I wake up to Effie staring down at me.
“I’m here!” She says.
“I noticed.” I mumble.
“What was that?” She chirps, a little hard of hearing these days.
“Nothing,” I say.
“Ok first for four hours you will be with me and your Mother,” she says, “Then for the other four you will be with Haymitch and your Father.”
I am slightly confused, what could Effie have that takes four hours to learn? A few minutes later, I have my answer. I have a mound of things to learn, from high heel walking, that one took a while, to dress lifting. Effie gets so mad at me, swooping down at slapping my hands, saying ’Too high! Go lower.” I’m wearing my reaping clothes, as they have a skirt, and smiling, the different types of smiling, phrases starting with a smile, ending with a smile. I am very relieved when we are allowed to go to lunch.
After lunch is almost the same deal. Grandpa and Dad just stare at me for a while, then start to talk quietly with each other.
“Ummm” I say, mostly to remind them I am in the room, “What am I doing here?”
“We’re just trying to figure out what approach you are.” says Grandpa, staring at me.
“Where we decide how you are going to act in the interview,” replies Dad, “Are you funny? Likeable? Hostile? To me you are fierce and funny. But that, as well as being your mother’s daughter won’t go down too well with the audience. So we have decided to just experiment some to see what to do.”
About three hours later we are stuck, I am not humble. Sexy. Witty. Sarcastic or sly. Not arrogant. I am not pretty, cheerful or likeable. We are all at a dead end. Grandpa started drinking around sexy and Dad left at arrogant, he didn’t come back. I am also stuck. How can I answer questions without telling the Capitol how much I hate and despise them? As Grandpa starts to sing a song, I slip out of the room, he won’t notice my absence. I cross to my room and think, I can not accept defeat like this. I will not give in. I must find a solution, I will not stop until I find a solution.
Then it hits me. I will be myself. Not my apparent likeable and fierce self but my five year old self. The one before I learnt about the war, and the Capitol, and the Hunger Games. The cheerful singing one, the girl who was joyful and shining. A girl who went to the reapings thinking it was some sort of game. The girl who watched the games. I lost that girl a long time ago but now it is life or death to bring her back. I must bring her back from the back of my brain, reach out to connect with her, and that I do. I stroll around my room, far too agitated to sit down, and I practice, I practice phrases, my voice and my singing. Ohh my singing, I used to think I sounded average but warmed up it turns into something wonderful, something that really would make the birds stop to listen. I am still singing when Effie comes for dinner.
“Willow, wow was that you singing?” she asks.
“Um… yes, it was,” I reply, a bit embarrassed.
“It was incredible!” she says. “Well, anyway dinner is ready.”
“Ok,” I say and go to dinner. I sit on the end of the table as Mum, Dean, Catiena, Racheal, Dad and Grandpa come in. Grandpa and Dad are still a bit drunk. Mum starts the conversation rolling.
“So, what are your approaches?” She directs the question to Dean. She doesn’t know I’ve been practicing my voice, she assumes I’m hopeless.
“Me?” Dean points at himself, he isn’t used to my mother talking to him, because of what his father did, the bombs. Because of Prim. “I’m plucky, sort of funny, sort of adventurous, sort of cheerful. I’m being myself.”
“What about you, Willow?” asks Mum.
“I’m also being myself.” I say, avoiding my Father’s eyes.
“Ok,” she says.
They start to talk again as I concentrate on the food, peas, perfectly rounded, lush chicken that when I sink my teeth into, explodes, with some sort of soup, and fancy rolls the shape of birds in a basket, suddenly I’m staring at the rolls, one of them is different, slightly blackened. I pick it up and put it in the pocket of my reaping dress. I cut across Catiena.
“I’m going to my room,”
“Why?” say Catiena “You aren’t even finished with dinner.”
“Yep, just tired” I say. I start to edge towards the door. “Bye,” I say, breaking into a run. Soon I’m in my room. I take the bread out of my pocket, in the light I can see it better, a Mockingjay.
Who put it in the basket? Who would bake a Mockingjay into bread? I know for a fact that anyone who notifies a Mockingjay in the Capitol gets executed publicly. I remember the other birds, a Penguin, a Thrush, a Bluejay and a Phoenix. A Phoenix. I decide then that if my mother was a Mockingjay, then I am a Phoenix. I put the bread back into my pocket and feel a sharp pain erupt over my index finger. I pull my hand out to examine the cut, it’s bad, bleeding all over the carpet. I get a plaster from the mirror cupboard and put it on the jagged line of blood. I start to investigate the cause, I draw out the letter that Erika Snow left on my dresser, I had totally forgotten about it. I pull out the second page. On it is written :
Dear Katniss Mellark,
If I am right you are in the now in the Capitol, and you will be watching Willow be a tribute in the
124th annual Hunger Games. I am sure you are missing her, for all I know she is dead already. But anyway, I need you to help me, Willow did not become a tribute by chance. I want you to make sure that she does not become the Mockingjay as you did or as you very well know. I will kill you, your family, and your friends.
You have two options, you can kill Willow in the games, either by not giving her sponsors, or killing her outside the arena. You know the power of this Capitol, don’t choose to defy it and make the same mistake twice. I am not my grandfather. I am smarter. I can watch you. You know what I could do to you if you refuse. If Willow wins the Games, make sure she does it alone and with no rebelion. OH, and one last thing:
Willow, I know you are reading this but don’t take it personally. It was your mother, not you that started this whole mess.
May the odds be ever in your favor,
President Erika Snow
I sit back on my bed, Erika Snow just sent me a death threat. She could even be watching now. But I am not scared. I am not a Mockingjay, I am a Phoenix. I lay back on my bed and fall into a possible eternal sleep . . .
It’s not eternal. I wake from a nightmare to Luciana, Victoria and Crakos staring down at me. I grip the sheets and sit up. Racheal’s sitting in the corner. I convince myself that the monsters aren’t real. But I’m wrong, the monsters live in this city. They watch the Games without lifting a finger. Just like I did. I think about that all the time as they undress me to do my hair and make up. I tell them about the Phoenix. Racheal leaves, saying she needs to make some adjustments to my dress. Then my prep team starts. First they coat me in glitter that shines silver, then they retrace my features. Making my eyes huge and shining with diamonds on the edge, then my cheeks have a light mauve colour. My lips are red. My hair is loose and shiny laced with silver glitter and fingernail sized diamonds.
Then Racheal enters the room, holding my dress which I can’t see as it is covered. She slips it on me.
“Open your eyes,” she says.
I open them. In the mirror I can see a girl. She has red lips. Huge eyes, and is wearing a star, because my dress is beautiful. It is long, and made of a sort of a shining black fabric, small red diamonds shimmer in the seams. I take the folds and swish it lightly.
“It’s beautiful,” I say. “Matches me perfectly.”
“Yes it does,” says Racheal. “Are you ready?”
“Umm, yes,” I say “as ready as I’ll ever be.”
Several things about the interviews have changed since my mother was a tribute. The stage is in a theater and the tributes have a green room all to themselves. Racheal opens the door and walks out. I follow her. We walk down the corridor and down some stairs, we get to a door marked ‘Tributes’. Racheal goes to open the door but I stop her.
“Racheal…” I say, not wanting to go in.
“It’s fine,” she says “You are going to be fine.” She opens the door. I walk in, looking around, there are three couches around a TV so the other tributes can see the interviews. Dean is on the end couch, next to the District Eleven girl. He looks great in a shiny silver suit and shoes. I sit next to him as Julie Pint, the talk show host walks onto the stage. Caesar Flickerman, the old host, died a few years ago, all of Panem attended the funeral. Then they had a guy called Bob Gorden but he was terrible, he went missing a few months ago, probably executed. Then they appointed Julie Pint. She’s wearing a tight black dress with tiny gems on the bottom, kind of like mine except she’s got the top half of her dress in flames that flicker and glow around her chest and shoulders.
“And first we have… from District One… Shine!” Julie says as Shine walks up onto the stage wearing a very short dress of metallic pink material. Shine. Ugh. She obviously didn’t have that much trouble yesterday. She is flirty and sexy, she doesn’t have to try too hard. I effectively tune out for all the Careers. Staring at the floor. Then Jazi, Julie loves her, playing with her dress of buttercup flowers, complementing her hair. When asked what her strengths are, she replies with a confident ‘Archery’. Then Thren, wearing a suit of brown, with leaves at the ends of his sleeves. Apparently his greatest strength is climbing.
Then, far too soon, Julie is crying,
“And now, the one you have all been waiting for, Willow Mellark from District Twelve!”
Robotically, it seems, I walk onto the stage.
“So Willow,” Says Julie, “What is the best thing about the Capitol so far?”
I freeze, a million miles away my brain is processing what she said.
“I, I,” I stamer. Be yourself. “The...the bedrooms.”
“Ahh yes, the tribute training center rooms, such luxury.” says Julie. I smile, relaxing a bit.
“So Willow, Willow, what do you think your chances are in the games?” says Julie.
I have no chance, she must know that, but I respond,
“Pretty good, I reckon,” I say, nodding, going along with the show.
“Who’s your best friend back in District 12?” She asks.
“Well… I say, there’s this girl called Marly who is a great friend to me…” I say, knowing what Julie is going to say next.
“Any… other friends?” She says… fluttering her eyelashes. The audience laughs. She’s asking if I’ve got a boyfriend.
“Well…” I say,
“Go on,” She prompts me.
“There is this boy who I’ve been friends with for a couple of years.” I’m lying, we haven’t been friends for years but I really don’t want to tell all of Panem why.
“Ohh! What’s his name?” Julie asks, excited. I don’t want to tell them. But I’ve got to. They won’t take no for an answer. Trust me, I know.
“Finnick Cresta.” I get out. I look down, embarrassed, as the audience claps awkwardly. They all know who he is. I look up to the screens and see I’m tomato red. I can imagine his face at home, red and shocked. I know every detail of his face but it makes the hurt worse. I’ll never see him again. Just then I know the exact thing I should do. I open my mouth and sing a song my mother taught me from long ago.
“I’m headed for heaven,
The sweet old hereafter,
And I’ve got one foot in the door.
But before I can fly up,
I’ve loose ends to tie up,
Right here in the old there before.
I’ll be along
When I’ve finished my song,
When I’ve shut down the band,
When I’ve played out my hand,
When I’ve paid all my debts,
When I have no regrets,
Right here in
The old there before,
Is left anymore.
I’ll catch you up
When I’ve emptied my cup,
When I’ve worn out my friends,
When I’ve burned out both ends,
When I’ve cried all my tears,
When I’ve conquered my fears,
Right here in
The old there before,
Is left anymore.
I’ll bring the news
When I’ve danced off my shoes,
When my body’s closed down,
When my boat’s run aground,
When I’ve tallied the score,
And I’m flat on the floor,
Right here in
The old there before,
Is left anymore
When I’m pure like a dove,
When I’ve learned how to love,
Right here in
The old there before,
Is left anymore.”
As soon as I utter the last note of the song something starts to happen to my dress. The black diamonds and silver material starts to burn, black flakes of material start to fly around me, forming a cone, blocking the world from my view. Then they push down on me, attaching to my dress, forcing me to the ground. Suddenly it stops, I slowly stand and look down, my dress is now made of jewels. Jewels of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. I have a headdress of a red, an orange, and a yellow jewel. I have a tail comprised of tiny jewels in the shape of feathers. I catch sight of myself on a screen and find exactly what Racheal meant to make me, and it worked.
My Phoenix has risen from the ashes.