I fell from the climbing frame in the training centre and all I hear is the Career boy from 2, laughing. It takes seconds to get up and grab an axe. It takes me less than one to throw it at him. Bookverse AND Movieverse Cato/OC
It's reaping day in Panem.
The sun beats down on the young gathered in District 7, their fingers sore from the pricking and DNA scans. I subconsciously rub the tip of my index finger to stem the little bleeding that's going on. When we see the technology, we can't help but to be surprised and curious about it all. We live such a simple life in a town which just simply revolves around chopping down trees. The screens broadcast the reapings in sepia which reflect the mood of the potential tributes. It shows various clips of people walking around the square and young people stood in these so called pens. It shows scared children, crying mothers. For some poor people this will be the last they ever see of our town. It smells of pine trees.
Soon, everyone is in place. I've been standing at the front of the girls section for ten minutes and I'm thoroughly impatient enough as it is. Then the flamboyant escort with an equally flamboyant voice strolls on stage to the microphone in the centre, sticking out from the dark colours that the main bureaucrats of 7 wear. She's wearing a blue wig, half of it pinned up and the rest down by her shoulders. Her eyelashes are blue as well and her skin is also a very pale shade. She looks sick but smiles beautifully at the crowd and the camera catches her at an angle that accentuates her heart shaped face. Her dress is a dark shade of green which is one shouldered and her shoes match it too. This sort of extravagance never goes down well here. We are not impressed by her and she notices this. She tries extra hard to get the crowd invigorated.
"Happy Hunger Games!" She screeches with her silly Capitol accent. "And may the odds be ever in your favour! I am your new District escort, Petal Lambery." The pause before her name is meant to tell us she's famous in some way, I think. Either that or she's a thoroughly bad at public speaking. "Now then, I have a very special film to show you all straight from the Capitol!"
The screens used to show snippets of people in the crowd now show a laboriously long propaganda film with the Panem anthem in the background. It reminds us of the Dark Days, of the suffering faced by the whole of Panem for the rebel uprising. It's the same film they use year on year and we always wonder why the Capitol seems to think that we are so docile. We understand our past well and we will obviously never be able to forget it. We'll never be given a chance to prove ourselves.
But we in the pens shuffle uncomfortably. We want this over with. When the video stops there is almost a sigh of relief from all of us.
"Now then, to our tributes for the 74th Annual Hunger Games. I fancy a change this year with boys first!" Her shrill voice is annoying and the blank and slightly angry looks from everyone on my row makes it even more visible that we already hate her. She makes small shuffling steps in her heels to her left where small paper slips are in a goldfish bowl which is as oversized as you could possibly get. I'm already nervous and I feel my tongue try and find some saliva in my mouth. Her hands (with green sparkly nails, of course) dip in quickly and pick up a name upon the surface. She opens it as she shuffles back to the mike with the words forming on her lips before she's even there. "Oak Fielding!"
It takes about five minutes for him to get on stage. A boy from the sixteen year old section is separated from the others as everyone singles him out. Eventually and slowly makes his way to the stage. I crane my neck to take a good look at him. He has dark brown hair and brown eyes. He doesn't look as tanned as the rest of us as he is the old ex-Head Peacekeeper's son, and is well known for it. We know very well that he is lazy and contributes nothing to the suffering and hardships of day to day life here. Once he gets to the middle aisle Peacekeepers escort him to the front steps of the stage, Petal grabs his hand to pull him up the steps and then shakes it. "How do you do?" She says to the dazed boy. Understandably she doesn't get a response.
She's quick to move on and faces us, the crowd again. Her pale blue lips are near to the microphone and I realise that the top one has been modified with something to make it look a little bit bigger. "Now then, do we have any volunteers?"
The silence says it all and Oak gulps; knowing his fate. I'm trying not to smirk at his just deserts but actually its incredibly hard not to.
"Very well! Then we have our male tribute for this year!" She claps enthusiastically and we, half-heartedly. She smiles again in some sort of triumph as if she believes that because she made us clap her shiny personality has made a connection with us. Fat chance. "Now then, to our ladies."
This time she takes longer steps to the bowl on her right before again her hand is in and out in a few seconds with someone's fate in her hands. I cross my fingers in hope that it's not me; I'm only in the compulsory seven times for eighteen year olds. The odds are in my favour, I tell myself over and over again. She undoes the seal on the back of the slip before she walks back to the mike.
Enter a dramatic pause.
"Willow Roth!" She screeches.
I try not to panic but it's really hard not to.
I'm going to die.
My face takes a few seconds to appear on the screen and the other eighteen year olds around me shuffle away as if I have a disease. Their looks say it all, they feel sorry for me and I hope and think that it is genuine. But somewhere in their faces I can see that they are relieved. My expression on the screen is worried before I try and sum up a smile. A smile that oozes confidence and shields my inner worry. My fists ball up, in response and my nails dig into my skin. I'm my parent's youngest, my two older brothers escaping the reapings with a clean break. We were going to be ok if I didn't get called up. Just our luck.
I don't understand how people who pool their names fifty times don't get picked yet I do. It's unfair, I want to scream. It's so unfair.
I lift up the front of the rope barrier and take steps towards and up the stairs to the stage. Peacekeepers are watching me about two metres away, making sure I don't run. People have tried this before, but it never works. People have been put on stage forcibly kicking and screaming. They are a great sight to cheer you up if you aren't picked. However I can't feel any emotion inside of me other than anger. Not even sadness. Shock is rocking me to my very core as it doesn't yet sink in that I have been reaped to fight to the death.
I walk up the stage as confident as I can muster. I take Petal's hand; shake it firmly before she asks the crowd if there are any volunteers.
Of course there isn't.
I can't work out how she's so optimistic that there will be; especially from District 7. We're not a Career district like 1, 2 or 4. We're normal people just trying to get by. Nothing is ever normal in our world however, especially with the Hunger Games to contend with.
She then urges us tributes to shake hands, which we do. My grip is firmer and stronger than Oak's, mainly because I actually have muscle in my arms unlike him. I climb trees; I'm active and strong in my field of work. He isn't, he goes to school and probably hopes to be a merchant. Then as we let each other's hands go she herds us to the back of the stage to the doors of the Justice Building with the small applause ringing in my ears.
Congratulations Willow, you're in the Hunger Games.
The three minutes I spend with my mother, father and two brothers is so precious. Yet we spend it hugging. Of course, I hug my mother more than anyone as all the males in my family don't like to be hugged. They fear that because of human contact their masculinity will be dented, their pride tarnished. But surely this doesn't matter now with the knowledge that I'm going to die? However this will probably be the last time that I will ever see them and there are constant reassurances that I'm strong enough to win.
My brothers are twenty and twenty one respectively. Cedar and Tanner both share my sun bleached golden brown hair. We are all tanned from long hours spent outside, but I'm slightly paler because I'm younger. Apart from Cedar, we all share the same green eyes. He has a wonderful shade of blue that makes me feel safe and protected. Him being the middle child, he and I always got along the best and he was always there for me. However patronizing and annoying he can be at times.
He reminds me of when I just couldn't physically climb trees when I was eight years old. Everyone started when they were five or four, just to play games. "Don't you remember? You got so mad that you couldn't do it and went home crying." To be fair, I was scared. I remember it well. He tried to teach me and I kept on falling down. He laughed, as did the other children as they were like squirrels running up and down trees too quickly. I hated those cackles they made at me, and I still hear them whenever I humiliate myself. From then on I forced myself to learn how to climb trees to prove I'm not weak. A few weeks later I could do it better than the people that laughed at me so they stopped laughing.
They left me alone after that. A lot of people did. Determination scares people, my mother told me. Don't let judgemental people hold you back.
The story is humiliating and brings back horrible memories. In some ways I'm grateful when the Peacekeepers come to shoo away my family because the memories that I'm relieving are so sad. Tears come to my eyes and they spill down my face anyway. I daren't let myself let out proper sobs as I know that the people of my town will want to see confidence to give them hope.
Leaving my family makes me think that I won't be a part of their lives anymore. I won't grow old or have my own children; I'll be a distant memory like all the other forgotten dead tributes. I receive more kisses and hugs before they all depart. Then I'm taken to the back entrance of the fabulously concrete Justice Building where a car is waiting. Oak and Petal are already in the backseat with Petal in the middle smiling away to herself. I get in and the door shuts with a slam as one of the Peacekeepers is almost too eager to get me away from my home. The smell of pine trees doesn't exist in this car. Fumes of some kind of fuel are the only thing that clogs up my nostrils and it smells absolutely disgusting.
I've never been in a car. It's really strange. We walk or bike around here; cars are strictly for the wealthy. I have a bike that I use when I go and shop for groceries but I suppose that's never going to happen again. My mother will probably sell the bike. Alongside most of my belongings. They will remind her of her dead daughter too much.
"How old are you Willow?" I hear Petal ask me.
"Eighteen, nineteen in three months."
That is the extent of our conversation. We sit in the car as it drives to the station for another ten minutes; when I sneak a look to Oak I can see fresh tears running down his face. Johanna Mason, who usually mentors our tributes won't like him because he is so pitifully weak. I don't think she'll like me either for the same reason. Then the car pulls to a stop outside the station and Peacekeepers open the doors to help us get the train in one piece. There are a lot of people, eager to give us their best wishes. I smile and say thank you as I pass the people of my district. These people care too much for us already.
I want to chide them for giving themselves false hope but I can't.
I hate this I hate this I hate this.
I notice that we're heading towards the sleek looking metal train with the door open and two Peacekeepers stand guarding it. As we get through the crowd I take in one last breath of pine trees before I step into a world that is nothing like what I'm used to. The inside of the train has glittery metallic walls and I can't get my head around the opulence. There is an open door to my right and I walk through. The smell of fresh cream and cakes is something that I only ever smell on birthdays. There are sweet foods everywhere. Marble worktops, soft chairs, everything here is just wrong and just so nice. It's not right that people in my district sometimes starve to death. My hand runs along one of the marble worktops as I pass it. Oak seems to have stopped sobbing because there is silence from behind me other than the crowd wishing us well.
I hear a door close and as soon as that the train is off to the Capitol. I can barely feel it but I can see from the windows that we're moving. I watch for maybe a minute or two as my familiar pine forests disappear. Petal walks past us and nibbles on a cake as she watches both me and Oak savouring our last images of our home. I'm cold all of a sudden. There's cool air in here and I didn't bring a cardigan to keep me warm. It was a warm day, and the thin yellow cotton dress I'm wearing makes it even colder. It's short sleeved and has a dull metallic buttons at the front. It is my mother's, not mine as there is no point buying a dress for the reaping when you are the same size as a close family member. Petal then gestures for us to sit on some seats. Comfy tub chairs which are a shade of royal blue. We don't own chairs like this, sofas or anything like that. We sit on wooden chairs that we've had some part in making. We tributes both sit down along with Petal who takes a seat opposite us and the door from the other side of the room opens.
Johanna Mason; our mentor. The first things I look at are her large dark brown eyes which convey her as innocent. She's far from it. Her shortish brown hair is naturally wavy and she's every bit beautiful and gorgeous with high cheek bones and a well built physique that still is feminine. Myself and Oak both stand up as a sign of respect.
"Our newest recruits." She says sarcastically. She doesn't look too bothered about us and quickly looks Oak up and down followed by me. She walks over in the awkward silence that's engulfed this room and plonks herself down in a tub chair opposite Oak and next to Petal. She nods to us and we both sit back down. I clasp my hands tightly together to shield some of my nerves. "Well aren't you going to introduce yourselves?"
I look to Oak for him to introduce himself first. It takes him a few seconds to get out the words. "Oak Fielding."
She eyes both our faces, studying us. "Ages?"
"S-sixteen." He's nervous. Johanna's an intimidating woman with her sharp tone of voice. I don't blame him. I don't want to be intimidated by her though. I want her to be impressed.
"Do you work in the forest Oak?" She asks, picking her nails.
She laughs. "One bloodbath already! Wow this year will be fun." Her eyes return back to me and truth be told if she's that horrible to Oak then I'm worried what she'll say about me. She was rude to him, and as much as she's being sarcastic I can't help but to try and be prepared for some kind of remark. "How about you, Willow?"
I nod. "Since I was twelve."
I nod my head again. I think it's safer not to say anything to her because she's just so unpredictable.
"What do you do?"
"Cut branches, foliage. Make notes on any diseases that the trees may have."
"Hhm." That's where she ends it. Her eyes slide to Petal who looks ever enthusiastic despite Johanna's colossal insult to Oak.
"Now then," Petal begins. Her blue eyelashes are distracting me now they're close. The thought occurs that she matches the whole of the room, "I think we should start with what angles we want you to be perceived as. As we know Johanna is a master of deception, and I was thinking to maybe go down the same sort of line this year."
Johanna lied when she was in the Games. Made herself look weak, fragile and turned everything on its head when she proved herself to be a fierce contender. That's how she won and therefore I don't trust her. She smirks in a completely modest way. "Go on."
"Well, I was thinking of creating an impression, for sponsors. A pair of confident people will go far. Don't you agree?"
"Yeah but," Johanna sits forward with a hand gesturing to us, "look at them. They're not exactly Career material. Besides, who'll be confident after being dressed up in a tree suit for the opening ceremony?"
Petal is silenced for a few seconds as she gathers her thoughts. I think that Oak (not just me) is flabbergasted by Johanna's abruptness. "When we get to the Captiol I'll have a word with Layna. She'll have to change it this year. We need a victor and attitude is everything. Positive outfits makes for positive people."
There is nothing but silence again. I completely agree with what Petal says though, I'd rather not wear a tree suit. And if I didn't wear a tree suit then I'd probably be less humiliated and more able to just drive myself forward in the arena. Then suddenly I pipe up with a completely irrelevant question. "How about we talk tactics for alliances and training?"
"You're asking me this now?" She rolls her eyes in disbelief.
"I want to win. I want to be prepared." I reply.
Then I remember my mother's words. Determination scares people.
"Everyone wants to win sweetheart, but only one does."
Her words haunt me as she's trying to be horrible yet not directly so. My hands clasp tighter around each other as I sum up the courage to talk back. "I don't care whether you think we're going to win or not, I want advice."
She raises her eyebrows. Perhaps she wasn't expecting me to retort like that. "Ok, my advice is don't make alliances with any tributes." Before I can protest she explains. "I wouldn't advise it as at some point you're gonna have to kill each other. Don't want you all getting attached to your prey."
Oak gulps so loudly all of us look at him. My attention goes back to Johanna. "And what about training?"
"If we're actually going with the confidence approach then go to the weapons stations when no-one else is there. I know that's a difficult thing to do, but I'd advise not to show anyone something you're good at. So when you all get twelves all the Careers will be wondering how you're so good." The sarcasm in the last part of her speech makes me feel uneasy. She hates us already and I'm trying to ask vital questions. I don't want to die. I want good and proper advice.
My determination will never scare someone like Johanna Mason.
But our dear mentor soon dismisses us and Petal takes us to our rooms. They're plush, large and have their own bathrooms. That evening I have first ever shower in a marble and white bathroom that looks so clean and fresh. It takes me a few minutes to work out what the buttons do, and even then I marvel at running hot water. We do bathe, but the water is tepid at best and we have to physically boil it. We're lucky to have clean, cold running water though. But one thing we don't have at home is fluffy soft towels. They are so nice I spend half an hour walking around in one in my room whilst working out where everything is and how to work out various appliances. There are fresh clothes in the drawers that are all manners of fabrics and colours. Some so bright I wince, others so pale I feel more at home.
But instead of all these fancy clothes I put on my reaping dress again. It's just as I finish buttoning it up that Petal bounces into the room.
"Supper will be served in ten minutes!" She smiles at me before she eyes my wet hair. "Did you have a shower?"
"Do you know what a hairdryer is?"
I sort of know I think. "I'd rather leave it to dry naturally."
She then turns her attention to my slightly moth eaten dress. "Why didn't you change?"
I shrug weakly. "I miss home. I don't want it to leave me as it's my mother's dress."
Petal gives me a sad smile. Its then that I realise that she's in her mid twenties as her face (without the blue) is naturally fresh and can move her eyebrows which is a feat in itself. Other than her stupid top lip she looks so pretty. In some way though, what I've said has made her warm to me a bit. "I'd better go tell Oak." And then she's back out of my door, leaving it open and I go back to the car we first stepped into.
Johanna's already sat at a table made up for four; eating a couple of cakes that were on show earlier. The table is still having plates laid out on top of it by a waiter but I notice her gaze is fixed on the passing trees.
"You like to stare at people or something?" She says without even passing a glance my way.
I sit down diagonally from her. Then it's silent until Petal and Oak come in. Then the silence returns when course after course of lots of small portions of food comes out. Meat jellies which are bright green. Soft white bread rolls. A lot of the dishes are fish in sauces and they are only the starters. The mains contain lots of meat; protein to fatten us up. Petal doesn't eat too much yet Johanna wolfs it down. Oak just eats a little too but I'm starving. I also know that protein is going to be the thing to help us to get healthy so I'm taking advantage of every opportunity food is being put down in front of me. Oak is already normal sized and so am I, maybe a little underweight because of all the physical exertion I do six days a week. My family aren't rich nor dirt poor; we have enough food but that is the extent of our wealth.
We have desert, chocolate puddings which are slightly bitter yet wonderfully rich. I feel overindulged but this is when Johanna suddenly springs a question on us.
"What are your skills?"
I look to Oak but he remains tight lipped. I sigh. "I use axes to chop shrubbery and branches. I can climb trees too."
"Well that will be useful if the arena is a desert this year." Her voice is cutting and harsh. I can't help but to hate her mocking nature. She then looks to Oak expectantly.
"Uh. Well, I think that I'm clever."
She says nothing back. When we finish eating we go and watch the reapings in a different carriage on a TV so big I try and hide my open mouth. As we sit on a sofa opposite it, Johanna's and Petal's expert opinions are our running commentary instead of the over dramatised Claudius Templesmith and co-presenters. This year Caesar Flickerman is with him. Johanna actually mutes the TV so she can tell us her opinions on the contenders. Petal interjects every now and again with a catty remark about the other escorts.
The tributes from 1 are volunteers; a blonde girl and an arrogant looking boy. Both push to the front of their pens with looks of pure glee on their faces. They actually want to kill people. I shudder, particularly at the girl's smirk of arrogance as I begin to worry that I came across like that. From 2, another volunteer who is a very well built blonde haired boy. He lunges forward to volunteer and a girl with a sinister smirk also volunteers. Another Career. She doesn't look entirely human nor all there but I suppose that tributes from those districts are always sadists. These Careers will be our victors, I know it too well as they win almost every year. From then on I switch off. When it gets to our reapings Johanna sighs at Oak's weakness yet is silent at my brave face. I don't come across like the girl from 1 did, thank goodness. I look content. A twelve year old is reaped from District 11 and my heart goes out to her. She's tiny, slight and doe-like. But when it gets to District 12, another 12 year old girl is reaped and an older girl walks out of the pens and but is pulled back by Peacekeepers.
Johanna turns the volume up.
She volunteers for her little sister. No-one has ever volunteered for their sibling. No-one. Her name rings in my ears, Katniss Everdeen. She's quiet when she speaks; obviously upset. There's a look of pure determination on her face. Even Claudius and Caesar fall silent at her bravery.
My mentor ever the optimist declares: "We have our winner."
Oak and I, even Petal turn to look at Johanna with disgusted expressions. We all want to tell her off for being conceited but none of us are brave enough. I turn away, feeling tears forming in my eyes.
"Thanks a lot." I whisper to myself. Petal hears this and grips my hand in reassurance.
After the reapings I excuse myself to my room. I'm tired and grouchy and moreover I hate my mentor. I watch Capitol TV in my room; they're replaying Caesar's favourite year and the barbarity of the final battle is shown. After then they replay the reapings for the second time and I watch the Careers look proud and brave. I hear Claudius comment that the boy from 2 'looks like the best contender we have ever seen'. That enough for me to snap and I know deep down I'm not going to win. I want to jump out of the train's window but it won't open wider than an inch.
Cool air hits my face. The train is noisier from the outside.
"So how about Willow then Caesar?"
My head looks back to the TV from the window. I didn't hear this earlier as the volume was off. Petal was also commenting on how she should have worn a different dress and I can't help but to be entranced by the selfishness of Capitol folk.
"Certainly stronger than Oak!"
They burst into laughter. I hope my district partner isn't watching this. I feel humiliated for him. I don't like their laughs, they're cold and hysterical. They're laughing at death.
What sort of world do I live in?
Caesar continues. "She looks to have the same physical strength as the girls from 1 and 2."
"Really? I thought she's a little weaker, but still," he pauses and the camera shows me smiling as confidently as I can muster, "that smile is of someone ready to win."
I turn the TV off, throwing the remote at a wall. I can bet that right now in 7 my mother and father (and brothers, Tanner will bring his fiancé) are sitting together too upset that I've gone. I'm their baby, their only daughter. I really wish I'd told them not to watch it. I don't want them to watch me die a painful death. I start crying and soon I manage to put on a pale blue nightdress and wrap myself up in my duvet and go to sleep.
I have nightmares of the girls from 1 and 2 cutting me up into tiny pieces of flesh.
This story isn't from a tribute that follows Katniss everywhere. Willow's her own person. It's a mixture of the books and film as some things from each would work better with this story. I also don't mean it to be so quick in the beginning but if I'm slow it will end up so boring you guys and you will abandon the story. The next chapter is of the arrival to the Capitol, the remake centre, tribute parade and maybe some other bits and pieces. Willow and Cato will meet and chapters will always be this length, not a few hundred words.
Also, Cato's ending speech in the film made him human. I feel so sorry for him; it was like a moment of catharsis which was a really strong scene.
Thanks a lot guys!
(chapter edited 28/4/12 for grammar and description mistakes)