Tomaz Wellflower, 12: Victor of the 72nd Hunger Games

I wake up on a small metal table in a white hospital gown. I hadn't even realized that I had fallen asleep. I look to my left and to my right. The room is dim and cramped. It's completely silent except for the faint beeping of my heart monitor. There's a needle in my right forearm attached to a tube connected to a bag filled with some sort of clear liquid. It's hanging from a thin metal stand. I sit up, taking in my surroundings. Well, there's not that much to take in. The walls are dark and bare and a single yellow light hangs from the ceiling. I'm all alone in here, just like I was after Isaak died in the arena. I used to actually enjoy alone time, but now it's terrifying. There's no one here to talk to me. No one here to protect me. No one here to just keep me company. I don't like this feeling. I don't like this feeling at all. I can feel my entire body starting to tremble. I start to breathe shorter, faster breaths. My heart starts pounding in my chest. My own heartbeat sounds too familiar. It sounds like I'm back in the arena, the cannons filling my ears. I hear Azo's cannon, Tyler's cannon, Isaak's cannon. My heart monitor starts beeping louder and faster. My eyes dart around the room looking for any way to escape, but I'm not in the dim, plain room anymore. I'm surrounded by gigantic trees with the brown ground under my booted feet. I'm in my dark blue hoodie with a large number 5 on the left side of my chest. I look around and see the dead bodies of Azo, Tyler, and Isaak on the floor, eyes open but devoid of life. I'm in the arena again? I thought I had been lifted out by the hovercraft. Why am I in here? Then I see him. The District 4 boy. He's running right at me, spear aimed in my direction. I can't stay in here. I can't be alone. I have to get out of here. I have to get out. I have to-

"Tomaz!" I'm looking into Hal's gray eyes as he rushes into the room and up to me. It's relieving to see him, but it's still unsettling to be in unfamiliar surroundings.

"Hal?" The nerves make my voice crack. "Where am I? What's going on?"

"You're on a hovercraft back to the Capitol," he answers. "You collapsed right after we pulled you up from the arena."

"When do I get to go home?" I ask. I don't want to go back to the Capitol. They're the ones that tried to kill me. They're the ones that killed my friends. I don't want to go back to that awful place. I just want to go back to District 5.

"Tomorrow," Hal says. "You have to get through the Victor interview first."

"I don't want to be interviewed again," I say. "I just want to go home."

"I know Tomaz, but the Capitol wants to see you one more time before you go," Hal says.

"I don't want to see them again." The Capitolites are a sick breed. Not only do they parade themselves around in bizarre clothes and grotesque body modifications, but they also find pleasure in watching children kill each other for their entertainment. I don't want to ever be around that shit again.

"I know you don't," Hal says. "But you have to."

Why do I have to sit through another interview? Why do I have to continue being exploited by the Capitol? Why can't I just go home and forget about all this? I already know what's going to happen in the interview and I don't want it. I already think about the Games every waking moment. I don't need to watch my friends die again. I don't want to be asked how proud I am to be a Victor. I'm not proud of anything I did. Why would I be proud? No one should be proud of killing another person. What kind of awful person takes pride in ending a life? I don't want to go back to the Capitol. I don't want to go back. I don't want to go. I don't want to.

I lose it again. The tears start streaming down my face again and I am helpless against the overwhelming wave of conflicting emotion that I can't even begin to comprehend. I hate this feeling. It feels too much like when Isaac died. I remember how confused my parents made me. I couldn't tell whether I should feel guilty or not. Should I feel guilty for winning when there was probably someone more deserving? I don't know. I hate not knowing. I hate this feeling. I hate feeling anything. I miss it when I was numb to everything. I forgot how much everything hurts.

Hal hugs me, and he hugs me tight. I let out sobs that I can only describe as primal. They literally rock my entire body. My stomach tightens as I gasp for breath. I've never cried this hard before, not even after Isaac died. The sobs just keep coming, seemingly having no end. I've cried so much that I've left a huge wet spot on Hal's shirt. I want to stop the pain, but it's just too much to bear. I never thought that winning something could make me feel this awful. I want this pain to go away, but I know it's not going anywhere. And knowing that hurts the most.

"Hal, we're about to land." Ion's voice once again reminds me of a time before I went into the arena. Before I knew what horrible things I would see. Before I lost all my friends. Remembering that eases the pain. The tears stop flowing. "Oh, hello Tomaz, it's nice to see you again."

"Hi Ion," I say, happy to see another familiar face.

"Ion, go get Tomaz a change of clothes," Hal says.

Ion leaves the room and a Capitol nurse comes in and unhooks me from all of the stuff attached to my body. She and Hal help me off the table. Ion comes in with a black t-shirt, khaki pants, and black shoes and hands them to me. For a moment I just awkwardly stand there looking at Hal, Ion, and the nurse.

"We'll give you some privacy," Hal says.

"Just don't go too far," I say as the three of them leave the room. Hal gives me a little smile and nod as he shuts the door. I quickly change into the outfit Ion gave me, which must've been taken directly from the apartment above the Training Center because it's what my drawers were filled with. I walk out of the room, and staying true to their word, Hal and Ion are both sitting in the main cabin.

"All passengers of Capitol hovercraft A114, please take your seats and prepare for landing," a voice over the intercom says. I sit down in the only open seat next to Ion and buckle up. The hovercraft suddenly stops moving forward and begins its descent straight down. There's a slight jolt when we touch the ground, then the hovercraft's engines are cut off and the door is opened. A team of peacekeepers escort us into the apartments above the Training Center. Before I know it, Hal, Ion, and I are all in the elevator up to the fifth floor apartment, where I spent my days before being shipped off to the arena. The elevator doors open and I step into my apartment, greeted by my escort and stylist, Diana and Leandros.

"There's my first victor!" Diana chirps in that obnoxious Capitol accent that I didn't miss. She runs up to me and hugs me. I stiffen up like a board, frozen in my stance as Diana clings to me.

"Let go of him," Leandros says. "Tomaz obviously doesn't want you all over him like that."

"But I'm just so excited to have my first victor!" Diana says. "Who knows, I just might get promoted to one of the Career districts!"

The disconnect between the Capitol and the districts are apparent in Diana's words. She is so hopelessly oblivious to all the terrible things the Hunger Games do to its Victors. From day one, Diana was probably told that the Hunger Games are the most honorable thing ever created by the Capitol and the tributes should be happy to have the privilege to step foot in an arena. But it's not a privilege. It's a fucking death sentence for twenty-three of them and a guarantee of a life full of trauma. I can't stand this bitch. She's so fucking brainwashed that she doesn't even realize that all of the shit I went through took a toll on me. She's so caught up with her reputation and the possibility of a meaningless promotion that she has completely disregarded any semblance of empathy, courtesy, or common human decency.

"Get the fuck off of me!." I shove Diana off of me. She goes stumbling back into a glass end table. "No one cares about your promotion."

I storm off to my room that I haven't seen in nearly two weeks. I lock the door and flop over on my bed, happy to have something soft under me again. My back still hurts from all those nights sleeping on the ground. This is another thing that people like Diana forget about the Hunger Games. It isn't all pretty and glamorous like they think it is. It's nasty, gritty, and just downright painful. Nothing feels good in the Hunger Games. Nothing at all. Every part of it sucks, and it's so painfully obvious that Diana doesn't have enough brain cells to recognize this.

I hear the door to my room slide open, but I don't check to see who it is. I already know it's Hal. He's probably coming in to tell me that I shouldn't have shoved Diana and that what I said to her was disrespectful. Well, no shit. It was supposed to be disrespectful. That bitch needs to be taken down a few pegs.

"I'm not apologizing to her," I say, my voice muffled by the soft, plush pillows that I buried my face in.

"I didn't come in here to tell you to apologize," Hal says. "Leandros needs to see you now. You only have a little over an hour before the Victor interview."

"I literally just got out of the arena," I say. "Why can't they wait?"

"I thought you said you wanted to go home," Hal says. "The longer you sit here, the longer you stay in the Capitol."

Hal caught me there. If I want to get home, I guess I have to get through this interview. I get out of bed and brush past Hal and out to the living room. Leandros is waiting for me there with a dark blue suit on a hanger. He hands me the suit and I start to head off to my room again, but Leandros stops me before I can even take a step.

"Just between me and you, I've grown tired of Diana," Leandros says. "I hope she gets that promotion so she can get out of here."

Well, it's nice to know that three out of the four people on the District 5 team are on my side. Although I'm pretty sure that Leandros still isn't fully aware of what the Hunger Games put people through, I'm just glad that he thinks Diana is insufferable. I go back to my bedroom and slip on the suit. I walk back out into the living room and Leandros makes adjustments to the suit. He gives me a pair of white shoes that match with my shirt under the suit jacket. Leandros gives me one last look over and nods his head.

"Alright, you're all set," he says. Ion and Hal walk into the living room with Diana following close behind. The five of us pack into the elevator and take it down to the lowest level, where we are transported by peacekeeper caravan to the stadium. We're parked in the garage and Leandros leads me to the Remake Center while Hal, Ion, and Diana head to the backstage area. Leandros puts a light layer of makeup on my face. I grimace when he turns me to the mirror. I never liked the look of makeup on my face.

"We'll take it off as soon as you're done with the interview," Leandros says. "I know you don't like it."

"Thanks," I say.

"And remember, we're all rooting for you, Tomaz," Leandros says. "Don't forget that."

"Leandros," a man with an apparent Capitol accent chirps over the intercom. "They're ready for Mr. Wellflower backstage now."

"Alright, I'll bring him down," Leandros says. "Well, you heard them. Let's go."

Leandros takes me down to the backstage area, where I'm reunited with the other three members of my team. We're all waiting in the wings as Master of Ceremonies Chikere Idowu takes the stage to a raucous applause. She sits down in one of the white leather seats in the middle of the stage, smiling from ear to ear at the crowd.

"Good evening, Panem!" Chikere says. "It's been an amazing two weeks, and I can finally say that the seventy-second annual Hunger Games are coming to an end."

The crowd moans and groans in disappointment that their favorite yearly death game is over. Just like I expected.

"I know, I know," Chikere says. "But with the end of the Hunger Games comes a new Victor, and this year we were all taken by surprise with the outcome."

The audience applauds in agreement. Of course my victory was unexpected. No one my age has even come close to winning before.

"And we happen to have him here with us today." The crowd is on the edge of their seats with anticipation. "So let's give a warm welcome to our newest Victor, District 5's very own Tomaz Wellflower!"

The crowd goes absolutely ballistic at the announcement of my name. The stage manager nudges me forward past the curtains. I'm immediately blinded by the bright stage lights, but I can hear the cheers grow even louder as I make my way across the stage. I'm waved over by Chikere at center stage, and I take my seat across from her. I'm handed a microphone as the crowd continues to cheer for me in the longest standing ovation I've ever seen. I just stare out into the sea of people, not even attempting to fake a smile. After what feels like an eternity, the crowd eventually calms down and the interview begins.

"So, Tomaz," Chikere starts. "How does it feel to be the youngest Victor in Hunger Games history?"

"I'm the youngest? I didn't even know that," I say, feigning surprise. "I guess that's pretty cool."

"It's very cool if I do say so myself," Chikere says. "Now tell me, did you ever think that you would be the last man standing?"

"I-I don't know," I say. "It never really crossed my mind. I just wanted to survive."

"And survive you did," Chikere says. "Through all sorts of challenges, you pulled through. Let's take a look at some of those challenging moments."

My heart sinks into the pit of my stomach at those words. The last thing I wanted to do was watch any part of the Games over again, but I don't have any choice now. They're making me sit through it again whether I like it or not. Every screen in the stadium is suddenly showing all the tributes on their pedestals, watching as the countdown approaches zero. Everyone hops off of their pedestals, most of us sprinting to the Cornucopia. The screen cuts to show the boy from District 4, the one I killed to get here, thrust his spear into Alice, my district partner, for the first kill. Until now, I didn't even know that Alice died first. The crowd cheers at the sight of the first blood. Then they cheer even more when the District 2 boy kills the boy from 3, then when the boy from 1 kills the girl from 7. They cheer seven times, once for each death of the bloodbath. Then I show up on the screen, running away from the Cornucopia with Tyler. I see myself get knocked to the ground by the District 2 boy, who had just killed two tributes. I see myself kick the boy in between the legs and make my escape into the forest of giant trees. Then it cuts to me fighting with the District 10 boy. I watch as Isaak drives his sword into his back, killing the boy from 10 and saving my life in the process. Then I see myself grabbing my bag at the Feast as the other tributes fight around me. Then I see the girl from District 2 put a knife in Azo's back. I feel my chest tighten as I watch the first of my friends die. I subconsciously beg for the replay to stop, but it keeps on going. I sit through Tyler's death, watching as he pours his heart out to me and Isaak. Once again, I see life leave his eyes. Then his cannon fires. I have no time to recover before I watch the girl from District 4 eat the poison berries I gave her. Her last moments were spent hacking up blood as her district partner watched helplessly as the claws of death snatched her away. I can feel the guilt eating away at me. Then the Finale comes. I see Isaak drop dead as the spear impales him. Then I watch myself push the DIstrict 4 boy off the Cornucopia, leaving him to be devoured by the badger mutts. His cannon fires, and the screen cuts to black. The crowd erupts into applause again as I try to process what I just saw.

"As you all can see, Tomaz had quite the experience in the arena," Chikere says. "How did it feel to experience it firsthand, Tomaz?"

How did it feel? How did it feel? It felt fucking terrible. Every single moment hurt worse than the last. I wouldn't wish that type of pain on my worst enemy. It's a fucking nightmare that I can never wake up from. No one in the Capitol would ever be able handle all the shit I was put through.

"It didn't feel good." I'm sugarcoating the truth. Why am I sugarcoating it?

"But what about the honor of winning?" Chikere asks. "Think about the great pride you brought to your district."

"I've thought about it," I say. "I don't feel any honor or pride."

"Not even a little bit?" Chikere presses.

"None at all," I answer. "Nothing about this feels good."

The audience is disappointed even at my sugar coated words. Maybe I shouldn't tell them everything. That could cause a reaction that I don't even want.

"Well, maybe it'll feel better soon," Chikere says. "Some Victors take a little more time to come around."

Come around? I doubt I'll ever come around. I don't think any Victors truly come around like Chikere thinks. That arena does something to you that can't just be magically fixed. What I saw can't be unseen. There isn't some special magic eraser that can wipe away all the pain I went through. The pain is permanent. It's not going anywhere as long as I continue living, and I don't know how I'm going to cope with it.

"Well, that's about all the time we have for this interview," Chikere says. "Which means it's time for the official crowning of the Victor!"

The crowd goes wild again. I'm led off stage by a stage manager and I'm taken up a flight of stairs. I emerge on a balcony that overlooks the stage, with a large red chair in the middle. The stage lights are still focused on the stage, leaving the balcony dark, hiding me from view. I'm instructed to sit down in the chair. I wait in the darkness for a few moments before the stage lights shut off. The balcony lights turn on, and the national anthem of Panem blasts through the stadium speakers. The crowd rises to their feet. I look to my right and see President Tiberius Stone making his way up the stairs with the Victor's crown in hand. It can hardly be considered a crown. It's a thin gold band that has a single diamond stud in the center. President Stone raises the crown above his head and the crowd cheers loudly. He turns to me and places it on my head. Then he grabs my hand and raises it. I look straight ahead, as the crowd hoots and hollers at my supposed triumph. The national anthem fades out and the lights turn off. As they do, President Stone lets go of my hand.

"Congratulations, Tomaz," he says. "You've brought great honor to your district and all of Panem."

After those words, President Stone walks back down the stairs. I wait up on the balcony until a stage manager escorts me back down to the backstage area. From there, Leandros takes me to the Remake Center and cleans the makeup off my face. We're taken back to the apartment building by the same peacekeeper caravan that brought us to the stadium. After parking in the building's garage, Hal, Ion, Leandros, Diana, and I all pack into the elevator and ride it up to the fifth floor. Once the doors open, we're greeted by two men dressed in suits. One has dark brown hair and the other is blonde. They both look somewhat familiar, but I can't remember exactly where I know them from. The brunette confidently steps up to me and looks me in the eye with a serious look on his face.

"Good evening Tomaz," he says. "You might not remember me, but I'm Head Gamemaker Lucian Sterling. I wish we could've met under better circumstances, but we have some important matters to discuss."

Hey y'all! Remember me? Who am I kidding, of course you do. And if you don't, welcome! I'm Ty and I'm the author of this SYOT, Kismet, a direct sequel to No Way Out. We're picking up right where we left off, but you don't have to read the previous story to understand the bulk of what's going on here.

Anyways, submissions are open for this story, and the link to the form is on my profile. There won't be any reservations, so you can sub wherever you want. I'll be taking the tributes that I think I can write the best and will contribute the most to the story. There's some more information on the form itself but I'll also add some rules to follow on my profile. I hope you enjoy this tory as much as the last one.

Happy subbing!

Until next time,