Jules Surket, District 3

by Fritz as Pritz

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."

~George S. Patton

I choke. I don't pull out the pull ring in time to get at Aleah before she recovered from her initial shock and I lose my great opportunity. Now I have to try another tactic which probably won't go so well.

"Well it looks like the nerd managed to beat the ginger," she says walking toward me as if she is on a walk in the park. That nerves me more than anything. She already knows that she's won. "I'm not very surprised. She was always an idiot."

"It was pretty close," I mutter, fingering the flash bomb in my pocket. It's too soon. She needs to be a little closer.

"How is it you even beat her? You hardly reach her hip."

"Actually," I say with a humorless smirk, "I hardly reach her knees, but I forgive you for making that mistake." It's almost as if I'm talking to my friends again, except this won't end in an innocent wrestling match. She glares at me as she continues forward. She's getting close, but she's taking too much time. It makes me anxious.

"Your hair probably turned her to stone." It's my turn to glare. She had to mention my hair. I can tell she knows that she hit a sore spot. This might work for me in the end.

"I bet the mutts thought you were one of them when they looked at you." This is what I want. Keep her mind elsewhere. One more step. I wonder if she knows what I'm trying to do. Will she be able to respond before my plan even goes into action? In my pocket, I place the pull ring on the fuse of the flash bomb. It needs to be ready either way. I'm so close. She's almost there.

"I bet—"

She hits the mark and I light the fuse with the makeshift pull ring. The sound of the fuse echoes in the cavern and I pull out the bomb and toss it toward her. Aleah begins to step back out of reflex and before the bomb can go off, I close my eyes and look away. I can still see the bright light through my eyelids. When I open my eyes, Aleah has hers closed and is dead quiet. Even her breathing seems to have halted. I don't have much time now. I begin to light smoke bomb after smoke bomb in a large circle around her.

"What's wrong Aleah?" I say as I continue my work. "I'm pretty sure the bomb didn't cut out your tongue." My voice bounces off of the walls, not giving her my definite position. I'm sure she still has a good idea where I am though.

To my greatest surprise, she doesn't reply to the taunt. She must be trying to compensate for her lack of sight. Fine by me. At least now I don't have to hear her.

When all of the smoke bombs have gone off, we are left in a cavern of thick mucky air that almost chokes me. I pull my knife from my waist and walk around slowly, using the walls to guide me.

"Looks like a party in here," Aleah says. "Sorry. I forgot the balloons." Looks like her sight is back. Lovely.

"I'm not that into balloons anyway." I try to pinpoint where she is, but the fog is thick and the cavern doesn't help.

"Right because if you hold onto one, you'll fly away." I smirk a little and walk toward where I think she is. I try my hardest to stay near the wall so I don't lose my sense of direction. "I've got to admit," she continues, "this is impressive for someone like you."

I raise my eyebrow at her. "Someone like me? Well it seems as though someone like me can last pretty long." We are quiet for a little bit as I notice the smoke thinning out. She is trying to buy herself time.

"How is it you lasted? I would've thought that one of the Careers would have killed you long ago."

I search my mind for a way to find her and finish this before the smoke is gone and my upper hand is lost. I can't think of anything and my mind goes to panic. "I got lucky," I mutter to her without thinking.

"Luck is what idiots say when they can't explain the obvious." She is closer now, the closest I have heard her thus far.

"Then call me an idiot."

"You are an idiot if you think you can win this." She is there. The dark contour of her figure is in the smoke and since it hasn't tried to kill me yet, that means her back is to me. I can run to her now and stab her.

Then why haven't I done it yet? The cries of Moss and Elia sting my ears, striking me cold. I don't care how evil she is; I know that there is no way I can handle Aleah's screams too. My fingers tremble as I begin to back away. She is right. I am shitting myself if I think I can win.

A horrible helplessness settles into my heart as I begin to stumble back. I'm going to die. I will never see my parents again or my friends. I will never see my brother walk down the aisle or any of my nieces and nephews. I can never tell my friends how much they helped me while I was here or see Kane get married in his reaping outfit.

This is the Capitol's fault. They think it's fun to see us like this. They think we have to prove our worth by killing children. They think they are better than us. They think they could crush us. I let all of the anger I have been trying to hold back come to me. This is their fault. My fists clench at my side, the hilt of my knife digging into my palm. I can feel my eyes blind over with a rage I have never felt before. It feels good. It gives me power.

Her shadow is still visible in the thinning smoke and I wonder if she realizes where I am. I can feel the rage turn into something different; something more menacing. It scares me a little as it spreads throughout me, controlling my very being. They want Aleah to win. She is everything that they want in a victor. Someone strong and without any remorse. They're putting all of their money on her, I bet. I'll show them how wrong they are. I'll show them that I will not be crushed under their boot.

I bring out the impact bomb in my bag. The bomb itself might not work but it's worth a shot. I'm angry enough to try. Aleah's shadow leans toward the wall. It just occurs to me that Aleah has been talking to me and I hadn't realized it.

I glance at the ceiling. It is too high for me to reach with the bomb. But the wall is close. I can hit that, but I won't have much time—if any—to run away. I don't care. I would rather die from my own undoing than by being killed as a tribute. With my anger fogged eyes, I throw the bomb as far as I can. And then I run as fast as I can.

The bomb hits the wall and sends rocks flying in every direction. One hits my ear and I can feel the blood ooze out. Another hits the back of my knee and throws me to the ground. I cover my face as the rocks rain down.

When all is still, I squint to see through the dirt in the air as well as the remaining smoke. There is a large hole on the cavern wall where the bomb hit. Several rocks hit my back and one crushed my left leg. As if that leg hasn't been through enough. I try moving it, but it hurts too much to be of much use. I don't care though. I have to get to Aleah. I need to know if she's dying.

It's painful trying to get to try standing and I resist the urge to cry out. When I manage to make it to my feet—or foot—I inspect the damage. Rock debris is everywhere, littering the ground that makes the junk pile in District Three look clean. Majority of the large rocks are concentrated toward the wall and I wonder if the force of the explosion push Aleah away from any real damage.

A groan brings me out of my assessment. I know it's her. I walk toward where I think I heard the sound—or hop would be a better term—to see where she is. The first thing I see is her head, peeking out from a pile of rocks. Her right foot and most of her left leg is free, but her arms are completely covered, and a larger rock rests on her chest that I can't move even if I wanted to. I can tell she is having difficulties breathing, though she tries to hide it behind a mocking smirk.

The anger that brought on this destruction is beginning to wane and I realize what I really did. I killed Aleah Armani. This wasn't how I expected things to play out. I was supposed to lose. She can beat the shit out of me. How could I have won? Two impossible things happen within a span of a few hours if even that. I managed to survive, but at what price.

I turn my attention to Aleah as she looks for a way out of her predicament. I wonder what she's thinking. After a few minutes of watching her trying to get her arms free, her eyes dart to me. "Congratulations Jules. You won the Games. How does it feel to know you took someone's life?" A rock catches in my throat as she sneers at me. She found it. She found my soft spot and hit it with more than enough force.

"For the rest of your life you will have to live with killing Elia and me and who knows who else." She pauses to take in a breath of air. "Not only that but you killed her baby too. An innocent little child and you killed it." I see the child in my mind, innocent and tiny. It's the same face I think of whenever I think of my mother's miscarriages.

"Shut up," I manage to choke out. She smirks at me.

"What's wrong?" Her voice is beginning to come out in between gulps of air. "Didn't you want this? Didn't you want to win?"

"Shut up," I say a little quieter. My anger has diminished under Aleah's words.

"I don't even know how you'll be able to look into your parents eyes after this. What would your mother say to you killing a baby?" My anger begins to spark again, but not at Aleah—at myself. I can't believe I did that. After all of my mother's miscarriages, I purposely killed an unborn child.

"I wasn't sure why the Careers would want a weakling like you before, but now I know. You're just like them. You're—"

"A monster," I whisper. Her smirk widens.

"Couldn't have said it better myself." I shake my head and try to control myself. I can't let her get to me now. I need to stay relaxed until I get home.

"Y-you're just trying to get a rise out of me." My words hold little conviction but I know it's true and so does she.

"I'm just telling you the truth. Isn't that what you want?" Her voice is at its weakest, but it still strikes me cold. I feel as though I am trying to swim in quicksand.

She heaves for one last breath and looks up at me, the smirk still on her face. "Monster," she coughs.

I am hardly aware of what happens after. The seconds leading up to her cannon firing are so slow and painstakingly long that I almost yell to make it go faster. She didn't scream, like the others did, but her voice is louder than any of their screams.

Monster. The name I had given the Careers from the beginning. I became one of them. I killed three people (maybe five if I count the baby and Mack). Their blood will always be on my hands. How can I ever hug my mother or help my father when there is so much red? Will my friends look at me the same?

Her cannon echoes throughout the vacant arena. The pain in my leg becomes unbearable and I collapse onto the floor. This entire time I was planning and processing. I was searching for the answers and the loopholes to all of these traps. Ever since my name was called at the reaping, I was preparing to kill. How am I any better than Aleah? Or Onyx? I am just as bad as they are, except I think I'm better. That is the only difference. That and I am alive to live with this guilt.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present the victor of the Twenty-Fourth Hunger Games, Jules Surket—the tribute of District Three."

Just as the words are said, I begin to sob with a force so strong it terrifies me. Every emotion that I told myself that I would hold back until the end comes at me with a cry for blood. They wrack my body as I curl into a ball on the floor.

I won. But then I didn't.