I open my eyes.
I am lying on the path. Alone. Where are the careers? Surely they would have killed me by now. I roll to the side and feel a burst of pain on my shoulder. My shoulder… I look to the side and gasp.
My shoulder is puffy and inflamed, the cut is so deep I can see down to my bone. The area around it is purple, yellow, and green. It’s bruised. Badly. I need help, quickly or it is all going to be over. I will bleed out. I look over the drop off of the path. I have to squint to make it out. There is a pile of snow at the bottom of the mountain, like a huge pile of snow. I can see packs, knives and splashes of blood dotted on it, like a bizarre shaped chocolate chip cookie. I don’t need to think too hard to guess that the careers are buried underneath it. I need to move. Now. If they come up here they will kill me on the spot. But I can’t move. My shoulder burns every time I breathe. Without my right shoulder (Which just happens to be the one that I use to throw) it will all be over soon.
Then I hear a small rustling behind me. I don’t bother moving. If it is an animal, it won’t care about me. If it is a tribute. Oh well, at least it wasn’t Izack that killed me. He can’t move that quietly. Then, though, I can’t believe it. Comes a whisper. My name. ‘Willow’. It is coming from behind me. From what seems to be the blank mountain side.
I summon up all my strength and roll over. I’m just looking at blank rock when eyes appear at the bottom. First head, then chest, then legs. Jazi climbs out of the mountain. I gape at her as Thren climbs out as well. I can see now where they came from. There is about a metre hole in the rock face, someone standing would not see.
“Can you move Willow?” Asks Jazi.
“Maybe,” I say. I might be able to sit up. Maybe. When I try I find that I can.
“Ok,” says Thren, “That will make things easier, won’t it Jazi?”
“Yes.” She replies. “It would. Right. Willow. Can you scooch over to the gap?”
“Yes,” I say, if I go slowly, I can. I do as she says. Soon my legs are in the hole. Then I let my hands go, I slide down on a stretch of rock about a metre long and look around, astounded. I am in a cave. A huge cave. There are a few shelves of rock sticking out. One has a sleeping bag strapped to it. I’m guessing that is where Jazi and Thren sleep. I see two small packs in the corner, one bright orange and one blue. There is a hole to a tunnel in the cave at the corner, underneath there are about seven huge leaves. I hear a noise as Jazi comes down the slide. Then Thren. They lift me onto a shelf of rock, Thren bandages my shoulder with some flax. Jazi looks at me uncertainly.
“It’s ok,” I say, “I am not going to hurt you, or Thren. I will not hurt either of you.”
“Ok,” she says. I notice her looking at my pack and weapons. I show them my glasses, sleeping bag, food, knives, sword and squirrel. Jazi’s eyes light up at the sight of the bow and arrows.
“Hey,” I say, “Jazi, do you want the bow?”
She gasps, “If you want to give it to me, then sure!”
“Well I’m not going to be able to use it am I? You can get food. I can’t. Besides, you are better than me anyway.” I say.
“Ok!” She says, her face breaking into a spectacular smile. She takes the bow, swings the quiver over her shoulder and slides out the cave.
“I’ll get some food, stay here.” She says. I sit on the shelf, angry at my inability to move. Angry at needing to be helped. It’s the Hunger Games. You aren’t supposed to find kindness.
I swing my left arm. Testing that it isn’t hurt also. Then I remember my thirst. I look at my pack.
“Thren,” I say. He jumps. “Do you have any water?”
“Oh yes,” he says “We’ve got heaps. I can show you.”
“Ok,” I say. I slip off the rock. My shoulder hates it. Almost immediately the bandage gets a fresh flower of blood from the cut. Thren guides me over to the leaves. I stand there as he shows me.
He pulls the leaves down and shows me the stems. They are hollow. So smart. Thin tubes of water, ready to drink. I lift one to my mouth and start to drink. Ohh it feels so good. My throat sighs in relief as the cool water floods it. I then eat half the squirrel and offer Thren the other. He accepts eagerly. Stuffing the squirrel down his throat. I look towards the hole as Jazi slides in, dragging some kind of goat behind her.
“What is it?” I ask.
“No idea, must be some kind of mountain goat. There were hundreds of them out there. Enough to survive for a few months.” Then a cannon fires.
“Who was that?” asks Thren.
“I don’t know,” I say, thinking of the fourteen of us. Well, thirteen now. I’m guessing the Careers are back in the games and they killed whoever died today. So we have another either blessing or problem. The Careers, if they didn’t kill the tribute. Will think I am dead. But. If they did then they know I am alive and that is another enemy.
“Should we light a fire?” I ask, “It might not be noticed.”
“NO,” says Jazi, “We are NOT lighting a fire.” At this moment I notice that even though she is smaller than Thren she seems to be the leader of the pair.
“Fine,” I shoot back, “How do you see outside anyway, you know, for the anthem.”
“We watch through the hole.”
“Ok,” I say, “Well, It’ll be happening soon won’t it.”
“Yes,” they agree. Just then the anthem starts up, we quickly run to the hole. The boy from 5’s face shines in the sky then vanishes.
“We better get to sleep,” I say, “I’ll take first watch.”
“Ok…” says Thren. They go over and get into the sleeping bag. I walk over and sit on the slope, Jazi’s hands are still clasped on the bow. I sit there, worried, dangling in front of us is the obvious, all of us can not win these games. Two more of us will have to die for one to win.
Over the next three days I heal, drink water, eat goat, watch the boy from 9’s face shine in the air. Then, on the third day, I am healed, just a little tender. There have been no Gamemaker interferences and I’m getting a little scared. They must be waiting for more deaths or waiting for the perfect moment to unleash something terrible. On the day I heal, I suggest to Jazi, that we go hunting. She accepts and Thren says he will stay in the cave. I leave him a knife to defend himself and Jazi and I leave the cave.
We walk down the path into the woods, I admire Jazi’s light tread, she doesn’t even leave footmarks! Jazi only has five arrows left, sacrificing some in missed attempts to get goats. Some broke, and some, Thren stole. Then, with my ears and her’s, we hear footsteps.
“Run,” I whisper to her. She obliges and runs off in one direction. I run the other way and have been jogging for a while when I realise I can no longer hear Jazi’s feet. She must have run out of range. I can’t hear anyone’s feet, except my own. Thudding against the ground. In my state of thinking, I trip. Over a huge log and I land on an iced over stream. I haven’t been in this part of the arena before. The trees are different. There is nothing I recognize. And no one.
I slide down the stream for a while, still a bit shaken. Then I grab an overhanging branch and climb to the safety of the non slippery, pine needle ground. That’s when I hear the agonized scream. The scream of someone in pain. The scream of someone who needs help. A scream, I recognize instinctively.