Chapter One- Done For Another Year
Every year, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 are reaped from each of the twelve districts that make up our nation of Panem. The twenty-four Tributes, as they're called, are entered into The Hunger Games, an ever-changing arena fraught with the dangers of starvation, dehydration, exposure and murder. Yes, the tributes must kill each other to survive; the last left alive is crowned the victor and returns home to shower their district with gifts of extra food for a year.
I'm a Victor. Two years ago I was reaped from my home, District 7. When my name came out of that fishbowl I felt like I had been sentenced to death.
May the odds be ever in your favour is the catchphrase of the Games but the truth is that they never are. One in twenty-four chance that you'll come out of that arena alive, didn't feel like they were exactly in my favour at the time.
The odds hadn't been in Alder or Camellia's favour either. They were the tributes from my district this year. Once you were crowned a Victor, you were obliged to mentor the next set of Tributes, get one of them back alive. Last year, my first as a mentor, was just as successful as this year. One dropped her token on a mine that blew her sky high before the Game had even started and the other died in a raging grass fire on the first afternoon, a trap designed by the Gamemakers on high. It isn't just the other tributes you have to look out for in the arena.
The mentors can keep an eye on their Tributes at one of twelve stations at The Hub. Each station is equipped with a control panel that has three screens. The screen in the middle shows lists and numbers while the two on either side shows a female face and a male face. All faces are young. At the start of the process, the youngest face was twelve years old. Her screen went black only five minutes after it came to life. She was now dead, along with sixteen other children.
Welcome to the 73rd Annual Hunger Games, I think ruefully.
This year Camellia lasted an hour in the initial battle for weapons and supplies at the beginning of the game. She fell with a knife in the temple, thrown by a vicious waif from District 8.
Alder faired much better, he'd fled from the bloodbath with a backpack containing enough resources to see him through a couple of days. He'd really excelled in camouflage so almost disappeared while his stocks were replete. He wasn't a natural hunter however, and although there was a plentiful supply of game he soon struggled with hunger. I'd flirted and cajoled sponsors into donating money that could be spent on sending him supplies to keep him going. Two days into the games and the price of a loaf of bread had almost tripled but I managed to scrape together enough to send him a loaf from home and a small knife for him to use on the hares that danced tantalisingly around the camouflaged den he'd made.
Our monitors on the control panels only show our own Tributes, a big screen that takes up the whole wall above the stations shows the live feed that the rest of the Panem sees. The Big Eye had been showing the District 2 Tributes discussing the best time to separate so I was carefully watching Alder on my screen. He emerged from his den, knife in hand when a shadow bowled him over. On the big screen we all saw the brutal struggle in which the boy from 1 beat Alder to death with his bare hands. Only the District 1 mentors will have known how long he'd been there watching for Alder, waiting for him to creep out. Waiting to murder him.
Alder's vacant, bloody face fades to black as my monitor turns itself off. My station shuts down.
"Well, that's me done for another year," I sigh, leaning over the control panel of the station behind me.
"Are you ok?" the occupant says, his ocean-green eyes flickering up from his screen to search my face.
"Yeah, sure…I guess."
I will cry for them, but not until I'm alone. Two years ago, the nation watched me eat, sleep and kill, they will never see me cry.
The only person who has seen me cry is in front of me, trying to keep his Tributes alive.
"How are you doing?" I walk around to take a look at his screens.
"Ok, I'm worried about how close the District 1 boy is to Titan."
"He's rampaging then?" My attention flicks between the small screens and the big screen. Rampaging is what the bureaucrats in the media den call a 'killing spree'.
"Could be, you've done it, you know the signs," he focuses his attention back on his monitors.
It's true, but I don't want to think about that now. Not while Alder's body is being lifted out of the arena by a hovercraft to be sent home in a box.
"I'm going to… I don't know pass out or something, it's been two days since I saw a real bed," I gesture to the generic armchair in my station where I've been resting since the Game began.
"Sure, I'll see you later?"
"Yup, you know where I am, Floor 7 same as every year." I try to manage a wink but my eye sticks closed with exhaustion.
I feel a hand on my waist, it pushes me out of the District 4 station area.
His low voice says, "Go to sleep, I'll be up for dinner. We'll talk more then."
"Ok," I sigh and start to shuffle reluctantly towards the lift that will take me to the suite I'd shared with the now late Alder and Camellia.