As the platform starts to rise into the suffocating tube, I take a deep breath. I actually feel strangely calm. I'm rising into the cause of these past weeks's stress. I'm rising to my death and I feel calm. That must say a lot about my personality. In this dark, never-ending tunnel of death, I reflect upon my life. Coming from District 11, I wasn't raised in luxury, but my life wasn't exactly great either.
As a young girl, I climbed my share of trees. My small frame allowed me to hide in the shadows of upper branches. I have only peaceful memories of the orchards. I remember chasing my brother and friends through the infinite rows of trees, trying at all costs to avoid getting caught. Feeling the sweet-scented wind flying through my hair, the sense of joy at being fast enough to evade my brother. I even relish the sword fights with twigs or broken branches.
I feel a pang of longing upon entering the arena. Just seeing the sun casting beams of light across this forsaken place. Or hearing the gentle melodies of the birds.
But no, I can't afford to think like this. This sun, these birds, everything, it's all fake. I can't allow the grief to swallow me. Even the grief is fake; the only way it could be real is if I know I won't get out of here alive. But I will. I have to.
I have 60 seconds to get my wits about me. I'm smaller and younger than most other tributes, so I've been advised to run away from the Cornucopia. But I know I'll be dead in days without a weapon, or at least some food or water. Forty seconds. But I can climb trees. And know basic sword technique. I know I'll be better off with a weapon. I know it! Thirty seconds. Even if I die at the bloodbath, I'll die trying, instead of cowering. I'm going to go for it. Twenty seconds. I start to look around the arena, with a newfound sense of confidence. A few platforms over, I see a girl looking at me. I recognize her slightly. I think she's from District 12. She's only a year older than me. She has long brown hair pulled into a ponytail lying on her shoulder. She just looks at me, and I know that I have to do something to show that I'm a competitor in this. Though young, and small, I can do this. I glare at her, and hope it scares her. But she seems taken aback, and I feel bad, so I soften my gaze, suddenly afraid she'll come after me. I don't want enemies. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two
And it's as though the gong ringing breaks my shield of ignorance. I'm going to die, I think. But it also breaks the box. The mental box keeping me on my platform. I didn't realize how anxious I was to run. My flexed muscles spring apart, throwing me forward. I take long, powerful strides straight toward the Cornucopia.
The Cornucopia is gorgeous. The sun glints off the precious gold, almost blinding anyone who looks directly at it. Its beauty reminds me just how cruel the Capitol is. Even the arena itself is beautiful, in a haunting way. It is diverse. Almost as though the Gamemaker were bipolar, and couldn't firmly decide on a single environment. It is a bold statement though. It's a stark area; no subtleties. To the left of the Cornucopia is a dense forest. There are oak, and maple, and pine trees, among others. The forest ends abruptly. Next to it is a barren, sandy area, similar to a desert. It is home to many rocks- boulders even- and twig-like plants. I can see no water there. Behind my platform, there is what looks like a lake, but the water is flowing, so I'd say it's more like a very wide river. The water looks like someone took every shade of blue and green they could think of, and just tossed them into the water. Part of me is amazed by the midnight blues and emerald greens. The other part of me is wary of its unnatural surface.
A few feet in front of me is a backpack. It is medium sized, and navy blue, with lots of pockets. I bent and sling it onto my shoulder without stopping. Mere strides later and I am at the glittering golden horn of the Cornucopia. I don't have much time, so I grab anything I might need, but not enough to slow me down greatly. I take a tiny dull yellow backpack, when my eyes fall upon a hilt and handle. I grab the handle an tug at it harshly. What I find shocks me; a long, thin blade, perfect for me. Just light enough to maneuver, just heavy enough to cause damage.
At this point, the other slower tributes are making it to the horn. I turn, knowing if I don't leave now, I won't leave ever. I turn around the side of the Cornucopia- my instincts turning me to the trees- and nearly run directly into the blade of a knife. I do recognize it's handler as a career. Before he knows what happened, I knock his head to the side with the flat of my blade. It makes a sickening crunching sound before he falls to the ground, eyes wide open, knife still in hand. I try to continue forward, but another male career stands in my path. He starts to smile a murderous smile, but it falters when he finds his fallen ally on the ground. I take this opportunity to sneak away, running at a diagonal toward the desert area. Not ideal, but I do have an idea.
I hear my footsteps pound on the ground as I switch from the grass to the cracked dirt. I hear footsteps closing in behind me too. My pursuer is obviously close behind. I put on an extra burst of speed, hoping he has bad aim with any weapons he might be able to throw. I'm already starting to sweat in this artificial sun. I really hope I can find water soon. The career seems to have given up pursuit. I can hear the footfalls slowing behind me. I hear coughs and wheezes not long after. A few more solid minutes of running and I'd say I was about 2 miles into the desert, away from the Cornucopia. Good enough for now. Besides, the first day ends early, and the sun has already begun to sink into the trees. I slow my pace and check behind me, and to all sides. I've been fairly exposed running, and anyone who wanted to follow me could. But so far, no one. I'll need to get into the trees soon though. I know they will not let go of the fact that I singlehandedly killed their fellow career. I run up the slope of a large rock. Its surface is smooth and cool. I slip into a small crack in the ground between two big rocks. It will keep me hidden, unless someone climbs the surface of the rock and stares down into the darkness.
As I catch my breath, I look around. I have very little room, but no one will find me. The shadows hide me, and keep me cool. Being the youngest tribute at 13, I am the smallest. And perhaps the smartest.
I choose to examine the large pack first. Inside there is a small loaf of bread, a thin sleeping bag, a simple first-aid kit, and a water skin. The smaller yellow bag holds a set of knives. The largest knife is a long, thick knife with serrated edges.
As the sun begins to set, I replay today's events in my head. It is then that the realization hits me. I killed a person. A career. I feel tears well up in my eyes. The Games, the annual Hunger Games, for which I have been selected to fight in, which I am a part of right now, have taken their toll on me. But I can't cry. I have to be strong. I could very well be on camera right now. I wipe my eyes with the heels of my hands and pull the sleeping bag over top of me. In case I need to make a quick escape, I don't sleep in it. I store the four knives in one of the outside pockets of my big pack, and store the smaller yellow bag in the navy one. I might need it later.
Very suddenly the sky lights up and the seal of Panem is broadcast into the sky. The anthem plays. I counted 12 cannons earlier. Half the tributes are dead in the first day. No notable deaths really. The male from my district is still alive. So is the peculiar brunette from earlier. I see the face of the male career I killed previously. He was from District 2. Once everything is quiet again, I go through all the thoughts in my head. I mainly try to strategize the Games. The careers will be after me, and quickly. They know I killed the boy from 2. They also know I can run fast, I have a sword, am fairly prepared, and want to get to the woods. They know I am in the desert. Will they be searching the woods already? Assuming I turned back as soon as I thought it was safe? Or will they be forming a barrier at the front of the woods to wait? Should I head out now? Or will they be on the prowl already? Since they travel in a group, I'll want to go whenever I can get the trees the fastest. I decide to head out just as dawn breaks. Until then, I will sleep.
In my dreams, I replay the reaping over and over. My own name echoes in my head as our escort calls it out. Ardisia. Ardisia. Ardisia. She said it as though I should be proud, proud to represent my district. It disgusted me. I'd always loved hearing my name before then. It reminded me so of the bright red ardisia berries.
At dawn I set out toward the woods. I'm going to travel in a sort of parabola and hope I can enter at the side of the forest.
I don't encounter much trouble. I stay cool because the sun isn't quite up yet. I don't see much life. I'm far enough in the desert to stay out of sight, and the only movement I see is of the careers at the Cornucopia, piling extra supplies up. But even if they did see me, I would be in the woods before they could reach me. The shortage of movement is encouraging, and a bit frightening, because who ever isn't out in the open, has to be in the woods.
I walk at a diagonal once I enter the woods, and after about half a mile, I find a nice tree to climb. It has one low branch, and it's a very flimsy one. I can get up, but I doubt any other tribute will be able to. I lay between two branches; one supporting my legs, the other, my back and neck. I eat a quarter of my bread and drink a few small gulps of water. I'll have to hunt soon. Since I don't have a bow and arrow, my best bet is to set snares. I was one of two or three tributes who actually went to the snare station, so I can set up a few decent snares, and probably more than any other tribute. I lay down to rest for today. I'll do my hunting tomorrow.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Three days later; 3 remaining tributes
I climb down from my tree for the morning when I hear them. At first I think I've heard a wild animal, and second, I think the careers have found me. I freeze in panic as I debate whether to climb the tree again or run for it, but then I realize that it's neither of those things. In a small clearing about a yard ahead of me, two tributes are fighting. The small brunette from the first day on the platform is trying unsuccessfully to take down a very large male from District 10. Against my better instinct, I rush forward to help her. I whip my sword out at the last minute and rush forward. I stab the boy in the back, straight through to the heart. I am running on adrenaline, so I don't have time to feel bad about it. He falls forward and the brunette girl barely has time to leap to the side. She glances up at me; she is doubled over, holding the side of her stomach. She has brown eyes, and a small frame, just like me. She doesn't look quite like she trusts me, or maybe she's just in intense pain. Yeah, that's probably it. She stumbles forward and I catch her just before she passes out. I hear one cannon, and I worry it's for this girl, whom I have just stupidly risked my life for, has died, but I realize it is for the boy from 10. I lay the girl carefully on the ground. I don't necessarily trust her either, but she owes me now. Maybe she can tell me something important. I pull her hand away from her side. She has a deep gash in her stomach. If I don't cover it, she'll bleed to death. I know the small amount of gauze I have in my pack won't do the trick, so I find a large patch of moss and cover her wound with it. I pour a tiny bit of water on it so any dirt gets washed out, then I pour a bit of water in her mouth. I don't really know what else I can do but wait. I can pull her to the cover of a bush or something, but that could her stomach too much. I pile dirt and leaves and twigs around her to camouflage her better. I put her knife away first. The one thing I remember about her is that she is ruthless. She stabs in the stomach with knives and twists clockwise 90 degrees. I look at the rest of her supplies. She wouldn't have lasted much longer anyway. She had no water, and only a handful of berries. The berries catch me by surprise. Ardisia. I didn't expect to find those here. You can eat them, but they're more for show than anything else. I pop a couple into my mouth and place the rest back in her bag.
The girl wakes up a day later. She is very pale, but I think she'll live. I explain what happened, and she seems very on edge. I can't remember her name, but I think it's something with a C. Cara, or Caroline or something maybe. We're not exactly comfortable around each other, but it doesn't seem right leaving her so weak, even if we are- wait. I killed the boy from 10. And it hits me; this girl and I are the only tributes left. That's why she's so freaked out. She knows we're the only two left, and she thinks this is a trick. So I can kill her while she can't fight back. Only, killing her now doesn't feel right. It's not a fair win when she can't fight back. My knees feel weak, and I lean against a tree and slide to the ground.
"What are we going to do?" I ask her.
She looks at me sarcastically.
"You just figured that out didn't you?" she smirks. "I don't know. Let's discuss over lunch."
So we head out to check the snares. I hold my sword in my left hand, so I have my right free. What comes next takes me completely by surprise though.
We're walking, quietly, slowly, forward. She is behind me, and slightly to my right. She's still so weak; her face pales whenever she stands, but she seems determined to carry on. I don't even know when she got her knife out, but all I know is that I wouldn't be alive without my brother. He taught me the value of lightning fast reflexes. All I see is the glint of the knife coming hastily toward my midsection. I pull my right arm up and my forearm connects with hers at a perpendicular angle. She is surprised by my reaction, and I don't even think before swinging my sword around and plunging it into her stomach. I can't believe she would betray me. After all I did for her, that I was willing to spare her life, and she tries to stab me. So I don't feel bad this time either, when I twist the handle, 90 degrees.
I sink to my knees. I gasp, and I can't help but cry. Happy tears and sad tears and tears of pure delusion. I'm going home, but I will never be the same. I'm a killer. A cold-blooded murderer. I've killed 3 innocent kids. I'm a monster. The Games have ruined me. Me, and 23 other children, who will never see the sun again.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I AM PLEASED TO PRESENT THE VICTOR OF THE 64th HUNGER GAMES!" booms Claudius Templesmith, announcer of the Games. But his words are mere echoes in my head, buzzing sounds, adding to my pain.
"I'm sorry," I whisper to the girl, who only just holding on. "I'm sorry!!!" I cry again, louder. It doesn't matter who hears me, because no one lived to be able to do so.
All I see before I myself pass out is the hovercraft lowering a claw to pull my limp form up. That, and the knife sticking out of my own side.