Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games
Thump. The knife hits the centre of the moving target, but before I can silently congratulate myself on a throw well done, another target replaces it. Thump. There's a reason for why I chose the highest setting for the moving targets. It's because I need something that can lure me in- something that can force me to focus. Thump. Thump. If I don't focus, my hand will slip, and the knife could hit somewhere other than the centre, giving me a low score. Thump.
I cannot get a low score today.
This is the last round of fifteen-year-olds that will test before the Election. I'm not going to get a perfect score, since I'm not so amazing looks-wise (hey, I'm short, and they're biased, big deal), but I'm aiming for a ninety (because they never give out more than ninety-five out of a hundred). Maybe then I'll be respected in the next few years of training, until I can finally volunteer for the Hunger Games when I'm eighteen.
The testing process is specific. When you're fourteen, you have to pass the survival test (which includes edible plants, knots, sprinting… pathetic stuff, basically). When you're fifteen, you have to pass the weapons test (which is what I'm currently partaking in). When you're sixteen, you have to pass the Games test (in which you have to name all of the winners of the Hunger Games backwards in consecutive order and whatnot). At one point, when you're seventeen, you have to pass the killing test (everything's all very hush-hush about that. They spring it on you when you least expect, and most drop out after realising they can't handle the traumatic effects of committing homicide). And, finally, they combine all of this together in a knock-off version of the Games when you're eighteen (in which they take all of those in prison and deposit them next to the trainees, who work together to kill the prisoners… it's actually a great way to dispose of serial killers and rapists).
Since I'm only fifteen, I don't know half of the Victors' names, and I haven't killed on command yet. But that doesn't matter, since I'm not going into the Games this year, or the next year (although winning the Quarter Quell would totally redeem my reputation, which is already practically flawless).
Thump. The last knife lands in the heart of the final dummy, which shudders to a halt. There's clapping over by the steel benches, and I spot Cinder, my trainee partner, smiling as she applauds my performance. I roll my eyes and turn back to the judges. Cinder's okay, but she's one of those annoyingly beautiful Populars that is constantly surrounded by friends. She's nothing exceptional- her training skills are just average, I think (I told you- the judges are biased). I'm sure she'll drop out of training after failing the killing test.
I keep my stony expression in place as the judges dismiss me, and then stalk off to an empty corner, slumping down into a sitting position. I take a knife out of the satchel that I carry around everywhere and fiddle with it, twirling it around and around my fingers as one of Cinder's friends is called up to perform. The tests go in alphabetical order, by last names. Mine's Saber, so I'm normally towards the end.
It's not long until the judges release us. They will announce the scores later tonight during the Results Ceremony, which is at eight o'clock. (The reason they score us is because they have to determine who will get special attention when we're eighteen. The tests narrow down the playing field until there are two obvious Volunteers for the year.)
I'm first out the doors, despite my position in the far corner of the room. I nod to Trainer Valencia as I pass by her and she gives me a curt, tight-lipped smile in return. This means I've done well today. If I don't do well, she clobbers me. I quite like Trainer Valencia.
I only let a grin slip through my cool façade when I'm at least a block away from the Centre. Even if I don't come out on top, I was first in my age group for the survival test, and I can guarantee that I will pass the killing test when I turn seventeen, while most others will not. In a nutshell? This grants me the possibility to become Chosen Volunteer at eighteen (which is the biggest honour one can achieve). I honestly don't have a big ego. I just observe my abilities and calculate how well I will perform in the future without attempting to flatter myself. If I think I'll be terrible at something- let the pessimism reign!
However, even if I don't win this, I know I did well. I hit every target with accurate precision. Sure, I'm often underestimated because I'm short- really short- but girls here tend to prefer short swords to throwing knives. So I get a slight advantage. Only slight.
I journey down Speartip Lane and turn onto Granite Avenue. The names of the streets here are idiotic, but fitting. In District Two, our specialties are masonry and weapon making, with the side hobby of training Peacekeepers. Fun stuff. Guess we were destined to be tough, brutal killers.
Everything about my District screams ruthlessness. That's why I love it.
At the end of Granite Avenue is a tiny, run-down park that they're thinking of demolishing and turning into a train station. There are train stations everywhere, since District Two is pretty spread out. Tiny, overpopulated towns seem to be our forte. There are thirty-three of them, scattered about the base of the Mountain. Luckily, I live close to Town One, where the Centre and the Square are located, so the train ride normally takes about five minutes.
Anyway, why they need another station is beyond me. We've got plenty of them already. And besides, their ideas won't be getting very far, because those who live in the houses around here are protesting. I'm unbelievably indebted to them. This park has been our place to escape from the world for as long as I can remember- I couldn't bear if they destroyed it.
I say our place because it isn't just my park. Under an old, sparse-leaved tree we've named Ghostlium, Cato waits for me, his blonde hair swept to the side and a smirk on his face as he sees me approach. "Hey," he says nonchalantly.
"Hey," I reply, sitting down next to him. Cato is my best friend- and my only friend, nowadays. His father and my father were close, too, before his father died in an accident (but we don't talk about it much). To tell the truth, we were practically attached at the hip when we were little- we went everywhere together. It's changed over the years; we've both become more independent, and Cato has "friends" of his own; but Cato and I have never grown apart. He's like an older brother to me. I'm like his younger sister. Because neither of us have siblings our age (he has two four-year-old twin sisters, courtesy of a missing stepfather), we turn to each other for advice. I honestly couldn't survive without him.
Okay, yes, I could survive without him… but what would be the point of life without someone you truly like and respect by your side?
"You kick some targets' asses?" He asks, flicking me on the bicep.
"Figuratively- sure," I smile, swatting his hand away before pulling my hair into a side ponytail. "You remember that Seeder won the thirty-fourth Games?"
"Awwww, fuck." Cato looks stricken. "I thought it was that psycho from Ten with the pink obsession."
"Are you kidding me? You're about twenty-five Games off. Get your facts straight."
"Well, not everyone's got a photographic memory like you, Little Clovie."
"Touché," I say, although I accompany it with a shake of the head at the photographic memory reference (I don't have one) and the purse of my lips at the nickname. My Grandfather used to call me that- "Little Clovie"- but after he died, Cato adopted the endearment as his own. I don't mind it much, but it's an unpleasant reminder of both my Grandfather's death and my minuscule height.
"So, who do think is going to be designated Chosen Volunteer?" I ask him, in an attempt to make conversation. At this, Cato's expression becomes indignant, and although he tries to cover it up, I can understand what he's planning to do. "You aren't going to volunteer, are you? You haven't passed the killing test yet, Cato. Let someone older have a chance."
"Why should I?" Cato says. "Why should I wait to pass a killing test if I've already killed? I want to go now. I'm fed up with life, Clove. It's time for me to serve my district."
I place a hand on his arm, concerned that he hasn't trained enough to be ready for the Games (I've killed! Am I ready to be in the Games? No!), but he shrugs it off and stands up. "Better head home," he says. "Mum's going to want me to help her with dinner. See you at Results."
"See you," I say tentatively, and he's gone in a flash, sprinting down Granite Avenue as fast as his long legs can carry him. Although I can run faster than Cato, I don't go after him. I know I've damaged his pride, what with my hesitancy to go along with his plan. It's just that... the Games aren't easy. The odds are terrible. Twenty-four go in, one comes out. There's no guarantee Cato could win, and I don't want to lose my best friend.
After a minute or two, I rise, following in the direction Cato went. I arrive at the train station just as the train is pulling out, loaded with fourteen through sixteen year olds whom have completed their tests. I curse under my breath and take a seat on a marble bench in the depot, waiting for the next train, which should arrive in fifteen minutes. I'll have to eat dinner quickly, but at least I won't be missing any scheduled plans, since I eat dinner by myself.
Fifteen minutes later, right on time, the train pulls into the station. I'm the first one to get on, using the pre-paid pass I keep in my satchel instead of paying the fee. It's another thirty minutes as the train loads with stragglers, and then we're off. Next stop: the Victor's Village.
In case you were wondering, the Victor's Village is a town in itself. There are so many Victors in District Two that they take up two streets' worth of houses, which is a considerable amount of Victors in comparison to, say, District Twelve. In fact, my mother and father were Victors themselves, which is why I live in the Village. Not that I prefer to live in the same house I've lived in for the past fifteen years… but I suppose I can last another three until I volunteer and move out of Number 18L once and for all.
The train slows as it comes to the next depot, and I'm the only one to jump down from the car, as the rest of the people on the train are Quarriers, coming home from a long day of work. (There are only two trains going towards the Mountain, and one heads toward Town One, ending at one side of the town. Quarriers furthermore have to take a bus across town to get to the other train station and ride the regular train tracks to their original home in Town Four or Five. For obvious reasons, I never want to work in the Mountain.)
Exiting the depot, I come across the place where the two streets split. On the left street is a row of twenty-four houses, old but finely constructed. The right looks quite similar, but the houses were constructed ten years ago when we ran out of room on the left street, making them look considerably less weathered (although more than half are empty). Cato lives in Number 1R, meaning he lives in the first of the newly built structures. I'm slightly envious, but there's nothing I can do about it. His mother won the Games after my mother and my father. Enough said.
When I reach Number 18L, I mount the steps and pass by the swinging chair that hangs from the roof. If not for Cato, who waits for me to get ready for training every morning, the chair would be covered in dust from underuse. I have no reason to sit on it, enjoying the view of houses that are identical to mine. There are more important things to do in my spare time.
Opening the door with the key that hangs around my neck (I don't trust anyone to refrain from nosing around my satchel or checking under the doormat), I cross over the threshold, entering the eerily silent house. I cure this ailment by making as much noise as possible, stomping my feet as I walk over to the coat rack to hang up my jacket, and then slinging my satchel over the back of a chair, letting the metal buckle hit the wooden leg and relishing in the soft sound it makes.
My father isn't home. If he were, there'd be pots and pans banging in the kitchen and the occasional ring of glass bottles shattering against impact with the wall. If he were, he'd be drunk as shit and wouldn't even remember the name of his late wife. If he were, he'd probably beat me senseless for getting home past six-thirty. And I don't like him much, but I'd rather he be here than it just being me, all alone.
If there's one thing I fear, it's loneliness.
I head to the kitchen and take an apple from the bowl in the centre of the table. Plastic, just in case my father found reason to throw it against the wall, too. There's a reason we don't have glass bowls anymore. It's because they're all broken. He destroyed them all in a fit the day after Grandfather passed.
Taking a bite of the nearly ripe fruit (for the poverty-stricken area of District Two, fruit's a rare thing to come by, but here in the Victor's Village we can all afford to splurge a bit when it comes to nutrition), I open our refrigerator and take out a package of beef strips, proceeding to cook them on the stovetop of our oven. I'm eating these instead of a sandwich because each year, a month before the Games, all of those teenagers who Train are put on a special diet restricting consumption of breads, cheeses, and sweets. They even have the rights to search your house to see if there are any banned foodstuffs in easy accessibility. If there are, you get kicked out of Training.
They take all of the dieting stuff pretty seriously. It's so we all look strong during the Games, because unhealthy foods fatten you up and restrict you from performing your best. It's so we can put on a show for the Capitol. A show that only those in District Two have the resources to perform.
When the beef strips finish cooking in their pan and I've put them, still sizzling, on a plate, I head over to our dining table and sit down. I love our dining table. It's gigantic, about eight feet long, and made out of once-polished mahogany. The table has been a part of the Sabre family since before my Grandfather was born, which is a long time, because my Grandfather's dead now.
He died of a heart attack when I was eleven.
Grandfather was my favourite person in all of Panem. I looked up to him, and he taught me nearly everything I knew. He was the one who introduced me to throwing knives when I reached the precarious age of six (the year after my mother died and the year before I was recommended to Train). He was the one who taught me to defend myself. He was the one who encouraged me to begin my target practice with the dining room table.
It's a tradition in the Saber family to throw knives. My father won his Games by impaling five people through the forehead and the heart via (you guessed it!) throwing knives. It was my Grandfather's specialty, as well as the specialties of men and women generations before me. Which is why the mahogany dining table is covered in scars: scratches, cuts, holes, chips, gouges, you name it, our dining table has it. While one could believe that these scars take away from the table's worth, I believe they add on to it. They give my table personality. Cato would tease me if I ever said this out loud, but it's true. A table's not a table if it doesn't have personality.
I've added plenty of the scars myself, the first being vivid in my memory. When I was six and tall enough to reach into the drawer that contained our utensils, I got out a butter knife and started playing with it. Somehow, it found its way into a particularly deep gouge in the table, and I couldn't yank it out.
That's where my Grandfather found me- standing next to the table, both hands on the hilt of the butter knife, trying to remove it and put it away before my father found out. He'd chuckled and walked over to me, gesturing for me to move out of the way, and then he dislodged the knife in one smooth movement. "This yours?" He asked, holding the butter knife out to me.
I reached for it, but he moved it away, smiling. "You'll have to try harder than that," Grandfather said. And I got mad- really mad. Back then, when I wanted something, I got it. Basically, I was a spoilt brat. So when Grandfather began to walk away, tauntingly waving the knife high above his head, I stayed firmly in place and demanded that he give the knife back to me or else I'd tell my father (and to think I prided myself in my threats back then).
"Would your father be pleased to find you've been handling a butter knife without his permission?" Grandfather inquired, looking amused when I had no reply. "Well, if you insist, I suppose I could return it to you."
"I insist!" I replied, and then, quick as a flash, the knife came sailing across the room (narrowly missing my head) and buried itself deep into the largest gouge in the table. Even more quickly, Grandfather disappeared down the hallway, in the direction of his room, and I was left to gape at the spot where he was once standing.
After that, I was intent on being able to throw a knife as far and as accurate as he, and henceforth my quest of fame began. At first, I only used the butter knife, missing more often than not, even if I was a foot or two away. But once I turned to my Grandfather for counseling (he was happy to oblige), I began to throw accurately. Eventually, I could hit that specific gouge ten times in a row, graduating from three feet away to four feet and then from across the room, moving on to sharper knives- deadlier knives- better knives.
My Grandfather assisted me the entire time, as did the Trainers when I enrolled into the Centre. Now, I only have help from the Trainers, because, as mentioned previously, he's dead. He's been dead for four years.
When he died, I was seriously messed up, because, okay, I don't have the most pleasant home life. Since my mother died of morphling overdose, I had to go through all the stages of growing up without much maternal guidance (asking Trainer Valencia about the "that time of the month" situation was mortifying. Well, until she gave me the pill. Thank Panem for that). Not to mention that my father's an alcoholic with serious abusive problems and the tendency to leave me alone for days at a time. Actually, if not for the Centre and Cato (my only good influences), I probably would have resorted to morphling myself and became your typical, delusional airhead (like those Victors from Six).
So, to tell the truth, the end of Grandfather's life sort of gave me a new life, because what fell apart was put back together by my true friend and my true home, and now I've found myself. I've found who I really want to be. I want to be Clove Saber, not some old lunatic with a morphling issue who forgot how to throw knives four plus years ago.
But that doesn't make Grandfather's death hurt any less. I still can't work up the courage to visit his grave.
When I finish my brief meal, I dump my plate in the sink and re-don my jacket and knife satchel. Some girls like to dress up for Results, but I don't see the point in bothering. It's a Training score. You don't have to look pretty for a Training score.
Before I walk out the door, I turn around so I can have full access to the mahogany table and open my satchel, choosing a particularly sharp knife for today's throwing. It's become a tradition for me to throw a knife at the gouge in the table every time I walk out the door. I've never stopped and asked myself why, and you shouldn't either. I'm just pretty big on traditions, okay?
Moving into proper stance, I throw the knife, not waiting for it to hit its mark before I turn and cross over the threshold. I'll retrieve the knife later. I always do.
My walk to the train station is relatively short, as is the ride, since I've managed to get on the same car as Cato and sit next to him. He's seemingly forgiven me for sharing my doubts on his volunteering, because we strike up a conversation about who we think is going to get cut or drop out. It's not kindly, but everyone knows he and I aren't kindly to those we don't associate with, so they don't speak up, even if we say their name and they're sitting within four feet of us.
Oh, the benefits of scaring the shit out of people.
We stop in Town One with fifteen minutes to spare before the Results Ceremony, but since we like to get there early, we set off straight towards the Square. It's where the Results will be held, as well as the Election (which I hear is called the "reaping" in the outer Districts, but since that sounds like it brings unfortunate death, we've entitled it a more proper term).
When Cato and I arrive in the Square, ten minutes early, we find it nearly empty. The Trainers mill about, conversing with each other and swapping papers to see who's gotten top three in their age group, or who's been cut. Even less trainees are here, and those who are present cluster around each other, wondering aloud about the scores. A few Peacekeepers, easily noticeable in their white uniforms, blend into the mix, but not to enforce so much as socialise. Since we're one of the most loyal Districts to the Capitol, we really don't have much need for Peacekeepers… but it is expected for there to be plenty of them here, as we train Peacekeepers here in Two. That's one of our subspecialties, like medicine is Six's subspecialty, even though their true specialty is production of motorized vehicles, such as trains, trucks, etcetera. (Funny, how we rely on Six. We're always degrading them, but they provide us our trains.)
They begin to herd us into our sections about five minutes before eight. The sections are by age, but not gender, because they consider males and females to have equal ability in the Centre. Even still, I cannot stand in the same section as Cato, because he is sixteen and I am fifteen. It sucks. Sometimes I wish I could've been born a year earlier because we only ever get paired together when they're doing hand-to-hand combat tournaments.
We have never once broken the tie, despite our obvious intentions to outmatch each other.
They begin the Results Ceremony with Head Trainer Locke introducing the rest of the Trainers, which is pointless, because the majourity of us have memorised their names already. Even the youngest of us here have been enrolled in the Centre for seven years (since they begin testing at age fourteen, only those trainees ages fourteen to eighteen are eligible to attend Results). So it's not like we're idiots. I guess it's just tradition (and as much as I like tradition, this tradition is a pathetic tradition).
They then go on to start with the fourteen-year-olds. The best of them is a tall, slim girl named Sylvia who calls herself "Sly." She's very pretty, with curly, dark blonde hair and piercing aqua-blue eyes (not unlike Cato's). However, I get the notion that in three years she'll be dropping out of Training after her killing test. Those good with survival skills aren't necessarily good with slitting throats, I must say (not counting myself, naturally).
A few others are mentioned, a few are cut, and very few drop out. Then it's on to us fifteen year olds, and I'm leaning forward to see if I have gotten first… please get first please get first please get first…
And of course I don't get first, because it's one of those big, burly guys that I haven't put a name to because he means nothing to me (well, he does now, since he got an undeserved ninety-three). I don't get second, either, because that spot's taken up by Cinder (and her performance wasn't worth the ninety! Biased, bastardly bunch of judges). No, I am in third place, with a score of eighty-eight, which means that my overall spot in the rankings has been reduced to second. I have been surpassed by Cinder the Annoyingly Popular, Prissy Prat Who Is Not, Not, Not Better At Weapons Than I Am.
I ascend the stage (I hear in other districts they construct it the day of, but in District Two, the stage is present full time) with a sour expression on my face, and stand next to Cinder, who smiles at me. I ignore her and allow my eyes to search over the small crowd until I locate Cato. He sends me a look that says, "Nice," with the "i" drawn out in that aggravating, Capitolite way.
I narrow my eyes and mouth, "Fuck you," before turning to look at Head Trainer Locke, who is spouting shit about working hard at weaponry. I roll my eyes and practically sprint off the stage when he's done with his speech, passing behind the section of fourteen-year-olds before I blend into the crowd of those my own age, wishing I could just go die in a hole. They're not going to respect me now. Sure, they'll respect Cinder, despite her place (second), but that's because everyone respects Cinder. Unfortunately for me, it's going to be another two years of endless torture before Cinder drops out (maybe) and I'm left to first place (probably).
As if to prove a point, I just happen to push past Aysche, who gets up in my face and says, "Not so confident now, are you, Clove? Think they'd believe me if I said you and Cato were friends with benefits now?"
"Sure," I say, "But not if I kill you first." I probably would kill her this time, and she knows it. Aysche has always known it. Even then, a little reminder can improve the harassment situation every once in a while.
Cato doesn't get top three. He hates having to memorise names, so there's no question that he's outscored by three of his fellow peers. At least he doesn't get cut, but the trainers have obviously overlooked him since he's still in first (having won the tests when he was fourteen and fifteen).
More seventeen year olds drop out than not. You can effortlessly distinguish between those affected by the killing test and those not affected. The winners step up to the stage with lethal grins on their faces, their eyes taking on an entirely new level of danger. The dropouts' eyes are empty, their faces slack, their lips forming thin lines as they stare into nothingness. Broken people. Broken people who cannot deal with the fact that they have killed.
The Results for the age of eighteen are different. Instead of a top three, there is a top two. These two- Mara and Flint- are the Chosen Volunteers. They are calm, collected, and confident. They are killers. They are competitors. One of them will win the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
… At least, that's what our District will pray for when they're thrown into the Arena to kill, kill, and kill some more. And if they both die, then it will have been a complete waste of two lives. Which is why we're always intent on bringing them home. That's why we're always counting on eighteen-year-old Volunteers to go in, for best chance of Victory. That's why it's Mara and Flint this year. (Or maybe… if Cato really is that idiotic… Mara and Cato.)
When Results are done, the celebration begins. They bring out a table packed high with meats of every kind and provide a platter of strawberries as our dessert. I'm not hungry, so I take only a few strawberries and search for Cato, whom I've lost in the crowd. Music begins to blast out of large speakers set on each side of the stage: the kind of screeching music where they pluck the life out of guitars and bang the shit out of drums. It suits the occasion. Nobody's listening to it, though, since they're all congratulating the top members of each age group.
I get a few pats on the back- which is nice, I suppose- but I see their pity, masked by the niceties. They all know that I want to be first. They all know that I want to be in the Hunger Games and that I won't be outshined by Cinder Dawning.
Speak of the devil! There she is. She pushes through the crowd, heading towards me, and I can't turn in another direction without making it clear that I'm avoiding her. Just as I find an opening for a quick getaway, she shouts, "Clove!" and I stop dead in my tracks. Aw, fuck.
"Cinder," I say coolly, clenching my hands into fists as she approaches. "What do you want?"
"Congrats on third!" Cinder smiles, tucking a strand of curly black hair behind her ear. "You did very well on your weapons test. I guess you always do well, but, specifically today. I even think you did better than I did by a long shot."
"Obviously, the judges are biased," I sneer, backing away. "They always pick the pretty girls."
"Yeah… um…" She looks confused, as if unsure to take it as a compliment or an insult, and then a frown befalls her lips as she gets the meaning behind my accusation. "Sorry, I guess. I just tried my best, like everyone else, and I wasn't even- I don't even care about- anyway, good job today. I actually mean it. See you around and… best wishes for the Election, I guess." Cinder melts into the crowd before I can even ask what's with her repeated use of the phrase, "I guess." If I weren't mistaken, I'd think she was nervous.
Oh, what the hell! She should be nervous. She'd better be nervous.
Saber- Sword with a curved blade.
Ghostlium- "Folium" means leaf in Latin, so the translation is "Ghost-leaf," or rather, "no-leaves."
Head Trainer Locke- Stolen from CelticGames4's HGH and HGH:TNC on Fanfiction, who stole it from Wetstar... Locke is an OC, and I liked the name. (Is it plagarism if the character is only mentioned once?)
Sylvia- A female reproduction of my friend, Sylvester, who calls himself "Sly" as well.
Aysche- Pronounced "Ay-sha." I created her such a long time ago I can't remember the origins.
Mara- Derives from the word "mar." Flint should be self-explanatory.