Maverick Geo, 16 - District 1 male

Salt the Snail

Day Ten - The Second Arena Switch


But I don't need to be reminded

A change is gonna come

I can feel it on the tip of your tongue


The blood. His blood. My hands are stained crimson and soul is darker than the mines back home. I've killed two children, someone's son and daughter, someone's sibling. They both had families and friends, lives. Maybe the little boy from Nine worked in the fields that harvest grain. Maybe Aran liked to play in the park and dance with her friend. Maybe they could have gone home to all of that and more, had it not been for me. I ended their lives before they could even begin. The little boy...he was one of the three youngest tributes this year, three twelve year old child and all but one are dead. The kid from Five, the dark haired scamp that hung around the kid with the missing arm, is still around here some-

BOOM!

The cannons no longer bother me. I no longer launch myself out of windows over the sound, nor do I shed a tear. Killing two people changes a person. No longer am I Maverick Geo, sixteen year old uncle and jewel miner. I'm not Amber's secret boyfriend or the jewel donkey. My family wouldn't recognize me now. I am a Career, a child murderer, a threat. Tied with Ariella, we both have more kills than our supposedly leader, the one that has us on this ridiculous quest to find the former cripple from District 12. How he could have possibly lost a kid that was in a chair just over a week ago is beyond me, but it must have been a blow to his pride, because he refuses to even look at us as we go along.

"He couldn't have gotten far!"

For the first time in days, I'm actually amused. Seeing Kai fuming over losing the son of a bitch from 12 is just too much for me and it takes everything in me not to crack up laughing. If I meet this kid, I am giving him a pat on the back. Seriously. If neither myself, nor Ariella can make it out of this place alive, he gets my vote for winner.

"We would've had him, if we didn't have to go back to get you!"

And there it is. Kai is going to blame his blunder on me. While I can't say I'm shocked my this, I can say that the thought still hurts. Despite two kills under my belt, a solid 8 in training, and beating out THREE trained Careers, I am still seen as the weak link in this group.

"You didn't have to, pal," I charge back at him, pointing my finger in his direction. "Unlike you, I had it under control."

"Do you want a medal for killing a twelve year old?" His words bite, I have to admit. "I think there's another one floating around."

"No, but I'd like you to back the hell off of me. I didn't lose that guy from twelve, you did. Even if I had lost him, it would still be your fault. You are leader, not me! Losing Nova, Hero, and Gemini...that happened under your watch."

"Hero was with you when he died," his voice was low, but powerful. "That was on your watch. And he ended up missing head. Yet, you saw nothing."

I know where this is going, but all I can do is grit my teeth and wait for it. Instead, Ariella steps in between us, her face frazzled. "STOP THIS! STOP IT NOW!"

Kai stops and composes himself almost instantly. The sudden change in him sends shivers down my spine. The way he can just turn it on and off...it frightens me more than this arena. I have the worst feeling that he is going to be the end of me.

"I'm sorry for this...argument that had to happen in front of you," he coos, running his fingers through her hair. I want to vomit. "You are right, Maverick. As leader, it is up to me to keep things together, to protect you all. And I let you all down. From now on, I-"

He stops dead in his tracks and it doesn't take a genius from 3 to see why.

The fog...it's back again.

Mentally, I count the amount of days since the last one. Four...seven...no, five, five days exactly. Both times, a cannon sounded within hours of change; Gemini for the last one and the little boy from 9 was last night's cannon. And then there was the cannon we just heard this morning...

Ariella and Kai make a break for it, but I embrace the change. While the others flee, I let the fog wash over me, as though it will wash away my sins. We all know now that it won't kill us, why run from it? And at this point in the game, do I really want to be here any longer? I mean, it isn't as thought I want to kill myself, to purposely end my time here, but I guess my actions might have people thinking otherwise. At the same time, though, the idea of just no longer being here, by any means necessary, is an idea worth keeping in the back of my head.

The dirt and rocks that make up this road are unforgiving and when I hit the ground, I hit it hard. A sharp pain pierces my hip and right arm, but I have only a moment to deal with the pain, as my body shuts itself down. Of course, my mind is still wide awake and begins a recap of my last murder.

"You know, I never really had a good nickname for you."

Where once there was the road ahead of me, is now a room. A living room, the same one we burst into only yesterday. Instead of a tree being just three feet to my left, it is a scrawny boy, barely twelve years old, his body coated in dirt and grim. His ribs poke out through his dingy t-shirt and I can't help but liken the child to a kitten. A deranged, little kitten. His grin shows off the fact that he still has a few baby teeth and one missing, just two over from his front teeth.

"Nickname?"

"Yes. You must have a nickname. Everyone gets one, even my knives." he pulls out a blade, just four inches long and kisses the handle. "This is Pokey the Third, my good friend and companion in these games. Not as good as the original back home, but it will do."

I can't help but be impressed as tosses the blade from his left hand to his right hand, juggling Mr. Pokey as though it was nothing but a simple rubber ball. "Where did your ally scamper off to?"

He looks a bit perplexed for a moment, then it kicks in. "Ashy from 12? Oh no, he wasn't my ally Mr. Cranky Pants. He was my equal."

Now it's my turn to be confused. "Equal?"

"It wasn't much fun playing with little Nitty from 3," his eyes never leaving mine, even as he continues to throw the blade around. "She was too easy to pin down, too easy to slice up. Ashy would've been a challenge."

"A challenge? You're twelve!"

"And your the Career that no one wanted in!"

Ouch.

"Listen, you little shit, make a break for it now before Kai comes back," I retort, point at the open window in the corner of the room. "I'll tell them you ran off before I could grab you."

He pouts and halts his juggling act. "No fair! You're no fun!"

"No fair? Kid, I'm saving your life."

"NO FAIR! NO FAIR! NO FAIR!" he stomps his feet as though he was throwing a temper tantrum. "These aren't Games at all! Nitty All-Of-Her-Dies didn't put up a fight and only the animals found me and they weren't much of a challenge either. Then, I go through all the trouble of rescuing Ashy from the fishes and got him back up and running and what does he do? He runs off because of you guys! This is all your fault! I wanted to play with the no-so-crippled boy and you ruined it! You ruin everything! I hate you, Man-Child Gen...Geo...your name is stupid!"

With that, he charges me with Mr. Pokey raised in the air. Despite my gut telling me not to hurt the crazy child, I raise my foot high and boot him in the face, splattering his nose across his face. Tears of anger and bitterness mix with the pain etched on his face, but he barely falters. Within seconds he's on me, tossing himself at my legs, where he sinks his baby teeth in my flesh.

Gritting my own teeth, I grab him by his hair and rip him off of me, ignoring the crimson wetness oozing from the wound. He's a quick little monkey, missing my side with his knife by less than an inch and I drop him out of shock. I only get a quick look at the mess I left of his face before he comes at me again, slashing in every direction. At this rate, he's going to kill me by sheer luck!

"I'm-a gonna get you, I'm-a gonna get you!" His voice is so sing-songy and annoying that I wish he would just get it over with. Once again, he almost does, as he catches my arm when I toss it up to defend myself. "This is it, Uncle Cranky Pants."

Uncle...

Flashes of Jadeite play in my head like a recap of the Games. His birth, his first steps, the first time he says my name, it all plays out, reminding me of why I am doing this.

"You want a challenge, you fucking pipsqueak? Bring it!"

He tosses the knife from his left hand to his right and charges low once again, but I know his game. I dodge him, sending his flying into the table behind me. His cries sting me, reminding me that he's just a kid, one of the youngest tributes and the same age Granite was when he was struck down. Of course, he isn't crying for long and I ready my pickax, ready to defend myself fully from this little psycho.

"Are you seriously going to kill me, Uncle?" his voice is high-pitched, not yet ravaged by puberty. "Will you drive that pickax into me and end my life? Are you ready to become the monster you are fighting?"

I show him my answer as I lift my pickax high above my head, his green eyes flash and dance.

"I love you, Uncle Maverick."

His arm shoots out, but I sidestep it. Those same green eyes that once danced with amusement at the thought of my death now go wide, quickly bulge out, then gloss over. The light...it's forever gone.

And it's all my fault.

I wake to find myself alone and overheated, my face covered in tears. Ariella and Kai are nowhere to be seen; instead, I find the tree that was once nearby gone, replaced with nothingness.

No, that isn't quite right. It's a rocky hill, barren and open. No trees, no shelter, no chill in the air. Heat and brimstone and dread, that is all that remains. The arena is reflecting how I feel inside. I am the monster I promised myself I would never become. A murderer of children, destroyer of innocence. Death incarnate. Evil.

There is no way for me to go home anymore, I am not the Maverick Geo they know and love. He was murdered the moment I drove my weapon into Aran's face, his ghost laid to rest when I put my boot into that boy's face. I should feel something, even now as I relived it, but I don't.

Men like myself a hung from the gallows back home as the district watches and cheers. I've seen their evil in my history books, their stories disgusted me to the point where I couldn't even look at them. Now, I join their ranks. I am one of them. The fog has banished Maverick Geo to the land of the hereafter. Maverick Geo is dead, he is never going home. He doesn't deserve life, not any longer.

Ariella...she deserves life. And I will see to it that she gets it.

Panem forbid anyone that tries to contest that.

"Maverick! I thought we lost you!" her voice is like that of the angels that reside with the fallen. "Why didn't you run?"

My voice is oddly calm and soothing. "Why run when we know what's coming? It's just another arena switch, nothing to fear."

"Well then, lets get ourselves together and formulate a plan," Kai chimes in, his voice no longer as steady and strong. I smile at the leader showing his cracks. "We must continue our pursuit. The Careers will whip out District 12 if it kills me!"

Oh, sweet Kai...I can make that happen.


Jake Noir, 12 - District 5 male

Eternal Pages Invisible Ink

Day Ten - The Second Arena Switch


It's so beautiful.

The light, it's so beautiful and I see it perfectly, honing down on us as a gift, and being in that barn made me forget how much it was amazing, after a short struggle of climbing up, I see it now.

The beautiful light of the shining sun, it's golden rays beaming on me and Genie and I start to sob, I collapse on my knees from both exhaustion and pure agony, unable to continue any more as all I've gotten is worse from just...terrible things.

From the bite, from the voice in my head, from everything, as I weep I look at my hands and laugh, no, these aren't tears of sadness, they're tears of happiness, happiness that I'm still alive for another second even though I'm going to die and Genie rests her hands on my arms and I just put mine on hers, quickly relinquishing and stepping back at my wordless command.

In retrospective, it's all their fault, really it is, it wasn't that bitch from four that killed Grace, or the douche of the same district that killed Rex, it wasn't the mutts that killed off Metro, it wasn't peacekeepers that killed Ariah, it wasn't them that killed mom and dad, no, no one at all but one person that had personally put in place the hellish expanse that was our lives, a single word.

"Capitol." I say.

Genie looks at me simply. "What?"

"Capitol, Capitol, Capitol, it's them, it's always them, it's always them." I repeat as I stand up and genie is clearly worried, everything's getting so blurry, the fevers effecting my brain.

"What do you think Heaven is like?" I ask and Genie chokes back a sob as she just holds me, but I still don't take my eyes off the sun.

"It's the most amazing thing in the world, everyone's there, Rex, Grace and Metro, your parents, you'll see them all." She promises as I smile.

"That...that sounds good." I say with a nod as I turn to her and chuckle.

"You know what they can't take from me?" I ask as the sun shines brightly, it's starting to dwindle, the beautiful light of the sunset, and with the light I'm dwindling to.

"What?" She asks as I smile, I can't help but be happy. Because I don't care, they can't touch me anymore, not in death.

"They can take so many things Genie, your life, your parents, your lifestyle, your friends and your happiness, and all that power, but they can't do shit about your death, at least not with me. Remember that, k Genie?" I ask with my hands on her shoulders and she's starting to cry.

"They can take away everything but not your free will, remember that, that's the first thing." I say and I kiss her forehead and she's crying and I just keep on smiling.

"The second?" She asks and just nods, tears streaming as I let go and turn to face her, back to the sunset.

"Sorry for the mess, I love you Imogene Guthrie."

And with that, I took one step back and she screams, I let go, I let go from life and didn't let a mutt kill me, or rather, the Capitol, but I killed me, doesn't that sound wonderful? Having that much control? I suppose it takes a lifetime of stripped freedom to have earned a moment of such drastic control over your life, specifically it's end.

THe feeling of wind wishing through my hair...it feels good, its a long fall though, just long enough to see the sun again.

Goodbye Red Hair, goodbye sunset, goodbye Imogene.

But hey, look on the bright side, better then the alternative of living.


Oliver Cerese, 17 - District 7 male

Faith-o-saurus

Day Ten - The Second Arena Switch


I wake up slowly, my eyes landing on Clay's still form once they open. Paiton took over watch after me, for the morning. Judging by the lighting through the window, I'd guess it's gotten significantly later.

That's when the fog starts.

Motherfucker.

Paiton is saying something to me and Clay starts to stir, but I can't seem to pay attention. The effects are coming much quicker than I remember, but the last was all such a blur that I could easily be mistaken.

I feel my heart begin to race as more memories come rushing back – the tributes, my brother. I don't want to go through that again. Especially since I know there will be one more added to the bunch.

"Oliver."

I swallow and close my eyes. Maybe if I just don't turn around, it'll go away. But then there are footsteps coming closer and around until the figure is right in front of me. I can feel its presence as it bends down.

"Oliver, open your eyes."

They open without my consent, seemingly. But it isn't Velvet, or any of the others, here in front of me. It's Alma. I blink, taking her in. She looks exactly as I left her, the deep green dress that accentuates her tan beautifully, and has her hair hanging over one shoulder. After I finish with her, I notice that we're not in the arena. We're in her bedroom. I look down at myself, seeing my own reaping clothes.

Was this all just one long daydream? Have we not even left for the Justice Building yet?

I focus my attention on her again, then grab hold of her waist and pull her to me. I kiss the top of her head and move my lips to her ear. "Hey."

She pushes herself off of me and raises an eyebrow. "What's gotten into you?" She knows I don't act like this. I know I don't act like this, but something has changed. I really didn't realize how much I actually missed her.

I rub the small of her back with my thumb, scanning her body slowly. "I wish I knew, Alma. Just…let's just relax a bit, all right?"

She looks slightly uncomfortable and very confused, but seems to dismiss an internal battle when she shakes her head gently and moves to rest back against me. Her eyes close and she turns her head into the crook of my neck, on hand coming up to rest on my chest. "Oliver, I don't know what's going on with you, but it's worrying me a little." Her voice is muffled.

I chuckle and run my fingers through her hair. "I'm being a boyfriend. This is what boyfriends do. I think."

"But not you." She moves to look up at me, her honey colored eyes peering straight into mine.

I shrug. "Maybe I had an epiphany. Maybe I'm starting to realize…I don't know, that everything can't just be stowed away." She tenses when I bring up a hand to stroke her cheek, but melts into it soon after. "Maybe I want to start treating you the way I'm supposed to."

She closes her eyes and leans into my palm. "But that's not our arrangement, Oliver. You know that."

"I know." I lean in and kiss one of her eyelids. "But things change, Alm. We're not getting any younger, almost out of reaping age. I'd say we enjoy each other's company quite a bit and it's always best to start families early in the district-"

"Whoa." She pulls away and climbs off the bed, looking at me with wide eyes. "Things are going really fast right now." Her breathing is significantly heavier, but not for the reasons that I usually am the cause of.

I shake my head, my eyes closed. What the hell am I saying? Marriage and kids were never in the plan. I hate the fact that I feel bad about the way she's reacting. I hate the fact that I'm able to hurt in the first place. This isn't me. This is not supposed to be me.

When I open my eyes again, she's gone. In fact, her whole room is gone. I'm back in the barn, but all alone. It's like my mind has decided to leave me with my thoughts; maybe that's punishment enough. Having to face my own humanity, when most of my life I believed I didn't have any.

Everything is coming crashing on me. My brother, Velvet, Alma. All of the things I felt with each encounter. The despair at my brother's dying eyes, the loss at Velvet's detached limbs, the…dare I say love? – at having Alma in my arms again.

None of this was supposed to be possible for me. I never wanted for any of it to be possible. I've seen those around me. How much their emotions would drag them down, how badly the pain would outweigh any of the good in their lives.

Maybe I wasn't born this way. Maybe I chose it.

This is my last thought before my world goes black.

ooo

"Oliver!" Someone kicks me in the side.

I push the offending limb away and turn. "What the fuck is your problem?" I look up to see Paiton standing over me.

Her eyebrow raises at my outburst. "I'm going to let that go just this once, since we just got out of that crazy haze." Her compassion is short-lived, though, when she nudges me roughly. "But we have to figure this place out."

I blink and stand, confused by her words. Figure the place out? But then my mind pieces things together – the last time this happened, the whole arena had changed. Which means we're on our third trip.

I almost feel like it's unfair. I didn't sign up for three separate Hunger Games.

I sigh and stretch, then allow myself time to look around. The air is thin, so I'm not surprised to see us high in the air. It's almost as if we're on some form of rocky terrain, pretty high up since I can see lower land in the distance. "Great. I was just starting to get used to the other one." I roll my eyes.

Wait, wasn't there another one of us?

I'm about to speak up, when I hear something rustle behind me. I'm turned, ax in hand, in an impressive amount of time, but calm when I see Clay behind me, his eyes wide and hands up in defense. At least my question was answered.

I take another look around, let out a breath, and then turn to my two allies. "So, where to?"


Paiton Rais, 16 - District 9 female

I've got cookies

Day Ten - The Second Arena Switch


The first thing that woke me up in the morning was the cannon, after that it was Oliver so I could take over his watch. This morning we decided that sleeping in could be a reasonable thing. Sleeping in for them, I have to wake up early to guard those sleeping beauties.

Not long after when I start my shift I see something familiar coming over the field. Something awfully familiar. The fog.

This arena was so cool, I had a real chance with this arena, well, I have a real chance at any arena, but with the big field and all I had the best chance, half of the stuff they teach is at school was about wheat fields.

The fog comes fast, but this time I don't panic, I simply sit down and lean against the barn doors. Ha! Capitol, you won't fool me twice. When the fog is mere invhes away I get inside the barn to inform the boys about it and leave them once again, if I will have nightmares again from this thing I might as well be alone.

I exit the barn and step into the fog to wait for the effect to take in, after about a half a minute I fall down bacause my limbs have went numb and so does my mind.

I awaken back in the forest arena. At least I think I am awake, my surroundings seem pretty real to me, no almost-dead girls next to me, nothing out of the ordinary. Yes I must be awake.

"Paiton! Where are you?" I hear Anthony exclaim. Wait.. Anthony? Oh no, oh no, oh no!

"Anthony!" I yell out as I spot him running through the thick forest.

"I was looking for you! Where did you wander off to?" he says with concern in his bright eyes. This is not right.

"Anthony, what.. what are you doing here? Why aren't you home? Where is Oliver? Where is Clay? Oh my god! Where is Crazy Cat?" the words escape me in unimaginable speed, he looks very worried actually, like something was wrong. Something is wrong.

Anthony comes closer and embraces me in a hug before saying, "Who is Crazy Cat?"

I let a small laugh and a smile escape me, but I tone it down by a cough because he isn't very amused, "Brandon, the tiny psicho, brown hair and green eyes, freckled face. Almost thorn my arm apart in the reaping with that hand shake."

"Oh, I volunteered for him, don't you remember? What has gotten into you? We also killed Oliver, together! Remember, Paiton, Clay was trying to strangle you and Oliver found it a great moment to swing his ax at me, but we were faster together, we killed him. Unfortunately Clay escaped, I really wanted to cut his guts for what he did to you, maybe something got damaged and you forgot the whole thing, he did almost suffocate you."

"What the hell? You killed my fucking protector! Why do you think he was with us-" I can't finish when he cuts in.

"Protector? Paiton, what? The alliance formed way before the games, there was no need for protection, are you going crazy?" Anthony says in disbelief.

"No.. no it didn't!" I almost yell back at him and break free of his hug.

"Yeah, it did. We killed the fucking Careers, you yourself beheaded that bitch from One in the fight with your scythe. You used all your training moves on that girl from Ten. From us four you killed the most, on that scythe there is four people blood. I am afraid what will happen when Clay and Clara get killed, will you kill me in cold blood too just to get home?"

"Wait, Clara? As in Clarissa? Brown hair and green eyes, no older than thirteen?" this time my voice is full of concern and worry.

"Yes, that's the one! There are four of us and I am afraid. Of course I always knew you would go home, not I! But you are making this all so hard. After all the stuff we did to get some sponsors-" I cut him off with my hand held to our eye level.

"What stuff?" I ask as he frowns.

The next thing I know he kisses me and I give in quickly, can someone really get sponsors with few kisses and a hug?

"Oh, that stuff," I end with a giggle while I feel my cheeks blushing like crazy.

When I closs my eyes and lean in for another kiss I feel him coughing something warm and wet right into my face, a lot of that stuff.

I clean my eyes from it and open them to see that he has spit blood all over my body, a look of horror on his face. Suddenly there is more blood just coming out of his mouth and dripping over me as I let out a shriek of horror.

I drop all of my stuff from my back and lower Anthony to the ground, the blood stream stoping as he lies on the ground. I take a quick glance at his back where a throwing knife is burried deep into his body. Maybe if I leave the knife be he will survive longer.

"Please don't die! You have to stay with me! I can't do it without you, please, I love you! There, I said it, I love you with all my heart, Anthony, I can't imagine my time without you! Please stay with me!" my voice is trembling far more than my hands over his fading body. Giant sobs escape me as tears stream down my face. A cannon sounds yet I still can't accept this. My love has not died, my light is still burning, his heart is still going, he just got a little sick, he will get back up any second now.

"Anthony please," my voice barely a whisper now,"I need you. Say something, ANYTHING! Tell me I'm a crazy murderer, tell me you love me, tell me that was a joke and you don't, anything at all, please! You can't leave me alone, it is not fair! Not to me! I will die without you!" another loud sob escapes my trembling lips that are right next to his ear. I lie down next to him and close my eyes in hope that he will open them together with me. I look straight into his empty, now shallow eyes. The sparkle is lost.

The light has died out.

The love is still alive.

"Anthony?" I ask again and again in hope and denial of the reality. "I love you!" I say once again as I kiss the top of his head with a long kiss. Then I slowly stand up to pull out the knife out of his back. My eyes find his once again, this time will be the last one, I put my fingers over his eye lids and close them carefully.

"Come out, come out where ever you are, fucked up bitch!" I yell out as I wipe the tears off of my face, pure anger of lost love building inside of me.

I spot a pair of small boots behind a tree trunk, I don't care who this is, there must be thousand Claras' out there, this is not my one. I grab the child by it's collar and puch her in the face, but I don't let her fall, my hold on her strong and firm.

I manage to do few more punches, her hair over her face which is covered in blood. I still have not seen her, actually.

Behind me a hovercraft picks up Anthony's body, but I don't have the corage to look, I only have enough of it to beat this girl so badly that even the Capitol can't fix her fucked up face. I change the hold of the knife and stab her in her shoulder which makes the girl shriek in pain and black out. But the cannon has not sounded, I can't stop! Right at the moment when I swing back for the second stab that would go right into her face something hard connects with the back of my neck, the last thing I see is a peacekeeper standing over me. Then I black out myself.

"Oh my god!" I exclaim as I awake and sit up the same second, pulling in ragged breaths. This one was maybe even worse than the last nightmare I had about Clara. I feel that my face is wet and I quickly get rid of any evidence that could show that I cried.

After what seems like a forever I take a better look around, this is nothing like home. My feet are placed against rocks, the barn is missing, so without hesitation I go to Oliver, leaving Clay behind him be, and softly kick him in the side.

"Oliver!" I call out to him. He pushes my leg away and half yells at me.

"What the fuck is your problem?"

"I'm going to let that go just this once, since we just got out of that crazy haze," I say with my eyebrows raised,"But we have to figure this place out." Oliver stands up, looking at me with a great amount of confusion on his face.

He simply sighs and stretchs, then checks the place out. "Great. I was just starting to get used to the other one." he says with an eye roll.

Oliver opens his mouth to say something else, but Clay interrupts with his loud waking up. The same second Oliver has his ax in hand and is about to attack when he spots our good old Mr. Sugarcoat who puts his hands up in defense. Now I roll my eyes. "So, where to?" he asks after his second outbrust.

I roll my eyes again and start leading them, "Away from here, obviously," I let again a small giggle slip by.

It seemed for a second that I was in two games at once, where I lose Anthony and these games where the only this I've lost is Crazy Cat yesterday.

I'm not sure how to feel about that, he was no one important to me, but he was like a reminder for me sometimes, a reminder that I didn't really let be in my mind, a reminder I denied. Now that I am climbing down the hill with Oliver and Clay I think I can tell between the two realities which is the real one.

This should be it.

This hell must be it.


Imogene Guthrie, 15 - Dsitrict 10 female

Nrrrd-grrrl-Meg

Day Ten - The Second Arena Switch


"There is some good in this world and it's worth fighting for." -J.R.R Tolkien


I should have seen it coming. The signs where pointing directly at it, as though it was lit with a million twinkling neon lights in the dead of night. Maybe I refused to see it, maybe I purposely ignored it for my own selfish reasons. Or, maybe, I saw it all and didn't feel the need to stop it.

Either way, Jake Noir went out as Jake Noir.

"They can take away everything but not your free will. Remember that, that's the first thing." The kiss he places on my dirty forehead is gentle, like water dripping off of the leaves in the trees behind my home.

"The second?"

A smile spreads across his blackened face and he lets go of me, walking away. After a few small, staggering steps, he turns to face me once again and I can't help but notice how the sunrise was at his back.

"Sorry for the mess. I love you, Imogene Guthrie."

A piercing scream invades my ears and it's a moment before I recognize it as my own. Within seconds, a cannon sounds, but I can't let a moment go to waste. He deserves this much. It's the least I can do for the little boy that kept me sane for ten long, agonizing days. And so, through the farmhouse I went, stumbling over my feet, before getting to his lifeless body. Part of me was thankful that he warned me about the mess, it prepared me ever so slightly for what I would encounter outside.

The back of his head resembles a jar of jam dropped by a careless child, his body twisted in horrible angles. However, it's the smile that gets to me. It's the same one he gave me just before...just before...

I empty the contends of my stomach all over the luscious green grass.

It takes everything in me to drag his body around the side of the farmhouse, but it was worth it. I wanted to bury him under the large tree, but I lacked the proper tools to do so. Plus, I knew the Hovercrafts would be there any minute to collect the body; I was shocked I got it this far without seeing them. I guess all cameras are on me right now, not that it matters. This is the send off that Jake deserves.

As best I could, I propped him up as though he was just sitting under its branches, enjoying the outside world. In his pocket, a bomb was placed. I wish I was a little more creative, that I could have made him look a little more presentable or, even better, done something to make his family proud of me, but it was all I could think of in the time I was given. Simple, yet effective. Very Jake Noir. Above his head, I used Metro's knife and carved, Here Lies The Small Fry, The District Five Lover Boy, with a little sideways smiley face.

I was halfway across the field on my way back to the house when I heard the Hovercrafts come for him and I refused to turn around. Unlike Metro, where I was forced to watch them take his body, I refuse to turn around. Like Jake said, they can't take away my free will. Not today, not any day.

My alliance is gone. In less than ten full days, we've gone from four strong, to one. The heart of the team, dead within seconds. The strength of the team, torn apart by mutated dogs. The brains, they were smashed in the grass. Now, it's just me. The one that didn't quite fit into the group. The one that wanted to be left alone.

And now I am alone.

Inside the house, I gather up our things and make a quick inventory of all our items. Eight mines, formerly belonging to our bomb expert, Jake. Four throwing knives, formerly Metro's knives. Two bags of dried nuts and fruit. Jake's toolbox. Random bits of wire and rope, an empty water canteen, and iodine. My knife. The first aid kit and most of our food supply is gone now, so I will have to find my own way of eating and treating wounds. It's not like I can use any more of my shirt to bandage them, I barely have a top left, thanks to Jake's bites. Leaving behind the wire and Jake's toolbox, I repacked my bag and got myself presentable, before walking out the front door of the farmhouse and back into the reality of the arena.

I shall never have utopia again.

Of course, the fog was waiting for me once I got outside, but this time around, I welcomed it with open arms. This town setting was getting old, anyway.

In the fog, I saw my mother in her usual spot behind the bar, watching me on the projected images on the wall. The images are my highlight reel and she the smile on her face shows her approval. Rex kisses me during the Chariot ride and mounts the horse, getting an eye-thrashing from President Cross. My interview, awkward and short, I praise my mother as my driving force behind my "6" training score. And as the clock counts down and the fog encases us, someone places their hand on her own and squeezes it, showing a loving comfort for the woman that raised me.

Verona. The Head Peacekeeper.

Everything slows down and new images hit me like a ton of bricks.

Memories play back to me on the same screen that once housed my Hunger Games highlights. Verona holding my mother, their laughter echoing around me, as I attempt to waddle my first steps. My crimson locks are noticeably shorter and curlier, my legs stubby. Both are looking on with pride beaming in their eyes. It cuts to me being older, almost eight. As I hide in the bushes to the left of the slaughterhouse, waiting for Rex's friend Marlene to come find me, he spots me in his daily check of the area and tosses me a bright, shiny apple. While Marlene starts to get frustrated looking for me, Verona and I giggle softly, each of us enjoying the juicy treat.

The images come faster now. Verona watching me intently at every Reaping; the look of fear and regret dancing in his emerald eyes. The quick exchange of money as he hands my mother over enough of a tip to cover the rent that month. The threats made against those he catches trying to attack me or run their mouths. The jealous look my mother gives when she sees another woman throw herself at him. Verona...saving my life when Carrion was brutally attacking me in the Goodbye Room.

Head Peacekeeper Verona...he's my father.

My world spins around me as it pieces everything together. The extra money for my mother, despite never sleeping with her. The glances and stares at me, the longing in my mother's eyes whenever he entered the bar. The apples, the repressed memories, it was all too much for me to handle. Nausea rises up and out of my mouth and when I come to, I notice my stomach contents on the harsh gravel below me.

Harsh gravel? I should have expected this. Day 10...time for an arena change.

Gone is my cozy farmhouse and tree marked for my fallen friend. Gone is the cool climate and picturesque view of home. Gone is everything I've ever seen in the Hunger Games.

This is hell. This is where we go when we die.

From the slight hill I was left on, I can see some of the high points of the new arena. Lava behind me and to the bottom left, a volcano in the north. Where once there was a town, now resides rocky terrain with multiple lava spots and caves that seem to lead to...somewhere. Anywhere has to be better than here.

This is going to be a hike and I don't know what I can do for food or water, but maybe the caves are my best bet. So, with my backpack and a smile, I put two feet in front of me and start off on my path. Leaving behind everything I thought I knew about myself, I keep my knife in fighting position and my fists up.

Use your anger, channel it, but don't let it cloud your mind. Stay focused. Breathe.

Your boys are still with you. You are not alone.


Ashwood Greenley, 17 - District 12 male

Vykktor

Day Ten - The Second Arena Switch


It takes me about two hours before I finally have the courage to venture outside of my hidey-hole. As good of a spot as it is, I knew I couldn't stay there. While it was easily defendable and out of the way, it was also very low to the ground. I am an archer. I need to be at the high ground. That is where I am at my best, so that is where I must go. Plus, I just had a bad feeling about that place. Despite being under the middle of the bridge, I couldn't see through to the other side of the grate. It was just this giant wall of black. And if that doesn't scream "Mutt spawning location," I don't know what does.

So, I decide to head out. My bow is clutched firmly in my hand, an arrow nocked on the string. I edge closer to the corner of the pipe and take a deep breath, closing my eyes. After counting to three, I open my eyes and whip around the corner, arrow pointed directly in front of me.

There's nothing there. I lower my bow and start treading up the ditch towards the buildings. What I need to find is one of those towers. Those seem to give the best vantage point – "SQUAWK!" I whip around to see a loud bird flying behind me. I almost let my arrow fly to silence the bird, but something inside me tells me not to.

…I recognize that bird. That's the same bird I rescued from the house Brandon held me captive in, my brain exclaims. The old parrot circles around me a couple times, and then lands on a pole to my right. I say nothing, and it says nothing back to me. We just look at each other, waiting for one another to make a move.

"…Whatever," I finally say. I start to walk away when I hear the bird speak again.

"Here we go," it says. I turn back to face the parrot, and it quickly hops off its perch and swoops towards me. It stops right in front of my face, flapping in front of me.

It wants to come with me, I realize. The idea is an amusing one at first, but the positivity of the whole thing diminishes quickly. Immediately my mind goes to food. How am I supposed to support two mouths? Especially when one only eats small seeds and fruit.

"Beat it," I say, frowning. "I can't help you." With that, I turn on my heel and begin to walk away again. Unfortunately, I hear the bird's wings beating consistently behind me as I continue on. This gets me a bit annoyed, actually. Why can't this stupid parrot realize I don't want it around?

"Go on, shoo!" I exclaim, turning around and waving my arms dismissively at the bird. It is persistent, though, and refuses to leave. It adamantly flaps in front of my face.

"Shoo!" It repeats back at me. Ugh. Now it's picking up even more from me. I need to ditch this bird fast before it becomes impossible to do anything remotely stealthy. And then, an idea pops into my head.

"You want me to shoo, huh birdy?" I say, grinning. "Well okay, then. I'll shoo." And with that, I take off running. I'm rounding corner after corner, hoping to find myself one of those towers. That's my best bet if I want to survive is one of those towers. Thankfully, I noticed a few of them as I was running from Kai and Ariella. They all have a very distinctly designed door; much more ornate than any of the others in these ruins. Plus, they're way taller.

Sure enough, I manage to find one after running around for about five minutes. Jogging to a stop, I hastily open the ancient door and duck inside. After checking around the room to make sure no one is using this place for a hiding spot themselves, I relax a little, but only slightly. There could very easily be a tribute or two who already occupy this tower, and that would be problematic if I were to be caught unawares by them. So taking my time, I cautiously make my way up the stairs.

As I reach the second floor, I am delighted to see that it looks untouched. Everything around me has a thick layer of dust on it. I let myself calm down just a bit more after every floor I pass up, but I never let my guard down. Not until I reach the top. Once I am there, I shut the trap door behind me and let my supplies slump off my shoulders. I'm about to crash on the floor and take a much needed lunch break when I notice something off to my right. Instead of there being the large, open window from the tower I arrived in, this one had a quaint little balcony sticking out over the city. Cautiously, I toss a few stray bricks onto the balcony, just to make sure it doesn't collapse. After about three bricks hit without causing it to fall, I'd say it's a fair bet that the balcony is sturdy enough. But, it's not the time to go out there quite yet. First, I must eat.

I approach my food carefully. I don't know how much Brandon was feeding me when I was unconscious, so I don't want the food I eat to be too much for me. All I know is that it musn't have been for a long time because I am starving. My stomach feels like it is trying to digest itself, it hurts so much.

I start out small; first a bite of an apple, then in another couple of minutes, a small piece of jerky. After a few minutes, everything seems to be fine, so I move on. I eat about half the apple, and help myself to a couple more pieces of jerky. If that stuff can stay down for a half an hour, I'll eat the rest of the apple.

In the meantime, I decide to see what there is to see from my balcony. Who knows? I may even be able to spot the Careers' base of operations. That thought makes me dash back to my pile of supplies and grab my bow and arrows. If the Careers are close enough, I could pick them off from right here! The mere thought of this gets my blood boiling again, this time in ravishing anticipation.

Nocking an arrow, I start to scan the ground below me. It should be easy to spot the Careers from up here. They would be the only things moving around down there, other than other tributes, of course. And if there are other tributes out there, well, I guess I can't be too discerning as to who I mow down. If Oliver or that girl from Nine (I think her name is Paiton) come out of hiding, I can't say I'd hesitate in bringing them down. …Unfortunately, the more I comb the area, the more hopeless I realize my search is. Nobody is just going to be out on the streets –

Suddenly, I notice a flash of movement in my peripheral vision. I hastily swing to my left and draw back my bowstring, my vision focused on the ground below. My reaction is so fast that I actually lose track of whatever was moving down there for a second. I know it's bright and colorful, though, so it had to be a tribute. Nothing here is bright and colorful.

"SQUAWK!"

Of course, I stand corrected. A flash of blue and red streaks right in front of my face, causing me to fire my arrow in surprise. I watch as it flies through the air, away from my tower and into the infinite number of ancient houses below. Then I turn in anger towards the cause of my moment of panic: a particularly persistent parrot perched on the ledge of the balcony. I try to shoo the thing away, but just like before, the stubborn bird was having none of it.

"Here we go," it warbles.

"Hmph, yeah. Here we go," I grunt. "I guess there's no getting rid of you, huh?" I ask the parrot. It cocks its head.

"No getting rid of you," it confirms. Great. That's just perfect. Because I totally need a pet to look after right now. If only I had the guts to kill the damn thing. Rescuing it from captures sort of nixed that whole idea, though.

"Well, then I guess you can come along," I say, resigned.

The bird, who was previously looking a bit dejected, immediately perked up. It began swooping around my head in circles, calling out, "Here we go, here we go, here we go!"

I can't help but laugh a little at the bird's antics. Shushing it, I move into the center of the tower. The excited parrot starts flapping straight in front of my face. "We can't be so loud, though!" I say firmly but quietly, grinning softly at the little creature before me. Surprisingly enough, it obediently ceases its squawking. "That's better," I say warmly.

Suddenly, I hear a loud "thunk!" over by the balcony. I instantly switch to a battle position, my hands flying to nock another arrow. Once I am actually ready to defend myself, though, I see that there's no need. A medium-sized, metallic, silver box finds finds itself on the balcony. A sponsor gift.

Looks like not everyone is pissed about my phony wheelchair act, I think to myself as I make my way over to the incredibly welcome gift in front of me. My hands are sweaty as I slowly pull the cover from the box. My mind runs wild at all the possibilities. Could it be some decent food? Perhaps something to repair my water bottle? Or even a new water bottle entirely? To my slight dismay, it is none of these things.

Staring back at me from the bottom of the satin-lined box is a black, leather brace of some sort. One end of it wraps around my right forearm, and the other end reaches all the way to my shoulder. It fits snugly around my triceps and the outside of my upper arm, giving me some extra defense. It loops around a couple of metal rings on the front and back of my jacket as well, so it stays nice and sturdy. I experimentally do a few drawbacks with my bow while wearing the brace and it surprises me by being very flexible. I've pretty much still got a free range of motion, deducting the limitations put on me by my knife wound and the Quickfangs. So, while it may not be what I was looking for, it could still prove to be useful.

"Well, what do you think?" I ask the bird, doing a quick turn-around. "You know what? I think you need a name," I say pointedly.

"Name! Name!" The bird squawks again and perches on top of my shoulder, but the leather brace absorbs most of the discomfort.

"How about… Walter?" I look at the bird on my shoulder.

The parrot cocks its head slightly, as if contemplating the name, and then suddenly jumps off my shoulder.

"Walter! Walter!" it cries, swooping around in circles around my head. "Walter! Walter! Walter!"

Just then, I hear another thumping noise coming from the balcony. Turning towards it, I see that once again I have received a sponsor gift. This one is rather large, too. Hopefully it'll be something a little more useful this time, like some food. It's in a big burlap sack, so that is probably the case. I drag the sack into the center of the room, measuring its weight. It seems to be about twenty pounds, so it'll definitely limit my mobility. Thankfully, though, I've got most everything I need up here. All that's missing is… crap. Water.

Leaving the sack in the middle of the room, I go to the edge of the window opposite the balcony, trying to find some source of water. Unfortunately, all I can see is a vast expanse of ruined buildings. Even less fortunate is the fact that the view from the balcony is just as dry. I can't see anything that could possibly be a source of water. Even the ditches near the bridge I was hiding in are bone-dry.

No reason to worry about it now, Ashwood, I tell myself. It'll only stress you out more. I peer up at my new pet parrot, who has now settled down. It's hopping around the sack in the center of the room, occasionally pecking at the fabric.

"Okay, fine, let's see what's inside," I mutter. I lumber over to the bag and lazily pull the twine holding it together. Once I look inside, my heart falls once again. Again, the Capitol has expressed more concern for the damn parrot than it has me by sending down a twenty-pound bag of bird seed. But, why should I be surprised? The Capitol is a sucker for clever animals. When the Hunger Games aren't on, I'd say at least twenty percent of the jargon they broadcast is some sort of pet show.

Actually, that gives me an idea. Digging around in the bag, I quickly find what I am looking for. Buried within the bird feed is a small, metallic cup. Using the cup, I scoop some feed out and set it at Walter's feet. I can almost hear the chorus of "awe"s from here. I give Walter as much of a loving smile as I can muster, showing the Capitol that I really, really, love this bird (want them to send me more stuff) and I want it (me) to survive until the end.

I sit back and watch Walter peck at the feed for a while, but soon I find myself falling asleep. Jostling myself awake, I check just to make sure there are no tributes lurking below my tower. Sure enough, there's no one to be seen. I lean back up against the wall, and within minutes, I'm back in the most comfortable place in these Games.