Bitter Taste by Three Days Grace

As your world disassembles
Better keep your head up

Fuze Lypton, 16, District Three

This pain is nothing like I have ever felt before. I am shaking so violently that I feel as though my entire body is vibrating over the weight of the only corpse to bear my name. I am too scared to move away; too scared that the arrow his lame hand still clasps tight with fury will burrow even deeper into my shoulder. Too scared to get away from the fresh body because I think I still might die here.

The final note of a cannon blast plays strongly through my head and I still don't dare move a muscle. The dead eyes of my last opponent stare blankly down at the arrow he would have killed me with had my poison not been quick enough to take over his bloodstream. I realize that I am still holding the syringe that pierces his cold flesh. I pull my hand away when I notice that blood drips slowly onto my own flesh from when the needle entered his skin too forcefully.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present to you the Victor of the 44th Annual Hunger Games; Fuze Lypton of District Three!"

I feel a sense of vulnerability wash over me as the applause and cheers of my name by the spectators fill my ears. Shame and guilt churn in my guts as I finally remember that they were all watching. That they were watching this entire time, with intense eyes and greedy pockets. I must have understood this on some layer of consciousness, but hearing them now still makes my tears taste saltier and my whole mind go numb. I glance down at the other boy who lies on the floor with dead eyes and unhearing ears just feet from me. My eyes turn to the crimson puddle on the floor in which the last Career swims; senses unfeeling and mind unknowing.

I wrap my arms around my chest as the need to cover myself becomes unbearable. I no longer feel clever, nor strong, nor determined to reach victory. Instead I feel shell shocked, I feel cold, and I feel empty. All of these emotions clash together in my mind, a mixture of feelings I would not let myself experience before this moment. Until I was made to remember that everyone I know and everyone I do not know has seen me.

Everyone has witnessed me play along like a good little instrument in their cruel symphony. Everything I have done, felt, whispered in the lost world of sleep; it is theirs. None of what I have done in this place could ever be just mine and I feel stupid for thinking that I had not changed when there is proof on everyone's television screens that I have. Nothing in here is mine, and yet I can already feel the guilt building on my shoulders.

I know this isn't me, but on some level I am aware that it is.

I feel so confused.

That is why when the silver ladder drops down from the ceiling I take it without a backward glance. Anything to get away from this place, away from the cameras, and away from the shame that only I could know.

Beetee squeezes my shoulder lightly as we walk in silence through the now empty halls of the Training Centre. I am no longer bound to my floor, and yet I no longer feel the curious need to explore. I have grown, I have changed. It's strange to think that in just over a week's time I have lost all my childish tendencies. I am no longer the nerdy boy from District Three. Somehow in all of this confusion I have become a Victor.

Beetee has said nothing to me since I woke up in the hospital wing from a drug-induced slumber. His silence, though, is the only comfort I could ever want. I have tried several times to put the restless rush of emotions into words, but nothing gets past my lips. He has not pestered me for explanations or anything like that. His kindness near makes me cry because I know that I do not deserve a second of it.

Tesla has not joined us nor have I seen head or foot of her since before I first went into the Hunger Games. I have heard snippets of conversations that tell me she has already returned to District Three with Wyre's coffin. My heart aches to know that it is quite likely I will miss her funeral.

"I don't have to tell you that they are not happy with you," Beetee finally says and I nearly melt into him, his voice reminding me of the soothing words spoken to me on the Train and again before Launch. He has become almost like a father to me, even though I have yet to know him for a month. I don't think that I will ever stop feeling the sympathy in his words and the kindness in his breath. I have hope that he will help me get through this.

"I know," I reply softly and I do. I know that I was neither their first nor their second choice for the title. I have been shown nothing but care and kindness since I returned, but is it only to hide the real face of shame that I am the best Panem's children has to offer? It could be for all I know. I feel like I don't know anything anymore, my mind is just one huge jumble of words, images, and sounds; no meaning to bring them all together. "What do I do?"

"Nothing," he mutters, pulling my head in close to him when he notices that my hands are shaking against my thighs. "You just have to be thankful, gracious, friendly like you were in the first Interviews. Do you remember what you did then? You have to do that again, act like you can't believe that you were able to win. Give all thanks that you can to the Capitol."

I nod softly into his shirt and we move towards the waiting elevator, ready to take both of us back down to the studio to perform my victory interview. I am not scared, I am not nervous nor am I anxious. I only feel numb and it has begun to worry me. I fear that I will never wake up from this dream I have learned to call my new life.

I stare at the window, not really seeing the images as they flash by in a flurry of color. Beetee is in another cart, fiddling with the little electrics that he has started to carry with him at all moments; something to keep his hands busy and his mind concentrated on something. I never had seen him using those before, but I guess he must put up that image for the Capitol cameras- electrics are supposed to be his Talent. The hobby that Victors are supposed to take up in order to fill time now that they no longer have to worry about work. I will be expected to do the same, and I have yet to think what I might do. Perhaps something like Beetee or Tesla, who I saw sketching out little images of inventions that she might try to make.

I feel the train slow down, the vibrations getting less prominent and I stand to stretch so that I may have a better view of where we are. We had stopped once in District Six for a repair, though I had sensed nothing wrong, and I hope that now it is our real destination. I feel some anxiety welling up within me at the thought of home. The thought of seeing Mom and Dad, Cordin, even Gadjet who I'm not even sure knew I was gone in his stupor of drugs and alcohol. I wonder if they will even recognize me, I am nothing even remotely close to the boy that left a month ago.

Besides the lost gleam in my eyes and the foregone pinkness of my cheeks, I have cut off my long hair at the advice of my stylist. It's now so thin that it barely moves when I run my fingers over it. My clothes fit better than the ones my parents used to buy me, these ones specially made just for me and an entire wardrobe made to be shipped to the Victor's Village with me. Underneath the light material of my jacket I now carry a silver plate that sits in place of my shoulder, the wound I suffered from the final fight beyond fixing according to the doctors. It still moves like before and my stylist says that besides appearance I should feel little difference. I still haven't been able to bear the sight of it, every time I catch a glimpse I shy away from the mirror. The thought entering my mind that I now carry a piece of what the Capitol has done to me everywhere I go for the rest of my life.

The train stops and Beetee clambers out of the cart and beckons me before him. I can hear the applause rising even before the door slides open and I force a smile to my face just like Beetee has instructed me to do in front of the crowds. There will be plenty of time to cry when I am alone, he has told me, but the Capitol must believe you to be eternally blissful and thankful to them for the life they have spared for you.

The door slides open with a slight gust of wind and I step out into the station to see a crowd of people stretching to the capacity of the room. The smile on my face doesn't feel quite as forced as I pick out my family in the group, all three of them standing at the back, Cordin with a tiny baby in her cradled arms. I wave a few times to the people of my district, pumping one fist in the air as I had practiced in front of the mirror the night before. The screams and applause only becomes louder before Peacekeepers split the crowd and guide me to my family. I embrace each one in turn, holding each one close to me and nearly crying with happiness as they tell me how proud I have made them. All five of us are guided by white guards on all sides the few feet to a car reserved just for us. It is only a few blocks to the village but I take the time to gaze back at the district I had left.

I have never felt so far away in my own home before.

Noeah Hazurn

The artist theme for this story will be Three Days Grace.

Song: Bitter Taste

The blog for this story can be found on my profile. The Graveyard has been posted on the blog under the title "Thinking of You".

I want to thank both of the submitters of Noeah and Fuze. It truly was a tossup because both of them deserve it so much, but in the end I chose Fuze. I hope that everyone is okay with the decisions, since, well, it can't exactly be changed now can it?

Now that Painted Crimson has ended, I would like to ask anyone and everyone that has been reading this story, whether they have a tribute or not, to please take the time to answer these questions. It would be invaluable to me as a writer!

What did you think of the arena as a whole?

What character was your favourite? Did that change throughout the story?

Which death did you think was the best written/executed?

What chapter was your favourite?

Are you happy with the Victor? Was it who you guessed or not?

Any thoughts to share on the obituaries? Stand outs from the bunch?

Lastly, I want to thank everyone that has favourited, followed, reviewed, or read this story. I did love writing it, but I am also quite happy that it is over. Every character submitted added their own element to this entire thing; spiteful Miram, impressionable Wyre, sweet Mayli, strong Jax, and everyone in between. My next story Streets I Know should begin properly next week, I have still yet to choose an update day though, so it could be any day!

And that brings to a close, Painted Crimson!