Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games.
Killing the boy from District Four went against all my instincts. At home, I always look after people. My brother, my sister and her children, anyone who needs help…
I need to get home, to keep up that role.
I thought killing the Career tributes would be OK. They were monsters in training. They joked about killing people and set out to intimidate everyone. If I only killed them, I would be alright.
I was wrong.
When I killed the District Four boy on that first day, he wasn't an evil, arrogant man. He was an eighteen-year-old boy who wanted his family. He didn't try to use dirty tricks to stop me. He fought me in panic. He died in fear. When he fell, he looked just like the other dead tributes. Just like the fourteen-year-old girl on my right who was nearly in tears right before she was cut down.
That's why I escaped to the fields. Killing that boy didn't seem justified to me there. Not without sorrow. Besides, I had everything I could want in the field: food, water, a hiding place. I thought I could just wait until the last tribute and then, I could easily go home.
Until my bread bush ran out.
That's why I've decided to go to the feast. To get what I need. Food, probably, but maybe something else. Maybe something useful.
As I head towards the Cornucopia, I see the girl from District Five run out, grab her pack and speed off. She's smart: hiding in the Cornucopia, using her agility. Maybe if the little girl from my district had survived, we could have used that strategy. But I'm not swift.
The next person is a small girl – it must be the Fire Girl – who runs out towards the table. A huge girl throws a knife at her. The girl from District Two. I find myself wondering where the District Two and Twelve boys are. Surely they'd be working together with their respective tributes?
I look around but I can't see anyone so I keep on moving. All I need is the pack.
The District Two girl has caught the Fire Girl. If I have to, I could kill District Two, once she's killed the Fire Girl.
It makes me uneasy, how quickly my mind turns to killing. That will be my last resort. Part of me knows that we're going to have to fight anyway. I need to go home. I need to help my mother harvest. I need to teach my brother how to be a man. I need to make sure everyone is OK.
"Forget it, District Twelve," I hear the girl sneer as I move closer. "We're going to kill you. Just like we did your pathetic little ally … what was her name?" This is only mildly interesting. And then it strikes me. Her. "The one who hopped around in the trees?" I start to feel sick. "Rue? Well, first Rue, then you…" I block the rest out.
I am filled with fury.
She killed the little girl, who was even younger than my brother, and she's laughing about it. It wasn't survival, it was fun!
If there is one thing I could change about the Hunger Games – apart from banning it – I would raise the age limit. That girl was a child. Not even old enough to do the heavy lifting I do. As soon as they read out her name, I knew she would die.
I'd even worried about what would happen if I had to kill her? How could I do it kindly? From a distance? A knife in her back? A quick twist of the neck, so that she would never know? Or maybe reassure her. Hold her tightly as I cut her throat, apologising to her. Letting her know how much I wished I could look after her, instead of kill her.
I don't know. But if it was anything like what's happening here – the Career is taunting the Fire Girl – then any of my options would have been better.
Just thinking that makes me angrier. I run towards them, just as District Two makes the first cut on her victim's face. I pick her up and then, because she's heavy, flip her and throw her to the ground.
"What'd you do to that little girl?" I shout, too angry to keep up my sullen character. "You kill her?"
She runs backwards, terrified. Just like Rue must have been.
"No! No, it wasn't me!" In addition to being a killer and a coward, she's a liar. I'm even angrier now.
"You said her name," I tell her. "I heard you. You kill her?" I see the Twelve girl's bleeding lip and fill in the gaps. The Career must have cut her up. My face tightens with fury. "You cut her up like you were going to cut up this girl here?"
I'm filled with disgust. This girl isn't like the boy I murdered. She is a monster. How could any human torture that innocent little girl? I pick up a rock and glare at her.
"No! No, I-" She loses it then. "Cato! Cato!" she screams.
I have never wanted to kill so much before – not even the District Four boy – but I want to do it now. I want to get rid of this creature.
The boy – Cato – calls her name back but he's far away. All feelings about not killing have left me. I failed the little girl: I should have been there to stop her from her torture – it's what my district would have wanted. But at least I can avenge her. I fix Rue's image in my mind as I smash the rock against her murderer's skull. She falls and I know she'll die.
I turn back to the Fire Girl, ready to kill her. This will be survival: she'll be trying to kill me too. Then I think of something.
"What'd she mean? About Rue being your ally?"
She stutters as well. I don't expect her to act so scared when she has just defied that monster, but she has to force out that she allied with the little girl and tried to save her. She says the District One boy killed Rue. I should care that I killed the wrong person, but I don't. District Two would have tortured Rue if given half the chance.
"And you killed him?" is all I ask.
"Yes. I killed him," she says. "And buried her in flowers. And I sang her to sleep."
This picture seeps into my mind. This girl could have left Rue – she couldn't be any more help – but she didn't. I think there may even be tears in her eyes.
"To sleep?" I ask gruffly, knowing what she meant but unable to believe it.
"To death. I sang until she died. Your district … they gave me bread." That startles me but I don't let it show. That bread would have cost a lot. The Fire Girl wipes her nose. "Do it fast, OK, Thresh?"
I'm surprised she knows my name – I barely spoke to Rue and I can't really remember her name (Katnich? Katniss?) – but I'm also startled by her bravery. This is the sort of person who deserves to win. The sort of person who does what's right because it is. She didn't have to honour Rue's death. She didn't have to try and save her. That was my job, because she was from my district. And this girl … isn't.
I don't know what to do.
If I kill her, I dishonour Rue, who trusted her, and District Eleven. She did what I couldn't: she looked after the little girl. If I kill her, I become a murderer.
But if I don't kill her, I'll have to do it later. She'll be a threat. Her and her boyfriend. They could easily kill me. And then I won't go home.
What's more important? Living, or being a good person? Winning, or paying off my debts?
I lower my rock and point at her. "Just this one time, I let you go," I say. "For the little girl. You and me, we're even then. No more owed. You understand?"
She nods and I think she does. Maybe she knows how much I hate owing. Maybe she knows how much her actions mean to me. I've broken the rules - Mattes is probably swearing at me in the Capitol – but I've thanked her.
The District Two boy calls for his girl. He's close. The Fire Girl can't win in a straight fight with him: we both know that.
"You better run now, Fire Girl," I say. She turns and flees. I grab my pack and, after a moment's thought, his. No more debts. If he's anything like the monster, then he can't be allowed to win. And I need to be the one to stop him.
I run back into my field just as he arrives at the feast, calling for Clove. I look in my pack. Water, some food and, surprisingly, a sword. I think there's some armour in there too, but I leave that alone. He won't have any, so neither will I. This will be a fair fight.
I leave his pack alone, although a quick glance tells me it has something shiny in it. Not a sword because he has one. Not knives because she had those. More armour?
I decide to tire him out a bit, so that he doesn't realise I've been waiting for him. I run deep into the field just as it begins to rain, and hide. When he arrives, a few hours later (where has he been looking for me?), I step out.
"District Eleven," he greets me.
I nod back, not wasting words.
"You have something which belongs to me."
I say nothing but hold my sword out, ready. He draws his.
"We could be allies," he points out, surprisingly calm for someone who's just lost his best chance at survival. "Only three other tributes. We kill them then we see who deserves to win."
"No," I say. "You killed the little girl."
"I didn't. Hue did." He smiles. "And you killed Clove."
I nod, still holding the blade out.
"Strong," he compliments me. "But stupid." He charges at me, swinging his sword. I block it.
He runs at me, sword aimed at my stomach. I dodge, grab him and push him down. His sword leaves his hands.
"Pick it up," I say with contempt. I don't want to win unfairly. He will die with sword in hand.
He scrambles for his sword and picks it up. We face off again.
A few more lunges off him. A few more blocks off me. I swing at his head; he ducks. He chops at my arm; I turn and it misses. The tip of his blade slices my cheek. I cut his knee.
He has skill and I have strength. We're evenly matched.
I lunge again but he manages to turn enough that it misses his stomach. I do, however, hit his arm and leg. He falls, writhing in pain. I centre myself from the last lunge and start to chop downwards but, before I can, he kicks my legs out.
I fall. Hard. My sword flies out of my hand, as my head erupts with pain. He stands up and kicks me.
"Strong," he pants, "but stupid."
He holds his sword up and stabs it down.
I'll never go home.
The tip enters my stomach. I wince as he pushes it in further. It's like nothing I've ever felt.
"Join your precious Rue," he sneers. "Tell her I sent you."
I hope you win, Fire Girl. You deserve it.
"I think I'll take my sword now," he laughs and pulls it out. I gasp with pain.
My vision is darkening, my breathing is worse. So this is what it is to die.
Suddenly, Rue appears ahead of me in a field of flowers. The boy from District Four joins her. They beckon me forward.
I don't want to go. I need to go home. I need to be with my family.
The little girl giggles and runs up to me. She tugs my hand. The boy smiles guiltily at me. I wonder what he was like. He seems nice, for a Career.
She tugs my hand again. I hesitate but it's clear that she wants me. Maybe she's alone. Maybe she needs me to look after her.
She's my district. I'll take care of her. Just like I always do.
I squeeze Rue's hand and let myself be pulled away from the Hunger Games. The boy gives me a friendly slap on the back as we walk into the field of flowers.