A Matter of Perspective:
The 67th Annual Hunger Games
By Alex Smith
District 11 – Moa's POV
'Close friends and relatives are allotted one hour to say their goodbyes,' the Peacekeeper tells me, as if I don't know. There's not a soul in Panem who doesn't understand how the Games work, from the moment of the reaping to the victory tours. I reply to him with a blank stare, and he leaves the room. I have only the company of myself.
The Justice Building is an alien place to me. I can't quite wrap my head around how the Capitol can afford to decorate every room with thick carpets and intricate, delicate works of art, while most of District 11 are in the later stages of starvation. As a worker in the Mayor's personal orchard, I've never had it too badly myself, but there are at least a dozen people on my street alone who have to go every other day without food. How can the Capitol let that happen when the chair I'm currently sitting on has cushions made of velvet? How can they not share their riches with the people who need it so desperately here?
The door swings open, and I look up expecting to see the Peacekeeper – but it's my mother, of all people. She looks like she's been crying; her eyes are red.
'You can win this.'
What? I pause, taken aback. I was expecting tears and emotional outbursts, not confidence, or support, or hope. Since when has my mother been one for hoping?
She sits down on the silky couch at the centre of the room, facing me. Even with watery eyes, she's still a hundred times more beautiful than I am. She has the same dark hair as me, but mine falls limp while hers frizzes out uncontrollably, like a thunderstorm in motion. It makes her look like she's crackling with energy, even when she sits down or sleeps. Her skin is the same deep brown as mine, but hers is softer and smoother. At once, we are similar and nothing alike.
'You... You think I can win?'
'You know how to use a mace,' she says, speaking quickly and softly. Any sadness that might have coloured her tone earlier is gone now. She's all business, using what time we have left together to help me out as best she can. 'You've got a lot of muscle on you. You can climb, you can swim, you can wrestle.'
'There are tributes who've been preparing for this their whole lives.'
'You don't need to prepare! Every skill you need to survive in the arena, you already have. You know which plants will save your life and which will end it, you've got a strong throwing arm – what will they be able to do that you can't?'
I consider her words for a moment. As I think about it, I begin to realise that some of what she's saying rings home. I spend so much of my time in the orchard, I can climb a tree faster than most of them will be able to. Heavy labour in the fields has given me strong arms, a good build for fighting. I often have to separate poisonous berries from edible ones when we're picking them in the fields, so I know enough to find food in the arena. And I do know how to use a mace; years ago, before my dad died, he taught me how to swing one. Not because he thought I might need the skill, just because it was his way of spending time with me, training me to use a lethal weapon. I frown at my mother slightly, not quite daring to agree with her.
'So maybe... Maybe I do have a chance.'
'That's what I'm saying,' she presses. 'Don't give up on yourself so easily, Moa. It'll be a tough fight, but you can win it. I believe in you.'
I wasn't expecting this at all. My mother's usually the one who breaks down into hysterics at the slightest provocation, the one standing on the worktop shrieking when a spider crawls across the kitchen floor. Where did this determined, powerful woman spring from?
'Now, let's talk about your interview strategy,' she begins, interlacing her fingers as she sits back on the couch. I almost smile. Who would have thought she'd be the one helping me strategise, plan my course of attack?
I blink, realising I've been lost in my thoughts.
'Sorry. Drifting,' I mutter. She frowns.
'You only get one shot at this. And we've only got one hour. So, concentrate, and listen to what I have to say.'
District 3 – Cyrus' POV
As the Peacekeeper closes the door, the lights flicker and then burst into life automatically. It's a fascinating piece of engineering. I can't see from my chair where the lights are placed – they don't appear to be in the ceiling, and the only lamps in the room are purely ornamental – so they must have been strategically distributed throughout the opulent space for maximum efficiency, so that the bright beams of fake sunlight fill up every corner, making the room feel as warm as a summer's day.
I'm going to die.
I stand from my chair, peering around inquisitively. I run my gaze over every surface, searching for one of the bulbs. It only takes me a couple of seconds to find it. Embedded in a small indent, barely noticeable, between two tall wooden cabinets stood against the left wall. The way that it angles out means that the light can stream out in any direction, but I have to tilt my head in a very certain, precise manner to see the source properly.
I'm going to die.
I use my hands to brace myself, curling them into the cranny that the bulb sits inside. With my palms holding some of my weight, I lean precariously forwards until I can see the bulb. It's a small, square block of glass, that radiates light only in a certain direction; presumably to make it more energy efficient, as the side of the block facing into the wall wouldn't be much use even if it did shine as brightly as the other lights.
I'm going to die.
'Stop it,' I whisper. The room suddenly seems very quiet. 'Stop that, now.'
For a few moments, I can hear absolutely nothing. I have no idea if the walls are soundproof or not, but it feels like it. Not a single hum or hiss reaches my ears. Seconds pass. Then-
I'm going to die.
'Stop it!' I shout, jumping back from the nook in the wall where the lightbulb sits. 'Stop thinking that!'
I hold my hands over my ears, twisting my hair between my fingers, my eyes scrunched closed. I crash down on the luxurious couch at the room's centre and begin to rock gently, back and forth, back and forth.
'Stop, stop, stop thinking...'
But I can't stop. As much as I try, as much as I distract myself and occupy my mind elsewhere, four words keep drifting, unwanted, into my mind. Stark, harsh words, and worst of all, words that I know are true. Because there's no question of it, really. I wouldn't last sixty seconds in the arena. Even if I was the only tribute there, I'd probably find some way of winding up dead. With twenty three others, all of them wanting me killed, I won't even last long enough to think up some clever last words. Even Sallie, the nice girl who shook my hand on the stage, smiled at me, needs me dead if she wants to stay alive. There's so little time left before, like an ominous prophecy, the whisper inside my head stops being paranoia and becomes reality.
The door opens sharply, and I look up, wondering if my family have arrived to wish me luck (useless) and make me promise to come home safely (lie), and say goodbye (for the last time). But no, it isn't them. It's the Peacekeeper. He's frowning slightly.
'You okay in here, kid?' he asks. The walls aren't soundproof, then. He must have heard me shouting.
'Yeah,' I say, a little breathlessly. 'Yeah, I'm fantastic. Utterly brilliant. Great.'
The Peacekeeper's frown deepens. Perhaps he's mistaken my flat tone for deadpan sarcasm, and thinks I'm mocking him. He stares searchingly at me for a minute or so, then slams the door shut again, a little harder than is necessary, leaving me alone to wait for visitors.
Except I'm not alone, because there's someone humming behind me, someone whispering at my ear, someone clawing at the insides of my skull, muttering behind my eyes. Four words.
I'm going to die.
District 9 – Stave's POV
'You've got...' he checks his watch, 'Eight minutes left. Got it?'
I nod, and the Peacekeeper leaves, leaving me alone with my brother again. My brother. Weeve. I stare at him, peering silently into his eyes. We're almost identical, even though we're two years apart. We share the same deep blue eyes, the same ashy skin. His hair and mine are identical in colour and texture, black and straight, though his is cut slightly shorter. Our faces are even shaped the same, so it feels uncannily like I'm looking into a mirror. Then the reflection distorts, as he tilts his head to one side, looking at me curiously. We are the same. Except we're not, because he was reaped for the Hunger Games, and I wasn't.
'Say something, Stave,' he mumbles. I avert my gaze. We've been here for the best part of an hour, but it's the first thing either of us has said.
'Stave,' he repeats, when I remain silent. 'Talk to me.'
'It should be me going into that arena,' I say. He shakes his head softly.
'It shouldn't. This is my burden to carry.'
'But I should be able to help you!' I cry, throwing my arms up in exasperation. This whole situation is so unfair. So cruel. Whoever gave the Capitol the right to tear families apart like this?
'There's nothing you can do,' Weeve says, in the quiet, gentle manner he has, that I have grown so familiar with. And he's right; I really am powerless here. I wanted to volunteer, to replace him when he was reaped, but even that is outside my capabilities. I'm nineteen; too old to participate in the Games. All I can do is sit back and watch my younger brother die, watch his murder broadcast live to every soul in Panem.
We lapse back into silence. Five minutes left, until the Peacekeepers come and take my brother away from me. I feel a desperate urge to say something, a last goodbye, but nothing comes. My throat feels choked, as if a vice has been tightened round it. The sense of powerlessness enveloping me is almost palpable. It makes me want to vomit.
I look up, at Weeve. He seems so consigned to his fate. He has always been this way, calm and easy-going, never wishing to quarrel. He's such a peaceful boy, an oddity amongst the rowdy teenagers he has fallen in with. He's no fighter; though he possesses the same lean, muscular figure that I do, he simply isn't inclined towards violence. He doesn't derive any pleasure from fighting or hunting, he never has. It's the sort of mentality that equals a death sentence in the arena.
He rests his head in his hands, and I do the same. We often copy each other's movements, mostly without realising it. People sometimes mistake us for twins, and confuse us for one another – though he is seventeen, two years my junior, we really do look identical. I think we share a bond, the kind of friendship only brothers can have, one that keeps us so close that we appear as two halves of the same whole. Would it make much difference, really, if I walked into that arena instead? The outcome would be similar, that much is for certain. Neither of us would stand a chance.
An idea forms in my mind. Suddenly, unexpectedly. I breathe in sharply, as a new stream of consciousness starts to flow through my head.
We're almost identical-
The quiet, gentle manner he has, that I have grown so familiar with-
People sometimes mistake us for twins, and confuse us for one another-
Would it make much difference, really, if I walked into that arena instead?
'Weeve.' He looks up at me.
'I have an idea.'
I spring into action, standing from my chair and pulling him up by the shoulder to join me. I examine him closely, peering at his hair, the exact cut of it. Then, without hesitation, I reach for the hunting knife at my belt. Weeve takes a half-step back when he sees it, eyeing me nervously.
'What are you doing, Stave?'
I carefully begin to shear away my hair at the back of my head, cutting it short by just a few inches, making sure to keep hold of the loose hairs. After every chop, I pocket the sheared-off pieces, shoving them roughly into my thick, coarse trousers.
'Stave, I don't-'
'Hsssh!' I hiss at him. 'They'll be back any minute! Take off your shirt, quickly.'
'I- Wait, what?'
I look him in the eye, the last of my hair sliced loose. With my new haircut, we must look exactly alike each other. His eyes widen slightly as he realises this, but he doesn't move to unbutton his top.
'Weeve, we need to hurry, take your shirt off, now.'
'I... I don't understand.'
'I'm going to replace you,' I snap, as I pull my own shirt over my head. 'I'm going to trade places with you. You are going to be Stave, and I am going to be Weeve. Got it?'
He splutters, trying to comprehend the full implications of what I'm suggesting. Someone knocks on the door, sharply.
'Two minutes, you two.'
'Quick!' I urge him, as he stares at me like a fish on dry land. When I realise he still isn't moving, I take him by the shoulders, and press my forehead against his.
'You are me now,' I whisper. 'We're going to swap lives. I'll fight in your place. It'll be our secret. Okay?'
'No.' I interrupt him sternly. 'I've made my decision. I'll go to the Games, you stay here and look after everyone at home.'
What I am doing right now is definitely illegal and probably treasonous. But I'm going to do it anyway, because I'm not so powerless anymore. I can save my brother's life. If that means sacrificing my own, then so be it.
District 5 – Darrick's POV
I don't know what to say. My mouth feels as dry as sawdust. I almost want to cry, but I know that no tears will come; my body appears to have shut down completely, running on automatic while my mind is isolated, cutting itself off from reality in an attempt to deny the undeniable.
I can barely meet my older brother's eyes. Klavin. He's sixteen, three years older than me and infinitely wiser. I'd trust him with my life. As that thought enters my head, I realise numbly that he won't be around to protect me when I need him the most. It's not his fault, it's just the way of things.
'Rick. Caleb brought something for you.'
I look up again. Caleb, my other sibling; he turns twelve in a few weeks. Next year, he'll be eligible for reaping. I should be horrified for him, but all I can think about is how I probably won't live to see that twelfth birthday of his. He peeks round from behind Klavin's back, where he's been hiding for the past few minutes. Now, he shuffles forward cautiously, clutching something tightly between his small palms.
'You can – you can take something with you,' he begins, a little nervously. He's obviously thought a lot about this, whatever it is. 'You're allowed to have a... Um...'
'Token,' Klavin interjects. 'A district token.'
'Yeah!' Caleb's face lights up. 'A token!'
He holds out his hand, and clenched between his fingers I catch a glimmer of gold, a flash of light reflected back at me.
'What have you got there?' I ask him. It's only when I say it that I realise I haven't spoken since I was reaped. My throat feels sore. He looks at my slyly.
'It's a medal,' he says, not without a hint of pride in his voice. I take it from him, turn it over in my own hands. It's a tiny thing, a circular disk of metal not wider than the palm of my hand, covered in tiny dents and scratches. It appears to be made of gold, though I know it can't possibly be; very few families in District 5 can afford to keep gold instead of selling it, and ours certainly isn't one of that privileged group. I ponder instead what kind of metal it is made of, and what sort of paint the maker used that allowed it to retain so much of its natural shine. The engraving on it is very small, but it's still possible to make out the figure standing tall, a proud man wielding a bat in one hand, curling a ball in his other. Klavin won it, a couple of years ago I think, in a sports event at school.
I look at my elder brother first, who inclines his head slightly. He's happy for me to take it. Then I turn my attention to Caleb, who is beaming from ear to ear. I pat his shoulder with as much bravado as I can muster.
'I love it,' I say, trying my best to smile. 'I'll wear it with pride.'
To illustrate the point, I take the raggedy piece of string tied to the top and sling it around my neck. The medal hangs just beneath the collar of my shirt. Caleb's smile intensifies tenfold, and he pulls me into a hug. I lift him slightly off of the ground, and he giggles.
'Rick,' he says, very seriously, when I put him down again. He has the stern face of a child trying to make an adult's point. 'I want you to promise me something.'
'Okay, little man,' I say. I'm feeling drained, and extremely tired all of a sudden.
'When you win, will you make a big speech about me?' He nods to himself. 'Because, everyone will have to listen to you, so you can tell them all how cool I am.'
My throat clenches. 'I might not get to make a speech,' I manage to choke out. He looks at me strangely.
'Nuh-uh, everyone who wins gets to make a speech,' Caleb says. I look at him, not speaking, for a few seconds. Then, I say the only thing I really can say.
'I promise, Caleb. I promise.'
I see Klavin regarding me silently, as he always does, from over my younger brother's shoulder. I don't know if it's the look he's giving me, or that I've made a promise to Caleb I know I can't keep, but suddenly my body unfreezes, and now I finally feel hot tears starting to mist at the edges of my eyes.
A/N: Thanks for reading, and please consider leaving a review letting me know what you thought. Thank you!