The TrainMature

Chapter 2 

            Too late, I remember the cameras. There were more of them at the train station, filming my send-off. In the other districts, you can’t miss them: the reporters buzz all around the tributes as they're ushered to the train. In our district, they’re kept back behind a Peacekeeper cordon. It’s been that way since the year a tribute snapped and attacked them. He managed to smash three microphones, a camera, and throw a reporter onto the tracks before the Peacekeepers could wade through the crowd and knock him out. So now they keep the platform clear and tell the reporters they can film from afar as long as they stay put and shut up. And I’ll bet they got a nice close-up of me blowing a gob right onto a Peacekeeper’s mask. So much for no slip-ups on camera. I can’t afford to dwell on it. There’s nothing I can do about it now. I just hope Caesar Flickerman doesn’t bring it up in the interview.

            I wander into the nearest compartment of the train: the common room. It houses a bar stocked with alcohol, other drinks, and decadent delicacies; and a luxurious lounge area with sofas and a television screen, where we’ll be watching the recap of the reaping later. I try to find the humour in my faux pas by imagining how many people will be laughing this evening when they see me splatter Marcus with saliva. If I listen hard enough, I’ll probably be able to hear Violet from the train.

            Rafe is already here, having arrived with a separate escort. That’s something else they do different in District 8. I’m not sure what the reason is for this tradition. Something that happened before my time, I guess. Rafe is glowering at me in what’s quickly becoming a familiar way. He’s standing by a window across the car. When he sees me notice him, he turns away. I give a mental shrug. I’m not sure what his deal is, but it’s all the better for me if he doesn’t want to get friendly. Maybe I won’t feel so bad if I have to kill him. Everything must be all set because I hear the doors slide shut and the train pulls away from the station. I’m disoriented by the speed, but I’ll be damned if I let Rafe see me waver. I take control of my muscles as though preparing to dance. I make every move with deliberate care until my body adjusts.

            Pontius saunters into the lounge car and claps his hands in delight. ‘Ah! Miss Lowe, Mister Underhill! Welcome and congratulations! What do you think of the train? I’ll bet you’ve never seen such lovely, springy carpets before!’

            Rafe glances over his shoulder at Pontius as if he hopes to detonate the man with only the power of his mind. Of course we’ve seen ‘such lovely, springy carpets’ – we make the damn things! It is true that I've never walked on one before, so I let the comment slide. Now’s as a good a time as ever to start cozying up to Capitol folk. Pontius can be like target practice. I smile sweetly at him and nod politely. ‘Oh, yes, thank you, Mister Fairweather. There’s ever such a stylish décor.’

            Rafe tries to detonate me this time.

            Pontius, however, reacts as I’d hoped: delighted and validated. He beams at me with impossibly white teeth. ‘What a charming young lady! Please, call me Pontius, dear.’ I wonder how charming he’ll find me when he sees tonight’s recap. His wig wriggles like an animal when he talks or moves. I’m sure it’s going to flee soon, with how animatedly he’s chattering about the individual splendours of the lounge. I half-listen with all the appearance of rapt attention, my face frozen in a civil smile. But with every flowery phrase he utters, I find myself edging closer and closer to the bar. Before I make it to that plentiful stash of sweet forget-it-all-juice, he urges us on through the train; me still feigning interest, Rafe still sullen and silent, Pontius still chirping incessantly.

            ‘This way, this way! Now, the sleeping compartments are just quaint! You’ll want for nothing, you really will. Rafe, this here is your roo-‘

            Rafe cuts him off by ducking into the room Pontius had indicated and slamming the door. ‘Ah… Yes, it’s… been an exhausting day, hasn’t it?’ the flustered escort stammers. He calls through the door to Rafe, ‘Get yourself refreshed and settled in. I’ll be along to collect you for supper shortly!’

            There’s no answer from beyond the door. Pontius guides me further down the narrow hall of the sleeping car to another compartment. ‘This one is yours, Renore. You’ll find a bathroom complete with shower, an array of fine clothes to choose from and a bed if you’d like to rest. If you should need anything, just press the call button and someone will attend to you. I’m going to review our schedule and see if I can’t find your mentor. Is there anything else you want to know?’

            I purse my lips prettily, pretending to think, then smile. ‘No, I can’t think of anything, Pontius. You are such a thorough and considerate host! Thank you.’

            The silly man actually blushes. He twitters like a giddy schoolgirl and stammers out a humble dismissal. Before excusing himself he says, ‘I’ll be along to fetch you for supper soon, you darling girl.’

            I shut myself and my smug smirk behind the bedroom door.

The End

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