Day 14 – The 27th Victor

The frost has welded my eyelashes together, trapping my eyes behind a door of soft pink flesh. Eventually they ease open and I take in my surroundings, Leigh lies peacefully beneath the heavy blanket, a small smile crossing her features as she is taken away temporarily to a place far better than here. I move about and set up a hearty breakfast for Leigh and I, nudging her awake when it’s ready. We sit and eat in silence, the nerves paralyzing our will to make small-talk. I gave up at the sky, the light has returned but the air is still laced with a bitter chill. Pink and orange streak through the fluffy white clouds… Will this be the last sunrise I ever see? I take it in. Everything. If this is my last day, I don’t want to miss a thing. I turn to Leigh and grasp her hand.

“Thank you,” I whisper “For being here, for helping me, just… Everything, thank you.” she gives me a sorrowful smile and nods. We both know that we couldn’t have made it this far without the other.

 

We pack our things into our bags, and tension hangs heavy in the chilly air. I told Leigh about the two other tributes who died last night. Only 3 of us left now. I rise slowly and cautiously, still careful about being caught off guard. I keep Terlums spear by my side and my crossbow slung over my shoulder. I part the foliage we have been shrouded by carefully and step out. No one is waiting for us, thankfully. Leigh follows behind as we walk into the clearing of the Cornucopia.

I step through the melting snow over to the cornucopia, about to peer inside to see if any weapons have been left, but am met with an unexpected sight. Leefern, the girl from 3 springs out of the golden mouth of the Cornucopia, screaming angrily at me, wielding a sharp blade. She tackles me to the floor and pins me underneath her. I shriek violently and start to grapple with the girl, pushing her off me and jumping to my feet. She rises too, and I grab the spear, holding it in my palm, ready to strike at any moment. She twists the knife around her hand, smirking at me. I throw my spear forward with a cry, but she dodges it, leaving it to clatter on the ground. She picks it up and looks at it for a moment.
“That was a big mistake, 8…”  she grins threateningly before lifting the spear above her head, in one swift motion she sends it propelling through the air. I squeeze my eyes shut as it comes closer towards me. I hear the whistle in my ear and a dull thud as it makes impact. I don’t feel any pain. A soft whimper fills the silence of the clearing. But wait… That wasn’t me.

My eyes open, widening in alarm as I twirl around in time to watch Leigh collapse to the floor. Her chest now staked on the gleaming silver spear, she pulls it out, with a soft cry. She lies on the white bed of snow and I rush to her side. The glistening red liquid trickles out of her chest and mixes with the snow.

“No…” I whimper, “No, it can’t be you, it was meant to be me!” I start to cry, shrieking frenzied apologies as guilt fills every crevice of my body. I grip her hand and stroke her face as a lone tear rolls down her soft cheek. Her eyes now set in a frozen stare beyond everything, towards somewhere that I cannot see.

I look back up at the girl from 3, venom piercing my gaze as I watch her laugh.

Doesn’t she get it? We are all on the same team. We may have been chosen to fight one another, but the true enemy is the Capitol. They have given us this destiny, we are left to fulfill it however we choose. If we do not fight, they have no games. Their power collapses beneath the weight of human emotion.

She doesn’t care. She watches me rise from the damp floor and raise my crossbow. Her eyebrows raise momentarily. I place the crossbow on the ground.

“The winner is never really a winner anyway,” I tell her “The nightmares, the dreams, the haunting deaths… They’ll stay with the winner for eternity.”

She looks back at me quizzically.

I continue “Kill me. I want to die now. Their games are meaningless if the deaths are by choice.”

She looks at me with confusion, then understanding, then sorrow.

She knows I’m right. The only way for any of us to really win is to defeat the capitol, not the other tribute.

“Go.” I utter. My final word.

Her eyes, like mine, fill with a shiny layer of tears. She raises her knife and steps back, poising to throw it at me.

A shaky breath enters my lungs as I take my last moments to appreciate the world. My family, my allies, the beauty of the dew glistening on the leaves of the jungle foliage.

She nods at me, and pulls her arm back when suddenly, her mouth gapes open, a red liquid oozing out as she splutters and coughs.

What is happening?! I run towards her but am instantaneously running back again when the large snake that killed Terlum slithers out from behind the stout palm trees, it’s pearly fangs glistening with what I can only assume is the blood of Leefern. The snake slithers past the cornucopia, not noticing me at all. I run to the girl and drop beside her, her neck now dotted with two fierce punctures. This is no coincidence, I think. Just as we have decided to show up the capitol, she is savagely attacked. I clasp her hand and whisper soothing statements to her. The pink in her cheeks fades away to a sickly grey as the life leeches out of her body, slowly. She pulls me in, and between splutters, she utters out;

“The kn… knife,” pointing towards the knife that now lays in the snowy sludge beside her. she raises a feeble finger and draws it across her throat. I know what she wants me to do now.

I look away as I grip my hands around the hilt of the knife, pulling it above my head, plunging it downwards with force as Leefern smiles at me.

I can’t look at her. She was my only real kill. I crumple to the floor, with a debilitating crippling guilt rolling in waves through my body. I start bursting into a never ending stream of tears as the final canon rings out through the rusty-scented air. I scream into my fist, biting down with all my strength.

“Citizens of Northern Ridges, I give you, the victor of the 27th annual Hunger Games.”’

I hug my knees tight to my chest, hoping that if I pull tight enough, I’ll fold into nothingness and not have to face the people that will celebrate the murders of my friends. I simply wail, grieving the lives of my allies, the tributes, even Mr. GameMaker… Their faces flash before my eyes, each full of despair and sorrow, lives cut short by the merciless hold of the capitol.

 

A victor is not really a victor at all, and I can say that with full certainty now.

Day 13 – The Ice and The Darkness

A wheezy gasp of air enters my lungs, ripping them apart as I heave inward. My thoughts reverberate off the walls of my mind and I can’t think straight at all. I open my eyes and immediately regret that impulsive decision, as I spin violently, plummeting towards the spongy earth. What is happening? A low buzz drones through my ears, a monotone blur of words. I steel my mind and focus, trying to catch every syllable.

“Announcement: Oxygen levels have been depleted throughout the Arena. If you want to survive, get to the Cornucopia as soon as possible. This is where the most oxygen is. Also, water supplies are slowly returning. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favour.”

Leigh, where is Leigh? I find her and try to tell her something, “Cornucopia…” i mutter, the words trapped behind a swollen lump in my throat. Leigh understands though, and she nods as we gather our packs. I wait for Leigh on the ground as she stumbles about the tree, making her way down slowly. The world before me spins around violently and I reach for something to steady myself. Suddenly a crash from the tree pulls me eyes forward, trying to focus on the source… It’s Leigh, she’s fallen out of the tree. Her eyes flutter shut slowly. I’d love a nice nap too actually… Wait! If we fall asleep, we die. I stumble over the underbrush to Leighs side, using what paltry reserves of strength I have left, I pull her up. “Cornucopia…” I tell her again. She nods in agreement. If we stay here, these games are over for us. I amble forward, in an oxygen deprived stupor, every step unsteady but a step closer to oxygen nonetheless. It could have been minutes or hours, but we begin to reach the Babassu palms lining the edge of the Cornucopia clearing. I start to breathe in again, this time properly. The air is still thin and cuts my lungs, but I’m not as dizzy now and I start to clear my thoughts, assorting them into organized lists.

We huddle behind the Babassu palms, vigilantly watching for any other tributes. the coast is clear. I turn to nod at Leigh, raising Terlums spear above my shoulder as Leigh puls out her long serrated knife. I stay low to the ground, but move swiftly past the trees into the clearing. Leigh follows along and I turn to look at her. She nods, signaling that the Cornucopia is currently threat-free. The tension in my shoulders fades away a tiny bit.
I rush to the Cornucopia, wondering if there will be anything useful left inside, but am surprised to find it nearly fully stocked, but with items I wasn’t expecting.
“It’s full of winter coats and snow boots,” I tell Leigh, showing her a thick, fur-lined overcoat in confusion.
“I’d say this is a clue about tonight’s events,” Leigh says. Suddenly the sunlight filling the clearing disappears in a flash, a dark velvety cloak of black shrouding the Arena. Not seconds later, I feel my teeth start to chatter as a thin veil of frost covers the dewy grass of the clearing.

The temperature has dropped drastically, filling the blackened jungle with an inescapable biting chill.

Behind me, the Cornucopia begins to light up, radiating light and warmth through the clearing.

“Oh no… ” I say in realization; the GameMakers are trying to pull the remaining tributes out of the jungle using their primal need for light and warmth to lure them. Like moths to a flame.

“This place is going to be flooded with tributes soon! We have to grab what we can and run,” Leigh shouts, her body now visibly shaking. With numb fingers, we haul winter coats, blankets, oxygen canisters and whatever else we can carry from the Cornucopia. I nod at Leigh, signaling that its time to go and we run off with our loot back into the jungle. A small flake of ice lands on my nose. Snow? In a jungle? The GameMakers must have fun with all these neat little tricks.
Once we’re back deep enough into the jungle, Leigh and I start to stumble over rocks and vines. I grip onto her arm, trying not to lose her in this black haze. I raise my hand in front of my eyes and begin to panic when I realize that I cannot see something mere centimetres from my face. We’re sitting ducks right now.
Leigh tugs on my arm softly and pulls me to a small patch of bushes at the edge of the Cornucopia clearing.

“We can’t stay here!” I hiss, “It’s way too risky!”
“We don’t have a choice!” Leigh shivers “We’re just going to have to pray that we don’t get found.” She pushes her way into the middle of the thick foliage, placing her pack down. I hesitate and then realize the truth of Leighs words. We’re probably safer here than anywhere else in the Arena now. We both wheeze from the exertion of the run and the lack of oxygen that still debilitates us. I grab the oxygen canister, pulling the mask to Leighs face then mine. We curl up in a ball, trying to absorb each others body heat as flakes of soft white ice spin through the black air, falling on our frosted faces. From our position, we can see the glowing cornucopia and watch on, our breathing paused, as the remaining 3 tributes trudge over the carpet of white snow to claim the items from the cornucopia. As soon as they have gathered enough, they steak away into the blackness of the jungle. So three there… and two here… Five. Five tributes remain.

 

I pull one of the thermal blankets I procured from the Cornucopia out and lay it over the two of us. I huddle beneath it but my skin is still burning from the icy temperatures. Leighs eyelids drift together, but I stay awake. I think about how much longer this will go on. I really just want it to end, either way. In the distance I hear a clatter of hoofed feet and then a shriek followed by a loud BOOM. The canon. 4 tributes remain. I drift off for a little while, thinking about how for Leigh and I have come. It’s strange to think that from having a 1 in 26 chance, I’m now 1 in 4… BOOOOM! Another canon.

Make that 1 in 3.

Day 12 – The Drought

The golden sun illuminates Terlums features, his green eyes sparkling with gold speckles decorating his iris. He smiles that ever hopeful, childish grin and laughs. I look around and see that Leigh, Terlum and I are all sitting cross-legged, wearing bare white, cotton clothes, in the centre of a vibrant meadow. The hum of life around us harmonizing with the song of the mockingjays, chirping contentedly in the tall willow trees lining the meadow. I pick up two white daisies, snapping their stems from the root, twirling them between the soft pads of my fingertips, before passing one to Leigh and the other to Terlum.

“A gift of friendship,” I say, as we all laugh.

I pick up a third daisy, for myself, admiring its delicacy, when suddenly, it disintegrates in my hand. The silky white petals now grey ash, residing on my palm. I look up at my allies, begging for reassurance. I’m not crazy, am I? I begin to ask if they saw the strange occurrence when my words are locked behind my teeth, catching in my throat as the sight before me makes my heart-rate hasten.

Terlums flesh melts from his bones, dripping and oozing down the front of his shirt. The sun clouds over, streaks of grey and black now spreading in veins across the previous baby-blue of the sky. I reach for Leighs hand, trying to comfort myself, but it only breaks off with my touch, crumbling to dust between my fingers. I look back at Terlum, his eyes now sagging out of their sockets, his tongue lolling out of the cage that is his milky-white teeth. I spin my head to look at Leigh, but the sight I see is not her. Not human at all. Her skin has been replaced by dark green scales, her warm friendly eyes now fierce yellow slits. She hisses at me and I scream, turning my head to hide from it all but instead running into Terlum, his face fixated in an eternal, bony grin, no longer masked by his pale skin. Suddenly another hissing sound reverberates through the meadow as two smaller snakes surge past Terlums eye-sockets, darting at my face.

 

I wake with a scream, tears brimming over my puffy eyelids. I take sharp, jagged breaths, trying to compose myself to no avail. Leigh rushes to my side, placing a hand on my shoulder and comforting me with soft coos, as I would to my sisters.

“Shhh, it was just a dream,” she whispers, stroking my hair.

“Terlum…” I murmur, rocking back and forth as I remember the vivid nightmare I just endured.

“I know,” Leigh breathes “We’re going to be alright though, ok?”

I nod, opening my mouth to agree, but am cut off by a booming voice shaking the Arena.

 

“Announcement: all water sources have been suspended until further notice. If you don’t have water supplies, you may have to fight for them. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

 

My eyes widen as I look up at Leigh in shock. They can’t do this can they? I race to my pack, grabbing out the flasks in a frenzy. “They’re all filled to the brim after yesterday. And we have Terlum’s as well. This should last us three days,” Leigh assures me, ever the voice of reason.

“I can’t take this anymore,” I confess “When will this end?” dejectedly, I lean back against the spongy damp bark of the tree. Leigh looks at me with sorrow, but smiles as she tells me; “Soon. We’ll spend today gathering our strength and training. Tomorrow we move to the Cornucopia. There are only a few of us left now.”

 

She’s right… Only a few left. From having my name drawn at the reaping, thinking I wouldn’t make it part the first night, coming to this stage of the games is a dream. Or a nightmare. I can’t really tell…

I start to pull out some of the food we still have stored and assemble a quick but sizable meal for Leigh and I. We quickly finish eating and gather our belongings, I take Terlums spear and Leigh grabs his pack. We set off into different directions, deciding that it’s better to split up, doubling our chances of finding another tribute.

As I amble through the jungle I start to twirl the spear around, first just with my hands, hearing the soothing whistle through the air, then I start to throw it. My target, a mockingjay, resting upon the bough of a tree. I pull by my arm and release, the spear spinning through the humid air, colliding with the birds chest. Blood sprays over the bough as the mocking jay falls to the jungle floor making one final chirp before it dies. The spear clatters to the ground as well, and I race to pick it up. For the rest of the day I practice spear-throwing, using my crossbow and sprinting for long periods of time. At this stage in the games, my training in combat is better late than never.

The blue sky begins to fade to pink, then orange, then blood-red, signaling to me that my fun is over, and I must go back to meet Leigh.

 

I arrive before she does, resting against the base of our tree. Leigh shows up, looking exhausted, but still smiling. We each grab hold of the tree and start to clamber back up to our last resting place. I prepare a quick meal, passing it to Leigh and eat some myself before settling in for the evening. I lie on my side, huddling into Leigh for warmth as the temperature in the arena declines rapidly. I stare up at her face, her eyes fluttering slowly shut, and wonder… Will I have to kill her? I’d rather die than do that. Literally.

Day 11 – The Shifter

Always the last to wake, the others are already moving about when my bleary eyes crack open as Terlum gently shakes me, coercing me back into reality. His face is the first thing I see, and looking at him so closely, I take a moment to appreciate the rosy pink in his cheeks that only days ago, I thought I would never see again. The jungle, as always, is buzzing with the cheerful song of mockingjays. We gather our leaf-blankets and packs and stand next to the tree roots.

“Let’s split up,” I say. “I’ll go and get more water; you guys stay here” The others nod and I move off into the jungle. The sun rises higher and higher to its apex and I pull my heavy coat off and shove it into my pack as the rays beat down upon me. I use my finite navigating skills to direct myself back to the last water source we used, about 8 kilometres away, it’ll probably take me a few hours to get there and back to Leigh and Terlum. I make it to the stream and fill our flasks, sitting on the moist earth of the banks and resting for a while before I start the trek back.

As I sit and admire the millions of crystals of light sparkling off the surface, I think about my allies. After watching the evening announcements, we’ve established that there are only a few tributes remaining. I feel like we have such a good chance, but it pains me to realize that not all 3 of us will win. I imagine that in another world, one where we weren’t condemned to eventually watch the others die, I would be very close with Leigh and Terlum. I know that now is not the time to be nostalgic, but I wonder if I will ever get a chance to in the midst of all of this. I think about Leighs incredible intellect, and admire her amazing survival skills. I smile as I recall Terlums optimism and wit. I’ll miss them both so much either way…

A crunch behind me draws me back to the humid atmosphere that I unfortunately am stuck in and jolt around, crossbow in hand already.

“Only me!” Leigh laughs quickly, before I shoot her. That could’ve been awkward. Suddenly, a primal shriek pierces the air as both Leigh and my heads whip around to determine the source of the helpless cry.

“Terlum!” Leigh yells with a dreadful realization, racing back into the jungle, my legs pushing me right behind her.

Branches and vines lash our faces but we sprint forward in pursuit of our tribute. When we arrive, my heart stops mid-beat. Harlow Lilywalk is standing next to Terlum with her… my?… no, her hands around his throat. I inhale sharply and turn to look up at Leigh, wide-eyed. Who is this person? I would never hurt Terlum! The fake Harlow whips around when she hears my gasp, still clasping onto Terlums neck, his helpless splutters not having any effect on her. Her skin starts to undulate, she drops her hands and a demonic grin crosses her features as her skin melts off of her bones, leaving behind shimmering, gold scales. Her body protract as her limbs all morph into one, and her wide bright green eyes transform into to sharp, black slits. Where ‘Harlow’ stood, there is now a gigantic golden snake, speckled with black diamond-shaped spots. It’s forked tongue flickers as it lets out a low deadly hiss, its black eyes locking on Terlums.

“NO!!” I cry, and both Leigh and I lunge forward forcefully. The mighty reptile swiftly bats us aside with a flick of its tail, hissing irately.We jump up from the mossy carpet, but are already moments too late.

Terlum screams one last horrific shriek as the snake rises above him, then descending upon him with force, swallowing Terlum whole. “TERLUM!!” Leigh screams, pulling her knife out of her pocket and lunging at the gigantic creature. It swats her aside again and then turns to slither off into the jungle. Leigh runs after the snake with a frenzied attempt to regain her District member. I know how it feels to lose your district member, and I don’t want to lose Leigh today either, I reach out and grab her wrist.

“There is nothing we can do” I tell her helplessly, a sadness laced through my voice that I am too weary to even bother trying to hide.

Leigh collapses on the floor, tears streaming heavily past her eyelids, and soon I sink to the earth alongside her, realizing that I too can’t bear the pain that this has caused. The gates that are my eyelids relinquish their barrier and tears begin to stream down my cheeks as I break down into a desperate sob. Terlum had such optimism, even in this arena, filled with death and despair… I just can’t believe that he’s gone. I feel like in a few minutes, he’ll pop up from a tree around the corner and walk back to us, that childish grin that seemed to be permanently plastered to his features greeting us with its warmth.

I take a deep breath and compose myself, standing upon precariously shaky limbs, pulling Leigh up with me.

“We’re too exposed. We have to move.” She says, her voice thick with tears. I feel guilty, as if I should spend the next week mourning Terlum, but that will get us nowhere, and I know that he would have wanted Leigh and I to fight on. So we will… for him.

We stumble back through the jungle, stopping for a moment to gather Terlum’s pack and spear. I grip onto Leigh, both of us supporting the other on every unsteady footstep. Eventually, we come across the tree that we spent the last evening in. We climb maladroitly back up to the bough, setting our packs down and our blankets out. no words are needed now. We give each other the necessary space to process and grieve separately. Leigh pours out some of the rat-meat stew that she got sent this morning and holds it out in offering, but I shake my head. I can’t stomach anything right now. the sadness of the day filling every crevice of my body. I pull my leaf-blanket over me and settle into the crook of the tree trunk. Images of my face on the shape-shifters scaly body flash before me as guilt wracks my soul. If it weren’t my face that the snake had portrayed, Terlum would have been able to defend himself. I lone tear rolls down my cheek as my eyes flutter shut, taking me away to a dreamless state for yet another tense night…

Day 10 – The Holes

I, strangely, rise first, sliding up from my resting place. I take in the golden glow of the morning sun illuminating the jungle with warmth. I turn to Leigh and Terlum, rousing them out of their sleep.

“We should get moving,” I tell them as they wake “We’re getting close to the Cornucopia.”

Terlum sets up a small fire and Leigh and I both stroll over and begin to chat.

“How are your legs?” Leigh inquires.

“Much better, thanks. They don’t hurt anymore,” he beams, clearly glad he wasn’t by himself when the flood hit. the damage could have been fatal, left untreated.

He passes over a handful of roots to both of us and we chew in silence, every one of us observing the jungle around us. The light skims over the mossy carpet and the leaves on the many trees glisten, still damp from the morning dew.

“Beautiful,” Leigh murmurs, reading all our thoughts exactly.

We all smile and chuckle at ourselves.

“Come on guys, lets get going now,” I say with a smile. It’s so easy to forget that I’m in a specially-designed death-trap when I’m with my allies. They make it so easy to feel happy, even amidst all the horrors the arena holds. we stamp out the luminescent orange embers of our fire and collect our few belongings. We set off into the jungle, walking along for several hours, mainly in silence, sometimes stopping to gather more food or look at something. It isn’t until I drop one of my bows that I look at the moist jungle floor and see something intriguing. Two sets of footprints, imprinted in the soggy underbrush. I signal to the others and raise my eyebrows, eyes widening with excitement, we each raise our weapons and silently move along the trail of footprints, chasing the invisible people to the base of a huge fig-tree. The branches lie vacant, but the remnants of a small fire have been left not far from the tree.

“We’re getting closer,” whispers Terlum. We decide to rest for a while, plunking ourselves down on the thick roots of the fig tree and eating its sweet fruits.

Suddenly, a strange squelch, shatters the serene silence surrounding us. I jump to my feet and look around, my allies actions mirroring my own.

Terlum uses his spear to push two fern leaves apart to peer into a small clearing. In the very middle is a sinkhole, pulling its surroundings into it, dragging them down to the centre of the earth. It consumes everything next to it, and in a matter of seconds, the trees lining the small clearing are on the brink of the sinkhole.

“MOVE!” Leigh screams, and we all stumble backwards in a confused stupor, trying to comprehend this ridiculous turn of events.

 

We sprint ahead, back too our previous resting place on the fig-tree roots, I’m just about to snatch up my pack when, merely an inch from my foot, a new sinkhole bursts open the earth. I skid to an abrupt halt and nearly fall straight into it. I jump over the hole before it grows any more and seize my pack up, tearing away from the tree, back in the direction we came from.

We run for about a kilometre, until we decide that we will be safe for the moment. We pause for a minute and Terlum opens his mouth and gasps through ragged pants “What’s going…?” but is cut off but that familiar sucking noise as a new sinkhole germinates beneath my feet. The others jump to the side just in time but I had no chance.

“Help!” I yell, my legs being sucked down into the sinkhole. the others turn and realize the dire predicament I have found myself in.

“Hold on!” Leigh shouts, tossing a thick vine to to me and cementing her feet to the ground. Terlum stands next to her and holds onto the vine too. I grip onto the vine with every ounce of strength I have. They start to pull, but the resistance coming from the sinkhole is too great.

Wonderful. Death by dirt. What a great way to go…

But suddenly the sinkhole relinquishes my body, as I slide forward, gripping onto the earth around the sinkhole. Terlum and Leigh are there in a split-second to pull me to my feet, and without a moments deliberation, we sprint again through the jungle, much much further this time. I skid to a halt and the others stop  behind me. We’ve been running for at least an hour, and the piercing feeling with every intake of breath hurts my lungs, but I’m just grateful I made it out of that sinkhole. We walk on for the rest of the day, thankfully without anymore signs of the sinkholes. Eventually we come to the line of Babassu palms that we used to cure Terlums poisoned legs. this means we’re close to the edge of the Cornucopia.

“Let’s set up camp for the night,” Terlum suggests, and with the sun starting to make its graceful decline to meet the horizon, I agree. We climb up a nearby tree, concealing ourselves among the foliage. We now have a fantastic vantage-point, looking out over our immediate section of the Arena.

I tuck myself in under my leaf-blanket and feel my eyes flutter shut, too tired to think, eat or talk.

“I’m going to stay awake for a little while…” I hear in the background as I drift off, simply humming in reply.

Day 9 – The Tremors

The ebbing of the water against the pier is an eerie soundtrack to the brutal scene in front of me; my mother is hung in the gallows as a loud crack echoes through the air. The leather of the peacekeepers whip slashes open my mother skin, but my sisters and I can only sit there and cry, our father holding us back, tears brimming over the edge of his eyelids too. The red liquid streaming down my mothers back sparkles against the moonlight as the whole town stands in the town square, just next to the bay, watching my mother die slowly. My father can’t bear this any longer, and he nudges me, signaling that I must comfort my sisters in his place. I am the eldest of us, and I know that I must be strong now for them. My father leaps past the barrier and in seconds his fist has connected with the Peacekeepers smirking face. He stands for a second, the Peacekeeper now lying on the cobbled ground, stunned into stupor. In no time at all though, my cries return as my father is hauled away by two other Peacekeepers, I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I ever saw him.

Rumour had it that the capitol had taken him hostage as an Avox, cutting his tongue out to teach him never to protest the capitols agenda again. As for my mother, I watched on as she took her final breaths. The whips crack filling the tense square as I was paralyzed, unable to do anything but cling onto my sisters for dear life. Suddenly stones start to fall from the night sky, bouncing off the scene before me.

But this isn’t part of my memory, I think, now drifting out of the nightmare and straight into a real nightmare. Stones from the roof of the cave fall upon Terlum and I leaving clouds of dust in their wake. I panic and rush to Terlums side, shaking him awake. I gather our belongings and pull the drowsy Terlum out of the cave, just in time to watch it collapse. The earth shakes beneath my feet and I drop to the ground, pulling Terlum with me. The two of us are safe for the moment, at least. But wait… The two of us? Leigh! Was she in the cave? Waves of guilt roll through my system as I wonder if, in the hysteria of the moment I missed Leigh, leaving her to die in the cave.

“Are you guys okay?” a voice calls in the distance. It’s Leigh, thank god.

“I don’t think any of us are injured,” I reply, dusting myself off as I rise.

“We’ve got to go. Now that we’re exposed, who knows what the Game Makers could throw at us?” Terlum says. I agree completely, and nod as I pick up our bags, ready to head off in seconds. We make our way, even more cautiously now. We don’t have the leafy walls of green foliage to cover us anymore and are now nearly completely vulnerable to an attack. Terlum is still unable to walk at full pace after the flood so we decide that we can gather food as we walk slowly through the remnants of the jungle. Leigh gathers roots and shows Terlum and I which berries and plants to collect.

As I glance around the jungle I’m filled with a warm tingling sensation… hope. The jungle itself is the epitome of hope right now. It’s been set ablaze, flooded with poison and shaken by a huge earthquake, and still, that familiar hum of life surrounds us. Animals, plants, insects all carry on; rebuilding and re-establishing their lives. It gives me hope that if I don’t survive, my family can do the same. And If I do survive, it gives me hope that I can help the citizens of Northern Ridges rebuild their lives as they would have been before the Capitol controlled every aspect of them.

My stomach rumbles and I’m brought back to more basic thoughts, “We need to eat,” I tell the others. We sit and set out our gathered foods, silence filling the void between the three of us as we chew.

Looking around, I study the worn and world-weary faces of my allies. I ponder how much I’ll miss them when one of us dies… Leigh stands up abruptly and puts my train of thought to a standstill.

“We have to end this” she declares. We look at her blankly, until she continues. “If we don’t take action now, we are going to die here. We have to seek out the other tributes. We must track them down and kill them, or die in the process. No more hiding” she imparts.I can see where she’s coming from, but Terlum is in no shape for combat at this stage.

“The capitol wants a fight. Let’s give them a fight.” Leigh smirks, and the defiant air of it all makes me grin myself. I rise up and nod in agreement, reaching out a hand to pull Terlum up.

“We have food and water that should last us a couple of days. If we start tracking them now, we could catch up with a few tributes by tomorrow” I suggest, pulling my pack around to check through it.

“We’ll have to keep our weapons at the ready” says Terlum, leaning on his spear. I gather everything up again and we set off again, a new found vigor in our gaits. Our communications are now limited to signals and hand movements. We don’t want to risk being found by making unnecessary noise. After hourse of padding over the damp mossy earth the sun sets and flourishes of warm pinks and red paint the sky like a masterpiece. We soon come across an upended tree and decide that this is probably the best shelter we will find before dark. We lay our leaf blankets out and set down our packs. The humid air is now filled with a spark of vehement rebellion, and as I drift off, a grin plays on my lips, thinking of the excitement yet to come…

 

Day 8 – The Birds

The humid air stands stagnant in the cave as Terlum and I sit on the damp ground. Leigh left an hour ago to find water as our supplies had started to run out, and I had volunteered to stay with Terlum when she was gone. Terlums leg had started to clear up and the flesh on his calf had regained its former pinky tint. The solution Leigh had made worked brilliantly on the frosty-bruise that had marred his lower half in yesterdays flood. Terlum stirs and stretches, rising with a yawn.

“Where’s Leigh?” he inquires, glancing around the cave.

“Water,” I tell him, “We didn’t have any left after making your medicine.” He nods and then turns to pull up the hem of his pants, observing the space where, not hours ago, had already started to freeze and lose blood flow.

“Wow,” he breathes, clearly bewildered by the positive change. I smile at him, glad that we could have saved his life, when suddenly Leigh barrels through the small entry of the cave, diving straight onto the floor, a look of fear and horror crossed over her features. We both look up at her, confused as to what is going on, surely we aren’t being attacked by other tributes? This year seems to be less about hand-to-hand combat and more about sheer survival. Leigh quickly jumps up and reseals the entrance of the cave using the palm-leaves we gathered to form a makeshift wall. In a matter of seconds a buzzing noise starts to bounce off the rocky walls and echo throughout our cave. Terlum pulls himself to his feet, still in a state of discomfort from his latest ordeal.

“What’s going on?” he demands quizzically.

“I honestly don’t know… I was attacked” responds Leigh, a fearful tone lacing her usually calm voice. I spring to my feet, double checking on the barrier before turning to face Leigh.

“What are they?” I ask.

“I couldn’t make them out. They moved too fast. I think they were birds or something” Leigh sighs, sinking to the ground next to Terlum, clearly defeated.

“We’ll stay here until they move on.” I assure them. We sit down and wait out the constant stream of winged attackers. After a while, the pounding on the entry of the cave dies down and eventually stops altogether. I rise again, and gingerly pull back the leaves, breathing a sigh of relief when I confirm that the birds are gone, nodding to let the others know the coast is clear. Leigh leaves the cave cautiously and I watch as she examines the jungle for threats. After she comes back and we all decide we are safe from the birds for now, we decide to stay inside for today. We have food, we have water and we have Terlum’s injury… I keep watch, Leigh sharpens her knives and Terlum rests for most of the day.

By the time night falls, we are bored, but grateful that another day has nearly passed without too much trauma. As section by section, my body relaxes and sleep comes a step closer, I think about home, mainly my sisters… They’re all younger than me, and I want more than anything to see them right now. To hold their hands and soothe them like I would back home. These Games could take everything from me and everything from them. I know that’s the point, but the brutality and inhumanity of it all makes me wonder if being a winner, and killing tributes just like myself, will even leave me with a strong soul.

Is it worth it at all?

Day 7 – The Flood

I’ve never liked early mornings. Going out before dawn and hunting for food for my family back home was always the lowlight of my week. So when a booming voice rouses me from the best sleep I’ve had since entering the arena, I’m less than impressed.
“Attention all tributes,” it echoes, “you are all invited to attend a feast at the Cornucopia. This will commence at noon, today.”

I rise, bleary-eyed and grumpy.

“What do you think guys,” Terlum asks, both of my allies already awake, “Reckon it’s worth it?” I don’t reply for a few moments, my basic cognitive functions still groggy and lagging from my sleep.

“We should hide,” I mumble through a yawn, “Keep an eye on what’s going on and if it really is worth it, we’ll make our move,” I tell them, whist rubbing the sleep from my eyes. We all agree with my suggestion, and plan to utilize the few hours before the feast as best we can.

The three of us decide to head off in separate directions, planning to meet back at the stream later, never veering more than 20 metres from our campsite. I head off in the opposite direction of the centre of the arena, deeper into the jungle, further uphill. I walk for about 5 minutes or so, looking out for any game to hunt, or food to gather. Nothing. Step by step, my worn canvas shoes tread lightly on the underbrush, my footfalls making the slightest crunch as leaves crumble beneath the soles of my shoes. So wrapped up in the sounds of the rainforest, I barely notice when a soft rushing sound starts to grow… and grow… and grow. The rush becomes a loud surging gush filling every crevice of space with the echoes of its sound.

“WE HAVE TO RUN!” a voice calls in the distance, I spin around and see Terlum and Leigh sprinting frantically from a wave of deep-blue water cresting behind them, chasing them with such un-natural force. Un- nautral force… That’s it. The Gamemakers have set this up. I wait for the others to get close and then we run together, finding higher ground before this wave consumes all three of us. As I run I picture my sisters. I can’t even imagine them sitting in the town square watching the moments before my death. I don’t want to imagine it. The thought of leaving them makes my legs pump vigorously and before long we’re high enough to start climbing a tree. I boost Leigh up and she grabs my hand, hoisting my up the sturdy trunk of the tree. I turn and extend my arm out to Terlum, but just as we start to pull him up the tree, he cries;

“AH, MY LEGS!” A look of sheer pain and terror skims over his eyes as I look down and see the top of the wave engulfing his lower half. We pull with all our force and he swings up to the tree, gripping it and then climbing with us to sit on one of the boughs.

Leigh and I rush over to inspect the damage. It’s ghastly. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before. His legs have turned from a pale-pinky shade to a blotchy blue and black, like a huge bruise covering his body. Primal shrieks escape Terlums lips as he writhes in an all-encompassing pain. Leigh places the last supply of nub-leaf on his leg and within moments, he’s blacked out. “The water must have been poisoned” I realize, out loud. Suddenly, a booming voice fills the arena, drowning out the rush of the water beneath us:

“Announcement: A flood has been sent through the entire arena. The water is poisoned: if it has touched any of your limbs, expect them to depart your body within a few days.” You can just hear the sadistic smirk in his voice… He continues, “There is only one cure. The ingredients are: One: moss from a stone at the bottom of the piranha infested river,

Two: bark from a Babassu Palm tree and finally,

Three: two large handfuls of carnivorous vines. Once the flood water retreats, you may begin your search for these ingredients.

Good luck tributes, and may the odds be ever in your favour.”

I turn and look at Leigh. Does she too realize this may be the end of our fellow ally? Terlum stirs from his unconscious state.

“We have to do it for Terlum.” I tell her. She already knows though. We would do anything for each other at this point. I would risk my life for these people, just as they have for me.

“Well, we already have the carnivorous vines from yesterday. And I should be able to recognize the Babassu palm without a problem. It’s the piranhas I’m worried about.” Leigh confesses. Below, the gushing turns to a slight trickle as the last remnants of the flood pass underneath. We nudge Terlum, wanting to alert him of the plans. He wakes long enough for us to hoist him over our shoulders and help him down from the tree. He’s still groggy from the poison of the flood starting to weave itself through his bloodstream, but he’s stable enough to walk with our support. We trudge along the sodden ground for a while until we reach a small, rocky cavern. The mouth of it is fairly well hidden so we decide to pull Terlum inside and let him rest. I set down some food, water and a palm blanket for him and Leigh and I set off to find the Babassu palm.

“I saw a few near the Cornucopia when we first I arrived” Leigh tells me as we start to walk along. We trek for hours, the air between us wrought with tension. I’m wracked with guilt over leaving Terlum to his own devices, especially in his current state, but this is truly the best we can do for him right now. After a treacherous walk through the humid, muggy jungle, Leigh turns and nudges me in the ribs, pointing ahead to a line of small trees, just at the edge of the Cornucopia clearing.

“We should get out of here as quickly as possible,” I whisper to her, “This place will be flooded with tributes after the fire.”

We tread silently towards the trees where Leigh uses her knife to scrape the bark into a spare bag, placing it in her pack when she deems she has gathered enough. Leigh nods and that is signal enough for me to start tip-toeing away from the danger-filled atmosphere of the Cornucopia. Once we are far enough away, we re-convene and establish our plan for finding the piranha infested river. After much deliberation, we choose to head back to the stream where we found our best supply of fresh water, in the optimistic hopes that it might be connected to a larger body of water. I’d always known Leigh was smart, but her tracking skills are beyond incredible. She uses the sun, moss and the tiniest markers to deliver us back to the stream in no time.

The silence of our trek is broken by a gasp from Leighs mouth.

“What?!” I turn and whisper, afraid that she’s seen or heard a threat. But she simply smiles, clearly enraptured by this new idea. “I’ve got it!” she exclaims, “I know how to deal with the piranhas! I can concoct a nerve-agent from these plants here and we can pour it into the water. When the piranhas are immobilised, we can use a stick to roll out one of the stones from the bottom!”

“Brilliant!” I gleam excitedly, dropping my pack and beginning to construct a fire. Leigh runs off, chopping leaves and flowers off of what seems like hundreds of plants, she comes back withing minutes and starts to cook them over the small flame. When Leigh tells me that they’re cooked enough, I stamp out the fire and we the concoction ina spare flask and continue on our way.

With a new ardor in our steps, we move along, until we the greenery of the jungle fades into the browns and blacks of the remains of the fire. “We’re getting close” I whisper to Leigh. When we eventually reach the stream, we walk along side it, our footfalls throwing clouds of soot into the air. It is deathly quiet as we move; all life has been eradicated by the fire.

After what seems like an eternity, we come across a muddy trickle of water, leading into a bigger river. we follow along for a while longer and I notice that the vegetation is more or less fine after the fire. It musn’t have reached this area. It also seems as though no other tributes are here yet. Definite good news. However, we still are cautious not to make too much noise or leave obvious tracks and as always, our weapons are raised in case of an emergency. Leigh turns to me with a questioning look on her face, asking whether we’re safe. I shrug and nod. We’re about as safe as you can get in an arena designed to kill. WE drop our packs and step onto the squelching bank of the river. “We need to test for the piranhas” I note. Leigh nods and pulls out a turkey-leg bone from last nights dinner, small shreds f meat still clinging to the greying bone. She pulls back her arm and throws the bone into the centre of the river. Immediately, the water starts to tremor as hundreds of tiny teeth snap at the bone. “I’d say it’s infested” Leigh smirks, taking a step backwards. I move away from the bank and locate a long fallen tree-branch, picking it up and raising it above my head.

“On my count,” Leigh says, “3…, 2…, 1… NOW!”. She pours the micture into the opaque water. In moments, the familiar tremors start as the surface of the water near us starts to break,  with hundreds of scaly bodies bobbing up on the surface, completely paralyzed. Wasting no time, I shove the stick into the water, feeling around for rocks on the bed of the creek.

“Got one!” I yell as my branch stumbles upon a hefty stone. I push with all my strength and suddenly the stick jots as the mossy stone rolls up onto the shore.

Leigh crongatulates us, laughing as she scrapes the soggy moss into a spare container, then carefully packing it into her bag. We push the stone back into the river and turn to leave just as the piranhas stir back into life, snapping at each other before sinking back to the bottom of the stream.

“That stuff is handy” I muse as Leigh puts the last of the solution into my pack. The last of the daylight is leeching out of the sky, being replaced my a soft veil of dark blue by the time we come back to Terlums cave. Racing inside, we drop next to him. His legs have gotten worse over the day; he doesn’t respond to touch and the colour has deepend over the last few hours. Leigh mixes together the ingredients as I try to soothe Terlum who has started shaking. “Drink up” Leigh instructs, pouring the foul smelling mixture into his mouth. Hechokes on the first sip but the pinches his nose and continues until the last drop has gone. Instantly, his pale face is filled with a  light pink blush as some of his colour returns. “Rest now” I tell him, tucking him under a leaf blanket. Yawning myself, Leigh grins and suggests that we should rest up too. I don’t argue. This has been a long, emotionally and physically strenuous day, to say the least. In minutes, I drift away, leaving the arena for my real home in 8… For at least a little while anyway.