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The Hunger Games: The First Quarter Quell
Author's note: I wrote this in collaboration with ForeverDreaming, who is one of my best friends! She wrote Seth's part, and I wrote Mya's.
Deep in the Meadow,
Under the willow,
A bed of grass,
A soft green pillow
I ponder the next note. I have to make this song perfect, and I only have a couple of more hours to complete it. The sun wasn’t even in the sky yet but I have already been awake singing with the mocking jays for hours. For some reason, whenever I sing, they repeat. They can make it sound just like me. I hear a four note whistle and I know that I am missed back at home. Running quickly, I know that I must hurry in order to finish the song. I don’t know how much longer I will have to complete it.
This year is the First Quarter Quell in this crazy land of Panem. A land I wish I didn’t have to call home. Living in District 11 isn’t horrible, but nothing like if I lived in 1 or 2. Only a week ago, President Snow, our very young leader, was on television. He announced to all 12 Districts at once that because it was the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Games, we have to vote in two of our own, one guy and one girl, from each District. Nothing against our District, I know they all love me, but I have a horrible feeling this year. My brother and I are among the few remaining 18 year old boys in District 11, meaning that this year, it will be one of us in the Arena.
I wake up with an upset stomach for the third time this week. I can’t explain why and it isn’t going away. It’s been going on for a while now. I walk downstairs and make some herbal tea, hoping to ease the nausea. I look out the window to see that I, again, am up before dawn. How could anybody sleep? It’s the day of Reaping for this year’s Hunger Games. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Rebellion and our new President, Coriolanus Snow, calls it the Quarter Quell. Instead of the Tributes being picked at random, they will be selected by their peers. The Tributes are being betrayed by their friends and family. It’s sickening.
I look out to see all of the workers heading to the orchards. I use this time to visit my boyfriend Caleb and spend what could be the last few moments together. I get to his house and see him, but there is no sign of his twin brother, Seth.
“Where’s Seth?” I sign to Caleb.
“He went out to the orchards, probably to sing with the Mocking Jays again.” He signs back.
Yes I said sign. Caleb is deaf. He went deaf when he was 8 after he was attacked by Tracker Jackers. The venom destroyed the inner part of his ears, leaving him absolutely deaf. I was an apprentice healer at the time, so I helped to take care of him, but we never officially met. He learned to use sign language in order to communicate with everybody else. I learned to sign when I was little because of my father who was deaf, so I became Caleb’s translator when we were 12. Caleb and Seth were like brothers to me and I sort of became “one of the guys.” Caleb asked me out when we turned 15, saying that if neither one of us were Reaped I had to go on one date with him. I took him up on that. One date turned into two, and well, we’re 18 and still together. But this year, I was certain that we would sadly be torn apart by the Hunger Games. Everyone knew that Caleb, Seth, and I are the three strongest teenagers in District 11.
“Should I go get him?” I sign.
“Use the whistle that he taught you. He said he’d hear it and respond.” He replies. He signs something else, but I am unable to catch it. I walk to the door and let out a shrill, four note tune. I listen and hear Mocking Jays carrying the tune. A moment later, I hear the Mocking Jays return with a song Seth had been writing for months. Caleb was right, Seth had been singing again, and writing music. I walk back inside and Seth pokes his head into the room.
“What do you need?” Seth asks. I can tell he’s been up for hours.
“Nothing, he just wanted you to know that it’s almost time for Reaping.” I translate. Seth knows some sign, but not enough to have meaningful conversation. He laughs.
“What Reaping? We all know this is going to be a joke.” I turn to Caleb and translate.
“It’ll be okay, I promise.” I say to Seth and sign for Caleb.
“I don’t think so.” Caleb signs. He holds my hand tightly. I look up at Seth to see that he understood what his brother said just by the expression on his face.
“I promise you, everything will be fine.” I sign, fighting back the nauseated feeling that is again sweeping over me. Caleb kisses my cheek and Seth grimaces then leaves the room.
“We can be together, forever?” Caleb asks, innocently. I smile.
“Maybe. But let’s try to get passed Reaping first.”
“I love you, Mya.”
“I love you, too.” I kiss his cheek. His chocolate colored cheeks look suddenly rosy.
“I just wish I could hear you say it.” Caleb signs.
“Caleb,” I begin.
“I want one of those fancy hearing devices that the deaf people in the Capitol have.”
“That’s a Cochlear Implant, Caleb. That would take 10 years’ worth of tesserae just to pay for the surgery, not the device itself.” I tell him.
“It would be worth it, Mya. I want to hear you say that you love me, not just see it. 10 years without hearing anything is a long time.” He signs. I lay my head on his shoulder when I hear the Capitol Anthem.
“It’s time to go.” We get up to leave, but not before I run to the bathroom to vomit again.
Here it is, the most dreadful, hated day of the year. The Reaping. It’s like a joke this year though. We’re all lined up according to age and gender. Caleb is standing beside me, and even though I keep asking him if he’s okay, his eyes keep shifting around and he paces. The escort this year, Ruby, I believe her name is, waddles across the stage. She looks ridiculous, with six inch heels and she appears to be a large orange. She is wearing orange from head to toe.
“Though this year is a little different, we still get to have ourselves a Reaping!” There is a small pause before she continues. “Everyone see this small roped off area to my right?” She gestures to it. “One person per every two in your family must go in and vote for one girl and one boy and then we will get to this most extravagant event!”
Everyone in the area stares at her. “You may go.” Ruby says, completely unaffected.
Not one body moves for a moment, then slowly the lines begin going towards the area that marks the demise of two of our own. I kneel down for a moment, pretending to tie my shoe, but only because the weight of what I am about to do hits me. I am about to kill two of my friends. Even if I don’t know them, someone I do know does. Two lives, two deaths. Every other year seems less cruel, because we don’t have the opportunity to save them. This year we do, but we send them to their deaths. No one from District 11 ever wins. Districts 1 and 2 train most of their lives for this. How is knowing which kind of berry tastes good ever going to help?
It’s not. Being from District 11 is almost your death wish. I’ve only had the chance to watch 18 of the 25 years of the Games, and have only been aware for about 10. The year that hit me most was two years ago. You know that feeling you get when you are only sixteen years old and you have your first crush on a very, very pretty girl that’s eighteen? That’s exactly how I felt. I know it’s normal for a 16-year old guy to feel awesome around his crush, but I really thought Jenna had something special with me. But then Reaping happened.
“Move,” a broad shouldered 18 year old guy shoves me on my way to the voting area. Oh, he brought me back to the present. My feet feel like lead as I stumble my way over to the roped off area. I register so they know I am who I say I am, and then walk into the small, curtained box. The second they shut it behind me seals the pain on my heart. All that is in the room is a long list on one side with the names of all the boys ages 12-18 in this District, and on the other side the girls, and small slips of paper. “You write one boy and one girl,’ are the instructions given to me. I push aside the curtain, going to the outside world, not writing a single name.
“How in this world-“ I start to scream, but a hand crashes onto my mouth. I see that it’s Caleb and he looks angry or scared as he pulls his hand away. Caleb looks straight at me as I rub my jaw. “Why’d you do that?” I sign furiously to him.
“I can’t lose you.” He replies. He’s right, my death would’ve been quicker than the Tributes I was protesting against. Caleb puts his hands on my back and leads me as he would his dog over to the stage.
I walk to the sign in and have my finger pricked, for “security measures,” then walk to the voting area.
“Name?” The Peace Keeper asked.
“Mya Andrews.” I say.
“The voting is closed. Even if you did vote, it wouldn’t change the odds of the nominee.” I shake my head and walk to the designated area for the 18 year old girls. Only a small handful of girls are with me, only about seven of us remain in all of District 11, everyone else dies either in the Hunger Games, or at the mercy of wild animals in the orchards and fields. If I survive Reaping, I will be considered very lucky. The Propaganda video rolls on the large screen and everybody stands in silence.
“War, terrible war,” I recite under my breath. I have seen this video hundreds of times, that I can basically recite it in my sleep. They show it during the Victory tour, Reaping, and after the Games are over as a “Don’t feel bad that two of your loved ones were murdered for the sake of our entertainment. This is the price you must pay for being poor,” kind of a deal. It sickens me. The Capitol escort for this year is a petite woman named Ruby. I personally think she should have a name like "Autumn.” She reminds me of a fall leaf because she is dressed in red and orange from head to toe.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Happy Hunger Games and May the odds be ever in your favor.” She says in her smooth, crisp, Capitol accent.
“This year, you have had to choose who will represent you in the Arena. In my hands, I hold the results of the vote. Ladies first.” She opens the paper, I close my eyes.
“By unanimous vote, Mya Andrews.” My heart hits the floor. My friends try to hug me and I push them away.
“Traitors,” I snap at them as I advance to the stage. My eyes meet Caleb’s and I can see he is frightened. I am terrified, but I remain emotionless for Caleb’s sake. I bite my lip and can taste blood. My stomach wants to get rid of what little I ate this morning, especially after the next name is called.
“Caleb Williams.” I stare at Ruby. Caleb has no idea of what is going on, so he stands still. Peace Keepers begin to search for him when I tell Ruby that he is deaf. She asks me if I can communicate with him and I face Caleb.
“Caleb, they voted you in.” I sign to him, letting tears trickle down my cheeks. Caleb’s face goes pale and he starts to walk to the stage. I can see in Seth’s eyes that he is mortified. He runs to his brother, grabs his arm, and steps in front of him. My heart skips a beat. Seth, please no. Don’t do it.
“I volunteer as Tribute!” Seth shouts. Caleb, after reading the facial expression, looks at his brother in shock.
“He took my place?” Caleb signs to me. My hands are shaking too much to respond so I just nod. Seth walks boldly to the stage.
“What is your name?” Ruby asks.
“Seth Williams.” He says.
“Well, now that we have settled this, here are the Tributes from District 11!” Ruby finishes. The residents of 11 are silent, but raise 3 fingers. A salute of honor. A final good-bye. A sign of the lost.
The Peacekeepers yank my arm and nearly drag Mya and I into our Justice Building, then whisk us away into separate rooms. Caleb, pale and red eyed, is the first one into my room. “You have three minutes.” Yells the Peacekeeper.
“Why did you do that?” Caleb frantically signs.
“You and Mya deserve to have a long life. I don’t have anybody to hold onto anymore.” I reply, signing slowly because the words are hard to express.
He snorts. “She is going into the GAMES, Seth! 24 go in, 1 comes out!”
“But I’ll be there! I’ll protect her!” I sign back. I grab him and hold him close, not wanting to waste our last minutes arguing. The Peacekeeper comes back into the room and he ushers Caleb out. With one last look over his shoulder, he signs, “I love you.” I barely have time to sign I back before my best friend and brother is ripped from my life. The door slams behind them. I run up, my heart being ripped in half, and lash out at the door. Pretending it’s the Capitol. Pretending it’s anyone in my way of life being the way it was when I had Jenna. The Capitol ruined my life and now it’s going to ruin my brother’s and his girlfriend’s. I can’t let that happen. I won’t it happen.
My “friends” come to visit, but I refuse to see them. My own parents haven’t come to say goodbye. I feel sick and confused. Why would Seth sacrifice himself for his brother? I mean, the Games are a guaranteed death sentence. Finally, Caleb comes in and I run into his arms sobbing. I say nothing. I just embrace him for the last time.
“Mya, fight. I know you are strong.” He signs with tears in his eyes.
“I will. I promise.” I respond.
“You have to. For me. Please, Mya. Do whatever it takes to come home.”
“I will. I don’t want to do this. But if we are to ever have a future together, I have to.”
“I love you Mya.” Tears are rolling down my cheeks.
“I love you too, Caleb.” A Peace Keeper opens the door quickly to grab me, then hesitates when he sees me in Caleb’s arms.
“The train is here.” He says quietly. It breaks my heart to release Caleb’s hand, but finally, I do. I quietly follow him to Ruby’s car. Seth and I sit in the back while Ruby sits in the front. I silently cry and Seth wraps his arms around me, showing me why I consider him my brother. Now, the two of us will enter the Arena, and either one or neither of us will come out alive.
The Peacekeepers shove us into a huge bullet train. You never would’ve been able to tell from the outside of the train station, which was miniscule and not well kept, but the interior of the train was astounding. Rich velvet carpets, and piles of rich Capitol food are on the table. I run over and begin to stuff my mouth. I grab a chocolate bar and think about the past.
-Jenna, Caleb and I were in the woods where we used to meet after Caleb lost his hearing two years ago. She pulled out a chocolate bar and our eyes practically pop out of our heads.
“Where did you get that?!” Caleb signs.
“I snuck it away from my father. He was having someone from the Capitol over tonight. I figured they won’t notice it.” Her father was mayor of District 11, but showed no compassion to his own daughter. He was often cruel and abusive towards Jenna and her mom. She breaks off a piece and hands it to me. “Happy Hunger Games.”
“May the Odds be ever in your favor.” We responded.-
That was the last morning I got to spend with Jenna before she was thrown into the Games. I would give that chocolate back to her if I could. A tear slips from my eye and I quickly wipe it away. Mya walks onto the train and I try to say hi, but she walks into her room, mumbling about not feeling well. I don’t feel well either, but who wouldn’t feel like this after knowing that this was their last moment in their home?
Ruby waddles into the room, still in her ridiculous heels. “How are you doing, Seth? Enjoying our fine food I see.”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Where is Mya?” She asks. She apparently is unable to tell that we both want to be left alone.
“She said something about not feeling well and she went to her room.”
“Oh, well I better go check on her,” She turns to leave when I stop her.
“No, I’ll go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
On the train, I stay in my “room,” not wanting to be with anybody. I feel too sick to do anything anyway. I just watch everything zoom by me. Finally, I hear Seth’s voice from behind.
“Are you okay?”
“I’ve been voted into the Hunger Games, against my boyfriend, and then his brother takes his place. How do you think I am?” I snap at him. Seth laughs.
“Okay, so this day hasn’t been the best for you.”
“I’m never going to see him again.” I say.
“Not if I have anything to do with it.” Seth says. I glare at him. I have the sudden urge to kill him right now. Before he can blink, I have him pinned to the wall.
“I have everything to lose, Seth! You, Caleb, my family!” Seth grabs my arm and twists it behind my back, putting me on my knees.
“Say it!” He laughs.
“Never!” I snap back. I ram back and Seth falls to the floor knocking over a table, laughing hysterically.
“You still got it, Mya. This is what I want you to do in the Arena. Fight to survive.” Seth chuckles.
“You don’t say?” I say sarcastically. Seth falls to the floor laughing again. I go to get up, but pain in my side stops me. Seth’s expression changes in a heartbeat.
“Mya, are you alright?” He helps me up.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I lie.
“You’ve been sick for a few days, are you sure you are alright?”
“Seth, I’m fine.” I say again. The train stops. I look out to see the Capitol. All of the people crowded around us, it was over-stimulating. Seth and I wave to the crowd and watch as the Tributes from District 12 arrive. A tall, thin girl with short red hair and a young thin boy with curly brunette hair step off of the train. The girl is extremely overwhelmed, and all of the Capitol photographers aren’t helping the situation. Seth gives me an approving nod and I run over to the girl.
“Leave her alone! Now!” I say, pushing away a few photographers. They ignore me, so I push her behind me and lead her away as quickly as possible. The girl smiles at me.
“Thank you. I’m Lauren. District 12.” She whispers.
“I’m Mya. District 11.” I say, guiding her to where we were to be transported to the Training Center. I am whisked away to my room, where I meet Tuck and Ophelia, two members of my Prep Team. They are the typical Capitol residents, bubbly, finding the joy in the Hunger Games. Tuck is a short, stubby man with bright pink hair, and I’m talking HOT pink. Ophelia has fiery red hair and beautiful green eyes. They strip me of my clothes and scrub me clean of all of the dirt and scum on my body. I am certain I lost a layer of skin in the process. Ophelia brushes my short, straight, thick, black hair.
“Lilac wants her to have hair extensions for the Parade and Interviews.” Tuck says, looking at a clipboard.
“Hair extensions?” I ask, unsure.
“Yes, dear. They are only to make your hair easier to work with. It’s so short.”
“It’s not that short,” I argue. My hair is just past my shoulders. In District 11, girls usually cut their hair short because it’s convenient for work. It doesn’t hang in our faces and we only need to pull it back into a small pony tail. While Tuck puts the extensions on, Ophelia paints my nails in vibrant shades of pinks and purples. Tuck braids my new, long, hair as Ophelia puts the finishing touches on my nails. When they finish, I look in the mirror and I am at utter loss for words. My coffee colored skin is absolutely flawless, and my black hair is braided the whole way down to my back with a few small streaks of pink in it. I look like a flower from one of the orchards.
“It’s beautiful.” I whisper. I never hear my Prep Team leave, when I turn around I see a beautiful young woman, in her late twenties, standing there. She is tall, with honey colored hair with a single streak of lilac dye in it, probably where she got her nickname, and sapphire eyes.
“I’m Licianna, your designer, but you can call me Lilac.” She says.
“I’m Mya.” Lilac circles me, examining me head to toe. She smiles and adjusts my braid.
“At the Reaping, I noticed you did something with your hands. What was that?”
“Sign Language. My boyfriend is deaf and I translate for him.”
“I see. How long have you been together?”
“Since we were 15.” I have the urge to vomit again.
“My husband and I have been together since we were 18. We’ve been married for four years.”
“Do you have any children?” I ask her.
“Yes, I have two beautiful daughters. They are much like you.” I give her a skeptical look, noting her pale skin in comparison to mine.
“My husband used to live in District 11, and he has darker skin like you and your partner. He moved to the Capitol when he became a Peacekeeper, but was relieved of duty when we got married and we stayed here when he was called back to the services. My daughters inherited his dark complexion, but they have my blue eyes. My oldest is two and my youngest is only a few months old.” She showed me a picture of the little girls.
“You’re lucky that they don’t have to compete in the Games. “ I say, trying to lighten the mood.
“It doesn’t make it any better. The whole thing is revolting.” Lilac says, pulling my dress for the Parade of Tributes. It was long, pink, and resembled a cherry blossom from the orchards back home. I put the dress on and Lilac put a blossom in my hair. She applies make-up in soft shades of pinks and purples. The parade seems just to whiz by me. I feel too sick to really focus on anything. Seth holds my hand and encourages me to stay calm. The horses take off and the crowd cheers.
Mya and I shakily step off of our chariot. Ashe, my designer, and Lilac run over to us, congratulating us on how well we performed. I sort of wave them off. It’s really no matter to me how good I look, even if everyone sponsors me, I don’t plan on coming out alive.
The moment that Ashe tells me I can go to my room before interviews, I bolt. Deep in thought about how I’m going to keep Mya alive in the Arena, I don’t realize when I run right into someone.
“Oh, sorry!” The other Tribute and I say simultaneously. I look down at the smaller person. Jenna. The name instantly pops into my mind as I look over this young girl. The striking red hair, the beautiful green eyes. Then a weird explanation hits me. I must be dead already. That’s the only way this could be happening. If I am dead, please don’t revive me!
“Excuse me.” She says, shyly, trying to walk past me.
“Wait,” I put my hand on her shoulder, “You looked stunning.” Smooth move, I mentally slap myself in the face. The Jenna-look-a-like smiles. I wasn’t kidding when I said that she looked stunning though. She is dressed in a simple, long, black dress with a low back. She also has on gloves that imitate the coal that her District gathers.
“Thank you.” She says in almost a whisper.
“It’s no problem, Jenna.” She must think I’m insane!
“I’m sorry? My name is Lauren, not Jenna.” She answers, confused.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that you look like someone,” I loved “I used to know back home. My name is Seth, by the way.”
Lauren smiles. “It’s fine, and thank you for the compliment. No one really pays attention to me here. I mean, your partner did, but being from District 12 is hard because nobody has faith in you. I’m the underdog. Nobody has even complimented me besides you.”
“Well, someone should.”
Lauren blushes. “Thank you, but I have to go. My escort is calling me. It was nice to meet you Seth. See you around.
“Definitely.” I give her a quick hug.
After the Parade, I am whisked to hair and make-up again for the interview. I wear a beautiful green satin dress with deep red roses on the sleeve. My make-up is much darker, giving me an edgy, ‘sexy’ look, or that’s what Ophelia tells me. My hair is half up and curled with a single white rose tucked behind my ear. I watch as the other competitors go up and talk to the host, a man named Nasim Flickerman. He is older, but he has a bright yellow wig on and a yellow suit. The first to go up is a girl named Mercedes from District 1. She is probably the stupidest person here. She keeps talking about how rich her family is and how she is just certain that nobody will kill her because she is “drop dead gorgeous.” I wish she would just drop dead, to be honest. The second is a tall, brunette, and muscular boy, from District 1 as well. His name is Alejandro, but says that he is known as Alejo. I continue to watch until it is my turn. I am hesitant, but I sit next to Nasim. The crowd cheers and I swallow the lump in my throat.
“Mya, allow me to say that you look absolutely stunning tonight,” Nasim says. I feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. He embarrassed me, now it’s my turn to return the favor, I think to myself.
“Thank you. You look quite handsome yourself,” I say, being slightly flirtatious. The crowd laughs and I giggle.
“Mya, you have such a wonderful personality. Does this personality attract any suitors back home?”
“Yes, I have a ‘suitor’ back home. My boyfriend of three years, Caleb.” I say, noting that I am signing what I am saying out of impulse.
“You said his name is Caleb? Is it the same one who was originally picked?”
“Yes, yes it is.” I say, softly.
“I noticed you were doing something with your hands and he did it back. Do you care to explain that?”
“Caleb is deaf. He was stung by Tracker Jackers and it caused a lot of damage to his ears. I am his translator and that’s how we met.” I again have to stop myself from signing.
“I see that you are doing it now. Do you think he’s watching?” Nasim asks me.
“I hope he’s watching, so he’ll see this.” I raise my hand, lift my index finger, thumb, and pinky finger into the camera lens. My heart flutters just thinking about him.
“What does that mean?” Nasim asks, imitating my hand position.
“It means ‘I love you,’” I say softly. The crowd sighs.
“I wish you the best of luck. We are out of time. Mya Andrews, ladies and gentlemen!” Nasim introduces me to the crowd again and I curtsy. I walk off and Seth hugs me.
“You were great, Mya.” He says.
“Thanks. Good luck, Seth.” I say, fighting the urge to vomit. Seth walks onstage and I run to the restroom.
Mya walks down off stage from Nasim. Nasim always has a signature color for every year of the Games. This year is yellow. In my honest opinion, he looks like a large, infected, piece of snot. Nothing about him was remotely attractive, but the whole Capitol seems enthralled with it. It doesn’t take much to please them.
Now, Mya, on the other hand, looks stunning tonight. She is dressed in a floor length, deep green colored satin dress. It has wine colored roses crawling up the entire length of the dress. Mya also has a single white. rose placed behind her ear. I just have a simple black suit, or at least it’s simple right now. I give Mya a hug as she walks into the wings of the stage. Now, it’s my turn to shine. Nasim shakes my hand as we sit down. Wow, these seats are comfortable! It’s like sitting on a cloud! The crowd roars for some unknown reason.
“So,” Nasim starts, “what is your favorite thing about the Capitol?”
“Honestly?” I laugh, trying to buy more time. I have to be somewhat likeable, or I will have no sponsors and it will be harder to keep Mya alive. “Definitely the food.” Great idea, Seth, I reprimand myself.
“The food here? Oh, yes, that is why I have this!” Nasim pats his large stomach. The crowd erupts in laughter. “So Seth, what food is your favorite?”
“One word, Nasim. One word. Chocolate. We don’t get a lot of it in District 11.” The crowd goes wild again. They must have no lives if they laugh at something so trivial, then again, they can afford it. Nasim quiets the crowd, getting them ready for a more serious topic.
“So Seth, from the video of the Reaping, you volunteered as Tribute. Who did you volunteer for? I mean you look very similar. . .”
I clear my throat. Really, this isn’t any of your business, but whatever. “Yes. It was my twin brother, Caleb.”
The audience gasps. Idiots.
“I’m assuming that he came to say goodbye.” I nod. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him that I would protect Mya, his girlfriend.” The crowd sighs and an image of Mya appears on the screen. Her face shows the same shock that Nasim’s does. Can’t you people go away?!
Nasim looks into the camera. “Yes, we did just speak to Mya. . .”
I zone out for a moment, preparing for what I’m about to do. Then I look out at Ashe who twirls his finger. Hurry up, he signals.
“Nasim, may I do something special for you tonight?”
“Of course, but hurry! You don’t have much time.” I push the button on the inside of my suit and it turns black and white, much like a mocking jay. Then I clear my throat, and begin to sing.
Deep in the meadow, under the willow
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow
Lay down your head, and close your eyes
And when again they open, the sun will rise
Here it’s safe, and here it’s 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
Deep in the meadow, hidden far away
A cloak of leaves, a moon beam ray
Forget your woes, and let your troubles lay
And when again it’s morning, they’ll wash away
Here it’s safe, and here it’s 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
The crowd and even Nasim look at me with tears in their eyes. It takes Nasim a second, even after the buzzer sounds marking the end of my interview, to compose himself enough to grab my hand and lift it up.
“Seth Williams everyone!” The crowd roars and I bound off stage blowing kisses to everyone.
Sleep doesn’t come easy tonight. I have so much on my mind that it is sickening. The fact that Seth promised his brother that he would protect me says something. He either loves his brother enough that he would sacrifice himself so I could make it home, or he finds no value in his life. It also doesn’t help that my stomach won’t stop churning. I am unable to keep down any food, yet I’ve gained a little bit of weight. I pull out the one picture that I have from home. Caleb. My heart breaks and tears fall. I remember the accident that left him deaf. We were so young. He barely made it out alive.
-It was 10 years ago. Caleb and Seth were out doing who knows what. I was in the field with Jenna, who was 10 at time, who was training me to be a healer. For a 10 year old, she was pretty smart! The two of us were picking cherries when we heard a buzzing and screams.
“Tracker Jackers!” Jenna screamed. We ran as fast as we could into the woods where we saw a very swollen Seth, and Caleb was having a seizure from an allergic reaction. “Mya, go get help!” Jenna screamed at me. I ran back as fast as I could and found my mother.
“Momma! Two boys were being attacked by Tracker Jackers! Jenna and I need help!” My mother grabbed the first aid kit and we ran to the woods. Jenna was trying to perform CPR on Caleb when my mom took over. I watched in fear for what seemed like forever before more healers came. We took them back to the station where a doctor examined both of them. Seth would walk away with minimal damage. Caleb wasn’t so lucky. The venom almost killed him, but he would recover. The doctor said that the venom also caused permanent damage to his inner ear because of several stings he received, and it would leave him completely deaf. My mom told me to take care of them until she got back. So I sat with them when Caleb began to stir. He woke up and I looked at him.
“Hi,” I say, waving softly. Caleb looked at me confused and began to panic. His amber eyes glistened with fear and he began screaming, his hands over his ears. I quickly signed to him, “Be still! Please!” He looked at me, then to my hands, then back to me. I had never officially met him, but I knew him from school. I could tell that he understood that he would never hear again. My mom returned and I was whisked from the room. I never really came in contact with him again until we were 12 and he needed to communicate for the Reaping.-
I hold the picture close to me and sob. I want to go home. I want to be in his arms again. I want to spend forever with him. But it’s impossible.
I won’t be returning home.
Lying in bed, I can’t sleep. Not with that face in my mind. How in the world did I find a girl that not only is identical to Jenna, and it just so happens to be in the same place that Jenna was last? I remember how I met her like it was yesterday.
-We were young and stupid. Caleb and I were sitting on the roof of a guard station in District 11. It was horrible there, whippings and hangings were common. But we were only 8 years old and didn’t know any better. We were just lying on top of the guard shack talking when we heard a guard shout so we jumped off. If the guard caught either one of us, we were dead. Then without thinking, I took a short cut through the woods and Caleb followed. I tripped over what looked like a bee’s nest, got up, and kept going, while Caleb tripped over it and all hell broke loose. Tracker Jackers swarmed and began to sting us. My eyes were watering. I could barely see, but I grabbed Caleb and dragged him as far as I could and each step brought a new form of agony. I screamed for help then she appeared. She gave me some sort of medicine and I immediately fell asleep. When I woke up, Caleb and I were lying on a mattress back at our house. I peered up with swollen eyes and saw my angel. Jenna and Mya had saved our lives. Later, I learned that Caleb lost his hearing because of the choice I made. –
I now let the tears stream down my face. Weeping, I don’t even realize that I fall asleep.
Mya and I walk into a room full of other Tributes. The woman in charge has already begun talking, so why should I pay attention now? Once she dismisses us, I walk over to the knife throwing station. I pick up a nice, long blade with a serrated edge and try throwing it at the target. It hits the wood a foot away. A hand reaches from behind my back and puts another knife in my hand.
“Hold it like so, and then release all of your energy, concentrate on your target, and. . .” The hand releases mine and the knife hits the target directly in the heart. An instant kill. I turn around to see a boy, about my age, standing behind me.
“Alejo, District 1.” He extends his hand towards me.
“Seth, District 11.” I am wary of Alejo. He is a Career, a Tribute from District 1, 2, or 4. They usually clump together at the beginning and pick everyone off once they are in the Arena. I grasp his hand and he pulls me into a man-hug. Quietly, he whispers, “I saw you help the girl from 12 at the Train Station, and if you haven’t noticed, the so-called ‘Careers’ have already paired off and formed alliances. Katrina and Brock, me and the others. I like you. So if you want immediate protection, your best bet is to be my ally. So how about it? I think you’d be a great member of my team.”
I weigh my options. Looking Alejo over, he seems fit and his points are valid. The other Careers don’t look the best, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t deadly. But Alejo is another strong body we can use on our side. I nod. “Allies. Only if you will help me.” Alejo nods. Without hesitation, he slips back into a knife throwing demonstration. “So if you place your hand here. . .” I zone out. The chances of me getting Mya out alive seem more of a reality now.
We are dismissed to train as we wish at whatever station we want to. Everyone runs for stations with weapons, I consider joining them until the healing station catches my eye. I walk over to see all sorts of herbs and bandages that I am used to seeing back home. Seth walks over to me.
“How about a little bit of grappling? Show them what you’re made of?” I grin at Seth.
“Alright, you’re on. Loser has to do two-hundred push-ups.” I challenge.
“I’ll take that bet.” Seth and I shake hands. The Peace Keepers are supposed to prevent us from fighting, but we assure them that it’s all in good fun and for training. We walk to the mats and Seth runs at me. Before he can blink, I grab him around the neck and throw him to the ground.
“You make this too easy,” I laugh.
“Alrighty then!” Seth springs back up and grabs both of my arms and holds them behind my back. I squirm for a moment, and then thrust my body forward, causing Seth to roll over my back and smack the ground. I could hear a few other Tributes cheering either one of us on. We roll around a bit, one minute I am pinned, the next he is. He rolls from under me. Seth attempts to get up from the floor, but not before I am able to pin him down once again. He is at his limit, I can tell that he is too tired to continue.
“Tap out?” I ask. Seth’s hand hits the floor twice in response. The crowd disperses again and I can see Alejo watching me like a hawk.
“Good match,” Seth pants.
“You too. Now, catch your breath and start on your push-ups.” I laugh. Seth shakes his head and holds up his side of the deal. I walk away, and the urge to vomit overtakes me. I sit down and the Tribute from District 4 approaches me. She stands about five foot 6 inches tall, with bronzed hair to her shoulders. She has black and bright blonde streaks through-out her hair.
“Are you alright, 11? You’ve been sick like this for a few days.” She asks. Her sea blue eyes show her District 4 heritage.
“I’ll be fine. I think I just have a virus.”
“I’m Maraina, by the way. I think that it was really cool that you signed your conversation with Nasim so your boyfriend could understand.”
“I’m Mya.” I whisper. I shake my head. “I wish we didn’t have to do this. I know that I’ll be killed in the Arena.”
“You don’t know that. You took down the boy from your District and he’s twice your size.”
“I grew up with him. That doesn’t count.” I argue. Maraina laughs.
“I like you. You’ve got a lot of fight in you. I can tell you are willing to fight for what you love, for your Caleb.” She pats my shoulder and walks away.
“Maraina, wait.” I call after her.
“Do you have a special guy back home?”
“Not back home. He’s here with me.” She smiles weakly. It takes a moment to sink in, and when it does, it hits hard. Maraina and Xvair. They are how Caleb and I almost were. Seth at least took his place, but Xvair isn’t that lucky. I am thankful that I’m not in that situation. They are so young, they’re just children. We all are. I can’t imagine any of them dying. Okay, well, maybe Mercedes. I know it is mean to say that, but she is so annoying! Her voice is nasally and pompous and every time I hear it, I want to personally make her an Avox! Many of the Tributes are annoying, mostly the younger ones. But who can blame them? Lauren approaches me and extends her hand, but I don’t take it.
“Are you sure you’re alright Mya?”
“Yeah. I just have a bug, that’s all.” I assure her. She sits quietly for a moment.
“I know you’ll make it out of the Arena.” She says.
“Why would you say that? You have as much of a chance as me.”
“You’re stronger than almost everyone here. You’re swift, and you’re like a snake. Not in a bad way, but you can twist your way out of any chokehold. I watched you.”
“Yes, but I’m not willing to kill anybody. Only in defense will I fight.” I say. Lauren just looks at me for a moment then walks away. Her words haunt me. You’re stronger than almost everyone here. You’re like a snake. You can twist out of any chokehold. Most District residents worked in factories where they just had to assemble things. Not in District 11 or 12. From what I know of District 12, only the men can work in the mines. The women struggle to find work. In 11, everyone works in the orchards or fields. My mother and a small handful of other women are healers in case of emergency. I act as a first responder. If something happens and it is life-threatening, I go and try to help until another healer arrives. I find it ironic. I am a healer. I help people. Yet, I am expected to kill people in the Arena. If I want to go home, that’s what I have to do. The bell rings, marking the end of our training day. I walk back to my apartment where Lilac is waiting.
“Mya, tomorrow is final judging. This will determine how much of a chance you have of coming out of the Arena. Do you have any plans for what you are going to do?”
“Probably some knife throwing, wrestling, or more than likely I’ll do some healer stuff.” I say coldly. “I don’t stand much of a chance anyway. So by healing people, I lessen my chance of coming out.”
“But if they are your allies, it will help you. Do you have any idea who you would want?”
“Of course Seth. Lauren. I trust Maraina, but I don’t know if I want her as an ally.”
“Do whatever you have to, alright? I have to get home. Good night, Mya.”
“Good night, I'll see you tomorrow.”
Mya and I sit only one wall away from the people who could hand us our lives back. The Gamemakers sit in the room next to us, evaluating all of this year’s Tributes. I don’t have anything planned that they will give me a good score for, but I don’t care. I just want to show them it’s wrong to send us into the Arena year after year.
“Seth Williams.” My name is called. With a glance over my shoulder at Mya, I pull open the door and walk into the room. The wildly dressed Gamemakers sit around a table, feasting on alcohols of every sort and more food than I had ever seen in District 11.
“Seth Williams, District 11.” I say. With nothing but a glance and a quick wave of the hand, they cue me to begin. I walk confidently to the corner of the room. After pushing back more than even imaginable weapons, I find my own. With the small piece of copper in my hand, I walk back over to the Gamemakers and start my demonstration. The Jabberjay jumps as it sees the light after I lift the cloth from the cage. Yes, a Jabberjay. The Capitol used them during the rebellion to track down Rebels. Afterwards, they let them go to die, but they mated with Mocking Birds, creating Mocking jays. Jabberjays were believed to be extinct, but somehow, they managed to find me one. I gently lift the bird from the cage. “Do well.” I whisper.
If only I could breathe in
One last time
If only I could tell you
That one last line
Then you would understand
The way I feel. . .
Ohh ohh ohhh
But I don’t have that chance anymore
The last time you told me
You loved me
And I couldn’t say it back
Oh oh oh
It’s too late now
They ripped the choice away
You never came back
And I’ve always wanted to say-
What I wouldn’t give to say
That one last line
I love you.
“I wrote this song to Jenna, the District 11 Tribute who stood here before you two years ago.” I saw tears in the eyes of one of the Gamemakers. “Do you want to take other’s chances away?” I walk out of the room, leaving them to think about what I said.
I walk into the room with all of the Gamemakers for final judgment. My stomach is churning and I can’t even shake it. I look around the room to see a table of knives, spears, bow and arrows, camouflage, and a table with herbs and healing equipment. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a Gamemaker pressing a handkerchief to his cheek. I know that I am not supposed to speak to the Gamemakers, but I approach them nevertheless.
“Mya Andrews, District 11.” I say. I get closer to see that his cheek is bleeding heavily from a gash the size of my hand. “What happened?”
“I’m not supposed to talk about what other Tributes do, but one attempted to throw knives and they hit me.” He says, cringing as I wipe away blood. I am able to tell that it’s been bleeding for a while and it’s not from Seth. I look to the Head Gamemaker.
“May I?” I ask. He nods. I motion for the Gamemaker to follow me and he does. I look at the table and see a variety of herbs that could reduce pain and swelling. I throw some into a bowl and mix them with water.
“What is that?” The Gamemaker asks, grimacing.
“I know this looks disgusting, but this will reduce the pain and swelling.” I say, pressing the herbs to his cheek. He cringes then relaxes a bit. I could tell that he immediately felt relief from pain. “Change the bandage again in a few hours and you should be fully healed in several days.”
I position myself in front of the target, position an arrow, and pull back the string. I take a deep breath and let it go, sending the arrow directly into the chest of the mannequin. I do the same with a knife, and it hits directly in the center of the forehead. I go to throw a spear when the urge to vomit over takes me. I look to the Gamemakers who seem to get the picture and dismiss me.
I return to my apartment and curl up in my bedroom. I want to be left alone and it helps that Seth isn’t here. Tomorrow I enter the Arena, probably never to come out again. I fight back every urge to cry, but tears come. I walk out and sit on the balcony and look out over the Capitol skyline.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I hear Lilac say softly. I turn to her and she sits next to me. “Are you alright?”
“No. This is the last time that I’ll sleep knowing that I am safe.” I say, glancing back over the Capitol.
“I plan on retiring after this year.” Lilac says.
“Well, it’s only if my favorite Tribute is killed in the Arena. You remind me too much of the young women that I want my daughters to be when they are your age.” Lilac places her hand on my shoulder. “You scored a 9. You have one of the highest scores out of the Tributes this year.”
“What does that mean for my standings in the Arena?” I ask.
“It means that you have a pretty good chance of coming out. And you get Sponsors. Panem loves you.”
“I don’t want to do this.”
“I know. You don’t have much of a choice now.”
“I don’t want to kill anybody! I won’t kill anybody!” I say.
“You will when the time is right.” Lilac responds, her voice is like ice, smooth, yet cold.
“What if I don’t?”
“Then they will kill you. It’s your choice, Mya. Kill or be killed. Fight or flight.” I never make eye contact with her again. I just look out over the city. I don’t even notice her leaving. All I hear is the door close, then silence. My heart begins to beat against my chest with great force that I am certain somebody could see it. Lilac is right. If I want to see my family and Caleb again, I have to kill my fellow Tributes. I have to fight the urge to vomit again as I hear the door open a second time. I wipe a tear from my eye and put on my “bravest face” when I realize who is with me. Seth.
“Mya? I heard you arguing with Lilac. Are you okay?” Seth asks, sitting next to me. I shake my head in response.
“I want to go home. I can’t kill anybody.” I fight back tears.
“I know you can-“
“No, Seth. I can’t bring myself to do it.”
“Do it in defense then.” We sit in silence for a moment when he says, “It’s sick. This whole idea of us being forced to kill each other is sick. The Victor then gets more money than they know what to do with as compensation. What is that supposed to do? Make them forget?!”
“Seth, do you think we’d be here if we never met?” My voice is shaking.
“Why would you ask that? Had we never met, my brother wouldn’t be alive. You are part of the reason he is here, Mya.” He has a point. I was an apprentice healer under my mother’s instruction and I helped heal Caleb. We never officially met until four years later.
“I only learned to be tough from you and Caleb. Where would I be if we never came in contact again after I helped your brother?”
“Are you blaming me for this?”
“Not entirely. If I die, maybe.” I’m hoping to lighten the mood a little, and Seth laughs.
“If you don’t?”
“Then I guess I’m thanking you.”
“You will come out of the Arena. I promise you.” Seth reassures me. I stand and start to walk away, when I stop and glance back over my shoulder.
“Good night, Seth.”
“Happy Hunger Games.” He responds weakly.
“May the odds be ever in your favor.” I answer.
As Mya walks back to her room, I watch her carefully. Her steps seem so uncertain. She may be able to hide her fears well, but I know when she is afraid. During our talk, her lip quivered and her eyes were unable to make contact with mine. I would be more worried about her if she wasn’t worried. I run my fingers through my hair and slide down the side of the building to the ledge below. I wrap my hands around my knees. This could be my last night in peace. I could be dead tomorrow morning. I might be with Jenna before I can even blink.
-A conversation with Caleb only a few days before I volunteered comes into memory. We were out in the meadow and just messing around. Suddenly, he turned to me and signed, “Do you think Mya loves me?”
“Of course. I see how the two of you look at each other. She definitely loves you.” I reply. He seemed relieved.
“Do you think that she could ever live with me? I mean, I want to propose to her, but I’m afraid of being rejected. I wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. After this Reaping, you two will be safe. I know that she’ll say yes.”
“That’s good.” He looked at me and smiles. “I love you, Seth.” He signed.
“I love you too, Caleb.”-
I come back to reality and realize that things weren’t as I had expected. Not only is Mya going to be a target since she scored fairly high, but I promised to protect her. Everything was sinking in. I won’t be going home, I will never see my family again. I sink to my knees and sob.
My hands are shaking as I take my seat in the hovercraft. A Peace Keeper grabs my left arm and jabs a needle into the flesh of my forearm, inserting a Tracker that will keep track of where I am and if I am alive or not. I cringe and feel a gentle hand touching mine. I turn to see 12 year old Jewel, the girl from District 10, giving me a reassuring smile. She is so small, standing less than five feet tall, with her bright red hair pulled back into a bun. Her eyes sparkled with comfort, but I could see her fear. This must be impossible for this little one to deal with.
The hovercraft lands and I am whisked away to the Launch Room. Lilac is standing there waiting for me, and I can tell she’s been crying. I hug her and cringe. My stomach is churning violently, unlike anything I have ever experienced while being sick. I fight it while Lilac fits me with my jacket for inside the Arena.
“I don’t remember it fitting you this tightly, Mya.”
“I’ve gained a little bit of weight since I arrived here.” I say. Lilac looks at me in disbelief.
“Mya, have you been sick at all?”
“Yeah, it’s just a bug, I’ll be fine.” Lilac looks at me and the door to the Launch Pad opens. I step in.
“Mya, are you-“ The door closes before I can catch the rest of it. But I know exactly what she’s asking. ”No!” She screams and pounds on the glass, hoping that it would open again. The platform rises beneath my feet and my heart races as I make final eye contact with Lilac. I know what she is suggesting, and the thought echoes in my head. No, no, I can’t be. I think. But as light hits my face, it begins to make sense. I stand there for what seems like an eternity, surrounded by the other 23 Tributes. We’ve all gotten to say goodbye to our families, but my parents never came to see me. Only Caleb and the “friends” who voted me in here. It’s too late to contemplate the value of my life now. To the Capitol, I am just a piece of their Games, a pawn. There is no turning back now.
My heart is beating wildly as we rise into the Arena that the Gamemakers have prepared for us. I peer around the Cornucopia in front of me. The Arena seems to be crescent shaped. My fellow Tributes are in a semi-circle, equal distances from the Cornucopia, waiting and determining whether to fight or run. I glance behind me to see a forest, a crazy contrast to the beach scene before us. As the minute winds down, I think of a song I heard once that was written long before the Rebellion.
Everybody’s waiting to see you break down
Everybody’s watching to see the fallout
Even when you’re sleeping, sleeping
Keep your eyes open!
The tricky thing is yesterday we were children
Playing soldiers, just pretending
Dreaming dreams with happy endings
In backyards, winning battles with our wooden swords
But now we’ve stepped into a cruel world
Where everybody stands up, and keeps score
Keep your eyes open.
The song fits my situation perfectly. I have to keep my eyes open or else I’m a dead man. The last 10 seconds come.
“10!” I think of Caleb.
“8!” The orchards.
“7!” The Mocking Jays.
“6!” Everything that I am leaving behind.
“5!” The promise I made to Caleb.
“3!” The 23 others.
The Gong rings and I run to the Cornucopia. I grab a knife and a small pack and head back to the water separating the beach from the forest. A young boy steps in my way and I shove him to the side. I hear him screech and I see that he has fallen on a spear, killing him. I get to the water’s edge when I see Mya, frozen in her tracks. Her face is deathly pale. Mercedes, the girl from District 1, pins her to the ground. An arrow pierces through my jacket into my upper arm.
“Mya! Run! What are you doing?!” I scream at her. I turn to try to find who shot me, ripping the arrow from the wound, but everyone else is fighting. I whip back around to see Mercedes dead, and Mya gone.
Alone. I am now alone in this crazy Arena. I run to the woods, unaware of anything around me.
I keep running, my mind is racing. I never thought that I would be able to hurt anybody, but I ended up killing someone. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to do it. Now there is one less person to hurt Mya. I need to find her as soon as possible if I am going to protect her. I keep running until. . .
WHAM! My face smacks into a tree branch that I didn’t see and I am knocked to the ground. I hear a laugh to the right of me and I am immediately on guard. I get back up and clutch my knife, my lifeline. I contemplate throwing the knife when I say, “Who’s there?!” Could I be any more of an idiot?! How am I supposed to protect Mya if I die the first day? Nobody comes from behind the trees. So what do I do? Run. My foot barely leaves the ground before I am tackled from behind and a knife is pressed to my throat. I know that I won’t be getting back to Caleb, alive. I close my eyes and try to throw my attacker off, just like I did with Mya in the Training Center, but with no avail. They clamp their arms around my neck, cutting off my breathing. Distant memories come flooding back. Jenna and I laughing together. Caleb officially meeting Mya for the first time. Jenna’s reaction to me saying that I loved her. Watching Jenna be brutally murdered.
Then a voice whispers in my ear, “Still allies?” Familiar red hair comes into view.
“Lauren!” I hiss, then burst into laughter. “I thought you were someone else! Don’t do that to me!”
“Shh!” She covers my mouth. “We better hide before someone finds us and attacks you again!” Well, I wouldn’t have been attacked, but one of my allies decided to jump me! Great choice of an ally, Seth. Nicely done. Lauren silently leads me through the forest until we find a tall tree that is fairly easy to climb.
“You have a knife?” She asks me, looking up into the tree.
“Um, yeah.” I say, hesitant to hand it to her. She did just attack me.
“Give it here and start climbing!” I do as I am told and start climbing with Lauren a short distance behind. She stops and cuts the bottom branches with my knife.
“Why are you doing that?” I don’t want to be on her bad side, knowing that she has a knife and we are stranded in a tree.
“Do you want somebody following us?” She asks. I shake my head.
“But what about when we need to get down?”
“Why? Don’t you like jumping, Seth?” She smirks. I remember the rest of our allies. I let out a four note tune and I get all the replies that I expect.
“We’re about to get company.” I grin at Lauren. We jump down from the tree when I hear Mya’s voice crying out.
“Seth!” My heart skips a beat. She’s afraid and may be in danger.
“Mya! Where are you?!” Lauren screams.
Everything begins to sink in and I don’t hear the Gong sound. Everything is a blur as the Tributes make a mad dash for the Cornucopia. My feet, however, feel like lead and I am paralyzed by fear. I feel something throw me to the ground and I feel the sand and the blade of a knife tracing my right cheek bone. Then, I hear her voice.
“I thought you’d be the one to put up more of a fight than this, 11!” Mercedes taunts. I wriggle my arms free of her grasp as she continues to pin me to the ground. Mercedes’ lethal mistake is that she has left about six inches of room from under her that I can use in a heartbeat.
“Mya! Run! What are you doing?!” I hear Seth scream. Instincts kick in as Mercedes reaches around my neck. I grab her arm and twist. She screams and I launch her over me. Before she can blink, I have her in a chokehold, gasping for air, begging for mercy.
“Let me go! Alejo!” She screams. I see Alejo fighting Erik, the boy from 12, and he looks up at me and slowly nods approvingly. I realize that Mercedes is on her own, that Alejo isn’t coming to her rescue. I grab her head and twist hard, leaving her to slide to the ground. My heart races and my stomach drops. I grab a bag near me and Mercedes’s knives and run away from the beach as fast as I can. I get far enough away before I hear the Cannons. Nine Tributes have fallen, one by my hand. I lean up against a tree and slump to the ground in tears. This is all too much to accept all at once. I sit alone for what seems like forever before I hear a shrill, four-note, tune.
“Seth!” I scream.
“Mya! Mya, where are you?!” I hear Lauren’s voice call. I struggle to my feet, wiping blood away from my cheek, and see Seth and Lauren running to me. I run to them and Seth grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me.
“What were you thinking?! You almost got yourself killed back there Mya!” Seth screams at me. Lauren pushes him away and hugs me, permitting me to melt in her arms.
“Mya, are you alright? I thought you were done for back there! What happened? You need to tell us, right now.” Lauren is stern, yet gentle, showing genuine concern. I pull away and look to her and Seth. My words are barely audible, but Lauren and Seth’s facial expression show that they heard me.
I am pregnant.
Seth stares at me in anger and disbelief and Lauren lets out a little squeal and covers her mouth. I wipe tears from my eyes and take a breath.
“Are you sure, Mya?” Lauren asks. I nod.
“Wow, you have really complicated my job.” I can tell that Seth is frustrated.
“What do you mean that I complicated your job?! Your brother is equally responsible for this!” I say, angrily.
“I promised to protect you! You have just painted a target on both of our backs!” Seth shoves me.
“How is it my fault that you made a promise?!” I shove him backwards and he hits a tree.
“Maybe because I look out for someone other than myself!” He lunges at me and I dodge his attack.
“Oh! Is that what you think?! Maybe I should’ve let him die 10 years ago instead of risking my safety with those Tracker Jackers!” I can’t believe I just said that! Lauren screams and jumps between us, extending a knife towards each of us.
“How about I kill both of you and we settle this?!” Lauren screams. I look at her and back at Seth as he relaxes.
“Seth, I know that your brother and I made a mistake. We didn’t know that we would be sent here. We were hoping to get married, start a family,” I say, placing my hand on his shoulder, but Seth pushes it away.
“Why? Just so they can die here?!” He retorts. All I can do to prevent myself from killing him is causing me pain as I dig my nails into my hand.
“Do you think I planned this? Do you think I wanted to get pregnant at 18?!” I snap.
“You didn’t do anything to prevent it!” I pull out a knife to throw it straight at his head.
“Quiet down! Do you want the other Tributes to find you?” Lauren warns. I can see that Seth feels betrayed, and I would be too if I was in his situation. Seth shakes his head and turns to leave when a shrill four note whistle fills the air. Lauren and Seth respond and I realize that Seth has an alliance. I look into the jungle behind me and see four Tributes, Maraina, Xvair, Zeipher, and Alejo, approaching, all of them suffering some sort of injury.
“Are you guys alright?” I say, opening my bag. Alejo’s leg is bleeding after he was stabbed, Maraina has a black eye, Xvair has a gash in his left shoulder, and Zeipher has a wound across his face. I look back at Lauren and Seth to see that they are relatively unscathed, with only minor scratches and bruises. “You guys look terrible.”
“Wow, thanks, Mya.” Maraina says sarcastically. I rummage in my bag to see that I have a medic’s pack, just what I was hoping for. Alejo slumps to the ground and cringes. He is bleeding heavily. I run to his side and barely touch it before he shrieks.
“Stay still.” I demand. I pull out a knife and cut his pants right above the knee so that I can clean the area.
“What are you doing?” Alejo asks nervously. I pull out the bottle of water in my pack and pour some onto gauze and gently wipe blood away. Alejo clenches his teeth and pulls away.
“Alejo, I know this hurts, but unless you want to bleed to death, I have to do this.” I say, softly. I reach into the bag and pull out a pain medication that is common in District 11. “This will help with the pain.” He takes it and sits quietly while I bandage his leg. “Who went after you?”
“After I took out Erik, Brock came after me. I was able to get away, but not before he cut me.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Zeipher says. “Katrina and Brock are psychotic! That’s why they got voted in. I watched their Reaping on the way to the Capitol. Brock’s been arrested four times in the past year. His rap sheet is as long as my arm!”
“Really? No wonder they got voted in.” Maraina laughs.
“Katrina took out Crysta and Willow, and Brock took out Matt and Jewel.” Alejo says. “Oh, and thanks for taking out Mercedes.” He laughs.
“Why would you thank me? I killed your partner.” I say.
“She wasn’t my partner. I couldn’t stand her. She was voted in and I volunteered, just like Seth did.” He says.
“Why would you do that?” Lauren asks. I look into Alejo’s eyes and I know why.
“My older brother had just found out his fiancée is expecting a baby. I wanted him to be able to see his child grow up.” My heart skipped a beat.
“At least someone will see their baby grow up.” I say softly, glancing away. Alejo’s face goes pale, as do those of the other three. I say nothing as I finish bandaging Alejo’s leg. I take care of everyone else before Maraina finally breaks the silence.
“You have a baby back home, don’t you?”
“No. I’m pregnant.” I say, quietly. Maraina covers her mouth, Alejo looks at me in shock.
“Do you realize how dangerous this is? Why didn’t you say anything to the Gamemakers sooner?” Xvair asks, franticly.
“Yes, I realize how dangerous this whole situation is! And I didn’t know until right before I entered the Arena.” I glare at Seth and he looks away. I can tell everybody is having a hard time saying anything or believing any of this. I am too. I’m still mad at myself for not realizing it sooner. “I’ll be fine, guys. I’m not going to let this effect how I fight.”
“I’m going to make sure you make it home.” Lauren says, placing her hand on my shoulder.
“Me too. For Caleb and Mya’s baby.” Maraina says. I smile and look at the six Tributes standing before me. They are all willing to give themselves up for me and the baby. This is what family truly is.
I walk away from the group, angered, disgusted, every emotion that a guy can feel at the moment. I can’t believe this is happening. How could she be so stupid?! I’m trying to get sponsors in order to get her out, make an alliance, then she goes and drops the bomb that she’s pregnant and never knew it until this morning. I throw a rock into the woods before I realize that it could hit an innocent Tribute and send them into a panic. Then a thought hits me like a ton of bricks. Caleb. He more than likely doesn’t know about the pregnancy. If he did, he would’ve refused to let me take his place. He’d be here, not me. He would’ve fought for the love of his life and their child. He has fierce loyalty, one that would lead him to give up everything that he wants for someone else. I should know. He’s taken the blame for many stunts I did as a younger kid. In the back of my mind, I hear Jenna yelling at me.
Seth! Get over yourself! Mya needs you right now and you’re being a jerk! You made a promise, now keep it! I take a deep breath and walk back to the others to apologize to Mya.
Night falls and the Capitol crest appears in the sky. The faces of those who have fallen appear. Mercedes, Crysta, N’sai and Julias, the Tributes from District 5 who were killed by Maraina and Xvair, Ryder, Matt, Jewel, Willow, and Erik were all killed in the bloodbath. Jeanie, the girl from District 8 was killed by some Nightlock berries. The other six set up camp while I walked off into the woods for to try to find some food. I hear footsteps so I climb up a nearby tree. I look down to see Katrina and Brock walking on the path.
“Are you sure she’ll fall for it?” Brock asks.
“Yes. District 11 is our biggest competition. You watched her snap Mercedes’s neck during the bloodbath. Think about what she could do to us.” Katrina says. They are plotting to kill me as soon as they can.
“Getting to her will be harder than you think. She has six allies, three of them are Careers.”
“All we have to do is take out her allies one by one. She’ll crumble.” Katrina snickers. I wait for them to leave before I run back to camp. I am shaking. They see me as competition, a threat. Seth runs and hugs me.
“Mya, are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I think our alliance needs to break up,” I say. Alejo gives me a strange look.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“I just overheard Katrina and Brock plotting to come after me. They said that they would kill all of you one by one in order to get to me.”
“We promised to protect you and the baby. We know that eventually we’ll all die, so why avoid it?” Xvair asks. I begin to answer when an arrow strikes my shoulder. I sink to my knees and scream. The team swiftly bursts into action, arming themselves for battle. Seth and Lauren grab me and pull me to safety. We are under attack and I am the target. Brutis, the Tribute from District 9, emerges from the woods, holding a bow and arrow. Alejo pulls out his sword and approaches Brutis.
“Leave her alone, Brutis.” He threatens.
“Why should I?” Brutis pulls the string and takes aim at me.
“Drop your weapon! Now!” Alejo screams. Zeipher, who also has a bow, strings his and takes aim at Brutis. I rip the arrow out of my shoulder, noting that it didn’t hit anything major, stop the bleeding. I rise to my feet with a knife in hand, Xvair has a trident at the ready, and Maraina a spear. Brutis, realizing he’s outnumbered, drops his bow.
“We’ll settle this. No weapons. Only our hands.” Alejo challenges, dropping his sword and pushing it to the side.
“How’s that fair? Me versus seven?” Brutis argues, glaring.
“No, just you and me. One on one.” Alejo states. “May the odds be ever in your favor.” In the pit of my stomach, I know that the odds aren’t entirely in Alejo’s favor. Brutis stands about six foot nine and weighs almost 260 pounds, all muscle. Alejo is only six foot four and about 170. Brutis didn’t do well in hand to hand combat, while Alejo is skilled with or without weapons. Brutis is the first to make a move and he grabs Alejo and the two of them roll. I hear Alejo shriek at one point, but I can’t see much of what is happening. After what seems like an eternity, I see Alejo do what I did during the bloodbath, having Brutis in a chokehold, gasping for air. Alejo snaps his neck and Brutis slumps to the ground. A Cannon sounds and Alejo staggers over to us. His side is bleeding, and I realize that Brutis had cheated and may have hit something that could result in death.
“Alejo!” Lauren grabs him as he falls to his knees. The group crowds around him and I push my way through.
“Everybody move!” I kneel next to him and he slumps to the ground. “What happened?”
“He stabbed . . .” his voice trails and he collapses. I listen for breathing but hear nothing. I press my ear to his chest and my answer is silence.
“No, no, no, no!” I scream. No Cannon has sounded, I still have time. I tear his shirt away and begin chest compressions. I count silently to myself and continue. I close his nose and blow air into his mouth.
“Mya, what are you doing? You’re hurting him!” Lauren squeals, trying to pull me off of him. Maraina stops her.
“I’m not hurting him, I’m saving his life!” I resume chest compressions, praying for a miracle. 20 minutes pass before I press my ear to his chest again and I hear his heart beating. He still isn’t breathing, so I blow into his lungs one last time, and watch his chest rise and fall. “He’s alive,” I gasp. I am exhausted from doing CPR for the past twenty minutes, which probably isn’t a smart idea since I’m pregnant. I flop on the ground and Maraina partially talks over.
“Alejo! Alejo, wake up! Wake up!” Maraina taps him. His eyes open slowly and he regains focus.
“Why is my shirt torn and why does my chest hurt?” He asks after a moment and attempts to sit up.
“You basically died. Mya restarted your heart.” Maraina tells him. He snaps out of his daze and turns to me, worried.
“Are you alright? I mean, with the baby?” Alejo asks, placing his hand on my abdomen. I cringe as I feel my stomach flutter. It is the most bizarre feeling, and it sends fear to my inner core. I shake it off and turn my focus back to Alejo.
“I’m fine. You just died and you’re worried about me?” I laugh. “So, what did Brutis do to you?”
“When we were rolling, he pulled a knife on me. That’s when I used your chokehold and snapped his neck.” I tend to the wound in his side and am able to stop the bleeding.
“Well, you need to rest. You need to regain your strength.” I tell him.
“You need to rest up too, Mya. You have someone else to take care of.” Seth says. “We all should get some rest, for that matter.” We wrap up in our sleeping bags, but I am unable to sleep. I am too worried about my allies, what Katrina and Brock were saying. The whole situation is beyond shocking to me. I am 18. I’m in the Hunger Games. My boyfriend is deaf. I saved the life of someone who will eventually have to kill me. To top it off, there is one extra person in the Arena, an unborn child. My unborn child.
The sky is full of numerous stars as I gaze into it, fighting to stay awake. Alejo shifts next to me and I know that he is awake. The wound he got from Brutis must be bothering him. He props himself up against the tree and looks at the stars with me.
Breaking the silence, he asks what I have been thinking. “Why do you think they do this? These sick, twisted Games? I mean, is it just to scare us, or is it somehow supposed to give us hope?” He looks at me and I can see fear in his eyes. “Do you ever wonder what it was like before the Games? Before the Rebellion? How easy life must’ve been. The freedom they had. . .” He trails off. I wonder if it’s the insane amount of pain he’s in that’s talking, because if he IS fully aware, he knows this kind of talk can and will get him killed.
“Alejo, it doesn’t matter. The past is the past. . .” Who am I kidding? I know that I’m not getting out of here alive! If the Capitol could hear me, I’d tell them that this pointless blood shedding is getting us nowhere! “And I do think about what life would be like if the Games weren’t real. Mya and Caleb would be married and preparing for the baby. . .” Right. The baby. I still am in denial that my brother’s girlfriend is in here with me, for one, and so is my niece or nephew. If I can get Mya out of here alive, everything will be alright. If I get out, I don’t know if I would be able to face my brother and tell him about the baby. It would really break him.
I decide to change the subject. “You have no idea how much I hate the Capitol. Have you ever heard of Jenna Genoa?” Alejo shakes his head. “She was the Tribute from my District two years ago. She was 18, her last year. The odds weren’t in her favor.” Tears start rolling down my cheeks. “Nobody volunteered for her. I would’ve, but I’ll admit I was afraid. Jenna was put through everything we have been so far, but she didn’t get any sponsors. Everyone forgets about the ‘lower’ Districts. She did pretty well.” I chuckle. “The two of us ‘trained’ together. She was kind of like Mya, good with a bow or knife throwing. But a friend of mine was the other Tribute and he turned on her. He stabbed her in the back. Literally. . .” Reliving it brought me to tears. Alejo pulls me close and comforts me.
“It’s okay, Seth. Everything will be alright.” He soothes.
“No!” I push him away. “It’s not okay! Jenna died because I didn’t volunteer for her! I loved her, Alejo! I loved her!” I wipe away tears and my real motivation is rekindled. “Now I can’t let Mya die. If my brother feels the same way I have over the past two years, I would never be able to forgive myself. He has a lot to lose and he doesn’t even know it!” I lower my voice, not knowing how close Mya is. “My brother was planning on proposing to her. I wanna see her make it home. For my brother.”
“Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll help make sure that she gets home. I’d rather die helping her become Victor, then becoming the Victor with the guilt of not saving her and the baby for the rest of my life.” Even though he is a Career and usually can’t be trusted, I give him the benefit of the doubt and trust him.
“Thank you. And thanks for listening. I feel better. Stupid, but better.”
“Don’t worry about it. My younger sister was a Tribute last year. She didn’t make it out, either, so I know how you feel about losing someone close to you.” I feel horrible knowing that. I lost a crush. He lost a family member. We fall back in silence, but I feel a strong friendship forming between us that sadly will be short lived. We will both be dead in a few days.
I think about Caleb and how much he has to lose, his brother, girlfriend, and a child he doesn’t even know exists. He will either lose all three of us, two of us, or just one. It will impact him more than I can imagine or want it to. I find no comfort until I decide to leave camp. I hear a scream. It’s Skyliegh. The poor girl is screaming for help and I want to do everything I can to help her. I run as fast as I can before a Cannon sounds. I hear screeching from some sort of animal, and then decide to turn back. It’s too late to save her, and not worth getting myself killed to find out what killed her. I curl up in my sleeping bag and lie awake for what seems like forever.
I can hear Seth and Alejo talking about Jenna, the Tribute from our District two years ago. She was only two years older than me, but she was like a sister. She was my best friend and Seth seems to have forgotten that. He once told someone that if she really was my best friend, I would’ve shown more sorrow over her death. In reality, I have become calloused to death. I’m a healer, I see death all the time. But Jenna’s death about killed me, I just didn’t show it. I chose to hide my emotions so I could get on with my life. Meanwhile, Seth, who had the biggest crush on her, has still held on to the hatred he has towards the Capitol and the “heartbreak” he had in losing her. He acts like HE could’ve volunteered for her, but, um, as far as I know, he’s not a girl. Boys can only volunteer for boys and girls for girls.
I place my hand on my stomach, and smile. In the night, I feel like I’m at home. I often would sleep under a willow tree that my Grandmother planted before the Rebellion when I had a lot on my mind. I softly sing a part of a song that my mother would sing to me, hoping that I can go home, and sing it to my baby.
Just close your eyes, the sun is going down.
You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now.
Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe and sound.
I look up at the stars and relax. I find peace and am able to finally fall asleep.
I sit up, rubbing my eyes, when two huge eyes appear right in front of mine. I scream, and feel a hand clamp over my mouth and I hear laughter. Lauren takes her hand off of my mouth and tries speaking between fits of laughter.
“You should’ve. . . you should’ve. . .seen your face! It was priceless!” She doubles over laughing. Has anybody ever laughed themselves to death? A spark of anger ignites, but is quickly extinguished. She reminds me so much of Jenna, she acted the same way. I can’t be mad at her for long. Xvair puts a finger to his lips and points at Mya and Alejo, both are still asleep. I grab my pack and say to Maraina, who is on guard duty, “The comedian and I are going to go hunting.”
Maraina nods. I walk off and Lauren, in tow, is still laughing. I glance back and the others decide to do the same, leaving Alejo and Mya to sleep. A faint voice next to me makes me return the favor and I put my hand over Lauren’s mouth, silencing her. I point to a doe that is thirty yards away. I am pretty sure that I can hit it with my knife. I take my hand off of her mouth and take aim. The knife hits the deer in the rump, but it doesn’t fall. It takes off and I run after it. I am hoping to take it down with my bear hands, but even injured, it is much faster than me. It would’ve made a decent meal for all of us. A Cannon sounds. I turn, hoping to see Lauren, but she isn’t there.
“Lauren!” I scream, running back into the woods. I find her kneeling next to a body with her knife buried in his chest. She looks up at me, tears streaming down her face.
“He showed up the second you left. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t tell him where Mya was. Then I killed him. . .”she sobs and I wrap my arms around her. I can feel her shaking.
“You may have saved Mya’s life, Lauren. You protected her.”
“But I killed someone, Seth! I promised myself that I wouldn’t hurt anybody. Now. . .” I don’t let her finish. I pull her close to me and we walk back to camp. It isn’t safe for us right now. We reach camp and we see that Mya and Alejo are nowhere to be seen. A Cannon sounds and I let out my signature signal and I hear two responses. Alejo and Mya are safe. For now.
I wake up the next morning, expecting to see my allies still sleeping, yet I only see Alejo. He is half awake, but he is the only one around.
“Where is everybody?” I ask.
“They all went hunting. I woke up as they left and I decided to stay behind with you. I wasn’t awake enough to go with them and I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Well, thank you for that. It’s much appreciated.” I say. I hear a rustling in the distance and Alejo pulled his sword. I pick up Brutis’s former bow, which Zeipher equipped, and string an arrow. I approach the edge of the woods when Alejo stops me.
“If it’s an enemy, I don’t want you out front.” He steps in front of me, becoming a human shield, and we enter the woods. We look around and I spot an injured deer in the distance. I take aim at it when a Cannon sounds. Alejo looks at me with concern and I let out a shrill four note whistle. I begin to panic when there isn’t a response, but soon, five responses answer. I look to see that the deer is still within range for me to shoot it. I take aim again and let an arrow fly, but the deer hears something and takes off before the arrow can strike it. Alejo points to a tree and the two of us scramble upward. Below us are Katrina and Brock. I look at Alejo and sign “Should we take them out?” Alejo signals to wait a moment.
“We’ve looked everywhere for her, Katrina. We’re not going to find her!”
“We have to lure her out,” Katrina says, coldly. Alejo nods at me and I raise my bow. Brock stops.
“Katrina, there are 11 left. What happens when it gets down to the two of us?” I can see what Brock can’t, Katrina has a long knife behind her back. I look at Alejo and I lower my bow. Katrina walks behind him and hugs him.
“We won’t have to worry about that, now, will we?” She hisses. She raises her knife and stabs him between the shoulder blades. Brock screams and sinks to his knees, I hold back every urge to scream. He looks up at Katrina and she kisses him before he slumps to the ground and a Cannon sounds. “I couldn’t risk you betraying me. Not again.” Katrina walks away, and being sure that she was far enough away, Alejo and I jump from our perch.
“There are 10 left, Alejo, and Katrina just turned on her partner! What’s going to happen to the rest of us?”
“Get a grip, Mya! This is what the Capitol wants! They want us all to die so that the rest of Panem lives in constant fear!” Alejo says. I feel fluttering in my stomach and I immediately become frightened. Alejo’s expression softens and he comes to my side. “What’s wrong?”
“The baby’s moving, I felt it.” I say, placing my hand on my stomach. This is the first time I’ve really felt the baby move and it is both an amazing feeling and one of sheer terror. I no longer am worried about myself, but the baby. If I were to lose the baby here in the Arena, I don’t know what I’d do. I’m marveling over the life inside of me when I hear Seth’s four note whistle, so Alejo and I respond. “We need to get back to camp.” I say. We run back to where the group is and Lauren is shaking. “What happened?” I ask.
“I just killed someone. . .” Lauren’s voice is shaking violently. I look at Seth and he nods in confirmation.
“Who was it?” Alejo asks.
“The kid called ‘Spark’ from District 3.” Zeipher says. I hug Lauren and her eyes are wide in fear.
“He was coming after you, Mya.” Lauren whispers. I feel her trembling like a small child who had just had a nightmare.
“I know.” A strange, protective, yet motherly, instinct sweeps over me as I pull her close to me. “Everything will be alright.” I assure her, stroking her fiery scarlet hair. Seth sits next to us and whispers into Lauren’s ear. I can’t make out what he said, but whatever it was, she calmed down.
“So who was the other Cannon that went off?” Maraina asks.
“Brock.” I say. “Katrina turned on him.”
“They were talking about taking me out when Brock realized that the playing field was cut in half and Katrina stabbed him in the back. She said that he had betrayed her once before.” I answer. I am still in shock about watching one Tribute turn on another and I hope I’m not in that situation.
“Well, to change the topic, we weren’t able to get anything while we were hunting. But last I saw, the ocean had fish that were safe to eat. Anybody want to go fishing?” Xvair asks.
“I do! I think it would be fun!” Lauren says.
“I think it’s a good idea.” Alejo says.
“Me too.” Zeipher says.
“What about you, ‘momma?’ You wanna go fishing?” Seth laughs, looking at me.
“Sure, why not?” I shrug. We make our way to the beach when I notice that it is eerily silent. I hear nothing. No animals, no people, nothing. The beach shows signs of a struggle, blood on the ground, footprints leading away. I hear someone scream. My first reaction is to help, but I look to Seth and Alejo.
“Cover me!” I say as I start running. Alejo and Seth follow close behind when we come across Colt, the boy from District 10, laying on the ground, bleeding heavily from his chest. “What happened?” I ask him, desperately trying to stop the bleeding. Colt’s face is deathly pale and he struggles to breathe.
“Muttations,” He gasps. “On the beach,”
“Mutts?” Seth shoots a look at me. He nods weakly.
“They’re kind of like lizards, only they swim.” He mutters. His eyes dilate and his breathing becomes labored and shallow.
“Come on, Colt. Stay with me! Stay awake, buddy!” I say, hoping that I can save him for a while longer, but it is hopeless. A Cannon sounds and I rise to my feet. “We need to get back to the beach to warn the others.” I say, sternly.
“I agree.” Seth answers. We turn back when we hear a scream and a hissing from some sort of animal. I know exactly what it is. I grab Colts weapon, a dart gun, and we run as fast as we can back to the beach. We arrive to see the four others cornered by a long, slender, lizard with razor sharp teeth and claws. Zeipher throws knives at it and Lauren and Maraina are throwing rocks. Xvair has his trident out in front of him.
“Get the girls and go!” Zeipher screams at me. I run to Lauren and Maraina, grab them, and run as fast as I can. I hear a yelp and I see that the muttation has Zeipher pinned.
“Zeipher!” Lauren runs back to him and I stop her.
“Go! Now!” Zeipher demands, while fighting the lizard. Before I can let an arrow fly, Alejo grabs me, and Seth grabs Lauren and we run into the woods. A few minutes later, we hear a Cannon. My heart sinks. The Alliance has officially lost its first member. But just to be sure, we all let the four-note-whistle into the wind and the Mocking Jays carry the tune. We are given silence as an answer.
“Oh! Zeipher!” Maraina chokes on her tears and I comfort her while fighting back my own.
“He saved our lives,” Xvair whispers. I can tell he is very upset about his companion’s death. I am fairly upset as well, especially because Xvair is right. He did die in the process of saving us. I hear another Cannon and I look at Seth. Only seven of us remain. Six of us will not be returning home. The stakes are higher now than ever before.
And the stirring in my stomach reminds me of the eighth person still in the Arena.
I weave the last strand of grass into the large mat I am making to cover the make-shift shelter for Lauren and myself. Our alliance is somewhat scattered. Maraina and Xvair have gone off by themselves and Alejo and Mya have done the same. The end of the alliance is quickly approaching as the Games progress. We have to split at some point. If it came down to the six of us, I don’t know what any of us would do. Lauren sends out the four-note whistle, the signal saying that we’re okay, and we get four replies. Everybody is alright for now.
“Here, I’m done.” I put the mat on the wooden supports above us. We get close to fit under it and to keep warm. The Gamemakers are probably trying to make us as uncomfortable as possible. Lauren pulls out two apples from her bag and hands one to me.
“Here, we might as well eat these. I bet the fools in the Capitol are done betting and want to see some action.” She says. I take it without hesitation. We lay next to each other in silence. The comfort you get from a person, after living in nothing but fear, is the most amazing thing anybody can ever experience. Lauren looks at me with tears in her eyes. “We don’t have much time left together, Seth.”
“Shh!” I pull her close to me. “We’ll just have to make this moment last forever.” I look into her beautiful brown eyes and I begin to sing a song that I heard in an old movie that was made before the Rebellion. “Titanic” I believe it was called.
Every Night in my dreams
I see you, I feel you
That is how I know you go on
Far across the distance
And spaces between us
You have come to show you go on
Lauren’s eyes sparkle in the moonlight and she scooted closer to me.
Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more, you open the door
And you’re here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on
“Seth?” She says in almost a whisper.
“I love you.” She says, grasping my hand.
“I love you, too.” I lean in to kiss her when I hear her gasp and something sharp against my stomach. I look down and see a spear has pierced through her back. She sinks to her knees and doubles over.
“Lauren!” I scream, kneeling next to her. I hear Katrina laughing manically. Lauren is barely breathing and I grasp her hand. I hold her close and she goes limp in my arms.
“I love you, Seth.” She mutters. She takes one last breath and fades into darkness. I grab my knife and lunge at Katrina, realizing that this is my last chance to protect Mya.
Night falls and the faces of the Fallen appear in the sky. Brock, Zeipher, Colt, and Baily, the Girl from District 10. Everybody is still in shock from Zeipher’s death to really determine what to do next, so we decide to settle in for the night. I separate myself from the others and think about home, Caleb, the baby. I feel the baby stirring again. I am “beginning to show,” as it’s called, and my stomach is slightly bulging. I am terrified at the idea of being a mom. I think it scares me more than being in the Hunger Games. The idea that my child could one day be in this Arena as well terrifies me. I hear footsteps approaching from behind, so I grasp my bow and arrows. Alejo appears from behind the tree line.
“Are you alright?” Alejo asks.
“Yeah.” I relax and gently lay my weapon down.
“How’s the baby?” He sits down next to me.
“Fine, I guess. It’s moving around a little bit.” I whisper. Alejo chuckles and he reaches into his pack to pull out a silver canister.
“I got a gift from a sponsor today. It isn’t much, but you need it more than I do.” He hands it to me. I open it to see a small amount of dried meat, fruit, and water. I look at Alejo in disbelief.
“I couldn’t take it, Alejo. You haven’t eaten anything.” I try handing it back to him.
“Mya, you have a baby to take care of. I want you to take it.”
“Thanks.” I smile. I pick up the fruit, then an idea evolves in my head and I decide to mess with Alejo in hopes to lighten the mood. “You didn’t mix Nightlock into this did you?”
“I mean, I am your competition. Nightlock would basically be undetected and you’ve gained my trust, so it would be easy to kill me.” I say, sarcastically. I can tell that Alejo thinks I’m serious as his jaw drops.
“Mya Andrews! I promised to protect you! Why would I poison you if I made that promise?!” Alejo panics.
“I’m joking! Relax. You’re too tense.” I laugh. Alejo chuckles and shakes his head.
“You’re going to be a great mom, Mya.”
“If I make it home,” I say.
“You will make it home.” He assures me. “Caleb is a lucky guy.” I realize that I haven’t signed much since I’ve been in the Arena, especially when talking about the baby. I doubt he knows. I mean, Gamemakers have cameras everywhere, but they can’t pick up sound. None of Panem knows that I am pregnant which is a blessing and a curse. Alejo mentioning the love of my life breaks my heart and I immediately begin to think about him.
“I miss him.” I say, softly.
“I can imagine that you do.”
“Before Reaping, we talked about the possibility of our future together. As much as I want to go home and have the baby, I don’t want them to be here in the Games. I wouldn’t be able to stand it.”
“If they are, I know they’ll fight as hard as you have.” Alejo smiles. A scream pierces the air and my heart beats wildly.
“Lauren!” I grab my bow and my quiver and run back to camp. Alejo runs after me. I reach the edge of the campsite to see Lauren lying on the ground, bleeding from her chest, and Katrina and Seth fighting. I take aim at Katrina, and realize that I would possibly hit Seth in the process. But I’m willing to take that chance for my best friend and raise my bow. Alejo grabs me. “Stay hidden! She’s after you!” Watching Seth fight for his life is nearly impossible for me to bear. After some time passes, Katrina has Seth on his knees.
“Tell me where she is!” Katrina demanded.
“I would never betray her to someone like you!” Seth says, fighting back.
“Fine!” Katrina drives her knife into his chest and he shrieks. He doubles over and Katrina turns and walks away, snickering. I come out of hiding and run to Seth’s side. A Cannon sounds and I look at Alejo.
“Lauren’s gone, Mya. Through and through with a spear to the back.” He says, shaking his head. I turn my attention back to Seth as he cringes. His chest rises and falls quickly. He won’t be with me for much longer, but I try to save him anyway.
“Seth,” tears sting my eyes.
“Mya, take care of Caleb and the baby. For me.” He says, gasping for air. I nod and wipe a tear from my eye.
“Don’t leave me,” I whisper.
“Promise me that you won’t give up.”
“I promise.” I touch his hand and softly begin to sing.
Don’t you dare look out your window
Darling everything’s on fire
The war outside your door keeps raging on
Hold on to this lullaby
Even when the music’s gone
Seth’s breathing quickens. Tears roll down my cheeks as I struggle through the next part of the song.
Just close your eyes, the sun is going down
You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now
Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe. . . and. . . .
At this point, I am unable to sing the rest of the song. He closes his eyes and his hand becomes cold in mine. A Cannon sounds. I immediately am unable to hold back tears and I try to save him like I did Alejo.
“Mya,” Alejo says, quietly. I ignore him and continue CPR.
“Mya, stop.” He says again. I am sobbing at this point.
“No!” I scream, hopelessly trying to bring back one of my best friends.
“Mya, STOP! He’s gone, Mya!” Alejo pulls me away from Seth’s lifeless body. Without thinking, I turn and scratch him across the face. He releases me and I collapse onto Seth’s chest, sobbing. I feel Alejo’s hand on my back and I am greeted by his strong arms around me. “Everything will be alright, Mya.” I look at Alejo and see that his cheek is bleeding, but at the time, I don’t care. Alejo attempts to pull me away again, this time I let him. Maraina and Xvair come running through the woods towards us when they stop cold. A glance from Alejo says it all. Only 5 remain. Maraina wraps her arms around me and holds me close, leaving me to mourn the loss of my best friend and “brother.”
“We need to keep moving,” Alejo says, finally after what seems like forever.
“No. We are in more danger now than we were at the beginning of the Games and being together does not help our situation.” Xvair answers.
“Are you suggesting that we separate?” Maraina asks.
“Sort of. We all promised to protect Mya, right? So that’s what we are going to do. We stay in our groups of two, but separate from each other.”
“The Alliance is officially over, then?” I say.
“In a way. We won’t fight one another, but we are, in a way, at odds.” Xvair says.
“I think it’s for the best that we do this.” Alejo agrees.
“I want to thank you guys for getting me, and the baby, this far. I will never forget you guys.” I say, feeling the baby stirring.
“It’s been a pleasure. And, thanks for healing us when we needed it.” Xvair hugs me. I give a three finger salute as Maraina and Xvair walk into the woods, probably for the last time. Alejo and I decide to set up camp once again for the night. I look into the night sky and hear two Cannons sound and I realize that it is down to me, Alejo, and Katrina. I am afraid to know how Maraina and Xvair were killed, but they at least died together. The voice of a Gamemaker booms over the Arena.
“Greetings to our three Remaining Tributes! Due to a rule change, all Tributes are safe for the night. There is to be no more fighting for tonight. Rest easy, Tributes. May the Odds be ever in your Favor.” The night air is chilling and I shiver for a moment before Alejo shares his blanket with me.
“Tomorrow, one of us goes home.” I say, letting the thought sink in.
“Yeah. You’re right.” He says.
“What happens if it comes down to you and me?”
“You won’t have to worry about that. You are going home tomorrow.”
“But what if it does?”
“There is a Nightlock bush not too far from here. I’d rather die quickly and painlessly than have to make you kill me.” He says.
“I don’t want anybody else to die, Alejo.”
“I don’t either. But like I said before, this is what the Capitol wants. Get some sleep. You’ll need it.” I curl up next to him and fall asleep, knowing that this may be the last time.
At sunrise, I lay out all the weapons I have before me. I have a bow with a few arrows and several knives, along with my medic pack. Alejo has a sword. We walk into the woods for some time before we hear any footsteps. I load my bow and Alejo draws his sword. My heart beats violently inside my chest. I have no time to think about anything. Sweat trickles down the side of my face and I whisper a little prayer to myself. This is it. This part of the Games is for keeps. Winner takes all. Out of the three of us, one will emerge the Victor. It is not only a physical battle, but a battle of wills. A test from the Capitol that I must pass for the sake of Caleb and my unborn child.
I take a deep breath as my hands tremble. Nothing is holding us back. Fear turns to adrenaline as footsteps get closer from behind us. I turn slightly and a knife goes whizzing past me and scarcely misses Alejo. I let an arrow fly and quickly reload. Katrina comes running through the brush and tries lunging at me, but I am able to dodge it. Katrina glares at me violently, pulling out another knife to throw it.
“Well, if it isn’t the healer girl and the Career. Can’t believe that you two haven’t been killed off yet.”
“This ends now, Katrina.” Alejo says, stepping in front of me. “You’ll have to go through me to get to Mya.”
“Looks like you’ve had everybody fighting your battles for you, 11. That’s the only reason you are still alive.” Katrina snickers.
“What would you know about battles, Katrina?! I’ve fought for everything I’ve ever wanted and still have given up everything!” I say. Katrina throws a knife and we both dodge it. Alejo signals for me to run and I do so. Katrina sees me out of the corner of her eye and throws a knife. I can see she only has one left. I let an arrow fly and it just misses her. She throws the last knife directly at me. Alejo pushes me out of the way and falls to the ground. Katrina is now weaponless, so I take aim, but then decide to take her out my way. I tackle her to the ground and we roll. She scratches me across the face and neck and I manage to break her nose. I get her into a head lock, cutting off her oxygen intake.
“This is for Seth!” I scream. With a twist, I hear her neck snap, and a Cannon sounds. I hear Alejo moaning and I see him on the ground, with the knife buried in his chest. He is losing blood fast and won’t last long. I grab my medic bag and begin to try and stop the bleeding when Alejo objects.
“Mya, stop.” Alejo’s voice is shaky.
“No, I won’t let you die.” I say.
“You realize there are only two of us. You’d have to kill me anyway.” He whispers.
“No.” I say again, continuing to mend the wound. He grabs my hands.
“Mya, stop! Please.” He lets go.
“I can’t let one more person die in front of me.”
“Mya, you saved my life once. The least I can do is let you go home.”
“You deserve to go home too.”
“You have someone else that you need to worry about.” He weakly places his hand on my stomach.
“I can’t ever thank you enough, Alejo, for getting me here.” He winces and gasps for air.
“Can you sing the song that Seth sang at the interview? For me?” I nod.
Deep in the meadow, under the willow.
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow.
Lay down your head, and close your eyes.
And when again they open, the sun will rise.
Alejo fights to stay awake, his eyes are glazed over. He is breathing, but barely, and his heart is beginning to fail him. I brush his dark brown curls out of his face.
Here it's safe, and here it's 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.
Alejo closes his eyes and a Cannon sounds. I gently kiss his forehead when I realize that I am alone. I am unable to cry anymore. My tears have been shed enough here. A voice booms over the Arena.
“Congratulations Mya Andrews! The Victor of the First Quarter Quell from District 11!” It takes a moment to sink in, but I am able to wrap my head around it as the Hovercraft comes for me. I grab on to the rope ladder and they lift me up and take me into an examination room. I wait for what seems like forever before Lilac runs in and hugs me.
“Mya, are you alright?!” She asks, barely giving me time to answer, and hugging me tightly.
“Lilac, calm down. I’m fine. But, I’m pregnant.” I tell her.
“Is the baby alright?” She extends her hands to touch my abdomen and I stop her.
“As far as I can tell. It’s moving around.” I place my hand over my stomach
“I told the doctor that will examine you about the possibility of pregnancy, so she is going to make sure that the baby is fine and healthy.” I nod and the doctor walks in. I lie on the stretcher and she runs a small machine over my stomach and I can hear the baby’s heart beating. I am almost brought to tears when the nurse shows me the sonogram image.
“You’re about 11 weeks along.” She says, smiling at me. “You are very lucky that the baby is healthy after all that you had to endure in the Arena.” She instructs me to rest. I am told that I lost a good deal of weight that is unhealthy for both me and the baby, and that I am dehydrated. They tend to my wounded shoulder and I have to have 25 stitches because of infection. Afterwards, I curl up in the warm blankets as the Hovercraft takes me back to the Capitol and then I can go home.
I look in the mirror at my light green dress, very similar to the one I wore for my first interview. It caresses my body in such a way that it hides the fact that I am pregnant from anybody who doesn’t know and the ugly scar on my shoulder. It is long, trailing along the floor and it flows with every movement I make. My hair is pulled back like a cinnamon roll and I have a lily clipped to it. My nails are perfectly shaped and a wine color. Lilac adjusts my sash and gives me a thorough examination.
“You look beautiful, Mya.” She says, finally.
“Can I skip the interview and just go home? I need to tell Caleb about the baby.” I say as we walk towards the stage.
“I don’t think you’ll want to skip this.” She says, coaching me onto the stage as Nasim introduces me. I notice that a “love-seat” is there instead of the usual single chair.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Mya Andrews!” Nasim announces and I take a little bow. “Now, Mya, the Games were extremely rough, weren’t they?”
“Yes, yes they were.”
“You made an alliance very early into the Games, with six other Tributes.”
“Yes, actually, my District partner, Seth, made the Alliance first and I joined them. They became like family.” I remember my 6 companions and swallow back my tears.
“I bet they did. Let’s look at some of your best moments in the Arena, shall we?” I glance at a screen that is playing music with scenes from the Hunger Games. They show me when I killed Mercedes, climbing trees, performing CPR on Alejo, and later trying to rescue Colt and Zeipher. They play my final moment with Seth in full. My failed attempt to save him, me singing the song, and me in Maraina’s arms sobbing. I turn away, unable to watch anymore. When the film gets to the fight between me and Alejo and Katrina, I tell Nasim that I have seen enough and do not wish to continue. He doesn’t ask questions, he signals for it to be disconnected. I wipe the tears from my eyes and I feel the baby stir.
“I never want to watch that again.” I say after a moment of silence. “Living it was hard enough.”
“That’s okay, Mya. So, let me change the subject here. You mentioned your special guy back home, last time we met, correct?”
“Yes, Caleb.” I am worried. The way Nasim is talking, it sounds like something has happened to him.
“And you said that he was deaf?” I nod. “Well, thanks to your stylist, he is here with us tonight. Caleb Williams, ladies and gentlemen!” Caleb walks onto the stage and I run to him. He sweeps me up in his arms and twirls me. I kiss him and begin crying again. Stupid hormones, I tell myself.
“Caleb, I am so sorry about Seth. I tried so hard!” I sign, sobbing.
“Mya, it’s alright. We’re together now. That’s all that matters.” He replies, hugging me again.
“I love you,” I whisper, forgetting that he is unable to hear in this moment.
“I love you, too.” A voice stutters. I look at him in disbelief. He grins through tears and shows me a device on the side of his head and I am left speechless. It’s a cochlear implant.
“You can hear me?” I say, slowly, tears welling up in my eyes.
“I wanted to be able to hear you. Your designer made it possible.” He signed. I glance back at Lilac and she smiles at me. I mouth “thank you” and the two of us sit on the couch. I lean my head on his shoulder and hold his hand tightly, never wanting to let go. I hear the crowd sigh as he kisses my cheek. I shake my head and kiss him on his soft, rose colored lips. The crowd sighs and cheers.
“So Caleb, how was it watching Mya in the Games?” Nasim asks. He tells me he is still having trouble speaking since he hasn’t done so in more than 10 years, so I translate.
“It was terrifying. I was deathly afraid that I would never see her again. It is bad enough that I lost my brother, I didn’t want to lose her, too.” I translate.
“Now that she’s back here with you, is there anything that you want to tell her?” I look at Caleb and I see a sparkle in his eye. He gets down on one knee and my heart starts fluttering.
“Mya, will you marry me?” He stumbles over his words, but I know that this is really happening. I cover my mouth and nod, speechless. He slides a beautiful diamond ring onto my finger and kisses me. The crowd sighs and Nasim offers his most sincere congratulations. This is now my chance to tell Caleb, and the rest of Panem, the news.
“Mya, is there anything you want to tell Caleb?”
“Well, after I entered the Arena, I discovered that there was a twenty-fifth person in there as well.” I say. Caleb looks at me, his face lights up as he realizes what I’m saying. I take his hand and place it on my abdomen.
“You mean that you’re. . .” Nasim begins, then is speechless.
“Yes. I am currently eleven and a half weeks pregnant with our first child.” I can hear the different reactions of the crowd. Shock, excitement, terror. I can see the Gamemakers’ faces turn beat red. “For those who are wondering, the baby is healthy. Being in the Games didn’t harm the child in anyway and the doctors have confirmed that everything is fine.” I say, trying to calm the nerves of Panem. Nasim sighs with relief and pats my shoulder.
“I have a son at home as well. His name is Caesar, and he’s a mischievous one.” The crowd laughs. “Now, I wish you two the best of luck with your marriage and the new baby that will join the family. Ladies and gentlemen, Mya Andrews, the Victor from District 11!” Nasim introduces me again, and I take a bow. The camera goes off and Caleb embraces me again. I feel the baby stir and wonder if it realizes that daddy is with me.
“So, I’m really going to be a father?” Caleb signs to me, I can tell he’s still in shock.
“Yes, Caleb. You’re going to be a great dad.” I kiss his cheek and he holds my hand tightly. I take his hands and place them on my stomach and Caleb smiles. The two of us make our way to the train station, where we will return to District 11 as Victors, and prepare our future together.`
Caleb and I were married two months after I won the Games. The wedding was a traditional, District 11 wedding, except for the fact that all of D11 pitched in since I was the Victor. There was music, dancing, and merriment that often was unknown to those in our District. Lilac moved back with me to help prepare for the arrival of the baby along with her two daughters, Emerald and Amethyst, both named after special gems. I spent a lot of time with them in order to get used to being around children and taking care of them. Seth’s whistle became a signal to the end of the work day in the Orchards, as a remembrance of him, thanks to Caleb.
Caleb objected when my Victory Tour was announced, and I did too. I knew that the Tour would be around the same time that the baby was to be born, but I didn’t really have a say in going or not. I requested that Caleb came with me in case I went into labor because I didn’t want him to miss the birth of our first child. After much dispute with President Snow, he was finally permitted to come with me. I was very happy that he did because facing the families of Alejo, Maraina, Xvair, Zeipher, and Lauren were nearly impossible for me to do alone. Our tour started in District 12 and then District 1 and then descending down the line. I was on the train to District 4 when I went into labor. Seth panicked more than I did and was certain that the baby was going to be born on the train. I told him that everything would be alright. Lilac coached me through it until I was able to get to the hospital in D4, postponing the address I was to give to the District residents. I remember being nervous about how everything was going to happen, yet excited to welcome the baby into the family. After several hours of intense pain, Seth Alejandro Williams II entered the world. He was so small that I was hesitant when the nurse laid him in my arms for the first time. I was overwhelmed with every emotion that a mother could endure as I held him close to me, not wanting anything to ever happen to him. Caleb cried when he held our son and gently kissed his forehead. Looking at Seth Jr., I could see so much of Caleb. He had Caleb’s beautiful amber eyes and his smile. After a week, I was told to continue with the tour, even after the doctors instructed me to return home in order to rest. But as Victor, I had no choice but to do as I was instructed.
I remember that first night after we left the hospital. Seth Jr. would not fall asleep and was up all night, screaming, crying, and wanting to be held at all times. I held him in my arms singing the same song that I sang when his uncle was killed. “Just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe and sound.” Seth fell asleep while I crooned with him in my arms. After that, he slept so peacefully that Caleb was certain something was wrong. I assured him that the baby was perfectly fine, he was just like his uncle. Happiest when there is music.
I finished the tour, then lived quietly, raising my son and enjoying married life until the 26th Hunger Games were announced. I was instructed to be a Mentor for the Tributes from my District. They listened rather well. My first year, the boy made it to the Final two before he was killed. Seeder, a good friend of mine, won two years later and took over as mentor for me, and Chaff eventually took over for her. Caleb and I were lucky enough to not have our son picked in the Games when he was old enough. His children had the same luck.
The Games became more brutal every year and I was certain that nobody was safe as long as Coriolanus Snow was president of Panem. That is until the 74th Hunger Games when Thresh and Rue where Reaped to go in. Both of them were killed, but The Girl on Fire was a single spark that began one final Rebellion against the Capitol. Caleb, Seth Jr., his wife and daughters, and I were able to escape District 11 before the Capitol tried attacking us. Snow was later killed and the Rebellion over. Panem finally had its freedom. The 12 Districts dissolved and became one. We were finally free. We were finally safe and sound.