Chapter 1 – Tributes for Slaughter
A soft violet tulip resting in a vase, a mirror shining with serene brightness and a simple girl with dark red hair. I am an orphan. I am a muted slave. Avox. Traitor.
The door opens and the Capitols who own this place don't look at me, they don't acknowledge my existence. I stare at my feet as they discuss the party the night before.
The man who sits first has chosen the animal look of a dog, but a cute Labrador rather than a wolf or a Boxer as I've seen elsewhere in the Capitol. His skin droops from his cheeks and his eyes have been glistened and grown wider to mimic the breed. It looks almost hostile at first glance, but his companion hardly notices when he lets his tongue lazily droop onto his huge lips.
His female companion has opted for a mismatch of blindingly bright colours; bright purple smudged lips, a bleach-blonde wig with messy ringlets, golden eyeliner that looks more like eye shadow, and a strange blue dress that resembles a pastry. It would be fashionable also if her make up wasn't smudged. They all stumble into the main room groaning and holding their heads.
"What a party…" the man slurs, "Did you – did you see Flavius?"
They both laugh slightly, and then clutch their heads harder. "His first games, of 'course he's gonna get Twelve." She answers sarcastically.
I cannot leave without permission, and their talk is so dull and meaningless I wonder sometimes why they still keep going with their lives. I hate them enough to scratch them to death. But what would that do? Make my horrible life unbearably worse. I clench my hands into fists.
The man presses some buttons that he knows off by heart and a huge TV appears, lighting up the spotless apartment and a bubbly reporter announcing the Hunger Games and the Tributes. All I can do is stare at the floorboards as they discuss who they are and Districts and Tokens. I can't look upon the faces of any more Tributes, I cannot watch any more Games, I've seen so many gruesome deaths that I don't want to have more entering my nightmares.
Again, he presses some more buttons and two reddish drinks appear with an umbrella peeking over the top. The cocktail bubbles and smells revoltingly like tomatoes and kiwi fruit. They down the potion in one.
With a sigh, a shiver and a smile, they both seemed to have instantly recovered from their hangover. "I hear Seneca Crane has an excellent idea for the finale of the Games. He doesn't show off or discuss it, but it's going to be fabulous." The woman informs him, her slurring a distant memory. "Are you sponsoring this year?"
"Perhaps, I never go in until the last second, the interviews at least."
"I know that, Cara, but which one are you leaning towards?"
The man named Cara considers for a moment, and then shrugs. "Hmmm, well Cato and Clove look like a safe bet. But the big one from Eleven looks savage, maybe he'll be lucky in the arena. And the one from Four looks smart enough to outwit each one of them."
"Bit wimpy isn't he?" she snarls at the TV.
Cara grins. "That's what you said about Beetee."
"That was a one off!"
"Safe bet though, don't you think?"
For a while they were entranced with the television. The female reporter got joined by special guests who discussed the doomed Tributes, their terrified family, confused friends and possible tragic lovers left behind. But once they reach Twelve, the conversation dries up. So does my throat.
Pictures flash on and off the Tributes who are crying, concentrated, or just crazy about the games. The program finishes with an anthem flourish and then darkness. I can't remember any of their names. I don't want to know them. I don't want to look up from the floor.
"Let's go to Tigris! The fur underwear is a must!" she stood up as she spoke and slipped into the wardrobe, Cara waits until she reappears then follows her to the door. He barks to me: "Clean my rooms then get out." Then slams the door behind him.
I obey – the room is beyond a mess, sick, alcohol bottles, a few emptied needles, confetti and glitter everywhere. The only objects that have stayed decent are the mirror and the tulip. They both still entrance me with their simplicity and yet radiant beauty. In an hour, the room is decent, in two, it's clean, and after three it's spotless and shining upon every surface. Then, I begin searching for tins.
Years ago, when I was only fourteen and beginning my second month of being Avox, I was suicidal, I hated what my life had become and wished it to end. I didn't want to slave away for these slobs; I vowed to never give them the satisfaction. But I then came across a tin purely by accident. I hadn't adapted well to the slop they served to us all and I was desperate for anything else, so without any second thought of the implications of stealing it, I took it with me. Security wasn't tight for us, nobody cared what Avoxes did, but if we were caught, then we would be punished in plain sight of other Avoxes. A guard caught me, and he should've leaded me to the nearest flogging post, but something was different in his eyes. He didn't take me away, he told me harshly to go back to the Avox Shacks as fast as I could. I was lucky that day; pity doesn't come from a peacekeeper, and I wish I could thank him, but I've never seen him since. That night I did run home and I ate a lamb stew that my mother used to make, and felt a warmth blossom in my heart. It felt like home. It tasted of hope.
Ever since I have collected tins and sometimes, when depressed, I devour a few to calm myself. They remind me of what I live for – I let myself think of that impossible Peacekeeper, that man who could've punished me and killed me, but didn't; somewhere there was decency and goodness that nobody except those of my family or Avoxes have possessed. My belief is that he's not the only one, that there are others that still have kindness, even in the Capitol.
But I'm always afraid; scared of the constant abuse and punishment that I have to watch. Deciding to let a spark of hope illuminate my drab, black life isn't common among the Avoxes. The Capitol destroys each one a tiny bit at a time until they're all machines. Without emotion, without hope and without life; I can't be that way, I won't.
The other Peacekeepers of the Capitol hardly care about if I smuggle food in or not, most of them have already realised we're no longer rebellious; except for me, it seems. But I still take only a tiny portion, just enough so I can sneak it into some uncomfortable places.
I spread my palm onto an innocent looking painting of a lake and a fisherman lightly, too hard and the panel will lock, too gentle and it won't open at all. I hear the click, and I sigh with relief; although I know full well that most of the younger Capitol citizens don't bother to put the setting of pressure very high, I still panic at that crucial moment.
Inside loads of tins of meat stew, some packets of dried beef jerky and other foods are stacked on one side. The other is a box marked with 'Party morphling' and another marked with 'Backup'. I take one tin of stew and two of jerky, I leave the drugs alone, and it takes me a minute to put them both into my loin.
Night falls and the walk to the bus stop is a long, arduous one; free of civilized Capitol people of course. It's painful to walk at first, with the tin scratching against my side, but after a while, it reduces to an itch, but the tin does scrape me on the inside of my thigh and I feel a little blood seep down my leg. When I reach the bus stop, I sit down next to many others who have finished their work, I don't look at the Avoxes around me, and they don't look at me. The bus is crowded as usual, and I sit again not looking at the others around me. I wait until my stop, exactly 12, and then I get off.
The Avox Shacks had been outside the Capitol since before the end of the Dark Days over a century ago, they are all the same; simple houses built with anything that the Capitol doesn't want. Some of them are even made of the remains of the Dark Days, rubble from houses long lost to bombs that 13 had used. There were hundreds of them, spreading into the distance and most of them were yet to be filled. They were dumped far away from anybody civilised, a few miles away from the Capitol walls. The Shacks can hold about sixteen in one house, usually six women and ten men; and mine is the seventeenth on the left. Each muddy road is filled with the hopeless, the lost and the sick; people who have forgotten laughter and their happiness, who only know hate, hunger, the Games and work. I cannot look at them anymore; their eyes are so empty, so sad that it's unbearable. I just keep walking, ignoring the upturned faces that have noticed my movement, ignoring the contorted weeping of a newly maimed slave.
When I enter my Shack, I let out a sigh of relief as I see Gibbs, my one and only friend that I trust in this dark place. Gibbs was working in an underground resistance in District 7, and his life as a lumberjack showed in his arm muscles being huge. He was organising an uprising and selling food the Peacekeepers had thrown out of their plates. Apparently there wasn't anything wrong with it, just a few days older than it should've been, it was edible though and that was all people cared about. He was a part of a ten men operation and Gibbs wasn't the ringleader - he was killed in public along with the youngest of their band - but he was a key member, who thought up most of the ideas. They made a few Avoxes as a reminder to the people of 7, including Gibbs. It was assumed that he was made an Avox because the Capitol thought that at least one of his twenty four sons, daughters and grandchildren would've been in the reaping at some point. But after almost fifteen years of being an Avox, he's broken from being forced to see his family and friends grow old without him. He is the strongest, bravest and wisest of us all; and he encourages us to never give up despite how he has lost.
When we met he immediately decided he liked me even though I was Capitol raised, I've never really known why, as really he should hate me because of it. Everyone else in our Shack despised my existence and held me responsible for the crimes the Capitol had committed. I was a child; only fourteen when I came here and they treated me as they would a murderer. I still cannot trust them because they can never trust me; I am of the Capitol no matter what I do, if I saved their lives a dozen times it would be no different. Except for Gibbs, without him I would surely be dead now, I owe him so much. Gibbs was, of course, the only one who I told about my smuggling, and when I did, he grinned and showed me his own stash of knives and wood. At first I thought he was trying to make weapons, but I know he prefers carving things than causing pain and death, he knows he can't be rebellious anymore and knows he won't get away with it if he tries. Others would probably rat him out for extra portions of slop or even just some morphling and he'd be killed; murdered just for some stupid food or drugs. If that happened, then I would kill whoever was responsible, then myself. Everybody in this Shack either knows that I'm crazy and clever enough to do it, so they don't dare touch or insult him; or like Gibbs as much as I do and would kill the traitor as I would.
I see Gibbs concentrating fiercely on his carving and I don't need to arouse him. He nods his 'hello' to me and continues. I spend a few moments on my bed, staring up at the one above me; I hate the Reaping. Most days I can live with, but today reminds me of why I'm here, why I lay in a moth eaten bed without a father, without a mother, without my brother. Orphaned, alone, lost.
I'm not alone though, there are so many around me who can't stand today, because at some point, they have to watch the highlights; everybody has to see the highlights. If anyone doesn't, they're taken and flogged for not doing so in front of everyone in the Avox Shacks and forced to watch every single day of the games for the next couple of weeks alone in a cemented room. No contact with people outside, only food, water and the screen. It's a torture nobody wishes to endure, but still they refuse to switch on the TV which they know has only one channel. They cannot stand to see children get dressed up for their impending deaths. I haven't been hurt by it like they have, I haven't had to sit and watch as my neighbours, friends and old, forgotten school mates were forced to fight to the death in a arena far from home. I have seen strangers do that, but nothing more.
Gibbs nudges me out of my daydreams and points to the screen.
I shake my head and try to ignore the world around me.
Gibbs shakes me more violently and shoves a note into my face.
I feel cold by what it says. He was taken from his family and hasn't seen them in ten long years. None of them had been forced into the Games and only one of his kin remains, this year he's eighteen and if he survives another Reaping, he'll be able to become a lumberjack. He'll be fine and Gibbs will be able to live his muted life in peace that some other Avoxes cannot have. He will know all is well and nobody in the Games can harm his family, he can only hope that his family won't become Avox. Gibbs told them how to survive and taught them to keep their heads down to avoid death. If they're as smart and confident as he is, then I believe they'll be alive as well.
The note says in his rough handwriting: "Karnack". Gibbs' grandson that he last saw when he was going into the Reaping at just thirteen.
We turn on the TV and hold each other's hands tightly as the highlights repeat. Districts flash past: luxury makers of District 1 – Glimmer and Marvel; the miners of District 2 – Cato and Clove; the factory workers of District 3. By now a crowd has gathered of our Shack, of those brave enough to watch also; fishers of District 4; the electrical power of District 5; District 6, Transport; then at last lumberjack 7. His old hand tightens on mine; he's shaking as well from the stresses of his ancient sixty years, I'm nervous too. Gibbs has had too much taken away for his hope and soul to leave now, it would destroy us all. We both hold our breath as the woman dips her hand into the huge Reaping ball and reveals –
Another boy; somebody whose name I simply don't hear over the thudding of my own starving heartbeat. Gibbs pulls me into a tight hug that I return; the crowd we aroused stands before us also relieved and patting Gibbs lightly as he sobs into my shoulder. I let him, and think of what Karnack might do now he's free from the Games. Would he get married to a sweetheart? Would he have children? Children his wife and he would have to inevitably have to send into the Games? Would he prefer loneliness than having lovers? Would he survive, grow old in a place where the old don't linger? At least Karnack is alive, well and not able to see his grandfather like this; sobbing into a strangers shoulder.
My eye is caught by the final District 12; I watch as the hand is dipped into the Reaping ball, it comes out, and a tiny girl called Primrose Everdeen is called. My throat closes and dries as I watch her tiny form climb the huge stairs; twelve – just twelve years old and going into an arena, to the death. Nobody can breathe in that District; they watch gawking as the mere child goes to the platform. Even I cannot help it, she's so innocent and beautiful and scared and so alone and lost. Why would they do this? Why would anyone force this girl to be killed? Why doesn't anyone volunteer?
She steps up and forces Primrose away, she pushes her without grace and they both know what she's done. She's announced as Katniss; Katniss Everdeen. But I know her by another name, one I invented and one she won't lose so instantly.
She was my final hope, the only one who could help me. She is my Killer.