Cade and I are pushed into separate rooms. I panic slightly because at first I don’t know what is happening, then I realise that it must be us being taken into the Justice Building to say our goodbyes for an hour.
I still can’t believe that it’s happening to me. Me; an average, hardworking girl who will probably never see her family again. Cade probably wouldn’t, either. The thought of it almost makes me want to cry.
I sit there, not knowing what to do, when my mother comes in, holding back unshed tears.
She nods, then suddenly rushes towards me, her arms out wide. I stay in her embrace for a while, savouring her warmth and mother-ness. I feel everything that happens now will become an important memory, so I hold every moment in my head, from the gentle whispering in my ear to the warmth of her breath.
“Please promise me you’ll do your best.”
I don’t even have to ask her what that’s meant to mean. I know that she’s talking about staying alive in the Writer’s Games.
“I promise,” I say, knowing full well that the circumstance might call on me to kill myself. My mother’s hair brushes against my face as she straightens herself up. She takes a deep breath.
“Strong for the cameras.”
Then she leaves before the Peacekeepers can order her out.
My father comes in after that, standing there awkwardly, at a loss for what to do.
“I’ll miss you. You’ll always be my baby,” he says, tears glittering in his eyes like some sort of garish Capitol alteration.
“You’ll always be my daddy, there for me when I’m in strife,” I whisper back, trying to smile.
“Look for me,” he says. When I was little, he always used to carry me on his shoulders at night and stare up at the twinkling stars with me. I’d always want to know everything about them, never really being a person limited by my own imagination.
“That’s called Maaz. It means the he-goat,” he’d say.
“What about the Mummy goat, then?” I’d say. He’d point to another one.
“That would be Capella, the she-goat. She has two little kids, too, Sadatoni.”
“I’ll look for you, then,” I’d say, pointing my chubby little hand up in the general direction of the father goat.
“I’ll look for you, too,” he’d say, smiling at me, making me blossom inside.
“I will,” I whisper, coming back into the present. My father looked at me longingly, then left. He probably didn’t want to get too attached to his only daughter so he wouldn’t have to mourn when she died. Waste of money, mourning.
Lots of people came and went after that, trying to press gifts into my hands or staring longingly at the small pile of gifts next to me, wanting to give me one too, but unable to afford it.
I hardly noticed who they were, just smiled and tried to keep strong for the cameras. Like my mother said to. I didn’t want to break down and have them film my puffy red face at the train station, because I remember there were cameras there from watching previous Writer’s Games.
I go to the train station in a luxurious car. It is much more plush than the ones I’ve been in before, but I don’t have any time to admire it. My mind is already on how to survive for the longest time possible before being brutally slaughtered.
I see Cade at the train station. The cameras snap at us for a while, before finally relenting and letting us get some peace and quiet on the train. Or more quiet than it was before, anyhow.
The train is huge, with many compartments. The colourful candy woman with mauve eyelashes, whom I now know is Verona Chilin, our escort, ushers us into our rooms.
I sit on the bed and stare at the little wooden wardrobe in front of me. Before I know it, I’m pulling things out and trying them on. My passion was always for beautiful things. Everything in my life has been beautiful, except for this.
“It’s showtime. You go and get them,” Elise says in my ear, her hot breath warming the chilly thing up. “You are a number one girl.”
“Remember, don’t smile and wave like a little girl. Act regal, like your family is. But curry enough favour to have the sponsors shower you with gifts in the Arena,” Edrigald Lucken, my mentor says seriously, staring me in the eye. I nod.
I’m sitting in a plush chair in front of a mirror in the prep rooms. Every bit of me is jittery, but then I catch a look at myself in the mirror and I know that if anyone is going to help me make an impression, it’s Elise. She’s famed in the Capitol for paying attention to every little detail, no matter how minute it is.
I’m wearing a long shimmering gown that has a train which slides on the floor. Since my district specialises in power, and the costumes are themed, Elise has tried to make me a queen-like figure with electricity flowing through me. I’m wearing a golden wreath on my head which has sparks crackling through it, making my head tingle although I know it isn’t dangerous.
I sneak a quick glance at Cade, who’s looking innocent but very regal and prince-like in his glittering costume of beads and a crackling crown like mine. I think back to what Edrigald had said; “Don’t smile and wave like a little girl. Act regal, like what you are. But curry enough favour for the sponsors to shower you with gifts in the Arena.”
That’s going to be a challenge. I try and act like Cade, innocent but very grand. Maybe a princess? That would make me petite and easily picked off, so that the tributes wouldn’t bother about me at first...
Before I have time to decide, our chariot is being pulled out into the open. Cade is nodding at people, and I decide to do the same. Then I realise that if I act regal, that would make me seem snobbish, easier for the Capitol to hate. My first thought was Cade. Cade had to know.
“Cade,” I hissed out of the corner of my mouth, whilst trying to smile. “Act innocent.”
He didn’t look my way but stopped nodding. He started grinning and playing with his shimmering suit. He seemed very shy all of a sudden. The cameras would have hardly noticed the change, the Capitol aren’t looking for acting strategies, and besides, we’d only just gotten out of the Remake Centre. Hardly anyone had seen us regal-like.
I imagined the look of fury on Edrigald’s face. I could almost imagine his words. “All this coaching, and you directly disobey me? You could get killed!”
Yes we could, I think grimly. But wouldn’t we be killed anyway?
Before I know it, I’m rising up, up, up into the Arena in a glass cylinder. Into the competition where only one contestant comes out. My nerves are tingling, but I attempt to steady myself, because I know I need to rush out as soon as the timer reaches 0.
Already? How much have I missed just thinking about my nerves? I quickly scan the Arena to see what it’s like. The cold that I can feel tells me immediately what my surroundings are going to be. It’s a frozen wasteland, with mountain ranges and icebergs. I should have guessed, because I’m wearing a thermal suit that encases me from neck to toe. I need something for my face, so I use the scarf hanging around my neck to wrap up the bits that I can. That leaves my nose hanging out and my eyes uncovered.
I thank Elise for putting a scarf on me. I knew she’d be helpful in some way.
There isn’t much time left. This will be the only time I’m not living in fear, tensed just in case someone will kill me from behind for the rest of my life. Well, unless I live, that is. Actually, living a life governed by the Capitol isn’t that safe either.
I swear time seems to be skipping bits. I’m hardly prepared. As I scan my eyes around at my other opponents, I realise most of them are ready to run. I get into that position too, before I realise I don’t know where I’m going. The tributes are in a large semicircle around the golden Cornucopia, which contains items which will help us fight against the cold. Scattered around it are various other items.
Some people are aiming for various weapons around the Cornucopia. I know this part. This is the part where they start to die. This is the bloodbath. I know I can’t go in here. I must look for another way to survive.
I turn my head, taking in my surroundings. On my left, a bleak white plain that is impossible to hide in. Forwards, white hills and slippery slopes which look scenic from a distance but I know must be dangerous. On my right, icebergs that are floating away from the central piece of ice. They are surrounded by freezing cold water. Water. Bingo.
If I can get there, then I’ll at least survive for a bit. Only one problem, how will I get onto them? The closest one is a fairly long distance away, but it isn’t impossible to jump to. My athletics coach has told me that my long-jump, sprints and endurance are my best points for a long time.
I have to risk it. If I don’t get there, I can always swim, can’t I? I feel around my clothes, hands searching for that extra padding that will enable me to float. Sure enough, it’s there, but only in small amounts on my shoulders (disguised as shoulder padding), knees, and elbows, all places where it is easily disguisable as padding. Then I can swim the rest of the way to the iceberg.
Swim to the iceberg, then what? Push it away, so people can’t jump onto it themselves. Navigate it to somewhere safer, with more supplies.
My breath’s coming out in short, ragged gasps, now.
The feeling I always get before a sprint or a big game.
I’m pumped, the adrenaline racing through me is enough to get me started. I could probably sprint to the iceberg before anyone else.
My heart is beating so fast I think it’s almost impossible to tell one beat from another.
I sprint towards the iceberg before the word stops echoing. My eyes are locked on my only target.
The distance is longer than I thought, but my endurance is good, and I keep the pace up. Just as I feel I can’t keep it up any longer, the iceberg is there.
I use the momentum from my sprint to jump. For a moment, my legs are pumping in the air, then I fall into the water, just as a blade comes scything above my head.
The sheer shock of missing my target and the freezing temperature of the water stops me for a moment, then I quickly look up to see my foe.
It’s the District 11 girl. The look of anger on her face makes me boost myself up from the water and haul myself up the iceberg. My fingers are grappling for a hold when another knife lodges in between my fingers. That was close.
I finally reach the top of the iceberg and hide behind one of its sharper points. The blade that had nearly chopped my head off is back into action, swinging round, round, until it is released and flies straight at me.
I gasp, and try to duck out of the way, but it’s too late. It shatters the sharp point of the iceberg and splits my cheek. Blood pours from it and drips down my freezing fingers, but the cold numbs it a bit and I focus on pushing the iceberg out into the further reaches of water.
The blade had landed a few metres behind me, so I run towards it and pull it out before my opponent can so much as say; “I’ll kill you!”
I use the blade to push the iceberg out further, much to the surprise of my foe. I paddle quickly, but my opponent has quick reactions and has pulled out something sharp. An icepick? She takes aim, and I paddle even faster, using my numb fingers to push it, too.
One final thrust is all it takes before I’m out of reach, in the open, with no food or supplies and dark purple fingers.