show, my regular speaking voice shouldn't disturb him any.
"Between the two of you?"
"No." Either way, I don't want to know that. "I mean overall. Of all your time working as an escort."
"Oh," she sighs, "When you go through the training program for this job, they tell you not to get too attached- the odds are against it turning out. But just being told that doesn't cut it for some of us. …And there was this tiny little boy. Simon Belair."
I didn't know Simon, but I remember. I remember Cela, his sister, the only family he had. She drowned herself the day he died.
"Oh, his big green eyes and his messy blond mop of hair. I wanted to take him home with me."
"You let him get sick eating cake," I guess.
"Well, he wasn't even five feet tall. I didn't see any way he wouldn't be slaughtered. Might as well let the boy have his cake.”
I wouldn't like to be an escort. I wonder what made Apple sign up. Competition with her old finishing school rivals? The desire to be on TV? She rustles around in her shimmering handbag. It looks like it's covered in iridescent fishing scales. I bet she reserves this as her "visiting District 4" bag.
"I don't show this to people back him because it would be seen as terribly sentimental of me and maybe a tad unprofessional, but I imagine you'll understand."
From between a few slices of plastic- I can see that one is an official identification card- Apple pulls a photograph. In it, Apple, fixated at that time on a different shade of green than she's sporting now, sits beside Simon Belair. Her smile is huge. His is tentative. "The audience ate that boy up," she tells me as she gives me time to study the photo," But no matter how much the audience screams and wails, once the Games begin, there's no influencing what goes on in the arena."
"I'm sorry," I return her memento and she tucks it carefully away.
"We're- well, some of my friends and I- we're circulating a petition to institute some way for the feelings of the viewers at home to have an impact. Two other escorts have signed it. We're hoping some victor support for it might attract signees with deeper pockets."
"Sounds…" What? "Interesting."
"I mean, as an escort, I probably wouldn't be allowed to make a direct contribution, but someone could."
"Just people in the Capitol, or back home in Four or wherever too?"
"Anyone with a telephone and a bank account. …It could help pay for the Games." Apple seems proud to be involved in such a well-developed endeavor. "It's just not fun to watch with the odds stacked so high that the biggest, meanest brute put in there will win."
"They don't always," I note, but being pretty far from a big, mean brute myself, I wouldn't be adverse to something that could even the battlefield.
"I prefer the clever ones." This explains her liking for Shy Evert and Pal Fields- they both worked a bit of the brains over brawn angle in their Games (her third "nice victor," Sunny Lightfoot, didn't meet the "big, mean brute" criteria either, but as far as I could tell, she had basically no strategy of any kind).
The compartment suddenly dims. My eyes shoot to the window and are met with darkness. "It's a tunnel," Apple explains, "It will take us straight through the mountains to the Capitol."
"So we're pretty close. …Should I way up Beanpole and tell him to wash his face?'
"That would be excellent, dear."
I try to think of something funny to whisper in his ear as a wakeup call, but nothing comes to mind. "Hey, Beanpole," I nudge his shoulder, "We're almost there." He groggily staggers off to wash up and get himself together.
He's back in time not to miss a moment of our entry into the Capitol's grandeur. It comes in a blast of light. I blink at the brightness. We leave the tunnel and find ourselves back under a beautiful blue sky. The Capitol is pristine and colorful. Unlike in District 4, there are no indications that war ever marred this fantastic landscape. …Maybe it didn't. Beanpole gravitates to a window and, gradually, I sidle up beside him.
Chapter 3: Part I, Chapter III
Maybe they don't know who we are specifically (is there anything on the outside of the tribute trains that distinguishes them from other another?), but as we get in close to where the citizens of the Capitol are, walking, working, going about their business, people start to wave at us. "Woah," Beanpole describes his reaction to it. We laugh, and start to wave back. When I glance back at Apple, she seems to approve of this choice.
The cheery accolades come to an abrupt stop when we pull into the station. The whole place is blocked off, keeping the prying eyes of the public away again for a while longer. Two cameramen are the only ones, aside from the train station staff, to observe our arrival. Apple chats with one of them she apparently knows. They don't ask us any questions (they aren't reporters), content to film us as we get off the train and stare at the enormous station in awe. They won't bother to show all the footage taken of such a mundane moment as this, but, you never know, there might be some moment of pre-game commentary that requires a little filler. If one of us wins, there might also be some use for it then.
Someday in the future, there will be victors from every district. Some boy or girl who hails from each region is bound to be strong enough, clever enough, lucky enough to win sooner or later. The odds would back me up there.
But there haven't been winners from every district. Not yet. These are only the 12th Hunger Games.
When we have available victors from every district, they're going to be called upon to help coach the new tributes, the head game maker said on air. They'll be called "mentors." It will be official. District 4 has not had a winner yet. Perhaps it will be Beanpole. …Who's to say it couldn't even be me? -Not that I believe that will happen. I won't be holding my breath.
It's just that stranger things have been known to occur. Each time the game is played, I think it gets a bit trickier. I don't remember much of the actual events of the first Hunger Games as I actually saw them- I was only five years old at the time- but the echo of memory I have left of them is focused entirely on the brutality. There wasn't all that much strategy involved. Most of the killing was straightforward. It took a few years of watching as the rules were refined and the idea of the Games as not just a punishment for the Districts, but entertainment for the Capitol sunk in for more complex tactics to emerge.
The victor of the first Hunger Games won for mainly two reasons: he was strong enough to kill and he was willing to do it. You still see it on TV sometimes when they play highlights from the last eleven Games- Jack Umber, of District One, bruised and bloody, grinning into the camera, three dark spaces visible in his smile. He lost four teeth in his struggles with some of the bigger, wilder boys and girls- the ones you could tell were survivors. It was the impossible odds that killed them. Even equally desperate, only one could win.
The Capitol replaced Jack Umber's missing teeth. If he had wanted, I heard it said, the new teeth could have been made of gold or silver or inlaid with gems. If he had been Capitol, he probably would have. Some people there decorate their teeth that way in the name of some strange Capitol idea of fashion. Previously I knew this only from watching television. Now I know because of our coach.
"This is the man currently assigned to mentor the tributes from District 4," Apple explains cheerfully, "Aulus Strong."
"The name is kind of inspiring," Beanpole admits, which is his way of letting off steam. Humor can be a defense mechanism of sorts.
"You may not want to get too attached to that idea," Aulus gives us a neat little frown. His eyelids, I notice, are painted purple. I wonder if all men in the Capitol wear such bright makeup. I only know a few men in District 4 who do so and none of them proceed in such a brilliant manner- they're accenting something, not making themselves into peacocks. As a matter of fact, I don't know any women from District 4 who aim for this kind of look either. But his makeup doesn't make a difference. Whether he's any help or not, Aulus Strong is the man we've got. At least his arms and his chest, pressing against his tight lilac shirt, show some muscle definition. Our coach may not know much about killing, but at least he regularly gets off his couch.
"This is Jean Paul Mirande and Margaret Gaudet," Apple introduces us.
"He's Beanpole and I'm Mags," I add with a shrug.
The nicknames appear to cheer Aulus up again. "Who gave you those names?" he asks and I allow myself to believe that his interest is genius.
"Just people," Beanpole relaxes a bit, trying to be as casual as I am, "Around."
"My dad," I offer.
"I want a nickname," Aulus says.
"We'll think about it," I compromise.
"Maybe if you can help one of us win," Beanpole adds.
"District Four, you're going to run me ragged!" Aulus holds the door for all of us as we climb into the official car Apple has called. We're whisked off to our current holding place. Our "home away from home." The Training Center, where the whole fourth floor is ours. Riding in the elevator makes me dizzy.
There won't be any official training in the basement until tomorrow (we've arrived ahead of about half the other tributes), but if we choose to spend our leisure engaging in some light exercise, no one's going to complain. Aulus sets up a dartboard and coaches us in improving our aim. I doubt it's going to make or break either of our game plans, but it couldn't possibly hurt either. After our arms and shoulders tire of the game, we sit down and chat about tactical maneuvers from past Games, discussing what was done right or wrong in any particular situation. Water is important; fire can be a hazard or a help depending on the situation; be careful if you find any wildlife you think you can eat. Aulus is sort of funny in a way that makes me want to say funny things back to him. Eventually, Apple, who had business elsewhere (doing paperwork concerning our arrival, I think) shows up and summons us to dinner.
Beanpole heads off with her, but Aulus holds me back a moment. "In the arena, do you think you'll be able to keep up that attitude and shoot off a few quips?"
I shake my head. "Um, sorry, I don't know. I don't know what it will be like."
"You're a funny girl. Every tribute has got to think about what kind of image he or she wants to present. To the viewers here you'll be a character, not a person. So continuity of character is good." Aulus pats my shoulder and lets me go, owing along after me as I skitter into the dining room.
I wonder how my volunteering will be played in the upcoming recap. Am I brave or stupid or nice? I'm not funny there.
Apple has us arranged at the table so I sit next to her and across from Aulus. Yet again, the food is excessive. There's roast duck and spicy mashed potatoes, a salad of fruit bits and colored marshmallows, a bowl of red, jewel-like seeds that Apple has to tell me come from a pomegranate. No wonder so many tributes asked for their impressions of the Capitol talk about the food.
"Are there any strategic reasons to hold back when it comes to eating now?" I ask, pausing over a scoop of pitted cherries mixed into pink yogurt.
"I can't think of anything," Aulus shrugs, "Just try not to make yourself sick. Every tribute will be doing just as you are."
With his blessing, I surrender to the delights of the dinner table.
Our last scheduled activity for the night is watching the recaps. It's sort of funny when, as the first reaping is shown, Jack Umber, who was seated onstage for that very event, joins Jeff Zimmer and Longinus Bronze in their commentary in the studio. District 1 is close to the Capitol, so little time would have been required for transit, but I feel sort of sorry for the tributes who were left behind so Jack could do work in some television studio. If he spent more time with his tributes, would 1 have scored a repeat win by now?
Jack jokes about how hungover the mayor 1 appears, talks up how great he thinks the tributes from 1 are this year, and suggests fans of the Games get involved by writing the Gamemakers in support of fan sponsorship of players. Apple is, understandably I think, pretty much thrilled beyond belief that Jack Umber of all people just mentioned the project she's involved with during official Games programming. She squeals and squeezes Aulus' hand, but the show doesn't pause for her joy.
In District 2, the tributes look muscular and strong. The boy from 3 wears glasses. I cover my eyes with my hands as soon as I scream out that I volunteer. Was that only this morning? It feels like ages ago. Mr. Zimmer and Mr. Bronze comment on how unusual my action is, although technically the rules have always allowed for such a thing. The three men discuss whether or not I have a strategy in mind. Mr. Zimmer thinks I do, Mr. Bronze thinks I don't, and Jack thinks it doesn't matter either way because once you're in the arena there are too many unpredictable elements.
It makes sense that they have comparatively less to say about Beanpole after my wild performance. Mr. Bronze thinks it looks like we know one another and he likes that (he thinks it adds drama). I note that our nicknames have been listed with our names.
"I put in some additional paperwork for that," Apple explains, "After spending time with you, it was obvious that "Mags" and "Beanpole" are definitely the better monikers for who everyone will be seeing onscreen. Simple names are easier for the commentators too."
I'll die as "Mags" then, with everyone in Panem feeling like they know me.
"Bronze says our names so weird," Beanpole allows himself one carefully rationed chuckle.
The recap marches on. 5's tributes don't stand out. The girl from 6 is beautiful. The guy from 7 is huge. Apple makes a lot disgusted noises whenever the District 7 escort is onscreen. Past victor Pal Fields breaks form in 8 to engage in a bunch of handshaking and back-slapping with the District 8 boy, who he obviously knows (and must have a lot of faith in the abilities of, Jack points out).
The drama I witnessed live in District 9 receives a lot of attention, as I expected. Footage from Luna's victory tour is queued up to remind us that she is one of eight children. I can't imagine how anyone outside of the Capitol could manage to feed eight children if they weren't a victor themselves, but Mr. Zimmer acts like the Vetivers are some awesome shining example of family and we should all put the Dark Days behind us and make babies. Along with her seven siblings, Luna has fourteen cousins. Maybe big families are common in 9. I have none of either, but I'd venture that Beanpole is pretty much like my cousin. The importance of family is commented on further in regard to the strong response given to her brother's selection by a victor often described as cold as the frozen winter soil. Jack says something about how Laurence in the sibling Luna is closest to- I think- but Mr. Bronze talks over him about how exciting it will be when the children of past victors can be possible tributes.
Jack is thrown off by something for once. He gapes for a second as Mr. Zimmer teases him about getting married and having some kids, but recovers before it becomes troubling and laughs along with them. He then takes the opportunity to joke around with this further, shifting the burden to Kayta Hiro, who he thinks should propose to his longtime girlfriend back in 7 or stop leading her on. A photograph of Kayta at some kind of victor event, with his arm around a small girl who barely comes up to his shoulder, is put onscreen for our benefit. She has a flat nose and too many teeth, but the way Kayta is looking at her is practically adoring.
"Look, he's not so scary," I tease Beanpole, "He's in love."
The District 10 ceremony isn't notable, except maybe in the way Emmy Pollack refuses to stay in her seat because she doesn't want to let go of the escort, Ferdinand L'Guard. This apparently bothers the mayor of 10, but Ferdinand works around the inconvenience of the clingy victor. "Speaking of love," Jack tries to joke about it, but the men from the Capitol don't seem very open to the idea of anything between Emmy and Ferdinand. I don't think Jack means it the same way he did about Kayta and his girlfriend. We all got to see Emmy glued to this guy for her entire Victory Tour and it's still fresh in our memories. For some reason, she ended up very close to her escort. But as far as I could tell from the tour stuff, she doesn't have any family left. When she neared the end of her Games, the only family she had to be interviewed was a very pale and sunken-eyed mother. For all I know, Mrs. Pollack is dead by now.
During the recap of 11's reap in, Kayta Hiro calls in live from the tribute train he's on right now and tells Jack to, "Screw off, Umber! -Can I say "screw off" on TV?"
Jack has the good grace to act a little embarrassed over this. The two hosts of the program find this hysterical. Mr. Zimmer encourages other victors to call in with their thoughts.
Luna Vetiver responds to this invitation to go on record stating that she would prefer not to be invited to any wedding that might occur.
Pal Fields (who continues to recreationally engage in some aspects of the main industry of 8- textiles) seems to think the whole wedding thing has already been agreed on and offers to make the dress himself if they haven't picked out something from the Capitol.
A call is received from Emmy Pollack's line, but when they put it on, nothing but dead air fills the studio.
Whatever thunder the District 11 tributes might have had has been eclipsed by Kayta's call in. District 12 fares little better. From what I can see on TV, District 12 has a grimy look, like everything is covered in a fine layer of coal dust. If you brushed it off and swept it up, would it all be back before long?
After the anthem concludes the reaping ceremonies, the inevitable question of what tributes look promising based on the ridiculously limited information that's been given so far comes up. Mr. Bronze likes the guy from 7 and both from 2- he always likes the big, ferocious ones. Mr. Zimmer likes me and Luna's cousin- he always like the ones with drama. Jack expresses his undying support for his tributes, which he does every year, holding up a snapshot of himself with his arms around the pair. "Go District One!" he cheers, while Mr. Bronze and Mr. Zimmer tolerate his tacky ways (I'm not sure if they chalk it up to Jack's own particular personality or district ways- he's always seemed, with his easy television charm, pretty much Capitol-dyed himself).
"Well, kids," Aulus yawns, "I am calling it a night. See you in the morning." Together we sound off our good-byes.
The entirety of the fourth floor of the center is reserved for District 4. It's big. Beanpole and I each have a bedroom to ourselves. Apple tells us to settle in and make ourselves comfortable. Tomorrow morning after breakfast she'll take us to get looked over and made "TV ready" appearance-wise. Because neither Beanpole or I am "too ugly or unkempt" in Apple's words, she thinks it won't be too strenuous. The Capitol only wants to throw away so much in terms of money and manpower on the twenty-three kids who won't make it back. You've just got to be halfway presentable to become victor (I don't worry that I might not be good enough in that regard- they'll change me if they have to to make me good enough).
After Apple leaves I convince myself to take a shower. I'm sort of disappointed that the Capitol supposedly has everything but the room isn't equipped for me to take a bath. Are they worried I would drown myself? I find several sets of pajamas in the dresser. I fold my dress up and set it on top of the dresser, but I'm irrationally worried that it won't be there in the morning when I wake up, so I pick it back up and set it under my pillow. I turn off the lights and climb into the soft, cool bed. It's big for a bed intended for just one person. I stare up at the ceiling, which has been painted with tiny stars that glow a faint green color in the darkness. I fall asleep wondering if Papa is able to sleep under these circumstances. I should try and sleep, shouldn't I? It feels selfish, somehow...
Chapter 4: Part I, Chapter IV
In the morning, after breakfast, Aulus asks what we're good at to try and figure out what kind of weapons would be best for us to focus on the rudimentariness of. There isn't enough time to dig too deeply into something unless maybe you choose to focus on one area of study to the exclusion of all others and hope that it pays off. But that would be a real risk. Not every weapon available in training will necessarily be placed somewhere in the arena.
I've put my blue and white dress back on and Apple looks at it sort of askance, but doesn't comment, because does it really matter?
Beanpole and I have the same sort of background, so it's no surprise we both list swimming and fishing as our talents. Apple has us ride to the "Spa Center" in her car. Beanpole likes it, just as she expected. Unlike on our train ride in, no one recognizes us as we weave up and down the streets of the Capitol in Apple's green car. Beanpole and I try to explain to Aulus about different kinds of fishing- nets and hook and spear fishing, trawling, shrimping, and clamming (which isn't quite the same, but slips into the conversation naturally).
In the halls of the Spa Center, Beanpole and I are split up. Aulus and Apple don't split up to accompany us either, but leave us in the presumably capable hands of the spa employees. Apple sits down to read a magazine. Aulus flirts obviously with the receptionist, who seems to share his taste for the color purple. I can hear laughing echoing out of other parts of the building. It sounds youthful. Are there other tributes here being tended to at the same time as us? I think the answer is yes.
"Do I call you 'Mags' or 'Margarete?'" is the first personal question the young woman handling me asks.
I can only compare the small room I'm taken to to a doctor's examining room. I strip down to my underwear and Spring, who I assume must be in charge of me, weights me, takes my measurements (I take this to mean someone's going to be making me something to wear for the Opening Ceremony- very soon - that will be tonight, so they'll have to hurry), and marks down my height to top it all off.
Spring would probably be a whole head taller than me even without her cobalt-colored heels on. She had a high, happy voice. She reminds me of a dolphin. She has me take down my hair, then has me sit in a chair that tilts back so she can wish it in a special sink. Her attempts at conversation don't go as well as planned between the water that fills my ears and leaves me asking "What?" every few sentences and the fact that the life she lives sounds very different from mind.
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"N-no." This is an awkward subject to get into so soon with a complete stranger.
"My girlfriend in the one who's making all the clothes for District Four. This is her second year." Spring sounds proud. She tells me more about Erinne- how she studied at a special fashion school, how they met at an art show- and I do my best to listen. I'm able to converse a little better when she asks me about the hairstyle I came in wearing. "Those little bun things- is that your signature look?"
"What?" I ask stupidly over the roar of the hair dryer.
"Your hair," Spring repeats. When she switches the dryer off, the whole thing gets so much easier. "Is that the look you want to have on camera? 'Cuz it's sort of distinctive- which is good to help people recognize you, but if you win, people will associate it with you for ages."
"That's my look." It's one thing I don't have trouble making up my mind about. "That's how I want to look." Everyone back home will recognize me that way. It feels the most "me."
"Okay," Spring agrees to it. She moves on to putting some smelly goop on my legs, then using a special kind of paper to pull the hair off of them. "Sorry," she explains as I grit my teeth, letting out a squeal of pain here or there, "Waxing keeps the hair from growing back longer than shaving, so you'll stay smooth in the arena."
It would hardly have been the first thing on my mind.
Spring pins up my hair and sends me to go soak in a very hot tub. "I'll get my dress back?" I ask nervously before I leave the room.
"And your underwear too, goofy," Spring laughs and I pull the towel around me tighter. "I'll get them washed.
The tub smells nice, like lavender. It's big enough that I could swim in it, but I don't think Spring would appreciate it if I got my hair wet again.
When she comes back for me, another young woman is with her. This turns out to be Erinne. I turn around shyly and she tosses me a towel. "Come on, Mags, let's fit your outfit."
I pad down the hall after them in a robe and pair of slippers. I"m a patient in the hospital of beauty, or something like that, drifting around at the whims of my doctor and nurse in an outfit like this.
At the First Games, the tributes went through the Opening Ceremony in their old clothes from home, but Capitol viewers didn't find that particularly inspiring. For the Second Games, the tributes were provided with clothes to wear, but they weren't very exciting. Then some enterprising young designers decided that volunteering their services and making clothing for the tributes would provide them with free publicity. So that's how it works now- nothing too fancy, but designers like Erinne Cousla make two costumes for each tribute before the Games- one for the Opening Ceremony and one for the interview. The types of clothes are focused basically on whatever will make their tributes look nice. The recognition at these levels comes mainly from within the world of designers. What each of these people ultimately wants is to dress a victor. The clothes that a victor wears afterward are remembered; they set trends. And they need a lot more- for their crowning ceremony, for their Victory Tour, for television appearances…
It occurs to me that Spring and Erinne and whatever other member (members?) of their team must have fixed up Beanpole will be among our biggest fans in the Capitol. I wonder which of us they would rather keep on dressing as long as the position holds their interest… Does Erinne prefer to design for men or for women?
The outfit Erinne has concocted is lovely in white and navy blue and a mousy brown. There's even a little beribboned hat to go with it. I can grasp her concept immediately, but I keep my thoughts to myself and allow her to explain. "I studied up on District Four stories and folklore." I wonder where she learned these things in the Capitol. "Although I do know that the people in Four work in all sorts of clothes now, I learned that there's a certain look historically associated with sailors."
She's put her own spin on the concept, but I know for sure that everyone watching back in 4 will know what she means. Whether it will mean all that much in Capitol, on the other hand…
Spring has the underwear I arrived in freshly washed and waiting for me. She grins when I notice my dress also set to the side. The sailor outfit isn't the kind of fancy clothing that requires special undergarments.
The outfit basically fits. Only minor alterations will be necessary. I change back into the clothes I arrived in. Apple, Beanpole, and Irish, the third member of the styling and design team are waiting for me. I wonder if Beanpole was embarrassed getting fixed up by a woman. He's the same as I left him though, aside from a bit of a trim to his hair. It's just Beanpole really clean. We eat lunch together and after that Erinne works on the adjustments for our costumes. It's kind of funny- Apple wants to see the costumes, but Erinne tells her she's going to have to wait like everyone else (well, basically- since Apple will be with us before we get onto the chariot, she'll be a bit ahead of the cameras).
When the alterations are complete, we get dressed up in them and Irish and Spring set to work on our hair and makeup for the Opening Ceremony. Spring gets Apple to hang onto my dress. Beanpole tells them that his mother made that dress. I think he wants them to stop laughing at me. He and I aren't separated for this part, but are worked on side by side as we sit in front of a long mirror.
Irish asks if either of us has a plan in mind for the Games. "Try not to be a complete idiot," I offer, which makes the Capitol women laugh.
"Mags might win if she distracts her opponents by making them laugh," Beanpole suggests. He sounds bitter. I frown. I don't want us to die hating each other. I hoped that we could just avoid one another in the arena and stay friends.
"You're fast though. And you're smart," I reply, "And bigger than me. I still think the odds are stacked toward big guys."
"…I'm not big compared to those guys from Two or Sven."
"If it makes you feel any better, they're probably either slow or stupid," I continue. Beanpole looks so solemn. I don't think it would be impossible for someone of his size and abilities to win, but he doesn't have much of a survivor's mentality. I mean, it's not like I'm cocky enough to think that I'll win, but I'm not giving up before I start.
"Jean Paul," I say, holding my head still as Spring powders my cheeks but looking at him out of the corner of my eye, "Do you want to team up in the arena?"
"I've got to think about it some more, Mags," he sighs.
The two of us fall silent. I watch as Spring does my hair up into the perfect version of the hairdo Papa called my "barnacles" when I was small. "You're stayed in the sea too long and grown barnacles just like an old boat." I try to imagine what he's doing right now. Probably on the boat, since work has always been his refuge in times of trouble. During the big hurricane, three years back, the two of us just spend the entire storm making hooks. We'd filled half a barrel with them but he time the storm was spent.
"There you go," Spring breaks my reverie.
"Oh!" I look nice, but my compliments should be reflective of my gratitude for the work that was put into me, not just how I think I appear. "I've never looked so beautiful," I tell her, which might be true, but I'm still not exactly beautiful.
Spring and Irish gush over their work a bit, but Erinne just stands back and looks us over in a proud silence. Apple inevitably gushes a lot too (I don't think she can help it- she's just really excitable). Her driver chaffers us away from the Spa Center to the starting point for the procession through the Capitol.
We're led to our chariot and I'm struck by how large the horses are. Ours are, um, I think there are special names for horse colors and patterns, but I don't know them. Our horses are a brown that compliments our costumes. I'm concerned about how we're going to direct the charier, but one of the horse trainers assures me that the horses know exactly what to do. "Just don't fall off," he says as he boosts me up.
The chariots start to queue up. They'll proceed through the streets in district order. It's hard to recognize some of the other tributes based on the reapings recaps now that they've been cleaned up. The pretty girl from 6 is even more gorgeous now. If this were a contest of looks, she'd win.
"Don't fall off, Mags," Beanpole says to me.
"Do you think I'm going to fall off?" I ask. Why does everyone say it to me? I haven't heard anyone say it to Beanpole.
"You might do it on purpose if you think it would be funny," he explains, then the opening music begins and I can't hear the rest of what he says.
Off go the District 1 tributes. Then 2… 3… And it's our turn. There's a lot of cheering as people line the streets and watch from windows and balconies, but I don't think much, if any, of it is directed toward us specifically. The people of the Capitol just like a good show. I wave at the crowds, timidly at first, but encouraged when they wave back at me. I wave toward the cameras too, so everyone back in 4 will know I'm waving long-distance to them as well.
My arm is getting tired by the time our chariot reaches its destination- the City Circle- where we come to a halt facing the presidential mansion. We wait patiently as the music blares on and the rest of the tributes take their places. The overly loud music fades out once 12 has fallen into place. The president gives us his official welcoming speech, which is hardly altered from last year's. The cameras don't remain on the president the whole time, but drift across the assembled tributes. It's not until I see myself projected up onscreen that I realize how bored I look, which makes me grin. People watching this probably think I'm pretty cheeky. …Which is not entirely wrong.
We make another lap around the City Circle when the address is concluded and head back to the stables, where the stylists fuss over us and Beanpole gives me a joking shove for almost cracking up in front of the president, before Apple appears to whisk us all back to our quarters in the Training Center.
Beanpole and I are both pretty worn out, but not too tired to eat, so everyone settles down for a meal. The blond Avox from the train is back. I wonder if it's a coincidence or if she's been specifically assigned to us. She reminds, I finally realize, of an Avox character on this really melodramatic television drama a few years back. "Cicely." That was the character's name. She was the one who discovered that the heroine's husband was cheating on her with the shipping magnate. I wonder if this Avox ever saw that program, if she gets irritated because a lot of people tell her the exact thing I'm thinking but she can't tell them to shut up about it.
"About the team up?" I ask Beanpole, shifting my mind to more relevant things.
"I want to talk to Aulus about it," he shrugs.
I figure that's fine. But what is Aulus even up to? I haven't seen him since the Spa Center this morning. I'm sure whatever he's doing he thinks it will help us, but I think he and Apple are alike in that their enthusiasm may outstrip their abilities.
I've had a better time with both of today's meals than I did with the previous day’s, as I seem to have convinced myself to exercise a greater degree of self control.
I'm glad to see that Apple has put my dress back in my room. It still smells freshly laundered.
The makeup is harder to wash off my face than I expected, but I turn up the strength of the shower and I'm eventually able to scrub it away. The hot water is relaxing. I dry off, slip into some pajamas, and melt into bed.
I dream that I am on a sinking ship and only Beanpole is on board with me. I shake his arm, but even when the water reaches him he won't wake up. What do I do? Leave him behind? Try to bring him with me? The cabin is filling up fast. Both of us might drown.
My mind is filled with bad images as I pick out an outfit to wear to training and make myself presentable. Long hair can be a disadvantage in the arena, but I think the way I wear mine keeps it close enough to my head that if I get into a position where it causes me trouble my odds will be looking pretty bad anyway. …Of course, when the boy from 11 grabbed Emmy Pollack by one of her pigtails last year she whirled around and pulled out the knife she had been hiding and stabbed him in the guts. She didn't hurt anyone in her Games who didn't touch her first, but being touched triggered such a violent survival reaction in her…
I don't think if I met her now I would want to even shake her hand unless she initiated the contact. "An attack of nerves," she had said of it at her recap while looking into the camera so placid and serene. For the first time I wonder if during the recap she was sort of drugged.
Over breakfast I tell Beanpole about my Emmy Pollack flashback musings. He relates to me the nightmare he had about the infected bite that took Gerik Rinsai's leg below the knee. His fake leg is made of some sort of high tech metal and he apparently enjoyed clinking things against it to test the sound. But Gerik had that infection and won. The same kind of thing kills at least one tribute most years, whether the original wound is inflicted by another tribute or something, living or otherwise, that's part of the arena. And the bat-mutt that bit Gerik was tiny. One year there were hybrid stingrays. If I were a Gamemaker, I'd see within the ocean plenty of dangerous creatures to serve as inspiration (ones I've seen and ones I've only heard of): sharks, jellyfish, pufferfish, electric eels, sea anemones, barracuda…
Aulus joins us and shifts my thoughts in another direction. "This is going to be the first of three days of training. Take it seriously, but don't push yourselves too hard. It's okay to interact with the other tributes, but absolutely no fighting. Try lots of things today- maybe you'll discern a secret talent."
Do victors give more specific advice than this or are they just as in the dark about how to procure their tributes a win? …I could say they probably feel more pressure than a coach like Aulus does to bring back a winner. "You did it for yourself, why can't you do it again?" That kind of thing. Hometown pride too.
Apple collects us at a quarter to ten and we ride down the elevator (which still makes me dizzy), heading down past ground level this time to the part of the place where the real training in the name Training Center occurs.
"Be good and have fun," Apple tells us like she's our- I can't say mother- our weird aunt.
We proceed through the doors and one of the trainers pins a piece of paper labeled "4" to my back. Only the tributes from 1 and 2 have beaten us down, but those from 6, 9, and 10 are quick to follow. The head trainer has to wait for everyone to arrive to give us our instructions and let us begin. The girl from 1 does a handstand against her partner. While I think most of us would like nothing better than to blend into the walls, the pair from 1 don't seem to mind drawing our eyes toward them. Are most of the citizens of 1 naturally gregarious? Did their mentor tell them to do it as some kind of strategy? What kind of strategy would that be?
None of us mix with the other districts' tributes yet. The pairs from 3 and 5 come in, then 8, 7, and 11. The clock ticks past ten o'clock. The poor kids from 12 are late. The head trainer starts his explanation of the center and its stations and the tributes from 12 burst in at last, looking embarrassed.
No one comments on their tardiness, so once their numbers are tacked on, the kids from 12 do their best to settle in. Unless they're hiding some amazing tricks that I can't guess at, they're at the bottom of the pack. The girl is eighteen, I think, but she couldn't weigh more than ninety pounds sopping wet. The boy is thirteen and bewildered.
The head trainer dismisses us to do as we like.
"If we split up, we can cover more ground," I suggest to Beanpole. I still don't know if we're teaming up or not. Either he doesn't want to tell me his decision for one reason or other, or my indecision pales before the high and low tides of his waffling. "Then when we meet back up at, uh, lunch or something, we can let each other know which stations are worthwhile."
"It's a plan," Beanpole agrees. He drifts off to ropes and knot tying, probably because it's familiar.
I decide to try out archery. My arms are weak, my aim is iffy; I have a hard time adjusting my stance to meet the archery instructor's suggestions. Beanpole may have picked knots because he knew them, but it was a choice that makes him look smart- like he knows his own strengths and weaknesses. As usual, I must appear gung-ho and stupid.
The girl from 6 joins me at this station. She fumbles with notching the arrow, but when she lets it fly, it's a better shot than any I've managed so far. I put down my bow and clap for her politely. The instructor asks if she's ever shot before and when her answer is, "No, I just thought it would be fun," I replace my equipment.
"That's it," I hold up my hands, "I'm out."
"No, stay, Four," the pretty girl urges me. Her black hair is tied back in a loose ponytail, but I can see that it reaches past her waist. So fancy. "You'll get it if you practice."
"I'm not sure it's worth the practice," I grin. "But my name's Mags."
I stick it out at the archery station long enough that I can actually hit the targets (albeit just barely) by the time I leave. "I've got to try something less physically taxing," I reach back and rub my aching shoulder.
"May I come with you?" Sparrow asks, "You won't mind?"
This is a strange turn of events. It…might not be the greatest idea to make friends. But in all the time Sparrow has been watching me, all I've done is show that I have weak arms, bad aim, and questionable judgment, so I can't think of any purely strategic reason for her to continue following me around. "If you like," I assent, curious.
Sparrow hums a little tune to herself as we go over to the edible plants station to look at sample and run flashcards. "Would you be offended if I ask about who's coaching you?" I ask tentatively.
"No. It's Sunny. And Bailey has Teejay."
"Oh," I nod and study a picture of poisonous nightlock berries. I can't exactly ask if her coach has had any good tips for her, but Sparrow ends up addressing my musings anyway.
"Sunny doesn't act like her Games were that big a deal at all. She gets much more worked up over the things that happened to the girls she's mentored. 'I barely remember mine,' she told me, 'The whole thing was like a blur.'"
"Safe or deadly?" I turn the picture in my hand toward Sparrow.
"Deadly- and how," she meets the challenge, "I guess it was so traumatic she had to repress it. …Well, if that's what works for her. She's in much better shape than Teejay. I can't tell if he's sick or anything, but he's been floating along on Morphling the whole time we've been with him. He barely talks, he barely eats; he just smiles and stares out the window. Back home in Six you never see him. He might as well never leave his house. …Sunny volunteers at the hospital."
I bet that if Sparrow wins, she and Sunny Lightfoot will become friends. I don't know how all the victors feel about one another across district lines, but Hector and Gerik from 2 look like friends.
Lunchtime arrives and all twenty-four tributes sit down to eat together cafeteria style. There's enough space at the tables that everyone could easily sit alone, but not everyone separated themselves. I invite Sparrow to sent with me and Beanpole and tell her she can bring Bailey too if she wants because it seems like the right thing to do. She accepts the offer, but comes alone. Beanpole wrinkles his nose, slightly irritated that I've made a friend here already. He probably thinks I am completely doomed by this point. He recommends the knot tying, but not the sword-fighting. I recommend the edible plants, but not the archery, which makes Sparrow laugh.
"Let me guess," says Beanpole, "She's really bad."
"I'm really bad," I confirm.
Our laughter brings a lot of eyes in on us. The pair from 1 seem to be the only tributes other than us who are holding a stable conversation. Half the people here probably think I'm insane.
As we stack our trays up for the staff to take away at the end of lunch, the girl from 5 approaches me. "Is there something in the water in Four or has what's going to happen not really sunk into your brain?"
"I think I try to fight my fear with humor."
Apparently it makes sense to her then. "There's a name for that in Five. Gallows humor."
"Do you like to laugh?"
She smiles a pinched, toothless smile. "I think it would take a lot to make me laugh here, but it is nice of you to ask."
It isn't until I look up for from the crackling sparks of my handiwork at the fire-making station that I even notice the Gamemakers idly watching us. "How long have they been here?" I whisper to Sparrow.
"They trickled in around eleven, I think."
I guess I have a greater tendency to keep my attention tightly focused on one thing than spreading it around. This will probably be a poor trait to possess in the arena. "Have they, uh, have you noticed them doing anything in particular?"
"No, they're just watching and chatting with one another. They keep pointing at Clark and Korona." The pair from 1. I haven't paid too much attention to the performance of anyone who wasn't right beside me (the tunnel vision focus thing), but even I can tell they're fairly talented. Flashy too. That's what really sets them apart- that weirdly theatrical District 1 flair. After her handstand this morning, Korona walked on her hands.
"Did you ever see them look at you?"
"Only when they were looking at you, actually."
"How do you know they were looking at me?" my voice raises a little.
"Well, I haven't been watching absolutely everyone of each of their movements, of course, but whenever you start laughing, or make me laugh, it seems like at least one or two of them focus on you."
"I wonder if that's good or bad."
There's no way to tell now. …And later we'll still only be able to guess.
At the end of our day of training, Apple shows up to escort us back to the fourth floor. She and Aulus asks a lot of questions about how things went. They don't seem to share Beanpole's reservations about Sparrow. "I can't see any harm in making yourself likable," Aulus says, "I'd think it would make it harder for them to kill you."
"I don't think anyone is ever going to win the Hunger Games because they're too charming to be killed, Aulus," Beanpole rolls his eyes.
"It's still got to be easier to convince yourself you can live with yourself for hurting someone you don't know anything about or who's a total jerk."
Apple agrees with him about this.
After dinner, when Beanpole and I are alone again, he stops me in the hall before I duck off into my bedroom. "Mags," his fingers fall away from my arm like leaves in the wind, "I decided."
"I think we shouldn't stick together in the arena. I'm going to do things alone. You go with anyone you like." So he can tell I'm considering those possibilities. "But, there's one other thing." He looks me in the eye. "During the reaping, you were one hundred percent right about what District Four should be like. If I make it back home, I promise I'll try to think of something that will protect the weakest kids from the arena. …I know if you win, that's what you'll do."
"You might be better suited for that task than me," I let out a weak chuckle.
"That's not all. Our ties as fellow citizens of District Four have to count for something in the arena. Unless we're the last ones standing, I swear that I won't hurt you. And if I see you're in trouble, I'll do what I can to save you."
I was right that day. I'm touched by Beanpole's generosity. He seems steeled now by some in inner resolve. Maybe he can win. We shake hands. I promise the exact same things. …Except I also decide in the silence on my heart that if it comes down to the two of us, I will not kill him. I came here to save one of our own from dying. I can't put myself ahead of Beanpole either.
The following day I try out the knots on my own, but Sparrow, who spent some time on her archery skills (she'll be disappointed if she never gets her hands on a bow in the arena), catches up to me at the funny rock-climbing wall. The one twelve-year-old in the group, Daisy, from 10, works there around us. She keeps looking at us, but doesn't speak up, until I greet her. I can't spare much breath while climbing, but this does convince her to say "hi" back.
The longer I train alongside the other tributes, the more I think it will be all but impossible for me to kill anyone. "You can't know what you're capable of doing in self-defense though," I remind myself. No one has ever won without at least one kill to his or her name.
Daisy sits near, but not immediately next to, Sparrow and I during lunch. I want to reach out to her, but, well, should I be extending my arms to enfold yet another person I won't be able to protect? This isn't a storm warning I'm fighting against here where you try to evacuate everyone you can. Only one person leaves the arena alive.
Some years it takes a while for the killing to begging. The Gamemakers have to break the ice even. Other years, someone like Hector Aurric or Luna Vetiver decides that the only way out is through. And for the two of them, it was.
Is there anyone in our group like that? Who are the ones to look out for from the start? The boy from 7- Haakon?- lifting weights that weight more than I do? Cadelle Vetiver, who, it turns out, can juggle knives? Clark and Korona from 1? The pair from 2 seem threatening in a more understated way.
Even the tributes who are unlikely contenders for the victor's crown can still kill. The blushing girl from 12, Juna Bright, was swinging that mace like her life was going to depend on it. Odds are, there'll be something in the arena that can be used as one, so it's a smart choice.
Sparrow splits from me amicably to spend her afternoon on different activities, while I work with an instructor to pick up knife skills.
Beanpole throws javelins, the boy from 3 works on camouflage, Bailey knocks over the stand of throwing axes (by accident, not on purpose). It occurs to me that if you don't know how to swim, there's no station set up to teach you even the most basic preliminaries of that. Odds are there won't be a significant enough amount of water in the arena for it to make a difference, but if there is, Beanpole and I may possess a marked advantage. I don't know about smaller or manmade bodies of water, but based on the map on the wall in school, most of the districts of Panem have no coast.
I've never been in a knife fight, but I know plenty about gutting fish. It's finally an offensive ability I can understand.
Hooks and lines, nets and knives. Petey, from 3, looks googly-eyed enough with his thick glasses. Daisy stares at Haakon's axe tossing prowess with lips slightly spread. Korona shows off a gymnastic leap where she twists and flips in the air. Catfish, minnows, marlin. Only the Gamemakers can play the part of fisherman, but many fish, I know, eat other fish.
"Tomorrow after lunch will be the private evaluations with the Gamemakers," Apple reminds us over dinner.
I scrape up the thick sauce left over from my pasta with a homey piece of greenish bread. Each of the cute little rolls is shaped like a fish. Back home the bakers make our bread in a variety of sizes and shapes, but all the bread for export looks like to judge from Aulus' reaction when Beanpole remarked upon it.
"Have you made up your minds what you're going to do in front of them?"
"Honestly, I'm not so sure I want to look that good," Beanpole says, "It's not like the betting odds on me are going to make me win or lose and, well, not that I think I can do anything great, but I don't see how a good score can help me in any way but in convincing Clark and Haakon and Wiley that I'm a big enough threat that they need to think about taking me out."
"If you don't look like you're putting enough real effort into your demonstration, won't you be worried that the Gamemakers will get you back for it?" I query, although his points make perfect sense based on the criteria he name.
"I am going to try. It's just… I won't be crying or anything if it turns out poorly."
Aulus' laugh now is high but stiff. We're going places with this his mind would rather not venture down. "Have you decided, Mags?"
"I'll do the one thing I really know I can do- a little impromptu fishing."
Chapter 5: Part I, Chapter V
"If you're not teamed up with the boy from Four, will you team up with me?" Sparrow asks me as we stretch out before engaging a bit with the punching bag. The atmosphere in the training facility has grown tenser than the last two days. The real battle is just before us.
"You really want that?" Beanpole and I may have a deal, but it's not to be a team, so I don't see any need to tell her about it.
"Yeah." Her words come harder as she speaks between puffs of breath and swings at the punching bag. "I like you, Mags. I think we could help each other. I don't think you'll stab me in the back."
She's right about that- I don't see that I could. "What happens though," I'm breathing just as heavily, "If it's just you and me?"
"May the best girl win."
I take a moment to think this over. I like her too, but I don't think I have quite uncovered the true character of Sparrow in regards to the Games. …Not that it's necessarily entirely fair for me to expect to get to know. "Okay," I decide, "If we get the chance to meet up again, it's an alliance." I hold out my hand and she shakes it delicately. "And we'll hammer out the details if and when in the arena?"
"That'd be fine."
Sparrow sticks it out to spar with a trainer and I slip off to examine the materials at the crafting station. "What are you interested in making?" the old-ish (by Capitol standards) man running the station asks me.
"Fishing hooks." I use a special pair of clippers to cut off a piece of wire then begin to bend it with the pliers. It's not going to be this easy in the arena; these are good tools, but what's the harm in starting easy?
The trainer gives me some tips on using the tools, but mostly he just sits back and watches. He can tell that I know what I'm doing. My first effort seems not only functional, but also sort of pretty. My second is considerably rougher and takes longer to shape as I increase the difficulty by taking the pliers out of the equation, putting pressure on the wire by pressing it against the edge of the table. I move to whittling a wooden hook after that, but I'm slow with the knife. It feels like it would be a bad sign to nick myself and shed any blood before the arena. …Of course these means I do. It stings and I stick my finger in my mouth to soothe it.
"Here, allow me," the craft instructor interrupts. I offer him my hand when he reaches for it and he dabs the cut with clear gel from a small tube. The cut heals up in a manner of minutes. We wouldn't mind some of that stuff back home, but, as is to be expected, the Capitol must be holding out on us.
Nerves are high at lunch and there's less rambunctious eating, but a similar amount of awkward silence.
"You should sing us something to get everyone's spirits up, Mags," Beanpole suggests. His very act of making this remark lets me know he's doing okay.
"Yeah, if you do first," I chortle.
First Clark, then Korona are called to perform. Neither returns to the dining room. Lunch stretches out uncomfortably long even though Jem, from 11, is the only one left eating.
"Archery?" I ask Sparrow.
"Yep," she agrees. We're as terse as a pair of snails. I wonder if we'll talk much if we meet up again in the arena. I've liked talking to Sparrow so far. …But, so far, I have to remind myself, is probably it.
4's turn comes, starting with Beanpole. "Hope it works out," I tell him. I don't know what he's planned, so I can't give any more detailed support.
"Happy fishing," Beanpole responds, miming casting with a flick of his wrist.
"What will you fish for?" Sparrows asks me when he's gone.
"This and that," I shrug.
It feels like a long time that Beanpole is away before the same clipboard-carrying aide returns to say my name.
I'm all alone in front of the Gamemakers once the doors close and all of them, more or less, are looking at me. The eye of the camera becomes invisible a lot faster than this assembly of Gamemakers sitting across from me. Maybe it's because people are used to ignoring machines.
The man in charge- Telerius Thrush- I know his face from television - shuffles his stack of papers neatly together and taps the bundle against the desk. Click, click. "Miss Gaudet," he addresses me, "You may begin."
Everything the Training Center has is available for use. As unexciting as it must be to watch, it's my best plan. I make hooks, just like I did earlier with metal and with wood. I partially unwind a rope to acquire fibers thin enough to thread the tops of my hooks with. I stick the hooks into my pocket and climb up to the top of the climbing wall. I sit on top and do my best to "fish." I pull in a sandbag, the remnants of the rope I used, and the pliers before my time is up. I climb down and take a bow, although I think I've hardly done anything to merit it. It's part of the show, I guess.
"Thank you," Mr. Thrush gives a little wave and dismisses me. The aide who brought me in walks me out to the hall where, beside the elevator doors, Aulus is waiting.
"How do you feel about it?" he asks.
I try leaning against the inside wall of the elevator, but that doesn't seem to do anything for the dizziness these rides always seem to get out of me either. "Okay," I shrug. It's hard to tell whether my hooks and fishing would be seen as tolerable or bad. I know the performance wouldn't rate as "good".
"Okay is okay," Aulus answers and I proceed, encouraged, to tell him the details of what I did.
Back on the fourth floor, Beanpole is lying on the couch, watching yet another past Games highlights reel. It appears to be generally organized around the subject of clips and the victors involved commenting on them. A funny montage plays of shots of the victors reacting to the initial official announcement of their wins. The question addressed is, "What were you thinking at that moment?"
I flop down beside Beanpole.
"Welcome back," he murmurs.
"I don't know what I was thinking," Sunny Lightfoot regards the picture of herself. "I'm not dead?" chuckles Jack Umber. "I'm going home," says Kayta Hiro and lets out some weird lumberjack whoop. "I don't believe it," Pal Fields rubs his forehead. His face is pink with embarrassment. The victor "victory moment" comments conclude as they cut to a clip of Pal at his recap. "Is this real? Is this really real?" he pesters Jeff Zimmer in this TV flashback, "I don't believe it!" …Someone remembers what he was thinking pretty well, it seems.
"Our new victor might not believe it either," Mr. Zimmer remarks in the present, "But he or she is somewhere in our Training Center right now!"
Beanpole flips off the TV and gets up. "I wish they would show District Four," he sighs.
"Are you thinking about your mom?"
"I wish someone had liked me enough to volunteer in my place."
"…Do you think I'm stupid?" I figure I might as well get that out of the way.
"No, just sort of crazy," he decides after a moment of curious looking at me. "But anyone too extreme seems crazy. Whether someone is too fast or too slow or too bad or too good." After that he retreats to his room. Aulus watches silently, not sure what to make of all this.
"What advantage do you think is gained by impressing the Gamemakers with some skill you have?" I quiz Aulus.
"If they like your skill, they're more likely to give you an opportunity to wow the folks at home with it. …Or, at least that's what I think. We don't have an official statement on it."
Apple shows up about an hour later. She has some nail polish with her, which Aulus and I turn into a quiet activity of painting tiny designs as perfectly as we can before dinner. Beanpole slinks back for that. There are some really tasty miniature fried shrimp and somehow we start flicking them across the table at each other until Apple is about to get mad.
A little after dinner, the scores are aired. Beanpole and I slouch onto the couch between Apple and Aulus. "Do they grade straight or on a curve?" Beanpole asks, but no one but the Gamemakers can really say for sure what their methods are. The highest possible score is a 12. But not one gets a 12, so maybe that answers the curve thing. I don't remember anyone getting an 11 either.
The scores are given in order. Beanpole nets a 5. I get a 6.
Luna Vetiver scored a 10; Sunny Lightfoot scored a 1. They're both victors.
Sparrow scored a 7. "She told me she was going to do archery," I comment.
"That's Mags' friend," Beanpole explains to our chaperones.
"It's easy, isn't it?" Apple remarks, suddenly appearing unnerved, "To befriend Mags…"
"Back home pretty much everyone likes her," Beanpole agrees.
"What? Huh?!" I don't believe they're lying, but at the same time I can't agree with what they're saying.
"Oh, Mags, I'm sure you'll give a very nice interview," Aulus pats my hand.
"That's not what I was talking about," I complain, but after that everyone just teases me, Beanpole included, until I go off to bed. Just because I'm so (apparently) likable doesn't mean I'm not lonely. I pick my old dress up off the top of the chest of drawers and hold onto it and drift off to sleep.
The following day is focused around the interviews we'll be giving in the evening. Apple knows the most about being on camera, so she tries to give us tips in that area. "Look at Mr. Zimmer when he talks to you. It's also all right to look at the audience. Erinne Cousla should be there, but I'll be in the back. If you notice the cameras, try not to look straight into the lens- that comes off a bit awkward."
"Uh, yes," I attempt to put all this to memory.
"Are you listening to me, Beanpole?" she challenges my counterpart as he stares off across the room.
They drag this whole thing out too much," Beanpole says over lunch.
"It's that movement toward making things a little more humane," Apple says.
"And entertaining," Aulus adds sheepishly. He sees things for what they are.
We get seven nights in the Capitol before going off to die. The tributes in the First Games got just two. Government-sponsored brutality is still government-sponsored brutality. It's hard to say whether or not this is an improvement.
After lunch, the design team shows up to work on us. I realize I'm slightly dismayed by the idea that they may take off the nail polish I put on yesterday. It was the first time I'd worn nail polish. But this concern is unfounded. Spring laughs when she examines it. "Are these squiggly things your idea of fish, Aulus?"
"Just because I know what a fish looks like doesn't mean I can render it well on a fingernail," he huffs.
There isn't really any common element between Beanpole's costume and mine for this evening. Mine is a slim green dress with a shiny texture reminiscent of fish scales. Some sections of the skirt are longer than others, which puts me in the mind of fins.
Beanpole gets a blue suit of varying shades, kind of- I think it's called "batik," with a starfish pattern in red and orange. He would look sharper if suits didn't make him act so uncomfortable. Full-on suites are often sort of wedding and funeral affairs back in 4 and we've been through way more funerals than weddings at this point in our lives.
"It's so fun to watch you work," Apple gushes to Spring, happy to get the chance to watch the styling as it occurs.
Once again, we keep to my personal hairstyle. Two hair ornaments of white netting and tiny green beads attached to real dried starfish fancy it up a bit. There's slightly more makeup this time as I'll spend more time visible in close up- pink lipstick and a daub of blush and elaborate green eye shadow. I think all of the green is part of the reason Apple likes my new look so much. She's toned down her own green today in favor of pale purples. It makes me think she knew about my color scheme in advance and didn't want to take away from my look any.
"So, so, so cute," Spring declares when all the primping and adjusting is done.
"It's good," Erinne proclaims calmly.
And when Beanpole is also proclaimed "good," we're off.
It takes a while to get twenty-four tributes all situated in a curved row in front of the stage where we'll sit when not having our turn speaking with "Mr. Fun-and-Games" himself, Jeff Zimmer. The girls go first from their district for this activity. As we're seated in the order we'll be interviewed, I have Petey from 3 on my right and Beanpole on my left. Before the assorted escorts, coaches, and mentors clear out this gives me a pretty good look at 3's victor, Beto Ernst. He doesn't say much to Petey, but lavishes his attention on Ada. Does that mean he thinks she requires more coaching, or does he like her better? I wonder if there's ever an instance of a victor not liking one of their tributes and putting everything into their counterpart. It's kind of a scary idea, but there could be some pragmatism in it too if one victor is mentoring two tributes- since only one can make it back. …It would be really awkward if the tribute they ignored made it back then.
At a certain point everyone has to take their seat. Apple and Aulus wish us luck.
I see Jack Umber in person for the first time. He trips n a cord lying on the ground and almost falls forward onto his face. Some of the escorts laugh at him, but none of the victors, as far as I can tell.
He's the last off our little stage above the crowd but slightly below the main stage. Jeff Zimmer passes him on his way in and they exchange a few words I can't hear. Mr. Zimmer is the "fun" host of the Games, instated during the Second Hunger Games. Longinus Bronze, the one who probably dreams of bloody one on one hand to hand combat at home every night, will just be a spectator for the interviews. Bronze wants you to die horribly. In contrast, Mr. Zimmer would like you to live marvelously. This bipolar mixture is a good way of understanding what the Games seem to be becoming.
So, what's the purpose of the interviews? Well, the people of the Capitol have to know us at least a little to want someone to win. If they can't somehow relate to or be touched or amused by us, why shouldn't we all just die? Why should there be any winner at all?
There were no interviews before the First Hunger Games. Jack Umber was forced to build himself a hopefully lovable, or at least tolerable, persona nearly from scratch. Based on his Games, his most remarkable trait at the time was just that he survived.
I guess it worked, at least to some degree. He's on TV more than any other victor or any other citizen of District 1.
"Welcome to my arena," Mr. Zimmer greets us with a florid wave of his arms, encompassing the entire enormous place. "Let's all play nice and have a good time, shall we?"
He heads up onto the main stage and takes his seat. The lighting crew makes final adjustments to their set-up. Microphones are tested. Our escorts and coaches will be stuck waiting for us in the back watching the proceedings on a screen, but the victors get good seats up front. I think it's so the cameras can get a few shots of them. The Gamemakers' box fills. The place gradually packs to the gills. The lights are hot and make me start to sweat. The interviews are part of the required viewing of the Games. I twist Faline's coral ring around and around my finger. The chatter of the crowd drops to a murmur.
On some cue I'm not aware of, Mr. Zimmer hops up and begins. It would be really hard to have to wait until the end, but I'm also glad I'm not in Korona's puffy pale blue dress and transparent heels. I bet Papa can tell how nervous I am, but I hope that other people can't. I'm trying to stay in control of my thoughts and my face.
Korona is poised and calm. Clark is enthusiastic, but clunkier. Mr. Zimmer is good at working with whatever the tributes want to say, though some don't seem to have gone onstage with anything special in mind. Padma, kicking things off for 2, is one of these, but Mr. Zimmer knows what he's doing and can come up with something decent to fill just about anyone's three minutes.
Wiley boasts, Ada Spelling asks to say hello to everyone in "Plant 8, Section 3" which is apparently where she works, and Petey remarks upon the many technological feats of the Capitol.
Then they're saying my name and something about that is really scary. I wish they could say "Faline Beaumont" and just get me again instead. It's easier to volunteer than be called.
Beanpole nudges my foot with his and I get up from my seat. It feels nearly as strange as my walk to the stage at the reaping, but their asking for me- me!- makes it that much scarier. I avoid the cord that snagged Jack Umber (they should have moved it- now I'm kind of worried it's going to get someone else and humiliate them on live television). I feel like I'm floating. Mr. Zimmer shakes my hand.
"Mags, so how about you tell us about your young friend."
I hear the words, but I don't immediately realize he means Faline. "She," I say slowly, stalling for time- just a second- to compose my thoughts. I touch the ring again and decide to focus on that. "She gave me this token," I hold my hand out to Mr. Zimmer.
"Oh, that's very pretty." I imagine some cameraman must be zooming in at my hand right now. "Is it made of some local product? I can see it's not metal."
"It is a local product- it's coral, which lives in the sea. Someone in Faline's family made this from a piece that washed up on the beach." …We use coral once it's dead. My, what a lovely image.
"And you volunteered for her," Mr. Zimmer goes on. This seems to have left an impact on him. I'm not sure if it would be conceited to say he sounds impressed.
"I couldn't let her go into the arena," I say. My reasons always seem weaker when switched from actions into words. I don't think a rehash of my impromptu speech in 4 would be an appropriate use of my time here either. Everyone in Panem might have heard those words, but they were intended to galvanize people in 4, not start any trouble. "It wouldn't have…" I struggle, "It wouldn't have looked good."
"Do you think you're a contender, Mags?" Mr. Zimmer prompts me.
"I don't know about winning, but you're right- I can, and I think I will- play a strong game."
"What do you think is your biggest weakness going into the Games, if you're willing to reveal it?"
"I get along with people too easily," I offer the flip side of the charge Beanpole, Apple, and Aulus leveled against me.
"Well, what about strengths?"
"I hope that it's also that I get along with people easily." I pause, grinning, and let the people laugh.
Mr. Zimmer knows what I just did. This is good, this is bad, they're the exact same thing; big grin. It's a classic Jack Umber television maneuver. There's this twinkle in Mr. Zimmer's eye. I know he knows, but he doesn't call me on it. From what I have seen in the Capitol, this style of joke is the truth of this glimmering metropolis.
"Maybe your sense of humor is also a strength," Mr. Zimmer suggests.
"I hope I can just laugh everyone to death then. I could win and still feel like I was making friends." I can't have much time left, can I, after we've said all that? I decide to be bold. "Mr. Zimmer, can you and I be friends?"
I've got him there. "Well!" we shake hands again, "Take note everyone," he addresses the audience, "This is my very first friend from District Four! And I'm wishing her the best of luck," he says, with gray blue eyes locked on mine, "Mags Gaudet, of District Four!"
Chapter 6: Part II, Chapter I
Swimming in the Flood.
There's plenty of applause as I return to my seat. I realize that Mr. Zimmer called me "Margarete" going up, and Mags coming down. Margarete is an anonymous tribute. Mags is a girl you'd like to be your friend. I think I was decent at doing what I hoped to do. It's all a little overwhelming, so I don't notice at first that Beanpole is up there taking his turn.
He's explaining why he's called Beanpole. He's as tall as Mr. Zimmer, he demonstrates. The iffy nutritional situation in 4 during the Dark Days as we struggled to spread our supplies thin enough to aid even more impoverished regions left a lot of those of us born in that time even shorter than we would have been in good circumstances, which is to say, largely smaller than those in the Capitol. Beanpole is, however, one of the three tallest tributes this year, with a modestly Capitol-worthy height. I like seeing him joking around a bit. I want people to like him too.
It still takes me by surprise when he mentions me. "We have one other thing in common," he tells Mr. Zimmer once seated. "And what's that?"
"We're friends with Mags."
I see my face up onscreen as the camera cuts to my reaction. I look surprised, then sort of embarrassed.
"And I don't make friends as easily as she does," he continues. "Which I'm hoping makes it easier for me to do whatever I have to in the arena."
Beanpole still wants to win. If Beanpole wins, "Mags was a very nice friend," will be my elegy. I could have worse.
Mr. Zimmer pegs him for the serious type and Beanpole explains how he had to grow up early and "be a man" for his mother's sake. He wants to win for her. Mrs. Mirande must be going crazy about now. …Should I have mentioned Papa? I guess it's a moot point.
For the first time I wonder if there were any girls back home with crushes on Beanpole. He didn't have any girlfriend I ever knew about, but he's tall and smart and responsible. These are qualities that could be liked in that manner. If he wins, will girls in the Capitol swoon over his hard-won smiles and gentle melancholy?
I wonder if the cameras catch us jabbing one another with our elbows when he returns to his seat beside mine.
The interviews go on. I think Laurie's shows that she's smart. Sparrow is poised, and, no, she does not have a "special someone" back home. Haakon seems excited, Cadelle Vetiver admits he's "not up to Luna's standard," but doesn't regret his decision to volunteer in the least. He dedicates his performance to his victor cousin- "if it's good." Daisy is too shy to talk very much.
By the time the tributes from 12 are finished, the energy has petered out of the room a bit. The program concludes with the national anthem and a few peppy comments from Mr. Zimmer.
We file into the back to meet our escorts, but it's dark and crowded. I wonder if any tribute has ever tried to escape at this point. I don't know how far you could get with our rudimentary knowledge of the Capitol, but you could definitely be lost in the confusion for a while.
Apple finds us though, efficient in her own curious way. Erinne catches us on our way to the car and tells us we wore our outfits very well. We thank her and Spring and Irish for their hard work. As Aulus holds the door open for us, I catch sight of Jack Umber for a moment. Clark is telling him something, but he's clearly looking at me. The joke? I doubt I'll ever know why since I'll be in the arena by ten o'clock tomorrow.
We got back to our floor of the Training Center and eat a late dinner. I would have been worried about messing up my makeup if we'd eaten before and nerves might have dampened my appetite, but this is going to be my last full meal- I'd better enjoy it. I'm not sure I should be pleased or embarrassed that I'm able to. Beanpole sort of picks at his plate.
"When you talked to Mr. Zimmer, I thought you could win," I tell him over what he dubbed our "pre-funeral death meal," much to Apple's dismay (Aulus tried not to laugh). I can't very well say that it's the first time I thought he might win, but I figure he ought to know.
"When you talked, I thought you deserved to win," he counters.
Apple tries to say something optimistic, but it's kind of hard to tell us we'll be okay when one of us- at minimum- will go home in a box. Hopefully still recognizable. There've been some closed casket affairs among the twenty-two tributes returned to 4 before us.
I'm getting tired of watching recaps of things I've just been through, but resign myself to sitting through the replay of the interviews. I close my eyes and cover my ears with my hands when it's my turn. I can't stand listening to myself. It's so stupid and terrible. Beanpole really did look cool though.
"Mags!" Beanpole yanks me out of my self-imposed sensory exodus just in time for me to see Jack Umber looking positively delighted by my joke in his style.
"He liked you better than his tributes," Beanpole determines. When they'd shown him during Clark and Korona's interviews, he'd smiled in mild approval- nearly a non-reaction compared to this, but…
"No way," I argue, "He was just surprised."
I pull my legs up to my chest and wrap my arms around them. Did I make Papa sad back home, or did he smile? I hope that he understands my not mentioning him- that I didn't mean him any harm.
I've got to hand it to Jeff Zimmer. He makes everyone look as good as he can. I can believe that nearly any of us could win from the way he treats everyone.
The playing of the anthem at the end of the program feels very final. Beanpole and I will leave for the arena at dawn. This is it for Apple. Aulus will stay over for the night to walk us down to our transportation in the morning.
"This year will be it for Four," Apple says, "I bet it will." She hugs each of us. "You've both been very nice to know and escort. Stay cheerful, Beanpole. I hope I was able to answer all you nosy questions to your satisfactions, Mags."
"Pretty much," I allow.
She's a bit wound up. "I'll watch the Games diligently as long as you're out there," she promises before hurrying out to the elevator in her pearl-encrusted heels.
"She doesn't want you to see her cry," Aulus shares a sad smile with us.
"You know that stuff we said about giving you a nickname if one of us won," Beanpole reminds him.
"We lied, Aulie," I continue.
Aulus hugs both of us at once (and boy is his hug stifling). He doesn't share Apple's reservations about crying in public and watching the makeup running down his face is more than enough to break me and Beanpole both. The three of us are basically an awful mess when he lets go and suggest we wash up and go to sleep.
Showering is a great idea. Sleep is harder. At first I keep drifting off only to wake up ten or fifteen minutes later. I hold onto my old dress from home again like it's a safety blanket. I dream about getting into a tiny rowboat with Beanpole and drifting off to sea without any sails or oars or even a pole to punt with. I dream of Papa caught up in the rebellion with his unhappily itchy trigger finger. It isn't the Games, but it's vaguely troubling stuff.
Aulus comes to fetch me, but I'm already awake. "'Morning," I yawn. He hands me some shoes and a jacket as I get out of bed. "What? Shouldn't I change?"
"You'll get uniformed up there, so might as well stay as you are. I just want you to stay warm in the meantime." Aulus' hair is messy and he's not wearing a dab of makeup. I take the clothes he offers and ask him to hold onto my dress from home on the off chance either Beanpole or I will be back for it. Beanpole is nearly sleeping on his feet in his pajamas, a jacket, and shoes without socks, just like me. Instead of going down, this time we ride the elevator up past floors that were so recently occupied by the tributes from Districts 5 through 12 to the roof. Aulus gives us one last hug before we're instructed to step into a waiting hovercraft.
Beanpole and I set across from each other and a woman in a lab coat uses a syringe to stick some kind of tracking chip into my arm. We take off and I can't help but snicker, being a bit sleep-deprived, at how ridiculous the two of us look. I peer out the window at the Capitol below us for a few seconds, but it makes me dizzy, so I turn away. After a while the staff pull the shades down over the windows anyway. An Avox brings us some food, but it's hard to eat. I drink some milk and pick at a bunch of grapes.
The landing is a little bumpier than our takeoff. "If I don't see you again, I want you to know I'm really glad we were friends," I tell Beanpole, "And I'm grateful to your mom for always being so nice to me and Papa."
"Me too, I-"
Whatever else Beanpole wants to say is interrupted by the hovercraft coming to a stop and the staff separating us for our final preparations. I'm taken down a dimly lit hallway to a small room. "Get changed into your uniform. Wait for further instructions," the woman tells me.
The door clicks shut behind me. I try the knob out of reflex. It's locked. My outfit for the Games is wrapped up in brown paper. There's a small shower, but I feel clean enough as it is and I'd be slightly concerned about getting my hair dry in the time remaining before I go up into the arena. I don't know if it will be cold out there.
I laugh when I open the package because the first things I uncover are the underwear. No wonder Aulus didn't see any point in our getting dressed. They really know what they want us to wear out there. No built in advantages or disadvantages based on our clothing, I guess. I'm a little grossed out to realize that the way they'll know I've completely changed is by watching via hidden camera. At least this part isn't aired all over Panem. …And in the arena they'll be watching everything. Get over it, forget about it.
There are socks, pants, a shirt with sleeves that almost reach my elbow, a slim-fitting jacket that reaches just past my waist, and a pair of black boots that don't quite meet my knees. I change everything except my ring. The clothes are pretty lightweight, so it probably won't be covered in snow out there. They're basically standard Games attire. Most of the outfits have been something like this. There's a stylized black "4" printed on the side of the right shoulder of the shirt, but it's hidden under my jacket.
I splash some water on my face from the sink. Behind the bathroom mirror are supplies I use to brush my teeth and fix my hair. Behind the bathroom mirror are supplies I use to pull, twist, and pin it into my usual look- like two lumpy coils of rope rolled up on the sides of my head. It should hold. I sit down on the little bench to wait. I close my eyes, but don't sleep; it's just a small concession to the knowledge that I'll need all the rest I can get soon enough.
Maybe I doze off a bit because I'm startled into alertness by a voice overhead instructing me (everyone) to stop onto the round metal plate in the far back alcove of the cell for a final inspection. Maybe I was wrong and no one was being examined by camera until then… Of course, then something could be hidden under your clothes? Maybe there are metal detectors.
Apparently we're all judged ready. "Stand still and prepare for lift off," the female voice instructs us. A glass tube lowers down around me. I feel so nervous as I start to lift up through it that I wonder if I'm claustrophobic and just never knew it before. It's dark. This is taking too long. Then sunlight strikes the top of my head and I'm passing out of the tube into the fresh air. It's bright and my bangs move a bit in the breeze.
I know that Jeff Zimmer will be providing much of the televised commentary on the Games, but it's Longinus Bronze's imposing tone that welcomes me here. How do they get it so loud when I don't see any speakers?
"Ladies and gentlemen, let the Twelfth Hunger Games begin!"
Sixty seconds are being counted down before the sounding of the gong will send us scattering. The Capitol's glittering Cornucopia sits in the middle of a ring of equidistant tributes, further up the hill we're on. I'm standing closest to Petey, from 3, and Jem, from 11. It's boy-girl again, but aside from that, the order looks random. Some of the packages in and around the Cornucopia are big. Others could fit in the palm of my hand. This time I'd estimate there are about twenty-four of them- one for each of us if we sat down for Exchange Day and divided them all up. Sometimes there are more, sometimes less. All the items are wrapped up in brown paper, which also makes it like Exchange Day, just without the colored nametags so I can only guess what things go to whom.
Outside of the clearing filled by tributes and the Cornucopia are a lot of slim stalks going up, up, up. It's bamboo. There are other plants, but mostly I notice bamboo- more, taller, and thicker than I've seen anywhere in 4. This might even be what they consider a "bamboo forest." I can't see anything that makes any direction look like a better choice to run to for cover or to find fresh water than any other.
Here's my plan for the next minute or so: run in, grab one thing- whatever I can easily, turn around, and run whichever way I don't see many, if any, other people headed.
The gong rattles the ground and I overbalance, falling a little too far forward, like Jack Umber with that wire, but keep on my feet. Someone- Mercy, from 8- shoots past me. I'm not greedy and I'm not choosy- all I want is my one "present." My eye's on the prize as I snatch a small parcel and Bailey, Sparrow's counterpart from 6, trips over my arm. I nearly drop the packet in pain and surprise. The toe of his boot hit my arm pretty hard. I can hear the sound of ripping paper as someone's bold enough to unwrap an item here, but I'm not about to stick around. I clutch the package and run back the way I came and further, into the thicket of bamboo. Fallen leaves crunch under my boots. At least the slight slope continues to keep gravity on my side. I run for as long as I can at this pace, rapid, but not frantic- maybe ten or twelve minutes- without ever looking back.
By this point I'm sweating and my stomach has started to hurt. I slow to a walk, don't feel much better, and since it seems so quiet, decide to give in, sit on the ground, and see what's under that not sweat-stained paper. It's a…switchblade? Yes. I flip it open. A utility knife. "Thanks, somebody," I say quietly. This is a good gift. I'm not champion whittler, but the ability to cut things will help me make things. With all the bamboo around and my knife, I've got the basics for going fishing. I can use a few strains of my hair for a short line, craft a hook, and as long as this soil's not completely barren, dig up some kind of insect for bait. What I'm lacking now is a body of water.
All the sweating has made me thirsty. Fresh water, fresh water, fresh water. I command myself to get up and start walking agin. I close the knife and put it in one of my pants pockets. I pocket the paper and twine that made the package as well, just in case. I roll up my jacket sleeves. I'm hot. Water, water, water.
I find a half-snapped off piece of bamboo, put my foot against it for leverage, and snap it off to use as a walking stick or fishing pole or weapon, depending on the situation. Bamboo is a very useful material.
Water should flow downward along with gravity, just like I have, so if I walk down, but at an angle, I think I'll increase my chances of coming across some trickle. There's got to be some source of water supporting all this bamboo.
Did anyone fight at the Cornucopia? Even if someone died there, they won't fire any cannons until that whole melee has played out one way or another. So, did no one die or is there still fighting going on?
What I've learned from watching the Hunger Games is that it takes longer to kill a person than you'd expect in most situations. There are never any guns. There are few things as equivalently quick as a bullet to the head.
How long have I been walking? Should I be moving faster? How big is the arena? I suddenly smile as I realize how boring I must be right now to the people watching. Of course, there are still plenty of other tributes to watch, so someone's bound to be doing something moderately entertaining.
Eventually, I'm caught in a funny mix of boredom and nervousness. I don't want to kill or be killed, but it'd be kind of nice for something to happen to me.
The first cannon fires and I jump into the air about half a foot. That was unexpected. I clutch at my chest, feeling my heart beat like an overheated engine. Another shot. A third. Then silence. It's back to the soft wind and my breathing. My heart's still pounding, but I feel, rather than hear, that.
I can't come up with any better plan, so I decide to keep moving on. I straighten out my path a bit. I'm relatively sure there's no one straight ahead of me, but if I veer too far to the right or left, who knows what I'll find. The knowledge that death has visited here makes me cautious again. I think of Faline in my place. I think of Aoko walking in a forest five years ago and- I try not to think of this part. I try, I try- think of something else! But I see it in my mind anyway. She claws and scratches back against those hands around her throat. My pace slows to all but a stop as I worry over the awful memory.
The same thing almost happened to Shy Evert, the victor of those Seventh Games. She coughed blood onto the face of her attacker though and in that moment as he grappled with his surprise and disgust she pulled out the tiny knife she had salvaged. That knife had to have been half the size of the one I'm carrying now. She stabbed that boy. He was from…7, I think. Shy stabbed him five times until he let her go completely and ran as fast as her pained lungs would allow. That sly, wood-wise boy didn't die then, but his wounds got infected and made him easy pickings for another of the Seventh Games' stronger players later.
They said that Shy pretended to be sick as part of her strategy, but I don't know how anyone could fake coughing up globs of blood. By the end of her Games, she was white as a shroud. I thought she might die all by herself near the end without any of the other three finding her when she was one of the final four.
Shy Evert is one of the few victors I have rooted for. Because she got the guy who killed my best friend, I suppose. When she went into her Games, Shy was already a little of a ghost among the living, I think. She looks much healthier now. Maybe the Capitol cured her as part of her prize for having won.
I'm not walking now. That is probably not very smart of me. I'm a bit rested, physically at least, from my flashback moment, so I resume my forward motion at a quicker pace. I keep going until a fourth cannon shot jerks me to a stop. Is Beanpole okay? Is Sparrow?
I'm getting hungry, but in a sort of superficial, spoiled by the Capitol sort of way. I haven't done anything especially strenuous today compared to what I might do back home and will all the good eating the past week afforded me, it should be a small enough thing to skip lunch. Was there any food wrapped up at the Cornucopia?
If I should wish for anything, it's water though. That's more important to my survival here than food. As long as I get clean water, I'm not sure the Games will even last long enough for me to have a chance at starving to death.
The wind picks up again, but from a different direction. It feels nice and takes off some of the edge of the heat. More importantly, it has a familiar scent. It's salty. It's the sea! There's no landmark that can cheer me like the ocean- even if it's only an artificial one. I don't move like a sprinter, but, like the fishermen's families who come to meet them at the dusk, I half run, half slip down toward where I hope to meet the water.
I can hear it! There are waves! Known to me or not, this is the sea! As trees give way to scruffy beach grass and sand, I really pick up my pace and soon enough am running down the dunes to the water. I shove my bamboo pole into the damp sand, leaving it to stand on its own, and proceed until the tide is swirling up around my waterproof boots. Do I feel safe enough here to take them off and feel the squelch of sand mixed with sea underneath my bare feet? I cup a handful of water and let it dribble out between my fingers back to its source. The sun is beginning to set, beautifully reflected in the water. I didn't find the water my body need, but this is definitely the water my heart needed.
I hope Papa is seeing this. …I wish Beanpole could see it. I can't see anything on the other side of the water. It's probably meant as a boundary of the arena. But just here? How far does it wrap around the land that I've traveled? What shape is the arena? How big is it? I'm coming back around to the same questions I asked myself earlier.
The ability to possibly flee into the water faster and further than pursuers makes the water so advantageous to me that I'm not going to be quick to leave it. Tonight, I've decided, I am staying here. My jacket looks good against the sand. It's not perfect, but it will do for camouflage under cover of night. I'm basically praying to have good luck. I make sure my boots are wet all over then roll them in sand to disguise their brilliant blackness. I move back to a place the water doesn't seem to have reached during the day and lay down in the shadow of the dune. It's small protection, but I'm going to hope it will do. If there's someone out there who really wants to get me, I doubt I can come up with anything good enough to save myself. And I am the one who's going to have to save me. I can't count on anyone to do it.
I turn a bit onto my side and something pokes me in the ribs. "Oww," I grumble under my breath. I pull out the object, a bit of driftwood, and am about to chuck it away toward the water, when I remember I'm going to want to fish sooner or later. Might as well get whittling now. With night coming, I can't see too far away, but the knife and driftwood in my hands stay close by. The main difficulty of a hook made from hook is that I'm going to need something to use as a weight. There isn't much you can catch if your hook is just left floating along the top of the water.
It's nice that it looks like, temperature-wise, we're in for a mild night. The anthem starts to play from speakers I can't see. Maybe they're flown over our peninsula? (island?) like the screen that will display the photos of the tributes lost today.
The death recap goes in district order. Wiley from 2 is not who I expected to see first. It makes me curious to know what happened. Who (or what, the possibility occurs to me with a tentative burst of further nerves) killed him? The next faces jumps us forward quite a few districts. It's the round-faced girl from 9. That means Beanpole and Sparrow are, well, not necessarily safe, but alive. The girl from 9 is followed by the boy from 10 and the boy from 12- the one I pegged from the beginning as pretty much a goner. The seal of Panem concludes the presentation.
I work on the hook a little longer before putting the knife back into one pocket and the half-finished hook in another. The sound of the waves puts me at ease. "Pardon me, Apple, if I snore," I say aloud. Who knows if anyone can hear me here or if it'll be aired, but I want to say it anyway. I have a reputation as a goofball to keep up, don't I?
Chapter 7: Part II, Chapter II
I'm startled awake by the jarring roar of a cannon. Ugh. I rub my eyes. We're killing each other in the middle of the night? There's no reason we can't, but, ugh. At least the fact that I didn't hear any of that but the cannon means it didn't happen near me, right? …Right?
I manage to coax myself back to sleep.
…And awake maybe an hour and a half later to salt water lapping at my cheek.
I jump to my feet, sticky and wet. My bamboo is still standing, but I'd estimate that roughly a third of it has been submerged in water. It's dark, with only the slightest hint of the coming dawn. This is a very high tide! I had hardly expected it to make it up this far. I scramble up over the dune and wipe away the salty froth drying on my face with my left sleeve, which is mostly dry. I'm relieved I didn't take my boots off or they might be bobbing in the waves by now. I abandon my bamboo pole to serve as a marker- there are plenty of replacements around.
As a matter of fact, the tide doesn't seem to be on its way out even now. It came pretty far. I wish I had bothered to note its position when I was awoken by the cannon shot. How long did it take to reach this far? I retreat to the forest's edge to break off another long piece of bamboo and shove it down deep into the spot I'd been sleeping. I wonder if small fish will come in with the tide or if I'll have to wade out a ways once I'm ready to try fishing here.
I arbitrarily decide to follow the shoreline to my right after leaning against and sawing off my newest piece of bamboo. If there are any streams in the arena, it would be only natural for them to run to the sea somewhere. I cross my fingers for running water and not just lakes. I'm loath to leave the shore. I won't make that move unless I have to.
Does it appear picturesque as I slosh alongside the gently lapping salt water at dawn? "Hey ho I like the ocean early in the morning," I whisper to the empty beach.
The tide seems to have come as high as it plans on climbing, but as the morning drags on, I can see it's unusually uninterested in receding. Other things about the beach that I suppose I was too happy about there being a beach to notice yesterday stand out to me. No shells. No crabs. Hardly any small rocks or seaweed. If this body of water is completely unnatural, there might not be any fish either.
Is the lack of rocks and shells because no one saw fit to throw them in, or is it because hidden rocks and rough tides grind everything to bits? …And when I'm looking at the beach like this, do Mr. Bronze and Mr. Zimmer know why? …Is anyone playing any attention to me at all?
By midday, I wish I had a hat to keep off the sun. I've given up on enough of my reservations regarding a possible attack by other tributes that I take off my boots and socks and let the surf run between my toes. I'm getting a headache. I figure I make enough noise that most animals would keep their distance from me, but I haven't even heard any bird song. If the only food and water in the whole arena were contained in those packages back at the Cornucopia, I am going to be in trouble. Sure, I could make it back, but it's possible all the other tributes may have moved on with their supplies. …And I don't want to kill for that, even if I have the strength to. But if I run into Beanpole or Sparrow…
I carry on thinking about these things. Based on the position of the first two bamboo poles I left as markers, there seems to be a curve to this coast. I'm circling around an island, or I'm going to come around to something… And what are the odds that no one else has come down to the beach?
I sit down on the sand to work on my hook, honing the tip down to a sharp point. The sky has that kind of tropical-ish look. I can feel moisture in the air too. Maybe it will rain. The paper and string that were used to wrap the knife are still in my jacket pocket, albeit a bit damper than when I got them. It's easy to niche in the bamboo that I'll be able to slide the string through, but to make a hole in the top of my hook without breaking it will be more difficult. I wonder if, based on the lack of animal life I've encountered, if I try to dig or turn over rocks, I'll even come up with anything to use as bait.
I'm tempted to go swimming to cool off, but at the same time, the odd activity of this ocean has me on edge. This is the arena. I'm not home in District 4. The water is not necessarily my friend. Of course, between the waves and the other threats I've imagined, I'd pick the waves.
A cannon shot rings out and I prick my finger- the same one I cut in the Training Center. Knowing that death has struck again somehow in the arena with no hint of how it's happened might be scarier than if I knew how. Or maybe it's naive to think that. But if I don't know where the other tributes are, they could be anywhere.
I put the cut to my lips for a moment, then reach out to dip it in the water. Salt water's good for healing.
Maybe it will rain soon. A warm rain, I'd imagine. The humidity feels higher today than the day before. It's muggy and there are some clouds in the sky. Cold rain might taste better to drink, but warm rain would be less miserable to trudge around in.
I work on. It might be easier to sharp up a stick and try some spear fishing, but I'm really much better with hooks and lines. That's the way that Papa taught me. Will it do me any good here thought?
If somehow I win (because everyone is off killing each other in some part of the arena), I imagine the blooper reel of my minor pratfalls is going to have the ubiquity of the much-loved montage of Pal Fields sewing. With a quill off some weird prickly animal (I've forgotten the name) and threads he pulled out of his own clothing, Pal stitched up a few items of clothing he took from someone else's kills and camouflaged the resulting "trick quilt," as he called it, to make it look like a cliff stretched out further than it did. The trick worked twice. He also made himself a hat, which he gifted to Jeff Zimmer after his Games, and sewed up a wound to his leg.
"Sewing is a very manly hobby," Pal avers in a clip affixed to the beginning of the montage version. They run the thing to a funny soundtrack of guitar strumming. It's edited mostly safe of terror. It's just a testament to how much a creative young guy managed to sew in the Tenth Games.
Maybe the most amazing part is that none of that destroyed sewing for him. He still does it, and it's not like he needs to earn a living, so it's for fun, no less. Pal Fields, the "fiend with a needle."
Something about thinking of him is cheering. Maybe it's just some imaginary feeling of solidarity since he was cut like this once- worse, even- and he survived. It's so weird. I don't even know Pal! There have been two yet to be identified cannon shots fired, but for all I know Heath and Mercy are still out there and they're just as handy with a needle as Pal. At the reaping, it even looked like Pal knew Heath- and acted fairly happy to see him. You don't smile at and slap the back of a guy you know is doomed.
I start to stand up, but see someone in the distance to my right- the direction I was headed. The waves do a good job of not only masking any noise I might make, but of deafening me to anyone else's approach. I sit back down, ducking my head lower than it was to start out. Who is that? What are they doing? What should I do?
I need to get closer- see who this is and what they're doing. I move carefully, rising slowly to my feet, but trying to keep my head relatively low. I circle around to maintain a safe distance between me and this not-too-big person. It's a girl. It's Juna Bright, from 12.
Part of me is thinking, "Good for you, Twelve," because of how meek and scrawny she appeared during training. But just because it's Juna, not Haakon or Korona, doesn't mean I can completely let my guard down. A cornered rat will strike the cat? Isn't that some sort of saying?
There's blood on her. Her shoulder and arm, mainly, but spattered and running across her chest too. She wobbles slightly as she kneels down on the slick rock. She's hurt. Badly or not? She wants to put her arm in the water.
I'm afraid to be seen as sneaking up on her. I cup my hands around my mouth: "Juna!"
She whirls around and almost falls over into the surf. It's a very uneasy standoff. I hold up my empty hands in what's hopefully a universally conciliatory gesture. Will she realize that if I'd wanted to kill her I would've snuck up from behind? I certainly wouldn't have called her name. …Or are there people like that? In these Games? Are there tributes who would like to see the terror on your face before they took your life?
After a long, tense moment that, thankfully, isn't interrupted by the arrival of any other tributes, Juna's posture relaxes a bit. "Mags," she says. I don't hear it, but I see her lips move.
I grab my boots and my pole and try to approach Juna in a casual manner. Of course, when you have to actively try to be casual, it comes out awkward. She stays in place and lets me join her though. Her upper left arm is all torn up. She's knotted the left sleeve of her jacket around it as some sort of makeshift tourniquet, but as white as her face looks now that I'm seeing it close up, going into shock from blood loss could still be a definite possibility. With eighteen other tributes still in these Games, it's hard to imagine she could stick it out to the end even if she holed up in a really good hiding place. She'd need someone helping her.
"What cut you up that way?"
"Haakon's got some kind of big blade, but… The thing's not smooth. It's all serrated and toothy. …Like a saw."
"This is going to sting," I warn her as I scoop up a handful of salt water to run over her cuts.
"It can't be much worse than it already is," she grits her teeth and bears it as I manage this pathetically small act of first aid.
I'm not sure what would be okay to ask her. How far are we trusting one another here? "What part of the arena did you come from?" We leave the left sleeve of her jacket where it's tied, but she accepts my offer to slice up her right sleeve and try to turn it into bandages.
"There's this funny outcropping of rock a ways, um," she points, "That way and through the trees from here. I thought it might make a good hideout. Turns out the pair from Seven thought so too. I probably only made it away because I managed to get the two from One between me and Haakon."
"That was a good move," I try to comfort her binding up her wound the best that I can.
"It was dumb luck," Juna sighs, "I just ran like crazy and happened across them and was lucky enough that they were more interested in trying to take down Haakon together than in chasing me."
"Well, it may not be a strategy, but luck's an important part of the Games." I make a mental note not to approach a large rock outcropping in that area if I can help it. Even if the cannon fires for Haakon and Meridew today, it must be a tactically advantageous position. Someone else would be bound to occupy it after them.
Juna is worn out. She leans back and puts her head on my knees, just off the ground since I'm sitting cross-legged. I brush her bangs back out of her eyes. "Have you found any fresh water around here?"
"Oh, I've," she touches a lump in her jacket pocket, "There's a creek, but I've… Already got some." She pulls out a canteen about the size of her dainty fist, "Go on," she offers, "Have a sip."
I'm grateful and I do, with copious thanks. It's difficult to keep it to one sip (even if it is a big one), but this is a gift and I hardly want to take advantage of an injured person. Juna drinks some after me.
"Is the creek near to that dangerous spot?" I ask. Juna's not sure, but, with her uninjured arm around my shoulder, I get her a little ways into the bamboo forest's shade. It takes a second to scuff out the trail we've made and confuse its source and direction. "I'll be back as fast as I can," I promise her, "Try and take it easy."
"Mags, what's your token?" Juna asks me as I get up, canteen in hand, to brave the task of refilling it.
"It's a ring," I kneel back down to show her.
"How pretty." She reaches up to her neck and tugs on a leather cord around her neck to pull her token out of her shirt. It's a painted wooden bird- bright yellow. "It's a canary. My dad made this. He's a miner. The Miners Association, when they can afford it, buys canaries to go underground with them."
I don't know basically anything about mines of any kind, but I do know a little about birds. "Why would you take a bird underground? They can't like that."
"No, canaries are usually okay in their little cages. They'll even sing down there, apparently. I've only been in the mine a couple of times. Miners use them as an early warning system. If there's gas, the singing stops. Between the canaries and the men, the birds die first."
"Hang in there, Juna," I repeat my feelings from before. I don't want to kill her and I don't want her to die. Some player in the Games I am.
I don't want to cut directly into the forest the way that I think Juna came because, for all I know, Haakon and Clark are still duking it out or someone's looking for her. Of course, I never saw anyone come down to the beach. I put my socks and boots back on and trudge along the sand in the fastest manner I can still consider careful. I'm trying to estimate where a creek I've never even seen will come out to meet the sea. This might not be a particularly wise idea. The afternoon is half gone already. At least this should make Juna more comfortable as the heat tapers off.
The relative silence unnerves me yet again. Nothing in the trees, nothing in the water. Beanpole, are you still alive? Maybe I was brave before (when I knew nothing) and you're brave now. I wonder if Beanpole has killed anyone. The only ways to learn that are to meet up with him and hear it from his lips or to win and earn the opportunity to see it.
A cannon shot. I manage not to injure or fall all over myself at this one. "…People can get used to anything," I mutter to myself. "The good news and the bad news." I mean it in reference to the big rattling cannon shots, but I might as well be commenting on the Games themselves.
It takes about an hour more, but Juna's creek is real and it does come trickling out to the sea. I follow it into the clumps of bamboo and wispy trees a ways to where the water should be fresh and not mixed with salt and dip the canteen in. Juna had seemed fine in regard to drinking the water, so it's not poisoned, but I can only hope it doesn't have some kind of invisible parasites in it that will make me sick later. I don't really have the supplies to try and do anything to it.
I rub some of the water on my hot face. I've sunburned some parts of my cheeks and nose and the tips of my ears. In order to get as much water back to Juna as possible, I figure I should drink as much as I feel up to drinking right here. I can't rush it though and make myself feel sick. I drink slowly after the initial rush to moisten my dry mouth and throat. The slow burble of the creek mixes with the gentle swish-swish-swish of the waves across the sand. I squint through the foliage up along the creek and try to imagine if I went there what I would find. If this is the only source of fresh water in the arena, it's going to attract every tribute who can find it. I hate to consider the possibility of any who can't. Dying of dehydration can't be pretty.
I decide that my thirst is slaked for now, fill the canteen to the top, and set out back toward where I left Juna as the sun sets. Once again, the colors are lovely as light reflects on the water. The main hue is too orange to really remind me of death.
There's another cannon shot. The arena is mysteriously full of distant silent death. I hope that Juna isn't too worried. I hope it doesn't seem like I'm taking too long. I'm getting close, so I pick up my pace. I'm not brave enough to call out to her into the coming night, but her name lingers near the tip of my tongue. "Juna," I say softly to warn her of my approach, but a different pair of eyes- hazel ones- meet mine.
Sparrow's mouth is stretched into a neutral line as she regards me. "That last one was her, Mags," she informs me. Sparrow holds up a bloody strip of cloth, one of the pieces I cut from Juna's jacket. "I think she bled out."
I feel…strange. Sad. Tired. Disappointed. "Oh," I sink down to my knees.
"I'm glad to see you though," Sparrow gives me a modest smile.
"Same here," I agree.
She holds out her arms and I wilt into them, resting my forehead on her shoulder, eyes turned to her knees and the ground. I don't know what kinds of weapons Sparrow might have on her person, but this would be a perfect opportunity for her to just stab me or something. Or vice versa. I still trust her though and she still trusts me.
I don't lift my head until the anthem begins to play and in the sky we see the girl from 11, the boy from 6, Clark from 1 (did Haakon take him out?), and Juna Bright, from 12. District 12 becomes the first to be completely eliminated from the Games.
"This is going to be a girls' Games, I think," Sparrow remarks. Five boys down and three girls. "I'm glad that I'm not going to be stuck fighting it out with all big guys at the very end. These are much better odds for either of us."
"That's true," I sit back, "But not being sure who did them in bothers me."
She nods thoughtfully. "Do you have any supplies?"
"A knife. …And I suppose Juna's bequeathed me her canteen."
"She'd want you to have it," Sparrow agrees, "You did your best to help her."
Whatever supplies Sparrow has are hidden in her backpack. It's not totally limp, so there must be something in it. "Do you need a drink?" I offer.
"That'd be great. Here," she rustles around in her pack, "Have a cracker."
I try to eat it as slowly as I can, taking tiny, measured bites. "This is the best cracker I have ever eaten," I declare.
"I think it's a brand from the Capitol," she holds up the tin so I can see the design printed on the lid. "Tell everyone back home what brand it is and they'll love you forever for all the sales you'll get them."
It's a silly thought and I'm not sure anyone but us can see the name in the dark, but I play along. "Crispco! I could eat the whole tin!"
"See, now if you win, you have a future selling crackers," Sparrow honors me with a subdued laugh.
"If you win, you'll sell hair products," I counter.
"At least the cracker really might have saved your life," she snickers and suddenly I am overcome with emotion that I am not alone and friendless here in the arena. I still like Sparrow and she likes me. "Do you have a special place you're hiding out to sleep or is it just anywhere?"
"I sept on the beach last night, but apparently the tide gets really high, so we're probably better off up here somewhere."
"Oh, okay then." Sparrow puts the tin away. Either she has way more willpower than me or she already ate some earlier. "Somewhere right around here is probably just as good as anywhere else."
"You're only the second person I've run into since leaving the Cornucopia."
"Hmm, well, how about you get some sleep then first, because you look way more ragged than I hope I look, and when I get tired, I'll wake you up to trade off."
I can hardly turn down such a generous offer. "You are a good, good friend," I smile gratefully. "…Just one thing- do I get another cracker for breakfast?"
"Go to sleep, Mags," Sparrow rolls her eyes.
I turn around so we're shoulder to shoulder against the thickest of the nearby stalks of bamboo. I never even knew bamboo could grow this wide before. If my stomach would just stop its complaining, going to sleep here wouldn't be all that bad. I think being so exhausted helps hold back the nightmares- or at least it has so far. Now that I've acknowledged that, I probably can't count on anything.
Chapter 8: Part II, Chapter III
"Maaaags," Sparrow wakes me. For the first time in the arena, I notice the stars. I know those stars. "I started going to sleep. I think that means it's your turn." She really does look groggy. "Don't eat any crackers without me."
"My manners are too good for me to start poking around through your stuff," I yawn. I'd have trouble getting around her into the pack in the first place anyway, considering the way she wraps her arms around it as she drifts off.
I'm going to have to focus a bit not to go back to sleep myself. The second watch is harder in that regard. Moonlight glints on the waves. I can see that the tide is coming in again. It never receded even near to my original marker from the first day.
I look at Sparrow as she's sleeping. Maybe I should suggest she braid her hair so it doesn't get too tangled. So far mine has stayed in place decently well. It's going to be so kinky and curled if I ever get the chance to finally take it out… When I reach up and touch one coiled bun, I realize that I have a better material for hook-making handy than any driftwood I might carve up- there are pins in my hair! If I take one out just one, it should still hold. I feel about carefully for the safest bet at not unraveling my hairdo. "Pincushion-head's got an advantage this time," I chuckle. If Beanpole wins these Games, that comment's for him. Sure, we were just kids at the time, but I won't forget his calling me that.
The tips of the pins are rounded, which goes along with their being allowed into the arena in the first place. It's a possible advantage I doubt a male tribute has even considered. For all the longhaired men I've known, none of them has been a hairpin-wearing type.
I work on the pin until the drawn, pushing it against the strong surface of the bamboo and twisting it as best I can with my hands. Hairpins, thankfully, were meant to have some give.
I drink a few sips more water, then give into my urge to wake Sparrow. I really want to eat another cracker. "Good morning, Sparrow!" I tap her shoulder.
"Huh? What?" Sparrows raises her head right away.
"Let's eat breakfast," I encourage her. "Look, I was industrious!"
"Oh, it's a fishhook. …Do you think you can catch something?" The possibility definitely interests her. "I want to see you do that."
"I'd need bait." Fish might come to a piece of cracker, but if they didn't come quick, it would turn to mush and float off the hook.
"What do you usually use for bait?" She brushes some loose strands of hair out of her eyes and retrieves the tin of crackers.
"Worms. Tiny fish. Other insects. Tiny pieces of meat." I shrug. Not all bait is created equal, but we can't afford to be too picky, either here or back home.
Sparrow passes me a cracker and I bite into it with relish. "Crispco! My hero!" I quip. "…Actually, this would probably go great with a piece of fish."
"After you, if anyone ever tells me that people ever think about anything besides boats and fishing in Four, I'm not going to believe them."
"I don't even know what people are obsessed with in Six," I counter, pouting. "Tell me more about it."
"Six is very industrialized. We make things there, assemble things. It's not like the brain trust out in Three. I mean, sometimes someone designs or invents something cool in Six, but usually it's just, "The Capitol requires three dozen new train cars for hauling lumber from Seven. Fabricate that for us, Six. Chop, chop." There are chemical labs and stuff like that too. That's where Teejay probably gets his morphling hookup."
My cracker went all too fast. I am starting to seriously hope there is something edible growing wild in this arena. "Hmm." 6 sounds very different from 4. "That's sad that a victor, with the funds and freedom to spend his time however he likes, has a drug problem. …But there was his sister, so…" I should cut Teejay Atticus some slack for his morphling. Sure, he won, but his sister followed him in being reaped, and she died.
"There are a lot of people like that in Six, actually." Thinking about it has made Sparrow pensive and, therefore, apparently generous. She hands me another cracker. "…Maybe we’d have better luck fishing for tributes than fish."
I feel the hair on my arms starting to stand up. That is a risky, genius, cutthroat idea. Sparrow is going to win the Twelfth Hunger Games. I should settle for being happy now that I happen to mostly like her and that I saved Faline Beaumont from becoming her prey. Is this where we go our separate ways? Am I willing to go fishing for humans? I don't know yet. But, it's true what they say about how you can't know until you're actually in the arena. I may not be willing to fish for my fellow tributes, but I am willing to entertain the idea.
"How would we do it?"
"Well," Sparrows lays out her thoughts thus far in a very serious manner, "You're the fishing expert, but I thought we could take out the rest of the crackers and use the Crispco tin as bait. I wish I had a bow and arrows. We could get up in a tree and once you'd pulled the tin in close enough, I could shoot them. …Without being able to attack from a distance, it gets a bit dicier."
"Well, we could sharpen some sticks to make javelins, but I don't think I can throw hard enough to do more than superficial damage that way. …And I know you've seen my aim."
That makes her smile again. "What usually happens to the fish you catch?"
"They suffocate out of the water. Sometimes the tough ones need to get knocked unconscious, but usually they're a bit tired by the time you reel them in. …That's for casual one by one fishing with a line, of course."
There's this gleam in her eye. "No one's going to chase that tin into the water," I say abruptly, "Except maybe Beanpole and he would never fall for that in the first place. And, even if they did- drowning- I don't think I could do that. Back home I learned how to save people from drowning. I'm not that despera-"
The rest of my word is lost in the blast of a cannon. Sparrow and I eye one another nervously. I suppose there's one benefit to the regular string of deaths these Games seem to be experiencing- the Gamemakers would much rather have us kill one another than do the murdering themselves. If things stay "interesting" they have less cause to pull out tricks to bring us together.
Something about this sobering moment causes Sparrow to snap another cracker in half and share it with me. "Enjoy Crispco now, because in ten minutes you could be dead," I think, but won't go so far as to say. …If I die and Sparrow wins, she's going to be the one to pitch me as the Crispco advertisement.
"You know, I didn't ask you yet- have you seen anything worth commenting on out here? Did you see what happened to any of the tributes who died before we met up?"
"Well, Wiley and Haakon got into something over the biggest packages at the Cornucopia right off the bat and it wasn't over by the time I collected some goods and got out of there. I stuck to the forest for cover. I sort of made my way back around there," she waved generically toward a region of trees back past where I had first burst out onto the beach. "There's sort of a slant to this whole place as far as I can tell. The Cornucopia's at the top."
"I thought the same thing. So…if we did go fishing, where would we set our bait?"
"I guess it depends on where people ended up settling. …Somewhere other than here."
"Okay, it would take a lot of caution and a lot of luck, but Juna told me that Haakon and Meridew had found some outcropping of rocks to hide out in. Maybe this is absolutely crazy, but what if we fed some little fish to the big fish, so to speak…?"
"If we could actually pull it off… It'd be inspired." Sparrow's impressed. "Well," she puts the tin back in her pack and zips it up, "Let's go get some more water and reconnoiter."
It's disappointing to think we'll never do this on a familiar beach back in District 4. It would be fun to teach Sparrow how to really fish or to goof around with her in a little boat. …The first time I meet someone from District 6- my first friends from any of the other districts- and it's guaranteed not to last. I have bad luck with friends.
Sparrow and I wind our way along to the creek. I think it's not just me- the beach really is smaller today. We wash off our hands and faces and I muse about the packages that were scattered around the Cornucopia and what they might've contained. "Flint, probably, some other packaged food…there can't have been only one canteen…Weapons…"
"There's no sense in getting too caught up in it," Sparrow shrugs it off, "We'll just have to keep our eyes open for some hand-me-downs."
At my suggestion, she allows me to run my fingers through her long hair and try to braid it back. My work is a little lopsided, but I finally near the ends and tie it off with a piece of brownish twine that came off a package. "How do I look?" Sparrow poses.
"Pretty good, considering where we are and what's going on."
"So, up the creek, or around on the beach?"
There's one thing I know for sure. "I don't want us to split up."
"I wasn't suggesting that," Sparrow smiles, "You can hold onto my arm the whole way if you want to."
Even though it's shrinking, I feel more comfortable on the beach. I pick the coast as our first way of exploring. Since this rocky hideout is supposed to stick out, I assume that means over the beach or the water. We should catch sight of it from down here, possibly sooner than we would if we trekked through the foliage. Sparrow offers her arm, half-joking, but I accept and hold onto it, which sets both of us to smothered giggling. Apparently I'm one of those sorts of people who laughs when they're stressed.
There are some different trees mixed in with the bamboo and others types I've seen so far. Some kinds of palms. I find myself hoping for dates and start scanning the branches. What else might be growing in this sort of climate? Hunger is making me kind of slow. "Sparrow," I stumble in my excitement and nearly bring her down with me.
"Oww, Mags, what is it?"
I release her arm and point up at the sight that has impressed me so much. "See those?"
A whole bundle of fat green things hanging off a tree. Sparrows blinks at them. "Are they edible?"
"Bananas start out green?"
I head off to scratch myself up scrambling up the tree and pull some bananas free- some to eat now and some to carry in Sparrow's bag for later. I can't quite ascribe to the strategy of destroying food so some other tribe can't have it.
It's weird to keep coming across lines in the sand. Which can I cross? Which can't I? If, for instance, I can't kill, I imagine I can't win. The Capitol wants blood on their victors' hands. If Sparrow or Beanpole won because I couldn't kill, well, I could content myself with that, I think.
"I've never seen a banana growing before," Sparrow explains herself. That part doesn't surprise me. Most of the districts don't have the right climate for bananas. "We don't grow much food in Six. The only planting I've ever done was for a school project where we grew herbs in empty egg cartons."
"Growing food- on land- isn't a big industry in Four, but there's some recreational vegetable gardening here and there."
Sparrow struggles to get her nails into the somewhat tough, under-ripe peel to open it. I expertly break through mine and drop it down onto her shoulder. "Eew!" she lets out a tiny shriek, "Mags, don't scare me like that!"
"Sorry, sorry," I garble around a mouthful of mush. The banana has a sharp flavor. I love it. After eating the first one fast, I come down from the tree and eat two more slowly. "Banana pie, banana pudding, banana bread, fried bananas, eat them with ice cream if you can get it, or chocolate, or on pancakes…" I ramble on about the many ways I can think of to appreciate bananas until Sparrow can't stand it anymore.
"Ugh, that's torture, even if I'm not starving anymore," she chides me.
"Pa- uh, my father- does the exact same thing about shrimp."
"When you were in the tree, could you see any signs that anyone else had been getting bananas down?"
"No," I'm immediately sure what she's getting at.
""Then there are probably more trees or something else to eat somewhere else."
What's this? Sparrow thinks like a detective from the Peacekeepers, apparently. "How do you figure?" I try to make sense of it.
"Well, Juna came by here, right? And she left an easy trail to follow, so I have a hard time imagining no one else investigated things out this way."
"They might not have known they could eat green bananas. Maybe they weren't even sure they were bananas," I offer an alternate theory.
"Hmmm." It is a tricky thing to analyze. "Beanpole would know, right?" she muses weakly.
"I assume so."
We spend the afternoon walking around to where a fortress-like outcropping of rock reaches out from the hill, cuts off the beach, and juts over the ocean. We can't see anyone up there from our position at the lowest altitude of the arena, but no one probably sees us either or they'd be dropping rocks on us. We're easy targets with no protection between us and the fairly sheer rock face.
"Tricky, tricky, tricky," Sparrow runs her hand along the rocks, "We can't come up from behind them or from this side without special climbing equipment we just aren't going to get here."
"I think I would forget about Seven for now, though that's just my opinion. Maybe while we focus on other things, someone will crack that nut for us."
"I guess I'm just concerned they won't. And if it comes down to you and me, Haakon and Meridew…"
They would have the defensive advantage in there. I doubt they would stay holed up afraid of us until they were starved out. I understand Sparrow's plans and nod my head. We stand quietly beside the wall for a while, letting our thoughts swirl and eddy about inside.
"Let's try and go into the forest tonight and find a tree to sleep in, rig up some lines, see what we can catch?"
I haven't been thinking of much and Sparrow's so proactive, it's hard to turn her down. "I guess it won't hurt to try." I stroll along the wall down to the water. There are more rocks visible in the water here. Some of them might have broken off the outcropping. I think when the water is lower, they might form tide pools.
"Where are you going, Mags?" Sparrow pads up to the edge of the water, but doesn't follow me any further as I take advantage of the protection my boots provide to walk on the shards of rock amidst the splashing water.
The waves jump up to splash my pants, but it feels kind of good. Back home I tend to feel a bit more nimble doing this barefoot or in sandals, but with the bamboo pole to steady me, I don't think I'm likely to slip too devastatingly. Sparrow paces nervously in the foam as I move further out, trying to observe the shape of the backside of the rock fortress. Is it completely blocked off or does it open out over the water? We may not be able to get up there now, but with some kind of gripping hook…? And how high will the arena's highest tide be?
It looks… Open! It is open! An arm of rock juts out the back like a diving board. I can't think of anyway to use it now, but it feels promising.
I turn my attention down a bit more as I head back. If there's anywhere I should expect to find fish or other sea life, it would be around here, but nothing catches my eye, not even dashing little fish shadows. It's a disappointment. I wanted to fish. So much for my ability to anything useful out here.
"Mags, what's that?" Sparrow asks once I'm back within hearing distance.
"Down by your left foot."
I look down. There's something glinting in the water and it's big. It's…a hook. A really big hook. I'm not sure I could haul in by myself the sort of fish that you'd use a hook this size to catch. I hold it up so Sparrow can see and carry it back to shore with me.
"That looks nasty," she says upon appraisal of the hook, but grins wildly nonetheless. "Guess somebody left you a present."
"I wonder how it ended up there." We both gaze solemnly up the steep rock face. "Do you think someone dropped it?"
We retreat casually back to the banana tree to see if we can find a good tree or two trees close together that will hold us. I don't think we'll be able to get try high, so I can downgrade my worries about falling down in the middle of the night and breaking my neck. "I never realized how much I liked bananas," Sparrow chatters as she settles onto a perch. She's a better climber than I am and the approach of darkness isn't helping me any. Sparrow tries to give me tips, but I'm pretty much hopeless. A cannon fires and I lose all my progress, falling to the ground in an undignified heap. At least I don't receive anything more serious than a few bumps and bruises.
"At dark again, huh?" Sparrow muses. That wasn't the first time. "You think someone…or something…is on the hunt?"
"Well, traps are harder to see and avoid in the dark," I note. My annoyance at my terrible time climbing thus far lends me strength, if not increased ability, and I make it up the green, tropical tree this time. I settle in on a branch opposite Sparrow's and a few junctions lower, balancing things a bit. It's a good thing both of us are light. I wonder if there's some way I can safely tie myself here so I won't fall.
"Sleepy yet?" At least Sparrow is nice enough not to laugh at my pathetic performance.
"Tired," I sigh, "But not sleepy."
"Do you know how to make a net?"
"Sure. Usually we buy our big nets from the Crestas, but we mend them ourselves on the cheap when we can. And I've made little ones just to see if I could. Of course, a net I made out of natural fibers here wouldn't be as tough as any of those nets. It'd be more for show. Like," I laugh, "A wedding net!"
"A wedding net? What? What is that?" Sparrow is curious and amused all at once.
"It's a special grass net the mothers of the bride and groom weave that's put over the couple at their wedding."
"No wonder you're so easygoing. It sounds fun to live in Four. In Six-"
The anthem blares out and cuts Sparrow off. It was Padma from 2 and Petey from 3 today. Padma was another tough contender, size-wise. I imagine, if he's allowed to bet, Mr. Bronze may have lost some money with 2 getting knocked out on only the third day. Mr. Zimmer, on the other hand, can be content that Cadelle and I are still hanging on. Jack Umber has Korona.
"That's two districts out," Sparrow says when we can hear one another again, "Ten tributes down. And, uh, four districts with both tributes remaining." I try to calculate this out in my head, but Sparrow works fasters. "You and, uh, Beanpole from Four, me and Bailey from Six, the king and queen of the mountain from Seven, and the pair from Eight."
"Hmm," I answer. It's an interesting mix. I'm impressed that Daisy from 10 has managed to make it longer than so many physically intimidating tributes. I'd like to see her and find out her strategy, but it's an unlikely thing to happen, particularly as the Games wear on. Paranoia is only going to climb. I'm lucky to not only have Sparrow, but to know Beanpole is still out there. I can trust both of them. I like both of them. It's one of those times when there's, unfortunately, no chance of getting your friends to like each other. Even in the Training Center, they didn't seem inclined to hit it off.
"If you hang down your hooks, you could see what you'll catch," Sparrow suggests and politely raises a hand to hide her yawn.
"I only have one piece of twine. I'm not sure it would let my hook reach down far enough to snag anything anyway," I pull it out to show her.
"I don't know- if you got Korona by the ponytail or something, it'd still be helpful." Which of us, I wonder, does Sparrow believe is strong or brave enough to take down Korona? "…Well, you've got three hooks now, but I do have another piece of twine," she offers me a second piece from her pack, identical to the one I already have aside from its length (the one I used on her hair was definitely too short for this).
I'm concerned it won't be strong enough to hold the big hook I found in the water, so I thread my hairpin hook onto the long piece and tie the wooden hook onto the short one. I left my bamboo pole on the ground leaning against our tree, but I don't think this situation really calls for a pole anyway. I tie both lines onto the branch I'm resting on, but further out so the knots aren't immediately under my body. Hopefully if anyone or anything gets caught, I'll feel the pull without falling down. Secretly though, I hope that no one encounters my hooks in the first place.
"Goodnight, Mags," Sparrow leans her head on her backpack, which she's hooked over another, slightly higher branch. There are several lumps in it. I wonder what she has other than the cracker tin and bananas. Maybe that's what's making her so confident. It's not a bow and arrows though. She already said as much.
"Goodnight, Sparrow." And you too, Beanpole. Mrs. Mirande. Papa.
Chapter 9: Part II, Chapter IV
I can't get myself to feel quite secure in the tree, even if I really am. I wake up three times before the sunrise, but never to anyone hooked on my lines. Sparrow appears to be sleeping comfortably. It's a talent. She's a bird all right, I smile, laughing inside my head. All she needs to do is tuck her head under her wing, right?
I could almost go back to sleep. It's peaceful. The sunlight is trickling down through the trees. The waves are slinking in and out beneath me… Wait. Beneath me? I look down to see water creeping up the dirt. The tide has not only continually failed to drop significantly, but has continued to rise beyond what I saw as its natural bounds.
"Sparrow…" I hazard waking her, "Sparrow, wake up and look down."
"Wh-what?" she yawns, dark eyes shifting from my face and down to the glimmering water below. "Woah," it hurries her awake, "Are we being flooded?"
"Sort of, I guess. The tide's even higher than yesterday. I didn't expect this."
"If there are ay fish out there, I expect you'll be hooking them soon and not people."
The added difficulty in reaching us the ocean water brings gives me some temporary security. It would be a pain to wade out here and try to mess with us. "Might as well have breakfast in the tree," I shrug.
"This reminds me of something Sunny told me about back in the Capitol- Have you ever heard of a waterbed?"
"It's a bed where the mattress is filled with water instead of feathers or stuffing or whatever else usually goes in mattresses."
"I wonder what that feels like." I remember the fishing lines and look down then to see that they continue to dangle where I left them. A wet leaf is stuck in the hairpin one. I idly reel them back in while Sparrow gets out her cracker tin.
"Are we going to be able to go back for more bananas?"
"As long as you don't mind wading through the new shallows. The water may be coming up, but the tide doesn't seem particularly strong. It's not receding much. There's no pull."
"If the trees were stronger and, uh, branchier, we could just climb our way over," Sparrow muses.
"If we had some rope, we could make a raft," I counter, grinning at the idea of it, "Bamboo floats very well."
I am considerably better at getting out of the tree than I had been at getting into it. Sparrow hesitates a little at taking the last step down into the water. It's only ankle deep, though the gently sloshing waves take it higher every few seconds. My bamboo pole is floating about a yard away, caught between some stalks of bamboo and a flowering bush. "I can't swim, you know," Sparrow tells me as I turn away to retrieve it.
"I don't see why you'd have to at this point. We'll stock up on bananas and head up and in." Which, of course, is exactly what the Gamemakers want. The less of us there are, the easier it is for all of us to avoid each other. The deaths need to continue at a viewer-pleasing rate. I wonder how visible the night deaths were and how well they went over. "I'm a good swimmer," I try to reassure her. "I know all the things you're supposed to do to rescue from someone from drowning too."
"Here's hoping you don't have to use them." Sparrow lets me take the lead as we slog off to the banana tree. Nothing happens along the way, but once we near the tree, we both stop short. Ada Spelling, from 3, is precariously balanced up between the branches. Dried blood on her cheek has stuck a lock of hair to the side of her face. She looks tired. And possibly dangerous.
Sparrow and I exchange an uncertain glance. "Ada," I venture.
She turns around the rest of the way to fully take us in. "Beto told me," she shrills out nervously, "He told me to watch out for you!" Is she pointing to both of us generally, or one of us in particular? This isn't normal, and there are few things more unpredictable than crazy.
Sparrow starts to edge gradually away further into the trees. I see what she's thinking- maybe. I wouldn't want to turn my back to Ada either.
"'Ada, you can kill,'" the girl from 3 says to herself, "That's what Beto told me. I could kill. I can. Beto, you didn't underestimate me."
Sparrow isn't sneaking away from the scene the way I thought she was. She's moving around behind the tree. I can't follow this plan any further. "Yeah, I'm sure he's proud," I answer, shifting my fingers along the bamboo pole. With my other hand I feel my pockets- the hooks, the knife… Should I get one ready in my hand or would that gesture appear too threatening? Which one should I go for? The big hook is heavy; I can feel it tugging my pocket down. The knife might be best (quickest?), though I've worn off some of the edge with all the whittling and bamboo cutting I've done. I wrap my fingers around the handle, but keep the knife tucked into my pocket.
Ada tenses up. When she finally jumps, the one she goes for is Sparrow. As far as I can tell, the length of rope between her hands is all the weaponry she's got. If she's strong enough, that will be enough.
Sparrow must have thought I would be the target, because she's been taken by surprise and splashes backward into the surf. A person can drown in just a few inches of water.
Ada presses down with the rope, but Sparrow is hardly willing to give up without a struggle. She flails around, scratching at Ada's face and arms.
And, during this, what about me? I don't freeze to the spot in fear. My pole drops into the water. I move, even without thinking about it. I grab Ada's hair. It's a deep, bronzed red. Sparrow sputters and coughs, raising her head out of the water.
I am stronger than I realized. I shove Ada away to pull Sparrow up. "Cough it out! That's good!" I encourage her.
Ada is soaked and confused. Sometimes a more finely tuned instrument is the one more likely to snap.
Sparrow chokes and shivers, clutching my arm as I kneel beside her. We've made a lot of noise here and who knows what kind of trouble it's going to attract. Sparrow had better recover enough for us to get out of the area quickly.
And, of course, there's still Ada to think of. Ada, who's already taking her second chance while I'm focused on Sparrow. She tackles me and we roll over into the tide with a sudden smack and splash. I catch my breath before I go under and peer out through the water at Ada despite the sting of the salt. Her eyes are brown with gold flecks, but as red and puffy as they are wide. She's got my right arm pinned down with her knee. This must be what capture in the shallows looks like to a fish. It feels strange. So fast and so slowed down at the same time. I have one opportunity as I see it. I reach up with all the speed I can manage in one smooth arc.
It becomes red and hideous and frightening as soon as my knife slides into Ada's throat. Instead of sliding toward me, Ada falls to the side, struck by something thrown from the other direction. I break through the surface and blink my pained eyes.
Sparrow's chest is still heaving and she's dripping wet, but her hand remains up in the air, stunned into paralysis after making the throw. I shake myself like a wet dog. The bun in my hair that's less a pin slips partway down.
"You're left-handed," says Sparrow. She lets her hand drop back down.
I'm not, but I don't have the breath yet to speak up. There's blood spreading in the water, swaying forward, inch by inch, with the endlessly creeping tide. I try to focus on the sound of the ocean, not of someone dying right beside me. The cannon doesn't surprise me this time. The silence it heralds is a relief.
I just keep breathing. That's most important right now.
I see Daisy, from District 10. Daisy Arlen? Daisy has come down to the water to see what was happening. …And to take advantage of it?
"You see that, Daisy?" Sparrow speaks up, "Mags did that, so if I were you, I'd get out of here or you'll be next." It's a bluff as far as I'm concerned, but it works on a little girl like Daisy. Sparrow, even drenched, shaking, and bedraggled, manages to sound pretty threatening. Daisy turns around and runs away.
I can't look at Ada. That's it for my knife. I don't want to think about what happened.
The next thing I realize, Sparrow is pressing my pole back into my hand. "Come on, Mags," she urges me in a soft voice not so different from the one she used to frighten Daisy- "Let's not stop here. The next one might not be so easy to handle."
It's not until Sparrow has led me away to some small, dry clearing that my thoughts start to come coherently back together, rattled into place by another cannon shot. "That's half the tributes here," Sparrow notes. She has her jacket hanging in the bamboo along with her backpack and socks. Her boots sit upside down on the ground and her pants are rolled up to her knees as she drips dry in the sun.
"We made it halfway," I echo her sentiment. I don't even remember when I laid down in the scruffy grass, but here I am staring up at the leaves. "Congratulations on making it into the top twelve."
"Likewise," Sparrow comes to look down at me. She laughs. "Mags, you saved my life. And you didn't even need me to return the favor. You were plenty able to protect yourself."
"It's weird. When Ada attacked you, I was terrified. But when she fought with me, I mainly felt calm and sure."
Sparrow listens thoughtfully to this, but doesn't immediately have any response to it. She just seems kind of relieved. She gets out the Crispco tin and shows me how most of the crackers were broken into pieces during the struggle. I finally sit up when she offers me one. We eat crackers and continue to dry off slowly.
"When I was twelve, my best friend was killed in the arena," I tell Sparrow. If I identify my friend by her name, will that be another push for some commentator to bring up her picture? The year and the district are really enough to pick her out already. Their families and friends remember forever, and their home districts recall for a while, but it takes mere weeks for the Capitol, and Panem in general, to forget all the tributes who fell to clear the path for the victor. "Aoko Ayu," I say. At home it's a cause for sorrow; here it sounds like some strange spell.
"That's sad," says Sparrow.
She unbraids her hair to encourage it to dry faster and convinces me to the do the same. It's funny. As the Games move forward, the stress and pressure should be increasing. I shouldn't be sitting around noticing the scent of flowers on the air. Maybe Ada was the entirely sane one and I'm going a tad crazy. "At least our clothes got washed," I try to joke with Sparrow as she runs her fingers through my crooked, twisted hair.
"Well, your friend, she's free from all of this now. She road the train to the stars. …That's what my dad would've said back in the old days."
"Is that where they go in Six?"
"Well, Dad said so before his accident. The past eight years he hasn't said much of anything though." Sparrow's hands dance easily through my hair, braiding, twisting, pinning. She's just as good at this as the stylists. I suppose with as much hair as she has, she's had time to practice. "There you go," she moves to see her handiwork from the front, "It's pretty good. At least it's even."
Sparrow turns down my offer to work on her hair, at least just yet, and convinces me I might as well take my jacket off. Have we just resigned ourselves to letting whatever comes our way here take us? This thought bothers me, stirring me back to action.
Ignoring my questionable skills, I slowly scale the stablest tree I can find in the area. I can see the creek from here, but not much else. My head's lost in the leaves. Are we far from the Cornucopia here? …Not that I expect to find anything, even trash, left behind there, but it would serve as a solid landmark.
"How do you feel about fishing now?" Sparrow asks when I come back down.
"I lost my knife," I stall.
"They wouldn't remove the body until we were a little ways away… I got it back for you." And, lo and behold, she has. It's completely clean, but I feel slightly ill looking at it anyway.
"I still don't like the idea, but…compared to the alternative-" The ambushed rather than the ambusher, the fish rather than the fisherman, the living or the dead.
There are more grasses here than by the beach. "Maybe we can weave a net," I decide.
Knotting and weaving gets repetitive. It can be therapeutic as you think of nothing, or troubling as you allow your mind to wander. After Sparrow gets the hang of it (the way she works with hair, it's no surprise she's so capable at this), she starts to hum a tune. What songs do they sing in 6? Is it a working song, or one just for fun? Sparrow will be a popular victor if she wins. Maybe winning would provide her with the means to bring her father back to his old pre-accident self. She'd probably be a better coach than either of the other victors from 6 might have been, based on what she told me about them. She would be…the third victor from 6, come to think of it. What has 6 got that gets them so far? Both of their tributes this year are still in it (to the best of my knowledge- that twelfth death remains a temporary mystery).
While Sparrow hums, does she imagine herself as a victor, or is she picturing something else? I don't ask.
We don't go "fishing" that day. The deaths of the day are revealed to be Ada and Daisy. I can't help but think Daisy ran from us straight into much bigger trouble.
"At eight left, the camera crews will go out and interview our families," Sparrow notes. Papa will probably enjoy and abhor that at the same time- unhappy to play any part in these sickening Games, but proud that I've survived so long. What will Sparrow's father say? I feel sure of myself, at least as far point. Sparrow and I, and hopefully Beanpole, will make the final eight.
"Take me fishing today," Sparrow smiles, braiding back her hair and even working some pink flowers from a nearby bush into the links. She still looks very pretty, even though she's about as dirty and tired as I am. The average Games seem to run about a week and a half now. If these were the First (gritty, merciless, delirious) Games, we'd be going into the last day now. The boy from 4 made it to that last day. Someone else killed him, but Jack Umber broke his nose.
"Picking the right time and location are very important in fishing," I lecture in a mock-serious "old pro" sort of way. Suited back up (aside from Sparrow's jacket, which she's stuffed in her backpack- is it getting hotter here or is it just us?) we tiptoe through the stands of trees. Eventually the sounds of a struggle both concern and entice us.
By the time we've staggered quietly into viewing distance of the event, Jem, already blood-flecked and grim, is turning Bailey over onto his back and checking to see that he's done the job "properly." He's holding a small axe. An, umm, I think it's an awl. The cannon fires. Jem picks some packages off of Bailey. It's worth noting, I suppose, that Bailey seemed to be carrying a lot of things. Taking him out has brought Jem quite a haul of miscellaneous supplies.
"Good morning, ladies," Jem greets us.
Sparrow startles. Bailey's death she can keep her calm through, but being greeted goes too far.
I had a feeling Jem had seen us. "Hi Jem." I doubt his battle to the death with Bailey began with such pleasantries.
"Do the two of us make a scary pair?" Sparrow lets out a nervous laugh, trying to understand this awkward standoff.
"If you attack me first, that's one thing, but I don't fight girls if I've got an alternative."
If Sparrow and I went for him, it would be two against one, but I'm still glad for this. "You've got four more to go then. Good luck with Haakon- I've heard he's got a saw blade or something?"
"Phew, good luck to all of us with Haakon and Meridew up in those rocks," Jem wipes his brow with an exaggerated gesture thats makes me smile. "Maybe if we're lucky, they'll get paranoid and kill each other before it gets to be our problem."
All three of us laugh nervously at that. Jem veers off down toward the side of the rock outcropping we haven't investigated yet. Despite my enthusiastic joking with Jem, I can't say I want him to clean house on the guys' side. I don't want to fight Beanpole, but I hate to wish for his demise either. I wonder what he'd say if we met up with him. Between Sparrow and Beanpole, it would be very hard for me to say who I’d most want to win. …But my feelings probably won't matter in the larger scheme of things. I won't have to make that decision.
I wonder…where is Beanpole?
"If Jem teamed up with us, we might be able to fish for bigger game," Sparrow hints.
"I usually make a point of not baiting sharks." Usually we leave sharks alone. Of course, if there's a particularly bloodthirsty one out there attacking people, sometimes a group of fishermen bands together to take it down.
The Cornucopia is picked clean, as expected. It doesn't look like a prime fishing spot, but it's a good place to get our bearings from. I think this is probably roughly the center of the arena. More of the killing must have taken place down the other side, considering how little of it I saw or heard. Sound and silence have turned out to be equally and oppositely eerie. The mechanical whir of the hovercraft seems out of place as Bailey's body is removed behind us.
"Oh, well, here's all the fresh water," I acknowledge the string of pools and rivulets running down the opposite side of the arena.
"If you weren't worry about all of this kill or be killed stuff, I bet this would be a nice place to visit."
"In some ways, it's a little like District Four," I remark, "You would like it if you saw it."
"You won't miss out if you never see District Six," Sparrow chuckles. "It's pretty ugly."
"There must be something lovely though. Every place has some sort of beauty in it if you look hard enough."
"I guess in Six then, it's the sky. When the sun starts going down, the sky is filled with color- pink and orange and yellow and purple. Part of what makes it so beautiful is how all the ugly smoke particles look in that light. It's kind of funny."
We fall quiet again as we stalk through the brush. "Don't scare the fish," and all that.
Laurie, the sharp-seeming girl from 5, is sitting in a tree. We see her feet first, dangling down below the leaves. I take a deep breath.
Laurie is eating some kind of nuts.
I don't want to do this. I don't want to hurt her. Laurie must have lost her boots or stowed them away somewhere, because her feet are bare.
I have a hook ready in my hand. I look at Sparrow and she makes a swinging gesture with her wrist. She doesn't appear to share my scruples about doing this. …Sparrow is better at these Games than I am.
So what do I do? Cast my line? All it would take to throw things into turmoil would be to make a sound and alert Laurie to our presence. …But I sort of agreed that I would go "fishing" with Sparrow, so I don't know how she'd take it… I'm locked, undecided, into this horrible moment.
There's a splash. Laurie drops some nuts. Korona crashes through the undergrowth ahead of Laurie before I can bat an eye. "Mercy!" shrieks a male voice. Korona spits blood onto the ground then meets my eyes. She has a homemade bamboo spear in one hand and a nasty-looking mace in the other. There's blood on both of them. I can't keep an eye on everyone in the picture now, but Korona is definitely a more worrisome and immediate threat than Laurie. I cast my hook and it bounces off her torn jacket.
"Nice try, Four," she glares at me.
The cannon fires for Mercy ahead of her district partner, Heath's, arrival on the scene. His jacket is gone and his shirt is soaked in blood.
It's like too many boats trying to leave a harbor at once. More than one of us is bound for disaster.
Heath throws the rock gripped in his hand at Korona. It strikes her in-between the shoulder blades and she stumbles forward, the breath knocked out of her. It was a heavy rock and a good shot. I've reeled my line back in and am ready to try for a second time- it would be best, I guess, to try and snag her long ponytail and pull her in that way.
But my arm is still pulled back when Heath staggers backward, falling to his knees. There's an arrow protruding from his chest.
Laurie's already drawing another shaft of the quiver she has hidden up in the tree. The second arrow goes into Heath's cheek.
The cannon fire for Heath as he bleeds out all over the dirt covers up whatever words Sparrow is yelling at me (I think it's me). I see her mouth moving, but everything is silent beyond the rush of air accompanied by fear as Korona grabs my leg and pulls me down. She's let go of her spear as we grapple. It's entirely coincidental- right?- that an arrow whizzes by my side and misses when Korona knocks me over.
Panic sets in as she struggle against one another. I can only spare a second to be worried for what might happen to Sparrow as I scramble to hold Korona off and grab my knife. I kick and flail without any strategy as Korona pulls my hair and tried to hold me still enough for her mace to connect with my skull.
"Laurie, hit her!" Sparrow screams and Korona screeches in reply as Laurie sends an arrow right through her forearm. I flip my knife open and slash Korona's other arm, then roll away. Korona curses in pain, but is cut short as- I hate it but I can't look away- Laurie's next arrow goes right into her throat.
I'm panting with shock and fear and exertion. Laurie casually drops down out of the tree to survey her handiwork. I never watched her at the archery station- I never even noticed her there- but she's at least as good, if not better than, Sparrow. And somehow she's on our side. The cannon fires for Korona. My heart won't stop pounding. Peter, Zeno, Elmo, Brendan, Nicholas. Saints of the sea, watch over me. I have a guardian angel and she has arrows.
Chapter 10: Part II, Chapter V
Sparrow and Laurie hug one another and start talking, but I can't focus on their words after what's just transpired. That was close, so close, too close. And if Sparrow and Laurie have some sort of deal, why was Sparrow encouraging me to attack Laurie?
I'm so worn out I lean my head back against some bamboo and try to calm my breathing. I stare up and notice a breeze ruffling the leaves. Papa. Papa, I'm alive.
"Mags? Are you coherent yet?" Sparrow kneels down beside me.
"Hi Mags," Laurie offers in a tiny, polite tone.
"Y-yeah," I grumble, partially over the various aches and pains that I'm beginning to notice as the adrenaline drains out of me and partially from the annoyance of Sparrow acting so friendly but keeping such an important thing as an alliance with another player in the Games secret from me. I thought we were better friends than that. We spent so much time together back at the Training Center. …The other day I saved her life.
"Let's go back to one of those ponds and you can wash off those cuts and scratches," Sparrow suggests. I look at Korona's blood on my knife and feel slightly sickened, although my stomach is pretty empty and aside from this disgust I could probably use something to eat. I wipe the blood off on my jacket sleeve then roll it up over my elbow to hide the stain beneath the fabric.
"I'll get my stuff," Laurie scrambles back up into the tree. She's not a particularly graceful climber, but she gets the job done. It occurs to me that ease of climbing is probably the reason for her bare feet.
Sparrow offers me a hand and helps me to my feet. If feel shaky, more from nerves than anything else. I haven't sustained any major injuries. I don't let go of Sparrow's hand until Laurie is down on the ground and she's got her socks and boots back on. The hovercraft drops down behind us to take care of Heath and Korona's arrow-studded bodies once it's clear we're leaving.
A camera crew might be interrupting my father's day of nervous watching right now to ask him questions about me. They're not family, but Faline and her relatives might be spoken to as well in regard to me in light of the circumstances. Of course, the loose ties between us will probably be a let down for the Capitol audience. Jack Umber will probably try to set aside the loss of his second (and quite formidable) tribute by making fun of me. And Mrs. Mirande and her sister will end up on camera too. Beanpole is still alive. Whatever strategy he's adopted, it's serving him well enough. …I think this may be the first year both of 4's tributes have cracked the top eight. Only two districts have their pair yet unbroken: 4 and 7.
Girls took out Heath for him, so I hope Jem will dispatch Haakon for us.
My jacket is gross and dirty, so I try to wash it out in the water of the pool Sparrow chooses. She readjusts the side of my hair that was pulled loose and tries to help dab at the scratches on my cheek. Laurie collects more of the weird nuts that she was eating before and offers them to us. I don't know exactly what they are, but Laurie's not dead or incapacitated by stomach pains or diarrhea, so I don't worry about names. They're some sort of tropical nut I've never encountered before. I chew slowly, thinking over the flavor. I bet they would taste better roasted.
"Sorry about our fishing trip," I bait my metaphorical hook as I search for information.
"It's okay, don't worry about it," Sparrow answers, "We've got to take these things as they come." I nod, but am not sure how to interpret this all the way through. Does my alliance with her trump her alliance with Laurie? Balancing layers of social interaction would make for a very complex Games strategy, but there are no rules about what you can or can't do in the arena. You don't run until the initial sixty seconds are up (you'd get blown up); you survive. What kind of things happened to Sparrow here before she met up with me?
"I don't want to go looking for any more trouble today," I decide. "If it comes to us, I'll deal with it, but I'm already worn out. I think I'd like to enjoy making it to the final eight for at least a few hours and let others do the same."
"I'm running out of arrows," Laurie says, which, in this case, is her sort of agreement with my stance.
I pick at my gradually drying jacket and think that the weight and durability of our clothing was probably specifically selected to not only be right for the weather conditions facing us, but to rip and fray dramatically just a bit without completely coming apart. …Anything for TV, right?
Speaking of which, I imagine the steady rate of deaths has been going over well with our Capitol audience- never too many at once to follow the action (I know that it's easier when you're watching than in the thick of it), never too long without anything happening. I wonder what kinds of stories they're putting us into. How the roles we set out to play (or characteristics we intended to display, at least) are matching up with what's actually happened out in the arena. I haven't ended up very funny, for one thing. …But somewhere out there, Jeff Zimmer is chattering on about these Games and I'm the only tribute here who is his "friend."
The afternoon moves along quietly. Sparrow spends some time getting reacquainted with the bow, shooting one arrow out into the brush over and over. It's just for now though, to practice. Sparrow suggests we swap some of our weapons around, but Laurie doesn't want to part with it.
While Sparrow chases her single arrow back and forth, I chat a bit with Laurie, getting a better feel for her character. She thought I couldn't make her laugh back when we were in the Training Center.
"Who will they interview about you?"
"I've got a mother, two brothers, and two aunts. They'll probably just rope together the whole bunch. …And you?"
"Just a dad."
"They'll go for the girl too, of course," Laurie imagines. I thought the same. I agree.
"Is it just me," she shifts the subject, "Or is the arena shrinking?"
"It's definitely shrinking."
"They're bringing us back in closer like that… It's kind of subtle."
I might as well ask what I really want to know about. "I was wondering…How'd you learn to shoot a bow like that? You're so good."
"Back home, I don't have a real bow, but, for years my brothers and I have played this stupid game where we make big slingshots out of metal hangers and oversized rubber bands and sling nuts and stuff at each other. See?" Laurie reveals a scar on the back of her left arm, "Sometimes someone would actually get kind of hurt. My mom was always screaming at us to cut it out. …And, yeah, it was a dumb game and we were being reckless, but look at that, Mom, I'm in the final eight because I told Ms. Shy about it and she told me to pick up a bow and get to work."
"Your brothers must think that's crazy."
"They probably do."
When Sparrow's worn herself out as far as she considers prudent, she comes and lays down beside us on the grass for a while before breaking out the last of the Crispco crackers to divide between us. We try to fill our disgruntled stomachs by drinking extra water. Sparrow is as reluctant as I am to eat our few bananas yet. Eight is still enough tributes to last a long time, depending on the circumstances.
We finally get up to move to a slightly more hidden campsite for the night. These pools of water are a bit too exposed. The anthem plays as we're settling in. Korona, Bailey, Heath, and Mercy all regard us from the screen in the sky. I think of Pal Fields hugging Heath Holystone on the District 8 stage and I get this lump in my throat. What's love, but something that can make this cruel, grim world even more unbearable?
For the second time in the arena I indulge in the luxury of feeling horribly sad. Juna died before I made it back to her. Somewhere in the Capitol, Pal, who lost both of his tributes in one day, is probably crying over Heath. …And are the other victors sad too? Is Jack Umber mourning Korona and Clark, or is he only disappointed? If what Sparrow told me before is true, I don't have to worry much for the feelings of Bailey's mentor at least. Teejay has his drugs to cushion the loss.
"Mags?" Sparrow asks, and both girls turn to me, "Are you crying?"
"Uh," I touch the smudge of water puddled on my left cheek, "I guess so. …A little bit." Oh, look. I'm so visibly weak. I wipe the tears away. I decide not to compound my weakness by being the one to change the subject. I wait in silence, commanding my mind to steer clear of Papa back home somewhere and other sensitive topics that might motivate me back to tears.
"Who will take the first watch?" It's Laurie who eventually brings it up. However, even after an uneventful afternoon together, Laurie and I are still wary of one another (she tried to shoot me before Sparrow convinced her to go after Korona- I know it) and Sparrow become the majority vote choice for first watch. The second watch, I imagine, Laurie and I will take stubbornly and carefully together.
I stir a little in the night at some movement around me. Sparrow will shake me awake when she wants me, right? …Unless, of course, she's fallen asleep. Maybe Laurie is just getting up too…
The snap of a taut string. A bowstring. …Is Sparrow playing around again the middle of the night? Or…an attack?!
I scramble to my feet, rubbing sleep from my eyes. Another twang. "Sparrow," I hiss out a whisper.
I see her now, standing tall on the rock she had been sitting on to keep watch when I went to sleep. She's a dark silhouette against a dark sky. She's not carrying any arrows, but Laurie's bow hangs loosely in one hand. She tosses it aside, onto the ground. The way she seemed thrilled to use it, I know she wouldn't just throw it away with no reason. "Out of arrows," she explains, acknowledging me. It would be too difficult to construct even poor substitutes.
And if she's out of arrows, then-
The cannon fire shakes me down to my bones. I follow Sparrow's line of sight right to Laurie, lying face down several yards away. There are two arrows in her back, close together like they're grouped within a bulls-eye.
"I thought you had an alliance," I squeak out pitifully, "I thought you were friends."
"We did have an alliance- but it was always intended to be secondary to the pact I made with you." Sparrow sits down on the rock, bringing her shoulder about even with the top of my head. "You had a good idea, making friendship a part of your gameplay. I thought I could do the same thing to some degree. …If only it weren't so hard to convince people to ally with you even temporarily in this situation, I would've tried to stack up more layers of allegiances."
What's she's saying is eerily close to what I mused about earlier. It's one thing to think about it. It's another thing entirely to play your Games like that. "…But you picked me over all of them." I lean, tired, against the rock. Do I still believe that?
"Well, I actually like you." Sparrow pulls her legs up to her chest and leans her head against her knees.
"You're really smart." I'm lucky that she chose me. If she'd wanted to kill me, well, I've been vulnerable in the night plenty of times since we met back up and she never did me in.
"You want me to take my watch now?" The world is upside down. What else can I do but try my best to walk on the ceiling with it?
"Nah, I'm too worked up to sleep anyway."
"Let's sit together then."
Sparrow comes down from the rock and we sit side by side against it. If she didn't rust me, she wouldn't be leaning her head on my shoulder now. She wouldn't be dozing off little by little despite her previous assertion of wakefulness. I like to think we really are friends. But in the arena, what makes true friends?
The hovercraft descends to claim Laurie's body. It's white and silver and lifts Laurie from the ground without a single human having to come out and do any work. Kind of mysterious.
I dream about the moon drifting down to earth, but it's not some violent sort of meteor collision. It's a vague and wispy. Gentle. Sparrow's sleeping breath moves in and out along my neck.
In the morning we wander around until we return to the area where we met up with Laurie and then search out the tree her nuts were growing on. "You're sure these are the exact same nuts?" Sparrow is cautious.
"Sure," I say. I'd saved one last nut in my pocket for comparison and it looks just like these ones. …Not that I would put such a trick past the Gamemakers- deadly nuts that looked just like edible ones, but side by side? And these are nuts, not berries. There are a lot more poisonous berries than nuts.
I pick one off, bite it in half, grinning as soon as I swallow, letting Sparrow watch to see that I'm all right. The nut tastes right.
There's no trouble. I've recognized the nuts properly. I still think they would taste better roasted… And then would I put something on them? Honey or sugar or salt?
"Seven of us left," Sparrow notes as we walk down the gently sloping terrain until we reach the waterline. Any hint of a standard sort of beach is long gone. The water laps steadily around the bamboo. It's like the waterlogged swamps of the eastern part of District 4. Sort of.
We walk along the sloshing edge of the water and I pick at my nails until I realize I still have about half the polish on them I entered the arena with. It's lasted me this far. I'm not inclined to lose it all now. For the tiniest moment, I do think about winning. I think about going back to Apple and Aulie and showing them the traces of nail polish I'll have left and the two of them laughing and putting their arms around me. …But that's no good. I shake away the thought and kick at a stick floating in the surf.
If Jem or Beanpole or I win, that will be the first for our district. If Haakon or Meridew or Cadelle wins, that will make two victors for their district, and in Cadelle's case, two victors in one family. I think that means that, out of the seven of us, the Gamemakers would probably least like him to emerge victorious. It would set a bad precedent. It would make Luna Vetiver cocky.
And there's Sparrow. If Sparrow wins, 6 will jump out of its tie with 2 to become the "winningest" of the twelve districts thus far. …What is it about 6? Nothing Sparrow has told me about it makes it sound like living there is the best preparation for the Games.
It seems like we've gone a long time without saying anything. I don't know why it bothers me. "What would you want to do first once you got out of here?" I ask.
"Wash my hair." She doesn't even have a moment's hesitation over it.
I laugh. "I was going to say 'take a bath.'"
Further along, there are some scraps of torn cloth swaying back and forth in the water. The bodies may be removed, but not everything is cleaned up in the wake of the Games' fighting and killing. …Not until the entire Games are over, I suppose. I heard once that people from the Capitol visit the old arenas sometimes, but I don't know if it's true.
Suddenly a loud sigh escapes Sparrow's lips. "I'm so tired," she tells me. She's fallen behind me accordingly.
"Do you feel alright?" Maybe she's coming down with something. Even if it isn't serious enough to endanger her standing in the Games, what a terrible place to have to feel sick?
"Just so tired," she shakes her head, "Maybe I'm heartsick. If I could cry like you and let it out, maybe things would be easier."
"Honestly, I still feel pretty terrible," I admit.
We trudge along for a while longer. Each time I look back over my shoulder, I see that Sparrow has fallen further behind me. Maybe she is sick. Maybe she got bitten by some kind of poisonous insect and didn't realize it? I stop walking and turn around to face her. "Would you like to sit down for a while? We could eat the last bananas, unless you think eating would make you feel worse."
"Y-yeah, I'd like to eat," Sparrow assents.
We back up away from the water a bit and she gets out the bananas. "Are you still carrying the empty Crispco tin? Maybe you should dump the extra weight. …Or I could carry your backpack for a while."
"I didn't want to leave it. I don't know. I thought that maybe if I swung my backpack at someone with the tin still in it, I could do a little damage. Stun somebody at least."
"You're always thinking," I chuckle. I figure I should try an easy-going approach to things to keep from stressing her out unnecessarily. Maybe she's just been thinking about the whole thing out too hard. …Maybe she's been thinking too much about the way things are going to have to end. That would make me a kind of sick too. It's like what I thought about Ada. It was probably the same reason that the Games were getting so strongly to Beanpole beforehand too. If you're dumb like me, it's easier to miss or ignore the truth.
Sparrow sets the empty peel down on the sand beside her. "It was a good banana."
"Yeah. Just about the perfect ripeness."
"I guess we'll have to keep our eyes open for something else to eat later."
"I'm sure it's just false bravado now that I've got something in my stomach, but if we take it easy, think I can go a while on just this. I mean, we haven't had to worry about water for a while."
Sparrow just smiles. She still looks tired, but eating might have helped.
"…Unless you have another edible surprise hidden in your backpack?" I suggest.
"Ha ha, yeah, you wish," she gives me a little push with her the side of her arm, "I just wanted to look well-equipped so I propped it up with a couple of sticks."
Mystery solved? "Geez, what are you getting worried about then? You're tricky enough to think up that and you're fretting now over nothing in particular? I think you're just psyching yourself out."
The water glides upward towards the toes of our boots.
"You want to just take it easy today? Not look for trouble?"
"I get kind of nervous when I'm not looking for trouble," Sparrow admits, "It's hard for me to relax. I suppose I do over-think things. I keep trying to guess what everyone else is doing. I think a lot about people's motives."
"Oh," some bits of grass floating in the water remind me, "What happened to the net we made?"
"The net- that's right." Sparrow looks a little sheepish, "I accidentally stepped on one of the ends and tore it when you were fighting with Korona. I was going to try and use it to hold the two of you still."
"That's okay. It wasn't really much of a fighting net anyway. It's good that it at least almost saw some action."
Sparrow opens the smaller front pocket of the backpack, "I hung onto a part of it," she shows me.
"It's nice to see that it didn't completely come apart."
She tucks the net fragment away and zips the pocket back up. "You know how to make a good net in Four, what can I say?"
We set off again, to nowhere in particular, I assume, because Sparrow is antsy just sitting there, but she's letting me lead the way. "I don't know where I'm going," I laugh, feeling kind of funny about telling her so, but wanting to make sure that Sparrow's aware of this. "Don't get the idea that because I keep walking I know what I'm doing!"
"Are you asking me to tell you where to go?"
"Tell me where to go," I request.
"Back into the trees, maybe?" She doesn't sound quite so sure about it.
"Right away, captain," I give her a little sailor's salute.
We zigzag off into the trees, because I don't know where I'm going and can't settle on any particular direction. Straight to the Cornucopia? And then what? I don't want to wander into what Haakon and Meridew might be considering their territory- I'm too much of a coward for that (even aside from the fact that it would be bad to get into a two-on-two fight with Sparrow not feeling at her best).
I try to keep to an even pace, so as not to overly tax either of us. Best to save our strength in case we need to fight or flee.
It sounds like Sparrow's rustling around in her backpack, or she's gotten it caught on something. "Am I losing you?" I ask.
"I changed my mind about the Crispco tin," she says. There's probably another yard and a half of distance between us from when we started.
"We can take another break if you want…"
"No, I'll be fine after I dump this." Sparrow holds up the tin and doesn't just set it down, but shows some of her almost comical frustration with the item in question by throwing it aside into the bushes, where it hits the ground with a dull ringing sound. "And there we go!" she swipes her palms against one another like she's wiping off dust.
About twenty minutes later, something tiny whirs by my head. A missile? Some kind of extra vicious mosquito?
"Mags!" Sparrow yells.
I stop dead in my tracks. Wait. It came from behind me. That means Sparrow is in just as much, if not more, danger than me. A second thing shoots through the air and this one connects with its target, slamming into my shoulder. "Aah!" I gasp, but it's not enough to deter me from turning back. "Sparrow?!"
In her hands are a sort of tube and a small box. Sparrow's not under attack- she's the attacker. "It's not your fault, Mags," I think she says as she sticks another of the slim missiles down the tube, "We can't both win."
And when I think of what to do now, I can't think of anything to do but to run.
Another needle-like item catches up with me before I really start to move, jolting me forward so that I almost trip. What did she stick into me? Why would she expect to fell me with such a tiny weapon? If I keep on running and it's poison, I'm only going to spread it faster through my system, but I hardly imagine the Gamemakers would give out poison to be used with an antidote present in the arena- not an obvious one at least.
There is a sickening sweet smell rising from my back along with the familiar scent of my blood. I can feel the tips of the thick needles piercing the back of my shoulder. They don't hurt that much, really- not as much as I think they should, even if they are small (but what does size mean when it comes to pain, to poison? The sting of a jellyfish is unpleasant enough and it comes from a creature that looks like little more than translucent mush). It's probably the adrenaline. Back home it would hurt me to prick my finger on a fishing hook. Here in the arena, if the blow's not significant I barely feel it- all the scratches from running through bushes and climbing (badly) up trees I've been able to brush off without trouble.
I keep running. I am light, and nimble enough to keep my feet beneath me as I dash across a thick pole of green bamboo that has fallen (or more likely been purposely cut down and laid) across some section of the stream.
It is easy to keep running. Deciding when to stop is the hard part. I reach back and touch my punctured skin between the needles. When I pull my fingers away, I cannot see any substance on my hand besides my blood, but that doesn't mean there was nothing else there. ...Should I pull the projectiles out now? I think that I can manage the task, but decide to wait. I'm not ready yet to drop my guard.
The sounds of my own hot, hasty breath and pounding heart obscure the smaller noises that I need to listen for. If someone is still giving chase (my thoughts are surging by almost faster than I can grasp them- it was Sparrow from District Six who had blown the needles, dart-like, into me, because there are only seven of us left now and our loose alliance means nothing- how could she? how could she? she was my friend and I liked her, I saved her- I thought I could tell that she really liked me too), rushing through the thick brush, I would hear them easily, but if I have stumbled into the place where another tribute waits (hunts) and the stalking is occurring quietly, I may be struck down without ever seeing it coming.
That isn't how I want to die.
Of course, I don't want to die at all. Not here; not now. I am seventeen and a fisherman and I have faced death on rough seas a thousand times back home in District Four with Papa before my name was chosen. If I do have to die I do not want it to be this way. I would rather give my life than have it taken from me. When my time has come, I don't want to be surprised. Like the stormy weather on the horizon my father and I sail our boat toward anyway (If we don't go, who will? If someone doesn't go, who will starve?) I want to see it coming. …Should I have seen this coming?
It's funny that while thinking about dying my breath has slowed. I listen, but no crushing of the tall grasses or shifting in the branches reaches my ears to give any watcher away.
I should have run back towards the water. I'd rather die somewhere where I can see and hear the sea, even if it's a fake sea.
It's funny that I'm thinking about dying somewhere else in the future when all I should be thinking about is right here and right now and how to live, but for some reason I can't seem to force my thoughts into that direction. It's like trying to change the tides. I sway slightly on my feet. Even if I cannot cause myself to think wisely, I can do something about the needles in my shoulder. I can still feel them. I would hardly forget about their presence so easily.
I grasp the first needle and pull it straight out of my skin. It's easy to remove, smooth and slick as it is. Compared to my fishhooks back home, it's a breeze. A fresh trail of blood begins to flow down my back, but not enough to have me worry. I take a moment to examine the weapon. It's not some homemade thing, but rather a carefully crafted bit of metal, something the Capitol supplied to be used for this very purpose. It shimmers silver and crimson between the stain of my blood that coats its bottom third and for some reason it seems to be...bending? Wavering?
My eyes are turning as treacherous as my thoughts, which are starting to dart even more furiously this way and that without any sense. The whole world is dyed red like the waves at sunset, but the sun is still high above the trees. My skin feels unnaturally warm. The heat radiates out from the tiny wounds in my shoulder up to my face, down into my arms. What's wrong with me? Have I been poisoned? I am trembling and I'm not sure if it's from fear or a side effect of whatever substance the needles have sent swirling into my bloodstream.
I am not a fairytale princess who dies from pricking her finger on a splinter. Tears well up in my eyes as I brace myself again a tree. I keep my feet, though I continue shaking. I was not one of the helpless ones who came into this arena with no alternative but to die. I did not raise my hands to kill only to die- or did I? Plenty of the other tributes did that very thing in these Games, just as they had in others. I didn't want to take the win away from Sparrow or Beanpole, did I? I feel so angry, yet at the same time, some distant part of my mind looks on objectively and is amused that out of the multitude of injustices inherent in this situation, I am most upset over this one small thing.
I have considered myself bold, but when did I ever say that my heart was rational?
I hear a splash and stumble as someone slips into the creek. It's probably Sparrow. In fact, some frightening part of me hopes it's Sparrow. I have the strength left, and perhaps I have the time, to take her down with me. The idea thrills me and chills my blood at once. Before I die, I think I am going to lose my mind.
"District Four," I hear the whisper. It's a boy's voice and in my current haze I can't be bothered to identify it precisely- not Beanpole's because I know it, not Haakon's, he has an accent, but there's a response and from it I know that Sparrow is with him and clutch the hook I had all but forgotten about tighter in my left hand. It is an advantage in the Games, as much as on a ship, to be ambidextrous.
The faraway part of me know that it would be wisest to wait, to run, to regroup, to somehow think and assess the situation. But that part of me is no longer in control. I can see them - Sparrow and the boy - through the bamboo and I hate them. She hurt me and she will hurt me again and he will do the same and I am moving in time with these thoughts before I practically even realize it, bursting through the thin curtain of plant life that separates us and jumping out- onto- whoever is nearer, jamming the heavy hook into a throat. It is pointed, but not as sharp as a blade and the act takes some force.
Even so, I am plunging the metal tip over and over into his- his- skin, sending hot blood spewing onto my arms and face and chest and in what feels at the same time like forever and the blink of an eye, I am on Sparrow as well, with my hook in my left hand and the knife she rescued for me- the knife I protected us from Ada with- in the right. Nothing she does to counter my attacks means anything significant. There are more needles now sticking out of my arm and something cuts my face, but Sparrow's attempts at self-defense and whatever is on those needles only serve to render me more implacable. She doesn't have any stronger weapons or ones better suited for fighting at a close range.
I flail about wildly in my rage. I think I am crying at the same time.
Before I am fully myself again, I stumble into and kill one more. He's harder to handle than Sparrow and the first boy, but I take him by surprise, plowing forward through the bamboo.
Exhausted, I throw my weapons aside and drop down by the creek and whisper a prayer to the secret holy folk we keep beside the sea (Brendan, Elmo, Nicholas, Peter, Zeno) and hope that I either I die on my own without too much pain or recover before I am found.
Chapter 11: Part III, Chapter I
Turning of the Tide
I open my eyes to sunlight streaming down between the leaves. It's another warm day in the arena. The arena. Already I've forgotten what I was dreaming of. Dreams don't mean anything here. I think again about what I'm looking up at. Leaves. Leaves and a person? They know I'm here. They're waiting until I wake up? They want to make me suffer before they kill me? I sit up.
"Hey," says my fellow tribute. It's Beanpole.
"Beanpole!" I exclaim. I rub my cheek, which aches from where it was apparently pressed up against a rock all night.
"Hey! Coherency!" Beanpole cheers and approaches me. "You went wild yesterday for some reason and then you were out like a light straight through the night. It was pure insanity. When I showed up, you were-" he pauses, reconsidering whatever it was he was about to say. "…Do you feel all right?" he touches my shoulder, "What's the last thing you remember?"
"Red." I don't hesitate to to come up with that image, but as I recall the cause of this word, and its meaning in this context, I begin to feel unwell. On my face, on my hands, on my clothes- blood, blood, blood. I feel sick to my stomach. Most of the blood soaked into my clothing is on my jacket. I can hardly get it off fast enough. I dunk my face in the stream and start scrubbing my face with my hands. Even just the touch of water makes some of the scratches sting.
Beanpole looks on, biting his lip, unsure of what to do to help. He finally settles on taking off his shirt (he's already not wearing his jacket), dipping it in the water, and using it as a rag to wipe my face. "It's okay," he says then repeats himself, "It's okay. It's going to be okay."
"B-but, I- I," I stammer. I think I'm going to start crying.
He looks at me, the set of his jaw is firm, but his eyes are gentle. "Were those the first people that you killed?"
"N-no?" I sniff, "Ada. And, and I fought some others."
"Yeah, that means you can handle it then. You're okay. You'll be okay."
My nose has started running and my bangs are still out and I must be a goopy mess (I am not a pretty crier), but Beanpole hugs me anyway. He feels so solid. Secure. The tributes are supposed to be a bunch of kids and I sure don't feel like an adult myself, but Beanpole might be something more than that. He wasn't like this when we came here. I'm sure he wasn't. He reminds me a little of Papa now. Sheesh. Beanpole. What a good guy. "I don't know why she did it," I let out my swirling torrent of feelings, trying not to sob, "I thought we were in this together to the end! She stuck some darts in me and I thought whatever the stuff was on them was going to kill me, but it was worse-it was worse-it made me crazy. And I would've let her win, Beanpole! If it had come down to Sparrow or me-"
"So that's why you were so wild," he realizes, "I wondered. I really did. You didn't go insane on your own. She did that to you." He thinks about the meaning of this for a minute. "I think she couldn't trust like you do," he says, "She was- I bet she was afraid."
"She shot you in the back, right?" Beanpole touches my injured shoulder. There are holes right through the fabric of my shirt. "It was getting so close to the end and I bet she thought it would come down to the two of you. And when she thought about that- about killing you- she knew she couldn't do it and look you in the eye."
He looks me in the eye in perfect opposition to what he just said about Sparrow and I nod my understanding. I couldn't have done that either- not if I had been myself. …Even not myself I didn't really look her in the eye (right?). "You're right."
Beanpole lets go of me and I wipe my nose on my sleeve like the big baby that I am. "So," I ask, "How long has it been?" I have to move on, at least for now. I have to trust in Beanpole's words or drown in my guilt and sorrow. I have to believe what I said. He's right, he's right, he's right, he's right.
"Today is a new day," he smiles. His face is clean, but bruised above the left eye. I didn't notice right away, being so caught up in my own horror. I try to smile, but I can't quite manage it yet.
"I'm lucky that I made it safely through the night. It's-" Because Beanpole was watching over me, wasn't it? And now I do smile. There really is something to smile about. Here is my best and truest friend. I'm not just lucky to be alive still- I've been protected. "Thanks."
"Hey," he shrugs, "I didn't do anything special. …I didn't have to, luckily. I just sat up in the tree and kept an eye out. Thing is, after the damage you did, there just isn't much to look out for anymore. It's you, me, and the two from Seven."
"Haakon and Meridew."
"Did you know the names of all the tributes?" Beanpole eyes me with a pained squint, like he's looking at something too bright to gaze at directly.
"Most of them. Not all." Of course, most of them is probably more than Beanpole knows, so to him that's going to sound either ridiculous or impressive. Both, I conclude, since Beanpole knows me pretty well. Juna, Jem, Daisy, Ada. Mercy, Heath, Haakon, Meridew, Korona, Laurie…Sparrow. Wiley and Padma. Cadelle Vetiver. Petey? Bailey. The girl from 9 with the name like a flower? ...Then there's us.
"You know who you finished off then?" He doesn't tease me. He's being practical.
"Sparrow… Cadelle… Jem…" I didn't realize exactly who the two boys were when it was happening, but it's clear now by process of elimination, if nothing else. "Did you see everything that happened?" I can see Jem's dark eyes and shocked face in my distorted and fragmentary memory. I can see Cadelle's expectations of an easy kill turning into fear of my fury. I can see Sparrow with her hands up in front of her face and tears in her eyes.
"No, not from the beginning. I showed up around the time you blundered into Jem. It was… Well, it was something to see. I figured out some of the other stuff by working backwards from what I saw there."
He didn't see everything I saw then. He didn't see me kill Sparrow, which had to be the worst- for what it meant, if nothing else. He didn't see me kill Cadelle. But I was crazy still when I encountered Jem. There was still no reason by Jem's reckoning of things that we should have had to fight. "Were you scared of me?"
"Nah." I believe him when he says it. "There was obviously something wrong. But I could never be afraid of you, Mags. I figured you were still you underneath it all. That would snap out of it sooner or later. …There's no one I have a harder time imagining permanently losing it than you, for some reason. You're just…good at handling stuff, I guess. You handled all the Games stuff beforehand pretty well."
I'm not afraid of crying anymore, but my sinuses aren't so quick to agree with my brain's decision and I keep sniffling here and there. "Your hair is doing something crazy," Beanpole lets me know.
I reach up and feel the back. One braid is half loose, hanging in some strange corkscrew. If the pins haven't fallen out somewhere I can fix it. I feel along the lumpy surface of my braid and find two. That might be enough. A third is still poking out of the top part.
"Have you unbraided your hair at all since coming here?" When we talk like this it's not like we're in the arena. We could be standing around on the schoolyard. Beanpole seems grown-up in my estimation, but look at us, Panem, we're only kids, having a stupid conversation about my hair.
"Well, Sparrow did, because it was coming undone earlier, but it's obviously going a bit wild." …Sparrow, who still had pink flowers in her hair when she died. Did my attack on her ruin her looks, or did she die still pretty? Think like a kid, not a killer, I protest to myself. The problem is that I'm both.
If Beanpole's suffering from this same dichotomy, he puts up a good front. "How frizzy will it be when you finally undo it?"
"Depends on how much longer I have to wait. …Hopefully wavy hair is in in the Capitol." Thinking of Apple and Aulie regarding my wild locks with jewel-bright, saucer-wide eyes is an easier and happier thing to consider.
Apparently Beanpole can construct an elaborate mental picture about it too. "You're going to be like a mermaid, even out of the water, with all your hair flowing around you in big, poofy waves."
"It won't look pretty," I protest. Even three days back home could leave me looking like a fraying old rope.
"Well, Capitol tastes are weird, so maybe they'll think it's pretty anyway." Beanpole tries to wring out his shirt, but it's not wet enough for anything to drip out that way. He's going to have to let the sun do its work on it.
"It was all so confusing you know. This weird blur of rage made me so…so…"
"You couldn't help it." I think he wants to stop me short.
"It was an accident, I bet," it occurs to me, "Sparrow probably thought the sticky stuff on those darts, or that she put on them, was poison. She kept it a secret from me. Maybe she thought it would kill me quick. I mean, I thought it would."
"Darn, I should've looked to see if her stuff was intact," Beanpole grumbles, "We could've set up Haakon and Meridew to slug it out with one another."
And then it would be just the two of us. …If he hasn't thought it, I'm not going to say it. "Are you hungry?" I change the subject, just like Beanpole was kind and careful enough to mind the topic by distracting me with that tangent about my hair.
"I'm okay. I ate while you were still out of it. But," he smiles, "I made sure to save something for you."
"Ooh," I try to remain cheerful, "So, what'd you pack me for lunch?"
"Two bananas and, get this, you're really gonna like it-"
"You're building me up for something amazing here," I urge him to get on with it.
I see Beanpole's jacket now. It's lying on the ground with a couple of bananas on it and a thorny tree branch he's probably been using as a weapon. Beanpole leans back and reaches into one of the pockets, pulling out a lumpy piece of foil. Whatever it is appears a bit soft in his hand. "Someone got something pretty lovely but not all that helpful." Whatever it is, it's too precious, apparently, to toss to me.
Beanpole sets it in my hand. It's about half-melted (and clearly previously melted a bit and then re-solidified), but it's chocolate. "You saved this for me?" I gape, "Thank you!"
"I didn't have to save it too long- Cadelle was carrying it. But, hey," Beanpole gives me another easy shrug, "You're my best friend here. Actually, Mags," he adds this part a bit more pointedly, "You're my only friend here."
I can't really pick much of the chocolate off the foil, so I lick it off. "Well, you're a true friend, Beanpole." I eat the rest of my small meal, drink some more water, and appraise the new injuries I gained in the midst of my berserker rage. Obviously they weren't too serious or I wouldn't be so energetic now, but there are a whole slew of new bruises and cuts I didn't have before. "Did you, uh, kill anyone here, Beanpole?" I broach a sensitive subject.
"It was more of an 'aided and abetted' kind of scenario…"
"But you said you didn't have any friends here, so-"
"Have you seen what's in the water?"
"There's something in the water? I've been wondering and wondering about that, but I never saw a thing."
"We should go for a walk then. It's something you should see." He's talking very seriously, but the anticipation of how I'll react when I see what's in the water, or something like that, brings a smile quirking up the corners of his lips. Beanpole's so weird. But I know that, in some different way from the chocolate, this is going to be good.
We gather our things. Beanpole gives me back the large hook I found in the water. It's all cleaned off from its recent, murderous use. The smaller hooks I made are long gone. I'm ready to leave behind my blood-stained, ruined jacket, but Beanpole asks me to take it along. "What for?" I pester him, not willing to merely acquiesce to the request as a result of my curious, stubborn side.
Beanpole tries to stay close-lipped as we push along through the brush, but eventually he lets slip his use for all the dried and half-dried blood I'm carrying around. "I don't think it'll take much to get this creature within our sights today- it's getting hungrier and hungrier, I think. Maybe madder too."
"It's bait then," I say.
"You've got it," Beanpole confirms.
The ocean is strange, swirling up to meet us through the bamboo, but Beanpole seems to know where he's going, so I press on. I'm careful, of course, not to let the "bait" drag in the water and lose any of its potency too soon.
Beanpole scoops up a few pebbles along the way to his chosen spot. A dead tree in the shallows leans out over what must previously have been a sharper slope toward the beach than the one I made my initial descent down. Now it looks over what basically seems like open water. This gives me a rough estimate of how much of the arena's land has been lost under the water- maybe about half? Would the Gamemakers go so far as to submerge it all?
Beanpole walks out along the dry wood. I don't want to remain in the water, even where it's only at mid-shin height, while Beanpole fishes for trouble. I won't strain the branch he's leaning out on his stomach, but I stand on a lower outcropping and put my weight back against the trunk. He looks back to me. "You ready?"
"Ready enough, I suppose, if you don't feel like telling me anymore about your mystery creature."
"I think it's better if you just see it."
One at a time, Beanpole tosses the four stones he picked up out into the water. It isn't to scare something away as it would usually be. In this case, he wants to get something's attention. "I'm ready," he reaches toward me.
"Have at it," I offer. The sooner I'm rid of this whole arena getup, the better (what will they bury me in? What will I wear if I win?).
Beanpole takes my jacket, balls it up to get a better throw, and tosses the torn and bloody fabric into the water.
I bite my lip at the shadow I see slinking through the waves. It's some kind of shark, or combination-shark-mutt-thing. Straight shark or not is hard to tell. What I can see is that it's a big one.
It has the scent. It doesn't rush in too fast, but spends a moment circling around its target. Rows of teeth converge on what was part of my outfit for the first six days of the Games. My jacket doesn't fight back, so it's nearly swallowed whole.
"How did you find out?" I quiz Beanpole.
"Right after the bloodbath, well, Wiley'd gotten hurt, so he went down to the water to clean off his wound. He sat on a rock and soaked it for a while, letting his leg dangle down into the water. The shark grabbed him by it." I clutch the tree tighter listening to this tale. Beanpole is somber. "It was a pretty horrific sight."
"Do you think it got anybody else?"
"I know it did," he nods vigorously. He won't be able to shake those images out of his head no matter how hard he tries.
"…You used it," I guess.
"It's hard to say whether it's easier to have the shark finish them or if I should have done it all myself. See, the thing I found is, if I'm clean of blood and swim calmly while someone else is in there bleeding and splashing around, that shark- there's only one- will practically ignore me."
He's braver than I imagined to have figured all that out. …Or he's more like me than I thought and he's really, really lucky. "How do you know? Did you just go out and set it?" Now there'd be a pretty picture for live TV.
"Dumb luck, partially. I was so scared. I guess I know now that I have a good heart, because otherwise it would definitely have given out on me. I was being chased, and when I reached the water, the one who was following me was brave or intent enough to wade in deep after me."
We watch the shark circle around a few times more before lazily moving back to distant waters.
"We could come up with a plan to use that against the two from Seven," I suggest. Between the two of us, there's the necessary hands and craftiness for that. I've never claimed to be the sort of person who works best on her own. …It would probably have all turned out better for me if I was.
"And then there'd be just us," Beanpole reminds me as that difficult truth sinks into him this time around. I can tell he wishes that I hadn't said that. We're in a tough position in regard to one another. Sparrow didn't stick it out with me as long as I thought she would ("Why not?" I ask myself again, "She really didn't trust me?" I tremble all over again). Beanpole and I have come too far. As a pair, we've lived too long. Leaving him would feel like abandoning him. Staying together would lead us to a torturous 4 versus 4 finale. That'd be brilliant television, wouldn't it, in the eyes of the Capitol? Me and Beanpole or Haakon and Meridew.
"Let's go back away from the water," I say. I try to keep the splashing to a minimum as I walk.
"We can stick it out together for the night, right?" I inquire later as Beanpole and I sit under the bamboo, watching the water lap in and out. He looks a little divided in his answer, so I press a bit harder. "I mean, we spent all of the day together up until now and there was no problem, right?"
"Okay," Beanpole relents, "We'll stick together tonight. But just tonight."
We don't talk too much that evening and without much to eat, lack of energy might be part of it. At least we don't have any problems when it comes to water to drink. I've noticed that the water here tastes different than back home in 4.
There haven't been any cannon shots. There are no faces in the sky that night. The week ends with its first day that doesn't include any killing.
I find myself wishing I knew a bit more about Haakon and Meridew. What's going on between them? Are they as silent as Beanpole and me now? Do they have some sort of pact for how they're handling this? What will the outcome be if these Games come down to the two of them?
"I don't want to sleep, sort of, but I'm just too tired," Beanpole admits, interrupting my aimless thinking. "I'm going to drift off any time now."
"Might as well sleep," I say. "What else can you do?"
"Nothing, I guess."
Without any animals to make noise, the arena can get awfully quiet. The night is reduced to wind and water and the sounds of our breath.
"We better not wake up dead tomorrow," Beanpole mutters.
"You can tell me, 'I told you so,' in that case," I offer.
"Oh, that's gonna make me feel great," he scoffs, but soon enough he's lightly snoring.
The next morning, I wake up alone.
Chapter 12: Part III, Chapter II
It's possible, of course, that Beanpole has slipped away only momentarily for completely innocuous reasons. He could be getting something to drink or poking around looking for food or answering the call of nature. But when I wait, sitting up and swishing some water from my canteen around in my mouth and wishing I could brush my teeth, and I don't see or hear a sign of him… Well, I don't think Beanpole is coming back. I think he's really gone.
I'm alone again. And I'm hungry, which is such a small thing compared to some of what I've gone through, but… There's this weary feeling I get about how none of it ever ends. I'm sick of being hungry and tired and dirty and scratched up and thinking about my imminent demise. How much more will I go through for the sake of these Games?
…Am I at the point where it's reasonable to think about winning? I have one in four odds. I know about the shark (or shark-mutt-thing) just like Beanpole does, though I have a feeling Haakon and Meridew have probably seen it, whether they understand what drives its behavior or not. I've made it this far and every day I make it a little further...
I idly walk down to greet the tide, but it seems the sea has decided to come meet me on its own. The arena is definitely an island, and it's one the Gamemakers keep shrinking. That should make it easier to find Beanpole though. Even if we can't actually work together, I could return the favor of what he did for me, couldn't I? Shouldn't I? I can watch over him.
The water laps up and down, in and out. How long would I have to stay and watch to visibly account for its advance? Is it coming in faster or at the same speed as before? I can't tell.
It feels like a long time since I've been swimming.
Longer than I would ever have gone in 4.
I turn away from the water, heading in with thoughts of finding Beanpole on my mind. I try to scale one of the thick bamboo trees (I'm still not sure that "tree" is the right word for bamboo, but what is it then?) to take a look around, but it starts curving down under my weight before I achieve anything useful. The small branches smack the back of my head on their way back up as soon as I step off. "Oww! Oww!" I jump. Yes, everyone watching at home, this is me. Still alive, still an idiot. I have basically no luck with trees, so I think I will once again have the sense to keep my feet on the ground. Wherever exactly his quest has taken him, Beanpole's gone to spy on the pair from 7 (which could be completely wrong, but I just don't think he'd run and hide, so that's what I've decided because I have to pick something), so I make that thought my compass.
Where to spy on 7 than the place they've made their home base for most of the Games?
I circle around to the section of the arena I've been avoiding. The speed and manner in which I arrive go beyond rational caution. After all the time this location and the tough pair hanging around here have lingered around the corners of my mind, I've built it up into something nerve-wracking. I try to assess the spot objectively. A tall rock formation with a narrow split down the middle. It definitely looks defensible. The rocks rise up over six feet on each side. Without any points of reference I can't make a more accurate guess about it than that. I can only see so far in from this angle. I don't know what it's like in there for Haakon and Meridew- how much space there is to fight, what weapons they might have stored…
If Beanpole and I won't go in, Haakon and Meridew are going to have to come out. After they cleared out the rocks, I don't know if they actually killed anyone else in there. It sounded like they ventured out into the general vicinity. …Do they have the means to store enough food and water around there? Of course, it occurs to me, they already do go out, but only to kill and scavenge? And when the killing happens, is it on purpose, with the two of them seeking out prey, or does it just happen because they run into someone? I don't know enough about either Haakon or Meridew. Knowing their personalities would help me guess what they might do enough that it might make up for the difficulties caused by that same personal knowledge.
Apple's distaste for 7's escort probably didn't do my odds of hearing about them secondhand many favors. Haakon seemed to enjoy training. Most of his talking he did with the other big guys. During his interview he professed his admiration for their mentor, Kayta Hiro. It's not really enough to come together into anything useful for me. Meridew I can parse even less. I rarely saw her talking. She played sort of 'smart and silent' in her interview. No matter how strong someone is, I don't think they can get this far unless they're fairly intelligent. I don't think I'm going to underestimate them in that regard.
In that case, it's worthwhile to stay alert. I inch closer and listen. Morning isn't a likely time for them to be resting, right? Unless they stay up all night. But unless they think Beanpole and I have too, they should be wary, thinking we might approach at this time. Maybe they're not afraid of us though. Maybe they think we won't come looking for them. I don't hear anything. Don't they talk to one another? …Maybe both of them aren't there. Go nearer, or wait and see? I feel tangled up with indecision.
But doing nothing and just going with the flow of things hasn't serve me very well in the Games, so that's at least one point in favor of action as opposed to inaction. I'm also lacking a bit in patience because I'm hungry and worn out. "Gotta stay focused," I admonish myself.
I consider the supplies I have. Two of them are potentially useful, the fist-sized canteen half-full of water currently bulging out of my left pants pocket and the really big hook. The piece of foil and scraps of twine probably aren't going to do anything for me. The knife and small hooks I used earlier are lost, dropped or left in the targets they found during my chemical-fueled insanity. This isn't a lot to work with.
Toughen up, Mags! I'm willing to bet that even if one of them is there, both District 7 kids aren't. I can take one of them if I have the element of surprise on my side! Maybe? Maybe. The two most important things here: preparation and resolve. I pull out the hook and settle it into my hand. Ready? Ready.
I make my approach as cautiously as I can manage, but it still seems like every blade of grass that bends beneath my foot is as noisy as a creaking floorboard in the dead of night. At the last moment, at the edge of the hiding place, I whirl around inside. My eyes, my heart, my mind is working overtime to identify and neutralize whatever threat there is before me.
But there isn't.
The place is empty.
And if it's empty, the better for me, right, assuming I can figure out how to use this position to my advantage? But the better for me, the worse, I think, for Beanpole. He's out there and Haakon and Meridew might find him. We're operating completely randomly and independently. Think how it would have been if this had been an actual plan and we were going to trap our opponents in some kind of pincer movement. …It's probably going to happen all but the other way around.
My resolve weakens as I think about these things.
I have to acknowledge the one last truth of the Games I seem unwilling to commit myself to. To win, I have to give up on Beanpole. I can't save him, just like I couldn't save anyone else here. I can only save myself.
No matter how many times I consider it, it doesn't get any prettier. And it never will. Now that my ears are no longer trained so cautiously to pick up any possible sound made by Haakon or Meridew, I notice again the roar and rush of the sea. A few more yards and I won't just be beside it, I'll be over it. That sounds nice. I walk out, balancing carefully and setting one foot right in front of the other as I pass between the protection of the rocks and out over the water.
The breeze picks up, and I can't help but think that some Gamemaker did that on purpose- it's not enough to topple me, but I sway a bit and move my arms to steady myself. Did you worry for me for just a second, viewers back home? What are the commentators saying that I'm doing? Have I given up this far into the Games? Am I going to dive down into the water or smash myself onto the rocks?
The water level's gotten high enough that I could take that dive.
Maybe, soon, I will.
And, speaking (well, thinking) of things that are on the horizon, sooner or later, they'll come back here, won't they? Even if it isn't until nightfall. This has been a safe place for the pair from 7 to sleep all these days. I am doing my best to convince myself of this- that they'll return, that with only two others left they haven't swapped strategies- but the belief just won't take.
That's how it is with faith- you just can't force things. Weak or strong, you believe or you don't. So I hope that Haakon and Meridew (or, better yet, just one of them) will come back to their natural fortress when it gets dark and they're not able to see me and I don't fall asleep and I catch them by surprise, but I'm just not sure.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Waiting Games! …Unfortunately for the audience, I'm not brave enough to say this out loud.
I begin to examine the narrow space very carefully, searching out the most promising hiding place, although in broad daylight I don't think it's possible to stay within the rocks and be completely hidden from someone sharing that same space.
I decided I should try and stay closer to the water than the bamboo forest. If someone shows up and I chicken out, I can take my chances in the water. If I get wounded though and I'm aware of so much as a single drop of my blood having been spilled, I would rather take my chances with District 7. They might be willing to take enough mercy on me to make it quick. I'm not going to get that from the shark.
I settle down with my back against the stone on the right side of the space and wait. The sun grows stronger above me, burning down on the tips of my ears and my sloppy part. I'm getting a tan in the arena. Tans must be in in the Capitol this summer. The waves slosh along below, unchanged as far as I can tell, but probably still gradually on the rise.
There's time and boredom enough for my mind to drift. Considering the current combination of remaining tributes, I don't think the Gamemakers will interfere any at this juncture. Whether it's someone from 4 or 7, they can't possibly care who wins. But how that victor gets there is another thing. Maybe they won't do anything to directly influence the situation (or maybe they will?), but they have to be hoping for a showdown of me versus Beanpole or Haakon versus Meridew. The Capitol will come between bonds formed by geography (and time, in the case of Beanpole and me). This vengeance for the failed rebellion was something we brought upon our own districts just as much as on each others', right? 4 or 7, which way will it go?
Based on what I know and what I can see, there's no way to tell.
My stomach complains about how little it's been fed lately. I continue to wait. I think about how strong a pole I would need to try and catch that shark. …It's not just the pole and the line- I would need a stronger me.
I have to exercise some self-discipline not to drink the majority of my water as a way to fill my empty stomach. While it won't accomplish anything to let myself get too dried out, I don't want to leave my current position long enough to have to go for a refill (too risky) and just end up sitting here getting more and more nervous and feeling like I have to pee.
Just waiting like this, time is passing at its slowest.
I'm being boring now, no good for the poor audience, unless something is happening that I'm not aware of that's racheting up the tension. Maybe, right at this very instant, Haakon and Meridew are coming closer and closer to my location. Maybe they've even come across some sign that let them know that I'm here.
It's depressing when someone has the kind of death that gets played for laughs. No matter what the commentators say, back home nobody even joins in the merriment over these things. The closest I've ever heard is a nervous chuckle that escapes without meaning, some sad plea to a higher power. "Why is this happening? What can I do?" And, beaten down as we are, there isn't much anyone can do but survive.
That's right. Surviving is the way we- any of us- receives a chance to act.
If there's nothing I can do now, maybe there's something I can do later.
That's why Papa is alive. That, or he's a coward.
I know which version of events I want to believe.
I think I doze sitting up for a while, because when the cannon rings out, I'm awfully startled. …What was I thinking of? Or what was I dreaming? More vitally, someone else is dead and I don't know who and I don't know how this should change my strategy, if any.
I am really not feeling comfortable right now. As a matter of fact, I'm actually starting to feel cold, despite the sunlight still raining down on me. I sort of miss the jacket that I was sick and tired of just the day before. I shudder as I touch the goosebumps on my arms. What is there to be gained by moving? …Alternatively, what's better about staying hidden?
Three tributes left and the sea below me sounds louder, wilder. I lean out to take a peek and find my sense of hearing has done nothing to delude me. The water has risen since I arrived here and the gain has been fast.
Is this surge of the ocean for us or against us? How long will it continue to rise at such a rate?
Anxious, I get to my feet. The water is still a long distance from spilling over the edge here and lapping against my toes, but to the best of my knowledge, aside from the tops of the taller bamboo trees, this is the highest point on the island. Is there anyway here to get a better view? The stone I've been leaning against is too steep and slick to climb onto, as much as I wish I could stand atop it and look out over the vast majority of the arena island. The rock face to my left is similarly unaccommodating. But it's important to know. The less room is left to us, the quicker the end is coming.
Beanpole, are you still out there?
Less than five minutes later the twenty-first cannon fire of the Twelfth Hunger Games is followed by the twenty-second.
The odds for Beanpole aren't looking good.
And my odds…
Chapter 13: Part III, Chapter III
The afternoon is wearing long, but if the Gamemakers have any say in things, I think that sun may be slow to set. Some clouds have gathered while I was resting, so there's moisture in the air to refract the light. If there's going to be a showdown, they're going to want everyone to see it. Blood doesn't look nearly so flashy after dark. Violence is so much more jarring when every second is visible before you. The nauseating use of a slow-motion play-by-play, with every gasp and jab and bite pointed out and commented on for you, doesn't have the same impact as the initial action, occurring before you as it would have occurred to an onlooker right on the sidelines.
The element of surprise still remains if I stick it out in a hiding place, but with only myself and one another tribute left, its value does lessen somewhat. That other person is going to be looking for me and I'm going to be looking for them.
I wish I knew who it was.
Unless, of course, it's Beanpole. In that case it would be hard to say whether or not I want to know.
But the wheels in my mind are turning. I don't feel like I can stand to merely continue to wait. I am back in this game. I it owe to Beanpole, to Papa, to Apple and Aulie and Faline and anyone else out there who might be hoping for me. To anyone who believes in me.
Even Sparrow believed in me.
The longer this drags out, the weaker I'm going to get. Salt water is going to rush up into the pools and creek. I doubt there's any packaged food left anywhere and the foraging was slim from the get-go. I need to be better supplied before I clash with my one remaining opponent (and if it's Beanpole, well, I'll give the people a better, more shocking show by casting my new weapons away than meeting him nearly empty-handed, won't I?). So, what kinds of tools can I add reasonably and quickly to my arsenal?
"Well," I say very softly to myself, "What materials are available to you to use, Mags? …The exact same materials as before!" Sparrow and I had made a fairly thorough assessment of what we had to use when we worked on the net and fishing lines before. There are pebbles and other slivers of rock, a variety of grasses, branches, and poles of bamboo. It's the same materials and I have the same skills for using them.
My hook is a prime candidate for some kind of use and I'm thinking as a spear. I may not have the necessary line left for a makeshift fishing rod, but simply to tie my hook to the end of a bamboo pole? Why not? A spear is a better weapon than a fishing pool will ever be against anything but fish. I make the whole thing into a rowdy mess of loops and knots. Might as well be careful. How can I possibly be accused of overdoing things when my life is at stake?
Because, with a hook for a blade, the point of my spear isn't pointing straight out, it will have to be wielded a bit differently than an ordinary weapon. Of course, since I have next to no experience with ordinary spears, that shouldn't be a problem. I have no training to unlearn and nothing but time and natural stupidity working against me.
I practice swinging my spear around a bit, snagging and poking at bamboo stalks, although I'm careful to keep my back to the rock formation at all times. I don't want anyone sneaking into there behind my back. If anyone is going to get to hole up like a hermit crab, it's going to be me.
The thing I've made looks like a boat hook, but I think it will serve. …Well, to bludgeon or scrape or snag a person. When it comes to making some kind of killing blow I don't have the best bit of equipment. Unless my opponent has something deadlier I can wrest from their grasp, I apologize in advance. It's not going to be quick. …which is unfortunate for both of us (unless maybe I am on the losing end and my foe has deadlier weapons than I do).
Now what to do? I drink some more water (two sips). I consider making another net, though I'm not sure I could say what good it would do me. Just something else to do while I wait. Something to keep my hands busy. There's a game like this. It's called "chicken."
It drizzles. I wait. I think. I over-think. Haakon or Beanpole or Meridew? The rain is warm and sort of unpleasant, but I would probably dislike colder rain more. I pick up some pebbles and put them in my pants pockets. You never know, they might help me. Maybe I can be like Beanpole and rely on the shark.
It's been about fifteen minutes when the clouds decide they've dropped enough of their load for the drizzle to stop. I feel tense and blasé almost at the same time. I don't know if it's a sign that I'm going crazy.
"Hey ho, I like the ocean," I sing to myself, "Hey ho, I like the ocean early in the morning."
Further down from my current location, this ocean, which I'm not sure I can honestly claim to like, is coming up higher. I can hear it. Waves are approaching from all sides, crashing against the steeper rock face and lapping their way up the rolling land. It almost feels like I'm the only person in the entire world.
The Gamemakers won't let it end this way though. It would make terrible television. For me, at least, it'd be kind of peaceful, the complete opposite of the murderous rage that gripped me before.
It's…possible, technically, isn't it? Maybe we're not playing chicken like I think we are. Maybe all three of my last competitors were involved in a struggle and the remaining tribute is badly wounded and barely hanging on and not even looking for me at all. Maybe.
It's a sound. Just a sound, right? But it fills my heart with dread.
Someone is wading through the surf. I should basically know what I'm going to see, right? There are only three options. I have seen all these people before. They're tough, but I know that each of them is only a kid like me deep down. Haakon, Beanpole, Meridew.
My legs feel weak. I'm trembling. Whatever it's going to be, this is it, this is final. It's almost too frightening to breathe. Is this what that slightly strange aspect is in Beto Ernst or Emmy Pollack? Did they survive every sort of terror their Games could throw at them only to never shake the crazy sinking fear that settles down deep in your bones?
Not all the victors seem that way though. Jack Umber never looks crazy or afraid. Maybe thinking about this helps a bit. It's not part of my current situation. It's kind of unreal, really, part of some other world and some other life. I gain enough control of myself to start backing away, one tiny half-step at a time, until my elbow touches rock. The shark-thing didn't have legs, but I half imagine that it's gone through some hyper-evolution and grown them, only to begin to waddle through the lowest of shallows in search of prey. I don't know how the last two tributes died, but to have eaten up my bloody jacket the other day it had to have been pretty hungry. A hungry shark is a dangerous shark.
I can hear the wading and the movement of the tide both picking up speed, nearly in sync with one another. It's to my advantage that my opponent is out there having to contend with the rising water while I'm able to stay on dry ground and conserve my strength. Adrenaline must be pulsing through me. I pull myself together enough to rearrange my grip on my hook-spear and I crouch back between the rock faces instead of standing awkwardly plastered against the front of one.
It's hard to tell at this point if it's an insight stemming from instinct or logic, but I don't think it's Beanpole coming to meet me. This person is far too concerned about keeping ahead of the rising water level. This is someone who can't swim and unless I turn tail and decide to try and swim away, the water is the means of forcing our confrontation.
I see the first creeping foam of the ocean slip up along the slope in front of (down the hill from) me.
After that, wearily trudging along, I see Haakon. Within a split second of this, he also sees me. He has a hand axe in one hand and that saw blade in another. He's wearing his jacket, which retains its left arm, but the right arm has been cut off and he has that knotted around his forehead as a headband. He's thinner than I remember from training (but, then again, so am I) and his hair has made the transition from artfully tousled to sort of long and sloppy.
"Hey, Haakon," I say. I want to say something.
"Hey," he responds. Clearly an exchange for the ages. No one would ever wrongly believe that the Hunger Games were scripted. "You're Mags, right?"
"Yeah, I am." I'm sort of pleased that he remembers; that he wants to know. Haakon is my opponent, but he's no villain. He and I are about the same. We're hungry and tired and scarred and we want to go home.
"Who are you going home to, Mags?" he asks and catches me off guard. The tide is dancing around his ankles, but we're locked in place in a cautious stalemate. "Chicken," again, only this time we can see one another.
"I've got a dad," I answer.
"I have a sister," Haakon replies.
"Older or younger?"
"Younger. She's ten."
Haakon and I are hardly natural enemies. I doubt the animosity between us could get much more artificial. I wonder if Beanpole killed Meridew. I wonder if Haakon is sad and grateful over it at the exact same time because that's kind of how I feel about Beanpole. I don't have to kill him; I don't have to die for him.
So, between the two of us remaining, who's going to make the first move? I stick my left hand into my pocket and grasp two sones between my fingers. I might as well have them ready. I can easily drop them if having my hand filled will be a hindrance.
"I just want to go home," I say at last, "I'm sorry."
"There isn't any need for “sorry”s in the Hunger Games," Haakon shoots back, "But I appreciate the sentiment."
Isn't there something we should say now? Shouldn't I announce that I'm ready and going to engage? I am sure there's an expression for this… It's… Oh. "En garde!" I yell as I rush him. I need two hands for this maneuver. I toss the pebbles away and ahead of me (well, that was a waste) and grip the shaft of my spear with both hands. This is an awfully hard thing to convince myself to do.
Haakon avoids me and I fall forward toward the surf, thankfully catching myself with the spearhead instead of slamming my face into the muddy mix of water and dirt.
Haakon regards me as I stagger to regain my balance, and then the weapons in his hands. He keeps them both, but seems to settle his attention on the hand axe.
I proceed with less reckless abandon when I throw myself back at him. He's ready for it now (he didn't understand "en grade") and I've gotten a better feel for the weight and balance of my weapon.
How do you like this show, Capitol?
I hit Haakon's shoulder, but with the smooth side of my hook as opposed snagging him with the point, so while it's a blow that visibly moves him, he was probably only bruised. Out of the corner of my eye I see the swing of his arm (which weapon? which arm?) and side-backstep fast enough to take some of the edge off an attack that was meant to connect higher up my skull and instead meets my cheek.
I fall down to my knees and my spear clatters into the grass and stony dirt. If Haakon had been trying to cut me, my cheek would be split open right now. He hit me with the blunt side of the metal. It wasn't a mistake. He wanted to use that side first. To knock me out, or at least daze me, before he put either blade to my skin.
Whether for his sake or mine, it's made me lucky.
The sharp, metallic taste of blood spreads throughout my mouth and I wonder how my rattled teeth are holding up. My tongue touches something raw and loose. Oh gosh.
After a second it hurts more than it had on the initial impact as areas that were temporarily numb spring into fully feeling agony.
I stand up and spit into the tide. The water swirls and sucks away the angry red ribbon of my blood and tugs less successfully at the molar that went with it. This should hardly get me worked up when I'm trying to find it within myself to kill rather than be killed, but teeth…and blood…my stomach roils in a way that makes me sort of relieved that I haven't had anything to eat today.
Haakon doesn't look particularly comfortable either, but he brings back his arm for another swing.
Instead of suavely sidestepping the blow, I fling myself down again into the tidal froth and avoid the attack. I grab my spear and scramble backwards, deeper into the water, awkward and quick, raising myself up with the spear as a prop as soon as I think the distance between us is safe enough.
Haakon takes several steps, but hesitates before the water reaches his knees.
I'm not far ahead, but it's enough for the gaps in our height to make a difference. Where I'm standing, the sea has filled my boots and is seeping up through the fabric of pants past my thighs. I could dive in and swim away. Haakon's going to have greater maneuverability in his upper body longer and deeper than I will on my feet.
If all I do is escape though, then I'm merely delaying the inevitable. Sooner or later, there has to be a conclusive end to things between me and Haakon, doesn't there?
The tension between us ebbs and flows. Who will move first? What will happen now? At least the water is warm enough that standing in it isn't uncomfortable.
Even if we're disengaging only for a period of seconds that's enough time for my mind to wonder and for me to think. The blood in my mouth just doesn't seem to want to give up completely. I suppose that reflects on how squarely Haakon clocked me. If I hadn't moved, I would've been out like a light. At least the rest of my teeth are staying in place. Jack Umber, if I live, please refer me to whoever it was that fixed your teeth (at least mine was lost from the back, not the front). I hate to do it, but this seems too gross to swallow. I spit again and a bit of blood sticks to my lip.
Something about the way it hangs together a bit holds my eye. Haakon looks at it too, this glop of blood mixing with the water. Why? What is he thinking? That this is the Shy Evert strategy and I'm going to give him some kind of disease? Or there's the shark. What does he know about the shark and the luring effect of blood?
But I must be over-thinking it. He wades a step closer, testing the heft of the small axe he's carrying as though he's considering throwing it. Haakon is probably feeling just like me. The situation is difficult. There's so much on the line. What move is the right one? Which will end my life? We're both thinking things like that. He's nervous.
It's not going to be pretty and it feels like it treads a thin line of fairness, but aside from escaping and seeing who the arena will kill first (dehydration, drowning, starvation, exhaustion, act of shark), I can only think of one strategy that will give the advantage to me. Blood is the bait. Flailing about is the lure. I won't need a net or a line for this catch and release scenario. Just a hook and some luck.
And even back home, when it comes to fishing, there's a large component that's merely luck.
My blood's just a taste of what's to come, shark. Something to whet your appetite. You're invited to dinner. Please arrive promptly.
I am the one who makes the next move.
It's like pulling a boat up to the pier.
The hook scrapes Haakon's arm and chest and catches the edge of his jacket. I have the advantage of surprise, as small as that is in this situation, but he's a solid sort of guy and the water around us doesn't make moving him any easier. He stumbles forward, splashing seawater up with both the bulk of his body and the wavering saw. The blade makes a nick in my bamboo pole, but doesn't make it through because he's trying harder to straighten up than break free.
My hook is bad for cutting and even I have trouble dislodging it from Haakon's clothes, jerking it back and forth until it tears loose.
What I need is to get my hands on one of his weapons or jar him into slicing himself with one of them. It doesn't need to be a mortal wound. It just needs to bleed seriously enough.
Haakon and I posture at one another with our weapons- me poking him uselessly in the chest with the curved side of the hook and him trying to cut through the pole or reach past it to swipe at my hands. It's a graceless dance as we stir the dirt into mud beneath us, treading the same foot or so of soil over and over (one foot beneath him, one beneath me).
With a powerful slice, the stalemate breaks. The front third of my spear splashes into the water, where it floats at an angle, the heavy end with the hook attached dipped down into the water like it's on the end of a line.
There's a grim smile on Haakon's face.
Because unless I pull them back very fast, his next swipe is going to cut through my clenched fingers. Because the water is at my hips and low around his thighs and I'm going to move too slowly whether I try to run or swim.
But I have the forward-facing point now that I need.
I can't go back.
I can only go forward.
I push off the bottom in a desperate lunge. Aim for something soft- lower will be easier to fling my force at than higher.
It's as much fear as pain that has me yelling as the beautiful point that Haakon has sliced for me jabs through his shirt and into his abdomen and I know that with blood what I'm looking for I can't just leave it in- I have to pull it out- but the jagged saw is first scratching, then scraping, then actually cutting through the skin down the back of my right hand and lower arm and who knows how well he can wield the axe and saw at the same time and where the axe is now.
I don't have the momentum to move back fast and blood is running from my knuckles down to my elbow and into the water. I wrench the bamboo free and see the dark stain of blood ripple quicker along the already water-darkened fabric of Haakon's shirt and pants. The side of the saw blade strikes my cheek, leaving a string of small snag-cuts and I'm knocked to my left into the water. A second, smaller splash follows me into the waves. The salty stuff rushes into my mouth and up my nose and I struggle to compromise my deeper instinct not to swallow it with my concern over holding my right arm above the waterline to slow my contribution to our human red tide.
That shark is big enough and fast enough that there could be victor at this rate. …Or only what the Gamemakers can salvage of one.
I turn my head out of the water and back to Haakon, who has one hand on the saw's handle and the other hand free.
So what does a person do to survive?
I spit the water into his face and a few dregs of clotting blood go with it.
If he isn't holding the hand axe, where is it? I can't see it from this position, floating on my back, and visibility is hardly helped by all the silt and soil that we've stirred up. I kick back a few strokes for the distance to think and the depth to challenge him. I'm keeping my right arm up over my chest, but gravity still pulls my blood to the sea.
Something bumps against the underside of my shoulder.
Haakon lets out a gasp.
I know exactly what touched me.
The dorsal fin passes between Haakon and me. Haakon takes a step back. Fear is whitening his face faster than blood loss. The shark bumps its nose up against the side of my right boot. What is this thing? Is it good to eat? That's what sharks think. The fisherman is now being fished.
The contact breaks for a second. The shark bumps my boot again (stay as still as possible or try to wriggle out?). I already know that its tastes aren't too discriminating. With dried blood for flavoring, I saw it eat my jacket. The boots seem awfully plastic-y, but for all I know, they're just as good.
With the tiniest kick I can manage, I shake off the boot.
Ring upon ring of expendable weaponized teeth open and take the boot in with barely a swallow.
For its next mouthful, it clamps down on my foot and pulls down.
I scream and my mouth is flooded with water.
Do I really hear what I think I hear as the ocean rushes past and through my ears or do I only imagine it because of what I see? "The axe is right there!" Haakon tells me - frantic, altruistic.
Out of the grit and into my hand without seeing which end is which aside from the fact that I'm gripping wood, I smash the axe against the shark's nose as hard as I can beneath the water. My foot is ripped up but at least it's still in one piece. Blood flows freely from the tooth-marked wound.
I cough and spit and breathe. It's going to come back for another try. I wasn't forceful enough to overcome the starvation (and instincts, maybe) that's driving it. I only have the smallest bit of attention to spare now for Haakon, trying to exit this quagmire of salt and anger and destruction as fast as he can without turning his back and taking his eyes off the things that threaten him. The shark turns back, cool and determined.
When I slash it with the axe blade, the shallows erupt with rage.
The shark's own blood makes it as wild- or even wilder- than ours. It reels about with such ire that the axe, still stuck in its side, is ripped from my hand. There's only one place of safety now. The small stretch of dirt and rocks that makes up the highest point in the arena. It's even shrunk since Haakon and I abandoned it to battle it out in the sea.
This plan I had- was it inspired or insane?
There's nothing to be done for trailing my blood in the water now. My foot shrills out in agony, exacerbated by the sting of salt, but my limbs all work just as I want them to. I am tiny and slim. I can go in further faster if I swim. Until the sand scrapes my stomach. I shake off my other boot.
I don't look back.
Nothing speeds like fear.
Running backwards in water wasn't the best strategy, but he'd had the advantage to the shore, hadn't he? How could Haakon know, between the two of us, that the raging shark would try its luck next with the person who hadn't attacked it and not have a third go at me?
When he screams, I am crawling on my hands and knees through inches of water.
I can hear the thundering rattle of the saw blade wavering back and forth through the air. Haakon fights. He doesn't go down easy. And what am I doing? Not looking. Sand and mud are coating my frontside like breadcrumbs on a fried fish.
What thing have I wished on another person? A person who forgot he was trying to kill me to try and save me.
And instead I'm looking ahead, away.
I can't turn my eyes all at once. First, the saw wound to my hand and arm, then the trail of blood following my tattered foot along the newly delineated beach. Haakon comes next. He's spattered with blood, but the determination of the shark is matched double in the boy from 7. That's what it is to be brave.
So I'm looking. Is that how I allow this to end? Myself a cruel and silent witness?
I am balanced unevenly on my knees and something in my pocket is digging into my thigh. One last rock. My eyes are tearing up with the sting of salt and frustration as I throw it. Smack! It hits home.
The shark is dazed for just a second. That's enough for Haakon, with his strong upper body, to pull himself away and free.
He saves himself from that particular pain. It breaks whatever spell that's gripped me. I rise and start to run, nearly falling when I try to step normally on my torn foot, stumbling gradually to Haakon's side and help him drag himself out of the blood-stained spray, further and further from the dampening dirt, until we're backed up to the stone. The saw blade has fallen from his hand and lays halfway in, halfway out of the gently rising water.
If we don't fight any longer, if it ends like this, Haakon is going to bleed out long before me.
"Where's that thing? What's that monster doing now?" Haakon asks me, as soon as he's stopped breathing too heavily to talk.
The shark, in its hunger and wild, thrashing anger, has gone for anything it could get. I tell him this; that it's an especially nasty version of a fish that I know. That it's called a shark. I see the cut-away third of my bamboo pole poking up just an inch or two out of the water. The big hook I found days ago dropped among the tidal pools is stuck in its lip.
The shark sulks about in its fury a while longer, moving between the sunken shoots of bamboo and tall rocks, before it finally calms, finding nothing left on which to take out its anger, and swims back out into deeper water, the hook wedged firm- just another one that got away.
"I hate sharks," says Haakon, who'd probably never even encountered salt water before he entered the arena and didn't know what a shark was called until I told him.
I wipe some of the blood and dirt from his face with my uninjured hand. "Yeah," I agree, "So do I."
It takes a long time for him to actually die. He's pale and passed out for some time before that. I sit beside him the whole time, staring out at the water, applying pressure to my wounded foot with one hand, poking my tongue in and out of the spot vacated by my lost tooth.
The tide never stops rising until the final cannon is sounded.
I stand up, slowly, almost hypnotically, for the final announcement. The sunset shines bright on an arena filled with water.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Mags Gaudet, the victor of the Twelfth Hunger Games!"
Chapter 14: Part III, Chapter IV
The hovercraft comes for me, a rope ladder unfolding from its depths. Clatter, clatter, clatter the rungs spill down. I look up into the hovercraft, but I can't see anything inside but light. I step onto the bottom rung very carefully. I don't think climbing a ladder would be good for my foot. I still can't see anything up there, but I wave up at whoever's controlling the craft. I'm on, I'm ready; let's go.
Someone gets the idea. The craft moves and I sway in the breeze. What would they do if I fell? Like rolling up a rope or reeling in a line, the ladder begins to retract back into the hovercraft. I watch the little sea of the arena until I can't anymore- latex gloved hands reach down and grab my arms, helping to pull me in.
"Hello," a pretty woman with green-tipped brown hair addresses me first, "How are you feeling?"
"I have been…better," I admit. I wish that I could look back at the arena and watch it recede, but there are no windows anywhere I can see. I've made a jarring mood from one strange world to another. Goodbye, bamboo island of death.
"You should drink some water," a man suggests, all dressed in white and plastic just like the woman.
"I think I still have some in my canteen," I suddenly realize I'm still carrying it. I pull it out and give it a shake, which reveals that some dregs still remain within.
"Maybe something cold would be better?" the woman presses gently. They look at me like I'm temporarily insane and just need to be reminded how the real, rational world works. Possibly they're right.
"Okay," I agree, and accept the man's offer of water in a pretty bluish bottle. He exchanges it for my canteen, which he turns around to examine from several angles (really, I don't think there's anything that interesting about it), and smiles a different, amused kind of smile.
The woman helps me to a seat and wraps a temporary bandage around my foot. "When we get back to the Capitol, they'll get you all fixed up," she assures me.
"You kind of remind me of someone I know," I admit to her, hoping it doesn't sound stupid or rude.
"And who is that?" she inquires patiently.
"Our district escort. Apple Smitt."
"She's my older sister," the younger Smitt woman replies.
For some reason this maybe coincidence strikes me as extremely funny. I think that maybe it's because I'm sleep-deprived. I laugh and laugh and Ms. Smitt and the man humor me and don't interfere with it. I live in a world that doesn't make any sense yet I keep trying to piece things nicely together.
The man gives me a blanket to put over my shoulders to make up for my half-dry and torn clothes. The water is so cold it hurts the tender places in my mouth.
Gosh, what do I do now? What do I think now? Most of the time in the arena I hadn't even been willing to believe it was possible for me to live and now I'm alive and the other twenty-three tributes (and some of them I knew and some of them I loved) are all dead. I am District Four's first victor then. Me. What were the odds?
"Will it take a long time to get back to the Capitol?" I ask.
"We're already more than halfway there," Apple's sister says.
It's so unreal. Am I dreaming I'm the victor? …But I don't know what this part of coming out of the arena alive is like from past experience. They don't show it to us on TV. So…?
When will things outside the arena feel real again? Will they feel really real again? Really real. I'm not even sure what kind of distinction I'm trying to make now. Don't think about it, I tell myself. Just keep going. Don't think about it.
Talking slows the thoughts.
"Will I get to sleep a lot before I'm crowned and stuff? Because I think I'm going to need a whole bunch of sleep to do anything now. …Also, I probably need about three months of beauty sleep to look presentable in front of a Capitol audience again."
"Apple was right," the man notes, "You are cheeky."
"You will be allowed plenty of time to rest," Ms. Smitt confirms.
I finish my water and make the remainder of the flight in silence, keeping any unnecessary cheekiness to myself. For some reason I feel a little chastened. It's enough to make me feel really real for at least a while.
It's dark when we land at a hospital and I'm immediately cheered when Aulus- Aulie- rushes over and scoops me up in his arms. "Oh, Mags!" he hugs me, and as much as I'm sure he wants to be careful, he's a big, muscular guy and very enthusiastic, so I kind of wince at the same time as I try to smile. "You're alive! You won! I'm so happy to see you again!"
"I'm really happy to see you too!"
His face brushes against mine and I feel stubble that I just now notice. There's extra makeup too, attempting to mask the puffy bags beneath his eyes. He's been scrimping on sleep- watch us as much as he could, I imagine. And maybe he's been crying as well. I didn't see it happen, so it's not real to me yet, but Beanpole died this very morning. Aulie saw it. Apple saw it. Everyone back home saw it. The worst and best day of District 4's Twelfth Hunger Games all in one.
"Let's go get you taken care of," my coach says and carries me inside.
It's not like any trip I've made to see a doctor before, even aside from how much bigger and more high-tech the facility is. I don't have to wait for my turn to be seen. Two doctors and a handful of nurses and aides are ready and waiting to see me. The doctors act neural and professional, but some of the nurses seem a bit admiring.
I'm changed out of my ruined Games attired and into a papery hospital gown so that only my coral ring token from Faline remains. They take my pulse and blood pressure; a blood sample; my weight. A nurse puts disinfectant on the cuts on my face and arm. My face should heal fine on its own. Parts of Haakon's saw slash to my arm will require stitches, as will my foot, obviously. Some kind of aloe-based lotion is rubbed onto my sunburn.
When I ask if the person who replaced Jack Umber's lost teeth is available to work on mine, they just laugh.
Aulie holds my hand as they put me under for the surgery on my foot. He promises to be there when I wake up, and he is, when I briefly come to in the early hours of the morning, sleeping in the chair beside my hospital bed. They've giving me intravenous fluids and medicine. I wonder if they also removed my tracker and gave me a new tooth while I was out. That kind of efficiency seems Capitol-esque. The stitches are in place in my arm. I'm still awfully tired though. I decide that I'm not going to worry about it until it's more properly morning. It's easy enough to drift off back to sleep.
My morning meal is small to pace me after my days of deprivation, but it doesn't take much for it to be wonderful. I would have been content with something as simple as Crispco Crackers. Aulie drinks his coffee and laughs when I tell him so.
He gets out a hand mirror and helps me to see that I did have a new molar put in. I can't tell it from my other teeth, aside from the fact that it's whiter after the inevitable drop off in cleaning they experienced during the Games.
He's yawning a lot, which makes me self-conscious of how selfish I've been and tell him it's okay to leave me a while. Since apparently Apple is on her way over anyway, Aulie relents and we part ways temporarily. …It's nice to be able to see someone walk away from me and be completely sure that I'll see them again.
The nurses come in and out to see that everything is healing on schedule. I remark to one on the trend I've noticed in their behavior.
"We all drew straws to see who would get to help with you," a charcoal-black, artificially black-black woman, barely older than me, explains, giggling once none of the other nurses are nearby. She looks like she was carved from some exquisite piece of coal. "We knew we would get the winner, whoever it was, but some of us- like me- were specifically rooting for you."
"For me," I wonder, "Really?" Everyone back in the districts has natural built-in loyalties, but how do the people in the Capitol pick their favorites? The characters we become, I guess, the stories we create.
"You're very self-deprecating," she says. I'm not sure if it's an observation or an answer. She has a smile like polished pearls. Her name is Phoebe. She inputs my current vital signs into an electronic chart and leaves me to my idle thoughts until I drift off again.
When Apple finally shows herself, several hours later than Aulie's comment had convinced me she would, she's dressed to the nines and glittering with elaborate District 4-influenced beach glass and seashell jewelry. A cameraman and assistant trail in her wake. Oh, yeah. I guess it stands to reason our reunion might be filmed. Were there cameras present last night taking things in between Aulie and me too? There might have been, but I didn't see them.
Between Beanpole and I, I think Apple liked Beanpole better. I feel bad about that. I want to discuss it with her, but it's not hard to guess that now is not the time.
"You're on," the man who isn't managing the camera announces and immediately Apple just about pounces on me. I feel like a tiny mouse. We hug and some of her eyeshadow rubs off on my face and she pats my head and when we gush about how happy we are to see one another, just like with Aulie, it's completely real and I hope that when they air this footage that people will be able to see that.
For something to do while we chat, I encourage Apple to take down my long-suffering hair from the two droopy buns that have lasted, more or less, for the past few days, and it's just as frizzy and corkscrewed as I told Beanpole it would be. Apple takes a brush and comb from her handbag and sets at trying to tame it.
I try to show her my new tooth. I point out the crutches I'll have to use for a few days because even the Capitol's accelerated healing procedures can only do so much for my chewed up foot.
Apple gives up on my hair once she's worked it into two puffy pigtails. "This is a job for professionals," she mock-despairs.
"Luckily I have some." I thank her a bunch for coming to visit me. They turn the camera off and the official part of our reunion concludes. "You want to see my stitches?" I offer her my arm.
"No, thank you," Apple says primly, though her expression suggests disgust.
"How long do you think it will be before I get to go home?"
"Well," she considers it, "There will be the recaps and crowning. …And they probably won't want you on crutches for that, so as soon as your foot has healed I imagine things will get rolling again. Then the next day, you do a final interview and we take you home until your victory tour."
"Mostly you sit at the recap though," I complain. I want to get it over and done with. I want to go home, like I told Haakon, and "home" didn't just mean getting out of the arena- I meant District 4.
"You're not going to look very heroic on crutches," Apple advises me. "Your dress- and I've gotten a sneak preview of it and it's going to be gorgeous- it won't flow as nicely if you're on crutches either."
I roll my eyes. There was never anything heroic about me to begin with. "Well, I know that the schedule isn't going to flow according to my whims anyway." Being a victor only brings with it the benefits that the Capitol feels like giving you. You live, but you dance to their tune.
"Just work on getting better," she encourages me.
"Apple," I venture, "About Beanpole-"
"If I were you," she cuts off that train of thought quickly, "I wouldn't talk about that right now. Your heart has got to heal up too. Let the matter rest."
When she goes, I petulantly think that no one's telling me about Beanpole's death just because they want me to see it for the first time when I watch the recaps. …But even if I'm right, there's no use in holding it against Apple. It's not her decision. I'm sure they treat all the victors like this.
Victors. I let it echo through my head. Victors, of whom I am now one. There are little kids out there who have now been traumatized by the sight of a shark biting into my foot (but the way the Capitol fixes things, I can see it will be all but good as new, though I'm not sure how much I can feel in my two smallest toes) or by my flying into a berserk rage and killing the girl who had been my friend.
I wonder when I'll have the opportunity to interact with the other victors.
Inevitably, because of that "save it for the live audiences" component of things, I can't even call up Papa or Faline or any of my classmates back home. We don't get to talk until we do it on camera.
I learn how to walk with the crutches and travel aimlessly around the all but empty floor with Phoebe, the nurse I've decided I like best. There don't seem to be any other patients recovering on this floor, although on the third day after my arrival, I catch sight of a familiarly flashy man. He's the District 10 escort. His name is Ferdinand?
One of the doctors stops me before I get over to talk to him though. I watch from a miffed distance as he enters the elevator with a girl who is definitely Emmy Pollack (bright pink streaks in her hair just like at the reaping), but neither of them looks back and sees me.
Phoebe explains some of it to me when we next meet. This is the victors' floor. It's always used for us. Nurses just circulate up here from other floors when necessary. Once annually there's a new patient who's planned on (the newest victor). Other times, I suppose it's the victors' emergency room in the Capitol. I can't really ask for the specifics about Emmy. Generically though: "Is there activity up here frequently?"
"Well, compared to the other floors of the hospital, it's a graveyard. But you only make the twelfth victor. And most of the time they're away in the districts so it would take something pretty serious for them to be shipped out to us."
"So this is where Gerik got his leg?" I muse, looking around and considering things in a new light. 'Where Shy was cured of her, um, tuberculosis or whatever it was?' I'd also like to say, but I know better while within their facility than to question the official government take on that.
"Yes. But I didn't have my nursing certification then. Beto was the first victor case that I saw."
"So I guess they don't come in much otherwise then." My hair has finally smoothed out into easy manageability. I sit in a chair and braid it up while Phoebe changes the bed sheets.
"Jack comes a little bit. He's in the Capitol the most among them, I think."
"And One is close to the Capitol," I note. For him, I imagine, the time and distance is never a viable excuse.
Erinne and her team show up on the fourth day after my arrival. I had forgotten for a while about how Aulie'd done my nails before the Games. The painting he'd done for fun has completely worn and chipped away. Erinne and I make idle small talk that doesn't verge much on the actual content of my Games as Irish and Spring work on my nails, shaping and buffing and painting them a neutral, almost clear color.
"As long as both you and the Director of Victor Affairs approve of my work, I can have the contract as your designer and general style coordinator," Erinne informs me, sketching as her allies move on to my toes.
"We're feeling really good that we're dressing a winner," Irish pipes up, "And such a small, cute one too."
"Of course I'll keep you on," I say, "…Although I wouldn't eve know how to begin looking for someone else if I had to." This makes all three of them laugh.
"No one tell her the procedure," Erinne tells her team in an exaggerated stage whisper.
I drop a mention of how I heard Apple saw my crowning dress in some degree of readiness, but everyone laughs off this transparent attempt to learn something about it ahead of time on my part.
On the fifth day after, Aulie and Apple pick me up together and we head for the Training Center in the car that Beanpole didn't win his chance to drive. Some of the nurses, Phoebe included, are openly sad to see me go. "I'm only leaving so soon," I try to cheer them up, "As a result of everyone's great work!
"Next time we'll sabotage something then," Phoebe chirps back.
But I mope on the ride. The car reminds me of Beanpole. The Training Center reminds me of the rest of the tributes. We ride the elevator in silence.
"Hey, I've got something you'll like," Aulie thinks of his way of cheering me when we reach our floor on the almost empty building (just us and the staff- no Beanpole lying on the couch, no other tributes living their parallel last days out on floors above and below). He dashes into my bedroom and comes back with a bit of fabric flapping between his arms. He's trying to shield it from my eyes until exposing it at the last moment.
"You saved my dress!" I try to say cheerfully, but my voice cracks with a barely suppressed sob. "Thank you!" I wrap my arms round the dress and slip down onto the couch. Is it better to let myself cry or to hold it in? Beanpole's ghost is all too present in our midst.
Aulie sits down on one side of me and Apple on the other.
"Is Beanpole," I stumble over a delicate question, "Is he coming home with us?"
"No, he's already gone on ahead," Apple dabs at the corners of her eyes with a lacy handkerchief, "They don't want a mix of feelings on display when you come home. No one in Panem wants to watch his mother sob for him."
"Yes," Aulie agrees as though he's suddenly remembered something important, "And now that you've won, you have to consider the kind of front you want to put up in public. All the other tributes are going to be deemphasized. Your story is going to depict the win like it's your destiny." And he and Apple know, just as well as I do, how huge of a portion of it it was dumb luck and what parts weren't were built on the hands and labor and care of those who helped me (even if it was only for as short a time as a split second- Haakon, Sparrow, Laurie, Jem, Juna, Beanpole). "Obviously, how personable you are and how that inspired others to like and trust you will play a large part in the story they'll tell about you, but you have to be careful how and how much you talk about the other tributes. Try and follow the lead of the presenters. Mr. Zimmer still wants for you to look good."
"Can't part of my thing be being self-deprecating?" I ask, although discussing it immediately makes it seem somewhat disingenuous. "It's not," I try to explain, "That I'm not really glad that I survived and that I didn't accomplish things on my own, but-" (modesty probably isn't a big virtue in the Capitol, huh?) "-Maybe I sort of understate things and it could come off kind of amusing-funny?"
"Oh," Aulie understands, even if Apple's still lost at sea somewhere.
Since if I don't laugh I will cry. It's weird. I don't feel quite myself, but I don't think I'm quite as broken as I expected to be. It has to be the unrealness of it all. The horrors will haunt me in my dreams, and my fears and regrets will rebound with a vengeance at some point.
Then again, maybe they won't. Maybe some people are better built to handle this than others.
I want to talk to other victors. How did they feel then? How do they feel now? I need to know.
"That would probably work out fine," Aulie okays it.
My thoughts have moved on alone to other parts of this process. "When do you think I might get to finally meet other victors?" I query.
"Well, during the victory tour, right, Apple?" Aulie isn't sure he can think of anything sooner, but he's never worked with a victor, so he can hardly be blamed for not being sure.
"Jack might be at the recaps," Apple considers it, "Though I don't know ho much time there might be for chatting backstage."
"Make me some?" I request.
"I will see what I can do," she promises.
Aulie and I eat lunch in front of the television, watching some inane celebrity dancing competition while Apple is out, busy coordinating the myriad details of the upcoming conclusion to the Games. "They wanted to get a victor on this program," Aulie says.
"But everyone turned them down?"
"Well, the rumor is that Sunny said she'd like to do it, but Victor Affairs decided she shouldn't."
The dancing they show is somewhat stylistically removed from the dancing we do back in 4. Aulie tells me who a few of the contestant are, but the meaningless names just don't stick.
I learn from a television promo that my crowning and Games recaps will be tomorrow night. I can walk without crutches, though I'm still taking things carefully. "When were you two going to tell me about that?" I laugh, half amused, half just uncomfortable. I see my first outside-looking-in shots of my Games in montage. How surreal. I'm walking on rocks and finding the large hook. I'm reining through the bamboo forest in a scene I can't clearly place, blood on my clothes and knife in my hand. I'm reaching out to the rope ladder and lifted up staring at the sea.
"District Four Congratulations Mags Gaudete, our first victor," reads a stylized title care after the listing of the airtime (no channel listing- every channel will carry this required programming). Did the people back home really arrange for that message in pretty gold and green or was it another Capitol touch?
"We figured it could wait until tomorrow morning. All you can really do in advance for this is get worked up."
"You might have a point."
"See there? We understand you."
It's a strangely quiet day spent in the Capitol. When Apple comes back she sits with me and pages through a dossier on her electronic schedule device (or whatever it is- I don't know the proper name), showing me the scheduled bounty that my win will bring each 'Parcel Day' up until the next Games. …When the sugar comes in, every little kid in the district is going to love me, aren't they?
"Are you going to come out to town and make a big fuss over it with me each time?" I try to have fun with some light-hearted teasing. "You know, Emmy and Ferdinand style?" I refer to the Parcel Day proceedings in District 10 I've seen bits and pieces of all throughout the last year. The victor and her escort were always there together.
But what does it say about a suggested scenario if Apple finds it less amusing than I do?
"Emmy can't handle Parcel Day without Ferdinand," I guess, fishing for information- if I can't get it from the victors themselves, I might find it someone else in this system.
"You shouldn't speak ill of your seniors," Apple tries to sidestep the implied question.
"I'm older than Emmy Pollack," I say, although I know she means her precedence over me as a victor, not her age.
"I might come for the pleasure of it, if you invite me, but there's no reason I'd be necessary." In a way, Apple is conceding my point. "I'm sure that you're more what they want in a victor. People are suppose to come out better for respecting and fearing the Capitol, not worse."
In theory. …Or at least according to Apple's perception of things. But who is really the aberration- me or Emmy?
It would only be mean to keep badgering Apple. She doesn't mean badly. I change the subject slightly. "I get a lot of money as a victor, right? And a new house?" …Not that I'm sure I'm entirely keen on leaving my old one.
"Yes, you do," she brightens.
"So maybe I could bring my dad a present home from the Capitol?" I wouldn't mind picking out something for Mrs. Mirande too, but I don't want it to seem like I'm buying her off.
"That's a lovely idea," she agrees. But, of course, I can't go out onto the streets in front of people before the ceremonies of tomorrow night, so we use her device to look at digital catalogues of top of the line fishing gear. Some of it I can't figure out (and Apple doesn't know much more about fishing than what I've previously told her), and some of it practically seems like cheating, but I pick out a reinforced pole and a couple of fancy lures I think he'll appreciate.
I get to eat more freely at dinner, as I show no ill effects of my larger, richer lunch shared with Aulie. The pretty blond Avox is back.
On a whim, I ask Apple if I could hire a particular Avox to come work for me (by which I really mean come be a guest in my new house), but she laughs and tells me district citizens aren't allowed to employ Avoxes. Sorry, lady. I know it would be sort of futile to save just you, but aren't futile gestures what I specialize in? I thought you might even like District 4.
I think that I should be able to sleep all right, but Apple leaves a sleeping pill and a glass of water out for me just in case.
She knows better than I do.
I dream about Sparrow smiling at me with rows of teeth, like a shark. Of Haakon sawing off his own leg and then offering his axe to me to finish the job. Of Beanpole leaving to die on purpose and not face off with me, his face solemn with his frequent melancholy. I lean back for a dentist to examine my teeth and the dentist is Jack Umber, who holds up a pair of pliers. "This is only going to hurt a lot," he warns me, smiling, and behind his shoulder a camera zooms in on my panicked eyes.
I wake up. It's still pitch black. I take the sleeping pill.
It must have been for more than just sleeping. After that, I don't dream, or at least I don't remember.
Apple and Aulie and I eat pancakes for breakfast. I idly pack up the majority of my few things since I'll be busy tonight and the following morning before my afternoon return home. Apple tells me to keep any of the clothes I've worn and liked since used things won't be recycled for next year. In light of this, I cram pretty much all of it in the small suitcase she gave me. I can always give them away to my friends back home.
After lunch, Erinne is back with her team and plastic boxes of equipment. When Irish unfolds her kit, I can see two publicity still taped into the lid from the pre-Games interviews- one of me and one of Beanpole. Beanpole looks calm and dignified and kind of handsome for Beanpole. I have my big mouth open. Some photo editor choosing what shot to use captured my character perfectly.
They set up in the sitting room, just tossing a piece of clear plastic over the couch. The primping and preening starts with a skin treatment and shaving my legs, which, apparently, will show to some degree. Hair and make-up will come after they've gotten me into my dress. I figured it would be a dress even before Apple dropped a hint.
But, oh, what a dress! I don't feel like I deserve it. I would feel lucky just to go home as I am and live and be forgotten about. Is it okay to be happy about my dress? The Capitol wants me to be. I decide that I should be happy, at least for the sake of Erinne, who worked so hard on this. The bodice is strapless and fitted. The skirt has two layers. One short, that shows off my legs (giving me all the height they can, because I may be fashionably slim, but even by underfed District 4 standards, I'm short) and the one open in the front and long in the back, a beautiful gradient of ocean colors that flows behind me when I walk like the rising tide.
I stumble over my words (as usual), but Erinne guesses my intent. "Speechless, huh?" she laughs.
"Yeah," I agree.
Then the other two laugh as well. Erinne makes some minor adjustments to the fit of my dress. The group chatters cheerily at me as they go to town on my hair and makeup. They're keeping with my two bun hairstyle. It's not very glamorous, but, then again, neither am I. The fact that none of the other victors sport a look like it might have helped with that decision.
"I got addicted to the twenty-four hour Games feed because of you two," Irish says. "It's weirdly mesmerizing when you actually know some of the tributes. That they're really real; that they're really like that."
"I wanted to go out there and give you a bath!" Spring declares.
"I'm all clean now." I hold still for glittery blue mascara.
"And Beanpole was more fashion forward than we thought, asking you about what would happen with your crazy hair."
"He was about the best friend I could've asked for out there, even if we weren't together for very long." Instead of tearing up and stymying their efforts, I quickly ask about my footwear next. "Not heels?" I hope.
"Flat as a…flounder?" Spring guesses, holding up a pair of white and gold laced sandals.
That does make me smile. "Still reading up on fish?"
"You know that I get to design you a new outfit for every stop on your victory tour, right? I need all the inspiration I can get," Erinne says.
For my hair there are trailing decorations made of twin and ribbon and pearls simulating fishnets and seaweed, one dangling ornament for each side. They keep my buns low to allow room for the crown the president will give me.
Once I'm finished, Aulie and Apple are allowed back in. They ooh and ah over my appearance and get Spring to use Apple's tiny camera so they can take about a dozen pictures with me. They're all dolled up too, since as my team they get to share in a portion of the glory with me. I'm not sure anything Apple or Aulie did had an effect on whether I lived or died, but they were amazing moral support. I try and tell them so, but they ask me to save it for the stage or after. "If we're going to cry and ruin our makeup," Aulie insists, "It might as well happen in front of thousands of people so they know it's because we love you."
"Okay, I promise to save the sappiness."
Erinne and her team pack up and go on ahead on their own. The three of us follow not long after to the same place the interviews were filmed, now even more packed, and wildly decorated in a style that reflects upon both the nature of the arena I came out of and District 4, but I only get a momentary glimpse of it before I'm tucked away backstage until my actual cue. My team, who will go one before me, stand further up in the wings. Some of the crew are viewing the live footage of the excited crowd on a monitor. The president is in his box. …I don't care if I've won the Hunger Games, that man still scares me.
Microphone settings are fine-tuned and lights are adjusted. I see that Jack Umber is already looking at me from near the other edge of the stage when my eyes fall upon him. He smiles. Does he know I want to talk to him? I smile back.
The anthem starts out blaring and Jeff Zimmer gives an introduction to the evening's events. From his box, the president gives a statement that I can't make out all the words of, but everyone applauds. Mr. Zimmer announces his co-hosts, first Longinus Bronze, who gets applause, and then Jack, whose fanfare is peppered with female (mostly; presumably) screaming.
The trio banters about what a satisfying Games this was, apparently. They joke about my quick and successful recovery. "Jeff," Jack chuckles, "I haven't been in your radiant presence for five days!"
They introduce the design team and Erinne discusses my previous Games attire, hinting at what I'll be wearing tonight.
Aulie goes on and they ask him about the skills I demonstrated in the arena. He says he wishes he could take more credit for them, but that I showed up as ready to win as anyone could.
Apple talks about how she always knew District 4 would do it eventually (this leaves two districts who have no victors- 11 and 12). She assesses my personality and call me, "above all, gutsy."
It's all staged to create the maximum amount of build-up and excitement in the audience. "Well, we've seen it ourselves, haven't we, ladies and gentlemen?" Mr. Zimmer prompts the crowd, "Miss Mags is quite a girl! So, let's let her see it too, shall we?"
That's my cue.
The lights are brilliant. The noise is deafening. Mr. Zimmer steps up to greet me. He and Mr. Bronze and Jack take turns shaking my hand. Does Jack wink at me or is it my imagination? "Don't look up," he says with a flush of good humor.
People begin to giggle in anticipation as I (of course) look up.
The shark, dead and stuffed, is hanging from the ceiling with my hook and piece of pole still stuck in its lip. "Oh, my-" I stagger back a step and Mr. Zimmer steadies me as I wobble on my weaker foot.
"I thought you might like it for your mantle," Mr. Bronze smirks. Well, he would.
"Ha ha ha," I laugh nervously, "I would need one big mantle for that thing."
"Now, now, that's enough of that, Mr. Bronze, Jack," Mr. Zimmer chides comically, leading me up to my chair. This victor's seat is gold-colored (maybe even actually made with gold) and of a woven design with a black velvet pillow for me to sit on.
The terrible humor that preceded it cushions me against what I am about to see: my Games, from reaping to victory in three well-edited hours.
There isn't much to surprise me in the first segment, because I've already watched the initial recaps of the reapings, chariot ride, training scores, and interviews. Since the focus is now squarely on me, even segments that weren't aired in full before are things I was there for. Fellow tributes whose trajectory through the Games intersected with mine tend to be more feature- Sparrow, Beanpole, Haakon. I see how frequently I smiled for the camera regardless of nerves and how, even more frequently, people smiled back.
And that's going to be the idea, isn't it? To know me being to like me?
The arena footage bears this out quickly. I am bumbling and whimsical, a people person who is uncomfortable on her own, as opposed to Beanpole, who seems in control when clinically observing other hapless tributes at a distance. They let us see Sparrow as she examines the darts and unlabeled bottle packaged with them. I frown, but this part isn't a surprise to me anymore. The editors always love foreshadowing.
One way in which all the other tributes receive an equal minimum airtime is in death. It's…not exactly enlightening to observe any of the ones I've missed thus far, but later in the Games it will mean something. I'm doing a lot of wincing now, but editing and distance provide a decent buffer of unreality. If the arena is unreal now, I suppose I'm back in this world and I can take some comfort from that.
"Pardon me, Apple, if I snore," I say onscreen, facing away from the camera and then, I don't exactly snore, but my breath goes in and out with a funny little catch, that makes me put my hand to my forehead and the audience giggle.
It's bloody, but interesting to see Beanpole's discovery of the shark as a result of another injured tribute's misfortune and the subsequent "aiding and abetting" he described to me. He doesn't talk to himself the way I did in the arena, but his melancholy isn't as heavy as I might have imagined. Somewhere inside, he found a reason to be brave. One thing he does is a lot like me. Based on what they've picked to show at least, he always seems to be looking at the sea. The recap paints him in a good light. …I still feel like he should be sitting here beside me. It still won't sink in that he's really dead. And watching his tricks here is almost like a film.
Maybe the recap isn't going to be so bad?
…And then Juna and I find one another (along with the usual captioning that labels her "Juna Bright, District 12," the editing gives her another description in light of my win: "Friend #1") and that notion is completely dashed for me when I get to see her fate with my own two eyes. They make sure to include her "canary in the coal mine" explanation. It fits the foreshadowing agenda far too well. Sparrow appears behind her as hands reaching through the dark and stabs her in the throat with a dart like she later used on me. She holds Juna down with a hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming as she dies and watches dispassionately as her body is removed from the arena. "I think she bled out," she lies to me.
I'm glad no one let me eat dinner before this because, man, do I feel sick.
The captioning pops up after this, giving off a funny sort of irony. "Friend #2."
All the items that exchange between my "friends" and I are highlighted as well. The canteen Juna "gifted" me, then the Crispco ("I could eat the whole tin!") crackers.
The hook I'll find later is accidentally dropped off the rocks by Meridew, after a long, impatient stretch of trying to tie together a long enough braid of plant fibers to try and fish off the outcropping. The water was way too low for it at that point, even if there had been something other than the shark to catch. Her awkward attempt to fish without even using bait is intercut with my lecturing Sparrow on various matters of fishing.
And while Haakon and Meridew camp out between the rocks, glum and cheerless, at least based on what the editing shows us, I braid Sparrow's hair and hold her arm while we walk down the beach and rattle off a million different ways to eat bananas. Sparrow and I definitely look like friends. And, beyond that, apparently I look like someone you, theoretical person in the Capitol, might like to be friends with too?
Things turn less pleasant when we encounter and kill Ada Spelling, and here in my seat I grip the arms tighter and tighter, but the friendship angle carries on with my story about Aoko Ayu. Have they ever shown the picture of a past tribute during a recap before? There hasn't been a victor yet whose sibling or cousin or anything the Capitol feels is worth committing on has proceeded them in death.
Five years ago and Aoko, with stiff black braids jutting away from her head, is just as I last saw her. They intersperse footage of Aoko running through a forest of black pines with equally tiny Daisy Arlen running in the opposite direction through the bamboo to her death. Sparrow and I knot together a net while Sparrow hums. How perfectly they've painted my nightmares.
Sparrow smiles in her sleep. Haakon keeps watch over Meridew. Beanpole wades in the shallows and says my name.
The bloodbath of the following day is no clearer to me in retrospect than it was as it occurred. Apparently Sparrow shared no words with the camera about her strange actions at this point, weighing her allegiances to me and to Laurie on her own. "Laurie Tart, District 5. Friend #3." Korona kills Mercy, Laurie kills Heath, Laurie kills Korona.
And while I never quite had the time to get comfortable with her, there we are talking and getting to know one another.
The little bit of tears I shed there seem a natural part of this character in the center of this story. While I sleep, Sparrow kills Laurie in cold blood and, now, watching, I bite my lip and fight this building urge toward tears. "Well," says Sparrow, "I actually like you."
Look at what I do after- I stick loyally to her even after I see her cunning and calculation. Right up until I see and feel the darts she shoots at me, hoping to take me out quickly, Sparrow and I are friends. Despite what I did, I want to say that we are still- we stayed- friends. Cadelle, Sparrow, and Jem fall to my hand in my rage and it's amazing and horrible to see. I'm like a completely different person.
Are they closing up on my face now as the tears start to stream down while I watch this?
When there's nothing else one can do, it's one's responsibility to watch and remember, isn't it? To bear witness?
They show Meridew and Haakon curious at the closely-spaced cannon shots. "What do you think that is?" Meridew asks her partner. Haakon shrugs.
Onscreen I collapse by the creek. My mouth moves in words that either weren't recorded or have been removed so the audience today won't hear. I know what I'm saying then. "Brendan, Elmo, Nicholas, Peter, Zeno," I mouth the list along with my past self. Behind me, Beanpole is watching. "Beanpole Mirande, District 4. Friend #4."
In time-lapse style, Beanpole waits and keeps watch over me throughout the whole night, helping and comforting me the next day when I awake. His question of whether or not I know the names of all the other tributes is answered not only by my actual response of, "Most of them. Not all," but a montage of shots that capture that other tribute (and the ones who have died by this point are depicted in a somber gray-scale) along with me saying their name: Juna, Jem, Daisy, Ada, Sparrow, Laurie, Cadelle, Bailey, Meridew, Haakon…
What is it about watching someone cry? Even though the person up there crying is me, watching it makes me makes me cry even harder. Me from the arena finishes her sobbing and eats bananas and chocolate with Beanpole, but here on stage I wipe my face frantically with my wet fingers, wishing for a jacket or a long sleeve, if not a handkerchief, to stifle my tears with. And I hope the Capitol will forgive me for being such an ugly cryer. It won't be long before my nose begins to run.
The backs of cool fingers touch the outside of my arm.
I didn't think anyone was close enough to me on the stage to reach out and touch me. I look away from the scene of Beanpole and me walking out to tempt in the shark to see Jack Umber kneeling on the floor beside my seat. He's offering me the thing that I need most. It's a handkerchief, white with a silver edge and monogrammed- not "J. U.," but "J. Z." Jeff Zimmer's. A friend not named as such by the recap of my Games, but a friend nonetheless.
And why is Jack handing it to me? He had the smallest gap to close to reach me. He was seated between Mr. Zimmer and me.
Onscreen, Beanpole leaves me during the night, whispering "Good luck and good winds."
Jeff Zimmer, Capitol. Friend they forgot to number. Jack Umber, District 1. …Friend I have yet to befriend?
I accept the handkerchief. Mr. Zimmer's eyes leave the screen for a brief second to look at me. "Brendanelmo, Nicholas, Peterzeno," Jack hisses, blocking his mouth from the cameras with his hand, before he scoots back to retake his seat.
For whatever reason he attempted to recite back my litany of sea-saints to me, his strangely accented list has slowed my tears. The Hunger Games continue in edited form as Haakon and Meridew stalk silently through the bamboo, leaving their hiding place and homing in on the sound of Beanpole trying to set up some kind of trap. I wipe my face with the downy soft handkerchief as I stared, transfixed, at a scene I was- fortunate or unfortunate? - to miss.
While I snoop around and settle in between the rocks, Beanpole sticks to his usual gambit, the one he described to me- head for the water. He doesn't make it, though. He does a nasty number on Meridew, but when he falls face down on the sand with Haakon's axe in his head, that's that. I awake from my doze at the sound of the cannon and visibly shiver. Beanpole's glassy eyes reflect the rapidly rising tide.
Something is wrong with Meridew's breathing from Beanpole's attack. Haakon holds her hand. He can't bring himself to finish her, but he can't help her either. I don't know how he would, even if he wanted to. Haakon had a friend too.
The lead-in to the final sequence is set again without any added music. Haakon slogs through the water, looking nervous and tired. When I sing to myself, I see now that he could hear me.
"Hey, Haakon," and the responding, "Hey," set the tone for the last battle of the Games, in all its inept and terrifying glory. It's obvious that I'm an awful fighter and in the condition Haakon was in by that last afternoon, he's not all that much better. The whole thing is too scary for anymore crying on my part. I wonder how they managed to capture such horrifying underwater footage of the shark and its attacks.
In the end, I think they manage to treat Haakon as fairly in the recap as they can any opponent of the eventual victor. The tide of tribute versus tribute turns the moment he helps me against the shark. "The axe is right there!" "Friend #5," the subtitles dub him. Enemies into friends. If it had been planned, it would probably be treason, but the spontaneity of human nature and goodness can't be governed.
Haakon doesn't take nearly as long to die after the footage has passed through the editing room. I consider this a small reprieve.
I look strange and shining, damp and foam-speckled and lit by the falling sun as I'm taken from the arena.
"Friends in the Capitol," the tail end of this victory story notes over footage of Aulie carrying me, Apple hugging me, and Erinne and her team fussing to fix me up. "And I was the first one here to officially befriend her!" Mr. Zimmer reminds everyone, teasing, but also proud, and comes up to surreptitiously take back his handkerchief while hugging me, summing up my Games with some comments to conclude the night.
When he steps away, I see that the president has left his box and is ready at the edge of the stage as the anthem starts up again. In a little dun-colored box, the simplest of the sort that people in the Capitol purchase jewelry in, he carries my crown- it's gold, and not perfectly smooth and reflective, but more faceted and glittering. It's not a fairy tale style crown. It's a slim branch lined with leaves.
He could easily place it on my head if I stayed standing, the president is a good foot or more taller than me, but I bow out of respect and the enormity of the moment and he settles the crown- yes, I remember now, it's a laurel crown- on my head (it sits between, higher than, my buns).
Only a ghost of a smile crests across his lips, a maintenance of formality. There must be thousands of people in the Capitol now who feel they are, or would like to be, my friend. The president is not one of them, but at least we're clear on this. It's greatly preferable to falsehood- I could never handle games of that scale. Mr. President, please believe that I don't want to cause any problems. I didn't win for that. If I'm going to sacrifice myself, it has to be for something.
And because of these thoughts, this silence exchange made only in my mind, I'm not really smiling anymore and when the president steps away so that everyone can see me again, out of the corner of my eye Apple makes a little, "Up, up," gesture toward the corners of her mouth, and how can I not respond properly? Together we can help each other every step of the way.
I curtsy and smile and wave and wave and keep on waving. Underneath the thunderous approval of the Capitol public, I stand between Mr. Zimmer and the president and, still living, I drown.
Chapter 15: Part III, Chapter V
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
There is a party at the president's mansion. A so-called "Victory Banquet." After he welcomes me to his home I don't see anything further of the president. Basically I try to eat, because all of the food looks so amazing and now that my nerves are settling down I'm actually sort of hungry, but even though Apple and Aulie and Mr. Zimmer stand and sit around me as a buffer, mainly I'm interrupted over and over by presumably important people who want to congratulate me.
I sign autographs with both hands to keep myself amused. In the distance of this ever-shifting sea of people I see some of the other escorts (Ferdinand is particularly recognizable), but none of them come to speak with me. They probably feel sensitive regarding the tributes they've lost. The people who do introduce themselves to me are Gamemakers and sponsors of the Games and people who work in the government- and their children. There are already little girls wearing heavily-beribboned versions of my hairstyle. There are girls and boys both running here and there with tiny fishing poles, which first comes to my attention when one of them snags Apple's dress with his hook and sets her fussing.
Longinus Bronze gives me a present of a multi-purpose camping knife where another man might give me flowers.
"I'll keep this and you can keep the shark," I tell him.
I think it's at that moment that I finally impress him. "Deal," he shakes my hand. I think he really means it too. …Of course Mr. Bronze would have the size of house to accommodate a fifteen-foot shark.
It's around two in the morning and I'm nodding a bit when Apple forces her way to having me excused to go back to the Training Center to sleep up before my interview. Mr. Zimmer is already gone, she notes to bolster her argument, and he's far more used to operating on a schedule of long nights at parties and early mornings on television than I am. The president's personal aide okays me to go.
Jack Umber slips from the grasp of conversation with several scantily clad women who don't seem particularly pleased to let him go to try and speak to me as I head out the door, my loyal chaperones flanking me, one on each side (Apple stubborn and focused, Aulie doing his best while visibly tipsy). …Couldn't he have tried this earlier? Apple isn't going to let me stop walking and I'm a bit tired for this. "Good night, Mr. Umber," I try to stifle a yawn.
"One thing," he says, trying to convince Apple as well as me, "Ma- Miss Gaudet," he alters his form of address in light of how I spoke to him, "I just want to ask you about one thing before you go."
"Ask fast," Apple allows him since I don't protest.
"I watched this particular bit of footage of you over and over but even though I could hear you just fine I couldn't figure out what it was you were saying," Jack talks fast, gesticulating as he tries to walk alongside us, looking down at me, but not walking into Apple.
"What footage?" I reply and realize what he means a half-beat later: the saints' names I say to calm myself.
"That thing you said to yourself. Those weird names. …What does that mean?"
We pass through the doors out into the yard. Is it safe to say what it means in the Capitol? I can't help but think that sort of thing might be prohibited somehow since they didn't let my words go be heard in the recap. Well, we're leaving the party? Between Apple, Aulie, and Jack, who's going to report me? "Brendan, Elmo, Nicholas, Peter, Zeno," I pronounce each name clearly and separately, "In District Four, we pray to those people to watch over us at sea and bring us a good catch."
"Ocean gods?" His eyes are alight. He looks curious and it makes him look young.
"No," I shake my head, "Not gods, but God's people. Isn't there anything like it in District One?"
"Jaaaack, you can't leave now!" the president's daughter clatters out behind us on her tall, teetering heels and grabs his hand to pull him back in.
"Oh," he jerks to a stop at her grasp, "Well, I guess that's all I get to learn about that. Good night! Congratulations!" he waves my minders and I head off to our car, "See you again!"
"Did I ever ask you before?" I ask Apple as we ride back to the Training Center, "What your opinion was of Jack Umber?"
"I don't believe so."
"Hmm, well then, how about now," I remove my crown and run my fingers along its lovely finish, "What do you think about him?"
"He's wonderful as a TV personality, but, honestly, in person I've met him just about as much as you. He's a bit plain for my tastes- I'm sure that's not what you meant though."
"I like him," Aulie chimes in from the front seat where I wasn't sure if he had fallen asleep with his head against the window.
"And here we are- our home away from home," Apple cuts the conversation short there to hurry me back to the fourth floor and into bed.
What's nice about staying out late and having wrung myself out emotionally earlier in the day is that I have no trouble falling and staying asleep. My last night of this stretch in the Capitol, I have no dreams.
Erinne is happy and slightly hungover when she shows up in the morning. I haven't had much opportunity to mess up my looks from the elaborate treatment they gave me the night before, so she didn't bother to bring her team along. She fixes my hair and does my makeup and sends me off with Aulie and Apple to the soundstage of Mr. Zimmer's regular talk show in a plain and comfortable outfit- dark pants, dark boots, a dark tank top and a billowy white long-sleeved shirt over it. I like the outfit. It feels like the designer version of something I would be wearing anyone out on a boat.
There isn't a live audience for the interview, just the ordinary onlookers for any sort of filming, who, apparently, I'm becoming used to already. Apple sits in a little chair and watches like she's my one-woman audience, which could come off dumb, but actually seems sort of sweet.
"Good morning! Congratulations!" Mr. Zimmer greets me, an unintentional parallel to Jack's parting words to me last night. "How are you feeling today?"
"Oh, pretty good. Happy."
"Good, good. Then let's take our marks and get this show on the road, as they say!"
The live audience isn't here with us, but watching at home instead. This will be it for the required Games programming. It's easy to talk to Mr. Zimmer and the knowledge that I get to head home immediately after this helps to relax me further.
We discuss the arc of my belief throughout the Games and the process preceding them that I couldn't win or that I wouldn't win at the expense of my closest allies. Either Mr. Zimmer or someone else who worked on the program had a keen eye for picking out the moments where my confidence or priorities appear to shift.
We even fall into some good-natured bickering about the odds that someone as uncoordinated as me could make it through the Games. "Yes," I agree, "I get surprised easily, but I can usually pull it together when it counts."
"Oh, please, roll the tape," Mr. Glimmer laughs and prompts someone offstage. And there I am in quick succession: tripping, jumping, looking around- a dozen cannon blasts where I look like I'm about ready to fall on my face in surprise.
"…So about that coordination of yours, Mags…"
"I apologize for being the least graceful victor ever," I grin. What else can I say?
"I have a feeling that a run on Celebrity Dance Floor is not in your future."
"Well, I don't know all the rules on that show. Do I have to be graceful to win or can I stick it out by just being likable?"
I'm pretty sure that I'm getting the hang of this talk show give and take sort of thing. I'm honestly enjoying it by the end of our hour together. No one's going to ask me to kill a person ever again. That part's over. Play nice and go on camera is considerably easier to handle. …It's the mentoring part that's going to be hard. I can't let myself forget that in that respect, the Capitol's still got me in a bad place in the end.
"I really am going to be looking forward to seeing you again, Mags," Mr. Zimmer says as he escorts Apple and me out to her car. "You take care of yourself and have a good rest before your victory tour."
And just when I think things will end on such an unambiguously good note.
"I hope that next year's tributes from District Four will be just as entertaining as you."
Apple can tell as we head to the train station that this hope of his is bothering me, but it's harder for her to know how to deal with my feelings about it. "You know that whether or not the tributes will interest the Capitol isn't all on you. And it's not something that you should be concerned about at all until next year anyway.
"Oh, hmm." What she's saying leads her to an even more troubling conclusion.
"No district has had back to back wins, right?" I guess.
From the look in her eyes, I read Apple better than she reads me. "…Well, there's a first time for everything, right?" she replies.
For her sake, and because wallowing in it isn't going to do me any good anyway, I lie about my feelings. "And if anyone can do pull that off, we can."
Aulie's waiting for us at the train and saves us from ourselves and our horrid thoughts with a clueless, lovely cry of, "Good morning, ladies!"
I spend the train ride back looking forward.
After lunch, I'm glued to the window, because we'll be there anytime now. I twist Faline's ring around and around my finger. Aulie and Apple, who I'm starting to feel are like the crazy uncle and aunt I never had (or never knew- I'm not sure whether my mother ever had siblings, come to think of it), watch me watching with amusement.
The terrain is starting to look sort of familiar.
And then I know.
Hello, hello, hello, most beautiful place I've ever had the good fortune to lay eyes upon.
I sit up a little straighter to see it better.
Between the buildings and the distant masts of sailing ships I can catch a glimpse or two of it before my view is blocked- the truest, dearest part of District 4- the sea.
I had to explain to the camera crew that our train station was far enough removed from the centers of activity in District 4 that the turnout for my homecoming would be doubled if they didn't expect everyone to come out to the rails to meet me and instead someone provided a car to usher me into the town square. Apple, having a good enough understanding of the distance involved and vehicles available, had no problem backing me up on this matter.
She called ahead and secured a car. When I see it waiting, top down and all decked out in nets of shiny ornamental string and ruffled crepe paper, mimicking the rush of foaming waves, I think at first that Apple did it, but she's just as pleasantly surprised as I am and disabuses me of the notion.
Mayor Current is sitting in the driver's seat. He waves and I run up to the passenger side door.
Faline pops up out of backseat where she was hiding by lying down on the seat. If there were any obstacles in my way, I would fall over backwards as I jump away in surprise. "Mags!" she cheers, "You're home!"
Apple chimes in with a dainty giggle, her gloved hand over her sea green-painted lips. The cameras are rolling and that's that. I'm awkward and goofy and there are people back home who love me.
Apple, Aulie, and I pack into the car and Mayor Current drives us into town. The camera crew follows behind us in another, more subdued vehicle. I'm stuck up front beside the mayor to give people the best view of me as I arrive, but Faline keeps leaning forward to tell me something and something is often nothing more than "Wow" and breathless smiling at me.
She's so cute. People wouldn't think I was so amazingly easy to like if they got the chance to meet her. But one of the things that I can be happy about regarding Faline is that she kept her innocence. Eventually I settle on reaching back to hold her hand while we continue on.
What's there to say but "I'm here?" Holding hands does that pretty well.
It looks like every person in District 4 has come out to meet me. At the very least, it's every person that I know- from the principal and his wife to the net-making Crestas. A haphazard band is playing the national anthem and as soon as Mayor Current's car jerks to a stop I've dropped Faline's hand to fly to Papa's arms.
The anthem swells and morphs into a local dancing song and Papa spins me around. "Olé," he smiles, but quiet tears are pouring down his face. He seems to have aged a year for every day I spent in the arena. Unfortunately that may not be too far off the mark.
I can't look him in the eye unless I want to break down crying too. And not yet- I'm not ready for more crying yet. I look away to Aulie, shaking hands with Mayor Current, Faline, standing beside her mother, and Apple swaying slightly to the beat of the dancing music. "Thank you!" I say as loud as I can without yelling, "Thank you, everyone!"
And just like that it's an impromptu (well, as far as I can tell) party and everyone in the Capitol is going to see dancing and music and laughing and say, "Well, the fashion might be dated and the trappings might be poor, but we can relate to life in District Four." My win will buy a little extra interest in our lives and commodities, but a way of life here will, in the Capitol, be nothing but a fad.
Mrs. Mirande approaches me, as grayed and aged as Papa. "You and I are still like family," she says, "My son, you know, he couldn't stay with you- not because he was worried about having to fight you- but because he didn't want you to sacrifice yourself for him."
I'm sure that the cameramen have plenty more interesting things to take in now. I can hear Apple laughing nervously, uproariously as someone tries to teach her how to do the dance. At first I'm not sure Papa is going to let go of me even for me to do this one thing, but I break away and hug Mrs. Mirande. "Of course we're still like family. And that's just like him," I say, but what I mean is "Forgive me, forgive me."
Papa and Mrs. Mirande and I sit down together on a bench at the edge of the festivities and all engage in what I think they call "a good cry."
There's only so much emotion left in my system though. I guess I'm going to have to stock up all over again. Apple and Aulie turn down Papa's invitation to stay the night, opting inside to catch the evening train back to the Capitol. I can tell them how thankful I am for both of them without crying anymore at least. Aulie whispers something about Beanpole to Mrs. Mirande that makes her smile, then writes down his phone number and tells me I should feel free to call him anytime.
Not to be outdone, Apple reminds me I left my suitcase in the dressed up car, gives me her phone number, and asks for mine in return, so that she can call me, but this backfires because I don't know the number yet. I look to Papa in case he can resolve things, but he hasn't learned the number either- it's written down on a scrap of paper taped to the phone. We're only half moved into the new house in Victor's Village anyway. He didn't want to set my things up without my at least being there to voice my opinion ("It is, after all, technically your house, Mags.").
"I'll call you and let you know what it is soon," I promise her.
The celebration gradually quiets, but it isn't going to end until this night is over. There's a sort of uncontrollable mania and emotional outpouring to it. Because of me, District 4 can express itself openly, but I'm not really the source of a lot of what comes bubbling forth. There are all the tributes that were lost before I won to think of. Beanpole and Aoko and Apple's little darling Simon Belair and the other twenty we've lost before.
The small group around me gradually falls away as Apple and Aulie leave to catch their train, Faline's mother takes him home to bed, and Mrs. Mirande retires to her own home.
"So, which house are we going home to?" Papa jokes.
"Our old house then, if I'm making the call. Unless there's nowhere set up for us to sleep there." Papa carries my suitcase. I limp slightly on my right foot. "I guess I'm hoping that I can get back in my old bed and wake up in the morning to the sound and smell of your cooking and I'll still be me."
"Sounds good enough," he agrees, so up the hill we go toward home.
We go silently, each wrapped up in our own thoughts. I'm just happy to be here; to see him. Papa and I have always been close.
He puts my suitcase down just inside the doorway when we enter and I leave it there after another hug and a mumbled good night. Half of my room is as I left it and the other half is on boxes. I only bother to remove my socks and boots before melting into bed. I can hear the gentle movement of the ocean. It creeps into my mind and invades my softly worrisome dreams.
Papa is making breakfast when I come downstairs, confused about what's more likely to be real- that I'm actually back home safely or that it was just a nightmare that I left in the first place.
Papa's egg and fish fry is as good as ever, but he's not as interested in the food as I am. He drinks a lot coffee and can't sit still, although I don't think the coffee is the cause. "Is there, uh, something you want to talk about?" I inquire.
"At the very end, when they took you from the arena, I was almost as scared as when you went in," Papa tells me. Even as he brings up the subject, he keeps fiddling with a piece of rope, weaving and unweaving the various fibers until the entire thing is a fraying mess. I certainly believe he had been frightened. He is acting high-strung right now.
"Why was that?" I want to know. I've seen the way that other families have behaved in the past. It's obviously (and understandably) harrowing for them. Still, this is an interesting moment for Papa to focus on- I mean, I feel like I was a lot further from dying at that exact moment that at least three other times in the arena. It wasn't like Haakon had it in him to jump back up and hurt me then.
"Because of your eyes," he answers, "I was afraid that even though you were coming back you had been lost."
Oh. A body with empty eyes. Like the sailors who ended up too far out and gone too long. The ones who lost their minds to the sea.
"I came back, Papa," I assure him.
Maybe it's like that feeling of unrealness that I've been grappling with. He nods and tells me that believes me, but I don't think he'll be completely sure of it that immediately. Sure, I looked pretty good on TV for the recap and interview, but that was TV and in the Capitol they could make me look and act however they wanted with drugs or threats or editing, right? And, sure I seemed like myself when we were reunited yesterday, but was he just imagining it or was it only temporary?
I hate to think so, but if he's wondering if I've changed, I probably have. Hopefully not for the worse.
We finish moving into the new house by the end of the week with help from a variety of friends and neighbors. On Papa's suggestion, Mrs. Mirande moves into our newly vacated house. A new place to make new memories. A house that Beanpole visited, but one he never lived in.
Life goes on with an uncertain rhythm.
I am home. The cameras are gone - for now. The killing is over - for me. At the next Games, I'll get to do my best alongside Aulie (assuming he sticks around to help) to aid some other dumb or brave or unlucky kids try to find within themselves what it takes to kill. …It's a dubious honor, but it isn't as if anyone told me that staying alive also meant being free.
When I go fishing with my father for the first time since my return, I hook and clean my share of our catch almost the same way I did those kids. I don't have to say anything about it to Papa. I don't scream or faint or anything, but I stare at my blood-stained hands for what feels like an eternity. It's actually just a couple of minutes.
Back home on shore I begin weaving baskets to calm my nerves. I use reeds of different colors on them to make patterns and designs. Apple Smitt calls me up on our brand new telephone and when I tell her about it, she gushes about how weaving could be my talent and asks if I can weave anything for her. I don't think it's as a result of feeling particularly generous, but I change my usual sort of fishing basket into something like a purse. When I let Apple know about it, she's absolutely sure she'll love it and makes plans to use it for my entire Victory Tour. She doesn't doubt that it will start a fashion trend (or at least a short-lived fad).
When I sit out in front of the boat weaving I find myself wondering what Beanpole's talent would've been. Or Sparrow's. …What I will say to the families I encounter on the tour… …How long will it take for District 4 to have another victor… Downer stuff, basically.
If I'm only making simple stuff, I barely need to look at it as I work. I'm doing things by feel. As I braid the strands of my current project, I lie back and watch the seaweed dry on the racks. I might as well be watching paint peel.
"Hey," says a boy.
I sit up. It's 'Lito Ortiz, a former classmate of mine. I barely know the guy. "Hey," I respond; it's casual, neutral.
"I watched you being so brave, Mags, and I don't guess I'll ever be half as brave as you, but I suppose it egged me on to get my courage up a little."
I take a second look at tan and gangly 'Lito. His eyes are as dark as the shore at midnight. After a second, I realize he's waiting for something from me. Some kind of cue. "Yeah?" I prompt him.
"I like you, Mags," he says, and after that he holds his breath.
It feels good. I remember all over again to be liked by someone I won't be expected to kill. Inside I sense a question mark: maybe I could like him back? "Since when?" I ask, but show I mean it nice by beginning to smile.
"Since we were fourteen and I saw you win the girls' high jump competition at school."
It feels like a lifetime ago. "I guess if you still like someone even after you've watched her kill people you like her a lot," I wager.
"Yeah, probably," 'Lito agrees.
"Why don't you come inside?" I decide, "I've got limes and ice tea."
"Limes are really good with fish tacos," 'Lito offers.
I don't know what to say to him any better than he knows what to say to me. But, well, okay. Soon enough, I'm sure that won't be the case. I mean, what with all that happened, I am changed, but… I'm still Mags.
"I like stuff that's sour." The better, of course, to bring out the sweet.
Thank you for reading!
I enjoyed myself so much writing this story. ...and while this is end of Save Yourself, this is not the final word from me on Mags. I still have more I want to say about her as she becomes a mentor and interacts with the other victors, although I don't plan on writing another story of this length. ...So, if that piques your interest, look forward to it in the hopefully not too distance future?
I also created a little fanmix while working on this story, so if you like that kind of thing, have a listen: