It's my last obstacle. A boy from seven. He looks at me, ready to jab his ax into my torso, but I quickly run into him, bringing him and his blood dripping weapon to the ground. He tries to reach for it, but I already have a hold on him. My hands surround his neck and I pull him up so our eyes meet. His feet dangle just above the grass. I know what to do now; I've done it plenty of times on dummies. All I have to do is twist his neck. It's over. I'm the victor.
He claws at my fingers trying to loosen my grip, but his strength is weakening as his body loses oxygen.
"There's no use trying," I mutter to him, still holding onto his dirty neck, "I've already won." I wait a while, still deciding when to finish him.
He loses his fight and determination. I feel his weight pulling me down. Soon enough my arms start to feel the tension of his dying body, so I throw his skull against the grass. His neck is still red from my gripping hands, but his body is a cold white. Open but empty, his eyes stare across the field. The cannon rings through the forest.
My body relaxes as relief overwhelms my body. I look up ready for the hovercraft to pick me up and announce me the victor. Nothing.
I listen for the wind generated by the large vehicle above, but all I hear is the subtle rustle of leaves brushing against each other and the birds humming.
Another cannon fires.
I look down and see an arrow pierced through my heart.
I look up to see the ceiling of my room. I quickly put my hands on my chest. I realize it was all a dream, but my heart still races. My head turns to the open door where I hear my family already eating breakfast in the kitchen. I swing my feet onto the ground and put a shirt on. I go down the hallway and hear their voices get quieter as I get closer and suddenly they halt as I stand at the doorway.
"Cato! Are you really going to volunteer this year?" Mason breaks the silence.
I look at my father who has a proud grin stretched across his face and then answer Mason, "I believe so."
"You are going to win, I know it!" Ares says, hugging my leg. He's my youngest brother, and only at the age of four.
"Well I hope I do," I grab him and rustle his blonde curls. His giggling is contagious, but I guess my mother is immune to it.
"Ares, let Cato eat, he has to get ready for the Reaping," my mother picks him up and carries him into the living room. She looks a bit sad, but she smiles once she catches me staring at her.
"Now, Cato, don't feel rushed into volunteering this year. You still have two more times after today," my dad says. He was technically correct, with my being 16, I had until my 18th birthday to volunteer.
"No," I say sternly, "I have to go this year." I was half lying to him. I had to volunteer anyways. My instructors had been pushing me for years to go up to that stage and announce myself a tribute, and they said this year would be my prime time to do it. I wanted to win of course, but there was always a chance that the game makers might kill me off for fun. However that was very rare for a tribute from District Two and I am betting I'll be a Capitol favorite. Although the odds were definitely in my favor, I still had some doubts. I know I have the power to win, but once I step forward, I'm entering myself into a game of life and death. I had plenty of training in combat and weaponry at school, but both opponents always came out alive after practice. In this game, only one will survive while twenty-three others will parish. I try to eat the food piled in front of me and forget about it all. It is really hard for someone like me to admit to fear. It's even harder to face it.
I excuse myself from the table and go to my room where I put on my suit that my mother had laid out for me. I came back with my family already dressed for the occasion. We walked out of the house and down the street to where the Reaping was being held. I walked with Marcus, my twelve-year-old brother, to the line where we were identified. Jealousy was seeping from his eyes. Even though it was his first year in the Reaping, he desperately wanted to be in the Hunger Games. He was far too young and weak, but he was a ravaging beast inside. He once bit a kid's ear off in school. He was surely a candidate to become tribute, but he needed to work on his patients.
I put one hand on his shoulder, "this is only your first year, you have plenty of more times to go," he glares at me still, "Hey, you might be chosen this year, but too bad I'm volunteering." I smile, but all I get is a cold expression. I leave him to go stand in my section and watch as everyone gets settled down.
Pan Vipointe, the District Two escort, comes up to the stage wearing his strange capitol clothing. His hair is puffed up into a grand silver ball. His suit is lit with purple and auburn sparkles. He grins out to the crowd. He is one of the finest escorts of Panem. Of course he is sent to us, District Two gets the finest of everything because of our loyalty towards the capital. Our District is considered very well off compared to the other Districts, like Eleven and Twelve.
"Happy 74th Hunger Games" He shouts to the cheering people, "and may the odds be ever in your favor," the people applaud. You can tell by his accent that he's from the Capitol. Some have described their voices as posh and refined. Because of our strong ties with the capitol, many from the District try to mimic their accents, but you can tell they are not Capitol citizens. I think they are all idiots. Why should people dress themselves with little lights and talk with silly voices? I think they are idiots, but I will have to persuade them that I adore their culture. I'm lethal as hell, but I'm quite the charmer when I have to be.
The annual video plays explaining the games. Every year they rehash the District Thirteen rebellion. Everyone in that District died and the whole place is a wasteland now. So every year since then, the Capitol has held the Hunger Games. Two kids, one girl and one boy, from each district get chosen to fight in the arena, and only one tribute survives.
"To start off, I will pick one girl to have the honor of being a tribute of District Two," he walks over to the glass bowl on the left and maneuvers his hand until he picks a slip of paper and walks back to the podium. It's a waste to pick names because in the end, someone is going to volunteer.
"Celestial Tracer," he says. I'm familiar with the name, she was my age. Her bony legs shift towards the stage shaking. She was one of the worst in my class. Her skill was awful and her strength was non-existent.
Quickly a small figure passes threw, "I volunteer." I begin to recognize who it is. It's Clove, a year younger than I, but could easily beat me in archery or knife throwing. I always admired her precision and accuracy. She got up to the stage and I got a better look at her. She had very long dark brown hair that was braided down her back. Unlike the rest of the girls who were dressed up, she was wearing a very militaristic uniform. I presumed she didn't want to dress up. She always stayed late during training and had hardly any friends. I had seen her talk to some boys in my class before about their collection of knives, but other than that, she was a mute. I bet she was too busy planning everyone's death in class to talk. I also believe it is her cold stare and murder-written eyes that kept people away from her.
I can see them whispering, presumably he is catching what her name is.
"Well then, District Two," he grabs one of her hands and brings it up in the air, "Clove, your tribute for the 74th Hunger Games" The crowd cheered.
I try to loosen my tense body and get ready to jump up there.
Pan then turned over to the glass bowl on the right, "Calone Falinae."
Before the boy is able to stand up, I move over and get to the stage.
I clear my throat, "I volunteer, sir," I yell to Pan. He grins, probably not surprised at all that both tributes ended up being two volunteers.
He then whispers into my ear, "Well, young man, what is your name?"
"Cato," I respond.
"And here we have District Two's tributes for the 74th Hunger Games, Clove and Cato!" he exclaimed.
The crowd cheers for us and I spot my parents smiling. I can see tears swelling in my father's eyes, proud of my decision.
I look over at Clove and shook her hand strongly. She looked at me with a smirk, and not a friendly one to say the least. Her eyes were already planning my death. I gave a grin back, but a friendlier one. Even though there is a chance we might have to kill each other, we are careers and we are most likely going to team up in the beginning. I am dreading that time when I might have to kill her. With our ability and strength, we are destined to be the last tributes standing. Something about her was so endearing. She was the strongest and always the best at everything at school and her perfection attracted me far more than any of the girls who drooled over my power. To make herself even more appealing, she had an aloof manner towards me that made me go crazy. I sighed. It was too bad that she would have to die in a matter of two weeks.
Pan pushed us gently into the building and brought us both into separate rooms.
I waited there in the cold darkness and thought about how I could feel less guilty about Clove's death. But the truth was she was strong enough and clever enough to survive through all twenty-two tribute no matter who they were, and I was the one who was going to have to see her dead on the floor and hear the last cannon echo through the empty arena. She was going to be like the boy in my dream, except she would probably fight longer and I would have to stare into her dying eyes feeling guilty every second I resist her pull on my hands, a memory that I would hold onto forever.
I hear the door creak and I shake the thoughts away.
My parents walked in with my three brothers behind. They all hugged me at once.
"Make us proud," my mother kisses my cheek.
"The other tributes don't look threatening except for one large boy from district eleven, but he has no chance against you," my dad pats me on the back, "just go out there and beat the competition."
"I will," he then swung his other hand around me and hugged me sternly. I felt a sense of fear in his arms. His words had trust and faith in me, but I could feel his worry. He wanted me to win, but he wasn't certain I was going to. They put me on edge.
"Time is up," the peacekeeper came in and escorted them from the room.
Clove and I were then brought to the train where all of district two gave their farewells. I took a deep breath as I got on. I have been waiting for this moment for years.
I looked back at my home, District Two. I see my family in the crowd waving goodbye and I wave back smiling.
I reassure myself, 'In less than a month, I will come back here a Victor… a god.'