As I pick up my torch and leave the scene, I suddenly remember that I’m being watched. I’ve almost forgotten that the Games are televised live for the whole country to see. District 8 must be having a riot, having lost both their tributes in less than 24 hours. I wonder if they hate me. District 12, my own home, has probably even turned against me, especially now that I’ve ganged up with the Careers to target Katniss.
Moments later I return to the Careers, who are waiting impatiently.
“Was she dead?” Cato asks.
“No, but she is now,” I say. The cannon booms at that very moment, confirming my claim. “Ready to move on?” During my short walk back, I’ve managed to compose myself, transitioning back to playing the role of a villainous brute.
They nod approvingly, and we begin running, continuing the hunt. Again I notice the sudden silence of the birds, glimpse the hovercraft out of the corner of my eye as we begin to run again.
Dawn has already come. My body is aching and exhausted from running on empty. If I hadn’t teamed up with the Careers I would probably be even more dehydrated and hungry right now, though I doubt I’d be exhausting myself this much. Despite how much I’m supposed to hate them, I’m grateful that they haven’t killed me yet and, on top of that, they seem to care enough about keeping me alive that they’ve given me food and water. Of course, these commodities are abundant for them, seeing as they’ve taken ownership over the Cornucopia and everything in it.
Since the Careers prefer to hunt at night, they decide that we should make our way back towards the Cornucopia and the lake to refill on water and supplies. After a few hours of painful walking, my ankle still throbbing from my tussle yesterday, we finally arrive in the clearing where the Games began yesterday. The Cornucopia is still gleaming in the center, but it’s been totally stripped of its supplies. I notice two other tributes nearby. The boy tribute is doing some digging around the pedestals, and the other, a female tribute, is carrying and stacking supplies into a big pile. The Careers don’t seem to be alarmed by their appearance, so I suspect they’re also part of the team. I assume they’re both from District 4, but then I remember the male tribute from four was killed yesterday.
Cato introduces me to the District 4 female, Koiya, who smirks menacingly as she shakes my hand. The other boy, who I learn is from District 3, gives me a timid nod in greeting then returns to his work. There’s a small mound of dirt beside each pedestal, and he appears to be digging for something, clearly a task that the Careers put him up to in return for not killing him. He’s small and scrawny, and they know they could kill him in a heartbeat once they’ve gotten what they need from him. We’re both their prisoners.
Koiya instructs me to take over in transporting supplies and stacking them up, while she goes off to talk to the rest of the Career pack. I comply, despite knowing that I’m intentionally being left out of an alliance strategy meeting. One after the other, I haul large crates of food, bins of medical supplies, sacks filled with fruits and grains, and I pile them neatly into a pyramidal shape close to the lake, where the Careers have decided to set up camp. I can’t help that think that the Careers have everything they could possibly need to live comfortably in this arena for weeks, yet all the other tributes die of starvation, injury, and disease. It’s no wonder they passed up the survival skills stations during training; with this surplus of goods, they won’t be needing them. I wonder how the other survivors are doing. I think of little Rue fending for herself in the wild. I didn’t see for sure, but I imagine she also made a run for the woods knowing she would never stand a chance in the bloodbath. Most of all, I think of Katniss. She doesn’t have a bow and arrow; there was only one and currently Glimmer is holding tightly to it. Is she managing to hunt and defend herself without it? Was she able to brave the frigid cold the night before? Has she managed to find fresh water? So far the only source of water I’ve seen has been the lake and, with the Careers camped right next to it, you’d be dead before you could even take your first sip.
Soon the male Careers join me to help to stack up the rest of the supplies while the three girls begin setting up a tent and starting a fire.
“Wow, Lover Boy, you’re a lot stronger than we gave you credit for,” says Cato as he watches me pick up a massive sack of rice like it’s nothing and plop it on the pile. His tone is casual, and I wonder if he meant that as a compliment or a threat.
Soon every last item from the Cornucopia has been removed and stacked in a neat pyramid by the lake. Around us, Marvel has begun to dig strategically placed holes surrounding the pile.
“What is all this for?” I ask, letting curiosity get the best of me. “Why didn’t you just make camp in the Cornucopia?”
Cato smirks, pausing for a moment, as if deciding if he wants to let me in on the plan or not. “That’s exactly what people would expect us to do, but that’s no fun. They’d know not to come near us. But this,” he says, gesturing to the pile, “this is way out in the open. And if we’re not here guarding it, who wouldn’t want to come pick off from our pile? We have everything, everyone else has nothing. They’re bound to come crawling back.”
Cato’s reasoning explains the pile itself, but the presence of the boy from District 3 and the holes circling the outside of the pyramid remain a mystery. “So what’s with all the digging by the metal plates?” I ask.
“Oh, that’s the best part!” Cato says, brutally excited, rubbing his palms together. “Remember the mines underneath the plates? District three over here is resetting them, and if anyone tries to get near our stuffー” he pauses for dramatic effectー “boom!”
This creates an unpleasant visual, and it just so happens the the person I’m picturing in my head is Katniss. She sees the pile, maybe even sees the bow and arrow resting there and calling her name, and after making sure the coast is clear she goes in. Tiptoeing noiselessly, eyes on the lookout, until all of a sudden she missteps and there’s an explosion. Then she’s gone, her body reduced to fragments.
I try to shake the image from my head, but I can’t, and as I say “Wow, that’s a great idea!” I feel like a monster.
By the time we’ve finished our work and the sun is starting to set, the girls have nearly finished cooking dinner. They’re just taking the pot of beans off the heat when we arrive. Each of us, even the silent boy from District 3, gets a plate full of rice, beans, and carrots. Despite the delicacies I enjoyed in the Capitol, I can’t remember a meal ever tasting this good. This is the first full meal I’ve eaten since the night of the interviews. Even then I didn’t eat much, what with my bandaged hands and distraught heart. That seems like a lifetime ago. My hands are feeling much better and the cuts are sealing, thanks to the ointment Portia gave me, but I take some time before nightfall to clean and rewrap them.
There aren’t nearly as many faces in the sky that night. Just the girl from District 8 whose eyes closed for the last time in front of me last night. Beyond that, it’s been a relatively uneventful second day. The remaining tributes are probably just getting settled to life in the arena, trying to learn how to get by each day.
When the sky goes black again, I’m suddenly weighted down by exhaustion. We decide to take shifts guarding in pairs while the rest of us sleep. I’m thankful when I’m not assigned first watch, and I sleep surprisingly well despite the fact that I know the people surrounding me could kill me anytime they want to.
After a few hours of blackout, dreamless sleep, I feel someone’s hand on my shoulder.
“Wake up,” says a boy’s voice. “You’re on next watch.”
Marvel is shaking me awake, and I groggily arise, unzipping the sleeping bag the Careers had given me. Marvel and Glimmer must’ve taken the second shift after Cato and Clove, and Marvel begins to settle into his own sleeping bag as I make my way out of the tent.
Koiya, who I assume will be my watch partner, is already outside sitting on a rock at the edge of the lake. She’s bundled in a large blanket, and I instantly wish I had one of my own. It’s freezing out here, especially right next to the lake as the cool water is wafted towards us by the breeze.
“Hope you slept well,” she says.
“Best sleep I’ve had in days, surprisingly,” I say. “What about you?”
“Could’ve been better,” she says. “Can’t expect much, I suppose.”
I nod in agreement. I miss my shared room about the bakery with my brothers, the sweet smell of fresh-baked bread every morning. It wasn’t much, but I would take the warmth and familiarity of home, however imperfect it was, over this arena anyday.
The coals from the fire the night before are still glowing in the pit, but the humid air is slowly causing them to die out. Only about a week ago, Katniss and I were coals, our fire unquenchable. Today, we’re dying out. Our emanating glow had the Capitol in the palm of our hands, but oh how the tables have turned. I wonder how long our fire will continue to flicker.
Koiya has a her fingers wrapped around a mug of coffee. She seems to notice me staring longingly at the cup as I’m trembling from the cold.
“Would you like some?” she asks. “There’s hot water left in the pot.”
Before I can answer, she’s already retrieved another mug, filling it with water and swirling in instant coffee from a packet. Another luxury from the cornucopia. She hands me the mug with a sweet smile, and I accept it with a grateful nod. Is she really being nice or is this a ploy to soften me up so they can coax the information out of me that they need?
“I bet it feels like home, sitting next to the water like this,” I offer, as I take a sip of the coffee. The steaming bitter liquid tickles my lips and warms my body from the inside out, reminding me of Sunday mornings at home. I can almost picture myself back at the bakery, can almost smell the sweet aroma of cake in the oven. I always used to decorate them in the afternoons to be put on display every Monday morning.
“It does,” she agrees after taking a sip from her cup as well. “Except back home we were next to the ocean. It was peaceful almost, not being able to see the other end.”
“Not so peaceful here, though, when whatever’s on the other side might kill you,” I add.
“Exactly. That’s why we’re on watch, right, partner?”
Partner? An oddly personal word choice coming from a natural enemy. But, to my surprise, I don’t feel threatened in this moment. In fact, sitting here by the lake with Koiya reminds me that I’m not in this by myself. Yes, it’s a war against one another, but we’re really all in this together. I feel bad for all the tributes hiding away in solitude, unable to speak to anyone or relate to another human about what they’re experiencing. I know that I would collapse inside if I went days on end without interacting with another person.
“What’s that?” Koiya speaks up, breaking the silence and snapping me out of my trance. She stands up and and squints her eyes, as if trying to make out something in the distance.
My heart races when I jump to the conclusion that it’s another tribute coming for us, but it’s not long before I too spot what she’s seeing. The glow of orange, growing brighter and larger: a wall of fire slowly advancing through the woods, but still far enough off in the distance that it poses no immediate threat. Not to us, at least. I immediately worry for Katniss, no doubt hiding up in a tree somewhere. But the forest is massive, and the fire is only consuming a small part of it. She could be anywhere, couldn’t she?
“Wouldn’t want to be in that,” Koiya comments, and I nod in agreement. “But it’s good for us, that fire is either doing the killing them for us, or it’s driving them right towards us.”
Koiya grabs her machete and marches over to the tent to inform the others. A few minutes later, the whole pack emerges from the tent, weapons in hand, led by Cato.
“Who’s ready to go hunting for some easy prey?”
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