Three uppity females peck around my body searching for anything to change about my appearance. My prep team they call themselves. The have all kinds of these tortuous tools they keep insisting are "specifically designed for the job".
"You're so much cuter than the last year's tribute!" the one with orange hair squawks. Last year's male tribute was decked in scars from working in the mills for most his life. My hair is cut to a 'desired length', this doesn't phase me as much as I thought it would. Sponsors are sponsors and hair will grow.
"You're so right, Celesty!" squeals the silver-tattooed girl who files my fingernails into perfect ovals. Who is going to see my fingernails and have that be their deciding factor whether to sponsor me or not? Is the Capital so centered around appearance, that fingernails take precedence over human qualities? "Keep your eyes open wide now, deary."
"What is that?" I ask as she holds a clear film the size of a marble's hemisphere close to my eye.
"It's your contact lens, silly," the most disturbing looking one says. Her eyelashes are five-inches long. When she blinks, they leave trails of sparkles that linger in the air. How does she see with them? "Foxer has your whole tribute parade scheme planned out. You'll be a star!" Great. I always wanted a bunch of rainbow bodied freaks thinking I'm cute.
It takes a few tries, and a lot of cursing, my lenses are finally in and the orange-haired one holds up a mirror so I can see them. My pupils, irises, sclera are snow-white. I'm startled at first because I look dead almost. Like I'm about to be dropped in a coffin and buried.
"Phenomenal!" says the eyelash fiend. "Now wait here. Foxer will be in shortly to assess you and dye your hair."
"I can't wait!" Orange Hair and Silverface hug and jump up and down. "You'll do amazingly!" Then the three finally leave.
I sit for some time looking in the mirror at my ghostly eyes. The door opens. A man walks in the posh, steel room. His copper hair is slicked back, his light brown eyes are practically red. "Foxer," he says, extending a hand that I shake tentatively.
"Flick," I say, looking at all the products on the shelves. Creams and tools all to enhance one's looks. How pointless all of it is my world. Looks don't matter, not even fingernails. What matters is feeding yourself and keeping yourself alive. "But I'm sure you already knew that," I say.
"Indeed I did," he says getting a bottle from a shelf. "Please, come lay down over here." I do so as he turns the faucet on and starts working the silky, white cream into my now short hair.
"So, what's my tribute parade scheme?" I say it with much less verve than the peacocks.
"Well, as your stylist, I am supposed to capture your district's essence in your costume."
"I'm not going as I tree, am I?"
"Oh heavens no," he laughs. "Flick, tell me what your district does."
I'm sure he already knows, but I tell him anyways. "For the most part, we cut down trees, and turn them to parchment."
"And what do we do with parchment?" I don't answer. Where is he going with all this? "We write on it. Well, some still do. I do. I'll let the outfit do the talking."
Foxer finishes dying my hair. It turns out to be just as white as my eyes. Thankfully, he tells me it will wash out. He then puts another type of goo in my hair. This one hold it in place; freezing it in all different directions, like horrible bed-head.
I'm glad Marla is wearing the same get-up as I am when I arrive at the bottom floor of the Remake Center, so if this whole thing doesn't pan out I won't be the only one who looks ridiculous in front of the whole country. She wears a white unitard like mine and the same hair, the same eyes as me. Though, her do doesn't have the splay quality my does. I give her a reassuring nod. She stays just as stone-faced as ever, will nothing shake her? But maybe it's better that we're at ends. A friend is the last thing I need now.
We step on the chariot, which will be pulled by four horses. Two are white, two are black. We have horses back in District 7, but only Peacekeepers and the overly wealthy have them. And they are nowhere near as majestic as these beasts. Usually mangy, dirty, bot fly ridden things.
"Now," says Foxer, flanked by a short woman who I believe is Marla's stylist. She looks just as ridiculous as my prep team. "I want both of you to look straight ahead. Don't smile or wave. Nothing, just look ferocious." This is good because I'm not too proficient at appearing happy well I am truly not.
"Ferocious," Marla echos.
The Panem anthem starts booming all around. "Ferocious," Foxer confirms. "They'll love it."
The District 1 chariot rides off, carrying a fire/ice combo of tributes. The second gets in place and all of a sudden I'm freaking out; butterflies erupt in my stomach. All of the possible bad and embarrassing things that could happen. The second team fly into the crowd-filled streets when Foxer turns our costumes on via remote control.
Holograms of black letters swirl around me, around us. All the letters in the alphabet, in a font you'd see in a very old, important ledger. Some moving fast, others slow. Most fly through my body, which is a weird feeling because they look totally solid. We illuminate the dark area around us. "Whoa" is all I can say.
"Perfect," says Marla's stylist. "You did great, Foxer."
"Get in potion," he says adjusting our stances. "Arms crossed. There, perfect. Looks like Six is leaving. Alright, no smiling, look straight. You'll do great."
Then the horses begin their journey into the city. I thought the anthem was noisy, the citizens are twice as loud. Hooting and hollering for their favorites. I even hear my name called a good amount, this gives me hope. Surely someone will sponsor a boy with perfect fingernails from the poor District 7. I want to smile, but I follow Foxer's directions and remain as still as a corpse.
The twelve chariots slow to a stop in front of President Snow's mansion. I stay just as still and ferocious as I have been. The president gives the formal welcome to the tributes and announces the official start of the sixty-sixth Hunger Games. His voice thunders louder than the anthem and citizens.
After a long applause the chariots ride towards the Training Center, which will act as home for the twenty-four tributes. But I highly doubt I will feel at home once there. The Capitol is the polar opposite of my woods in District 7.
We ride the elevator with the fire/ice duo from District 1. She's dressed in a skin-tight, frosty blue suit with a deep V neck. It gives off billows of what represents chilly mist. Spikes that resemble ice crystals deck her arms, legs, torso. Silky yellowish hair spills over her head and shoulders like flowing sap. All he wears for clothes are snug, red trousers, completely revealing his well defined upper body. His blazing leggings smolder and a synthetic steam. The elevator quickly fills with thick the mixing smokes.
"Can you turn those things off, please?" I ask them.
"Sure," she says after a chuckle. Two flips of the switches and the room is soon smoke free.
"I'm Glitz," she explains. "This is Gaius." I trail off as soon as I see his eyes. They are, maybe I'm just a little homesick, exactly like Leto's. The same piercing blue color, intense and gentle all at once. Just the sight of them make me yearn for my comrade. Besides his eyes, he couldn't be further from Leto's appearance. Bleach blond versus night black. Lean versus stocky. Still, the thought of my hunting partner causes heartbreaking nostalgia.
"See you at training," Glitz says in my haze.
"See you at training," I affirm.
The door closes and the elevator continues its ascent. "You do realize that they are the enemy?" Marla scolds. Irrefutably will the tributes of Districts 1, 2, and 4 join the ranks of the Careers. The better fed and much richer districts. These districts take glory in competing in the Hunger Games, whereas, the other districts think of it as an execution. They rally together at the beginning of the games to take on their weaker adversaries. The majority of victors have, for the past sixty-five years, been from one of the Career districts.
"Of course I do," I say. "I'm just showing them that I'm not scared."
"I'm not scared," says Marla firmly.
"You certainly looked scared, hiding in the corner there."
"You don't know what you're talking about," she shoots. "You don't know me."
The conversation dies there.
We reach the seventh floor and the praise begins. Electra and Marla's stylist both plant a kiss on my cheek. Blight claps me on the back. Harva manages a grin. "You two were great," Electra complements. "Everyone is talking about the fierce tributes from District 7." Sponsors, is all I can think.
Foxer steps through the gaggle that's formed. "You two were simply amazing. I am so proud of both of you."
"Yes, yes," Electra breaks in. "Now you two change and get ready for dinner."
Marla and her stylist trot off to her quarters while Foxer takes me under his arm and guides me to mine. "Thank you," I say.
"Making me shine," I tell him as we enter my room. It's similar to my room on the train, but larger. Larger than three of my District 7 houses.
"Well, now that you have their attention, don't let them forget you." I nod. Foxer picks out what I am to wear to dinner. I know he's my stylist and all, but does he have to pick out everything I wear? He helps me take out my contact lenses. More cursing. After a quick shower to remove the white from my hair, I change into what Foxer has chosen just to be nice. I think that the goo has permanently tinged my hair a shade lighter so it's a bit closer to blonde now.
I take my seat at the dinner table and the glorious food comes. The main course is a roasted pig that just bursts with flavor. Blight pours me a glass of bubbly liquid. Champagne he tells me. My father adores the stuff. Whenever he can scrounge up enough money, or take coin from my stash, he spoils himself. I've never tried it, though. Usually because he downs it so quickly I don't get the chance to be curious. But I indulge on the fizzy golden drink. Blight laughs as I cringe at the dry and sour flavor. How does my father drink the raunchy district version?
Dessert is served: a rich chocolate cake, coupled with something they're calling ice cream. "So," says Blight as an Avox, the tongueless servants of the Capitol, cuts me another piece of the mouthwatering cake. "I suppose we should talk about training. Would you like to be coached together?" He belches.
"No," Marla proclaims. My look towards her relieves what could very well be a death stare. How quickly she made up her mind makes me think...maybe I haven't payed enough attention to my district partner. Maybe Marla Curt is a bigger threat than I had realized at the reaping. Maybe this scrawny blonde girl will be a real contender. Harva's eyes are glued to her. "I will mentor Marla," she states. Her voice is so cold.
"Well, I get this little rascal, then," Blight says roughing up my hair with his alcohol smelling hand. Electra sits pursing her lips at Blight's behavior. His constant dropping of the silverware. Belching. Slurred words. He's had too many drinks.
"Well, it's time for bed," says Electra, trying to hide that her statement is aimed at Blight wholeheartedly.
Harva and Marla leave talking, plotting, which is completely unfair, seeing that I get a drunken loon to plot with. I will have a stern talking to with Blight in the morning about his drinking. I lead myself to my quarters, after a sip of Blight's champagne to see if he got a different flavor than I did. I'm still perplexed by how anyone could like the stuff.
After striping down to my underwear, not even glancing at what's in the drawers, I squirm into bed, the covers just as warm as the ones in the train, quelling my goosebumps. The thought of the boy from District 1, leaves Leto fresh in my mind. Fresh in my mind are all of our adventures in the woods. The jokes, the dangers we faced. The lessons back and forth. His intricate snares he weaves so flawlessly, his expert tracking skills; the way his can look at a faded print in the mud and instantly know what animal, when, speed. My best friend...what is he doing this moment? Is he in peaceful sleep? Or awake, aching for my return like I am now?
The thought of an eventful trip in the woods comes back to me, and I get up to see if the physical scars are still there. The mirror reveals the two mangled spot on my abdomen. The rippled skin is rough to the touch, and it takes me back to that bloodcurdling day.
It was an abnormally hot summer day. I remember this because of the sweat drops on mine and Leto's faces that had to wiped away not it interfere with our vision. We each tied bandanas to our foreheads. Last summer, some days after the reaping. Leto and I were heading back home with a full bag of game and plums from our favorite tree. The plum trees were past the threshold of familiarity and safety we decided on, but they were so ripe and juicy at the time. We couldn't resist.
We were only a few hundred yards away from District 7, I could see thick factory smoke billowing into the sky, when Leto heard it. He held up his hand: what we always do when one of us hears something the other doesn't. I pulled out two knifes from my belt, holding one in a throwing position. Leto took his bow from his shoulder and loaded an arrow. He prefers a bow over knives. Says knives aren't as accurate and have less range. I usually retaliate saying it's the user, not the weapon. Though I'd favor throwing knives over a bow and arrow any day I've still practiced with a bow, per Leto's taunting. Quite a good shot too.
Anyways, I asked, "Snow fox?"
"Bigger, more than one," Leto whispered. I swear Leto is part bat, how he could hear these things was beyond me.
Snow foxes are around year long. Most bears travel down the valley in the summers to catch fish. The only other option were wild dogs, rabids is the local name for them, though I always thought they were closer to wolves because of how strong and organized there are. We had crossed paths with a few of them before, but nothing like this would turn out to be.
"There." I pointed at a grey shape in the green brush about ten yards away. Leto saw it too. It started to growl. I could see its horrid jagged teeth. "Let's see if we can avoid a fight," I said in a whisper. We both knew what this meant. To try looking like weren't challenging it, we held our bodies diagonally to the beast and did not look directly at it. This usually works if we're facing just one, but then he spotted another behind us.
"We have to kill them," said Leto softly. "On my mark...three, two, one!" I heard the arrow cut through the air and then a whimper from the first beast. I threw my knife, it stuck into the second's neck.
"More?" I asked.
"Yes." Another rustle and another arrow into what I thought was just a bush. A dying rabid's whine confirmed its death.
All of a sudden, the world was alive with rustling, yelps and us spotting the attacking creatures. The throw of a knife or the firing of an arrow meant another rabid's death. But they kept coming. We must have taken down five before the first one made contact. A large male rushed at me while I was unarmed. I had just taken a knife out when it tackled me to the ground. I deflected its gnashing mouth long enough to stab the creature in its neck, but not long enough to prevent its claws from digging into my abdomen. I let out a screech when its ragged nails pierced my skin. Leto turned at once and I watched as a runt bit his ankle and him falling to the ground. He pulled out an arrow from his quiver, rabid still attached to him, and plunged it weapon into the beast's neck.
"Anymore?" I asked, only thinking that Leto could easily of picked something up from the attack. Rabids are infamous for carrying a multitude of diseases. Just being around one is deadly.
"No. I don't know," he rushed. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," I said not even looking at my affliction. "We have to get to Moxie." Moxie was the only one with any medical experience for miles. And the only one who would help us for free. But I later found that the charge would be three squirrels and a whole deer. We didn't even get the pelts.
We stand, but it's apparent Leto can't walk on his own. I got on the side of his wound and he put his arm around me. Using me as a crutch, we hobbled out of the forest leaving the bodies, weapons, and food we gathered behind. Leto protested, but I insisted that we can come back for them. That our lives were much more important.
My wound caused me pain with every step and I stole myself to look at it. Two puncture holes the diameter of my smallest finger. Blood poured from them, my undershirt was drenched in no time. We left a dotted trail of blood as we walked.
We got to Moxie's just in time, because when we arrived Leto collapsed onto a chair from pain and exhaustion. I leaned on a table to brace myself.
"What happened?" She spat the words with urgency.
"Rabids," I heaved. "A whole pack."
"Claw wound." I held my hand over my stomach. "Left ankle bite." I motioned to Leto. "You can help us, right?" I pleaded, begged almost.
She quickly examined me, then went to Leto, seemingly much more concerned with Leto. "Bandage yourself up, Flick. You're going back into the woods."
She went to the other room to get the her medical supplies. Dumping a box on the table frantically, she took a bottle of disinfectant and a cloth. "Hurry, Flick," she ordered. I was overcome with fear for Leto and lazily wrapped a bandage around my waist. "There's something we need." She paused, dabbing the cloth on his bite, Leto gripping the sides of the chair all the time. "Something I don't have. I'll get you a drawing."
"Is he infected with something?" I asked, securing the bandage. In answer she pointed to Leto's wound. Yet again, I stole myself to inspect his ankle. The whole area was pale: lack of blood. Surrounding the four holes was a horrible shade of red, not from blood but from heat, dying muscle. I didn't know.
Moxie slammed a heavy book down on the table and Leto whimpered like the rabids when a blade or arrow entered their bodies. "Here," she said. "Fool's Feet." I examined the picture as best I could. I still remember the thick, twirly, black crawlers that grow at the base of old trees. The buds that never bloom due to lack of sunlight.
I went to give Leto a reassuring pat on the arm before I left, but he forcefully grabbed my hand and began speaking gibberish, nothing he was saying made any sense. Like baby talk. Right then I was genuinely scared for Leto's life. I looked at Moxie with total distress. "Go, boy!" she yelled. I didn't need to be told twice.
The bandage helped a little, but pain shot through me relentlessly with every stride. My blood covered hands trembled. I overcame it for Leto.
The smell of blood and wet dog was very noticeable once inside the woods. I retrieved a few knifes from the lifeless rabids in the event of another attack. Thankfully, that didn't happen. I searched for the correct trees, for Fools's Feet. I estimated twenty minutes had gone by since my arrival, maybe time goes by faster when a friends life is at stake. It was fruitless in efforts at that point.
My sympathy for the fallen creatures could soon turn to empathy.
In my adamant attempt to find this life preserving plant, I gave myself a break. I had been stumbling around clutching my stomach in pain. Resting my back on a tree, I told myself, one minute breather. Then get back to work. But I didn't take up that minute because looking down at my feet I found the elusive plant.
Staggered by pain, I returned to Moxie's house, breathless when I arrived. Moxie had gotten Leto flat on the table where he laid shivering. She stood still, but jumped right into action when she saw me. "Chew them," she instructed. I was much too weak to question her. She popped a tendril into her mouth and I did the same.
Moxie spat it into her hand and started rubbing the mush onto Leto's ankle bite, which was the color of mashed, undeveloped green beans. "Do the same to yourself."
"Doesn't Leto need as much as he can get?" I asked, hazy from blood loss. My bandage had bled through by then.
"No," she said while applying the paste to Leto who didn't seem to improve. "Too much can kill you. Fool's Feet spreads an infection of its own, eradicating any existing infection. The new infection only causes hallucinations and dehydration."
I put the mush on my stomach wounds and watched Moxie work. Leto had lost consciousness and laid there motionless. I didn't remember going to sleep. The most likely scenario is that I, too, lost consciousnesses. But I awoken to Leto staring at me. I checked my wound and saw that it had been cleaned, and the outside was tinted green from Fool's Feet. "How are you feeling?" Leto asked me.
"Thirsty," I told him. My tongue was sandpaper to the touch. Leto handed my a jug of water. I drank it swiftly. I was so occupied on the water that I didn't notice Leto hanging his head over a bucket. "What's wrong?"
"The infection." He then promptly vomited.
Leto and I spent the next week fighting the new infection. Vomiting. Hydrating as best we could. I remember wondering if the rabid's infection was better than the Fool's Feet's. One night of expelling all our stomach contents mercilessly, Leto had said "You're cute when you sleep."
"Great, the infection's gotten to your head," I threw back. Then, in unison, we emptied our stomachs full of only water. The house reeked of bile for a month.
Our delusion ran rampant. Moxie had to leave the house because we were screaming at the cupboards to give us food. Laughing at the little men who stole our silver coins, neither of which existed.
What I would give to go back to the day, live it again just how it was, only once before the arena.