Katniss is asleep, somewhere high up in a tree. Almost peaceful. The morning is just arriving, the tweeting of the birds promising a new day.
Suddenly, a raging ball of fire launches itself at her out of nowhere. Dodging it, she jumps out of the tree desperately and collapses on the ground next to me, screaming in pain. I help her up, and we make a run for it. More fireballs surge at us, hitting trees on either side of side, setting them ablaze. I look back to see another ball of red-hot flames, the size of a car, hurtle towards us, and I instinctually throw myself at Katniss, pushing her out of the way, using my body to shield her.
For a moment everything is still, and the heat surrounding us fades away. It is quiet again. I let out a long breath, but before I can breath back in, I feel a net capture me and pull me upwards. I try to hang onto Katniss, protect her, but it’s no use. The more I fight the net, the tighter it closes on me.
Katniss is left lying motionless on the ground below. A spear shoots down from above, piercing her heart. Her limp body is pulled up with it, to a hovercraft floating above us. I watch as Katniss’ bloody, blistering body is hoisted up past me. I try to scream. But nothing comes out. I feel inside my mouth. My tongue is gone.
I awake with a start, throwing the covers off of me and immediately standing to my feet. I run my hands through my hair and wipe the sweat from my face, taking deep, heaving breaths. Everything is okay, I whisper under breath, partially to calm myself down and partially to make sure my tongue is still where it should be. Everything is okay.
But everything’s not okay. In fact, everything is the opposite of okay. I look at the digital clock projected on the wall across from my bed, which says that it’s only five in the morning. I press a button beside the window, changing it from an opaque black to a full, clear view of the city outside. It’s still dark, but there’s a glow peeking out over the mountains. The beginning of sunrise. I take in the sight, continuing my deep breaths, until my heart rate has slowed back to normal.
I breath onto the glass, fog appearing immediately on the cold window. I take my finger and begin to etch on my makeshift canvas. I draw the mountains. Breath again. Draw the the flowers from the garden on the roof. Breath again. Draw Katniss, with her long braid and bow and arrow. My drawings fade away as quickly as they were created. Every glimmer of happiness I’ve had up until this momentー Katniss and I making jokes, holding hands on the chariot, her kissing my cheek, how she opened up to me last nightー all those things fade away like pictures on foggy glass.
I try to crawl back into bed, squeeze in another hour of sleep, but I’m unsuccessful. I lay there, wide-eyed, trying to think of anything but the Hunger Games.
Around seven o’clock, I give up on sleep. I splash my face with water and dress in an outfit that’s been laid out for me: black pants, a dark red shirt, leather boots. I can’t remember if Haymitch had specified a time for breakfast, but I head out into the dining room anyway. I run into him on my way there, we exchange tired good-mornings and walk to breakfast together.
When we arrive in the dining room, Katniss is already there. From the looks of it, she’s already eaten. Two dirty plates sit in front of her, bits of crumbs and excess sauce the only things left on them. The male Avox swiftly clears her dishes and motions for Haymitch and I to serve ourselves from the buffet-style spread set out on the long table. I notice that Katniss is breaking the roll in her hands into small pieces, dipping them in hot chocolate. I guess I’ve rubbed off on her.
Haymitch and I bid Katniss good morning and begin to load our plates. I fill mine with mountains of eggs, sausage, pancakes topped with orange marmalade, various fruits, and my favorite rolls. As I eat, I run through what I know so far about the days ahead. Our training is set to begin this morning. We’ll have three days to practice alongside the other tributes, learning survival skills, combat techniques, and everything in between. At the end of those three days, we’ll have a chance to meet with the Gamemakers privately and show off our skill of choice. Depending on our performance during that session and the observations the Gamemakers make during training, we receive a score on a scale from one to twelve. The other tributes will only see your score, not your skill. The higher your number, the more the other contenders better watch out.
Once Haymitch has worked his way through three plates of stew, he leans back in his chair and takes a long chug from his pocket flask. “So, let’s get down to business,” he says as he slams down his drink. “Training. First off, if you like, I’ll coach you separately. Decide now.”
Considering Katniss and I have done most everything together up until this point, I’d almost forgotten that training separately was even an option, although I suppose it makes sense.
“Why would you coach us separately?” Katniss asks.
“Say if you had a secret skill you might not want the other to know about,” Haymitch answers, obviously.
Katniss and I glance at each other. “I don’t have any special skills,” I confess, honestly. “And I already know what yours is, right?” I say to her. “I mean, I’ve eaten enough of your squirrels.” My dad is a regular customer of hers, I can almost hear his voice in my head now. That girl has quite the shot, he would say as he strips and cooks them, shoots em’ in the eye, saves all the good stuff in the middle. Although we were able to afford meatier cuts like beef and turkey, my dad traded with her anyway, saying he rather favored the taste of squirrel stew. I’m sure this was partially true, but I like to think it was more of an excuse to help her out than anything. Five squirrels for a hearty loaf of bread is a pretty good trade.
“You can coach us together,” Katniss decides. I nod in agreement. I have nothing to hide from her, and I hope she feels she doesn’t have to hide from me, either.
“All right,” Haymitch says, “so give me some idea of what you can do.”
“I can’t do anything,” I say before I can stop myself. I know it sounds pathetic, but I honestly can’t think of anything I can do that sets me apart, at least nothing that would help me in the Games. “Unless you count baking bread.”
“Sorry, I don’t.” Haymitch doesn’t bat an eye at my attempt at a joke. He immediately moves on. “Katniss. I already know you’re handy with a knife,” he begins, fishing for her to add more.
“Not really. But I can hunt,” she offers. “With a bow and arrow.”
“Huh,” Haymitch says, looking pleased. “And you’re good?”
“I’m alright,” she says, humbly.
“She’s excellent,” I correct her. “My father buys her squirrels. He always comments on how the arrows never pierce the body. She hits every one in the eye,” I pause for effect, then add more. “It’s the same with the rabbits she sells the butcher. She can even bring down deer.”
Katniss seems taken aback by my praise. “What are you doing?” she says, seeming skeptical of my motives.
“What are you doing?” I retaliate. “If he’s going to help you, he has to know what you’re capable of. Don’t underrate yourself.” Katniss has a chance in these games, I know it, but that chance could diminish if she isn’t willing to show off a little bit.
She snaps back at me, almost angrily. “What about you? I’ve seen you in the market. You can lift hundred-pound bags of flour. Tell him that. That’s not nothing.”
Haymitch seems amused at our argument; it must all seem so stupid to him. Two tributes, insisting on how much better the other is. Seems backwards.
“Yes, and I’m sure the arena will be full of bags of flour for me to chuck at people,” I counter. “It’s not like being able to use a weapon. You know it isn’t.”
“He can wrestle,” Katniss gives up arguing with me, this time addressing Haymitch. “He came in second in our school competition last year, only after his brother.”
I remember that. If Ryean hadn’t had at least fifty pounds on me, I could’ve won. But it doesn’t matter. “What use is that?” I say. “How many times have you seen someone wrestle someone to death?”
“There’s always hand-to-hand combat. All you need is to come up with a knife, and you’ll at least stand a chance. If I get jumped, I’m dead!” Her last sentence comes out as a shout.
“But you won’t,” I protest. “You’ll be living up in some tree eating raw squirrels and picking off people with arrows.” I suddenly remember saying goodbye to my family before they were ripped away from me. “You know what my mother said to me when she came to say goodbye, as if to cheer me up,” I say, choking out my words, “she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realized, she didn’t mean me, she meant you!” I finish, anger boiling inside me.
“Oh, she meant you,” Katniss scoffs. She doesn’t believe me.
“She said, ‘She’s a survivor, that one.’ She is.” There was no mistaking it. I ache at the memory of it, my mother’s final words to me.
For the first time, Katniss doesn’t know what to say. She looks down at the roll in her hands, rolling it from her left palm to her right. Her next words are quiet, helpless. “But only because someone helped me.”
She does remember. My eyes flit to the roll she’s holding, and I think of that cold rainy January evening five years ago, remember seeing Katniss at death’s door as starvation wrecked her frail figure. Those burnt loaves of bread probably saved her life, but that was the least I could’ve done. I wish I would’ve gone out there, rolled her up in a towel, brought her inside, laid her by the fire, made her eat and drink until the life returned to her eyes. But I didn’t.
I shrug my shoulders, dismissing her comment. “People will help you in the arena. They’ll be tripping over each other to sponsor you.”
“No more than you,” she says, still not done arguing.
Katniss is being too humble. Haymitch needs to know how good she is. I roll my eyes at him. “She has no idea. The effect she can have,” I tell Haymitch. First she volunteered for her Prim, which moved everyone. She received a brave soldier’s salute from the people of District 12. Everyone back home loved her. People in the Capitol fought each other to catch the kisses she threw to the audience during the parade. Everyone loves the girl of fire. Me on the other hand, I’d be lucky to have a cheap butterknife gifted to me during the Games.
There’s a long pause, then Haymitch finally speaks for the first time since our argument began. “Well, then. Well, well, well. Katniss, there’s no guarantee there’ll be bows and arrows in the arena, but during your private session with the Gamemakers, show them what you can do. Until then, stay clear of archery. Are you any good at trapping?”
“I know a few basic snares,” she says.
“That may be significant in terms of food,” he says. Then he turns to me. “And, Peeta, she’s right, never underestimate strength in the area. Very often, physical power tilts the advantage to a player. In the Training Center, they will have weights, but don’t reveal how much you can lift in front of the other tributes. The plan’s the same for both of you. You go to group training. Spend the time trying to learn something you don’t know. Throw a spear. Swing a mace. Learn to tie a decent knot. Save showing what you’re best at until your private sessions. Are we clear?”
Katniss and I nod obediently. Haymitch is turning out to be a lot more useful than I originally thought.
“One last thing,” he adds. “In public, I want you by each other’s side every minute.” This surprises me, and Katniss and I both start to argue back, but we’re quickly silenced as Haymitch slams his fist on the table, rattling the dishes. “Every minute! It’s not open for discussion! You agreed to do what I said! You will be together, you will be amiable to each other. Now, get out,” he shoos us away angrily. “Meet Effie at the elevator at ten for training.”
Katniss and I head back to our respective rooms, not speaking. I hear her slam the door, purposefully loud, and wonder what’s going through her head. I run through our conversation in my mind, wondering what I might’ve said that set her off. I was just trying to convince Haymitch to see in her what I see, and deep down I appreciate her doing the same for me. Maybe I went too far, knew too much. Maybe I should give her more space, even if the conversations and jokes we’ve made over the past few days are the only things making me feel normal anymore. She seemed appalled when Haymitch ordered us to be connected at the hip throughout training, and although I joined in the protest, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that she was so against the idea. Maybe it’d be better if we went our separate ways and Katniss just focused on looking out for herself; I know I’d be a burden to her if she was forced to look after me, too. But then again, maybe Haymitch knows what he’s doing. Maybe this whole “partners” thing is good for the press. Or maybe he still just likes to be a rebel.
A few minutes before ten I meet Effie at the elevator, and a moment later Katniss joins us. We descend quickly down to the basement of the Training Center, where the doors open to reveal a massive gymnasium filled with weapons, mats, obstacles, simulations, and several other stations I can’t identify from this distance. The rest of the tributes are already there, standing in a large circle. I’d assumed since Katniss and I are wearing the same thing that it was just the required outfit we’d all wear during training, but I was mistaken. All the other tributes are dressed in a variety of athletic clothes, but none except Katniss and I match exactly. All part of the “we’re a team,” act, I imagine. We join the circle as twenty-two sets of eyes glare at us.
A tall, lean, muscular woman steps into the middle of the circle to address us. “Welcome tributes,” she says. “My name is Atala. I am the head trainer. As I’m sure you know, these next three days are dedicated to training. You will find that everything you need and more is here for you to practice. As you can see,” she gestures around the room, “we have a large variety of stations, some based on combat, others focused on survival skills. You may roam freely about the gymnasium and spend as much time at each station as you please. There will be experts in each skill positioned throughout. They are there to help you, answer your questions, and demonstrate the skills if you need. Remember, fighting with other tributes is forbidden before the Games begin, so save your temper for the arena. In the meantime, we have assistants available if you want to practice with a partner,” she indicates a group of very large, intimidating men and women. At least we won’t be practicing entirely on dummies that can’t fight back.
Atala gives a brief overview of the stations one by one, indicating their location. In the survival sector, there’s stations about identifying edible plants and insects, fire-starting, knot-tying, fishing, camouflage, finding and making shelter, how to create your own weapons from things in the environment, and various others. As I look around the circle at the other tributes, I notice that the smaller, meeker ones are paying close attention to Atala’s explanations, whereas the bigger and more intimidating tributes, specifically those from Districts 1, 2, and 4, referred to as “the Careers,” only seem to listen in as she begins explaining the combat stations. Training is provided in every weapon imaginable: spears, knives, tridents, axes, swords, bows and arrows. There’s also stations that test and build your strength and agility. There’s free weights and machines, a ropes course, simulations with moving obstacles that you have to dodge, and a large ring in the middle meant for one-on-one combat and wrestling.
When Atala dismisses us, some tributes quickly race to their station of choice, while others, like me, stand there, not knowing where to start. I nudge Katniss, who is still standing behind me. Remembering Haymitch’s order to stick together, I ask “Where would you like to start?”
Before answering, Katniss takes a scan of the room, and I join in. It looks like a lot of the combat stations are occupied with the Careers, showing off their skills with knives and spears. The Careers have a reputation for being the deadliest tributes, which isn’t a surprise. Rumor has it that they train their entire lives for the Games, which is technically illegal but very loosely enforced. Once they turn 18, after having been raised into brutal killing machines, they often volunteer. It’s no wonder they take the crown almost every year.
“Suppose we tie some knots,” she suggests.
“Right you are,” I say, and I gesture for her to lead the way.
We walk across the training floor towards the empty knots station, and as we do I observe our competition. The Careers continue to dominate the weapons, while a few others clumsily attempt to handle spears and bows for what is clearly their first time. When it comes to skills and strength, right now I feel like I’m in about the middle of the pack.
When we arrive at the knots station, the trainer seems pleasantly surprised that we’ve selected this skill to try out first. “A lot of people underestimate knots, you know,” he says. He shows us a couple basic knots and then dives into a lesson on setting traps. Katniss demonstrates her familiarity with the topic by creating a small rabbit snare out of some wire and sticks. The trainer is impressed and decides to show us something a little more advanced. He walks us through how to set a human trap; if another tribute steps inside the loop of rope, it will tighten around his leg and hoist him into the air. Dangling by his ankle, he’d make an easy target. Katniss and I practice setting the trap, and once we feel like we’ve perfected it we put it to the test on the trainer. It works perfectly, and he commends us for a job well down as he cuts the rope and we help him down.
Now that we’ve mastered trap-setting we decide to move on to something else; I suggest the camouflage station, which also seems to be untouched so far. The trainer points out the variety of clays, muds, berry juices, and greenery that are at our disposal, then shows us a collection of backdrops and natural formations we can practice replicating. I don’t ask many questions and immediately start swirling together mixtures of gray mud and purple berry juice, turning my arm into what looks like a tiny tree trunk. I use a darker mixture to create the illusion of the shadows of leaves. Using a small twig for detailing, I carve into the dried mask on my arm to create the texture of bark. I add a few leaves and hold my arm up to the tree I was trying to mimic to assess my work. The trainer praises me; Katniss seems impressed too.
“I do the cakes,” I tell her.
It takes her a moment to register that I’m speaking to her; she’s distracted by the boy tribute from District 2, who’s just brutally murdered a dummy with a spear. “The cakes?” she asks. “What cakes?”
“At home. The iced ones, for the bakery.”
She nods, seeming to remember. Then she take my arm in her hand, inspecting it more closely. “It’s lovely,” she says, admiring my work. “If only you could frost someone to death.”
“Don’t be so superior,” I tease. “You can never tell what you’ll find in the arena. Say it’s actually a gigantic cakeー”
She laughs, interrupting me. “Say we move on.”
As we leave the camouflage station, I notice a group of men and women dressed in dark purple robes entering the gymnasium: the Gamemakers. They take their seats in the stands along the perimeter of the room, occasionally getting up to walk around or get a closer look at us. Sometimes they jot down notes or chat with another Gamemaker while pointing out one tribute or another. Our assessment has already begun. I make accidental eye contact with one of them, and a nervous bubble pops in the pit of my stomach.
We spend the next hour at knife throwing. Katniss is impressively talented despite receiving no formal training, but the station supervisor still has a few pointers. I try it myself, and I quickly get the hang of how to properly hold the knife and toss it with a swift flick of the wrist. The practice targets are shaped like people, with the heart as the bulls-eye, but most of the time my shots aren’t deadly. My knife usually barely misses their shoulder, sticks into their side, or barely knicks where their ear would be. I try decreasing my distance, and I get a couple good shots in the head, stomach, and legs. My shot might not be accurate enough to kill, but if I had to, I could injure the person enough to buy myself time to run away.
Lunch is served buffet-style in a large dining hall adjacent to the gymnasium. With the exception of the Careers, who have already developed their own little pack, most of the tributes eat alone. I’m grateful to have Katniss to visit with, even though I don’t really have an option. We try to make conversation, remembering Haymitch’s orders to be friendly with one another. We finish lunch early, and out of boredom I begin picking through the breadbasket at the center of the table. There’s more of a variety than ever, and soon I notice a pattern. There’s twelve unique types of bread, one from every district. I make a matching game of it. From District 1, luxury items, a star shaped biscuit with gold flecks embedded in the dough. From District 3, technology, tiny, square-shaped rolls; I wonder how the bakers prevented them from rising to be naturally round and fluffy. From District 4, fishing, a fish-shaped loaf faintly green in color and an extra touch of saltiness from the addition of seaweed. From District 6, transportation, a wheel-shaped monkey bread, where each individual spoke could be torn off. From District 7, lumber, another circular loaf with a marbled pattern originating from the center, like rings on a tree. From District 8, textiles, the dough appears to have been weaved like a basket before it was baked. From District 9, grain, comes a hearty bread bursting with oats, barley, flax, and millet. From District 11, agriculture, a crescent roll sprinkled with poppy seeds. District 12 bread, which I recognize immediately, is made from tessera grain and looks like brown lumps of coal. I usually refrained from eating it back home because we were able to make much better stuff in the bakery. I can’t put a place to the remaining three loaves of bread, but place them randomly in the empty spaces in the lineup I’ve created on the table.
“And there you have it,” I say, admiring the collection and placing the breads back in the basket one at a time.
“You sure know a lot,” Katniss says.
“Only about bread,” I say. I search for something else to talk about, but I come up at a loss. I want to honor Haymitch’s orders and make believe Katniss and I are best friends, two peas in a pod, so I say “Okay, now laugh as if I’ve said something funny.”
She and I both begin roaring with fake laughter, briefly drawing the attention of the other tributes. As she continues to laugh, I whisper, “All right, I’ll keep smiling pleasantly and you talk.”
She transitions immediately, “Did I ever tell you about the time I was chased by a bear?”
“No, but it sounds fascinating,” I play along, leaning in and resting my face in my palms, attentively listening. Originally I assume she’s just making it up as she goes, but as she tells the story in surprising detail and answers my questions without batting an eye, I realize it’s true.
“So you won in the end? You got the beehive?” I ask.
“You bet I did, my mother and Prim and I feasted on honey for days. That black bear was sorry he’d ever messed with me.”
We spend the rest of the day hopping from one skill to the next, trying to be thorough on each one but not lingering for too long. Although we still have two days to go, I have a feeling it’ll go fast, and we need to be diligent and make the most of it.
We arrive back at our suite for dinner with Effie, Haymitch, Cinna, and Portia. They’re very interested in hearing about our day, what we learned from training. Haymitch occasionally interrupts with a mouthful of food to make comments. “Traps can be time consuming, but if you’re camped out and not in a hurry, they’re a good idea,” he says. Katniss tells everyone about the camouflage, and Haymitch seems impressed. “People have won that way in years past. They just hide out in disguise until everyone else is dead. Also comes in handy for ambushes,” he says, taking another bite of his roast chicken leg.
The next couple days proceed in much the same way. Katniss and I continue to work through the stations, picking up a lot of new skills that others seem to be overlooking. Katniss has a knack for identifying edible plants. I try to keep track of which ones to steer clear from, reciting them over in my head. Poison Ivy, leaves of three let it be. Hogweed, tall stalks with white blossoms hanging over like umbrellas, found in rich, damp soils; it’s sap can cause you to be more susceptible to sunburn and blisters. Hemlock looks similar, and it’s poisonous when eaten. Bitter nightshade, with its purple flowers and bright red berries, can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. But there’s so many more that I can’t remember. I make a mental note to review them with Katniss before the Games, if she’s willing to help.
I learn a couple methods for how to start a fire, and when Katniss and I both get sparks and decent flame, we move onto the shelter station. The trainer there gives us an overview of a variety of different survival shelters. It would be easiest to build one using a tarp, but since we’re not likely to have one of those in our back pocket, most that we learn about use things found in the environment like sticks, mud, leaves, or even snow. I shiver at the thought, and silently pray that the arena is something warm. It changes every year and you never know what you’re going to get; we could be stuck anywhere from an arid desert to a frozen wasteland.
Katniss and I eat lunch together on the second day, per usual. The Careers still eat together, like a pride of lions gathered around an animal carcass. Most everyone else sits by themselves again, but I notice the District 11 tributes sitting across from each other. The girl, I remember her name is Rue, says something that makes the boy laugh. It’s a funny sight, considering Rue is the smallest of all the tributes, just twelve years old, and Thresh, the 18-year old boy, is the largest by a landslide. For a moment I imagine them as friends, and I can picture him as Rue’s bodyguard for the Games, protecting her like a big brother.
After lunch Katniss and I decide to move on to more combat-based skills. We learn a handful of self-defense moves like how to get out of headlocks and other holds. I practice with a trainer in hand-to-hand combat and have him pinned to the ground in less than a minute. I glance up at the Gamemakers and see them observing me, taking notes. Meanwhile Katniss practices packing some punches on a dummy.
Later on we decide to try our hand at spear throwing, which both of us turn out to be pretty decent at. I keep practicing and the trainer helps me to improve my form when I notice Rue, the little girl from 11, watching us.
“I think we have a shadow,” I lean over and whisper to Katniss as I pick up another spear and throw it. She notices her too. “I think her name’s Rue,” I say.
“What can we do about it?” she says, sounding almost annoyed, as if I’d stolen her focus.
“Nothing to do,” I say. “Just making conversation.”
Rue ends up at the same stations as us during the last couple hours. She’s quiet, but some things about her surprise me. On the ropes course, she demonstrates what a swift climber she is. One minute she’s on the ground, then I blink, and she’s up on the nets hanging from the ceiling. She and Katniss quiz each other at the edible plants station and I try my best to pay close attention. She also turns out to be handy with a slingshot. She loads a berry from the plants station into the slingshot she stashes in her back pocket and hits the target all the way over at knife throwing; the berry explodes into a gush a red juice, like blood gushing from the target-human’s heart.
We’re back at the penthouse in time for dinner, just with Haymitch and Effie this time. I’m famished after all of the physical and mental exertion from today. They continue to drill us with questions; I do most of the talking while Katniss eats. I tell them about the things we learned, how I think I impressed the Gamemakers at the hand-to-hand combat station, how I was struggling with the edible plants thing but how Katniss was a master at it, and how the Careers walk around like they own the place. Haymitch and Effie continue to comment and ask questions, barely giving me a moment to eat. Haymitch is as sober as I’ve ever seen him, but just as much of a hard ass. He lectures us on how we only have one day left, which skills we should really focus on, and reminds us to keep playing nice with each other and never leave the other’s side.
When we’re finally dismissed from dinner, I catch up with Katniss, who’s walking slightly ahead of me towards our rooms. “Geez, somebody ought to give Haymitch a drink,” I say.
Katniss tries to suppress a laugh. Then she suddenly tenses up. “Don’t,” she says, “Don’t let’s pretend when there’s no one around.”
My spirits plummet. I know we’re supposed to get along when we’re around people or on camera, but does that mean that we can’t try to be friends for real, just because? I don’t see the harm in a little playful conversation, especially now when both of us could use some comic relief. I imagine what she might be thinking. The nicer he is to me, the harder he’ll be to kill. Although I want to argue, make a point to her, I refrain. “All right, Katniss,” I say, and leave her alone. I guess she only wants to speak to me when she has to.
The following day is the third and final day of training. Katniss and I hit the few stations we haven’t visited yet. We learn how to make fish hooks and practice dueling with swords, then we take some time to revisit old skills.
During lunchtime they start calling us in for our individual assessments. District 1’s tributes go first, as usual. Kids start filtering out one at a time, until just Katniss and I remain. We sit in silence for awhile, having finished our lunch. As the tributes disappear I make guesses in my head of what their skill might be. I’d be willing to bet that Clove from District 2 is showing off her knife throwing, and Marvel, District’s 1’s male tribute, will do something with spears. I’ve taken note of them and the other Careers during training and unlike us, they certainly aren’t holding back from flaunting what they’re good at. Intimidating the other tributes is probably part of their strategy. If they still had something to hide, I’d be terrified to find out what is is.
Finally they call my name, and I rise from my seat. As I reach the door, Katniss pipes up. “Remember what Haymitch said about being sure to throw the weights.” It’s the first thing she’s earnestly said to me since last night when she decided she’d rather not speak to me if no one’s around.
“Thanks, I will. You…” I search for something supportive to say in return, “shoot straight.” Shoot straight? Did I really say that? Pathetic.
I walk through the doors into the gymnasium, which is the emptiest I’ve ever seen it. All the other tributes have finished their sessions and returned to their quarters. It’s just me and the Gamemakers, who are all hanging out in their cushy observation balcony. They sipーno, chugー wine, and I silently wonder how many glasses they’ve had; they’ve been here for a very long time. I’m the twenty-third tribute they’ve seen today, and I’m not sure they even notice I’m there. They laugh playfully with each other, slinging their shoulders over one another. They sway back and forth, raising their glasses, and break into song. Down, down, down they go, glass after glass, show after show. Down, down, down it pours, drink after drink, the Games are ours. It’s hard to make out their exact words as they continue into the chorus. One thing is for sure, I’m entitled to this time with them, and they’re paying me little attention. Time to make some noise.
I walk over to the weights, trying to carry myself with as much confidence as possible. I pick up the heaviest metal medicine ball by the handle, guessing it’s about twenty-five pounds, hauling it over to center stage. I rear back, giving the ball some momentum, and focus all my strength into hurling it across the room. It clears at least fifteen yards and clatters on the floor. Rather impressed with myself, I look over at the Gamemakers to see their reaction.
The crash of the weight hitting the ground seems to have startled a couple of them and their drinking song has lost its rhythm. The chant dies down, but most of them glance at me briefly and continue their conversations. I decide to forgo my manners and continue to interrupt them, being as loud as possible to keep their attention. I pick up one weight after another, hurling them every direction. I try to make a spectacle of it, knowing the Gamemakers are concerned with show business and show business alone.
When I’ve finished showing off what I wanted to, there’s a very pitiful applause. A few Gamemakers are too preoccupied with their wine or with serving themselves hors d’oeuvres to even join in. The handful that actually did appear to be watching thank me for my demonstration and dismiss me without another word.
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