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?
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.
Shimmery light glistens in front of me as the heat of the day consumes the three of us. After spending the whole day hunting, mirages of ponds have started to taunt me and we have yet to have a rest. We decide to stop for a minute and I breathe a sigh of relief as the first sip of water from my flask flows through my body. As we sit, we talk about home, family, friends. Everything we’ll leave behind if we can’t return.
Suddenly, the trees behind us creak and groan, sending us lurching behind the shrubbery nearby. I arm myself with my crossbow and start to assess the source of the noise. A perplexed expression crosses the features of myself and my allies as all we are faced with is a curtain of leafy green foliage… Slowly, determine that it must have just been an animal passing by, so we sit and rest for a while longer. I stand up and start replacing my pack with its contents when I hear Terlum cry,
“The vines! They’re moving. RUN!”
I spin around and face a pulsating wall of vines and start to panic. Suddenly Leigh shrieks as a vine tangles itself around her ankle. Terlum is quick to respond, his spear whistling through the air and making contanct with the twirling vine. It relinquishes its vice-hold on Leigh and rises, flying at Terlums face with force.
“What do we do, Leigh?” I scream, battling with my mind for a solution to this major complication while Terlum battles the vine.
“The roots! We need to attack them from above!” Leigh cries, using her knives to slice the vines into pieces.
“We’ll distract them!” shouts Terlum. Leigh and I nod. She walks away from the wall and I feel my heart rate quicken as the vines entwine themselves around my body. I tense my body, trying not to make them grip me tighter by trying to escape. I look above me and see Leigh, hanging from a tree branch above the curtain. She gives me a slight smirk before the blinding gleam of her large serrated knife nearly blinds me as she brings it down violently upon the snake-like vines. A spray of bright-green liquid hits the side of my face and I nearly vomit as a wave of the delightful fragrance of rotten meat washes over me. The vines renounce their grip on my body and Leigh jumps down from her vantage point above us. Twitching tendrils of vines lie on the mossy floor.
“Carnivorous vines…” Leigh murmurs, “We should collect some and store them. They are known to have remedial properties.”
She takes a deep breath and holds it as she bends down and picks up a few pieces of the foul-smelling vines, wrapping them in leaves and packing them into our first-aid kit. The midday sun has started to descend the sky, and is edging closer to the horizon as we quicken our pace as we go back to our spring. We set up our camp again and start plucking and cooking two birds we caught earlier that morning, until evening falls among the trees. Terlum stamps out the orangey-glowing embers of our fire as Leigh divides the bird into portions for us to feast upon that night. I eat and then clear up my belongings incase of an emergency exit later in the night. After that, my aching bones and dull headache tells me that I need to lie down and sleep now. It has been a long day after all…
A sharp cry is the first noise that filters through my ears this morning. I jolt upward from my resting place in the tree and frantically search the ground below. After I assess the surroundings and determine that there is no threat there, I look at my allies and notice Leigh sitting up grasping her hand with the other, wincing in agony at the Needle-Wasp bite on the back of her hand. I climb from my bough to hers and try comfort her, putting on my best poker-face to calm Leigh down, but my expression after I see the purple-black, swollen lump on her hand gives me away and Leigh sighs.
“I need to get some Numb-leaves” she says dejectedly, knowing this will cost us travelling time, as well as her energy. I simply nod in agreement. Left untreated, her wound will get infected and disease will eventually travel through her bloodstream, lading to a slow, torturous death.
Leigh swings down, cradling her injured hand against her body while she descends the sturdy trunk. Leigh is halfway down when the tree starts to shake as tremors ripple through the surrounding earth. ‘If this is another cyclone…’ I think. Terlum rises from his rest and looks at Leigh and I with anxiety.
“What’s going on?!” he calls over the rumbling below.
“I have no idea!” Leigh vociferates,
“Maybe we should climb down!” I shout.
But all is revealed as a stampede of massive grey, leathery-skinned mammals rise over a ditch and roll, in a huge wave of grey, towards the base of our tree. The trees before them snap like matchsticks as the huge creatures trample everything in their path. A minute later and we would have been dead.
“Hold on tight!” I scream to the others as the stampede pushes forward, ever-nearing our tree. I grip the nearest sturdy branch and hang on, quite literally, for dear life.
The tree sways back and forth, like a blade of grass in a cyclone, and we cling to the tree with all our force. CRACK. A loud snap from the base of the tree jolts my eyes open to see what has happened, but I wish I’d kept them shut. The scene before me is disastrous. The tree trunk has snapped under the sheer force of the mighty beasts and has started to plummet to the cloud of dust that covers the jungle floor. A certain death awaits us, and I snap my eyes shut again as gravity pulls us down and the earth beneath us collapses.
The tree makes impact and we are shaken about for one last time. I open my eyes to asses the damage around us and am shocked to see that our tree is suspended in mid-air. Still several metres from the top of the stampede, our tree has caught on another tree and propped us up above the jungle floor. I look up the tree and see Leigh crawling up the trunk to the other side of our tree. Terlum is a bit further along, panting with exhaustion after the lengthy attack. Suddenly, a terrified scream pierces through the clamouring beneath us. We all skim our eyes over the surrounding canopy of trees to see a tribute, swinging from a tree in the distance. The person is clinging on with just one arm, the other clutched to their chest. They desperately scream fro assistance. Terlum gasps and moves along the trunk towards the person. “What are you doing?” Leigh calls out to him over the rumble. He turns to us, indecision in his eyes. The question of wether to kill or let live weighing heavily in his, and all of our minds. To save a tributes life in the Hunger Games is a pointless exercise. Death for all of us, bar one, is inevitable. Why not eliminate as much of the competition as we can? Determination spread across Terlums features as he comes to the same conclusion as I have. This tribute will probably die anyway, why not speed up the process?
He continues to grapple further along the trunk until he reaches the dangling tribute. They reach up with their free hand, a look of leading on their face. But instead of taking their hand, he lifts his foot and stomps down hard on the tribute’s hand. The tribute’s hand releases in an automatic response and screams flace the dusty air as they fall, disappearing amongst the lethal stampede. The helpless cries of the tribute come to an abrupt holt with a final, spine-chilling crunch of bone against feet.
Quietly, Terlum stands, his eyes fixated on the spot tens of feet below us where the body of his first kill lies trampled, never to see another day. He silently drifts towards us and we make our way through the tangle of debris to the floor. We begin to walk through the wreckage of the jungle, past the corpse of our fellow tribute. I chat with Leigh as we walk forward, trying to find some part of the Arena that hasn’t been demolished, and we deiced that our next imperative step is to source more water.
Soon, the ground beneath our feet becomes softer, damper. We beigin to sight footprints and tracks left in the soggy underbrush and mud. This hopefully means our next means of hydration. Eventually, we reach a clean, freshwater spring.
“I’ll go find some more numb-leaf” Leigh mutters.
“I’ll come with you” says Terlum, still not looking at any of us.
I refill the flasks and sit by the water until the others return. Thinking about the days occurences… The second death we’ve witnessed yet.A rustling from behind me starts me, and I grab my crossbow, steeling myself for attack. But it’s only Terlum and Leigh. They’re carrying huge leaves, nearly the full size of their bodies.
“Blankets,” Leigh says simply, and I nod in realization.
Terlum places the blankets on the floor and I sit down on one. We all gather around quietly and watch the sun around us set. However artificial it is, I’ll always remember how strikingly beautiful the colours painting the sky were. A audible rumbling in my stomach makes myself and the others grin, so Leigh pulls out the remainders of the tiger meat and we feast on that. The air temperature starts to decrease so we all decide that we may as well sleep now. I lie on the moss carpeting the jungle floor and think about the Games. I never once thought that at just 16, I’d have made it this far into the games. I look over at my dozing allies and thank whichever god is listening that I have them with me, for without them, my death would have been almost instantaneous.