I, Charles Anthony Titus Oates, known to all as Cato, have lived a lie.
If I've ever lived at all.
But my life's not the issue right now, is it? The end is far more interesting. Who cares about the what ifs, the in betweens, what I did or didn't do onscreen or off? What do I mean to them, what does my full name even matter to them, when in a few years' time, I'm just another candidate?
At home, things won't be much different. Fight on, they would tell me. Don't let us down. Die like a hero.
I've been their 'hero' all my life. Fat lot of good it did me. If this is a hero's fate, maybe a coward's would have been better. Dying at home in my sleep, maybe even as an old man. Maybe even as a grandfather.
Maybe even with Clove asleep by my side.
It takes a few bites, rips, tears and screams before the bit of me that's trying to block out everything realises where I am.
The Cornucopia entrance, maybe even the bit of ground I'm dying on is where my other half herself was torn away.
Oh, but I forget. She's right here next to me, tearing and ripping, cleaving with a brutality I forgot she had. They have taken a mischief and made her a monster.
I reach out to stroke the dark coat, wondering if I will find it the same as I knew it- thick and soft, loose or braided in those bobbly ponytails she was so fond of. I have barely brushed it when she (I'm calling her she, mutt or no mutt) whips around and bites me on the hand.
Her eyes bear no recognition for me but the way she nips my finger is almost tender, not savage. Behind the claws of the beast, something human is trying to get out.
And of all my bites, it is the one that hurts most.
Because even her pain isn't over yet.
I was six years old when Clove bulldozed her way into my life. I say bulldozed, and I mean it. Most people just walk into your life. The cocky ones swagger. The timid ones tiptoe. Some seem to practically teleport their way in because you can't actually remember meeting them. But Clove bulldozed, plain and simple. The day we met, she literally did.
Like many things in life, it all started in a playground. This one was the sandpit at the Training Academy, where Careers keep their little brothers and sisters during the day while they slog it out. Every Career starts off there. In the sandpit.
So far, I had made a pretty good start. Like any wild animal, I staked out my territory. The sandpit was officially mine and nobody else was allowed on it. Nobody. So far, so good. It was pretty easy to defend. Just pull the girls' hair to make them cry and break the boys' toys if they dared come anywhere near. Simple. No-one challenged my official ownership over the sandpit.
I still remember exactly the look she gave me. A glare that wanted to completely incinerate me until I was finer ash than the sand I was sitting on. Pink cheeks that forewarned a tantrum like thunderclouds a storm. Four tiny digits curled possessively around the handle of a red plastic watering can, other hand cupping the spout.
Well, I didn't let it faze me. I told her that I got here first, so it was mine. And she was a girl and a cissy so I wasn't sharing. No sir, nada.
That's when she hit me with the watering can.
Now, forget all this throwing knives stuff. Clove with a watering can is just lethal. And so we hit it off right away. Quite viciously, I might add. We gave each other scars we still have to this day, almost as if we were marking each other out as territory. Clove couldn't beat me, 'cause I was always the bigger one. But I couldn't beat Clove, 'cause she knew exactly where to hit me. So, at a standoff, we decided that if we couldn't beat each other, we may as well team up. After all, terrorising other kids was even easier when there were two of us. We even had our own little system to go with it. Some couples have a favourite dance or a song, we had our beat-up strategies. Clove would go for the face, or other sensitive areas. I would go for- well, everything else.
We did fight each other after that, but it was mainly to show off to everyone else that we were so tough we could take each other on. We were always competitive and we didn't change around each other. It was a strange and fascinating thing, 'cause train as hard as I could, brag as much as I like, intimidate as much as I would, I never managed to get even one point better in scoring than Clove. We had met our match.
When we both had the honour of entering the Games, it was a dream. Who could dare even look at me and Clove without getting scared?
We both knew that only one could come out alive. But we were young. And what was the point of a long life of tedium when you could have the excitement, the thrill and danger of being a tribute in the Games?
We were lucky, really. That of all the Games, our year's was the one where two could win. It was just an easy way out of a problem we hadn't really put any thought into.
The idea that it wasn't meant for us never crossed our minds.
The feast just looked like another chance to fight, another chance for excitement- without danger. 'Cause we were the last two Careers. And if you're a Career, you can't be beaten. Right?
For the first time, Clove and I fought alone.
For the first time, we lost.
I couldn't find that bitch from 5 anywhere, the coward. We hadn't counted on Lover Boy showing up, obviously. He wasn't going anywhere fast, not after the wound I gave him. That just left Fire Girl and 11. They'd be fun to kill, maybe a challenge, but we could beat them.
The first scream I heard, I smiled at. Fire Girl must be getting her just deserts.
But it wasn't 12. It was Clove.
And suddenly everything there was to smile about had vanished.
Why was I suddenly so useless? I was the fastest at the Academy! I was one of the first to get to the Cornucopia!
But I wasn't fast enough to save her. And killing 11 wouldn't bring her back. It just made me even more alone.
They promised me everything. They gave me nothing and then spat in my face just to remind me how worthless I was, how stupid for believing them.
My name was Charles Anthony Titus Oates. Now I'm just Cato. Not worth the effort to write twenty extra letters.
All I want is out.
There's a flash of silver, glistening in her dark eyes that seems to draw me in away from it all. She stands before me, hands on hips, as everything fades to black.
"Charles Anthony Titus Oates! What the hell are you doing in my sandpit?!"