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The Hunger Games / (by Suzanne Collins, 2008) -

The Hunger Games /   (by Suzanne Collins, 2008) -

The Hunger Games / (by Suzanne Collins, 2008) -

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The Hunger Games /
Catching Fire /
Mockingjay / -
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The Hunger Games / (by Suzanne Collins, 2008) -
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2008
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Suzanne Collins
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Carolyn McCormick
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upper-intermediate
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11:11:25
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126 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Hunger Games / :

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audiobook (MP3) .


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Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Part I "The Tributes" 1 When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prims warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping. I prop myself up on one elbow. Theres enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mothers body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prims face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me. Sitting at Prims knees, guarding her, is the worlds ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and hes a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me. Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love. I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has molded to my feet. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap, and grab my forage bag. On the table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from hungry rats and cats alike, sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves. Prims gift to me on reaping day. I put the cheese carefully in my pocket as I slip outside. Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to the morning shift at this hour. Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces. But today the black cinder streets are empty. Shutters on the squat gray houses are closed. The reaping isnt until two. May as well sleep in. If you can. Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam. I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with barbed-wire loops. In theory, its supposed to be electrified twenty-four hours a day as a deterrent to the predators that live in the woods packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears that used to threaten our streets. But since were lucky to get two or three hours of electricity in the evenings, its usually safe to touch. Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is live. Right now, its silent as a stone. Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out on my belly and slide under a two-foot stretch thats been loose for years. There are several other weak spots in the fence, but this one is so close to home I almost always enter the woods here. As soon as Im in the trees, I retrieve a bow and sheath of arrows from a hollow log. Electrified or not, the fence has been successful at keeping the flesh-eaters out of District 12. Inside the woods they roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real paths to follow. But theres also food if you know how to find it. My father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing even to bury. I was eleven then. Five years later, I still wake up screaming for him to run. Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, more people would risk it if they had weapons. But most are not bold enough to venture out with just a knife. My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers. My father could have made good money selling them, but if the officials found out he would have been publicly executed for inciting a rebellion. Most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who hunt because theyre as hungry for fresh meat as anybody is. In fact, theyre among our best customers. But the idea that someone might be arming the Seam would never have been allowed. In the fall, a few brave souls sneak into the woods to harvest apples. But always in sight of the Meadow. Always close enough to run back to the safety of District 12 if trouble arises. District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety, I mutter. Then I glance quickly over my shoulder. Even here, even in the middle of nowhere, you worry someone might overhear you. When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. Do my work quietly in school. Make only polite small talk in the public market. Discuss little more than trades in the Hob, which is the black market where I make most of my money. Even at home, where I am less pleasant, I avoid discussing tricky topics. Like the reaping, or food shortages, or the Hunger Games. Prim might begin to repeat my words and then where would we be? In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Gale. I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods. Hey, Catnip, says Gale. My real name is Katniss, but when I first told him, I had barely whispered it. So he thought Id said Catnip. Then when this crazy lynx started following me around the woods looking for handouts, it became his official nickname for me. I finally had to kill the lynx because he scared off game. I almost regretted it because he wasnt bad company. But I got a decent price for his pelt. Look what I shot, Gale holds up a loaf of bread with an arrow stuck in it, and I laugh. Its real bakery bread, not the flat, dense loaves we make from our grain rations. I take it in my hands, pull out the arrow, and hold the puncture in the crust to my nose, inhaling the fragrance that makes my mouth flood with saliva. Fine bread like this is for special occasions. Mm, still warm, I say. He must have been at the bakery at the crack of dawn to trade for it. What did it cost you? Just a squirrel. Think the old man was feeling sentimental this morning, says Gale. Even wished me luck. Well, we all feel a little closer today, dont we? I say, not even bothering to roll my eyes. Prim left us a cheese. I pull it out. His expression brightens at the treat. Thank you, Prim. Well have a real feast. Suddenly he falls into a Capitol accent as he mimics Effie Trinket, the maniacally upbeat woman who arrives once a year to read out the names at the leaping. I almost forgot! Happy Hunger Games! He plucks a few blackberries from the bushes around us. And may the odds He tosses a berry in a high arc toward me. I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet tartness explodes across my tongue. be ever in your favor! I finish with equal verve. We have to joke about it because the alternative is to be scared out of your wits. Besides, the Capitol accent is so affected, almost anything sounds funny in it. I watch as Gale pulls out his knife and slices the bread. He could be my brother. Straight black hair, olive skin, we even have the same gray eyes. But were not related, at least not closely. Most of the families who work the mines resemble one another this way. Thats why my mother and Prim, with their light hair and blue eyes, always look out of place. They are. My mothers parents were part of the small merchant class that caters to officials, Peacekeepers, and the occasional Seam customer. They ran an apothecary shop in the nicer part of District 12. Since almost no one can afford doctors, apothecaries are our healers. My father got to know my mother because on his hunts he would sometimes collect medicinal herbs and sell them to her shop to be brewed into remedies. She must have really loved him to leave her home for the Seam. I try to remember that when all I can see is the woman who sat by, blank and unreachable, while her children turned to skin and bones. I try to forgive her for my fathers sake. But to be honest, Im not the forgiving type. Gale spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese, carefully placing a basil leaf on each while I strip the bushes of their berries. We settle back in a nook in the rocks. From this place, we are invisible but have a clear view of the valley, which is teeming with summer life, greens to gather, roots to dig, fish iridescent in the sunlight. The day is glorious, with a blue sky and soft breeze. The foods wonderful, with the cheese seeping into the warm bread and the berries bursting in our mouths. Everything would be perfect if this really was a holiday, if all the day off meant was roaming the mountains with Gale, hunting for tonights supper. But instead we have to be standing in the square at two oclock waiting for the names to be called out. We could do it, you know, Gale says quietly. What? I ask. Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it, says Gale. I dont know how to respond. The idea is so preposterous. If we didnt have so many kids, he adds quickly. Theyre not our kids, of course. But they might as well be. Gales two little brothers and a sister. Prim. And you may as well throw in our mothers, too, because how would they live without us? Who would fill those mouths that are always asking for more? With both of us hunting daily, there are still nights when game has to be swapped for lard or shoelaces or wool, still nights when we go to bed with our stomachs growling. I never want to have kids, I say. I might. If I didnt live here, says Gale. But you do, I say, irritated. Forget it, he snaps back. The conversation feels all wrong. Leave? How could I leave Prim, who is the only person in the world Im certain I love? And Gale is devoted to his family. We cant leave, so why bother talking about it? And even if we did even if we did where did this stuff about having kids come from? Theres never been anything romantic between Gale and me. When we met, I was a skinny twelve-year-old, and although he was only two years older, he already looked like a man. It took a long time for us to even become friends, to stop haggling over every trade and begin helping each other out. Besides, if he wants kids, Gale wont have any trouble finding a wife. Hes good-looking, hes strong enough to handle the work in the mines, and he can hunt. You can tell by the way the girls whisper about him when he walks by in school that they want him. It makes me jealous but not for the reason people would think. Good hunting partners are hard to find. What do you want to do? I ask. We can hunt, fish, or gather. Lets fish at the lake. We can leave our poles and gather in the woods. Get something nice for tonight, he says. Tonight. After the reaping, everyone is supposed to celebrate. And a lot of people do, out of relief that their children have been spared for another year. But at least two families will pull their shutters, lock their doors, and try to figure out how they will survive the painful weeks to come. We make out well. The predators ignore us on a day when easier, tastier prey abounds. By late morning, we have a dozen fish, a bag of greens and, best of all, a gallon of strawberries. I found the patch a few years ago, but Gale had the idea to string mesh nets around it to keep out the animals. On the way home, we swing by the Hob, the black market that operates in an abandoned warehouse that once held coal. When they came up with a more efficient system that transported the coal directly from the mines to the trains, the Hob gradually took over the space. Most businesses are closed by this time on reaping day, but the black markets still fairly busy. We easily trade six of the fish for good bread, the other two for salt. Greasy Sae, the bony old woman who sells bowls of hot soup from a large kettle, takes half the greens off our hands in exchange for a couple of chunks of paraffin. We might do a tad better elsewhere, but we make an effort to keep on good terms with Greasy Sae. Shes the only one who can consistently be counted on to buy wild dog. We dont hunt them on purpose, but if youre attacked and you take out a dog or two, well, meat is meat. Once its in the soup, Ill call it beef, Greasy Sae says with a wink. No one in the Seam would turn up their nose at a good leg of wild dog, but the Peacekeepers who come to the Hob can afford to be a little choosier. When we finish our business at the market, we go to the back door of the mayors house to sell half the strawberries, knowing he has a particular fondness for them and can afford our price. The mayors daughter, Madge, opens the door. Shes in my year at school. Being the mayors daughter, youd expect her to be a snob, but shes all right. She just keeps to herself. Like me. Since neither of us really has a group of friends, we seem to end up together a lot at school. Eating lunch, sitting next to each other at assemblies, partnering for sports activities. We rarely talk, which suits us both just fine. Today her drab school outfit has been replaced by an expensive white dress, and her blonde hair is done up with a pink ribbon. Reaping clothes. Pretty dress, says Gale. Madge shoots him a look, trying to see if its a genuine compliment or if hes just being ironic. It is a pretty dress, but she would never be wearing it ordinarily. She presses her lips together and then smiles. Well, if I end up going to the Capitol, I want to look nice, dont I? Now its Gales turn to be confused. Does she mean it? Or is she messing with him? Im guessing the second. You wont be going to the Capitol, says Gale coolly. His eyes land on a small, circular pin that adorns her dress. Real gold. Beautifully crafted. It could keep a family in bread for months. What can you have? Five entries? I had six when I was just twelve years old. Thats not her fault, I say. No, its no ones fault. Just the way it is, says Gale. Madges face has become closed off. She puts the money for the berries in my hand. Good luck, Katniss. You, too, I say, and the door closes. We walk toward the Seam in silence. I dont like that Gale took a dig at Madge, but hes right, of course. The reaping system is unfair, with the poor getting the worst of it. You become eligible for the reaping the day you turn twelve. That year, your name is entered once. At thirteen, twice. And so on and so on until you reach the age of eighteen, the final year of eligibility, when your name goes into the pool seven times. Thats true for every citizen in all twelve districts in the entire country of Panem. But heres the catch. Say you are poor and starving as we were. You can opt to add your name more times in exchange for tesserae. Each tessera is worth a meager years supply of grain and oil for one person. You may do this for each of your family members as well. So, at the age of twelve, I had my name entered four times. Once, because I had to, and three times for tesserae for grain and oil for myself, Prim, and my mother. In fact, every year I have needed to do this. And the entries are cumulative. So now, at the age of sixteen, my name will be in the reaping twenty times. Gale, who is eighteen and has been either helping or single-handedly feeding a family of five for seven years, will have his name in forty-two times. You can see why someone like Madge, who has never been at risk of needing a tessera, can set him off. The chance of her name being drawn is very slim compared to those of us who live in the Seam. Not impossible, but slim. And even though the rules were set up by the Capitol, not the districts, certainly not Madges family, its hard not to resent those who dont have to sign up for tesserae. Gale knows his anger at Madge is misdirected. On other days, deep in the woods, Ive listened to him rant about how the tesserae are just another tool to cause misery in our district. A way to plant hatred between the starving workers of the Seam and those who can generally count on supper and thereby ensure we will never trust one another. Its to the Capitols advantage to have us divided among ourselves, he might say if there were no ears to hear but mine. If it wasnt reaping day. If a girl with a gold pin and no tesserae had not made what Im sure she thought was a harmless comment. As we walk, I glance over at Gales face, still smoldering underneath his stony expression. His rages seem pointless to me, although I never say so. Its not that I dont agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesnt change anything. It doesnt make things fair. It doesnt fill our stomachs. In fact, it scares off the nearby game. I let him yell though. Better he does it in the woods than in the district. Gale and I divide our spoils, leaving two fish, a couple of loaves of good bread, greens, a quart of strawberries, salt, paraffin, and a bit of money for each. See you in the square, I say. Wear something pretty, he says flatly. At home, I find my mother and sister are ready to go. My mother wears a fine dress from her apothecary days. Prim is in my first reaping outfit, a skirt and ruffled blouse. Its a bit big on her, but my mother has made it stay with pins. Even so, shes having trouble keeping the blouse tucked in at the back. A tub of warm water waits for me. I scrub off the dirt and sweat from the woods and even wash my hair. To my surprise, my mother has laid out one of her own lovely dresses for me. A soft blue thing with matching shoes. Are you sure? I ask. Im trying to get past rejecting offers of help from her. For a while, I was so angry, I wouldnt allow her to do anything for me. And this is something special. Her clothes from her past are very precious to her. Of course. Lets put your hair up, too, she says. I let her towel-dry it and braid it up on my head. I can hardly recognize myself in the cracked mirror that leans against the wall. You look beautiful, says Prim in a hushed voice. And nothing like myself, I say. I hug her, because I know these next few hours will be terrible for her. Her first reaping. Shes about as safe as you can get, since shes only entered once. I wouldnt let her take out any tesserae. But shes worried about me. That the unthinkable might happen. I protect Prim in every way I can, but Im powerless against the reaping. The anguish I always feel when shes in pain wells up in my chest and threatens to register on my face. I notice her blouse has pulled out of her skirt in the back again and force myself to stay calm. Tuck your tail in, little duck, I say, smoothing the blouse back in place. Prim giggles and gives me a small Quack. Quack yourself, I say with a light laugh. The kind only Prim can draw out of me. Come on, lets eat, I say and plant a quick kiss on the top of her head. The fish and greens are already cooking in a stew, but that will be for supper. We decide to save the strawberries and bakery bread for this evenings meal, to make it special we say. Instead we drink milk from Prims goat, Lady, and eat the rough bread made from the tessera grain, although no one has much appetite anyway. At one oclock, we head for the square. Attendance is mandatory unless you are on deaths door. This evening, officials will come around and check to see if this is the case. If not, youll be imprisoned. Its too bad, really, that they hold the reaping in the square one of the few places in District 12 that can be pleasant. The squares surrounded by shops, and on public market days, especially if theres good weather, it has a holiday feel to it. But today, despite the bright banners hanging on the buildings, theres an air of grimness. The camera crews, perched like buzzards on rooftops, only add to the effect. People file in silently and sign in. The reaping is a good opportunity for the Capitol to keep tabs on the population as well. Twelve- through eighteen-year-olds are herded into roped areas marked off by ages, the oldest in the front, the young ones, like Prim, toward the back. Family members line up around the perimeter, holding tightly to one anothers hands. But there are others, too, who have no one they love at stake, or who no longer care, who slip among the crowd, taking bets on the two kids whose names will be drawn. Odds are given on their ages, whether theyre Seam or merchant, if they will break down and weep. Most refuse dealing with the racketeers but carefully, carefully. These same people tend to be informers, and who hasnt broken the law? I could be shot on a daily basis for hunting, but the appetites of those in charge protect me. Not everyone can claim the same. Anyway, Gale and I agree that if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker. The space gets tighter, more claustrophobic as people arrive. The squares quite large, but not enough to hold District 12s population of about eight thousand. Latecomers are directed to the adjacent streets, where they can watch the event on screens as its televised live by the state. I find myself standing in a clump of sixteens from the Seam. We all exchange terse nods then focus our attention on the temporary stage that is set up before the Justice Building. It holds three chairs, a podium, and two large glass balls, one for the boys and one for the girls. I stare at the paper slips in the girls ball. Twenty of them have Katniss Everdeen written on them in careful handwriting. Two of the three chairs fill with Madges father, Mayor Undersee, whos a tall, balding man, and Effie Trinket, District 12s escort, fresh from the Capitol with her scary white grin, pinkish hair, and spring green suit. They murmur to each other and then look with concern at the empty seat. Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read. Its the same story every year. He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games. The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins. Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch this is the Capitols way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and theres nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen. To make it humiliating as well as torturous, the Capitol requires us to treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, a sporting event pitting every district against the others. The last tribute alive receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food. All year, the Capitol will show the winning district gifts of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar while the rest of us battle starvation. It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks, intones the mayor. Then he reads the list of past District 12 victors. In seventy-four years, we have had exactly two. Only one is still alive. Haymitch Abernathy, a paunchy, middle-aged man, who at this moment appears hollering something unintelligible, staggers onto the stage, and falls into the third chair. Hes drunk. Very. The crowd responds with its token applause, but hes confused and tries to give Effie Trinket a big hug, which she barely manages to fend off. The mayor looks distressed. Since all of this is being televised, right now District 12 is the laughingstock of Panem, and he knows it. He quickly tries to pull the attention back to the reaping by introducing Effie Trinket. Bright and bubbly as ever, Effie Trinket trots to the podium and gives her signature, Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor! Her pink hair must be a wig because her curls have shifted slightly off-center since her encounter with Haymitch. She goes on a bit about what an honor it is to be here, although everyone knows shes just aching to get bumped up to a better district where they have proper victors, not drunks who molest you in front of the entire nation. Through the crowd, I spot Gale looking back at me with a ghost of a smile. As reapings go, this one at least has a slight entertainment factor. But suddenly I am thinking of Gale and his forty-two names in that big glass ball and how the odds are not in his favor. Not compared to a lot of the boys. And maybe hes thinking the same thing about me because his face darkens and he turns away. But there are still thousands of slips, I wish I could whisper to him. Its time for the drawing. Effie Trinket says as she always does, Ladies first! and crosses to the glass ball with the girls names. She reaches in, digs her hand deep into the ball, and pulls out a slip of paper. The crowd draws in a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and Im feeling nauseous and so desperately hoping that its not me, that its not me, that its not me. Effie Trinket crosses back to the podium, smoothes the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice. And its not me. Its Primrose Everdeen. 2 One time, when I was in a blind in a tree, waiting motionless for game to wander by, I dozed off and fell ten feet to the ground, landing on my back. It was as if the impact had knocked every wisp of air from my lungs, and I lay there struggling to inhale, to exhale, to do anything. Thats how I feel now, trying to remember how to breathe, unable to speak, totally stunned as the name bounces around the inside of my skull. Someone is gripping my arm, a boy from the Seam, and I think maybe I started to fall and he caught me. There must have been some mistake. This cant be happening. Prim was one slip of paper in thousands! Her chances of being chosen so remote that Id not even bothered to worry about her. Hadnt I done everything? Taken the tesserae, refused to let her do the same? One slip. One slip in thousands. The odds had been entirely in her favor. But it hadnt mattered. Somewhere far away, I can hear the crowd murmuring unhappily as they always do when a twelve-year-old gets chosen because no one thinks this is fair. And then I see her, the blood drained from her face, hands clenched in fists at her sides, walking with stiff, small steps up toward the stage, passing me, and I see the back of her blouse has become untucked and hangs out over her skirt. Its this detail, the untucked blouse forming a ducktail, that brings me back to myself. Prim! The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. Prim! I dont need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me. I volunteer! I gasp. I volunteer as tribute! Theres some confusion on the stage. District 12 hasnt had a volunteer in decades and the protocol has become rusty. The rule is that once a tributes name has been pulled from the ball, another eligible boy, if a boys name has been read, or girl, if a girls name has been read, can step forward to take his or her place. In some districts, in which winning the reaping is such a great honor, people are eager to risk their lives, the volunteering is complicated. But in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are all but extinct. Lovely! says Effie Trinket. But I believe theres a small matter of introducing the reaping winner and then asking for volunteers, and if one does come forth then we, um she trails off, unsure herself. What does it matter? says the mayor. Hes looking at me with a pained expression on his face. He doesnt know me really, but theres a faint recognition there. I am the girl who brings the strawberries. The girl his daughter might have spoken of on occasion. The girl who five years ago stood huddled with her mother and sister, as he presented her, the oldest child, with a medal of valor. A medal for her father, vaporized in the mines. Does he remember that? What does it matter? he repeats gruffly. Let her come forward. Prim is screaming hysterically behind me. Shes wrapped her skinny arms around me like a vice. No, Katniss! No! You cant go! Prim, let go, I say harshly, because this is upsetting me and I dont want to cry. When they televise the replay of the reapings tonight, everyone will make note of my tears, and Ill be marked as an easy target. A weakling. I will give no one that satisfaction. Let go! I can feel someone pulling her from my back. I turn and see Gale has lifted Prim off the ground and shes thrashing in his arms. Up you go, Catnip, he says, in a voice hes fighting to keep steady, and then he carries Prim off toward my mother. I steel myself and climb the steps. Well, bravo! gushes Effie Trinket. Thats the spirit of the Games! Shes pleased to finally have a district with a little action going on in it. Whats your name? I swallow hard. Katniss Everdeen, I say. I bet my buttons that was your sister. Dont want her to steal all the glory, do we? Come on, everybody! Lets give a big round of applause to our newest tribute! trills Effie Trinket. To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps. Not even the ones holding betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong. Then something unexpected happens. At least, I dont expect it because I dont think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prims place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love. Now I am truly in danger of crying, but fortunately Haymitch chooses this time to come staggering across the stage to congratulate me. Look at her. Look at this one! he hollers, throwing an arm around my shoulders. Hes surprisingly strong for such a wreck. I like her! His breath reeks of liquor and its been a long time since hes bathed. Lots of He cant think of the word for a while. Spunk! he says triumphantly. More than you! he releases me and starts for the front of the stage. More than you! he shouts, pointing directly into a camera. Is he addressing the audience or is he so drunk he might actually be taunting the Capitol? Ill never know because just as hes opening his mouth to continue, Haymitch plummets off the stage and knocks himself unconscious. Hes disgusting, but Im grateful. With every camera gleefully trained on him, I have just enough time to release the small, choked sound in my throat and compose myself. I put my hands behind my back and stare into the distance. I can see the hills I climbed this morning with Gale. For a moment, I yearn for something the idea of us leaving the district making our way in the woods but I know I was right about not running off. Because who else would have volunteered for Prim? Haymitch is whisked away on a stretcher, and Effie Trinket is trying to get the ball rolling again. What an exciting day! she warbles as she attempts to straighten her wig, which has listed severely to the right. But more excitement to come! Its time to choose our boy tribute! Clearly hoping to contain her tenuous hair situation, she plants one hand on her head as she crosses to the ball that contains the boys names and grabs the first slip she encounters. She zips back to the podium, and I dont even have time to wish for Gales safety when shes reading the name. Peeta Mellark. Peeta Mellark! Oh, no, I think. Not him. Because I recognize this name, although I have never spoken directly to its owner. Peeta Mellark. No, the odds are not in my favor today. I watch him as he makes his way toward the stage. Medium height, stocky build, ashy blond hair that falls in waves over his forehead. The shock of the moment is registering on his face, you can see his struggle to remain emotionless, but his blue eyes show the alarm Ive seen so often in prey. Yet he climbs steadily onto the stage and takes his place. Effie Trinket asks for volunteers, but no one steps forward. He has two older brothers, I know, Ive seen them in the bakery, but one is probably too old now to volunteer and the other wont. This is standard. Family devotion only goes so far for most people on reaping day. What I did was the radical thing. The mayor begins to read the long, dull Treaty of Treason as he does every year at this point its required but Im not listening to a word. Why him? I think. Then I try to convince myself it doesnt matter. Peeta Mellark and I are not friends. Not even neighbors. We dont speak. Our only real interaction happened years ago. Hes probably forgotten it. But I havent and I know I never will It was during the worst time. My father had been killed in the mine accident three months earlier in the bitterest January anyone could remember. The numbness of his loss had passed, and the pain would hit me out of nowhere, doubling me over, racking my body with sobs. Where are you? I would cry out in my mind. Where have you gone? Of course, there was never any answer. The district had given us a small amount of money as compensation for his death, enough to cover one month of grieving at which time my mother would be expected to get a job. Only she didnt. She didnt do anything but sit propped up in a chair or, more often, huddled under the blankets on her bed, eyes fixed on some point in the distance. Once in a while, shed stir, get up as if moved by some urgent purpose, only to then collapse back into stillness. No amount of pleading from Prim seemed to affect her. I was terrified. I suppose now that my mother was locked in some dark world of sadness, but at the time, all I knew was that I had lost not only a father, but a mother as well. At eleven years old, with Prim just seven, I took over as head of the family. There was no choice. I bought our food at the market and cooked it as best I could and tried to keep Prim and myself looking presentable. Because if it had become known that my mother could no longer care for us, the district would have taken us away from her and placed us in the community home. Id grown up seeing those home kids at school. The sadness, the marks of angry hands on their faces, the hopelessness that curled their shoulders forward. I could never let that happen to Prim. Sweet, tiny Prim who cried when I cried before she even knew the reason, who brushed and plaited my mothers hair before we left for school, who still polished my fathers shaving mirror each night because hed hated the layer of coal dust that settled on everything in the Seam. The community home would crush her like a bug. So I kept our predicament a secret. But the money ran out and we were slowly starving to death. Theres no other way to put it. I kept telling myself if I could only hold out until May, just May 8th, I would turn twelve and be able to sign up for the tesserae and get that precious grain and oil to feed us. Only there were still several weeks to go. We could well be dead by then. Starvations not an uncommon fate in District 12. Who hasnt seen the victims? Older people who cant work. Children from a family with too many to feed. Those injured in the mines. Straggling through the streets. And one day, you come upon them sitting motionless against a wall or lying in the Meadow, you hear the wails from a house, and the Peacekeepers are called in to retrieve the body. Starvation is never the cause of death officially. Its always the flu, or exposure, or pneumonia. But that fools no one. On the afternoon of my encounter with Peeta Mellark, the rain was falling in relentless icy sheets. I had been in town, trying to trade some threadbare old baby clothes of Prims in the public market, but there were no takers. Although I had been to the Hob on several occasions with my father, I was too frightened to venture into that rough, gritty place alone. The rain had soaked through my fathers hunting jacket, leaving me chilled to the bone. For three days, wed had nothing but boiled water with some old dried mint leaves Id found in the back of a cupboard. By the time the market closed, I was shaking so hard I dropped my bundle of baby clothes in a mud puddle. I didnt pick it up for fear I would keel over and be unable to regain my feet. Besides, no one wanted those clothes. I couldnt go home. Because at home was my mother with her dead eyes and my little sister, with her hollow cheeks and cracked lips. I couldnt walk into that room with the smoky fire from the damp branches I had scavenged at the edge of the woods after the coal had run out, my bands empty of any hope. I found myself stumbling along a muddy lane behind the shops that serve the wealthiest townspeople. The merchants live above their businesses, so I was essentially in their backyards. I remember the outlines of garden beds not yet planted for the spring, a goat or two in a pen, one sodden dog tied to a post, hunched defeated in the muck. All forms of stealing are forbidden in District 12. Punishable by death. But it crossed my mind that there might be something in the trash bins, and those were fair game. Perhaps a bone at the butchers or rotted vegetables at the grocers, something no one but my family was desperate enough to eat. Unfortunately, the bins had just been emptied. When I passed the bakers, the smell of fresh bread was so overwhelming I felt dizzy. The ovens were in the back, and a golden glow spilled out the open kitchen door. I stood mesmerized by the heat and the luscious scent until the rain interfered, running its icy fingers down my back, forcing me back to life. I lifted the lid to the bakers trash bin and found it spotlessly, heartlessly bare. Suddenly a voice was screaming at me and I looked up to see the bakers wife, telling me to move on and did I want her to call the Peacekeepers and how sick she was of having those brats from the Seam pawing through her trash. The words were ugly and I had no defense. As I carefully replaced the lid and backed away, I noticed him, a boy with blond hair peering out from behind his mothers back. Id seen him at school. He was in my year, but I didnt know his name. He stuck with the town kids, so how would I? His mother went back into the bakery, grumbling, but he must have been watching me as I made my way behind the pen that held their pig and leaned against the far side of an old apple tree. The realization that Id have nothing to take home had finally sunk in. My knees buckled and I slid down the tree trunk to its roots. It was too much. I was too sick and weak and tired, oh, so tired. Let them call the Peacekeepers and take us to the community home, I thought. Or better yet, let me die right here in the rain. There was a clatter in the bakery and I heard the woman screaming again and the sound of a blow, and I vaguely wondered what was going on. Feet sloshed toward me through the mud and I thought, Its her. Shes coming to drive me away with a stick. But it wasnt her. It was the boy. In his arms, he carried two large loaves of bread that must have fallen into the fire because the crusts were scorched black. His mother was yelling, Feed it to the pig, you stupid creature! Why not? No one decent will buy burned bread! He began to tear off chunks from the burned parts and toss them into the trough, and the front bakery bell rung and the mother disappeared to help a customer. The boy never even glanced my way, but I was watching him. Because of the bread, because of the red weal that stood out on his cheekbone. What had she hit him with? My parents never hit us. I couldnt even imagine it. The boy took one look back to the bakery as if checking that the coast was clear, then, his attention back on the pig, he threw a loaf of bread in my direction. The second quickly followed, and he sloshed back to the bakery, closing the kitchen door tightly behind him. I stared at the loaves in disbelief. They were fine, perfect really, except for the burned areas. Did he mean for me to have them? He must have. Because there they were at my feet. Before anyone could witness what had happened I shoved the loaves up under my shirt, wrapped the hunting jacket tightly about me, and walked swiftly away. The heat of the bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life. By the time I reached home, the loaves had cooled somewhat, but the insides were still warm. When I dropped them on the table, Prims hands reached to tear off a chunk, but I made her sit, forced my mother to join us at the table, and poured warm tea. I scraped off the black stuff and sliced the bread. We ate an entire loaf, slice by slice. It was good hearty bread, filled with raisins and nuts. I put my clothes to dry at the fire, crawled into bed, and fell into a dreamless sleep. It didnt occur to me until the next morning that the boy might have burned the bread on purpose. Might have dropped the loaves into the flames, knowing it meant being punished, and then delivered them to me. But I dismissed this. It must have been an accident. Why would he have done it? He didnt even know me. Still, just throwing me the bread was an enormous kindness that would have surely resulted in a beating if discovered. I couldnt explain his actions. We ate slices of bread for breakfast and headed to school. It was as if spring had come overnight. Warm sweet air. Fluffy clouds. At school, I passed the boy in the hall, his cheek had swelled up and his eye had blackened. He was with his friends and didnt acknowledge me in any way. But as I collected Prim and started for home that afternoon, I found him staring at me from across the school yard. Our eyes met for only a second, then he turned his head away. I dropped my gaze, embarrassed, and thats when I saw it. The first dandelion of the year. A bell went off in my head. I thought of the hours spent in the woods with my father and I knew how we were going to survive. To this day, I can never shake the connection between this boy, Peeta Mellark, and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I was not doomed. And more than once, I have turned in the school hallway and caught his eyes trained on me, only to quickly flit away. I feel like I owe him something, and I hate owing people. Maybe if I had thanked him at some point, Id be feeling less conflicted now. I thought about it a couple of times, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself. And now it never will. Because were going to be thrown into an arena to fight to the death. Exactly how am I supposed to work in a thank-you in there? Somehow it just wont seem sincere if Im trying to slit his throat. The mayor finishes the dreary Treaty of Treason and motions for Peeta and me to shake hands. His are as solid and warm as those loaves of bread. Peeta looks me right in the eye and gives my hand what I think is meant to be a reassuring squeeze. Maybe its just a nervous spasm. We turn back to face the crowd as the anthem of Panem plays. Oh, well, I think. There will be twenty-four of us. Odds are someone else will kill him before I do. Of course, the odds have not been very dependable of late. 3 The moment the anthem ends, we are taken into custody. I dont mean were handcuffed or anything, but a group of Peacekeepers marches us through the front door of the Justice Building. Maybe tributes have tried to escape in the past. Ive never seen that happen though. Once inside, Im conducted to a room and left alone. Its the richest place Ive ever been in, with thick, deep carpets and a velvet couch and chairs. I know velvet because my mother has a dress with a collar made of the stuff. When I sit on the couch, I cant help running my fingers over the fabric repeatedly. It helps to calm me as I try to prepare for the next hour. The time allotted for the tributes to say goodbye to their loved ones. I cannot afford to get upset, to leave this room with puffy eyes and a red nose. Crying is not an option. There will be more cameras at the train station. My sister and my mother come first. I reach out to Prim and she climbs on my lap, her arms around my neck, head on my shoulder, just like she did when she was a toddler. My mother sits beside me and wraps her arms around us. For a few minutes, we say nothing. Then I start telling them all the things they must remember to do, now that I will not be there to do them for them. Prim is not to take any tesserae. They can get by, if theyre careful, on selling Prims goat milk and cheese and the small apothecary business my mother now runs for the people in the Seam. Gale will get her the herbs she doesnt grow herself, but she must be very careful to describe them because hes not as familiar with them as I am. Hell also bring them game he and I made a pact about this a year or so ago and will probably not ask for compensation, but they should thank him with some kind of trade, like milk or medicine. I dont bother suggesting Prim learn to hunt. I tried to teach her a couple of times and it was disastrous. The woods terrified her, and whenever I shot something, shed get teary and talk about how we might be able to heal it if we got it home soon enough. But she makes out well with her goat, so I concentrate on that. When I am done with instructions about fuel, and trading, and staying in school, I turn to my mother and grip her arm, hard. Listen to me. Are you listening to me? She nods, alarmed by my intensity. She must know whats coming. You cant leave again, I say. My mothers eyes find the floor. I know. I wont. I couldnt help what Well, you have to help it this time. You cant clock out and leave Prim on her own. Theres no me now to keep you both alive. It doesnt matter what happens. Whatever you see on the screen. You have to promise me youll fight through it! My voice has risen to a shout. In it is all the anger, all the fear I felt at her abandonment. She pulls her arm from my grasp, moved to anger herself now. I was ill. I could have treated myself if Id had the medicine I have now. That part about her being ill might be true. Ive seen her bring back people suffering from immobilizing sadness since. Perhaps it is a sickness, but its one we cant afford. Then take it. And take care of her! I say. Ill be all right, Katniss, says Prim, clasping my face in her hands. But you have to take care, too. Youre so fast and brave. Maybe you can win. I cant win. Prim must know that in her heart. The competition will be far beyond my abilities. Kids from wealthier districts, where winning is a huge honor, whove been trained their whole lives for this. Boys who are two to three times my size. Girls who know twenty different ways to kill you with a knife. Oh, therell be people like me, too. People to weed out before the real fun begins. Maybe, I say, because I can hardly tell my mother to carry on if Ive already given up myself. Besides, it isnt in my nature to go down without a fight, even when things seem insurmountable. Then wed be rich as Haymitch. I dont care if were rich. I just want you to come home. You will try, wont you? Really, really try? asks Prim. Really, really try. I swear it, I say. And I know, because of Prim, Ill have to. And then the Peacekeeper is at the door, signaling our time is up, and were all hugging one another so hard it hurts and all Im saying is I love you. I love you both. And theyre saying it back and then the Peacekeeper orders them out and the door closes. I bury my head in one of the velvet pillows as if this can block the whole thing out. Someone else enters the room, and when I look up, Im surprised to see its the baker, Peeta Mellarks father. I cant believe hes come to visit me. After all, Ill be trying to kill his son soon. But we do know each other a bit, and he knows Prim even better. When she sells her goat cheeses at the Hob, she puts two of them aside for him and he gives her a generous amount of bread in return. We always wait to trade with him when his witch of a wife isnt around because hes so much nicer. I feel certain he would never have hit his son the way she did over the burned bread. But why has he come to see me? The baker sits awkwardly on the edge of one of the plush chairs. Hes a big, broad-shouldered man with burn scars from years at the ovens. He must have just said goodbye to his son. He pulls a white paper package from his jacket pocket and holds it out to me. I open it and find cookies. These are a luxury we can never afford. Thank you, I say. The bakers not a very talkative man in the best of times, and today he has no words at all. I had some of your bread this morning. My friend Gale gave you a squirrel for it. He nods, as if remembering the squirrel. Not your best trade, I say. He shrugs as if it couldnt possibly matter. Then I cant think of anything else, so we sit in silence until a Peacemaker summons him. He rises and coughs to clear his throat. Ill keep an eye on the little girl. Make sure shes eating. I feel some of the pressure in my chest lighten at his words. People deal with me, but they are genuinely fond of Prim. Maybe there will be enough fondness to keep her alive. My next guest is also unexpected. Madge walks straight to me. She is not weepy or evasive, instead theres an urgency about her tone that surprises me. They let you wear one thing from your district in the arena. One thing to remind you of home. Will you wear this? She holds out the circular gold pin that was on her dress earlier. I hadnt paid much attention to it before, but now I see its a small bird in flight. Your pin? I say. Wearing a token from my district is about the last thing on my mind. Here, Ill put it on your dress, all right? Madge doesnt wait for an answer, she just leans in and fixes the bird to my dress. Promise youll wear it into the arena, Katniss? she asks. Promise? Yes, I say. Cookies. A pin. Im getting all kinds of gifts today. Madge gives me one more. A kiss on the cheek. Then shes gone and Im left thinking that maybe Madge really has been my friend all along. Finally, Gale is here and maybe there is nothing romantic between us, but when he opens his arms I dont hesitate to go into them. His body is familiar to me the way it moves, the smell of wood smoke, even the sound of his heart beating I know from quiet moments on a hunt but this is the first time I really feel it, lean and hard-muscled against my own. Listen, he says. Getting a knife should be pretty easy, but youve got to get your hands on a bow. Thats your best chance. They dont always have bows, I say, thinking of the year there were only horrible spiked maces that the tributes had to bludgeon one another to death with. Then make one, says Gale. Even a weak bow is better than no bow at all. I have tried copying my fathers bows with poor results. Its not that easy. Even he had to scrap his own work sometimes. I dont even know if therell be wood, I say. Another year, they tossed everybody into a landscape of nothing but boulders and sand and scruffy bushes. I particularly hated that year. Many contestants were bitten by venomous snakes or went insane from thirst. Theres almost always some wood, Gale says. Since that year half of them died of cold. Not much entertainment in that. Its true. We spent one Hunger Games watching the players freeze to death at night. You could hardly see them because they were just huddled in balls and had no wood for fires or torches or anything. It was considered very anti-climactic in the Capitol, all those quiet, bloodless deaths. Since then, theres usually been wood to make fires. Yes, theres usually some, I say. Katniss, its just hunting. Youre the best hunter I know, says Gale. Its not just hunting. Theyre armed. They think, I say. So do you. And youve had more practice. Real practice, he says. You know how to kill. Not people, I say. How different can it be, really? says Gale grimly. The awful thing is that if I can forget theyre people, it will be no different at all. The Peacekeepers are back too soon and Gale asks for more time, but theyre taking him away and I start to panic. Dont let them starve! I cry out, clinging to his hand. I wont! You know I wont! Katniss, remember I he says, and they yank us apart and slam the door and Ill never know what it was he wanted me to remember. Its a short ride from the Justice Building to the train station. Ive never been in a car before. Rarely even ridden in wagons. In the Seam, we travel on foot. Ive been right not to cry. The station is swarming with reporters with their insectlike cameras trained directly on my face. But Ive had a lot of practice at wiping my face clean of emotions and I do this now. I catch a glimpse of myself on the television screen on the wall thats airing my arrival live and feel gratified that I appear almost bored. Peeta Mellark, on the other hand, has obviously been crying and interestingly enough does not seem to be trying to cover it up. I immediately wonder if this will be his strategy in the Games. To appear weak and frightened, to reassure the other tributes that he is no competition at all, and then come out fighting. This worked very well for a girl, Johanna Mason, from District 7 a few years back. She seemed like such a sniveling, cowardly fool that no one bothered about her until there were only a handful of contestants left. It turned out she could kill viciously. Pretty clever, the way she played it. But this seems an odd strategy for Peeta Mellark because hes a bakers son. All those years of having enough to eat and hauling bread trays around have made him broad-shouldered and strong. It will take an awful lot of weeping to convince anyone to overlook him. We have to stand for a few minutes in the doorway of the train while the cameras gobble up our images, then were allowed inside and the doors close mercifully behind us. The train begins to move at once. The speed initially takes my breath away. Of course, Ive never been on a train, as travel between the districts is forbidden except for officially sanctioned duties. For us, thats mainly transporting coal. But this is no ordinary coal train. Its one of the high-speed Capitol models that average 250 miles per hour. Our journey to the Capitol will take less than a day. In school, they tell us the Capitol was built in a place once called the Rockies. District 12 was in a region known is Appalachia. Even hundreds of years ago, they mined coal here. Which is why our miners have to dig so deep. Somehow it all comes back to coal at school. Besides basic reading and math most of our instruction is coal-related. Except for the weekly lecture on the history of Panem. Its mostly a lot of blather about what we owe the Capitol. I know there must be more than theyre telling us, an actual account of what happened during the rebellion. But I dont spend much time thinking about it. Whatever the truth is, I dont see how it will help me get food on the table. The tribute train is fancier than even the room in the Justice Building. We are each given our own chambers that have a bedroom, a dressing area, and a private bathroom with hot and cold running water. We dont have hot water at home, unless we boil it. There are drawers filled with fine clothes, and Effie Trinket tells me to do anything I want, wear anything I want, everything is at my disposal. Just be ready for supper in an hour. I peel off my mothers blue dress and take a hot shower. Ive never had a shower before. Its like being in a summer rain, only warmer. I dress in a dark green shirt and pants. At the last minute, I remember Madges little gold pin. For the first time, I get a good look at it. Its as if someone fashioned a small golden bird and then attached a ring around it. The bird is connected to the ring only by its wing tips. I suddenly recognize it. A mocking jay. Theyre funny birds and something of a slap in the face to the Capitol. During the rebellion, the Capitol bred a series of genetically altered animals as weapons. The common term for them was muttations, or sometimes mutts for short. One was a special bird called a jabber jay that had the ability to memorize and repeat whole human conversations. They were homing birds, exclusively male, that were released into regions where the Capitols enemies were known to be hiding. After the birds gathered words, theyd fly back to centers to be recorded. It took people awhile to realize what was going on in the districts, how private conversations were being transmitted. Then, of course, the rebels fed the Capitol endless lies, and the joke was on it. So the centers were shut down and the birds were abandoned to die off in the wild. Only they didnt die off. Instead, the jabber jays mated with female mockingbirds creating a whole new species that could replicate both bird whistles and human melodies. They had lost the ability to enunciate words but could still mimic a range of human vocal sounds, from a childs high-pitched warble to a mans deep tones. And they could re-create songs. Not just a few notes, but whole songs with multiple verses, if you had the patience to sing them and if they liked your voice. My father was particularly fond of mockingjays. When we went hunting, he would whistle or sing complicated songs to them and, after a polite pause, theyd always sing back. Not everyone is treated with such respect. But whenever my father sang, all the birds in the area would fall silent and listen. His voice was that beautiful, high and clear and so filled with life it made you want to laugh and cry at the same time. I could never bring myself to continue the practice after he was gone. Still, theres something comforting about the little bird. Its like having a piece of my father with me, protecting me. I fasten the pin onto my shirt, and with the dark green fabric as a background, I can almost imagine the mockingjay flying through the trees. Effie Trinket comes to collect me for supper. I follow her through the narrow, rocking corridor into a dining room with polished paneled walls. Theres a table where all the dishes are highly breakable. Peeta Mellark sits waiting for us, the chair next to him empty. Wheres Haymitch? asks Effie Trinket brightly. Last time I saw him, he said he was going to take a nap, says Peeta. Well, its been an exhausting day, says Effie Trinket. I think shes relieved by Haymitchs absence, and who can blame her? The supper comes in courses. A thick carrot soup, green salad, lamb chops and mashed potatoes, cheese and fruit, a chocolate cake. Throughout the meal, Effie Trinket keeps reminding us to save space because theres more to come. But Im stuffing myself because Ive never had food like this, so good and so much, and because probably the best thing I can do between now and the Games is put on a few pounds. At least, you two have decent manners, says Effie as were finishing the main course. The pair last year ate everything with their hands like a couple of savages. It completely upset my digestion. The pair last year were two kids from the Seam whod never, not one day of their lives, had enough to eat. And when they did have food, table manners were surely the last thing on their minds. Peetas a bakers son. My mother taught Prim and I to eat properly, so yes, I can handle a fork and knife. But I hate Effie Trinkets comment so much I make a point of eating the rest of my meal with my fingers. Then I wipe my hands on the tablecloth. This makes her purse her lips tightly together. Now that the meals over, Im fighting to keep the food down. I can see Peetas looking a little green, too. Neither of our stomachs is used to such rich fare. But if I can hold down Greasy Saes concoction of mice meat, pig entrails, and tree bark a winter specialty Im determined to hang on to this. We go to another compartment to watch the recap of the reapings across Panem. They try to stagger them throughout the day so a person could conceivably watch the whole thing live, but only people in the Capitol could really do that, since none of them have to attend reapings themselves. One by one, we see the other reapings, the names called, (the volunteers stepping forward or, more often, not. We examine the faces of the kids who will be our competition. A few stand out in my mind. A monstrous boy who lunges forward to volunteer from District 2. A fox-faced girl with sleek red hair from District 5. A boy with a crippled foot from District 10. And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, shes very like Prim in size and demeanor. Only when she mounts the stage and they ask for volunteers, all you can hear is the wind whistling through the decrepit buildings around her. Theres no one willing to take her place. Last of all, they show District 12. Prim being called, me running forward to volunteer. You cant miss the desperation in my voice as I shove Prim behind me, as if Im afraid no one will hear and theyll take Prim away. But, of course, they do hear. I see Gale pulling her off me and watch myself mount the stage. The commentators are not sure what to say about the crowds refusal to applaud. The silent salute. One says that District 12 has always been a bit backward but that local customs can be charming. As if on cue, Haymitch falls off the stage, and they groan comically. Peetas name is drawn, and he quietly takes his place. We shake hands. They cut to the anthem again, and the program ends. Effie Trinket is disgruntled about the state her wig was in. Your mentor has a lot to learn about presentation. A lot about televised behavior. Peeta unexpectedly laughs. He was drunk, says Peeta. Hes drunk every year. Every day, I add. I cant help smirking a little. Effie Trinket makes it sound like Haymitch just has somewhat rough manners that could be corrected with a few tips from her. Yes, hisses Effie Trinket. How odd you two find it amusing. You know your mentor is your lifeline to the world in these Games. The one who advises you, lines up your sponsors, and dictates the presentation of any gifts. Haymitch can well be the difference between your life and your death! Just then, Haymitch staggers into the compartment. I miss supper? he says in a slurred voice. Then he vomits all over the expensive carpet and falls in the mess. So laugh away! says Effie Trinket. She hops in her pointy shoes around the pool of vomit and flees the room. 4 For a few moments, Peeta and I take in the scene of our mentor trying to rise out of the slippery vile stuff from his stomach. The reek of vomit and raw spirits almost brings my dinner up. We exchange a glance. Obviously Haymitch isnt much, but Effie Trinket is right about one thing, once were in the arena hes all weve got. As if by some unspoken agreement, Peeta and I each take one of Haymitchs arms and help him to his feet. I tripped? Haymitch asks. Smells bad. He wipes his hand on his nose, smearing his face with vomit. Lets get you back to your room, says Peeta. Clean you up a bit. We half-lead half-carry Haymitch back to his compartment. Since we cant exactly set him down on the embroidered bedspread, we haul him into the bathtub and turn the shower on him. He hardly notices. Its okay, Peeta says to me. Ill take it from here. I cant help feeling a little grateful since the last thing I want to do is strip down Haymitch, wash the vomit out of his chest hair, and tuck him into bed. Possibly Peeta is trying to make a good impression on him, to be his favorite once the Games begin. But judging by the state hes in, Haymitch will have no memory of this tomorrow. All right, I say. I can send one of the Capitol people to help you. Theres any number on the train. Cooking for us. Waiting on us. Guarding us. Taking care of us is their job. No. I dont want them, says Peeta. I nod and head to my own room. I understand how Peeta feels. I cant stand the sight of the Capitol people myself. But making them deal with Haymitch might be a small form of revenge. So Im pondering the reason why he insists on taking care of Haymitch and all of a sudden I think, Its because hes being kind. Just as he was kind to give me the bread. The idea pulls me up short. A kind Peeta Mellark is far more dangerous to me than an unkind one. Kind people have a way of working their way inside me and rooting there. And I cant let Peeta do this. Not where were going. So I decide, from this moment on, to have as little as possible to do with the bakers son. When I get back to my room, the train is pausing at a platform to refuel. I quickly open the window, toss the cookies Peetas father gave me out of the train, and slam the glass shut. No more. No more of either of them. Unfortunately, the packet of cookies hits the ground and bursts open in a patch of dandelions by the track. I only see the image for a moment, because the train is off again, but its enough. Enough to remind me of that other dandelion in the school yard years ago I had just turned away from Peeta Mellarks bruised face when I saw the dandelion and I knew hope wasnt lost. I plucked it carefully and hurried home. I grabbed a bucket and Prims hand and headed to the Meadow and yes, it was dotted with the golden-headed weeds. After wed harvested those, we scrounged along inside the fence for probably a mile until wed filled the bucket with the dandelion greens, stems, and flowers. That night, we gorged ourselves on dandelion salad and the rest of the bakery bread. What else? Prim asked me. What other food can we find? All kinds of things, I promised her. I just have to remember them. My mother had a book shed brought with her from the apothecary shop. The pages were made of old parchment and covered in ink drawings of plants. Neat handwritten blocks told their names, where to gather them, when they came in bloom, their medical uses. But my father added other entries to the book. Plants for eating, not healing. Dandelions, pokeweed, wild onions, pines. Prim and I spent the rest of the night poring over those pages. The next day, we were off school. For a while I hung around the edges of the Meadow, but finally I worked up the courage to go under the fence. It was the first time Id been there alone, without my fathers weapons to protect me. But I retrieved the small bow and arrows hed made me from a hollow tree. I probably didnt go more than twenty yards into the woods that day. Most of the time, I perched up in the branches of an old oak, hoping for game to come by. After several hours, I had the good luck to kill a rabbit. Id shot a few rabbits before, with my fathers guidance. But this Id done on my own. We hadnt had meat in months. The sight of the rabbit seemed to stir something in my mother. She roused herself, skinned the carcass, and made a stew with the meat and some more greens Prim had gathered. Then she acted confused and went back to bed, but when the stew was done, we made her eat a bowl. The woods became our savior, and each day I went a bit farther into its arms. It was slow-going at first, but I was determined to feed us. I stole eggs from nests, caught fish in nets, sometimes managed to shoot a squirrel or rabbit for stew, and gathered the various plants that sprung up beneath my feet. Plants are tricky. Many are edible, but one false mouthful and youre dead. I checked and double-checked the plants I harvested with my fathers pictures. I kept us alive. Any sign of danger, a distant howl, the inexplicable break of a branch, sent me flying back to the fence at first. Then I began to risk climbing trees to escape the wild dogs that quickly got bored and moved on. Bears and cats lived deeper in, perhaps disliking the sooty reek of our district. On May 8th, I went to the Justice Building, signed up for my tesserae, and pulled home my first batch of grain and oil in Prims toy wagon. On the eighth of every month, I was entitled to do the same. I couldnt stop hunting and gathering, of course. The grain was not enough to live on, and there were other things to buy, soap and milk and thread. What we didnt absolutely have to eat, I began to trade at the Hob. It was frightening to enter that place without my father at my side, but people had respected him, and they accepted me. Game was game after all, no matter whod shot it. I also sold at the back doors of the wealthier clients in town, trying to remember what my father had told me and learning a few new tricks as well. The butcher would buy my rabbits but not squirrels. The baker enjoyed squirrel but would only trade for one if his wife wasnt around. The Head Peacekeeper loved wild turkey. The mayor had a passion for strawberries. In late summer, I was washing up in a pond when I noticed the plants growing around me. Tall with leaves like arrowheads. Blossoms with three white petals. I knelt down in the water, my fingers digging into the soft mud, and I pulled up handfuls of the roots. Small, bluish tubers that dont look like much but boiled or baked are as good as any potato. Katniss, I said aloud. Its the plant I was named for. And I heard my fathers voice joking, As long as you can find yourself, youll never starve. I spent hours stirring up the pond bed with my toes and a stick, gathering the tubers that floated to the top. That night, we feasted on fish and katniss roots until we were all, for the first time in months, full. Slowly, my mother returned to us. She began to clean and cook and preserve some of the food I brought in for winter. People traded us or paid money for her medical remedies. One day, I heard her singing. Prim was thrilled to have her back, but I kept watching, waiting for her to disappear on us again. I didnt trust her. And some small gnarled place inside me hated her for her weakness, for her neglect, for the months she had put us through. Prim forgave her, but I had taken a step back from my mother, put up a wall to protect myself from needing her, and nothing was ever the same between us again. Now I was going to die without that ever being set right. I thought of how I had yelled at her today in the Justice Building. I had told her I loved her, too, though. So maybe it would all balance out. For a while I stand staring out the train window, wishing I could open it again, but unsure of what would happen at such high speed. In the distance, I see the lights of another district. 7? 10? I dont know. I think about the people in their houses, settling in for bed. I imagine my home, with its shutters drawn tight. What are they doing now, my mother and Prim? Were they able to eat supper? The fish stew and the strawberries? Or did it lay untouched on their plates? Did they watch the recap of the days events on the battered old TV that sits on the table against the wall? Surely, there were more tears. Is my mother holding up, being strong for Prim? Or has she already started to slip away, leaving the weight of the world on my sisters fragile shoulders? Prim will undoubtedly sleep with my mother tonight. The thought of that scruffy old Buttercup posting himself on the bed to watch over Prim comforts me. If she cries, he will nose his way into her arms and curl up there until she calms down and falls asleep. Im so glad I didnt drown him. Imagining my home makes me ache with loneliness. This day has been endless. Could Gale and I have been eating blackberries only this morning? It seems like a lifetime ago. Like a long dream that deteriorated into a nightmare. Maybe, if I go to sleep, I will wake up back in District 12, where I belong. Probably the drawers hold any number of nightgowns, but I just strip off my shirt and pants and climb into bed in my underwear. The sheets are made of soft, silky fabric. A thick fluffy comforter gives immediate warmth. If Im going to cry, now is the time to do it. By morning, Ill be able to wash the damage done by the tears from my face. But no tears come. Im too tired or too numb to cry. The only thing I feel is a desire to be somewhere else. So I let the train rock me into oblivion. Gray light is leaking through the curtains when the rapping rouses me. I hear Effie Trinkets voice, calling me to rise. Up, up, up! Its going to be a big, big, big day! I try and imagine, for a moment, what it must be like inside that womans head. What thoughts fill her waking hours? What dreams come to her at night? I have no idea. I put the green outfit back on since its not really dirty, just slightly crumpled from spending the night on the floor. My fingers trace the circle around the little gold mockingjay and I think of the woods, and of my father, and of my mother and Prim waking up, having to get on with things. I slept in the elaborate braided hair my mother did for the reaping and it doesnt look too bad, so I just leave it up. It doesnt matter. We cant be far from the Capitol now. And once we reach the city, my stylist will dictate my look for the opening ceremonies tonight anyway. I just hope I get one who doesnt think nudity is the last word in fashion. As I enter the dining car, Effie Trinket brushes by me with a cup of black coffee. Shes muttering obscenities under her breath. Haymitch, his face puffy and red from the previous days indulgences, is chuckling. Peeta holds a roll and looks somewhat embarrassed. Sit down! Sit down! says Haymitch, waving me over. The moment I slide into my chair Im served an enormous platter of food. Eggs, ham, piles of fried potatoes. A tureen of fruit sits in ice to keep it chilled. The basket of rolls they set before me would keep my family going for a week. Theres an elegant glass of orange juice. At least, I think its orange juice. Ive only even tasted an orange once, at New Years when my father bought one as a special treat. A cup of coffee. My mother adores coffee, which we could almost never afford, but it only tastes bitter and thin to me. A rich brown cup of something Ive never seen. They call it hot chocolate, says Peeta. Its good. I take a sip of the hot, sweet, creamy liquid and a shudder runs through me. Even though the rest of the meal beckons, I ignore it until Ive drained my cup. Then I stuff down every mouthful I can hold, which is a substantial amount, being careful to not overdo it on the richest stuff. One time, my mother told me that I always eat like Ill never see food again. And I said, I wont unless I bring it home. That shut her up. When my stomach feels like its about to split open, I lean back and take in my breakfast companions. Peeta is still eating, breaking off bits of roll and dipping them in hot chocolate. Haymitch hasnt paid much attention to his platter, but hes knocking back a glass of red juice that he keeps thinning with a clear liquid from a bottle. Judging by the fumes, its some kind of spirit. I dont know Haymitch, but Ive seen him often enough in the Hob, tossing handfuls of money on the counter of the woman who sells white liquor. Hell be incoherent by the time we reach the Capitol. I realize I detest Haymitch. No wonder the District 12 tributes never stand a chance. It isnt just that weve been underfed and lack training. Some of our tributes have still been strong enough to make a go of it. But we rarely get sponsors and hes a big part of the reason why. The rich people who back tributes either because theyre betting on them or simply for the bragging rights of picking a winner expect someone classier than Haymitch to deal with. So, youre supposed to give us advice, I say to Haymitch. Heres some advice. Stay alive, says Haymitch, and then bursts out laughing. I exchange a look with Peeta before I remember Im having nothing more to do with him. Im surprised to see the hardness in his eyes. He generally seems so mild. Thats very funny, says Peeta. Suddenly he lashes out at the glass in Haymitchs hand. It shatters on the floor, sending the bloodred liquid running toward the back of the train. Only not to us. Haymitch considers this a moment, then punches Peeta in the jaw, knocking him from his chair. When he turns back to reach for the spirits, I drive my knife into the table between his hand and the bottle, barely missing his fingers. I brace myself to deflect his hit, but it doesnt come. Instead he sits back and squints at us. Well, whats this? says Haymitch. Did I actually get a pair of fighters this year? Peeta rises from the floor and scoops up a handful of ice from under the fruit tureen. He starts to raise it to the red mark on his jaw. No, says Haymitch, stopping him. Let the bruise show. The audience will think youve mixed it up with another tribute before youve even made it to the arena. Thats against the rules, says Peeta. Only if they catch you. That bruise will say you fought, you werent caught, even better, says Haymitch. He turns to me. Can you hit anything with that knife besides a table? The bow and arrow is my weapon. But Ive spent a fair amount of time throwing knives as well. Sometimes, if Ive wounded an animal with an arrow, its better to get a knife into it, too, before I approach it. I realize that if I want Haymitchs attention, this is my moment to make an impression. I yank the knife out of the table, get a grip on the blade, and then throw it into the wall across the room. I was actually just hoping to get a good solid stick, but it lodges in the seam between two panels, making me look a lot better than I am. Stand over here. Both of you, says Haymitch, nodding to the middle of the room. We obey and he circles us, prodding us like animals at times, checking our muscles, examining our faces. Well, youre not entirely hopeless. Seem fit. And once the stylists get hold of you, youll be attractive enough. Peeta and I dont question this. The Hunger Games arent a beauty contest, but the best-looking tributes always seem to pull more sponsors. All right, Ill make a deal with you. You dont interfere with my drinking, and Ill stay sober enough to help you, says Haymitch. But you have to do exactly what I say. Its not much of a deal but still a giant step forward from ten minutes ago when we had no guide at all. Fine, says Peeta. So help us, I say. When we get to the arena, whats the best strategy at the Cornucopia for someone One thing at a time. In a few minutes, well be pulling into the station. Youll be put in the hands of your stylists. Youre not going to like what they do to you. But no matter what it is, dont resist, says Haymitch. But I begin. No buts. Dont resist, says Haymitch. He takes the bottle of spirits from the table and leaves the car. As the door swings shut behind him, the car goes dark. There are still a few lights inside, but outside its as if night has fallen again. I realize we must be in the tunnel that runs up through the mountains into the Capitol. The mountains form a natural barrier between the Capitol and the eastern districts. It is almost impossible to enter from the east except through the tunnels. This geographical advantage was a major factor in the districts losing the war that led to my being a tribute today. Since the rebels had to scale the mountains, they were easy targets for the Capitols air forces. Peeta Mellark and I stand in silence as the train speeds along. The tunnel goes on and on and I think of the tons of rock separating me from the sky, and my chest tightens. I hate being encased in stone this way. It reminds me of the mines and my father, trapped, unable to reach sunlight, buried forever in the darkness. The train finally begins to slow and suddenly bright light floods the compartment. We cant help it. Both Peeta and I run to the window to see what weve only seen on television, the Capitol, the ruling city of Panem. The cameras havent lied about its grandeur. If anything, they have not quite captured the magnificence of the glistening buildings in a rainbow of hues that tower into the air, the shiny cars that roll down the wide paved streets, the oddly dressed people with bizarre hair and painted faces who have never missed a meal. All the colors seem artificial, the pinks too deep, the greens too bright, the yellows painful to the eyes, like the flat round disks of hard candy we can never afford to buy at the tiny sweet shop in District 12. The people begin to point at us eagerly as they recognize a tribute train rolling into the city. I step away from the window, sickened by their excitement, knowing they cant wait to watch us die. But Peeta holds his ground, actually waving and smiling at the gawking crowd. He only stops when the train pulls into the station, blocking us from their view. He sees me staring at him and shrugs. Who knows? he says. One of them may be rich. I have misjudged him. I think of his actions since the reaping began. The friendly squeeze of my hand. His father showing up with the cookies and promising to feed Prim did Peeta put him up to that? His tears at the station. Volunteering to wash Haymitch but then challenging him this morning when apparently the nice-guy approach had failed. And now the waving at the window, already trying to win the crowd. All of the pieces are still fitting together, but I sense he has a plan forming. He hasnt accepted his death. He is already fighting hard to stay alive. Which also means that kind Peeta Mellark, the boy who gave me the bread, is fighting hard to kill me. 5 R-i-i-i-p! I grit my teeth as Venia, a woman with aqua hair and gold tattoos above her eyebrows, yanks a strip of Fabric from my leg tearing out the hair beneath it. Sorry! she pipes in her silly Capitol accent. Youre just so hairy! Why do these people speak in such a high pitch? Why do their jaws barely open when they talk? Why do the ends of their sentences go up as if theyre asking a question? Odd vowels, clipped words, and always a hiss on the letter s no wonder its impossible not to mimic them. Venia makes whats supposed to be a sympathetic face. Good news, though. This is the last one. Ready? I get a grip on the edges of the table Im seated on and nod. The final swathe of my leg hair is uprooted in a painful jerk. Ive been in the Remake Center for more than three hours and I still havent met my stylist. Apparently he has no interest in seeing me until Venia and the other members of my prep team have addressed some obvious problems. This has included scrubbing down my body with a gritty loam that has removed not only dirt but at least three layers of skin, turning my nails into uniform shapes, and primarily, ridding my body of hair. My legs, arms, torso, underarms, and parts of my eyebrows have been stripped of the Muff, leaving me like a plucked bird, ready for roasting. I dont like it. My skin feels sore and tingling and intensely vulnerable. But I have kept my side of the bargain with Haymitch, and no objection has crossed my lips. Youre doing very well, says some guy named Flavius. He gives his orange corkscrew locks a shake and applies a fresh coat of purple lipstick to his mouth. If theres one thing we cant stand, its a whiner. Grease her down! Venia and Octavia, a plump woman whose entire body has been dyed a pale shade of pea green, rub me down with a lotion that first stings but then soothes my raw skin. Then they pull me from the table, removing the thin robe Ive been allowed to wear off and on. I stand there, completely naked, as the three circle me, wielding tweezers to remove any last bits of hair. I know I should be embarrassed, but theyre so unlike people that Im no more self-conscious than if a trio of oddly colored birds were pecking around my feet. The three step back and admire their work. Excellent! You almost look like a human being now! says Flavius, and they all laugh. I force my lips up into a smile to show how grateful I am. Thank you, I say sweetly. We dont have much cause to look nice in District Twelve. This wins them over completely. Of course, you dont, you poor darling! says Octavia clasping her hands together in distress for me. But dont worry, says Venia. By the time Cinna is through with you, youre going to be absolutely gorgeous! We promise! You know, now that weve gotten rid of all the hair and filth, youre not horrible at all! says Flavius encouragingly. Lets call Cinna! They dart out of the room. Its hard to hate my prep team. Theyre such total idiots. And yet, in an odd way, I know theyre sincerely trying to help me. I look at the cold white walls and floor and resist the impulse to retrieve my robe. But this Cinna, my stylist, will surely make me remove it at once. Instead my hands go to my hairdo, the one area of my body my prep team had been told to leave alone. My fingers stroke the silky braids my mother so carefully arranged. My mother. I left her blue dress and shoes on the floor of my train car, never thinking about retrieving them, of trying to hold on to a piece of her, of home. Now I wish I had. The door opens and a young man who must be Cinna enters. Im taken aback by how normal he looks. Most of the stylists they interview on television are so dyed, stenciled, and surgically altered theyre grotesque. But Cinnas close-cropped hair appears to be its natural shade of brown. Hes in a simple black shirt and pants. The only concession to self-alteration seems to be metallic gold eyeliner that has been applied with a light hand. It brings out the flecks of gold in his green eyes. And, despite my disgust with the Capitol and their hideous fashions, I cant help thinking how attractive it looks. Hello, Katniss. Im Cinna, your stylist, he says in a quiet voice somewhat lacking in the Capitols affectations. Hello, I venture cautiously. Just give me a moment, all right? he asks. He walks around my naked body, not touching me, but taking in every inch of it with his eyes. I resist the impulse to cross my arms over my chest. Who did your hair? My mother, I say. Its beautiful. Classic really. And in almost perfect balance with your profile. She has very clever fingers, he says. I had expected someone flamboyant, someone older trying desperately to look young, someone who viewed me as a piece of meat to be prepared for a platter. Cinna has met none of these expectations. Youre new, arent you? I dont think Ive seen you before, I say. Most of the stylists are familiar, constants in the ever-changing pool of tributes. Some have been around my whole life. Yes, this is my first year in the Games, says Cinna. So they gave you District Twelve, I say. Newcomers generally end up with us, the least desirable district. I asked for District Twelve, he says without further explanation. Why dont you put on your robe and well have a chat. Pulling on my robe, I follow him through a door into a sitting room. Two red couches face off over a low table. Three walls are blank, the fourth is entirely glass, providing a window to the city. I can see by the light that it must be around noon, although the sunny sky has turned overcast. Cinna invites me to sit on one of the couches and takes his place across from me. He presses a button on the side of the table. The top splits and from below rises a second tabletop that holds our lunch. Chicken and chunks of oranges cooked in a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny green peas and onions, rolls shaped like flowers, and for dessert, a pudding the color of honey. I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home. Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey. Id need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange. Goats milk would have to substitute for cream. We can grow peas in the garden. Id have to get wild onions from the woods. I dont recognize the grain, our own tessera ration cooks down to an unattractive brown mush. Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels. As for the pudding, I cant even guess whats in it. Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitution for the Capitol version. What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment? I look up and find Cinnas eyes trained on mine. How despicable we must seem to you, he says. Has he seen this in my face or somehow read my thoughts? Hes right, though. The whole rotten lot of them is despicable. No matter, says Cinna. So, Katniss, about your costume for the opening ceremonies. My partner, Portia, is the stylist for your fellow tribute, Peeta. And our current thought is to dress you in complementary costumes, says Cinna. As you know, its customary to reflect the flavor of the district. For the opening ceremonies, youre supposed to wear something that suggests your districts principal industry. District 11, agriculture. District 4, fishing. District 3, factories. This means that coming from District 12, Peeta and I will be in some kind of coal miners getup. Since the baggy miners jumpsuits are not particularly becoming, our tributes usually end up in skimpy outfits and hats with headlamps. One year, our tributes were stark naked and covered in black powder to represent coal dust. Its always dreadful and does nothing to win favor with the crowd. I prepare myself for the worst. So, Ill be in a coal miner outfit? I ask, hoping it wont be indecent. Not exactly. You see, Portia and I think that coal miner things very overdone. No one will remember you in that. And we both see it as our job to make the District Twelve tributes unforgettable, says Cinna. Ill be naked for sure, I think. So rather than focus on the coal mining itself, were going to focus on the coal, says Cinna. Naked and covered in black dust, I think. And what do we do with coal? We burn it, says Cinna. Youre not afraid of fire, are you, Katniss? He sees my expression and grins. A few hours later, I am dressed in what will either be the most sensational or the deadliest costume in the opening ceremonies. Im in a simple black unitard that covers me from ankle to neck. Shiny leather boots lace up to my knees. But its the fluttering cape made of streams of orange, yellow, and red and the matching headpiece that define this costume. Cinna plans to light them on fire just before our chariot rolls into the streets. Its not real flame, of course, just a little synthetic fire Portia and I came up with. Youll be perfectly safe, he says. But Im not convinced I wont be perfectly barbecued by the time we reach the citys center. My face is relatively clear of makeup, just a bit of highlighting here and there. My hair has been brushed out and then braided down my back in my usual style. I want the audience to recognize you when youre in the arena, says Cinna dreamily. Katniss, the girl who was on fire. It crosses my mind that Cinnas calm and normal demeanor masks a complete madman. Despite this mornings revelation about Peetas character, Im actually relieved when he shows up, dressed in an identical costume. He should know about fire, being a bakers son and all. His stylist, Portia, and her team accompany him in, and everyone is absolutely giddy with excitement over what a splash well make. Except Cinna. He just seems a bit weary as he accepts congratulations. Were whisked down to the bottom level of the Remake Center, which is essentially a gigantic stable. The opening ceremonies are about to start. Pairs of tributes are being loaded into chariots pulled by teams of four horses. Ours are coal black. The animals are so well trained, no one even needs to guide their reins. Cinna and Portia direct us into the chariot and carefully arrange our body positions, the drape of our capes, before moving off to consult with each other. What do you think? I whisper to Peeta. About the fire? Ill rip off your cape if youll rip off mine, he says through gritted teeth. Deal, I say. Maybe, if we can get them off soon enough, well avoid the worst burns. Its bad though. Theyll throw us into the arena no matter what condition were in. I know we promised Haymitch wed do exactly what they said, but I dont think he considered this angle. Where is Haymitch, anyway? Isnt he supposed to protect us from this sort of thing? says Peeta. With all that alcohol in him, its probably not advisable to have him around an open flame, I say. And suddenly were both laughing. I guess were both so nervous about the Games and more pressingly, petrified of being turned into human torches, were not acting sensibly. The opening music begins. Its easy to hear, blasted around the Capitol. Massive doors slide open revealing the crowd-lined streets. The ride lasts about twenty minutes and ends up at the City Circle, where they will welcome us, play the anthem, and escort us into the Training Center, which will be our home/prison until the Games begin. The tributes from District 1 ride out in a chariot pulled by snow-white horses. They look so beautiful, spray-painted silver, in tasteful tunics glittering with jewels. District 1 makes luxury items for the Capitol. You can hear the roar of the crowd. They are always favorites. District 2 gets into position to follow them. In no time at all, we are approaching the door and I can see that between the overcast sky and evening hour the light is turning gray. The tributes from District 11 are just rolling out when Cinna appears with a lighted torch. Here we go then, he says, and before we can react he sets our capes on fire. I gasp, waiting for the heat, but there is only a faint tickling sensation. Cinna climbs up before us and ignites our headdresses. He lets out a sign of relief. It works. Then he gently tucks a hand under my chin. Remember, heads high. Smiles. Theyre going to love you! Cinna jumps off the chariot and has one last idea. He shouts something up at us, but the music drowns him out. He shouts again and gestures. Whats he saying? I ask Peeta. For the first time, I look at him and realize that ablaze with the fake flames, he is dazzling. And I must be, too. I think he said for us to hold hands, says Peeta. He grabs my right hand in his left, and we look to Cinna for confirmation. He nods and gives a thumbs-up, and thats the last thing I see before we enter the city. The crowds initial alarm at our appearance quickly changes to cheers and shouts of District Twelve! Every head is turned our way, pulling the focus from the three chariots ahead of us. At first, Im frozen, but then I catch sight of us on a large television screen and am floored by how breathtaking we look. In the deepening twilight, the firelight illuminates our faces. We seem to be leaving a trail of fire off the flowing capes. Cinna was right about the minimal makeup, we both look more attractive but utterly recognizable. Remember, heads high. Smiles. Theyre going to love you! I hear Cinnas voice in my head. I lift my chin a bit higher, put on my most winning smile, and wave with my free hand. Im glad now I have Peeta to clutch for balance, he is so steady, solid as a rock. As I gain confidence, I actually blow a few kisses to the crowd. The people of the Capitol are going nuts, showering us with flowers, shouting our names, our first names, which they have bothered to find on the program. The pounding music, the cheers, the admiration work their way into my blood, and I cant suppress my excitement. Cinna has given me a great advantage. No one will forget me. Not my look, not my name. Katniss. The girl who was on fire. For the first time, I feel a flicker of hope rising up in me. Surely, there must be one sponsor willing to take me on! And with a little extra help, some food, the right weapon, why should I count myself out of the Games? Someone throws me a red rose. I catch it, give it a delicate sniff, and blow a kiss back in the general direction of the giver. A hundred hands reach up to catch my kiss, as if it were a real and tangible thing. Katniss! Katniss! I can hear my name being called from all sides. Everyone wants my kisses. Its not until we enter the City Circle that I realize I must have completely stopped the circulation in Peetas hand. Thats how tightly Ive been holding it. I look down at our linked fingers as I loosen my grasp, but he regains his grip on me. No, dont let go of me, he says. The firelight flickers off his blue eyes. Please. I might fall out of this thing. Okay, I say. So I keep holding on, but I cant help feeling strange about the way Cinna has linked us together. Its not really fair to present us as a team and then lock us into the arena to kill each other. The twelve chariots fill the loop of the City Circle. On the buildings that surround the Circle, every window is packed with the most prestigious citizens of the Capitol. Our horses pull our chariot right up to President Snows mansion, and we come to a halt. The music ends with a flourish. The president, a small, thin man with paper-white hair, gives the official welcome from a balcony above us. It is traditional to cut away to the faces of the tributes during the speech. But I can see on the screen that we are getting way more than our share of airtime. The darker it becomes, the more difficult it is to take your eyes off our flickering. When the national anthem plays, they do make an effort to do a quick cut around to each pair of tributes, but the camera holds on the District 12 chariot as it parades around the circle one final time and disappears into the Training Center. The doors have only just shut behind us when were engulfed by the prep teams, who are nearly unintelligible as they babble out praise. As I glance around, I notice a lot of the other tributes are shooting us dirty looks, which confirms what Ive suspected, weve literally outshone them all. Then Cinna and Portia are there, helping us down from the chariot, carefully removing our flaming capes and headdresses. Portia extinguishes them with some kind of spray from a canister. I realize Im still glued to Peeta and force my stiff fingers to open. We both massage our hands. Thanks for keeping hold of me. I was getting a little shaky there, says Peeta. It didnt show, I tell him. Im sure no one noticed. Im sure they didnt notice anything but you. You should wear flames more often, he says. They suit you. And then he gives me a smile that seems so genuinely sweet with just the right touch of shyness that unexpected warmth rushes through me. A warning bell goes off in my head. Dont be so stupid. Peeta is planning how to kill you, I remind myself. He is luring you in to make you easy prey. The more likable he is, the more deadly he is. But because two can play at this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek. Right on his bruise. 6 The Training Center has a tower designed exclusively for the tributes and their teams. This will be our home until the actual Games begin. Each district has an entire floor. You simply step onto an elevator and press the number of your district. Easy enough to remember. Ive ridden the elevator a couple of times in the Justice Building back in District 12. Once to receive the medal for my fathers death and then yesterday to say my final goodbyes to my friends and family. But thats a dark and creaky thing that moves like a snail and smells of sour milk. The walls of this elevator are made of crystal so that you can watch the people on the ground floor shrink to ants as you shoot up into the air. Its exhilarating and Im tempted to ask Effie Trinket if we can ride it again, but somehow that seems childish. Apparently, Effie Trinkets duties did not conclude at the station. She and Haymitch will be overseeing us right into the arena. In a way, thats a plus because at least she can be counted on to corral us around to places on time whereas we havent seen Haymitch since he agreed to help us on the train. Probably passed out somewhere. Effie Trinket, on the other hand, seems to be flying high. Were the first team shes ever chaperoned that made a splash at the opening ceremonies. Shes complimentary about not just our costumes but how we conducted ourselves. And, to hear her tell it, Effie knows everyone whos anyone in the Capitol and has been talking us up all day, trying to win us sponsors. Ive been very mysterious, though, she says, her eyes squint half shut. Because, of course, Haymitch hasnt bothered to tell me your strategies. But Ive done my best with what I had to work with. How Katniss sacrificed herself for her sister. How youve both successfully struggled to overcome the barbarism of your district. Barbarism? Thats ironic coming from a woman helping to prepare us for slaughter. And whats she basing our success on? Our table manners? Everyone has their reservations, naturally. You being from the coal district. But I said, and this was very clever of me, I said, Well, if you put enough pressure on coal it turns to pearls! Effie beams at us so brilliantly that we have no choice but to respond enthusiastically to her cleverness even though its wrong. Coal doesnt turn to pearls. They grow in shellfish. Possibly she meant coal turns to diamonds, but thats untrue, too. Ive heard they have some sort of machine in District 1 that can turn graphite into diamonds. But we dont mine graphite in District 12. That was part of District 13s job until they were destroyed. I wonder if the people shes been plugging us to all day either know or care. Unfortunately, I cant seal the sponsor deals for you. Only Haymitch can do that, says Effie grimly. But dont worry, Ill get him to the table at gunpoint if necessary. Although lacking in many departments, Effie Trinket has a certain determination I have to admire. My quarters are larger than our entire house back home. They are plush, like the train car, but also have so many automatic gadgets that Im sure I wont have time to press all the buttons. The shower alone has a panel with more than a hundred options you can choose regulating water temperature, pressure, soaps, shampoos, scents, oils, and massaging sponges. When you step out on a mat, heaters come on that blow-dry your body. Instead of struggling with the knots in my wet hair, I merely place my hand on a box that sends a current through my scalp, untangling, parting, and drying my hair almost instantly. It floats down around my shoulders in a glossy curtain. I program the closet for an outfit to my taste. The windows zoom in and out on parts of the city at my command. You need only whisper a type of food from a gigantic menu into a mouthpiece and it appears, hot and steamy, before you in less than a minute. I walk around the room eating goose liver and puffy bread until theres a knock on the door. Effies calling me to dinner. Good. Im starving. Peeta, Cinna, and Portia are standing out on a balcony that overlooks the Capitol when we enter the dining room. Im glad to see the stylists, particularly after I hear that Haymitch will be joining us. A meal presided over by just Effie and Haymitch is bound to be a disaster. Besides, dinner isnt really about food, its about planning out our strategies, and Cinna and Portia have already proven how valuable they are. A silent young man dressed in a white tunic offers us all stemmed glasses of wine. I think about turning it down, but Ive never had wine, except the homemade stuff my mother uses for coughs, and when will I get a chance to try it again? I take a sip of the tart, dry liquid and secretly think it could be improved by a few spoonfuls of honey. Haymitch shows up just as dinner is being served. It looks as if hes had his own stylist because hes clean and groomed and about as sober as Ive ever seen him. He doesnt refuse the offer of wine, but when he starts in on his soup, I realize its the first time Ive ever seen him eat. Maybe he really will pull himself together long enough to help us. Cinna and Portia seem to have a civilizing effect on Haymitch and Effie. At least theyre addressing each other decently. And they both have nothing but praise for our stylists opening act. While they make small talk, I concentrate on the meal. Mushroom soup, bitter greens with tomatoes the size of peas, rare roast beef sliced as thin as paper, noodles in a green sauce, cheese that melts on your tongue served with sweet blue grapes. The servers, all young people dressed in white tunics like the one who gave us wine, move wordlessly to and from the table, keeping the platters and glasses full. About halfway through my glass of wine, my head starts feeling foggy, so I change to water instead. I dont like the feeling and hope it wears off soon. How Haymitch can stand walking around like this full-time is a mystery. I try to focus on the talk, which has turned to our interview costumes, when a girl sets a gorgeous-looking cake on the table and deftly lights it. It blazes up and then the flames flicker around the edges awhile until it finally goes out. I have a moment of doubt. What makes it burn? Is it alcohol? I say, looking up at the girl. Thats the last thing I wa oh! I know you! I cant place a name or time to the girls face. But Im certain of it. The dark red hair, the striking features, the porcelain white skin. But even as I utter the words, I feel my insides contracting with anxiety and guilt at the sight of her, and while I cant pull it up, I know some bad memory is associated with her. The expression of terror that crosses her face only adds to my confusion and unease. She shakes her head in denial quickly and hurries away from the table. When I look back, the four adults are watching me like hawks. Dont be ridiculous, Katniss. How could you possibly know an Avox? snaps Effie. The very thought. Whats an Avox? I ask stupidly. Someone who committed a crime. They cut her tongue so she cant speak, says Haymitch. Shes probably a traitor of some sort. Not likely youd know her. And even if you did, youre not to speak to one of them unless its to give an order, says Effie. Of course, you dont really know her. But I do know her. And now that Haymitch has mentioned the word traitor I remember from where. The disapproval is so high I could never admit it. No, I guess not, I just I stammer, and the wine is not helping. Peeta snaps his fingers. Delly Cartwright. Thats who it is. I kept thinking she looked familiar as well. Then I realized shes a dead ringer for Delly. Delly Cartwright is a pasty-faced, lumpy girl with yellowish hair who looks about as much like our server as a beetle does a butterfly. She may also be the friendliest person on the planet she smiles constantly at everybody in school, even me. I have never seen the girl with the red hair smile. But I jump on Peetas suggestion gratefully. Of course, thats who I was thinking of. It must be the hair, I say. Something about the eyes, too, says Peeta. The energy at the table relaxes. Oh, well. If thats all it is, says Cinna. And yes, the cake has spirits, but all the alcohol has burned off. I ordered it specially in honor of your fiery debut. We eat the cake and move into a sitting room to watch the replay of the opening ceremonies thats being broadcast. A few of the other couples make a nice impression, but none of them can hold a candle to us. Even our own party lets out an Ahh! as they show us coming out of the Remake Center. Whose idea was the hand holding? asks Haymitch. Cinnas, says Portia. Just the perfect touch of rebellion, says Haymitch. Very nice. Rebellion? I have to think about that one a moment. But when I remember the other couples, standing stiffly apart, never touching or acknowledging each other, as if their fellow tribute did not exist, as if the Games had already begun, I know what Haymitch means. Presenting ourselves not as adversaries but as friends has distinguished us as much as the fiery costumes. Tomorrow morning is the first training session. Meet me for breakfast and Ill tell you exactly how I want you to play it, says Haymitch to Peeta and I. Now go get some sleep while the grown-ups talk. Peeta and I walk together down the corridor to our rooms. When we get to my door, he leans against the frame, not blocking my entrance exactly but insisting I pay attention to him. So, Delly Cartwright. Imagine finding her lookalike here. Hes asking for an explanation, and Im tempted to give him one. We both know he covered for me. So here I am in his debt again. If I tell him the truth about the girl, somehow that might even things up. How can it hurt really? Even if he repeated the story, it couldnt do me much harm. It was just something I witnessed. And he lied as much as I did about Delly Cartwright. I realize I do want to talk to someone about the girl. Someone who might be able to help me figure out her story. Gale would be my first choice, but its unlikely Ill ever see Gale again. I try to think if telling Peeta could give him any possible advantage over me, but I dont see how. Maybe sharing a confidence will actually make him believe I see him as a friend. Besides, the idea of the girl with her maimed tongue frightens me. She has reminded me why Im here. Not to model flashy costumes and eat delicacies. But to die a bloody death while the crowds urge on my killer. To tell or not to tell? My brain still feels slow from the wine. I stare down the empty corridor as if the decision lies there. Peeta picks up on my hesitation. Have you been on the roof yet? I shake my head. Cinna showed me. You can practically see the whole city. The winds a bit loud, though. I translate this into No one will overhear us talking in my head. You do have the sense that we might be under surveillance here. Can we just go up? Sure, come on, says Peeta. I follow him to a flight of stairs that lead to the roof. Theres a small dome-shaped room with a door to the outside. As we step into the cool, windy evening air, I catch my breath at the view. The Capitol twinkles like a vast field of fireflies. Electricity in District 12 comes and goes, usually we only have it a few hours a day. Often the evenings are spent in candlelight. The only time you can count on it is when theyre airing the Games or some important government message on television that its mandatory to watch. But here there would be no shortage. Ever. Peeta and I walk to a railing at the edge of the roof. I look straight down the side of the building to the street, which is buzzing with people. You can hear their cars, an occasional shout, and a strange metallic tinkling. In District 12, wed all be thinking about bed right now. I asked Cinna why they let us up here. Werent they worried that some of the tributes might decide to jump right over the side? says Peeta. Whatd he say? I ask. You cant, says Peeta. He holds out his hand into seemingly empty space. Theres a sharp zap and he jerks it back. Some kind of electric field throws you back on the roof. Always worried about our safety, I say. Even though Cinna has shown Peeta the roof, I wonder if were supposed to be up here now, so late and alone. Ive never seen tributes on the Training Center roof before. But that doesnt mean were not being taped. Do you think theyre watching us now? Maybe, he admits. Come see the garden. On the other side of the dome, theyve built a garden with flower beds and potted trees. From the branches hang hundreds of wind chimes, which account for the tinkling I heard. Here in the garden, on this windy night, its enough to drown out two people who are trying not to be heard. Peeta looks at me expectantly. I pretend to examine a blossom. We were hunting in the woods one day. Hidden, waiting for game, I whisper. You and your father? he whispers back. No, my friend Gale. Suddenly all the birds stopped singing at once. Except one. As if it were giving a warning call. And then we saw her. Im sure it was the same girl. A boy was with her. Their clothes were tattered. They had dark circles under their eyes from no sleep. They were running as if their lives depended on it, I say. For a moment Im silent, as I remember how the sight of this strange pair, clearly not from District 12, fleeing through the woods immobilized us. Later, we wondered if we could have helped them escape. Perhaps we might have. Concealed them. If wed moved quickly. Gale and I were taken by surprise, yes, but were both hunters. We know how animals look at bay. We knew the pair was in trouble as soon as we saw them. But we only watched. The hovercraft appeared out of nowhere, I continue to Peeta. I mean, one moment the sky was empty and the next it was there. It didnt make a sound, but they saw it. A net dropped down on the girl and carried her up, fast, so fast like the elevator. They shot some sort of spear through the boy. It was attached to a cable and they hauled him up as well. But Im certain he was dead. We heard the girl scream once. The boys name, I think. Then it was gone, the hovercraft vanished into thin air. And the birds began to sing again, as if nothing had happened. Did they see you? Peeta asked. I dont know. We were under a shelf of rock, I reply. But I do know. There was a moment, after the birdcall, but before the hovercraft, where the girl had seen us. Shed locked eyes with me and called out for help. But neither Gale or I had responded. Youre shivering, says Peeta. The wind and the story have blown all the warmth from my body. The girls scream. Had it been her last? Peeta takes off his jacket and wraps it around my shoulders. I start to take a step back, but then I let him, deciding for a moment to accept both his jacket and his kindness. A friend would do that, right? They were from here? he asks, and he secures a button at my neck. I nod. Theyd had that Capitol look about them. The boy and the girl. Where do you suppose they were going? he asks. I dont know that, I say. District 12 is pretty much the end of the line. Beyond us, theres only wilderness. If you dont count the ruins of District 13 that still smolder from the toxic bombs. They show it on television occasionally, just to remind us. Or why they would leave here. Haymitch had called the Avoxes traitors. Against what? It could only be the Capitol. But they had everything here. No cause to rebel. Id leave here, Peeta blurts out. Then he looks around nervously. It was loud enough to hear above the chimes. He laughs. Id go home now if they let me. But you have to admit, the foods prime. Hes covered again. If thats all youd heard it would just sound like the words of a scared tribute, not someone contemplating the unquestionable goodness of the Capitol. Its getting chilly. We better go in, he says. Inside the dome, its warm and bright. His tone is conversational. Your friend Gale. Hes the one who took your sister away at the reaping? Yes. Do you know him? I ask. Not really. I hear the girls talk about him a lot. I thought he was your cousin or something. You favor each other, he says. No, were not related, I say. Peeta nods, unreadable. Did he come to say good-bye to you? Yes, I say, observing him carefully. So did your father. He brought me cookies. Peeta raises his eyebrows as if this is news. But after watching him lie so smoothly, I dont give this much weight. Really? Well, he likes you and your sister. I think he wishes he had a daughter instead of a houseful of boys. The idea that I might ever have been discussed, around the dinner table, at the bakery fire, just in passing in Peetas house gives me a start. It must have been when the mother was out of the room. He knew your mother when they were kids, says Peeta. Another surprise. But probably true. Oh, yes. She grew up in town, I say. It seems impolite to say she never mentioned the baker except to compliment his bread. Were at my door. I give back his jacket. See you in the morning then. See you, he says, and walks off down the hall. When I open my door, the redheaded girl is collecting my unitard and boots from where I left them on the floor before my shower. I want to apologize for possibly getting her in trouble earlier. But I remember Im not supposed to speak to her unless Im giving her an order. Oh, sorry, I say. I was supposed to get those back to Cinna. Im sorry. Can you take them to him? She avoids my eyes, gives a small nod, and heads out the door. Id set out to tell her I was sorry about dinner. But I know that my apology runs much deeper. That Im ashamed I never tried to help her in the woods. That I let the Capitol kill the boy and mutilate her without lifting a finger. Just like I was watching the Games. I kick off my shoes and climb under the covers in my clothes. The shivering hasnt stopped. Perhaps the girl doesnt even remember me. But I know she does. You dont forget the face of the person who was your last hope. I pull the covers up over my head as if this will protect me from the redheaded girl who cant speak. But I can feel her eyes staring at me, piercing through walls and doors and bedding. I wonder if shell enjoy watching me die. 7 My slumbers are filled with disturbing dreams. The face of the redheaded girl intertwines with gory images from earlier Hunger Games, with my mother withdrawn and unreachable, with Prim emaciated and terrified. I bolt up screaming for my father to run as the mine explodes into a million deadly bits of light. Dawn is breaking through the windows. The Capitol has a misty, haunted air. My head aches and I must have bitten into the side of my cheek in the night. My tongue probes the ragged flesh and I taste blood. Slowly, I drag myself out of bed and into the shower. I arbitrarily punch buttons on the control board and end up hopping from foot to foot as alternating jets of icy cold and steaming hot water assault me. Then Im deluged in lemony foam that I have to scrape off with a heavy bristled brush. Oh, well. At least my blood is flowing. When Im dried and moisturized with lotion, I find an outfit has been left for me at the front of the closet. Tight black pants, a long-sleeved burgundy tunic, and leather shoes. I put my hair in the single braid down my back. This is the first time since the morning of the reaping that I resemble myself. No fancy hair and clothes, no flaming capes. Just me. Looking like I could be headed for the woods. It calms me. Haymitch didnt give us an exact time to meet for breakfast and no one has contacted me this morning, but Im hungry so I head down to the dining room, hoping there will be food. Im not disappointed. While the table is empty, a long board off to the side has been laid with at least twenty dishes. A young man, an Avox, stands at attention by the spread. When I ask if I can serve myself, he nods assent. I load a plate with eggs, sausages, batter cakes covered in thick orange preserves, slices of pale purple melon. As I gorge myself, I watch the sun rise over the Capitol. I have a second plate of hot grain smothered in beef stew. Finally, I fill a plate with rolls and sit at the table, breaking oil bits and dipping them into hot chocolate, the way Peeta did on the train. My mind wanders to my mother and Prim. They must be up. My mother getting their breakfast of mush. Prim milking her goat before school. Just two mornings ago, I was home. Can that be right? Yes, just two. And now how empty the house feels, even from a distance. What did they say last night about my fiery debut at the Games? Did it give them hope, or simply add to their terror when they saw the reality of twenty-four tributes circled together, knowing only one could live? Haymitch and Peeta come in, bid me good morning, fill their plates. It makes me irritated that Peeta is wearing exactly the same outfit I am. I need to say something to Cinna. This twins act is going to blow up in out faces once the Games begin. Surely, they must know this. Then I remember Haymitch telling me to do exactly what the stylists tell me to do. If it was anyone but Cinna, I might be tempted to ignore him. But after last nights triumph, I dont have a lot of room to criticize his choices. Im nervous about the training. There will be three days in which all the tributes practice together. On the last afternoon, well each get a chance to perform in private before the Gamemakers. The thought of meeting the other tributes face-to-face makes me queasy. I turn the roll I have just taken from the basket over and over in my hands, but my appetite is gone. When Haymitch has finished several platters of stew, he pushes back his plate with a sigh. He takes a flask from his pocket and takes a long pull on it and leans his elbows on the table. So, lets get down to business. Training. First off, if you like, Ill coach you separately. Decide now. Why would you coach us separately? I ask. Say if you had a secret skill you might not want the other to know about, says Haymitch. I exchange a look with Peeta. I dont have any secret skills, he says. And I already know what yours is, right? I mean, Ive eaten enough of your squirrels. I never thought about Peeta eating the squirrels I shot. Somehow I always pictured the baker quietly going off and frying them up for himself. Not out of greed. But because town families usually eat expensive butcher meat. Beef and chicken and horse. You can coach us together, I tell Haymitch. Peeta nods. All right, so give me some idea of what you can do, says Haymitch. I cant do anything, says Peeta. Unless you count baking bread. Sorry, I dont. Katniss. I already know youre handy with a knife, says Haymitch. Not really. But I can hunt, I say. With a bow and arrow. And youre good? asks Haymitch. I have to think about it. Ive been putting food on the table for four years. Thats no small task. Im not as good as my father was, but hed had more practice. Ive better aim than Gale, but Ive had more practice. Hes a genius with traps and snares. Im all right, I say. Shes excellent, says Peeta. My father buys her squirrels. He always comments on how the arrows never pierce the body. She hits every one in the eye. Its the same with the rabbits she sells the butcher. She can even bring down deer. This assessment of my skills from Peeta takes me totally by surprise. First, that he ever noticed. Second, that hes talking me up. What are you doing? I ask him suspiciously. What are you doing? If hes going to help you, he has to know what youre capable of. Dont underrate yourself, says Peeta. I dont know why, but this rubs me the wrong way. What about you? Ive seen you in the market. You can lift hundred-pound bags of flour, I snap at him. Tell him that. Thats not nothing. Yes, and Im sure the arena will be full of bags of flour for me to chuck at people. Its not like being able to use a weapon. You know it isnt, he shoots back. He can wrestle, I tell Haymitch. He came in second in our school competition last year, only after his brother. What use is that? How many times have you seen someone wrestle someone to death? says Peeta in disgust. Theres always hand-to-hand combat. All you need is to come up with a knife, and youll at least stand a chance. If I get jumped, Im dead! I can hear my voice rising in anger. But you wont! Youll be living up in some tree eating raw squirrels and picking off people with arrows. You know what my mother said to me when she came to say good-bye, as if to cheer me up, she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realized, she didnt mean me, she meant you! bursts out Peeta. Oh, she meant you, I say with a wave of dismissal. She said, Shes a survivor, that one. She is, says Peeta. That pulls me up short. Did his mother really say that about me? Did she rate me over her son? I see the pain in Peetas eyes and know he isnt lying. Suddenly Im behind the bakery and I can feel the chill of the rain running down my back, the hollowness in my belly. I sound eleven years old when I speak. But only because someone helped me. Peetas eyes flicker down to the roll in my hands, and I know he remembers that day, too. But he just shrugs. People will help you in the arena. Theyll be tripping over each other to sponsor you. No more than you, I say. Peeta rolls his eyes at Haymitch. She has no idea. The effect she can have. He runs his fingernail along the wood grain in the table, refusing to look at me. What on earth does he mean? People help me? When we were dying of starvation, no one helped me! No one except Peeta. Once I had something to barter with, things changed. Im a tough trader. Or am I? What effect do I have? That Im weak and needy? Is he suggesting that I got good deals because people pitied me? I try to think if this is true. Perhaps some of the merchants were a little generous in their trades, but I always attributed that to their long-standing relationship with my father. Besides, my game is first-class. No one pitied me! I glower at the roll sure he meant to insult me. After about a minute of this, Haymitch says, Well, then. Well, well, well. Katniss, theres no guarantee theyll be bows and arrows in the arena, but during your private session with the Gamemakers, show them what you can do. Until then, stay clear of archery. Are you any good at trapping? I know a few basic snares, I mutter. That may be significant in terms of food, says Haymitch. And Peeta, shes right, never underestimate strength in the arena. Very often, physical power tilts the advantage to a player. In the Training Center, they will have weights, but dont reveal how much you can lift in front of the other tributes. The plans the same for both of you. You go to group training. Spend the time trying to learn something you dont know. Throw a spear. Swing a mace. Learn to tie a decent knot. Save showing what youre best at until your private sessions. Are we clear? says Haymitch. Peeta and I nod. One last thing. In public, I want you by each others side every minute, says Haymitch. We both start to object, but Haymitch slams his hand on the table. Every minute! Its not open for discussion! You agreed to do as I said! You will be together, you will appear amiable to each other. Now get out. Meet Effie at the elevator at ten for training. I bite my lip and stalk back to my room, making sure Peeta can hear the door slam. I sit on the bed, hating Haymitch, hating Peeta, hating myself for mentioning that day long ago in the rain. Its such a joke! Peeta and I going along pretending to be friends! Talking up each others strengths, insisting the other take credit for their abilities. Because, in fact, at some point, were going to have to knock it off and accept were bitter adversaries. Which Id be prepared to do right now if it wasnt for Haymitchs stupid instruction that we stick together in training. Its my own fault, I guess, for telling him he didnt have to coach us separately. But that didnt mean I wanted to do everything with Peeta. Who, by the way, clearly doesnt want to be partnering up with me, either. I hear Peetas voice in my head. She has no idea. The effect she can have. Obviously meant to demean me. Right? but a tiny part of me wonders if this was a compliment. That he meant I was appealing in some way. Its weird, how much hes noticed me. Like the attention hes paid to my hunting. And apparently, I have not been as oblivious to him as I imagined, either. The flour. The wrestling. I have kept track of the boy with the bread. Its almost ten. I clean my teeth and smooth back my hair again. Anger temporarily blocked out my nervousness about meeting the other tributes, but now I can feel my anxiety rising again. By the time I meet Effie and Peeta at the elevator, I catch myself biting my nails. I stop at once. The actual training rooms are below ground level of our building. With these elevators, the ride is less than a minute. The doors open into an enormous gymnasium filled with various weapons and obstacle courses. Although its not yet ten, were the last ones to arrive. The other tributes are gathered in a tense circle. They each have a cloth square with their district number on it pinned to their shirts. While someone pins the number 12 on my back, I do a quick assessment. Peeta and I are the only two dressed alike. As soon as we join the circle, the head trainer, a tall, athletic woman named Atala steps up and begins to explain the training schedule. Experts in each skill will remain at their stations. We will be free to travel from area to area as we choose, per our mentors instructions. Some of the stations teach survival skills, others fighting techniques. We are forbidden to engage in any combative exercise with another tribute. There are assistants on hand if we want to practice with a partner. When Atala begins to read down the list of the skill stations, my eyes cant help flitting around to the other tributes. Its the first time weve been assembled, on level ground, in simple clothes. My heart sinks. Almost all of the boys and at least half of the girls are bigger than I am, even though many of the tributes have never been fed properly. You can see it in their bones, their skin, the hollow look in their eyes. I may be smaller naturally, but overall my familys resourcefulness has given me an edge in that area. I stand straight, and while Im thin, Im strong. The meat and plants from the woods combined with the exertion it took to get them have given me a healthier body than most of those I see around me. The exceptions are the kids from the wealthier districts, the volunteers, the ones who have been fed and trained throughout their lives for this moment. The tributes from 1, 2, and 4 traditionally have this look about them. Its technically against the rules to train tributes before they reach the Capitol but it happens every year. In District 12, we call them the Career Tributes, or just the Careers. And like as not, the winner will be one of them. The slight advantage I held coming into the Training Center, my fiery entrance last night, seems to vanish in the presence of my competition. The other tributes were jealous of us, but not because we were amazing, because our stylists were. Now I see nothing but contempt in the glances of the Career Tributes. Each must have fifty to a hundred pounds on me. They project arrogance and brutality. When Atala releases us, they head straight for the deadliest-looking weapons in the gym and handle them with ease. Im thinking that its lucky Im a fast runner when Peeta nudges my arm and I jump. He is still beside me, per Haymitchs instructions. His expression is sober. Where would you like to start? I look around at the Career Tributes who are showing off, clearly trying to intimidate the field. Then at the others, the underfed, the incompetent, shakily having their first lessons with a knife or an ax. Suppose we tie some knots, I say. Right you are, says Peeta. We cross to an empty station where the trainer seems pleased to have students. You get the feeling that the knot-tying class is not the Hunger games hot spot. When he realizes I know something about snares, he shows us a simple, excellent trap that will leave a human competitor dangling by a leg from a tree. We concentrate on this one skill for an hour until both of us have mastered it. Then we move on to camouflage. Peeta genuinely seems to enjoy this station, swirling a combination of mud and clay and berry juices around on his pale skin, weaving disguises from vines and leaves. The trainer who runs the camouflage station is full of enthusiasm at his work. I do the cakes, he admits to me. The cakes? I ask. Ive been preoccupied with watching the boy from District 2 send a spear through a dummys heart from fifteen yards. What cakes? At home. The iced ones, for the bakery, he says. He means the ones they display in the windows. Fancy cakes with flowers and pretty things painted in frosting. Theyre for birthdays and New Years Day. When were in the square, Prim always drags me over to admire them, although wed never be able to afford one. Theres little enough beauty in District 12, though, so I can hardly deny her this. I look more critically at the design on Peetas arm. The alternating pattern of light and dark suggests sunlight falling through the leaves in the woods. I wonder how he knows this, since I doubt hes ever been beyond the fence. Has he been able to pick this up from just that scraggly old apple tree in his backyard? Somehow the whole thing his skill, those inaccessible cakes, the praise of the camouflage expert annoys me. Its lovely. If only you could frost someone to death, I say. Dont be so superior. You can never tell what youll find in the arena. Say its actually a gigantic cake begins Peeta. Say we move on, I break in. So the next three days pass with Peeta and I going quietly from station to station. We do pick up some valuable skills, from starting fires, to knife throwing, to making shelter. Despite Haymitchs order to appear mediocre, Peeta excels in hand-to-hand combat, and I sweep the edible plants test without blinking an eye. We steer clear of archery and weightlifting though, wanting to save those for our private sessions. The Gamemakers appeared early on the first day. Twenty or so men and women dressed in deep purple robes. They sit in the elevated stands that surround the gymnasium, sometimes wandering about to watch us, jotting down notes, other times eating at the endless banquet that has been set for them, ignoring the lot of us. But they do seem to be keeping their eye on the District 12 tributes. Several times Ive looked up to find one fixated on me. They consult with the trainers during our meals as well. We see them all gathered together when we come back. Breakfast and dinner are served on our floor, but at lunch the twenty-four of us eat in a dining room off the gymnasium. Food is arranged on carts around the room and you serve yourself. The Career Tributes tend to gather rowdily around one table, as if to prove their superiority, that they have no fear of one another and consider the rest of us beneath notice. Most of the other tributes sit alone, like lost sheep. No one says a word to us. Peeta and I eat together, and since Haymitch keeps dogging us about it, try to keep up a friendly conversation during the meals. Its not easy to find a topic. Talking of home is painful. Talking of the present unbearable. One day, Peeta empties our breadbasket and points out how they have been careful to include types from the districts along with the refined bread of the Capitol. The fish-shaped loaf tinted green with seaweed from District 4. The crescent moon roll dotted with seeds from District 11. Somehow, although its made from the same stuff, it looks a lot more appetizing than the ugly drop biscuits that are the standard fare at home. And there you have it, says Peeta, scooping the breads back in the basket. You certainly know a lot, I say. Only about bread, he says. Okay, now laugh as if Ive said something funny. We both give a somewhat convincing laugh and ignore the stares from around the room. All right, Ill keep smiling pleasantly and you talk, says Peeta. Its wearing us both out, Haymitchs direction to be friendly. Because ever since I slammed my door, theres been a chill in the air between us. But we have our orders. Did I ever tell you about the time I was chased by a bear? I ask. No, but it sounds fascinating, says Peeta. I try and animate my face as I recall the event, a true story, in which Id foolishly challenged a black bear over the rights to a beehive. Peeta laughs and asks questions right on cue. Hes much better at this than I am. On the second day, while were taking a shot at spear throwing, he whispers to me. I think we have a shadow. I throw my spear, which Im not too bad at actually, if I dont have to throw too far, and see the little girl from District 11 standing back a bit, watching us. Shes the twelve-year-old, the one who reminded me so of Prim in stature. Up close she looks about ten. She has bright, dark, eyes and satiny brown skin and stands tilted up on her toes with her arms slightly extended to her sides, as if ready to take wing at the slightest sound. Its impossible not to think of a bird. I pick up another spear while Peeta throws. I think her names Rue, he says softly. I bite my lip. Rue is a small yellow flower that grows in the Meadow. Rue. Primrose. Neither of them could tip the scale at seventy pounds soaking wet. What can we do about it? I ask him, more harshly than I intended. Nothing to do, he says back. Just making conversation. Now that I know shes there, its hard to ignore the child. She slips up and joins us at different stations. Like me, shes clever with plants, climbs swiftly, and has good aim. She can hit the target every time with a slingshot. But what is a slingshot against a 220-pound male with a sword? Back on the District 12 floor, Haymitch and Effie grill us throughout breakfast and dinner about every moment of the day. What we did, who watched us, how the other tributes size up. Cinna and Portia arent around, so theres no one to add any sanity to the meals. Not that Haymitch and Effie are fighting anymore. Instead they seem to be of one mind, determined to whip us into shape. Full of endless directions about what we should do and not do in training. Peeta is more patient, but I become fed up and surly. When we finally escape to bed on the second night, Peeta mumbles, Someone ought to get Haymitch a drink. I make a sound that is somewhere between a snort and a laugh. Then catch myself. Its messing with my mind too much, trying to keep straight when were supposedly friends and when were not. At least when we get into the arena, Ill know where we stand. Dont. Dont lets pretend when theres no one around. All right, Katniss, he says tiredly. After that, we only talk in front of people. On the third day of training, they start to call us out of lunch for our private sessions with the Gamemakers. District by district, first the boy, then the girl tribute. As usual, District 12 is slated to go last. We linger in the dining room, unsure where else to go. No one comes back once they have left. As the room empties, the pressure to appear friendly lightens. By the time they call Rue, we are left alone. We sit in silence until they summon Peeta. He rises. Remember what Haymitch said about being sure to throw the weights. The words come out of my mouth without permission. Thanks. I will, he says. You shoot straight. I nod. I dont know why I said anything at all. Although if Im going to lose, Id rather Peeta win than the others. Better for our district, for my mother and Prim. After about fifteen minutes, they call my name. I smooth my hair, set my shoulders back, and walk into the gymnasium. Instantly, I know Im in trouble. Theyve been here too long, the Gamemakers. Sat through twenty-three other demonstrations. Had too much to wine, most of them. Want more than anything to go home. Theres nothing I can do but continue with the plan. I walk to the archery station. Oh, the weapons! Ive been itching to get my hands on them for days! Bows made of wood and plastic and metal and materials I cant even name. Arrows with feathers cut in flawless uniform lines. I choose a bow, string it, and sling the matching quiver of arrows over my shoulder. Theres a shooting range, but its much too limited. Standard bulls-eyes and human silhouettes. I walk to the center of the gymnasium and pick my first target. The dummy used for knife practice. Even as I pull back on the bow I know something is wrong. The strings tighter than the one I use at home. The arrows more rigid. I miss the dummy by a couple of inches and lose what little attention I had been commanding. For a moment, Im humiliated, then I head back to the bulls-eye. I shoot again and again until I get the feel of these new weapons. Back in the center of the gymnasium, I take my initial position and skewer the dummy right through the heart. Then I sever the rope that holds the sandbag for boxing, and the bag splits open as it slams to the ground. Without pausing, I shoulder-roll forward, come up on one knee, and send an arrow into one of the hanging lights high above the gymnasium floor. A shower of sparks bursts from the fixture. Its excellent shooting. I turn to the Gamemakers. A few are nodding approval, but the majority of them are fixated on a roast pig that has just arrived at their banquet table. Suddenly I am furious, that with my life on the line, they dont even have the decency to pay attention to me. That Im being upstaged by a dead pig. My heart starts to pound, I can feel my face burning. Without thinking, I pull an arrow from my quiver and send it straight at the Gamemakers table. I hear shouts of alarm as people stumble back. The arrow skewers the apple in the pigs mouth and pins it to the wall behind it. Everyone stares at me in disbelief. Thank you for your consideration, I say. Then I give a slight bow and walk straight toward the exit without being dismissed. 8 As I stride toward the elevator, I fling my bow to one side and my quiver to the other. I brush past the gaping Avoxes who guard the elevators and hit the number twelve button with my fist. The doors slide together and I zip upward. I actually make it back to my floor before the tears start running down my cheeks. I can hear the others calling me from the sitting room, but I fly down the hall into my room, bolt the door, and fling myself onto my bed. Then I really begin to sob. Now Ive done it! Now Ive ruined everything! If Id stood even a ghost of chance, it vanished when I sent that arrow flying at the Gamemakers. What will they do to me now? Arrest me? Execute me? Cut my tongue and turn me into an Avox so I can wait on the future tributes of Panem? What was I thinking, shooting at the Gamemakers? Of course, I wasnt, I was shooting at that apple because I was so angry at being ignored. I wasnt trying to kill one of them. If I were, theyd be dead! Oh, what does it matter? Its not like I was going to win the Games anyway. Who cares what they do to me? What really scares me is what they might do to my mother and Prim, how my family might suffer now because of my impulsiveness. Will they take their few belongings, or send my mother to prison and Prim to the community home, or kill them? They wouldnt kill them, would they? Why not? What do they care? I should have stayed and apologized. Or laughed, like it was a big joke. Then maybe I would have found some leniency. But instead I stalked out of the place in the most disrespectful manner possible. Haymitch and Effie are knocking on my door. I shout for them to go away and eventually they do. It takes at least an hour for me to cry myself out. Then I just lay curled up on the bed, stroking the silken sheets, watching the sun set over the artificial candy Capitol. At first, I expect guards to come for me. But as time passes, it seems less likely. I calm down. They still need a girl tribute from District 12, dont they? If the Gamemakers want to punish me, they can do it publicly. Wait until Im in the arena and see starving wild animals on me. You can bet theyll make sure I dont have a bow and arrow to defend myself. Before that though, theyll give me a score so low, no one in their right mind would sponsor me. Thats what will happen tonight. Since the training isnt open to viewers, the Gamemakers announce a score for each player. It gives the audience a starting place for the betting that will continue throughout the Games. The number, which is between one and twelve, one being irredeemably bad and twelve being unattainably high, signifies the promise of the tribute. The mark is not a guarantee of which person will win. Its only an indication of the potential a tribute showed in training. Often, because of the variables in the actual arena, high-scoring tributes go down almost immediately. And a few years ago, the boy who won the Games only received a three. Still, the scores can help or hurt an individual tribute in terms of sponsorship. I had been hoping my shooting skills might get me a six or a seven, even if Im not particularly powerful. Now Im sure Ill have the lowest score of the twenty-four. If no one sponsors me, my odds of staying alive decrease to almost zero. When Effie taps on the door to call me to dinner, I decide I may as well go. The scores will be televised tonight. Its not like I can hide what happened forever. I go to the bathroom and wash my face, but its still red and splotchy. Everyones waiting at the table, even Cinna and Portia. I wish the stylists hadnt shown up because for some reason, I dont like the idea of disappointing them. Its as if Ive thrown away all the good work they did on the opening ceremonies without a thought. I avoid looking at anyone as I take tiny spoonfuls of fish soup. The saltiness reminds me of my tears. The adults begin some chitchat about the weather forecast, and I let my eyes meet Peetas. He raises his eyebrows. A question. What happened? I just give my head a small shake. Then, as theyre serving the main course, I hear Haymitch say, Okay, enough small talk, just how bad were you today? Peeta jumps in. I dont know that it mattered. By the time I showed up, no one even bothered to look at me. They were singing some kind of drinking song, I think. So, I threw around some heavy objects until they told me I could go. That makes me feel a bit better. Its not like Peeta attacked the Gamemakers, but at least he was provoked, too. And you, sweetheart? says Haymitch. Somehow Haymitch calling me sweetheart ticks me off enough that Im at least able to speak. I shot an arrow at the Gamemakers. Everyone stops eating. You what? The horror in Effies voice confirms my worse suspicions. I shot an arrow at them. Not exactly at them. In their direction. Its like Peeta said, I was shooting and they were ignoring me and I just I just lost my head, so I shot an apple out of their stupid roast pigs mouth! I say defiantly. And what did they say? says Cinna carefully. Nothing. Or I dont know. I walked out after that, I say. Without being dismissed? gasps Effie. I dismissed myself, I said. I remember how I promised Prim that I really would try to win and I feel like a ton of coal has dropped on me. Well, thats that, says Haymitch. Then he butters a roll. Do you think theyll arrest me? I ask. Doubt it. Be a pain to replace you at this stage, says Haymitch. What about my family? I say. Will they punish them? Dont think so. Wouldnt make much sense. See theyd have to reveal what happened in the Training Center for it to have any worthwhile effect on the population. People would need to know what you did. But they cant since its secret, so itd be a waste of effort, says Haymitch. More likely theyll make your life hell in the arena. Well, theyve already promised to do that to us any way, says Peeta. Very true, says Haymitch. And I realize the impossible has happened. They have actually cheered me up. Haymitch picks up a pork chop with his fingers, which makes Effie frown, and dunks it in his wine. He rips off a hunk of meat and starts to chuckle. What were their faces like? I can feel the edges of my mouth tilting up. Shocked. Terrified. Uh, ridiculous, some of them. An image pops into my mind. One man tripped backward into a bowl of punch. Haymitch guffaws and we all start laughing except Effie, although even she is suppressing a smile. Well, it serves them right. Its their job to pay attention to you. And just because you come from District Twelve is no excuse to ignore you. Then her eyes dart around as if shes said something totally outrageous. Im sorry, but thats what I think, she says to no one in particular. Ill get a very bad score, I say. Scores only matter if theyre very good, no one pays much attention to the bad or mediocre ones. For all they know, you could be hiding your talents to get a low score on purpose. People use that strategy, said Portia. I hope thats how people interpret the four Ill probably get, says Peeta. If that. Really, is anything less impressive than watching a person pick up a heavy ball and throw it a couple of yards. One almost landed on my foot. I grin at him and realize that Im starving. I cut off a piece of pork, dunk it in mashed potatoes, and start eating. Its okay. My family is safe. And if they are safe, no real harm has been done. After dinner, we go to sitting room to watch the scores announced on television. First they show a photo of the tribute, then flash their score below it. The Career Tributes naturally get in the eight-to-ten range. Most of the other players average a five. Surprisingly, little Rue comes up with a seven. I dont know what she showed the judges, but shes so tiny it must have been impressive. District 12 comes up last, as usual. Peeta pulls an eight so at least a couple of the Gamemakers must have been watching him. I dig my fingernails into my palms as my face comes up, expecting the worst. Then theyre flashing the number eleven on the screen. Eleven! Effie Trinket lets out a squeal, and everybody is slapping me on the back and cheering and congratulating me. But it doesnt seem real. There must be a mistake. How how could that happen? I ask Haymitch. Guess they liked your temper, he says. Theyve got a show to put on. They need some players with some heat. Katniss, the girl who was on fire, says Cinna and gives me a hug. Oh, wait until you see your interview dress. More flames? I ask. Of a sort, he says mischievously. Peeta and I congratulate each other, another awkward moment. Weve both done well, but what does that mean for the other? I escape to my room as quickly as possible and burrow down under the covers. The stress of the day, particularly the crying, has worn me out. I drift off, reprieved, relieved, and with the number eleven still flashing behind my eyelids. At dawn, I lie in bed for a while, watching the sun come up on a beautiful morning. Its Sunday. A day off at home. I wonder if Gale is in the woods yet. Usually we devote all of Sunday to stocking up for the week. Rising early, hunting and gathering, then trading at the Hob. I think of Gale without me. Both of us can hunt alone, but were better as a pair. Particularly if were trying for bigger game. But also in the littler things, having a partner lightened the load, could even make the arduous task of filling my familys table enjoyable. I had been struggling along on my own for about six months when I first ran into Gale in the woods. It was a Sunday in October, the air cool and pungent with dying things. Id spent the morning competing with the squirrels for nuts and the slightly warmer afternoon wading in shallow ponds harvesting Katniss. The only meat Id shot was a squirrel that had practically run over my toes in its quest for acorns, but the animals would still be afoot when the snow buried my other food sources. Having strayed farther afield than usual, I was hurrying back home, lugging my burlap sacks when I came across a dead rabbit. It was hanging by its neck in a thin wire a foot above my head. About fifteen yards away was another. I recognized the twitch-up snares because my father had used them. When the prey is caught, its yanked into the air out of the reach of other hungry animals. Id been trying to use snares all summer with no success, so I couldnt help dropping my sacks to examine this one. My fingers were just on the wire above one of the rabbits when a voice rang out. Thats dangerous. I jumped back several feet as Gale materialized from behind a tree. He must have been watching me the whole time. He was only fourteen, but he cleared six feet and was as good as an adult to me. Id seen him around the Seam and at school. And one other time. Hed lost his father in the same blast that killed mine. In January, Id stood by while he received his medal of valor in the Justice Building, another oldest child with no father. I remembered his two little brothers clutching his mother, a woman whose swollen belly announced she was just days away from giving birth. Whats your name? he said, coming over and disengaging the rabbit from the snare. He had another three hanging from his belt. Katniss, I said, barely audible. Well, Catnip, stealings punishable by death, or hadnt you heard? he said. Katniss, I said louder. And I wasnt stealing it. I just wanted to look at your snare. Mine never catch anything. He scowled at me, not convinced. So whered you get the squirrel? I shot it. I pulled my bow off my shoulder. I was still using the small version my father had made me, but Id been practicing with the full-size one when I could. I was hoping that by spring I might be able to bring down some bigger game. Gales eyes fastened on the bow. Can I see that? I handed it over. Just remember, stealings punishable by death. That was the first time I ever saw him smile. It transformed him from someone menacing to someone you wished you knew. But it took several months before I returned that smile. We talked hunting then. I told him I might be able to get him a bow if he had something to trade. Not food. I wanted knowledge. I wanted to set my own snares that caught a belt of fat rabbits in one day. He agreed something might be worked out. As the seasons went by, we grudgingly began to share our knowledge, our weapons, our secret places that were thick with wild plums or turkeys. He taught me snares and fishing. I showed him what plants to eat and eventually gave him one of our precious bows. And then one day, without either of us saying it, we became a team. Dividing the work and the spoils. Making sure that both our families had food. Gale gave me a sense of security Id lacked since my fathers death. His companionship replaced the long solitary hours in the woods. I became a much better hunter when I didnt have to look over my shoulder constantly, when someone was watching my back. But he turned into so much more than a hunting partner. He became my confidante, someone with whom I could share thoughts I could never voice inside the fence. In exchange, he trusted me with his. Being out in the woods with Gale sometimes I was actually happy. I call him my friend, but in the last year its seemed too casual a word for what Gale is to me. A pang of longing shoots through my chest. If only he was with me now! But, of course, I dont want that. I dont want him in the arena where hed be dead in a few days. I just I just miss him. And I hate being so alone. Does he miss me? He must. I think of the eleven flashing under my name last night. I know exactly what hed say to me. Well, theres some room for improvement there. And then hed give me a smile and Id return it without hesitating now. I cant help comparing what I have with Gale to what Im pretending to have with Peeta. How I never question Gales motives while I do nothing but doubt the latters. Its not a fair comparison really. Gale and I were thrown together by a mutual need to survive. Peeta and I know the others survival means our own death. How do you sidestep that? Effies knocking at the door, reminding me theres another big, big, big day! ahead. Tomorrow night will be our televised interviews. I guess the whole team will have their hands full readying us for that. I get up and take a quick shower, being a bit more careful about the buttons I hit, and head down to the dining room. Peeta, Effie, and Haymitch are huddled around the table talking in hushed voices. That seems odd, but hunger wins out over curiosity and I load up my plate with breakfast before I join them. The stews made with tender chunks of lamb and dried plums today. Perfect on the bed of wild rice. Ive shoveled about halfway through the mound when I realize no ones talking. I take a big gulp of orange juice and wipe my mouth. So, whats going on? Youre coaching us on interviews today, right? Thats right, says Haymitch. You dont have to wait until Im done. I can listen and eat at the same time, I say. Well, theres been a change of plans. About our current approach, says Haymitch. Whats that? I ask. Im not sure what our current approach is. Trying to appear mediocre in front of the other tributes is the last bit of strategy I remember. Haymitch shrugs. Peeta has asked to be coached separately. 9 Betrayal. Thats the first thing I feel, which is ludicrous. For there to be betrayal, there would have had to been trust first. Between Peeta and me. And trust has not been part of the agreement. Were tributes. But the boy who risked a beating to give me bread, the one who steadied me in the chariot, who covered for me with the redheaded Avox girl, who insisted Haymitch know my hunting skills was there some part of me that couldnt help trusting him? On the other hand, Im relieved that we can stop the pretense of being friends. Obviously, whatever thin connection wed foolishly formed has been severed. And high time, too. The Games begin in two days, and trust will only be a weakness. Whatever triggered Peetas decision and I suspect it had to do with my outperforming him in training I should be nothing but grateful for it. Maybe hes finally accepted the fact that the sooner we openly acknowledge that we are enemies, the better. Good, I say. So whats the schedule? Youll each have four hours with Effie for presentation and four with me for content, says Haymitch. You start with Effie, Katniss. I cant imagine what Effie will have to teach me that could take four hours, but shes got me working down to the last minute. We go to my rooms and she puts me in a full-length gown and high-heeled shoes, not the ones Ill be wearing for the actual interview, and instructs me on walking. The shoes are the worst part. Ive never worn high heels and cant get used to essentially wobbling around on the balls of my feet. But Effie runs around in them full-time, and Im determined that if she can do it, so can I. The dress poses another problem. It keeps tangling around my shoes so, of course, I hitch it up, and then Effie swoops down on me like a hawk, smacking my hands and yelling, Not above the ankle! When I finally conquer walking, theres still sitting, posture apparently I have a tendency to duck my head eye contact, hand gestures, and smiling. Smiling is mostly about smiling more. Effie makes me say a hundred banal phrases starting with a smile, while smiling, or ending with a smile. By lunch, the muscles in my cheeks are twitching from overuse. Well, thats the best I can do, Effie says with a sigh. Just remember, Katniss, you want the audience to like you. And you dont think they will? I ask. Not if you glare at them the entire time. Why dont you save that for the arena? Instead, think of yourself among friends, says Effie. Theyre betting on how long Ill live! I burst out. Theyre not my friends! Well, try and pretend! snaps Effie. Then she composes herself and beams at me. See, like this. Im smiling at you even though youre aggravating me. Yes, it feels very convincing, I say. Im going to eat. I kick off my heels and stomp down to the dining room, hiking my skirt up to my thighs. Peeta and Haymitch seem in pretty good moods, so Im thinking the content session should be an improvement over the morning. I couldnt be more wrong. After lunch, Haymitch takes me into the sitting room, directs me to the couch, and then just frowns at me for a while. What? I finally ask. Im trying to figure out what to do with you, he says. How were going to present you. Are you going to be charming? Aloof? Fierce? So far, youre shining like a star. You volunteered to save your sister. Cinna made you look unforgettable. Youve got the top training score. People are intrigued, but no one knows who you are. The impression you make tomorrow will decide exactly what I can get you in terms of sponsors, says Haymitch. Having watched the tribute interviews all my life, I know theres truth to what hes saying. If you appeal to the crowd, either by being humorous or brutal or eccentric, you gain favor. Whats Peetas approach? Or am I not allowed to ask? I say. Likable. He has a sort of self-deprecating humor naturally, says Haymitch. Whereas when you open your mouth, you come across more as sullen and hostile. I do not! I say. Please. I dont know where you pulled that cheery, wavy girl on the chariot from, but I havent seen her before or since, says Haymitch. And youve given me so many reasons to be cheery, I counter. But you dont have to please me. Im not going to sponsor you. So pretend Im the audience, says Haymitch. Delight me. Fine! I snarl. Haymitch takes the role of the interviewer and I try to answer his questions in a winning fashion. But I cant. Im too angry with Haymitch for what he said and that I even have to answer the questions. All I can think is how unjust the whole thing is, the Hunger Games. Why am I hopping around like some trained dog trying to please people I hate? The longer the interview goes on, the more my fury seems to rise to the surface, until Im literally spitting out answers at him. All right, enough, he says. Weve got to find another angle. Not only are you hostile, I dont know anything about you. Ive asked you fifty questions and still have no sense of your life, your family, what you care about. They want to know about you, Katniss. But I dont want them to! Theyre already taking my future! They cant have the things that mattered to me in the past! I say. Then lie! Make something up! says Haymitch. Im not good at lying, I say. Well, you better learn fast. Youve got about as much charm as a dead slug, says Haymitch. Ouch. That hurts. Even Haymitch must know hes been too harsh because his voice softens. Heres an idea. Try acting humble. Humble, I echo. That you cant believe a little girl from District Twelve has done this well. The whole things been more than you ever could have dreamed of. Talk about Cinnas clothes. How nice the people are. How the city amazes you. If you wont talk about yourself, at least compliment the audience. Just keep turning it back around, all right. Gush. The next hours are agonizing. At once, its clear I cannot gush. We try me playing cocky, but I just dont have the arrogance. Apparently, Im too vulnerable for ferocity. Im not witty. Funny. Sexy. Or mysterious. By the end of the session, I am no one at all. Haymitch started drinking somewhere around witty, and a nasty edge has crept into his voice. I give up, sweetheart. Just answer the questions and try not to let the audience see how openly you despise them. I have dinner that night in my room, ordering an outrageous number of delicacies, eating myself sick, and then taking out my anger at Haymitch, at the Hunger Games, at every living being in the Capitol by smashing dishes around my room. When the girl with the red hair comes in to turn down my bed, her eyes widen at the mess. Just leave it! I yell at her. Just leave it alone! I hate her, too, with her knowing reproachful eyes that call me a coward, a monster, a puppet of the Capitol, both now and then. For her, justice must finally be happening. At least my death will help pay for the life of the boy in the woods. But instead of fleeing the room, the girl closes the door behind her and goes to the bathroom. She comes back with a damp cloth and wipes my face gently then cleans the blood from a broken plate off my hands. Why is she doing this? Why am I letting her? I should have tried to save you, I whisper. She shakes her head. Does this mean we were right to stand by? That she has forgiven me? No, it was wrong, I say. She taps her lips with her fingers then points to my chest. I think she means that I would just have ended up an Avox, too. Probably would have. An Avox or dead. I spend the next hour helping the redheaded girl clean the room. When all the garbage has been dropped down a disposal and the food cleaned away, she turns down my bed. I crawl in between the sheets like a five-year-old and let her tuck me in. Then she goes. I want her to stay until I fall asleep. To be there when I wake up. I want the protection of this girl, even though she never had mine. In the morning, its not the girl but my prep team who are hanging over me. My lessons with Effie and Haymitch are over. This day belongs to Cinna. Hes my last hope. Maybe he can make me look so wonderful, no one will care what comes out of my mouth. The team works on me until late afternoon, turning my skin to glowing satin, stenciling patterns on my arms, painting flame designs on my twenty perfect nails. Then Venia goes to work on my hair, weaving strands of red into a pattern that begins at my left ear, wraps around my head, and then falls in one braid down my right shoulder. They erase my face with a layer of pale makeup and draw my features back out. Huge dark eyes, full red lips, lashes that throw off bits of light when I blink. Finally, they cover my entire body in a powder that makes me shimmer in gold dust. Then Cinna enters with what I assume is my dress, but I cant really see it because its covered. Close your eyes, he orders. I can feel the silken inside as they slip it down over my naked body, then the weight. It must be forty pounds. I clutch Octavias hand as I blindly step into my shoes, glad to find they are at least two inches lower than the pair Effie had me practice in. Theres some adjusting and fidgeting. Then silence. Can I open my eyes? I ask. Yes, says Cinna. Open them. The creature standing before me in the full-length mirror has come from another world. Where skin shimmers and eyes flash and apparently they make their clothes from jewels. Because my dress, oh, my dress is entirely covered in reflective precious gems, red and yellow and white with bits of blue that accent the tips of the flame design. The slightest movement gives the impression I am engulfed in tongues of fire. I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun. For a while, we all just stare at me. Oh, Cinna, I finally whisper. Thank you. Twirl for me, he says. I hold out my arms and spin in a circle. The prep team screams in admiration. Cinna dismisses the team and has me move around in the dress and shoes, which are infinitely more manageable than Effies. The dress hangs in such a way that I dont have to lift the skirt when I walk, leaving me with one less thing to worry about. So, all ready for the interview then? asks Cinna. I can see by his expression that hes been talking to Haymitch. That he knows how dreadful I am. Im awful. Haymitch called me a dead slug. No matter what we tried, I couldnt do it. I just cant be one of those people he wants me to be, I say. Cinna thinks about this a moment. Why dont you just be yourself? Myself? Thats no good, either. Haymitch says Im sullen and hostile, I say. Well, you are around Haymitch, says Cinna with a grin. I dont find you so. The prep team adores you. You even won over the Gamemakers. And as for the citizens of the Capitol, well, they cant stop talking about you. No one can help but admire your spirit. My spirit. This is a new thought. Im not sure exactly what it means, but it suggests Im a fighter. In a sort of brave way. Its not as if Im never friendly. Okay, maybe I dont go around loving everybody I meet, maybe my smiles are hard to come by, but I do care for some people. Cinna takes my icy hands in his warm ones. Suppose, when you answer the questions, you think youre addressing a friend back home. Who would your best friend be? asks Cinna. Gale, I say instantly. Only it doesnt make sense, Cinna. I would never be telling Gale those things about me. He already knows them. What about me? Could you think of me as a friend? asks Cinna. Of all the people Ive met since I left home, Cinna is by far my favorite. I liked him right off and he hasnt disappointed me yet. I think so, but Ill be sitting on the main platform with the other stylists. Youll be able to look right at me. When youre asked a question, find me, and answer it as honestly as possible, says Cinna. Even if what I think is horrible? I ask. Because it might be, really. Especially if what you think is horrible, says Cinna. Youll try it? I nod. Its a plan. Or at least a straw to grasp at. Too soon its time to go. The interviews take place on a stage constructed in front of the Training Center. Once I leave my room, it will be only minutes until Im in front of the crowd, the cameras, all of Panem. As Cinna turns the doorknob, I stop his hand. Cinna Im completely overcome with stage fright. Remember, they already love you, he says gently. Just be yourself. We meet up with the rest of the District 12 crowd at the elevator. Portia and her gang have been hard at work. Peeta looks striking in a black suit with flame accents. While we look well together, its a relief not to be dressed identically. Haymitch and Effie are all fancied up for the occasion. I avoid Haymitch, but accept Effies compliments. Effie can be tiresome and clueless, but shes not destructive like Haymitch. When the elevator opens, the other tributes are being lined up to take the stage. All twenty-four of us sit in a big arc throughout the interviews. Ill be last, or second to last since the girl tribute precedes the boy from each district. How I wish I could be first and get the whole thing out of the way! Now Ill have to listen to how witty, funny, humble, fierce, and charming everybody else is before I go up. Plus, the audience will start to get bored, just as the Gamemakers did. And I cant exactly shoot an arrow into the crowd to get their attention. Right before we parade onto the stage, Haymitch comes up behind Peeta and me and growls, Remember, youre still a happy pair. So act like it. What? I thought we abandoned that when Peeta asked for separate coaching. But I guess that was a private, not a public thing. Anyway, theres not much chance for interaction now, as we walk single-file to our seats and take our places. Just stepping on the stage makes my breathing rapid and shallow. I can feel my pulse pounding in my temples. Its a relief to get to my chair, because between the heels and my legs shaking, Im afraid Ill trip. Although evening is falling, the City Circle is brighter than a summers day. An elevated seating unit has been set up for prestigious guests, with the stylists commanding the front row. The cameras will turn to them when the crowd is reacting to their handiwork. A large balcony off a building to the right has been reserved for the Gamemakers. Television crews have claimed most of the other balconies. But the City Circle and the avenues that feed into it are completely packed with people. Standing room only. At homes and community halls around the country, every television set is turned on. Every citizen of Panem is tuned in. There will be no blackouts tonight. Caesar Flickerman, the man who has hosted the interviews for more than forty years, bounces onto the stage. Its a little scary because his appearance has been virtually unchanged during all that time. Same face under a coating of pure white makeup. Same hairstyle that he dyes a different color for each Hunger Games. Same ceremonial suit, midnight blue dotted with a thousand tiny electric bulbs that twinkle like stars. They do surgery in the Capitol, to make people appear younger and thinner. In District 12, looking old is something of an achievement since so many people die early. You see an elderly person you want to congratulate them on their longevity, ask the secret of survival. A plump person is envied because they arent scraping by like the majority of us. But here it is different. Wrinkles arent desirable. A round belly isnt a sign of success. This year, Caesars hair is powder blue and his eyelids and lips are coated in the same hue. He looks freakish but less frightening than he did last year when his color was crimson and he seemed to be bleeding. Caesar tells a few jokes to warm up the audience but then gets down to business. The girl tribute from District 1, looking provocative in a see-through gold gown, steps up the center of the stage to join Caesar for her interview. You can tell her mentor didnt have any trouble coming up with an angle for her. With that flowing blonde hair, emerald green eyes, her body tall and lush shes sexy all the way. Each interview only lasts three minutes. Then a buzzer goes off and the next tribute is up. Ill say this for Caesar, he really does his best to make the tributes shine. Hes friendly, tries to set the nervous ones at ease, laughs at lame jokes, and can turn a weak response into a memorable one by the way he reacts. I sit like a lady, the way Effie showed me, as the districts slip by. 2, 3, 4. Everyone seems to be playing up some angle. The monstrous boy from District 2 is a ruthless killing machine. The fox-faced girl from District 5 sly and elusive. I spotted Cinna as soon as he took his place, but even his presence cannot relax me. 8, 9, 10. The crippled boy from 10 is very quiet. My palms are sweating like crazy, but the jeweled dress isnt absorbent and they skid right of if I try to dry them. 11. Rue, who is dressed in a gossamer gown complete with wings, flutters her way to Caesar. A hush falls over the crowd at the sight of this magical wisp of a tribute. Caesars very sweet with her, complimenting her seven in training, an excellent score for one so small. When he asks her what her greatest strength in the arena will be, she doesnt hesitate. Im very hard to catch, she says in a tremulous voice. And if they cant catch me, they cant kill me. So dont count me out. I wouldnt in a million years, says Caesar encouragingly. The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. Hes one of the giants, probably six and a half feet tall and built like an ox, but I noticed he rejected the invitations from the Career Tributes to join their crowd. Instead hes been very solitary, speaking to no one, showing little interest in training. Even so, he scored a ten and its not hard to imagine he impressed the Gamemakers. He ignores Caesars attempts at banter and answers with a yes or no or just remains silent. If only I was his size, I could get away with sullen and hostile and it would be just fine! I bet half the sponsors are at least considering him. If I had any money, Id bet on him myself. And then theyre calling Katniss Everdeen, and I feel myself, as if in a dream, standing and making my way center stage. I shake Caesars outstretched hand, and he has the good grace not to immediately wipe his off on his suit. So, Katniss, the Capitol must be quite a change from District Twelve. Whats impressed you most since you arrived here? asks Caesar. What? What did he say? Its as if the words make no sense. My mouth has gone as dry as sawdust. I desperately find Cinna in the crowd and lock eyes with him. I imagine the words coming from his lips. Whats impressed you most since you arrived here? I rack my brain for something that made me happy here. Be honest, I think. Be honest. The lamb stew, I get out. Caesar laughs, and vaguely I realize some of the audience has joined in. The one with the dried plums? asks Caesar. I nod. Oh, I eat it by the bucketful. He turns sideways to the audience in horror, hand on his stomach. It doesnt show, does it? They shout reassurances to him and applaud. This is what I mean about Caesar. He tries to help you out. Now, Katniss, he says confidentially, When you came out in the opening ceremonies, my heart actually stopped. What did you think of that costume? Cinna raises one eyebrow at me. Be honest. You mean after I got over my fear of being burned alive? I ask. Big laugh. A real one from the audience. Yes. Start then, says Caesar. Cinna, my friend, I should tell him anyway. I thought Cinna was brilliant and it was the most gorgeous costume Id ever seen and I couldnt believe I was wearing it. I cant believe Im wearing this, either. I lift up my skirt to spread it out. I mean, look at it! As the audience oohs and ahs, I see Cinna make the tiniest circular motion with his finger. But I know what hes saying. Twirl for me. I spin in a circle once and the reaction is immediate. Oh, do that again! says Caesar, and so I lift up my arms and spin around and around letting the skirt fly out, letting the dress engulf me in flames. The audience breaks into cheers. When I stop, I clutch Caesars arm. Dont stop! he says. I have to, Im dizzy! Im also giggling, which I think Ive done maybe never in my lifetime. But the nerves and the spinning have gotten to me. Caesar wraps a protective arm around me. Dont worry, Ive got you. Cant have you following in your mentors footsteps. Everyones hooting as the cameras find Haymitch, who is by now famous for his head dive at the reaping, and he waves them away good-naturedly and points back to me. Its all right, Caesar reassures the crowd. Shes safe with me. So, how about that training score. E-le-ven. Give us a hint what happened in there. I glance at the Gamemakers on the balcony and bite my lip. Um all I can say, is I think it was a first. The cameras are right on the Gamemakers, who are chuckling and nodding. Youre killing us, says Caesar as if in actual pain. Details. Details. I address the balcony. Im not supposed to talk about it, right? The Gamemaker who fell in the punch bowl shouts out, Shes not! Thank you, I say. Sorry. My lips are sealed. Lets go back then, to the moment they called your sisters name at the reaping, says Caesar. His mood is quieter now. And you volunteered. Can you tell us about her? No. No, not all of you. But maybe Cinna. I dont think Im imagining the sadness on his face. Her names Prim. Shes just twelve. And I love her more than anything. You could hear a pin drop in the City Circle now. What did she say to you? After the reaping? Caesar asks. Be honest. Be honest. I swallow hard. She asked me to try really hard to win. The audience is frozen, hanging on my every word. And what did you say? prompts Caesar gently. But instead of warmth, I feel an icy rigidity take over my body. My muscles tense as they do before a kill. When I speak, my voice seems to have dropped an octave. I swore I would. I bet you did, says Caesar, giving me a squeeze. The buzzer goes off. Sorry were out of time. Best of luck, Katniss Everdeen, tribute from District Twelve. The applause continues long after Im seated. I look to Cinna for reassurance. He gives me a subtle thumbs-up. Im still in a daze for the first part of Peetas interview. He has the audience from the get-go, though; I can hear them laughing, shouting out. He plays up the bakers son thing, comparing the tributes to the breads from their districts. Then has a funny anecdote about the perils of the Capitol showers. Tell me, do I still smell like roses? he asks Caesar, and then theres a whole run where they take turns sniffing each other that brings down the house. Im coming back into focus when Caesar asks him if he has a girlfriend back home. Peeta hesitates, then gives an unconvincing shake of his head. Handsome lad like you. There must be some special girl. Come on, whats her name? says Caesar. Peeta sighs. Well, there is this one girl. Ive had a crush on her ever since I can remember. But Im pretty sure she didnt know I was alive until the reaping. Sounds of sympathy from the crowd. Unrequited love they can relate to. She have another fellow? asks Caesar. I dont know, but a lot of boys like her, says Peeta. So, heres what you do. You win, you go home. She cant turn you down then, eh? says Caesar encouragingly. I dont think its going to work out. Winning wont help in my case, says Peeta. Why ever not? says Caesar, mystified. Peeta blushes beet red and stammers out. Because because she came here with me. Part II "The Games" 10 For a moment, the cameras hold on Peetas downcast eyes as what he says sinks in. Then I can see my face, mouth half open in a mix of surprise and protest, magnified on every screen as I realize, Me! He means me! I press my lips together and stare at the floor, hoping this will conceal the emotions starting to boil up inside of me. Oh, that is a piece of bad luck, says Caesar, and theres a real edge of pain in his voice. The crowd is murmuring in agreement, a few have even given agonized cries. Its not good, agrees Peeta. Well, I dont think any of us can blame you. Itd be hard not to fall for that young lady, says Caesar. She didnt know? Peeta shakes his head. Not until now. I allow my eyes to flicker up to the screen long enough to see that the blush on my cheeks is unmistakable. Wouldnt you love to pull her back out here and get a response? Caesar asks the audience. The crowd screams assent. Sadly, rules are rules, and Katniss Everdeens time has been spent. Well, best of luck to you, Peeta Mellark, and I think I speak for all of Panem when I say our hearts go with yours. The roar of the crowd is deafening. Peeta has absolutely wiped the rest of us off the map with his declaration of love for me. When the audience finally settles down, he chokes out a quiet Thank you and returns to his seat. We stand for the anthem. I have to raise my head out of the required respect and cannot avoid seeing that every screen is now dominated by a shot of Peeta and me, separated by a few feet that in the viewers heads can never be breached. Poor tragic us. But I know better. After the anthem, the tributes file back into the Training Center lobby and onto the elevators. I make sure to veer into a car that does not contain Peeta. The crowd slows our entourages of stylists and mentors and chaperones, so we have only each other for company. No one speaks. My elevator stops to deposit four tributes before I am alone and then find the doors opening on the twelfth floor. Peeta has only just stepped from his car when I slam my palms into his chest. He loses his balance and crashes into an ugly urn filled with fake flowers. The urn tips and shatters into hundreds of tiny pieces. Peeta lands in the shards, and blood immediately flows from his hands. What was that for? he says, aghast. You had no right! No right to go saying those things about me! I shout at him. Now the elevators open and the whole crew is there, Effie, Haymitch, Cinna, and Portia. Whats going on? says Effie, a note of hysteria in her voice. Did you fall? After she shoved me, says Peeta as Effie and Cinna help him up. Haymitch turns on me. Shoved him? This was your idea, wasnt it? Turning me into some kind of fool in front of the entire country? I answer. It was my idea, says Peeta, wincing as he pulls spikes of pottery from his palms. Haymitch just helped me with it. Yes, Haymitch is very helpful. To you! I say. You are a fool, Haymitch says in disgust. Do you think he hurt you? That boy just gave you something you could never achieve on your own. He made me look weak! I say. He made you look desirable! And lets face it, you can use all the help you can get in that department. You were about as romantic as dirt until he said he wanted you. Now they all do. Youre all theyre talking about. The star-crossed lovers from District Twelve! says Haymitch. But were not star-crossed lovers! I say. Haymitch grabs my shoulders and pins me against the wall. Who cares? Its all a big show. Its all how youre perceived. The most I could say about you after your interview was that you were nice enough, although that in itself was a small miracle. Now I can say youre a heartbreaker. Oh, oh, oh, how the boys back home fall longingly at your feet. Which do you think will get you more sponsors? The smell of wine on his breath makes me sick. I shove his hands off my shoulders and step away, trying to clear my head. Cinna comes over and puts his arm around me. Hes right, Katniss. I dont know what to think. I should have been told, so I didnt look so stupid. No, your reaction was perfect. If youd known, it wouldnt have read as real, says Portia. Shes just worried about her boyfriend, says Peeta gruffly, tossing away a bloody piece of the urn. My cheeks burn again at the thought of Gale. I dont have a boyfriend. Whatever, says Peeta. But I bet hes smart enough to know a bluff when he sees it. Besides you didnt say you loved me. So what does it matter? The words are sinking in. My anger fading. Im torn now between thinking Ive been used and thinking Ive been given an edge. Haymitch is right. I survived my interview, but what was I really? A silly girl spinning in a sparkling, dress. Giggling. The only moment of any substance I hail was when I talked about Prim. Compare that with Thresh, his silent, deadly power, and Im forgettable. Silly and sparkly and forgettable. No, not entirely forgettable, I have my eleven in training. But now Peeta has made me an object of love. Not just his. To hear him tell it I have many admirers. And if the audience really thinks were in love I remember how strongly they responded to his confession. Star-crossed lovers. Haymitch is right, they eat that stuff up in the Capitol. Suddenly Im worried that I didnt react properly. After he said he loved me, did you think I could be in love with him, too? I ask. I did, says Portia. The way you avoided looking at the cameras, the blush. They others chime in, agreeing. Youre golden, sweetheart. Youre going to have sponsors lined up around the block, says Haymitch. Im embarrassed about my reaction. I force myself to acknowledge Peeta. Im sorry I shoved you. Doesnt matter, he shrugs. Although its technically illegal. Are your hands okay? I ask. Theyll be all right, he says. In the silence that follows, delicious smells of our dinner waft in from the dining room. Come on, lets eat, says Haymitch. We all follow him to the table and take our places. But then Peeta is bleeding too heavily, and Portia leads him off for medical treatment. We start the cream and rose-petal soup without them. By the time weve finished, theyre back. Peetas hands are wrapped in bandages. I cant help feeling guilty. Tomorrow we will be in the arena. He has done me a favor and I have answered with an injury. Will I never stop owing him? After dinner, we watch the replay in the sitting room. I seem frilly and shallow, twirling and giggling in my dress, although the others assure me I am charming. Peeta actually is charming and then utterly winning as the boy in love. And there I am, blushing and confused, made beautiful by Cinnas hands, desirable by Peetas confession, tragic by circumstance, and by all accounts, unforgettable. When the anthem finishes and the screen goes dark, a hush falls on the room. Tomorrow at dawn, we will be roused and prepared for the arena. The actual Games dont start until ten because so many of the Capitol residents rise late. But Peeta and I must make an early start. There is no telling how far we will travel to the arena that has been prepared for this years Games. I know Haymitch and Effie will not be going with us. As soon as they leave here, theyll be at the Games Headquarters, hopefully madly signing up our sponsors, working out a strategy on how and when to deliver the gifts to us. Cinna and Portia will travel with us to the very spot from which we will be launched into the arena. Still final good-byes must be said here. Effie takes both of us by the hand and, with actual tears in her eyes, wishes us well. Thanks us for being the best tributes it has ever been her privilege to sponsor. And then, because its Effie and shes apparently required by law to say something awful, she adds I wouldnt be at all surprised if I finally get promoted to a decent district next year! Then she kisses us each on the cheek and hurries out, overcome with either the emotional parting or the possible improvement of her fortunes. Haymitch crosses his arms and looks us both over. Any final words of advice? asks Peeta. When the gong sounds, get the hell out of there. Youre neither of you up to the blood bath at the Cornucopia. Just clear out, put as much distance as you can between yourselves and the others, and find a source of water, he says. Got it? And after that? I ask. Stay alive, says Haymitch. Its the same advice he gave us on the train, but hes not drunk and laughing this time. And we only nod. What else is there to say? When I head to my room, Peeta lingers to talk to Portia. Im glad. Whatever strange words of parting we exchange can wait until tomorrow. My covers are drawn back, but there is no sign of the redheaded Avox girl. I wish I knew her name. I should have asked it. She could write it down maybe. Or act it out. But perhaps that would only result in punishment for her. I take a shower and scrub the gold paint, the makeup, the scent of beauty from my body. All that remains of the design-teams efforts are the flames on my nails. I decide to keep them as reminder of who I am to the audience. Katniss, the girl who was on fire. Perhaps it will give me something to hold on to in the days to come. I pull on a thick, fleecy nightgown and climb into bed. It takes me about five seconds to realize Ill never fall asleep. And I need sleep desperately because in the arena every moment I give in to fatigue will be an invitation to death. Its no good. One hour, two, three pass, and my eyelids refuse to get heavy. I cant stop trying to imagine exactly what terrain Ill be thrown into. Desert? Swamp? A frigid wasteland? Above all I am hoping for trees, which may afford me some means of concealment and food and shelter, Often there are trees because barren landscapes are dull and the Games resolve too quickly without them. But what will the climate be like? What traps have the Gamemakers hid den to liven up the slower moments? And then there are my fellow tributes The more anxious I am to find sleep, the more it eludes me. Finally, I am too restless to even stay in bed. I pace the floor, heart beating too fast, breathing too short. My room feels like a prison cell. If I dont get air soon, Im going to start to throw things again. I run down the hall to the door to the roof. Its not only unlocked but ajar. Perhaps someone forgot to close it, but it doesnt matter. The energy field enclosing the roof prevents any desperate form of escape. And Im not looking to escape, only to fill my lungs with air. I want to see the sky and the moon on the last night that no one will be hunting me. The roof is not lit at night, but as soon as my bare feel reach its tiled surface I see his silhouette, black against the lights that shine endlessly in the Capitol. Theres quite a commotion going on down in the streets, music and singing and car horns, none of which I could hear through the thick glass window panels in my room. I could slip away now, without him noticing me; he wouldnt hear me over the din, But the night airs so sweet, I cant bear returning to that stuffy cage of a room. And what difference does it make? Whether we speak or not? My feet move soundlessly across the tiles. Im only yard behind him when I say, You should be getting some sleep. He starts but doesnt turn. I can see him give his head a slight shake. I didnt want to miss the party. Its for us, after all. I come up beside him and lean over the edge of the rail. The wide streets are full of dancing people. I squint to make out their tiny figures in more detail. Are they in costumes? Who could tell? Peeta answers. With all the crazy clothes they wear here. Couldnt sleep, either? Couldnt turn my mind off, I say. Thinking about your family? he asks. No, I admit a bit guiltily. All I can do is wonder about tomorrow. Which is pointless, of course. In the light from below, I can see his face now, the awkward way he holds his bandaged hands. I really am sorry about your hands. It doesnt matter, Katniss, he says. Ive never been a contender in these Games anyway. Thats no way to be thinking, I say. Why not? Its true. My best hope is to not disgrace myself and He hesitates. And what? I say. I dont know how to say it exactly. Only I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense? he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? I dont want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that Im not. I bite my lip feeling inferior. While Ive been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self. Do you mean you wont kill anyone? I ask. No, when the time comes, Im sure Ill kill just like everybody else. I cant go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to to show the Capitol they dont own me. That Im more than just a piece in their Games, says Peeta. But youre not, I say. None of us are. Thats how the Games work. Okay, but within that framework, theres still you, theres still me, he insists. Dont you see? A little. Only no offense, but who cares, Peeta? I say. I do. I mean, what else am I allowed to care about at this point? he asks angrily. Hes locked those blue eyes on mine now, demanding an answer. I take a step back. Care about what Haymitch said. About staying alive. Peeta smiles at me, sad and mocking. Okay. Thanks for the tip, sweetheart. Its like a slap in the face. His use of Haymitchs patronizing endearment. Look, if you want to spend the last hours of your life planning some noble death in the arena, thats your choice. I want to spend mine in District Twelve. Wouldnt surprise me if you do, says Peeta. Give my mother my best when you make it back, will you? Count on it, I say. Then I turn and leave the roof. I spend the rest of the night slipping in and out of a doze, imagining the cutting remarks I will make to Peeta Mellark in the morning. Peeta Mellark. We will see how high and mighty he is when he's faced with life and death. He'll probably turn into one of those raging beast tributes, the kind who tries to eat someone's heart after they've killed them. There was a guy like that a few years ago from District 6 called Titus. He went completely savage and the Gamemakers had to have him stunned with electric guns to collect the bodies of the players he'd killed before he ate them. There are no rules in the arena, but cannibalism doesn't play well with the Capitol audience, so they tried to head it off. There was some speculation that the avalanche that finally took Titus out was specifically engineered to ensure the victor was not a lunatic. I don't see Peeta in the morning. Cinna comes to me before dawn, gives me a simple shift to wear, and guides me to the roof. My final dressing and preparations will be alone in the catacombs under the arena itself. A hovercraft appears out of thin air, just like the one did in the woods the day I saw the redheaded Avox girl captured, and a ladder drops down. I place my hands and feet on the lower rungs and instantly it's as if I'm frozen. Some sort of current glues me to the ladder while I'm lifted safely inside. I expect the ladder to release me then, but I'm still stuck when a woman in a white coat approaches me carrying a syringe. "This is just your tracker, Katniss. The stiller you are, the more efficiently I can place it," she says. Still? I'm a statue. But that doesn't prevent me from feeling the sharp stab of pain as the needle inserts the metal tracking device deep under the skin on the inside of my forearm. Now the Gamemakers will always be able to trace my whereabouts in the arena. Wouldnt want to lose a tribute. As soon as the trackers in place, the ladder releases me. The woman disappears and Cinna is retrieved from the roof, An Avox boy comes in and directs us to a room where breakfast has been laid out. Despite the tension in my stomach, I eat as much as I can, although none of the delectable food makes any impression on me. Im so nervous, I could be eating coal dust. The one thing that distracts me at all is the view from the windows as we sail over the city and then to the wilderness beyond. This is what birds see. Only theyre free and safe. The very opposite of me. The ride lasts about half an hour before the windows black out, suggesting that were nearing the arena. The hovercraft lands and Cinna and I go back to the ladder, only this time it leads down into a tube underground, into the catacombs that lie beneath the arena. We follow instructions to my destination, a chamber for my preparation. In the Capitol, they call it the Launch Room. In the districts, its referred to as the Stockyard. The place animals go before slaughter. Everything is brand-new, I will be the first and only tribute to use this Launch Room. The arenas are historic sites, preserved after the Games. Popular destinations for Capitol residents to visit, to vacation. Go for a month, rewatch the Games, tour the catacombs, visit the sites where the deaths took place. You can even take part in reenactments. They say the food is excellent. I struggle to keep my breakfast down as I shower and clean my teeth. Cinna does my hair in my simple trademark braid down my back. Then the clothes arrive, the same for every tribute. Cinna has had no say in my outfit, does not even know what will be in the package, but he helps me dress in the undergarments, simple tawny pants, light green blouse, sturdy brown belt, and thin, hooded black jacket that falls to my thighs. The material in the jackets designed to reflect body heat. Expect some cool nights, he says. The boots, worn over skintight socks, are better than I could have hoped for. Soft leather not unlike my ones at home. These have a narrow flexible rubber sole with treads though. Good for running. I think Im finished when Cinna pulls the gold mockingjay pin from his pocket. I had completely forgotten about it. Where did you get that? I ask. Off the green outfit you wore on the train, he says. I remember now taking it off my mothers dress, pinning it to the shirt. Its your district token, right? I nod and he fastens it on my shirt. It barely cleared the review board. Some thought the pin could be used as a weapon, giving you an unfair advantage. But eventually, they let it through, says Cinna. They eliminated a ring from that District One girl, though. If you twisted the gemstone, a spike popped out. Poisoned one. She claimed she had no knowledge the ring transformed and there was no way to prove she did. But she lost her token. There, youre all set. Move around. Make sure everything feels comfortable. I walk, run in a circle, swing my arms about. Yes, its fine. Fits perfectly. Then theres nothing to do but wait for the call, says Cinna. Unless you think you could eat any more? I turn down food but accept a glass of water that I take tiny sips of as we wait on a couch. I dont want to chew on my nails or lips, so I find myself gnawing on the inside of my cheek. It still hasnt fully healed from a few days ago. Soon the taste of blood fills my mouth. Nervousness seeps into terror as I anticipate what is to come. I could be dead, flat-out dead, in an hour. Not even. My fingers obsessively trace the hard little lump on my forearm where the woman injected the tracking device. I press on it, even though it hurts, I press on it so hard a small bruise begins to form. Do you want to talk, Katniss? Cinna asks. I shake my head but after a moment hold out my hand to him. Cinna encloses it in both of his. And this is how we sit until a pleasant female voice announces its time to prepare for launch. Still clenching one of Cinnas hands, I walk over and stand on the circular metal plate. Remember what Haymitch said. Run, find water. The rest will follow, he says. I nod. And remember this. Im not allowed to bet, but if I could, my money would be on you. Truly? I whisper. Truly, says Cinna. He leans down and kisses me on the forehead. Good luck, girl on fire. And then a glass cylinder is lowering around me, breaking our handhold, cutting him off from me. He taps his fingers under his chin. Head high. I lift my chin and stand as straight as I can. The cylinder begins to rise. For maybe fifteen seconds, Im in darkness and then I can feel the metal plate pushing me out of the cylinder, into the open air. For a moment, my eyes are dazzled by the bright sunlight and Im conscious only of a strong wind with the hopeful smell of pine trees. Then I hear the legendary announcer, Claudius Templesmith, as his voice booms all around me. Ladies and gentlemen, let the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games begin! 11 Sixty seconds. Thats how long were required to stand on our metal circles before the sound of a gong releases us. Step off before the minute is up, and land mines blow your legs off. Sixty seconds to take in the ring of tributes all equidistant from the Cornucopia, a giant golden horn shaped like a cone with a curved tail, the mouth of which is at least twenty feet high, spilling over with the things that will give us life here in the arena. Food, containers of water, weapons, medicine, garments, fire starters. Strewn around the Cornucopia are other supplies, their value decreasing the farther they are from the horn. For instance, only a few steps from my feet lays a three-foot square of plastic. Certainly it could be of some use in a downpour. But there in the mouth, I can see a tent pack that would protect from almost any sort of weather. If I had the guts to go in and fight for it against the other twenty-three tributes. Which I have been instructed not to do. Were on a flat, open stretch of ground. A plain of hard-packed dirt. Behind the tributes across from me, I can see nothing, indicating either a steep downward slope or even cliff. To my right lies a lake. To my left and back, spars piney woods. This is where Haymitch would want me to go. Immediately. I hear his instructions in my head. Just clear out, put as much distance as you can between yourselves and the others, and find a source of water. But its tempting, so tempting, when I see the bounty waiting there before me. And I know that if I dont get it, someone else will. That the Career Tributes who survive the bloodbath will divide up most of these life-sustaining spoils. Something catches my eye. There, resting on a mound of blanket rolls, is a silver sheath of arrows and a bow, already strung, just waiting to be engaged. Thats mine, I think. Its meant for me. Im fast. I can sprint faster than any of the girls in our school although a couple can beat me in distance races. But this forty-yard length, this is what I am built for. I know I can get it, I know I can reach it first, but then the question is how quickly can I get out of there? By the time Ive scrambled up the packs and grabbed the weapons, others will have reached the horn, and one or two I might be able to pick off, but say theres a dozen, at that close range, they could take me down with the spears and the clubs. Or their own powerful fists. Still, I wont be the only target. Im betting many of the other tributes would pass up a smaller girl, even one who scored an eleven in training, to take out their more fierce adversaries. Haymitch has never seen me run. Maybe if he had hed tell me to go for it. Get the weapon. Since thats the very weapon that might be my salvation. And I only see one bow in that whole pile. I know the minute must be almost up and will have to decide what my strategy will be and I find myself positioning my feet to run, not away into the stir rounding forests but toward the pile, toward the bow. When suddenly I notice Peeta, hes about five tributes to my right, quite a fair distance, still I can tell hes looking at me and I think he might be shaking his head. But the suns in my eyes, and while Im puzzling over it the gong rings out. And Ive missed it! Ive missed my chance! Because those extra couple of seconds Ive lost by not being ready are enough to change my mind about going in. My feet shuffle for a moment, confused at the direction my brain wants to take and then I lunge forward, scoop up the sheet of plastic and a loaf of bread. The pickings are so small and Im so angry with Peeta for distracting me that I sprint in twenty yards to retrieve a bright orange backpack that could hold anything because I cant stand leaving with virtually nothing. A boy, I think from District 9, reaches the pack at the same time I do and for a brief time we grapple for it and then he coughs, splattering my face with blood. I stagger back, repulsed by the warm, sticky spray. Then the boy slips to the ground. Thats when I see the knife in his back. Already other tributes have reached the Cornucopia and are spreading out to attack. Yes, the girl from District 2, ten yards away, running toward me, one hand clutching a half-dozen knives. Ive seen her throw in training. She never misses. And Im her next target. All the general fear Ive been feeling condenses into at immediate fear of this girl, this predator who might kill me in seconds. Adrenaline shoots through me and I sling the pack over one shoulder and run full-speed for the woods. I can hear the blade whistling toward me and reflexively hike the pack up to protect my head. The blade lodges in the pack. Both straps on my shoulders now, I make for the trees. Somehow I know the girl will not pursue me. That shell be drawn back into the Cornucopia before all the good stuff is gone. A grin crosses my face. Thanks for the knife, I think. At the edge of the woods I turn for one instant to survey the field. About a dozen or so tributes are hacking away at one another at the horn. Several lie dead already on the ground. Those who have taken flight are disappearing into the trees or into the void opposite me. I continue running until the woods have hidden me from the other tributes then slow into a steady jog that I think I can maintain for a while. For the next few hours, I alternate between jogging and walking, putting as much distance as I can between myself and my competitors. I lost my bread during the struggle with the boy from District 9 but managed to stuff my plastic in my sleeve so as I walk I fold it neatly and tuck it into a pocket. I also free the knife its a fine one with a long sharp blade, serrated near the handle, which will make it handy for sawing through things and slide it into my belt. I dont dare stop to examine the contents of the pack yet. I just keep moving, pausing only to check for pursuers. I can go a long time. I know that from my days in the woods. But I will need water. That was Haymitchs second instruction, and since I sort of botched the first, I keep a sharp eye out for any sign of it. No luck. The woods begin to evolve, and the pines are intermixed with a variety of trees, some I recognize, some completely foreign to me. At one point, I hear a noise and pull my knife, thinking I may have to defend myself, but Ive only startled a rabbit. Good to see you, I whisper. If theres one rabbit, there could be hundreds just waiting to be snared. The ground slopes down. I dont particularly like this. Valleys make me feel trapped. I want to be high, like in the hills around District 12, where I can see my enemies approaching. But I have no choice but to keep going. Funny though, I dont feel too bad. The days of gorging myself have paid off. Ive got staying power even though Im short on sleep. Being in the woods is rejuvenating. Im glad for the solitude, even though its an illusion, because Im probably on-screen right now. Not consistently but off and on. There are so many deaths to show the first day that a tribute trekking through the woods isnt much to look at. But theyll show me enough to let people know Im alive, uninjured and on the move. One of the heaviest days of betting is the opening, when the initial casualties come in. But that cant compare to what happens as the field shrinks to a handful of players. Its late afternoon when I begin to hear the cannons. Each shot represents a dead tribute. The fighting must have finally stopped at the Cornucopia. They never collect the bloodbath bodies until the killers have dispersed. On the opening day, they dont even fire the cannons until the initial fightings over because its too hard to keep track of the fatalities. I allow myself to pause, panting, as I count the shots. One two three on and on until they reach eleven. Eleven dead in all. Thirteen left to play. My fingernails scrape at the dried blood the boy from District 9 coughed into my face. Hes gone, certainly. I wonder about Peeta. Has he lasted through the day? Ill know in a few hours. When they project the deads images into the sky for the rest of us to see. All of a sudden, Im overwhelmed by the thought that Peeta may be already lost, bled white, collected, and in the process of being transported back to the Capitol to be cleaned up, redressed, and shipped in a simple wooden box back to District 12. No longer here. Heading home. I try hard to remember if I saw him once the action started. But the last image I can conjure up is Peeta shaking his head as the gong rang out. Maybe its better, if hes gone already. He had no confidence he could win. And I will not end up with the unpleasant task of killing him. Maybe its better if hes out of this for good. I slump down next to my pack, exhausted. I need to go through it anyway before night falls. See what I have to work with. As I unhook the straps, I can feel its sturdily made although a rather unfortunate color. This orange will practically glow in the dark. I make a mental note to camouflage it first thing tomorrow. I flip open the flap. What I want most, right at this moment, is water. Haymitchs directive to immediately find water was not arbitrary. I wont last long without it. For a few days, Ill be able to function with unpleasant symptoms of dehydration, but after that I'll deteriorate into helplessness and be dead in a week, tops. I carefully lay out the provisions. One thin black sleeping bag that reflects body heat. A pack of crackers. A pack of dried beef strips. A bottle of iodine. A box of wooden matches. A small coil of wire. A pair of sunglasses. And a half-gallon plastic bottle with a cap for carrying water that's bone dry. No water. How hard would it have been for them to fill up the bottle? I become aware of the dryness in my throat and mouth, the cracks in my lips. I've been moving all day long. It's been hot and I've sweat a lot. I do this at home, but there are always streams to drink from, or snow to melt if it should come to it. As I refill my pack I have an awful thought. The lake. The one I saw while I was waiting for the gong to sound. What if that's the only water source in the arena? That way they'll guarantee drawing us in to fight. The lake is a full day's journey from where I sit now, a much harder journey with nothing to drink. And then, even if I reach it, it's sure to be heavily guarded by some of the Career Tributes. I'm about to panic when I remember the rabbit I startled earlier today. It has to drink, too. I just have to find out where. Twilight is closing in and I am ill at ease. The trees are too thin to offer much concealment. The layer of pine needles that muffles my footsteps also makes tracking animals harder when I need their trails to find water. And I'm still heading downhill, deeper and deeper into a valley that seems endless. Im hungry, too, but I dont dare break into my precious store of crackers and beef yet. Instead, I take my knife and go to work on a pine tree, cutting away the outer bark and scraping off a large handful of the softer inner bark. I slowly chew the stuff as I walk along. After a week of the finest food in the world, its a little hard to choke down. But Ive eaten plenty of pine in my life. Ill adjust quickly. In another hour, its clear Ive got to find a place to camp. Night creatures are coming out. I can hear the occasional hoot or howl, my first clue that Ill be competing with natural predators for the rabbits. As to whether Ill be viewed as a source of food, its too soon to tell. There could be any number of animals stalking me at this moment. But right now, I decide to make my fellow tributes a priority. Im sure many will continue hunting through the night. Those who fought it out at the Cornucopia will have food, an abundance of water from the lake, torches or flashlights, and weapons theyre itching to use. I can only hope Ive traveled far and fast enough to be out of range. Before settling down, I take my wire and set two twitch-up snares in the brush. I know its risky to be setting traps, but food will go so fast out here. And I cant set snares on the run. Still, I walk another five minutes before making camp. I pick my tree carefully. A willow, not terribly tall but set in a clump of other willows, offering concealment in those long, flowing tresses. I climb up, sticking to the stronger branches close to the trunk, and find a sturdy fork for my bed. It takes some doing, but I arrange the sleeping bag in a relatively comfortable manner. I place my backpack in the foot of the bag, then slide in after it. As a precaution, I remove my belt, loop it all the way around the branch and my sleeping bag, and refasten it at my waist. Now if I roll over in my sleep, I wont go crashing to the ground. Im small enough to tuck the top of the bag over my head, but I put on my hood as well. As night falls, the air is cooling quickly. Despite the risk I took in getting the backpack, I know now it was the right choice. This sleeping bag, radiating back and preserving my body heat, will be invaluable. Im sure there are several other tributes whose biggest concern right now is how to stay warm whereas I may actually be able to get a few hours of sleep. If only I wasnt so thirsty Night has just come when I hear the anthem that proceeds the death recap. Through the branches I can see the seal of the Capitol, which appears to be floating in the sky. Im actually viewing another screen, an enormous one thats transported by of one of their disappearing hovercraft. The anthem fades out and the sky goes dark for a moment. At home, we would be watching full coverage of each and every killing, but thats thought to give an unfair advantage to the living tributes. For instance, if I got my hands on the bow and shot someone, my secret would be revealed to all. No, here in the arena, all we see are the same photographs they showed when they televised our training scores. Simple head shots. But now instead of scores they post only district numbers. I take a deep breath as the face of the eleven dead tributes begin and tick them off one by one on my fingers. The first to appear is the girl from District 3. That means that the Career Tributes from 1 and 2 have all survived. No surprise there. Then the boy from 4. I didnt expect that one, usually all the Careers make it through the first day. The boy from District 5 I guess the fox-faced girl made it. Both tributes from 6 and 7. The boy from 8. Both from 9. Yes, theres the boy who I fought for the backpack. Ive run through my fingers, only one more dead tribute to go. Is it Peeta? No, theres the girl from District 10. Thats it. The Capitol seal is back with a final musical flourish. Then darkness and the sounds of the forest resume. Im relieved Peetas alive. I tell myself again that if I get killed, his winning will benefit my mother and Prim the most. This is what I tell myself to explain the conflicting emotions that arise when I think of Peeta. The gratitude that he gave me an edge by professing his love for me in the interview. The anger at his superiority on the roof. The dread that we may come face-to-face at any moment in this arena. Eleven dead, but none from District 12. I try to work out who is left. Five Career Tributes. Foxface. Thresh and Rue. Rue so she made it through the first day after all. I cant help feeling glad. That makes ten of us. The other three Ill figure out tomorrow. Now when it is dark, and I have traveled far, and I am nestled high in this tree, now I must try and rest. I havent really slept in two days, and then theres been the long days journey into the arena. Slowly, I allow my muscles to relax. My eyes to close. The last thing I think is its lucky I dont snore Snap! The sound of a breaking branch wakes me. How long have I been asleep? Four hours? Five? The tip of my nose is icy cold. Snap! Snap! Whats going on? This is not the sound of a branch under someones foot, but the sharp crack of one coming from a tree. Snap! Snap! I judge it to be several hundred yards to my right. Slowly, noiselessly, I turn myself in that direction. For a few minutes, theres nothing but blackness and some scuffling. Then I see a spark and a small fire begins to bloom. A pair of hands warms over flames, but I cant make out more than that. I have to bite my lip not to scream every foul name I know at the fire starter. What are they thinking? A fire Ill just at nightfall would have been one thing. Those who battled at the Cornucopia, with their superior strength and surplus of supplies, they couldnt possibly have been near enough to spot the flames then. But now, when theyve probably been combing the woods for hours looking for victims. You might as well be waving a flag and shouting, Come and get me! And here I am a stones throw from the biggest idiot in the Games. Strapped in a tree. Not daring to flee since my general location has just been broadcast to any killer who cares. I mean, I know its cold out here and not everybody has a sleeping bag. But then you grit your teeth and stick it out until dawn! I lay smoldering in my bag for the next couple of hours really thinking that if I can get out of this tree, I wont have the least problem taking out my new neighbor. My instinct has been to flee, not fight. But obviously this persons a hazard. Stupid people are dangerous. And this one probably doesnt have much in the way of weapons while Ive got this excellent knife. The sky is still dark, but I can feel the first signs of dawn approaching. Im beginning to think we meaning the person whose death Im now devising and me we might actually have gone unnoticed. Then I hear it. Several pairs of feet breaking into a run. The fire starter must have dozed off. Theyre on her before she can escape. I know its a girl now, I can tell by the pleading, the agonized scream that follows. Then theres laughter and congratulations from several voices. Someone cries out, Twelve down and eleven to go! which gets a round of appreciative hoots. So theyre fighting in a pack. Im not really surprised. Often alliances are formed in the early stages of the Games. The strong band together to hunt down the weak then, when the tension becomes too great, begin to turn on one another. I dont have to wonder too hard who has made this alliance. Itll be the remaining Career Tributes from Districts 1, 2, and 4. Two boys and three girls. The ones who lunched together. For a moment, I hear them checking the girl for supplies. I can tell by their comments theyve found nothing good. I wonder if the victim is Rue but quickly dismiss the thought. Shes much too bright to be building a fire like that. Better clear out so they can get the body before it starts stinking. Im almost certain thats the brutish boy from District 2. There are murmurs of assent and then, to my horror, I hear the pack heading toward me. They do not know Im here. How could they? And Im well concealed in the clump of trees. At least while the sun stays down. Then my black sleeping bag will turn from camouflage to trouble. If they just keep moving, they will pass me and be gone in a minute. But the Careers stop in the clearing about ten yards from my tree. They have flashlights, torches. I can see an arm here, a boot there, through the breaks in the branches. I turn to stone, not even daring to breathe. Have they spotted me? No, not yet. I can tell from their words their minds are elsewhere. Shouldnt we have heard a cannon by now? Id say yes. Nothing to prevent them from going in immediately. Unless she isnt dead. Shes dead. I stuck her myself. Then wheres the cannon? Someone should go back. Make sure the jobs done. Yeah, we dont want to have to track her down twice. I said shes dead! An argument breaks out until one tribute silences the others. Were wasting time! Ill go finish her and lets move on! I almost fall out of the tree. The voice belongs to Peeta. 12 Thank goodness, I had the foresight to belt myself in. Ive rolled sideways off the fork and Im facing the ground, held in place by the belt, one hand, and my feet straddling the pack inside my sleeping bag, braced against the trunk. There must have been some rustling when I tipped sideways, but the Careers have been too caught up in their own argument to catch it. Go on, then, Lover Boy, says the boy from District 2. See for yourself. I just get a glimpse of Peeta, lit by a torch, heading back to the girl by the fire. His face is swollen with bruises, theres a bloody bandage on one arm, and from the sound of his gait hes limping somewhat. I remember him shaking him his head, telling me not to go into the fight for the supplies, when all along, all along hed planned to throw himself into the thick of things. Just the opposite of what Haymitch had mid him to do. Okay, I can stomach that. Seeing all those supplies was tempting. But this this other thing. This teaming up with the Career wolf pack to hunt down the rest of us. No one from District 12 would think of doing such a thing! Career tributes are overly vicious, arrogant, better fed, but only because theyre the Capitols lapdogs. Universally, solidly hated by all but those from their own districts. I can imagine the things theyre saying about him back home now. And Peeta had the gall to talk to me about disgrace? Obviously, the noble boy on the rooftop was playing just one more game with me. But this will be his last. I will eagerly watch the night skies for signs of his death, if I dont kill him first myself. The Career tributes are silent until he gets out of ear shot, then use hushed voices. Why dont we just kill him now and get it over with? Let him tag along. Whats the harm? And hes handy with that knife. Is he? Thats news. What a lot of interesting things Im learning about my friend Peeta today. Besides, hes our best chance of finding her. It takes me a moment to register that the her theyre referring to is me. Why? You think she bought into that sappy romance stuff? She might have. Seemed pretty simpleminded to me. Every time I think about her spinning around in that dress, I want to puke. Wish we knew how she got that eleven. Bet you Lover Boy knows. The sound of Peeta returning silences them. Was she dead? asks the boy from District 2. No. But she is now, says Peeta. Just then, the cannon fires. Ready to move on? The Career pack sets off at a run just as dawn begins to break, and birdsong fills the air. I remain in my awkward position, muscles trembling with exertion for a while longer, then hoist myself back onto my branch. I need to get down, to get going, but for a moment I lie there, digesting what Ive heard. Not only is Peeta with the Careers, hes helping them find me. The simpleminded girl who has to be taken seriously because of her eleven. Because she can use a bow and arrow. Which Peeta knows better than anyone. But he hasnt told them yet. Is he saving that information because he knows its all that keeps him alive? Is he still pretending to love me for the audience? What is going on in his head? Suddenly, the birds fall silent. Then one gives a high-pitched warning call. A single note. Just like the one Gale and I heard when the redheaded Avox girl was caught. High above the dying campfire a hovercraft materializes. A set of huge metal teeth drops down. Slowly, gently, the dead tribute girl is lifted into the hovercraft. Then it vanishes. The birds resume their song. Move, I whisper to myself. I wriggle out of my sleeping bag, roll it up, and place it in the pack. I take a deep breath. While Ive been concealed by darkness and the sleeping bag and the willow branches, it has probably been difficult for the cameras to get a good shot of me. I know they must be tracking me now though. The minute I hit the ground, Im guaranteed a close-up. The audience will have been beside themselves, knowing I was in the tree, that I overheard the Careers talking, that I discovered Peeta was with them. Until I work out exactly how I want to play that, Id better at least act on top of things. Not perplexed. Certainly not confused or frightened. No, I need to look one step ahead of the game. So as I slide out of the foliage and into the dawn light, I pause a second, giving the cameras time to lock on me. Then I cock my head slightly to the side and give a knowing smile. There! Let them figure out what that means! Im about to take off when I think of my snares. Maybe its imprudent to check them with the others so close. But have to. Too many years of hunting, I guess. And the lure of possible meat. Im rewarded with one fine rabbit. In no time, Ive cleaned and gutted the animal, leaving the head, feet, tail, skin, and innards, under a pile of leaves. Im wishing for a fire eating raw rabbit can give you rabbit fever, a lesson I learned the hard way when I think of the dead tribute. I hurry back to her camp. Sure enough, the coals of her dying fire are still hot. I cut up the rabbit, fashion a spit out of branches, and set it over the coals. Im glad for the cameras now. I want sponsors to see I can hunt, that Im a good bet because I wont be lured into traps as easily as the others will by hunger. While the rabbit cooks, I grind up part of a charred branch and set about camouflaging my orange pack. The black tones it down, but I feel a layer of mud would definitely help. Of course, to have mud, Id need water I pull on my gear, grab my spit, kick some dirt over the coals, and take off in the opposite direction the Careers went. I eat half the rabbit as I go, then wrap up the leftovers in my plastic for later. The meat stops the grumbling in my stomach but does little to quench my thirst. Water is my top priority now. As I hike along, I feel certain Im still holding the screen in the Capitol, so Im careful to continue to hide my emotions. But what a good time Claudius Templesmith must be having with his guest commentators, dissecting Peetas behavior, my reaction. What to make of it all? Has Peeta revealed his true colors? How does this affect the betting odds? Will we lose sponsors? Do we even have sponsors? Yes, I feel certain we do, or at least did. Certainly Peeta has thrown a wrench into our star-crossed lover dynamic. Or has he? Maybe, since he hasnt spoken much about me, we can still get some mileage out of it. Maybe people will think its something we plotted together if I seem like it amuses me now. The sun rises in the sky and even through the canopy it seems overly bright. I coat my lips in some grease from the rabbit and try to keep from panting, but its no use. Its only been a day and Im dehydrating fast. I try and think of everything I know about finding water. It runs downhill, so, in fact, continuing down into this valley isnt a bad thing. If I could just locate a game trail or spot a particularly green patch of vegetation, these might help me along, but nothing seems to change. Theres just the slight gradual slope, the birds, the sameness to the trees. As the day wears on, I know Im headed for trouble. What little urine Ive been able to pass is a dark brown, my head is aching, and theres a dry patch on my tongue that refuses to moisten. The sun hurts my eyes so I dig out my sunglasses, but when I put them on they do something funny to my vision, so I just stuff them back in my pack. Its late afternoon when I think Ive found help. I spot a cluster of berry bushes and hurry to strip the fruit, to suck the sweet juices from the skins. But just as Im holding them to my lips, I get a hard look at them. What I thought were blueberries have a slightly different shape, and when I break one open the insides are bloodred. I dont recognize these berries, perhaps they are edible, but Im guessing this is some evil trick on the part of the Gamemakers. Even the plant instructor in the Training Center made a point of telling us to avoid berries unless you were 100 percent sure they werent toxic. Something I already knew, but Im so thirsty it takes her reminder to give me the strength to fling them away. Fatigue is beginning to settle on me, but its not the usual tiredness that follows a long hike. I have to stop and rest frequently, although I know the only cure for what ails me requires continued searching. I try a new tactic climbing a tree as high as I dare in my shaky state to look for any signs of water. But as far as I can see in any direction, theres the same unrelenting stretch of forest. Determined to go on until nightfall, I walk until Im stumbling over my own feet. Exhausted, I haul myself up into a tree and belt myself in. Ive no appetite, but I suck on a rabbit bone just to give my mouth something to do. Night falls, the anthem plays, and high in the sky I see the picture of the girl, who was apparently from District 8. The one Peeta went back to finish off. My fear of the Career pack is minor compared to my burning thirst. Besides, they were heading away from me and by now they, too, will have to rest. With the scarcity of water, they may even have had to return to the lake for refills. Maybe, that is the only course for me as well. Morning brings distress. My heads throbs with every beat of my heart. Simple movements send stabs of pain through my joints. I fall, rather than jump from the tree. It takes several minutes for me to assemble my gear. Somewhere inside me, I know this is wrong. I should be acting with more caution, moving with more urgency. But my mind seems foggy and forming a plan is hard. I lean back against the trunk of my tree, one finger gingerly stroking the sandpaper surface of my tongue, as I assess my options. How can I get water? Return to the lake. No good. Id never make it. Hope for rain. Theres not a cloud in the sky. Keep looking. Yes, this is my only chance. But then, another thought hits me, and the surge of anger that follows brings me to me senses. Haymitch! He could send me water! Press a button and have it delivered to me in a silver parachute in minutes. I know I must have sponsors, at least one or two who could afford a pint of liquid for me. Yes, its pricey, but these people, theyre made of money. And theyll be betting on me as well. Perhaps Haymitch doesnt realize how deep my need is. I say in a voice as loud as I dare. Water. I wait, hopefully, for a parachute to descend from the sky. But nothing is forthcoming. Something is wrong. Am I deluded about having sponsors? Or has Peetas behavior made them all hang back? No, I dont believe it. Theres someone out there who wants to buy me water only Haymitch is refusing to let it go through. As my mentor, he gets to control the flow of gifts from the sponsors. I know he hates me. Hes made that clear enough. But enough to let me die? From this? He cant do that, can he? If a mentor mistreats his tributes, hell be held accountable by the viewers, by the people back in District 12. Even Haymitch wouldnt risk that, would he? Say what you will about my fellow traders in the Hob, but I dont think theyd welcome him back there if he let me die this way. And then where would he get his liquor? So what? Is he trying to make me suffer for defying him? Is he directing all the sponsors toward Peeta? Is he just too drunk to even notice whats going on at the moment? Somehow I dont believe that and I dont believe hes trying to kill me off by neglect, either. He has, in fact, in his own unpleasant way, genuinely been trying to prepare me for this. Then what is going on? I bury my face in my hands. Theres no danger of tears now, I couldnt produce one to save my life. What is Haymitch doing? Despite my anger, hatred, and suspicions, a small voice in the back of my head whispers an answer. Maybe hes sending you a message, it says. A message. Saying what? Then I know. Theres only one good reason Haymitch could be withholding water from me. Because he knows Ive almost found it. I grit my teeth and pull myself to my feet. My backpack seems to have tripled in weight. I find a broken branch that will do for a walking stick and I start off. The suns beating down, even more searing than the first two days. I feel like an old piece of leather, drying and cracking in the heat. every step is an effort, but I refuse to stop. I refuse to sit down. If I sit, theres a good chance I wont be able to get up again, that I wont even remember my task. What easy prey I am! Any tribute, even tiny Rue, could take me right now, merely shove me over and kill me with my own knife, and Id have little strength to resist. But if anyone is in my part of the woods, they ignore me. The truth is, I feel a million miles from another living soul. Not alone though. No, theyve surely got a camera tracking me now. I think back to the years of watching tributes starve, freeze, bleed, and dehydrate to death. Unless theres a really good fight going on somewhere, Im being featured. My thoughts turn to Prim. Its likely she wont be watching me live, but theyll show updates at the school during lunch. For her sake, I try to look as least desperate as I can. But by afternoon, I know the end is coming. My legs are shaking and my heart too quick. I keep forgetting, exactly what Im doing. Ive stumbled repeatedly and managed to regain my feet, but when the stick slides out from under me, I finally tumble to the ground unable to get up. I let my eyes close. I have misjudged Haymitch. He has no intention of helping me at all. This is all right, I think. This is not so bad here. The air is less hot, signifying evenings approach. Theres a slight, sweet scent that reminds me of lilies. My fingers stroke the smooth ground, sliding easily across the top. This is an okay place to die, I think. My fingertips make small swirling patterns in the cool, slippery earth. I love mud, I think. How many times Ive tracked game with the help of its soft, readable surface. Good for bee stings, too. Mud. Mud. Mud! My eyes fly open and I dig my fingers into the earth. It is mud! My nose lifts in the air. And those are lilies! Pond lilies! I crawl now, through the mud, dragging myself toward the scent. Five yards from where I fell, I crawl through a tangle of plants into a pond. Floating on the top, yellow flowers in bloom, are my beautiful lilies. Its all I can do not to plunge my face into the water and gulp down as much as I can hold. But I have just enough sense left to abstain. With trembling hands, I get out my flask and fill it with water. I add what I remember to be the right number of drops of iodine for purifying it. The half an hour of waiting is agony, but I do it. At least, I think its a half an hour, but its certainly as long as I can stand. Slowly, easy now, I tell myself. I take one swallow and make myself wait. Then another. Over the next couple of hours, I drink the entire half gallon. Then a second. I prepare another before I retire to a tree where I continue sipping, eating rabbit, and even indulge in one of my precious crackers. By the time the anthem plays, I feel remarkably better. There are no faces tonight, no tributes died today. Tomorrow Ill stay here, resting, camouflaging my backpack with mud, catching some of those little fish I saw as I sipped, digging up the roots of the pond lilies to make a nice meal. I snuggle down in my sleeping bag, hanging on to my water bottle for dear life, which, of course, it is. A few hours later, the stampede of feet shakes me from slumber. I look around in bewilderment. Its not yet dawn, but my stinging eyes can see it. It would be hard to miss the wall of fire descending on me. 13 My first impulse is to scramble from the tree, but Im belted in. Somehow my fumbling fingers release the buckle and I fall to the ground in a heap, still snarled in my sleeping bag. Theres no time for any kind of packing. Fortunately, my backpack and water bottle are already in the bag. I shove in the belt, hoist the bag over my shoulder, and flee. The world has transformed to flame and smoke. Burning branches crack from trees and fall in showers of sparks at my feet. All I can do is follow the others, the rabbits and deer and I even spot a wild dog pack shooting through the woods. I trust their sense of direction because their instincts are sharper than mine. But they are much faster, flying through the underbrush so gracefully as my boots catch on roots and fallen tree limbs, that theres no way I can keep apace with them. The heat is horrible, but worse than the heat is the smoke, which threatens to suffocate me at any moment. I pull the top of my shirt up over my nose, grateful to find it soaked in sweat, and it offers a thin veil of protection. And I run, choking, my bag banging against my back, my face cut with branches that materialize from the gray haze without warning, because I know I am supposed to run. This was no tributes campfire gone out of control, no accidental occurrence. The flames that bear down on me have an unnatural height, a uniformity that marks them as human-made, machine-made, Gamemaker-made. Things have been too quiet today. No deaths, perhaps no fights at all. The audience in the Capitol will be getting bored, claiming that these Games are verging on dullness. This is the one thing the Games must not do. Its not hard to follow the Gamemakers motivation. There is the Career pack and then there are the rest of us, probably spread far and thin across the arena. This fire is designed to flush us out, to drive us together. It may not be the most original device Ive seen, but its very, very effective. I hurdle over a burning log. Not high enough. The tail end of my jacket catches on fire and I have to stop to rip it from my body and stamp out the flames. But I dont dare leave the jacket, scorched and smoldering as it is, I take the risk of shoving it in my sleeping bag, hoping the lack of air will quell what I havent extinguished. This is all I have, what I carry on my back, and its little enough to survive with. In a matter of minutes, my throat and nose are burning. The coughing begins soon after and my lungs begin to feel as if they are actually being cooked. Discomfort turns to distress until each breath sends a searing pain through my chest. I manage to take cover under a stone outcropping just as the vomiting begins, and I lose my meager supper and whatever water has remained in my stomach. Crouching on my hands and knees, I retch until theres nothing left to come up. I know I need to keep moving, but Im trembling and light-headed now, gasping for air. I allow myself about a spoonful of water to rinse my mouth and spit then take a few swallows from my bottle. You get one minute, I tell myself. One minute to rest. I take the time to reorder my supplies, wad up the sleeping bag, and messily stuff everything into the backpack. My minutes up. I know its time to move on, but the smoke has clouded my thoughts. The swift-footed animals that were my compass have left me behind. I know I havent been in this part of the woods before, there were no sizable rocks like the one Im sheltering against on my earlier travels. Where are the Gamemakers driving me? Back to the lake? To a whole new terrain filled with new dangers? I had just found a few hours of peace at the pond when this attack began. Would there be any way I could travel parallel to the fire and work my way back there, to a source of water at least? The wall of fire must have an end and it wont burn indefinitely. Not because the Gamemakers couldnt keep it fueled but because, again, that would invite accusations of boredom from the audience. If I could get back behind the fire line, I could avoid meeting up with the Careers. Ive just decided to try and loop back around, although it will require miles of travel away from the inferno and then a very circuitous route back, when the first fireball blasts into the rock about two feet from my head. I spring out from under my ledge, energized by renewed fear. The game has taken a twist. The fire was just to get us moving, now the audience will get to see some real fun. When I hear the next hiss, I flatten on the ground, not taking time to look. The fireball hits a tree off to my left, engulfing it in flames. To remain still is death. Im barely on my feet before the third ball hits the ground where I was lying, sending a pillar of fire up behind me. Time loses meaning now as I frantically try to dodge the attacks. I cant see where theyre being launched from, but its not a hovercraft. The angles are not extreme enough. Probably this whole segment of the woods has been armed with precision launchers that are concealed in trees or rocks. Somewhere, in a cool and spotless room, a Gamemaker sits at a set of controls, fingers on the triggers that could end my life in a second. All that is needed is a direct hit. Whatever vague plan I had conceived regarding returning to my pond is wiped from my mind as I zigzag and dive and leap to avoid the fireballs. Each one is only the size of an apple, but packs tremendous power on contact. Every sense I have goes into overdrive as the need to survive takes over. Theres no time to judge if a move is the correct one. When theres a hiss, I act or die. Something keeps me moving forward, though. A lifetime of watching the Hunger Games lets me know that certain areas of the arena are rigged for certain attacks. And that if I can just get away from this section, I might be able to move out of reach of the launchers. I might also then fall straight into a pit of vipers, but I cant worry about that now. How long I scramble along dodging the fireballs I cant say, but the attacks finally begin to abate. Which is good, because Im retching again. This time its an acidic substance that scalds my throat and makes its way into my nose as well. Im forced to stop as my body convulses, trying desperately to rid itself of the poisons Ive been sucking in during the attack. I wait for the next hiss, the next signal to bolt. It doesnt come. The force of the retching has squeezed tears out of my stinging eyes. My clothes are drenched in sweat. Somehow, through the smoke and vomit, I pick up the scent of singed hair. My hand fumbles to my braid and finds a fireball has seared off at least six inches of it. Strands of blackened hair crumble in my fingers. I stare at them, fascinated by the transformation, when the hissing registers. My muscles react, only not fast enough this time. The fireball crashes into the ground at my side, but not before it skids across my right calf. Seeing my pants leg on fire sends me over the edge. I twist and scuttle backward on my hands and feet, shrieking, trying to remove myself from the horror. When I finally regain enough sense, I roll the leg back and forth on the ground, which stifles the worst of it. But then, without thinking, I rip away the remaining fabric with my bare hands. I sit on the ground, a few yards from the blaze set off by the fireball. My calf is screaming, my hands covered in red welts. Im shaking too hard to move. If the Gamemakers want to finish me off, now is the time. I hear Cinnas voice, carrying images of rich fabric and sparkling gems. Katniss, the girl who was on fire. What a good laugh the Gamemakers must be having over that one. Perhaps, Cinnas beautiful costumes have even brought on this particular torture for me. I know he couldnt have foreseen this, must be hurting for me because, in fact, I believe he cares about me. But all in all, maybe showing up stark naked in that chariot would have been safer for me. The attack is now over. The Gamemakers dont want me dead. Not yet anyway. Everyone knows they could destroy us all within seconds of the opening gong. The real sport of the Hunger Games is watching the tributes kill one another. Every so often, they do kill a tribute just to remind the players they can. But mostly, they manipulate us into confronting one another face-to-face. Which means, if I am no longer being fired at, there is at least one other tribute close at hand. I would drag myself into a tree and take cover now if I could, but the smoke is still thick enough to kill me. I make myself stand and begin to limp away from the wall of flames that lights up the sky. It does not seem to be pursuing me any longer, except with its stinking black clouds. Another light, daylight, begins to softly emerge. Swirls of smoke catch the sunbeams. My visibility is poor. I can see maybe fifteen yards in any direction. A tribute could easily be concealed from me here. I should draw my knife as a precaution, but I doubt my ability to hold it for long. The pain in my hands can in no way compete with that in my calf. I hate burns, have always hated them, even a small one gotten from pulling a pan of bread from the oven. It is the worst kind of pain to me, but I have never experienced anything like this. Im so weary I dont even notice Im in the pool until Im ankle-deep. Its spring-fed, bubbling up out of a crevice in some rocks, and blissfully cool. I plunge my hands into the shallow water and feel instant relief. Isnt that what my mother always says? The first treatment for a burn is cold water? That it draws out the heat? But she means minor burns. Probably shed recommend it for my hands. But what of my calf? Although I have not yet had the courage to examine it, Im guessing that its an injury in a whole different class. I lie on my stomach at edge of the pool for a while, dangling my hands in the water, examining the little flames on my fingernails that are beginning to chip off. Good. Ive had enough fire for a lifetime. I bathe the blood and ash from my face. I try to recall all I know about burns. They are common injuries in the Seam where we cook and heat our homes with coal. Then there are the mine accidents A family once brought in an unconscious young man pleading with my mother to help him. The district doctor whos responsible for treating the miners had written him off, told the family to take him home to die. But they wouldnt accept this. He lay on our kitchen table, senseless to the world. I got a glimpse of the wound on his thigh, gaping, charred flesh, burned clear down to the bone, before I ran from the house. I went to the woods and hunted the entire day, haunted by the gruesome leg, memories of my fathers death. Whats funny was, Prim, whos scared of her own shadow, stayed and helped. My mother says healers are born, not made. They did their best, but the man died, just like the doctor said he would. My leg is in need of attention, but I still cant look at it. What if its as bad as the mans and I can see my bone? Then I remember my mother saying that if a burns severe, the victim might not even feel pain because the nerves would be destroyed. Encouraged by this, I sit up and swing my leg in front of me. I almost faint at the sight of my calf. The flesh is a brilliant red covered with blisters. I force myself to take deep, slow breaths, feeling quite certain the cameras are on my face. I cant show weakness at this injury. Not if I want help. Pity does not get you aid. Admiration at your refusal to give in does. I cut the remains of the pant leg off at the knee and examine the injury more closely. The burned area is about the size of my hand. None of the skin is blackened. I think its not too bad to soak. Gingerly I stretch out my leg into the pool, propping the heel of my boot on a rock so the leather doesnt get too sodden, and sigh, because this does offer some relief. I know there are herbs, if I could find them, that would speed the healing, but I cant quite call them to mind. Water and time will probably be all I have to work with. Should I be moving on? The smoke is slowly clearing but still too heavy to be healthy. If I do continue away from the fire, wont I be walking straight into the weapons of the Careers? Besides, every time I lift my leg from the water, the pain rebounds so intensely I have to slide it back in. My hands are slightly less demanding. They can handle small breaks from the pool. So I slowly put my gear back in order. First I fill my bottle with the pool water, treat it, and when enough time has passed, begin to rehydrate my body. After a time, I force myself to nibble on a cracker, which helps settle my stomach. I roll up my sleeping bag. Except for a few black marks, its relatively unscathed. My jackets another matter. Stinking and scorched, at least a foot of the back beyond repair. I cut off the damaged area leaving me with a garment that comes just to the bottom of my ribs. But the hoods intact and its far better than nothing. Despite the pain, drowsiness begins to take over. Id take to a tree and try to rest, except Id be too easy to spot. Besides, abandoning my pool seems impossible. I neatly arrange my supplies, even settle my pack on my shoulders, but I cant seem to leave. I spot some water plants with edible roots and make a small meal with my last piece of rabbit. Sip water. Watch the sun make its slow arc across the sky. Where would I go anyway that is any safer than here? I lean back on my pack, overcome by drowsiness. If the Careers want me, let them find me, I think before drifting into a stupor. Let them find me. And find me, they do. Its lucky Im ready to move on because when I hear the feet, I have less than a minute head start. Evening has begun to fall. The moment I awake, Im up and running, splashing across the pool, flying into the underbrush. My leg slows me down, but I sense my pursuers are not as speedy as they were before the fire, either. I hear their coughs, their raspy voices calling to one another. Still, they are closing in, just like a pack of wild dogs, and so I do what I have done my whole life in such circumstances. I pick a high tree and begin to climb. If running hurt, climbing is agonizing because it requires not only exertion but direct contact of my hands on the tree bark. Im fast, though, and by the time theyve reached the base of my trunk, Im twenty feet up. For a moment, we stop and survey one another. I hope they cant hear the pounding of my heart. This could be it, I think. What chance do I have against them? All six are there, the five Careers and Peeta, and my only consolation is theyre pretty beat-up, too. Even so, look at their weapons. Look at their faces, grinning and snarling at me, a sure kill above them. It seems pretty hopeless. But then something else registers. Theyre bigger and stronger than I am, no doubt, but theyre also heavier. Theres a reason its me and not Gale who ventures up to pluck the highest fruit, or rob the most remote bird nests. I must weigh at least fifty or sixty pounds less than the smallest Career. Now I smile. Hows everything with you? I call down cheerfully. This takes them aback, but I know the crowd will love it. Well enough, says the boy from District 2. Yourself? Its been a bit warm for my taste, I say. I can almost hear the laughter from the Capitol. The airs better up here. Why dont you come on up? Think I will, says the same boy. Here, take this, Cato, says the girl from District 1, and she offers him the silver bow and sheath of arrows. My bow! My arrows! Just the sight of them makes me so angry I want to scream, at myself, at that traitor Peeta for distracting me from having them. I try to make eye contact with him now, but he seems to be intentionally avoiding my gaze as he polishes his knife with the edge of his shirt. No, says Cato, pushing away the bow. Ill do better with my sword. I can see the weapon, a short, heavy blade at his belt. I give Cato time to hoist himself into the tree before I begin to climb again. Gale always says I remind him of a squirrel the way I can scurry up even the slenderest limb. Part of its my weight, but part of its practice. You have to know where to place your hands and feet. Im another thirty feet in the air when I hear the crack and look down to see Cato flailing as he and a branch go down. He hits the ground hard and Im hoping he possibly broke his neck when he gets back to his feet, swearing like a fiend. The girl with the arrows, Glimmer I hear someone call her ugh, the names the people in District 1 give their children are so ridiculous anyway Glimmer scales the tree until the branches begin to crack under her feet and then has the good sense to stop. Im at least eighty feet high now. She tries to shoot me and its immediately evident that shes incompetent with a bow. One of the arrows gets lodged in the tree near me though and Im able to seize it. I wave it teasingly above her head, as if this was the sole purpose of retrieving it, when actually I mean to use it if I ever get the chance. I could kill them, everyone of them, if those silver weapons were in my hands. The Careers regroup on the ground and I can hear them growling conspiratorially among themselves, furious I have made them look foolish. But twilight has arrived and their window of attack on me is closing. Finally, I hear Peeta say harshly, Oh, let her stay up there. Its not like shes going anywhere. Well deal with her in the morning. Well, hes right about one thing. Im going nowhere. All the relief from the pool water has gone, leaving me to feel the full potency of my burns. I scoot down to a fork in the tree and clumsily prepare for bed. Put on my jacket. Lay out my sleeping bed. Belt myself in and try to keep from moaning. The heat of the bags too much for my leg. I cut a slash in the fabric and hang my calf out in the open air. I drizzle water on the wound, my hands. All my bravado is gone. Im weak from pain and hunger but cant bring myself to eat. Even if I can last the night, what will the morning bring? I stare into the foliage trying to will myself to rest, but the burns forbid it. Birds are settling down for the night, singing lullabies to their young. Night creatures emerge. An owl hoots. The faint scent of a skunk cuts through the smoke. The eyes of some animal peer at me from the neighboring tree a possum maybe catching the firelight from the Careers torches. Suddenly, Im up on one elbow. Those are no possums eyes, I know their glassy reflection too well. In fact, those are not animal eyes at all. In the last dim rays of light, I make her out, watching me silently from between the branches. Rue. How long has she been here? The whole time probably. Still and unobserved as the action unfolded beneath her. Perhaps she headed up her tree shortly before I did, hearing the pack was so close. For a while we hold each others gaze. Then, without even rustling a leaf, her little hand slides into the open and points to something above my head. 14 My eyes follow the line of her finger up into the foliage above me. At first, I have no idea what shes pointing to, but then, about fifteen feet up, I make out the vague shape in the dimming light. But of of what? Some sort of animal? It looks about the size of a raccoon, but it hangs from the bottom of a branch, swaying ever so slightly. Theres something else. Among the familiar evening sounds of the woods, my ears register a low hum. Then I know. Its a wasp nest. Fear shoots through me, but I have enough sense to keep still. After all, I dont know what kind of wasp lives there. It could be the ordinary leave-us-alone-and-well-leave-you-alone type. But these are the Hunger Games, and ordinary isnt the norm. More likely they will be one of the Capitols muttations, tracker jackers. Like the jabberjays, these killer wasps were spawned in a lab and strategically placed, like land mines, around the districts during the war. Larger than regular wasps, they have a distinctive solid gold body and a sting that raises a lump the size of a plum on contact. Most people cant tolerate more than a few stings. Some die at once. If you live, the hallucinations brought on by the venom have actually driven people to madness. And theres another thing, these wasps will hunt down anyone who disturbs their nest and attempt to kill them. Thats where the tracker part of the name comes from. After the war, the Capitol destroyed all the nests surrounding their city, but the ones near the districts were left untouched. Another reminder of our weakness, I suppose, just like the Hunger Games. Another reason to keep inside the fence of District 12. When Gale and I come across a tracker jacker nest, we immediately head in the opposite direction. So is that what hangs above me? I look back to Rue for help, but shes melted into her tree. Given my circumstances, I guess it doesnt matter what type of wasp nest it is. Im wounded and trapped. Darkness has given me a brief reprieve, but by the time the sun rises, the Careers will have formulated a plan to kill me. Theres no way they could do otherwise after Ive made them look so stupid. That nest may be the sole option I have left. If I can drop it down on them, I may be able to escape. But Ill risk my life in the process. Of course, Ill never be able to get in close enough to the actual nest to cut it free. Ill have to saw off the branch at the trunk and send the whole thing down. The serrated portion of my knife should be able to manage that. But can my hands? And will the vibration from the sawing raise the swarm? And what if the Careers figure out what Im doing and move their camp? That would defeat the whole purpose. I realize that the best chance Ill have to do the sawing without drawing notice will be during the anthem. That could begin any time. I drag myself out of my bag, make sure my knife is secured in my belt, and begin to make my way up the tree. This in itself is dangerous since the branches are becoming precariously thin even for me, but I persevere. When I reach the limb that supports the nest, the humming becomes more distinctive. But its still oddly subdued if these are tracker jackers. Its the smoke, I think. Its sedated them. This was the one defense the rebels found to battle the wasps. The seal of the Capitol shines above me and the anthem blares out. Its now or never, I think, and begin to saw. Blisters burst on my right hand as I awkwardly drag the knife back and forth. Once Ive got a groove, the work requires less effort but is almost more than I can handle. I grit my teeth and saw away occasionally glancing at the sky to register that there were no deaths today. Thats all right. The audience will be sated seeing me injured and treed and the pack below me. But the anthems running out and Im only three quarters of the way through the wood when the music ends, the sky goes dark, and Im forced to stop. Now what? I could probably finish off the job by sense of feel but that may not be the smartest plan. If the wasps are too groggy, if the nest catches on its way down, if I try to escape, this could all be a deadly waste of time. Better, I think, to sneak up here at dawn and send the nest into my enemies. In the faint light of the Careers torches, I inch back down to my fork to find the best surprise Ive ever had. Sitting on my sleeping bag is a small plastic pot attached to a silver parachute. My first gift from a sponsor! Haymitch must have had it sent in during the anthem. The pot easily fits in the palm of my hand. What can it be? Not food surely. I unscrew the lid and I know by the scent that its medicine. Cautiously, I probe the surface of the ointment. The throbbing in my fingertip vanishes. Oh, Haymitch, I whisper. Thank you. He has not abandoned me. Not left me to fend entirely for myself. The cost of this medicine must be astronomical. Probably not one but many sponsors have contributed to buy this one tiny pot. To me, it is priceless. I dip two fingers in the jar and gently spread the balm over my calf. The effect is almost magical, erasing the pain on contact, leaving a pleasant cooling sensation behind. This is no herbal concoction that my mother grinds up out of woodland plants, its high-tech medicine brewed up in the Capitols labs. When my calf is treated, I rub a thin layer into my hands. After wrapping the pot in the parachute, I nestle it safely away in my pack. Now that the pain has eased, its all I can do to reposition myself in my bag before I plunge into sleep. A bird perched just a few feet from me alerts me that a new day is dawning. In the gray morning light, I examine my hands. The medicine has transformed all the angry red patches to a soft baby-skin pink. My leg still feels inflamed, but that burn was far deeper. I apply another coat of medicine and quietly pack up my gear. Whatever happens, Im going to have to move and move fast. I also make myself eat a cracker and a strip of beef and drink a few cups of water. Almost nothing stayed in my stomach yesterday, and Im already starting to feel the effects of hunger. Below me, I can see the Career pack and Peeta asleep on the ground. By her position, leaning up against the trunk of the tree, Id guess Glimmer was supposed to be on guard, but fatigue overcame her. My eyes squint as they try to penetrate the tree next to me, but I cant make out Rue. Since she tipped me off, it only seems fair to warn her. Besides, if Im going to die today, its Rue I want to win. Even if it means a little extra food for my family, the idea of Peeta being crowned victor is unbearable. I call Rues name in a hushed whisper and the eyes appear, wide and alert, at once. She points up to the nest again. I hold up my knife and make a sawing motion. She nods and disappears. Theres a rustling in a nearby tree. Then the same noise again a bit farther off. I realize shes leaping from tree to tree. Its all I can do not to laugh out loud. Is this what she showed the Gamemakers? I imagine her flying around the training equipment never touching the floor. She should have gotten at least a ten. Rosy streaks are breaking through in the east. I cant afford to wait any longer. Compared to the agony of last nights climb, this one is a cinch. At the tree limb that holds the nest, I position the knife in the groove and Im about to draw the teeth across the wood when I see something moving. There, on the nest. The bright gold gleam of a tracker jacker lazily making its way across the papery gray surface. No question, its acting a little subdued, but the wasp is up and moving and that means the others will be out soon as well. Sweat breaks out on the palms of my hands, beading up through the ointment, and I do my best to pat them dry on my shirt. If I dont get through this branch in a matter of seconds, the entire swarm could emerge and attack me. Theres no sense in putting it off. I take a deep breath, grip the knife handle and bear down as hard as I can. Back, forth, back, forth! The tracker jackers begin to buzz and I hear them coming out. Back, forth, back, forth! A stabbing pain shoots through my knee and I know one has found me and the others will be honing in. Back, forth, back, forth. And just as the knife cuts through, I shove the end of the branch as far away from me as I can. It crashes down through the lower branches, snagging temporarily on a few but then twisting free until it smashes with a thud on the ground. The nest bursts open like an egg, and a furious swarm of tracker jackers takes to the air. I feel a second sting on the cheek, a third on my neck, and their venom almost immediately makes me woozy. I cling to the tree with one arm while I rip the barbed stingers out of my flesh. Fortunately, only these three tracker jackers had identified me before the nest went down. The rest of the insects have targeted their enemies on the ground. Its mayhem. The Careers have woken to a full-scale tracker jacker attack. Peeta and a few others have the sense to drop everything and bolt. I can hear cries of To the lake! To the lake! and know they hope to evade the wasps by taking to the water. It must be close if they think they can outdistance the furious insects. Glimmer and another girl, the one from District 4, are not so lucky. They receive multiple stings before theyre even out of my view. Glimmer appears to go completely mad, shrieking and trying to bat the wasps off with her bow, which is pointless. She calls to the others for help but, of course, no one returns. The girl from District 4 staggers out of sight, although I wouldnt bet on her making it to the lake. I watch Glimmer fall, twitch hysterically around on the ground for a few minutes, and then go still. The nest is nothing but an empty shell. The wasps have vanished in pursuit of the others. I dont think theyll return, but I dont want to risk it. I scamper down the tree and hit the ground running in the opposite direction of the lake. The poison from the stingers makes me wobbly, but I find my way back to my own little pool and submerge myself in the water, just in case any wasps are still on my trail. After about five minutes, I drag myself onto the rocks. People have not exaggerated the effects of the tracker jacker stings. Actually, the one on my knee is closer to an orange than a plum in size. A foul-smelling green liquid oozes from the places where I pulled out the stingers. The swelling. The pain. The ooze. Watching Glimmer twitching to death on the ground. Its a lot to handle before the sun has even cleared the horizon. I dont want to think about what Glimmer must look like now. Her body disfigured. Her swollen fingers stiffening around the bow The bow! Somewhere in my befuddled mind one thought connects to another and Im on my feet, teetering through the trees back to Glimmer. The bow. The arrows. I must get them. I havent heard the cannons fire yet, so perhaps Glimmer is in some sort of coma, her heart still struggling against the wasp venom. But once it stops and the cannon signals her death, a hovercraft will move in and retrieve her body, taking the only bow and sheath of arrows Ive seen out of the Games for good. And I refuse to let them slip through my fingers again! I reach Glimmer just as the cannon fires. The tracker jackers have vanished. This girl, so breathtakingly beautiful in her golden dress the night of the interviews, is unrecognizable. Her features eradicated, her limbs three times their normal size. The stinger lumps have begun to explode, spewing putrid green liquid around her. I have to break several of what used to be her fingers with a stone to free the bow. The sheath of arrows is pinned under her back. I try to roll over her body by pulling on one arm, but the flesh disintegrates in my hands and I fall back on the ground. Is this real? Or have the hallucinations begun? I squeeze my eyes tight and try to breathe through my mouth, ordering myself not to become sick. Breakfast must stay down, it might be days before I can hunt again. A second cannon fires and Im guessing the girl from District 4 has just died. I hear the birds fall silent and then one give the warning call, which means a hovercraft is about to appear. Confused, I think its for Glimmer, although this doesnt quite make sense because Im still in the picture, still fighting for the arrows. I lurch back onto my knees and the trees around me begin to spin in circles. In the middle of the sky, I spot the hovercraft. I throw myself over Glimmers body as if to protect it but then I see the girl from District 4 being lifted into the air and vanishing. Do this! I command myself. Clenching my jaw, I dig my hands under Glimmers body, get a hold on what must be her rib cage, and force her onto her stomach. I cant help it, Im hyperventilating now, the whole thing is so nightmarish and Im losing my grasp on whats real. I tug on the silver sheath of arrows, but its caught on something, her shoulder blade, something, and finally yank it free. Ive just encircled the sheath with my arms when I hear the footsteps, several pairs, coming through the underbrush, and I realize the Careers have come back. Theyve come back to kill me or get their weapons or both. But its too late to run. I pull a slimy arrow from the sheath and try to position it on the bowstring but instead of one string I see three and the stench from the stings is so repulsive I cant do it. I cant do it. I cant do it. Im helpless as the first hunter crashes through the trees, spear lifted, poised to throw. The shock on Peetas face makes no sense to me. I wait for the blow. Instead his arm drops to his side. What are you still doing here? he hisses at me. I stare uncomprehendingly as a trickle of water drips off a sting under his ear. His whole body starts sparkling as if hes been dipped in dew. Are you mad? Hes prodding me with the shaft of the spear now. Get up! Get up! I rise, but hes still pushing at me. What? What is going on? He shoves me away from him hard. Run! he screams. Run! Behind him, Cato slashes his way through the brush. Hes sparkling wet, too, and badly stung under one eye. I catch the gleam of sunlight on his sword and do as Peeta says. Holding tightly to my bow and arrows, banging into trees that appear out of nowhere, tripping and falling as I try to keep my balance. Back past my pool and into unfamiliar woods. The world begins to bend in alarming ways. A butterfly balloons to the size of a house then shatters into a million stars. Trees transform to blood and splash down over my boots. Ants begin to crawl out of the blisters on my hands and I cant shake them free. Theyre climbing up my arms, my neck. Someones screaming, a long high pitched scream that never breaks for breath. I have a vague idea it might be me. I trip and fall into a small pit lined with tiny orange bubbles that hum like the tracker jacker nest. Tucking my knees up to my chin, I wait for death. Sick and disoriented, Im able to form only one thought: Peeta Mellark just saved my life. Then the ants bore into my eyes and I black out. 15 I enter a nightmare from which I wake repeatedly only to find a greater terror awaiting me. All the things I dread most, all the things I dread for others manifest in such vivid detail I cant help but believe theyre real. Each time I wake, I think, At last, this is over, but it isnt. Its only the beginning of a new chapter of torture. How many ways do I watch Prim die? Relive my fathers last moments? Feel my own body ripped apart? This is the nature of the tracker jacker venom, so carefully created to target the place where fear lives in your brain. When I finally do come to my senses, I lie still, waiting for the next onslaught of imagery. But eventually I accept that the poison must have finally worked its way out of my system, leaving my body wracked and feeble. Im still lying on my side, locked in the fetal position. I lift a hand to my eyes to find them sound, untouched by ants that never existed. Simply stretching out my limbs requires an enormous effort. So many parts of me hurt, it doesnt seem worthwhile taking inventory of them. Very, very slowly I manage to sit up. Im in a shallow hole, not filled with the humming orange bubbles of my hallucination but with old, dead leaves. My clothings damp, but I dont know whether pond water, dew, rain, or sweat is the cause. For a long time, all I can do is take tiny sips from my bottle and watch a beetle crawl up the side of a honeysuckle bush. How long have I been out? It was morning when I lost reason. Now its afternoon. But the stiffness in my joints suggests more than a day has passed, even two possibly. If so, Ill have no way of knowing which tributes survived that tracker jacker attack. Not Glimmer or the girl from District 4. But there was the boy from District 1, both tributes from District 2, and Peeta. Did they die from the stings? Certainly if they lived, their last days must have been as horrid as my own. And what about Rue? Shes so small, it wouldnt take much venom to do her in. But then again the tracker jackers wouldve had to catch her, and she had a good head start. A foul, rotten taste pervades my mouth, and the water has little effect on it. I drag myself over to the honeysuckle bush and pluck a flower. I gently pull the stamen through the blossom and set the drop of nectar on my tongue. The sweetness spreads through my mouth, down my throat, warming my veins with memories of summer, and my home woods and Gales presence beside me. For some reason, our discussion from that last morning comes back to me. We could do it, you know. What? Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it. And suddenly, Im not thinking of Gale but of Peeta and Peeta! He saved my life! I think. Because by the time we met up, I couldnt tell what was real and what the tracker jacker venom had caused me to imagine. But if he did, and my instincts tell me he did, what for? Is he simply working the Lover Boy angle he initiated at the interview? Or was he actually trying to protect me? And if he was, what was he doing with those Careers in the first place? None of it makes sense. I wonder what Gale made of the incident for a moment and then I push the whole thing out of my mind because for some reason Gale and Peeta do not coexist well together in my thoughts. So I focus on the one really good thing thats happened since I landed in the arena. I have a bow and arrows! A full dozen arrows if you count the one I retrieved in the tree. They bear no trace of the noxious green slime that came from Glimmers body which leads me to believe that might not have been wholly real but they have a fair amount of dried blood on them. I can clean them later, but I do take a minute to shoot a few into a nearby tree. They are more like the weapons in the Training Center than my ones at home, but who cares? That I can work with. The weapons give me an entirely new perspective on the Games. I know I have tough opponents left to face. But I am no longer merely prey that runs and hides or takes desperate measures. If Cato broke through the trees right now, I wouldnt flee, Id shoot. I find Im actually anticipating the moment with pleasure. But first, I have to get some strength back in my body. Im very dehydrated again and my water supply is dangerously low. The little padding I was able to put on by gorging myself during prep time in the Capitol is gone, plus several more pounds as well. My hip bones and ribs are more prominent than I remember them being since those awful months after my fathers death. And then there are my wounds to contend with burns, cuts, and bruises from smashing into the trees, and three tracker jacker stings, which are as sore and swollen as ever. I treat my burns with the ointment and try dabbing a bit on my stings as well, but it has no effect on them. My mother knew a treatment for them, some type of leaf that could draw out the poison, but she seldom had cause to use it, and I dont even remember its name let alone its appearance. Water first, I think. You can hunt along the way now. Its easy to see the direction I came from by the path of destruction my crazed body made through the foliage. So I walk off in the other direction, hoping my enemies still lie locked in the surreal world of tracker jacker venom. I cant move too quickly, my joints reject any abrupt motions. But I establish the slow hunters tread I use when tracking game. Within a few minutes, I spot a rabbit and make my first kill with the bow and arrow. Its not my usual clean shot through the eye, but Ill take it. After about an hour, I find a stream, shallow but wide, and more than sufficient for my needs. The suns hot and severe, so while I wait for my water to purify I strip down to my underclothes and wade into the mild current. Im filthy from head to toe, I try splashing myself but eventually just lay down in the water for a few minutes, letting it wash off the soot and blood and skin that has started to peel off my burns. After rinsing out my clothes and hanging them on bushes to dry, I sit on the bank in the sun for a bit, untangling my hair with my fingers. My appetite returns and I eat a cracker and a strip of beef. With a handful of moss, I polish the blood from my silver weapons. Refreshed, I treat my burns again, braid back my hair, and dress in the damp clothes, knowing the sun will dry them soon enough. Following the stream against its current seems the smartest course of action. Im traveling uphill now, which I prefer, with a source of fresh water not only for myself but possible game. I easily take out a strange bird that must be some form of wild turkey. Anyway, it looks plenty edible to me. By late afternoon, I decide to build a small fire to cook the meat, betting that dusk will help conceal the smoke and I can quench the fire by nightfall. I clean the game, taking extra care with the bird, but theres nothing alarming about it. Once the feathers are plucked, its no bigger than a chicken, but its plump and firm. Ive just placed the first lot over the coals when I hear the twig snap. In one motion, I turn to the sound, bringing the bow and arrow to my shoulder. Theres no one there. No one I can see anyway. Then I spot the tip of a childs boot just peeking out from behind the trunk of a tree. My shoulders relax and I grin. She can move through the woods like a shadow, you have to give her that. How else could she have followed me? The words come out of my mouth before I can stop them. You know, theyre not the only ones who can form alliances, I say. For a moment, no response. Then one of Rues eyes edges around the trunk. You want me for an ally? Why not? You saved me with those tracker jackers. Youre smart enough to still be alive. And I cant seem to shake you anyway, I say. She blinks at me, trying to decide. You hungry? I can see her swallow hard, her eye flickering to the meat. Come on then, Ive had two kills today. Rue tentatively steps out into the open. I can fix your stings. Can you? I ask. How? She digs in the pack she carries and pulls out a handful of leaves. Im almost certain theyre the ones my mother uses. Whered you find those? Just around. We all carry them when we work in the orchards. They left a lot of nests there, says Rue. There are a lot here, too. Thats right. Youre District Eleven. Agriculture, I say. Orchards, huh? That must be how you can fly around the trees like youve got wings. Rue smiles. Ive landed on one of the few things shell admit pride in. Well, come on, then. Fix me up. I plunk down by the fire and roll up my pant leg to reveal the sting on my knee. To my surprise, Rue places the handful of leaves into her mouth and begins to chew them. My mother would use other methods, but its not like we have a lot of options. After a minute or so, Rue presses a gloppy green wad of chewed leaves and spit on my knee. Ohhh. The sound comes out of my mouth before I can stop it. Its as if the leaves are actually leaching the pain right out of the sting. Rue gives a giggle. Lucky you had the sense to pull the stingers out or youd be a lot worse. Do my neck! Do my cheek! I almost beg. Rue stuffs another handful of leaves in her mouth, and soon Im laughing because the relief is so sweet. I notice a long burn on Rues forearm. Ive got something for that. I set aside my weapons and anoint her arm with the burn medicine. You have good sponsors, she says longingly. Have you gotten anything yet? I ask. She shakes her head. You will, though. Watch. The closer we get to the end, the more people will realize how clever you are. I turn the meat over. You werent joking, about wanting me for an ally? she asks. No, I meant it, I say. I can almost hear Haymitch groaning as I team up with this wispy child. But I want her. Because shes a survivor, and I trust her, and why not admit it? She reminds me of Prim. Okay, she says, and holds out her hand. We shake. Its a deal. Of course, this kind of deal can only be temporary, but neither of us mentions that. Rue contributes a big handful of some sort of starchy root to the meal. Roasted over the fire, they have the sharp sweet taste of a parsnip. She recognizes the bird, too, some wild thing they call a groosling in her district. She says sometimes a flock will wander into the orchard and they get a decent lunch that day. For a while, all conversation stops as we fill our stomachs. The groosling has delicious meal thats so fatty, the grease drips down your face when you bite into it. Oh, says Rue with a sigh. Ive never had a whole leg to myself before. Ill bet she hasnt. Ill bet meat hardly ever comes her way. Take the other, I say. Really? she asks. Take whatever you want. Now that Ive got a bow and arrows, I can get more. Plus Ive got snares. I can show you how to set them, I say. Rue still looks uncertainly at the leg. Oh, take it, I say, putting the drumstick in her hands. It will only keep a few days anyway, and weve got the whole bird plus the rabbit. Once shes got hold of it, her appetite wins out and she takes a huge mouthful. Id have thought, in District Eleven, youd have a bit more to eat than us. You know, since you grow the food, I say. Rues eyes widen. Oh, no, were not allowed to eat the crops. They arrest you or something? I ask. They whip you and make everyone else watch, says Rue. The mayors very strict about it. I can tell by her expression that its not that uncommon an occurrence. A public whippings a rare thing in District 12, although occasionally one occurs. Technically, Gale and I could be whipped on a daily basis for poaching in the woods well, technically, we could get a whole lot worse except all the officials buy our meat. Besides, our mayor, Madges father, doesnt seem to have much taste for such events. Maybe being the least prestigious, poorest, most ridiculed district in the country has its advantages. Such as, being largely ignored by the Capitol as long as we produce our coal quotas. Do you get all the coal you want? Rue asks. No, I answer. Just what we buy and whatever we track in on our boots. They feed us a bit extra during harvest, so that people can keep going longer, says Rue. Dont you have to be in school? I ask. Not during harvest. Everyone works then, says Rue. Its interesting, hearing about her life. We have so little communication with anyone outside our district. In fact, I wonder if the Gamemakers are blocking out our conversation, because even though the information seems harmless, they dont want people in different districts to know about one another. At Rues suggestion, we lay out all our food to plan ahead. Shes seen most of mine, but I add the last couple of crackers and beef strips to the pile. Shes gathered quite a collection of roots, nuts, greens, and even some berries. I roll an unfamiliar berry in my fingers. You sure this is safe? Oh, yes, we have them back home. Ive been eating them for days, she says, popping a handful in her mouth. I tentatively bite into one, and its as good as our blackberries. Taking Rue on as an ally seems a better choice all the time. We divide up our food supplies, so in case were separated, well both be set for a few days. Apart from the food, Rue has a small water skin, a homemade slingshot, and an extra pair of socks. She also has a sharp shard of rock she uses as a knife. I know its not much, she says as if embarrassed, but I had to get away from the Cornucopia fast. You did just right, I say. When I spread out my gear, she gasps a little when she sees the sunglasses. How did you get those? she asks. In my pack. Theyve been useless so far. They dont block the sun and they make it harder to see, I say with a shrug. These arent for sun, theyre for darkness, exclaims Rue. Sometimes, when we harvest through the night, theyll pass out a few pairs to those of us highest in the trees. Where the torchlight doesnt reach. One time, this boy Martin, he tried to keep his pair. Hid it in his pants. They killed him on the spot. They killed a boy for taking these? I say. Yes, and everyone knew he was no danger. Martin wasnt right in the head. I mean, he still acted like a three-year-old. He just wanted the glasses to play with, says Rue. Hearing this makes me feel like District 12 is some sort of safe haven. Of course, people keel over from starvation all the time, but I cant imagine the Peacekeepers murdering a simpleminded child. Theres a little girl, one of Greasy Saes grandkids, who wanders around the Hob. Shes not quite right, but shes treated as a sort of pet. People toss her scraps and things. So what do these do? I ask Rue, taking the glasses. They let you see in complete darkness, says Rue. Try them tonight when the sun goes down. I give Rue some matches and she makes sure I have plenty of leaves in case my stings flare up again. We extinguish our fire and head upstream until its almost nightfall. Where do you sleep? I ask her. In the trees? She nods. In just your jacket? Rue holds up her extra pair of socks. I have these for my hands. I think of how cold the nights have been. You can share my sleeping bag if you want. Well both easily fit. Her face lights up. I can tell this is more than she dared hope for. We pick a fork high in a tree and settle in for the night just as the anthem begins to play. There were no deaths today. Rue, I only woke up today. How many nights did I miss? The anthem should block out our words, but still I whisper. I even take the precaution of covering my lips with my hand. I dont want the audience to know what Im planning to tell her about Peeta. Taking a cue from me, she does the same. Two, she says. The girls from Districts One and Four are dead. Theres ten of us left. Something strange happened. At least, I think it did. It might have been the tracker jacker venom making me imagine things, I say. You know the boy from my district? Peeta? I think he saved my life. But he was with the Careers. Hes not with them now, she says. Ive spied on their base camp by the lake. They made it back before they collapsed from the stingers. But hes not there. Maybe he did save you and had to run. I dont answer. If, in fact, Peeta did save me, Im in his debt again. And this cant be paid back. If he did, it was all probably just part of his act. You know, to make people think hes in love with me. Oh, says Rue thoughtfully. I didnt think that was an act. Course it is, I say. He worked it out with our mentor. The anthem ends and the sky goes dark. Lets try out these glasses. I pull out the glasses and slip them on. Rue wasnt kidding. I can see everything from the leaves on the trees to a skunk strolling through the bushes a good fifty feet away. I could kill it from here if I had a mind to. I could kill anyone. I wonder who else got a pair of these, I say. The Careers have two pairs. But theyve got everything down by the lake, Rue says. And theyre so strong. Were strong, too, I say. Just in a different way. You are. You can shoot, she says. What can I do? You can feed yourself. Can they? I ask. They dont need to. They have all those supplies, Rue says. Say they didnt. Say the supplies were gone. How long would they last? I say. I mean, its the Hunger Games, right? But, Katniss, theyre not hungry, says Rue. No, theyre not. Thats the problem, I agree. And for the first time, I have a plan. A plan that isnt motivated by the need for flight and evasion. An offensive plan. I think were going to have to fix that, Rue. 16 Rue has decided to trust me wholeheartedly. I know this because as soon as the anthem finishes she snuggles up against me and falls asleep. Nor do I have any misgivings about her, as I take no particular precautions. If shed wanted me dead, all she would have had to do was disappear from that tree without pointing out the tracker jacker nest. Needling me, at the very back of my mind, is the obvious. Both of us cant win these Games. But since the odds are still against either of us surviving, I manage to ignore the thought. Besides, Im distracted by my latest idea about the Careers and their supplies. Somehow Rue and I must find a way to destroy their food. Im pretty sure feeding themselves will be a tremendous struggle. Traditionally, the Career tributes strategy is to get hold of all the food early on and work from there. The years when they have not protected it well one year a pack of hideous reptiles destroyed it, another a Gamemakers flood washed it away those are usually the years that tributes from other districts have won. That the Careers have been better red growing up is actually to their disadvantage, because they dont know how to be hungry. Not the way Rue and I do. But Im too exhausted to begin any detailed plan tonight. My wounds recovering, my mind still a bit foggy from the venom, and the warmth of Rue at my side, her head cradled on my shoulder, have given me a sense of security. I realize, for the first time, how very lonely Ive been in the arena. How comforting the presence of another human being can be. I give in to my drowsiness, resolving that tomorrow the tables will turn. Tomorrow, its the Careers who will have to watch their backs. The boom of the cannon jolts me awake. The skys streaked with light, the birds already chattering. Rue perches in a branch across from me, her hands cupping something. We wait, listening for more shots, but there arent any. Who do you think that was? I cant help thinking of Peeta. I dont know. It could have been any of the others, says Rue. I guess well know tonight. Whos left again? I ask. The boy from District One. Both tributes from Two. The boy from Three. Thresh and me. And you and Peeta, says Rue. Thats eight. Wait, and the boy from Ten, the one with the bad leg. He makes nine. Theres someone else, but neither of us can remember who it is. I wonder how that last one died, says Rue. No telling. But its good for us. A death should hold the crowd for a bit. Maybe well have time to do something before the Gamemakers decide things have been moving too slowly, I say. Whats in your hands? Breakfast, says Rue. She holds them out revealing two big eggs. What kind are those? I ask. Not sure. Theres a marshy area over that way. Some kind of waterbird, she says. Itd be nice to cook them, but neither of us wants to risk a fire. My guess is the tribute who died today was a victim of the Careers, which means theyve recovered enough to be back in the Games. We each suck out the insides of an egg, eat a rabbit leg and some berries. Its a good breakfast anywhere. Ready to do it? I say, pulling on my pack. Do what? says Rue, but by the way she bounces up, you can tell shes up for whatever I propose. Today we take out the Careers food, I say. Really? How? You can see the glint of excitement in her eyes. In this way, shes exactly the opposite of Prim for whom adventures are an ordeal. No idea. Come on, well figure out a plan while we hunt, I say. We dont get much hunting done though because Im too busy getting every scrap of information I can out of Rue about the Careers base. Shes only been in to spy on them briefly, but shes observant. They have set up their camp beside the lake. Their supply stash is about thirty yards away. During the day, theyve been leaving another tribute, the boy from District 3, to watch over the supplies. The boy from District Three? I ask. Hes working with them? Yes, he stays at the camp full-time. He got stung, too, when they drew the tracker jackers in by the lake, says Rue. I guess they agreed to let him live if he acted as their guard. But hes not very big. What weapons does he have? I ask. Not much that I could see. A spear. He might be able to hold a few of us off with that, but Thresh could kill him easily, says Rue. And the foods just out in the open? I say. She nods. Somethings not quite right about that whole setup. I know. But I couldnt tell what exactly, says Rue. Katniss, even if you could get to the food, how would you get rid of it? Burn it. Dump it in the lake. Soak it in fuel. I poke Rue in the belly, just like I would Prim. Eat it! She giggles. Dont worry, Ill think of something. Destroying things is much easier than making them. For a while, we dig roots, we gather berries and greens, we devise a strategy in hushed voices. And I come to know Rue, the oldest of six kids, fiercely protective of her siblings, who gives her rations to the younger ones, who forages in the meadows in a district where the Peacekeepers are far less obliging than ours. Rue, who when you ask her what she loves most in the world, replies, of all things, Music. Music? I say. In our world, I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness. At least a rainbow gives you a tip about the weather. You have a lot of time for that? We sing at home. At work, too. Thats why I love your pin, she says, pointing to the mockingjay that Ive again forgotten about. You have mockingjays? I ask. Oh, yes. I have a few that are my special friends. We can sing back and forth for hours. They carry messages for me, she says. What do you mean? I say. Im usually up highest, so Im the first to see the flag that signals quitting time. Theres a special little song I do, says Rue. She opens her mouth and sings a little four-note run in a sweet, clear voice. And the mockingjays spread it around the orchard. Thats how everyone knows to knock off, she continues. They can be dangerous though, if you get too near their nests. But you cant blame them for that. I unclasp the pin and hold it out to her. Here, you take it. It has more meaning for you than me. Oh, no, says Rue, closing my fingers back over the pin. I like to see it on you. Thats how I decided I could trust you. Besides, I have this. She pulls a necklace woven out of some kind of grass from her shirt. On it, hangs a roughly carved wooden star. Or maybe its a flower. Its a good luck charm. Well, its worked so far, I say, pinning the mockingjay back on my shirt. Maybe you should just stick with that. By lunch, we have a plan. By early afternoon, we are poised to carry it out. I help Rue collect and place the wood for the first two campfires, the third shell have time for on her own. We decide to meet afterward at the site where we ate our first meal together. The stream should help guide me back to it. Before I leave, I make sure Rues well stocked with food and matches. I even insist she take my sleeping bag, in case its not possible to rendezvous by nightfall. What about you? Wont you be cold? she asks. Not if I pick up another bag down by the lake, I say. You know, stealing isnt illegal here, I say with a grin. At the last minute, Rue decides to teach me her mockingjay signal, the one she gives to indicate the days work is done. It might not work. But if you hear the mockingjays singing it, youll know Im okay, only I cant get back right away. Are there many mockingjays here? I ask. Havent you seen them? Theyve got nests everywhere, she says. I have to admit I havent noticed. Okay, then. If all goes according to plan, Ill see you for dinner, I say. Unexpectedly, Rue throws her arms around me. I only hesitate a moment before I hug her back. You be careful, she says to me. You, too, I say. I turn and head back to the stream, feeling somehow worried. About Rue being killed, about Rue not being killed and the two of us being left for last, about leaving Rue alone, about leaving Prim alone back home. No, Prim has my mother and Gale and a baker who has promised she wont go hungry. Rue has only me. Once I reach the stream, I have only to follow it downhill to the place I initially picked it up after the tracker jacker attack. I have to be cautious as I move along the water though, because I find my thoughts preoccupied with unanswered questions, most of which concern Peeta. The cannon that fired early this morning, did that signify his death? If so, how did he die? At the hand of a Career? And was that in revenge for letting me live? I struggle again to remember that moment over Glimmers body, when he burst through the trees. But just the fact that he was sparkling leads me to doubt everything that happened. I must have been moving very slowly yesterday because I reach the shallow stretch where I took my bath in just a few hours. I stop to replenish my water and add a layer of mud to my backpack. It seems bent on reverting to orange no matter how many times I cover it. My proximity to the Careers camp sharpens my senses, and the closer I get to them, the more guarded I am, pausing frequently to listen for unnatural sounds, an arrow already fitted into the string of my bow. I dont see any other tributes, but I do notice some of the things Rue has mentioned. Patches of the sweet berries. A bush with the leaves that healed my stings. Clusters of tracker jacker nests in the vicinity of the tree I was trapped in. And here and there, the black-and-white flash of a mockingjay wing in the branches high over my head. When I reach the tree with the abandoned nest at the foot, I pause a moment, to gather my courage. Rue has given specific instructions on how to reach the best spying place near the lake from this point. Remember, I tell myself. Youre the hunter now, not them. I get a firmer grasp on my bow and go on. I make it to the copse Rue has told me about and again have to admire her cleverness. Its right at the edge of the wood, but the bushy foliage is so thick down low I can easily observe the Career camp without being spotted. Between us lies the flat expanse where the Games began. There are four tributes. The boy from District 1, Cato and the girl from District 2, and a scrawny, ashen-skinned boy who must be from District 3. He made almost no impression on me at all during our time in the Capitol. I can remember almost nothing about him, not his costume, not his training score, not his interview. Even now, as he sits there fiddling with some kind of plastic box, hes easily ignored in the presence of his large and domineering companions. But he must be of some value or they wouldnt have bothered to let him live. Still, seeing him only adds to my sense of unease over why the Careers would possibly leave him as a guard, why they have allowed him to live at all. All four tributes seem to still be recovering from the tracker jacker attack. Even from here, I can see the large swollen lumps on their bodies. They must not have had the sense to remove the stingers, or if they did, not known about the leaves that healed them. Apparently, whatever medicines they found in the Cornucopia have been ineffective. The Cornucopia sits in its original position, but its insides have been picked clean. Most of the supplies, held in crates, burlap sacks, and plastic bins, are piled neatly in a pyramid in what seems a questionable distance from the camp. Others are sprinkled around the perimeter of the pyramid, almost mimicking the layout of supplies around the Cornucopia at the onset of the Games. A canopy of netting that, aside from discouraging birds, seems to be useless shelters the pyramid itself. The whole setup is completely perplexing. The distance, the netting, and the presence of the boy from District 3. One things for sure, destroying those supplies is not going to be as simple as it looks. Some other factor is at play here, and Id better stay put until I figure out what it is. My guess is the pyramid is booby-trapped in some manner. I think of concealed pits, descending nets, a thread that when broken sends a poisonous dart into your heart. Really, the possibilities are endless. While I am mulling over my options, I hear Cato shout out. Hes pointing up to the woods, far beyond me, and without turning I know that Rue must have set the first campfire. Wed made sure to gather enough green wood to make the smoke noticeable. The Careers begin to arm themselves at once. An argument breaks out. Its loud enough for me to hear that it concerns whether or not the boy from District 3 should stay or accompany them. Hes coming. We need him in the woods, and his jobs done here anyway. No one can touch those supplies, says Cato. What about Lover Boy? says the boy from District 1. I keep telling you, forget about him. I know where I cut him. Its a miracle he hasnt bled to death yet. At any rate, hes in no shape to raid us, says Cato. So Peeta is out there in the woods, wounded badly. But I am still in the dark on what motivated him to betray the Careers. Come on, says Cato. He thrusts a spear into the hands of the boy from District 3, and they head off in the direction of the fire. The last thing I hear as they enter the woods is Cato saying, When we find her, I kill her in my own way, and no one interferes. Somehow I dont think hes talking about Rue. She didnt drop a nest of tracker jackers on him. I stay put for a half an hour or so, trying to figure out what to do about the supplies. The one advantage I have with the bow and arrow is distance. I could send a flaming arrow into the pyramid easily enough Im a good enough shot to get it through those openings in the net but theres no guarantee it would catch. More likely itd just burn itself out and then what? Id have achieved nothing and given them far too much information about myself. That I was here, that I have an accomplice, that I can use the bow and arrow with accuracy. Theres no alternative. Im going to have to get in closer and see if I cant discover what exactly protects the supplies. In fact, Im just about to reveal myself when a movement catches my eye. Several hundred yards to my right, I see someone emerge from the woods. For a second, I think its Rue, but then I recognize Foxface shes the one we couldnt remember this morning creeping out onto the plain. When she decides its safe, she runs for the pyramid, with quick, small steps. Just before she reaches the circle of supplies that have been littered around the pyramid, she stops, searches the ground, and carefully places her feet on a spot. Then she begins to approach the pyramid with strange little hops, sometimes landing on one foot, teetering slightly, sometimes risking a few steps. At one point, she launches up in the air, over a small barrel and lands poised on her tiptoes. But she overshot slightly, and her momentum throws her forward. I hear her give a sharp squeal as her hands hit the ground, but nothing happens. In a moment, shes regained her feet and continues until she has reached the bulk of the supplies. So, Im right about the booby trap, but its clearly more complex than I had imagined. I was right about the girl, too. How wily is she to have discovered this path into the food and to be able to replicate it so neatly? She fills her pack, taking a few items from a variety of containers, crackers from a crate, a handful of apples from a burlap sack that hangs suspended from a rope off the side of a bin. But only a handful from each, not enough to tip off that the food is missing. Not enough to cause suspicion. And then shes doing her odd little dance back out of the circle and scampering into the woods again, safe and sound. I realize Im grinding my teeth in frustration. Foxface has confirmed what Id already guessed. But what sort of trap have they laid that requires such dexterity? Has so many trigger points? Why did she squeal so as her hands made contact with the earth? Youd have thought and slowly it begins to dawn on me youd have thought the very ground was going to explode. Its mined, I whisper. That explains everything. The Careers willingness to leave their supplies, Foxfaces reaction, the involvement of the boy from District 3, where they have the factories, where they make televisions and automobiles and explosives. But where did he get them? In the supplies? Thats not the sort of weapon the Gamemakers usually provide, given that they like to see the tributes draw blood personally. I slip out of the bushes and cross to one of the round metal plates that lifted the tributes into the arena. The ground around it has been dug up and patted back down. The land mines were disabled after the sixty seconds we stood on the plates, but the boy from District 3 must have managed to reactivate them. Ive never seen anyone in the Games do that. I bet it came as a shock even to the Gamemakers. Well, hurray for the boy from District 3 for putting one over on them, but what am I supposed to do now? Obviously, I cant go strolling into that mess without blowing myself sky-high. As for sending in a burning arrow, thats more laughable than ever. The mines are set off by pressure. It doesnt have to be a lot, either. One year, a girl dropped her token, a small wooden ball, while she was at her plate, and they literally had to scrape bits of her off the ground. My arms pretty good, I might be able to chuck some rocks in there and set off what? Maybe one mine? That could start a chain reaction. Or could it? Would the boy from District 3 have placed the mines in such a way that a single mine would not disturb the others? Thereby protecting the supplies but ensuring the death of the invader. Even if I only blew up one mine, Id draw the Careers back down on me for sure. And anyway, what am I thinking? Theres that net, clearly strung to deflect any such attack. Besides, what Id really need is to throw about thirty rocks in there at once, setting off a big chain reaction, demolishing the whole lot. I glance back up at the woods. The smoke from Rues second fire is wafting toward the sky. By now, the Careers have probably begun to suspect some sort of trick. Time is running out. There is a solution to this, I know there is, if I can only focus hard enough. I stare at the pyramid, the bins, the crates, too heavy to topple over with an arrow. Maybe one contains cooking oil, and the burning arrow idea is reviving when I realize I could end up losing all twelve of my arrows and not get a direct hit on an oil bin, since Id just be guessing. Im genuinely thinking of trying to re-create Foxfaces trip up to the pyramid in hopes of finding a new means of destruction when my eyes light on the burlap bag of apples. I could sever the rope in one shot, didnt I do as much in the Training Center? Its a big bag, but it still might only be good for one explosion. If only I could free the apples themselves I know what to do. I move into range and give myself three arrows to get the job done. I place my feet carefully, block out the rest of the world as I take meticulous aim, The first arrow tears through the side of the bag near the top, leaving a split in the burlap. The second widens it to a gaping hole. I can see the first apple teetering when I let the third arrow go, catching the torn flap of burlap and ripping it from the bag. For a moment, everything seems frozen in time. Then the apples spill to the ground and Im blown backward into the air. 17 The impact with the hard-packed earth of the plain knocks the wind out of me. My backpack does little to soften the blow. Fortunately my quiver has caught in the crook of my elbow, sparing both itself and my shoulder, and my bow is locked in my grasp. The ground still shakes with explosions. I cant hear them. I cant hear anything at the moment. But the apples must have set off enough mines, causing debris to activate the others. I manage to shield my face with my arms as shattered bits of matter, some of it burning, rain down around me. An acrid smoke fills the air, which is not the best remedy for someone trying to regain the ability to breathe. After about a minute, the ground stops vibrating. I roll on my side and allow myself a moment of satisfaction the sight of the smoldering wreckage that was recently the pyramid. The Careers arent likely to salvage anything out of that. Id better get out of here, I think. Theyll be making a beeline for the place. But once Im on my feet, I realize escape may not be so simple. Im dizzy. Not the slightly wobbly kind, but the kind that sends the trees swooping around you and causes the earth to move in waves under your feet. I take a few steps and somehow wind up on my hands and knees. I wait a few minutes to let it pass, but it doesnt. Panic begins to set in. I cant stay here. Flight is essential. But I can neither walk nor hear. I place a hand to my left ear, the one that was turned toward the blast, and it comes away bloody. Have I gone deaf from the explosion? The idea frightens me. I rely as much on my ears as my eyes as a hunter, maybe more at times. But I cant let my fear show. Absolutely, positively, I am live on every screen in Panem. No blood trails, I tell myself, and manage to pull my hood up over my head, tie the cord under my chin with uncooperative fingers. That should help soak up the blood. I cant walk, but can I crawl? I move forward tentatively. Yes, if I go very slowly, I can crawl. Most of the woods will offer insufficient cover. My only hope is to make it back to Rues copse and conceal myself in greenery. I cant get caught out here on my hands and knees in the open. Not only will I face death, its sure to be a long and painful one at Catos hand. The thought of Prim having to watch that keeps me doggedly inching my way toward the hideout. Another blast knocks me flat on my face. A stray mine, set off by some collapsing crate. This happens twice more. Im reminded of those last few kernels that burst when Prim and I pop corn over the fire at home. To say I make it in the nick of time is an understatement. I have literally just dragged myself into the tangle of hushes at the base of the trees when theres Cato, barreling onto the plain, soon followed by his companions. His rage is so extreme it might be comical so people really do tear out their hair and beat the ground with their fists if I didnt know that it was aimed at me, at what I have done to him. Add to that my proximity, my inability to run or defend myself, and in fact, the whole thing has me terrified. Im glad my hiding place makes it impossible for the cameras to get a close shot of me because Im biting my nails like theres no tomorrow. Gnawing off the last bits of nail polish, trying to keep my teeth from chattering. The boy from District 3 throws stones into the ruins and must have declared all the mines activated because the Careers are approaching the wreckage. Cato has finished the first phase of his tantrum and takes out his anger on the smoking remains by kicking open various containers. The other tributes are poking around in the mess, looking for anything to salvage, but theres nothing. The boy from District 3 has done his job too well. This idea must occur to Cato, too, because he turns on the boy and appears to be shouting at him. The boy from District 3 only has time to turn and run before Cato catches him in a headlock from behind. I can see the muscles ripple in Catos arms as he sharply jerks the boys head to the side. Its that quick. The death of the boy from District 3. The other two Careers seem to be trying to calm Cato down. I can tell he wants to return to the woods, but they keep pointing at the sky, which puzzles me until I realize, Of course. They think whoever set off the explosions is dead. They dont know about the arrows and the apples. They assume the booby trap was faulty, but that the tribute who blew up the supplies was killed doing it. If there was a cannon shot, it could have been easily lost in the subsequent explosions. The shattered remains of the thief removed by hovercraft. They retire to the far side of the lake to allow the Gamemakers to retrieve the body of the boy from District 3. And they wait. I suppose a cannon goes off. A hovercraft appears and takes the dead boy. The sun dips below the horizon. Night falls. Up in the sky, I see the seal and know the anthem must have begun. A moment of darkness. They show the boy from District 3. They show the boy from District 10, who must have died this morning. Then the seal reappears. So, now they know. The bomber survived. In the seals light, I can see Cato and the girl from District 2 put on their night-vision glasses. The boy from District 1 ignites a tree branch for a torch, illuminating the grim determination on all their faces. The Careers stride back into the woods to hunt. The dizziness has subsided and while my left ear is still deafened, I can hear a ringing in my right, which seems a good sign. Theres no point in leaving my hiding place, though. Im about as safe as I can be, here at the crime scene. They probably think the bomber has a two- or three-hour lead on them. Still its a long time before I risk moving. The first thing I do is dig out my own glasses and put them on, which relaxes me a little, to have at least one of my hunters senses working. I drink some water and wash the blood from my ear. Fearing the smell of meat will draw unwanted predators fresh blood is bad enough I make a good meal out of the greens and roots and berries Rue and I gathered today. Where is my little ally? Did she make it back to the rendezvous point? Is she worried about me? At least, the sky has shown were both alive. I run through the surviving tributes on my fingers. The boy from 1, both from 2, Foxface, both from 11 and 12. Just eight of us. The betting must be getting really hot in the Capitol. Theyll be doing special features on each of us now. Probably interviewing our friends and families. Its been a long time since a tribute from District 12 made it into the top eight. And now there are two of us. Although from what Cato said, Peetas on his way out. Not that Cato is the final word on anything. Didnt he just lose his entire stash of supplies? Let the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games begin, Cato, I think. Let them begin for real. A cold breeze has sprung up. I reach for my sleeping bag before I remember I left it with Rue. I was supposed to pick up another one, but what with the mines and all, I forgot. I begin to shiver. Since roosting overnight in a tree isnt sensible anyway, I scoop out a hollow under the bushes and cover myself with leaves and pine needles. Im still freezing. I lay my sheet of plastic over my upper body and position my backpack to block the wind. Its a little better. I begin to have more sympathy for the girl from District 8 that lit the fire that first night. But now its me who needs to grit my teeth and tough it out until morning. More leaves, more pine needles. I pull my arms inside my jacket and tuck my knees up to my chest. Somehow, I drift off to sleep. When I open my eyes, the world looks slightly fractured, and it takes a minute to realize that the sun must be well up and the glasses fragmenting my vision. As I sit up and remove them, I hear a laugh somewhere near the lake and freeze. The laughs distorted, but the fact that it registered at all means I must be regaining my hearing. Yes, my right ear can hear again, although its still ringing. As for my left ear, well, at least the bleeding has stopped. I peer through the bushes, afraid the Careers have returned, trapping me here for an indefinite time. No, its Foxface, standing in the rubble of the pyramid and laughing. Shes smarter than the Careers, actually finding a few useful items in the ashes. A metal pot. A knife blade. Im perplexed by her amusement until I realize that with the Careers stores eliminated, she might actually stand a chance. Just like the rest of us. It crosses my mind to reveal myself and enlist her as a second ally against that pack. But I rule it out. Theres something about that sly grin that makes me sure that befriending Foxface would ultimately get me a knife in the back. With that in mind, this might be an excellent time to shoot her. But shes heard something, not me, because her head turns away, toward the drop-off, and she sprints for the woods. I wait. No one, nothing shows up. Still, if Foxface thought it was dangerous, maybe its time for me to get out of here, too. Besides, Im eager to tell Rue about the pyramid. Since Ive no idea where the Careers are, the route back by the stream seems as good as any. I hurry, loaded bow in one hand, a hunk of cold groosling in the other, because Im famished now, and not just for leaves and berries but for the fat and protein in the meat. The trip to the stream is uneventful. Once there, I refill my water and wash, taking particular care with my injured ear. Then I travel uphill using the stream as a guide. At one point, I find boot prints in the mud along the bank. The Careers have been here, but not for a while. The prints are deep because they were made in soft mud, but now theyre nearly dry in the hot sun. I havent been careful enough about my own tracks, counting on a light tread and the pine needles to conceal my prints. Now I strip off my boots and socks and go barefoot up the bed of the stream. The cool water has an invigorating effect on my body, my spirits. I shoot two fish, easy pickings in this slow-moving stream, and go ahead and eat one raw even though Ive just had the groosling. The second Ill save for Rue. Gradually, subtly, the ringing in my right ear diminishes until its gone entirely. I find myself pawing at my left ear periodically, trying to clean away whatever deadens its ability to collect sounds. If theres improvement, its undetectable. I cant adjust to deafness in the ear. It makes me feel off-balanced and defenseless to my left. Blind even. My head keeps turning to the injured side, as my right ear tries to compensate for the wall of nothingness where yesterday there was a constant flow of information. The more time that passes, the less hopeful I am that this is an injury that will heal. When I reach the site of our first meeting, I feel certain its been undisturbed. Theres no sign of Rue, not on the ground or in the trees. This is odd. By now she should have returned, as its midday. Undoubtedly, she spent the night in a tree somewhere. What else could she do with no light and the Careers with their night-vision glasses tramping around the woods. And the third fire she was supposed to set although I forgot to check for it last night was the farthest from our site of all. Shes probably just being cautious about making her way back. I wish shed hurry, because I dont want to hang around here too long. I want to spend the afternoon traveling to higher ground, hunting as we go. But theres nothing really for me to do but wait. I wash the blood out of my jacket and hair and clean my ever-growing list of wounds. The burns are much better but I use a bit of medicine on them anyway. The main thing to worry about now is keeping out infection. I go ahead and eat the second fish. It isnt going to last long in this hot sun, but it should be easy enough to spear a few more for Rue. If she would just show up. Feeling too vulnerable on the ground with my lopsided hearing, I scale a tree to wait. If the Careers show up, this will be a fine place to shoot them from. The sun moves slowly. I do things to pass the time. Chew leaves and apply them to my stings that are deflated but still tender. Comb through my damp hair with my fingers and braid it. Lace my boots back up. Check over my bow and remaining nine arrows. Test my left ear repeatedly for signs of life by rustling a leaf near it, but without good results. Despite the groosling and the fish, my stomachs growling, and I know Im going to have what we call a hollow day back in District 12. Thats a day where no matter what you put in your belly, its never enough. Having nothing to do but sit in a tree makes it worse, so I decide to give into it. After all, Ive lost a lot of weight in the arena, I need some extra calories. And having the bow and arrows makes me far more confident about my future prospects. I slowly peel and eat a handful of nuts. My last cracker. The groosling neck. Thats good because it takes time to pick clean. Finally, a groosling wing and the bird is history. But its a hollow day, and even with all that I start daydreaming about food. Particularly the decadent dishes served in the Capitol. The chicken in creamy orange sauce. The cakes and pudding. Bread with butter. Noodles in green sauce. The lamb and dried plum stew. I suck on a few mint leaves and tell myself to get over it. Mint is good because we drink mint tea after supper often, so it tricks my stomach into thinking eating time is over. Sort of. Dangling up in the tree, with the sun warming me, a mouthful of mint, my bow and arrows at hand this is the most relaxed Ive been since Ive entered the arena. If only Rue would show up, and we could clear out. As the shadows grow, so does my restlessness. By late afternoon, Ive resolved to go looking for her. I can at least visit the spot where she set the third fire and see if there are any clues to her whereabouts. Before I go, I scatter a few mint leaves around our old campfire. Since we gathered these some distance away, Rue will understand Ive been here, while theyll mean nothing to the Careers. In less than an hour, Im at the place where we agreed to have the third fire and I know something has gone amiss. The wood has been neatly arranged, expertly interspersed with tinder, but it has never been lit. Rue set up the fire but never made it back here. Somewhere between the second column of smoke I spied before I blew up the supplies and this point, she ran into trouble. I have to remind myself shes still alive. Or is she? Could the cannon shot announcing her death have come in the wee hours of the morning when even my good ear was too broken to pick it up? Will she appear in the sky tonight? No, I refuse to believe it. There could be a hundred other explanations. She could have lost her way. Run into a pack of predators or another tribute, like Thresh, and had to hide. Whatever happened, Im almost certain shes stuck out there, somewhere between the second fire and the unlit one at my feet. Something is keeping her up a tree. I think Ill go hunt it down. Its a relief to be doing something after sitting around all afternoon. I creep silently through the shadows, letting them conceal me. But nothing seems suspicious. Theres no sign of any kind of struggle, no disruption of the needles on the ground. Ive stopped for just a moment when I hear it. I have to cock my head around to the side to be sure, but there it is again. Rues four-note tune coming out of a mockingjays mouth. The one that means shes all right. I grin and move in the direction of the bird. Another just a short distance ahead, picks up on the handful of notes. Rue has been singing to them, and recently. Otherwise theyd have taken up some other song. My eyes lift up into the trees, searching for a sign of her. I swallow and sing softly back, hoping shell know its safe to join me. A mockingjay repeats the melody to me. And thats when I hear the scream. Its a childs scream, a young girls scream, theres no one in the arena capable of making that sound except Rue. And now Im running, knowing this may be a trap, knowing the three Careers may be poised to attack me, but I cant help myself. Theres another high-pitched cry, this time my name. Katniss! Katniss! Rue! I shout back, so she knows Im near. So, they know Im near, and hopefully the girl who has attacked them with tracker jackers and gotten an eleven they still cant explain will be enough to pull their attention away from her. Rue! Im coming! When I break into the clearing, shes on the ground, hopelessly entangled in a net. She just has time to reach her hand through the mesh and say my name before the spear enters her body. 18 The boy from District 1 dies before he can pull out the spear. My arrow drives deeply into the center of his neck. He falls to his knees and halves the brief remainder of his life by yanking out the arrow and drowning in his own blood. Im reloaded, shifting my aim from side to side, while I shout at Rue, Are there more? Are there more? She has to say no several times before I hear it. Rue has rolled to her side, her body curved in and around the spear. I shove the boy away from her and pull out my knife, freeing her from the net. One look at the wound and I know its far beyond my capacity to heal, beyond anyones probably. The spearhead is buried up to the shaft in her stomach. I crouch before her, staring helplessly at the embedded weapon. Theres no point in comforting words, in telling her shell be all right. Shes no fool. Her hand reaches out and I clutch it like a lifeline. As if its me whos dying instead of Rue. You blew up the food? she whispers. Every last bit, I say. You have to win, she says. Im going to. Going to win for both of us now, I promise. I hear a cannon and look up. It must be for the boy from District 1. Dont go. Rue tightens her grip on my hand. Course not. Staying right here, I say. I move in closer to her, pulling her head onto my lap. I gently brush the dark, thick hair back behind her ear. Sing, she says, but I barely catch the word. Sing? I think. Sing what? I do know a few songs. Believe it or not, there was once music in my house, too. Music I helped make. My father pulled me in with that remarkable voice but I havent sung much since he died. Except when Prim is very sick. Then I sing her the same songs she liked as a baby. Sing. My throat is tight with tears, hoarse from smoke and fatigue. But if this is Prims, I mean, Rues last request, I have to at least try. The song that comes to me is a simple lullaby, one we sing fretful, hungry babies to sleep with, Its old, very old I think. Made up long ago in our hills. What my music teacher calls a mountain air. But the words are easy and soothing, promising tomorrow will be more hopeful than this awful piece of time we call today. I give a small cough, swallow hard, and begin: Deep in the meadow, under the willow A bed of grass, a soft green pillow Lay down your head, and close your sleepy eyes And when again they open, the sun will rise. Here its safe, here its warm Here the daisies guard you from every harm Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true Here is the place where I love you. Rues eyes have fluttered shut. Her chest moves but only slightly. My throat releases the tears and they slide down my cheeks. But I have to finish the song for her. Deep in the meadow, hidden far away A cloak of leaves, a moonbeam ray Forget your woes and let your troubles lay And when again its morning, theyll wash away. Here its safe, here its warm Here the daisies guard you from every harm The final lines are barely audible. Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true Here is the place where I love you. Everythings still and quiet. Then, almost eerily, the mockingjays take up my song. For a moment, I sit there, watching my tears drip down on her face. Rues cannon fires. I lean forward and press my lips against her temple. Slowly, as if not to wake her, I lay her head back on the ground and release her hand. Theyll want me to clear out now. So they can collect the bodies. And theres nothing to stay for. I roll the boy from District 1 onto his face and take his pack, retrieve the arrow that ended his life. I cut Rues pack from her back as well, knowing shed want me to have it but leave the spear in her stomach. Weapons in bodies will be transported to the hovercraft. Ive no use for a spear, so the sooner its gone from the arena the better. I cant stop looking at Rue, smaller than ever, a baby animal curled up in a nest of netting. I cant bring myself to leave her like this. Past harm, but seeming utterly defenseless. To hate the boy from District 1, who also appears so vulnerable in death, seems inadequate. Its the Capitol I hate, for doing this to all of us. Gales voice is in my head. His ravings against the Capitol no longer pointless, no longer to be ignored. Rues death has forced me to confront my own fury against the cruelty, the injustice they inflict upon us. But here, even more strongly than at home, I feel my impotence. Theres no way to take revenge on the Capitol. Is there? Then I remember Peetas words on the roof. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to to show the Capital they dont own me. That Im more than just a piece in their Games. And for the first time, I understand what he means. I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they cant own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I. A few steps into the woods grows a bank of wildflowers. Perhaps they are really weeds of some sort, but they have blossoms in beautiful shades of violet and yellow and white. I gather up an armful and come back to Rues side. Slowly, one stem at a time, I decorate her body in the flowers. Covering the ugly wound. Wreathing her face. Weaving her hair with bright colors. Theyll have to show it. Or, even if they choose to turn the cameras elsewhere at this moment, theyll have to bring them back when they collect the bodies and everyone will see her then and know I did it. I step back and take a last look at Rue. She could really be asleep in that meadow after all. Bye, Rue, I whisper. I press the three middle fingers of my left hand against my lips and hold them out in her direction. Then I walk away without looking back. The birds fall silent. Somewhere, a mockingjay gives the warning whistle that precedes the hovercraft. I dont know how it knows. It must hear things that humans cant. I pause, my eyes focused on whats ahead, not whats happening behind me. It doesnt take long, then the general birdsong begins again and I know shes gone. Another mockingjay, a young one by the look of it, lands on a branch before me and bursts out Rues melody. My song, the hovercraft, were too unfamiliar for this novice to pick up, but it has mastered her handful of notes. The ones that mean shes safe. Good and safe, I say as I pass under its branch. We dont have to worry about her now. Good and safe. Ive no idea where to go. The brief sense of home I had that one night with Rue has vanished. My feet wander this way and that until sunset. Im not afraid, not even watchful. Which makes me an easy target. Except Id kill anyone I met on sight. Without emotion or the slightest tremor in my hands. My hatred of the Capitol has not lessened my hatred of my competitors in the least. Especially the Careers. They, at least, can be made to pay for Rues death. No one materializes though. There arent many of us left and its a big arena. Soon theyll be pulling out some other device to force us together. But theres been enough gore today. Perhaps well even get to sleep. Im about to haul my packs into a tree to make camp when a silver parachute floats down and lands in front of me. A gift from a sponsor. But why now? Ive been in fairly good shape with supplies. Maybe Haymitchs noticed my despondency and is trying to cheer me up a bit. Or could it be something to help my ear? I open the parachute and find a small loaf of bread. Its not the fine white Capitol stuff. Its made of dark ration grain and shaped in a crescent. Sprinkled with seeds. I flash back to Peetas lesson on the various district breads in the Training Center. This bread came from District 11. I cautiously lift the still warm loaf. What must it have cost the people of District 11 who cant even feed themselves? How many wouldve had to do without to scrape up a coin to put in the collection for this one loaf? It had been meant for Rue, surely. But instead of pulling the gift when she died, theyd authorized Haymitch to give it to me. As a thank-you? Or because, like me, they dont like to let debts go unpaid? For whatever reason, this is a first. A district gift to a tribute whos not your own. I lift my face and step into the last falling rays of sunlight. My thanks to the people of District Eleven, I say. I want them to know I know where it came from. That the full value of their gift has been recognized. I climb dangerously high into a tree, not for safety but to get as far away from today as I can. My sleeping bag is rolled neatly in Rues pack. Tomorrow Ill sort through the supplies. Tomorrow Ill make a new plan. But tonight, all I can do is strap myself in and take tiny bites of the bread. Its good. It tastes of home. Soon the seals in the sky, the anthem plays in my right ear. I see the boy from District 1, Rue. Thats all for tonight. Six of us left, I think. Only six. With the bread still locked in my hands, I fall asleep at once. Sometimes when things are particularly bad, my brain will give me a happy dream. A visit with my father in the woods. An hour of sunlight and cake with Prim. Tonight it sends me Rue, still decked in her flowers, perched in a high sea of trees, trying to teach me to talk to the mockingjays. I see no sign of her wounds, no blood, just a bright, laughing girl. She sings songs Ive never heard in a clear, melodic voice. On and on. Through the night. Theres a drowsy in-between period when I can hear the last few strains of her music although shes lost in the leaves. When I fully awaken, Im momentarily comforted. I try to hold on to the peaceful feeling of the dream, but it quickly slips away, leaving me sadder and lonelier than ever. Heaviness infuses my whole body, as if theres liquid lead in my veins. Ive lost the will to do the simplest tasks, to do anything but lie here, staring unblinkingly through the canopy of leaves. For several hours, I remain motionless. As usual, its the thought of Prims anxious face as she watches me on the screens back home that breaks me from my lethargy. I give myself a series of simple commands to follow, like Now you have to sit up, Katniss. Now you have to drink water, Katniss. I act on the orders with slow, robotic motions. Now you have to sort the packs, Katniss. Rues pack holds my sleeping bag, her nearly empty water skin, a handful of nuts and roots, a bit of rabbit, her extra socks, and her slingshot. The boy from District 1 has several knives, two spare spearheads, a flashlight, a small leather pouch, a first-aid kit, a full bottle of water, and a pack of dried fruit. A pack of dried fruit! Out of all he might have chosen from. To me, this is a sign of extreme arrogance. Why bother to carry food when you have such a bounty back at camp? When you will kill your enemies so quickly youll be home before youre hungry? I can only hope the other Careers traveled so lightly when it came to food and now find themselves with nothing. Speaking of which, my own supply is running low. I finish off the loaf from District 11 and the last of the rabbit. How quickly the food disappears. All I have left are Rues roots and nuts, the boys dried fruit, and one strip of beef. Now you have to hunt, Katniss, I tell myself. I obediently consolidate the supplies I want into my pack. After I climb down the tree, I conceal the boys knives and spearheads in a pile of rocks so that no one else can use them. Ive lost my bearings what with all the wandering around I did yesterday evening, but I try and head back in the general direction of the stream. I know Im on course when I come across Rues third, unlit fire. Shortly thereafter, I discover a flock of grooslings perched in the trees and take out three before they know what hit them. I return to Rues signal fire and start it up, not caring about the excessive smoke. Where are you, Cato? I think as I roast the birds and Rues roots. Im waiting right here. Who knows where the Careers are now? Either too far to reach me or too sure this is a trick or is it possible? Too scared of me? They know I have the bow and arrows, of course, Cato saw me take them from Glimmers body, but have they put two and two together yet? Figured out I blew up the supplies and killed their fellow Career? Possibly they think Thresh did this. Wouldnt he be more likely to revenge Rues death than I would? Being from the same district? Not that he ever took any interest in her. And what about Foxface? Did she hang around to watch me blow up the supplies? No. When I caught her laughing in the ashes the next morning, it was as if someone had given her a lovely surprise. I doubt they think Peeta has lit this signal fire. Catos sure hes as good as dead. I find myself wishing I could tell Peeta about the flowers I put on Rue. That I now understand what he was trying to say on the roof. Perhaps if he wins the Games, hell see me on victors night, when they replay the highlights of the Games on a screen over the stage where we did our interviews. The winner sits in a place of honor on the platform, surrounded by their support crew. But I told Rue Id be there. For both of us. And somehow that seems even more important than the vow I gave Prim. I really think I stand a chance of doing it now. Winning. Its not just having the arrows or outsmarting the Careers a few times, although those things help. Something happened when I was holding Rues hand, watching the life drain out of her. Now I am determined to revenge her, to make her loss unforgettable, and I can only do that by winning and thereby making myself unforgettable. I overcook the birds hoping someone will show up to shoot, but no one does. Maybe the other tributes are out there beating one another senseless. Which would be fine, Ever since the bloodbath, Ive been featured on screens most than I care. Eventually, I wrap up my food and go back to the stream to replenish my water and gather some. But the heaviness from the morning drapes back over me and even though its only early evening, I climb a tree and settle in for the night. My brain begins to replay the events from yesterday. I keep seeing Rue speared, my arrow piercing the boys neck. I dont know why I should even care about the boy. Then I realize he was my first kill. Along with other statistics they report to help people place their bets, every tribute has a list of kills. I guess technically Id get credited for Glimmer and the girl from District 4, too, for dumping that nest on them. But the boy from District 1 was the first person I knew would die because of my actions. Numerous animals have lost their lives at my hands, but only one human. I hear Gale saying, How different can it be, really? Amazingly similar in the execution. A bow pulled, an arrow shot. Entirely different in the aftermath. I killed a boy whose name I dont even know. Somewhere his family is weeping for him. His friends call for my blood. Maybe he had a girlfriend who really believed he would come back But then I think of Rues still body and Im able to banish the boy from my mind. At least, for now. Its been an uneventful day according to the sky. No deaths. I wonder how long well get until the next catastrophe drives us back together. If its going to be tonight, I want to get some sleep first. I cover my good ear to block out the strains of the anthem, but then I hear the trumpets and sit straight up in anticipation. For the most part, the only communication the tributes get from outside the arena is the nightly death toll. But occasionally, there will be trumpets followed by an announcement. Usually, this will be a call to a feast. When food is scarce, the Gamemakers will invite the players to a banquet, somewhere known to all like the Cornucopia, as an inducement to gather and fight. Sometimes there is a feast and sometimes theres nothing but a loaf of stale bread for the tributes to compete for. I wouldnt go in for the food, but this could be an ideal time to take out a few competitors. Claudius Templesmiths voice booms down from overhead, congratulating the six of us who remain. But he is not inviting us to a feast. Hes saying something very confusing. Theres been a rule change in the Games. A rule change! That in itself is mind bending since we dont really have any rules to speak of except dont step off your circle for sixty seconds and the unspoken rule about not eating one another. Under the new rule, both tributes from the same district will be declared winners if they are the last two alive. Claudius pauses, as if he knows were not getting it, and repeats the change again. The news sinks in. Two tributes can win this year. If theyre from the same district. Both can live. Both of us can live. Before I can stop myself, I call out Peetas name. Part III "The Victor" 19 I clap my hands over my mouth, but the sound has already escaped. The sky goes black and I hear a chorus of frogs begin to sing. Stupid! I tell myself. What a stupid thing to do! I wait, frozen, for the woods to come alive with assailants. Then I remember theres almost no one left. Peeta, whos been wounded, is now my ally. Whatever doubts Ive had about him dissipate because if either of us took the others life now wed be pariahs when we returned to District 12. In fact, I know if I was watching Id loathe any tribute who didnt immediately ally with their district partner. Besides, it just makes sense to protect each other. And in my case being one of the star-crossed lovers from District 12 its an absolute requirement if I want any more help from sympathetic sponsors. The star-crossed lovers Peeta must have been playing that angle all along. Why else would the Gamemakers have made this unprecedented change in the rules? For two tributes to have a shot at winning, our romance must be so popular with the audience that condemning it would jeopardize the success of the Games. No thanks to me. All Ive done is managed not to kill Peeta. But whatever hes done in the arena, he must have the audience convinced it was to keep me alive. Shaking his head to keep me from running to the Cornucopia. Fighting Cato to let me escape. Even hooking up with the Careers must have been a move to protect me. Peeta, it turns out, has never been a danger to me. The thought makes me smile. I drop my hands and hold my face up to the moonlight so the cameras can be sure to catch it. So, who is there left to be afraid of? Foxface? The boy tribute from her district is dead. Shes operating alone, at night. And her strategy has been to evade, not attack. I dont really think that