Written for Starvation Forum's April prompt: Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.
It is a cold, wet morning. Rain drizzles lazily down from the sky. Her worn-out blue jacket and skirt are both nearly drenched, and her knees are numb.
And then one little slip of paper condems her, and her breath is literally taken away.
On the train ride, she says very little. Both mentors understand and don't question. But they don't necesscarily help, either.
When they arrive at their destination, the is stripped and srubbed and cleaned and put into a decent-looking but essentially mediocre costume. No one remembers her, and that's exactly the way she likes it.
During training, she just stands and watches the other tributes learn. Watching is something she's good at; learning through just listening, not doing. She's never been a fan of doing. Back in District Three, she managed to ace most of her tests without studying a wink, and so the teachers suspected her of being lazy, of being lucky, of cheating.
Same thing with the Gamemakers, almost. Except they don't feel cheated at all when they assign her a score of 2.
Her interview angle turns out to inadvertently be distracted. Caesar Flickerman tries to make her talk; she works out the quadratic equation in her head and sighs, contented.
There are no sponsors that night, or the next night.
She smiles vaguely, because they can't see past the illusion of it all.
She is anything but distracted in the first minutes of the arena. She is almost too focused, not bothering to scan the area but instead locking onto a small point on the horizon to the left of her plate, and as the gong sounds and tributes run to and away from the Cornucopia, she runs somewhere else. To a place that she can't see yet.
On the way there, she grasps a stray backpack, strewn on the edge of the wet sand plain around the golden horn, and a boy coughs up blood nearby. Her eyes stay focused on the point.
A thick, almost blinding fog appears on the second day. But she can still make out her traveling point, and that's all that matters.
She hasn't eaten or slept, but she truly does not mind. She has water, the thick, real fog swirling around her, and she continues steadily on. No one gets in her way, because the Careers are busy hunting each other.
No one has time for the loony from the electronics district.
On the fourth day, she stops and looks around. Miles and miles of wet sand and fog. No grass, no plants, no bushes. Just... barrenness. A reflection of the same thing over and over and over.
And then she laughs, and she has found what she is looking for. A chink in the armor.
The broadcast is on a vicious battle between the tributes from One and Seven, so no one sees her slip in between two thin panels. That is, until someone in the Gamemaking room comments that he's lost all tracking on the girl from District Three.
There was an unusually low bloodbath number this year-only three. So the Games are prolonged and bloody, enough to keep the masses happy while the techGamemakers try to work out the bug in the system. They even call in Beetee for support. But none of the cameras seem to be working-all black out once they get close to the mirrors.
She's starving and unclean, but she's safe.
Day ten. She's been counting the cannons. Ten people left in the Games, including herself.
Her stomach rumbles, and she spares herself another cracker. One for every five days. That should last her at least until the final three, if the Gamemakers don't find her first. Which they might, or they might not.
She has had plenty of quiet time to think, in between cannons. And she had discovered that the arena is all smoke and mirrors, all illusions, all distorted reflections of blood and pain and death black as night. And what she has found is a crack in between mirrors, where she can escape into dreaming, which is really just the same as reality because reality is so distorted.
She doesn't realize just how isolated she has become.
What Beetee doesn't tell the techGamemakers is that the problem is not with the technology, but with the arena itself. After all, in a closed circle of forcefields and mirrors and tricks and games and broken red glass and lies and hunts, it is remarkably easy to disappear.
After all, he himself did it once.
Another thing Beetee doesn't tell the techGamemakers: he knows exactly where his tribute is. After all, he's been there: disappeared, if not literally, for a time before springing out and catching everyone by surprise. And he desperately wants his tribute to come home alive for a change.
In a few hours, it has come down to the final eight. They go and interview her neighborhood in District Three, catching them off-guard.
After all, says her uncle, her guardian, there's been so little footage of her, we weren't even sure if she was really alive. We figured we must have blanked out.
Caesar blinks a few times, and then gives the same response he gave Beetee's family, except it is far more of a lie this time.
Day fifteen. She eats another cracker. The final five tributes have been called to a feast at the Cornucopia. The Gamemakers are hoping to entice her out, find her hiding spot, and then kill her.
She doesn't give them that luxury. So they send tracking muttations, etheral hounds and ghastly cats and tracker jackers by the swarm.
They kill two other tributes, but not the ones they were looking for.
She's made the final three on three large crackers, a mouthful of constant fog, and a wicked hiding spot. She's been lazy, lucky, cheating. The Gamemakers all curse her name.
She wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes that it's time to leave.
They decide to launch the Grand Finale without the girl from District Three, and then wake up to a sudden burst of static and a new images of the emaciated tribute, walking steadily back to a new focus point-the Cornucopia-and curse her name again. All the mutts are gone.
In anger, they heat the arena to unbearable tempatures. Just enough to make the mirrors explode into deadly shards.
It still had never occured to them that a tribute could have possibly seen behind them.
The shards slice across the throat of the boy from Nine, and it's Three and Six left to vie for the crown. The sky is dark red in anticipation of the blood that follows.
She spots him at the Cornucopia before he sees her. They are both covered in little scratches from flying shards-the Gamemakers would rather have her die a brutal death at the hands of another child than anything orchestrated by them at this point.
He's quick, but she's quicker. And she's watched him oh-so-closely in training, the way he has never gotten the chance to for her. Seeing how he thinks that this is a hallucination and that the math was wrong and that he's won, because he was sure that the girl from District Three died on Day Four.
After all, the Gamemakers started to show her face in the sky.
As a wise girl from District Twelve will say years and years later: killing is remarkably easy in execution, but entirely different in aftermath.
The trumpets are hesitant when they proclaim the new victor: "Wiress Zysk, tribute of District Three, victor of the 51st Annual Hunger Games!"
And her quick, intuitive, slippery mind knows that her time is growing short already.