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The Fifty- Eighth Hunger Games
“Ladies and Gentleman; let the fifty-eight Hunger Games begin!” I now have sixty seconds. Sixty seconds of safety. Sixty seconds to survey my surroundings, which I do now.
We are on a sheet of ice that seems to stretch indefinitely in all directions. The sky is a uniform white. No wonder our outfits are so warm, I think, fingering the hood of my white puffy coat. It should make for good camouflage, too, against the blinding white that is the entire arena that I can see.
Thirty seconds must be gone now. The Cornucopia glints evilly in the eerie white light. There is no way I’ll be heading in there. Not with the giant Career tributes ready for the bloodbath. They could take me out in what, half a second? Besides, Lynx specifically said not to go in there. I feel a pang of sadness. My own mentor just happens to be my sister as well. Mom and dad were heartbroken when Lynx got chosen for the Games. They must be utterly crushed by now. Especially since Lynx was eighteen, and strong. I’m fourteen, and puny as anything. Even in the factories, back home at District Eight, I was pathetic. And now, because of that, I’m doomed.
The gong sounds with me still reminiscing over District Eight. Oh no! I think, scurrying off the plate. I twirl in confusion. Everything is white, but there appears to be a downward slope in the ice to my left. Without hesitation, I dash in that direction. Behind me, I can hear the screaming, the feral snarls of the Careers, and hope that Dennis has had enough sense to follow me. Or that he hasn’t run off in the opposite direction, and is now waiting for me to follow him. My district partner may not even want to be allies anymore. Whatever. I can deal with that. It’s not like I have any chance of winning these stupid Games anyway.
No one pursues me. Why would they? I scored a five in Training, the lowest of all of them. I’m the youngest, too. Even Dennis is sixteen. Surely, I’ll be ignored.
The icy slope becomes a sudden drop-off that I run off without even slowing. I can almost hear Lynx’s groans as I bounce down, coming to a stop at the bottom. My hands are scraped; I can feel blood welling up inside the gloves. I am already injured, and I have nothing to defend myself or feed myself with. There have been no signs of anything edible so far. And of course, I have no sponsors. Who would sponsor the tiny girl with the five in training? I wouldn’t, if I were one of those crazy Capitol people who like sending children to their deaths.
My breath freezes in the air. I’m not that far away from the bloodbath; I can still hear the screaming. Time to be gone. I stand up and start to walk when I hear a sharp yelp from above me. A girl and a boy are tussling in the snow, right near the drop-off, and before I can do anything, they begin to fall.
The girl’s back thuds onto the hard-packed ice, and she lays still. I think she’s dead, and so does her attacker, evidently, because he gets up and brushes the snow off his coat. I recognize him now. District Four; his name’s Gurnet, I think. He looks at me and shrugs, a smile spreading across his face. “Sorry, little girl,” he says, lifting a spear with which he obviously means to impale me. “Nothing personal.”
He raises the spear to throw, and at that instant the girl on the ground seems to burst into life. She rears up and grabs him around the waist. The spear leaves his hand, but it flies so slowly that dodging it is almost too easy. I know I should be running, but I have to watch, to see what the girl will do next. Gurnet is struggling futilely with her, but she has used him to claw her way back on her feet. She has a few knives stuck in her brown belt, and she pulls one out. Gurnet slaps her across the face, hard, making her red hair fly. She snarls at him and lunges with the knife as he sidesteps. The blade buries itself in his shoulder, and he screams in pain and tries to pull it out.
The girl isn’t done with him yet, though. She knees him in the groin, and, as he crumples, she yanks a longer blade out and slits his throat. His garbled pleas for mercy are quickly drowned out in a pool of his own blood, and he goes limp.
The girl pulls her blade out of his shoulder and sticks it back in her belt. She turns and looks surprised to see me still standing there. Obviously she doesn’t regard me as much of a threat, because she doesn’t pull out either of her knives. Suddenly, she smirks. “Hey,” she says.
“H-h-hey,” I stammer. She snorts and rolls her eyes.
“Not very talkative, are you?” I shake my head. The girl is walking towards me slowly, now, still smirking. Is she seriously going to play with her food before she eats it? I thought, incredulous. What’s wrong with this girl?
A sudden reserve of courage blossoms in me, a reserve that only imminent death can open up. “Just kill me already,” I say. “No need for formalities.” The girl’s eyes widen, and she bursts out laughing.
“Kill you?” She chokes. “Why would I kill you? I want you as an ally, stupid.” Okay, this is weird. Who would want me as an ally?
“Why?” I ask, suspicious. I just have to know. Probably this is just an evil trick to get me comfortable so she can kill me without having to exert herself too much.
She rolls those large brown eyes once again. “I don’t really want you,” she admits, “but that district partner of yours won’t be my ally without you. And trust me, I really want him.”
“Where is he?” I ask.
“Oh, him,” she says, shrugging. “He’s picking us up some things at the Cornucopia. I figure it’s going to be a cold few nights, so I told him to get us some sleeping bags, and a tent, if he can find one. Food, obviously, and some weapons we can all use.” She scrutinizes me in distaste, looking over my huge brown eyes, soft, short brown hair, and pale, skinny limbs. “Not that you can handle anything,” she mutters to herself, running a hand through her fiery red hair. I guess I’m not exactly what she had in mind as an ally. Well, I don’t like her either.
“Why didn’t you go to the Cornucopia with Dennis?” I ask, narrowing my eyes a bit. She narrows hers in response.
“I did, in the beginning,” she says, “but that idiot from District Four jumped me before I could get anything better than these knives. What? Don’t trust me? Look,” she says, leaning in and frowning. “Let’s get one thing very clear. I don’t want you, and you don’t want me, and as soon as Dennis is out of the picture we’re not allies anymore. But until then, we are very much allies, and, as allies, you have to trust me.”
I don’t trust her, but for now I’m not going to say anything. “Whatever,” I mumble, pretending to be humble, when in reality my mind is working furiously. Should I ditch Dennis and the stranger and go off on my own. Something tells me that this is a bad idea. Dennis and this girl are obviously stronger than me, and it looks like they can protect me, too. I won’t last very long alone out there. But when the playing field narrows out, if the girl and I are both still alive, I’ll be parting company with them. Until then, I’d better keep Dennis alive, because as soon as he’s dead the girl will kill me. I know she will.
“What’s your name, runt?” She asks, breaking me out of my thoughts.
“Mara,” I reply carefully. “What’s yours?”
“Elinne,” she replies, pronouncing it eh-leen. She tosses her hair over her shoulder. I recognize her now. She’s the girl tribute from District Ten. Her district partner is this tiny little thing who’s only twelve. How he scored a six in training I’ll never know, but obviously she didn’t want him. And she chose Dennis to want, probably because he’s one of the strongest boy tributes that aren’t one of the Careers. It makes sense, in an annoying kind of way.
“So, when did you and Dennis plan this?” I ask, choosing my words carefully. Elinne looks bored, and even yawns, but then opens her mouth.
“In training,” she says. “Remember when you were off at the knot-tying station and we were both at spears? Yeah. I asked him then and he agreed.”
“Why didn’t anyone ask me?” I ask, trying my best not to sound whiny. Evidently my very voice is whiny enough for Elinne, because her eyes are already curving into their signature roll.
“You wouldn’t have agreed,” she says simply. This is probably true.
The boom of cannons breaks me out of my thoughts. We are still until the sounds of the cannons disperse. There are nine huge bursts. Only nine are dead? That’s kind of scary. The playing field is going to be huge this year. This makes it harder for me to stay alive, of course.
I can hear the sound of snow crunching under a pair of fast moving boots, and suddenly Dennis leaps off the overhang above us and lands on the ground in between us. “We have to… run…” he pants. “Careers are… right behind me.” Now that he mentions it, I can definitely hear the snarling, and the laughing, and the…
“Come on, you idiot!” Elinne yells. Dennis hands her a large pack and grabs my arm.
“Run fast, Mara,” he says, giving me a little push to get me going while simultaneously handing me a small-ish pack which I quickly hoist over my shoulder. After a split second’s consideration, he hands me a knife, the hilt of which I grasp with sweaty palms. “Try not to drop it,” he says, giving a ghost of a laugh.
We scramble forwards across the ice, sprinting until we catch up with Elinne. I can hear one of the Careers screaming our position to the others. This is it, I think grimly. I’m going to die. And, at the moment, that fate seems more likely than ever.