Hunger Games - 74th Hunger Games (2023)

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games 1 by Suzanne Collins



When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers reach for Prim's warmth, but find only the rough canvas covering the mattress. He must have had nightmares and got along with our mother. Of course yes. This is harvest day. I prop myself up on one elbow. There is enough light in the room to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled on her side, wrapped around my mother's body, cheeks pressed together. As she sleeps, my mother looks younger, still tired but not quite as haggard. Prim's face is fresh as a raindrop, as pretty as the primrose she's named after. My mother was also very beautiful. So-so

they told me. Sitting on Prim's lap, tending to her, is the world's ugliest cat. Flat nose, half an ear missing, eyes the color of rotten pumpkin. Prim named her Buttercup, insisting that her muddy yellow fur matched the bright flower. I hate myself Or at least distrust me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Skinny kitten, belly swollen with worms, riddled with fleas. The last thing he needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, he even cried, that I had to let her stay. It turned out good. My mother got rid of the bugs and he is a born rat catcher. It even catches the occasional mouse. Sometimes when I clean a kill I feed Buttercup the entrails. He stopped whistling at me. Guts. No whistles. This is the closest we'll ever get to love. I swing my legs off the bed and pull on my hunting boots. Flexible leather that molds to my feet. I put on a pair of pants, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid into a cap, and grab my bag of feed. On the table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from mice and hungry cats, is perfect goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves. Prims present to me on harvest day. I put the cheese carefully in my pocket as I leave. Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crowded with coal miners leaving for their morning shift at this hour. Men and women with stooped shoulders, swollen knuckles, many of whom have long since given up trying to wipe the charcoal dust from their broken nails, the wrinkles from their sunken faces. But today the streets of black ash are empty. The shutters of the squat gray houses are closed. The harvest isn't until two. You can also sleep late. If you can. Our house is almost on the edge of the Seam. I just have to go through a few gates to get to the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the forest, actually encompassing all of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with loops of barbed wire. In theory, it should be electrified twenty-four hours a day to deter the predators that live in the forest, packs of wild dogs, reclusive cougars, bears that used to threaten our streets. But as I was lucky enough to have two or three hours of electricity in the afternoon, it's

generally safe to the touch. Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the buzzing sound that means the fence is active. Now, he is silent as a stone. Hidden by a clump of bushes, I drop onto my stomach and slide under a two-foot patch that is

released years ago. There are several other weak spots in the fence, but this one is so close to home that I almost always go into the woods here. Once I'm in the trees, I grab a bow and arrow scabbard from a hollow log. Electrified or not, the fence has managed to keep carnivores out of District 12. Inside the forest they roam freely, and there are additional concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real path to follow. But there's also food, if you know how to find it. My father knew and he taught me something before he was blown to pieces in a mine explosion. There was nothing to bury. I was eleven then. Five years later, I still wake up screaming at him to run. While trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the most severe penalties, more people would risk it if they had guns. But most aren't daring enough to venture out with just a knife. My bow is a rarity, made by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof cases. My father could have made a lot of money selling them, but if the officials found out, they would publicly execute him for inciting a rebellion. Most Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who hunt because they're as hungry for fresh meat as anyone. In fact, they are among our best customers. But the idea that someone could be setting up the Seam would never have been allowed. In autumn, some brave souls sneak into the forest to pick apples. But always within sight of the prairie. Always close enough to run back to the safety of District 12 if trouble arises. District Twelve. Where you can safely starve, I mutter. So I quickly look over my shoulder. Even here, even in the middle of nowhere, you worry that someone might hear you. When I was younger, my mother was scared to death of the things she blurted out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from a faraway city called the Capitol. Finally, I understood that this would only bring more problems. So I learned to bite my tongue and turn my features into a mask of indifference so no one could read my thoughts. Do my work silently at school. Just talk politely in the public market. Discuss little more than trading on the Hob, which is the black market where I make most of my money. Even at home, where I'm less friendly, I avoid talking about complicated subjects. Like the harvest, food shortages or the Hunger Games. Prim might start repeating my words and then where would we be? In the forest waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Galley. i can feel the

the muscles in my face relax, my pace quickens as I climb the hills towards our place, a ledge of rock

overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects you from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods. Hey, catnip, says Gale. My real name is Katniss, but when I first told her, she barely whispered it. So she thought she said catnip. So when this crazy lynx started following me around the woods looking for handouts, that became his official nickname for me. I finally had to kill the lynx because he scared off the prey. I almost regret it because it wasn't bad company. But I got a decent price for his skin. Look what I shot, Gale holding a loaf of bread with an arrow in it and me laughing. It's real bakery bread, not the dense, flat breads we make with our grain rations. I take it in my hands, pull out the arrow and bring the mangy skewer to my nose, inhaling the fragrance that makes my mouth water. Thin bread like this is for special occasions. Mm, still hot, I say. He must have gone to the bakery at dawn to change it. What did it cost you? Just a squirrel. I think the old man was feeling sentimental this morning, says Gale. He even wished me good luck. Well, we all feel a little closer today, don't we? I say, not even bothering to roll my eyes. Prim left us some cheese. I take it and his expression lights up with the gift. Thanks cousin. Let's have a real party. She suddenly adopts a Capitol accent as she impersonates Effie Trinket, the wildly optimistic woman who comes once a year to read names in hops. I almost forgot! Happy Hunger Games! He picks some blackberries from the bushes around us. And may the odds throw a berry in a high arc for me. I take it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet acidity explodes on my tongue. Always be in your favor! I finish with equal vigor. We have to play with it because the alternative is fear. Also, Capitol's accent is so stilted that almost everything in it sounds funny. I watch as Gale pulls out his knife and slices the bread. He could be my brother. Straight black hair, olive skin, we even have the same gray eyes. But they weren't related, at least not closely. Most families who work in the mines are similar in this respect. That's why my mother and Prim, with their light hair and blue eyes, always look out of place. They are. My mother's parents were part of the small class of merchants who

caters to government officials, peace officers and occasional Seam customers. They ran an apothecary in the prettiest part of District 12. Since almost no one can afford doctors, the apothecaries are our healers. My father knew my mother because, on his hunts, he sometimes collected medicinal herbs and sold them in his shop to make medicine. She must have really loved him to leave her home for the Seam. I try to remember that when all I can see is the woman who sat there, empty and unreachable, while her children turned to skin and bones. I

I tried to forgive her for my father's sake. But to be honest, I'm not the forgiving type. Gale spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese, carefully placing a basil leaf on top of each one while I pick the berries from the bushes. We settle down in a corner of the rocks. From here we are invisible, but we have a clear view of the valley, which teems with summer life, vegetables to pick, roots to dig, fish iridescent in the sun. The day is glorious, with blue skies and a gentle breeze. The wonderful meals, with the cheese seeping into the warm bread and the berries exploding in your mouth. Everything would be perfect if this really was a party, if every day off meant wandering the mountains with Gale, looking for tonight's dinner. But instead we have to stand in the square at two o'clock waiting for names to be called. We could do this, you know, Gale says calmly. What? I ask. Exit the district. Escape. He lives in the forest. You and I could do this, says Gale. I do not know how to answer. The idea is so preposterous. If only we didn't have so many kids, he quickly adds. They are not our children, of course. But they can be too. Wales two younger brothers and a sister. Prim. And you can also include our mothers, because how would they live without us? Who would fill these mouths that are always asking for more? With both of us hunting daily, there are still nights when game has to be traded for lard or shoelaces or wool, nights when we go to bed with our stomachs rumbling. I never want to have kids, I say. I could. If I didn't live here, says Gale. But you do, I say, irritated. Forget it, he snaps. The conversation feels wrong. To give up? How could I leave Prim, who is the only person in the world I'm sure I love? And Gale is devoted to his family. We can't go out, so why bother talking about it? And even if we had. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Even if we had. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Where did all this business of having children come from? There was never anything romantic between Gale and me. When we met, I was skinny

twelve years old, and although he was only two years older, he already looked like a man. It took us a long time to even become friends, to stop haggling over every business and start helping each other. Plus, if he wants kids, Gale won't have a problem finding a wife. He's handsome, strong enough to handle work in the mines, and he can hunt. You can tell by the way the girls whisper about him when he walks by school that they like him. It makes me jealous, but not for the reason people think. Good hunting partners are hard to come by. What is it you want to do? I ask. We can hunt, fish or gather. Let's go fishing in the lake. We can drop our sticks and meet in the woods. Order something nice for tonight, he says. Tonight. After the harvest, everyone should celebrate. And many people do, relieved that their children have been spared for another year. But at least two families will close the shutters, close the doors,

and try to figure out how they will survive the painful weeks to come. We do it well. Predators ignore us in the day when the easiest and tastiest prey abounds. By late morning, we have a dozen fish, a bag of greens, and best of all, a gallon of strawberries. I found the spot a few years ago, but Gale came up with the idea of ​​putting mesh netting around it to keep the animals out. On the way home, we stopped at the Hob, the black market that operates out of an abandoned warehouse that once held coal. When they created a more efficient system that transported coal directly from the mines to the trains, the Burner gradually took up the space. Most businesses are closed at this time on harvest day, but the black markets are still quite busy. We easily exchanged six fish for good bread, the other two for salt. Greasy Sae, the bony old woman who sells bowls of hot soup from a big kettle, takes half the vegetables from our hands in exchange for a few pieces of paraffin. We could do a little better elsewhere, but we strive to maintain good relations with Greasy Sae. She is the only one you can consistently count on to buy a wild dog. We don't hunt them on purpose, but if you get attacked and end up with a dog or two, well, meat is meat. Once it's in the soup, I'll call it meat, Greasy Sae says with a wink. No one in the Seam would turn down the paw of a good wild dog, but Peacekeepers who come to the Hob can afford to be a little more selective. When we're done with our business at the market, we go to the mayor's back door and sell half the strawberries, knowing he has

a special affection for them and can pay our price. The mayor's daughter, Madge, answers the door. She is in my year at school. Being the mayor's daughter, one would expect her to be snobbish, but that's okay. She just holds up. Like me. Since none of us have a group of friends, it seems like we end up together a lot at school. Eating lunch, sitting next to each other at assemblies, getting together for sporting activities. We rarely talk, which suits both of us. Today, her drab school uniform has been replaced with an expensive white dress, and her blonde hair is tied back with a pink ribbon. Picking up clothes. Nice dress, says Gale. Madge shoots him a look, trying to see if it's a genuine compliment or if he's just being ironic. It's a nice dress, but normally I would never wear it. He purses his lips and then smiles. Well, if I end up going to the Capitol, I want to look good, right? Now it's Wales' turn to be confused. Are you serious? Or is he kidding him? I think the second. You're not going to the Capitol, Gale says coldly. His eyes fall on a small circular pin that adorns her dress. Real gold. beautifully crafted It could support a family on bread for months. What can you have? Five tickets? I was six when I was just twelve. This isn't her fault, I say. No, it's nobody's fault. As it is, says Gale. Madge's face fell.

She puts the fruit money in my hand. Good luck Katniss. You too, I say, and the door closes. We walked towards the Seam in silence. I don't like that Gale made fun of Madge, but he's right, of course. The harvest system is unfair and the poor bear the brunt. You become eligible for the harvest on your twelfth birthday. That year, your name is entered once. At thirteen, twice. And so on until you turn eighteen, the last year of eligibility, when your name enters the pool seven times. This is true for all citizens of the twelve districts across the country of Panem. But here's the problem. Say you're poor and hungry like us. You can choose to add your name more times in exchange for parts. Each tile is worth a year's supply of grain and oil for one person. You can also do this for each of your family members. So, at age twelve, I typed my name four times. Once, because I needed it, and three times for tesserae grain and oil for me, Prim, and my mother. In fact, every year I needed to do this. And tickets are cumulative. So now, at sixteen, my name will be on the

harvest twenty times. Gale, who is eighteen and has helped or single-handedly fed a family of five for seven years, will be named after him forty-two times. You can see why someone like Madge, who has never been in danger of needing a tile, might tease him. The chance of his name appearing is slim compared to those of us who live in the Seam. Not impossible, but fine. And even though the rules were set by the Capitol, not the districts, certainly not the Madges family, it's hard not to resent those who don't have to sign up for the tiles. Gale knows his anger at Madge is misplaced. On other days, in the middle of the forest, I heard him complain that the tiles are just another tool to cause misery in our district. A way to sow hatred between the starving Sewing workers and those who usually count on dinner and thus ensure that we never trust each other. It's to the Capitol's advantage to divide us among us, I could tell if there were no ears to hear but mine. If it wasn't harvest day. If only a girl with a gold safety pin and no tiles hadn't made what I'm sure she thought was a harmless comment. As we walk, I look up into Gale's face, still burning under his stony expression. His rages strike me as useless, though I never say them. It's not that I don't agree with him. I do. But what's the point of shouting about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? Nothing changes. That doesn't make things fair. It doesn't fill our stomachs. It actually scares the next game. However, I let him scream. Better do it in the forest than in the district. Gale and I split our loot, leaving two fish, a couple of good loaves of bread, vegetables, a quarter of strawberries, salt, paraffin, and a little money each. See you in the square, I say. get something

beautiful, he says flatly. At home, I find that my mother and sister are ready to leave. My mother is wearing a fine dress from her apothecary days. Prim is wearing my first harvest outfit, a ruffled skirt and top. It's a little big on him, but my mom made him stay with safety pins. Still, she has a hard time keeping her shirt tucked in behind her back. A tub of lukewarm water awaits me. I wash off the dirt and sweat of the forest and even wash my hair. To my surprise, my mother prepared one of her beautiful dresses for me. A soft blue thing with matching shoes. Are you safe? I ask. I'm trying to get over rejecting your offers of help. For a while I was so angry that I wouldn't let him do anything for me. And this is something special. his clothes are hers

past are very valuable to her. Clear. Tie up your hair too, she says. I let his towel dry and braided it over my head. I can barely recognize myself in the cracked mirror against the wall. You look beautiful, Prim says softly. And nothing like me, I say. I hug her, because I know these next few hours will be terrible for her. Her first harvest. It's about as secure as you can find, as it's only been entered once. I wouldn't let her take any tiles. But she is worried about me. That the unthinkable could happen. I protect Prim in every way I can, but I am powerless against the harvest. The anguish I always feel when she's in pain wells up in my chest and threatens to register in my ace. I notice that her blouse has slipped out of her skirt in the back again and I force myself to remain calm. Tuck your ass in, little girl. Prim laughs and hands me a little Quack. Quack yourself, I say with a light laugh. The kind of laugh only Prim can get out of me. Come on, let's eat, I say and place a quick kiss on the top of her head. The fish and vegetables are already cooking in a stew, but it will be for dinner. We decided to save the strawberries and bread for this dinner, to make it special, we say. We drink milk from Prims' goat instead, ma'am, and eat stale bread made from tessera grain, though no one has much of an appetite. At one o'clock we headed for the square. Attendance is mandatory unless you are on the brink of death. Tonight, the officers will come and verify that this is the case. If not, you will be arrested. Or wrong, really, that they celebrate the harvest in the square, one of the few places in District 12 that can be pleasant. The squares are surrounded by shops, and on public market days, especially if the weather is good, there is a festive atmosphere. But today, despite the bright flags hanging from the buildings, there is an air of sadness. Film crews, perched like vultures on rooftops, only add to the effect. People silently enter and register. The harvest is a good opportunity for the Capitol to keep an eye on the population as well. Young people aged 12 to 18 are taken to isolated areas marked by age, the

the older ones in front, the younger ones, like Prim, in the back. Family members line up around the perimeter, holding hands tightly. But there are also others, who don't have anyone they love or no longer like at stake, who slip into the middle of the crowd, betting on the two children whose names will be drawn. The odds are

given in their ages, whether they be veins or merchants, if they will break down and cry. Most refuse to deal with crooks, but carefully, carefully. These same people are often whistleblowers, and who hasn't broken the law? I could be shot daily for hunting, but the appetites of those responsible protect me. Not everyone can claim the same. Still, Gale and I agreed that if we had to choose between starving to death or taking a bullet in the head, the bullet would go a lot faster. The space gets tighter, more claustrophobic as people arrive. The squares are quite large, but not large enough to house District 12's population of around eight thousand. New arrivals are directed to adjacent streets, where they can watch the event on screens as it is broadcast live across the state. I find myself standing in a group of sixteen from the Seam. We all exchanged brief nods, then turned our attention to the temporary stage set up in front of the Justice Building. It has space for three chairs, a podium and two large crystal balls, one for boys and one for girls. I look at the little pieces of paper on the girls' ball. Twenty of them have Katniss Everdeen written on them in careful handwriting. Two of the three seats are occupied by Madge's father, Mayor Undersee, who is a tall, balding man, and Effie Trinket, the District 12 escort, fresh out of the Capitol with her terrifying white smile, pink hair, and green suit. They mutter to each other, then look worriedly at the empty seat. As soon as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps onto the podium and begins to read. It's the same story every year. It tells the story of Panem, the country that rose from the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that engulfed much of the land, the brutal war for what little subsistence remained. The result was Panem, a resplendent Capitol surrounded by thirteen districts, bringing peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth annihilated. The Treaty of Betrayal gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our annual reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games rules are simple. As punishment for the revolt, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be trapped in a large open-air arena that can contain anything from a burning desert to a frozen earth. Over a period of several weeks, the contestants must fight to the death.

The last tribute standing wins. Throwing children out of our districts, forcing them to kill each other while we watch, this is the Capitol's way of reminding us how utterly at their mercy. What a slim chance we would have of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. Watch as we take your children and kill them and there's nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every one of you. Just like we did in District Thirteen. To make it as humiliating as it is excruciating, the Capitol demands that we treat the Hunger Games like a holiday, a sporting event that pits all districts against each other. The last living tribute is given a quiet home life, and your district will be flooded with prizes, mostly consisting of food. All year round, the Capitol will shower the winning district with gifts of grain and oil, and even treats like sugar, while the rest of us fight hunger. It is time for repentance and gratitude, intones the mayor. Then he read the list of past winners from District 12. In seventy-four years, we've had exactly two. Only one is still alive. Haymitch Abernathy, a paunchy middle-aged man, who at this moment appears shouting something unintelligible, staggers across the stage and lands in the third chair. He is drunk. Much. The crowd responds with symbolic applause, but he is confused and tries to give Effie Trinket a big hug, which she barely manages to dodge. The mayor looks troubled. Since all of this is being televised, now District 12 is Panem's laughing stock, and he knows it. He quickly tries to draw attention to the harvest by introducing Effie Trinket. Bright and bubbly as ever, Effie Trinket trots up to the podium and gives her signature Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds always be in her favor! Her pink hair must be a wig because her curls are slightly off-center since her encounter with Haymitch. She talks a little bit about what an honor it is to be here, though everyone knows she's looking forward to being promoted to a better district where they have real winners, not drunks bullying you in front of the entire nation. In the middle of the crowd, I see Gale looking at me with the ghost of a smile. As far as vintages go, this one has at least a slight entertainment factor. But I'm suddenly thinking of Gale and his forty-two names in that big crystal ball and how the odds are not in his favor. Not compared to many guys. And maybe he's thinking the same thing about me because his face darkens and he turns away. But there are still a thousand slips, I wish I could whisper to him. It's drawing time. Effie Trinket says, as always, women first! and she crosses to

the crystal ball with the names of the girls. She reaches out, dips her hand deep into the ball, and pulls out a sheet of paper. The crowd takes a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop and I gasp and desperately wish it wasn't me, that it was

I don't, it's not me. Effie Trinket returns to the podium, smooths out the sheet of paper and reads her name aloud. And no, I am. It's Primrose Everdeen.


Once, when I was hiding in a tree, waiting immobile for the game to end, I fell asleep and fell ten feet to the ground, landing on my back. It was as if the impact had forced every last breath out of my lungs, and I was left there, struggling to inhale, exhale, do anything. That's how I feel right now, trying to remember how to breathe, unable to speak, totally stunned as the name bounces around inside my skull. Someone is grabbing my arm, a Sewing guy, and I think I started to fall and he caught me. There must have been some mistake. This can not be happening. Prim was one sheet of paper among thousands! Her chances of being chosen were so remote that I didn't even worry about her. Had he not done everything? He took the tiles and refused to let her do the same? A slip. One slip among thousands. The odds were completely in his favor. But that didn't matter. Somewhere in the distance, I can hear the crowd muttering sadly like they always do when a twelve-year-old boy is chosen because no one thinks it's fair. And then I see her, the blood draining from her face, her hands balled into fists at her sides, walking with small, stiff steps towards the stage, past me, and I see that the back of her shirt has opened up. and it's hanging. over his head, her skirt. It's that detail, the unbuttoned blouse forming a swallowtail, that brings me back to myself. Cousin! The strangled scream is released from my throat and my muscles start moving again. Cousin! I don't need to push the crowd. The other kids immediately make way for me, allowing me a straight path to the stage. I catch up with her just as she's about to head up the steps. With a wave of my arm, I push her behind me. IM Volunteer! I sigh. I volunteer as tribute! There is some confusion on stage.

District 12 hasn't had a volunteer in decades and the protocol has rusted. The rule is that once a tribute's name has been drawn from the ball, another eligible boy, if a boy's name has been read, or a girl, if a girl's name has been read, may step forward. forward to take his place. In some districts, where gaining the harvest is a great honor, people are eager to risk their lives, volunteering is difficult. But in District 12, where the word tribute is virtually synonymous with corpse, volunteers are all but extinct. Beautiful! says Effie Trinkett. But I think it's a little difficult to present the winner of the season and then ask for volunteers, and if one appears, then we, hum. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· She stops, unsure of herself. What matters? says the mayor. He's looking at me with a pained expression on his face. He doesn't really know me, but there's a slight acknowledgment there. I'm the girl who brings the strawberries. The girl his daughter might have talked about from time to time. The girl who five years ago was reunited with her mother and

sister, by presenting her, the eldest daughter, with a medal of valor. A medal for the father, vaporized in the mines. Does he remember that? What matters? he repeats sharply. Let her go ahead. Prim is screaming hysterically behind me. She wrapped her skinny arms around me like a vice. No, Katniss! No! You can not go! Prim, let me go, I say sharply, because this is upsetting me and I don't want to cry. When they air the harvest replay tonight, everyone will notice my tears and I'll be an easy target. A coward. I won't give anyone that satisfaction. Let him go! I can feel someone pulling her off my back. I turn to see that Gale has lifted Prim off her feet and she is writhing in her arms. You go upstairs, Catnip, he says, his voice struggling to hold steady, and then he leads Prim to my mother. I get ready and go up the steps. Good, very good! says Effie Trinket. That's the spirit of the Games! She's happy to finally have a district with some action. What is her name? I swallow. Katniss Everdeen, I mean. I bet my buttons it was her sister. We don't want her to steal all the glory, right? Come on everyone! Let's give a big round of applause for our new tribute! Effie Trinkett trills. To the eternal credit of the people of District 12, not a single person claps their hands. Not even the ones with betting slips, the ones that are usually beyond care. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or they knew my father, or they knew Prim, who didn't

one can avoid loving. So instead of acknowledging the applause, I stand by as they engage in the boldest form of dissent they can muster. Silence. Which says we disagree. We do not approve. All of this is wrong. Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don't expect that because I don't think District 12 is a place that cares about me. But there's been a change since I took Prim's place, and now it seems I've become precious. First one, then another, then almost everyone in the crowd raises the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and offers them to me. It's an old gesture and rarely used in our district, seen occasionally at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means goodbye to someone you love. Now I'm really in danger of crying, but luckily Haymitch chose this moment to come staggering across the stage to congratulate me. Look at her. Look this! he yells, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. It's surprisingly strong for such a ruin. I like her! His breath smells like alcohol and he hasn't showered in a long time. A lot of . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· He can't think of the word for a while. Stomach! he says triumphantly. More than you! He releases me and walks to the front of the stage. More than you! he yells, pointing directly at a

Camera. Is he addressing the public or is he so drunk he could be mocking the Capitol? I'll never know because when he's opening his mouth

to continue, Haymitch falls off the stage and is knocked unconscious. It's disgusting, but I'm grateful. With all the cameras gleefully focused on him, I have just enough time to release the small choked sound in my throat and collect myself. I put my hands behind my back and look away. I can see the hills I climbed this morning with Gale. For a moment, I yearn for something. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· The idea of ​​leaving the district. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Making our way in the woods. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· But I know I was right about not running. Because who else would have offered themselves to Prim? Haymitch is wheeled away on a stretcher and Effie Trinket tries to get the ball rolling again. What an exciting day! she chirps as she tries to straighten her wig, which has been heavily tilted to the right. But more excitement to come! It's time to choose our boy tribute! Clearly hoping to contain her delicate hair situation, she places her hand on her head as she crosses over to the ball containing the children's names and takes the first piece she finds. She's back on the podium and I don't even have time to wish

for the safety of Wales when you read the name. Peeta Mellark. Peeta Mellark! Oh no, I think. Santa. Because I recognize this name, although I have never spoken directly with its owner. Peeta Mellark. No, the odds are not in my favor today. I watch him as he heads towards the stage. Average height, stocky build, ash blonde hair that falls in waves over his forehead. The shock of the moment is registered on his face, you can see his struggle to remain emotionless, but his blue eyes show the alarm I've so often seen in fangs. However, he constantly takes the stage and takes his place. Effie Trinket calls for volunteers, but no one steps forward. He has two older brothers, I know, I've seen them at the bakery, but one is probably too old to volunteer and the other isn't. This is standard. Family devotion only goes so far for most people on harvest day. What I did was radical. The mayor starts reading the long, boring Treaty of Betrayal like he does every year, by now it's mandatory, but I don't hear a word of it. Because he? I think. So I try to convince myself that it doesn't matter. Peeta Mellark and I are not friends. Not even the neighbors. We don't talk, our only real interaction was years ago. I probably forgot. But I didn't and I know I never will. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· It was during the worst time. my father had been

killed in the mine accident three months earlier, in the bitterest January in living memory. The numbness of his loss was gone, and the pain hit me out of nowhere, doubling over, racking my body with sobs. Where are you? I would scream in my mind. Where was? Of course, there was never any response. The district had given us a small sum of money as compensation for her death, enough to cover a month of mourning, when my mother was supposed to get a job. Only she didn't. She didn't do anything but sit back on a

chair or, more often, huddled under the covers of the bed, eyes fixed on some distant point. From time to time she stirred, rose as if moved by some urgent purpose, only to fall back into stillness. No amount of pleading from Prim seemed to affect her. I was terrified. I think my mother was now locked in a dark world of grief, but at the time, all I knew was that she had lost not only a father, but a mother as well. At eleven, with Prim seven, she took over as head of the family. There was no choice. I bought our food at the market and cooked as best I could and tried to keep Prim and myself presentable.

Because if they knew my mom couldn't take care of us anymore, the district would have taken us away from her and put us in the nursing home. I grew up seeing those kids at home at school. The sadness, the angry handprints on their faces, the hopelessness that hunched their shoulders forward. I could never let that happen to Prim. Sweet little Prim who cried when I cried before I even knew why, who brushed and braided my mom's hair before we went to school, who still cleaned Dad's razor in the mirror every night because he hated the layer. of coal dust that littered everything on the Seam. The collective house would squash it like a bug. So I kept our situation a secret. But the money ran out and little by little we starved to death. There's no other way to say it. I kept telling myself that if I could just make it through May, right on the 8th of May, I'd be twelve and I could apply for the tesserae and get that precious grain and oil to feed us. But there were still several weeks to go. We might as well be dead by then. Famine is not an uncommon fate in District 12. Who hasn't seen the victims? Elderly people who cannot work. Children of a family with too many to feed. The wounded in the mines. Wandering the streets. And one day, you find them sitting motionless against a wall or

Lying in the meadow, you hear the wailing of a house and the peacekeepers are called in to retrieve the body. Starvation is never officially the cause of death. It's always the flu, exposure, or pneumonia. But that doesn't fool anyone. On the afternoon of my date with Peeta Mellark, the rain fell in an unrelenting freezing cold. I was in town, trying to trade in Prims' old baby clothes at the public market, but there were no takers. Although I had been to the Hob several times with my father, I was too scared to venture into this rough and sandy place alone. The rain had soaked through my father's hunting jacket, chilling me to the bone. For three days we ate nothing but boiled water with some old dried mint leaves I found in the back of a cupboard. When the market closed, I was shaking so hard that I dropped my bundle of baby clothes in a muddy puddle. I didn't take it for fear of passing out and not being able to get up. Also, nobody

I wanted those clothes. I couldn't go home. Because at home there was my mother with her dead eyes and my little sister with her sunken cheeks and chapped lips. She couldn't get into that room with the fire smoldering from the damp branches she'd scavenged in the trash.

the forest's edge after the coal ran out, my bands empty of any hope. I found myself stumbling down a muddy path behind the shops that cater to the richest people in town. Merchants live above their business, so it was essentially in their backyards. I remember the outlines of beds not yet planted for spring, a goat or two in a pen, a soggy dog ​​tethered to a post, hunched over in defeat in the mud. All forms of theft are prohibited in District 12. It is punishable by death. But it occurred to me that there might be something in the dumpsters, and that was fair game. Maybe a bone at the butcher shop or rotten vegetables at the supermarket, something no one but my family was desperate enough to eat. Unfortunately, the bins have just been emptied. As I passed the bakers, the smell of fresh bread was so strong that I felt dizzy. The ovens were at the back and a golden glow spilled through the open kitchen door. I was mesmerized by the heat and delicious smell until the rain interfered, running icy fingers down my back, forcing me back to life. I lifted the lid of the bakery's trash can to find it immaculate, mercilessly empty. Suddenly a voice was yelling at me and I looked up to see the baker's wife, telling me to go ahead and if I wanted her to call the peacekeepers and

how tired she was of having those Seam brats go through her trash. The words were ugly and he had no defense. As he carefully replaced the lid and took a step back, I noticed him, a blond haired boy peeking out from behind his mother's back. I had seen him at school. He was in my year, but I didn't know his name. She stayed with the town kids, so how would I do it? His mother went back to the bakery grumbling, but he must have been watching me as I walked behind his pig pen and leaned against the edge of an old apple tree. I finally realized I wouldn't have anything to take home. My knees buckled and I slid down the trunk of the tree to its roots. It was too much. I was very sick and weak and tired, oh so tired. Call the Peacekeepers and take us to the community house, I thought. Or better yet, let me die right here in the rain. There was a noise in the bakery and I heard the woman scream again and the sound of a crash and I vaguely wondered what was going on. Feet squelched towards me in the mud and I thought: That's her. He comes chasing me with a stick. But it wasn't her. it was the boy, who was carrying in his arms two large loaves of bread that must have fallen into the fire because the crust was charred. His mother screamed: Give that to the pig, you stupid creature!

Why not? No decent person buys burnt bread! He began to tear pieces off the burnt parts and

throw them in the trough, the front bell of the bakery rang and the mother disappeared to attend to a customer. The boy didn't even look my way, but I was watching him. Because of the bread, because of the red sore that stood out on her cheek. What did he hit him with? My parents never hit us. I couldn't even imagine. The boy glanced at the bakery as if checking the bank, then, his attention back on the pig, he tossed a piece of bread in my direction. The second followed quickly and walked back into the bakery, slamming the kitchen door behind him. I looked at the buns in disbelief. They were fine, perfect actually, except for the burnt areas. Did he mean I had them? He should have. Because there they were at my feet. Before anyone could witness what had happened, I tucked the buns under my shirt, wrapped my hunting jacket tightly around myself, and hurried away. The heat from the bread burned my skin, but I gripped it tighter, gripping myself tighter. By the time I got home, the buns had cooled down a bit,

but the inside was still warm. When I placed them on the table, Prim's hands reached up to tear off a piece, but I forced her to sit down, forced my mother to join us at the table, and poured her hot tea. I scraped off the black stuff and cut the bread. We ate a whole loaf, piece by piece. It was a very hearty bread stuffed with raisins and walnuts. I put my clothes to dry on the fire, climbed into bed and fell into a dreamless sleep. It didn't occur to me until the next morning that the boy might have burned the bread on purpose. He could have thrown the loaves into the flames, knowing that meant being punished, and then handed them to me. But I dismissed it. It must have been an accident. Why would he have done that? He didn't even know me. Still, just throwing the bread at me was a great kindness that would surely result in a spanking if caught. He couldn't explain his actions. We ate slices of bread for breakfast and went to school. It was as if spring had arrived overnight. Warm, sweet air. fluffy clouds. At school, I passed the boy in the hallway with the swollen cheek and black eye. He was with his friends and didn't recognize me at all. But when I picked Prim up and went home that afternoon, I found him looking at me from across the schoolyard. Our eyes met for just a second, then he turned his head.

distant. I looked down, embarrassed, and that's when I saw him. The first dandelion of the year. A bell rang in my head. I thought of the hours we spent in the woods with my father and knew how we were going to survive. To this day, I can never shake the connection between that boy, Peeta Mellark, and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I wasn't doomed. And more than once, I've turned in the hallway at school and caught his eyes on me, only to quickly walk away. I feel like I owe him something and I hate owing people. maybe if i

Had I thanked him at some point, I would feel less conflicted now. I thought about it a few times, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself. And now it never will be. Because they would be thrown into an arena to fight to the death. Exactly how should I work on a thank you there? Somehow it won't seem sincere if I'm trying to cut his throat. The mayor finishes the grim Treaty of Betrayal and motions for Peeta and me to shake hands. His are as solid and warm as those buns. Peeta looks me right in the eyes and gives my hand what I think should be a reassuring squeeze. Maybe it's just a nervous spasm. we went back to

face the crowd as the Panem anthem plays. Well I think. We will be twenty-four. Probably someone else will kill him before me. Of course, the odds haven't been very reliable lately.


The moment the anthem ends, we stop. I don't mean to say they handcuffed us or anything, but a group of peacekeepers lead us through the front door of the court building. Perhaps tributes have tried to escape in the past. However, I have never seen this happen. Once inside, they take me to a room and leave me alone. It's the richest place I've ever been, with thick thick rugs, velvet sofa and chairs. I know velvet because my mother has a dress with a collar made from it. As I sit down on the couch, I can't help but run my fingers over the fabric over and over again. It helps me calm down as I try to prepare for the next hour. The time that corresponds to the honorees saying goodbye to their loved ones. I can't be angry, walk out of this room with puffy eyes and a red nose. Crying is not an option. Will have more

Cameras at the train station. My sister and mother come first. I walk over to Primand, she climbs into my lap, her arms around my neck, her head on my shoulder like she used to when I was a little girl. My mother sits next to me and hugs us. For a few minutes, we say nothing. So I start telling them all the things they need to remember to do now that I won't be there to do it for them. Prim must not pick up tiles. They can survive, if they're careful, selling Prims' milk and goat's cheese and the little apothecary business my mother now runs for the people of the Seam. Gale will pick the herbs she doesn't grow, but she has to be very careful describing them because he doesn't know them as well as I do. He will also bring you the game. He and I made a pact about this a year ago and they probably won't ask for compensation, but they should thank him with some kind of exchange, like milk or medicine. I don't bother suggesting that Prim learn to hunt. I tried to teach him a few times and it was disastrous. The forest terrified her, and every time she shot something, she would cry and talk about how we could cure it if we got home soon. But he gets along with his goat, so I focus on that. When you have finished reading the fuel instructions,

and commerce, and staying in school, I turn to my mother and grip her arm tightly. Listen me. Is she listening to me? She shakes her head, alarmed at my intensity. She must know what's coming. You can't go out again, I say. My mother's eyes find the floor. I know. I won't, I couldn't help it. Well, you have to avoid it this time. You can't time it and leave Prim alone. There is no me now to keep you two alive. No matter what happens. Everything you see on the screen. You have to promise me that you will fight your way through this! My voice rose to a scream. In him is all the anger, all the fear I felt for his abandonment. She pulls her arm out of my reach, angry with herself now. She was sick. He could have treated me himself if he had the medicine I have now. That part about her being sick might be true. I have seen her bring back people who have suffered from a crippling sadness ever since. It could be an illness, but we can't afford it. Then take it. And take care of her! I say. Everything is going to be all right, Katniss, says Prim, cupping my face in her hands. But you also have to be careful. You are so fast and brave. Maybe you can win. I can't win, Prim must know that in her heart. The competition will be far beyond my abilities. Children from more affluent neighborhoods, where winning is a great honor, who have been trained their whole lives to do so. Guys who are two or three times my size. girls

who know twenty different ways to kill him with a knife. Oh, there will be people like me too. People to eliminate before the real fun begins. Perhaps, I say, because I can hardly tell my mother to go on if I've already given up. Besides, it's not in my nature to go down without a fight, even when things seem insurmountable. Then we'd be as rich as Haymitch. I don't care if they were rich. I just want you to come home. You'll try, won't you? Really try? Prim asks Really, really try. I swear, I say. And I know, thanks to Prim, that I have to. And then the Peacemaker is at the door, signaling that our time is up, and everyone is hugging each other so tight it hurts and all I'm saying is I love you. I love you both. And they're picking it up and then the Peacemaker orders them out and the door closes. I bury my head in one of the velvet pillows as if that might block everything out. Someone else enters the room, and when I look up, I'm surprised to see it's the baker, Peeta Mellark's father. I can't believe you came to visit me. After all, I will soon try to kill your son. But we know each other a little, and he knows Prim even better. When she sells her goat cheeses at the Dairy, she reserves two for him, and he gives her a generous amount of bread in return. We always look forward to dealing with him when his witch wife

it's not close because it's much friendlier. I'm sure she would never have hit her son like she did the burnt bread. But why did you come to see me? The baker sits awkwardly on the edge of one of the soft chairs. He is a big, broad-shouldered man, scarred from years of burning in the ovens. He must

He just said goodbye to his son. He pulls a white paper packet from his jacket pocket and offers it to me. I open it and find cookies. These are a luxury we can never afford. Thank you, I say. Bakers isn't a very talkative man at the best of times, and he's at a loss for words today. I ate some of his bread this morning. My friend Gale gave you a squirrel for him. He shakes his head, as if remembering the squirrel. Not his best deal, I say. He shrugs like it doesn't matter. Then I can't think of anything else, so we sit in silence until a Peacekeeper calls out to him. He gets up and coughs to clear his throat. I'll keep an eye on the girl. Make sure he's eating. I feel some of the pressure in my chest ease at his words. People deal with me, but they like Prim a lot. Maybe there's enough affection to keep her alive. My next guest is also unexpected. Madge walks over to me. she is not crying

or evasive, instead there's an urgency to his tone that surprises me. They let you use one thing from your district in the arena. One thing to remind you of home. Are you going to use this? She is holding the circular gold pin that was on her dress earlier. I hadn't paid much attention to it before, but now I see it's a small flying bird. Your PIN? I say. Using a token from my district is the last thing on my mind. Here, I'll put it on her dress, okay? Madge doesn't wait for an answer, just leans over and pins the bird to my dress. Do you promise to use it in the arena, Katniss? she asks. Promise? If I say. Cookies. a pin I'm getting all kinds of gifts today. Madge hands me one more. A kiss on the cheek. Then he left and I was thinking maybe Madge really had been my friend all along. Finally, Gale is here and maybe there's nothing romantic between us, but when he opens his arms I don't hesitate to reach out. Her body is familiar to me from the way she moves, the smell of wood smoke, even the sound of her heartbeat. I know from the quiet moments of a hunt, but this is the first time I've really felt him, lean and muscled against my body. own. Listen, he says. Picking up a knife should be pretty easy, but you have to get your hands on a bow. This is your best chance. They don't always have arches, I say, thinking about the

Every year, there were only hideous spiked maces with which the tributes had to bludgeon each other to death. So make one, says Gale. Even a weak bow is better than no bow at all. I tried copying my parents' bows with poor results. It's not that easy. Even he had to discard his own work at times. I don't even know if there will be wood, I mean. In another year, they dumped everyone on a landscape of nothing but rocks, sand, and scruffy bushes. I particularly hated that year. Many competitors have been bitten by venomous snakes or gone mad with thirst. There's almost always some wood, says Gale. Since that year, half of them have died of the cold. There's not much entertainment in it. It is true. We spent a Hunger Games watching the

players freeze to death at night. You could barely see them because they were huddled in balls and they didn't have firewood or torches or anything. It was considered very anticlimactic on Capitol Hill, all those silent, bloodless deaths. Since then, there is usually firewood to make the fire. Yes, there are usually a few, I say. Katniss, just hunt. You're the best hunter I know, says Gale. It's not just hunting. They are armed. They think, I say. You too. And you've had more practice. Real

practice, he says. You know how to kill. Not people, I mean. How different can it be, really? Gale says grimly. The horrible thing is that if I manage to forget about your people, it won't be any different. The Peacekeepers are back too soon and Gale begs for more time, but they take him away and I start to panic. Don't let them starve! I yell, grabbing his hand. I won't! You know I won't! Katniss, remember, he says, and they pull us apart and slam the door and I'll never know what he wanted me to remember. It's a short ride from the Justice Building to the train station. I've never been in a car before. Rarely mounted on wagons. At Costura, we travel on foot. I did well not to cry. The station is crowded with reporters with their insect-like cameras pointed directly at my face. But I have a lot of practice in clearing my face of emotions and I'm doing it now. I catch a glimpse of the wall-mounted television screen that's broadcasting my arrival live and am pleased to look almost bored. Peeta Mellark, on the other hand, was obviously crying and oddly didn't seem to be trying to hide it. I immediately wonder if this will be his strategy in the Games. To look weak and scared, to reassure the other tributes that he's no match for anything, and then go out and fight. It worked great

good for a girl, Johanna Mason, from District 7 a few years ago. She looked like such a whiny, cowardly fool that nobody cared about her until only a handful of competitors remained. It turned out that he could kill cruelly. Very smart, the way he played. But that seems like an odd strategy for Peeta Mellark because he's a baker's son. All those years of getting enough to eat and carrying trays of bread had made him strong and broad-shouldered. It's going to take a lot of crying to convince someone to ignore it. We have to stand at the train door for a few minutes while the cameras swallow our images, then we can enter and the doors are mercifully closed behind us. The train starts moving immediately. The speed initially takes my breath away. Of course, I've never ridden the train, as travel between districts is prohibited except for officially sanctioned errands. For us, this is primarily transporting coal. But this is no ordinary coal train. It is one of Capitol's high-speed models averaging 250 miles per hour. Our trip to the Capitol will take less than a day. At school they tell us the capitol

it was built in a place that was once called the Rocky Mountains. District 12 was in a known region is

Appalachians. Even hundreds of years ago they mined coal here. That's why our miners have to dig so deep. Somehow it all comes back to coal at school. Aside from reading and basic math, most of our instruction is related to charcoal. Except for the weekly lecture on the history of Panem. It's mostly a bunch of nonsense about what we owe the Capitol. I know there must be more than what we are told, a true account of what happened during the rebellion. But I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. Whatever the truth, I don't see how this is going to help me put food on the table. The tribute train is even more sophisticated than the Justice Building room. We each have our own rooms which have a bedroom, a dressing room and a private bathroom with hot and cold running water. We don't have hot water in the house unless we boil it. There are drawers full of fine clothes and Effie Trinket tells me to do what I want, wear what I want, it's all at my disposal. Get ready for dinner in an hour. I take off my mother's blue dress and take a hot shower. I had never taken a shower before. It's like being in the summer rain, only hotter. I wear a dark green shirt and pants. At the last minute, I remember Madge's gold brooch. For the first time, I get a good look at it. It's like someone made a little bird out of gold and put a ring on it.

around. The bird is connected to the ring only by the tips of the wings. I recognize him suddenly. A mocking jay. They are funny birds and something of a slap in the face to the Capitol. During the rebellion, the Capitol created a series of genetically modified animals as weapons. The common term for them was mutations, or sometimes mongrels for short. One was a special bird called a jabber jay that had the ability to memorize and repeat entire human conversations. They were exclusively male messenger birds that were released into regions where the Capitol's enemies used to hide. After the birds collected the words, they flew back to the centers to be recorded. It took a while for people to understand what was going on in the districts, how private conversations were being broadcast. So, of course, the rebels fed the Capitol endless lies, and the joke was on that. So the centers were closed and the birds were left to die in the wild. They just didn't die. Instead, jabber jays mated with female mockingbirds, creating an entirely new species that could replicate both bird whistles and human tunes. They had lost the ability to enunciate words, but they could still mimic a variety of human vocal sounds, from a child's high-pitched chirp to a man's low-pitched tones. And they could recreate songs. Not just a few notes, but entire songs.

with several verses, if you had the patience to sing them and if they liked your voice. My dad was especially fond of mockingjays. When we went hunting I would whistle or sing complicated songs to them, and after a polite conversation

pause, they always sing back. Not everyone is treated with such respect. But every time my father sang, all the birds in the area fell silent and listened. His voice was so beautiful, loud and clear and so full of life that it made you want to laugh and cry at the same time. I never dared continue the practice after he left. Still, there's something comforting about the little bird. It's like having a part of my father with me, protecting me. I pin the pin to my shirt, and against the dark green fabric backdrop, I can almost imagine the mockingjay flying through the trees. Effie Trinket is picking me up for dinner. I follow her down the narrow, wobbly hallway and into a dining room lined with polished panelling. There is a table where all the dishes are very fragile. Peeta Mellark is sitting waiting for us, the chair beside him empty. Where is Haymitch? asks Effie Trinket happily. Last time I saw him, he said he was going to take a nap, says Peeta. Well, it's been a

exhausting day, says Effie Trinket. I think she's relieved that Haymitch is gone, and who can blame her? Dinner comes on plates. A thick carrot soup, green salad, lamb chops and mashed potatoes, cheese and fruit, a chocolate cake. Throughout the meal, Effie Trinket keeps reminding us to save space because there's more to come. But I'm stuffing myself because I've never had food like this, so good and tasty, and because probably the best thing I can do until the Games is put on a few pounds. At least you two have decent manners, Effie says as they finish their main course. Last year, the couple ate everything with their hands like a pair of savages. It completely upset my digestion. Last year's couple were two of Seam's children who never, not a single day in their lives, had enough to eat. And when they ate, table manners were probably the last thing on their minds. Peetas is a baker's son. My mom taught Prim and me how to eat properly, so yes, I can handle a knife and fork. But I hate Effie Trinkets' comment so much I'm going to eat the rest of the food with my fingers. Then I wipe my hands on the tablecloth. This makes her purse her lips tightly. Now that meals are over, I'm struggling to keep the food down. I can see Peetas looking a little green too. none of ours

stomachs are used to such rich food. But if I can handle Greasy Saes' blend of rat meat, pork entrails and tree bark, a winter specialty, I'm determined to stick with it. We move to another compartment to see the summary of the harvests in Panem. They try to stagger them throughout the day so one person can see everything live, but only the Capitol people could actually do that, as none of them have to attend the harvests. One by one, we see the other harvests, names being called (volunteers stepping up or, more often than not, not). We examine the faces of children who will be our competitors. A few stand out in my mind.

a monstrous boy who goes out to volunteer from District 2. A fox-faced girl with straight red hair from District 5. A boy with a crippled foot from District 10. And most disturbingly, a 12-year-old girl from District 11. dark brown skin and eyes, but otherwise she looks a lot like Prim in size and demeanor. Only when she takes the stage and they ask for volunteers, all you can hear is the wind whistling through the decrepit buildings around you. There is no one willing to take her place. Finally, they show District 12. Prim is called, I run towards

voluntary. You can't miss the desperation in my voice as I push Prim behind me, like I'm afraid no one will hear me and Prim will be taken away. But of course they do. I see Gale push her away from me and I see myself step onto the stage. Commentators are not sure what to say about the crowd's refusal to applaud. The silent greeting. It is said that District 12 has always been a little backwards, but the local customs can be charming. As if on cue, Haymitch falls off the stage and they both groan comically. Peeta's name is drawn and he silently takes his place. We shake hands. They play the anthem again and the program ends. Effie Trinket is upset about the state of her wig. Her mentor has a lot to learn about presentations. A lot about televised behavior. Peeta laughs unexpectedly. He was drunk, says Peeta. He gets drunk every year. Every day I add. I can't help but smile a little. Effie Trinket makes it seem like Haymitch has a rather rough manner that could be corrected with some advice from her. Yes, hisses Effie Trinket. How odd that you two find it funny. You know your mentor is your lifeline to the world in these Games. The one who advises you, aligns your godparents and dictates the presentation of any toast. Haymitch could very well be the difference between your life and your death! just then,

Haymitch staggers into the compartment. Miss dinner? he says in a slurred voice. Then he pukes all over the expensive carpet and falls into the mess. So laugh! says Effie Trinkett. He bounces his pointy shoes around the puddle of vomit and runs out of the room.


For a few moments, Peeta and I watched as our mentor tried to get out of the slimy, disgusting substance in his stomach. The stench of vomit and raw drink nearly brought me dinner. We exchange a look. Obviously Haymitch isn't much, but Effie Trinket is right about one thing, once we're in the arena, he's all we have. As if it were an unspoken agreement, Peeta and I took each of Haymitch's arms and helped him to his feet. I tripped Haymitch asks. Smells bad. She wipes her hand across her nose, puke smearing her face. Let's take you back to her room, says Peeta. Clean yourself up a little. We half-guided, half-carried Haymitch back to his compartment. Since we couldn't quite get him onto the embroidered bedspread, we dragged him into the bathtub.

and turns the shower on him. He almost doesn't notice. It's okay, Peeta tells me. I take it from here. I can't

It helps me feel a little grateful, since the last thing I want to do is undress Haymitch, wash the vomit off his chest, and put him to bed. Possibly Peeta is trying to make a good impression on her, to be her favorite once the Games start. But judging by the state he's in, Haymitch won't remember any of this tomorrow. It's okay, I say. I can send one of the Capitol people to help you. There is any number on the train. Cooking for us. waiting for us. taking care of us Taking care of us is his job. Not. I don't want them, says Peeta. I nod and head to my own room. I understand how Peeta feels. I myself cannot bear to see the people of the Capitol. But getting them to deal with Haymitch might be a small form of revenge. So I'm thinking about why he insists on taking care of Haymitch and I suddenly think: It's because he's being nice. Just as he was kind enough to give me the bread. The thought paralyzes me. A kind Peeta Mellark is far more dangerous to me than a nasty one. Kind people have a way of working their way into me and putting down roots there. And I can't let Peeta do that.

Not where we were going. So I decide, from this moment on, to have as little contact as possible with the baker's son. When I get back to my room, the train stops at a platform to refuel. I quickly open the window, throw the cookies Peeta's dad gave me out of the train, and slam the window shut. No more. No more of either. Unfortunately, the cookie package falls to the ground and splits open in a dandelion patch next to the track. I only watch the image for a moment as the train starts again, but it's enough. Enough to remind me of that other dandelion in the schoolyard years ago. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I had just walked away from Peeta Mellark's bruised face when I saw the dandelion and I knew I hadn't given up hope. I carefully picked it up and ran home. I took a bucket and Prim's hand and went to the Meadow and yes, it was dotted with golden headed weeds. After picking them, we crawled inside the fence for probably a kilometer until we filled the bucket with dandelion leaves, stems and flowers. That night we gorged ourselves on dandelion salad and leftover bread from the bakery. What else? Prime asked me. What other foods can we find? All kinds of things, I promised. I just have to remember them. My mother had brought a shed of books from the apothecary. the pages were

made of old parchment and covered with ink drawings of plants. Well-organized, handwritten blocks stated their names, where to collect them, when they flowered, their medical uses. But my father added other entries to the book. Plants for eating, not healing. Dandelion, pokeweed, wild onion, pine. Prim and I spent the rest of the night poring over these pages. The next day, we were off to school. For a while I stayed on the edge of the prairie, but I finally worked up the courage to go under the fence. It was the first time I had been there alone, without my father's weapons to protect me. But I

I took the small bow and arrows he had made for me from a hollow tree. I probably didn't walk more than twenty meters into the woods that day. Most of the time, I climbed the branches of an old oak tree, waiting for some prank to happen. After several hours, I was lucky enough to kill a rabbit. I had shot a few rabbits before, with my father's guidance. But that I had done alone. We hadn't eaten meat for months. The sight of the rabbit seemed to trigger something in my mother. He woke up, skinned the carcass, and made a stew out of the meat and some other vegetables Prim had prepared.

collected. Then she got confused and went back to bed, but when the stew was done we made her eat a plate. The forest became our savior, and each day I went a little further in her arms. He was slow at first, but he was determined to feed us. I stole eggs from nests, fished in nets, sometimes managed to shoot down a squirrel or a rabbit for stew, and collected the various plants that grew under my feet. Plants are complicated. Many are edible, but one false bite and you're dead. I went over the plants I collected with the photos of my parents several times. I kept us alive. Any sign of danger, a distant howl, the inexplicable snap of a branch, sent me flying back to the fence at first. So I started to risk climbing trees to escape the wild dogs who would quickly get bored and move on. Bears and cats lived further down the road, perhaps disgusted by the sooty stench of our district. On May 8th, I went to the Justice Building, signed up for my tiles, and brought home my first batch of grain and oil in Prims' toy cart. On the eighth of every month, he had the right to do the same. He couldn't stop hunting and gathering, of course. The grain was not enough to live on, and there were other things to buy, soap, milk and thread. What we absolutely did not have to eat, I began to trade in Hob. It was terrifying to enter that place without me.

father by my side, but people respected and accepted me. After all, the game was the game, no matter who shot. I also sold through the back doors of the richest customers in town, trying to remember what my father had told me and also learning a few new tricks. The butcher bought my rabbits but not the squirrels. The baker liked squirrels, but he only traded for one if his wife wasn't around. The head of the peacekeeping forces loved wild turkey. The mayor had a passion for strawberries. At the end of the summer, I was washing in a pond when I noticed plants growing around me. Tall with leaves like arrowheads. Flowers with three white petals. I knelt in the water, my fingers digging into the soft mud and pulling out handfuls of roots. Small bluish tubers that don't look like much, but boiled or roasted they are as good as any potato. Katniss, I said out loud. It's the plant that gave me my name. And I heard my father's voice joking: As long as you find yourself, you will never go hungry. I spent hours stirring the lake bed with my toes and a stick, picking up the tubers that floated to the top.

That night, we feasted on Katniss's fish and roots until we were all inside for the first time.

time in months, complete. Slowly, my mother came back to us. She began cleaning, cooking, and preserving some of the food I brought in for the winter. People traded to us or paid money for their medical remedies. One day, I heard her sing. Prim was delighted to have her back, but I kept watching, waiting for her to disappear again. I didn't trust her. And a warped little place inside of me hated her for her weakness, for her neglect, for the months she put us through. Prim forgave her, but I pulled away from my mother, put up a wall to protect myself from needing her, and nothing was ever the same between us. Now he was going to die without this being fixed. I thought about how I had yelled at him today in the Justice Building. However, he also told her that he loved her. So maybe everything evened out. For a moment I stare out the train window, wishing I could open it again, but not knowing what would happen with such speed. In the distance, I see the lights of another neighborhood. 7? 10? I don't know. I think of the people in their homes, getting ready for bed. I picture my house, with the shutters tightly closed. What are my mother and Prim doing now? Could they have dinner? The fish stew and the strawberries? Or was it intact on your plates? Did you see the recap of the day's events on the beat-up old TV that sits on the table against the wall? Certainly, there were more tears. Is my mother holding back, being strong for Prim? Or has she already begun to slip away, leaving the weight of the world on my sister's fragile shoulders? Prim will no doubt sleep with my mother tonight. The thought of that scruffy old Buttercup perched on the bed tending to Prim comforts me. If she cries, he will slide into her arms and snuggle until she calms down and falls asleep. I'm so glad I didn't drown him. Imagining my home makes me ache with loneliness. This day was endless. Is it possible that Gale and I only ate blackberries this morning? It seems like a lifetime ago. Like a long dream that has deteriorated into a nightmare. Maybe if I go to sleep, I'll wake up in District 12, where I belong. The drawers probably have several nightgowns, but I take off my shirt and pants and climb into bed in my underwear. The sheets are made of soft and silky fabric. A thick, fluffy comforter provides immediate warmth. If I'm going to cry, now is the time to do it. In the morning, I will be able to wash the tear damage from my face. But no tears come out. I'm too tired or too numb to cry. The only thing I feel is the desire to be somewhere else. So I let the train take me into oblivion. The gray light leaks

the curtains when the knocking wakes me up. I hear Effie Trinkets's voice, calling me to get up. Climb! It's going to be a great, great, great day! I try to imagine, for a moment, what it must be like inside that

woman's head What thoughts fill your waking hours? What dreams come to you at night? I have no idea. I put my green suit back on, it wasn't too dirty, just a little wrinkled from spending the night on the floor. My fingers trace the circle around the little golden thrush and I think of the forest, of my father and mother and Prim waking up and having to move on. I slept in the elaborate braided hair my mother did for the harvest and it doesn't look too bad, so I'm leaving it. It doesn't matter. We can't be far from the Capitol right now. And once we get to town, my stylist will dictate my look for tonight's opening ceremony. I just hope I have one that doesn't think nudity is the latest in fashion. As I enter the dining car, Effie Trinket walks past me with a cup of black coffee. She's muttering obscenities under her breath. Haymitch, his face puffy and red from yesterday's indulgences, laughs. Peeta is holding a parchment and looking a little embarrassed. Sit down! Sit down! Haymitch says, waving at me. The moment I slide into my chair, a huge plate of food is served to me. Eggs, ham, lots of hashbrowns. A fruit terrine sits on ice to keep it cold. The basket of bread that was placed in front of me would support my family for a week. There is an elegant glass of orange juice. At least, I think it's orange juice. I've only tasted an orange once, on New Year's, when my dad bought one as a special gift. A cup of coffee. My mother loves coffee, which we could hardly afford, but to me it tastes bitter and watery. A rich brown cup of something I've never seen. They call it hot chocolate, says Peeta. It's good. I take a sip of the hot, sweet, creamy liquid and a shiver runs through me. Despite the rest of the food calling to me, I ignore it until I've drained my glass. Then I stuff every morsel I can hold, which is a substantial amount, being careful not to overdo the richer stuff. My mother once told me that I always eat like I never see food again. And I said, I won't unless I get him home. That shut her up. When I feel like my stomach is about to drop, I lean back and grab my breakfast companions. Peeta is still eating, cutting off pieces of bread and dipping them in hot chocolate. Haymitch hasn't been paying much attention to his plate, but he's been knocking on the door.

back a glass of red juice that he is diluting with clear liquid from a bottle. Judging by the smoke, it's some kind of spirit. I don't know Haymitch, but I've seen him many times in the Hob, throwing handfuls of money at the counter of the woman selling white liquor. It will be inconsistent when we get to the Capitol. I realize I hate Haymitch. No wonder the District 12 tributes never stand a chance. It's not just that we're malnourished and undertrained. Some of our tributes were still strong enough to try. But we rarely get sponsors and he is a big part of why. The rich who pay taxes

whether it's because they're betting on them or just to brag about picking a winner, they expect someone with more class than Haymitch to take on him. Then you should give us some advice, I say to Haymitch. Here are some tips. Stay alive, Haymitch says, then laughs. I share a look with Peeta before I remember that I have nothing to do with him anymore. I'm surprised to see the hardness in his eyes. It usually looks so smooth. This is really fun, says Peeta. Suddenly, he attacks the glass in Haymitch's hand. It shatters on the ground, sending the blood-red liquid rushing towards the back of the train. Just not for us. Haymitch considers this for a moment, then punches Peeta in the jaw, knocking him off his chair. When he turns to pick up the liqueurs, I plunge my knife into the table between his hand and the bottle, almost avoiding his fingers. I prepare to dodge his blow, but he doesn't come. Instead, he leans back and looks at us through narrowed eyes. Well, what is it? says Haymitch. Did I really win a couple of fighters this year? Peeta gets up from the floor and grabs a handful of ice from under the bowl of fruit. He starts to lift it up to the red mark on its jaw. No, says Haymitch, stopping him. Let the bruise show. The audience will think you've mixed it up with another tribute before you even get to the arena. That's against the rules, says Peeta. Only if they catch you. That bruise will say you fought, you didn't get caught, even better says Haymitch. He turns to me. Can you hit anything with that knife besides a table? The bow and arrow is my weapon. But I also spent a lot of time throwing knives. Sometimes, if I've hit an animal with an arrow, it's better to stick a knife in that animal too before approaching. I figure if I want Haymitch's attention, this is my time to make a good impression. I snatch the knife off the table, grab the blade, and throw it at the wall.

across the room. I was actually just hoping to get a nice solid stick, but it gets caught in the seam between two panels, making me look a lot better than I am. stay here Both, says Haymitch, pointing to the center of the room. We comply and he surrounds us, sometimes prodding us like animals, testing our muscles, examining our faces. Well, you're not entirely hopeless. Seems to be in shape. And once the stylists catch you, you'll be attractive enough. Peeta and I didn't question that. The Hunger Games is no beauty pageant, but the sexiest tributes always seem to attract the most sponsors. Okay, I'll make a deal with you. You don't interfere with my drinking, and I'll sober up enough to help you, says Haymitch. But you have to do exactly what I say. It's not a big deal, but it's still a big improvement from ten minutes ago when we didn't have any guidance. Great, says Peeta. So help us, I say. When we get to the arena, what is the best Cornucopia strategy for anyone? One thing at a time. In a few minutes, we'll be arriving at the station. You will be placed in

hands of their stylists. You won't like what they do to you. But no matter what it is, don't resist, says Haymitch. But I start. Without complaining. Don't resist, says Haymitch. He takes the liquor bottle from the table and gets out of the car. When the door closes behind him, the car goes dark. There are still a few lights inside, but outside it's as if night has fallen again. I realize we must be in the tunnel that leads up the mountains to the Capitol. The mountains form a natural barrier between the Capitol and the eastern districts. It's almost impossible to enter from the east, except through the tunnels. That geographic advantage was a major factor in the districts losing the war that led to me being a tribute today. Since the rebels had to climb the mountains, they were easy targets for the Capitol's air forces. Peeta Mellark and I are silent as the train passes. The tunnel continues and I think of the tons of rock that separate me from the sky, and my chest tightens. I hate being locked in stone like this. It reminds me of the mines and my father, trapped, unable to reach sunlight, forever buried in darkness. The train finally starts to slow down, and suddenly, bright light floods the compartment. We can't help it. Peeta and I run to the window to see what we've only seen on TV, the Capitol, the ruling city of Panem. The cameras didn't lie about their greatness. Either way, they didn't fully capture the magnificence of the gleaming buildings in

a rainbow of colors soaring through the air, the shiny cars rolling along the wide paved streets, the strangely dressed people with strange hair and painted faces who never missed a meal. All the colors look artificial, the pinks too deep, the greens too bright, the yellows painful on the eyes, like the flat, round disks of hard candy we can never buy in the little candy store in District 12. People start them eagerly. they point at us when they recognize a tribute train coming into town. I turn away from the window, revolted by their emotion, knowing they can't wait to watch us die. But Peeta stands his ground, waving and smiling at the gaping crowd. It only stops when the train pulls into the station, blocking our view. He sees me looking at him and shrugs. Who knows? he says. One of them might be rich. I misjudged. I think of your actions since the beginning of the harvest. The friendly squeeze of my hand. His father appears with the cookies and promises to feed Prim. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Peeta led you to this? Your tears at the station. Volunteered to wash Haymitch, but then challenged him this morning when apparently the good guy approach failed. And now the ones waving at the window, already trying to win over the crowd. All the pieces are still falling into place, but I feel like he has a plan in place. He did not accept

your death. He is already fighting hard to stay alive. Which also means that friendly Peeta Mellark, the boy who gave me the bread, is

fighting hard to kill myself.


R-i-i-i-p! I grit my teeth as Venia, a woman with aquamarine hair and gold tattoos above her eyebrows, pulls a strip of cloth from my leg and pulls out the hair underneath. I'm sorry! he says in his goofy Capitol Hill accent. You are so hairy! Why are these people talking in such a high pitch? Why do their jaws barely open when they talk? Why do the ends of your sentences go up like you're asking a question? Weird vowels, broken words, and always a hiss on the letter s. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· No wonder it's impossible not to imitate them. Venia puts on what should be a friendly face. However, good news. This is the last one. Intelligent? I grip the edges of the table I'm sitting on and nod. The last fringe of hair on my legs is painfully plucked out. I've been at the Remake Center for over three hours and I still haven't met my stylist. He apparently has no interest in seeing me until Venia and the other members of my prep team have sorted out some obvious issues. This included scrubbing my body with a gritty clay that removed not just dirt but at least three layers of skin, turning my nails into even shapes and mostly removing my body hair. My legs, arms, torso, armpits and parts of my eyebrows were ripped from the muff, leaving me like a plucked bird, ready to roast. I don't like it My skin is sore and tingling

and intensely vulnerable. But I kept my end of the deal with Haymitch, and no objection crossed my lips. You're doing great, says a guy named Flavius. She shakes out her orange curls and applies a fresh coat of purple lipstick to her mouth. If there's one thing we can't stand, it's a crybaby. Lubricate! Venia and Octavia, a plump woman whose entire body has been dyed a light pea green, rub me with a lotion that first stings but then soothes my sore skin. Then they lift me from the table and remove the beautiful robe that I have been allowed to wear over and over again. I stand there, stark naked, as the three of them surround me, wielding tweezers to remove the last few strands of hair. I know I should be embarrassed, but they are so different from people that I don't feel more embarrassed than if a trio of strangely colored birds were pecking around my feet. The three stand back and admire their handiwork. Great! Now you almost look like a human being! Flavius ​​says, and everyone laughs. I force my lips into a smile to show how grateful I am. Thanks, I say sweetly. We don't have much reason to be fine in District Twelve. It wins them over completely. Of course not, poor guy! Octavia says, clasping her hands together in anguish for me. But don't worry, says Venia. When Cinna is done with you, you will be absolutely beautiful! We promise! You know, now that we've gotten rid of all the hair and dirt, you're not horrible at all! says Flavio encouragingly. Let's call Cinna! They run out of the room. It's hard to hate my prep team. They are complete idiots. And yet in a strange way I know

they are sincerely trying to help me. I look at the cold white walls and floor and resist the urge to reach for my robe. But this Cinna my stylist sure can pull it off in no time. Instead, my hands go to my hairdo, the one area of ​​my body my prep team told her to leave alone. My fingers caress the silky braids my mother so carefully arranges. My mom. I left her blue dress and shoes on the floor of the car, not thinking of getting them back, of trying to hold on to a part of her, of home. Now I wish I had. The door opens and a young man who must be Cinna enters. I'm surprised how normal it looks. Most of the designers they interview on TV are so dyed and dyed and surgically altered as to be grotesque. But Cinna's very short hair appears to be her natural shade of brown. He is in a simple black shirt and pants. The only concession to self-alteration seems to be metallic gold.

eyeliner that was applied with a light hand. Highlight the golden flecks in her green eyes. And despite my disgust with the Capitol and its hideous fashion, I can't stop thinking about how attractive he looks. Hello Katniss. I'm Cinna, her stylist, she says softly, something devoid of Capitols affectations. Hello, I venture with caution. Just give me a moment, okay? he asks. He walks around my naked body, not touching me, but taking in every inch with his eyes. I resist the urge to cross my arms over his chest. Who did his hair? My mother, I say. You are beautiful. really classic. And in almost perfect balance with your profile. He has very smart fingers, he says. I was expecting someone extravagant, someone older trying desperately to look young, someone who saw me as a piece of meat being prepared for a dish. Cinna lived up to none of those expectations. You are new, right? I don't think I've ever seen you before, I say. Most stylists are family members, constants in the ever-changing group of tributes. Some have been around my whole life. Yes, this is my first year at the Games, says Cinna. So they gave you District Twelve, I mean. Newcomers usually end up with us, the least desirable district. I asked about District Twelve, he says without further explanation. Why don't you put on your robe and we'll talk? Throwing on my robe, I follow him through a doorway into a living room. Two red sofas facing each other over a low table. Three walls are white, the fourth is entirely glass, providing a window onto the city. I can tell by the light that it must be around noon, although the sunny skies have turned cloudy. Cinna invites me to sit on one of the sofas and sits down opposite me. Press a button on the side of the table. The lid opens and a second table containing our lunch rises underneath. Pieces of chicken and orange cooked in a creamy sauce on a bed of pearl white beans, peas and onions, flower-shaped buns and, for dessert, honey-colored pudding. I try to imagine

assemble this meal myself at home. Chickens are very expensive, but I could get by on a wild turkey. I would have to slaughter a second turkey to trade it for an orange. Goat's milk would have to replace the cream. We can grow peas in the garden. He would have to pick wild onions in the forest. I don't recognize the grain, our own portion of tessera cooks into a nasty brown mush. Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels. as for

pudding, I can't even guess what's in it. Hunting and gathering days for this meal and even then it would be a poor substitute for the Capitol version. What is it like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the push of a button? How would I spend the hours I now spend combing the forest for sustenance if it were so easy to find? What do these people on Capitol Hill do all day, besides spruce up their bodies and wait for a new shipment of tributes to arrive and die for their entertainment? I look up to find Cinna's eyes locked with mine. How contemptible must we appear to you, he says. Did you see it in my face or somehow read my thoughts? Although you are right. All of them rotten are despicable. It doesn't matter, says Cinna. So, Katniss, about your opening ceremony costume. My partner, Portia, is the stylist for her fellow tribute, Peeta. And our current thinking is to dress you in complementary outfits, says Cinna. As you know, it is customary to reflect the flavor of the district. For opening ceremonies, you should wear something that suggests your district's main industry. District 11, agriculture. District 4, fishing. District 3, factories. This means that, coming from District 12, Peeta and I will be wearing some kind of coal miner outfit. Since the miners' baggy overalls aren't particularly flattering, our tributes often end up in skimpy clothes and lighthouse hats. One year, our tributes were completely naked and covered in black powder to represent coal dust. He is always terrible and does nothing to please the crowd. I prepare for the worst. So I'll be in a coal miner outfit? I ask, hoping it isn't indecent. Not exactly. You see, Portia and I think this coal miner thing is over the top. No one will remember you in this. And we both consider it our job to make District Twelve's tributes unforgettable, says Cinna. I'll get naked for sure I think. So instead of focusing on coal mining itself, let's focus on coal, says Cinna. Naked and covered in black powder, I think. And what do we do with coal? We burned it, says Cinna. You're not afraid of fire, are you, Katniss? He sees my expression and smiles. A few hours later, I'm dressed in what will be either the coolest or deadliest opening ceremony outfit. I'm wearing a simple black jumpsuit that covers me from ankle to neck. Shiny leather boots lace me up to my knees. But it's the undulating layer made of rivulets of orange, yellow,

and red and the matching headdress that define this outfit. Cinna plans to set them on fire just before our car hits the street. Not a real flame, of course, just a little synthetic fire that Portia and I made up. You will be perfectly safe, he says. But I'm not convinced I won't be perfectly roasted by the time we get downtown. My face is relatively makeup free, just a little highlighting here and there. My hair was brushed and then braided down the back in my usual style. I want the audience to recognize you when you're in the arena, says Cinna dreamily. Katniss, the girl who was on fire. It crosses my mind that Cinna's calm, normal demeanor masks complete madness. Despite this morning's revelation about Peetas' character, I'm genuinely relieved when he appears, dressed in an identical outfit. He must have known about fire, being a baker's son and all. Her stylist, Portia, and her team tag along, and everyone is absolutely amazed at the excitement the well will cause. Except Cinna. He looks a little tired as he accepts the congratulations. They were taken to the lower level of the Remake Center, which is essentially a gigantic stable. The opening ceremonies are about to begin. Pairs of tributes are being loaded onto wagons drawn by teams of four horses. Ours are pitch black. The animals are so well trained that no one needs to guide their reins. Cinna and Portia usher us into the cart, carefully arranging the positions of our bodies, the curtains of our cloaks, before heading off to consult with each other. What do you think? I whisper to Peeta. About fire? I'll rip your cloak off if you take mine from me, he says through clenched teeth. I deal, I say. Maybe if we can get them out soon, we'll avoid the worst burns. Although it's bad. They will throw us into the arena no matter what condition we are in. I know we promised Haymitch that we would do exactly what they said, but I don't think he considered that angle. Where is Haymitch anyway? Shouldn't it protect us from that kind of thing? says Peeta. With all that alcohol, it's probably not wise to have it near an open flame, I say. And suddenly they were both laughing. I think they were both very nervous about the Games and, more urgently, petrified of being turned into human torches, they weren't acting sensible. The opening song starts. It's easy to hear, bellowing throughout the Capitol. The huge doors open revealing the busy streets. The tour lasts about twenty minutes and ends at City Circle, where we will be greeted, played the anthem and escorted to the Training Center, which will be our home/prison until

the Games begin. The tributes from District 1 leave in a carriage drawn by snow-white horses. They look so pretty, spray-painted silver, in tasteful robes that sparkle with jewels. District 1 manufactures luxury items for the Capitol. You can hear the roar of the crowd. They are always favorites. District 2 positions itself to follow. Inside

there is no time for anything, we are approaching the door and I see that between the cloudy sky and the evening the light turns gray. The District 11 tributes are just getting started when Cinna appears with a lit torch. Here we go then, he says, and before we can react, he sets our cloaks on fire. I sigh, hoping for warmth, but there's only a slight tingling sensation. Cinna climbs ahead of us and lights our headdresses. He lets out a sigh of relief. It works. Then he gently places his hand under my chin. Remember, head up. smile. You will love! Cinna jumps off the wagon and has one last thought. He yells something at us, but the music drowns him out. He yells and gestures again. What is he saying? I ask Peeta. For the first time, I look at it and realize that, burning with fake flames, it's dazzling. And I must be too. I think he said to hold hands, says Peeta. He grabs my right hand with his left and we look to Cinna for confirmation. He nods and raises his thumb, and that's the last thing I see before I head into town. The crowd's initial alarm at our appearance quickly turns into applause and cheers from District Twelve! All heads turn our way, drawing attention away from the three carts in front of us. At first I'm transfixed, but then I see us on a big TV screen and I'm blown away by how amazing we look. In the deepening twilight, the firelight illuminates our faces. It looks like we're leaving a trail of fire in the floating layers. Cinna was right about the minimal makeup, we both look more attractive but totally recognizable. Remember, head up. smile. You will love! I hear Cinna's voice in my head. I lift my chin a little higher, put on my most winning smile and wave my free hand. Now I'm happy to have Peeta as a balance, he's so stable, solid as a rock. As I gain confidence, I blow a few kisses to the crowd. People on Capitol Hill are freaking out, showering us with flowers, screaming our names, our first names, which they bothered to find on the show. The pulsating music, the applause, the admiration flood my blood and I can't suppress my excitement. Cinna gave me a big head start. Nobody will forget me. It's not my look, it's not my name.

Katniss. The girl who was on fire. For the first time, I feel a glimmer of hope rise within me. Surely, there must be a sponsor willing to accept me! And with a little extra help, a little food, the right weapon, why should I exclude myself from the Games? Someone throws me a red rose. I pick it up, smell it gently, and return the kiss in the general direction of the giver. Hundreds of hands reach out to take my kiss, as if it were something real and tangible. Katniss! Katniss! I can hear my name being called from all sides. Everyone wants my kisses. It's not until we pull into City Circle that I realize I must have stopped traffic completely at Peeta's hand. That's how tight I've been holding on. I see

toward our intertwined fingers as I loosen my grip, but he grabs me again. No, don't let me go, he says. Firelight flickers in her blue eyes. Please. I could fall off this thing. It's okay, I say. So I keep waiting, but I can't help but feel weird about how Cinna brought us together. It's not fair to introduce ourselves as a team and then lock ourselves in the arena to kill each other. The twelve chariots fill the circle of the City Circle. In the buildings surrounding the Circle, every window is filled with the Capitol's most prestigious citizens. Our horses pull our carriage to President Snow's mansion and we stop. The song ends with a flourish. The president, a short, thin man with paper-white hair, gives an official welcome from a balcony above us. It is traditional to cut off the honorees' faces during the speech. But I can see on the screen that we're getting a lot more than our allotment of airtime. The darker it gets, the harder it is to look away from blinking. As the national anthem plays, they scramble to make a quick cut to each pair of tributes, but the camera stops on District 12's car as it parades around the circle one last time and disappears into the Training Facility. The doors had just closed behind us when they were engulfed by the prep crews, who are almost unintelligible as they rave. As I look around, I notice that many of the other tributes are looking at us with disapproval, confirming what I suspected, we've literally bested them all. Then Cinna and Portia are there, helping us off the wagon, carefully removing our flaming cloaks and headdresses. Portia douses them with some kind of spray from a canister. I realize I'm still glued to Peeta and I force my stiff fingers to open. We both massage our hands. Thanks

for holding me I was getting a little shaky there, says Peeta. He didn't show up, I tell you. I'm sure no one noticed. I'm sure they didn't notice anything but you. You should use llamas more often, he says. It suits you. And then he gives me a smile that seems so genuinely sweet with just the right hint of shyness that unexpected warmth rushes through me. A warning bell rings in my head. Don't be so stupid. Peeta is planning how to kill you, I remember. He is luring you in to become easy prey. The cooler he is, the more lethal he is. But since this game can be played by two, I go up on tiptoe and plant a kiss on his cheek. Right in his bruise.


The Training Center has a tower designed exclusively for tributes and their teams. This will be our home until the start of the Games themselves. Each district has a full floor. Just enter the elevator and enter your district number. Pretty easy to remember. I took the elevator a few times from the Justice Building in District 12. Once to receive my father's death medal and yesterday to say goodbye to my friends and family.

family. But it's a dark, squeaky thing that moves like a snail and smells like sour milk. The walls of this elevator are made of glass so you can watch the people on the ground floor cowering for ants as you launch yourself into the air. It's exciting and I'm tempted to ask Effie Trinket if we can put it back together, but somehow that feels childish. Apparently, Effie Trinkets' duties didn't end at the station. She and Haymitch will be watching us all the way to the arena. In a way, that's a plus because at least we can count on her to get us places on time, whereas we haven't seen Haymitch since he agreed to help us on the train. He probably passed out somewhere. Effie Trinket, on the other hand, seems to be flying high. They were the first team she followed to make noise at the opening ceremonies. She is complimentary not only for our fantasies, but also for how we behave. And, to hear her say it, Effie knows everybody who's anybody in the Capitol and she's been talking to us all day, trying to win sponsors for us. I've been pretty mysterious though, she says, her eyes narrowing. Because of course Haymitch didn't bother to

Tell me your strategies. But I did the best I could with what I had to work with. How Katniss sacrificed herself for her sister. How you successfully fought to overcome the barbarism of your district. Barbarism? That's ironic coming from a woman who helps prepare us to kill. And what do you base our success on? Our table manners? Everyone has their reservations, naturally. You're from the coal district. But I said, and that was very smart of me, I said, Well, if you press the charcoal hard enough, it turns into pearls! Effie smiles so brightly at us that we have no choice but to respond enthusiastically to her wit, even if it's not quite right. Charcoal does not turn into pearls. They grow on shellfish. Possibly he meant that coal turns into diamonds, but that is not true either. I hear they have some kind of machine in District 1 that can turn graphite into diamonds. But we don't mine graphite in District 12. That was part of District 13's job until they were destroyed. I wonder if the people he's been talking to all day know or care. Unfortunately, I cannot seal endorsement deals for you. Only Haymitch can do that, Effie says grimly. But don't worry, I'll take you to the table at gunpoint if I have to. While she doesn't have many departments, Effie Trinket has a certain determination that I have to admire. My rooms are bigger than our entire house at home. They are luxurious, like the train car, but they also have so many automatic devices that I'm sure I won't have time to press all the buttons. The shower alone has a panel with more than a hundred options that you can choose from by regulating the water temperature, pressure, soaps, shampoos, essences, oils and massage sponges. When you stand on a mat, the heaters turn on, drying your body. Instead of fighting the knots in my wet hair, I simply place my hand on a box that sends

a stream through my scalp, detangling, parting and drying my hair almost instantly. It floats around my shoulders in a glittering curtain. I program the closet for an outfit of my liking. The windows raise and lower parts of the city at my command. You just whisper a type of food from a huge menu into a mouthpiece and it appears, hot and steaming, in front of you in less than a minute. I walk around the room eating goose liver and puff pastry until there's a knock on the door. Effies invites me to dinner. Good. I'm hungry. Peeta, Cinna, and Portia are standing on a balcony overlooking the Capitol when we enter the dining room. rejoice

seeing the stylists, especially after hearing that Haymitch will be joining us. A meal presided over by just Effie and Haymitch is sure to be a disaster. Besides, dinner isn't really about food, it's about planning our strategies, and Cinna and Portia have already proven how valuable they are. A silent young man in a white robe offers us all uncovered wine glasses. I consider turning it down, but I've never had wine, except for my mom's homemade cough medicine, and when will I get a chance to try again? I take a sip of the dry, sour liquid and secretly think it might be better with a few tablespoons of honey. Haymitch appears just as dinner is being served. He looks like he has his own stylist because he's as clean and tidy and sober as I've ever seen him. He doesn't refuse the offer of wine, but when he starts on the soup, I realize this is the first time I've seen him eat. Maybe he actually recovers enough to help us. Cinna and Portia seem to have a civilizing effect on Haymitch and Effie. At least they are doing decently. And both have nothing but praise for our stylists' opening act. While they talk, I focus on the food. Mushroom soup, sour greens with pea-sized tomatoes, paper-thin sliced ​​roast beef, macaroni in green sauce, tongue-melting cheese served with sweet blue grapes. The servers, all young men dressed in white robes like the one who served us the wine, come and go from the table in silence, keeping plates and glasses full. About halfway through my glass of wine, my head starts to get cloudy, so I switch to water. I don't like the feeling and hope it passes soon. How Haymitch manages to walk like that full time is a mystery. I try to focus on the small talk that has turned into our interview fantasies when a girl places a beautiful cake on the table and deftly lights it. It burns and then the flames flicker around the edges for a while until it finally goes out. I have a moment of doubt. What makes you burn? Is it drink? I say, looking at the girl. That's the last thing I want oh! I know you! I can't put a name or time on the girl's face. But I'm sure of it. The dark red hair, the sharp features, the porcelain white skin. But even as I say the words, I feel my insides clench with anxiety and guilt at the sight of her, and even though I can't get up, I know that some bad memory is associated with her. The look of terror that crosses her face only adds to my confusion and disquiet. She quickly shakes her head and walks away from the table. When I look back, the four adults are watching me like hawks. Don't be ridiculous, Katniss. How could you meet an Avox? yells Effie. The same thought. What is an Avox? I ask stupidly. Someone who has committed a crime. They cut out her tongue so she couldn't speak, says Haymitch. She's probably a traitor of some sort. You probably don't know her. And even if she did, she shouldn't speak to any of them unless it's to give an order, says Effie. Of course, you don't really know her. But I know her. And now that Haymitch mentioned the word traitor, I remember where. The

the disapproval is so high he could never admit it. No, I don't think so, I just stutter and the wine doesn't help. Peeta snaps his fingers. Delly Cartwright. He is like this. I kept thinking she was familiar to me too. Then I realized that she is the spitting image of Delly. Delly Cartwright is a plump, pale-faced, yellow-haired girl who looks as much like our waiter as a beetle looks like a butterfly. He can also be the friendliest person on the planet, always smiling at everyone at school, including me. I never saw the redheaded girl smile. But I accept Peeta's suggestion gratefully. Of course, that's what I was thinking. It must be the hair, I say. There's something about the eyes too, says Peeta. The energy at the table relaxes. Oh well. If that's all, says Cinna. And yes, the cake has liquor in it, but all the alcohol burned off. I specially ordered it in honor of her fiery debut. We eat the cake and go into the living room to watch the replay of the opening ceremony being broadcast. Some of the other couples make quite an impression, but none of them compare to us. Even our own group lets out an Ahh! as they show us exiting the Remake Center. Whose idea was it to hold hands? Haymitch asks. Cinnas, says Portia. Just the perfect touch of rebellion, says Haymitch. Very pleasant. Rebellion? I have to think about this for a moment. But when I remember the other couples, rigidly separated, never touching or shaking hands, as if their fellow tributes didn't exist, as if the Games had already begun, I know what Haymitch means. Presenting ourselves not as opponents but as friends set us apart as much as the suits of fire. Tomorrow morning is the first practice. Meet me for breakfast and I'll tell you exactly how I want you to play, Haymitch says to Peeta and me. Now go to sleep while the adults talk. Peeta and I walked down the hall together to our rooms. When we reach my door, he leans against the frame, not exactly blocking my entrance, but urging me to pay attention to him. Then Delly Cartwright.

Imagine finding your doppelganger here. You are asking for an explanation and I am tempted to give it to you. We both know he covered for me. So here I am in his debt again. If I tell him the truth about the girl, it might fix things somehow. How can it really hurt? Even if he repeated history, it couldn't do me much harm. It was something I witnessed. And he lied as much as I did about Delly Cartwright. I realize I want to talk to someone about the girl. someone who might be able to

help me discover your story. Gale would be my first choice, but I'm unlikely to see Gale again. I try to think if telling Peeta might give him an advantage over me, but I don't see how. Maybe sharing a confidence makes him think I see him as a friend. Also, the idea of ​​the girl with the mangled tongue freaks me out. She reminded me why I'm here. Do not model flashy costumes and eat delicacies. But to die in blood as the mob chases my killer. To count or not to count? My brain still feels sluggish from the wine. I look out into the empty hallway as if the decision is there. Peeta notices my hesitation. Have you ever been on the roof? I shake my head. Cinna showed me. You can see practically the whole city. However, the winds are a bit strong. I translate this to No one will hear us talk in my head. You get the feeling we might be under surveillance here. Can we just go up? Sure, come on, says Peeta. I follow him up a flight of stairs to the roof. There is a small domed room with a door to the outside. As we step into the cool, breezy afternoon air, I catch my breath at the sight. The Capitol glows like a vast field of fireflies. Electricity in District 12 comes and goes, we usually only have a few hours a day. Evenings are often spent by candlelight. The only time you can count is when the Games are on or when there is an important government message on TV that you need to watch. But here it would not be missing. Any time. Peeta and I walk to a railing at the edge of the roof. I look down the side of the building towards the street, which is crowded with people. You can hear their cars, an occasional screech, and an odd metallic jingle. In District 12, we'd all be thinking about sleeping right now. I asked Cinna why they let us up here. Weren't you worried that some of the tributes decided to jump overboard? says Peeta. What did he say? I ask. You can't, says Peeta. He extends his hand towards an apparently empty space. There's a sharp zap and it pushes you back. Some kind of electric field throws you back to the ceiling. Always worried about our safety, I say. Even though Cinna showed Peeta the roof, I wonder if he should be here now, so late and alone. He had never seen tributes on the roof of the Training Center before. But that doesn't mean they weren't being recorded. Do you think they are watching us now? Maybe, he admits. Come and see the garden. On the other side of the dome

they built a garden with flower beds and potted trees. of the branches

hang hundreds of wind chimes, which explain the jingle I heard. Here in the garden, on this windy night, it's enough to drown two people trying not to be heard. Peeta looks at me expectantly. I pretend to examine a flower. One day we were hunting in the forest. Hidden, waiting for the game, I whisper. You and your father? he whispers back. No, my friend Gale. Suddenly all the birds stopped singing at once. Except one. As if giving a wake-up call. And then we saw her. I'm pretty sure it was the same girl. A child was with her. Her clothes were in tatters. They had bags under their eyes from not having slept. They ran like their lives depended on it, I say. I'm silent for a moment, remembering how the sight of this strange pair, clearly not from District 12, fleeing through the woods immobilized us. Later, we wonder if we could have helped them escape. Maybe we could. He hid them. If only we had moved quickly. Gale and I were taken by surprise, yes, but we were both hunters. We know what the animals are like in the bay. We knew the couple was in trouble as soon as we saw them. But we just look. The hovercraft appears out of nowhere, I follow Peeta. I mean, one moment the sky was empty and the next it was there. He didn't make a sound, but they saw him. A net landed on the girl and pulled her up, fast, as fast as the elevator. They threw some kind of spear at the boy. He was tied to a cable and they lifted him too. But I'm pretty sure he was dead. We heard the girl scream once. The boys name, I think. Then it was gone, the hovercraft. He disappeared into thin air. And the birds began to sing again, as if nothing had happened. Did they see you? Pete asked. I don't know. We were under a rocky platform, I answer. But I know. There was a moment, after the birdsong but before the hovercraft, when the girl saw us. He looked me in the eyes and screamed for help. But neither Gale nor I responded. You're shaking, says Peeta. The wind and the story took all the heat out of my body. The girls scream. Was it the last? Peeta takes off his jacket and wraps it around my shoulders. I start to take a step back, but then I let him go, deciding for a moment to accept both his jacket and his kindness. A friend would do that, right? Were they from here? he asks, and fastens a button around my neck. I agree. They had that Capitol look around them. The boy and the girl. Where do you think they were going? he asks. I don't know, I say. District 12 is pretty much the end of the line. Besides us, there is only desert. If you don't count the ruins of District 13 that are still burning with poison

Bombs are on TV from time to time, just to remind you. Or why they would leave here. Haymitch called the Avox traitors. Against what? It could only be the Capitol. But they had it all here. There is no reason to rebel. I would get out of here, snaps Peeta.

outside. He then looks around nervously. It was loud enough to hear above the bells. He laughs. I would go home now if they would let me. But you have to admit the food is top notch. It's covered again. If that's all you heard, it would sound like the words of a frightened tribute, not one contemplating the unquestioned goodness of the Capitol. It's cold. We'd better go inside, he says. Inside the dome, it's warm and bright. His tone is conversational. Your friend Gal. Was he the one who took your sister to the harvest? Yup. Do you know him? I ask. Really no. I hear girls talk about him a lot. I thought it was his cousin or something. You favor each other, he says. No, they weren't related, I mean. Peeta nods, unreadable. Did he come to say goodbye to you? Yes, I say, watching him closely. His father too. He brought me cookies. Peeta raises his eyebrows as if this is news. But after seeing him lie so softly, I didn't care much. Seriously? Well, he likes you and your sister. I think he would like to have a daughter instead of a house full of children. The thought that they've already discussed me, around the dinner table, over the bakery fire, just passing through Peeta's house, scares me. It must have been when the mother was out of the room. He knew his mother when they were kids, says Peeta. Another surprise. But it's probably true. Oh yeah. I grew up in the city, I mean. It seems rude to say that she never mentioned the baker, except to praise her bread. They were at my door. I give him back his coat. See you in the morning then. See you later, he says, and walks down the hall. When I open the door, the redhead is picking up my leotard and boots from where I left them on the floor before I showered. I want to apologize for possibly getting you in trouble earlier. But remember, I'm not supposed to talk to him unless I'm giving an order. Oh, sorry, I say. He should return them to Cinna. I'm sorry. Can you take them away? Avoiding meeting my eyes, he shakes his head slightly and walks out the door. I started to tell him I was sorry about dinner. But I know my apology goes much deeper. I'm ashamed I didn't try to help her in the woods. That I let the Capitol kill the child and maim her without raising a bat.

finger. Like I was watching the Games. I take off my shoes and get under the covers in my clothes. The cold has not stopped. Maybe the girl doesn't even remember me. But I know she does. You don't forget the face of the person who was her last hope. I pull the covers over my head as if that will protect me from the redheaded girl who can't speak. But I can feel her eyes looking at me, through the walls and doors and bedding. I wonder if he'll enjoy watching me die.


My dreams are full of disturbing dreams. The redhead's face is intertwined with bloody images from previous Hunger Games, with my mother withdrawn and unreachable, with Prim thin and terrified. I get up screaming for my father to run like mine

explodes into a million deadly pieces of light. Dawn breaks through the windows. The Capitol has a misty, haunted feel. My head hurts and I must have bitten my cheek during the night. My tongue feels the torn flesh and I taste the blood. Slowly, I drag myself out of bed and into the shower. I press buttons arbitrarily on the control panel and end up hopping from one foot to the other as I'm assaulted by alternating jets of cold and hot water. Then I'm doused with lemon scum that I have to scrape off with a thick-bristled brush. Oh well. At least my blood is flowing. When I'm dry and moisturized with lotion, I discover that an outfit has been left for me at the front of the closet. Fitted black pants, long-sleeved burgundy tunic, and leather shoes. I've tied my hair in a single braid down my back. This is the first time since the morning of the reaping that I've looked like myself. No fancy hair or clothes, no flaming capes. Just me. It feels like I'm going into the woods. It calms me down. Haymitch didn't give us an exact time to meet last break, and no one has contacted me this morning, but I'm hungry so I head to the dining room hoping there's food. I'm not disappointed. While the table is empty, a long board has been set aside with at least twenty plates. A young man, an Avox, draws attention to the quilt. When I ask if I can help myself, he nods. I fill a plate with eggs, sausage, pastries covered in thick orange marmalade, slices of light purple melon.

As I gorge myself, I watch the sun rise over the Capitol. I have a second bowl of hot cereal dipped in beef stew. Finally, I fill a plate with rolls and sit at the table, breaking off bits of oil and dipping them in hot chocolate, like Peeta did on the train. My mind wanders to my mother and Prim. They must be awake. My mother preparing her porridge breakfast. Prim milking her goat before school. Just two mornings ago I was home. Can this be correct? Yes, just two. And now how empty the house looks, even from a distance. What did they say last night about my Games debut? Did that give them hope, or did it only heighten their terror when they saw the reality of twenty-four tributes huddled in a circle, knowing only one could live? Haymitch and Peeta come in, say good morning, fill their plates. It annoys me that Peeta is wearing the exact same outfit as me. I need to say something to Cinna. This twin act is going to blow up in our faces once the Games start. Surely, they must know this. Then I remember Haymitch telling me to do exactly what the stylists tell me to do. If it was anyone other than Cinna, he might be tempted to ignore it. But after last night's victory, I don't have much room to criticize his decisions. I'm nervous about training. It will be three days when all the tributes rehearse together. On the last afternoon, everyone will have the opportunity to perform in private before the Gamemakers. The idea of ​​meeting the other tributes.

face to face makes me dizzy I turn the bagel I just took out of the basket several times in my hands, but my appetite is gone. When Haymitch finishes several bowls of stew, he pushes his plate back with a sigh. He pulls a flask from his pocket, takes a long drink, and leans his elbows on the table. So let's get down to business. Training. First, if you want, I will train you separately. Decide now. Why would he train us separately? I ask. Let's say you have a secret skill that you might not want the other person to know about, says Haymitch. I exchange a look with Peeta. I don't have any secret abilities, he says. And I already know which one is yours, right? I mean, I've had enough of your squirrels. I never thought about Peeta eating the squirrels I threw. Somehow I always pictured the baker calmly frying them for himself. Not out of greed. But because city families often eat expensive butchery. Beef, chicken and horse. You can train us together, I tell Haymitch. Pete nods. All right, give me an idea of ​​what you can do, says Haymitch. I can not do

anything, says Peeta. Unless you count baking bread. Sorry I do not. Katniss. I know you're handy with a knife, says Haymitch. Really no. But I can hunt, I say. With bow and arrow. And are you okay? Haymitch asks. I have to think. I've been putting food on the table for four years. This is no small task. I'm not as good as my father, but I've had more practice. I have better aim than Gale, but I have more practice. He is a genius with traps and traps. I'm fine, I say. It's excellent, says Peeta. My father buys him squirrels. He always comments that the arrows never go through the body. Hit everyone in the eye. The same goes for the rabbits you sell to the butcher. It can even take down deer. This assessment of my abilities by Peeta takes me completely by surprise. First, that he already realized it. Second, that he is talking to me. What are you doing? I ask suspiciously. What are you doing? If he's going to help you, he has to know what you're capable of. Don't underestimate yourself, says Peeta. I don't know why, but it bothers me. Is that you? I saw you at the market. You can lift eighty-pound sacks of flour, I tell him. Say it. That's nothing. Yes, and I'm sure the arena will be full of sacks of flour to throw at people. It's not like being able to use a gun. You know it's not, he replies. He can fight, I tell Haymitch. He took second place in our school competition last year, behind only his brother. What's the use of it? How many times have you seen someone fight someone to the death? Peeta says with disgust. There is always hand-to-hand combat. All you need is to find a knife and at least you'll have a chance. If they jump on me, I'm dead! I can hear my voice rising in anger. But you won't! You will live in some tree eating raw squirrels and killing people with arrows. You know what my mother told me when she came to say

bye, as if to cheer me up, he says that maybe District Twelve finally has a winner. Then I realized, she wasn't referring to me, she was referring to you! Peeta explodes. Oh, he meant you, I say with a dismissive wave. She said, she's a survivor, that one. Yeah, says Peeta. It stops me in my tracks. Did your mother really say that about me? Did you put me above your son? I see the pain in Peeta's eyes and I know he isn't lying. Suddenly I'm behind the bakery and I feel the cold of the rain running down my back, the emptiness in my stomach. I look eleven years old when I speak. But only because someone helped me. Peeta's eyes drop to the parchment in my hands, and I

I know he remembers that day too. But he just shrugs. People will help you in the arena. They will trip over each other to patronize you. No more than you, I say. Peeta rolls his eyes at Haymitch. she has no idea what effect this can have. She runs her fingernail across the wood grain of the table, refusing to look at me. What the hell do you mean? Do people help me? When we were starving, nobody helped me! Nobody but Peeta. Once I had something to trade with, things changed. I'm a tough trader. Or is it me? What effect do I have? That I am weak and needy? Are you suggesting that I got good deals because people took pity on me? I try to think if this is true. Perhaps some of the merchants were a little generous in their dealings, but I always attributed that to their long relationship with my father. Also, my game is top notch. No one felt sorry for me! I frown at the parchment, sure he meant to insult me. After about a minute of this, Haymitch says, Okay then. Good good good. Katniss, there's no guarantee they'll be bows and arrows in the arena, but during your private session with the Watchers, show them what you can do. Until then, stay away from archery. Are you good at catching? I know some basic traps, I mutter. That can be significant food-wise, says Haymitch. And Peeta, he's right, never underestimate strength in the arena. Physical power often tilts the advantage towards a player. At the Training Center, they will have weights, but they don't reveal how much they can lift compared to the other tributes. The plans are the same for both. You will train in a group. Spend time trying to learn something you don't know. Throw a spear. Swing an apple. Learn to tie a decent knot. Save yourself by showing what you're best at until your private sessions. Do we have a deal? says Haymitch. Peeta and I agree. One last thing. In public, I want them next to each other every minute, says Haymitch. We both start to protest, but Haymitch slams his hand down on the table. Every single minute! Not open for discussion! You agreed to do what I said! You will stick together, be kind to each other. Get out now. Meet Effie at the elevator at ten for training. I bite my lip and head back to my room, making sure Peeta can hear the door slam. I sit on the bed, hating Haymitch, hating Peeta, hating myself, to name a few.

that day, long ago, in the rain. It's a joke! Peeta and I are pretending to be friends! Talking about the strengths of others, insisting that the other take credit for your skills. Because indeed, at some point, we would have to break up and accept

they were staunch adversaries. Which I would be prepared to do right now if it weren't for Haymitch's stupid instructions that we should stick together in training. It's my fault, I guess, for telling him he didn't need to train us separately. But that didn't mean she wanted to do everything with Peeta. Who, by the way, clearly also does not want to be associated with me. I hear Peeta's voice in my head. she has no idea what effect this can have. He obviously intended to degrade me. Right? but a small part of me wonders if that was a compliment. Which meant he was attractive in some way. It's weird how much he noticed me. Like the attention you paid to my hunt. And, apparently, I wasn't as oblivious to it as I thought. The flour. struggling, I tracked down the guy with the bread. It's almost ten. I brush my teeth and straighten my hair again. Anger temporarily blocked out my nervousness about meeting the other tributes, but now I can feel my anxiety rising again. When I meet Effie and Peeta in the elevator, I find myself biting my nails. I stop at once. The actual training rooms are below ground level in our building. With these elevators, the trip takes less than a minute. The doors open to a huge gym filled with various weapons and obstacle courses. Although it is not yet ten o'clock, they were the last to arrive. The other tributes are gathered in a tense circle. They each have a square of cloth with the district number pinned to their shirt. As someone shoves the number 12 behind my back, I do a quick assessment. Peeta and I are the only ones dressed alike. As soon as we enter the circle, the lead trainer, a tall, athletic woman named Atala, steps forward and begins to explain the training schedule. Specialists in each skill will remain at their posts. We will be free to travel from one area to another as we wish, based on our mentors' instructions. Some of the stations teach survival skills, others fight techniques. We are prohibited from conducting any combat drills with another tribute. Assistants are available if we want to practice with a partner. When Atala starts reading the list of skill stations, my eyes can't help but look at the other tributes. It's the first time we've been together, on flat ground, in simple clothes. My heart sinks. Nearly all the boys and at least half the girls are bigger than I am, though many of the tributes were never fed properly. You can see it in their bones, their skin, the vacant look in their eyes. I may be naturally minor, but overall my family's ingenuity has given me an advantage in this area. I'm tall and although I'm thin, I'm strong. The

meat and plants from the forest allied to the effort

getting them has given me a healthier body than most I see around me. The exceptions are the boys from the richest neighborhoods, the volunteers, those who have been fed and trained throughout their lives for this moment. Tributes 1, 2, and 4 traditionally look like this. It's technically against the rules to train tributes before they arrive at the Capitol, but it happens every year. In District 12, we call them Racial Tributes, or just Breeds. And, of course, the winner will be one of them. The small advantage I had in entering the Training Center, my ferocious entrance last night, seems to disappear in the presence of my competition. The other tributes were jealous of us, not because we were awesome, but because our stylists were. Now I see nothing but contempt in the appearance of the Carrera Tributes. Each must have between fifty and one hundred pounds with me. They project arrogance and brutality. When Atala lets go, they make a beeline for the deadliest weapons in the gym and wield them with ease. I'm thinking it's lucky I'm running fast when Peeta nudges my arm and I jump. He's still at my side, following Haymitch's instructions. His expression is sober. Where would you like to start? I look around at the Career Tributes who are showing off, clearly trying to intimidate the field. Then the others, the malnourished, the incompetent, trembling in their first lessons with a knife or an axe. Suppose we make some knots, I say. You're right, says Peeta. We cross to an empty station where the coach seems pleased to have students. You get the feeling that the knot-tying class isn't the hot spot of The Hunger Games. Realizing I know a thing or two about traps, he shows us a big, simple trap that will leave a human competitor dangling from the leg of a tree. We focus on this skill for an hour until both of us master it. Then we move on to camouflage. Peeta seems to genuinely enjoy this season, mixing a combination of mud, clay, and berry juices over his pale skin, weaving fantasies of vines and leaves. The trainer who runs the camouflage station is full of enthusiasm in his work. I make the cakes, he confesses. The pastries? I ask. I was worried watching the boy from District 2 throw a spear through the heart of a fifty-foot doll. What cakes? At home. The ice creams, for the bakery, he says. Refers to those that appear in shop windows. Elegant cakes with flowers and pretty things painted with icing. they are birthday

is new Year. When we're in the square, Prim always drags me down to admire them, even though we never have the money to buy one. However, there is little beauty in District 12, so I can hardly deny you that. I look more critically at the design on Peeta's arm. The alternating pattern of light and dark suggests sunlight falling through forest leaves. I wonder how he knows, as I doubt he ever got over the fence. Were you able to pick that from that scruffy old apple tree in your backyard? Somehow all of his skill, those unapproachable pastels, the camouflage expert's praise bothers me. Is enchanting. If only you could freeze someone to death, I mean. Don't be so superior. You can never know what you'll find in the arena. Say it's actually a giant cake, Peeta begins. Let's say we move on, I go in. So the next three days passed with Peeta and I moving silently from one station to the next. We acquired some valuable skills, from starting a fire to throwing knives and building a shelter. Despite Haymitch's order to look mediocre, Peeta excels at hand-to-hand combat, and I passed the edible plant test without batting an eye. However, we stayed away from archery and weight lifting, wanting to save them for our private sessions. The Watchers showed up early on the first day. About twenty men and women dressed in dark purple robes. They sit in the raised bleachers around the gym, sometimes wandering around to watch us, taking notes, other times eating from the endless feast laid out for them, ignoring us all. But they seem to be looking for District 12 tributes. Several times I've looked to find one obsessed with me. They also consult with trainers during meals. We see them all together when we get back. Breakfast and dinner are served on our floor, but for lunch, the 24 of us eat in a cafeteria next to the gym. Food is laid out on carts around the room and you help yourself. Racial tributes tend to gather around a table noisily, as if to demonstrate their superiority, that they don't fear one another and consider the rest of us inconspicuous. Most of the other tributes are sitting alone like lost sheep. Nobody says a word to us. Peeta and I eat together, and since Haymitch keeps pestering us about it, he tries to keep up friendly conversation over meals. It's not easy to find a theme. Talking about home is painful. Speaking of the unbearable present. One day, Peeta empties our breadbasket and shows how they took care of it.

they include varieties from the districts along with refined Capitol bread. The seaweed-smeared green fish-shaped bread from District 4. The seed-dotted crescent moon roll from District 11. Somehow, even though it's made of the same stuff, it looks a lot more appetizing than the ugly biscuits they are. to evaluate. at home. And there you have it, says Peeta, putting the loaves back in the basket. You certainly know a lot, I say. Just bread, he says. Okay, now laugh like I said something funny. We both let out a rather convincing chuckle and ignore the stares around the room. Okay, I'll keep smiling gently and you talk, says Peeta. It's wearing on both of us, Haymitch's drive to be friendly. Because ever since I slammed the door, there's been a chill in the air between us. But we have our orders. Did I ever tell you about the time I was chased by a bear? I

to ask. No, but it looks fascinating, says Peeta. I try to brighten my face when I remember the event, a true story, where I foolishly challenged a black bear for the rights to a hive. Peeta laughs and asks questions right away. He's much better at this than I am. On the second day, while doing a spear throw test, he whispers to me. I think we have a shadow. I throw my spear, which isn't too bad if I don't have to throw it too far, and see the girl from District 11 backing up a little, watching us. She's the twelve-year-old girl who reminded me so much of Prim's height. Up close, he looks about ten years old. She has dark, glittering eyes and satiny brown skin and stands on her toes with her arms slightly outstretched to her sides, as if she's ready to fly at the slightest sound. It's impossible not to think of a bird. I grab another spear as Peeta fires. I think her name is Rue, she says softly. I bite my lip. Rue is a small yellow flower that grows in the meadow. Rue. Spring. None of them could tip the scales at seventy soggy pounds. What can we do about it? I ask, more harshly than I intended. Nothing to do, he replies. just talking Now that I know she's there, it's hard to ignore the girl. She slides in and joins us in different seasons. Like me, he is skilled with plants, climbs quickly, and has good aim. She can always hit the target with a slingshot. But what's a slingshot against a 100-pound male with a sword? Back at the District 12 apartment, Haymitch and Effie quiz us over breakfast and dinner about every moment of the day. What we did, who saw us, how other tributes are evaluated.

Cinna and Portia aren't around, so there's no one to add sanity to the meals. It's not like Haymitch and Effie are still fighting. Instead, they seem to be unanimous, determined to get us in shape. Full of endless pointers on the do's and don'ts of training. Peeta is more patient, but I get tired and grumpy. When we finally crawl into bed on the second night, Peeta mutters, Someone should get Haymitch a drink. I make a sound that's somewhere between a snort and a laugh. Then pick me up. He's messing with my mind too much, trying to keep things straight when they should be friends and when they weren't. At least when we enter the arena, I'll know where we are. Not. Let's not pretend when there's no one around. It's okay, Katniss, he says wearily. After that, we just talked in front of people. On the third day of training, they start asking us to skip lunch at our private sessions with the Gamemakers. District by district, first the boy, then the tribute girl. As usual, District 12 is scheduled to be last. We stayed in the dining room, not knowing where else to go. Nobody comes back after they're gone. As the room empties out, the pressure to appear friendly decreases. When Rue is called, we are left alone. We sat in silence until Peeta was called. He gets up. Remember what Haymitch said

about making sure you drop the weights. The words come out of my mouth without permission. Thanks. I will, he says. You . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Shoot straight. I agree. I don't know why I said anything. Although if I'm going to lose, I'd rather Peeta win than the others. Better for our district, for my mother and Prim. After about fifteen minutes they say my name. I smooth my hair, throw my shoulders back and walk into the gym. Instantly, I know I'm in trouble. They've been here a long time, the Watchers. It went through another twenty-three demos. They drank too much, most of them. He wants more than anything to go home. I can't do anything but continue with the plan. On the way to the archery station. Oh, the weapons! I've been dying to have them in my hands for days! Bows made of wood and plastic and metal and materials I can't even name. Feathered arrows cut in perfect even lines. I choose a bow, string it, and toss the matching quiver of arrows over my shoulder. There is a shooting range, but it is very limited. Standard targets and human silhouettes. I walk to the center of the gym and choose my first target. The dummy used for knife practice. Even when I pull the bow, I know something is wrong. Tighter strings than I use at home. The hardest arrows. I miss

the mannequin by a few inches and lose what little attention it had been getting. For a moment I'm humbled, then I'm back on target. I shoot non-stop until I get familiar with these new weapons. Back in the center of the gym, I take my starting position and skewer the dummy through the heart. Then I cut the rope that held the punching bag, and the punching bag splits open when it hits the ground. Without pausing, I roll my shoulders forward, drop to one knee and shoot an arrow at one of the lights suspended from the gym floor. A shower of sparks erupts from the device. Your excellent shot. I'm addressing the Watchers. A few nod their approval, but most are obsessed with a roast pig that has just arrived at the banquet table. I'm suddenly furious, because with my life on the line, they don't even have the decency to pay attention to me. That I'm being bested by a dead pig. My heart starts to pound, I can feel my face burning. Without thinking, I pull an arrow from my quiver and send it straight to the Gamemakers' table. I hear cries of alarm as people stagger back. The arrow sticks the apple into the pig's mouth and pins it to the wall behind it. Everyone looks at me in disbelief. Thank you for your consideration, I tell you. So I bow slightly and walk away.

directly to the output without being triggered.


As I walk toward the elevator, I toss my bow to one side and my quiver to the other. I bump into the gaping Avox that guards the elevators and press the number twelve button with my fist. The doors slide together and I close. In fact, I'm going to go back to my apartment before the tears start streaming down my face.

The cheeks. I can hear the others calling to me from the living room, but I fly down the hall to my room, close the door and throw myself on the bed. Then I really start sobbing. Now I have! Now I've screwed up! If I had endured even a ghost of opportunity, it disappeared when I sent that arrow flying towards the Watchers. What are they going to do with me now? arrest me? Execute me? Cut out my tongue and become an Avox so I can expect future tributes from Panem? What was he thinking when he shot the Watchers? Of course not, he was shooting that apple because he was so angry.

for being ignored. He wasn't trying to kill one of them. If it was, they would be dead! Who cares? It's not like I'm going to win the Games anyway. Who cares what they do to me? What really scares me is what they can do to my mother and Prim, how my family can suffer now because of my impulsiveness. Will they take their meager possessions, or send my mother to prison and Prim to the collective home, or kill them? They wouldn't kill them, would they? Why not? Do they care? I should have stayed and apologized. Or laughed, like it was a big joke. So maybe I would have found some leniency. But instead I left the premises in the most disrespectful way possible. Haymitch and Effie are knocking on my door. I yell at them to go away and they finally do. It takes me at least an hour to cry. So I curled up in bed, stroking the silk sheets, watching the sun set over the butterscotch artificial capitol. At first, I expect the guards to come get me. But as time goes on, it seems less likely. I calm down. They still need a District 12 female tribute, right? If the Watchers want to punish me, they can do so publicly. Wait until I'm in the arena and I'm throwing hungry wild animals at me. You can bet they'll make sure I don't have a bow and arrow to defend myself with. Before that, however, I will receive a score so low that no one in their right mind would treat me with condescension. That's what will happen tonight. As training is not open to spectators, Rangers announce a score for each player. It gives the public a starting point for bets that will continue throughout the Games. The number, which is between one and twelve, one being hopelessly bad and twelve being unattainably high, signifies the promise of tribute. The brand is not a guarantee of which person will win. It's just an indication of the potential a tribute has shown in training. Often, due to variables in the actual arena, high-scoring tributes drop almost immediately. And a few years ago, the guy who won the Games only managed a three. Still, scores can make or break an individual tribute in terms of sponsorship. I hoped my shooting skills could get me a six or a seven, even if I wasn't particularly powerful. Now I'm sure he'll have the lowest score of the twenty-four. If no one sponsors me, my chances of surviving are reduced to almost zero. When Effie knocks on the door to

invite me to dinner, I decide I can go too. The scores will be televised tonight. It's not like I can hide what happened forever. I go to the bathroom and wash my face

but it is still red and blotchy. Everyone is waiting at the table, even Cinna and Portia. I wish the stylists hadn't shown up because for some reason I don't like the idea of ​​letting them down. It's like he threw away all the good work they did at the opening ceremonies without thinking. I avoid looking at anyone as I take small spoonfuls of fish soup. The salinity reminds me of my tears. The adults start talking about the weather forecast, and I let my eyes find Peetas. Raise your eyebrows. A question. What happened? I just shake my head a little. Then, as the main course is being served, I hear Haymitch say, "Okay, enough of the small talk, how bad were you today?" Peeta intervenes. I don't know if it mattered. When I arrived, no one bothered to look at me. They were singing some kind of drinking song I think. So I dropped some heavy objects until they told me I could leave. It makes me feel a little better. Not that Peeta attacked the Watchers, but at least he was provoked too. How about you, dear? says Haymitch. Somehow Haymitch calling me darling pisses me off enough that I can at least speak up. I shot an arrow at the Watchers. Everyone stops eating. You what? The horror in Effie's voice confirms my worst suspicions. I shot an arrow at them. Not exactly for them. In your direction. It's like Peeta said, I was shooting and they were ignoring me and only me. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I just freaked out so I threw an apple in their roast pork mouth! I say defiant. And what they said? Cinna says carefully. Any. Or I don't know. I left after that, I mean. Without getting fired? sighs Effie. I said goodbye, I said. I remember how I promised Prim that I would really try to win, and I feel like a ton of coal has fallen on me. Well, that's it, says Haymitch. Then butter a bun. Do you think they'll arrest me? I ask. I doubt. It will be a pain to replace him at this stage, says Haymitch. And my family? I say. Will they be punished? Don't believe it. It wouldn't make much sense. Look, they would have to reveal what happened at the Training Facility for it to have any useful effect on the population. People would need to know what you did. But they can't because it's a secret, so it would be a waste of effort, says Haymitch. They will most likely make your life hell in the arena. Well, they already promised to do that to us anyway, says Peeta. Very true, says Haymitch. And I realize that the impossible has happened. In fact, they encouraged me. Haymitch takes a pork chop in her fingers, making Effie frown and dip it in her wine. He rips off a piece of meat and starts laughing.

What were their faces like? I can feel the corners of my mouth tilt up. Shocked. Scared. Uh, ridiculous, some of them. An image pops into my mind. a man tripped

back into a punch bowl. Haymitch bursts out laughing and we all laugh except Effie, though even she stifles a smile. Well, it serves them well. It's his job to pay attention to you. And just because you're from District Twelve is no excuse for ignoring him. Then his eyes roll up like he's just said something totally outrageous. I'm sorry, but that's what I think, he doesn't tell anyone in particular. I'm going to get a really bad grade, I say. The scores only matter if they are very good, nobody cares much about the bad or mediocre ones. For all they know, you might be hiding your talents to get a low score on purpose. People use this strategy, Portia said. I hope that's how people interpret the four I'm likely to get, says Peeta. Yes, this. Indeed, is there anything less impressive than watching a person pick up a heavy ball and throw it a few yards. One almost landed on my foot. I smile at him and realize I'm starving. I cut up a piece of pork, dip it in mashed potatoes, and start eating. He is well. My family is safe. And if they're safe, no real damage has been done. After dinner, we go to the living room to watch the scores announced on TV. First they show a photo of the tribute, then they show their score below. Career Tributes naturally fall in the eight to ten range. Most other players average a five. Surprisingly, little Rue comes up with a seven. I don't know what she showed the judges, but she's so tiny it must have been impressive. District 12 is listed last, as usual. Peeta rolls an eight, so at least some of the Watchers must have noticed him. I dig my nails into my palms as I lift my face, expecting the worst. So they're showing the number eleven on the screen. Eleven! Effie Trinket squeals and everyone pats me on the back and cheers and congratulates me. But it doesn't feel real. It must be an error. How . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· How can this happen? I ask Haymitch. I think they liked your temper, he says. They have a show to do. They need some players with some heat. Katniss, the girl who was on fire, says Cinna and gives me a hug. Oh, wait until you see her interview dress. Do you call more? I ask. Somehow he says slyly. Peeta and I congratulate each other, another awkward moment. We both got along fine, but what does that mean?

does this mean for the other? I run to my room as quickly as possible and crawl under the covers. The stress of the day, especially the crying, left me exhausted. I fall asleep, forgiven, relieved, and the number eleven still glowing behind my eyelids. At dawn, I lie down in bed for a while, watching the sun rise on a beautiful morning. It's Sunday. A day off at home. I wonder if Gale is already in the woods. We usually spend all of Sunday stocking up for the week. Get up early, hunt and gather, then trade in the Hob. I think of Gale without me. We can hunt alone, but we're better in pairs. Especially if we are dealing with a bigger game. but also in

smaller things, having a partner lightened the load, might even make the arduous task of filling my family's table enjoyable. I had been struggling alone for about six months when I first encountered Gale in the woods. It was a Sunday in October, the air fresh and sharp with dying things. I spent the morning competing with squirrels for nuts and the slightly warmer afternoon wading in shallow ponds collecting Katniss. The only meat I threw was a squirrel that practically ran over me in its search for acorns, but the animals would still be up when the snow buried my other food sources. Having gone farther than usual, I was hurrying home, dragging my burlap sacks, when I came across a dead rabbit. It was hanging around my neck on a thin wire about a foot above my head. About fifty feet away was another. I recognized twitch traps because my father had used them. When prey is captured, it is thrown into the air out of reach of other hungry animals. I've been trying to use traps all summer with no success, so I couldn't help dropping my bags to examine this one. My fingers were right on the wire over one of the rabbits when a voice called. This is dangerous. I jumped back several feet when Gale materialized behind a tree. He must have been watching me the whole time. He was only fourteen, but he was over six feet and as good as an adult to me. She had seen him on the Seam and at school. And again. He had lost his father in the same explosion that killed mine. In January, Id stood by while receiving his Medal of Valor at the Justice Building, another fatherless eldest son. I remembered her two younger brothers hugging their mother, a woman whose swollen belly announced that she was days away from giving birth. What is her name? he said approaching and

unhook the rabbit from the trap. He had three more hanging from his belt. Katniss, I said, barely audible. Well, Catnip, robbery punishable by death, or haven't you heard? he said. Katniss, I said louder. And I wasn't stealing. I just wanted to look into his trap. Mine never takes anything. He frowned at me, not quite convinced. So where did you get the squirrel? I shot. I took the bow off my shoulder. I was still using the small version my father had made for me, but I practiced with the large version whenever I could. I was hoping that spring might bring a bigger game. Wales' eyes fixed on the bow. I can see it? I delivered. Just remember, robbery punishable by death. That was the first time I saw him smile. It turned him from someone menacing to someone you'd want to get to know. But several months passed before he returned that smile. Then we talk about hunting. I told him I could get a bow if he had something to trade. Not food. I wanted knowledge. I wanted to set up my own traps that would catch a belt of fat rabbits in a day. He agreed that something could be resolved. As the seasons passed, we reluctantly began to share our knowledge, our weapons, our secret places that teemed with plums or wild turkeys. He taught me trapping and fishing. I showed her which plants to eat and finally gave her one of our prized bows. And then one day, without either of us saying it, we became a team. Dividing the work and the loot. Making sure our families had food. Gale gave me a sense of security I'd lacked since my father died. Their company replaced the long hours alone in the woods. I became a much better hunter when I didn't have to constantly look over my shoulder when someone was watching me. But he became much more than a hunting companion. He became my confidant, someone I could share thoughts with that I could never express inside the fence. In return, he entrusted me with his. Being in the woods with Gale. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Sometimes he was very happy. I call him my friend, but last year it seemed like too casual a word for what Gale is to me. A pang of longing shoots through my chest. If only you were with me now! But of course I don't want that. I don't want him in the arena where he would be dead in a few days. Just me . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I just miss it. And I hate being so alone. miss me He must. I think of the eleven who appeared on my behalf last night. I know exactly what I would say to

I. Well, there's room for improvement there. And then he would give me a smile and I would return it without hesitation now. I can't help comparing what I have with Gale with what I intend to have with Peeta. How I never question Gale's motives while doing nothing but doubting the latter. It really isn't a fair comparison. Gale and I were bound by a mutual need to survive. Peeta and I both know that each other's survival means our own demise. How do you dodge it? Effies knocking on the door, reminding me there's another big, big, big day! forward. Tomorrow night will be our television interviews. I think the whole team will be very busy preparing for this. I get up and take a quick shower, being a little more careful with the buttons I press, and head into the dining room. Peeta, Effie, and Haymitch are huddled around the table, talking quietly. This seems odd, but hunger trumps curiosity and I fill my plate with breakfast before joining them. Stews made with tender pieces of lamb and prunes today. Perfect over a bed of wild rice. I'm halfway through the mound when I realize no one is talking. I take a big gulp of orange juice and wipe my mouth. So, what is happening? You're training us in today's interviews, right? That's right, says Haymitch. You don't have to wait until it's over. I can hear and scream at the same time, I say. Well, there's been a change of plans. About our current approach, says Haymitch. What is it? I ask. Not sure what our current approach is. Trying to look mediocre in front of the other tributes is the last strategy I remember. Haymitch shrugs. Peeta asked to be trained




That's the first thing I feel, which is ridiculous. For there to be betrayal, there first had to be trust. Between Peeta and me. And trust is not part of the deal. were tributes. But the boy who risked a beating to give me bread, the one who held me in the wagon, the one who covered me with the

red-haired Avox girl, who insisted that Haymitch know my hunting skills. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Was there a part of me that couldn't help but trust him? On the other hand, I'm relieved that we can stop pretending we're friends. Obviously, any tenuous connection we foolishly formed has been severed. And it was about time. The Games start in two days and confidence will only be a weakness. Whatever triggered Peeta's decision, and I suspect it had to do with my superior performance in training, I should be grateful for it. Perhaps he has finally come to terms with the fact that the sooner we openly acknowledge that we are enemies, the better. Fine, I say. So what's the schedule? Each of them will have four hours with Effie for the presentation and four hours with me for the content, says Haymitch. You start with Effie, Katniss. I can't imagine what Effie will have to teach me that could take four hours, but she made me work until the last minute. We go to my rooms and she puts me in a long dress and high heels, not the ones I'll be wearing for the actual interview, and she teaches me how to walk. The shoes are the worst part. I've never worn high heels, and I can't get used to rocking on my toes. But Effie hangs out with them all the time, and I'm determined that if she can do it, so can I. The dress poses another problem. It gets tangled in my shoes, so of course I tuck it in, and then Effie pounces on me like a hawk, smacking my hands and screaming, It doesn't get past my ankles! When I finally achieve walking posture while still sitting, I seem to have a tendency to avoid head eye contact, hand gestures, and smiling. Smiling is mostly smiling more. Effie makes me say a hundred banal sentences that start with a smile, while smiling, or end with a smile. By lunchtime, my cheek muscles are quivering from overuse. Well, that's the best I can do, Effie says with a sigh. Just remember, Katniss, you want the audience to like you. And you don't think they will? I ask. Not if you look at them all the time. Why don't you save that for the arena? Instead, think of yourself among friends, says Effie. They're betting on how long I'll live! I exploded. They are not my friends! Well, try to pretend! yells Effie. Then he pulls himself together and smiles at me. Looks like it. I'm smiling at you even though you're pissing me off. Yeah, it sounds pretty convincing, I mean. I'm going to eat. I kick off my heels and walk into the dining room, pulling my skirt up to my thighs. Peeta and Haymitch seem to be in good spirits, so I think the content session should be an improvement over the morning. I couldn't be more wrong. After lunch,

Haymitch cam me for o

living room, directs me to the couch, then frowns at me for a moment. What? I finally ask. I'm trying to figure out what to do with you, he says. How would we present it? Will you be charming? The distance? Intense? Until now, you are shining like a star. You volunteered to save your sister. Cinna made you look unforgettable. You have the highest training score. People are intrigued, but nobody knows who you are. The impression you make tomorrow will decide exactly what I can get you in terms of an endorsement, says Haymitch. Having watched tribute interviews my entire life, I know there is truth in what he says. If you draw a crowd, whether by being funny, brutal, or eccentric, you gain favor. What is Peeta's focus? Or can I not ask? I say. Nice. He has a kind of self-deprecating humor, naturally, says Haymitch. Whereas when you open your mouth it looks more grumpy and hostile. I do not! I say. Please. I don't know where you put that perky, wavy girl in the car, but I haven't seen her before or since, says Haymitch. And you gave me so many reasons to be happy, I reply. But you don't have to please me. I will not sponsor you. So pretend I'm the audience, says Haymitch. it delights me. Traffic ticket! I growl. Haymitch takes on the role of interviewer and I try to answer his questions in a winning way. But I can not. I'm really mad at Haymitch for what he said and I still have questions to answer. All I can think about is how unfair this all is, the Hunger Games. Why am I jumping up and down like a trained dog trying to please the people I hate? The more the interview progresses, the more my anger seems to surface, until I literally spit the answers at him. All right, enough, he says. We have to find another angle. Not only are you hostile, I don't know anything about you. I've already asked fifty questions and I still have no idea about your life, your family, what's important to you. They want to know about you, Katniss. But I don't want them to do that! They are already taking my future! They can't have the things I cared about in the past! I say. So lie! Invent something! says Haymitch. I'm not good at lying, I say. Well, you better learn fast. You're as charming as a dead slug, says Haymitch. Oh. That hurts. Even Haymitch must know he was too tough because his voice softens. Here's an idea. Try to act with humility. Humble, I echo. That you can't believe a District girl

Twelve did well. Everything was more than you could have dreamed of. Talk about Cinnas clothes. How cool people are. How the city surprises you. If you are not going to talk about yourself, then at least praise the audience. Keep turning, okay. Jet. The next few hours are harrowing. It immediately becomes clear that I cannot sprout. We try to play cocky, but I don't have cocky. Apparently, I'm too vulnerable for ferocity. I'm not witty. Funny. Sexy. Or mysterious. At the end of

session, I'm nobody. Haymitch started to drink somewhere spirited, and an unpleasant tone crept into his voice. I give up, honey. Just answer the questions and try not to let the audience see how openly you despise them. I eat dinner that night in my room, order an awful lot of delicacies, eat myself sick, and then take my anger out on Haymitch, on the Hunger Games, on every living thing in the Capitol, by smashing dishes in my room. When the red-haired girl walks in to open my bed, her eyes widen at the mess. Just leave! he shouted. Just leave him alone! I hate her too, with her reproving eyes calling me a coward, a freak, a puppet of the Capitol, so much from time to time. For her, justice must finally be happening. At least my death will help pay for the forest boy's life. But instead of running away from the room, the girl closes the door behind her and goes to the bathroom. He comes back with a damp cloth and gently wipes my face, then wipes the blood off a broken plate from my hands. Why are you doing this? Why am I leaving her? I should have tried to save you, I whisper. She shakes her head. Does that mean we were right to wait? What forgave me? No, it was wrong, I mean. He touches his lips with his fingers and then points to my chest. I guess that means I would end up being an Avox too. I probably would have. An Avox or dead. I spend the next hour helping the redhead clean her room. When all the garbage has been thrown into the garbage disposal and the food has been cleaned up, she opens my bed. I slide between the sheets like a five year old and let myself be snuggled. Then he leaves. I want you to stay until I sleep. Be there when I wake up. I want this girl's protection, even though she never got mine. In the morning, she is not the girl but my prep team looming over me. My classes with Effie and Haymitch are over. This day belongs to Cinna. It's my last hope. maybe he

can make me look so wonderful that no one will care what comes out of my mouth. The team works with me until late afternoon, turning my skin to a glossy satin, drawing patterns on my arms, painting flame designs on my twenty perfect fingernails. Then Venia gets to work on my hair, weaving strands of red into a pattern that starts at my left ear, wraps around my head, and then falls in a braid over my right shoulder. They erase my face with a layer of light makeup and redraw my features. Huge dark eyes, full red lips, lashes that flash when I blink. Finally, they cover my entire body with a powder that makes me shine like golden dust. Then Cinna walks in with what I assume is my dress, but I can't see it because it's covered. Close your eyes, ask. I can feel the silky insides as they glide over my naked body, then the weight. It must be forty pounds. I grab Octavia's hand as I blindly pull my shoes on, happy to discover they're at least two inches shorter than I am.

the pair Effie had me practice on. There are some tweaks and concerns. Then silence. Can I open my eyes? I ask. Yes, says Cinna. Open the. The creature before me in the full-length mirror came from another world. Where the skin glows and the eyes sparkle and seemingly the clothes are made with jewels. Because my dress, oh my dress is completely covered in red, yellow, and white reflective gemstones with hints of blue that accentuate the spikes of the llama design. The slightest movement gives the impression that I am enveloped in tongues of fire. I'm not pretty. I'm not pretty. I'm radiant like the sun. For a while, we all looked at me. Oh, Cinna, I finally whisper. Thanks. Turn to me, he says. I extend my arms and spin in a circle. The prep team squeals in admiration. Cinna dismisses the team and has me rock the dress and shoes, which are infinitely more manageable than Effies'. The dress hangs down so I don't have to lift my skirt when I walk, leaving me with one less thing to worry about. So, are you ready for the interview? Cinna asks. I can see by his expression that he's talking to Haymitch. Who knows how terrible I am. I'm horrible. Haymitch called me a dead slug. No matter what we tried, I couldn't. I just can't be one of those people he wants me to be, I say. Cinna thinks about this for a moment. Why are you not yourself? Myself? That's not good either. Haymitch says I'm rude and hostile, I tell him. Well, you are. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Around Haymitch, Cinna says with a smile. I don't think so. The

The prep team loves you. You even defeated the Rangers. And as for the citizens of the Capitol, well, they can't stop talking about you. One cannot help but admire his spirit. My spirit. This is new thinking. I'm not sure what it means exactly, but it suggests I'm a fighter. In a brave way. It's not like he's never been friendly. Okay, maybe I don't love everyone I meet, maybe my smiles are hard to find, but I do care about some people. Cinna takes my icy hands in her warm ones. Suppose, when answering the questions, you think you are talking to a friend in your country. Who would be your best friend? Cinna asks. Gale, I say instantly. It just doesn't make sense, Cinna. I would never tell Gale these things about myself. He already knows them. What's left of me? Could you think of me as a friend? Cinna asks. Of all the people I've met since leaving home, Cinna is by far my favorite. I liked it from the beginning and so far I have not been disappointed. I think so, but I'll be sitting on the main platform with the other designers. You can look directly at me. When you ask a question, come to me and answer as honestly as possible, says Cinna. Even though what I think is horrible? I ask. Because it could be, really. Especially if what you think is awful, says Cinna. Are you going to try? I agree. It's a plan. Or at least a straw to hold.

Too soon it's time to go. The interviews take place on a stage set up in front of the

Entertainment center. As soon as I step out of my room, it's only minutes before I'm in front of the crowd, the cameras, all of Panem. As Cinna turns the knob, I stop her hand. Cinna. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I am completely overcome with stage fright. Remember, they already love you, he says softly. Be yourself. We join the rest of the people from District 12 on the elevator. Portia and her gang have been hard at work. Peeta looks stunning in a black suit with flaming details. Although we look good together, it's a relief that we're not dressed identically. Haymitch and Effie are all dressed up for the occasion. I avoid Haymitch but accept Effie's praise. Effie may be boring and clueless, but she's not as destructive as Haymitch. When the elevator opens, the other tributes line up to take the stage. The twenty-four of us sat in a large arch during the interviews. I will be the last, or penultimate, since the honor of the girl precedes that of the boy in each district. How I wish I could be first and get it all out of the way! Now I'll have to hear how witty, funny, humble, fierce and charming they all are.

another thing is before going up. Also, the audience will start to get bored, as will the Watchers. And I can't exactly shoot an arrow into the crowd to get their attention. Just before I go onstage, Haymitch appears behind Peeta and me and growls, Remember, you're still a happy couple. So act like it. What? I thought we'd abandoned that when Peeta asked for separate training. But I think it was private, not public. There isn't much chance of interaction now, however, as we sit single file and take our seats. Simply stepping onto the stage makes my breathing quick and shallow. I can feel my pulse pounding in my temples. It's a relief to reach my chair because, between my heels and my shaky legs, I'm afraid I'm going to trip. Even though it's late afternoon, the city circle is brighter than a summer day. An elevated seating unit was installed for prestigious guests, with stylists commanding the front row. The cameras will turn to them as the crowd reacts to their work. A large balcony on a building to the right has been reserved for the Rangers. TV crews occupied most of the other balconies. But the City Circle and the avenues that lead to it are completely crowded. Standing space only. In homes and common rooms across the country, all televisions are on. All citizens of Panem tune in. There will be no blackouts tonight. Caesar Flickerman, the man who has been giving the interviews for over forty years, leaps onto the stage. He's a little scary because his appearance hasn't changed much in all that time. The same face under a layer of pure white makeup. The same hairstyle he dyes a different color every Hunger Games. The same formal dress, midnight blue dotted with a thousand tiny electric lights that twinkle like stars. They do surgery on the capitol, to make people show up

younger and slimmer. In District 12, looking old is an achievement, as many people die young. You see an elderly person who you want to congratulate on his longevity, ask him the secret of survival. A fat person is envied because he doesn't survive like most of us. But here it is different. Wrinkles are not desirable. A round belly is not a sign of success. This year, Caesar's hair is light blue and his eyelids and lips are covered in the same hue. He looks strange but less scary than last year when his color was crimson and he appeared to be

bleeding. Caesar cracks a few jokes to cheer the audience up, but then cuts to the chase. The District 1 tribute girl, looking provocative in a sheer gold dress, takes the stage to join Caesar for his interview. It could be said that her mentor had no problem finding an angle for her. With that flowing blonde hair, emerald green eyes, her tall, lush body. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· She is sexy all the time. Each interview lasts just three minutes. A bell then rings and the next tribute begins. I say this for Cesar, he really goes above and beyond to make the tributes shine. He is friendly, tries to calm the nervous, laughs at silly jokes and manages to turn a weak response into a memorable one by the way he reacts. I feel like a lady, just like Effie showed me, as the districts pass. 2, 3, 4. Everyone seems to be playing at some angle. The monster boy from District 2 is a relentless killing machine. The fox-faced girl from District 5, cunning and slippery. I saw Cinna as soon as he took her place, but even her presence couldn't relax me. 8, 9, 10. The 10 year old crippled boy is very quiet. My palms are sweating like crazy, but the bejeweled dress isn't absorbent and they slip if I try to wipe them. 11. Rue, who is dressed in a chiffon dress with wings, flutters towards Caesar. A hush falls over the crowd at the sight of this magical tribute. Caesars is very kind to her, congratulating her seven in training, an excellent score for such a small girl. When he asks what her greatest strength will be in the arena, she doesn't hesitate. I'm too hard to catch, he says shakily. And if they can't catch me, they can't kill me. So don't tell me. Not in a million years, says Caesar encouragingly. District 11 tribute boy Thresh has the same dark skin as Rue, but that's where the resemblance ends. He's one of the giants, probably six feet tall and built like an ox, but I noticed he declined Career Tribute invitations to join the crowd. Instead, he has been very much on his own, not talking to anyone, showing little interest in training. Still, he managed a ten and it's not hard to imagine he impressed Rangers. He ignores Caesar's attempts to joke and responds with a yes or no or just remains silent. If I were his size I could get away with being rude and hostile and I'd be fine! bet half

sponsors are at least considering it. If I had some money I would bet on it myself. And then they're calling Katniss Everdeen, and I feel, like in a dream,

getting up and making my way to the center of the stage. I shake Cesar's outstretched hand, and he has the grace not to immediately dry himself off on his suit. So, Katniss, the Capitol must be quite different from District Twelve. What impressed you the most since you arrived here? Caesar asks. What? What did he say? It's like the words don't make sense. My mouth went dry as sawdust. Desperately, I find Cinna in the crowd and look into her eyes. I imagine the words coming out of her lips. What impressed you the most since you arrived here? I rack my brain looking for something to make me happy here. Be honest I guess. Be honest. The lamb stew, I'm out. Cesar laughs, and I'm vaguely aware that some of the audience has joined in. The one with the prunes? Caesar asks. I agree. Oh, I eat in buckets. He turns sideways to the horrified audience, hand on his stomach. It's not shown, is it? They shout reassuring words at him and clap their hands. That's what I mean by Caesar. He tries to help you. Now, Katniss, he says confidentially, when you showed up at the opening ceremony, my heart really stopped. What did you think of this costume? Cinna raises an eyebrow at me. Be honest. You mean after I got over my fear of being burned alive? I ask. Big laugh. A real one from the audience. Yup. Begin then, says Caesar. Cinna, my friend, you should tell him anyway. I thought Cinna was brilliant and it was the most beautiful costume I had ever seen and I couldn't believe I was wearing it. I also can't believe I'm using this. I lift my skirt to open it. I mean, look at that! As the audience screams and screams, I see Cinna make the smallest circular motion with her finger. But I know what you're saying. Spin it for me I spin it in a circle once and the reaction is immediate. Oh, do it again! Cesar says, so I lift my arms and spin around and around letting the skirt fly, letting the dress engulf me in flames. The audience erupts in applause. When I stop, I grab Caesar's arm. Don't hold back! he says. I have to do this, I'm dizzy! I'm also laughing, which I don't think I've ever done in my life. But the nerves and twists got to me. Caesar wraps a protective arm around me. Don't worry, I got you. I cannot allow you to follow in the footsteps of your mentors. Everyone is howling when the cameras spot Haymitch, who is now famous for his headlong fall into the crop, and he willingly waves at them and points at me. All right, Caesar calms the crowd. She is safe with me. So how about that training score? Eleven. Give us a clue as to what happened there. I look at the Gamemakers on the porch and bite my lip. Hmm. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· all i can say is that

I think it was the first. The cameras point directly at the Watchers, who laugh and nod. You're killing us, Cesar says like he's in a lot of pain. Details. Details. I go to

balcony. I shouldn't talk about it, right? The Watcher who fell into the punch bowl yells: It's not! Thank you, I say. I'm sorry. My lips are sealed. So let's go back to the moment when they called your sister by name at the harvest, says CΓ©sar. His mood is calmer now. And you volunteered. Can you tell us about her? Not. No, not all of you. But maybe Cinna. I don't think I'm imagining the sadness on her face. His names are Prim, he is only twelve. And I love her more than anything. Now you could hear a pin drop in the city circle. What did she say? After harvest? Caesar asks. Be honest. Be honest. I swallow. She asked me to try hard to win. The audience is frozen, hanging on my every word. And what did you say? he warns Caesar kindly. But instead of heat, I feel an icy stiffness take over my body. My muscles tense like before I kill. When I speak, my voice seems to have dropped an octave. I swore yes. I bet you do, says Caesar, giving me a squeeze. The bell rings. Sorry, we ran out of time. Good luck, Katniss Everdeen, tribute from District Twelve. The applause continues long after I take my seat. I look to Cinna for comfort. He gives me a subtle thumbs-up. I'm still stunned by the first part of Peetas' interview. However, he has the audience right from the start; I can hear them laughing, screaming. He jokes with the baker's son, comparing the tributes with the loaves of bread in their neighborhoods. He then tells a funny anecdote about the dangers of Capitol rains. Tell me, do I still smell like roses? she asks Cesar, and then there's a whole race where they take turns sniffing each other that brings the house down. I'm refocusing when Caesar asks if he has a girlfriend at home. Peeta hesitates, then gives a lame wave. A pretty boy like you. There must be some special girl. Come on, what's her name? says Caesar. Peeta sighs. Well, there's this girl. I've been in love with her for as long as I can remember. But I'm sure she didn't know he was alive until the reaping. Crowd sympathy sounds. Unrequited love they can relate to. Do you have another partner? Caesar asks. I don't know, but a lot of guys like her, says Peeta. So that's what you do. You win, you go home. She can't refuse you then, huh? says caesar

Encouragingly. I don't think it will work. winning . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· It won't help my case, says Peeta. Why not? says CΓ©sar, intrigued. Peeta blushes and stutters. Why . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Why . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· She came here with me.



For a moment, the cameras keep Peeta's eyes down as he takes in what he says. Then I can see my face, gaping in a mixture of surprise and protest, magnified on each screen as I realize: Me! It refers to me! I press my lips together and look down at the floor, hoping that hides the emotions that are starting to boil inside of me. Oh, that's a stroke of bad luck, Caesar says, and there's an edge of pain in his voice. The crowd murmurs in agreement, some even scream in agony. Not good, Peeta agrees. Well, I guess none of us can blame you. It would be hard not to fall in love with that girl, says CΓ©sar. She did not know? Peeta shakes his head. Not until now. I allow my eyes to flicker to the screen long enough to see that the flush in my cheeks is unmistakable. Wouldn't you love to bring it back here and get an answer? Caesar asks the audience. The crowd shouts assent. Unfortunately, rules are rules, and Katniss Everdeen wasted her time. Well, I wish you the best of luck, Peeta Mellark, and I think I speak for all of Panem when I say that our hearts go out to you. The roar of the crowd is deafening. Peeta completely wiped the rest of us off the map with his declaration of love for me. When the audience finally calms down, he stifles a silent thanks and returns to his seat. We are standing for the anthem. I have to look up with all due respect, and I can't help but see that each screen is now dominated by a shot of me and Peeta, separated by a few feet that in viewers' minds can never be broken. Poor tragic us. But I know better. After the anthem, the tributes return to the Training Center lobby and elevators. I make sure I get into a car that doesn't contain Peeta. The crowd thins out our entourage of stylists, mentors, and escorts, so we only have each other for company. no one speaks. My elevator stops to deposit four tributes before I'm alone and then I find the doors opening on the twelfth floor. Peeta has just gotten out of the car when

I slammed my palms into his chest. He loses his balance and crashes into an ugly urn full of fake flowers. The urn is knocked over and shatters into hundreds of tiny pieces. Peeta lands on the shards and blood immediately spurts from his hands. What was that for? he says, horrified. You had no right! You have no right to go around saying these things about me! he shouted. Now the elevators open and the whole team is there, Effie, Haymitch, Cinna and Portia. What's happening? says Effie, with a note of hysteria in her voice. You felt? After she's pushed me away, Peeta says as Effie and Cinna help him to his feet. Haymitch turns on me. Did he push you? It was his idea, wasn't it? Make some kind of idiot in front of the whole country? I answer. It was my idea, says Peeta, wincing as he removes the ceramic spikes from his palms. Haymitch just helped me with that. Yes, Haymitch is very helpful. For you! I say. You're a fool, Haymitch says with disgust. Do you think he hurt you? That boy just gave you

something you could never achieve on your own. It made me look weak! I say. He made you look desirable! And, let's face it, you can use all the help you can get in that department. You were romantic as dirt until he told you he loved you.

Now everyone does. You're all they're talking about. The unhappy lovers of District Twelve! says Haymitch. But they weren't star-crossed lovers! I say. Haymitch grabs my shoulders and pins me against the wall. Who cares? It's all one big show. It's all how you are perceived. The most I could say about you after your interview was that you were nice enough, although that in itself was a small miracle. Now I can say that you are a heartbreaker. Oh, oh, oh, how the boys at home fall longingly at your feet. Which do you think will bring you more sponsors? The smell of wine on his breath makes me nauseous. I take his hands off my shoulders and walk away, trying to clear my mind. Cinna walks over and puts her arm around me. You're right, Katniss. I do not know what to think. He should have told me so I wouldn't look so stupid. No, his reaction was perfect. If you had known, it wouldn't have read as real, says Portia. She's just worried about her boyfriend, Peeta says brusquely, taking a bloody chunk out of the urn. My cheeks burn again at the thought of Gale. I don't have a boyfriend. Whatever, says Peeta. But I bet he's smart enough to recognize a bluff when he sees one. Besides, you didn't say you loved me. so... what does it matter? The words sink in. My anger disappears. I'm torn right now between thinking I was used and thinking I was given a chance.

edge. Haymitch is right. I survived my interview, but what was it really like? A silly girl spinning in a shiny dress. Laughing. The only substantial moment I praise was when I talked about Prim. Compare that to Thresh, his deadly, silent power, and I'm forgettable. Silly, brilliant and forgettable. No, not entirely forgettable, I have my eleven in training. But now Peeta has turned me into an object of love. Not just him. Listening to him tell, I have many admirers. What if the audience really thinks we're in love. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I remember how strongly they responded to his confession. Miserable lovers. Haymitch is right, they eat that stuff in the Capitol. I'm suddenly worried that I didn't react correctly. After he told me he loved me, did you think I could fall in love with him too? I ask. I did it, says Portia. The way you avoided looking at the cameras, the blush. The others intervene, agreeing. You are golden, honey. You'll have sponsors lined up around the block, says Haymitch. I'm embarrassed by my reaction. I force myself to recognize Peeta. I'm sorry I pushed you. Never mind, he shrugs. Although it is technically illegal. Are his hands okay? I ask. They'll be fine, he says. In the silence that follows, the delicious smells of our dinner waft from the dining room. Come on, let's eat, says Haymitch. We all followed him to the table and

take our seats. But then Peeta is bleeding profusely and Portia

takes him to receive medical treatment. We started the cream and rose petal soup without them. When we're done, they're back. Peeta's hands are wrapped in bandages. I can't help but feel guilty. Tomorrow we will be in the arena. He did me a favor and I responded with an injury. Will I ever stop owing you? After dinner, we watched the replay in the living room. I look frilly and shallow, twirling and giggling in my dress, though others assure me I'm charming. Peeta is really charming and utterly endearing as the boy in love. And there I am, flushed and confused, made beautiful by Cinna's hand, desirable by Peeta's confession, tragic by circumstance, and by all accounts unforgettable. When the anthem ends and the screen goes dark, the room is silent. Tomorrow at dawn we will be awake and ready for the arena. The actual games don't start until ten o'clock because many of the Capitol's residents are late risers. But Peeta and I have to start early. It is not known how far we will go to the arena prepared for this year's Games. I know Haymitch and Effie won't be coming with us. as soon as they leave

here, they'll be on site, hopefully registering our sponsors, planning how and when to deliver the gifts to us. Cinna and Portia will travel with us to the same place where we will be thrown into the arena. There are still final goodbyes to say here. Effie takes our hands and tearfully wishes us well. Thank you for being the best tributes I've ever had the privilege of sponsoring. And then, since it's Effie and she's apparently required by law to say something awful, she adds that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if I finally get promoted to a decent district next year. Then she kisses each of us on the cheek and runs off, amazed at the emotional farewell or the possible improvement in her luck. Haymitch crosses his arms and looks at both of us. Any final advice? Peeta asks. When the gong sounds, get out of there. Neither is prepared for the bloodbath at the Cornucopia. Just get outside, put as much distance between yourself and others as possible, and find a source of water, he says. I get it? And after this? I ask. Stay alive, says Haymitch. It's the same advice he gave us on the train, only this time he's not drunk and laughing. And we just agreed. What else is there to say? As I go to my room, Peeta lingers.

Talk to Portia. I rejoice. Any awkward parting words we exchange can wait until tomorrow. My sheets are pulled back, but there's no sign of the redheaded Avox. I would like to know his name. I should have asked. She could write it down, maybe. Or act. But maybe that would only result in punishment for her. I take a shower and scrub off the gold paint, the makeup, the beauty scent of my body. All that's left of the design teams' efforts are the flames on my fingernails. I decided

keep them as a reminder of who I am to the public. Katniss, the girl who was on fire. Maybe that will give me something to latch onto for the next few days. I put on a thick, fluffy nightgown and climb into bed. It takes me about five seconds to realize that I'm never going to fall asleep. And I desperately need to sleep because in the arena every moment I give in to exhaustion will be an invitation to death. It's not good. An hour passes, two, three, and my eyelids refuse to get heavy. I can't stop trying to imagine exactly what terrain I'll be thrown into. Desert? Swamp? A frozen wasteland? Above all, I look to the trees to provide me with some means of hiding, food, and shelter. There are often trees because barren landscapes are boring and Games are also resolved.

quickly without them. But what will the weather be like? What traps did the Gamemakers hide to liven up the slower moments? And then there are my fellow tributes. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· The more eager I am to find the dream, the more it eludes me. Finally, I'm too restless to stay in bed. I walk on the floor, the heart beats too fast, the breath is too short. My room looks like a prison cell. If I don't get air soon, I'll start throwing things again. I run down the hall to the roof door. It's not just unlocked, but ajar. Maybe someone forgot to close it, but it doesn't matter. The energy field that surrounds the ceiling prevents any desperate form of escape. And I'm not looking to run away, just fill my lungs with air. I want to see the sky and the moon on the last night that no one will hunt me down. The ceiling isn't illuminated at night, but as soon as my bare touch hits the tiled surface, I see its silhouette, black against the endlessly glowing lights of the Capitol. There is a great commotion in the streets, music and singing and car horns, nothing that I could hear through the thick panes of my bedroom window. I could escape now, without him noticing me; he wouldn't hear me over the noise, but the night air is so sweet I can't bear to go back to that stuffy, cage-like room. And what difference does it make? whether we talk or

No? My feet move silently over the tiles. I'm only a meter behind him when I say, you should get some sleep. It starts, but does not turn. I can see him shake his head slightly. I didn't want to miss the party. After all, it's for us. I walk over to him and lean over the edge of the banister. The wide streets are filled with people dancing. I narrow my eyes to see their tiny figures in more detail. Are they in disguise? Who could say? Peeta answers. With all the crazy clothes they wear here. Couldn't sleep either? I couldn't turn my mind off, I say. Thinking of your family? he asks. No, I admit a little guilty. All I can do is wonder about tomorrow. Which doesn't make sense, of course. In the light below, I can see her face now, the awkward way she holds her bandaged hands. I'm sorry about your hands. It doesn't matter, Katniss, he says. I was never a contender in these

Games anyway. That's not the way to think, I say. Why not? It is true. My best hope is not to embarrass myself and. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· He hesitates. Is that? I say. I don't know how to say exactly. Only . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense? he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone other than himself? I don't want them to change

turn me into some kind of monster that I'm not. I bite my lip feeling inferior. As I ponder the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling to maintain his identity. Your purity of yourself. You mean you won't kill anyone? I ask. No, when the time comes, I'm sure I'll kill like everyone else. I cannot go down without a fight. I keep wishing I could think of a way to. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· To show the Capitol they don't belong to me. That I'm more than just a cog in their Games, says Peeta. But you are not, I say. None of us are. That's how the Games work. Okay, but within that frame there's still you, there's still me, he insists. can't you see? A little. Only . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· No offense, but who cares, Peeta? I say. I do. I mean, what else can I worry about right now? he asks angrily. He fixed those blue eyes on mine now, demanding an answer. I take a step back. Care about what Haymitch said. About staying alive. Peeta smiles at me, sad and teasing. OK. Thanks for the advice, dear. It's like a slap in the face. His use of Haymitch's condescending affection. Look, if you want to spend the last few hours of your life planning a noble death in the arena, that's your choice. I want to spend mine in District Twelve. I wouldn't be surprised if you did, says Peeta. Give my mother the best of me when you get back, will you?

Count on it, I say. So I turn and walk off the roof. I spend the rest of the night drifting in and out of a dream, imagining the scathing remarks I'll make to Peeta Mellark in the morning. Peeta Mellark. We'll see how tall and mighty he is when he faces life and death. He will likely become one of those angry beast tributes, the kind that try to eat someone's heart after killing them. There was a guy like that a few years ago in District 6 named Titus. He went completely insane and the Watchers had to stun him with tasers to get the bodies of the players he had killed before eating them. There are no rules in the arena, but cannibalism doesn't play well with the Capitol crowd, so they tried to avoid it. There was some speculation that the avalanche that finally killed Titus was specifically designed to ensure the victor wasn't a lunatic. I don't see Peeta in the morning. Cinna comes to see me before dawn, she gives me a simple nightgown to wear and takes me up to the roof. My final preparations and dressings will be left alone in the catacombs below the arena itself. A hovercraft appears out of nowhere, like the one that appeared in the woods the day I saw the red-haired Avox captured, and a ladder falls down. I put my hands and feet in the background

steps and instantly it's like I'm frozen. Some kind of current hits me on the stairs as I'm lifted safely inside. I then wait for the ladder to free me, but I'm still trapped when a woman in a white coat approaches me with a syringe. "This is just your tracker, Katniss. The more still you are, the more efficiently I can locate you," she says. Still? I'm a statue, but that doesn't stop me from feeling the stab of pain as the needle inserts the metal tracking device deep under the skin on the inside of my forearm. Now the Watchers will always be able to track my whereabouts in the arena. I wouldn't want to miss a tribute. As soon as the trackers are in place, the ladder knocks me down. The woman disappears and they rescue Cinna from the roof. A boy from Avox enters and ushers us into a room where breakfast has been prepared. Despite the tightness in my stomach, I eat as much as I can, though none of the delicious food impresses me. I'm so nervous I could be eating coal dust. The only thing that distracts me is the view from the windows as we cross the city and then out into the desert beyond. That's what the birds see. Only they are free and safe. The opposite of me. The journey takes about half an hour before the windows darken, suggesting they were getting close to the arena. The hovercraft lands and Cinna and I head back.

for the ladder, only this time it leads to an underground tube, to the catacombs below the arena. We followed instructions to my destination, a camera for my preparation. In the Capitol they call it the Launch Room. In the districts, it is known as Corral. The place where animals go before slaughter. Everything is new, I will be the first and only tribute to use this launch room. The arenas are historical sites, preserved after the Games. Popular destinations for Capitol residents to visit on vacation. Go for a month, watch the Games again, visit the catacombs, visit the places where the deaths took place. You can even participate in re-enactments. They say the food is excellent. I struggle to contain my breakfast as I shower and brush my teeth. Cinna arranges my hair in my trademark simple braid down the back. Then comes the outfit, the same for each tribute. Cinna has no say in my outfit, she doesn't even know what's in the package, but she helps me into my underwear, simple brown pants, a light green blouse, a sturdy brown belt, and a thin black hooded jacket. the shoulders. my thighs The material in the jackets is designed to reflect body heat. Expect a few chilly nights, he says. The boots, worn over tight tights, are better than I expected. Soft leather not unlike mine in

House. However, these have a narrow tread flexible rubber sole. Good for running. I think I was done when Cinna pulled the gold thrush brooch out of her pocket. I had completely forgotten. Where did she get that? I ask. Take off the green suit you wore on the train, he says. I remember now

taking it off my mother's dress, pinning it to her shirt. It's his district card, right? I nod and he tucks it into my shirt. Mal cleared the review board. Some thought the pin could be used as a weapon, giving you an unfair advantage. But eventually they gave up, says Cinna. However, they removed a ring from that District One girl. If you twisted the gemstone, a point would come out. poisoned. He claimed that he was unaware that the ring had been transformed and that there was no way to prove that he did. But she lost her token. There everything is ready. Played. Make sure everything is comfortable. I walk, run in circles, swing my arms. Yes OK. perfect fit. So there's nothing to do but wait for the call, says Cinna. Unless you think you could eat more? I refuse food, but accept a glass of water from which I take small sips while we wait on a sofa. I don't want to bite my nails or my lips, so

I find myself biting the inside of my cheek. It is still not fully healed for a few days. Soon the taste of blood fills my mouth. Nervousness turns to terror as I anticipate what's to come. He could be dead, completely dead, in an hour. Not even. My fingers obsessively trace the small hard bump on my forearm where the woman injected the tracking device. I press, even though it hurts, I press so hard that a small bruise begins to form. Do you want to talk, Katniss? Cinna asks. I shake my head, but after a moment I extend my hand to him. Cinna locks him in his. And so we sit until a pleasant female voice announces that it's time to prepare for takeoff. Still holding one of Cinna's hands, I reach out and stand on the circular metal plate. Remember what Haymitch said. Run, find water. The rest will follow, he says. I agree. And remember this. I'm not allowed to gamble, but if I could, my money would be on you. Seriously? I whisper. Seriously, says Cinna. He leans down and kisses me on the forehead. Good luck, girl on fire. And then a glass cylinder descends around me, breaking our hold, isolating him from me. He taps his fingers under his chin. Head up. I lift my chin and stand as tall as I can. The cylinder starts to rise. For about fifteen seconds I'm in the dark and then I can feel the metal plate pushing

take me out of the cylinder, outdoors. For a moment, my eyes are dazzled by bright sunlight and I'm only aware of a brisk wind with the hopeful scent of pine trees. Then I hear the legendary announcer, Claudius Templesmith, as his voice echoes around me. Ladies and gentlemen, let the Seventy-Four Hunger Games begin!


Sixty seconds. That's how long it takes us to stand in our metal circles before the sound of a gong releases us. Get out before the minute is up and the landmines will blow your legs off. Sixty seconds to gaze upon the ring of tributes, all equidistant from the Cornucopia, a giant golden cone-shaped horn with a curved tail, whose mouth is at least twenty feet high, overflowing with

the things that will give us life here in the arena. Food, water containers, weapons, medicine, clothing, fire starters. Scattered around the Cornucopia are other supplies, whose value decreases the farther you move away from the Cornucopia. For example, just a few steps from my feet is a meter-long square of plastic. It could certainly come in handy in a downpour. But there, at the mouth, I see a tent that would protect from almost any type of weather. If only he had the nerve to go in there and fight the other twenty-three tributes. What I was told not to do. They were on a flat, open stretch of land. A plain of compacted earth. Behind the tributes in front of me, I can't see anything indicating a steep slope or even a cliff. To my right is a lake. To my left and behind, rows of pine forests. This is where Haymitch would like it to be. Immediately. I hear his instructions in my head. Just go outside, put as much distance between yourself and others as possible, and find a source of water. But it's tempting, very tempting, when I see the reward waiting right there in front of me. And I know that if I can't do it, someone else will. That Career Tributes who survive the bloodbath will share most of this vital loot. Something catches my eye. There, resting on a pile of rolled up blankets, is a silver arrow scabbard and bow, already strung, waiting to be activated. That's mine, I think. It is for me. I'm fast. I can run faster than anyone

the girls at our school, although a couple can beat me in the distance races. But this forty yard length, that's what I was made for. I know I can make it, I know I get it first, but then the question is how fast can I get out of there? By the time I've rummaged through the packs and grabbed the weapons, others will have reached the horn, and one or two could kill them, but let's say there are a dozen, at this close range, they could take me down with spears and clubs. Or your own mighty fists. Still, I won't be the only target. I bet many of the other tributes would pass up a smaller girl, even one who scored eleven in training, to defeat their fiercest opponents. Haymitch never saw me run. Maybe if he had, he'd tell me to do it. Take the weapon. Since this is the weapon that could be my salvation. And I only see one bow in this whole pile. I know the minute must be almost up and I will have to decide what my strategy will be and I find myself preparing my feet to run, not into the forest that flutters around them, but towards the pile, towards the bow. When I suddenly realize that Peeta is about five tributes to my right, way off, I can still tell he's looking at me and I think he might be shaking his head. But the suns in my eyes, and while I'm confusing him, the gong sounds. And I missed it! I missed my chance! Because those extra seconds I lost by not being ready are enough to change my mind about joining. I

My feet drag for a moment, confused by the direction my brain wants to go, and then I throw myself forward, grabbing the plastic sheet and a piece of bread. The loot is so small and I'm so mad at Peeta for distracting me that I run twenty meters to retrieve a bright orange duffel bag that could hold anything, because I can't bear to walk away with almost nothing. A boy, I think from District 9, arrives at the pack at the same time as I do and for a brief moment we fight for her and then he coughs, splattering blood in my face. I stagger back, disgusted by the hot, sticky spray. Then the boy slides to the ground. That's when I see the knife in his back. Other tributes have already arrived at the Cornucopia and are preparing to attack. Yes, the girl from District 2, ten meters away, running towards me, one hand holding half a dozen knives. I saw her play in training. She never fails. And I'm her next target. All the general fear I've been feeling boils down to an immediate fear of this girl, this predator who could kill me in seconds. Adrenaline shoots through me and I launch the

Load it on one shoulder and run into the forest. I can hear the blade whistling at me and I instinctively lift my pack to protect my head. The blade is housed in the package. Both straps on my shoulders now, I'm heading for the trees. Somehow I know the girl won't chase me. That shell will be back on the Cornucopia before all the good stuff runs out. A smile crosses my face. Thanks for the knife, I think. At the edge of the forest, I turn for a moment to survey the field. About a dozen tributes are whacking each other with their horns. Several lie dead on the floor. Those who fled are disappearing into the trees or into the void in front of me. I keep running until the forest hides me from the other tributes, and then I slow down to a steady trot that I think I can maintain for a while. For the next few hours, I alternate between running and walking, putting as much distance as possible between myself and my competitors. I lost my bread during the fight with the boy from District 9, but I managed to get my plastic bag up my sleeve, so as I walk I carefully fold it and put it in my pocket. I also drop the knife, it's a thin one with a long, sharp blade, serrated near the handle, which will make it useful for cutting things, and I tuck it into my belt. I don't dare stop to examine the package's contents just yet. I keep moving, stopping only to check for pursuers. I can go a long time. I know this from my days in the woods. But I will need water. That was Haymitch's second instruction, and since I screwed up the first one, I keep an eye out for any sign of it. Unlucky. The forest begins to evolve, and pines are interspersed with a variety of trees, some I recognize, others completely foreign to me. At one point I hear a noise and pull out my knife, thinking I might have to defend myself, but I just scared a rabbit. Nice to see you, I whisper. Yea

there's a rabbit, there could be hundreds waiting to be caught. The ground descends. I don't particularly like that. Vouchers make me feel trapped. I want to be up high, like in the hills around District 12, where I can see my enemies approaching. But I have no choice but to move on. Although funny, I don't feel too bad. The days of plenty were worth it. I have staying power even though I'm low on sleep. Being in the forest is invigorating. I'm glad for the solitude, even if it's an illusion, because I'm probably on screen right now. Not constantly, but every now and then. There are so many deaths to show on the first day that a tribute to trekking

through the forest there is not much to see. But they'll show me enough to let people know I'm alive, unharmed and on the move. One of the heaviest betting days is the opening, when the first lows hit. But that doesn't compare to what happens when the field is reduced to a handful of players. It's late afternoon when I start to hear the cannons. Each shot represents a dead tribute. The fight must have finally ended at the Cornucopia. They never collect the bodies from the bloodbath until the killers disperse. On opening day, they don't even fire the cannons until the initial fight is over because it's so hard to keep up with the kills. I allow myself to pause, panting, as I count the shots. ONE . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Two . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Three . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Again and again until it reached eleven. Eleven dead in total. There are thirteen left to play. My fingernails scratch at the dried blood the District 9 boy coughed up into my face. It's over, certainly. I wonder about Peeta. Did it last all day? I'll know in a few hours. When they project the dead images into the sky for the rest of us to see. I am suddenly struck by the idea that Peeta may already be missing, bled, collected, and in the process of being transported back to the Capitol to be cleaned, repaired, and shipped in a simple wooden box back to the District. 12. I'm not here anymore. Coming home. I struggle to remember if I saw him once the action started. But the last image I can think of is Peeta shaking his head as the gong sounded. Maybe it's better if he's already gone. I had no confidence that I could win. And I'm not going to end up with the unpleasant task of killing him. Maybe it's best if he's out of this for good. I slump next to my backpack, exhausted. I need to get through this anyway before night falls. Look what I have to work with. Upon unbuttoning the straps, I can feel that it is robustly made, although it is a rather unfortunate color. This orange will practically glow in the dark. I make a mental note to camouflage it tomorrow morning. I open the flap. What I want most right now is water. Haymitch's directive to find water immediately was not arbitrary. I won't last long without him. For a few days I might function with unpleasant symptoms of dehydration, but after that I'll get worse to the point where I'll be helpless and dead in a week at most. I

carefully lay out the provisions. A thin black sleeping bag that reflects the body's healing. A pack of cookies. A pack of beef jerky strips. A bottle of iodine. A box of wooden matches. A small coil of wire. A pair of sunglasses. And half a gallon of plastic

bottle with lid to transport completely dry water. There is no water. How difficult would it have been for them to fill the bottle? I notice the dryness in my throat and mouth, the cracks in my lips. I've been moving all day. It's been hot and I sweat a lot. I make it at home, but there are always streams to drink from or snow to melt if needed. As I refill my backpack, I have a horrible thought. The lake. The one I saw while waiting for the gong to sound. What if that's the only source of water in the arena? This way, they will ensure that we get closer to the fight. The lake is a full day's drive from where I'm sitting now, a much harder journey with nothing to drink. And then, even if I reach it, it will be heavily guarded by some of the Breed Tributes. I'm about to panic when I remember the bunny I scared today. You have to drink too. I just have to find out where. Twilight is coming and I don't feel comfortable. The trees are too thin to offer much concealment. The layer of pine needles that cushions my steps also makes it difficult to track the animals when I need their tracks to find water. And I'm still going downhill, deeper and deeper into a valley that seems endless. I'm hungry too, but I still can't get into my precious stash of biscuits and meat. Instead, I take my knife and go to work on a pine tree, slicing off the outer bark and scraping off a big handful of the softer inner bark. I slowly chew things up as I walk. After a week of eating the best food in the world, it gets a little hard to swallow. But I ate a lot of pine in my life. I will adjust quickly. At another time, it becomes clear that I need to find a place to camp. The night creatures are leaving. I can hear the occasional howl or howl, my first clue that I will be competing with natural predators for rabbits. As for whether I'll be seen as a food source, it's too early to tell. There could be any number of animals chasing me right now. But right now, I decide to make my fellow tributes a priority. I'm sure many will continue to hunt through the night. Those who fought in the Cornucopia will have food, lots of lake water, torches or lanterns, and weapons they are eager to use. I just hope I've traveled far enough and fast enough to be out of range. Before sitting down, I grab my wire and set two traps in the weeds. I know it's risky to set traps, but the food will run out very quickly here. And I can't set traps on the run. Even so, I walk another five minutes before making camp. I pick up my tree carefully. A willow, not very tall, but nestled in a clump of other willows, offering concealment in those long, flowing tresses. I rise, adhering to the strongest

branches close

the trunk and find a sturdy fork for my bed. It takes some work, but I pack the sleeping bag in a relatively comfortable way. I place my backpack on the bottom of the bag and slide in after her. Just in case, I take off my belt, wrap it around the branch and sleeping bag, and tie it back around my waist. Now, if I roll over in my sleep, I won't fall to the floor. I'm small enough to tuck the top of the bag over my head, but I also put on the hood. As night falls, the air quickly cools. Despite the risk I took to get the backpack, today I know it was the right choice. This sleeping bag, which radiates to the back and traps my body heat, will be priceless. I'm sure there are plenty of other tributes whose biggest concern right now is how to stay warm while getting a few hours' sleep. If only I weren't so thirsty. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· The night has just arrived when I hear the hymn that precedes the summary of death. Through the branches I can see the seal of the Capitol, which seems to float in the sky. I'm actually looking at another screen, a huge one being carried by one of their disappearing hovercrafts. The anthem fades out and the sky darkens for a moment. At home, we'd be watching full coverage of any and all murders, but this is thought to give the living tributes an unfair advantage. For example, if I put my hands on the bow and shot someone, my secret would be revealed to everyone. No, here in the arena all we see are the same pictures they showed when our training scores were televised. Simple headshots. But now instead of scores they just post district numbers. I take a deep breath as the faces of the eleven dead tributes begin and I mark them one by one with my fingers. The first to appear is the girl from District 3. This means that Career Tributes 1 and 2 have survived. There's no surprise there. Then the 4-year-old boy. I didn't expect it, usually all professionals survive the first day. The boy from District 5... . I think it was the girl with the fox face. The two tributes from 6 and 7. The guy from 8. The two from 9. Yeah, there's the guy I fought over the backpack. I ran through my fingers, only one more dead tribute remains. Is it Peeta? No, it's the girl from District 10. That's all. The Capitol seal is back with one last musical flourish. Then the darkness and the sounds of the forest begin again. I'm relieved Peetas lives. I tell myself again that if they kill me, their victory will benefit my mother and Prim the most. That's what I say.

to explain the conflicting emotions that arise when I think of Peeta. The gratitude that gave me a head start by declaring his love for me in the interview. Anger at his superiority on the roof. The fear that we could find ourselves face to face at any moment in this arena. Eleven dead, but none from District 12. I'm trying to figure out who's left. Five tributes to the breed. fox face. Thresh and Rue. road . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· After all, he survived the first day. I can't

help you feel happy. That makes ten of us. The other three I will know tomorrow. Now when it's dark I've traveled a lot and I'm huddled in this tree, now I must try to rest. I haven't really slept in two days, and then there was a long day trip to the arena. Slowly, I let my muscles relax. My eyes to close. The last thing on my mind is how lucky I am that I don't snore. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Nap! The sound of a branch breaking wakes me up. How long have I been sleeping? Four o'clock? Five? The tip of my nose is frozen. Nap! Nap! What's happening? This is not the sound of a branch under someone's foot, but the sharp crack of someone coming from a tree. Nap! Nap! I imagine it is several hundred meters to my right. Slowly, without making a sound, I turn in that direction. For a few minutes, there's nothing but darkness and some fighting. Then I see a spark and a small fire starts to bloom. A pair of hands warms the flames, but I can't see beyond that. I have to bite my lip to keep from screaming every curse word I know into the lighter. What are they thinking? A bonfire at dusk would have been one thing. Those who fought at the Cornucopia, with their superior strength and surplus supplies, could not have been close enough to detect the flames at the time. But now, when they'd probably scoured the woods for hours looking for victims. You might as well be waving a flag and yelling, Come get me! And here I am, one step away from the biggest idiot in the Games. Tied to a tree. I dare not run, as my general location has just been broadcast to any assassin who cares. I mean, I know it's cold out here and not everyone has a sleeping bag. But then you grit your teeth and hold out until dawn! I burned in my bag for the next few hours, really thinking that if I could get out of this tree, I wouldn't have the slightest problem getting my new neighbor out. My instinct was to run, not fight. But obviously this person is a danger. Stupid people are dangerous. And this one probably doesn't have many weapons, whereas I have this excellent knife.

The sky is still dark, but I can feel the first signs of dawn approaching. I'm starting to think we're talking about the person whose death I'm now plotting, and I actually could have gone unnoticed. So I listen. Several pairs of feet start to run. The fire starter must have fallen asleep. They are on her before she can escape. I know she's a girl now, I can tell by the pleading, the agonized scream that follows. Then there is laughter and congratulations from several voices. Someone yells, Twelve down and eleven to go! which receives a round of appreciative howls. So they are fighting as a pack. I'm not really surprised. Alliances are usually formed in the early stages of the Games. The strong band together to prey on the weak, and then, when tensions get too high, they start to turn against each other. I don't have to wonder too much who made this alliance. It will be the remaining run.

Tributes from Districts 1, 2 and 4. Two boys and three girls. Those who ate lunch together. For a moment, I hear them checking the girl's supplies. I can tell from her comments that you didn't find anything good. I wonder if the victim is Rue, but quickly dismiss the idea. She's too bright to light a fire like that. You'd better leave so you can get the body before it starts to stink. I'm pretty sure she's the brutal boy from District 2. There are murmurs of agreement and then, to my horror, I hear the pack coming towards me. They don't know I'm here. How could they? And I'm well hidden in the group of trees. At least while the sun is down. Then my black sleeping bag will turn from camouflage to trouble. If they keep moving, they'll pass me and be gone in a minute. But the professionals stop in the clearing about ten meters from my tree. They have flashlights, torches. I see an arm here, a boot there, through the gaps in the branches. I turn to stone, not even daring to breathe. You saw me? No not yet. I can tell from their words that their minds are elsewhere. Shouldn't we have heard a cannon by now? I would say yes. Nothing that prevents them from entering immediately. Unless she isn't dead. She is dead. I glued it myself. So where is the canyon? Someone should come back. Make sure the jobs are completed. Yes, we don't want to have to screen it twice. I said she's dead! An argument ensues until a tribute silences the others. We were wasting time! I'll finish her off and let's go! I almost fell out of the tree. The voice belongs to Peeta.


Thank God I had the foresight to put my seat belt on. I've rolled to the sides of the crampon and am facing the floor, leaning on my belt, one hand and foot straddling the pack inside the sleeping bag, resting against my boot. There must have been some creaking when I leaned sideways, but the professionals were too absorbed in their own arguments to notice. Go ahead then, Lover Boy, says the boy from District 2. See for yourself. I just caught a glimpse of Peeta, lit by a torch, heading towards the girl by the fire. His face is swollen with bruises, there's a bloody bandage on one arm, and from the sound of his footsteps, he has a slight limp. I remember him shaking his head, telling me not to get into the fight over supplies, when all along he'd been planning to get in the middle of things. The exact opposite of what Haymitch asked her to do. It's okay, I can handle it. Seeing all those supplies was tempting. But that . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· This other thing. He's teaming up with Career's wolf pack to hunt down the rest of us. No one in District 12 would dream of doing such a thing! Career tributes are very cruel, arrogant, better fed, but only because they are the Capitol's puppies. Universally, solidly hated by all but those in their own districts. I can imagine the things people are saying about him at home right now. And Peeta had the nerve to tell me about the misfortune? Obviously the noble boy on the roof

he was playing one more game with me. But this will be the last. I will anxiously watch the night skies for signs of his death if I don't kill him first. Race tributes are silent until he is out of earshot, then they use low voices. Why don't we just kill him now and be done with it? Let me join you. What's the harm? And he's handy with that knife. And the? This is news. So many interesting things I'm learning about my friend Peeta today. Besides, it's our best chance of finding her. It takes me a moment to realize that the woman they're referring to is me. Because? Do you think he fell for that cheesy romance thing? She could have. Seemed pretty simple to me. Every time I think of her walking around in that dress, I want to throw up. I'd like to know how he got that eleven. I bet Lover Boy knows that. The sound of Peeta returning silences them. Was she dead? asks the boy from District 2. No. but she is

now, says Peeta. At that moment, the cannon is fired. Ready to move? The Career team goes for a run at first light and birdsong fills the air. I remain in my awkward position, muscles quivering with the exertion for a while longer, then pull myself back up onto my branch. I need to get down, to go, but for a moment I just sit there, digesting what I've heard. Peeta isn't just with the pros, he's helping them find me. The naive girl to be taken seriously by her eleven year old. Because she knows how to use a bow and arrow. That Peeta knows better than anyone. But he still hasn't told them. Are you saving this information because you know it's all that keeps you alive? Are you still pretending to love me for the public? What's going on in your head? Suddenly the birds are silent. Then one gives a sharp warning call. A single note. Like the one Gale and I overheard when the redhead Avox was caught. High above the dying bonfire, a hovercraft materializes. A set of huge metal teeth fall out. Slowly and smoothly, the dead tribute girl is lifted onto the hovercraft. Then it disappears. The birds resume their song. Move, I whisper to myself. I take my sleeping bag, roll it up and put it in my backpack. I take a deep breath. While I've been hiding in the dark and the sleeping bag and the willow tree

branches, it was probably difficult for the cameras to get a good picture of me. Though I know they must be following me by now. The moment I hit the ground, I'm guaranteed a close-up. The audience must have been beside themselves, knowing that I was in the tree, that I heard the Careers talking, that I discovered that Peeta was with them. Until I figure out exactly how I want to play this, it's best to at least act on top of things. Not baffled. He certainly isn't confused or scared. No, I need to look one step ahead of the game. So, as I step out of the foliage and out into the early morning light, I stop for a second, giving the cameras time to focus on me. I then tilt my head slightly to the side and give an understanding smile. There! let them realize

What does this means! I'm about to take off when I think about my betrayal. It might be unwise to control them with others so close. But I have to. Many years of hunting, I suppose. And the fascination of possible flesh. I am rewarded with a good rabbit. Before long I had cleaned and disemboweled the animal, leaving its head, legs, tail, skin and entrails under a pile of leaves. I wish a raw fire-eating rabbit could give you rabbit fever, a lesson I learned the hard way when I think of the dead tribute. I hurry

back to your camp. Sure enough, the embers of your dying fire are still hot. I cut the rabbit, made a skewer with twigs and put it on the embers. I'm happy for the cameras now. I want sponsors to see that I can hunt, that I'm a good bet, because hunger won't lure me into traps as easily as others. As the rabbit cooks, I crush part of a charred branch and prepare to camouflage my orange backpack. Black softens it up, but I think a layer of mud would definitely help. Of course, to have mud, you would need water. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I put on my gear, grab my spit, kick some dirt into the embers, and head in the opposite direction of the races. I eat half of the rabbit on the go, then wrap the leftovers in my plastic wrap for later. The meat stops the rumbling in my stomach, but does little to quench my thirst. Water is my priority right now. As I walk, I'm pretty sure I'm still holding the screen in the Capitol, so I'm careful to keep hiding my emotions. But since Claudius Templesmith must be having a lot of fun with his guest commentators dissecting Peeta's behavior, my reaction. What to do with all this? Did Peeta reveal his true colors? How does this affect betting odds? Will we lose sponsors? Do we have sponsors? Yes, I'm sure we did, or at least we did. Peeta actually threw a wrench at our hapless lover.

dynamic. Or does he? Maybe, since you haven't said much about me, we can still get something out of it. Maybe people think it's something we created together if I look like I'm having fun right now. The sun is rising high in the sky and even through the canopy it looks very bright. I cover my lips with some rabbit fat and try not to gasp, but it's no use. It's only been a day and I'm dehydrating fast. I try to think of everything I know about finding water. It goes downhill, so continuing down this valley is not a bad thing. If I could locate a game trail or identify a particularly green patch of vegetation, that might help, but nothing seems to change. There's just the slight gradual slope, the birds, the evenness of the trees. As the day progresses, I know I'm going to have problems. What little urine I have managed to expel is dark brown, I have a headache and a dry patch on my tongue that refuses to get wet. The sun hurts my eyes, so I take off my sunglasses, but when I put them on they do something funny to my vision, so I put them in my backpack. It's late when I think I've found it

help. I see a clump of berry bushes and run to peel the fruit, suck the

sweet juices from the skins. But as soon as I'm bringing them to my lips, I stare at them. What I thought were blueberries are shaped slightly differently, and when I open one, the inside is blood red. I don't recognize these berries, maybe they're edible, but I think it's some wicked Watchers trick. Even the plant instructor at the Training Center insisted on telling us to avoid berries unless you are 100% sure they are non-toxic. Something I already knew, but I'm so thirsty I need your reminder to give me the strength to throw them away. Exhaustion starts to settle in me, but it's not the usual exhaustion that follows a long walk. I have to stop and rest frequently, even though I know that the only cure for what ails me is a continual search. I try a new tactic by climbing as tall a tree as I dare in my unstable state to look for any sign of water. But as far as I can see in either direction, there's the same unforgiving expanse of forest. Determined to continue until nightfall, I walk until I trip over my own feet. Exhausted, I climb a tree and put on my seat belt. I have no appetite, but I'll suck on a rabbit bone just to give my mouth something to do. Night falls, the anthem plays, and high in the sky I see the picture of the girl, who apparently was from District 8. The one Peeta was.

finish again My fear of the race pack is minor compared to my burning thirst. Besides, they were running away from me and now they will also have to rest. With water scarcity, they might even have to go back to the lake to recharge their batteries. Maybe this is the only course for me too. The morning brings anguish. My head throbs with every beat of my heart. Simple movements send twinges of pain through my joints. I fall, instead of jumping from the tree. It takes me several minutes to assemble my gear. Somewhere inside me I know this is wrong. I should be acting more cautiously, moving with more urgency. But my mind feels clouded and forming a plan is difficult. I lean against the trunk of my tree, one finger carefully stroking the sanded surface of my tongue as I weigh my options. How can I get water? I go back to the lake. It's not good. I would never make it. hope of rain There is not a cloud in the sky. Keep looking. Yes, this is my only chance. But then another thought hits me, and the wave of anger that follows brings me back to my senses. Haymitch! He could send me water! Push a button and have it delivered in a silver parachute in minutes. I know I must have patrons, at least one or two who can buy me a pint of liquid. Yes, it's expensive, but these people are made of money. and them

betting on me too. Maybe Haymitch doesn't realize how deep my need runs. I say as loud as I dare. Water. I wait, with hope, for a parachute to descend from the sky. But nothing comes. Something is wrong.

Am I wrong about having sponsors? Or did Peeta's behavior set them all back together? No, I don't believe it. There's someone out there who wants to buy me some water, but Haymitch refuses to let her pass. As my mentor, you can control the flow of gifts from sponsors. I know you hate me. You made it clear enough. But enough to let me die? From that? He can't do that, right? If a mentor mistreats his tributes, he will be responsible to the bystanders, to the people of District 12. Even Haymitch wouldn't risk that, would he? Say what you will about my fellow merchants in the Hob, but I don't think they'd welcome him if he left me to die like this. And then where would he get his drink? As soon as . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· What? Are you trying to make me suffer for defying you? Are you directing all customers to Peeta? Are you too drunk to realize what's going on right now? Somehow I don't believe that and I don't think he's trying to kill me through negligence either. In fact, in his nasty way, he's really trying to prepare me for this. So, what is happening? I bury my face in my hands. There's no danger of tears now, I couldn't produce one to save my life. What is Haymitch doing? Despite my anger, hatred and suspicion, a small voice in my head whispers an answer. Maybe he's sending you a message, he says. A message. Saying that? So I know. There's only one good reason Haymitch is denying me water. Because he knows I almost found him. I grit my teeth and stand up. My backpack feels like it's tripled in weight. I find a broken branch that will serve as a cane and deliver. The sun hits hard, even more scorching than the first two days. I feel like an old piece of leather, drying and cracking in the heat. Every step is an effort, but I refuse to stop. I refuse to sit. If I sit down, it's very likely that I won't be able to get up, that I won't even remember my homework. What an easy prey I am! Any tribute, even little Rue, could get me now, just shove me in and kill me with my own knife, and I would have little strength to resist. But if someone is in my part of the forest, they ignore me. The truth is, I feel a million miles away from another living soul. Although not alone. No, I'm sure they have a camera following me now. I think about going back to

the years of watching tributes starve, freeze, bleed, and dehydrate to death. Unless there's a really good fight somewhere, I'm being featured. My thoughts turn to Prim, she probably won't be watching me live, but they will be showing updates at school during lunch. For your sake, I try to sound as desperate as possible. But in the afternoon, I know the end is near. My legs are shaking and my heart is very fast. I keep forgetting, exactly what I'm doing. I stumbled several times and managed to get up, but when the pole slips out from under me, I finally fall to the ground unable to get up. I let my eyes close. I misjudged Haymitch. He does not have

intention to help me in everything. That's good, I think. That's not so bad here. The air is less warm, which means that night is approaching. There is a light sweet scent that reminds me of lilies. My fingers graze the smooth floor, gliding easily over it. This is a good place to die I guess. My fingers trace little swirls in the cold, slippery earth. I love mud I guess. How many times have I tracked the game with the help of its smooth, readable surface. Good for bee stings too. Mud. Mud. Mud! My eyes widen and I dig my fingers into the dirt. It's mud! My nose goes up in the air. And those are lilies! Pond Lilies! I crawl now, through the mud, crawling toward the scent. Five meters from where I fell, I crawled through a tangle of plants towards a lake. Floating on top, yellow flowers in bloom, are my beautiful lilies. It's all I can do not to dip my face in the water and swallow whatever it contains. But I still have enough sense to abstain. With shaking hands, I pick up my canteen and fill it with water. I add what I remember to be the correct number of drops of iodine to cleanse it. The half hour wait is agony, but I do it. At least, I think it's half an hour, but it's certainly all I can take. Slow down, easy now, I tell myself. I take a sip and force myself to wait. Then another. For the next few hours, I drink a whole half gallon. Then a second. I make another one before retiring to a tree where I continue to drink, eat rabbit and even enjoy one of my prized cookies. When the anthem starts, I feel visibly better. No faces tonight, no dead tributes tonight. Tomorrow I'll stay here, resting, camouflaging my backpack with mud, catching those little fish I saw while drinking, digging up the roots of the lilies in the pond to have a good meal. I curl up in my sleeping bag, clutching my water bottle to save my life, of course. Some hours later,

the stampede of feet wakes me from sleep. I look around in bewilderment. It is not yet dawn, but my burning eyes can see. It would be hard to miss the wall of fire descending on me.


My first impulse is to climb the tree, but I'm tied up. Somehow my clumsy fingers loosen the buckle and I fall to the floor, still curled up in my sleeping bag. There is no time for any kind of packaging. Fortunately, my backpack and water bottle are already in the bag. I strap myself in, sling my bag over my shoulder, and run away. The world turned to flames and smoke. Burning branches break from the trees and sparks rain down at my feet. All I can do is follow the others, the rabbits and the deer, and I even see a pack of wild dogs darting through the woods. I trust your sense of direction because your instincts are sharper than mine. But they're much faster, flying through the undergrowth with such grace when my boots catch on fallen tree branches and roots that I can't keep up. The heat is horrible, but worse than the heat is the smoke, which threatens to suffocate me at any moment. I lift the top of my shirt to cover my nose, grateful to find it drenched in sweat, and he offers me a thin veil of protection. And I run, choking, my bag slamming against my back, my face slashed by branches materializing in the gray mist without warning, because I know I must run. It wasn't a tribute bonfire that got out of hand, it wasn't an accidental occurrence. The flames falling on me have an unnatural height, a uniformity that marks them as man-made, machine-made, Watcher-made. Things are very quiet today. No deaths, maybe no fights. The public on Capitol Hill will get bored and claim these Games are bordering on boring. This is the one thing the Games shouldn't do. It's not hard to follow the Gamemakers' motivation. There's the racing pack, and then there's the rest of us, probably scattered all over the arena. This fire is designed to bring us out, to unite us. It might not be the most original device I've seen, but it's very, very effective. I trip over a burning log. Not loud enough. The tail of my jacket catches fire and I have to stop to yank it from my body and put out the flames. But I dare not leave the jacket charred and

steaming, I risk stuffing it into my sleeping bag, hoping the lack of air will smother what I haven't erased. This is all I have, what I carry on my back, and it's not enough to survive. Within minutes, my throat and nose burn. The coughing starts soon after and my lungs start to feel like they are being cooked. Discomfort turns to anguish until each breath sends searing pain through my chest. I manage to hide under a rock outcropping just as the vomiting starts, losing my meager dinner and any water left in my stomach. Dropping to all fours, I vomit until there's nothing left to come out. I know I need to keep moving, but right now I'm shaking and dizzy and short of breath. I allow myself a spoonful of water to rinse my mouth and spit it out, then take a few swigs from my bottle. You have a minute, I tell myself. One minute to rest. I take the time to reorganize my supplies, roll up my sleeping bag, and shuffle everything into my backpack. My minutes are up. I know it's time to move on, but the smoke has clouded my thoughts. The swift-footed animals that were my compass left me behind. I know I've never been to this part of the forest before, there were no sizable rocks like the ones I'm sheltering in my previous travels.

Where are the Watchers taking me? Back to the lake? To a whole new terrain full of new dangers? I had just found a few hours of peace on the pond when this attack began. Would there be a way to travel parallel to the fire and get back there, at least to a source of water? The fire wall must have a

finished and will not burn indefinitely. Not because the Gamemakers couldn't keep it fed, but because, again, it would draw accusations of boredom from the public. If I could step back from the line of fire, I could avoid meeting the professionals. I've just decided to try to turn around, even though that requires miles out of hell and then a very circuitous route back, when the first fireball erupts from the rock about two feet from my head. I step out from under my ledge, energized by renewed fear. The game took a turn. The fire was just to move us, now the audience can see something really funny. When I hear the next whistle, I fall to the ground, not stopping to look. The fireball hits a tree to my left, engulfing it in flames. Standing still is death. I'm barely on my feet when the third ball hits the ground where I was lying, sending a column of fire after me. Time

It loses meaning now as I frantically try to dodge attacks. I can't see where they launch from, but it's not a hovercraft. The angles are not extreme enough. This entire forest segment was probably armed with precision launchers hidden in trees or rocks. Somewhere, in a cool, pristine room, a Watcher is sitting at a set of controls, his fingers on triggers that could end my life in a second. All it takes is a direct hit. Any vague plans I've conceived regarding returning to my lake are erased from my mind as I weave, dive, and jump to avoid the fireballs. Each is the size of an apple, but has tremendous contact power. Every sense I have quickens as the need to survive takes over. There is no time to judge whether a move is the right one. When there's a hiss, I do or die. However, something keeps me going. A lifetime of watching The Hunger Games lets me know that certain areas of the arena are primed for certain attacks. And if I can get out of this section, I can get out of range of the casters. I might as well fall straight into a pit of vipers, but I can't worry about that right now. I can't tell you how much time I spend dodging the fireballs, but the attacks finally start to subside. Which is good, because I'm throwing up.

again. This time it's an acidic substance that burns my throat and also hits my nose. I'm forced to stop as my body goes into convulsions, desperately trying to rid itself of the poisons I absorbed during the attack. I wait for the next whistle, the next signal to run. it doesn't come The force of the vomiting brought tears to my stinging eyes. My clothes are soaked with sweat. Somehow, through the smoke and vomit, I smell scorched hair. My hand searches for my braid and discovers that a fireball has burned at least six inches from it. Strands of blackened hair disintegrate between my fingers. I stare at them, mesmerized by the transformation, when the hiss registers. My muscles react, but not fast enough

this time. The fireball lands on the floor next to me, but not before sliding over my right calf. Seeing my pant leg on fire sends me over the edge. I squirm and squirm back on my hands and feet, screaming, trying to get away from the horror. When I finally come to my senses, I roll my leg back and forth on the floor, which suffocates me even more. But then, without thinking, I tear the remaining fabric with my bare hands. I sit on the floor, a few meters from the fire.

triggered by the fireball. My calf is screaming, my hands covered in red welts. I'm shaking too much to move. If the Watchers want to take me down, now is the time. I hear Cinna's voice, carrying images of rich fabrics and glittering gemstones. Katniss, the girl who was on fire. What a good laugh the Rangers must have at this. Maybe Cinna's pretty outfits caused me that particular torture. I know he couldn't have predicted this, he must be hurting for me because I actually think he cares for me. But in general, maybe showing up completely naked in that car would have been safer for me. The attack is over. The Watchers don't want me dead. Not yet, anyway. Everyone knows they can destroy us seconds after the bell strikes. The true sport of the Hunger Games is watching the tributes kill each other. Every once in a while, they'll kill a tribute just to remind players that they can do it. But most of all, they manipulate us to come face to face. Which means, if I'm not getting shot anymore, there's at least one other tribute close at hand. I would crawl to a tree and take cover now if I could, but the smoke is still thick enough to kill me. I force myself to my feet and start limping away from the wall of flames lighting up the sky. Doesn't seem to be haunting me anymore, except

with its pestilential black clouds. Another light, daylight, begins to gently emerge. Swirls of smoke catch the sun's rays. My visibility is bad. I can see about fifty feet in any direction. A tribute could easily be hidden from me here. I should grab my knife just in case, but I doubt my ability to hold it for very long. The pain in my hands can't possibly compete with the pain in my calf. I hate burns, always have, even the little ones you get when you take the pan out of the oven. It's the worst kind of pain for me, but I've never experienced anything like it. I'm so tired I don't even realize I'm ankle deep in the pool. It's spring-fed, bubbling up from a crevice in some rocks, and wonderfully fresh. I dip my hands into the shallow water and feel instant relief. Isn't that what my mother always says? Is the first treatment for a burn cold water? What extracts the heat? But it refers to light burns. I would probably recommend it for my hands. But what about my calf? Although I still haven't got up the courage to examine it, I suppose it's a wound of a different class entirely. I lie face down on the edge of the

pool for a while, waving my hands in the water, examining the small flames

my nails that are starting to chip. Good. I've had enough fire for a lifetime. I wash the blood and ash from my face. I try to remember everything I know about burns. These are common injuries in the Seam where we cook and heat our homes with coal. Then there are mining accidents. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· A family once brought in an unconscious young man who was begging my mother to help him. The district doctor responsible for treating the miners discharged him and told the family to take him home to die. But they wouldn't accept that. He was on our kitchen table, meaningless to the world. I took one look at the wound on his thigh, gaping charred flesh, burned to the bone, before I hurried out of the house. I went into the forest and hunted all day, tormented by the horrible leg, memories of my father's death. The funny thing is that Prim, who is afraid of her own shadow, stayed and helped. My mother says healers are born, not made. They did the best they could, but the man died, just as the doctor said he would. My leg needs attention, but I still can't look at it. What if it's as bad as man and I can see my bone? Then I remember my mother saying that if it was a severe burn, the victim wouldn't even feel pain because the nerves would be destroyed. Emboldened by this, I sit up and swing my leg in front of me. I almost fainted

in sight of my calf. The pulp is bright red covered with bubbles. I force myself to take a deep, slow breath, certain the cameras are in my face. I cannot show weakness because of this injury. Not if I want help. Pity doesn't help you. Admiration for his refusal to budge. I cut off the remains of the pant leg at the knee and examine the wound more closely. The burned area is the size of my hand. No part of the skin is blackened. I think it's not that bad of a sauce. I carefully extend my leg into the pool, resting the heel of my boot on a rock so the leather doesn't get too soaked, and sigh, because it offers some relief. I know there are herbs, if I could find them it would speed up the healing, but I can't remember them. Water and time will likely be all I have to work with. Should I go ahead? The smoke is slowly dissipating, but it's still too thick to be healthy. If I keep walking away from the fire, won't I be heading straight for the pros' guns? Also, every time I take my leg out of the water, the pain increases so much that I have to put it back in. My hands are a little less demanding. They can handle short pool breaks. So, little by little, I got my team in order. First I fill my bottle with pool water, treat it and when time passes, I start to rehydrate my body. After a while,

I force myself to nibble on a cookie, which helps settle my stomach. I roll up my sleeping bag. Except for a few black marks, he is relatively unharmed. My jackets are another matter. Smelly and scorched at least

a foot from the back beyond repair. I cut out the damaged area leaving me with a garment that comes down to the bottom of my ribs. But the hoods are intact and it's much better than nothing. Despite the pain, drowsiness begins to take over. I would climb a tree and try to rest, only it would be too easy to spot. Also, getting out of my pool seems impossible. I carefully sort out my supplies, even slinging my pack over my shoulders, but I can't get out. I spot some water plants with edible roots and make a small meal out of my last piece of rabbit. Drink water. Watch the sun make its slow arc across the sky. Where would I go anyway that's safer than here? I lie down on my backpack, overcome by drowsiness. If the professionals want me, let them find me, I think before falling into a stupor. let them find me And find me they do. It's lucky to be ready to move forward because when I hear the feet I'm less than a minute ahead. Night began to fall. When I wake up, I'm up and running, splashing in the pool,

flying into the bush. My leg slows me down, but I feel that my pursuers are not as fast as they were before the fire either. I hear their coughs, their raspy voices calling to each other. Still, they're closing in, like a pack of wild dogs, so I do what I've done all my life under those circumstances. I grab a tall tree and start climbing. If running hurts, climbing is agonizing because it requires not only effort, but direct contact with the hands on the bark of the tree. I'm fast, though, and by the time they reach the bottom of my trunk, I'm twenty feet tall. For a moment, we stopped and examined ourselves. I hope you can't hear my heartbeat. That might be it, I think. What chance do I have against them? All six are there, all five Careers and Peeta, and my only consolation is that they're also badly hurt. Still, look at your weapons. I looked into their faces, grinning and snarling at me, certain death upon them. It looks pretty desperate. But then something else registers. They're bigger and stronger than me, sure, but they're also heavier. There's a reason it's me and not Gale who ventures to pick the tallest berries or steal the remotest birds' nests. I must weigh at least 25 or 30 kilos less than the smallest in Carrera. Now I smile. How's everything going? I call happy. It takes them by surprise but I know

the crowd will love it. Well done, says the boy from District 2. Yourself? It's a little hot for my taste, I say. I can almost hear the Capitol's laughter. The air is better up here. Why don't you go up? I think I will, says the same boy. Here, take this, Cato, says the girl from District 1, offering him the silver bow and scabbard. My bow! My arrows! Just seeing them makes me so angry I want to scream, at myself, at that traitorous Peeta for distracting me from having them. I try to make eye contact with him now, but he seems to be intentionally avoiding my gaze as he polishes the knife to a fine edge.

of your shirt. No, says Cato, putting the bow away. I'll do better with my sword. I can see the weapon, a short, heavy blade on his belt. I give Cato time to climb the tree before I start climbing again. Gale always says I remind him of a squirrel because of the way I can climb even the thinnest branch. Part of my weight, but part of practice. You have to know where to put your hands and feet. I'm another ten meters in the air when I hear the snap and look down to see Cato struggling as he and a branch fall. He hits the ground hard and I expect him to break his neck.

when he gets up, cursing like a demon. The girl with the arrows, Glimmer I heard someone call her ugh the names people in District 1 give their children are so ridiculous anyway Glimmer climbs the tree until the branches start to break under her feet and then she has the good sense to stop. I'm at least eighty feet tall now. She tries to shoot me and it is immediately clear that she is incompetent with the bow. However, one of the arrows gets stuck in the tree next to me and I manage to grab it. I playfully wave it over her head, as if that's the sole purpose of retrieving it, when in fact I intend to use it if given the chance. I could kill them, all of them, if those silver weapons were in my hands. The professionals regroup on the floor and I can hear them snarling conspiratorially at each other, furious that I've made such a fool of them. But twilight has come and your window of attack against me is closing. Finally, I hear Peeta say sharply, Oh, let her stay upstairs. It's not like she's going anywhere. Well, deal with her in the morning. Well, you are right about one thing. I'm going nowhere. All the relief from the pool water was gone, leaving me feeling the full power of my burns. I slide down to a fork in the tree and awkwardly get ready for bed. Put my jacket on. Prepare my bed for sleep. I buckle up and try to avoid

moaning. The heat from the bags was too much for my leg. I cut a slit in the fabric and hung my calf outdoors. I sprayed water on the wound, my hands. All my bravado is gone. I am weak with pain and hunger, but I dare not eat. Even if I can last the night, what will the morning bring? I look at the foliage, trying to force myself to rest, but the burns forbid it. Birds are preparing for the night, singing lullabies to their chicks. Nocturnal creatures appear. A hoot owl. The faint scent of skunk wafts through the smoke. The eyes of some animal stare at me from the neighboring tree, a possum perhaps catching the light of Carreras' torches. Suddenly, I'm propped up on one elbow. These are not skunk eyes, I know their vitreous reflection very well. In fact, these are not animal eyes. In the last rays of fading light, I make out her, watching me silently through the branches. Rue. How long have you been here? Probably all the time. Motionless and unnoticed as the action unfolded below her. Maybe she went to her tree

just before me I heard that the pack was so close. For a moment, we hold each other's gaze. Then, without even moving a leaf, your little hand slides into the open space and

He points to something above my head.


My eyes follow the line of his finger to the foliage above me. At first I have no idea where he's pointing, but then, about fifteen feet up, I make out a vague shape in the dim light. But from . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Of what? Some kind of animal? It looks about the size of a raccoon, but it's hanging at the bottom of a branch, swaying slightly. There is something else. Amidst the familiar sounds of the afternoon in the woods, my ears register a low hum. So I know. It's a wasp's nest. Fear shoots through me, but I have enough sense to keep quiet. After all, I don't know what kind of wasp lives there. It can be the common type of leave us alone and well, leave yourself alone. But this is the Hunger Games, and common is not the norm. They're probably one of the Capitol's mutations, the tracker jackers. Like the jabberjays, these killer wasps were spawned in a lab and strategically placed, like landmines, around districts during wartime. Larger than the common wasp, they have a distinctive solid gold body and a

sting that raises a pit the size of a plum on contact. Most people cannot tolerate more than a few bites. Some die all at once. If you live, the hallucinations caused by the poison really drove people crazy. And here's another thing, these wasps will hunt down anyone who disturbs their nest and try to kill them. This is where the tracker part of the name comes from. After the war, the Capitol destroyed all the nests around their city, but those close to the districts remained untouched. Another reminder of our weakness, I guess, like the Hunger Games. Another reason to stay inside District 12's fence. When Gale and I found a tracker jacker nest, we immediately headed in the opposite direction. So this is what hangs over me? I look to Rue for help, but she's melted into her tree. Given my circumstances, I don't think it matters what kind of hornet's nest it is. I am wounded and trapped. The darkness gave me a brief respite, but by the time the sun rises, the Careers will have formulated a plan to kill me. There's no way they could do anything else after I made them look so stupid. This nest may be the only option I have left. If I drop it on them, I might get away. But I will risk my life in the process. Of course, I can never get close enough to the royal nest to

Leave the. I'll have to saw off the branch to the trunk and send it all down. The serrated part of my knife should be able to handle it. But can my hands? And will the vibration of the sawdust increase the swarm? What if the Pros find out what I'm doing and change camps? That would defeat the whole purpose. I realize that the best chance I will have of sawing without attracting attention will be during the

hymn. It can start at any time. I drag myself out of my bag, make sure the knife is securely tucked into my belt, and start climbing the tree. That in itself is dangerous, as the branches are getting dangerously thin even for me, but I persevere. When I get to the branch that supports the nest, the humming becomes more distinct. But it's still weirdly dark if you're dealing with tracker jackers. It's the smoke, I think. He sedated them. This was the only defense the rebels found to fight the wasps. The seal of the Capitol shines on me and the anthem resounds. It's now or never, I think, and start sawing. Blisters burst on my right hand as I drag the knife awkwardly from side to side. Once I get into the groove, the work takes less effort, but it's almost

more than I can bear. I clenched my teeth and saw every now and then looking at the sky to record that today there were no deaths. That's fine. The audience will get fed up with seeing me bruised and bruised and the herd beneath me. But the hymns end and I'm only three-quarters of the way through the woods when the music ends, the sky darkens, and I'm forced to stop. Now that? You could probably finish the job by sense of touch, but that might not be the smartest plan. If the wasps get too stunned, if the nest catches falling, if I try to run away, it could all be a deadly waste of time. Better, I think, to sneak away at dawn and send the nest to my enemies. In the dim light of the Carreras torches, I slowly make my way back to my fork to find the best surprise I've ever had. Sitting in my sleeping bag is a small plastic pot attached to a silver parachute. My first sponsor gift! Haymitch must have sent it during the anthem. The pot easily fits in the palm of my hand. What can it be? It's definitely not food. I open the cap and I can tell by the smell that it's medicine. Cautiously, I test the surface of the ointment. The throbbing in my fingertip disappears. Oh Haymitch, I whisper. Thanks. He didn't abandon me. Don't let me fully defend myself. The cost of this drug must be astronomical. Probably

not one but many sponsors contributed to buy this little pot. For me, it's priceless. I dip two fingers into the pot and gently spread the balm over my calf. The effect is almost magical, erasing pain on contact, leaving behind a pleasant cooling sensation. This isn't some herbal concoction my mother grinds from plants in the forest, this is high-tech medicine made in the Capitol labs. When it comes to the calf, I rub a thin layer on my hands. After wrapping the jar in the parachute, I store it safely in my backpack. Now that the pain has subsided, all I can do is move into my bag before falling asleep. A bird perched a few meters from me tells me that a new day is dawning. In the gray morning light, I examine my hands. The remedy turned all the angry red spots to a soft pink like a baby's skin. My leg is still swollen, but that burn went much deeper.

I apply another coat of medicine and quietly put my gear away. Whatever happens, I'm going to have to act and act fast. I also force myself to eat a biscuit and a piece of meat and drink a few glasses of water. There was barely anything left in my stomach yesterday and I'm already starting to feel the effects of hunger. under me i

He can see the carrera pack and Peeta sleeping on the floor. From her position, leaning against the tree trunk, I guessed that Glimmer must be on guard, but weariness got the better of her. My eyes narrow as they try to penetrate the tree beside me, but I can't make out Rue. Since she warned me, it seems only fair to tip her off. Besides, if I'm going to die today, I want Rue to win. Even if it means a little extra food for my family, the thought of Peeta being crowned victorious is unbearable. I call Rue's name in a whisper and her eyes pop out, wide and alert at the same time. She points to the nest again. I lift my knife and make a sawing motion. She nods and disappears. There's rustling in a nearby tree. Then the same noise again a little further away. I notice that he is jumping from tree to tree. It's all I can do not to laugh out loud. Is that what you showed the Watchers? I imagine her flying through the training equipment without touching the ground. I should have gotten at least a ten. Pink streaks erupt in the east. I can not wait anymore. Compared to the agony of last night's climb, this one is a breeze. On the branch of the tree that supports the nest, I place my knife in the groove and am about to sink my teeth into the wood when I see something move. There, in the nest. the shining gold

the glint of a tracker jack lazily on the gray surface of paper. Sure, he's acting a little weird, but the wasp is up and moving and that means the others will be out soon too. Sweat breaks out on my hands, seeps through the ointment, and I do my best to wipe it off on my shirt. If I don't get past this branch in a matter of seconds, the entire swarm could emerge and attack me. It's no use postponing. I take a deep breath, grab the handle of the knife and push as hard as I can. Forward, forward, back, forward! The tracker jacks start buzzing and I hear them coming out. Forward, forward, back, forward! Searing pain shoots through my knee and I know one has found me and the others are closing in. Back, forward, back, forward. And as soon as the knife cuts, I push the end of the branch as far away from me as possible. It slams into the lower branches, temporarily catching on a few, but then breaking free until it lands with a thud on the ground. The nest explodes like an egg and a furious swarm of tracker jackers rises into the air. I feel a second sting on my cheek, a third on my neck, and the venom makes me dizzy almost immediately. I cling to the tree with one arm as I pull the barbed stingers from my flesh. Fortunately, only these three tracker jackers had

He identified me before the nest sank. The rest of the bugs target their enemies on the ground. your chaos. The Careers have been awakened by a large-scale drone attack. Peeta and a few others had the good sense to drop everything and run. I can hear screams from Over the lake! To the lake! and they know that they hope to escape the wasps by going into the water. It must be close if they think they can outrun the angry bugs. Glimmer and another girl, the one from District 4, aren't so lucky. They get several bites before they're out of my sight. Glimmer seems to completely freak out, screaming and trying to scare off the wasps with her bow, which makes no sense. She asks the others for help, but of course no one returns. The girl from District 4 staggers out of sight, but I wouldn't bet on her making it to the lake. I watch Glimmer fall, writhe hysterically on the floor for a few minutes, then lie still. The nest is just an empty shell. The wasps disappeared in search of the others. I don't think they'll come back, but I don't want to risk it. I run up the tree and hit the ground running in the opposite direction of the lake. The venom from the stingers makes me stagger, but I find my way back to my little pond and dive into the water, in case any wasps are still following me.

After about five minutes, I crawled over the rocks. People have not exaggerated the effects of tracker jacker bites. In fact, the one on my knee looks more like an orange than a plum. A smelly green liquid oozes from the places where I removed the stingers. The inflammation. The pain. The slime. Seeing Glimmer shaking to death on the floor. It's a lot to drive before the sun clears the horizon. I don't want to think about how Glimmer must be right now. Her disfigured body. Her swollen fingers tightened around the bow. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Bow! Somewhere in my dazed mind, one thought connects with another and I'm on my feet, staggering through the trees back to Glimmer. Bow. The arrows. I must get them. I still haven't heard the cannons fire, so maybe Glimmer is in some kind of coma, her heart still fighting the wasp venom. But as soon as he stops and the cannon signals his death, a hovercraft will zoom in and retrieve his body, taking forever the only bow and arrow I've ever seen outside of the Games. And I refuse to let them slip through my fingers again! I catch up with Glimmer just as the cannon goes off. Tracker jacks are gone. This girl, so stunningly beautiful in her gold dress the night of the interviews, is unrecognizable. His eradicated features, his

limbs three times normal size. The stinger's protrusions began to explode, spewing a putrid green liquid around them. I have to break several of what used to be his fingers with a rock to free the bow. The arrow scabbard is attached to its back. I try to roll over her body, pulling an arm away, but the flesh disintegrates.

in my hands and I fall back to the ground. This is real? Or did the hallucinations start? I squeeze my eyes shut and try to breathe through my mouth, ordering myself not to throw up. Breakfast must stay, it may be days before he can hunt again. A second cannon goes off and I think the girl from District 4 just died. I hear the birds go silent and then one gives the warning call, which means a hovercraft is about to show up. Confused, I think it's because of Glimmer, although that doesn't make a lot of sense because I'm still in the picture, still fighting for the arrows. I return to my knees and the trees around me begin to spin in circles. In the middle of the sky I see the hovercraft. I throw myself over Glimmers' body as if to protect him, but then I see the girl from District 4 being lifted into the air and disappearing. Do it! I command myself. Clenching my jaw, I bury my hands under

Glimpse the body, grab what should be its ribcage and force it onto its stomach. I can't help it, I'm hyperventilating right now, it's all a nightmare and I'm losing track of what's real. I tug on the silver arrow's scabbard, but it's caught in something, his shoulder blade, something, and I finally release it. I've just hugged the pod when I hear footsteps, several pairs, approaching through the undergrowth, and I realize the Careers have returned. They came back to kill me or take their weapons or both. But it's too late to run. I pull a slimy arrow from its scabbard and try to fit it to the bowstring, but instead of one string I see three, and the stench of the stings is so repulsive that I can't. I can't do this I can't do this I'm helpless as the first hunter crashes into the trees, spear raised, ready to throw. The shock on Peeta's face makes no sense to me. I await the blow. Instead, his arm drops to the side. What are you still doing here? he whispers to me. I watch blankly as a trickle of water trickles from a bite below his ear. His whole body begins to glow as if it has been dipped in dew. You are crazy? Now he's poking me with the spear shaft. Stand! Stand! I get up, but he keeps pushing me. What? What's happening? He pushes me away from him forcefully. Run! He screams. Run!

Behind him, Cato pushes through the undergrowth. He is also brilliantly wet and very itchy under one eye. I catch the glint of sunlight on its blade and do as Peeta says. Gripping my bow and arrows tightly, bumping into trees that appear out of nowhere, stumbling and falling as I try to keep my balance. Back to my pool and into an unknown forest. The world begins to bend alarmingly. A butterfly inflates to the size of a house and then breaks into a million stars. The trees turn to blood and fall onto my boots. Ants are starting to crawl out of the blisters on my hands and I can't get rid of them. They're creeping up my arms, my neck. Someone screams, a long, high-pitched scream that never stops breathing. I have a vague idea

it could be me. I trip and fall into a small hole surrounded by little orange bubbles that buzz like a nest of tracker jackers. Pulling my knees up to my chin, I wait for death. Sick and disoriented, I can only form one thought: Peeta Mellark just saved my life. Then the ants pierced my eyes and I passed out.

15. I enter a nightmare from which I repeatedly wake up only to discover that a greater terror awaits me. All the things I fear the most, all the things I fear for others are manifested in such vivid detail I can't help but believe they're real. Every time I wake up, I think: it's finally over, but it's not over. It's just the beginning of a new chapter of torture. How many ways do I see Prim die? Relive my father's last moments? Feel my own body torn apart? That is the nature of homing poison, so carefully crafted to target the place where fear lives in your brain. When I finally come to my senses, I lie still, waiting for the next onslaught of images. But I finally accept that the poison must have finally left my system, leaving my body broken and weak. I'm still lying on my side, locked in the fetal position. I raised a hand to my eyes to find them healthy, untouched by ants that never existed. Just stretching my limbs requires enormous effort. So many parts of me hurt that it's not worth taking an inventory of them. Very, very slowly, I manage to sit up. I'm in a shallow hole, filled not with the orange bubbles of my hallucination but with old, dead leaves. My clothes are damp, but I don't know if the cause is lake water, dew, rain, or sweat. For a long time, all I can do is take small sips from my bottle.

and watch a beetle crawl up the side of a honeysuckle bush. How long have I been out? It was morning when I lost my mind. Now it's too late. But the stiffness in my joints suggests more than a day has passed, possibly even two. If so, I have no way of knowing which tributes survived the homing attacks. Not Glimmer or the girl from District 4. But there was the boy from District 1, both tributes from District 2, and Peeta. Did they die from the bites? Surely, if they lived, their last days must have been as horrible as mine. And what about Rue? It's so small that it wouldn't take much poison to kill it. But again. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· The tracker jackers would have to get her, and she had a good head start. A bad, rotten taste invades my mouth, and the water has little effect on it. I crawl to the honeysuckle bush and pick a flower. I gently pull the stamen through the flower and place the drop of nectar on my tongue. The sweetness spreads through my mouth, down my throat, warming my veins with memories of summer, home, the woods and the presence of Wales beside me. For some reason, our discussion from that last morning comes back to me. We could do this, you know. What? Exit the district. Escape. He lives in the forest. You and me, we could do this. And suddenly I'm not thinking about

Gale about Peeta and. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡·

Peeta! He saved my life! I think. Because when we first met, I couldn't say what was real and what made me imagine the poison of homing. But if he did, and my gut tells me he did, what for? Is he just working on the Lover Boy angle he started in the interview? Or was he really trying to protect me? And if so, what was he doing with those races in the first place? None of this makes sense. I wonder what Gale thought about the incident for a moment and then put it out of my mind because, for some reason, Gale and Peeta don't coexist well in my thoughts. So I focus on the really good things that have happened since I got to the arena. I have a bow and arrows! A dozen arrows, if you count the one I retrieved from the tree. They don't have any traces of the noxious green slime that came out of Glimmers' body, which leads me to believe that it might not have been entirely real, but they do have a fair amount of dried blood on them. I can clean them up later, but it takes me a minute to toss a few into a nearby tree. They look more like the weapons at the Training Center than mine at home, but who cares? Who can I work with? The

Weapons give me a whole new perspective on the Games. I know I have tough opponents to face. But I'm no longer just prey that runs and hides or takes desperate measures. If Cato went through the trees now, he wouldn't run, he'd shoot. I think I'm actually anticipating the moment with pleasure. But first, I have to regain some strength in my body. I am very dehydrated again and my water supply is dangerously low. What little filler I managed to put on by gorging myself during prep time in the Capitol was gone, and several extra pounds too. My hip bones and ribs are more prominent than I remember those awful months after my father's death. And then there are my injuries to deal with, burns, cuts and bruises from hitting trees, and three homing bug bites, which are more painful and swollen than ever. I treat my burns with the ointment and try to rub some on my bites as well, but it has no effect on them. My mother knew of a treatment for them, a kind of leaf that extracted the poison, but she rarely had a reason to use it, and I don't even remember the name, much less what it looked like. Water first I guess. You can hunt on the road now. It's easy to see where I came from in the path of destruction my crazed body made through the foliage. So I'm gone on the other

direction, hoping my enemies are still trapped in the surreal world of homing poison. I can't move very fast, my joints reject any sudden movement. But I set the hunters slow grip that I use when tracking game. Within minutes, I spot a rabbit and make my first kill with the bow and arrow. Not my usual straight eye shot, but I'll take it. After about an hour, I find a stream that is shallow but wide and more than adequate for my needs. The suns are hot and hard, so while I

I hope my water is purified. I take off my underwear and dive into the gentle flow. I'm filthy from head to toe, I try to wet myself, but finally I lie in the water for a few minutes, letting it wash away the soot, blood, and skin that has started to peel from my burns. After rinsing my clothes and hanging them in the bushes to dry, I sit in the sun for a while on the beach, fingers untangling my hair. My appetite returns and I eat a biscuit and a strip of meat. With a handful of moss, I clean the blood from my silver weapons. Refreshed, I treat my burns again, braid my hair back, and change into my damp clothes, knowing the sun will dry them soon. Going with the flow against its current seems like the wisest course of action.

action. Now I'm up the hill, which I prefer, with a source of fresh water not only for me, but also for possible game. I easily pull out a strange bird that must be some kind of wild turkey. Anyway, I think it's quite edible. At the end of the afternoon I decide to make a small fire to cook the meat, I bet the twilight will help mask the smoke and I'll be able to put out the fire by nightfall. I clean the game, taking special care of the bird, but there is nothing alarming about it. After the feathers are plucked, it is no bigger than a chicken, but stocky and firm. I've just placed the first batch on the embers when I hear the branch crack. In one movement, I turn toward the sound, bringing the bow and arrow to my shoulder. There's nobody there. No one that I can see anyway. Then I see the toe of a child's boot peeking out from behind a tree trunk. My shoulders relax and I smile. He can move through the woods like a shadow, you have to give him that. How else could he have followed me? The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. You know, they're not the only ones who can form alliances, I mean. For a moment, no response. Then one of Rue's eyes circles the trunk. Do you want me as an ally? Why not? You saved me with those tracker jackers. You are smart enough to stay alive. And I can't shake you anyway, I say. she winks at me

trying to decide are you hungry? I can see her swallow, her eye flickering to the flesh. Come on then, I had two deaths today. Rue shyly leaves. I can fix her bites. I can? I ask. As? He rummages through the backpack she's carrying and pulls out a handful of leaves. I'm pretty sure they're the ones my mother uses. Where did you find them? Just around. We all use them when we work in the orchards. They left a lot of nests there, says Rue. There are many here too. So it is. You are District Eleven. Agriculture, I mean. Orchards, eh? That must be how you can fly around the trees like you have wings. Rue smiles. I landed on one of the few things they are proud of. Well, come on then. fix me I sit by the fire and roll up my pant leg to reveal the pain in my knee. To my surprise, Rue puts the handful of leaves in her mouth and begins to chew.

they. My mother would use other methods, but we don't have many options. After a minute or so, Rue presses down on a sticky green ball of chewed leaves and spits it onto my knee. Oh. The sound comes out of my mouth before I can stop it. It's like the leaves are relieving the pain of the bite. Rue laughs.

Lucky you had the good sense to remove the stingers or it would get much worse. Do my neck! Make my cheek! I almost beg. Rue pops another handful of leaves into her mouth and soon I'm laughing because the relief is so sweet. I feel a long burn on Rue's forearm. I have something for that. I put my weapons aside and rub the burn medicine on her arm. You have good sponsors, he says wistfully. Have you got anything yet? I ask. She shakes her head. However, you will. Clock. The closer we get to the end, the more people will realize how smart you are. I turn the meat. Weren't you kidding about wanting me as an ally? she asks. No, I was serious, I mean. I can almost hear Haymitch groaning as I join this wimpy boy. But I love her. Because she's a survivor, and I trust her, and why not admit it? Reminds me of Prim. Okay, she says, holding out her hand. We shiver. It's a deal. Of course, this kind of deal can only be temporary, but none of us mention it. Rue brings a big handful of some kind of starchy root for the meal. Fire-roasted, they have the sweet and tangy flavor of parsnip. She also recognizes the bird, a wild thing they call a groosling in her district. She says sometimes a herd wanders through the orchard and they get a decent lunch that day. For a moment, all talk stops when

we fill our stomachs. The groosling has delicious food that is so greasy that the fat runs down your face when you bite into it. Oh, Rue says with a sigh. I've never had a whole leg to myself before. I bet not. I bet meat almost never crosses your path. Take the other one, I say. Seriously? she asks. Take what you want. Now that I have a bow and arrows, I can get more. Also, I have pitfalls. I can show you how to set them up, I say. Rue is still looking uncertainly at her leg. Ah, take it, I say, placing the stick in his hands. Anyway, it's only going to last a few days, and we've got the whole bird plus the rabbit. Once he gets it, his appetite builds up and he takes a big bite. I would have thought that in District Eleven you would have a little more to eat than we did. You know, since you grow the food, I mean. Rue's eyes widen. Oh no, they weren't allowed to eat the crops. Do they arrest you or something? I ask. They hit you and make everyone watch, says Rue. Mayors are very strict about this. I can tell by his expression that it's not that weird. A public beating is a rare occurrence in District 12, although it does occasionally occur. Technically, Gale and I could get flogged daily for poaching in the woods, well, technically, we could get a lot worse, except all the officers buy our meat. Also, our

The mayor, Madge's father, doesn't seem to like this kind of event very much. Perhaps being the least prestigious, poorest, and most derided neighborhood in the country has its perks. For example, being largely ignored by the Capitol while we produce our carbon allowances. Can you get all the coal you want? Ruth asks. I don't answer. Just what we buy and what we track in our boots. They feed us a little more during the harvest so people can keep going longer, says Rue. Don't you have to be at school? I ask. Not during harvest. Everyone works then, says Rue. It's interesting to hear about your life. We have very little communication with anyone outside of our district. In fact, I wonder if the Watchers are blocking our conversation, because even though the information seems harmless, they don't want people from different districts to know each other. At Rues' suggestion, we organized all our food to plan ahead. She's already seen most of mine, but she adds the last of the biscuits and strips of meat to the pile. He gathered a huge collection of roots, nuts, vegetables and even some berries. I roll an unfamiliar berry between my fingers. Are you sure this is safe? Oh yes, we have them at home. I've been eating for days, he says, shoving a handful in his mouth. I tentatively bite into one, and it's as good as our blackberries. Taking Rue as an ally

seems to be a better option all the time. We split our food supplies, so if they get separated, they'll both settle down for a few days. In addition to food, Rue has a small waterskin, a homemade sling, and an extra pair of socks. He also has a sharp piece of stone that she uses as a knife. I know it's not much, she says like she's embarrassed, but I had to get away from the Cornucopia fast. You did well, I say. When I open my gear, he gasps a little at the sight of the sunglasses. How did you get this? she asks. In my pack. They've been useless so far. They don't block the sun and make it hard to see, I say with a shrug. These aren't for the sun, they're for the dark, Rue exclaims. Sometimes, when we harvest at night, some couples pass us in the top of the trees. Where torchlight does not reach. Once, this boy Martin, he tried to keep his partner. He hid it in his pants. They killed him on the spot. Did they kill a kid for taking this? I say. Yes, and everyone knew that he posed no danger. Martin wasn't right in the head. I mean, he was still acting like a three year old. He just wanted the glasses to play with, says Rue. Hearing that makes me feel like District 12 is some kind of safe haven. Of course, people are hungry all the time, but I can't imagine the Peacekeepers murdering a naive child. there is a little

girl, one of the grandchildren of Greasy Saes, who wanders the Hob. She's not doing well, but they treat her like some kind of pet. People throw away their leftovers and things. So what do they do? I ask Rue, picking up the glasses. They let you see in total darkness, says Rue. Try them out tonight when the sun goes down.

low. I give Rue some matches and she makes sure I have plenty of leaves in case my bites explode again. We put out the fire and walked upriver until it was almost dark. Where do you sleep? I ask him, in the trees? She nods. With just your jacket? Rue grabs her extra pair of socks. I have it in my hands. I think about how cold the nights have been. You can share my sleeping bag if you like. Well, they both fit together easily. Her face lights up. I can say that this is more than he dared to hope for. We choose a fork in the top of a tree and settle in for the night just as the anthem begins to play. There were no deaths today. Rue, I just woke up today. How many nights did I miss? The anthem should block out our words, but still I whisper. I even take care to cover my lips with my hand. I don't want the audience to know what I intend to tell about Peeta. Following my lead, she does the same. Two, she says. The

the girls from districts one and four are dead. We are ten. Something strange happened. At least, I think so. It could have been the homing poison making me imagine things, I say. Do you know the boy from my district? Peeta? I think it saved my life. But he was with the Carreras. He's not with them now, she says. I spied their base camp by the lake. They came back before passing out from the stingers. But he is not there. Maybe he saved you and had to run away. I don't answer. If, in fact, Peeta saved me, I owe him again. And that cannot be returned. If he did, it was probably just part of his act. You know, to make people think he's in love with me. Oh, Rue says thoughtfully. I don't think it was an act. Of course it is, I say. He worked with our mentor. The anthem ends and the sky darkens. Let's try these glasses. I pick up my glasses and put them on. Rue wasn't kidding. I can see everything from the leaves on the trees to a skunk walking through the bushes fifty feet away. I could kill him from here if he wanted to. I could kill anyone. I wonder who else has a pair of these, I say. Careers have two pairs. But they have it all by the lake, says Rue. And they are so strong. They were strong too, I mean. Just in a different way. You are. You can shoot, she says. What can I do? you can feed

yourself. they can? I ask. They do not need. They have all these supplies, says Rue. Say no. Let's say supplies run out. How long would they last? I say. I mean, it's the hunger games, right? But, Katniss, they're not hungry, says Rue. No, they're not. That's the problem, I agree. And for the first time, I have a plan. A plan that isn't motivated by the need to get away and get away. An offensive plan. I think we're going to have to fix this, Rue.


Rue decided to trust me with all her heart. I know this because as soon as the anthem ends she snuggles into me and falls asleep. I have no doubts about her either, as I take no special precautions. If she wanted me dead, all she

he would have to do is disappear from that tree without pointing out the tracker jacker's nest. Inciting me, in the back of my mind, is the obvious one. We both cannot win these Games. But since the odds are still stacked against any of us surviving, I manage to dismiss the thought. Also, I'm distracted by my last thought about the Careers and their supplies. Somehow Rue and I must find a way to destroy her food. I'm sure feeding will be a tremendous struggle. Traditionally, the strategy of racial tributes is to take all the food early on and work from there. The years they didn't protect it well, one year a herd of hideous reptiles destroyed it, another year a flood of Gamemakers swept it away, those are usually the years tributes from other districts won. The fact that Careers were better at red growing up is actually a disadvantage for them, because they don't know how to get hungry. Not like Rue and me. But I'm too exhausted to start any detailed plans tonight. My wounds are healing, my mind is still a little clouded from the poison, and the warmth of Rue beside me, her head resting on my shoulder, gives me a sense of security. I realize, for the first time, how alone I feel in the arena. How comforting the presence of another human being can be. I give in to my drowsiness, resolving that tomorrow the situation will be reversed. Tomorrow, it is the professionals who will have to protect themselves. The roar of the cannon wakes me up.

The skies streaked with light, the birds already chattering. Rue is perched on a branch in front of me, her hands clutching something. We wait, hearing more shots, but there are none. Who do you think it was? I can't stop thinking about Peeta. I don't know. It could have been any of the others, says Rue. I think I know better tonight. Who left again? I ask. The boy from District One. Both Two tributes. The boy of three. Thresh and me. And you and Peeta, says Rue. That's eight. Wait, what about the boy from Ten, the one with the bad leg. Nine ago. There is someone else, but none of us can remember who it is. I wonder how the last one died, says Rue. Not said, but it's good for us. One kill should hold the crowd back for a while. Maybe we have time to do something before the Watchers decide things are going too slow, I say. What's in your hands? Breakfast, says Rue. She holds them up revealing two large eggs. What type are those? I ask. I'm not sure. There's a marshy area on that road. Some kind of water bird, she says. It would be nice to cook them, but none of them want to risk a fire. I assume the tribute who died today was a victim of the Races, which means they've recovered enough to return to the Games. Each of us sucks the inside of an egg, eats a rabbit's foot and some blackberries. It's a good breakfast anywhere. Ready to do it? I say, pulling on my backpack. Do it? Rue says, but you can tell by the way she bounces that she's ready for anything I throw at her. Today we take away the food from Carreras, that is. Seriously?

As? You can see the gleam of emotion in their eyes. In this way, she is the exact opposite of Prim for whom adventures are an ordeal. No idea. Come on, let's come up with a plan while we hunt, I say. However, we don't hunt much because I'm too busy getting all the information I can about Carreras' base in Rue. She's only been there to spy on them briefly, but she's observant. They set up their camp by the lake. Their supply depot is about 100 feet away. During the day, they've been leaving another tribute, the boy from District 3, to keep an eye on the supplies. The boy from District Three? I ask. Are you working with them? Yes, he stays at the camp full time. They were also stung when they dragged tracker jackers along the lake, says Rue. I think they agreed to let him live if he acted as a guard. But it's not very big. What weapons do you have? I ask. Not much that I could see. A spear. He might keep some of us in line with that, but Thresh might kill us.

easily, says Rue. And the outdoor food? I say. She nods. Something isn't right with this whole setup. I know. But I couldn't say what exactly, says Rue. Katniss, even if you could take the food, how would you get rid of it? Too bad. Throw it in the lake. Dip it in fuel. I punch Rue in the stomach, just like I would Prim. With the! She laughs. Don't worry, I'll think of something. Destroying things is much easier than making them. For a while, we dig roots, collect fruits and vegetables, silently strategize. And I know Rue, the eldest of six children, fiercely protective of her siblings, who feeds her rations to the little ones, who forages in the meadows in a district where the Peacekeepers are far less useful than ours. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Rue, when you ask him what he loves most in the world, he says music above all else. Song? I say. In our world, I rank music between tiaras and rainbows in terms of usefulness. At least one rainbow hints at the weather. Do you have a lot of time for this? We sing at home. At work too. That's why I love your pin, he says, pointing to the robin I forgot again. Do you have mockingjays? I ask. Oh yeah. I have some who are my special friends. We can sing back and forth for hours. They carry messages for me, she says. What do you mean? I say. I'm usually at the top, so I'm the first to see the flag indicating the time of departure. There's a special little song I sing, says Rue. He opens his mouth and sings a short four-note rush in a sweet, clear voice. And the mockingjays spread through the orchard. That's how everyone knows how to end, keep going. However, they can be dangerous if you get too close to their nests. But you can't blame them for that. I open the clasp and hand it over. Take it, take it. It means more to you than it does to me. Oh no, Rue says, closing my fingers over the pin. I like to see that in you. That's how I decided I could trust you.

Also, I have this. He takes a necklace woven from some kind of grass from his shirt. From it hangs a roughly carved wooden star. Or maybe it's a flower. It's a good luck charm. Well, it's worked so far, I say, tucking the mockingjay back into my shirt. Maybe you should keep it. For lunch, we have a plan. In the early afternoon, we are prepared to carry it out. I help Rue gather and place wood for the first two fires, the third ladle taking time to itself. We decided to meet later at the place where we had our first meal together. The transmission should help guide me back.

this. Before I leave, I make sure Rues is well stocked with food and matches. I even insist on bringing my sleeping bag in case we can't meet before dark. Is that you? Won't you get cold? she asks. Not if I get another bag from the lake, I mean. You know, stealing isn't illegal here, I say with a smile. At the last minute, Rue decides to show me her mockingjay sign, the one she gives to indicate the day she finished work. It might not work. But if you hear the mockingjays singing, you'll know I'm fine, I just can't go back right away. Are there many mockingjays here? I ask. Haven't you seen them? They have nests everywhere, she says. I have to admit I didn't notice. Well then. If all goes according to plan, I'll see you at dinner, I say. Unexpectedly, Rue throws her arms around me. I only hesitate for a moment before hugging him back. Be careful, he tells me. You too, I say. I turn and walk back to the creek, feeling a little worried. About Rue being killed, Rue not being killed, and the two of us staying for the end, leaving Rue alone, leaving Prim home alone. No, Prim has my mother, Gale, and a baker who promised she wouldn't go hungry. Rue only has me. Once I reach the creek, I just have to follow it down the slope to where I initially picked it up after the homing attacks. However, I must be cautious moving through the water, because my thoughts are occupied with unanswered questions, most of which concern Peeta. The cannon he fired this morning, did that mean his death? If yes, how did he die? Hand in hand with a Career? And this was revenge for letting me live? I struggle again to remember that moment over Glimmers' body, when he burst through the trees. But just the fact that it was spark makes me doubt everything that happened. Yesterday I must have moved very slowly because I reach the shallow part where I bathed in a few hours. I stop to refill my water and add a layer of mud to my backpack. He seems determined to go back to orange no matter how many times I cover him. My proximity to the professional camp heightens my senses, and the closer I get to them, the more cautious I become, stopping frequently to listen for unnatural sounds, an arrow already placed on my bowstring. I don't see any other tributes, but I notice some of the things Rue mentioned.

Sweet berry patches. A bush with the leaves that healed my bites. Clusters of tracker jacker nests in close proximity to the tree they were trapped in. Is here

and there, the black and white flash of a mockingjay's wing in the branches above my head. When I reach the tree with the abandoned nest at the foot, I stop for a moment to gather my courage. Rue gave specific instructions on how to get to the best spy spot near the lake from this point. Remember, I tell myself. You are the hunter now, not them. I grip my bow more firmly and continue. I reach the little grove Rue told me about and once again I have to admire her cunning. It's right on the edge of the woods, but the dense foliage is so dense that I can easily observe the pro camp without being seen. Between us is the flat expanse where the Games began. There are four tributes. The boy from District 1, Cato and the girl from District 2, and a thin gray-skinned boy who must be from District 3. I wasn't impressed during our time in the Capitol. I can remember almost nothing about him, not his outfit, not his practice score, not his interview. Even now, sitting there fiddling with some sort of plastic box, he is easily ignored in the presence of his large, commanding peers. But it must have some value or they wouldn't have bothered to let him live. Still, seeing him only heightens my sense of unease about why the Careers could possibly leave him as a guard, why they let him live. The four tributes appear to still be recovering from the tracker jacker attack. Even from here, I can see the big swollen lumps on their bodies. They must not have had the sense to remove the stingers, or if they did, they must not have known about the leaves that cured them. Apparently, all the remedies they found in the Cornucopia were ineffective. The Cornucopia is in its original position, but its interior has been cleaned. Most of the supplies, stored in boxes, burlap bags and plastic containers, are neatly stacked in a pyramid at what seems a questionable distance from the camp. Others are scattered around the pyramid's perimeter, almost mimicking the supply arrangement around the Cornucopia at the start of the Games. A net canopy that, in addition to discouraging birds, seems useless, shelters the pyramid itself. The whole setup is completely baffling. The distance, the network and the presence of the boy from District 3. One thing is for sure, destroying these supplies won't be as simple as it seems. Some other factor is at play here, and I'd better stay put until I figure out what it is. I think the pyramid is a trap in some way. I think of hidden wells, nets that descend, a thread that, when broken, shoots a poisonous dart into the heart. really, the

the possibilities are endless. As I ponder my options, I hear Cato yell. He's pointing into the woods, far beyond me, and without turning I know

that Rue must have lit the first fire. We made sure to gather enough green wood so that the smoke was noticeable. Breeds begin to grow immediately. An argument ensues. It's loud enough to hear whether the boy from District 3 should stay or join them. He is coming. We need him in the forest, and his work here is already done. No one can touch these supplies, says Cato. And the lover boy? says the boy from District 1. I keep telling you, forget about him. I know where I cut it. It's a miracle he hasn't bled yet. He's in no shape to attack us anyway, says Cato. So Peeta is in the woods, badly injured. But I still don't know what motivated him to betray the pros. Come on, says Cato. He thrusts a spear into the District 3 boy's hands and they head towards the fire. The last thing I hear as they enter the forest is Cato saying, When we find her, I'll kill her my way and no one interferes. Somehow I don't think he's talking about Rue. She didn't throw a nest of acker jackers at him. I stand there for half an hour or so, trying to figure out what to do with the supplies. The only advantage I have with archery is distance. He could send a flaming arrow into the pyramid quite easily. I'm a good shooter to get through those openings at the net, but there's no guarantee I'm going to catch. Most likely he will burn himself and then what? I wouldn't have gotten anything and given them a lot of information about me. That I was here, that I have an accomplice, that I know how to use a bow and arrow with precision. No alternative. I'll have to get closer and see if I can figure out what exactly is protecting the supplies. In fact, I'm about to reveal myself when a movement catches my eye. Several hundred meters to my right I see someone coming out of the woods. For a second I think it's Rue, but then I recognize that Foxface is the one we can't remember crawling across the plain this morning. When he decides it's safe, he runs towards the pyramid, taking small, quick steps. Just before reaching the circle of supplies that have been scattered around the pyramid, he stops, searches the ground, and carefully places his feet in one spot. He then begins to approach the pyramid with strange little hops, sometimes landing on one foot, swaying slightly,

sometimes risking a few steps. At one point, he launches himself into the air, into a small barrel, and lands on his toes. But she went a little too far and his momentum speared her forward. I hear her shriek as his hands hit the ground, but nothing happens. At one point, he recovers and continues until he reaches most of the supplies. So I'm right about the trap, but it's clearly more complex than I realized. I was also right about the girl. How smart is she to have figured out this path to food and been able to replicate it so well? she fills

packing, taking a few items from several bins, cookies from a box, a handful of apples from a burlap sack hanging from a rope on the side of a bin. But only a handful of each, not enough to give notice that food is missing. Not enough to raise suspicion. And then she's doing her weird little dance out of the circle and running off into the woods again, safe and sound. I realize I'm grinding my teeth in frustration. Foxface confirmed what I had already guessed. But what kind of trap did they set that requires so much skill? Do you have so many trigger points? Why did he scream so much when his hands hit the floor? You would have thought. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· And slowly I begin to realize this. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· You would have thought that the ground itself would explode. It's undermined, I whisper. That explains it all. The willingness of professionals to leave their supplies, the reaction of the Foxfaces, the participation of the boy from District 3, where they have factories, where they make televisions, cars and explosives. But where did you get them? On supplies? This isn't the type of weapon that Watchers often provide, as they enjoy seeing their own tributes bleed. I step out of the bushes and make my way to one of the round metal signs that lift the tributes into the arena. The surrounding land was excavated and flattened. The landmines were deactivated after the sixty seconds we were on the boards, but the guy from District 3 must have managed to reactivate them. I've never seen anyone at the Games do that. I bet it came as a shock even to the Rangers. Well, kudos to the guy from District 3 for tricking them, but what am I supposed to do now? Obviously, I can't get into this mess without blowing myself up. As for sending a fiery arrow, that's more ridiculous than ever. Mines are triggered by pressure. It doesn't have to be much either. one year one girl

he dropped his token, a small wooden ball, while it was on his plate, and they literally had to scrape chunks of it off the floor. My arms are pretty good, I could throw some rocks in there and trigger what? maybe one of mine? This could start a chain reaction. Or could it? Would the boy from District 3 have placed the mines so that a single mine wouldn't disturb the others? Thus protecting the supplies, but ensuring the death of the invader. Even if I just detonated a mine, it would certainly lure the Carreras towards me. And anyway, what am I thinking? There is that net, clearly laid out to deflect any such attack. Besides, what you really need is to throw about thirty rocks in there at once, causing a huge chain reaction, demolishing the entire lot. I look back to the forest. Smoke from the second Rue fire rises to the sky. By now, the Professionals have probably begun to suspect some sort of trickery. Time is running out. There is a solution to this, I know there is, if I can concentrate hard enough. I look at the pyramid, the

the containers, the boxes, too heavy to drop with an arrow. Perhaps one contains cooking oil, and the flaming arrow idea is being revived when I realize that I might end up losing all twelve arrows and not being shot directly into a container of oil, as I would only be guessing. I'm really considering trying to recreate Foxface's trip to the pyramid in hopes of finding a new means of destruction when my eyes fall on the bag of apples. I could cut the rope with one shot, didn't I do so much at the Training Center? It's a big bag, but it still might only be good for a blast. If I could free the apples. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I know what I have to do. I move into range and give myself three arrows to do the job. I place my feet carefully, blocking out the rest of the world as I take meticulous aim. The first arrow goes through the side of the bag near the top, leaving a slit in the burlap. The second widens it until it becomes a huge hole. I can see the first apple dangling as I release the third arrow, catching the torn burlap flap and yanking it out of the bag. For a moment, everything seems frozen in time. Then the apples hit the ground and I go flying backwards into the air.


The impact with the compacted earth of the plain takes my breath away.

My backpack does little to soften the blow. Fortunately, my quiver caught in the crook of my elbow, saving itself and my shoulder, and my bow is clutched in my hands. The ground still shakes from the explosions. I can't hear them. I can't hear anything now. But the apples must have activated enough mines, causing the debris to activate the others. I manage to shield my face with my arms as shards of matter, some burning, fall around me. Acrid smoke fills the air, which is not the best medicine for anyone trying to regain the ability to breathe. After about a minute, the ground stops vibrating. I roll over and allow myself a moment of satisfaction as I see the smoldering remains of what was once the pyramid. The Pros probably won't save any of that. I better get out of here, I think. They will be heading straight to the location. But once I'm on my feet, I realize that escaping might not be so simple. I feel dizzy. Not the slightly wobbly kind, but the kind that causes the trees to collapse around you and the earth to move in ripples beneath your feet. I take a few steps and somehow end up on my knees. I wait a few minutes to let him go, but he doesn't. Panic begins to set in. I can't stay here. Flight is essential. But I can't walk or hear. I put my hand on my left ear, the

the one that was turned over to the explosion, and comes out bloodied. Was I deaf from the explosion? The idea scares me. I trust my ears as much as I trust my eyes as a hunter, maybe more at times. But I can't let my fear show. Absolutely, positively, I'm live on every screen in Panem. No blood, I tell myself, and manage to pull the hood over my head, tie the rope under my chin with little cooperation.

fingers. This should help absorb the blood. I can't walk, but can I crawl? I advance timidly. Yes, if I go very slowly, I can crawl. Most forests will provide insufficient coverage. My only hope is to go back to the grove of Rues and hide in the bush. I can't be stuck here on my hands and knees in the open air. Not only will I face death, it will surely be long and painful at Cato's hands. The thought of Prim having to watch this keeps me stubbornly moving towards the hiding place. Another explosion hits me squarely. A stray mine, triggered by a collapsing box. This happens twice more. I remember those last kernels that popped when Prim and I made popcorn over the fire at home. To say I do it at the right time is an understatement. I literally just got dragged into the tangle of silences in

the base of the trees when Cato appears, running towards the plain, soon followed by his companions. His rage is so extreme that it might be comical that people would actually pull their hair out and beat their fists on the floor if they didn't know it was directed at me, for what I did to him. Add to that my proximity, my inability to run or defend myself, and indeed, it all terrifies me. I'm glad my hiding place makes it impossible for the cameras to take a close-up picture of me, because I bite my nails like there's no tomorrow. Nibbling the last bits of nail polish, trying to keep my teeth from chattering. The boy from District 3 throws rocks at the ruins and must have declared all mines activated because the professionals are closing in on the rubble. Cato has finished the first phase of his tantrum and takes out his rage on the smoldering wreckage by kicking several containers open. The other tributes are sifting through the mess, looking for something to salvage, but there's nothing. The boy from District 3 did his job very well. This idea must occur to Cato as well, for he turns to the boy and appears to be yelling at him. The boy from District 3 only had time to turn and run before Cato armbarted him from behind. I can see the ripple of muscle in Cato's arms as he turns the boy's head to the side.

It's so fast. The death of the boy from District 3. The other two professionals seem to be trying to calm Cato down. I can tell he wants to go back into the woods, but they keep pointing to the sky, which intrigues me until I realize it, of course. They believe whoever caused the explosions is dead. They don't know about arrows and apples. They assume the trap was faulty, but that the tribute who blew up the supplies died doing so. Had there been a cannon shot, it could easily have been lost in subsequent explosions. The robber's mangled remains removed by a hovercraft. They retreat to the other side of the lake to allow the Watchers to retrieve the boy's body from District 3. And they wait. I think a cannon is fired. A hovercraft appears and takes the dead boy away. The sun goes down

The horizon. Night falls. In the sky I see the seal and I know the anthem must have begun. A moment of darkness. They show the boy from District 3. They show the boy from District 10, who must have died this morning. Then the seal reappears. So now you know. The bomber survived. In the seal light, I watch Cato and the girl from District 2 put on their night vision goggles. The boy from District 1 lights a

tree branch to a torch, illuminating the grim determination on all their faces. Professionals return to the forest to hunt. The dizziness has subsided, and although my left ear is still deaf, I can hear ringing in my right ear, which seems like a good sign. However, there is no point in leaving my hiding place. I'm as safe as possible here at the crime scene. They probably think the attacker has a two or three hour head start on them. There's still a long way to go before I dare to move. The first thing I do is grab my own goggles and put them on, which relaxes me a bit so I have at least one of my hunting senses working. I drink some water and wash the blood from my ear. Fear that the smell of meat would attract unwanted predators. Fresh blood is bad enough. I make a good meal out of the greens, roots, and berries Rue and I picked today. Where is my little ally? Did you go back to the meeting point? Are you worried about me? At least heaven showed that both were alive. I run my fingers over the surviving tributes. Boy 1, both 2, Foxface, both 11 and 12. Just eight of us. The stakes must be heating up on Capitol Hill. They'll do specials on each of us now. Probably interviewing our friends and family. It's been a long time since a tribute from District 12 made it to the top eight. and now there are two

of us. Although from what Cato said, Peetas was dating. Not that Cato has the last word on anything. Didn't you just lose your entire stash of supplies? Let the Seventy-Four Hunger Games begin, Cato, I think. Let them get real started. A cold breeze came up. I grab my sleeping bag before I remember I left it with Rue. I was supposed to get another one, but mines and all, I forgot. I start to shake. Since spending the night in a tree is still not sensible, I dig a hole under the bushes and cover myself with leaves and pine needles. I'm still freezing. I drape my plastic sheet over my upper body and put on my backpack to block the wind. It is a little better. I'm starting to like the girl from District 8 who started the fire that first night better. But now I'm the one who needs to grit my teeth and hold out until morning. More leaves, more pine needles. I tuck my arms inside my jacket and pull my knees to my chest. Somehow I fall asleep. When I open my eyes, the world seems slightly fragmented, and it takes me a minute to realize that the sun must be high and the glasses are fragmenting my vision. As I sit down and take them off, I hear laughter from somewhere nearby.

the lake and freeze. The laugh was distorted, but the fact that it registered means I must be getting my hearing back. Yes, my right ear can hear again, although it still rings. As for my left ear, well, at least the bleeding has stopped. I look through the bushes, afraid the Careers have returned, trapping me here indefinitely. No, it's Foxface, standing in the pyramid's rubble and laughing. She's smarter than the pros, she actually finds some useful items in the ashes. A metal pot. A knife blade. I'm baffled by the fun until I realize that, with the Careers stores removed, it might actually stand a chance. Just like all of us. It crosses my mind to reveal myself and enlist her as a second ally against that pack. But I discard. There's something about that sly smile that makes me certain that befriending Foxface would eventually put a knife in my back. With that in mind, this might be a great time to shoot him. But she heard something, not me, because she turns her head toward the fall and runs into the woods. I wait. Nobody, nothing appears. Still, if Foxface thought it was dangerous, maybe it's time for me to get out of here too. Also, I'm looking forward to telling Rue about the pyramid. As I have no idea where the Carreras are, the route back across the creek looks as good as any. I

Hurry, bow carried in one hand and a piece of cold chicken meat in the other, for I am hungry now, and not only for the leaves and berries, but also for the fat and protein in the meat. The trip to the creek is smooth. Once there, I fill myself with water again and wash myself, taking special care of my injured ear. Then I head up the hill using the creek as a guide. At one point, I find boot prints in the mud along the shore. The races are here, but not for a while. The trails are deep because they were made in soft mud, but now they are almost dry under the scorching sun. I haven't been careful enough in my own tracks, relying on a light step and the pine needles to hide my tracks. Now I take off my boots and socks and walk barefoot to the creek bed. Fresh water has an invigorating effect on my body, on my spirit. I toss two fish, easy pickings in this slow current, and go ahead and eat a raw one, even though I only had the groosling. The second one I'll save for Rue. Gradually, subtly, the ringing in my right ear subsides until it disappears completely. I find myself poking my left ear periodically, trying to clear out anything that is diminishing its ability to pick up sound. If there is an improvement, it is undetectable. I can't adjust to the deafness in the ear. It makes me feel unbalanced and helpless on my left. Really blind. My head keeps spinning to

the injured side, while my right ear tries to compensate for the wall of nothing where yesterday there was a constant flow of information. The more time passes, the less hope I have that this is a wound that will heal. When I arrive at the place of our first meeting, I am sure that it was

undisturbed. No sign of Rue, not on the ground or in the trees. This is strange. By now I should be back, as it's noon. No doubt he spent the night in a tree somewhere. What else could he do without the light and the professionals with their night vision goggles wandering through the woods? And the third fire I was supposed to start, although I forgot to check last night, was the farthest from our location. She's probably just being cautious going back. I hope you hurry, because I don't want to be here too long. I want to spend the afternoon traveling to higher ground, hunting as we go. But I really have nothing to do but wait. I wash the blood from my jacket and hair and clean my ever-growing list of wounds. The burns are much better, but I still use some medicine on them. The main concern now is to avoid contagion. I go ahead and eat the second fish. She won't last long in this scorching sun, but it should be easy enough to throw Rue a few more. If only he would show up. Feeling very vulnerable on the ground with my ear twisted, I climb a tree to wait. If the pros show up, this is a good place to shoot them. The sun moves slowly. I do things to pass the time. Chew the leaves and apply them to my bites that are wilted but still tender. Comb my damp hair with your fingers and braid it. Replace my boots. Check my bow and nine remaining arrows. I repeatedly checked my left ear for signs of life, rustling a leaf next to it, but to no avail. Despite the duck and the fish, my stomach is growling, and I know I'm going to have what we call an empty day in District 12. It's a day when no matter what you put in your belly, it's never enough. Having nothing to do but sit in a tree makes it worse, so I decide to give in. After all, I lost a lot of weight in the arena, I need some extra calories. And having the bow and arrows gives me much more confidence in my future prospects. I peel it slowly and eat a handful of nuts. My last cookie. The grumpy neck. This is good because it takes time to clean up. Finally, a groosling wing and the bird is history. But it's an empty day, and even with all that I start to daydream about food.

Particularly the decadent dishes served in the Capitol. Chicken in creamy orange sauce. The cakes and puddings. Bread and butter. Pasta in green sauce. The lamb stew and prunes. I suck on some mint leaves and tell myself to get over it. Mint is good because we drink mint tea after dinner often, so it tricks my stomach into thinking mealtime is over. Something like that. Hanging from the tree, with the sun warming me, a piece of mint, my bow and arrows in hand. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· This is the most relaxed moment since I entered the arena. I wish Rue would show up and we could leave. As the shadows grow, so does my disquiet. At the end of the afternoon, I decided to go look for her. at least i can visit the place

where he started the third fire and see if there are any clues to his whereabouts. Before I left, I scattered some mint leaves around our old fire pit. Since we meet them from a distance, Rue will understand I've been here, while they won't mean anything to the professionals. In less than an hour, I'm at the place where we agreed to build the third fire and I know something is wrong. The wood was carefully arranged, deftly interspersed with tinder, but never lit. Rue started the fire, but she never came back here. Somewhere between the second plume I saw before blowing up the supplies and this point, he got into trouble. I have to remind myself that she is still alive. Or is it her? Could the cannon shot that announced her death have occurred in the early hours of the morning, when even my good hearing was too impaired to pick it up? Will she appear in the sky tonight? No, I refuse to believe it. There could be a hundred other explanations. It may have been lost. He encountered a pack of predators or another tribute, like Thresh, and had to hide. Whatever happens, I'm sure she's trapped there, somewhere between the second fire and the one at my feet. Something keeps her high in a tree. I think I'll hunt him down. It's a relief to be doing something after sitting around all afternoon. I creep silently through the shadows, letting them hide me. But nothing looks suspicious. There's no sign of any kind of struggle, no interruption of the needles on the ground. I stopped for a moment when I heard it. I have to tilt my head to be sure, but there he is again. It's a four-note tune that comes out of a mockingjay's mouth. Which means she's fine. I smile and move towards the bird. Another, a short distance away, picks up the handful of bills. rude has been

singing to them, and recently. Otherwise they would have chosen another song. My eyes dart to the trees, looking for a sign of her. I swallow hard and sing softly, hoping Shell knows it's safe to join me. A mockingjay repeats the melody for me. And that's when I hear the scream. It's a boy's scream, a girl's scream, there's no one in the arena capable of making that sound except Rue. And now I'm running, knowing this could be a trap, knowing all three races could be ready to attack me, but I can't help it. There's another high-pitched scream, this time my name. Katniss! Katniss! Road! I yell back, letting him know I'm close. So they know I'm close by and hopefully the girl who tracked them down and got an eleven they still can't explain is enough to draw their attention away from her. Road! I'm going! When I burst into the clearing, she was on the ground, hopelessly tangled in a web. He barely has time to run his hand through his mail and say my name before the spear plunges into her body.


The boy from District 1 is killed before he can draw his spear. My arrow plunges deep into the center of his neck. fall to your knees and

he halves the brief remainder of his life by pulling out the arrow and drowning in his own blood. I'm reloaded, shifting my aim from side to side as I call out to Rue, Is there more? Have more? She has to say no several times before I listen. Rue rolled to his side, her body curving in and around the spear. I push the boy away from her and pull out my knife, freeing her from the web. One look at the wound and I know it's far beyond my ability to heal, probably beyond anyone's. The spearhead is buried up to the shaft in her stomach. I crouch down before her, staring helplessly at the built-in gun. It's no use consoling her with words, saying she's going to be fine. She is not stupid. Her hand reaches out and I grab it like a life preserver. Like I was the one dying instead of Rue. Did you blow up the food? she whispers. Every bit, I say. You have to win, she says. I go to. I'll win for both of us now, I promise. I hear a cannon and look up. It must be because of the boy from District 1. Don't go. Rue squeezes my hand tighter. Of course. Stay here, I say. I approach

to her, pulling her head into my lap. I gently brush the thick dark hair behind her ear. Sing, he says, but I barely understand the word. Sing? I think. Sing what? I know some songs. Believe it or not, there used to be music in my house too. Music I helped make. My dad drew me in with that remarkable voice, but I haven't sung much since he died. Except when Prim is very sick. So I sing him the same songs he liked as a baby. Sing. My throat is tight with tears, hoarse from smoke and fatigue. But if this is Prims, I mean Rue's last order, I have to at least give it a try. The music that comes to me is a simple lullaby we sing restless, hungry babies to sleep. It's old, very old I think. Built long ago in our hills. What my music teacher calls mountain air. But the words are easy and reassuring, promising that tomorrow will be more hopeful than this horrible moment we call today. I coughed a little, swallowed hard, and began:

Deep in the meadow, under the willow A bed of grass, a soft green pillow Lay your head down and close your sleepy eyes And when they open again, the sun will rise. Here it's safe, here it's warm Here daisies protect you from all harm Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow makes them come true Here is where I love you.

Rue's eyes closed. Her chest moves, but just a little. Tears spill out of my throat and slide down my face. But I have to finish the song for her.

Deep in the meadow, hidden away A layer of leaves, a ray of moonlight Forget your sorrows and let your troubles rest And when it's morning again, they'll be washed away.

It's safe here, it's warm here The daisies protect you from harm

The final lines are barely audible.

Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow makes them come true Here is where I love you.

Everything is quiet and silent. Then, almost eerily, the mockingjays start singing my song. For a moment, I sit there, watching my tears fall down his face. Rues cannon shots. I lean forward and press my lips against her temple. Slowly, as if not to wake her, I lower her head back to the floor and let go of her hand. They want me to go now. So they can collect the bodies. And there is nothing to stay. I flip the District 1 boy onto his stomach and grab his backpack, retrieve the arrow that ended his life. I slashed Rue's pack from her back as well, knowing she wanted me to take it, but I left the spear in her stomach. The weapons on the bodies will be transported to the hovercraft. I don't need a spear, so the sooner he leaves the arena, the better. I can't stop looking at Rue, smaller than ever, a tiny animal curled up in a netted nest. I dare not leave you like this. Previous damage, but looking completely helpless. Hating the boy from District 1, who also seems so vulnerable in death, seems inappropriate. I hate the Capitol for doing this to all of us. Gale's voice is in my head. His rants against the Capitol no longer make sense, no longer to be ignored. Rues's death forced me to face my own fury at the cruelty, the injustice inflicted on us. But here, even more strongly than at home, I feel my helplessness.

There is no going back to the Capitol. Are you there? Then I remember Peeta's words on the ceiling. I keep wishing I could think of a way to. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· To show Capital that they don't belong to me. That I'm more than a piece in your Games. And for the first time, I understand what he means. I want to do something, here and now, to shame them, hold them accountable, show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do, it's a part of every tribute they can't own. That Rue was more than a piece in his Games. And me too. A few steps into the forest grows a bank of wildflowers. Maybe they really are weeds of some kind, but they have flowers in beautiful shades of purple, yellow and white. I take a handful and return to Rue's side. Slowly, one stem at a time, I decorate her body with the flowers. Covering the ugly wound. crowning her face. Weaving hair with bright colors. They will have to show it. Or even if they decide to move the cameras elsewhere at this point, they'll have to bring them back when they get the bodies and everyone will see it and know it was me. I take a step back and take one last look at Rue. After all, she really might be sleeping in that meadow. Goodbye, Rue, I whisper. I press the three middle fingers of my left hand against my lips and hold them to hers.

Household. So I walk away without looking back. The birds are silent. Somewhere, a thrush blows the warning whistle before the hovercraft. I don't know how you know. must listen

things that humans cannot. I pause, my eyes focused on what's ahead, not what's happening behind me. It doesn't take long, then the general birdsong starts up again and I know she's gone. Another mockingjay, a young one by the looks of it, lands on a branch in front of me and Rues' melody begins to play. My music, the hovercraft, was too unfamiliar for this newbie to understand, but she's mastered a handful of notes. Those that mean you're safe. Good and safe, I say as I step under its branch. We don't need to worry about her now. Good and safe. I have no idea where to go. The brief sense of home I had that night with Rue was gone. My feet wander here and there until sunset. I am not afraid, nor am I alert. Which makes me an easy target. Except he would kill anyone who saw him. No emotion or the slightest tremor in my hands. My hatred of the Capitol did nothing to lessen my hatred of my competitors. Mainly racing. They, at least, can pay for Rues' death. However, no one materializes. There aren't many of us left and it's a big stadium. Soon they will bring some other device to unite us. But there's been enough blood today. Maybe we can even sleep. I'm about to carry my packs up a tree for camping when a silver parachute floats down and lands in front of me. A gift from a sponsor. But why now? I've been really good with the supplies. Perhaps Haymitchs has noticed my melancholy and is trying to cheer me up a little. Or could it be something to help my ear? I open the parachute and find a small loaf of bread. Not Capitol thin white bread. It is made from dark feed grains and is shaped like a crescent. Sprinkled with seeds. I return to Peeta's lesson on the various district breads at the Training Center. This bread came from District 11. I carefully pick up the still warm bread. How much must it have cost the people of District 11 who can't even feed themselves? How many would have to do without collecting a coin to put it in the collection of this bread? It was for Rue, no doubt. But instead of taking the gift away from her when she died, they authorized Haymitch to give it to me. As a thank you? Or because, like me, they don't like to leave debts unpaid? For some reason this is the first one. A gift from the district for an honor that is not yours. I lift my face and step into the last falling rays of light.

Sun light. My thanks to the people of District Eleven, I say. I want you to know that I know where you came from. That the full value of your gift has been recognized. I climb dangerously to the top of a tree, not for safety but to get as far away from today as possible. My sleeping bag is neatly rolled into the Rues backpack. Tomorrow I will order supplies. Tomorrow I will make a new plan. But tonight, all I can do is tighten my belt and take small bites of bread. It's good. It tastes like home. Soon the seals in the sky, the anthem sounds in my right ear. I see the boy from District 1, Rue. That's all for tonight. Six of us left I think. Only six. With

With the bread still clutched in my hands, I immediately fall asleep. Sometimes, when things are going really bad, my brain gives me a happy dream. A visit with my father in the forest. An hour of sun and cake with Prim. Tonight she sends me to Rue, still decked in her flowers, perched in a tall sea of ​​trees, trying to teach me how to talk to mockingjays. I don't see any signs of her injuries, no blood, just a bright, laughing girl. He sings songs I've never heard before in a clear, melodic voice. Incessantly. During the night. There is a period of drowsiness when I can hear the last notes of his music, lost between the sheets. When I wake fully, I feel momentarily comforted. I try to hold on to the peaceful feeling of the dream, but it quickly slips away, leaving me sadder and more alone than ever. The heaviness fills my entire body, as if there is liquid lead in my veins. I lost the will to do the simplest tasks, to do anything but stand here, staring unblinkingly through the canopy of leaves. For several hours I remain motionless. As usual, it's the thought of Prim's anxious face as she watches me from the screens at home that jolts me out of my sleep. I give myself a series of simple commands to follow, like Now you have to sit down, Katniss. Now you have to drink water, Katniss. I act on orders with slow, robotic movements. Now you have to separate the packages, Katniss. Rues's backpack contains my sleeping bag, his nearly empty skin, a handful of nuts and roots, some rabbit, his extra socks, and his sling. The boy from District 1 has several knives, two spare spear points, a flashlight, a small leather pouch, a first aid kit, a full bottle of water, and a packet of dried fruit. A pack of nuts! Of all the ones he could have chosen. To me, this is a sign of extreme arrogance. Why bother bringing food when you have so much bounty at camp? When you kill your enemies so fast they will reach home before you.

hungry? I can only hope that the other races have traveled so lightly when it comes to food and now find themselves with nothing. By the way, my own supply is running low. I finish the District 11 bread and the rest of the rabbit. How quickly the food disappears. All I have left are rue roots and walnuts, dried fruit from the boys and a strip of meat. Now you have to hunt, Katniss, I tell myself. I dutifully pack the supplies I want into my backpack. After climbing down from the tree, I hide the children's knives and spearheads in a pile of rocks so that no one else can use them. I lost track with all the wandering I did last night, but I'm trying to get back in the general direction of the creek. I know I'm on the right track when I come across Rue's third unlit fireplace. Soon after, I discover a bunch of grooslings roosting in the trees and take out three before they realize what hit them. I go back to the Rues cue and light it, not worrying about too much smoke. Where are you, Cato? I think as I roast the birds and the roots of the Rues. am

waiting here. Who knows where the races are now? Too far to catch up with me or too sure this is a trick or... Is it possible? Too scared of me? They know I have the bow and arrows, of course, Cato saw me pull them out of Glimmers' body, but have they put two and two together yet? Did I realize I blew up the supplies and killed your running mates? They probably think Thresh did it. Wouldn't he have a better chance of avenging Rue's death than I would? Being from the same district? Not that he was ever interested in her. What about Foxface? Did you stick around to watch me blow up the supplies? Not. When I caught her laughing in the ashes the next morning, it was as if someone had given her a pleasant surprise. I doubt they think Peeta lit that signal fire. Catos is sure he is dead. I find myself wishing I could tell Peeta about the flowers I put on Rue. That now I understand what you were trying to say on the roof. Maybe, if he wins the Games, he'll see me on victory night, when they play highlights from the Games on a screen above the stage where we did our interviews. The winner takes a place of honor on the platform, surrounded by their support team. But I told Rue she would be there. For us both. And somehow that feels even more important than the promise I made to Prim. I really think I have a chance to do that now.

Victorious. It's not just having the arrows or outsmarting the races sometimes, although those things help. Something happened when he was holding Rue's hand, watching her life ebb away. Now I am determined to avenge her, to make her loss unforgettable, and I can only do that by winning and thus becoming unforgettable. I overcook the birds hoping someone would show up to shoot, but no one does. Maybe the other tributes are hitting each other senseless. Which would be good. Since the bloodbath, I've been on screen more than I care. Finally, I pack up my food and head back to the creek to refill my water and get some. But the heaviness of the morning comes back around me, and even though it's only the beginning of the evening, I climb a tree and prepare myself for the night. My brain starts replaying yesterday's events. I keep seeing Rue skewered, my arrow through the boy's neck. I don't know why I should care about the boy. Then I realize. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· He was my first kill. Along with other stats they report to help people place their bets, each tribute has a kill list. I guess I would technically take credit for Glimmer and the girl from District 4 too, for throwing that nest at them. But the boy from District 1 was the first person I knew would die because of my actions. Numerous animals have lost their lives at my hands, but only one human being. I hear Gale say: How different can it be, really? Surprisingly similar in execution. A bow drawn, an arrow shot. Completely different in the sequels. I killed a boy whose name I don't even know. Somewhere his family is crying for him. Your friends

ask for my blood Maybe he had a girlfriend he really believed would come back. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· But then I think of Rue's still body and am able to banish the boy from my mind. For now. It was a peaceful day according to the sky. No death. I wonder how long it will be until the next catastrophe brings us back together. If it's going to be tonight, I want to get some sleep first. I cover my good ear to block out the anthem chords, but then I hear the trumpets and sit up straight with anticipation. Most of the time, the only communication the tributes receive from outside the arena is the nightly death toll. But occasionally there will be trumpets followed by an announcement. Usually this will be a call to a party. When food is scarce, the Watchers offer the players a feast, somewhere known to everyone as the Cornucopia, as an incentive to rally and fight. sometimes there is a party

and sometimes there is nothing left but a piece of stale bread for which the tributes compete. I wouldn't go in for the food, but this might be an ideal time to eliminate some competitors. Claudius Templesmith's voice booms from above, congratulating the remaining six of us. But he is not inviting us to a feast. You are saying something very confusing. There was a rule change in the Games. A rule change! That in itself is mind-boggling, as we don't really have any rules to speak of, other than not leaving your circle for sixty seconds and the unspoken rule not to eat each other. Under the new rule, both tributes from the same district will be declared winners if they are the last two tributes alive. Claudio pauses, as if he knows he doesn't understand, and repeats the change again. The news sinks. Two tributes could win this year. If they are from the same district. Both can live. We can both live. Before I can stop myself, I call Peeta's name.


19. I cover my mouth with my hands, but the sound has already escaped. The sky darkens and I hear a chorus of frogs start to sing. Idiot! I tell myself. What a stupid thing to do! I wait, frozen, for the forest to fill with invaders. Then I remember there was hardly anyone left. Peeta, who was wounded, is now my ally. Any doubts I had about him were dispelled because if one of us took the other's life, we would now be outcasts when we returned to District 12. In fact, I know that if I were watching, I would loathe any tribute that didn't immediately side with me, your district partner. Also, it makes sense to protect each other. And in my case, being one of District 12's star-crossed lovers is an absolute requirement if I want more help from sympathetic patrons. Unhappy lovers. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Peeta must have been playing that angle all along. Why else would the Rangers have made this unprecedented rule change? For two tributes to have a chance of winning, our romance must be so popular with the public that condemning it would jeopardize the success of the Games. No

Thanks to me. All I did was manage not to kill Peeta. But whatever I've done

in the arena, he must have convinced the audience that it was to stay alive. Shaking her head to stop her from running towards the Cornucopia. Struggling with Cato to let me escape. Even connecting with the professionals must have been a move to protect myself. Turns out Peeta was never a danger to me. The thought makes me smile. I drop my hands and lift my face to the moonlight so the cameras can capture it. So who's afraid? fox face? His district tribute boy is dead. She is operating alone, at night. And her strategy has been to flee, not attack. I really don't think that even if he heard my voice, he would do anything but wait for someone to kill me. Then there's Thresh. Okay, it's a clear threat. But I haven't seen him, not once, since the Games started. I think of how alarmed Foxface was when he heard a sound at the explosion site. But he has not turned to the forest, he has turned to whatever lies ahead of him. For that area of ​​sand that falls I don't know what. I'm pretty sure the person he ran from was Thresh and that's his domain. He would never have heard me from up there, and even if he had, I'm too high for someone his size to reach. So that leaves Cato and the girl from District 2, who are now surely celebrating the new rule. they are the only ones

there are those who benefit besides Peeta and me. Should I run from them now if they hear me say Peeta's name? I don't think Let them come. Let them come with their night vision goggles and their heavy bodies breaking branches. Right within reach of my arrows. But I know they won't. If they haven't come to my bonfire during the day, they won't risk what could be another trap at night. When they come, it will be on their own terms, not because I've informed them of my whereabouts. Be still and get some sleep, Katniss, I tell myself, though I wish I could start tracking Peeta now. Tomorrow, you will find it. I sleep, but in the morning I am extremely cautious, thinking that while the Careers might be hesitant to attack me in a tree, they are fully capable of ambushing me. I make sure I fully prepare for the day by eating a big breakfast, packing my backpack, readying my weapons before heading down. But everything looks peaceful and calm on the ground. Today I will have to be scrupulously careful. The Careers will know I'm trying to track Peeta. They might want to wait until I do before they move out. If he's as injured as Cato thinks, I'd be in the position of having to defend both of us single-handedly. But if he's so incapacitated, how did he manage to stay alive? And how the hell am I going to find him? I

I try to think of something Peeta said that might give me an indication of where he's hiding, but nothing seems to me. Then I go back to the last moment I saw him gleaming in the sunlight, screaming at me to run. Then Cato appeared, his

unsheathed sword. And after I left, he hurt Peeta. But how did Peeta escape? Perhaps he withstood the tracker jacker's venom better than Cato. Perhaps that was the variable that allowed him to escape. But he was also bitten. So how far could he have gone, stabbed and filled with poison? And how has he stayed alive all these days since then? If the wound and bites hadn't killed him, surely thirst would have taken him by now. And that's when I get my first clue as to his whereabouts. He couldn't have survived without water. I've known that since my first days here. He must be hiding somewhere near a fountain. There is the lake, but it seems to me an unlikely option, as it is very close to the base camp of Carreras. Some pools fed by springs. But you really would be a pushover in one of these. And the creek. The one that leads from the camp Rue and I made down to the lake and beyond. If he kept to the creek, he could change his location and always be close to the water. I could walk on

current and delete any tracks. You might even catch a fish or two. Well, that's a place to start anyway. To confuse my enemies' minds, I build a fire with lots of green wood. Even if they think it's a ruse, I hope they decide I'm hiding somewhere nearby. Whereas in reality I'll be tracking Peeta. The sun burns off the morning mist almost immediately and I can tell the day will be hotter than usual. The waters are cool and pleasant for my bare feet as I make my way down the river. I'm tempted to call out Peeta's name as I go, but decide not to. I'll have to find him with my eyes and a good ear or he'll have to find me. But hell I know I'll be watching, right? He won't think so badly of me that he thinks I'll ignore the new rule and keep to myself. I would do? It is very difficult to predict, which can be interesting under different circumstances, but for now it just provides an additional hurdle. It doesn't take me long to reach the place where I left to go to Racing's camp. There's no sign of Peeta, but that doesn't surprise me. I've been up and down this stretch three times since the tracker jack incident. If he was around, he would certainly have some suspicion about it. The creek begins to curve to the left into a part of the forest that is new to me. Muddy banks covered with tangled aquatic plants lead to large boulders that increase in size until they become

He starts to feel a bit trapped. It would be no small thing to escape the current now. Fight Cato or Thresh while climbing this rocky terrain. Indeed, I was just about to decide that I was on the wrong track, that an injured child would be unable to navigate to and from this water source, when I saw the streak of blood trickling down the curve of a rock. It has long since dried, but the smudged lines running back and forth suggest that someone, perhaps not fully in control of their mental faculties, has tried to clean it up. Hugging the rocks, I move slowly toward the blood, looking for it. I find a few more bloodstains, one

with a few strands of cloth attached, but no signs of life. I break down and say his name softly. Peeta! Peeta! Then a mockingjay lands on a scruffy tree and starts mimicking my tones, so I stop. I give up and walk back to the creek thinking, He must have kept going. Somewhere below. My foot has just broken the surface of the water when I hear a voice. Did you come to break up with me, baby? I turn around. It's coming from the left, so I can't get it very well. And the voice was hoarse and weak. Still, it must have been Peeta. Who else in the arena would call me?

Honey? My eyes scan the bench, but there's nothing. Just mud, the plants, the base of the rocks. Peeta? I whisper. Where are you? No reply. Could I have imagined this? No, I'm sure it was real and it was pretty close too. Peeta? I drag myself along the shore. Well, don't step on me. I jump back. Her voice was right under my feet. Still nothing. Then her eyes open, unmistakably blue in the brown mud and green leaves. I sigh and am rewarded with a swish of white teeth as he chuckles. It's the ultimate in camouflage. Forget about pulling weights. Peeta should have gone to his private session with the Watchers and painted himself on a tree. Or a stone. Or a muddy bank full of weeds. Close your eyes again, I command. He does, and so does his mouth, and he completely disappears. Most of what I consider his body is actually under a layer of mud and plants. Her face and arms are so cleverly disguised as to be invisible. I kneel beside him. I think all those hours decorating cakes were worth it. Peeta smiles. Yes, frosting. The final defense of the dying. You're not going to die, I tell him firmly. who said? His voice is so ragged. He told me. We're on the same team now, you know, I tell him. His eyes widen. So I listened. It's good that you find what's left of me. I grab my water bottle and give him a drink. Cato cut you? I ask. Left leg.

Up there, he answers. Let's put you in the creek, wash you so I can see what kind of injuries you have, I say. Bow down a minute first, he says. I have to tell you something. I lean down and put my good ear to his lips, which tickle me when he whispers. Remember, we're madly in love, so it's okay to kiss me whenever you want. I throw my head back, but end up laughing. Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. At least he is still able to play. But when I start taking him down to the creek, all the lightness disappears. It's only two feet away, how hard can it be? Very difficult when I realize he can't move an inch on his own. He is so weak that the best he can do is not resist. I try to drag him away, but even though I know he's doing his best to be quiet, high-pitched screams of pain escape him. The mud and weeds seem to have trapped him and finally I have to give a giant tug to free him from their clutches. He's still two feet from the water, lying there, teeth clenched, tears falling to the dirt on his face. Look, Peeta, I'm

will roll in the current. It's very shallow here, okay? I say. Excellent, he says. I crouch beside him. No matter what happens, I tell myself, don't stop

until you are in the water. At three, I say. One two Three! I can only make it one full turn before I stop because of the awful sound it's making. It is now at the edge of the creek. Maybe that's better anyway. Okay, change of plans. I won't make you go all the way in, I tell him. Besides, if I can get in, who knows if I'll ever get it out? Didn't roll anymore? he asks. That's all done. Let's clean you up. Watch the woods for me, okay? I say. It's hard to know where to start. He's so covered in mud and caked leaves that I can't even see his clothes. If you wear clothes. The thought makes me hesitate for a moment, but then I dive in. Naked bodies aren't very important in the arena, are they? I have two bottles of water and a skin of Rues. I place them against the rocks in the creek so that two are always full while I pour the third over Peeta's body. It takes a while, but I finally get rid of enough mud to find her clothes. I gently unbutton his jacket, unbutton his shirt and remove them. His shirt is so stuck to the wounds I have to cut it with my knife and soak it again to get it free. He's badly hurt with a long burn on his chest and four tracker jacker bites if you count the one under his ear. But I feel a little better. This is what I can fix. I resolve to take care of the upper body first, to relieve

a little pain, before addressing the damage Cato had done to his leg. Since treating his wounds seems pointless when he's lying in what has become a muddy puddle, I manage to prop him up against a rock. He sits there, not complaining, while I wash every last trace of dirt from his hair and skin. His flesh is very pale in the sunlight and he no longer looks strong and stocky. I have to get the stingers out of his tracker jacker pits, which makes him wince, but the moment I apply the leaves, he sighs in relief. While he dries in the sun, I wash his soiled shirt and jacket and lay them out on the rocks. Then I apply the burn cream to her chest. That's when I realize how hot his skin is getting. The layer of mud and the water bottles hid that he was burning with fever. I look for the first aid kit the boy from District 1 gave me and find pills that bring down the temperature. In fact, my mom gives in and buys it every now and then when her home remedies fail. Swallow it, I tell him, and he dutifully takes the medicine. You must be hungry. Really no. It's funny, I haven't been hungry in days, says Peeta. In fact, when I offer him groosling, he wrinkles his nose and turns away. That's when I know how sick he is. Peeta, we need to get you some food, I insist. It's just going to come back, he says. the best me

can do is make him eat a few pieces of dried apple. Thanks. I'm much better, really. I can sleep now

Katniss? he asks. Soon, I promise. I need to see his leg first. Trying to be as gentle as possible, I take off his boots, socks and, very slowly, take off his pants. I can see Catos's ragged sword cut into the fabric on his thigh, but it in no way prepares me for what lies below. The deep inflamed wound oozed blood and pus. Swelling in the legs. And worst of all, the smell of rotting meat. I want to go far. Disappear into the woods like I did the day the burn victim was brought into our home. Go hunting while my mother and Prim deal with what I have neither the skills nor the courage to face. But there's nobody here but me. I try to capture the calm demeanor my mother assumes when dealing with particularly serious cases. Pretty awful, huh? says Peeta. He's watching me closely. Regular. I shrug it off like it's no big deal. You should see some of the people who bring my mother back from the mines. I refrain from saying that I tend to leave the house whenever she's dealing with something worse than a cold. Now that I think about it, I don't even like coughing very much.

The first thing is to clean it well. I left Peeta's boxers out because they aren't too bad and I don't want to put them on my swollen thigh and, well, maybe the idea of ​​him being naked makes me uncomfortable. That's another thing about my mother and Prim. Nudity has no effect on them, nothing to be ashamed of. Ironically, by this point in the Games, my little sister would be far more useful to Peeta than I would be. I slide my plastic square underneath so I can wash the rest. With every bottle I pour over him, the wound seems worse. The rest of the lower body did pretty well, just a sting and a few minor burns which I tend to quickly. But the leg wound. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· What the hell can I do for this? Why don't we give him some air and then...? πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I disappear And then you're gonna fix it? says Peeta. He almost looks sorry for me, like he knows how lost I am. That's right, I say. In the meantime, eat this. I place some dried pear halves in her hand and head back to the creek to wash the rest of her clothes. When they are flat and dry, I look through the contents of the first aid kit. It's pretty basic stuff. Bandages, medicine for fever, medicine to settle the stomach. Nothing of the caliber I'll need to treat Peeta. We'll have to experiment a little, admittedly. I know tracker jackers go away

extract the infection, so I start with them. Within minutes of pressing the handful of chewed green substance into the wound, pus begins oozing down the side of her leg. I tell myself that's a good thing and bite the inside of my cheek hard as my breakfast threatens to reappear. Katniss? says Peeta. I look into her eyes, knowing my face must be some shade of green. He pronounces the words. How about that kiss? I laughed because the whole thing is so gross I can't take it anymore. Something bad? he also asks a little

innocently me. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I'm not good at this. I'm not my mother, I have no idea what I'm doing, and I hate pus, I mean. Hey! I allow myself to moan as I rinse off the first round of sheets and apply the second. Euuh! How do you hunt? he asks. Trust me. Killing things is a lot easier than that, I say. Although, for all I know, I'm killing you. Can you speed it up a bit? he asks. Not. Shut up and eat your pears, I say. After three applications and what feels like a bucketful of pus, the wound looks better. Now that the swelling has gone down, I can see the depth of Cato's sword cut. Down to the bone. What's next, Dr. Everdeen? he asks. Maybe put some of the burn

ointment on it. I think it helps with the infection either way. And wrap? I say. I do and everything looks so much more manageable covered in clean white cotton. Although, against the sterile bandage, the hem of his underwear looks dirty and full of contagion. I grab Rue's backpack. Here, she cover herself in this and I'll wash her pants. Oh, I don't care if you see me, says Peeta. You're like the rest of my family, I say. I care, okay? I turn my back and watch the creek until my underwear dips into the current. You should feel a little better if you can shoot. You know, you're a little touchy for such a mortal person, Peeta says as I swipe my shorts between two rocks. I'd like to let you give Haymitch a bath after all. I wrinkle my nose at the memory. What has he sent you so far? Nothing, says Peeta. Then there's a pause when he hits it. Why, did you get anything? Burn medicine, I say almost shyly. Oh, and some bread. I always knew you were his favorite, says Peeta. Please, he can't stand to be in the same room as me, I say. Because you're the same, Peeta murmurs. I ignore it because this really isn't the time to insult Haymitch, which is my first impulse. I let Peeta fall asleep while his clothes dried, but late in the afternoon, I dare not wait any longer. I gently wave your

shoulder. Peeta, we have to go now. Come on? He looks confused. Go where? Far away. Downstream, maybe. Somewhere we can hide you until you get stronger, I say. I help him get dressed, leaving his feet bare so we can get in the water, and I pick him up. His face loses color the moment he puts weight on his leg. Come on. You can. But you can't. Not for long anyway. We go fifty meters down the river, with him leaning on my shoulder, and I know he's going to pass out. I feel him on the beach, push his head between my knees and pat him awkwardly on the back as I scan the area. Of course, I would love to put it in a tree, but that's not going to happen. Although it could be worse. Some of the rocks form small cave-like structures. I set my eyes on one about twenty meters above the creek. When Peetas manages to get to his feet, I half guide him, half carry him into the cave. Really, I would like to find a better place, but this one will have to work because my

the ally is shot. White paper, panting, and although it's barely getting cold, it's shivering. I cover the cave floor with a layer of pine needles, unroll my sleeping bag and place it inside. I give him some pills and some water.

when he doesn't notice but refuses to eat even the fruit. So he stands there, his eyes fixed on my face as I build a sort of curtain of vines to hide the entrance to the cave. The result is unsatisfactory. An animal might not question it, but a human would see that hands do it fast enough. I shoot him in frustration. says Katniss. I walk over to him and brush the hair out of his eyes. Thanks for finding me. You would have found me if you could, I say. Their burning foreheads. Like medicine that doesn't work. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I'm afraid of dying. Yup. Look, if I don't come back, start. Not talk like that. I didn't empty all that pus for nothing, I mean. I know. But if I don't, he tries to continue. No, Peeta, I don't even want to discuss this, I say, putting my fingers to his lips to calm him down. But I insist. Impulsively, I lean forward and kiss him, stopping his words. This is probably overdue anyway, since you're right, we should be madly in love. It's the first time I've kissed a boy, which must make an impression, I suppose, but all I can register is how unnaturally hot his lips are from the fever. I pull away and wrap the end of the sleeping bag around him. You're not going to die. I forbid it, okay? It's okay, he whispers. I go out into the fresh air

night air as the parachute descends from the sky. My fingers quickly undo the tie, hoping for some real medicine to treat Peeta's leg. Instead, I find a pot of hot broth. Haymitch couldn't be sending me a clearer message. A kiss is like a pot of broth. I can almost hear him growl. You should be in love, honey. The boys dying. Give me something I can work with! And he's right. If I want to keep Peeta alive, I have to give the public something else to worry about. Unhappy lovers desperate to get home together. Two hearts beating as one. Romance. Having never been in love, this is going to be a real trick. I think about my parents. The way my father never stopped bringing her gifts from the woods. My mother's face lit up at the sound of her boots on the door. The way she almost stopped living when he died. Peeta! I say, trying to find the special tone my mother only used with my father. He's fallen asleep again, but I kiss him awake, which seems to startle him. Then he smiles like he's happy to just stand there looking at me forever. He's great at these things. I hold the pot. Peeta, look what Haymitch sent you.


Getting Peeta the broth takes an hour of coaxing, pleading, threats, and, yes, kisses, but finally, gulp by gulp, he empties the pot. So I let him sleep and tend to my own needs, scarfing down a

groosling and roots while watching the daily sky report. No new victims. Still, Peeta and I gave the audience quite an interesting day. Hopefully the Gamemakers will allow us a peaceful night. I automatically look for a good nesting tree before I realize it's over. At least for a while. I can't leave Peeta unprotected on the floor. I left intact the scene of his last hiding place on the bank of the creek, how could I hide it? and they were less than fifty yards downriver. I put on my glasses, ready my weapons and prepare to keep watch. The temperature drops quickly and soon I'm chilled to the bone. Finally, I give up and climb into the sleeping bag with Peeta. It's warm and I snuggle gratefully until I realize it's more than hot, really hot because the bag is reflecting her fever. I check his forehead and find it warm and dry. I do not know what to do. Leave it in the bag and wait for excessive heat to break the

fever? Take it off and wait for the night air to cool? I finish by simply wetting a bandage strip and placing it on her forehead. It looks weak, but I'm afraid of doing something too drastic. I spend the night half-sitting, half-lying next to Peeta, turning over the bandage and trying not to think about the fact that joining him made me so much more vulnerable than when I was alone. Tied to the ground, on guard duty, with a very sick person to look after. But he knew he was hurt. And I still went after him. I'm going to have to trust that whatever instinct sent me to find him was a good one. As the sky turns pink, I feel the sheen of sweat on Peeta's lip and find that the fever has broken. Not back to normal, but down a few degrees. Last night when I was picking vines I came across a Rues berry bush. I remove the fruit and knead it in a pan with cold water. Peetas struggles to his feet when I reach the cave. I woke up and you were gone, he says. I was worried about you. I have to laugh as I adjust it. Were you worried about me? Have you been looking at yourself lately? I thought Cato and Clove might have found you. They like to hunt at night, he says, still serious. Nail? What is this? I ask. The girl from District Two. She's still alive, right? The

He says. Yeah, it's just them and us and Thresh and Foxface, I mean. That's how I nicknamed the girl from Five. How it feels? Better than yesterday. This is a huge improvement over mud, he says. Clean clothes and medicine and a sleeping bag. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Is that you. Oh right, the whole romance thing. I reach out to touch his cheek and he takes my hand and presses it to his lips. I remember my dad doing this to my mom and I wonder where Peeta got that from. Certainly not from his father and the witch. No more kissing for you until you eat I say. We lean him against the wall and he dutifully swallows spoonfuls of

berry porridge I feed him. However, he rejects the groosling again. You haven't slept, says Peeta. I'm fine, I say. But the truth is, I'm exhausted. Sleep now. I will be alert. I'll wake you up if anything happens, he says. I dare not. Katniss, you can't stay up forever. You have a point there. I'll have to sleep eventually. And it's probably best to do it now that he seems relatively alert and we have daylight on our side. It's okay, I say. But only for a few hours. Then you wake me up. It's too hot for the sleeping bag right now. I smooth it out on the cavern floor and lie down, one hand on my charged bow.

in case I have to shoot at any time. Peeta sits beside me, leaning against the wall, his bad leg stretched out in front of him, his eyes fixed on the outside world. Go to sleep, he says quietly. His hand brushes the stray strands of my hair from my forehead. Unlike the kisses and caresses staged so far, this gesture seems natural and comforting. I don't want it to stop and it doesn't stop. He's still stroking my hair when I fall asleep. Very long. I sleep too much. I know from the moment I open my eyes that it's too late. Peetas right beside me, his position unchanged. I sit up, feeling a little defensive but better rested than I have been in days. Peeta, you were supposed to wake me up after a few hours, I mean. For what? Nothing happens here, he says. Besides, I like watching you sleep. You don't frown. It greatly improves your appearance. This, of course, causes a frown that makes him smile. That's when I notice how dry your lips are. I taste your cheek. Hot as a coal stove. He says he's been drinking, but the containers still look full to me. I give her more fever pills and stand beside her as she drinks first one, then a second liter of water. Then I take care of the small wounds, the burns, the bites, which are getting better. I brace myself and unroll my leg. My heart drops into my stomach. It's worse, much worse. There is not

more pus stands out, but the swelling has increased and the firm, shiny skin is inflamed. Then I see the red streaks starting to run up her leg. Blood poisoning. Left unchecked, it will kill you for sure. My chewed leaves and ointment won't do him any harm. We're going to need strong anti-infective drugs from the Capitol. I can't imagine the cost of such a powerful medicine. If Haymitch collected every donation from every sponsor, would he have enough? I doubt. Gifts increase in price the longer games last. He who buys a full meal on the first day buys a cookie on the twelfth. And the kind of medicine Peeta needs would have been too expensive to begin with. Well, there's more swelling, but the pus is gone, I say in a shaky voice. I know what blood poisoning is, Katniss, says Peeta. Even though my mom isn't a healer. You're going to have to survive the others, Peeta. They'll heal him in the Capitol when we win, I say. Yes, it's a good plan, he says. But I feel that this is mainly for my benefit. You have to eat. Keep your strength. I'm going to make you

soup, I mean. Don't light the fire, he says. This is not worth it. Well, let's see, I say. As I carry the pot to the creek, I'm struck by how brutally hot it is. I swear

Game makers are progressively increasing the temperature during the day and decreasing it at night. However, the heat of the sun-burned stones next to the stream gives me an idea. Maybe you don't need to make a fire. I settle down on a large flat rock halfway between the creek and the cave. After purifying half a pot of water, I place it in direct sunlight and add several egg-sized hot stones to the water. I'm the first to admit that I'm not a good cook. But since soup is basically throwing everything in a pot and waiting, it's one of my best dishes. Chop groosling into mush and mash up some of the Rues roots. Fortunately, both have already been roasted, so they need to be heated through. Already, between the sunlight and the stones, the waters warm up. I put in the meat and the roots, replace it with fresh stones and look for something green to add some flavor. Before long, I discover a bunch of chives growing at the base of some rocks. Perfect. I cut it very thin and put it in the pan, put the stones back, put the lid on and let everything cook. I've seen few signs of hunting, but I'm not comfortable leaving Peeta alone while I hunt, so I set half a dozen traps and hope I get lucky. I wonder about the other tributes, how they will cope now that their main food source has been destroyed.

At least three of them, Cato, Clove and Foxface, trusted him. Although it's probably not Thresh. I have a feeling you should share some of Rue's knowledge of feeding the land. Are they fighting each other? Look for us? Perhaps one of them has been tracking us and is just waiting for the right moment to strike. The thought sends me back to the cave. Peetas lay down on top of his sleeping bag in the shade of the rocks. Though he brightens a little when I enter, it's clear he's unhappy. I put cool cloths on his head, but they heat up almost as soon as they touch his skin. Do you want something? I ask. Do not say. Thanks. Wait yes. Tell me a history. A story? What's happening? I say. I'm not much for storytelling. It's like singing. But every now and then, Prim pulls one out for me. Something happy. Tell me about the happiest day you can remember, says Peeta. Something between a sigh and an exasperated snort leaves my mouth. A happy story? It will take a lot more effort than soup. I rack my brain for good memories. Most of them involve Gale and me hunting and somehow I don't think they go down well with Peeta or the audience. That leaves Prim. Did I ever tell you how I got Prim's goat? I ask. Peeta shakes his head and looks at me expectantly. Then I start. But be careful.

Because my words are spreading across Panem. And while people have no doubt that I hunt illegally, I don't want to hurt Gale.

or Greasy Sae or the butcher or even the Peacekeepers back home who are my clients publicly announcing that they too are breaking the law. This is the true story of how I got the money for Prim's goat, ma'am. It was a Friday night, the day before Prim's tenth birthday at the end of May. As soon as school was over, Gale and I went into the woods, because I wanted to pick up enough to trade for a gift for Prim, maybe some new fabric for a dress or a hairbrush. Our traps worked well and the forest was full of vegetation, but this really wasn't more than our average Friday night loot. I was disappointed when we got back, even though Gale said we'd do better tomorrow. We were resting for a moment by a stream when we saw him. A young male, probably a year old for his size. His horns were just growing in, still small and covered in velvet. Ready to run but unsure of us, unfamiliar with humans. Beautiful. Less beautiful perhaps when the two arrows hit him, one in the neck, the other in the chest. Gale and I fired at the same time. The deer tried to run but stumbled and

The Welsh knife slashed his throat before he realized what had happened. Momentarily, I felt a stab of killing something so fresh and innocent. And then my stomach rumbled at the thought of all that fresh, innocent meat. A deer! Gale and I only took down three total. The first, a doe that had injured its leg somehow, barely counted. But we knew from this experience that we shouldn't drag the corpse to the Hob. This caused chaos with people bidding on the pieces and trying to cut them themselves. Greasy Sae intervened and sent us and our venison to the butcher, but not before it had been badly damaged, chunks of meat torn off, the skin pocked with holes. Although everyone paid fairly, the value of the kill had diminished. This time we wait until dark and go through a hole in the fence near the butcher shop. Even though we were well-known hunters, it wouldn't have been nice to carry a 150-pound deer through the streets of District 12 in broad daylight like we were rubbing it in the faces of the cops. The butcher, a short, stocky woman named Rooba, appeared at the back door as we knocked. You don't bargain with Rooba. She gives you a price, which you can take or leave, but it's a fair price. We accepted the venison offer and he offered us some venison steaks that we could get after dinner.

killing Even with the money split in two, neither Gale nor I have had that much in our lives. We decided to keep it a secret and surprise our families with the meat and money at the end of the next day. This is where I got the money for the goat, but I tell Peeta I sold my mother's old silver locket. It can't hurt anyone. So I pick up the story late in the afternoon on Prim's birthday. Gale and I went to the market in the square to buy materials to wear. As I ran my fingers over a piece of heavy blue cotton fabric, something caught me.

eye. There is an old man who has a small herd of goats across the Seam. I don't know his real name, everyone calls him Goat Man. His joints are swollen and twisted at painful angles, and he has a hacking cough that proves he's spent years in the mines. But you are lucky. At some point he saved up enough for these goats and now he has something to do in his old age besides slowly starve to death. He is dirty and impatient, but the goats are clean and their milk is good if you can afford it. One of the goats, white with black spots, was lying on a wagon. It was easy to see why. Something, probably a dog, had maimed it.

the shoulder and the infection set in. It was bad, the Goat Man had to pick her up to milk her. But I thought I knew someone who could fix it. Gale, I whispered. I want that goat for Prim. Having a nanny goat can change your life in District 12. Animals can live on almost anything, Meadows is a perfect feeding ground, and they can give four gallons of milk a day. To drink, to turn into cheese, to sell. It's not even against the law. She's really hurt, Gale said. We'd better take a closer look. We went and bought a glass of milk to share, then climbed on the goat like we were curious. Leave her alone, the man said. Just watching, Gale said. Well, look quick. She's going to the butcher shop soon. Hardly anyone will buy the milk and then pay only half the price, said the man. What does the butcher give for her? I asked. The man shrugged. Turn off and see. I turned to see Rooba crossing the square towards us. I'm glad you showed up, said the Goat Man when he arrived. The girls are watching your goat. Not if she spoke for herself, I said carelessly. Rooba looked me up and down, then frowned at the goat. She is not. Look at that shoulder. I bet half the carcass will be too rotten for even the sausage. What? said the Goat Man. We had an agreement. We made a deal with an animal with some teeth marks. Not this thing. Sell ​​it to the girl if she's stupid enough to take it.

her, said Rooba. As he was leaving, I caught his wink. The Goat Man was angry, but he still wanted that goal out of his hands. It took us half an hour to agree on the price. By this time, a crowd had gathered to share opinions. It was an excellent deal if the goat survived; I would have been robbed if she died. People took sides in the argument, but I got the goat. Gale offered to drive her. I think she wanted to see the expression on Prim's face as much as I did. In a moment of total vertigo, I bought a pink ribbon and tied it around his neck. So we ran back to my house. You should have seen Prim's reaction when we walked in with that goat. Remember this is a girl who cried to save that horrible old cat, Buttercup. She was so excited that she started crying and laughing at the same time. My mother was less sure when she saw the wound, but the two of them got to work on it, grinding herbs and coaxing the animals to swallow the concoctions. They sound like you, says Peeta. I had almost forgotten

I was there. Oh no, Peeta. They do magic. That thing couldn't have died if it tried, I say. But then I bite my tongue, realizing how this must sound to Peeta, who is dying, in my incompetent hands. Do not worry. I'm not trying, joke. To finish

the story. Well that's. I just remember that night, Prim insisted on sleeping with Lady on a blanket by the fire. And just before they fell asleep, the goat licked her cheek, like she was kissing her goodnight or something, I mean. He was already crazy about her. Was she still wearing the pink ribbon? he asks. I think so, I say. Because? I'm just trying to take a picture, he says thoughtfully. I can see why that day made you happy. Well, I knew that goat would be a little gold mine, I say. Yes, of course that's what I meant, not the lasting joy you gave the sister you love so much and took her place in the harvest, says Peeta dryly. The goat paid for itself. Several times, I say in a superior tone. Well, he wouldn't dare do anything else after you saved his life, says Peeta. I intend to do the same. Seriously? What did you cost me again? I ask. Many problems. Do not worry. You'll get it all back, he says. You don't make sense, I say. I tested your forehead. The levers don't go anywhere but up. You are a little nicer. The sound of trumpets scares me. I'm on my feet and at the cave entrance in an instant, not wanting to miss a syllable. It's my new best friend, Claudius Templesmith, and as expected, he's throwing us a feast. Well, we weren't that hungry, and I actually reject his offer nonchalantly when he says, Now

I expect. Some of you may already be declining my invitation. But this is no ordinary party. Each of you desperately needs something. I desperately need something. Something to heal Peeta's leg. Each of you will find that something in a backpack, marked with your district number, at the Cornucopia at dawn. Consider declining to perform. For some of you, this will be your last chance, says Claudio. There's nothing left but his words floating in the air. I jump when Peeta grabs my shoulder from behind. She doesn't say. You are not risking your life for me. Who said I was? I say. So you won't? he asks. Of course, I won't. Give me some credit. You think I'm jumping right into a wrestling match with Cato, Clove, and Thresh? Don't be an idiot, I tell him, helping him back to bed. I'll let them fight, we'll see who's in heaven tomorrow night, and we'll come up with a plan from there. You're a terrible liar, Katniss. I don't know how you survived this long. He starts imitating me. I knew that goat would be a little gold mine. You are a little nicer. Of course, I won't. he shakes his head. Never play cards. You will lose your last coin, he says. Anger flushes my face. Okay, I'm leaving and you can't stop me! I can follow you. At least in part. I may not make it to the Cornucopia, but if I'm shouting your

name, I bet someone can find me. And then

I'll be dead for sure, he says. You won't get a hundred yards from here on that leg, I say. Then I'll crawl, says Peeta. You go and I go too. He's stubborn enough and maybe strong enough to pull this off. He comes howling after me in the woods. Even if a tribute doesn't find it, something else might. He cannot defend himself. I would probably have to lock him in the cave just to go myself. And who knows what the effort will do to him? What should I do? Sit here and watch you die? I say. You must know that this is not an option. That the public would hate me. And frankly, I'd hate myself too if I didn't even try. I won't die, I promise. If you promise not to go, he says. They were at something of an impasse. I know I can't talk him out of it, so I don't try. I reluctantly pretend to agree. Then you have to do what I say. Drink your water, wake me up when I say so, and eat every morsel of soup, no matter how gross it is! He lost his mind. he agreed. Is ready? he asks. Wait here, I say. The air has turned chilly, though the sun is still high. I'm right about Gamemakers playing with the temperature. I wonder if the thing

someone desperately needs is a good blanket. The soup is still nice and hot in the iron pot. And it actually doesn't taste that bad. Peeta eats without complaint, even scraping the pan to show his enthusiasm. He rambles on about how delicious it is, which should be encouraging if you don't know what fever does to people. It's like listening to Haymitch before the alcohol drenched him in incoherence. I give him another dose of fever medicine before he completely loses his mind. As I walk down to the creek to wash, all I can think is that he's going to die if I don't go to the feast. I'll keep you alive for a day or two, and then the infection hits your heart or your brain or your lungs and it's gone. And I'll be here alone. Again. Waiting for others. I'm so lost in my thoughts that I almost lose my parachute, even though it floats right next to me. So I jump in after him, pulling him out of the water, tearing at the silver cloth to retrieve the vial. Haymitch did it! He got the medicine I don't know how, he convinced a gang of romantic fools to sell their jewelry, and I can save Peeta! However, it is such a small bottle. He must be very strong to heal someone as sick as Peeta. A wave of doubt passes through me. I uncap the vial and take a deep breath. My spirit drops at the sickly sweet smell. Just to be sure, I put a drop on the tip of my

Tongue. There's no doubt about it, it's sleeping syrup. It's a common medicine in District 12. Cheap, as the medicine says, but very addictive. Almost everyone has taken a dose at one time or another. We have some in a bottle at home. My mother gives it to hysterical patients to knock them out, to suture a serious wound, to calm them down, or just to help someone in pain get through the night. It only takes a little while. A vial that size could knock Peeta unconscious for an entire day, but what's the point? am

I'm so furious I'm about to throw Haymitch's last offering into the creek when it hits me. A whole day? This is more than necessary. I crush a handful of berries so the flavor isn't as noticeable, and throw in a few mint leaves just in case. Then I go back to the cave. I brought you a present. I found a new patch of berries a little further down. Peeta opens his mouth for the first bite without hesitation. He swallows, then frowns slightly. They are very sweet. Yes, they are sugar berries. My mother makes jam from them. Have you never had them before? I say, popping the next spoonful into his mouth. No, he says, almost puzzled. But they taste familiar. Sugar Berries? Well, you can't put them on the market too much, they just grow wild I say. another bite

I enjoy. Just one more to go. They are sweet as syrup, he says, taking the last spoonful. Syrup. His eyes widen as he realizes the truth. I press my hand over his mouth and nose, forcing him to swallow instead of spit. He tries to force himself to vomit the substance, but it's too late, he's already losing consciousness. Even when he disappears, I can see in his eyes that what I've done is unforgivable. I sit back on my heels and look at him with a mixture of sadness and satisfaction. A stray berry stains his chin and I wipe it away. Who can't lie, Peeta? I say even though he can't hear me. It doesn't matter. The rest of Panem can.


In the hours before dusk, I gather rocks and do my best to camouflage the cave entrance. It's a slow and arduous process, but after sweating a lot and changing things around, I'm quite satisfied with my work. The cave now appears to be part of a larger rock pile, like so many others in the surrounding area. I can still crawl towards Peeta through a small opening, but it's undetectable from the outside.

That's good, because I have to share that sleeping bag again tonight. Besides, if I don't come back from the feast, Peeta will be hidden but not completely trapped. Though I doubt it could last much longer without meds. If I die at the party, District 12 probably won't have a winner. I make a meal of the smallest bony fish that inhabit the stream below, fill each container with water and purify it, and clean my weapons. I have nine arrows left in total. I debate leaving the knife with Peeta so he'll have some protection while I'm gone, but it really doesn't make sense. He was right about camouflage being his last line of defense. But he might still have a use for the knife. Who knows what I'll find? Here are some things I'm sure of. That at least Cato, Clove, and Thresh will be there when the party starts. Not sure about Foxface as direct confrontation is not his style or strong point. She's even smaller than me and unarmed, unless she's picked up some weapons recently. Shell is probably out there somewhere nearby, seeing what she can snoop around. But the other three . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I'll have my hands full. My ability to kill from a distance is my greatest asset, but I know I have to go.

straight into the thick of things to get that backpack, the one with the number 12 on it that Claudius Templesmith mentioned. I watch the sky, hoping for one less opponent at dawn, but no one appears tonight. Tomorrow there will be faces up there. Parties always result in deaths. I drag myself into the cave, grab my glasses, and snuggle up to Peeta. Luckily I got that good, long sleep today. I have to stay awake. I really don't think anyone will attack our cave tonight, but I can't risk missing the sunrise. So cold, so terribly cold tonight. As if the Watchers had released a blast of icy air across the arena, which may be exactly what they did. I lay down beside Peeta on the bag, trying to soak up all the feverish heat from her. It's weird being so close physically to someone who is so far away. Peeta might as well be back in the Capitol, or District 12, or on the moon by now, he wouldn't be any harder to reach. I've never felt so alone since the Games started. Just accept it's going to be a bad night, I tell myself. I try not to think about it, but I can't help but think about my mom and Prim, wondering if they're going to sleep a wink tonight. At this late stage of the Games, with a big event like the party, classes are likely to be cancelled. My family can watch that old static-filled old television at home or join the crowd in the square to

watch on the big, crisp screens. They will have privacy at home, but support in the square. People will give you a kind word, a little food, if they can do without it. I wonder if the baker sought them out, especially now that Peeta and I are a team, and if he kept his promise to keep my sisters full. Spirits must be high in District 12. We rarely have anyone to root for at this point in the Games. Of course, people are excited for Peeta and me, especially now that we're together. If I close my eyes, I can imagine her screaming on the screens, urging us on. I see their faces Greasy Sac and Madge and even the Peacekeepers who buy my meat cheering us on. and Gale. I know him. He won't be screaming and cheering. But you'll be watching, every moment, every twist, and wishing it would come home. I wonder if he expects Peeta to do that too. Wales is not my boyfriend, but would he be if he opened that door? He talked about us running away together. Was this just a practical calculation of our chances of survival outside the district? Or something else? I wonder what he thinks of all these kisses. Through a crack in the rocks, I watch the moon cross the sky. When I estimate that there are about three hours left before dawn, I begin the final preparations. I'm careful to leave Peeta with the water and med-pack beside him. Any

the rest will be very useful if I don't come back, and even that would only prolong your life for a short time. After a bit of debating, I take off his jacket and place it over mine. He doesn't need it. Now not in the sleeping bag with a fever, and during the day, if I'm not there to get him out, he'll bake in

that. My hands are already stiff from the cold, so I grab an extra pair of Rue's socks, cut holes for my fingers and thumbs, and pull them on. Help in any way. I stuff her small backpack with some food, a bottle of water and bandages, tuck the knife in my belt, grab my bow and arrows. I'm about to leave when I remember the importance of maintaining the unhappy lover's routine and I lean over and give Peeta a long, lingering kiss. I imagine the tearful sighs emanating from the Capitol and pretend to wipe away a tear of my own. So I slide through the gap in the rocks into the night. My breath makes little white clouds as it hits the air. It's as cold as a November night at home. One in which I crept into the woods, flashlight in hand, to find Gale at some prearranged spot where we sat together, drinking herbal tea from quilt-wrapped metal flasks, waiting for the game to pass for us when morning came. arrive. Oh,

Gale, I think. If only you had my back now. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I move as fast as I dare. The glasses are quite remarkable, but I still really miss using my left ear. I don't know what the explosion did, but it damaged something deep beyond repair. It doesn't matter. If I get home, I'll be so filthy rich I can pay someone to do my hearing. The forest always looks different at night. Even with the glasses, everything has an unknown bias. As if the trees and flowers and rocks of the day had gone to bed and sent slightly more sinister versions of themselves to take their places. I don't try anything complicated like following a new route. I go back across the creek and follow the same path back to Rue's hideout by the lake. Along the way, I see no sign of another tribute, not a ragged breath, not a twitch of a branch. Either I'm the first one there or the others took a stand last night. There's still more than an hour to go, maybe two, when I step into the bush and wait for the blood to start flowing. I chew on some mint leaves, my stomach not ready for much more. Thank God I have Peeta's jacket as well as my own. If not, I would be forced to move around to warm up. The sky turns cloudy gray in the morning and still no sign of the other tributes. It's not really surprising. All distinguished themselves either by

strength, lethality, or cunning. Do they assume, I wonder, that I have Peeta with me? I doubt Foxface and Thresh know he's been hurt. Much better if they think he's covering for me when I go get the bag. But where is it? The arena is bright enough to remove my glasses. I can hear the birds chirping in the morning. Isn't it time? For a second, I panicked that I was in the wrong place. But no, I'm sure I remember Claudius Templesmith specifying the Cornucopia. And there it is. So here I am. So where is my party? As soon as the first ray of sunlight reflects off the golden Cornucopia, there is disturbance on the plain. The floor before the mouth of the horn is divided in two and a round table with a white snow

cloth rises to the sand. On the table are four backpacks, two big black ones with the numbers 2 and 11, a medium-sized green one with the numbers 5, and a tiny orange one that I could really wear on my wrist and which should be marked 12. snap into place when a figure shoots out of the Cornucopia, grabs the green backpack and runs off. fox face! Leave the idea of ​​\u200b\u200bsuch a clever and risky idea to her! The rest of us are still balanced around the plain, assessing the

situation, and she has hers. She also trapped us, because no one wants to chase her, not while her own pack is so vulnerable at the table. Foxface must have left the other packs alone on purpose, knowing that robbing one of them without their number would definitely bring a stalker. That should have been my strategy! By the time I've gotten over the emotions of surprise, admiration, anger, jealousy, and frustration, I'm watching that reddish mane disappear into the trees outside the range of fire. Hey. I'm always afraid of others, but maybe Foxface is the real opponent here. I took my time too, because now it's clear I have to go to the next table. Anyone who passes in front of me will easily grab my backpack and leave. Without hesitation, I run to the table. I can feel the emergence of danger before I see it. Fortunately, the first knife is whizzing to my right, so I can hear it and deflect it with my bow. I turn, pulling back on the bowstring and sending an arrow straight for Clove's heart. He spins just enough to avoid a fatal blow, but the point pierces his left arm. Unfortunately, she throws it with the right, but it's enough to slow her down for a few moments, having to remove the arrow from her arm, given the severity of the wound. I keep moving, taking a stand

the next arrow automatically, as only someone who has been hunting for years can. I'm at the table now, my fingers curling around the small orange backpack. My hand slips through the handles and I pull it up over my arm – it's really too small to fit anywhere else on my anatomy – and I'm turning to shoot when the second knife slams into my forehead. He cuts above my right eyebrow, opening a gash that sends a stream running down my face, blinding my eye, filling my mouth with the strong, metallic taste of my own blood. I stagger back, but still manage to send my ready arrow in the general direction of my assailant. I know when it leaves my hands you will miss it. And then Clove slams into me, knocking me onto my back, pinning my shoulders to the floor with her knees. That's it, I think, and I hope for Prims' sake it's quick. But Clove is all about savoring the moment. He even feels he has time. No doubt Cato is somewhere nearby, watching over her, waiting for Thresh and possibly Peeta. Where's his boyfriend, District Twelve? Still holding? she asks. Well, as long as we're talking, I'm alive. It's out there now. Pursuing Cato, I snarl at him. So I yell at him

the top of my lungs. Peeta! Clove shoves her fist into my windpipe, very

effectively cutting my voice. But his heads bob back and forth, and I know for a moment that he's at least considering that I'm telling the truth. When Peeta doesn't show up to save me, he turns to me. Liar, he says with a smile. He's almost dead. Cato knows where he cut it. You've probably tied him to a tree while he tries to keep his heart beating. What's in the cute backpack? That remedy for Lover Boy? Too bad I never can. Clove opens her jacket. It's lined with an impressive array of knives. She carefully selects an almost delicate-looking number with a vicious curved blade. I promised Cato that if he'd let me have you, he'd put on a good show for the audience. I'm struggling now to try to knock her down, but it's no use. She is very heavy and her block on me is very strong. Forget it, District Twelve. they were going to kill you Just like we did your pathetic little ally. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· What was her name? The one who jumped in the trees? Rue? Well, first Rue, then you, and then I guess we'll let nature take care of Lover Boy. How does that sound? Nail asks. Now where to start? He carelessly wipes the blood from my wound with his jacket sleeve. For a moment, he studies my face, tilting it this way and that like a block of wood and deciding exactly what pattern to carve into it. I try to bite her hand but she

He grabs the hair on top of my head, forcing me back to the ground. I think . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· She almost purrs. I think it's good to start with the mouth. I grit my teeth as she traces the edge of the blade teasingly around my lips. I will not close my eyes. The comment about Rue filled me with fury, enough fury, I think, to die with some dignity. As my last act of defiance, I'm going to stare at her for as long as I can see, which probably won't be very long, but I'm going to stare, not scream. I will die, in my own way, undefeated. Yeah, I guess you won't be using your lips that much anymore. Do you want to give Lover Boy one last kiss? he asks, and I swallow a mouthful of blood and saliva and spit it in her face. She turns red with anger. OK then. Let's begin. I brace myself for the agony that is sure to follow. But just as I feel the tip open the first cut in my lip, a large shape rips Clove from my body, and then she screams. I'm very stunned at first, very unable to process what just happened. Did Peeta somehow come to my rescue? Did the Watchers send in any wild animals to add to the fun? Was she inexplicably lifted into the air by a hovercraft? But when I get up in my numb arms, I see it's none of the above. Clove dangles one foot off the ground, trapped in Thresh's arms. I let out a sigh,

seeing him like this, towering over me, holding Clove like a rag doll. I remember it being big, but it looks more massive, more powerful than I remember. In fact, he appears to have gained weight in the arena. he will come

Clove turns and throws her to the ground. When he yells, I jump, having never heard him speak above a whisper. What did you do with that girl? Do you kill her? Clove staggers backwards on all fours like a frantic insect, too shocked to call out to Cato. No! No, it wasn't me! You said his name. I heard you. Do you kill her? Another thought brings a fresh wave of anger to her features. You cut her how you gonna cut this girl? No! No, I Clove sees the stone, the size of a small loaf of bread in Thresh's hand, and misses it. cat! she screams. cat! Nail! I hear Catos reply, but he is too far gone, that I can tell, to do you any good. What was he doing? Trying to get Foxface or Peeta? Or was he looking for Thresh and simply misjudged his location? Thresh brings the stone down hard against Clove's temple. She's not bleeding, but I can see the mark on her skull and I know it's gone. However, there is still life in her now, in the rapid rise and fall of her

chest, the low moan escaping her lips. When Thresh turns to me, stone raised, I know better than to run. And my bow is empty, the last arrow loaded went towards Cloves. I'm caught in the glow of his strange golden brown eyes. What did you mean? About Rue being his ally? Me and I come together. He blew up the supplies. I tried to save her, I did. But it came first. District One, I say. Maybe if he knows I helped Rue, he won't choose a slow, sadistic ending for me. And you killed him? he demands Yes. I killed him. And I buried her in flowers, I mean. And I sang him to sleep. Tears well up in my eyes. The tension, the struggle disappears from me when I remember. And I'm overwhelmed by Rue, and the pain in my head, and my fear of Thresh, and the moans of the dying girl a few feet away. Sleeps? Thresh snaps. The death. I sang until she died, I mean. her district. They sent me bread. My hand reaches out, but not for an arrow I know I'll never reach. Just to wipe your nose. Be quick, all right, Thresh? Contradictory emotions cross Thresh's face. He lowers the stone and points it at me, almost accusingly. Just this once, I let you go. For the girl. You and I were the same then. Nothing else is due. You understand? I nod because I understand. About duty. About hating him. I understand that if Thresh

wins, he's going to have to go back and face a district that has already broken all the rules to thank me, and is also breaking the rules to thank me. And I understand that, for now, Thresh is not going to crack my skull. Nail! Cato's voice is much closer now. I can tell by the pain he sees her on the floor. You better run now, Fire Girl, says Thresh. I don't need to be told twice. I turn, my feet sinking into the dirt as I run from Thresh and Clove and the sound of Cato's voice. Only when I reach the woods do I turn around for a moment. Thresh and the two great bands are disappearing over the edge of the plain towards the

area I've never seen. Cato kneels beside Clove, spear in hand, begging her to stay with him. In a moment, she will realize that she is useless, she cannot be saved. I crash into the trees, repeatedly wiping the blood from my eye, fleeing like the wild, wounded creature that I am. After a few minutes I hear the cannon and I know that Clove is dead, that Cato will be in one of our lanes. Either Thresh or mine. I'm gripped with terror, weak from my head wound, shaking. I carry an arrow, but Cato can throw that spear almost as far as I can. Only one thing calms me down. trail

he has Cato's backpack containing what he desperately needs. If I had to bet, Cato went after Thresh, not me. I still don't slow down when I hit the water. I dove in headfirst, boots still on, and slid downstream. I take off Rue's socks I've been using as gloves and press them to my forehead, trying to stop the flow of blood, but they're soaked through in minutes. Somehow I manage to get back to the cave. I slide between the rocks. In the dappled light, I pull the small orange backpack off my arm, unzip it, and toss the contents onto the floor. A thin box containing a hypodermic needle. Without hesitation, I stick the needle in Peeta's arm and slowly depress the plunger. My hands go to my head and then fall to my lap, slick with blood. The last thing I remember is a beautiful green and silver moth that landed in the crook of my wrist.


The sound of rain drumming on the roof of our house gently brings me to consciousness. Yet I struggle back to sleep, wrapped in a warm cocoon of

blankets, home safe. I'm vaguely aware that I have a headache. Possibly I have the flu and so I can stay in bed, even though I know I've been sleeping for a long time. My mom's hand caresses my cheek and I don't pull away like I would when I woke up, not wanting her to know how much I crave that gentle touch. How I miss her even though I still don't trust her. Then I hear a voice, the wrong voice, not my mother's, and I get scared. says Katniss. Katniss, can you hear me? My eyes widen and the sense of security disappears. I'm not at home, not with my mother. I'm in a dark, cold cave, my bare feet freezing despite the blanket, the air polluted with the unmistakable smell of blood. A child's thin, pale face appears, and after an initial jolt of alarm, I feel better. Peeta. Hey, he says. It's good to see his eyes again. How long have I been out? I ask. I'm not sure. I woke up last night and you were lying next to me in a very scary pool of blood, he says. I think it finally stopped, but I wouldn't sit up or anything. I cautiously place my hand on my head and find it bandaged. This simple gesture makes me weak and dizzy. Peeta holds a bottle to my lips and I drink greedily. You're better, I say. Much better. Whatever you threw at my arm worked, he says. This morning, almost all the swelling in the

my leg is gone. O

He doesn't seem mad that I cheated on him, drugged him and ran off to the party. Maybe I'm just too down and I'll find out later when I'm stronger. But for now, it's all courtesy. You ate? I ask. I'm sorry to say I ate three pieces of that groosling before I realized it might last a while. Don't worry, I'm back on the strict diet, he says. Its not good. You need to eat. I'll go hunting soon, I say. Not so soon, okay? he says. Just let me take care of you for a while. You really don't seem to have many options. Peeta feeds me chunks of groosling and raisins and makes me drink lots of water. He rubs some warmth into my feet and wraps them in his jacket before tucking the sleeping bag around my chin. His boots and socks are still wet and the weather isn't helping much, he says. There's a clap of thunder and I see lightning electrify the sky through an opening in the rocks. Rain drips through several holes in the ceiling, but Peeta has built a canopy of sorts over my head and upper body by wedging the plastic square into the rock above me. I wonder what caused this storm. I mean, who's the target? says Peeta.

Cato and Thresh, I say without thinking. Foxface will be in his lair somewhere, and Clove. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· She cut me off then. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· My voice breaks. I know Cloves died. I saw it in the sky last night, says h. Did you kill her? Not. Thresh cracked his skull with a rock, I mean. Good thing he didn't get you too, says Peeta. The memory of the party comes back full force and I feel sick. He did. But he let me go. So of course I have to tell him. About things I kept to myself because I was too sick to ask and not ready to relive anyway. Like the explosion and my ear and Rues dying and the boy from District 1 and the bread. This all leads back to what happened to Thresh and how he was paying off some sort of debt. Did he let you go because he didn't want to owe you anything? Peeta asks in disbelief. Yup. I don't expect you to understand. You've always had enough. But if you lived in the Seam I wouldn't have to explain it, I mean. And don't try. Obviously I'm too dumb to understand. It's like bread. As I never seem to be out of your debt for this, I say. The bread? What? From when we were kids? he says. I think we can let him go. I mean, you just raised me from the dead. But you didn't know me. We hadn't even talked. Also, it's the first gift that's always the hardest to return. I wouldn't even be here to do this if you hadn't helped me.

I then say Why did you do that anyway? Because? You know why, says Peeta. I give my head a light, painful shake. Haymitch said you'd have a hard time convincing him. Haymitch? I ask. What does he have to do with it? Nothing, says Peeta. So Cato and Thresh, huh? I think it's too much to expect them to destroy each other simultaneously? But the thought just bothers me. I think we'd like Thresh. I think he would be our friend from District Twelve, I say. So let's hope Cato kills

him, so we don't need to, says Peeta grimly. I don't want Cato killing Thresh at all. I don't want anyone else to die. But that's not the kind of thing winners are saying in the arena. Despite my best efforts, I can feel tears starting to well up in my eyes. Peeta looks at me worriedly. Which is? Do you have a lot of pain? I give you another answer, because it is equally true, but it may be taken as a brief moment of weakness rather than a terminal one. I want to go home, Peeta, I say wistfully, like a little child. You go. I promise, he says, and leans down to kiss me. I want to go home now, I say. The following is. You go back to sleep and dream of your home. And you'll be there for real before you know it, he says. Accordingly? It's okay, I whisper.

Wake me up if you need me to watch. I'm well rested, thanks to you and Haymitch. Also, who knows how long this will last? he says. What you mean? The storm? The brief break that brings us? The Games themselves? I don't know, but I'm sad and tired of asking. It's night when Peeta wakes me up again. The rain turned to a downpour, spewing water onto our roof where before there had been only drops. Peeta put the broth pot under the worst one and repositioned the plastic to deflect most of me. I feel a little better, I can sit up without getting too dizzy, and I'm starving. Pete too. It's clear he's been waiting for me to wake up to eat and is eager to get started. Not much left. Two pieces of groosling, some root mix and a handful of dried fruit. Should we try to ration it? Peeta asks. No, let's finish. Grooslings get old anyway, and the last thing we need is to get sick from rotten food, I say, dividing the food into two equal piles. We tried to eat slowly but we were so hungry we were done in a few minutes. My stomach is by no means satisfied. Hunting day tomorrow, I say. I won't be much help with that, says Peeta. I've never hunted before. I'll kill and you'll cook, I say. And you can always find yourself. I wish there was some kind of bread bush out there,

says Peeta. The bread they sent me from District Eleven was still warm, I say with a sigh. Here, chew this. I hand him some mint leaves and pop a few in his mouth. It's even hard to see the projection in the sky, but it's clear enough to know that there were no more deaths today. So Cato and Thresh still haven't figured it out. Where did Thresh go? I mean, what's on the other side of the circle? I ask Peeta. a field As far as can be seen, it is full of weeds that reach the height of my shoulders. I don't know, maybe some of them are grains. There are patches of different colors. But there are no roads, says Peeta. I bet some of them are grains. I bet Thresh knows which ones too, I mean. Did you go in there? Not. No one really wanted to track Thresh in that grass. It has an ominous feel. Every time I look at that field, all I can think of are hidden things. snakes, and

rabid animals and quicksand, says Peeta. There could be anything there. I'm not saying that, but Peeta's words remind me of the warnings we received about not going beyond the fence in District 12. I can't help but compare him for a moment to Gale, who would see that field as a potential food source, as well as a threat. trail

it certainly did. Not that Peetas is exactly soft, and he's proven he's not a coward. But there are things you don't question much, I suppose, when your house always smells like cake, while Gale questions everything. What would Peeta think of the irreverent banter that plays out between us when we break the law every day? Would that shock you? The things we say about Panem? Wales speak out against the Capitol? Maybe there's a breadfruit bush in that field, I say. Maybe that's why Thresh seems better fed now than he did when we started the Games. Either that or he has very generous sponsors, says Peeta. I wonder what we'd have to do to get Haymitch to send us some bread. I raise my eyebrows before remembering that he doesn't know about the message Haymitch sent us a few nights ago. A kiss is like a pot of broth. It's not the kind of thing I can let slip either. To say my thoughts aloud would be to alert the audience that the novel was manufactured to play on their sympathies and that food would result. Somehow, believably, I have to get things back on track. Something simple to start with. I reach out and take his hand. Well, he probably used a lot of resources to help me knock you out, I say slyly. Yeah, about that Peeta says, lacing his fingers through mine. Don't try something like that again. What? I ask. ANY . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· ANY . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· He can't think of anything good. He just give me a minute. What is the problem? I say with a smile. The problem is that both were still alive. Which just reinforces the idea in your mind that you did the right thing, says Peeta. I did the right thing, I say. No! Don't do this Katniss! His grip tightens, bruising my hand, and there's real anger in his voice. He doesn't die for me. You won't be doing me any favors. He is well? I'm surprised by its intensity, but I recognize an excellent opportunity to get food, so I try to keep up. Maybe I did it myself, Peeta, have you thought about that? Perhaps you are not the only one. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Who cares about . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· How would it be if . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I'm wrong, I'm not as soft on words as Peeta. And as I spoke, the thought of losing Peeta hit me again and I realized how much I didn't want him to die. And it's not about the sponsors. And it's not about what will happen at home. And it's not just that I don't want to be alone. And the. I don't want to lose the bread boy. If what, Katniss? he says softly. I wish I could close the shutters, blocking this moment from Panem's prying eyes. Even if it means losing food. Whatever I'm feeling is nobody's business but mine. This is exactly the kind of subject Haymitch told me to stay away from.

say evasively, though Haymitch never said anything of the sort. In fact, I'm probably cursing myself right now for dropping the ball during such an emotionally charged moment. But Peeta somehow catches him. "Then I'll have to fill in the blanks myself," he says, walking over to me. This is the first kiss that both were fully aware of. None of us were limping with illness or pain or just unconscious. Our lips do not burn with fever or icy cold. This is the first kiss where I've actually felt my chest move. Hot and curious. This is the first kiss that makes me want another. But I do not understand. Well, I get a second kiss, but it's only light on the tip of my nose because Peetas is distracted. I think his wound is bleeding again. Come on, lie down, it's time to sleep, he says. My socks are dry enough to wear now. I make Peeta put his jacket back on. The damp cold seems to cut me to the bone, so it must be half-frozen. I insist on being the first to watch as well, although neither of us thinks it's likely anyone will come in this weather. But he won't agree unless I'm in the bag too, and I'm shaking so bad there's no point in arguing. In stark contrast to two nights ago, when I felt like Peeta was a million miles away, I'm now awed by his immediacy. As we settle in, he pulls my head down to use his arm as a pillow, the other resting protectively on top of me even as he goes to sleep. No one has hugged me like this in so long. Since my father died and I stopped trusting my mother, no one else's arms have made me feel so safe. With the help of my glasses, I lie down and look at the drops of water that spread across the floor of the cave. Rhythmic and packed. Several times I fall asleep briefly and then wake up startled, guilty, and angry with myself. After three or four hours, I can't help it, I have to wake Peeta because I can't keep my eyes open. He doesn't seem to care. Tomorrow, when it's dry, I'll find a spot high in the trees where we can both sleep in peace, I promise while I fall asleep. But tomorrow is not better in terms of weather. The deluge continues as if the Watchers intend to take us away. The thunder is so powerful that it seems to shake the ground. Peetas is thinking of heading out anyway to look for food, but I tell him in this storm it wouldn't make sense. You won't be able to see a meter in front of his face and you'll end up soaked to the bone by your problems. He knows I'm right, but the pain in our stomachs is getting worse. The day extends to night and there is no rest in time. Haymitch is our only hope, but nothing comes of it, either because of lack of money everything will cost an exorbitant sum or because he is

dissatisfied with our performance. Probably the last one. I'd be the first to admit that they weren't exactly glamorous today. Starving, weak from the wounds, trying not to reopen the wounds. We were sitting together wrapped in the sleeping bag, yes, but mainly to keep warm. the most exciting

any one of us takes a nap. Not sure how to increase the romance. Last night's kiss was good, but setting up another one will take some forethought. There are girls on the Seam, some of the merchant girls too, who navigate these waters with such ease. But I never had much time or use for it. Anyway, just one kiss is clearly not enough anymore, because if it was, we would have gotten food last night. My gut tells me that Haymitch isn't just looking for physical affection, he wants something more personal. The kind of thing he was trying to get me to tell about myself when we were practicing for the interview. I'm terrible at this, but Peetas isn't. Perhaps the best approach is to get him to talk. Peeta, I say lightly. You said in the interview that you fell in love with me forever. When did forever begin? Oh let's see. I think on the first day of class. We were five. You were wearing a red plaid dress and your hair. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· It was in two braids instead of one. My dad pointed it out to you when we were waiting to line up, says Peeta. Your father? Because? I ask. He said: Do you see that girl? I wanted to marry his mother, but she ran off with a coal miner, says Peeta. What? You are making it up! I exclaim. No, true story, says Peeta. And I said: A coal miner? Why would I want a coal miner when I could have you? And he said: Because when he sings. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Even the birds stop to listen. That's right. They do. I mean, they did, I mean. I'm stunned and surprisingly emotional, thinking of the baker saying that to Peeta. It amazes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own disdain for music, is not really a waste of time. It might be because he reminds me so much of my father. So that day, at a musical assembly, the teacher asked who knew the song of the valley. Her hand shot into the air. He put you on a stool and made you sing for us. And I swear, all the birds outside the windows fell silent, says Peeta. Oh please, I say, laughing. Did not happen. And just as your song ended, I knew, as did your mother, that I was lost, says Peeta. So for the next eleven years, I tried to work up the courage to talk to you. Unsuccessfully, I add. Unsuccessfully. So, in a way, getting my name out in the reaping was a real windfall, says Peeta. For a moment, I'm almost a fool

happy and then confusion overtakes me. Because we should be making these things up, playing at being in love and not really being in love. But Peeta's story rings true. That part about my dad and the birds. And I sang it on the first day of school, although I don't remember the song. And that red plaid dress. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· There was one, inherited from Prim, left in tatters after my father's death. It would also explain something else. Why Peeta took a beating to give me bread on that awful hollow day. So if these details are true. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Could it all be true? Do you have an . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Remarkable memory, I sigh. I remember everything about you, says Peeta, smoothing a loose strand of hair.

behind my ear. You're the only one who wasn't paying attention. I am now, I say. Well, I don't have much competition here, he says. I want to leave, close the blinds again, but I know I can't. It's like I can hear Haymitch whispering in my ear, Say it! It says! I swallow hard and mouth the words. You don't have much competition anywhere. And this time, I'm the one who bows. Our lips have barely touched when the noise outside makes us both jump. My bow rises, arrow ready to fly, but there's no other sound. Peeta looks through the rocks, then screams. Before I can stop him, he lies down in the rain and hands me something. A silver parachute attached to a basket. I open it up and inside is a feast of fresh rolls, goat cheese, apples and, best of all, a terrine of that amazing lamb stew with wild rice. The very dish I told Caesar Flickerman about was the most impressive thing the Capitol had to offer. Peeta climbs back inside, his face lit up like the sun. I think Haymitch finally got tired of watching us starve. I think so, I reply. But in my head I can hear Haymitch's smug, if slightly exasperated, words: Yeah, that's what I look like, honey.


Every cell in my body wants me to dive into the stew and shove it into my mouth, handful by handful. But Peeta's voice interrupts me. We'd better go easy on this stew. Do you remember the first night on the train? The rich food made me sick and I wasn't even starving at the time. He is well. And I could inhale it all! say

unfortunately. But I do not. We are quite sensible. They each have a bagel, half an apple, and an egg-sized portion of stew and rice. I force myself to eat the stew by the spoonful, they even sent us cutlery and plates so we could savor each bite. When we're done, I look anxiously at my plate. I want more. Me too. The following is. We wait an hour, if it gets low then we have another batch, says Peeta. Okay, I say. It's going to be a long hour. Maybe not so much, says Peeta. What were you saying just before the food arrived? Something about me. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· No competition. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· The best thing that ever happened to you. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I don't remember that last part, I say, hoping it's too dark in here for the cameras to catch my blush. It is true. That's what I was thinking, he says. Move, I'm freezing. I make room for him in the sleeping bag. We lean against the cave wall, my head on his shoulder, his arms around me. I can feel Haymitch pushing me to keep acting. So since we were five, you haven't noticed other girls? I ask him. No, I noticed almost all the girls, but none of them made a lasting impression, except for you, he says. I'm sure it would thrill your parents that you like a girl from the Seam, I mean. Difficultly. But I couldn't care less. Anyway, if we go back, you won't be a Sewing girl, you'll be a Sea girl.

Victor's Village, he says. So it is. If we win, each of us will get a house in the part of town reserved for Hunger Games winners. It's been a long time,

by the time the Games began, the Capitol had built a dozen beautiful homes in each district. Of course, in ours only one is occupied. Most of the others were never inhabited. A disturbing thought assaults me. But then our only neighbor will be Haymitch! Oh, okay, Peeta says, tightening his arms around me. You, me and Haymitch. very comfortable. Picnics, birthdays, long winter nights around the campfire telling old Hunger Games stories. I told you, he hates me! I say, but I can't help but laugh at the image of Haymitch becoming my new friend. Only sometimes. When he's sober, I've never heard him say anything negative about you, says Peeta. He is never sober! protest. So it is. Who am I thinking of? I know. It's Cinna who likes you. But that's mostly because you didn't try to run when he set you on fire, says Peeta. On the other hand, Haymitch. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Well, if I were you, I'd avoid Haymitch altogether. He hates you. I thought you said I was his favorite, I say. He hates me more, says Peeta. I don't think people in general are his kind of thing. i know the

the audience will enjoy our fun at Haymitch's expense. He's been around for so long that he's practically an old friend to some of them. And after his headlong fall from the stage at Harvest, everyone knows him. By then they will have taken you out of the control room to interview you about us. It is unknown what kind of lies he invented. He has a bit of a disadvantage because most mentors have a partner, another victor to help them, whereas Haymitch has to be ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. Like me when I was alone in the arena. I wonder how he's doing, what with the drinking and the attention and the stress of trying to stay alive. He is graceful. Haymitch and I don't get along personally, but maybe Peeta is right about us being alike because he seems able to communicate with me at the time of his gifts. How I knew I was near water when he held it and how I knew sleeping syrup wasn't something to ease Peeta's pain and how I know now that I have to play with romance. She really didn't make much effort to connect with Peeta. Maybe he thinks a bowl of broth would be just a bowl of broth for Peeta, while I see the conditions that bind him. A thought occurs to me and I marvel at the questions that take so long to surface. Maybe it's because I've only recently started seeing Haymitch with

a degree of curiosity How do you think he did it? Who? What? Peeta asks. Haymitch. How do you think he won the Games? I say. Peeta considers this for a long time before answering. Haymitch has a stocky build, but he's not a physical marvel like Cato or Thresh. He's not particularly handsome. Not the way sponsors rain gifts on you. And he's so bad-tempered that it's hard to imagine anyone bonding with him. There's only one way Haymitch could have won, and Peeta says it just as I'm coming to that conclusion myself. He mocked the others, says Peeta. I nod, then let the conversation end. but in secret

I wonder if Haymitch was sober enough to help Peeta and me because he thought we might have the wits to survive. Maybe he wasn't always a drunk. Perhaps, at first, he tried to help the tributes. But then it became unbearable. It must be hell guiding two kids and then watching them die. Year after year after year. I realize that if I leave here, this will become my job. Mentoring the girl from District 12. The idea is so repulsive that I push it out of my mind. It's been about half an hour before I decide I have to eat again. Peetas too hungry to

present an argument. As I pour two more small portions of mutton stew and rice, we hear the anthem begin to play. Peeta presses his eyes against a crack in the rocks to look up at the sky. There will be nothing to see tonight, I say, far more interested in the stew than the sky. Nothing happened or we would have heard a cannon. Katniss, Peeta says quietly. What? Should we split another roll as well? I ask. Katniss, he repeats, but I find myself wanting to ignore him. I will share one. But I'll save the cheese for tomorrow, I say. I see Peeta looking at me. What? Thresh is dead, says Peeta. It can't be, I say. They must have fired the cannon during the thunder and we missed, says Peeta. Is he safe? I mean, he's dumping buckets outside. I don't know how you can see anything, I say. I push it away from the rocks and look up at the dark, rainy sky. For about ten seconds, I have a distorted glimpse of Thresh's image, and then he's gone. Then. I crash against the rocks, momentarily forgetting the task at hand. Thresh dead. I should be happy, right? One less tribute in the face. And a powerful one too. But I'm not happy. All I can think of is Thresh letting me go, letting me run to Rue, who died with that spear in her stomach. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· He is well? Peeta asks. I give evasion

I shrug and cup my elbows in my hands, hugging them close to my body. I have to bury the real pain because who's going to bet on a tribute that keeps mourning the death of its opponents. Rue was one thing. We were allies. She was so young. But no one will understand my grief over Thresh's murder. The word stops me in my tracks. Murder! Thankfully, I didn't say that out loud. This won't earn me any points in the arena. What I'm saying is, you're alone. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· If we don't win. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· He wanted Thresh to do this. Because he let me go. And for Rue. Yes, I know, says Peeta. But this medium was one step closer to District Twelve. He pushes a footboard into my hands. Eat. It's still hot. I take a bite of the stew to show I really don't care, but it's like glue in my mouth and I have trouble swallowing. It also means that Cato will hunt us again. And he has supplies again, says Peeta. He's going to get hurt, I bet, I say. What makes you say that? Peeta asks. Because Thresh would never have gone down without a fight. It's so strong, I mean it was. And they were in his territory, I mean.

Great, says Peeta. The more injured Cato is, the better. I wonder how Foxface is doing. Oh, she's fine, I say grumpy. I'm still mad because he thought to hide

the Cornucopia and not me. Cato is probably easier to catch than she is. Maybe they'll catch up with us and we can go home, says Peeta. But we better be very careful with watches. I fell asleep a few times. Me too, I admit. But not tonight. We finish our meal in silence, and then Peeta offers to take the first shift. I burrow into the sleeping bag next to him and pull the hood over my face to hide it from the cameras. I just need a few moments of privacy where I can let any emotion cross my face without being seen. Under the hood, I say a silent goodbye to Thresh and thank him for my life. I promise to remember him and, if I can, do something to help his family and Rues if I win. So I drift off to sleep, comforted by a full belly and the constant warmth of Peeta beside me. When Peeta wakes me up later, the first thing I notice is the smell of goat cheese. He's holding half a loaf of bread smeared with the creamy white stuff and topped with apple slices. Don't be angry, he says. I had to eat again. Here's your half. Oh good, I say, immediately taking a big bite. The fat cheese tastes like the kind Prim makes, the apples are sweet and crunchy. Mm. We make an apple pie with goat cheese at the bakery, he says. I bet it's expensive, I say. Too expensive for my family to eat. Unless it got really old. Clear,

Pretty much everything we eat is rancid, says Peeta, pulling his sleeping bag around him. In less than a minute, he's snoring. Hey. I always assumed that merchants led a quiet life. And it's true, Peeta always had enough to eat. But there's something a little depressing about living your life on stale bread, the hard, dry loaves that no one else wanted. One thing about us, since I bring our food home every day, most of it is so fresh you have to make sure it doesn't run out. At some point during my shift, the rain doesn't stop coming down little by little, but all at once. The rain is over and only the residual drops of water from the branches remain, the current of the creek now overflowing below us. A beautiful full moon rises, and even without my glasses I can see outside. I can't decide if the moon is real or just a projection by the Watchers. I know it was full just before I left the house. Gale and I watched as we hunted into the night. How long have I been gone? I think it's been about two weeks in the arena, and he's spent that week of preparation in the Capitol. Perhaps the moon has completed its cycle. For some reason, I desperately want it to be my moon, the same one I see in the woods around District 12. It would give me something to hold on to in the surreal world of the arena.

where the authenticity of everything is called into question. Four of us left. For the first time, I really allow myself to think about the possibility of getting home.

For fame. to wealth, to my own home in Victors Village. My mother and Prim would live there with me. No more fear of starvation. A new kind of freedom. But then. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· What? What would my day-to-day life be like? Most of it was consumed with the purchase of food. Take that away and I'm not sure who I am, what my identity is. The idea scares me a little. I think of Haymitch, with all his money. What has your life become? He lives alone, without a wife or children, most of his waking hours drunk. I don't want to end like this. But you won't be alone, I whisper to myself. I have my mother and Prim. Well, for now. And then . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I don't want to think about it when Prim grows up and my mother passes away. I know I will never marry, never risk bringing a child into the world. Because if there's one thing winning doesn't guarantee, it's the safety of your children. My children's names would go directly to the Harvest Balls with everyone else. And I swear I will never let that happen. The sun finally rises, its light slipping through the cracks and illuminating Peeta's face. Who will he turn into if we get home? This disconcerting, good-natured boy who can tell such convincing lies that all of Panem thinks he's madly in love with me, and I'll admit, there are times when he makes me believe it himself? At least we'll be friends, I guess. Nothing will change the fact that we saved our lives here. And besides, he will always be the bread boy. Good friends. Anything beyond that though. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· And I feel Gale's gray eyes looking at me, looking at Peeta, from District 12. Discomfort makes me stir. I reach out and shake Peeta's shoulder. His eyes widen sleepily and when they focus on me, he pulls me in for a long kiss. We're wasting time hunting, I say when I finally pull away. I wouldn't call it a waste, he says stretching as he sits down. So we hunt on an empty stomach to give ourselves an advantage? Not us, I say. We stuff ourselves to give us staying power. Count me in, says Peeta. But I can see his surprise when I share the rest of the stew and rice and hand him a full plate. All this? Let's win today, I say, and we both place our plates. Even cold, it's one of the best things I've ever tasted. I put down my fork and scrape up the last drops of sauce with my finger. I can feel Effie Trinket cringe at my manners. listen,

Effie, look at this! says Peeta. He throws his fork over his shoulder and literally licks the plate with his tongue, making loud, satisfied sounds. He then blows her a general kiss and says, We miss you, Effie! I cover her mouth with my hand, but I'm laughing. Stop! Cato could be outside our cave. He takes my hand. I care about? I have you to protect me now, says Peeta, pulling me to him. Come on, I say exasperatedly, breaking free of his grip, but not before he gives me another kiss. Once they were packed and on their feet

outside our cave, our mood changes to serious. It's as if these past few days, sheltered by the rocks and the rain and Cato's concern for Thresh, we've had a truce, a vacation of sorts. Now, although the day is sunny and warm, we both feel like we really are back in the Games. I hand Peeta my knife, since every weapon he's ever owned is long gone, and he tucks it into his belt. My last seven arrows out of the twelve I sacrificed three in the explosion, two in the party echoed very softly in the quiver. I can't afford to lose any more. He'll be hunting us now, says Peeta. Cato is not one to expect his prey to wander. If he's hurt, I start. Never mind, Peeta interrupts. If he can move, he comes. With all the rain, the creek overflowed several meters on each side. We stopped there to refill our water. I check the traps I set days ago and find nothing. It is not surprising with time. Also, I didn't see many animals or signs of them in this area. If we want food, we'd better go back to my old hunting ground, I say. Call him. Just tell me what you need me to do, says Peeta. Eye, I say. Stay on the rocks as much as possible, there's no point in leaving footprints for you to follow. And listen for both of us. It is clear by this time that the explosion has forever destroyed the hearing in my left ear. I'd wade in to completely cover our tracks, but I'm not sure Peeta's leg can handle the current. Although the drugs cleared the infection, he is still quite weak. My forehead hurts along the knife cut, but after three days the bleeding stopped. However, I wear a bandage around my head in case physical exertion brings it back. As we walked along the creek, we passed the spot where I found Peeta camouflaged in the weeds and mud. Good thing, between the downpour and the flooded shores, all traces of their hiding place were erased. This means that, if necessary, we can go back to our cave. Otherwise I wouldn't risk it.

with Cato behind us. The rocks reduce to boulders that eventually turn to pebbles and, to my relief, revert to pine needles and the gently sloping forest floor. For the first time, I realize we have a problem. Navigating rocky terrain well on a bad leg, you'll naturally make some noise. But even in the soft bed of needles, Peeta is noisy. And I mean hard, hard, like he was stomping or something. I turn and look at him. What? he asks. You have to move more quietly, I say. Forget Cato, you're chasing every rabbit in a ten mile radius. Seriously? he says. Sorry, I did not know. So we start over and he's doing a little better but even with only one working ear he's making me jump. Can you take boots from him? I suggest. Here? he asks in disbelief, like I asked him to walk barefoot over hot coals or something. I have to remind myself that he still isn't used to the woods, which is the scary, forbidden place beyond the fences of

District 12. I think of Gale, with his velvet walk. It's scary how little sound it makes even when the leaves fall and it's a challenge to move without spooking the game. I'm sure he's laughing at home. Yes, I say patiently. I will too. Then both of us will be calmer. Like it was making noise. So we both take off our boots and socks and while there's some improvement I can swear he's going out of his way to break every branch we come across. Needless to say, even though it took me several hours to get to my old campsite with Rue, I didn't shoot anything. If the current calms down, fishing might be an option, but the current is still very strong. While we stop to rest and drink water, I try to find a solution. Ideally, he'd leave Peeta now with some simple root-gathering task and go hunting, but then he'd be left with just a knife to fend off Cato's spears and his superior strength. So what I would really like is to try and hide it somewhere safe, then go hunting and come back for it. But I have a feeling his ego won't take that suggestion. says Katniss. We need to separate. I know I'm scaring the game. Just because your legs hurt, I say generously, because really, you realize that's only a small part of the problem. I know, he says. So why don't you continue? Show me some plants to harvest and then both will come in handy. Not if Cato comes and kills you. I tried to say it in a nice way, but it still sounds like I think he's a coward. Surprisingly, he just laughs. Look, I can handle Cato. I've fought him before, haven't I? Yes, and it became

Turns out you ended up dying on a mud bank. That's what I want to say, but I can't. After all, he saved my life by facing Cato. I try another tactic. How about you climb a tree and keep watch while I hunt? I say, trying to make it sound like a really important job. How about you show me what's edible around here and bring us some meat? he says, mimicking my tone. But don't go too far in case you need help. I sigh and show him some roots to dig. We need food, no doubt. An apple, two bagels, and a prune-sized blob of cheese won't last long. I go a little farther and hope that Cato is far away. I teach him a bird whistle, not a melody like Rues, but a simple two-note whistle that we can use to communicate that everything is fine. Fortunately, he's good at it. Leaving him with the pack, I follow. I feel like I'm eleven again, tethered not to the safety of the fence but to Peeta, allowing me twenty, maybe thirty yards of space to hunt. Away from him, though, the forest comes alive with animal sounds. Reassured by its periodic whistle, I allow myself to wander farther and soon I have two rabbits and a fat squirrel to show off. I decide enough is enough. I can set traps and maybe catch some fish. With Peetas' roots, that will be enough for now. As I travel the short distance back, I realize that

we exchanged signs for a while. When my whistle doesn't receive

answer, run Before long, I find the package, a neat pile of roots next to it. The plastic sheet has been placed on the ground where the sun can hit the single layer of berries covering it. But where is it? Peeta! I scream in panic. Peeta! I turn toward the rustling undergrowth and nearly shoot an arrow through it. Fortunately, I draw my bow at the last second and it hits an oak stump to his left. He jumps back, throwing a handful of berries onto the foliage. My fear comes out as anger. What are you doing? You should be here, not running through the woods! Found some blackberries by the creek, he says, clearly confused by my outburst. I whistled. Why didn't you whistle back? He lost his mind. Didn't hear The very noisy waters, I suppose, says he. He walks over and places his hands on my shoulders. That's when I feel like I'm shaking. I thought Cato killed you! I almost screamed. I'm not well. Peeta wraps his arms around me, but I don't respond. Katniss? I pull away, trying to sort out my feelings. If two people agree on a signal, they stay within range. Because if one of them doesn't respond, they're in trouble, okay? He is well! he says. He is well. Because that's what happened to Rue,

and I saw her die! I say. I turn my back on him and go to my backpack and open a fresh bottle of water, although I still have some in mine. But I'm not ready to forgive him. I notice the food. The rolls and apples are intact, but someone must have taken some of the cheese. And you ate without me! I don't really care, I just want something else to piss me off. What? No, I didn't, says Peeta. Oh, and I think the apples ate the cheese, I mean. I don't know who ate the cheese, Peeta says slowly and clearly, as if trying not to lose his temper, but it wasn't me. I've been down by the creek picking blackberries. Would any of you mind? In fact, I would like to, but I don't want to give in too soon. I walk over and look at them. I had never seen this guy before. I don't have. But not in the sand. These are not Rues berries, although they look like them. They also don't match any of the ones I learned in training. I bend over and pick a few up, rolling them between my fingers. My dad's voice comes back to me. Not those, Katniss. Never these. They are nocturnal. You'll be dead before they reach your stomach. At that moment, the cannon is fired. I turn around, expecting Peeta to hit the floor, but he just raises his eyebrows. The hovercraft appears about a hundred meters away. What's left of Foxface's emaciated body rises into the air.

I can see the red flash of her hair in the sunlight. I should have known this the moment I saw the missing cheese. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Peeta grabs my arm and pulls me into a tree. Ride up. He'll be here in a second. We'll have a better chance of fighting him from above. I cut him off, suddenly calm. No, Peeta, she is his prey, not Catos. What? I haven't even seen her since day one, she says. How could I have killed her? In response, I offer the berries.


take some time to

Explain the situation to Peeta. How Foxface stole the food from the supply pile before blowing it up, how he tried to grab enough to keep himself alive but not enough for anyone to notice, how he wouldn't question the safety of the berries we were preparing to eat ourselves . I wonder how he found us, says Peeta. I guess it's my fault if I talk as loud as you say. We were as hard to follow as a herd of cattle, but I try

be kind. And she's very smart, Peeta. Well, she was. Until you got over it. It was not on purpose. It doesn't seem fair somehow. I mean, we'd both be dead too if she hadn't eaten the blackberries first. He checks himself. No of course not. You recognized them, right? I shook my head. We call them night lock. Even the name sounds deadly, he says. I'm sorry, Katniss. I really thought they were the same ones you had gathered. Do not apologize. It just means we're one step closer to home, right? I ask. I'll get rid of the rest, says Peeta. He takes the blue plastic sheet, taking care to trap the berries inside, and goes to throw them into the woods. I expect! I cry. I find the leather bag that belonged to the boy from District 1 and fill it with a few handfuls of berries from the plastic bag. If they fooled Foxface, maybe they can fool Cato too. If he's chasing us or something, we can act like we accidentally dropped our bag and if he eats them, then hello, District Twelve, says Peeta. That's it, I say, tucking the bag into my belt. He'll know where we are now, says Peeta. If she was around and she saw that hovercraft, she'll know we killed her and she's coming for us. Pete is right. This could be the opportunity Catos has been waiting for. But even if we run now, there is meat to cook and our fire will be another sign of our whereabouts. Let's make a fire. Right

now. I start gathering branches and bushes. Are you ready to face it? Peeta asks. I'm ready to eat. We better cook our food while we have the chance. If he knows we're here, he knows. But he also knows that there are two of us and probably assumes that we were hunting Foxface. It means you are recovered. And the means of fire did not hide, they invited him here. Would you show up? I ask. Maybe not, he says. Peetas is a genius with fires, creating a flame from damp wood. Before long I have the roasted rabbits and squirrels, the roots, wrapped in leaves, roasting over the coals. We take turns picking vegetables and keeping an eye on Cato, but as I predicted, he doesn't show up. When the food is done, I pack most of it away, leaving each of us a rabbit's foot to eat as we walk. I want to go farther into the woods, climb a nice tree and make camp for the night, but Peeta resists. I can't climb like you Katniss, especially with my leg, and I don't think I can sleep 50 feet off the ground. It's not safe to be out in the open, Peeta, I mean. Can't we go back to the cave? he asks. It's close to the water and easy to defend. I'm sighing. Several more hours of walking or should I say pounding

the forest to reach a good area you just have to go out in the morning to hunt. But Peeta doesn't ask for much. He followed my instructions all day and I'm sure if things were the other way around he wouldn't make me spend the night in a tree. I realize I wasn't very nice to Peeta today. Berating him for how tall he was, yelling at him for disappearing. The playful romance we had in the cave faded into the open air, in the hot sun, with the threat of Cato looming over us. Haymitch probably almost had that with me. And as for the public. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I reach out my hand and give him a kiss. Clear. Let's go back to the cave. He looks satisfied and relieved. Well, that was easy. I pull my arrow from the oak, careful not to damage the shaft. These arrows are food, safety and life itself now. We add a lot more fuel to the fire. He should have been furious for a few more hours, though I doubt Cato is assuming anything at this point. When we reach the creek, I see that the water has dropped considerably and is moving at its old leisurely pace, so I suggest we walk back. Peetas is happy to oblige, and since he's much calmer in the water than he is on land, it's a doubly good idea. But it's a long way back to the cave, even downhill, even with the rabbit to give us a lift. Both were exhausted by our

Walk today and I am still very malnourished. I keep my bow loaded, both for Cato and any fish he might see, but the stream seems strangely empty of creatures. When we arrive at our destination, our feet drag and the sun sinks below the horizon. We filled our water bottles and walked up the small slope to our den. It's not much, but here in the desert it's the closest thing to home. It will also be warmer than a tree, because it offers some protection from the wind that has started blowing steadily from the west. I cook a nice dinner, but halfway through Peeta starts to fall asleep. After days of inactivity, the hunt took its toll. I sort him into his sleeping bag and put the rest of his food aside for when he wakes up. It drops right away. I pull the sleeping bag up to his chin and kiss his forehead, not for the audience but for myself. Because I'm so thankful he's still here, not dead in the creek like I thought. I'm glad I don't have to face Cato alone. A brutal, bloodied Cato who could break a neck with a flick of his arm, who had the power to defeat Thresh, who has been with me since the beginning. He probably has a special hatred for me since I got the better of him in training. A boy like Peeta would just shrug. But I have a feeling Cato was distracted. Which is not so difficult. I

Think of your ridiculous reaction to finding the exploded supplies. The others were upset, of course, but he was completely unhinged. Now I wonder if Cato isn't completely sane. The sky lights up with the seal and I see Foxface glow in the sky and then disappear from the world forever. He didn't say that, but I

Don't think Peeta saw fit to kill her, even if it was essential. I can't pretend to miss her, but I have to admire her. I suppose if we had run some sort of test, she would have been the smartest of all the tributes. If we really were setting him up, I bet he would have noticed and avoided the fruit. It was Peeta's own ignorance that brought her down. I spent so much time making sure not to underestimate my opponents that I forgot that it's just as dangerous to overestimate them too. That brings me back to Cato. But while I think he had an idea of ​​Foxface, who he was and how he operated, he's a little more slippery. Powerful, well-trained, but smart? I don't know. Not like she was. And completely out of control that Foxface exhibited. I think Cato could easily lose his temper in a fit of rage. Not that I can feel superior on that point. I remember the time I shot the arrow flying towards the apple in the pig's mouth when he was very angry. Perhaps I understand Cato better than I think. Despite the weariness in my body, my mind is alert, so I let Peeta sleep well past our normal shift. In fact, a soft gray day began when I shook his shoulder. He looks out, almost alarmed. I slept through the night. That's not fair Katniss, you should have woken me up. I reach over and slip into the bag. I am going to sleep now. Wake me up if something interesting happens. Apparently nothing happens, because when I open my eyes, the bright, warm afternoon light shines through the rocks. Any sign of our friend? I ask. Peeta shakes his head. No, you're keeping an oddly low profile. How long do you think we have before the Watchers take us together? I ask. Well, Foxface died almost a day ago, so there was plenty of time for the public to take bets and get bored. I think it could happen at any time, says Peeta. Yes, I have a feeling today is the day, I say. I sit and look out over the peaceful ground. I wonder how they will do it. Peeta remains silent. There really isn't a good answer. Well, until they do, there's no point in wasting a day hunting. But we should probably eat as much as we can in case we get into trouble, I say. Peeta packs up our gear while I prepare a big meal. The rest of the rabbits, roots,

vegetables, the buns smeared with the last piece of cheese. The only thing I have left in reserve is the squirrel and the apple. When we're done, all that's left is a bunch of rabbit bones. My hands are greasy, which only adds to my growing sense of dirt. We may not bathe daily in the Seam, but we keep ourselves cleaner than we have lately. Except for my feet, which have walked in the creek, I am covered in a layer of dirt. Leaving the cave has a sense of purpose. I don't think there will be another night at the arena in any form. One way or another, dead or alive, I have a feeling I'm going to get away today. I say goodbye to the stones and we head to the creek to wash ourselves. I can feel my skin itching from the cold water. I

you can fix my hair and braid it wet. I wonder if we could wash our clothes quickly once we get to the creek. Or what used to be the creek. Now there is only a completely dry bed. I lower my hand to feel it. Not wet at all. They must have emptied while we were sleeping, I say. A fear of the cracked tongue, aching body, and foggy mind caused by my earlier dehydration creeps into my consciousness. Our bottles and skins are well filled, but with two glasses and this blazing sun, it won't take long to run out. The lake, says Peeta. That's where they want us to go. Maybe the lakes still have something, I say hopefully. We can have a look, he says, but he's just amusing me. I'm catching the current because I know what I'll find when we get back to the lake where I dipped my leg. The open, dusty mouth of a hole. But we make the trip anyway just to confirm what we already know. He is well. They take us to the lake, I say. Where there is no coverage. Where they are guaranteed a bloody fight to the death, with nothing blocking their view. Do you want to go right away or wait until the waters run out? Let's go now, while we eat and rest. Let's get this over with, he says. I agree. It's graceful. It almost feels like the first day of the Games all over again. I'm in the same position. Twenty-one tributes are dead, but I haven't killed Cato yet. And really, wasn't he always the one doing the killing? Now it seems that the other tributes were just minor obstacles, distractions that took us away from the battle royale of the Games. cat and me But no, there's the boy waiting beside me. I feel his arms wrap around me. Two against one. It must be a piece of cake, he says. The next time we eat will be at the Capitol, I reply. I bet you do, he says. We lay there for a while, holding each other, feeling ourselves, the sunlight, the whisper of the

leaves at our feet Then, without saying a word, we parted ways and headed for the lake. I don't care now that Peeta's footsteps make the rodents run, the birds take flight. We have Cato to fight and I would do the same here and on the plains. But I doubt you have that option. If the Rangers want us out in the open, then we'll be out in the open. We stopped to rest for a few moments under the tree where the professionals picked me up. The bark of the drone's nest, turned into pulp by heavy rains and dried in the scorching sun, confirms the location. I touch it with the toe of my boot and it dissolves into a powder that is quickly blown away by the breeze. I can't help but stare at the tree where Rue has secretly perched, hoping to save my life. Tracker Jacker The swollen body glows. Terrible hallucinations. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Let's go ahead, I say, wanting to escape the darkness that envelops this place. Peeta doesn't object. As we started the day late, when we reach the plain it is already early evening. No sign of Cato. There is no sign of anything except the golden Cornucopia that shines in the sun's slanting rays. In case Cato decides to put on a fox face

we circle the Cornucopia to make sure it is empty. So obediently, as if following instructions, we crossed to the lake and filled our containers with water. I frown at the dwindling sun. We don't want to fight him after dark. There is only one pair of glasses. Peeta carefully squeezes drops of iodine into the water. Maybe this is what you've been waiting for. What is it you want to do? Back to the cave? Either that or find a tree. But let's wait another half hour or so. So we protect ourselves, I reply. We sat by the lake in full view. No use hiding now. In the trees at the edge of the plain, I can see the mockingjays fluttering about. Melodies bouncing back and forth between them like colored balls. I open my mouth and sing four notes Rues run. I can feel them stopping curiously at the sound of my voice, waiting for more. I repeat the notes silently. First one mockingjay repeats the tune, then another. Then the whole world comes alive with sound. Just like your father, says Peeta. My fingers find the pin on my shirt. That's Rue's song, I mean. I think they remember. The music swells and I recognize its glow. As the notes overlap, they complement each other, forming a beautiful otherworldly harmony. It was that sound then, thanks to Rue, who sent the District 11 orchard workers home every night. Does anyone care when it's time to go, I wonder, now that she's dead?

For a moment, I just close my eyes and listen, mesmerized by the beauty of the music. Then something starts to interrupt the music. Runs cut in irregular and imperfect lines. Dissonant notes blend with the melody. The mockingjays' voices rise in a cry of alarm. We're on our feet, Peeta drawing his knife, I ready to shoot, when Cato pushes through the trees and lunges at us. He doesn't have a spear. In fact, his hands are empty, but he runs towards us. My first arrow hits him in the chest and he inexplicably falls to one side. He has some kind of bulletproof vest! I yell at Peeta. Just in time too, because Cato is upon us. I brace myself, but he shoots right between us without trying to control his speed. I can tell by his labored breathing, the sweat pouring down his purple face, that he's been running a long, long time. Not in our direction. Of something But what? My eyes scan the forest just in time to see the first creature leap across the plain. When I turn around, I see half a dozen others join him. So I'm stumbling blindly after Cato, thinking of nothing but saving myself.

25. Mutations. No doubt about it. I have never seen these stray dogs, but they are not born animals. They look like huge wolves, but what wolf lands and then easily balances on its hind legs? What wolf waves its front paw at the rest of the pack like it has a doll? These things I can see from afar. Up close, I'm sure its most menacing attributes will be revealed. Cato has headed straight for the Cornucopia and without hesitation I follow. If he thinks it's him

safest place, who am I to argue? Besides, even if he could reach the trees, it would be impossible for Peeta to get away from them with that leg of Peeta's! My hands have just landed on the metal on the Cornucopia's pointed tail when I remember that I'm part of a team. He's about fifty feet behind me, limping as fast as he can, but the strays are closing in on him fast. I fire an arrow at the pack and one falls, but there are too many to replace it. Peetas waving at me on the horn, Come on, Katniss! Come on! He's right. I can't protect any of you on the ground. I start to climb, climbing the Cornucopia on my hands and feet. The pure gold surface is designed to look like the braided horn we fill in the harvest, so there are little bumps and seams for a decent hold.

inside. But after a day in the arena sun, the metal feels hot enough to blister my hands. Cato is lying on his side on top of the horn, twenty feet above the ground, panting as he chokes on the edge. Now is my chance to finish him off. I stop mid-horn and load another arrow, but just as I'm about to release it, I hear Peeta yell. I turn around and see that he has just joined the line, and the mutts are right behind him. Ride up! Shout out. Peeta gets to his feet, hampered not only by his leg but also by the knife in his hand. I shoot my arrow into the throat of the first stray dog ​​to get its paws on metal. Upon death, the creature lunges forward, inadvertently opening cuts in some of its companions. That's when I see the claws. Four inches and clearly sharp. Peeta reaches my feet and I grab his arm and pull him away. Then I remember Cato waiting at the top and turning quickly, but he's doubled over with cramps and apparently more concerned about the stray dogs than us. He coughs something unintelligible. The snorting and growling sound coming from the mutts isn't helping. What? he shouted. He said: Can you climb it? Peeta responds, turning my attention to the base of the horn. The stray dogs begin to gather. As they huddle together, they rise again to easily stand on their hind legs, giving them a fearsome appearance.

Human quality. Each has thick fur, some with smooth straight fur, some curly, and the colors range from jet black to what I can only describe as blonde. There's something else about them, something that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but I can't place it. They put their snouts to the horn, sniffing and tasting the metal, scraping their paws on the surface, then making high-pitched howling sounds to each other. This must be how they communicate because the herd backs away as if to make room. Then one of them, a good-sized stray with silky waves of blond fur, dashes out and jumps on the horn. Its hind legs must be incredibly powerful because it lands just ten feet below us, its pink lips curling into a snarl. For a moment he just sits there, and in that moment I realize what bothered me most about stray dogs. Green

The eyes that frown at me are unlike any dog ​​or wolf, any canine I've ever seen. They are unmistakably human. And barely did this revelation register when I noticed the jewel-encrusted necklace number 1 and the horrible thing hit me. The blonde hair, the green eyes, the number. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· It's Glimmer. A scream escapes my lips

and I'm having trouble keeping the arrow in place. I was waiting to shoot, all too aware of my dwindling supply of arrows. Waiting to see if the creatures can, in fact, climb. But now, even though the mutt has started to slide backwards, unable to find footing in the metal, even though I can hear the slow squeak of claws like nails on a blackboard, I shoot him in the throat. His body twists and falls to the ground with a thud. Katniss? I can feel Peeta's grip on my arm. It's her! I leave. Who? Peeta asks. My head moves from side to side as I scan the package, noting the different sizes and colors. The little one with red fur and amber eyes. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· fox face! And there, the gray hair and hazel eyes of the boy from District 9 who died while we were fighting over the backpack! And worst of all, the smallest stray dog, with dark, shiny fur, huge brown eyes, and a collar that says 11 in woven straw. Showing teeth with hate. road . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· What about Katniss? Peeta shakes my shoulder. Are they. It's all of them. The others. Rue and Foxface and . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· All other tributes, I gasp. I hear Peetas sigh in recognition. What did they do with them? You do not think. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Could those be your real eyes? Your eyes are the least of my worries. And their brains? Did they receive any real souvenirs from the tributes? Were they programmed to hate our faces, especially since we survived and were killed so cruelly? And the ones we actually killed. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Do they think they are avenging their own deaths? Before he can say it, the mutts start a new attack on the horn. They've split into two groups on the sides of the horn and are using their powerful hindquarters to attack us. A pair of teeth snap inches from my hand and then I hear Peeta scream, feel the tug on his body, the weight of the boy and the dog pulling me out of the boat. If it weren't for the grip on my arm, I'd be on the ground, but as it is, it takes all my strength to keep both of us on the curved back of the horn. And more tributes are to come. Kill him, Peeta! Kill him! I'm screaming, and even though I can't quite see what's going on, I know I must have stabbed the thing because the pull fades. I can drag you back to the horn where we crawl towards the top, where the lesser of two evils awaits us. Cato is still not on his feet, but his breathing is slowing and I know that soon he will recover enough to come after us, to throw us overboard to our deaths. I draw my bow, but the arrow ends up killing a stray that has to be Thresh. Who else could jump that high? I feel a moment of relief that we must finally be

I was above the line of stray dogs and was turning to look at Cato when Peetas walked away from me. I'm sure the pack has him until his blood splatters my face. Cato is in front of me, almost at the tip of the horn, holding Peeta in some kind of headlock, cutting off his air. Peetas grips Cato's arm, but weakly, as if he's not sure whether it's more important to breathe or try to stem the gush of blood from the hole a stray has left in his calf. I aim one of my last two arrows at Cato's head, knowing it will have no effect on his torso or limbs, which I can now see covered in tight flesh-colored mail. A high-quality bulletproof vest from the Capitol. Is that what was in your backpack at the party? Body armor to defend against my arrows? Well they forgot to send a face shield. Cat just laughs. Shoot me and go down with me. He's right. If I kill him and he falls into the hands of the stray dogs, Peeta will surely die with him. We reached an impasse. I can't shoot Cato without killing Peeta too. He cannot kill Peeta without securing an arrow through his brain. We're like statues, both looking for a way out. My muscles are so tense I feel like they could burst at any moment. My teeth were clenched to the point of breaking. The stray dogs fall silent and all I can hear is the blood pulsing in my good ear. Peeta's lips are turning blue. Yea

If I don't do something fast, he'll suffocate and then I'll have lost him and Cato will probably use his body as a weapon against me. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's Cato's plan because when he stops laughing, his lips curl into a triumphant smile. As if in a last ditch effort, Peeta lifts his fingers, dripping blood from his leg, up Cato's arm. Instead of trying to struggle free, her index finger deflects and makes a deliberate X on the back of Cato's hand. Cato realizes what it means exactly one second after me. I can tell by the way the smile falls from his lips. But it's a second too late because, at that moment, my arrow is piercing his hand. He screams and reflexively lets go of Peeta, who hits him. For one horrible moment, I think they're both gone. I rush forward and grab Peeta as Cato loses his footing on the slippery horn and falls to the ground. We hear him crash, the air leaving his body on impact, and then the stray dogs attack him. Peeta and I clung to each other, waiting for the cannon, waiting for the contest to end, waiting to be released. But that doesn't happen. Not yet. Because this is the climax of The Hunger Games, and audiences are expecting a show. I don't look, but I can hear the snarls, the snarls, the howls of pain from humans and animals as Cato confronts the pack of strays.

I can't understand how he could be surviving until I remember the armor that protects him from ankle to neck and realize how long this night could be. Cato must have had a knife or a sword or something too, something he hid in his clothes, because sometimes there is the

the death scream of a stray dog ​​or the sound of metal against metal as blade collides with golden horn. The fight moves around the Cornucopia, and I know that Cato must be trying the only maneuver that could save his life to get back to the horn's tail and join us. But in the end, despite his remarkable strength and skill, he is simply defeated. I don't know how much time passed, maybe an hour or more, when Cato hits the ground and we hear the mutts dragging him, dragging him back to the Cornucopia. Now they will finish I think. But still no cannon. Night falls and the anthem plays and there is no image of Cato in the sky, only the faint moans that rise from the metal below us. The frigid air blowing across the plains reminds me that the Games aren't over yet and may not be over for who knows how long, and there's still no guarantee of victory. become mine

pays attention to Peeta and discovers that his leg is bleeding more than ever. All our supplies, our backpacks, are by the lake where we abandoned them when we ran away from the stray dogs. I have no bandage, nothing to stem the flow of blood from your calf. Even though I'm shivering from the biting wind, I take off my jacket, take off my shirt, and put my jacket on as quickly as possible. That brief exposure makes my teeth chatter wildly. Peeta's face is gray in the pale moonlight. I make him lie down before he feels her hurt. Warm, slippery blood trickles through my fingers. One bandage will not be enough. I've seen my mother do a tourniquet several times and try to replicate it. I pull a sleeve off my shirt, wrap it twice around her leg just below the knee and tie it in a half knot. I don't have a stick, so I take my remaining arrow and insert it into the knot, twisting it as hard as I dare. It's a risky business. Peeta might end up losing her leg, but when I weigh that against losing her life, what choice do I have? I bandage the wound in the rest of my shirt and lie down with him. Don't go to sleep, I tell him. I'm not sure this is exactly medical protocol, but I'm scared that if he falls asleep he'll never wake up. Are you cold? he asks. He unbuttons his jacket and I press against him as he buttons it. It's a little warmer, sharing

our bodies are warm inside my double layer of jackets, but the night is young. The temperature will continue to drop. Even now I can feel the Cornucopia, which burned so hot when I first climbed it, slowly turning to ice. Cato can still win this, I whisper to Peeta. Don't believe it, he says, tugging at my hood, but he's shaking more than I am. The next few hours are the worst of my life, which, if you think about it, is saying something. The cold would be torture enough, but the real nightmare is listening to Cato, whimpering, pleading, and finally whimpering as the stray dogs attack him. After a very short time, I don't care who he is or what he's done, I just want his suffering to end. Why don't they just kill him? I ask Peeta.

You know why, he says, pulling me closer to him. and I. No spectators could tear themselves away from the show now. From a Gamemakers point of view, this is the ultimate in entertainment. It goes on and on and finally completely consumes my mind, blocking out memories and hopes for tomorrow, erasing everything but the present, which I'm starting to believe will never change. There will never be anything but cold and fear and the dying sounds of the child dying in the

horn. Peeta starts to fall asleep now, and every time he does, I find myself screaming his name louder and louder, because if he goes and kills me now, I know I'm going to go completely insane. He's fighting, probably more for me than for him, and it's hard because unconsciousness would be its own form of escape. But the adrenaline coursing through my body would never allow me to follow him, so I can't let him go. I just can't. The only indication of the passage of time is found in the skies, the subtle shift of the moon. Then Peeta starts pointing at me, urging me to acknowledge his progress, and sometimes, for just a moment, I feel a glimmer of hope before the night's agony engulfs me again. Finally, I hear him whisper that the sun is rising. I open my eyes to find the stars disappearing in the pale light of dawn. I can see, too, how Peeta's face has turned bloody. How little time is left. And I know I have to get him back to the Capitol. Still, no cannon fired. I press my good ear against the speaker and can only make out Cato's voice. I think it's closer now. Katniss, can you shoot him? Peeta asks. If it's close to your mouth, you can remove it. It would be an act of mercy at this point. My last arrows in his tourniquet, I say. Make it count, says Peeta, unzipping his jacket, letting go of me. Then I release the arrow, tying the

tourniquet back as hard as my frozen fingers can handle. I rub my hands together, trying to get the circulation back. As I crawl to the edge of the horn and hang from the edge, I feel Peeta's hands gripping me. It takes a few moments to find Cato in the darkness, in the blood. Then the piece of raw meat that used to be my enemy makes a sound, and I know where the mouth is. And I think the word you're trying to say is please. Pity, not revenge, send my arrow flying into your skull. Peeta helps me to my feet, bow in hand, quiver empty. You got it? he whispers. The cannon fires in response. So we win, Katniss, he says hollowly. Long live us, I leave, but there is no joy of victory in my voice. A hole opens up in the plain and, as if on cue, the remaining stray dogs jump into it, disappearing as the earth closes in on them. We wait for the hovercraft to carry Catos' remains away, for the trumpets of victory to sound, but nothing happens. Listen! I scream into the air What's going on? The only answer is the chatter of waking birds. Maybe it's the body. Maybe we need to get away from that, says Peeta. I try to remember. Do you have to distance yourself from the dead tribute?

in the final slaughter? My brain is too fuzzy to know for sure, but what else could be the reason for the delay? OK. Do you think you could make it to the lake? I ask. I think I'd better give it a try, says Peeta. We gradually go down to the tail of the horn and fall to the ground. If the stiffness in my limbs is so bad, how is Peeta able to move? I get up first, swaying and bending my arms and legs until I think I can help him to his feet. Somehow we got back to the lake. I get Peeta a handful of cold water and hold it to my lips for a second. A mockingjay gives a long, low whistle, and tears of relief fill my eyes as the hovercraft appears and carries off Cato's body. Now they will take us. Now we can go home. But again no response. What are they waiting for? Peeta says weakly. Between the loss of the tourniquet and the effort to reach the lake, his wound reopened. I don't know, I say. Whatever the assault, I can't see him lose any more blood. I get up to find a pole, but almost immediately find the arrow bouncing off Cato's armor. It will work just as well as the other arrow. As I reach down to pick it up, Claudius Templesmith's voice echoes through the arena. Greetings to the final participants of the Seventy-Four Hunger Games. The previous revision has been revoked. Closer examination of the rulebook revealed that only one

the winner can be allowed, he says. Good luck and may the odds always be in his favor. There is a small burst of static and nothing else. I look at Peeta in disbelief as the truth sinks in. They never intended to let us live. This was all planned by the Gamemakers to ensure the most dramatic showdown in history. And like a fool, I bought it. If you think about it, it's not that surprising, he says calmly. I watch as he painfully gets to his feet. Then he moves towards me, like in slow motion, his hand is pulling the knife from his belt. Before I realize my actions, my bow is loaded with the arrow aimed straight at her heart. Peeta raises his eyebrows, and I see that the knife has already slipped out of his hand on its way to the lake where it falls into the water. I drop my weapons and take a step back, my face burning with what can only be embarrassment. Do not say. Do it. Peeta limps over to me and thrusts the weapons into my hands. I can't, I say. I will not do it. Before they send those stray dogs or something. I don't want to die like Cato, he says. So you shoot me, I say furiously, pointing the guns at him. You shoot me and go home and live with it! And as I said, I know that death here and now would be the easier of the two. You know I can't, says Peeta, discarding the weapons. OK I go

first anyway. He leans down and rips the bandage from her leg, removing the last barrier between blood and earth. No, you can't kill yourself, I tell him. I'm on my knees, desperately putting the bandage on her wound. says Katniss. Is what I want. You won't leave me here alone, I say.

Because if he dies, I'll never come home again, not at all. I will spend the rest of my life in this arena trying to think of a way out. Listen he says pulling me to my feet. We both know they need a winner. It can only be one of us. Please take it. For me. And he keeps talking about how he loves me, what life would be like without me, but I've stopped listening because earlier words of his are stuck in my head, hopelessly quivering. We both know they need a winner. Yes, they have to have a winner. Without a winner, everything would blow up in the Watchers' faces. They would have failed in the Capitol. It can even be performed, slowly and painfully as the cameras beam it to every screen across the country. If Peeta and I died, or they thought we would. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· My fingers search for the bag on my belt, releasing it. Peeta sees it and his hand grabs my wrist. No, I will not leave you. trust me i

whisper. He holds my gaze for a long moment and then releases me. I open the top of the bag and drop a few tablespoons of the berries into her palm. So I fill mine. On the count of three? Peeta leans down and kisses me once, very softly. The count of three, he says. We stood, backs together, our empty hands clenched tightly. hold them. I want everyone to see it, he says. I spread my fingers and the dark berries glisten in the sun. I give Peeta's hand one last squeeze as a sign, as a goodbye, and we start counting. ONE. I could be wrong. Two. Maybe they don't care if we both die. Three! It's too late to change your mind. I bring my hand to my mouth and take one last look at the world. The berries have just passed my lips when the trumpets start to sound. Claudius Templesmith's frantic voice screams above them. Stop! Stop! Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present the winners of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark! I give you the honors of District Twelve!


I vomited the fruit from my mouth, wiping my tongue on the edge of my shirt to make sure there was no juice. Peeta leads me to the lake where we both wash our mouths out with water and then fall into each other's arms. Didn't you swallow anything? I ask him. he shakes his head. You? I think I'd be dead by now if I did, I say. I can see his lips moving in response, but I can't hear him over the roar of the Capitol crowd playing live over the speakers. The hovercraft materializes overhead and two ladders drop down, only there's no way it can drop Peeta. I keep an arm around him as I help him up, and we each place one foot on the bottom rung of the ladder. The electrical current freezes us in place, and I'm glad this time because I'm not sure Peeta will make it through the entire trip. And as my eyes look down, I can see that while our muscles are immobile, nothing is stopping the blood flowing from Peeta's leg. Sure enough, the moment the door closes behind us and the chain stops, he falls to the ground unconscious. my fingers are

Still gripping the back of his jacket so tightly that when he takes it off it rips, leaving me with a handful of black fabric. Doctors in sterile white, masked and

gloved, ready to operate, he goes into action. Peetas so pale and still on a silver table, tubes and wires sticking out of him everywhere, and for a moment I forget that this isn't the Games and see the medics as just another threat, just another bunch of mutts designed to kill him. Terrified, I throw myself at him, but I'm caught and pushed into another room, and a glass door slams shut between us. I banged on the glass, screaming like crazy. Everyone ignores me except for a Capitol aide who appears behind me and offers me a drink. I fall to the floor, my face against the door, staring down at the crystal glass in my hand. Ice cream, filled with orange juice, a straw with a white ruffled collar. How bad it looks on my bloody, dirty hand with its dirty nails and scars. My mouth waters at the smell, but I set it carefully on the floor, wary of something so clean and pretty. Through the glass, I see the doctors working feverishly on Peeta, their brows furrowed in concentration. I watch the flow of liquids pumping through the tubes, I watch a wall of dials and lights that mean nothing to me. I'm not sure, but I think his heart stops twice. It's like coming home, when they bring the person irremediably destroyed by the mine explosion, or the woman in her third day of labor, or the starving

boy battling pneumonia and my mother and prim, they have the same look on their faces. Now is the time to flee into the woods, hide in the trees until the patient is gone and elsewhere in the Seam the hammers make the coffin. But I'm trapped here as much by the walls of the hovercraft as I am by the same force that holds the loved ones of the dying. How many times have I seen them, surrounding the kitchen table and thinking, why don't they just go away? Why do they stay to watch? And now I know. It's because you don't have a choice. I jump when I catch someone looking at me from just inches away and then I realize it's my own face reflected in the glass. Wild eyes, sunken cheeks, my matted hair. Rabid. Wild. Troubled. No wonder everyone keeps a safe distance from me. The next thing I know, we're landing on the roof of the Training Facility and they've got Peeta but left me behind the door. I start throwing myself against the glass, screaming, and I think I just caught a glimpse of pink hair. It must be Effie, it must be Effie coming to my rescue when the needle pokes me from behind. When I wake up, at first I'm afraid to move. The entire ceiling glows with a soft yellow light that lets me see that I'm in a room that contains only my bed. There are no doors or visible windows. the air smells like

something sharp and antiseptic. My right arm has several tubes that extend into the wall behind me. I'm naked, but the sheets are soft against my skin. I

I tentatively raised my left hand above the deck. Not only has it been scrubbed, but the nails are filed into perfect ovals, the burn scars less prominent. I touch my cheek, my lips, the puckered scar above my forehead, and I'm running my fingers through my silky hair when I freeze. Apprehensive, I ruffled the hair near my left ear. No, it was not an illusion. I can hear again. I try to sit up, but some kind of wide band around my waist prevents me from rising more than a few inches. The physical confinement has me panicking and I'm trying to get up and move my hips across the band when part of the wall opens and the redhead from Avox appears with a tray. Seeing her soothes me and I stop trying to run away. I want to ask a million questions, but I'm afraid any familiarity could hurt you. Obviously, I'm being closely monitored. She places the tray on my thighs and presses something that makes me sit up. Arranging my pillows, I venture a question. I say it out loud, as clear as my rusty voice

will allow, then nothing will seem secret. Did Peeta make it? She nods, and as she slides a spoon into my hand, I feel the pressure of friendship. Guess she didn't want me dead after all. And Peeta did it. Of course yes. With all your expensive equipment here. Still, he wasn't sure until now. When the Avox leaves, the door closes silently behind her and I turn eagerly to the tray. A bowl of clear broth, a small portion of applesauce and a glass of water. That is all? I think moody. Shouldn't my welcome dinner be a little more spectacular? But I find it an effort to finish the leftover food in front of me. My stomach feels like it has shrunk to the size of a chestnut, and I have to wonder how long I've been gone because I had no problem eating a hearty breakfast that last morning in the arena. There is usually a delay of a few days between the end of the competition and the presentation of the winner so they can fix a hungry and injured person's mess. Somewhere, Cinna and Portia will design our wardrobes for public appearances. Haymitch and Effie will host the banquet for our sponsors and review questions for our final interviews. Back home, District 12 is probably in chaos as they try to organize welcome festivities for Peeta and me, given

The last one was about thirty years ago. House! Cousin and my mother! Crowd! Even the thought of Prim's scruffy old cat makes me smile. I'll be home soon! I want out of this bed. To see Peeta and Cinna, to find out more about what's going on. And why shouldn't it? I feel good. But as I start to pull out of the band, I feel cold liquid trickling from one of the tubes into my vein and almost immediately I lose consciousness. This happens intermittently for an indefinite period of time. My wake up eat and though I resist the urge

to try to escape the bed, getting knocked out again. I seem to be in a strange and continuous twilight. Only certain things are recorded. The red Avox hasn't come back since the feeding, my scars are fading, and I wonder? Or do I hear a man's voice shouting? Not in the Capitol accent, but in the harshest cadences of home. And I can't help but have a vague, comforting feeling that someone is looking out for me. Then finally the moment comes when I come to myself and there is nothing connected to my right arm. The restriction around my waist has been removed and I am free to move. I start to sit up, but stop when I see my hands. the skins

perfection, smooth and shiny. Not only did the arena scars disappear, but those accumulated over years of hunting disappeared without a trace. My forehead feels flat, and when I try to find the burn on my calf, there's nothing. I slide my legs off the bed, nervous about how they will support my weight and how strong and stable they are. Lying at the foot of the bed is an outfit that makes me shiver. It's what all of us tributes wear in the arena. I look at him like he has teeth until I remember that of course that's what I'm going to wear to greet my team. I was dressed in less than a minute and I was restless in front of the wall where I know there is a door, even if I don't see it, when suddenly it opens. I enter a wide, deserted corridor that seems to have no other doors. But it must. And behind one of them must be Peeta. Now that I'm conscious and moving, I'm looking forward to him more and more. It must be okay or the Avox girl wouldn't have said it. But I need to see for myself. Peeta! I call since there's no one to ask. I hear my name in response, but it's not his voice. It's a voice that first irritates and then desires. effie. I turn to see them all waiting in a large chamber at the end of the hall for Effie, Haymitch and Cinna. My feet take off without hesitation. Perhaps a winner should show more restraint, more

superiority, especially when he knows it's going to register, but I don't care. I run towards them, surprising even myself when I throw myself first into Haymitch's arms. When he whispers in my ear, Good job, honey, it doesn't sound sarcastic. Effies is a bit teary and keeps stroking my hair and talking about how she told everyone we were pearls. Cinna just hugs me tight and doesn't say anything. Then I realize that Portia is missing and I have a bad feeling. Where is Portia? Is he with Peeta? He's fine, isn't he? I mean, is he alive? I spit. He is fine. They just want their reunion to be streamed live at the ceremony, says Haymitch. Oh. That's it, I say. The terrible moment of thinking Peetas is dead again passes. I think I'd like to see that myself. Continue with Cinna. He has to prepare you, says Haymitch. It's a relief to be alone with Cinna, to feel his protective arm around my shoulders as he leads me away from the cameras, down some hallways to an elevator that leads to

Training Center Lobby. The hospital is then underground, just below the gymnasium where the tributes practiced tying knots and throwing spears. The lobby windows are blacked out and a handful of guards are on duty. Nobody

something else is there to see us step into the tribute elevator. Our steps echo in the void. And when we go up to the twelfth floor, the faces of all the tributes who will never return flash through my mind and I feel a heaviness and tightness in my chest. When the elevator doors open, Venia, Flavius, and Octavia surround me, talking so fast and ecstatically that I can't make out what they're saying. Although the feeling is clear. They're really excited to see me and I'm happy to see them too, but not like I was when I saw Cinna. It's more like one might be happy to see a loving trio of pets at the end of a particularly rough day. They drag me into the dining room and feed me a veritable meal of roast beef, peas and baby rolls, though my portions are still strictly controlled. Because when I ask for seconds, I refuse. No no no. They don't want it all back onstage, says Octavia, but she secretly slips an extra roll under the table to let me know she's on my side. We go back to my room and Cinna disappears for a while while the prep team gets me ready. Ah, they gave you a full body polish, says Flavius ​​enviously. There isn't a flaw left in her skin. But when I look at my naked body in the mirror, all I can see is how thin I look. I mean, I'm sure it was worse when I left the arena, but I can easily count my ribs. they take

They take care of the shower setup for me, working on my hair, nails, and makeup when I'm done. They talk so continuously that I almost don't have to respond, which is good as I don't feel very talkative. It's funny because even though they're babbling about the Games, it's all about where they were or what they were doing or how they felt when a specific event happened. I was still in bed! I had just dyed my eyebrows! I swear I almost fainted! It's all about them, not the dying boys and girls in the arena. We don't wallow in the Games that way in District 12. We grit our teeth and look at why we must and try to get back to business as soon as possible when it's over. To avoid hating the prep team, I turn off most of what they say. Cinna enters wearing what appears to be a simple yellow dress crossed over her arms. Have you given up on the whole girl burning thing? I ask. You tell me, he says, and it goes over my head. I immediately notice the padding over my breasts, adding curves that hunger has stolen from my body. My hands go to my chest and I frown. I know, Cinna says before I can object. But the Watchers wanted to surgically alter it. Haymitch had a huge fight with them about it. This was the compromise. He cuts me off before I can look at my reflection.

Wait, don't forget the shoes. Venia helps me put on a pair of leather flat sandals and I

turn to the mirror. I'm still the girl on fire. The sheer fabric shimmers softly. Even the slightest movement in the air sends a ripple through my body. By comparison, the carriage suit looks gaudy, the interview dress too artificial. In this dress, I give the illusion of carrying candles. What do you think? Cinna asks. I think it's the best one yet, I say. By the time I manage to tear my eyes away from the shimmering fabric, I'm in shock. My hair down, tied back with a simple headband. Makeup rounds and fills in the sharp angles of my face. A clear nail polish covers my nails. The sleeveless dress is gathered at my ribs, not my waist, largely eliminating any help padding would have given my figure. The hem falls just to my knees. No heels, you can see my true height. I see myself, quite simply, as a girl. a young man fourteen at the most. Innocent. Harmless. Yes, it's shocking that Cinna managed that when you remember that I just won the Games. This is a very calculated look. Nothing Cinna designs is arbitrary. I bite my lip trying to figure out her motivation. I thought it would be something else. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Sophisticated look, I say. I thought Peeta would like that.

better, answer carefully. Peeta? No, it's not about Peeta. It's about the Capitol, the Rangers and the public. While I still don't understand Cinna's design, it's a reminder that the Games aren't over yet. And under her benign response, I feel a warning. Something he can't even mention in front of his own team. We take the elevator down to the level where we trained. It is customary for the winner and their support team to come out from under the stage. First the preparation team, then the escort, the stylist, the mentor and finally the winner. This year alone, with two winners sharing a companion and a mentor, everything had to be rethought. I'm in a dimly lit area below the stage. A new metal sign was installed to transport me upstairs. You can still see small piles of sawdust, smell fresh paint. Cinna and the prep team retire to don their own costumes and assume their positions, leaving me alone. In the dim light, I see a makeshift wall about ten meters away, and I assume Peetas is behind it. The roar of the crowd is loud, so I don't notice Haymitch until he touches my shoulder. I jump away, startled, still in the middle of the sand I think. Easy, just me. Let's take a look at you, says Haymitch. I extend my arms and twist once. Good enough. not much of a

praise. What a? I say. Haymitch's eyes scan my musty waiting space and he seems to come to a decision. But nothing. How about a hug for luck? Okay, that's a weird request from Haymitch, but after all, we're winners. Maybe a hug for luck is in order. Only, when I wrap my arms around his neck, I find myself trapped in his embrace. He starts talking, very fast, very softly in my ear, my hair hiding his lips. I hear. You're in trouble. The Capitols are said to be furious with

you are showing them in the sand. The only thing they can't stand is being made fun of and the joke of Panem, says Haymitch. I feel fear coursing through me now, but I laugh as if Haymitch is saying something completely charming because nothing covers my mouth. Is that? His only defense might be that you were so madly in love that you weren't responsible for his actions. Haymitch pulls away and adjusts my headband. Understood, dear? He could be talking about anything right now. Got it, I say. Did you tell Peeta that? You don't have to, says Haymitch. It is already there. But you think I'm not? I say, taking the opportunity to straighten a bright red bow tie Cinna must have put on him. Since when does what I think matter?

says Haymitch. We'd better take our seats. He leads me to the metal circle. This is his night, honey. enjoy it. He kisses me on the forehead and disappears into the shadows. I tug on my skirt, wishing it was longer, wishing it would cover the bumps on my knees. Then I realize it doesn't make sense. My whole body shakes like a leaf. Hopefully it will be attributed to emotion. After all, it's my night. The dank, musty smell below the stage threatens to suffocate me. Cold, clammy sweat breaks out on my skin, and I can't shake the feeling that the boards above my head are about to cave in to bury me alive under the rubble. When I left the arena, when the trumpets sounded, I should have been safe. From then on. For the rest of my life. But if what Haymitch says is true, and he has no reason to lie, I've never been in a more dangerous place in my life. It's much worse than being hunted in the arena. There he could only die. History end. But here, Prim, my mother, Gale, the people of District 12, everyone I care about back home could be punished if I don't pull off the love-crazy girl scenario Haymitch suggested. So I still have a chance though. It's funny, in the arena, when I spilled those berries, I was only thinking about fooling the Gamemakers, not how my actions would reflect on the Capitol. But

The Hunger Games are their weapon and you shouldn't win them. So now the Capitol is going to act like it's in control the entire time. As if they had orchestrated the whole event, right down to the double suicide. But that will only work if I join the game. and Peeta. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Peeta will also suffer if this goes wrong. But what did Haymitch say when I asked if he'd told Peeta about the situation? That he had to pretend to be madly in love? I do not have to. It is already there. Already thinking of myself at the Games again and aware of the danger I was in? ANY . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Are you already desperately in love? I don't know. I haven't even begun to sort out my feelings for Peeta. It is very complicated. What I did as part of the Games. Unlike what I did out of anger in the Capitol. Or because of how he would be seen in District 12. Or simply because it was the only decent thing to do.

Or what I did because I cared about him. These are issues that need to be resolved at home, in the peace and quiet of the forest, when no one is looking. Not here with all eyes on me. But I won't have that luxury for who knows how long. And now, the most dangerous part of the Hunger Games is about to begin.


The anthem rings in my ears and then I hear Caesar Flickerman waving to the crowd. Do you know how crucial it is to get every word right from now on? He must. He will want to help us. The crowd applauds as the prep teams are introduced. I can imagine Flavius, Venia and Octavia jumping up and down and bowing ridiculously. It's a safe bet they don't have a clue. He then introduced Effies. How long have you waited for this moment. I hope you like it because, as wrong as Effie may have been, she has a very keen instinct for certain things and should at least suspect that she was in trouble. Portia and Cinna get a big round of applause, sure, they were brilliant, they had an impressive debut. Now I understand Cinna's choice of dress for me tonight. I will have to look as childish and innocent as possible. Haymitch's appearance brings a round of stomping that lasts at least five minutes. Well, you got a scoop. Keeping alive not one, but two tributes. What if he hadn't warned me in time? Would you have acted differently? Boasting the moment with the berries in the face of the Capitol? No, I don't believe it. But it could easily have been a lot less convincing.

what I need to be now. Right now. Because I feel the plate lifting me towards the stage. Blinding lights. The deafening roar shakes the metal beneath my feet. Then there's Peeta just a few feet away. It looks so clean, healthy and beautiful that I can barely recognize it. But her smile is the same whether it's in the mud or the Capitol, and when I see her, I take about three steps and throw myself into her arms. He staggers back, almost losing his balance, and that's when I realize the thin metal contraption in his hand is some kind of cane. He straightens up and we cling to each other as the audience goes wild. He's kissing me and the whole time I'm thinking, you know? Do you know how much danger he was in? After about ten minutes of this, Caesar Flickerman taps him on the shoulder to continue the show, and Peeta just pushes him aside without even looking at him. The audience goes crazy. Whether he knows it or not, Peeta is, as usual, playing the crowd perfectly. Finally, Haymitch stops us and gives us a good push towards the winners' chair. Usually this is a single, ornate chair from which the winning tribute watches a film of the Games highlights, but since there are two of us, the Watchers have provided a red velvet sofa. A small one, my mom would say it's a loveseat I think. i feel so close

I tell Peeta that I'm practically in his lap, but a look from Haymitch tells me that's not enough. Kicking off my sandals, I place my feet to the side and lean my head against the

Peeta's shoulder. Her arm wraps around me automatically, and I feel like I'm back in the cave, snuggling into him, trying to stay warm. His shirt is made of the same yellow fabric as my dress, but Portias has put black slacks on it. No sandals either, but a pair of sturdy black boots that she keeps firmly planted onstage. I wish Cinna had given me a similar outfit, I feel so vulnerable in this flimsy dress. But I think that was the point. Caesar Flickerman cracks a few more jokes and then it's show time. This will last exactly three hours and is a must for everyone in Panem. As the lights dim and the seal appears on the screen, I realize I'm not ready for this. I don't want to see my twenty-two fellow tributes die. I saw many of them die for the first time. My heart starts to pound and I have a strong urge to run. How did the other winners handle it themselves? During highlights, they periodically display the reaction of the winners in a box in the corner of the screen. I think of previous years. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Some are triumphant, raising their fists in the air, pounding

breasts. Most look stunned. All I know is that the only thing keeping me on this couch is Peeta, his arm around my shoulder, his other hand claimed by mine. Of course, the previous victors didn't have the Capitol looking for a way to destroy them. Condensing several weeks into three hours is quite the feat, especially when you consider how many cameras were running at one time. Whoever assembles the highlights has to choose what kind of story to tell. This year, for the first time, they tell a love story. I know Peeta and I won, but a disproportionate amount of time is spent with us right from the start. I'm happy because it supports the whole crazy in love thing, that's my defense for defying the Capitol, plus it means we won't have much time to think about the deaths. The first half hour focuses on events leading up to the arena, the reaping, the Capitol carriage ride, our training scores, and our interviews. There's some kind of upbeat soundtrack underneath that makes it twice as awful, because it's clear that almost everyone on screen is dead. Once we're in the arena, there's detailed coverage of the bloodbath, and then the filmmakers basically alternate between shots of dying tributes and shots of us. Especially Peeta really, there's no doubt he carries this romance thing on his shoulders.

I see now what the public saw, how he fooled the professionals about me, stayed up all night under the tracker jacker tree, fought Cato to let me escape, and even as I lay on that mud bank he whispered my name while sleeping. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I seem cruel compared to dodging fireballs, taking down nests, and blowing up supplies until I go looking for Rue. They address his death in its entirety, the harpoon, my failed rescue attempt, my arrow in the District 1 boy's throat, Rue taking her last breath in my arms. and the song i can sing every note of the song.

Something inside me shuts down and I'm too numb to feel anything. It's like seeing complete strangers in other Hunger Games. But I notice they leave out the part where I covered her with flowers. Right. Because even that smacks of rebellion. Things look up for me once they've announced that two tributes from the same district can live and I scream Peeta's name and then clap my hands over my mouth. If before I seemed indifferent to him, I make up for it now by looking for him, nursing him back to health, going to the party to take medicine and being very free with my kisses. Objectively, I can see that the stray dogs and Cato's death are as gruesome as ever, but then again,

I feel like this happens to people I've never met. And then comes the time for berries. I can hear the audience quieting down, not wanting to miss anything. A rush of gratitude to the filmmakers washes over me when they end not with the announcement of our victory, but with me banging on the hovercraft's glass door, calling Peeta's name as they try to revive him. In terms of survival, it's my best moment all night. The hymns play once more and we stand as President Snow himself takes the stage followed by a girl carrying a cushion holding the crown. However, there is only one crown, and can you hear the crowd's confusion over who will place it on their head? until President Snow turns it upside down and it separates into two halves. He places the first one around Peeta's forehead with a smile. He's still smiling as he places the second one on my head, but his eyes, just inches from mine, are as relentless as a snake's. That's when I know that even though we both ate the blackberries, it's my fault for coming up with the idea. I am the instigator. It's me who should be punished. Much bowing and applause follows. My arm is about to fall off from waving when Caesar Flickerman finally says good night to the audience, reminding them to tune in tomorrow for the final interviews. As if they had a choice. Peeta and I get beaten

to the Presidents' Mansion for the Victory Banquet, where we have very little time to eat while Capitol officials and particularly generous patrons try to take a picture with us. Face after radiant face passes by, getting more and more intoxicated as the night progresses. Occasionally I get a glimpse of Haymitch, which is comforting, or President Snow, which is scary, but I keep laughing and thanking people and smiling as my picture is taken. The one thing I never do is let go of Peeta's hand. The sun is barely peeking over the horizon when we make it back to the twelfth floor of the Training Facility. I think now I finally have a face-to-face conversation with Peeta, but Haymitch sends him and Portia to find something suitable for the interview and he escorts me personally to my door. Why can't I talk to him? I ask. Plenty of time to talk when we get home, says Haymitch. Go to bed, you're up by two. Despite Haymitch's interference, I'm

determined to see Peeta in private. After tossing and turning in bed for a few hours, I walk out into the hallway. My first thought is to check the roof, but it's empty. Even the city streets below are deserted after last night's celebration. I go back to bed for a while and

So I decide to go straight to her room, but when I try to turn the knob, I find that my bedroom door is locked from the outside. At first I'm wary of Haymitch, but then there's a more insidious fear that the Capitol might spy on me and confine me. I haven't been able to escape since the Hunger Games started, but this feels different, much more personal. It seems that I have been arrested for a crime and am awaiting sentencing. I quickly go back to bed and pretend to sleep until Effie Trinket comes to tell me about the start of another big, big, big day. I have about five minutes to eat a bowl of hot, soggy cereal before the prep crew comes downstairs. All I have to say is: The crowd loved you! and it is unnecessary to talk for the next few hours. When Cinna comes in, he shoos them away and dresses me in a white chiffon dress and pink shoes. She then personally adjusts my makeup until I appear to be radiating a soft, rosy glow. We make small talk, but I'm afraid to ask him anything of real importance because, after the incident with the door, I can't shake the feeling that I'm constantly being watched. The interview takes place at the end of the hall, in the living room. A space was freed and the sofa was moved and surrounded by vases of red and pink roses. There are only a handful of cameras to record the

event. No live audience, at least. Caesar Flickerman gives me a warm hug as I enter. Congratulations Katniss. How are you doing? Traffic ticket. Nervous about the interview, I mean. don't worry. We're going to have a great time, he says, giving me a reassuring pat on the cheek. I'm not good at talking about myself, I say. Nothing you say will be wrong, he says. And I think, Oh, Caesar, if that were true. But, in fact, President Snow may be preparing some kind of accident for me as we speak. Then Peeta looks gorgeous in red and white, pulling me to one side. I can barely see you. Haymitch seems determined to keep us apart. In truth, Haymitch is bent on keeping us alive, but there are a lot of ears listening, so I'm just saying: Yeah, he's getting very responsible lately. Well, that's all that's left and we're going home. So he can't watch us all the time, says Peeta. I feel a kind of shiver go through me and there's no time to analyze why, because they're ready for us. We sit down rather formally on the loveseat, but Caesar says, Oh, go ahead and snuggle up next to him if you like. It looked very sweet. So I lift my feet and Peeta pulls me closer. Someone did a countdown and just like that, they were broadcast live across the country. Caesar Flickerman is wonderful, he teases, jokes, chokes when the occasion arises.

presents itself. He and Peeta already have the relationship they established.

That night of the first interview, those easy jokes, so I smile a lot and try to say as little as possible. I mean, I have to say a little bit, but as soon as I can, I'm going to redirect the conversation to Peeta. Eventually, though, Caesar starts raising questions that he insists on getting more complete answers to. Well, Peeta, we know from our days in the cave that it's been love at first sight for you for what, five years? says Caesar. From the moment I saw her, says Peeta. But, Katniss, what a ride for you. I think the real thrill for the audience was watching you fall in love with him. When did you realize you were in love with him? Caesar asks. This is hard. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I give a weak, breathless laugh and look down at my hands. Help. Well I know when it hit me. The night you called his name from that tree, says Caesar. Thank you, Caesar! I think, and then I go with his idea. Yes, I think that was it. I mean, up until that point, I just tried not to think about what my feelings might be, honestly, because it was so confusing and it only made things worse if I really cared about him. But then, in the tree, everything changed, I mean. Why do you think it was? Caesar insists. It might be . πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡·

Because for the first time. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· There was a chance I could keep it, I mean. Behind a cameraman, I see Haymitch snort in relief, and I know I said the right thing. Cesar takes out a handkerchief and has to wait a bit because he is so excited. I can feel Peeta press his forehead against my temple and he asks, now that you have me, what are you going to do with me? I surrender to him. Put yourself in a place where you can't get hurt. And when he kisses me, the people in the room gasp. For Caesar, this is a natural place to transition to all the ways we get hurt in the arena, from burns to bites and wounds. But it's not until we get close to the stray dogs that I forget I'm on camera. When Caesar asks Peeta how he's doing with his new leg. New leg? I say, and can't help but reach out and tug at the hem of Peeta's pants. Oh no, I whisper, looking down at the metal and plastic device that replaced his flesh. Nobody told you? Cesar asks sweetly. I shake my head. I didn't have a chance, Peeta says with a slight shrug. It's my fault, I say. Because I used that tourniquet. Yes, it's your fault he's alive, says Peeta. He's right, says Cesar. I'm sure she would have bled to death without him. I think that's true, but I can't help but be upset about it to the point where I'm afraid to cry and then I remember everyone in the country is watching.

me, so I bury my face in Peeta's shirt. It takes them a few minutes to persuade me to leave because it's better with my shirt on, where no one can see me, and when I leave, CΓ©sar leaves the interrogation so I can recover. In fact, he pretty much leaves me alone until the berries sprout. Katniss, I know you were in shock, but I have to ask. The moment you picked those berries. What was going on in your mind. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Hmm? he says. I take

a long pause before answering, trying to collect my thoughts. This is the pivotal moment when I've defied the Capitol or become so mad at the thought of losing Peeta that I can't be held responsible for my actions. It sounds like it requires a big dramatic speech, but all I say is a barely audible sentence. I don't know, just me. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· I couldn't bear the thought of. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· be without him Peeta? Something to add? Caesar asks. Not. I think that goes for both of us, he says. Caesar signs and that's it. They're all laughing and crying and hugging, but I'm still not sure until I get to Haymitch. Accordingly? I whisper. Perfect, answer. I go back to my room to pack a few things and find there's nothing to take except the mockingjay brooch Madge gave me.

Someone returned it to my room after the Games. They drive us through the streets in a car with tinted windows, and the trains wait for us. We barely have time to say goodbye to Cinna and Portia, though we'll see them in a few months as we make our way through the districts for a round of victory ceremonies. It's the Capitols' way of reminding people that the Hunger Games never end. They'll give us a bunch of useless badges and they'll all have to pretend they love us. The train starts to move and plunges into the night until we are out of the tunnel and I take my first breath since the reaping. Effie follows us back, and Haymitch too, of course. We ate a big dinner and sat quietly in front of the TV to watch a rerun of the interview. With the Capitol retreating by the second, I'm starting to think of home. Of Prim and my mother. of windstorm. I excuse myself to change my dress and put on a simple shirt and pants. As I slowly and thoroughly wash the makeup off my face and tuck my hair back into its braid, I begin to morph back into myself. Kat niss ever deen. A girl who lives in the Seam. Hunt in the forest. Trades on the stove. I look in the mirror as I try to remember who I am and who I am not. By the time I join the others, the pressure of Peeta's arm around my shoulders feels strange.

When the train makes a brief stop to refuel, they can go outside for fresh air. There is no longer any need to protect ourselves. Peeta and I walk down the floor, hand in hand, and I can't find anything to say now that we're alone. He stops to pick a bunch of wildflowers for me. When he introduces them, I try very hard to look pleased. Because he can't know that the pink and white blossoms are wild onion tops and only remind me of the hours I spent picking them with Gale. Galley. The thought of seeing Gale in a matter of hours turns my stomach. But why? I can't frame it in my mind. I just know that I feel like I lied to someone who trusts me. Or more precisely, two people. I've been able to get away with it up to this point because of the Games. But there will be no games to hide at home. What happens? Peeta asks. Nothing, I reply. We kept walking, passing the end of the

the train, where even I'm pretty sure there aren't cameras hidden in the bushes along the tracks. The words still haven't come. Haymitch startles me when he places his hand on my back. Even now, in the middle of nowhere, he keeps his voice low. Good job, you two. Stay in the district until the cameras disappear.

We must be fine. I watch him walk back to the train, avoiding Peeta's eyes. What you mean? Peeta asks me. It's the Capitol. They didn't like our blackberry trick, I blurt out. What? What are you talking about? he says. He looked very rebellious. So Haymitch has been training me for the last few days. Not to make matters worse, I say. Training you? But not me, says Peeta. He knew you were smart enough to get it right, I mean. I didn't know there was anything to do right, says Peeta. So what you're saying is, these last few days and so I think. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Back to the arena. πŸ‡§πŸ‡· πŸ‡§πŸ‡· That was just a strategy the two of you came up with. Not. I mean, I didn't even get to talk to him in the arena, right? choking. But you knew what he wanted you to do, right? says Peeta. I bite my lip. Katniss? He lets go of my hand and I take a step, as if he wants to regain his footing. It was all because of the Games, says Peeta. how you acted Not everything, I say, clinging to my flowers. So how much? No, forget about it. I guess the real question is what will be left when we get home? he says. I don't know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get, I say. He waits for further explanations but receives none. Well, let me know when you find out, he says, and the pain in his voice is palpable. I know my ears are healed because even over the roar of the engine I can hear every step he takes back on the train. By the time I boarded, Peeta had disappeared into his room for the night. I don't see him the next morning either. In fact, the next time he shows up, we'll be in District 12.” He nods, his face expressionless. I want to tell him he's not being fair. That we were strangers That I did what it took to stay alive, to keep us alive in the arena. That I can't explain how things are going with Gale because I don't know myself. That it's not okay to love me because I'm never getting married anyway and he'll end up hating me later instead of sooner. That if I feel something for him, it doesn't matter, because I can never allow myself the kind of love that leads to a family, to children. And how can you? How can he after what we've just been through? I also want to tell him how much I miss him. But that wouldn't be fair on my part. So we just stood there in silence, watching our filthy little station rise up around us. Through the window, I can see platforms full of cameras. Everyone will be anxiously watching our return home. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Peeta reach out. I look at him, unsure. Once again? For the public? he says. His voice is not angry. Hole of it, which is worse.

The bread boy is already moving away from me. I take his hand, gripping it tightly, bracing myself for the cameras and dreading the moment when I finally have to let go.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Greg Kuvalis

Last Updated: 02/16/2023

Views: 6334

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Greg Kuvalis

Birthday: 1996-12-20

Address: 53157 Trantow Inlet, Townemouth, FL 92564-0267

Phone: +68218650356656

Job: IT Representative

Hobby: Knitting, Amateur radio, Skiing, Running, Mountain biking, Slacklining, Electronics

Introduction: My name is Greg Kuvalis, I am a witty, spotless, beautiful, charming, delightful, thankful, beautiful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.