Mason: A Memoir Chapter OneScrew that.Honestly, thats the first thing that goes through my head. No sappy, melodramaticbullshit, just a simple objection. Because there is no way that my name was just called.I have things to do. I was supposed to be teaching Wane how to handle a hatchettomorrow, and whats going to happen to the spider I was going to stick down the backof Sals shirt? I mean, for christs sake, I even told mother Id help make dinner tonight.I was feeling extra benevolent. Its reaping day, even I make an effort to be nice. Andnow Im just...done? Sent off to die? So long, Johanna, its been fun! Thats…sudden. Noteven a day to get my affairs in order. Whos going to get my stuff? Theres not much ofit, but Sal would probably appreciate my other shoes (theyre girls shoes, but his are amess), Wane might like some of my books, when she gets old enough to understandthem, and Mother…well, mother can just sell whatever they cant use.Barely a second has passed since my name was called, the echo from our stupid Capitolescorts annoying voice is still in the air, microphone feedback still ringing a little. Hardlyanyone has even turned to look at me yet. Im still caught up in my thoughts, unable tomove, when an image of Wanes scared face, waving me goodbye from outside the housenot ten minutes ago, flashes into my head. And then all of a sudden, Ive doubled overand Im crying like theres no tomorrow.Johanna. What the hell are you doing? You dont cry. But I am crying, sobbing into myhands as if Ive got a death wish by drowning. Get a grip. GET A GRIP. I try to snapmyself out of this episode mentally, but I just cry harder. Then Im howling andwondering if maybe Im having an out-of-body experience, because I seem to have lostall control."Can someone please give Miss Mason a helping hand?" I hear a voice from seeminglyvery far away, though the accent tells that its our escort onstage, April Flora (which Iseriously doubt is her legal last name). Then someone has a light grip on my elbow andtheyre leading me through the crowd and to the stairs of the stage. I catch a glimpse ofdark hair through both my tears and the gaps in my fingers (Im still covering my face)before whoever it is has slipped back to their place and Im left to stumble up onstage.If Im going to get a handle on the crying, it needs to happen now. I cant look like aweakling in front of the whole district—the whole country. Thats not how I want to beremembered. But Im still wailing when April calls the male tribute, some guy Ive nevermet. The name sounds vaguely familiar, but I cant put a face to it until he steps out ofthe fourteens section. He doesnt have a chance, I can tell that much and I can barelysee yet. I dont know what work theyve got him doing in the forests, but its clearlynothing physical. If I had a mind to (and I wasnt crying so hard) I could tackle thisJuniper kid to the ground in point five of a second."Lets give a big round of applause for our two District Seven tributes!" April says into themicrophone, though her voice is already so loud she doesnt really need it. Thereslukewarm applause from the audience, only a fraction of the noise that a crowd so largeshould be able to produce. Then our District Seven tributes! are being swept into theJustice building, and Im still crying.
I manage to calm down to the point of just doing that gross, gasping thing you do after agood sob session when they deposit me in some fancy room in the Justice Building. Thewalls are paneled with something dark that I think is mahogany but Im not sure becausethe tears have left my eyesight a little blurry. I collapse onto a red sofa, feeling spent.Who knew that crying could be so taxing? Not me, thats for sure, because I dont cry.Except, apparently, when it really matters.I glance around the room: its easily the nicest place Ive ever been. Duh. Compared tothe literal shack where I live (lived), this place is insane. If I were ever going home, Idprobably try to slip some of the stuff in here in my pockets. Heck, even the doorknobwould fetch a good price with someone.Im just staring at the doorknob, appraising how much someone would be willing to payfor the lump of shiny metal when the knob in question turns and the door opens. Incomes my family, to say goodbye. Wane has clearly been doing some crying of her own,and has her arms wrapped around mothers neck, though mother told Wane not a weekago that shes getting too big to carry. Sals not crying, though he looks pretty upset. Hetries to hide it, though, and the first thing he does is paste on a smirk and ask "What waswith the crying? Thats not the Johanna Mason I know.""I wouldnt expect you to understand." I say to my older brother in a superior tone,because what am I supposed to say? I just got scared and flipped out? I dont think so."Its all a part of my master plan." I say off the top of my head.Sal picks up on the sarcasm, but Wane is a little young for understanding those subtleindicators, so she wriggles out of mothers arms and throws herself onto my lap. "Whatmaster plan?" She asks.Normally Id be shoving her away from me, probably calling her a rude name, but thiswill be the last time we see each other and I want her to remember me well. "My masterplan for winning the Games, of course." I reply confidentially."Please. Enlighten us." Sal says. His voice almost cracks around enlighten, but he keepsit together and sits on the other side of the sofa."I dont know if you can handle this genius, but give it your best shot." I say, scramblingto come up with something. "If I look weak enough, no one will bother me." I say. Hey.That actually has some merit. Ive always been a good liar, but only with rehearsedstories, so Im surprised to hear that the story Ive come up with is so…reasonable. Itactually makes sense."Huh." Sal says, giving me a calculating look. "That might actually work." Something thatlooks like hope begins to spread across his features, and thats not really what I meant toaccomplish."Hey, you understood. Guess youre not as stupid as you look." I say with a weak smile."Please. Come up with something original, why wont you?" Sal rolls his eyes as if werejust ragging on each other on the way to work after school, but he cant hide the pain inhis eyes. I am thankful for the fact that everyone is holding back on the emotion, though.I dont think I can handle much more crying.Then the door has opened again and a Peacekeeper is saying that they have to leavesoon, so wrap it up. He slams the door and Wane digs around in the front pocket of her
dress as if shes just remembered something. "Here, I got you something to be a token."While she searches, tongue sticking out a little bit, mother takes her opportunity to saygoodbye. Shed been standing somewhat awkwardly off to the side up until now, but shetakes a few steps forward and grabs my hand. Sal scoots to the side and she sits down,grasp on my hand so tight that I begin to lose feeling in my fingers."Johanna, I dont have a speech to make." Shes a woman of few words, is my mother."Just know that we all love you and well be waiting for you to come home.""Yeah, love you guys too." I say casually, though I can feel the back of my throatbeginning to sting again."No, Johanna. Thats a demand. Youre coming home." My mother orders."Well, Ill try my best, but I cant make any promises." I frown. Of all the times formother to be unreasonable.Her grip on my hand tightens yet further, and I try to pull away. But shes strong fromthe years of working in the forests, and I cant free my hand. "You will come home." Shesays, an almost dangerous look in her eyes."Sure, sure! Ill come home, I promise!" I say, eventually managing to yank free.Mothers hand, now empty, occupies itself with bunching up her skirt and then smoothingit out, then repeating. She looks angry, for once showing a little maternal instinct."I cant find it." Wane says unhappily. "But here, take this instead." She holds out aclosed fist and then drops something small and dirty into my outstretched palm."What is it?" I ask, holding it up to eye height. It seems to be a circle with an eclecticcollection of crumbs, dirt, hair, splinters, lint, and other assorted particles that one mightfind in a pocket."S a sucker candy. I was gonna eat it, but I think you should have it. Hope you dontmind that I started on it." Wane says. I resist the urge to say something along the linesof thats gross, you little brat, now get the hell away from me but seeing as we maynever speak again I try to accept the sentiment for the well-meaning gesture it is andpocket the slightly sticky candy."Thanks, Wane." I say, hoping that the distaste isnt showing in my voice."Times up." Says the Peacekeeper, and opens the door to the hallway. Wane jumps offmy lap and gives me a long stare until mother stands and takes her hand, beginning topull her out of the room."Win, Johanna." Mother says, in a tone that clearly dictates now is not the time todisobey me. Ive gotten the tone innumerable times, but this is the first time its beenabout anything of importance. I nod solemnly to her, and she whisks Wane out the door.Sal hangs back for a second, just long enough to give me an excessively tight hug andsay "Good luck." Then he walks out without looking back.Theres supposed to be other visitors in the rest of the hour, but Ive just seen the last ofmy only family and of course Ive got no friends. Well, thats not strictly true. Id thoughtthat maybe Carey or Arla would visit me, or maybe even Nichol. We all work together, I
would have called them friends, but I guess that doesnt amount to much when thingsget serious. So instead Ive got a while to think on my plan.Its not really a plan yet, what I told Sal I was doing. Pretending to be weak so no onewould bother with me. Its barely an idea, just a nuance. It needs some refining to evenbe worthwhile, and I dont know if I want to do it anyway. Im no weakling, and Im noactress either. But…Ive already done the breakdown routine at the reaping, I should atleast use the tears to my advantage.Right?Right.So I think on it, and decide that yes, Ill go through with my "master plan". I can totallypull this off. (Probably.) By the time the Peacekeepers come to take me away, Ivegotten myself sobbing again by biting my tongue hard enough to have to keepswallowing the blood in mouthfuls (nauseating, but unavoidable). They roll their eyes atme when they think Im not looking, and I duck my head so they cant see the smirkspreading across my face. This wont be hard at all.
Chapter TwoJuniper is nothing to worry about.I know, for a girl pretending to be pathetic, I certainly dont reserve judgment. But youcan just tell. For starters, hes obviously got zero physical capability. Maybe hes got adesk job or something, because this kid probably hasnt ever even picked up an axe.Were all lanky in Seven, just because of the nature of our work. But the lean build alsocomes with strength, something that Juniper is utterly lacking in. Hes also maybe themost acne-stricken teenager Ive ever seen, which isnt about to win him any sponsors.And, to top it off, hes stupid as dry rot. Or doing a very good job of acting.No, hes just an idiot.Thats the main problem with us Sevens, why we have such a bad track record in theGames. We may be strong, fast, survivors who are handy with axes, but the majority ofus are simpletons. Wouldnt know a Career if it tried to pin us to a tree with a knife: andthat happens all too often.Another one of our flaws is a weakness for food. We dont get much to eat in Seven, atleast those of us who work in the forests. I dont know about the people who live in townor are in charge of us lowly woodcutters. But when food comes our way, we take it. Nomatter what that food may be. As a result, weve all got pretty strong stomachs (I onceate three pinecones and a beetle in one sitting and didnt even get a little sick). Soobviously, when faced down with a table of the best food in Panem, were likely to attackit like weve never eaten before and never will again. I abandon my act for a little whileat dinner on the train, figuring that everyone is too busy chowing down to pay anyattention to me. Well, April conducts herself with prim-and-proper Capitol decorum, butthe rest of us arent so civilized.By the time were all surely feeling a little sick from the sheer amount of amazing food, Ipick back up the act and try to look teary again. I bite my lip (which tastes likestrawberries and blood, not an entirely pleasant combination) and stare down at theempty plate in front of me. I dont blink until my eyes start to water then let the tearsfall. Im a natural. I congratulate myself while slowly standing then spinning around andrunning out of the room.As soon as Ive closed the door behind me I begin walking again, swaying a little with therocking of the train. I wonder if maybe I should actually bring my mentor in on this littlescam of mine. Her name is Isa, and shes almost eighty. She seemed normal enoughduring dinner, but Ive heard tell that they really unhinged her in the arena, sixty-someyears ago, and that her mind has only declined with age. Yeah, she wont be any help. Idecide. Last thing I need is to tell some crazy old coot my secret, shell probably let it slipto everyone. Well, theres always the male mentor, Blight…but I dont know about that.He seems trustworthy and what little I can remember from his Games eleven years agotells me that hes smart. But Juniper is his primary responsibility and I dont want to givehim too much to do. And anyway, he might choose Juniper over me and leak my plan tohim.So its just me in my own little web of deception. Something about that is amusing, andIm smiling when I open the door to my cabin and step inside. The cabin is nothing likehome, and I cant decide if I like it or not. This room is all plush and windows and pinkwallpaper (hey, I didnt ask for it), whereas home is…well, its certainly not like this.
I guess you could call Seven one of the wilder districts. At least, it is for those of us wholive and work in the forests. Im clueless about the people who live in town, or theprocessing plants, or the sawmills, but most of us have our livelihood among the treesand its sort of bred us an attitude. We report for work or school in the mornings, do ourshifts in the afternoon, punch our timecards every day, but thats about the most controlthe Capitol exercises over us, besides keeping our weapons under lock and key. We dowhat we like, and we do it when we like. Children are left to their own devices, so theyreraised to be self-dependent daredevils. I climbed onto my first roof when I was four,could scale the tallest of trees by six, learned to handle a hatchet at eight and was set tosplitting logs, got given my first axe at ten and was quickly a tree-cutting expert. Whilethis was going on, we were being encouraged to learn the habits of "borrowing" foodfrom our neighbors, take our money wherever we could get it, and basically be authority-flouting hotheads. But of course, we know where to draw the line. If the authority inquestion is in the form of a Peacekeeper or a foreman, then you hold your hands behindyou back, your chin high, and take whatever they dish out.Point is, we roll with the punches in Seven. If we werent graced with the worstintelligence in the gene pool, wed win the Games every year. Which is why I thinkpeople may be a little doubtful of my act. But I have to make it believable, if Im going touse the crying at the reaping to my advantage. So I rub my eyes until they look goodand red, mess up my hair a little more, and then splash some water on my face (to makeit look like I tried to clean up). I really want to change out of my horrible reaping dressand see if theyve got something close to my customary overalls in that closet, but Idecide against it because if Im so distressed then why would I care about my clothes?Ive only just come to this conclusion when theres a knock on the door.I do a last check in the mirror in the corner to makes sure that I look like enough of amess (I do) and open the door. Its Juniper, standing awkwardly way too close to thedoor. He doesnt say anything, just stares at me, so I take the initiative. "Can I helpyou?" I ask, trying to make my voice sound as wobbly as possible. Its not really thathard, because Im beginning to think that the fourth plate of food was a mistake. Imfeeling a little green."Um, were gonna watch the reapings. Everyone thought you might want to join us."Juniper says, shuffling in place. He decidedly doesnt meet my eyes, and twists his handsnervously. What a loser. A doomed loser, too."Thats so thoughtful of you." I say in what I think is a kind voice. What do I know ofkindness? I keep my head down and follow Juniper to the car he came to find everyonegathered around a television. The District One reapings are wrapping up by the time wetake our seats, but I have time to gauge that the two are the deadly norm. Neither hasmuch going for them other than brute force, but thats certainly enough. Same with theboy from Two, but the girl has a little smile that I dont like the looks of. She looks likeshes saying that she knows something we dont, and thats worrying. As always, Threemanages to look as though theyve never set foot out of the computer lab before today.The boy from Four is pretty cute, but I dont pay much attention. Not going to matterwhen hes trying to spear me through the neck, is it?Five is nothing special, as always. The boy from Six starts laughing like a crazy personwhen they call his name, and I wonder if hes entirely sane. The girl from Six isntanything to worry about, shes only thirteen and barely four feet tall. Then its our turn,and Im surprised to see that I look even weaker than I thought I did. And thats sayingsomething. The commentators have plenty of remarks about my "spectacle"."This is one to look out for, thats for sure!"
"Shes clearly the most dangerous player in the Games so far.""Everyone had better watch their backs!"Of course, this is all dripping with sarcasm. I glance around and see that everyone islooking at me, so I stare at the bright light on the ceiling until tears begin to well up inmy eyes. Isa, April, and Juniper look away nervously, but Blight pats my shoulder. Maybenot the most comforting gesture possible, but I appreciate the sentiment. Especiallybecause Im feeling progressively worse. My churning stomach was only agitated byseeing myself get reaped for the second time, and I dont have to pretend to lookmiserable. I give him a watery smile, and he half-returns it before turning back to thescreen.Ive missed the tributes from Eight, but judging by the tone of the commentators, theyrethe usual bloodbath material. So are the two from Nine, and Ten also falls short of havingthe slightest ghost of a chance. The girl from Eleven is a stocky, muscular piece ofglowering work, and I mark her as one to watch out for. The boy is no threat, though.Twelve is its usual pathetic self, then with a few last comments the program ends.At that point, Blight makes an attempt on the conscientious mentor front, asking usabout strategies and special skills. Seeing as Juniper is hopeless and Im pretending to beso, we dont get too far with that. Eventually we all retreat to our cabins, and I spend anoh-so-pleasant hour puking my guts out. Turns out that I have motion sickness.Violent motion sickness.Im sick on and off all night, so Im not in an amazing mood by the time the train rolls toa stop the next morning, in the Capitol. Im not at all cheered by the crowds andnauseatingly bright colors, and its hard to not glare at everyone I see. I have to remindmyself about a thousand times that I dont want to look menacing, but its hard. Thesepeople both disgust and scare me, the way they react to us poor damned souls rollinginto their fancy city. I cant even forget my act when the prep team is attending to me(torturing me might be a better expression). What if they gossip to their friends that Imfaking it? So I try to act like a mouse, scared and quiet and just begging that I dont geteaten by a snake.The stylist shows up maybe an hour in and introduces herself as Tillie. I decide rightaway to not like her. She isnt too extreme, considering what Ive already seen here, butstill utterly fake. Shes wearing so much makeup I cant even imagine what her facereally looks like, under the sparkles and eye shadow and bright pink lipstick. Her accentis even more grating because her voice is so high, and even the briefest introductionssends shivers up my spine."Well, youre nothing special, but we can fix that!" Tillie chirps. Its all I can do to holdback some snarky comment about any number of her physical features, but I manage tomake do with a quiet thank you and what I hope is a grateful smile.Theres no need to really act for Tillie, so I just suffer my treatment in silence. She seemsto be disdainful of the prep team, and does most of the work herself. Im not in theslightest inhibited, so theres not really an awkward factor, but its still pretty painful. Somany beauty products I dont have names for more than a few and I dont even knowwhat most of them do. Tillie takes particular offense with my eyebrows, and I dont haveto pretend to make my eyes water once she breaks out the tweezers.
Its a long, painful few hours later when we find out that her idea of "fixing" me isdressing me up like a tree. Go figure. Sevens been trees for a good quarter century."Dont you look marvelous." Tillie doesnt really make it a question, and I cant disagreeanyway. So I just nod and she leads me up to the City Circle. Im one of the first here,only the two from One and the boy from Ten have arrived already. Surprising, what withthe amount of care and time it took to prepare my costume. (You dont know me if youthink I was being serious there.)While we wait for everyone to show up, I set to streaking my makeup like Ive beencrying again. I need to come up with some more original stuff, because I cant build apersonality on crying. But my musings are put on hold by the arrival of Juniper, a mirrorimage of me (though significantly spottier: they couldnt entirely fix his acne). God, Ilook even worse than I thought. Tillie is an idiot. She cant possibly think this is actuallygoing to help us."Nice costume." Juniper says dryly."At least I wear it well." I say in my old voice, then catch myself. I try to lose the cynicaltone and say "The stylists are really nice, arent they? I think they actually like us."Juniper laughs shortly. "Please. I bet theyve both got money on our lives."Money on our deaths, more like. "See? Already theyre rooting for us." I smile. Juniperrolls his eyes at my naivety and I feel like flipping him off except I cant do that. So I justface forward again, trying to contain a glare.The chariots slowly fill up as tributes arrive. Theres no socializing, except cursoryintroductions between the Careers. We all look pretty typical: bedazzled costumes forOne, something mechanical that makes no sense for Three, us as trees, some sort oflivestock for Ten, racy miners jumpsuits for Twelve. I think Eleven looks best out of all ofus, in well-cut outfits that seem to be fashioned like some sort of grain. Everyone elsejust looks plain stupid. Well, Im the girl in the tree suit. Im not one to talk.The fanfare plays, and the doors open. District One is first out, to huge applause fromthe crowds outside. One is always a favorite. Dandy for them. Two gets a similarreception, Three not so much. But the applause picks back up at Four, though theyrelooking idiotic as fish. Juniper turns to me as Five makes their appearance, and asks "Arewe supposed to wave and stuff?""I dont know. Do you think we should?" I have zero intention of waving or smiling forthese people, so I hope to high heaven he says no."I dont see how itll make any difference. Were doomed anyway." Juniper says casually.Its our turn next, and hes acting as though he could care less, but I can see hownervous he is. I hope my own act isnt so transparent."Dont say such things." I say, widening my eyes like Im scared. Ugh.Then its our turn to roll out the doors. Im almost blinded by the flashing lights anddeafened by the shouting crowds, so my head ducks involuntarily. I decide to keep itthere, staring at my brown cloth shoes. I hope that in getting the sponsors to ignore me,Ill achieve the same of the other tributes.
I begin to feel a little sick after maybe ten minutes of our twisted parade through thecity, motion sickness striking again. Im flushed and sweaty under the makeup, trying tobreathe deeply and keep my nausea under control by the time we roll to a smooth,synchronized stop in the City Circle. I breathe a sigh of relief, glad that Im not going tohurl. That might help my character a little, but seems like overkill. President Snow makeshis speech from a balcony above us, blathering on and on about…god, who knows? I stoplistening after maybe three minutes. I amuse myself by counting the number of peoplewho I see that are dyed red in the stands around us. I lose count around fifty and starton orange.Ive gone through the rainbow and moved on to silver by the time Snow finally shuts upand the nights "festivities" are done. Its a relief to get back to the training center,though I dont enjoy being stuffed into the elevator with all the other tributes and theirentourages. I need my elbow room—I guess you could call it claustrophobia. But luckily,theres never any shortage of empty space in Seven, so its generally a non-issue. Wehave to push out way to the doors on floor seven and I can see that Juniper is just asdrained as me."Well, I cant say that you two were very good." April says with a sigh as the elevatorcloses behind us. "And especially you!" she turns on me, pointing a finger. "What wasthat stunt you pulled?""What stunt?" I ask innocently, though I know shes referring to the fact that Icompletely ignored the audience."You know what I mean. They couldnt have even shown your face onscreen unless theyhad cameras in your knees." April folds her arms at me.With all the psycho surgery here, that might be possible. "I just felt sick." Thats thetruth."Well, youll need to get over that if you want to have any chance of survival." April says."At this point, your odds are nonexistent."Thats the kind of thing that would set me off if I was who Im pretending to be. I realizethis a little late and it probably looks a little disjointed when I cover my face with myhands and run off down the hallway to my room as fast as is possible in the treecostume. I slam the door behind me for dramatic effect.The room is huge, five times bigger than my entire house. Well, seeing as our house islittle more than two rooms and comprised mostly of scrap wood, shingles and bent nails,thats not saying much. But the room is still crazy impressive. Im seized with an infantileurge to play with every single gadget, even those that I dont know the use of, and Idecide to go ahead. First, though, I strip out of the horrible tree costume. I dont knowwhere to put it, so I leave it on the floor and go to search through the closet, utilizingone of the contraptions on the wall to do so. But none of it is to my liking, its all toofancy. So I dont bother to get dressed. Not like anyone cares.I set to playing with the apparatus around the room and Ive accidentally zapped myselfa few times, turned the heating way up, and switched all the lights to a dark blue glowby the time Im showered (the shower is both bizarre and amazing) and theres a knockon the door. I scramble to get back into character and find something to wear beforeanswering the door. Its Blight, telling me that theyre having dinner and wanted to knowif I feel up to joining them. I reply that I am, and shadow him quietly to the dining room.
I dont really know what to think of Blight. I cant quite recall his Games, I was only threeor four. Hes not an amazing mentor, only as good as can be expected. He doesnt talkmuch, or at least hasnt so far. Hes a big guy, broad-shouldered and well over six feet,but I dont know if theres a brain behind it. Probably not. We are from Seven.Dinner is an awkward affair in which no one talks, except for April. And she only pipes upoccasionally to make a comment about the food (which, by the way, is just as heavenlyas before). We all disperse to our rooms as soon as weve eaten, no small talk. Which isfine by me: it means that I dont have to make an effort with my act and provides feweropportunities for me to slip up.Im stuffed and incredibly tired by the time Im back in my room. I fiddle around with thelight level for a while to try and get them to turn off, but only succeed in making themglow a bright, clinical white. So I give up and collapse into the giant bed, where I quicklyfall asleep despite the headache-inducing lights.Being pathetic. Its exhausting work.
Chapter ThreeThis is it, Johanna. I try to prepare myself for another long day of being a weakling. Itssurprisingly difficult: walking with my shoulders drooped just right, the hesitation in myvoice, the skittish reaction to anything sudden, the tears constantly just on the edge ofspilling forth. Ive developed a few guidelines for myself to follow in the days of trainingto come, and Im a little worried by how easily Im slipping into the role. I cant allowmyself to actually get weak, it would spell death for certain.Though, after observing the other tributes train for only half an hour, I decide that deathis pretty much a certainty anyway. Well, its only really the Careers that spell imminentand painful demise, but the girl from Eleven is also to be watched. Shes handy with thetypes of weapons one swings: probably from reaping grain. I name her Scythe, becauseits just so overdramatic that I cant help but chuckle to myself when I think of her andthat makes it all a little less terrifying.I watch Scythe lop off the head of a dummy with a wicked sharp sword and decide to getinvolved in something else before she catches me staring. I stick strictly to survivalstations, because Im (of course) a pro at handling all sorts of wood-choppinginstruments and I might not have too poor luck at some other weapons. That wouldnthelp my image. So I stay innocuous, drifting from empty station to empty station.Sometimes I let them teach me things, like at the knot-tying station, but other times Imake a big show of making mistakes such as "accidentally" setting a shoelace on fire andflipping out.Im putting back on a slightly scorched shoe to chuckles from around the room whenthey announce lunch. I, of course, sit alone after getting food. I try to not eat asravenously as usual, but do it nervously and in keeping with my other fake mannerisms.Im sitting at a table in the corner of the room, being ignored. That is, until the boy fromSix decides to sit with me. I cant very well turn him away, thats too aggressive for myalter ego. So I watch in silence as he…I dont really know what to call it. But the boykeeps up a running monologue through the whole meal, talking to someone that isntthere. I mean, I know he isnt talking to me and just not looking at me because he keepscalling the person hes addressing "Celine"."Everyone keeps acting like theyre scared of me. I just dont get it, Celine. Im notscary." He says, throwing up his hands and dropping a bread roll. Not scary. Justpsycho. "Anyway, training is going well, I think." Psycho continues to talk to "Celine"through the rest of the meal. I wonder if shes a real girl, maybe back home, or if shessome product of his imagination.Juniper eventually joins me and psycho, for lack of anyone else to sit with. He sits downand I see that hes got a few carrots on his tray. Its a stupid thing, really, but it sort ofdepresses me. Mother bought carrots whenever we could afford it and gave them to usraw. She said it improved eyesight…or was it bone density? I cant remember. I neverlistened.I catch myself staring at the carrots and biting my lip, so I decide to play this up. I pinchmy arm under the table, hard, and manage to get some tears. So soon Im cryingquietly, fixated on the orange vegetables in question. "Im sorry." I choke out. "Its justthat my mother…" I dissolve into heavier tears, and psycho stands up uncomfortably."Come on, Celine…lets go…" he goes to find an empty table on the other side of theroom. Then they announce that lunch is over, and I try to pull myself together.
I spend the rest of training in much the same manner. I skulk in corners, learn survivalskills, make obvious mistakes. The other tributes laugh amongst themselves at meoccasionally, but mostly they ignore me. What idiots. This is almost too easy. But by thethird day, Im beginning to get a little on edge. I havent insulted anyone in days. I canalmost feel my sarcastic capability draining away. And the nicknames Im making up forthe other tributes are getting progressively worse. I mean, it started going downhillaround "psycho", which was well below my usual standard, but by the time I get aroundto naming the girl from Two with the mysterious smile, all I can come up with is"Smiley". Makes sense, I guess, because its what I noticed about her first, but its sounder par that I feel a little stupid saying it myself. For lack of better ideas, though, itswhat I call her.Im kneeling at the edible plants station and watching Smiley from afar. Shes in a badmood, having just had the instructor kick her butt in a wrestling lesson (he just had tograb her long ponytail and it was pretty much over), and is shooting a row of dummiesas though each one has done her a great personal wrong. Despite her irritation, heraccuracy is unnerving. I turn back to identifying plants, not wanting to scare myself morethan necessary. The instructor is getting a little fed up with me, because even though Imactually trying, I keep mixing up wild carrot and poison hemlock. I want to snap at theinstructor, preferably something very insulting, but I make do with dissolving into tearsafter she reprimands me for about the fiftieth time. It really rubs me the wrong way, butI do it anyway.So my mood is in the negatives by the time they announce lunch, and its not improvedby the fact that they start calling us for audiences with the Gamemakers before I canfinish my soup. Well, luckily, District Seven of course goes seventh on the roster, so I dohave a little extra time. They call Juniper first and I wish him good luck in my nervousvoice. The pressure to act has sort of lessened, but I have to keep it up at least to somedegree. I jump when they call my name, then rush out of the room like Im allembarrassed.Most of the Gamemakers are in varying stages of drunkenness by the time I make myappearance, and I feel a little like yelling at them for their blatant disregard for ustributes. We at least deserve to be watched as we fight for the recognition that may saveour lives. But some of them are still paying attention, so I hold back and make a beelinefor the rack of axes in the corner. Ive only just picked one up and felt the relief of havingsomething so familiar in my hand when I remember that I cant give up my act evennow. Though no tributes are watching, my training score will reflect my skills. And I dontwant a high number. So the next thing I do is drop the axe and let it almost hit my foot,jumping back at the last second.I continue to make ridiculous mistakes throughout the whole session. I cut myself on athrowing knife, I trip over the spear rack, I back up into a dummy and fall to the ground.The expressions on the few sober Gamemakers faces are almost comical by the time oneof them clears his throat and says "You may go.""Thank you." I say with a sweet smile up to the Gamemakers table. Yech.No one is waiting when I step off the elevator on the seventh floor, so I head back to myroom. Im in a bad mood, due to the days of keeping my personality under wraps, mystaged failure of training, and the idiotic nature of the nicknames Im coming up with (itsuggests that Im actually going soft). So I spend a very pleasant few hours insultingeverything I see, just to cheer myself up. Most of it isnt very clever, but it makes mefeel better.
Ive still got a little time to kill before dinner, so I set myself to trying to comb out myhair. Ive got a lot of it, never having had the opportunity to really cut it. Normally I justtie it back in a messy bunch that reaches almost all the way down my back, not brushingit or anything. But Tillie did something to it thats keeping it glossy, so I guess I shouldprobably keep it nice while I can. Ive just untied it when I remember Smiley and herdefeat earlier today in training. The instructor used her hair to pull her to the ground.Shit. I have to get rid of my hair, now. Its a liability. Someone could take it and pull meback if I were trying to run away, or it could get tangled in a tree or whatever, orsomeone could take a page out of that instructors book and use it in a fight…heck, theycould even strangle me with it. Its that long. I cast around for scissors but after failingthat, for something else sharp. Like a knife. But obviously, theres nothing of the sort. Soa tribute cant try to commit suicide. Im considering stealing a knife from the table atdinner tonight when my eyes light on the mirror. Theres an idea. Before Ive eventhought about it, I find myself using the comb in my hand to smash a corner of themirror. It breaks easily, so I guess they didnt think that a tribute might try what Imdoing. They dont give us enough credit: I could easily slit my wrists with any of thesebits of glass. And why not? Even with my strategy, I still dont like my chances. But no,thats not fair. Itd get everyone in trouble: Juniper and Isa and Blight and probably myfamily as well. They might even reap another girl to take my place. And who am I to playgod?So I just take one of the larger shards and tie my hair back again, then begin hacking atit. I cut close to my head, and by the time theres a knock on the door, April summoningme to dinner, my head is about five pounds lighter. The cut isnt very glamorous, unevenand choppy, but functional. Thats one less way to die.April doesnt see it quite that way. Her mouth literally falls open when I open the door."What did you do?" she asks, aghast."What does it look like I did?" I ask snippily, catching myself too late. I dont feel likeblundering through my mistake, so I just stalk off down the hallway. Even the mostpathetic have their moments, right?Everyone seems shocked by my transformation at dinner. I feel like asking them whatthe hell is so interesting about my hair, but I just throw myself into a chair and beginsteadfastly ignoring everyone. A few of those weirdly silent, white-uniformed attendantsserve dinner, and I stare at my plate as if its the most fascinating thing this side ofDistrict Five. Everyone eventually gives up on staring at me and begins talking abouttraining. Eventually our mentors (well, really only Blight) begin talking about strategy.They drill Juniper and me about the other tributes, about what we think we learned,about how we want to use the new skills. I answer the questions in my head, because Ido want all the help I can get, but I dont participate because Ive already sacrificed toomuch of my character tonight. Im beginning to think that it was too smart to cut myhair, like my pathetic side wouldnt have thought of it. Well, no going back now.We turn on the television to watch the training scores handed out. One gets twin nines,which comes as little surprise. The boy from Two gets a seven, but Smiley gets a ten. Ireally have to come up with a better name for her, I think as the two from Three getscores that match their usual low standard. Everyone seems to be conforming to thenorm this year, high scores for Four, low for Five, medium for Six (psycho gets a seven,and I wonder what he did to merit that: he wasnt anything impressive in training).Juniper scrapes a five, just on the edge of dismal.
Then my face is onscreen with an almost comical numeral one flashing in front of it. Ihave to contain a snicker at the crestfallen expression on everyones faces. I manage tokick myself hard enough to get some tears going, then just cover my face with my handsand dash from the room. Thats only the fourth one ever "awarded" to a tribute. If therewas any doubt in my mind before, I know for certain that I will be ignored now.Someone has replaced the shattered mirror and swept up the shards on the floor when Isaunter into the room. Convenient, I think, ruminating on the mirror. Isnt there a sayingabout mirrors? Step on one and you break your mothers back? Whatever. Im too tiredto think straight. I decide to just go to bed now, even though its barely seven. Ivelearned to control the lights at this point, and I turn them off instead of brighter thistime. But unlike the nights previous, I just cant sleep.Training is over. We have our scores. Tomorrow is the interviews. And the day afterthat…Dont think it. I warn myself. But I cant help it. The day after that, I probably die.And if theres one thought thats capable of keeping you up all night, thats it.
Chapter FourCaesar Flickerman is looking stupid for the tribute interviews, in his sparkly suit and hisface this year done up in dark purple. But Im looking stupider.Tillie had a fit when she saw my hair. "What have you done, what were you thinking, Icould lose my job, what are we going to do now?" But after she consoled herself from thecrushing loss, she fixed up the uneven cut into what she calls a cute bob but I think isjust idiotic. However, she has done my character a favor. The haircut, paired with mypink little-girl dress, speaks to my innocence and helplessness.I think Im going to puke.The interviews are pretty much on par with what they usually are. The Careers from Oneand Two go on and on about their training and how theyre planning a violent demise forevery other tribute—its not especially pleasant stuff to listen to, but the audiencecertainly seems to like it. I find out that Smileys name is actually Daphne, but at thispoint Smiley just sounds better in my head. And her creepy little smile is omnipresentanyway. The district Three tributes mostly stutter, and its obvious that theyd rather beanywhere but here. Hey, they can join the club any time they want. The cute guy fromFour ends up being named Rafi, and he apparently has a proficiency in throwing spears. Ididnt notice during training, so I guess he might just be making stuff up to impress thesponsors.Psycho goes and talks to Celine the whole time, completely ignoring Caesar. Itd be funnyif he didnt seem so deranged while doing it. The girl from Six is named Pixia, which Ifind a little amusing. Of course, its an idiotic name, but it sounds a little like pixie and ifher interview is anything to go by, thats what she is. Small and pretty with a meanvindictive streak. But she could be making it up as well. I am, Rafi is, whos to say thatany of us are being honest?Then its my turn, and I try to accentuate my act while going up to the chair next toCaesar—stumbling a little halfway there, keeping my shoulders hunched, not looking atthe audience. I sit in the chair without looking at Caesar as the seconds of my interviewpass by. He makes a few attempts at small talk, but we dont get very far with that. Sohe moves on to topics of importance, namely, my dismal training score. Well, he puts it alittle gentler. "So, Johanna, how do you feel about your training score of one?" Hedoesnt mention that one is almost comically low."Oh, I was so disappointed. I tried so hard, Id thought that maybe…" I shake my headand look down at my knees, acting like Im all distressed."Well, as long as you tried your best, thats all that matters." Caesar says, patting myarm."You really think so?" I ask hopefully, looking up."I really do." There are a few appreciative awws from the audience, but not many,because they know that what were saying is utter tripe. What matters is whether I cansurvive or not, and my training score dictates that I cant.Caesar moves on. "Any family at home?"
Ah. Thats a touchy subject. My family situation has always been…complex. To hear mymother tell it, the father of me and Sal is "Just not in the picture, alright? Now stoppestering me!" but shes been telling us that story for our whole lives, even when itstopped making sense. Because if hes not "in the picture", then where did Wane comefrom? She certainly looks as though she belongs in the family, with my nose and Salsears, and the wide-set eyes we all share, but then there are the features that clearlycome from no one we know. But I was only ten when she was born, so obviously mycapacity for imagining sordid extramarital affairs wasnt at its peak. And by the time Iwas old enough to really wonder, the memories had gotten too fuzzy to make anyconclusions.But thats far too complicated to try and explain to the Capitol audience, so I just go witha tremulous "Yes, I do, and I miss them very much."After a few more attempts at meaningless conversation, Caesar brings up whatsapparently a very big deal. "I think that one thing were all wondering is what happenedto your hair?"What is wrong with these people? They all care far too much about my hair. Is theresome sort of hair conspiracy Im missing out on? I hadnt bothered to come up with anyreason for cutting off my hair, deciding that everyone would see it for the non-issue it is.But apparently not. And cutting it so that no one could use it against me in a fight is fartoo calculating for my character. I need to come up with a sob story, and do it now."Well, my mother used to do my hair. Shed brush it every night. A hundred strokes, shesaid. And while she brushed, she would tell stories and sing songs…and I just…couldntlook at it." I dissolve into tears and stumble back to my seat when the buzzer rings notten seconds later. Well, I was nothing stellar, but I think I probably looked harmlessenough.Juniper is forgettable, as are the two from Eight. Nine and Ten have just about nochance, which is a little surprising because normally Ten does alright. I learn thatScythes real name is Linnea, but that simply sounds too innocent for her. However, its awhole ton better than Scythe, so I decide that thats what Ill call her.Twelve ends things with a bang (heavy sarcasm) and were hurried back to the TrainingCenter. The elevator is just as claustrophobia-inducing as the previous times weve allbeen in it, but I take the opportunity to step on the feet of everyone near me—just forkicks. They wont know it was me, and its funny watching them try to figure it out.We shove our way out of the elevator and immediately we find that as per usual, Aprilhas plenty of comments about our shortcomings. I want to tell her that shes in noposition to be making critiques, what with those stupid flowers she weaves into her not-naturally blond hair and that constantly clueless expression she wears. Juniper decidesthat he doesnt want to put up with her, so he just shakes his head and walks off into hisroom.With Juniper gone, I can say what I like. Blight and Isa wont matter in a few hours."April, why dont you do yourself a favor and find someone who actually gives a damn?" Iask, interrupting her pointless tirade. Its not up to my usual standards, but Im a littlerusty. And anyway, the relief from saying whats on my mind is instantaneous. Everyonegives me questioning looks and I stomp off down the hall to my room, kicking off mystupid pink shoes and slamming the door because I feel like it.
But the relief is short-lived, because I make the mistake of trying to go to sleep. Itsimpossible. I know that its because Im so scared, but I tell myself its anything but that.First my haircut makes the pillow feel weird. Then the bed is too soft. The room is toocold. The room is too hot. Its too dark. Its too bright. It must be one in the morning bythe time I cant think of another stupid complaint to keep me up and eventually I justcollapse into the sheets of the bed—theyre a mess at this point, I keep getting up—andlet exhaustion take over.I wonder if there will be nightmares? Of course there will be. What kind of idiot am I?Nightmares are unavoidable. I am a tribute, after all. One of the twenty-four unluckiestsouls on the planet.And hey, I finally remembered what it is they say about mirrors. Break one and you getseven years of bad luck. Because the universe just hates me that much.
Chapter Five"So. Stun me with your expertise." I say, holding out the tribute uniform for Tilliesinspection. I dont know what to make of it, and if she can give me any clues then Ill bejust that much better off for my entrance into the arena in less than ten minutes.Tillie scans the clothes, pursing her lips. I get the distinct impression that shes trying tomake stuff up on the spot, because she probably is. "Well, I suppose that this could besome sort of…and maybe here…yes, that makes sense…right, so thats…meaningthat…yes. You understand?" She says vaguely, gesturing to different bits of the uniform."Oh, yes. I completely understand. Thanks. It would have been so irritating if you hadntexplained that properly." I say snippily. She could at least try."Just get dressed." Tillie says with a glare, probably wondering just where this girl hascome from because shes certainly not who I was yesterday.I shrug and begin to pull on the uniform. Its too bad that Tillies clueless, because Icould really use some suggestions as to what this maddeningly vague uniform means.There are plain black pants, no pockets, which tie closed at the bottom. Actually, thatshould probably be a clue, but I dont know to what. But the rest of it really isunhelpful—grey shirt with sleeves that stop halfway up my forearm; yellow-brown-ishjacket that I have to pull on over my head, made of some synthetic material; thin graysocks; black boots with metal snaps instead of laces. I dont know what any of thisindicates beyond what I hope is a simple arena. Sometimes they just have a forest,nothing special, and sometimes the arenas are whacked-out meshes of all sorts of terrainthat make about zero sense. If nothing else, I want trees. For the obvious reasons.Im feeling more than a little shaky by the time Tillie leads me into the Launch Room, butI just clench my jaw and dig my nails into my palms, unwilling to let it show. I stand stillas stone on the metal plate, waiting for the glass to come down. When it does, Tilliegives me a cheery wave and I sort of want to flip her off except Im too tense to move.I do manage to turn my face up to the bright light from above, because even a few moreseconds of knowing what Im facing could be the difference between life and death. Butits too bright to see anything until a few seconds after the plate has clicked into place.And even then, I cant make sense of anything. This is nothing like the towering forestsof Seven, this is so alien that I cant even really absorb it.Yellow. Dingy yellow, thats what the ground is. The ground is too high, almost up to myknees. Grass? Yes, thats it. Im looking at a huge field of grass, yellowed by the bakingsun above us in the pale blue sky that seems to go on forever. No clouds, the sun isincredibly harsh. In the distance, to my left, I see something that may be trees. But itsso far away, it just looks like a smudge. Could be anything, I suppose.Prairie. The term comes to mind, from some old story mother told me and Sal when wewere kids. About a family who lived in a place like this. She said that the story wasancient, from even before the formation of Panem, so Id doubted its authenticity. Butclearly parts of it were accurate.The Cornucopia, gold and gleaming, is sitting in some higher grass about twenty yardsaway. I can sprint that far, maybe, but Im not really a runner. I tire fast. Should I try forsupplies, or just make a break for safety? Well, I do have to keep up the act, at least fornow. What would my pathetic side do? She wouldnt throw herself into the thick of
things, shed run away as if her life depended on it (because it would). But Im going toneed supplies if I want to live, and an axe would be invaluable.Im still trying to decide what to do when the gong sounds and Claudius Templesmithannounces the beginning of the Games, signifying that our sixty seconds of waiting areup. Maybe Ive transformed into more of my character than Id like, because I spook andrun forward, not away from the bloodbath but right towards where it will be worst: themouth of the Cornucopia. Oh, hell. This is not going to be pretty. But Im too far gonenow to turn back. I just have to let this take me where it will.The tributes standing next to me were the little pixie from Six and the boy from Three. Ihad thought that neither of them would be any problem, but clearly I was wrong. Well,the boy from Three is still far behind, trying to figure out which way to go. But the pixiehas sprinted past me, almost a blur with her speed. She makes her way to the mouth ofthe Cornucopia and snatches up whatever she can before dashing off into the grass anddisappearing. She pays me no attention, which I find heartening. If Ive fooled her, I mayhave fooled the others.And it turns out that I have. Id thought that maybe I could avoid the worst of thebloodbath, but of course the Careers have trained their whole lives for this and theyrethe first there. Im passing far too close to Rafi of Four, who is throwing Smiley a bowand a quiver of arrows, before I can even try to change direction. But he just lets me runpast him, barely sparing me a glance. He probably would have stabbed me or somethingif he were armed, but he hasnt gotten around to that yet and must think itd be toomuch effort to kill me with his bare hands. Not that he couldnt, if he had a mind to.But then Ive sprinted past him and Im slipping over the pile of supplies at the mouth ofthe Cornucopia, my eyes locking onto the axe lying just off to the side. Its what I reallyneed, what will guarantee me the best chance of survival. I should probably be grabbingwhatever I can, but Im a little busy running for my life. I do manage to snatch a very,very small brown backpack off the ground when I bend down to pick up the axe, butthats it.My fingers have just closed around the varnished wood handle of the weapon in questionwhen the first arrow streaks past me. Its a near miss, and I lose a chunk of hair. Tilliewill be so disappointed with me. I think, looking around to see where the shooter is. Ofcourse, its Smiley. I remember her targeting that row of dummies in training—shes anamazing shot. She reloads and I set off running faster, wondering why shes botheringwith me. I thought Id convinced everyone. Of all the people to see through me, it has tobe the girl whos probably the most lethal tribute in this entire arena.Her next shot scrapes along my shoulder. Its shallow cut, barely a scrape, but it stillhurts. I run faster and find myself doubling over and disappearing into the higher grass,out of sight. Im not worth pursuing, even if Smiley has seen through my act. I run andrun until I think I might collapse, and then I allow myself to slow to a walk. I keepheading away from the Cornucopia, wondering what my next move should be. The sunhas moved a little to the west, and Id say its been maybe an hour since the beginning ofthe Sixty-Eighth Hunger Games. Theyre probably still fighting, but they wont be formuch longer.I take the opportunity to sit down and inspect my cut. Its not serious at all, barelybleeding, though it really is quite painful. While Im resting, I go through the smallbackpack I picked up. It cant contain much of worth, its so small. And indeed, thecontents of the bag are measly: a small pocketknife that probably couldnt even facilitate
a good stab, iodine tablets for purifying water, a small packet of crackers, and a waterbottle about as tall as my palm and not even as wide. I begin to get a little angry withmyself, because I was right there at the mouth of the Cornucopia. Thats where all thegood stuff is, and I completely missed my chance!Well, at least I have my axe. I look over the weapon and decide that the risk was worthit. The axe is a little heavier than Im used to, but thats fine. Just means I can throw itfarther. The handle is a dark wood polished to a shine, though I dont recognize what sortof wood it is. The head is a gleaming silver and the blade wicked sharp, not yet stainedwith blood.Not yet stained with blood. I dont want to dwell on the slightly morbid thoughts Ive justhad, so I pull myself to my feet and prepare to keep walking. The iodine tablets and thewater bottle tell me that there is water in this arena somewhere, though I clearly wontbe finding it in this dry field. Ill need water if I want to survive…but how to find it? Well,what do we know about water? Its…wet. You drink it. Bathe in it every few weeks, whenyou can. You cry water, as Ive found to hold very true recently. Rain is water, but I dontthink were going to be getting rain any time soon. Trees need water, lots of it.Trees need water. All I have to do is find some trees, and Ill find water. Didnt I thinkthat I saw trees, back at the Cornucopia? Really, that smudge could have been anything,but I think its my best shot. They were…to my left? Where would that be now? I take achance and change direction, hoping that Im heading the right way.Ive not gone very far before the cannon shots begin going off. One, two, three, four,five. I pause in my walking and count thirteen blasts. Thats a lot, compared to the usualnine or ten. I know that I am safe, as is the pixie girl, but otherwise Ill have to wait forthe death toll tonight.I set off again, pushing through the grass. Its gotten taller the farther from theCornucopia Ive walked, and now reaches a little over my head. Though its dry andscratches me every few steps, the grass is surprisingly resilient and springs back up onceI step off of it, creating a sort of bubble around me. They must have messed with itsgenetic makeup. I can feel the claustrophobia creeping somewhere in the back of mymind, but I grit my teeth and ignore it. I cant let myself get distracted, not when I couldbe a mere fifty feet from another tribute and just not know it—this grass, however muchI hate it, is good cover.I think I may be heading in circles by the time an hour has passed, and Im almostcertain after two hours of identical brownish yellow grass. God, I hate this. I cant evensee the sky unless I stare straight up, but the sun still manages to be insanely bright. Ican feel myself getting sunburnt, and the temperature must be almost a hundreddegrees. Im crazy thirsty, my blisters have blisters, and Im probably going to wander inthis stupid prairie until I collapse. I want to just start shouting at the sky to release thefrustration at this endless field and barely manage to contain myself.And thats before I see the snake. Small and pale brown, it just slithers across my pathand doesnt even look at me. But I jump back anyway, stifling a shriek. (Tell anyoneabout that, and youll regret it.) I hate, hate,hate, snakes. Theyre so…so…slithery…andcold…and snaky….I cant describe just why theyre so unnerving. But I dont need areason. This one seemed to not care that I even existed, but this place isprobably crawlingwith the filthy things, and who knows if they will all be so benign?
I walk for the rest of the day jumping at every little noise—its either a tribute or a snakeand I dont fancy running into either. Im not at all cheered when the sun sets, leavingthe air with a slight chill, and I know that I will have to bunk down for the night soon.Horrible prospect, but I cant walk forever. I give up all hopes of reaching the trees bynightfall and resign myself to a night in the field.There are no paths, no clearings, so I just stop in my tracks and sit down. I hate the ideaof spending the night here with the snakes and tributes and whatever else must becrawling through this field, but its unavoidable. I grip my axe tighter, glaring around atthe shadowed grasses."There better not be any snakes out there." I whisper so quietly that probably even thecameras cant pick it up. "I mean it. Youll regret coming near me." I say, shifting the axeinto a more stable position, ready to bring it down on any offending snaky necks—dosnakes have necks? Are they just one long neck? Or one long tail? Ive never understoodthat.Theres no response from the grass. "Yeah, thats right. You better run." I say, thoughsnakes cant actually run. I lie down warily after checking behind me for unwantedreptiles, reluctant to try and sleep.This is going to be even less fun than Id thought. And thats really, really sayingsomething.
Chapter SixIm distracted from my uneasy scanning of the area by the sky lighting up and theanthem playing, the daily death toll. I stare up at the screen in the sky, wondering inpassing what would happen if the hovercraft were to drop it. I mean, I know it probablywont happen, but itd be awfully convenient if they were to crush a couple tributes.Then the image on the screen switches to the boy from Three, who stood next to me atthe Cornucopia. He didnt live long past that, clearly. Then his district partner is flashingin the sky, Three dead in the bloodbath as usual. Then theres Rafi, which surprises me alittle, but I cant say Im too devastated. One less Career is always good. Both from Five,and then the psycho from Six. I feel sorry for Celine (if shes even real) because the wayhe talked to her suggested they were sweethearts. Sucks to be her.Then Junipers in the sky, looking as if the photographer surprised him. Poor Juniper. Justsome pimply kid who didnt deserve to die. Its a short and not especially flatteringeulogy, but the only one I can give and probably the only one hes going to get.Then theres the girl from Nine, and both from Twelve (that comes as no surprise), theanthem plays again and the sky goes dark. Thirteen dead kids. That leaves me with allthe Careers except Rafi, the little pixie, the boy from Nine, both from Ten, and both fromEleven. I should probably be more upset that thirteen children have just been murdered,but I honestly just feel tired. Gross, sweaty, tired. Which is such a lovely image to bebroadcasting to Panem. In the next few days Ill be expected to either do some killing orget killed myself, and I dont really want to think about that.Bright stars, brighter than in Seven, have come out in the sky, and a huge yellow tingedmoon is starting to rise. Its kinda a nice image, and I think I might actually be able tosleep. Even a little breeze has picked up—what am I saying? I cant sleep. Not with theCareers and the snakes and the other tributes. Were all in this field, blundering arounduntil our inevitable and bloody run-ins. No, sleep is out. I can rest, but I cant sleep.I manage to hold out for about a minute, but I know I cant keep it up and convincemyself that it couldnt hurt to just close my eyes. Itll just make my hearing betteranyway and thats whats important in this grass…Im woken by the sun pressing on my eyelids. Crap. I fell asleep after all. But evidently, Iwasnt found because Im still alive. I just got lucky, but at least I also got some sleep. Iopen my eyes to the glaring sun and make to sit up, but before I can I realize what thatstrange weight is. Right where my ribcage ends, there lies a perfectly coiled snake.Holy…there isnt even an expletive to describe the insane jolt of panic that runs throughme. I freeze, eyes locked onto the reptile. Of course the Gamemakers picked up on metelling the snakes to keep their distance, with all their fancy instruments. And nowtheyre using my fear to toy with me. This cant possibly make for good television,theyre probably doing it for their own amusement. Sick fucks. What am I supposedto do? If I try to move the napping snake, itll wake up. If I try to wriggle away, itll wakeup.The snake is black, with bands of red. Does that mean its venomous? Or does it have tobe yellow as well? This is the Hunger Games. Of course its venomous. Its not especiallylarge, but could certainly do some damage. I have to get out of here. Maybe, maybe, Ican get away without waking it?
I hold my breath and try to tilt slightly to the side, bracing against the ground with myarm and getting ready to jump up and run. The snake is just beginning to slide to theside when it shifts slightly. I freeze and inspect it closely. Did I just imagine themovement? It certainly seems to be asleep now. I tilt further and the snake looks like itreally is just going to fall off of me when its head lifts.We both move at the same time. I flail backwards, forgetting about caution, and thesnake (still, unfortunately, on my stomach) springs forward. Not away from me, but rightat my left arm. I know immediately that its a direct hit—the pain, the blood, how could itnot be? The snake drops to the ground and vanishes into the grass, leaving me trying ashard as I can not to cry. It hurts so, so much. That was nothing like the snakes in Seven.I hate them as well, but theyre little things, gentle. We dont bother them and they dontbother us. I think that the snake only managed to get me with one fang, but its enough.Theres too much blood, it hurts so much, I feel a little dizzy. Is it from venom, or justmental? Surely, surely the snake was venomous. What am I supposed to do? Thoughweve got our fair share of snakes in Seven, they dont bite, so our knowledge ofhandling this sort of situation is rather limited. Arent I supposed to suck out the poison?Better than doing nothing. I clamp down on my arm just below the elbow, where the biteseems to be (its hard to tell with all the blood) and begin trying to draw out the venom.Im spitting mouthful after mouthful of blood, wondering just how much I can stand tolose. Its refusing to congeal, and I dont think Im getting the venom out. I dont knowwhat the Gamemakers have done to it, but I know its bad. I can see that the skin istightening, turning a red more vibrant than the blood. Theres a sensation that could belikened to the area around the bite being on fire, but that would be an understatement.God, I hate the Gamemakers. This sort of thing cant be natural. My vision begins toswim, and I only manage to direct myself to fall onto the arm that isnt wounded before Ihit the ground.Hoofdstuk 7 ist verswchwunden:P
Chapter EightThe sun is beginning to set when I finally wake up. And my god, sore is anunderstatement. I can barely move without protest from every joint in my body, and myarm is so numb I have to look over and make sure its still there. I try to stand, but Isoon find thats out of the question for a little while, so instead I take inventory of mysituation.Im alive. Wounded, but alive. Whatever sort of venom the Gamemakers injected intothat snake, I probably didnt get enough to kill me. I dont think Ill be able to use myarm properly for a while, because the skin has sort of bubbled up, its red and streaky.Im still adrift in this field. Water could be miles away, and Ill need water if I want tolive.And duh, I want to live. So I force myself to take hold of the pack and my axe and standup. Blood rushes into my head and I think I might collapse again, but I tell my body veryspecifically what to do and manage to set off walking. I know where Im going, I can tellby the sun, but its almost nightfall and soon Ill be walking blind.Luckily, walking in a straight line isnt all that hard. Ive always had a good sense ofdirection, so Im pretty sure Im going in the right direction. The death toll happens righton time, as soon as the sun goes down. The girl from Ten and the boy from Two aredead—maybe the Careers jumped the girl but she managed to take one down with her.Whatever. Doesnt affect me. All I have to do is keep hiking through this infernal field inthe hopes of finding water. I can go maybe another day without it, and even now Im notfunctioning properly. I stumble every few steps, everything is slightly blurry, my arm isbeginning to ache and pain flares up when its touched by the grass, and my head ispounding.Hours later, my backpack feels like it weighs a thousand pounds and the axe feels tentimes heavier. (I cant do the math, because my mind is so foggy.) I shouldnt be so outof it yet, that shouldnt set in until about noon tomorrow. It must be the venom. Thebright and even somewhat beautiful stars are beginning to fade by the time I decide thatI may as well just give up. If I cant get water, I wont be able to recover from thesnakebite. And the bite prevents me from getting water.Is that irony, or just a sick coincidence? I stumble to a stop and sit down, trying to keepmy bad arm from the grass. And I had fully intended on making good on my promise tomother, winning and going home…only to be thwarted by a stupid snake…Theres a slight rustling in the grass nearby, and my head snaps to the source of thesound. God, no more snakes. I cant hold out against another bite, thats for sure. I closemy eyes and try to listen hard, find out if the noise is a snake or just some sort of bug.The rustling has stopped, but theres some other sort of background noise. A…rushing. Acontinuous rushing.Like water. Can I hear water? I use the axe to push myself upright, energized by thehope that there might be water so nearby I can hear it. I try to walk in the direction Ithink its coming from, and though each step is incredibly painful I force myself to keepgoing. The rushing gets louder with each step I take, and I think the grass is growingshorter. Yes, the grass is getting shorter, certainly. I can vaguely see something over thegrass if I stand on my toes.
The grass takes a sudden drop to waist height, and I see that the "something over thegrass" is trees. Thank god. Water, water, water. I break into a pained and not especiallygraceful run towards the trees that dictate water just beyond them. The sky is justbeginning to light up as I reach the first of the trees. I dont even bother to scan forother tributes, Im in such a rush to reach the water. Theres a small dirt incline that Ialmost trip going down, but then Im surrounded by trees, running over weirdly softgrass thats actually green. Twenty feet away, a large creek runs swiftly. Between meand the creek are plenty of trees—box elders, silver maples, cottonwoods. None of themare very large, but theyre close enough to the trees at home that Im smiling before Iveeven reached the water.I kneel in the little bit of mud that separates the creek from the grass and fill up the far-too-small bottle from the pack. I really just want to jump into the creek, but I cant swimand it looks to be maybe fifteen feet deep in the very middle. Maybe when Im in bettercondition. It kills to be responsible and wait the proper half hour for the iodine to purifythe water, but I manage to do it.At the end of the half hour, water never tasted so good. The bottle empties fast, its sosmall, so I refill it and wait another half hour, watching the sun rise. I decide that Imrehydrated after the fifth bottle, and repeat the process once more to get water to tendto my injuries. The cut on my shoulder is easy to rinse and itll probably be healed prettysoon anyway, but the snakebite is a lot more serious. The water is really painful on theskin, which has tightened and gained a sort of melted look, still red and now tinged withyellow. I decide that I need to bind it and even though its ridiculously painful I tear astrip of cloth from the sleeve of my shirt and wet it, then wrap it around the bite.Once the pain subsides, I do begin to feel a little better. The sun isnt too hot yet, Imsurrounded by trees, Ive got water, and at least for now I should be safe from the othertributes. So I find a good tree and climb it, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep. ThoughIve actually slept for about half of the Games so far, my night of stumbling through thefield has left me drained. And if I can stock up on sleep now, Ill only be better off later.So I shimmy up the trunk of a relatively large silver maple and try to hide myself in thebranches, in the unlikely case a tribute comes along. I dont need to strap myself to thetree or anything, I can keep my balance even when asleep (I speak from experience—butdont tell the foreman).The sun is beating when I wake up, too hot even through the leaves of the tree. Imthirsty again and I dont think Ill be able to fall back asleep, so I jump down from thetree into the soft grass. I get more water and sit in the grass, eating a few of thecrackers from my pack while I wait for the iodine to run its course. The crackers taste alot like sawdust, but theyre food. And yes, I do know what sawdust tastes like. Refer toan unfortunate field trip to a sawmill in my first year of school.It feels a little foolhardy to just be sitting out in the open, but Im almost certain I couldtake on any of my fellow tributes if they were to show up. I could split open their skullwith my axe before they can blink, from twenty feet away. I guess that Smiley is the onlyone I really have to worry about, and shes got the other Careers holding her back. Iwonder how long itll be until she kills their dumb asses. Probably a day or so. Then I canbe worried.I should probably get moving, try to track down some tributes, but that would involvegoing back into the field and I really dont want to do that. Its nice here, cool in theshade, I have water, Im well rested, my injuries arent really bothering me at themoment. I think Ill stay here, lying in the grass and staring at the sky, for a whilelonger. But I cant sit still for long and begin to get antsy after only a few minutes, I need
to occupy myself with something. I really dont want to leave my creek yet, to that fieldfull of those vile snakes and the tributes out for my blood, so I decide to wade in theshallower part of the creek for a while. To wash off the blood and sweat of the past fewdays, you understand. I leave my shoes and socks on the bank, then decide to hell withit and leave the rest of my clothes with them. Not a big deal. Though I do keep on thegrey undergarments that were a part of the uniform—this is on national television, andthere are kids watching.I keep the axe within a seconds reach while I wade in five feet of water, trying to keepvigilant. I should be more worried than I am, but I cant help it. I guess thats my fatalflaw, being too self-assured. But I have good reason to be, honestly. I just sort of hangaround in the cool water for a little while, knowing that I cant make it to the oppositebank where I can see a grassy area similar to the one on this side. But thats a littleboring, so I spend some time trying to teach myself to swim in the shallow water. Salwas always going on and on about how he wanted to learn to swim, and I always calledhim weird for it. Such a random thing for a Seven to want. But I think he may have hada point—though I can only manage an uncoordinated splashy stroke, and only for a fewseconds, swimming is a lot of fun.Youre not here to have fun. I decide that Ive indulged myself for far too long. I forcemyself out of the water and get dressed again, now slightly damp. My arm is still achingand a little bit of that fiery feeling has come back, but I can get along. Even without myleft arm, I can still climb the tallest tree in the area to try and get a look at the arenafrom above.The tree is an unusually tall cottonwood, and I have to walk about ten minutesdownstream to find it. But when I scale the branches as high as theyll hold me, the walkis worth it. The tree is easily taller than the dirt incline leading to my creek, and when Ifinally peer out of the leaves I can see the field stretching far into the distance and get agood idea of how the prairie is organized. From what I can tell, the grass is tallest nearerto me, and goes down to a regular grass height in the distance. I cant see any tributes,but I do try to find them. If I want to get out of here, theyre going to have to die. (Sadbut true.)I find a good spot and lean against the trunk of the cottonwood, resigning myself tohours of surveillance. The day slips past and I see no tributes, not even a movement inthe grass or a shadow in the distance. Whereis everyone? Its midafternoon when Idecide that I cant just sit in this tree and wait for tributes to come to me. Time to getpreemptive. So I drop down out of the tree, not enjoying the thought of going back intothe grass. But at least now I have somewhere to return to.I climb back up the incline and unhappily reenter the grass, carefully watching my stepfor snakes. How many hours can I spend looking for tributes before I must return to thecreek? Its been a slow day, so I should probably make for the creek when night falls.Who knows what the Gamemakers have planned to make these Games more interesting?Id rather be somewhere marginally safe when they decide to liven things up. Id put thetime around four right now, so Ive got a little while.The field is just as horrible as before, the sun beating down and the grass scratchy,though I dont see any snakes. The temperature must be over a hundred, and I know Imgoing to be wicked sunburnt tomorrow. If Im alive tomorrow. Yes, I will be alivetomorrow. Im going to win this and go home. Whatever the cost. Its only thosethoughts that keep me walking forward through the damned field, knowing that its allgoing to be worth it. Each step is a step closer to home.
It must be six and Im considering turning back when I hear it. The crackling of dry grassunderfoot. I freeze, wondering if that was just me taking an unusually loud step. But no,there it is again. Not a regular step, more of a stumble and a dragging noise. A woundedtribute. This will be beyond easy. I try to move towards the tribute in question as quietlyas possible, though they wont be able to run anyway.Somewhere in the back of my mind, those pesky little voices are trying to stop me. Whatare you doing, injured and unprepared, this is pure murder, that tribute is innocent, howcan you do this? But I cant allow myself to listen because how am I going to get home ifI let morals get in the way? I can sort all that out later. So I just slip quietly through thegrass, following the footsteps.I see the tribute, the boy from Nine, before he sees me. I come up behind him, seeingthat indeed he was injured very badly, probably at the Cornucopia—he wont live long,even if I dont kill him. (But just letting him go wont sit well with the sponsors.) Justabove the knee, hes tied his sweater in a sort of bandage around a wound so bloody thatthe sweater is almost entirely soaked red. Im squaring off against my target, his neck,when he makes to turn to the left. I try to disappear further into the grass separating us,but its already too late and hes seen me.I give up on trying to make this a clean kill and just shift my hands to a stable hold onthe handle of the axe, ready to spring forward and make contact however possible. Theboy has just enough time to sigh in relief because oh thank god its only her when thatshiny silver axe blade is inches deep in his skull. The cannon fires, and Johanna Masonhas one tribute on her kill list.Quick, probably mostly painless. It was that fast. That easy. It shouldnt have been thateasy. I dont mean that he should have put up more of a fight, because he was aweakling to begin with and wounded by the time I got to him. But shouldnt I havestopped myself, listened to those little voices? Its one thing to kill, but a cold-blooded hitfrom behind…Shut up, shut up, shut up. Shut up, Johanna. Youre going home, and whoever stands inyour way is just making a mistake. Its what you have to do. No its not, I dont have todo anything—yes it is. These tributes are just obstacles in your way, now wipe the bloodoff your axe and clear out. The hovercraft will be here soon.So I do that. I wipe as much of the blood possible off onto the ground and sling the axeover my shoulder, heading back to my creek for the night just as the sun begins to set.And just to please the sponsors, I whistle a little tune as I walk. See? Johanna Mason isunbroken. Couldnt care less.(But somewhere in my mind, I know thats not true.)
Chapter NineI arrive at the creek just before the sun goes down. Ive got some time before the deathtoll, so I set more water to purify while waiting. Im pretty sure that the only death todaywas my kill, the boy from Nine (I dont know his name). But I was asleep for a while, Icould have missed something.I watch the sky from the grass, wondering if the sunset Im looking at is even real or justsome apparition on a huge screen. Are we penned in, under a dome of some sort? Myunfortunate case of claustrophobia begins to creep up my spine, and to prove to myselfthat I have plenty of room I flop onto my back, throwing my arms out to the sides. See?Lots of space. Im still lying down in the grass when the sky lights up with the death toll.As Id thought, just the boy from Nine appears in the sky. That leaves me with fourCareers, the pixie girl, and Linnea. Of course, there are also the two from Ten andLinneas district partner, but I dont think theyre really threats.The anthem plays once more and the sky goes dark. I re-bind the snakebite, which hurtsjust as much as before but only when I touch it—otherwise its just sort of numb andfeels a little tingly. (Its also now turned an extremely disturbing yellow-blue color, whichI dont think can be good.) Ive still got a few crackers left and seeing as Ive eaten justabout nothing over the past few days they suddenly look really, really good. Ive barelyblinked before the last of my food is gone. They confiscated my token, the sucker candy,because I guess they thought I might try to eat it. Not that I would, because theres somuch inedible matter on it that itd probably make me really sick if not kill me, but Illprobably be pretty desperate by the time I get out of here.So what am I supposed to do for food now? Can I eat snakes? God, I hope not. Theyreprobably poisonous anyway. I guess that the snakes have to eat something other thantributes, so maybe I can find mice in the field or whatever. And I might even have asponsor or two at this point, now that theyve seen what I can do. Well, Ill think ofsomething.But right now, Im going to sleep. The audience might have been satisfied with my killearlier, but chances are that the Gamemakers have something not entirely pleasantplanned for us tributes in the near future. I want to be in the best condition I canmanage when that happens, so I need to rest. I make my way back to the tallcottonwood and scale the tree to the highest branch thatll hold my weight, the one I saton earlier.Im about to drift off when a thought occurs to me. Shouldnt I be more upset? After all, Ikilled a boy today. Not two hours ago. I ought to be…I dont know, crying or something.Praying. Asking his district, his family for forgiveness. I should be disregarding the rulesIve put in place for myself, forgetting about how hes just a felled obstacle in my pathhome. But instead Im accepting them as the truth. Is something wrong with me? Thisisnt normal, surely.Johanna, this is the last time Im telling you. Shut up and go to sleep before I smack youinto next Tuesday. I tell myself, gritting my teeth and willing my mind to leave me aloneso I can sleep another slightly chilly night away. I manage to keep from further worryabout my lack of distress at the kill, and do eventually fall into a shallow, restless sleep. Isurface over and over, and I know this is going to be one of those nights where you wakeup more tired than you went to sleep. At some point in the early hours of the morningIm no longer sure whats real and what Im dreaming, but then Im pulled into real
consciousness by the flashing of a light on the ground. I perk up and pinch myself toinduce some clarity, and I can just make out voices from the ground."Put that out, you idiot!" the circle of light sweeps to the side all of a sudden, likesomeones hitting the flashlight its surely coming from. The voice sounds female, but itshard to tell."Why should I? No one is here." That voice is definitely that of a male tribute. TheCareers? I freeze, hoping to not be seen. I cant take on all of the Careers at once."Theyre asleep, of course. But you could wake the dead with that thing." Says the firstvoice."Its not that bright." The boy says defensively, but the light flicks off. The voices soundto be near the base of my tree, and though they dont know Im here I still hold mybreath. I cant fight two tributes, even if theyre not the Careers.The first voice sighs. "Thank you.""For what?" The boy teases, trying to make the first person give him a proper apology."For recognizing that Im always right, now shut the hell up!" the first voice says, walkinga little closer. I decide that its a girl. Maybe the pair from Ten?"Ooh, rawr. This isnt the best time to be PMSing, you know." The boy says, following thegirl, who spins on him and puts her hands on her hips. I can see both of them throughthe leaves now, facing off maybe ten feet away. I cant make out too much, because itsso dark, and I still dont know who they are."Dont make me regret teaming up with you. Oh, wait. I already do." The girl says,taking a step towards the boy. The amount of venom in her voice is enough to make theboy take a step back, and he holds up his hands defensively."Whoa, calm down." I think he might be about to apologize and theyll just go on theirmerry way, but then he says "Its just the hormones talking.""You are an utter idiot. Its a miracle we havent been killed yet.""Yeah, because of your constant bitching.""No, because you seem to have a complete disregard for caution and safety and not tomention the whole fire debacle—""What, you think you can scare me with some big words? Nice try, Rachel.""Im not trying to scare you. Im simply talking and if youre too stupid to see that whatIm saying is the truth then—""Im not stupid! Stop treating me like I am! Ever since you got that fancy job in town,you think youre all that. And let me just tell you that youre—""I got that fancy job in town because I was smart enough to take the opportunity whenit came and pass the tests, unlike someone…"
The two are stage whispering, though Im pretty sure that at any moment theyre goingto begin yelling. Its sort of funny to get this look into the lives that I know nothing aboutand will surely be ending soon. The boy hisses something at the girl, Rachel, the two nowforehead to forehead. I cant hear it, but it sounds nasty. Rachel gasps in outrage, and Iguess he touched a nerve."You know what? Im done with this." Rachel says, voice tight. It sounds like the boytries to say something else, but he cuts off halfway through and theres a cannon shot.The boy collapses out of my sight. Whoa. Thats sudden. Or maybe not: from the soundsof their argument, theyve not been on the best of terms. I guess she finally just hadenough? Rachel sighs and pockets her knife, then kneels down to take the boys pack.This is my chance.I drop down out of the tree, landing in a crouch. I can take on one girl, even if she isarmed. She did in the boy for me, now I just have to get her and thats two obstaclesgone in five minutes. Good progress. The expression of shock on Rachels face is almostcomical as she stumbles to her feet, fumbling for the knife shes just put away. I imaginehow this looks from her perspective: a mystery tribute materializes out of nowhere,armed with a deadly-looking axe, and stares at her with a little smile before taking a stepforward and shifting the axe to gather more momentum when swung.Yeah, shes scared.Well, not for long. Rachels only just pulled her knife when I make my move, closing thespace between us in about a second and connecting the blade of the axe with her neck.Theres a spurt of blood, and then a cannon shot. Thats two tributes Ive killed now. Ididnt hit hard enough to decapitate her, so Ive got to yank the axe out of herneck. Well, thats just lovely, I think, wiping the axe on the grass. Two tributes less tofight. Two tributes closer to home. Thats all this is.This is turning out to be a pretty quick Games. Three days in and already were down tonine tributes. Or has it been four days? How long was I out after the snakebite? Doesntmatter. It cant be long before the Careers turn on each other now. Or, more realistically,Smiley kills them all. Shes the one to watch here. Well, Linnea is clearly also a threatand the pixie girl is a danger as well. And then theres me. Us four deadly girls. Wellprobably be the last ones left to fight. (And Ill be winning that fight.)The sun will be coming up soon, so I decide to quickly go through the two tributes packsand get back to the field, to try and track down another tribute. (The faster these Gamesare over, the less chance the Gamemakers have to mess with us.) The two must havebeen sharing one backpack, because Rachel doesnt have one of her own. They have alittle food, meat jerky and incredibly stale bread. Enough for maybe two days, if I donteat much. A half-full water bottle of a more reasonable size than mine. A roll ofbandages, only a little missing. Something labeled as sunscreen—medicine of some sort?Its certainly not food, as I find out a little late.I bind the snakebite with the bandages from their packs, trying to be as gentle with it aspossible. Mostly its just sore and achy, but actual contact brings waves of pain. I dontthink I got all of the venom out, and I dont want to agitate it any more than I have to.Theyll fix me up when I get to the Capitol, I just have to hold out until then.The sun begins to rise, and I reluctantly head back into the field. I cant just hang aroundand wait for the other tributes to kill each other, as much as Id like to. So its a long dayof trudging through the grass, backpack heavier than ever with the extra water. Not that
Im unhappy about the water—today feels like the hottest day yet, and I know Id begetting sunburnt if I wasnt already red head-to-toe. I give the sunscreen a try aroundnoon, thinking that the name might signify it heals sunburn. It doesnt, and Im prettysure that my blood is going to start boiling if the sun gets any hotter."How hard would it be for them to give us some rain, honestly?" I mutter to myself,glaring at the ground while I walk. My only comfort is that the other tributes must be justas unhappy.Theres about ten seconds delay, and then it all begins to happen very fast. First, theresa cannon shot. I look up, and realize that I just looked up without squinting. The sun hasbeen covered by a very thin veil of clouds, blown in by the quick wind starting to pick up.Another cannon shot. The wind gets faster, bending the grass forward. Its still too tall tosee over, what with the probable genetic modification allowing it to stand against thewind, but I have to struggle to stay in place. The wind dies down a little, just in time tohear the third cannon shot and the fourth in quick succession. That must be the Careersturning on each other, as is inevitable. I dont know why whoevers doing the killingresorted to a fight, didnt stab the others while they slept. Maybe they just snapped, likeRachel? Tensions build in the heat, after all. Ive been on edge all day, and I wasnt withfour other people who would very soon be my mortal enemies. Whatever the reason,were now down to five. Me, the pixie, Linnea, her district partner, and a Career. Almostcertainly Smiley.Another gust of wind through the grass manages to push me forward a few inches. Aquick glance at the sky reveals that a bank of storm clouds has rolled in, the sun is nowcompletely covered. Its like the Gamemakers have made it their mission to screw withmy mind. I warn the snakes to stay away from me, they make sure I get bitten. I ask forrain, they send me a storm.And what a storm it is. Just like in that story mother told us, weather on the prairie getsugly fast. A light rain begins to fall, and Im glad for about a second. Then the wind picksup further and the rain gets heavier, painful when it hits my bite. Back to the creek?There are trees there, shelter from the storm. But what about lightning? Trees attractlightning like nobodys business, at least in Seven where theyre the tallest thingsaround. But I dont think that I have any choice, because this storm has crossed that linewhere its not just an inconvenience, this is going to be really dangerous in a fewseconds.Not that danger is any change. Still. Ill feel safer surrounded by trees, and an illusion ofsafety is as close as Im getting. I turn back, hoping to make it to the creek before thisgets really bad. I can take cover in a tree, wait out the storm.But of course, its not easy. The wind has picked up to howling proportions, pushing meto the side with every step and whipping through the grass, flattening it to the ground.Id be in danger of being seen by the other tributes if rain wasnt coming down in sheets,making seeing more than a few inches in front of my face impossible. Im stumblingblind, arm on fire and no idea if Im even going towards the creek anymore.My sense of direction has utterly abandoned me, I could be walking in circles. I could bewalking towards the edge of a cliff or right at another tribute, and Id have no idea. Onlythe knowledge that giving up would put me utterly at the Gamemakers mercy (as long asIm being entertaining, they wont kill me off) keeps me moving forward. Minutes, hours,days, I dont know how long the storm howls on, I dont know how long I blunder