I feel dizzy for a few seconds, then, all of a sudden, feel as though I have been shot with a bolt of lightning. Alert and energized.
I'm clearly not where I was before. I'm not where I have been before, either. But this place feels somewhat familiar.
I'm surrounded by factories. Metal upon metal upon more metal. Smoke and fog hangs in the air, heavy on my head. I don't like the smoke. I try to blow it out of my way, but it's too heavy for my breath to handle.
Every direction seems the same, almost. There are factories, of course, but I also see small houses—no, shacks. Made of tin and roofed with tile.
I think this is approximately how Wiress described District 3, the place where she lives. Technology is made in factories, of course, so that must be self-explanatory.
Still, the living conditions here are horrific. No trees and no sun. Just metal. The people who live here surely must not deserve to live in such a place. They need to see nature. I want to show it to them.
I'm still in the same clothes I was in before, faded jeans and a blue t-shirt. Ash falls on me like grey snow, and soon, I can't even see my own hand. It blends in with the fog.
I see a few people walking in between the factories, but I'm assuming that most of them must be either at work or at home. These few people have dull, frayed clothes and pale, sad features, accented by shocks of black or dark brown hair. Most of them have grey or bluish eyes. They all look like they could be related to Wiress.
They don't seem to notice me, although I'm taller than most of them. I wonder if the people here ever get growth spurts.
I see a small ring of houses to my left that seem slightly more privileged than the rest of the population's. There is a bit of grass growing here, but not that much.
I walk closer to there. There is a sign that says,
And in smaller print, below,
Home of the Lucky Victors of Previous Hunger Games
This must be where Wiress lives, I think. Only children participated in the Hunger Games, but Wiress isn't a child. But still she has to go to another. This must be something "special" in the eyes of the Capitol, I think. Maybe they're taking the past Victors of previous Games.
I remember Wiress's frightened, alert eyes and her unkempt hair. These seem like side effects, no, aftereffects of these Games.
I think she lives here.
Only two houses here seem to be occupied. I knock on one of them.
I've been lucky, something I'm usually not. Wiress opens the door the tiniest bit, wincing. She sees me and relaxes.
"Me," I finish.
"You…knew what I was going to say? Not a lot of people know how to do that. Actually, only one person could do that, and that was before you came along. The only other Victor who's still alive, actually. That would be Beetee."
She invites me inside and gives me a steaming mug of cocoa. It reminds me of something I used to do when I was little, before Miss Honey adopted me.
My father would go off to sell old cars for many times what they were worth, illegally. My mother would go to play bingo. My brother would, of course, go to school. I wasn't allowed to go to school by my parents; they said I was too short. (A rather insufficient reason, if you ask me.) They expected me to sit on the couch and watch the telly. Now, that didn't sound very fun, in my opinion.
Even though my parents probably wouldn't have approved, every week or so, I would walk to the library and check out a few books. Now, interestingly, it was not because of the dangers of a 5-year-old crossing the streets that they didn't approve. It was because they were against book-reading. "Looks are more important than books," my mother told Miss Honey once. But she was so, so very wrong. Both of them were.
I would read them at home, immersed in a whole new universe. Time traveling on a chair. I would see deserts and rainforests and travel to the moon and see other small children who were so very much like me—take Oliver Twist, for example—and I was happy.
Near my side, I would always place a hot mug of cocoa to sip from time to time, to comfort me when my favorite characters were in times of peril. Like Wiress.
It was so lovely; all by myself, I could do anything I wanted to. I didn't care when my father ripped up one of the books in a fit of anger; I painstakingly glued it back together, and did a small act of justice in the process. It was so satisfying when his hair was permanently glued to his favorite hat after my touch of super-glue.
I was free and independent. I didn't have to rely on my parents, who accused me of lying and cheating, to provide me with anything.
I loved it.
If only the Capitol were this easy to conquer.
I stare at the cocoa for a few minutes more, watching as the foam of the chocolate dissolves into the fragrant brew. If only the Capitol were this easy to conquer, I think again.
"Matilda, honey…" Wiress starts. It sounds ironic, because "Honey" is actually now my last name.
"The…Hunger Games…the one that I'm going into tomorrow? It…it's not like the usual ones, with kids between the ages of 12 and 18. This one…they're taking the Victors of the past Games…and pitting them against each other. That would include me."
That's what I thought. "But why? It really…"
"Isn't fair. I know. But the Capitol, they're all so mad at us…just because the citizens of the districts rebelled 76 years ago…"
"But you weren't the ones who rebelled!"
"Exactly. That's why now, we will. Once more. And I know I won't live through this Games to support the rebellion, but I'll try to last. If I…"
"Wiress! Why…why are you thinking like that? Like your death is inevitable?"
"Because…it IS inevitable. I don't stand a chance in the arena. I might have a good knowledge of things, but that won't save me. I'm not a fighter. All I'm good at is threading wires and solving equations."
"And listening to me," I finish quietly. "All my life, I was overlooked, too, Wiress. My parents accused me of the most horrible things. And even now, sometimes my teachers don't believe that I did my work myself. There are people who see me for who I really am, but there are those who don't, too. You're one of the ones who do, and that's a pretty small category."
She sighs deeply and looks at me carefully. "If only I could have put what you just said into proper words—but I—I can't—finish it. Whenever I speak, the words get jumbled up, and precious few people understand what I try to say. So people think I've lost my marbles, which I'm beginning to believe myself. I'm glad you understand me so well, Matilda, because otherwise…"
Her face lights up suddenly. "Matilda, how did you get here? You live in a different time. Did you…"
"Time-travel? Yes, yes I did."
"So it's true! It IS possible! To…"
"Travel through time. I don't even know how it happened, I just…went into this big closet in my school…and I basically disappeared. Bit by bit."