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100th Annual Hunger Games (What if Katniss failed)

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This is the story of a boy named Adam from District 7.  In this universe Katniss was executed while attempting to take down Snow and the Hunger Games continued.  There is likely to be a sequel. 

THE HUNGER GAMES:

IN THE END

 

 

 

 

 

By: Michael Lester

 

 

Chapter 1

Things were a little different this year.  For this Quarter Quell, the 100th Annual Hunger Games, four districts would be chosen at random and six tributes from each of these districts would be chosen.  Three boys and three girls.  I’m Adam, from District 7.  I don’t particularly stand out in a crowd.  I’d say I’m rather average standing at six feet tall with a young looking face, green eyes, and short brown hair.  When the ancient President Snow gave the announcement about the new Quarter Quell there was a moment of great tension in Panem.  If your district was chosen to have a reaping, then your fear was the same as every other year with the exception that it was more likely to be chosen to enter the Games.  If you were one of the eight districts that don’t have a reaping, then you can breathe a sigh of relief and return to your poverty.  The following week of the announcement for which districts would be chosen I didn’t watch.  I couldn’t handle the anticipation.  Instead I ran to my best-friend’s house.  Her name is Lana Neele.  She has the same green eyes as my own which are framed by some beat up old glasses and long dark brown hair. 

We both begin our usual trek to the pine forest that borders the small outlying village we live in.  The dark green needles and dry bark make me feel at home.  I love the woods.  Lana; however, does not.  The bugs, the animals, the possibility of danger.  That is not to say she can’t take care of herself.  In fact she’s one of the toughest girls I know. The only one who I can actually wrestle with.  She just prefers the hum-drum life of the town in lumber land.  One time when we were returning from a rather disappointing hunt, an entire battalion of Peacekeepers marched past the fence between the village and the forest and we had to stay hidden in a nearby pine tree until all of them had passed by.  It must have been well past midnight by the time we could finally get under the fence and go home.  Her mother and my father had never been so furious with us before.  Now whenever I drag her to the woods, she constantly reminds me of how we could get trapped behind the fence again or how easy it would be to get caught, but I just ignore her.  This is how I keep both of our families fed, so I’m not stopping anytime soon.

            A rusted chain link fence with barbed wire running along the top surrounds the town and “blocks off” the pine forest to citizens.  I wonder if the other districts have fences like this one.  Our peacekeepers do little to maintain it, but if you’re caught sneaking out a public whipping is the least of your concerns.  Lana and I have become pretty adept at sneaking away while people aren’t looking.

            Poverty is still pretty rough around here, but it hasn’t really gotten worse since the rebellion, or so my father tells me.  I was only three when Katniss Everdeen, The Mockingjay, led rebel forces against the Capitol.  Secretly I look up to her courage for standing up against such a powerful force.  Maybe if she had won the war I wouldn’t have to go hunting in the woods to support my father and myself.  My father goes hunting with me usually.  He’s the one who taught me how to use a bow and arrow.  I remember how much I used to hate his archery lessons.  If I made one mistake, if I didn’t have the exact right positioning, he’d go off on me and yell so loudly every animal in the forest would scurry away.  In the end it was good that he did act that way though.  If not, there’s no way I’d be as good as I am. 

The Mockingjay also used a bow, but I’m nowhere near as talented as she was.  I’m good enough to catch a meal every other day though.  Lana has no knowledge of hunting or animal traps, but she helps patch up my gear for hunting like my game bag, boots, clothes, and quiver.  As we are weaving in and out of the trees I spot my beautifully crafted bow hung high in a tree, right where I left it, where the only thing that could reach it is a squirrel or maybe a sparrow.  Fifteen years earlier a mockingjay would have also been one of the many birds to catch a sight of my bow, but once Katniss Everdeen went into battle at the Capitol a fire bomb that killed several Capitol children and Rebel medics burned her severely.  The rebel forces were caught off guard by the bombs and the Capitol took advantage of the moment. In the chaos that ensued she was arrested for treason and most of the rebels were killed.  The Mockingjay was publically executed the following morning.  The day after her execution, as an act of power by the Capitol, almost every single Mockingjay in Panem was found and slaughtered.  I’ll see one maybe once every few years, but they’re nearly extinct now.  It’s only a matter of time before they finally are. 

            As we hurry on into the forest with no real intention of going anywhere we decide it’s time to head back.  I hold my hunting knife in my right hand tightly ready for an attack from a wild dog pack.  Two years ago I was caught off guard by a few wild dogs and they got ahold of my right arm before I could pull my knife free.  I managed to kill two of them before the last dog ran off.  I barely made it home because of the blood loss, but my father patched me up pretty well and within a week I was fine to go hunting again.  Hopefully our district would be spared the horror of The Hunger Games.  I say goodbye to Lana as we duck under the fence and she heads into her small shack of a house where her mother is waiting with a small meal of bread and dried beef. 

            Back at my house the news is broken to me immediately.  The four districts chosen are One, Five, Seven, and Nine.  I remained silent, but inside I was shouting every curse word I could think of that my district was one of the four chosen.  I knew almost everyone in the town and several children and teenagers from the slightly larger city to the north.  Our smaller town usually got chosen more often during reapings, because poverty was more common with all the children signing up for tesserae.  A couple weeks later was the much anticipated reaping.  I dressed up in my best clothes, but they were covered in patches of new cloth where holes and tears in the fabric had begun to show.  I met with Lana, who was dressed in a pretty knee-length floral dress, outside her house and we walked in complete silence to the city square three miles from our town.  Our parents walked together behind us and discussed the weather like it was any other day.  But it wasn’t any other day.  Groups of other potential tributes walked along with us up the dirt road that leads to the city.  In a about an hour and a half we reach the city square and sign in.  It’s packed and a large stage is set up near the Justice Building.  After thirty more minutes of waiting the peacekeepers begin roping off sections of children. 

Lana is in the group of eighteen year olds with several other girls I know well like Charlotte Lamoureux, a tall girl with shoulder-length brown hair and light-brown eyes.   Next to her was Suzanne Marquez, a shorter girl with jet black hair and near black eyes.  A particularly large peacekeeper guides me to the roped off eighteen year old boy section by my shoulder.  I nearly push his hand away when I remember this is a crime of defiance.  I don’t like to be touched by other people and this threat of punishment is the only thing stopping me from turning around and breaking his wrist. I find a spot near my good friend Collin Pearson.  He’s a tall, strong boy with dark tan skin, brown eyes, short black hair, and a love for a seventeen year old girl in another section.  Clare Arellana is standing quietly, looking blankly at the stage with her pale green eyes.  Her long golden hair is tied up into a tight ponytail and Collin’s eyes never leave her. 

“It won’t be her Collin.  Don’t worry.” I say reassuringly to him.  He and Clare have a fierce love for each other and both lived in the slightly more well off section of District 7 in the city.

I stood to the left of Collin and directly in front of me stood a tall skinny boy with wiry glasses named Darren Johnson.  He was the nicest guy I had ever met and we both shared a love for District 3’s technology, even though neither of us would ever get anywhere near using it.  He also lived in the city, but he was still miles away from having enough money to gain access to the gadgets of Three.  Not to mention there must be some sort of rule about the districts communicating with one another in such a way. 

Just then the district’s escort steps up onto the stage dressed in a silly looking purple suit with an outrageous matching top hat.  I don’t pay attention to his name.  My focus is completely on the glass bowls filled with names of the children in District 7.  My name had been entered seven times.  I never registered for tesserae.  With my hunting I could provide for my father and I, not to mention Lana’s mother had connections with a baker in the town so bread was never too scarce.  Even though other people my age and younger had their names entered more times than myself, my heart begins to beat faster.  It is my last year of eligibility and the thought of having to enter the arena and spill other children’s blood for the entertainment of Capitol citizens and Snow’s own heartless nature makes my skin crawl.  Maybe the odds will be in my favor today.  Maybe I won’t have to kill.

A brief film is played depicting the Capitol’s “generosity” to the districts after two terrible wars.  As it concludes the man from the Capitol steps over to the bowl filled with the names of girls and pulls a slip out.

“Charlotte Lamoureux!” He shouts with vigor.

Charlotte has always been a strong girl.  She never lets her guard down in front of others and today is no exception.  She immediately heads to the stage as if she had been expecting to hear her name and remains calmer than any tribute I have ever seen upon having their name called.  The district escort then strides towards the boy’s bowl and theatrically yanks a name free. 

“Darren Johnson.”

NoHe doesn’t deserve this.  He’s too nice.  Too well-behaved.  Too pure hearted.  The thought of him cutting someone down, or even worse, being cut down is terrible.  I stifle a groan as he steps out of the roped off section and walks to the stage.  His glasses fall off the end of his nose on the way up to the stage and he takes a moment to put them back on.  I can hear his mother crying a few yards behind me.  The district escort comments on his height and informs everyone that he might have what it takes to win.  No one nods their head in agreement.  He strides back to the girl’s bowl and picks another name. 

“Clare Arellana.”

She gasps as the words register in her brain and I have to hold Collin in place as he is about to run to her.  His large stature and strength are nearly too much for me and I have to remind him that the peacekeepers could punish him and his family for insubordination.  He stops struggling, but begins to cry.  The tears fall silently down his cheeks as he stoically processes what has happened.  His heartbreak is enough to make my own heart crack.  The Capitol man steps back to the boy’s bowl and pulls another name free.

“Curtis Reynolds.”

I don’t know Curtis well at all.  He was a small thirteen year old boy from the city.  That’s about as much as I know of him. Before Curtis can even take a step though, Collin does.

“I volunteer!”  He shouts to the Capitol man as he strides up to the stage.  Curtis mouths “thank you” to Collin as he passes by, but Collin didn’t do it for him.  I know what he’s doing.  He is going to go into the Games and protect Clare.  He is going to die for her.  The Capitol escort claps for Collin’s bravery and steps back to the girl’s bowl.  Last name for them. 

“Lana Neele.”

My jaw drops in shock.  Lana can’t move on her own and a small girl behind her nudges her forward.  As she steps up to the stage I look behind me, but I can’t see Lana’s mother.  She’s as strong as her daughter, but I’ve seen even the toughest parents crack during a reaping.  Last year a father watched his son get dragged to the stage by peacekeepers and he fainted on the spot.  When he woke up he had the pleasure of watching his son get his throat slit by a girl from District 2.  He hasn’t spoken a word since. 

Lana walks up to the stage and straightens her glasses.  Even as her life has been taken from her, she feels the need to look decent.  A plan begins to form in my head and I know I’ve been presented with a choice.  And it’s not one to be taken lightly.  The Capitol escort pulls the final name from the bowl.

“Daniel Govenor.”

I step forward.

“I volunteer!” I shout as I already begin to walk forward to the stage.  I climb the steps and Lana and Collin are both shaking their heads no, silently telling me to take it back and return to the crowd, but I can’t now.  I know what I have to do and even if I wanted to take it back, that would be against the rules.  I will be going into the arena.  I will fight to save Lana’s life.  I will die for her

Chapter 2

The entire train ride to the Capitol I develop a plan to keep Lana alive.  Eventually it comes down to manpower.  As long as I have a few trustworthy alliances, then I can keep myself alive long enough to keep Lana away from harm.  Darren would obviously be a part of my alliance.  His heart was more pure and honest than anyone’s.  He can be trusted easily, and after four days in the training center he might be able to develop a few skills that could prove quite useful.  Collin will help surely, but I know in the end if it comes down to just Lana, myself, Collin, and Clare, we’d be as good as gone.  That didn’t matter as much as having a friend in the arena; however, so he will become a part of the alliance as well.  Clare will undoubtedly follow Collin’s lead, and I have a decent friendship with her.  That makes three people who can help me.  As for Charlotte, I am a bit unsure.  She’s bound to be a good fighter, but the look in her eyes screams deception.  During the train ride I attempt to tell Lana about my plan for allies, but she avoids me at every turn.  She makes it particularly clear she doesn’t want to see me when she picks the farthest train cabin from mine to bunk in.

When we arrive in the Capitol all six of us are separated and taken to private rooms to be prepped for the Chariot ride.  To be made “presentable”.  Can’t expose the true conditions we live in now can we?  My prep team spends some time tweezing the hairs of my eyebrows to make them more streamlined, and is surprised at the lack of facial hair I boast.  They complement my boyish looks, saying it makes their job of grooming me much easier.  Thanks, I guess.

My stylist dresses me in an…interesting green suit that looks as if it’s made of pine needles to remind the Capitol citizens that my district is known for lumber.  I try to pair up with Lana for the parade, but she ignores me and pairs with Darren instead.  All six of us are in matching pine tree outfits, with the girls wearing flowing gowns of pine needles rather than suit jackets.  At some point during the tribute parade, I decide to enlist Charlotte anyways.  She may not be easily trusted, but to be completely honest, I don’t trust anyone in the arena other than Lana.

In the Capitol training center I get my first good look at the other tributes.  All six tributes from District 1 are huge.  It seemed almost every single one of them volunteered.  Nothing out of the ordinary there.  On the contrary District 9’s tributes are some of the smallest tributes I have ever seen.  Three scrawny twelve year old boys, one small thirteen year old girl covered in acne, and two other fourteen year old girls.  That hardly seemed fair, but I was prepared to kill every single one of them to keep Lana safe.  District 5 had a pretty wide variety of tributes.  Two fit looking eighteen year old boys who seemed gifted with spears, one small fourteen year old girl who just wanted to go home, a stocky sixteen year old boy who had surprising talent with an axe, a mousy seventeen year old girl who was extremely agile, and a fifteen year old girl who didn’t seem to know what to do with herself. 

  I wake up on the first day of training and immediately get to work.  I don’t have much time and I will have to convince all four of them to join me in an alliance.  As soon as we begin training I take my time deciding which station to choose.  I see Lana has gone to an archery station and I realize I can’t tell her my plan yet.  My best fighting skill in the arena is going to be my use of a bow and arrows.  Besides it’ll take some tricky wording, explaining it all.  I can’t hint to her that I’m doing this to protect her.  She’d never allow that.  So instead of following her to the archery station I head over to a station involving shelter knowledge, where Darren is attempting to distinguish a potentially dangerous rock formation with a sturdy one. 

“Hey Darren,” I say in as friendly a voice as I can muster. 

“Hi Adam,” He says rather distantly.  It seems he is trying to relinquish any emotional ties before the Games start.  Smart move, but I need him to be my partner. 

“I think the one on the right is more stable.  The one to the left looks too damp.  It might give more easily than the other.” I explain.  The training center instructor nods and Darren seems impressed.  This is my chance.

“Darren, I was thinking.  During the Games survival is obviously going to be difficult, so I thought it would be more sensible for you, me, and a couple other people from our district to form an alliance.”

“Well why would we?  I mean, there’s only one victor Adam.  An alliance seems kind of pointless.”  He says quietly.  Darren then begins to pick through some tent gear to see how it can be assembled. 

“It wouldn’t be pointless.  Every year a Career pack alliance is formed, and almost every year one of the Careers wins.” I clarify.  

“Well that’s true, I guess.  Who’s in the alliance?” Darren asks. 

“Well hopefully Collin, Clare, and Charlotte, but I know for sure Lana will be.  Only people from our district.”

Darren takes a second to think about it and nods his head.

“Alright, I’m in.”

“Great!  Thank you so much Darren.  We’ll meet up at lunch break and go over strategies for the Games.” I enthusiastically take in all the information I can while at the shelter station and move on to a plant recognition station.  I can hunt well, but I have virtually no knowledge of edible plants and berries.  I spend an hour at this station and decide that it’s time I try and convince Collin to join the alliance.   

I walk the length of the training center and find him at the sword training station.  Rather than jump in I decide to watch from a distance and observe his skills.  After fifteen minutes of some instruction five dummies are set up in a circle around Collin, each about ten feet away.  He is instructed to “kill” three specified dummies and leave the other two untouched.  He grasps his sword instinctively and waits for the whistle. 

When the instructor gives him the go ahead, Collin instantly sprints to the first dummy and decapitates it.  He spins around and shoulder-rolls towards the second marked dummy and slashes it across the chest, directly over the heart.  He then sprints back across the circle to the final dummy and stabs it through the throat.  He’d be the perfect partner in the arena, but I’m also worried.  If he can kill this well with a sword, what happens when the alliance inevitably ends?

I can’t worry about that though.  If I did I’d enter the arena alone and have no help in protecting Lana.  Of course this might be a better route for my own safety, but I’m willing to take the risk when it comes to saving her life.  I slowly approach Collin at the station as the destroyed dummies are being collected. 

“Impressive.” Compliments might be the best way to go. 

“Thanks.” He says dismissively.  I guess they weren’t. 

“Collin, I have a proposal.”

He looks up at me suspiciously.

“What?” He asks.

“Last year, that girl from District 2 won.  And she survived the bloodbath along with the remaining tributes because she formed an alliance with districts One and Four.  So I think that if you and I form an alliance with Lana, Darren, Clare, and Charlotte we all stand better chances of winning this thing.”

He seems to consider what I say for a little while and picks up his sword.  I take a step back, but then take two steps forward.  I want him to think I trust him completely.  If he doesn’t think that then he may not want to join the alliance.  He turns around and decapitates another dummy and seemingly ignores me.

“Collin?”

“Okay I’ll join,” He says.  I sigh with relief, “but I don’t want Charlotte in the alliance.”

“What?  Why?”

“I don’t trust her, especially not around Clare.  They don’t know each other well and don’t seem to like each other much. In the arena that would endanger Clare.”

“I’ll have to think about it Collin.”

“Alright, but I’m just saying, if Charlotte is a part of the alliance, me and Clare won’t be.”

I walk away fairly certain that I should drop Charlotte from the alliance.  It only makes sense.  Without Charlotte the alliance will have five people, but with her it will only have four.  I decide to make sure it’s the right decision and walk over to the knife-throwing station at the other end of the Training Center.  Charlotte is at the front of the line to a target range.  In front of her is a small chrome table covered with various sizes and types of throwing knives.  She waits for the instructors whistle, picks up a small sharp knife, and throws it towards a target at least thirty feet away.  It hits the target directly in the center. She immediately picks up a large serrated knife and throws it at a closer target.  It too hits dead in the center.  She then picks two knives up and simultaneously throws them at two separate targets.  Both hit squarely in the middle.  This complicates things a bit. 

I find Lana at the camouflage station attempting to disguise herself in a field of flowers with little success.  Several other Careers appear to be attempting the same feat.  It’s a bit unusual for Careers to leave one of the weapon’s stations, but maybe they saw the Games where that Peeta Mellark boy was able to stay hidden from other tributes by disguising himself as mud and leaves.  It was pretty impressive once you think of the skill behind it, but I don’t see why they would need to disguise themselves.  Each of them is a perfect killing machine, conditioned to fight from the moment they could walk.

“Lana we need to talk about something.” I say in a hushed voice, attempting to not alert the Careers near us that I have a game plan.  I gently grab her hand and pull her to a more secluded area.  The knot tying station is pretty abandoned right now.  We both squat down and take up a piece of rope and begin tying a simple bow knot. 

“Okay what is it?” She says harshly.

“Are you mad at me?” I ask innocently.

“Well obviously.  I can’t believe you volunteered for this.  What’s wrong with you?  Do

you just want to kill people or something?” She accuses.  I’m hurt by this, but she does have a valid point.  Why would I volunteer for this?  Well to save her life.  But, again, I can’t tell her that.  She wouldn’t let me risk my life for her.  I’ll have to remain ambiguous.

“No, of course not, but I’ve got my reasons.  I’ll tell you about them later.  For now I just wanted to let you know, that we have allies.” I say calmly. 

“Why did you get us allies?  Who are they?!”

“Calm down.  It’s only people from our district, but we’ve got a problem.  Collin and Clare won’t join if Charlotte does and I can’t decide if Charlotte’s knife-throwing skills are more valuable than Collin’s skill with a sword.”

“I don’t like this idea of allies Adam.  Think of how easily they could turn around and slit our throats in our sleep.”  She urges.  While this is correct, she’s forgetting one thing.

“They need our help, just as much as we need theirs.  They won’t turn on us until it gets down to the last couple of tributes.  By then we’ll both be long gone.  Snuck off together like we always do.”

“Well if that’s the case, I say you pick Collin and Clare.  It’s more people for the group, and we already have two long distance weapons.  Darren has gotten pretty good with a spear.  He’s been at that station for a few hours now, and we have you with your bow.  We need someone to be able to take down an opponent up close.” She explains. 

“What would I do without you?” I say admiringly.  I’ve got to say, she’s brilliant most of the time.  Now is no exception. 

Just then we are instructed to go to lunch.  I gather my allies at one table and we begin to discuss our plan in the arena.  I can’t help but feel sorry for Charlotte.  She’s off in a corner of the room with a hurt expression on her face, probably wondering why she wasn’t asked to join the alliance of District 7.  She’s too proud to come over and try to join herself though.  It seems she’d rather die on her own terms in the arena than have to join an alliance to stay alive, but something tells me she’ll be a precarious adversary in the Games.

Over the next few days we train as hard as we can.  Darren becomes proficient with spears and shelter.  I know my knowledge of hunting and the bow should be enough of an asset to the team, but I learn how to use a knife well in combat and memorize almost every bit of plant knowledge I can.  Collin masters the sword and basic scavenging.  Clare becomes handy with short blades and tree climbing.  Lana also becomes adept with spears as Darren does and goes through some endurance training.  We’re as ready for the Games as you can get in the few days we’re given.

During my private training session where the head Gamemakers will give me a score from one to twelve, I immediately head for an intricately designed golden bow.  I’m the first person enter the training center for my private session in my district so I seem to have the attention of the Gamemakers.  I run over to a series of dummies and pull a golden arrow back to my eye.  One after another the dummies are struck by my arrows in their hearts, skulls, and torso.  They seem impressed, but just to spice things up a bit I take a serrated knife from one of the stations and saw off the heads of every dummy.  I thought this would show the Gamemakers my viciousness.  My ability to kill without mercy, but it only frightens them terribly.  At the end of the day when the scores are announced they give me a meager five out of twelve.  I guess I went too far.  Bunch of spineless Capitol folk.  Lana receives a seven, and Darren receives a six.  We’re not doing so well.  Clare receives a score of five like me and Collin receives a ten.  I see I’ve made a good choice bringing him into the fold, but his boasting after the announcement irks me.  This isn’t a game like the name suggests.  This is life or death.  Charlotte’s score surprises me most of all.  A perfect twelve.  She simply nods her head and returns to her quarters.  Maybe I should rethink this alliance.  No what am I thinking.  Charlotte can’t be trusted.  She’d turn around and slit all our throats in a heartbeat.  Collin and Clare are the way to go.  We then prepare for our interviews separately.

   I do terrible during my interview.  Usually I’m very outgoing and charismatic, but the sight of neon colors and a screaming crowd makes me stumble over my own words and I develop a nervous stutter that makes me appear to be a bumbling idiot.  I definitely didn’t win over any sponsors between this interview and my horrible training score.  Lana, on the other hand, is perfect.  She wears a dark green gown that reminds me of the pine needles from back home.  She is energetic and sharp as a tack the entire time.  At least she gained our alliance some sponsors.  Hopefully. 

That night I managed to get a few hours of sleep and woke early the following morning.  My arena uniform was laid out for me at the door to my room.  This year’s was fairly simple.  A form-fitted long-sleeved maroon colored shirt, and matching sleeveless nylon jacket with black skin tight spandex pants, an empty black utility belt, and ankle high black leather boots.  It looks like I am ready to run a marathon, but this is the uniform I would die in.  I dress myself and head to the roof to be transported to the arena. 

In the hovercraft I’m restrained by five strong Peacekeepers as they put the tracking chip into my arm.  I hate needles.  So much in fact, I kicked the nurse who attempted to stick the needle into my forearm.  Not on purpose of course, it was a reflex.  Sort of.

Once I had arrived to my small private room with my stylist she exchanges a few comforting words, but remains oblivious to the complete horror of the situation.  I step into the tube to be taken into the arena and wait for the plate to rise.  I begin to shake uncontrollably.  Fear is setting in.  This is it.  The bloodbath at the Cornucopia is about to begin.  I have a mission.  Protect Lana at all costs. 

The plate begins to rise.

Don’t panic and grab a bow.  Don’t go all the way into the mouth of the Cornucopia, but grab something useful.  Don’t go for the obvious route.  Be unpredictable, but stay smart about my decisions.  I can do this!

I’m blinded by the sun as I’m pushed out of the tube and into the arena.  For a moment I can’t see or make sense of anything. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, let the One-Hundredth Hunger Games begin!” Echoes the voice of Claudius Templesmith, the official Hunger Games announcer.  

Sixty seconds left before I can leave my plate.  As my eyes adjust I can see the tributes are all equidistant from the gold horn shaped Cornucopia in a crescent shape, all facing the mouth.  Further investigation shows we’re all on a small grassy island, maybe fifty yards wide and it’s completely spherical.  The island has a deep and wide river surrounding it with what looks like a strong current.  It would be suicide to try and swim across.  So how do we cross it?  Then I see the small boulders that appear every twenty yards or so all the way around the island that offer safe passage across the river.  They seem slippery though.  One misplaced foot and I could slip and crack my head open on the rocks or become victim to one of the other tributes.  Beyond the river is a dense forest.  No pine trees in sight, just light colored trees with big leaves and vines.  Shame.  Some pines might have made this whole experience a bit more bearable.  The Cornucopia is filled with everything imaginable for survival in the arena and I spot a pearl white colored wooden bow with a matching set of arrows directly in the mouth of the Cornucopia.  Too risky to grab that.  I’ll have to grab another weapon.  Then an idea occurs to me.  The Gamemakers haven’t always placed weapons near the Cornucopia.  Sometimes as a playful trick they have placed them behind the tributes or even at random places in the arena to create some entertaining confusion.  When I turn around I see nothing.  No daggers in the river and no maces behind my pedestal.  Then I spot it.  A jet black bow with a quiver of arrows perched fifteen feet up in a tree across the river.  I can get it if I climb fast enough.  I can do this.  Just then the gong rings and I’m so unprepared I fall flat on my face while attempting to leap off my plate. 

' 'Chapter 3

I realize I can’t only grab a bow.  One of these packs may hold something essential to surviving the night.  I pick myself up off the ground and sprint towards the Cornucopia.  The sunlight gleaming off of the golden horn shaped structure makes it difficult to see where my allies or enemies are.  I grab a green messenger bag about twenty feet from the mouth where tributes are already starting to hack away at each other with all kinds of wicked weapons.  To my right I see Charlotte has found a vest holding at least ten throwing knives.  A ways off I see Collin actually run into the Cornucopia and lunge for a large sword.  No sign of Darren, Clare, or Lana in the chaos around me.  When a girl from District 5 falls to her knees clutching her bloody throat only ten feet away I know I can’t spend time searching for anyone.  I turn in the opposite direction and run directly for the bow hanging in the tree across the river.  I carefully place my feet one step after the other on the slippery rocks.  On the last rock; however, I slip and fall onto my back, nearly relinquishing my hold on the messenger bag.  Just as I regain my footing a spear hurtles past me into the green forest.  I turn around and see one of the District 1 boys glaring at me.  He quickly speeds back to a pile of spears, but I don’t stick around for his second attempt.  By the time he has returned with several spears I’m already ten feet up in the tree.  He hurls another one in my direction and I move my foot just in time to avoid being impaled on the soft bark of the tree.

He shouts in frustration and readies another spear.  Just then I reach out and grab the bow and a quiver of arrows hanging with it.  Unfortunately the thin branch breaks and I go tumbling down with my newly acquired weapons.  His spear grazes my cheek as I pick myself up from the ground and it begins to bleed slightly.  My knee is throbbing badly, but I can’t check for any damage now and I sprint away from the area into the trees.  I feel safer closed in by the trees than out in the open near the other tributes.  I pull the messenger bag and quiver of arrows over my shoulder as I dash through the forest, but they both fit too loosely.  I weave back and forth as I run deeper into the forest and reach a small meadow.  Another tribute comes crashing through the branches into the meadow and I ready an arrow on the string of my bow.  I pull the arrow back to my eye, look down the shaft at my target, and am ready to shoot when I see it’s Charlotte.  She has her vest of weapons on and draws a knife, but hesitates when she recognizes me.  We both understand what we should do, but can’t do it.  I sprint in another direction back into the trees and I can hear her footsteps fading into the distance as she must have run the other way.  I continue to run for another fifteen minutes, but I can tell I’m becoming dehydrated quickly.  I slow down and walk for about half an hour.  I’ve put a lot of distance between me and the Cornucopia.  Now I need to get my priorities in order.  First order of business.  Organize my supplies.

I sit on a small boulder covered in small vines and lay my messenger bag, quiver of arrows, and bow down.  After opening my bag I can see I snagged a pretty good supply of materials.  In it is a bag of beef jerky, a metallic container filled with water, some flint for a fire, and a small tanto edged knife.  I take a sip of water and save the rest for later.  No point in eating yet.  I should conserve it for as long as possible.  The knife comes with a high quality sheath and I attach it to my utility belt.  Good, I’ve got two good weapons already.  I tighten the strap of the messenger bag around my shoulders to make it fit snuggly.  I then count the arrows in the quiver and am surprised to find twenty flawless black arrows.  That’s more than enough.  I sling the quiver over my shoulder and tighten the strap of this as well.  My bow is a simple Recurve Bow, but I can tell it’s powerful and will do its job well.  I grasp it firmly in my left hand and get started on my second order of business.  Find Lana and the rest of the alliance.  There is no way I can go back to the Cornucopia to find her.  I’d only get myself killed.  So I decide to climb a tree and scan the area.

From the top of a nearby tree I can see about three miles from where I am is a mesa.  The top looks hollowed out like there is a crater of some sort, which could be filled with anything.  To the left of the mesa is more forest and a plain looking area beyond that.  Perhaps it’s a dry field of dirt.  It’s too difficult to tell from here.  Behind me I spot the island with the Cornucopia.  Several dead bodies lie on the island, and there are probably more in the forest nearby.  After some careful consideration I decide to make a beeline for the mesa.  If Lana utilized the same tactic to scan the area it’s most likely that she would head for the mesa.  High ground is where we should all be.  With a bit of luck it’s not where we all end up though.

Just as I am about to start climbing down to the ground I hear someone running towards the base of the tree.  I nock an arrow to the string of my bow and get ready to shoot.  A boy from District 9 starts to climb the tree and just as I’m about to release one of my black arrows into his skull, a white arrow, shot from the ground, lodges itself in his back and he falls from the tree.  He’s not dead yet.  He stands and looks like he’s about to run, but it’s clear he has no strength to do so and leans against the tree.  He seems to make peace with his impending death.  Just as he closes his eyes an axe hurtles out of nowhere and embeds itself in his forehead.  And that was the end of the twelve year old boy from Nine. 

My mouth is dry from witnessing the death of this boy below me.  I’ve seen hundreds of children die on screen in previous years as I was forced to watch the publicly televised Hunger Games, but this was different.  This was suddenly very real.  I’m about to put my arrow back in my quiver when I realize there is still another tribute close by who killed the boy.  Soon I hear their loud voices approaching.  It’s the Career pack.  Usually they don’t start hunting this soon.  The rest of us tributes at least have until nightfall before the pack comes hunting us down.  I guess this year they decided to switch it up a bit.  Perhaps to take us by surprise.  It worked.

A tall girl with outlandish looking light pink hair comes forward and yanks her white arrow free.  It was a clean shot.  It’s obvious she’s no novice with a bow and arrow.  She’s an expert.  Two archers this year.  I’m sure she and I are being featured right now.  They must have a close-up on me with their hidden cameras this very second.  After all I’m in a fairly dangerous situation, caught fifty feet up in a tree with a group of deadly teenagers below me.  I grin slyly for the cameras to prove my lack of fear despite the fact that I’m absolutely terrified.  Hopefully the pack won’t have the sense to look up.  Katniss Everdeen was in a situation similar to this during the 74th Hunger Games.  The only difference being the Career pack chased her up a tree while the Career pack below me has no idea I’m here.  I think.     

A brutish seventeen year old boy, also from One, comes up and yanks the axe free from the other boy’s forehead.  Then rather quickly they clear out and start searching for the other tributes.  Once I finally feel a bit safer I realize my knee is still throbbing and my cheek is still bleeding a bit.  I take my maroon colored shirt and dab it over my cut which quickly stops the bleeding.  Then I roll up my spandex pants and observe my knee.  It looks like it’s been bruised, but I don’t think it’s anything permanent or serious.  It should feel better by tomorrow if I take it easy today.  I climb down the branches of the tree and take one look at the boy from Nine.  The gushing blood and blank stare on his face nearly makes me hack up this morning’s breakfast.  I begin walking in the other direction and don’t even hear the hovercraft that silently takes him away back home. 

I have a slight limp from my knee so hunting is out of the question for me today and I take a piece of beef jerky out of my bag.  Strangely enough I haven’t seen any animals yet, or even heard them.  No birds chirping.  No rabbits shuffling under the thick foliage.  No bugs clicking their wings.  Just nothing.  I walk until I hear the cannons start to fire.  How many have died on the first day?  Nine.  Nine tributes have died today.  I wonder who it could be.  Is Lana still alive?  Of course she is.  She’s smart.  She probably got a good weapon and immediately got off the grassy island.  What about Collin?  After all he did run directly into the Cornucopia where some of the toughest tributes from District 1 were headed.  He could have easily been killed.  Then again, he was so skilled with that sword I don’t think many tributes could compete with him in close-quarter combat.  I have faith he’s alive, which means Clare probably is too.  And Darren?  He was one of the smartest people I knew.  All I can hope for with him is that he didn’t over-calculate things too much and risked staying put for too long. 

The sun begins to set just as I reach the mesa.  It’s taller than I expected and I’d rather not explore this newer area in the dark.  I circle the mesa and search for a tall tree.  After a few minutes I find a huge cottonwood tree and climb as I high as I dare go.  Only when I hear the branches starting to crack under my weight do I stop climbing and settle in one-hundred feet up.  I fall asleep rather easily.  My muscles and joints are aching and I am eager to escape this nightmare.  I’m jolted awake by the blaring trumpets of the Capitol anthem and I now get my chance to see who made it past the first day.   

First up in the sky is the small mousy girl from Five.  So all of One survived.  A pack of six careers will be very hard to beat, but it’s been done before.  Two more girls from Five appear.  Next up is the thirteen year old girl from Nine.  I can’t help but be thankful to see her face, because that means everyone from Seven survived.  Lana survived.  The anthem plays on until every tribute from Nine has been shown.  So who’s left in the game?  Everyone from District 1 including the girl with the pearl white bow and the brute of a boy who seems to love his axe more than anything else.  Then there are the two eighteen year old boys from Five who were known to be good with spears and the boy who was also pretty good with his axe.  Then there’s Charlotte.  I begin to regret not killing her.  In the end I’ll have to and now I have one extra enemy to contend with as I protect Lana.  Hopefully tomorrow I can reunite with the rest of my alliance.  I’m tired of being alone.

The following morning I wake up feeling surprisingly rejuvenated.  No Gamemaker traps in the night, or a bloodthirsty tribute trying to kill me.  The break from the action of the first day is exactly what I needed.  I quickly recount my supplies and feel the cut on my cheek.  It’s scabbed over already so no need to worry much about infection.  I roll up my pant leg and see how my knee is.  The bruise has turned from its dark purple color to a sickly yellow one.  I lean my weight on it and I can tell it’s much better than the day before.  Hunting should be no problem today, if I actually manage to find some game.  I begin to scale down the side of the tree.  Once at the bottom I wonder if Lana has already made it to the top of the mesa.  Somehow I doubt it, but if she has then I get to have my best friend back.  I begin hiking up the side of the mesa and as I go the trees begin to thin.  I don’t much like this.  Thinner trees mean it’ll be easier to spot me.  Right now the last thing I need is to be pulled into a fight with another tribute.  I may be a good shot with my bow, but the fear of actual combat can make anybody freeze up.  The incline of the slope begins to increase and I find myself using the spare trees to pull myself up the rocky hill.  Finally the trees stop all together and I see the top of the mesa.  Once I reach the peak I get the shock of my life. 

Chapter 4

Inside the crater at the top of the rocky mesa are two rows of twelve houses with a paved road in between and a simple concrete sidewalk on each side.  I’m about to run in and explore when I remember that other tributes are armed and ready to kill me.  I nock an arrow to the string of my bow and silently sneak down the small steep crater side.  The sight of the houses isn’t comforting at all.  I sense a trap, but whatever it is I must be over-looking it.  The houses are all dramatically different from one another.  The house closest to me on the far end of the road is a vast mansion three stories high.  It’s painted white and gold and has a chrome roof.  It screams the Capitol, but the house to its right is a rickety looking one story cabin.  That’s when I realize that I’ve seen this cabin before.  It’s Charlotte’s house.  It’s been recreated in perfect detail as far as I can tell.  The houses around it remain ever-changing.  A mansion there.  A run-down brick house here.  Another one story cabin next to it.  Wait!  That’s my cabin.  My exact cabin!  It even has the initials I carved into the wall years ago. 

I reach for the doorknob when I remember that this could all be a trap.  Maybe opening the door will set off an explosion that’s designed to kill anyone stupid enough to fall into the trap.  Through the window I can see my bed, dinner table, and even the old rickety ladder my father uses at the mill.  I can’t risk going inside and I move on.  The potential for supplies in the houses nearly brings me back, but I’ll discuss that with the alliance once I meet them.  For now I need to stay put and find some sort of safe vantage point to keep look out for my allies.  At the end of the street there is a small rock outcropping.  I cautiously approach it and sit down.  The arrow remains nocked to the string of my bow while I eat another piece of jerky for breakfast.  Hunting can happen later this afternoon or maybe tonight.  Only a half hour passes by when I see two figures at the other end of the mesa come leaping over the edge of the crater.  They frantically rush down the street directly towards me.  I pull the arrow back to my eye and aim straight at the larger one’s heart, but I don’t shoot.  I’m waiting for my companions and these two might be some of them.  It’s a good thing I waited.  Once they are twenty yards from me I can clearly see that it’s Collin and Clare.  He is gripping her hand tightly and pulling her along the street. 

“COLLIN!” I shout at him as he gets closer.  He immediately draws a large black colored sword slung over his back in a sheath and twirls his head around, looking for the source of my voice.  “Up here!” I bellow down to him.  He spots me and begins to head my direction.  He doesn’t sheath the sword so my bow remains firmly in my grasp.  He may have been one of my friends in District 7, but in the arena friendships have trouble staying intact for obvious reasons.  He pants heavily as he lifts Clare up onto the rock outcropping.  This gesture makes me less tense as he would never put Clare into harm’s way, which means he must view me as an ally. 

“What are you running from?” I whisper to him.

“A huge pack of Careers.  We can’t stay here.  I need to get Clare to safety.” Collin whispers back. 

“Well I have an idea if you’re up for it.” I say quietly.  My mind has changed about the houses.  I just hope I’m not wrong.

“What do you have in mind?” He asks.

“There’s a ladder inside my cabin over there.  If we can get to it in time we could climb up onto one of the roofs of the mansions and camp out for the night.” I suggest

“You do realize these houses are probably booby trapped right?  The second you walk into your cabin the whole mesa could cave in.” He angrily responds.

“Well I think I’ll take my chances with that rather than be hunted for days on foot by the Career pack.”  I exclaim.

Collin considers this for a moment and nods his head.  We sprint back to my cabin and ready our weapons.  Clare pulls out two kukri knives that are strapped to each of her thighs and braces herself for a trap.  I reach my hand towards the handle on the rickety door.  I start to shake slightly, but steady myself.  The cameras are watching.  I have to show caution not fear.  I gently grip the door handle and slowly turn the knob.  Nothing happens.  I open the door and peer inside.  There doesn’t seem to be any signs of a trap, but the Gamemakers can get pretty tricky.  Suddenly I hear the sounds of shouting teenagers scrambling up the rocky mesa.  The Career pack is close.  Very close.  No time to worry about traps now.  I lunge for the old ladder and hoist is onto my shoulder.  I squeeze my way out of the doorway and Collin grabs the end closest to him.  We dash towards the large mansion I walked past earlier and set the ladder against it.  It’s barely tall enough to get us to the roof, but it’ll do.  The shouts from the career pack are much closer now. 

“Clare, go.” Collin says in a hushed voice. 

Clare sheathes her two kukri knives and climbs as fast as she can.  Collin motions for me to go next and I scramble my way to the top, but having to hold my bow in one hand slows me down considerably.  The voices are getting louder and are probably only a few feet from the lip of the crater.  I roll over the edge of the flat roof and see it is made of polished sheet metal.  I peer over the edge and see Collin climbing to the top at an extremely fast pace.  Once he reaches the roof the both of us hoist the ladder up off the ground and onto the roof with us.  Just as the last rung of the ladder is safely on the roof, I can see the group of careers charging into the crater.  Clare, Collin, and I duck our heads low so as not to be seen.  The Careers begin shouting their admiration to the Gamemakers about their creativity.  Bunch of suck-ups.  Eventually they start kicking doors down looking for tributes hiding themselves away inside the houses.  They certainly are bold.  Or maybe they’re just plain stupid.  Probably both.  After a few hours of them breaking into the twenty four houses they move on out of the crater and into the rest of the arena. We were safe for now. 

“Have you seen any other people from our alliance?” I ask Collin.

“No.  I saw a guy from District 5 running through the forest yesterday just after dusk, but he’s the only other tribute I’ve seen other than the Career pack since the bloodbath.” He calmly says.

“We need to find Lana and Darren.  They’re going to die out there alone.” I say urgently.

“There’s not much we can do to find them.  It’s best if we just stay put and hope that they make their way to the crater.” Clare says.  She’s probably right.  Even if we went out searching we could spend days going in the wrong direction.  It’s too risky to go searching, so for now the three of us would stay safe and sound up on the roof of one of the tribute’s mansion. 

For the next few hours we lay out our supplies and memorize them and their uses well.  On top of the bag that I was able to grab, they each were able to snatch up two backpacks filled with supplies, no doubt because of Collin’s skill with his sword at the bloodbath.  I’m about to ask how many tributes Collin has killed already, but decide that I don’t really want to know.  His sword is covered with dried blood so it’s clear he didn’t escape just by running away.  Better not to think about how deadly the person sitting right next to me is.  After emptying their packs I see they struck gold.  Five large canisters of water, two blankets, four bags of dried fruit, some flint, and some thick red rope.  The sun is beginning to descend in the sky, but there are still a few hours of daylight left.  I decide that I’ll go hunting at dusk.  Despite having as much food as we have, I realize it will go quickly.  We’ll need more by the end of the week. 

Once all the supplies are safely tucked away into our packs, Collin and I decide to explore the other houses to scrounge up any supplies we can find.  After Clare gives us the go ahead we both quickly and silently descend the rickety old ladder to the crater floor.  Once at the bottom Clare pulls the ladder up onto the roof and Collin and I walk towards Charlotte’s cabin.  I nock and arrow to the string of my bow and stay on the lookout for other tributes while Collin searches the cabin.  After ten minutes he comes back outside with a disappointed expression.  I nod my head and we walk to the next house.  Collin pulls his sword out and I investigate the brick house.  The interior is one large room with a wobbly old table in the center.  Next to it, along one wall, are two small cots and that’s it.  No tools, no clothes, and no food.  Seems like some of these tributes were on the verge of starvation before the Games, but that’s to be expected. 

As I turn around to leave the depressing house, I notice a digital clock on the far wall.  Strange for someone who seems to be so poor.  Even stranger was that it was on a timer counting down to something.  Only sixty seconds left on it.  I race out of the house and we move back towards my cabin.  I don’t feel like waiting around for whatever happens when the clock hits zero.

“There was a timer on the wall of that house back there.” I tell Collin.

“That’s weird.  How much time was left?” Collin asks.

“About a minute.  Let’s not worry about it though.  Could be anything.” I say with a false tone of confidence.

 Collin strides into my cabin and begins rifling through the dressers in the center room.  Suddenly I hear a cannon fire.  Every muscle in my body tenses as I look around for some kind of danger.  Nothing.  Collin comes sprinting out of the house and grabs me by the shoulder pulling me along back towards the mansion. 

“What’s wrong?!” I yell to him.

“The timer was in your house too and there was only ten seconds left on it!” He frantically explains to me.

Just then a deep rumbling resonates from the center of the mesa and the ground beneath our feet shakes.  I turn around, but I can’t see anything actually happening.  Some of the houses are swaying slightly from the vibrations in the ground, but now is not the time to be making guesses about this new challenge.

“CLARE!  DROP THE BAGS OFF THE ROOF AND GET DOWN HERE!” Collin yells up to the roof.  All three bags come falling to the ground immediately and the ladder swings over the edge of the roof.  Clare begins to descend the ladder, but the trembling in the earth snaps the ladder in half.  As she plummets to the ground Collin leaps forward and catches her in his arms.  This saves her, but Collin’s left shoulder is crushed between Clare and the crater floor.  He shouts in pain, but there’s no time for comforting words or a helping hand.  I grab my pack and sprint to the edge of the crater.  I turn around before climbing the small rocky incline and see Collin and Clare running in my direction with both of their packs on Clare’s back.  Collin winces in pain with every step he takes, but he doesn’t slow down in any way. Clare and I climb to the top of the crater and hoist Collin up with us.  Just before we go downhill I see the paved road cracking away.  In the deep fault line that is now appearing yellowish steam is shooting out and filling the crater.  No doubt it isn’t beneficial to our health so we run down the mesa’s steep side.  The shaking intensifies and all three of us lose our footing.  My head throbs as we all go tumbling down into the tree line. Once at the bottom we pick ourselves up from the ground and sprint further into the forest.  Branches and underbrush whip at our faces and legs while we run further away from the mesa.  I suppose I’ll have to find Lana some other way. 

A deafening roar comes from the mesa as the greatest tremor of all knocks the three of us to the ground again.  The impact knocks the wind out of me and I’m temporarily blinded as my eyes tear up.  I turn over on my back and see a towering geyser of molten lava erupting from the center of the mesa. 

Chapter 5

We’re still too close to the mesa to be safe.  Much too close.  Soon the superheated lava would cover this entire area and we’d be burned alive. I pick Collin up and support him by slinging his good arm over my shoulder and we all run farther into the forest away from the mesa, unsure of what we could be running into.  The heat of the lava can be felt even from here and this spurs us forward.  A painful stitch in my side causes a slight limp, but I can’t stop.  Sweat is dripping down my forehead and into my eyes.  Tree roots and shrubbery trip me left and right, but if I fall I could die.  If I die, Lana might too.  Then I think of her bloody corpse next to a victorious Career and this spurs me forward with renewed vigor.  Suddenly I have more energy than I ever have and I can keep running.  Huge volcanic rocks begin pelting the earth around us, igniting anything they touch with their treacherous heat.  Globs of molten magma even make it out as far as we are, and we must change course every few seconds to avoid being barbequed.  Fire is everywhere around us and the sulfurous fumes from the volcano make it difficult to breath. 

An hour later my body finally runs out of juice and I fall to the ground with Collin.  I’ve put a lot of miles between myself and the volcano now.  Clare catches up and slumps down next to a large tree.  The three of us are soaked in sweat and we can’t move at all.  We’re at least fifteen miles from the volcanic mesa now and virtually safe, assuming the lava cools down and hardens before it reaches this far into the forest.  I can smell smoke as there must be a large forest fire near the mesa.  I look up and see what I believe to be snow for a moment.  Once it reaches the ground I see that I’m wrong.  It’s ash.  Ash from the volcano is blanketing the area.  I pull my sweat drenched shirt and jacket off to reveal I’m completely covered in ugly looking bruises and cuts.  The fall down the mesa and the fifteen mile run did a real number on us.    

I pull a canister of water from Collin’s pack and we all pass it along to each other until it’s completely empty.  This may not be tactically smart, but we we’re all very dehydrated from the run and we need our strength.  It’s only day two and there’s still fifteen tributes left, ten of which are enemies out in the arena.  No wait.  Nine now.  The cannon I heard earlier could have been anyone.  Please don’t be Lana, I think.  Please.  Another hour passes and the sun is setting.  The ash is about an inch thick wherever I look.  I’ve rested myself enough.  I need to hunt before we move on.  I grab my bow and stand up.  Suddenly the world around me gets darker and I almost pass out.  Luckily the tunnel vision passes and I can stand normally.  I pull my shirt and jacket back on which have both dried a bit.  My stomach growls for food and I take a piece of beef jerky from my pack.

“I’ll be back in a few hours after I’ve finished hunting.” I say quietly to them.

They simply nod their heads in understanding as I march into a new section of the forest.  After about half an hour of walking the sun has completely set and darkness has covered the forest.  I scale a tree and perch myself up about twenty feet scanning the forest floor.  Back home I would usually only have to wait for about an hour before something scurried beneath me, but after an hour passes I still haven’t seen anything.  There are still no sounds of any wildlife.  I decide to simply wait longer, because something has to pass by eventually.  But nothing does.  I wait a whole three hours before I grudgingly hop out of the tree and head back to camp.  Something’s not right.  What are the Gamemakers playing at?  Is this the only section of the forest that’s completely animal free or is the entire arena that way?  No.  They wouldn’t not put any wildlife in the arena.  Too many people would die of starvation, and that’s no fun to watch for the Capitol.  They want to see blood.  But then I realize that there’s more food in the packs than usual.  No, think positive.  It must just be this section of the forest that has no game, and the volcano might have driven the wildlife miles away.  Tomorrow we’ll be in a new section of the arena and I’ll be able to hunt again.

As I make the journey back to camp the Capitol anthem begins to play.  I climb the closest tree and look up into the sky to see who the cannon fire was for earlier.  It’s one of the girls from District 1.  That’s strange.  Could she have been killed by another tribute?  No, otherwise there would have been a second cannon for whoever killed her when the rest of the pack hunted the tribute down.  She must have run into a Gamemaker trap somehow.  I wish I knew.  The Capitol anthem ends and I hike back to camp undisturbed by tributes, mutts, traps, or animals.

Clare is asleep under one of the blankets, but Collin is nowhere to be seen.  I nock an arrow to the string of my bow and scan the surrounding area.  Suddenly someone strong has me by the neck and has thrown me to the ground.  I look up and see Collin glaring at me with his sword pointed at my throat.  He recognizes me and relinquishes his hold. 

“Sorry, I thought you were another tribute.” He says apologetically.

“Who else in the arena has a jet black bow?” I ask.

“You never know.” He answers.  He does have a point, and he’s just trying to protect someone he loves.  I can relate.

“Where’s your game?” He asks.

“I couldn’t catch anything.  It’s weird.  I don’t think the Gamemakers have any animals in this section of the arena or the volcano drove them all away.” I answer.

“Are you sure you’re not just a bad hunter?” He accuses.

“No I’m telling you, there is nothing here.  Listen.  You can’t hear anything.  No birds, bugs, or animals.  We should get moving as soon as we can tomorrow morning.” I explain.

He shrugs his shoulders and checks on Clare.  I tell him to sleep for now and that I’d take watch for a while.  After several hours I can barely keep my eyes open and I wake him to take a shift.  As soon as I close my eyes I’m being shook awake by Collin and I can see the sun rising.  What a refreshing bit of sleep. 

We pack our supplies and begin hiking south.  The trees grow thicker and Collin takes the lead as he hacks away the thick underbrush with his sword.  By midday we’ve covered at least ten miles.  This arena is enormous.  While this comforts me because it spaces the tributes out, which makes a run in with the Careers less likely, it also disappoints me when I realize finding Lana is going to be nearly impossible.  We take a break from our progress near an open meadow to rehydrate and eat some of our food reserve.  There’s no ash here, which eases me.  Seeing the gray surroundings reflected my mood all too well.  The air is hotter today and we’ve all sweat a considerable amount. While Collin and Clare spend a moment eating and resting I scan the area with an arrow already attached to the string of my bow.  A glimmer of light catches my eye.  I turn to see a small flashing red light about one-hundred feet away from our camp.  I don’t move a muscle as I size up this new part of the arena.  What could it be?  It doesn’t seem threatening, but neither did the houses and that didn’t turn out so well.

“Collin.  Clare.  Come here.” I say in a hushed voice.

They bring the packs with them and walk towards me.  Once they see the flashing light they each crouch down low and draw their weapons.

“What is that?” Clare asks.

“I don’t know.” I say.

Suddenly a beeping sound can be heard in sync with the flashes of light. 

“What should we do?” Collin asks.

I don’t answer him.  I’m completely unsure as to what we should do.  The beeping and flashing begin to quicken.  I draw the arrow back to my eye and launch it directly at the light.  The arrow disappears behind the light and seemingly does nothing to it.  The beeping and flashing continue to quicken until it’s practically one high pitched squeal.  This goes on for another few minutes until it abruptly stops.  I’m about to move when the brightest light I’ve ever seen emanates from where the flashing red light was.  I can barely see anything, but then realize there is another immediate danger.  The light radiates a heat so intense I can feel my skin cooking.  Collin, Clare, and I duck behind some larger trees where the beam of light can’t fully reach us. 

The heat is still there, but it’s bearable now.  A few minutes pass by, but the beam of light persists and seems to be growing hotter.  The grass and flowers in the meadow begin to catch fire.  I’m about to make a run for it through the heat when the light disappears.  Collin, Clare, and I don’t take any time discussing what just happened and take off running further south.  Just when I feel like we’re safe I hear the beeping again.  I turn around and see the flashing light is back in the same location as before.  Good.  We should be just fine over here away from the beam. 

I turn around and continue hiking south away from the flashing light when I begin to hear the beeping more clearly.  I look back to see the flashing light sliding further south following us.  Oh no. 

“Run!” I yell at the others.

We take off running as fast as we can, but the light persists and begins squealing again.  The sound abruptly stops and I know what’s about to come, but we’re still ahead of the light.  The same intense beam of light appears, but it’s gotten worse.  The heat is much more extreme and the beam ignites all the foliage it touches instantaneously!  I can see no end to either side of the beam and I’m forced to keep running south.  The beam isn’t traveling too fast, but it doesn’t tire the way we tributes can.  Clare begins to fall behind and her hair is singed on the beam.  This gives her a surge of adrenaline and she soon is fifteen feet ahead of Collin and I.  The beam isn’t stopping this time around, and the heat continues to intensify.  Trees several feet ahead of the beam begin to burst into flames.  Pretty soon this thing will have cooked us alive.  There must be a way to survive this.  There must be!  I see a break in the trees ahead, which should make it easier to run.  The thick underbrush of the forest catches hold of my foot and I go tumbling down onto the ground.  I pick myself up fast enough to stay ahead of the beam, but before we can reach the clearing a huge branch from one the trees overhead falls directly in my path already lit on fire from the heat of the beam.  I swerve out of the way, but accidently bump into Clare who falls to the ground.  I race back to her and lift her up, but the beam is only ten feet away and the sleeve of her shirt catches fire before we can get far enough away.  She pats the sleeve in hopes of extinguishing the flames to no avail.  We break through the trees into the clearing and I can see a large lake about five hundred feet from the tree line.  Finally something good happens.  Clare sprints to the water’s edge and dives in.  Collin and I follow suit.  I stay under the surface of the water hoping the beam won’t penetrate the depths of the lake, but after a while when I can no longer hold my breath I return to the surface to see the beam has stopped at the tree line. 

After several minutes the beam disappears and leaves a massive fire in its wake.  Collin, Clare, and I pull ourselves from the water and lie down along the sandy shore line panting heavily.  My skin is dry and feels as if I’ve received a bad sunburn.  I’m so tired of the Gamemakers trying to roast me.  Clare pulls what’s left of her sleeve back to show a large burn along her arm.  It’s not too severe but it stretches all the way from her mid forearm to her shoulder.  Collin inspects the burn and rifles through his pack for something that could help.  Clare gets tired of waiting for whatever Collin is looking for and dives into the lake again. 

I look around at the area we have landed ourselves in and smile at the luck of it all.  The lake is about one mile wide and stretches on for about two miles southward.  To my right is more of the forest and I can see the mesa.  It’s completely covered in black and grey solidified lava.  Steam and smoke still erupt from the center of the crater spraying the nearby area at the mesa with ash.  To my left is just more forest and two tributes.  Wait!  Two tributes!  I grab my bow from the ground and nock an arrow to the string.  I pull the arrow back to my eye and wait for them to get a little closer.  They were maybe two-hundred feet away and didn’t seem to notice us.  Collin draws his sword, but I hold out my hand, silently telling him to stay put.  I stand up and begin to approach them.  The tribute on the left takes notice of me, but I can’t see their faces.  The heat waves and smoke from the forest fire make it nearly impossible.  The tribute, surprisingly drops their weapon and begins running towards me.  Does this person want to die?  Even if they had a weapon I’d have an arrow in their brain before they could even lift a finger against me.  I’d gladly oblige this person’s death wish to keep Lana safe. 

As the tribute gets closer I can see it’s a girl by her long brown hair.  Then it hits me.  I drop my bow and run towards her.  When she’s only a few feet away I can see the joy on her face and I embrace her like I’d never hold her again. 

I’ve found Lana.

Chapter 6

            It’s only when I remember that this beam could have brought the other tributes closer to our alliance that I relinquish my hold on Lana.

            “It’s so good to see you. Are you hurt at all?” I ask inspecting the nearby area.

            “No I’m fine.  Completely fine.  I thought I’d never see you again.” She says.

            “Same here, but we’re fine now.  Who’s with you?” I ask while slowly pulling the knife from its sheath free.

            “It’s Darren.  We escaped the bloodbath together.  I’m sorry I couldn’t find you.  Everything got so crazy; I didn’t know what to do.” She says looking down at her feet.  I’m the one who can’t find her and she’s apologizing to me. 

            “No, no, no it’s fine.  You did exactly what you should have done.  I tried to find you, but there were too many tributes in attack mode.  It was too dangerous, but none of that matters now, because we’ve found each other.” I say hugging her again. 

            The entire alliance was together and even though the beam of light nearly killed us, it did serve a greater purpose.  Darren and Lana join the rest of us by the water and we do another supply count.  Lana was unable to grab any kind of pack, but did manage to grab a long silver spear.  Darren also grabbed a spear and a large nylon rucksack filled with a blanket, three bags of peanuts, one canister of water which was nearly empty now, and a pocket-knife with a two inch blade.  Nothing spectacular, but it kept them alive these three days.  Unfortunately, the bags of food only further confirm my theory that there might not be any wildlife in the entire arena.  Not once during the escape from the heat beam did I see a single animal bounding away from it.  It’s a good thing that I studied edible plants and berries before the Games begun.  That skill might come in handy now.

            The sun is blocked slightly from the enormous cloud of smoke coming from the forest fire behind us and the ash cloud from the mesa, but right now we were focused on forming a plan.  For the past few days, the plan was to find each other, but now that we have it’s time to devise a plan to survive together.  We had discussed this some in the training center, but we could never decide whether or not to actively pursue the other tributes or, find a remote corner of the arena to survive and wait it out, before splitting up.  After some careful consideration and weighing all the possibilities, we come to a majority vote to wait it out.  The only person who wants to go looking for trouble is Collin.  Eventually he calms down about the vote and we begin hiking further south.

            We refill our water before completely passing by the lake.  Seven full containers of water for five people.  We should easily be able to make this last for quite a while, and once we start to run dry all we will need to do is come back to the lake and refill.  Darren tells joke after joke as we march along.  I’ve missed having a bit of humor in my life.  If it weren’t for the fact that we were all armed to the teeth, his presence almost makes this place feel like home.  He was definitely worth having in the alliance.  Only thirty minutes have passed by when we see a second tree line up ahead.  As we approach it I notice the air is becoming dryer.  My skin becomes itchy and irritated.  Once we push our way through the trees the reason for the arid air becomes apparent.

            In front of us is a vast desert that stretches on as far as the eye can see.  This certainly changes things.  The dry field of dirt I thought I saw just so happens to be a desert that surely means death for all of us.  If I couldn’t hunt in the forest, there’s certainly no way to hunt in this barren wasteland. 

            “Let’s turn back.” I say.

            “No.  This is perfect.” Darren says with certainty.

            “Huh?”

            “Think about it.  No one will want to step foot in this desert.  Every other tribute will just turn around and go back into the forest like you just wanted to do now.  We still have plenty of food and water, and once we start to run low we can send two scouts to refill and come right back.  Even though it’s strange, this flat bleak desert is probably the best place to hide in the entire arena.” He explains.

            Clare and Collin both shake their heads in disagreement, but I think he might be on to something.  The desert may not be comfortable, but it’s safer than anything else I can think of, because Darren is right.  The Careers will get one look at the desert and turn in the opposite direction like we almost did. 

“Alright let’s do this.” I say.

“Are you guys crazy?” Collin asks angrily.

“Collin, this is a good idea.” Lana retaliates.

“It’s a stupid idea.  The weather could be so unbearable that we might die of exposure in a matter of hours out there.  I’m not going to put Clare in danger like that.” He says while raising his voice.

“Collin, please.” I plead with him.

“No, Adam.  You take one foot into that desert and me and Clare are gone.” Collin threatens.

I consider this for a moment before grabbing Lana by the shoulder and walking her away from the group behind a couple of large oak trees.

“What do we do?” I ask.

“We can’t risk making Collin an enemy this early on.  Plus we need both of their supplies.  Maybe we should just keep moving and forget about this desert.” She suggests.

“But this desert might be the perfect way to survive.  Maybe cutting them loose is the best thing to do.” I explain to her.

“Yes, but if we cut them loose we gain two enemies and lose over half of our food and water supply.  We can’t risk it Adam.” She says.  I think about what she says and realize she’s right.  With that much food and water gone, the odds of survival are not in our favor.  We walk back to the group.  Collin already has his back turned to us, ready to take off on his own with Clare. 

“Alright, we won’t go into the desert.  Let’s keep moving.” I tell the alliance.

Collin shakes his head, either at my easily swayed opinion or that I’m only doing this to keep him around.  Either way, I’ve just empowered him in a way I’m not prepared for.  Maybe tonight I’ll stick an arrow in his skull while he’s sleeping.  It may not be moral or honorable, but Lana means too much to me, and I’m not going to lose her because Collin is on some sort of power trip.

“I’ll go on my own then.” Darren says as he walks out into the desert.

“Darren wait!” Lana calls out to him. 

“I’ll get him.” I say.  I jog towards Darren while calling out his name.  He ignores me and continues walking, ready to play the Games his own way.  After we’ve both traveled maybe five-hundred feet from the tree line I notice some peculiar looking stones covering the desert ground.  Each stone is perfectly spherical and looks slightly metallic.  Then the unthinkable happens. 

Darren finally stops to turn around just as he steps on one of the small metallic stones.  One single chime echoes out around the area as the stone spins in the earth and leaps six feet in the air. 

“GET DOWN!” I shout to Darren as I flatten myself to the ground.

The stone chimes once again and hundreds of hypodermic needles attached to tiny canisters shoot out of the stone in every direction.  At least thirty of them make sickening sounds as they stick into Darren’s face.  Pain is no longer possible for him.  Shock sets in immediately and he falls to his knees without making a sound.  The poison inside the canisters takes effect instantly and his body convulses in spasmodic motions.  I can’t bear to watch him die and turn my face away.  All I can hear are several wretched gasps for air as Darren’s heart fails.  A cannon fires and when I look back up his body is limp and discolored.  He was such a good person.  So full of hope and kindness.  If Lana wasn’t to win the games I would have wanted it to be him.  After all he did my job for me the past three days by keeping Lana safe.  I rise to my feet and walk towards his body.  I have no use for the spear, but I need the nylon rucksack on his back.  I turn his body over and pull the pack free.  His body is already getting cold.  I walk back towards the alliance while carefully avoiding the spherical stones filled with poison darts.  Before I can reach the trees something in me snaps and I fall to the ground sobbing my eyes out.  Why him?  Why does this have to be real?  Why is this happening to us?  What did he ever do to deserve such a cruel fate?  What did any of us do to deserve this?  I want to stand and make a speech to the cameras condemning the Capitol for this, but I can’t bring myself to find the right words to say.  Only one word comes to mind.

“Snow.” I say with venom in my heart.  It doesn’t matter what I say.  The Hunger Games won’t stop.  They’ll never stop.  Katniss Everdeen and the rebel forces tried to stop it, and as close as they came it ultimately did nothing.  Nothing will end this nightmare except for death and for a moment I wish the poisonous needles had stuck me in the face too, to end it all.  To take me somewhere safer.  Somewhere happier.

The tears feel like they’ll never end, until the warm touch of Lana’s hand snaps me out of it.  She looks down at me and slowly grasps my hand with her own.  She lifts me to my feet and I follow her back to Collin and Clare.  Neither of them knows what to say and lead the way into the forest.

Chapter 7

            The rest of the day nobody speaks a word to each other.  Collin and Clare lead the way through the forest westward while Lana and I tag along behind them.  She gently holds my hand for comfort the entire day to ease my pain.  If there was anything romantic between us I probably would have pushed her away, but because it is as if my sister is softly holding my hand after scraping my knee it comforts me.  I wish she would never have to let go.  But she does.

            As the sun sets I scale a tree to get a grip on our surroundings again.  We were maybe five miles from the mesa and I could still see the treacherous desert nearly ten miles behind us.  The putrid sulfur from the volcanic mesa can be smelled from here.  Maybe we can risk a fire then, since nobody would be able to smell it.  No, don’t be stupid.  There’s nothing to cook anyways and it’s only a bit chilly on this night.  We can’t risk being seen by the Careers.  When I return to the ground I see Clare is already fast asleep with Collin rubbing her shoulders with one hand, and his sword in the other.

            “Tell her to wake up.  It’s her turn to keep watch over the camp.” I blatantly tell Collin.

            “She’s already asleep.  Besides just have Lana watch tonight, since she hasn’t kept watch yet.” He says slightly irritated.  No.  I’m not having this tonight.  Not right after Darren died in front of me.  Collin may think he’s in charge, but I’m the only reason the alliance was formed.  I saved him from the careers on the mesa.  I saved him from the volcano when he was injured.  I am in charge, and it’s time I made it clear that I was.  

            “Lana kept watch every night with Darren when she wasn’t with us.  Now wake her up and tell her to get on watch.” I say as my voice slowly rises.

            “What’s your problem?  She’s tired.  She almost got killed today because YOU knocked her over when that beam was coming down on us!” He yells at me.

            “It was an accident and you know it.  And I didn’t see you going back to save her.  I did!  Let’s get something straight Collin.  I am in charge of this group, not you.  Now wake her up!” I shout at him.  Clare stands up having been awake the entire time.  She pulls her two kukri knives free and resentfully walks to the edge of camp.  Collin stares at me, but I refuse to break eye contact.  Eventually he goes to join Clare at the edge of the camp and I tell Lana to sleep for a while.

            “Have your weapon and Darren’s pack at the ready though.  We’ll be leaving in a hurry.” I say in a hushed tone.

            “What do you mean leaving?” She asks.

            “Just trust me.” I answer.  She doesn’t need to know all the details about what is soon to happen.  I sit by her side and keep my eye on Collin and Clare at all times.  They are no longer to be trusted.  Several hours pass and Clare finally returns to the center of camp with Collin.  Each of them keeps their weapons unsheathed.  It seems our group dynamic has been severed.  No going back now.

            “I’ll take watch on the far side of camp.  I’ll be back in a few hours.” I tell them.  I look behind me at Lana who is lying on her back under one of the blankets from Collin’s pack with a spear in her hand.  Good, she trusted me.  If she hadn’t this would be a whole lot more difficult.

            I walk to the far edge of camp with an arrow already on the string of my bow.  I turn around to assess the situation and see Collin and Clare both staring at me with their hands tightening around their weapons.  It’s now or never.  I walk out of their line of sight behind a tree maybe fifty feet from where they were sitting.  I take a deep breath and steady my hands.  My aim needs to be better than it ever has before.  I whip around the tree with the arrow pulled to my eye and let it soar.  Something’s wrong.  They aren’t there anymore.  The arrow sticks into the ground where Collin and Clare should still be.  I look left and then right, but they’re nowhere to be seen.  This isn’t good.  I was supposed to take them by surprise, but I wasn’t careful enough.  They read me like an open book. 

They could be anywhere.  In one of the trees above Lana.  Further off in the forest.  Or even directly behind me if they were quick enough.  I turn around and ready another arrow.  Nothing.  I can’t see them anywhere.  I can’t go hunting them in the dark, but I do need to keep Lana safe.  How could I have messed this up so badly?  Two more enemies now and half of our supplies gone.  If I had managed to kill them like I had planned, then we’d have more than enough supplies and two less tributes to worry about.  I run towards Lana’s spot in the camp, but she’s gone.  No.  NO!  I can’t lose her now.  Did they take her hostage?  No, Lana would have called out for me.  Where is she then?  All that’s left in the camp is Collin’s blanket that Lana was sleeping under.  I didn’t hear a cannon fire, so she must still be alive. 

“LANA?” I shout into the forest.  No response.  I can’t just sit here.  I look at the tracks Collin and Clare left behind.  They left in a hurry alright, but according to the tracks they went straight out into the forest and avoided Lana all together.  I look at any tracks Lana could have left behind, but it looks like she ran after them.  Why would she do that?  It’s way too dangerous.  No time to wait anymore. I follow Lana’s trail into the woods, but it’s too dark to see much of anything.  If only I had a flashlight or a torch.  The flint.  I didn’t expect to use it so early on, but this is dire now.  I find some dry tinder close by and use a few vines to tie them tightly to the end of the knife I have.  I spark the flint near the tinder and it ignites within a few minutes.  The makeshift torch is small and rather ineffective, but it’s better than nothing.  I put the torch close to the ground and see Lana was hot on their tails.  I run as fast as I can in the direction the three of them were going and stop periodically to make sure I’m still headed in the right direction.  After half an hour I feel like I’m never going to find them.  Then I hear a cannon fire.  This can’t be happening.  I can’t lose Lana and Darren in the same day. 

“LANA?!” I scream at the top of lungs.  Her name echoes through the forest as I sprint further along.  If she’s dead then I only have one mission.  Kill every single person I see in this entire arena, but Collin and Clare get something special.  I want their deaths to be long and painful.  If they’ve killed Lana, then I’ll have them begging for death by the time I’m finished with them. 

Suddenly a tribute comes rushing out of the darkness at me and I’m knocked onto my back by the force of the impact.  I drop the knife and grab my bow.  Lana picks herself up from the ground and raises a hand to stop me from hurting her.  I put the arrow attached to the string back in my quiver and hug her tightly with tears in my eyes.  I thought I lost her.

“What happened?” I whisper to her.  I notice Lana is covered in blood, but she isn’t moving as if she’s been injured.  Another cannon fires. 

“I don’t have time to explain.  We need to hide now.” She whispers back.  No need to tell me twice.  I pick up the knife and fling the tinder from it.  The lit fire could draw the attention of attackers away from us.  I grab Lana’s hand and we sprint away from the area.  Not long after, the both of us scale a short willow tree.  We may be a little close to the ground, but the wide branches and numerous leaves should conceal us fairly well. 

“I’LL KILL YOU!” I hear Collin yelling nearby.  He runs right past us covered in blood and carrying two packs.  Once he’s far enough away from our location I turn to Lana.

“What happened?  Why’d you chase after them?” I ask frantically.

“I killed Clare.” Lana says as she lifts her blood stained spear.

' 'Chapter 8

“You what?” I ask in utter shock.  By only killing Clare, we’ve made Collin the scariest enemy in the entire arena.  Even more deadly than going up against one of the careers.  He has nothing to lose at this point. 

“They grabbed their gear and ran off the second you were out of sight.  I heard them say they’d come back and kill us when we let our guard down, and decided not to take any chances.  When I finally caught up with them Collin was charging at me and I didn’t know what to do, so I threw my spear at him, but he ducked right under it.  Clare didn’t move out of the way in time and it went straight through her heart.  Collin went into some sort of state of shock and I used that opportunity to get my spear, but by the time I had grabbed it he was coming after me.  So I ran until I found you.” She says without the slightest hint of remorse.  Normally I would be upset with her blatant disregard for any regretful feelings after she had just killed someone, but we were in the Hunger Games after all.  It’s kill or be killed in this environment.  Lana did what she had to do to protect the both of us. 

“We can’t stay here while he’s out for blood.  Follow me and stay close.” I command as I leap from the tree.  She hops down with me and we jog northward, back towards the Cornucopia.  I have no intention of setting up camp there, but Collin might think twice before heading back to the most likely area for the Careers to be in.  Maybe I’m wrong though.  Maybe Collin has lost too much and doesn’t care about a run in with the five Careers still standing.  Maybe the Careers aren’t even at the Cornucopia.  They seemed to be using slightly different strategies this year, so for all I know they could be on the far side of the mesa. 

The Capitol anthem begins to play and I almost completely ignore it, but soon remember that there were two cannons despite only Clare being killed.  Who else died?  Lana and I climb a nearby tree and inspect the sky.  First up is the face of the boy from District 5 who was decent with an axe.  I guess he wasn’t decent enough.  Careers probably got him.  Next up is Clare’s face and I hear a faint ghastly wailing coming from the forest behind us.  Collin must have seen her in the sky.  The Capitol anthem ends and the sky returns to normal.  Collin is too close for comfort if I can hear him screaming.  We return to the ground and keep moving northward.  After an hour or so we have to change course and move farther east because of the massive lava flow that reached this far into the forest.  It looks solidified enough, but I’d rather not take any chances trying to cross it. 

We continue walking for several more hours before settling in behind a couple of large uprooted trees.  I tell Lana to rest while I take watch.  I’m exhausted, but she needs her strength to keep fighting.  My hands begin to shake as hunger sets in and I take a few pieces of beef jerky out of my bag.  There’s not much jerky left.  By the time I’m finished I can see the sky begin to lighten as the sunrise must be coming soon.  Another hour passes before the sun has peeked over the horizon and I wake Lana.  We finish a canister of water and head southeast towards the lake.  We’ll need to refill what we have and along the way I can collect berries to eat. 

A few hours into the day I can see that there isn’t a berry bush or tree in the entire arena.  The Gamemakers sure want this Quarter Quell to end in a hurry.  As soon as the tributes run out of food from their packs we have, at most, a week before everyone dies of starvation.  Lana’s hands are shaking so badly that she drops her spear and I have her eat the rest of the bag of beef jerky.  We save the bags of peanuts for when we will really need them.  Another few hours into the hike and we have reached the ashy remains of the forest caused by the heat beam.  We are close to the lake, but there was only another three or four hours of sunlight.  Another hour passes and we reach the tree line leading to the lake.  I brush a low hanging branch out of the way and see the lake glistening in the sun.  Lana and I slowly approach it with our weapons drawn back to back.  Something smells horrible.  I can’t quite place it, but it smells like a mixture of cooked meat and a rotting corpse.  I can’t see anything that could be creating the smell and Lana and I press onward towards the water.  When we’re only a few feet from the water’s edge the smell makes me think of something.

“Wait.” I tell Lana before she reaches down to refill one of our containers.  I pull an arrow from my quiver and dip the metal tip into the water.  It instantly reacts.  The metal corrodes in a matter of seconds.  The entire lake has been replaced with acid.  I look towards the center of the lake and see the clothes of one of the tributes.  This must have been how the boy from District 5 died.  Probably stumbled upon the acidic lake and jumped in.  Maybe he was hiding from something under the surface of the water.  Maybe he was trying to wash himself clean.  Who knows?  Either way he’s dead, and Lana and I have no way of getting any more water.  The only other source of water I’ve seen in the entire arena is the river that flows around the Cornucopia.  It’s probably the most risky thing we could do, but we only have one canister left for water.  It’ll be gone soon and then we don’t have much time to live.  We have no choice, but to make the trip to the river.  We’ll never make it by dusk so we decide that for now we’d set up camp somewhere in the forest and make the trip at sunrise.

She stands by my side with her spear tightly in her grasp as I drift into sleep.  My dreams are a mixture of pain and happy memories of home.  I’m standing in the pine forest behind my cabin with Lana when she begins to melt.  Once she is completely gone the earth beneath me crumbles and I’m falling into the abyss.  I land in the arena and I see Charlotte standing at my side holding my hand.  She grins slyly and kicks my feet out from under me while pinning my arms to the ground.  She pulls out a curved blade and stabs my throat.  She then leans down and drinks the blood before I’m jolted awake by the nightmare.

Chapter 9

Lana is still standing by my side with her spear, but the sky is considerably lighter.

“You let me sleep all night?  Why didn’t you wake me for my shift on watch?” I ask her. 

“You need your rest.  You didn’t sleep at all last night, so I know you needed it.” She responds.  Dammit.  She needs her rest more than I do.  I’m not the one who’s going to live through all of this, she is and she needs to keep her strength up to stay alive until the end.  There’s only two of us and there’s still nine enemies.

“You should have let me take a shift.  You need your strength.” I explain to her.  She responds to this by lifting her spear and chucking it fifty feet into a tree.  The blade end sinks into the bark six inches deep and remains caught in the tree.  I roll my eyes at her little show, but can’t help feeling a little impressed.  Up all night and she can still throw that spear like a pro.  She stares at me until I finally crack a smile and then all of the sudden we’re both busting up laughing.  It’s careless behavior that could notify other tributes of our location, but we need it.  We need to feel joy again.  By living every second like it’s our last, we’ve been complete robots.  I stand and walk towards the tree to retrieve the spear.  Lana follows closely behind me.  When I’m twenty-five feet from the spear I know I’ve made a horrible mistake.  A horrifying whooshing sound is quickly getting closer and I duck just before a sharp throwing knife hurtles past.  I reach for an arrow, but realize I’ve left my quiver and bow at the camp another twenty-five feet behind me.  I look up to face my attacker and see the face of Charlotte. 

Her eyes are red and blotchy as if she’s been crying.  I can’t see any physical injuries so something must have heavily upset her to openly weep while in the arena.  Sponsers aren’t too sympathetic with overly-emotional tributes.  She pulls another throwing knife from her vest and sizes up her kill.  There’s literally nothing Lana and I can do other than run for it, but we’d never survive without our supplies, and we couldn’t reach them without getting a dagger in the back.  This is it.  End of the line. 

Suddenly two more tributes come into view on our left.  It’s the two boys from District 5.  Each of them has several spears in hand and don’t hesitate to throw two of them directly at Lana and I.  No time to run.  No time to think.  I step in front of the oncoming spears and shield Lana to best of my ability.  I hope this is quick.  As brave as I wish I was, the pain of death frightens me.  When I think it’s all over, Charlotte lunges in front of me as I see two knives penetrate the skulls of the tributes from District 5.  Two cannons fire one after the other.  The first spear is too far to the left and misses us, but the second pierces Charlotte’s heart.  Her blood sprays across my face and Lana runs around me to her.  Charlotte falls to the ground and I join Lana at her side.  Charlotte looks up towards us and opens her mouth to say something, but she never gets to say it as she sighs one final breath.  The cannon fires.  Why would she sacrifice herself for two enemy tributes?  We denied her entrance into the alliance and she still died to protect us.  I can see now that I’ve made a mistake.  Collin and Clare were never who we needed.  We needed Charlotte.  

A claw descends from a silent hovercraft to lift one of the two District 5 tributes from the arena as I yank Lana’s spear free from the soft bark of the tree.  Just as I reach camp and pull my bag over my shoulder I see the sun rise up over the mesa.  The sunlight warms my cold limbs, but I feel it can never warm my heart.  Nothing can remedy this situation.  Nothing.  I turn back to look at Charlotte one last time, but the hovercraft has already removed her.  She was at peace.

For the next few hours Lana and I hike back towards the mesa. 

“Lana can you pass me a bag of peanuts?” I ask her distantly.  Too much death has plagued us in these Games.

“Sure.” She says as she pulls off Darren’s pack and rifles under the blanket to find them.  When she spends too much time rifling through the bag I know we have a problem.

“Where are they?” I ask calmly.

“I don’t know.  They were here last night when we did our supply count.” She says distraught.

“Either a tribute stole it, or the Gamemakers figured out a way to take the food undetected.  It doesn’t matter.  Either way we’re in a bit of trouble.  We still need to keep moving towards the Cornucopia.” I say. 

And as if the Gamemakers were waiting for me to say this, the voice of Claudius Templesmith announces to the entire arena that a feast will be held today at sunset.  The feast is always a time for blood.  It’s an easy way to bring the tributes together for the promise of supplies or food.  No time arguing.  No reason to.  Lana looks at me and knows we have no choice.  We need the food.  If we run into Collin or the Careers then we’ll just have to fight.  Maybe now is a good time to tell Lana, what my intentions are.  She needs to know that I’m here to save her, and not to win, but something tells me she already knows this.  There’s a detached look in her eye, like she’s preparing for it.  I can’t tell her.  Instead I pull her in close and hug her knowing there probably isn’t going to be a tomorrow. 

We spend the rest of the day walking northeast through the forest with our weapons primed.  The lava flow delays us as we detour around it and push on.  Once we reach the Cornucopia, the best idea is to grab what we need and go.  Run as fast as we can away from there.  It’s almost assured there’s going to be a fight, but maybe we can avoid it if we’re careful.  Five Careers and Collin are the only ones left in the Game aside from us.  A part of me hopes I can kill that many people with my bow, but I know it’s useless.  I can kill as many as can and hope that Lana can handle whoever is left.  She’s strong.  She can do it.  I just wish she wouldn’t have to. 

When we reach the clearing I encountered Charlotte in on the first day of the Games I know we’re close, and just in time.  The sun is going to set in about half an hour.  We briskly walk the rest of the way to the Cornucopia while carefully scanning our surroundings.  We pause at the outskirts hidden behind some low underbrush.  The Cornucopia is surprisingly beautiful as the gold metal is struck by the yellow rays of light from the sun.  It’s been completely picked clean by the Careers.  Just as the sun dips under the horizon the ground in front of the Cornucopia splits in two and a perfectly circular table rises up into the arena.  On it is one single bag dried fruit.  Are you kidding me?  The Gamemakers are definitely hoping for some victims.  A bloody battle.  They’re sure to get it. 

No time thinking of a plan.  I race out of the bushes with Lana towards the river.  We both carefully cross the slick rocks just as I turn to see Collin doing the same maybe twenty yards away.  Here we go.

Chapter 10

            Collin’s sword is held high above his head, ready for attack.  I point and shoot an arrow at his head, but he anticipates the obvious kill and ducks right underneath it.  He’s only ten yards away.  I pull another arrow back to my eye and shoot it directly at his heart.  Dodge that one Collin.  But he does.  He twists his body just enough so that it shoots right by with no damage done to him at all.  The darkness of twilight makes it difficult to see and anticipate his next moves.  He’s on top of us now and swings his sword downwards right at my head, but Lana holds her spear out and blocks the attack.  Before he can retaliate she swings her spear back at him and slices his forehead open.  Blood pours out of his open gash and into his eyes.  Now is our chance.  I sprint for the measly bag of fruit while Lana runs to the edge of the island to search for the Careers, but Collin hasn’t given up. 

As soon as my hand closes around the bag he tackles me at the waist and I go tumbling down into the grass.  He still has his sword and I can’t do much with my bow at this angle.  I reach for my knife still belted to my hip, but he pins my hand to the ground.  He’s way too strong for me to get free.  He attempts to drive the sword into my throat, but I roll my head out of the way just in time as the blade sinks eight inches into the soft earth.  Lana carefully aims and launches her spear towards us.  It hits him directly in the liver and he goes flying off of me.  Blood pours onto the grass around him as he shouts in pain.  He’s bleeding severely and it’s obvious he won’t live from this injury, but he gasps in pain and pleads for sponsors to give him some sort of medicine.  I feel sorry for him.  He was my friend in District 7.  Lana hurries to my side and watches in horror as Collin rips the spear free from his side, causing more blood to gush from his side. 

            “I love you, Clare.” He says to the sky.

I don’t want to see him suffer any more than he has to.  I pull an arrow free from my quiver and pull it back to my eye.  A cannon booms as the arrow pierces his skull and his misery is put to an end.

I walk back to the table and grab the bag of dried fruit before retrieving my arrow from Collin’s body.  I still have sixteen arrows.  Lana and I walk back to the edge of the river.  Just as I take my first step onto one of the rocks all five Careers wearing large backpacks from the Cornucopia burst through the trees at the opposite end of the island.  As soon as they spot us the chase is on.  They run around the edge of the river towards us, but Lana and I are pretty quick.  We rush into the forest away from their cruel weapons.  From what I saw, there’s the girl with her white bow, the boy with his axe, another girl with a silver perfectly balanced katana, the boy who almost killed me at the bloodbath with several spears in hand, and finally a boy with a curved sickle.  The odds are not in our favor today.  The betting going on at the Capitol must be intense now.  Any sponsors we could have gathered before are gone now.  Nobody is betting on District 7 to win this year, but I am.  We’re maybe 150 yards ahead of the pack when it hits me so suddenly I have to dig the heels of my boots into the earth to stop.  Lana realizes I’ve stopped and runs back to my side. 

“COME ON WE’VE GOT TO GO!” She screams at me.

“Lana, listen to me.  Climb that tree and don’t come down for anything.  If I’m about to die, you stay in that tree and you stay hidden.  This is how we win.” I explain.  She pauses for a moment, but nods her head, scrambles up an ash tree, and conceals herself in the large leaves with her hand firmly grasping her spear.  Here goes nothing.  I turn around with an arrow already pulled back to my eye and the first Career to fly through the bushes fifty yards away is the girl with the graceful looking katana.  Before she even realizes I’ve stopped running an arrow is protruding from her eye socket and she falls to the ground as the cannon booms.  The pack of tributes is only forty yards from me as I draw a second arrow back to my eye and take several steps backwards.  The boy with the sickle weaves back and forth through the trees making it harder to pin him down, but when he’s only twenty yards away he too falls as another arrow strikes him in the heart.  The girl with the white bow has an arrow nocked to the string of her bow and is carefully aiming in my direction.  Adrenaline is surging through every part of my body and every sense is heightened to extreme levels. 

The remaining three tributes are only ten yards from where I am and I can’t just stand here or I’ll surely die.  I turn to run, but a searing pain erupts in my right shoulder.  I turn to see a pearl white arrow protruding from my shoulder blade.  I’m crippled from the pain, but if anything I’m mostly motivated by it.  She dies next.  I sprint around to the other side of the ash tree that Lana is stationed in and see that I’m well concealed by some very large hedges.  Another idea comes to mind.  I grit my teeth as I rip the white arrow free from my shoulder and nock it to the string of my bow.  How poetic.  Warm blood drips down my back.  First around the corner is the tall girl with the silly pink hair and the white Recurve bow.  Goodbye. 

I release the arrow and she ducks her head down low, but I anticipated this.  It makes a repulsive crunch as it enters her brain and she collapses.  Only two left.  I can do this.  I take a step backwards to ready another arrow, but the pain and blood loss the arrow to my shoulder has created causes a sudden wave of dizziness. 

I fall onto my back as the world fades to black, and I can’t do anything to change it.  No matter how hard I try to focus, I can’t.  This can’t be it.  Not when I’m so close.  But the one silver lining to this is that, while I might die now, Lana only has two tributes to contend with to win.  Perhaps I’ve done all I can.  My vision returns briefly as I feel a heavy tribute press his weight against my chest.  It’s the boy with the spears.  He smiles sadistically as he holds a spear above my head ready to plunge it downwards through my face.  The other boy with the axe stands and watches from a distance.  I notice he is sizing up the Career on top of me.  Even if I were to die right now, the Career that was responsible would be dead in a matter of minutes.  Their alliance is over. 

The boy with the spear takes a deep breath and raises the spear a bit higher.  Suddenly I’m blinded with blood again and I wipe away the red liquid to see that Lana’s spear has skewered him.  I look up and see Lana descending the tree to assist me and retrieve her weapon.  The boy with the axe is slowly climbing his way towards her.  No Lana stop!  Just stay there and let me take care of him, we’re so close.  I push the dead tribute off of me and reach for my bow lying a few feet next to me.  I don’t dare stand quite yet, but get on my hands and knees as I crawl for it.  Time is running out and I need to act quicker to save her, but I can’t.  This injury is more crippling than I thought it would be.  I hear the sound of somebody’s boot breaking a bone as I finally grasp my bow.  I pull an arrow free and point it to the top of the tree just as I see Lana’s left arm being sliced off. 

The boy with axe is bleeding profusely from his nose, but he must have taken one clean swing which hit her arm right at the elbow.  It cut straight through the bone and ligaments into the wood of the tree.  Lana doesn’t shout out in pain or call my name.  She just falls from the tree without a sound fifteen feet to the ground.  This isn’t happening.  I can’t have come this far, just to lose her now.  I managed to kill three Careers in under a minute just so the last Career standing kills her but lets me live?  I let the arrow fly and it finds its target.  The boy falls from the tree limp, like a rag-doll, and lands in the tall hedges next to me.  

I stand and sway uneasily as blood continues to pour from the gaping wound on my shoulder. Lana twitches as more and more blood gushes from the arteries in her amputated arm.  I make my way to her and see the damage is too extensive.  She’ll be dead in a matter of minutes.  I failed.  I volunteered to save her from this and I failed.  My wound is painful, but I’d live as long as I could stop the bleeding.  Her wound is something else entirely.  If I could even stop the blood with my shirt or my jacket, the shock she’s going through could lead to death as well and there’s no way for me to prevent infection.  Only the advanced medicines and quick treatment from the Capitol can save her now.  Then I realize what I have to do.  They need a victor.  Always.  If I die before she does, then they’ll find a way to save her.  Over at least fifty of the victors from the Hunger Games were seconds from death when they won.  They can save her.  They have to save her, otherwise they’d be humiliated.  The entire purpose of the Games would be defeated.  All I have to do is die. 

I lift my head up high and say what I’ve been planning to say for quite some time now.  I’ve been rehearsing this since I volunteered.  It’s not much, but it’s what I need to say. 

“I love you, dad.  When mom died, I know it was hard, but you were always there for me.  Thank you.  I’m doing this to give her a good life.  All I ask you to do is to make sure she’s always okay.  Keep her safe, like I’ve tried to now.” I say with tears welling up in my eyes.  No need to hide my “weak” emotions for the camera anymore.  I’m dead anyways.  I pull the sharp knife from its sheath and hold it firmly in my hand.  I’m shaking so hard from my injury and fear that I nearly drop it.  I lean down and kiss Lana on the forehead.

“Goodbye.” I whisper in her ear. 

I take the knife with two hands and point the tip of it at my chest.  This is going to hurt, but shock will set in after just a few moments and then I’ll be dead in under a minute.  I lift the knife up above my head and plunge it into my heart.  The pain is excruciating at first as blood spills from my fatal wound.  I rip the knife free and tear what was left of my heart to shreds, but a warm tingly sensation begins to take over.  The pain comes in waves and I slowly lie down onto my back looking up past the green leaves into the night sky.  The warm sensation spreads across my entire body and the pain has subsided mostly now.  My vision begins to fade and the leaves and stars go out of focus.  This isn’t so bad.  Sure it’s painful at first, but now it’s like falling asleep after a long and hard day of hunting.  It’s too bad I never got to hunt in my final days.  It would have reminded me of home.  As soon as I fade away, they’ll come down and save her.  I didn’t fail after all.  She’ll live.  She’ll find a husband, and maybe have kids.  She’ll be rich from the victor’s money and she’ll never be even the slightest bit hungry again.  If she’s lucky, she’ll repress any memory of me and these Games all together.  I don’t want her to remember this pain, but I suppose that’ll be hard to do when she’s reminded of it every day because of her arm.

My heart beat slows down and suddenly the warm sensation fades and everything gets cold.  In the end this is what really matters.  Protecting those who you love.  The last thing I see is a shooting star flying past in the night sky.    



    

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