The wood district is somewhat easier for me to speak at, simply because I didn't know Jack or Willow well. Their faces were reflected hugely, though, with Jack's mournful brow eyes piercing me and Willow's pink lips parted in a shocked face, her brown hair in a side fishtail braid.
Jack was especially nice to talk about, as I had absolutely zero interaction with him and therefore could talk about him freely without choking up. His family on the podium were two small boys and a red-faced man who looked angry. I could tell from my spot on the stage that he was a chef, and he resembled Jack as much a sun does a moon. Is he really Jack's family? I wonder to myself, rubbing my chin with my thumb.
"Roland," hisses Venial, her eyes frantically telling me something. I look down at my notecard with a start- I had trailed off in the middle of a sentence. Darn it. This surely would be all over Panem by now.
"I'm sorry," I say, my voice projecting all over the District Seven square. "I guess I… well, there is no easy way to put this." I was going to lie to an entire district, which I would not be proud of at all. "Jack was an amazing person, I know he was. Although some say he's mysterious and elusive and all that… Yeah, he is. But he's also very cunning, very logical. Jack was… a great tribute."
I look over at Jack's family immediately. The younger one is facing the large screen, watching his fallen brother smile faintly. The older one, about eleven or twelve, is staring at me darkly. His furrowed brow tells me that he was not so easily fooled, oh no. He knew the real Jack, and I just made up a picture of him. This was not Jack Marko, their brother. This was just another Panem tribute that would be forgotten.
I take a few dry swallows of oxygen before slightly shifting my body over to face Willow's extended family. Two older sisters, a brother about Willow's age, a much younger sister and two parents stand there, each with a grim, long face.
"Willow…" I begin, but lose it right after the littlest one starts tearing up. She does not wipe away the tears that are dripping slowly down her cheeks, simply watches me, sucking on the end of her pigtail. Go on, she seems to say.
Courage flows through my veins, and I straighten up. "Willow was a rather cheeky person," I start again. "When I tried to grab a biscuit that she wanted, she turned her nose up and good-naturedly said, 'There's this new thing- it's called politeness.'"
A small murmur of laughter reverberates through the crowd, giving me more confidence. I scratch the bridge of my nose and continue:
"However tough the times were, this girl made the best of them. She never stopped being herself, not even that terrible day on the arena beach."
At this, Willow's brother shudders and nearly bursts out crying. I can see that. Luckily, he manages to contain himself just before he lets out a cry and visibly bites his lip. The two older sisters' faces are grim, purple circles outlining their eyes. The mother buries her head in Willow's father's neck.
"Willow... will be greatly missed." I know it was short, but the notecards couldn't do that small, innocent girl any justice.
Back on the train, Venial gives me a short pep talk.
"Great district, Seven. One of my allies was from here, Artur Benward. Good kid, that Artur. He was only twelve but wicked with a bow and arrow."
"What was his fate?" I dared to ask.
"Didn't you see my Games?" teases Venial. "He died in the bloodbath. Some kid from an outlier district got a sword and Artur was toast then and there." My mentor sighs, her eyes straying to the window. "You know, we never did get to say goodbye." Her eyes mist over. I know that this is the time to leave for my private car.
Later, when we are sipping a pumpkin-like soup that is garnished with shredded almonds for an appetizer, Venial brings up Artur again.
"About Artur…" she begins, brushing her bangs away from her lidded eyes. "Don't you worry about me. It was in the stars, Roland. In the stars…"
"If it was in the stars, why did you act so shocked?" I challenge, feeling darker than usual.
"Me? Shocked?" Venial says, crunching down on an almond. She shakes her head slowly, eyeing me up. "I was just saddened. You know, like when your little friend Jackie died. Or Elijah or Cloe."
Thank God she didn't mention Hydrangea.
"Aiden and Jackie will remain in our hearts, and minds, forever." I conclude with a smile to District Six. This place is rather pleasant, and I use the term sarcastically. Smoke fills the air, as does the stench of gasoline and diesel fuel. Most men have grease slashed over their cheeks. Some are just wearing board shorts and thin sandals.
I board the train quickly, waving a farewell to an array of sad people. They haven't had a victor in years, I've heard. There have been exactly four. One's a very old man who is never shown on television, one is dead, and the last two are slightly younger but have turned to morphling, an illegal drug. You can see by the way their eyes are outlined, their skin seeming too large for their bodies. Aside from this, their people are starving. Ribs are prominent, bellies growling. It's almost worse poverty than Twelve, and that's saying a lot.
Once on the train, Venial immediately skitters to the restroom. I wish for one as well, to rid myself of the toxins I have inhaled on this visit. Saying the speech was hell enough, and then I have to deal with the poisons that entered my body.
Dinner was disgusting. After the duck with lemon sauce and a crème brulee which I only picked at, I go immediately to my train car and sat, huddled on top of the twin bed. My fingers mash helplessly into the wool comforter, feeling every small thread. I hear wheels screeching against a rail and peer outside the blinds. We're passing a poor community of District Six. I see two lonesome old men working on an old train caboose. A small herd of children and a black dog hop around near a graveyard of tires that burn to radiate heat. One child gets too close and their black-haired mother swoops them away, a frown on her wrinkled face.
A lump forms in my throat, and this time I can't swallow it away.
I really don't think that that family is really Sparkella's. Not the facial structure, not the stature, nothing. I know that Sparkella was an albino, but seriously… these people look well-fed, groomed, and rather content given their "daughter's" gruesome fate- which was, in fact, delivered by me. How can they all be so happy?
I stutter as I skip a line on the notecard, still eyeing up the man, woman, and young daughter suspiciously. The little girl plays with a small teddy bear in her father's tanned arms. The mother admires a silver ring on her hand. If I remember correctly, Sparkella had nobody to visit her at the Justice Building.
As if reading my thoughts, the Sparkella on the screen frowns bitterly and blinks twice, very slowly.
"Jacques," I say, averting my attention to the Frost side of District Five. Finally, a distraction. "Jacques may not have been the strongest with weapons, but with words he was a skilled swordsman. Did you see how elegantly he rode through his interview?" I nearly grimace, remembering how he puked up when he got Reaped on this very stage.
Jacques's mother and an older man I presume to be a grandfather smile sadly, thickly at each other.
"Th-thank you, District Five." I turn to go back into the Justice Building, glad to be rid of the nightmares that shrouded this district.
"That was such a hard interview," I moan quietly into my scrambled eggs the morning when we would arrive in Three. "I stumbled over Kristine's name, like, seventeen times."
"You did fine," Venial assures me, swallowing a mouthful of bitter coffee. With a teasing smile she adds, "It was Lance you mucked up on. His last name's Finn, not Fine. And he wasn't fifteen. And by the way, he didn't have 'a way with words'. You must be reviewing Jacques Frost."
I have to restrain myself from swatting her shoulder.
"Did you see the way Kristine's little sister stared at me?" I recall with a grim frown. "I felt so bad for her."
"Don't," Venial says, jabbing her spoon in the air for emphasis. "I felt bad the first few districts of my own tour, Roland, but soon found out that having a heavy heart brought me down even further. Look at the morphlings, for example. The duo from Six. They used to love artistry, Roland. Painting and sculpting and doing all these creative little crafts. I remember the year the girl won. Gingham. I was only ten, but I remember seeing this ad on television where she hand-painted small cherubs. Those were all the rage back then."
"Back then?" I say devilishly, waggling my eyebrows at her. "My mother still has almost thirty of them on a cupboard in her bedroom!"
At the mention of this, Venial's face visibly falls.
"What's wrong?" I ask, spooning up another bite of chives, cheese, and egg.
"Nothing you have to worry about now, Roland," she shrugs, fishing around her yogurt parfait dish for a certain blueberry. "Come on. Eat your eggs. District Three's only an hour away, remember, and you still have to get prepped and dressed…"
"Kenji's personality may have been cold, but on the battlefield he triumphed greatly," I read aloud, slightly blushing. Kenji, let's face it, was a bully. Now I'm saying good, praising things about him. Fun.
"Lilicon was sweeter than ambrosia, as they say, and would never leave an ally behind- that is, if she had one." I can almost feel the crowd wincing. My escort's really not the best at writing speeches. "Beautiful, elegant, and defined well, Lilicon was more than your typical District Three tribute." On both sides of the stage, the brother and sister on the screens gaze coldly at me. A mother stands on Kenji's side, and on Lilicon's is a red-faced man who is choking up easily.
"Thank you, District Three. And thank you for your tributes."
The train ride to Two will be filled with replays of my 'blunder' with Lilicon, I'm sure, and perhaps a few taunts aimed my way. Even if that does wind up happening, I'll simply reflect them over to my overly cheery escort, who at the moment is gulping down some fizzy brown liquid. Yuck.
"Congratulations, Roland," Venial greets me sarcastically as I exit the Justice Building's wide arches. "You made all of Panem hate Lilicon and her lack of allies."
"It was Muff's fault!" I protest, jabbing a thumb at the mint-green freak whose heavy eyelids blinked in protest. "She's the one who wrote the speech. I want to do as I'm told. No revolts, remember?"
Venial twists a lock of caramel hair around her ring finger thoughtfully. "I did say that," she says, tasting the words on her tongue cautiously. But then she stops, her eyes darting over to Muff the escort.
"Muffelda!" she declares loudly, storming over.
I hop on the train.
"Eve, although somewhat overconfident, was a sure victor until that fateful day," I read aloud, my brow furrowing. This is even worse than Lilicon's. I quickly skip over 'Her skull smashed bitterly is a reminder to Panem that even victor's children cannot escape the cold fingers of the Games' and went right to "As her last name implies, though, Eve sure did get the glory she deserved. It may not have been how she expected, but glory nonetheless."
Glory. Hah. She threatened Hydrangea and me personally in the Training Center, calling us her 'first kills'. Yeah… look where that got her. In a casket, her skull broken, six feet underground.
I avert my attention to Justice's side of the stands. Vicia Wright, a victor I recall seeing over the years, and her love interest stand on the platform. Vicia's overly made-up, her eyelashes long and very exaggerated and her simple rust-colored dress shredded at the bottom. A new fad? I don't think so.
"Justice Wright… where to begin…"
At the mention of his name, Vicia erupts into tears bitterly. Biting my lip, I continue on.
"At just fourteen but with an excellent arm for those throwing stars, Justice was one of the best contenders in these Games, I'm sure. It didn't matter whether you were friend or foe in the Training Center with him. He'd gladly practice with you." I look up from the notecard, palms sweaty, and recite one of my own lines. "Justice and I built snares together. He showed me the correct way to tie a Double-Barred Barbarian Loop. It turns out that instead of going under with String A, you go over."
No laughs, not even a chuckle. Sheesh. Tough crowd.
"Thank you, District Two. And thank you for-"
"YOUR TRIBUTES," echoes the entire square in unison. Then something amazing happens. Starting from the beginning of the stage, each District Two resident lifts their hand slowly. It comes like a wave, pouring slowly into the back of the square. Lastly, they each flutter their fingers. An odd farewell, but no doubt a touching one.
"Diamond Star was brave, noble, and never forgot where her heart lie." My forehead is covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Diamond was, to be brutally honest, not my favorite tribute. Too seductive for me, I suppose. "She also was an impeccable decision maker. When the time came for her and Justice to leave, she kept her head up and never looked back. That, to me," I squint faintly, trying to read the last phrase of Muff's cursive handwriting, "Is… true… character."
My eyes flicker to Diamond's family. Ten brothers, a beefy father, and a very curvaceous mother are all standing silently, their eyes gaunt and hollow. Staring at me. My mouth is suddenly dry and I look away.
A/N: Hey. I hope you enjoyed the middle leg of the tour! SYOT information is still on my profile. The tributes I received so far were great… but just remember, it is NOT first come, first serve. It's the tributes that stand out to me. Submit more tributes to increase your odds of getting one (or maybe TWO!) in the 71st Hunger Games.
It was also brought to my attention that there were still kids from this story who were still eligible. Some examples are Cloe's little brothers and sister, Justice's friend Brick, etc. So I'm going to have a voting poll thing. Unofficially. Out of these below, type the NAME of the one you'd like to be in the 71st the most. You can vote for up to three. :-D I don't know if I'll use one of them, though. This is sort of… a test, I guess.
Carmella Murray, 16, Four, Kristine's little sister
Brick Hawking, 17, Two, Justice's best friend
Steve Birch, 16, Seven, Willow's twin brother
Erika Berry, 15, Twelve, Cloe's little sister
Samuel Samson, 15, Nine, Hydrangea's little brother
Savannah Poppet, 18, Ten, Elijah's secret admirer
Heather North, 15, Eleven, Saffron's little sister
OK, I guess that's it. Have a wonderfully SNOWY day. :3