The Gouge in the Table

The Election

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games

Warnings: Brief violence, language

Chapter Two

I wake before the sun rises to the thump of the front door slamming. It's my father, coming home from a long night of celebration in the Tavern. Well- if you could call it celebration. A more accurate term would be drinking himself silly, fucking one of the whores that hang out around there (or two, or three), getting in petty fights with old men that want to preserve their dignity, and then laughing about the entire ordeal with his friends.

How that man can even have friends is beyond me.

Chances are he's hung over and will have a headache that threatens to split his brain in two. Chances are he'll probably even miss the Election (it's happened before, and he got fifteen lashes at the whipping post for it, not that I cared). But none of that falls into the equation. My father's going to beat me, and that's final. The only thing that will stop him will be the embrace of unconsciousness, my martial arts skills, or the point of the knife I keep under my pillow when I sleep.

He never pushes me hard when I threaten him with a knife, and I've never stuck that knife anywhere fatal, because there's no need to. Besides, I'm not that stupid. Homicide is as much of a crime in District Two as anywhere else- the only difference is that self-defence plays no key role here. They punch you, you kill them, and it's still murder. Some of us might have killed for the Centre, but that's for the Centre. The Centre excuse doesn't work everywhere. (I should know. I served a year in juvie, if that's anything to go by. Damn lucky it wasn't longer.)

I can hear my father stomping around in the kitchen and the sound of plastic hitting the walls as he throws plates in every direction. As I've said before, it's the reason we don't have glass or china in the kitchen. Don't know about you, but I wouldn't like walking barefoot and bleary-eyed into the kitchen one morning just to step on a stray shard of glass. I can deal with pain- that doesn't mean I prefer pain.

When the banging sounds comes closer, I slip out from under my duvet and grab the knife from under my pillow, brandishing it out in front of me. By the time he's flung the door of my room open, I'm completely ready to face my father, a serene expression crossing my features.

He looks particularly grumpy today, his cheeks tinged red. "Girl!" He barks, pointing half of a cup at me. Half of a plastic cup, must I be specific. "Why didn't you do your dishes? It's your responsibility, ain't it?"

I laugh, mentally reminding myself to do the dishes after the Election. "Oh, I'm scared," I mock. "You managed to break a plastic cup. Please, have mercy! Have mercy!"

My father's rough, unshaven face turns a deep purple as he growls and lunges forward, swinging his plastic weapon at my face. It has surprisingly sharp edges and manages to glance off my forehead; a shallow cut taking over the skin there.

Sidestepping another one of his lunges, I throw my knife a short distance, satisfied that it sticks in his bicep (my chosen target). Father yells as I deliver a well-placed crescent kick to the head, and he proceeds to swiftly pass out. I've been let off easy today. He's harder to take down when he's half sober.

I don't even bother to haul him to his room, which is upstairs. I've tried before and just about ripped my arms out of my sockets. Instead, I drag him across the hallway and deposit him in a spare closet, shutting the door and leaning against it, massaging my temples. Then, I remember that my forehead's bleeding. Well, better take care of that.

Suddenly struck with weariness, I make my way over to the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. I don't like looking at my reflection. It makes me feel vain, like the rest of the girls in Two. But I'm different than the rest of them, with my dark brown hair and chocolate eyes. Cinder's the only other person I know with hair darker than the shade of wet straw, and I don't like to associate myself with her. Likewise, Enther was the only person I knew with brown eyes (and red hair), but he's dead now. Often I feel like a dark angel in a sea of blonde and blue. I don't mind it, but I don't prefer it. I'm used to being different, but I don't like being different. It's why I often avoid mirrors.

My forehead is already covered in blood, so I take a washcloth and wet it, wiping away the crimson and applying pressure to the shallow wound. It'll stop bleeding soon. We don't have any fancy Capitol medicine that heals cuts instantly, but they do supply us with bandages, so I wrap one around my head and tie it off at the back, like a headband. I feel like a ninja- you know, one of those martial arts prodigies that sneaks around and steals stuff- except the bandage is white, so it sort of depletes the effect.

I change into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, deciding I'll go bug Cato, since the Election won't occur for several more hours. On the way out the door, I grab my satchel, since I never go anywhere without it, and throw one of my knives at the gouge in the table. It lands on target, as always. I haven't missed in years.

Bounding down the stairs of my porch, I put my toe just behind the beginning of the sidewalk and pull a timer out from my satchel. I press the "start" button and take off, sprinting down the road and cutting across Lyme's yard (she always scolds me, but frankly, I don't give a damn), before hurdling a fence and coming across the back of Cato's house. Quickly, I scale the tree next to his bedroom window and open the sliding glass panel with one hand, slipping through the window and pressing the "stop" button.

The time is 0:32:02. A record. I let out a triumphant yell, promptly waking Cato and scaring the shit out of him.

"Fuck!" He startles, jumping out of his bed in nothing but boxers (which, to be honest, is nice- I don't get to see him half naked much since Cato is insistent on being modest when I'm around- and though I don't have any feelings for him, there's no denying he's got impressive abs). "Oh, fuck, Clove. Get out- get out- what the hell are you doing here at five in the morning? Get out!"

"Happy Election day!" I smile sweetly, dodging a sweeping gesture with his arms that could very well have knocked me clear out the open window. "Wake up, sleepyhead."

"Well, I'm already awake," he growls, running a hand through his spiky blonde hair (to smooth it down, maybe? Doesn't help much). "And," Cato adds as an afterthought, "I'm in my boxers."

"No shit," I roll my eyes sarcastically.

"Would you prefer that I remove the final piece of clothing?" He teases.

"Eww, no," I scrunch up my nose, leaping across the room in a single bound (it's small, but Cato gave his mother and twin sisters the good rooms. He's altruistic like that), and depositing myself on the covers of his wrinkled bed. "I actually think I prefer your appearance better when you're under one of those modesty spells. Though, and I've said it before, you've got great abs."

Cato simply shrugs. "So do you. So does everyone enrolled in the Center." He then walks over to his dresser and selects cotton shirt and shorts from its midst, pulling them on. When he turns to face me once again- seriously, the shirt is stretched so tight it does absolutely nothing to conceal his abs- a concerned look crosses his features. "Clovie, you're bleeding," he points out.

"Yeah. That's what the bandage is for, idiot. What, did you think I was playing ninja? Wrong. Asshole drunkie came at me with a shard of plastic."

"A shard of… okay, not the point. The point is that the cut's bled through the bandage."

"I- oh?" There's a moment in which I go cross-eyed trying to look at the shallow (maybe not as shallow as I thought) cut on my forehead, and then I stop when I realise I must look insane- like that girl who won the seventieth Games. From District Four. You know, Alice Pasta or Annabeth Waverly or whatever her name was. "Well," I say, ripping the bandage unceremoniously off my head, "Suppose my record-breaking exertion wasn't such a wise idea… anyhow, it's time for you to play doctor."

"That's Mum's job." His mother is one of the nicer Victors in our district. She has some basic first aid knowledge, so she goes and volunteers at the hospital every once in a while. Did I mention, she's the nicest Mum ever? Cato and his sisters are so lucky to have her as a parent.

"It's in the genes. Now go get me another bandage before I bury my face in your pillow."

Cato huffs, crossing his arms and rolling his eyes like me. Is the imitation intentional? "I'm not your servant."

"And you're going to regret this," I say with raised eyebrows, snatching up his pillow and pressing it to my forehead.

"You'll pay for that," he growls, turning to the adjoining bathroom and entering it, in search for (I hope) bandages. When he returns, he looks a bit more lighthearted, and carries a first aid kit with him. "No, seriously, I need some monetary compensation. I actually liked that pillow."

"Sure, sure," I say, removing the bloody pillow from my head and letting Cato get close enough to inspect the wound. If you could call it a wound. "I'll pay for it. I have so much money I can't even count it all, Cato."

"As do I. Victor's profits."

There is an extended period of silence (from myself) as Cato opens the first aid kit and pulls out another of those long bandages and some antiseptic. He mutters about it not being so bad- just advises that I take a reprieve of exercising until the blood is definitely clotted. He even mentions that it's too bad my flawless face will be marked up for the Election (sarcasm- always sarcasm- at least, I hope). "Hey," I shoot him a look, "Are you implying that I give one shit about what I look like? Because I don't. Clove Saber will always be an ugly, cosmetic-less, scarred-faced crone, so why try to change it?"

"You're not ugly," Cato mumbles, tying the bandage off in the back (automatic white ninja mode again). "Just not pretty, either."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," I drawl.

"Anytime."

He leans back, pokes me on the nose like we're three again, and takes the bloody pillow from my hands, apathetically tossing it across the room and into the waste bin. I casually suggest we go out for a run- ("screw it, Clove, I said no exercise!")- but instead, we go down to his kitchen and cook ourselves breakfast. It's nice, sitting there with him, eating pepper-loaded scrambled eggs and talking about useless things and unremarkable people. It's nice still when his innocent little sisters come bounding down the stairs, Elisa (his mother) in tow. Almost like I have an affectionate family of my own.

Elisa is a single mother who spends her days dabbling in volunteer work, alternating between the district hospital and the maternity home. I can't say I understand her motives- caring for the sick and elderly is not to my preference, and she won the fucking Hunger Games- but I like her well enough.

We finish breakfast. As my wound stopped bleeding long ago, Cato grudgingly agrees that we can go running. The two of us exit out the door and travel about a hundred metres to the train depot, showing the conductors our passes and hopping on. A few people pay the fee, but for the most part, people like to buy the passes. We find they save us more money, because they can be used more often. Therefore, if you're going to ride the train six times a day, you don't use up all your spare change.

Cato and I get off at Town Nine, which actually isn't a town. We don't call it a town, at least- we call it "Tine." All there is in Tine are a wooden shack containing bikes and other exercise equipment and a worn path that loops in a circle around a lake. It's located right next to Town One, so the Centre makes use of the area to make us do a lap (or two, or five) each morning. Others come here to jog around a bit, or use the bikes, or swim in the lake. It's pretty much an outdoor recreational centre. On days that we don't have training, which are few, Cato and I prefer to spend our mornings here in Tine.

We race a bit, and then time each other on two-lap intervals. Running is one of my favourite pastimes. When I run, all my cares are left in the dust- they don't seem to matter anymore. All the world consists of is me, the ground under my feet, and the direction in where I'm heading.

Eventually, when I'm seriously considering jumping in the lake to cool off, Cato comes up behind me. "Clove, it's around eight o'clock," he says. I look up at the sky, startled at how light it's become; the sun well past the horizon line. Well, great. The Election begins at nine.

Coming back the way we came from, we board the train and it ships us off to the Victor's Village once again. Cato and I part ways as we approach the two streets, he going right whilst I travel left, and he promises to meet me on 18L's front porch when finished bathing, redressing, and saying his good-byes to Elisa and company.

He might volunteer, don't you forget.

Entering the house (I don't bother to call it a home, for it never has been mine), I walk over to my dining room table and retrieve the last knife I threw into the gouge, storing it into my satchel. I got the satchel from my Grandfather when I turned ten. It's a special sort of satchel, with a pocket in the front to store miscellaneous items (such as my train pass), but when you open it, it folds out. When folded out, it displays an impressive array of throwing knives, all held in place by rubber bands that are attached to the satchel itself. I've had it for five years. I won't ever give it away.

Turning down the hallway that leads towards my bedroom, I find the door to the storage closet I shut my father in flung wide open. He probably woke up with a pounding headache, just as predicted, and high-tailed it up to his room to wait out the throbbing. Or maybe he was still drunk when he woke, and is upstairs sleeping it off. Either way, he's out of the closet, most likely in his room, and probably is dealing with a shitload of pain from the knife I stabbed him with earlier.

Serves him right.

Stepping over the threshold to my bathroom, I draw myself a bath, turning up the temperature until it's near boiling (I prefer it that way). Honestly, I'm glad I'm not poor. Many of the citizens in District Two are moderately poor; not as drastically poor as those in District Twelve, but poor enough not to be able to afford running water. Poor enough to be impoverished. In fact, we are only considered a wealthy district because the Centre (secretly funded by the Capitol) is wealthy, and what with the Centre training tributes to win the Games, we are rained with gifts during Parcel Day.

District Two is considered wealthy because the Capitol gives us our wealth. We are considered wealthy, but we don't earn our wealth- we don't do anything more than District Twelve does. We are only considered wealthy because the Capitol chose us. And most people in our district refuse to understand this.

I suppose I'm more intuitive than some.

Even then, I don't particularly despise the Capitol, because they have given our district a chance- they have endowed us with luck. Fortune is my downfall. I prefer to be lucky over unlucky, no matter what the circumstances- no matter who is labeled "unlucky" in consequence. It's because I'm selfish. That's what it all comes down to: Clove Saber is selfish.

I recognise that.

Turning to my mirror, I untie the bandage from around my head and throw it in the trash bin, inspecting the cut. It's only barely scabbed over, approximately an inch and a half long, and about as flattering as it sounds. Rolling my eyes at my reflection, I strip, shoving my clothes into a pile on the floor and sinking into the scalding water. Furthermore, I proceed to use my special lye soap scented with eucalyptus extract, scrubbing every inch of my pale body. There'll be Centre overseers in the Square, making sure trainees are looking (and possibly smelling) their finest. I've actually seen a boy from the Centre get whipped for showing up in everyday wear. The entire basis seems idiotic, but I'm not necessarily complaining.

Pulling the drain and wrapping a towel around myself, I enter my bedroom and remove my Election dress from the small closet it hangs in. I slip it on, the texture of the silk feeling remarkably like water against my skin, the velvet exterior soft to the touch. I tie my hair back with a white ribbon and don white flats that don't fit me as well as I'd like them to. Oh well. I'll buy new ones next year.

Although I did tell Cato that I was a cosmetic-less crone this morning, I decide upon wearing lipstick anyway. It's the only shade of lipstick I own: black. I wear it because it adds to the effect. Sometimes I like to dress up in dark colours. Don't judge.

I take a quick glance at myself in the mirror. I don't necessarily like what I see. There are too many freckles scattered across my cheeks and too-small nose, the gown is too small around the breast area despite fitting me everywhere else, and the cut on my forehead is as unappealing as you can get. But I look okay. Not pretty- I'll never be pretty, and even Cato admits it. Speak of the devil. There's a pounding at my front door, signaling that Cato's here.

Sighing, I exit the room. For a second, I consider waking my father up. Then I shake my head. Some twisted part of me wants to watch him suffering at the whipping post once more. A smile playing at my dark-painted lips, I retrieve my satchel from the bathroom floor where my clothes have been discarded. I leave them there. I'll pick them up later.

I meet Cato at the front door. He looks dashing, in a white dress shirt and slacks. I comment on this, and he reciprocates with a haughty smile and a long, drawn-out, "you look sexy." I roll my eyes and elbow him in the shoulder, removing a knife from my satchel. He doesn't ask why. He knows plenty about my traditions.

Taking stance, I aim at the gouge in the table from my front doorway, and throw.

I miss.

I miss.

I stand there, staring at the knife, trembling from impact an inch away from the gouge. I haven't missed since I was nine years old. How could I have missed? I am a loss for words, and so is Cato. We gape at it. "How in Panem…?" Cato shakes his head vehemently, looks at the knife, and shakes his head some more. I can only stare.

Suddenly, I am struck with the strong urge to move, and so I do. I turn on my heel and tug Cato out the door, slamming the door behind us- putting my troubles behind me. I'll get the knife later, as I always do. I'll wait until after the Election to puzzle over its miss. After all, I had perfect aim. I always have perfect aim.

We mingle with the crowd of Victors whom are embarking the train. It seems as if Elisa and the girls have caught the train before this one- Elisa is dropping them off at their aunt's to take them to the Election (for she will have to appear on stage). As we pass by Lyme, she shoots me a disgruntled look, probably because of my sprint across her yard this morning. Not that she's touchy about her yard. She only prefers space. I'd give it to her, if her house weren't so conveniently placed.

Slumping against the wall- the trains aren't nearly nice enough to involve a seating arrangement- Cato and I cast a wary glance at Glover Hughes, who sits nearest to us. Glover won the twenty-seventh Games, but even in his sixties, he's a pretty unpredictable character. Sure enough, as soon as he catches my eye, he's lunging over and pointing a syringe at the cut on my forehead, as if pointing it out to me. "Whatcha got there, kid?"

"It's a cut," I say, rolling my eyes good-naturedly. "Whatcha got in your hand, Glove?"

"It's morphine," he informs me. I close my eyes for a second, suffering the flashbacks of clear liquid in syringes, scattered around our silent house. I should have known. I should have known.

"What are you going to do with it?" Cato asks, saving me from replying.

Glover looks at us as if we're stupid; as if the answer is clear as glass. "I'm gonna inject it into the reaping bowls so the slips'll get too soggy to read. Somebody's gotta do it. 'Sides, we don't gotta pick from the bowl anyway, there's always a volunteer."

"Then why you pointing it at my head, Glove?" I laugh, as though this were an everyday occurrence.

Glover shakes his head, putting a finger to his lips. "Shhh, don't tell! They didn't want me to. You gonna find out soon enough." Then he scoots back to his seat and fiddles with the syringe. What can I say? He's an odd fellow.

The train arrives in Town One soon enough, and by the time we reach the Square, it's moderately crowded. The stage is set up nearly the same way it was during Results, except this time, the speakers are attached to a microphone that resides in the centre of the stage. Two glass bowls filled with slips of paper sit next to it, and a row of twenty-four chairs stand in a line, waiting for their twenty-two remaining Victors to fill them. The other two are occupied by Amber Riverlace, the escort, and our mayoress, Vigiara Holocaust.

There is an excited buzz of conversation flowing throughout the area. Because we win so very often, the Election has become an anticipating prospect. The Victors themselves are treated so well, everyone of Election age dreams of becoming one of them (for the most part). After all, those seventeen and younger aren't ever designated tributes because of the Chosen Volunteers, so we have nothing to fear if we do not consider the prospect of the Games welcoming. Simply put, we have it good here. Much better than District Twelve, where everyone walks in straight lines to form a sombre assemblage of silent folk.

In District Two, the atmosphere on Election day quite resembles a carnival setting. I think I can even smell popped corn and candy floss.

We approach Identification and a nameless lady in a white suit- Peacekeeper, no doubt- asks me to sign my name on the sheet. Her voice is monotonous. I hear in other districts they have to sign in with blood. There's no point in doing that here. Nobody wants to miss such a vibrant, lovely holiday. Cato and I are then separated into our different sections. I am ushered into the section marked "fifteen/female" while he struts into "sixteen/male." We say teasing goodbyes: "I can't bear being without you for twenty minutes, dear Cato!" "No! Don't leave! I'll die without your presence, Little Clovie!" and then go our separate ways. I'm grinning as I turn on my heel and nearly run into Cinder, who looks at me anxiously.

My grin instantly slips. "What do you want?" I spit.

She pauses for a moment, staring at me, eyes wide. "You scared?"

As if I'll ever be. I'm stunned for a moment at her weak question, frowning in confusion. "Of course not," I say. "Mara has been designated Chosen Volunteer, hasn't she? And even if not, I'm still best in our year. Oh, wait, I'm not. You are."

"That's not fair, I only-"

"Shut the fuck up!" Another girl hisses at us. Her name is Streak. Looking up, I realise a few faces are turned in our direction. The rest of the district is quiet, the Victors (except for my father- I smirk at this) seated in their chairs, facing the audience. Vigiara has approached the microphone with a script at the ready, waiting impatiently. The gong must have rung, signaling the beginning of the Election, when I wasn't listening.

Smooth, Clove. Real smooth.

Vigiara clears her throat, and says, in a low, melodic tone that she has become famous for, "My people!" There is a cheer at this, and she continues. "We are gathered here today to support the Election of two of our kin in a fight to the death, in which one, preferably from District Two, will be crowned winner. This is a special occasion, and we must cherish it. As of now, I will read you the Treaty of Treason, brought to you by our beloved Capitol."

It's boring, and I've already memorised it, but I listen anyway, for Mayoress Holocaust is a captivating speaker. She tells of the wars before Panem came to be; the diseases that spread; the natural disasters that struck the land, leaving many cities destroyed and a much larger expanse of land flooded. She explains the rise of the Capitol, and Panem, and the days in which all were well and prospering. And then came the Dark Days, when District Thirteen led the rebellion, and the Capitol quenched their efforts, setting consequences for their actions.

"In penace for the uprising, each district shall offer up a male and female between the ages of twelve and eighteen at a public Election. These tributes shall be delivered to the custody of the Capitol and then transferred to a public arena where they will fight to the death until a lone victor remains. Henceforth, and forevermore, this pageant shall be known as 'The Hunger Games'." Vigiara looks up from her script for a moment, her eyes scanning over the crowd, and then returns to the sheet of parchment she holds in her hands.

"We, as District Two, have been fortunate to have twenty-eight victors in these past seventy-three Hunger Games. Unfortunately, six of them have passed away since then." One of them was my mother. "Those dead include Hector Auric, Gerik Rinsai, Malaria Stone, Grayson Andrzej, Lethe (Flare) Saber, and Chigare (Mason) Sorrows."

She then proceeds to read off the list of surviving tributes, in the same order as they sit on the stage. I recognise a few names more than I do others. Glover. Lyme. Brutus and Enobaria. Evilian. Elisa (her little girls are with their aunt). There's a brief pause in which Vigiara calls my father's name- Bane Saber- and we all turn to his empty seat. She makes a light-hearted comment on his absence, but I can see the anger in her eyes, like flames licking her blue irises, even from here.

Maybe it'll be more than fifteen lashes, I hope.

Finally, Mayoress Holocaust concludes her speech and hands it over to Amber Riverlace, who runs over to the microphone in her six-inch high heels, nearly falling in the process. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dudes and dudettes!" She squeals, her high-pitched voice ringing throughout the Square. I wince and nearly cover my ears. Just because we support the Capitol doesn't mean we love hearing their residents' voices. "Welcome to the Election of our Seventy-Fourth Annual Hunger Games! Isn't this exciting? I'm simply delighted to see your beaming, rose-cheeked faces once more!"

Suddenly, Amber strikes a pose, as if struck with the realisation that she's not being vain enough. I'm sure, in the Capitol, she's some kind of model; the nonsensical, flamboyant, and most memorable women always manage to get into the industry. And oh, Amber is memorable. What with her typical dandelion-yellow dress (made interesting with appalling side cutouts), emerald tights, neon green heels, and bouncy, floor-length locks of yellow hair, she strikes one as a humanoid sunflower, prancing around and trying on an atrocious wedding veil. I suppress a snicker at the image formulating in my mind.

Striking a few more poses, Amber jabbers on about district pride and all that. I catch Cato's eye in the crowd of sixteen-year-old boys and roll my eyes. He nods, a bored smirk plastered on his lips. I only turn away when Amber exclaims, "Let's proceed with the Election! I'll switch it up this time- we'll start with the men." She bats her eyelashes at the crowd and doesn't wait for a response as she sashays over to the boy's bowl.

Amber's fingers, her nails painted a golden colour, flutter over the mass of paper until she pulls out a single slip, delicately unfolding it. I watch, with apt attention, as Amber Riverlace smiles sweetly at the name. "Samson Whetstone."

I don't know exactly who he is, so he's probably on the younger side of the range- and he, most likely, lives in the apartments. But I'm not listening for his name. I'm listening for someone to call out, "I volunteer!" And there are two.

It's a race for both boys to get up to the stage. Flint might have two years on Cato, but Cato is exemplary at running- surprising, him being as large as he is. Flint, however, is not. Cato mounts the stage first, sporting a triumphant smile as he says once again, "I volunteer." I shake my head, wondering why Cato did it- wishing Cato hadn't. Flint, I see, is angry. More than angry. Boiling over with rage.

"You took my spot!" He bellows. The Peacekeepers are holding him back. Otherwise, I'd fear for Cato's life.

"Sorry," Cato says, sporting a dangerous grin. "Looks like you'll never get your chance. Whoops."

Amber, of course, is delighted. She holds out the microphone to Cato and talks our ears off about how brave and muscular he is. "What's your name?" The yellow Capitolite asks, squeezing his bicep in the process (which, if he wanted to file an official report about it, could have her promptly fired for molestation).

"Cato Sangue," he says. "Sixteen. I'm out to win this." As though he would volunteer just to die.

"Sangue? Related to Elisa Sangue?"

"My mother," he says stoically, nodding to Elisa. I look to her. She is frozen on the stage, mouth open in an everlasting gape. I suppose he didn't converse with her about his decision. Which makes sense- she would have wanted him to wait until he was eighteen. Honestly, so did I. I'm not even sure why he did it. He shouldn't have, although it's too late now. Cato is already the male tribute from District Two in the Seventy-Fourth Annual Hunger Games.

I don't pay attention to the name that's drawn out of the girl's bowl. My mind's already reeling with the warnings and tactics I'll spout out during the visitation hour. Set up camp near a source of water. Use your head, don't lose it. Follow Hector's tactics. Yes, Hector. You mean you don't remember Hector's tactics? What the hell, Cato? He was the first Victor from District Two! I almost don't notice when a hand slips into mine and gray irises connect with deep brown. "Clove," Cinder says. Her eyes are wide. Too wide. "Clove, it's you."

So what? He's going to say. I haven't seen his tapes for ages. Can't blame me that Hector's tactics slip my mind. And I'll say, Don't be an idiot. Get in the pack. Kill them in their sleep, set up all evidence so it seemingly connects to someone else.

I'm muttering this aloud when everything snaps into place. Cinder just said it's me, didn't she? Cinder just said that I was Elected. Well, she's wrong. I haven't been Elected. Not yet, at least- not until I volunteer. I pull my hand from hers and slap her, hard. That should bring some sense into her. Her hands go to her cheek, her eyes are accusing, and everyone is staring. Why are they staring?

"Clove!" Amber trills. "Clove Saber! It's time for you to shine!"

Cato's eyes are boring into my soul. Better move.

I walk rapidly to the stage, pushing my way through the throngs of people, trying to ignore the stares. I let a crazy smile seep onto my black-painted lips, welcoming on an insane façade that finds acting on stage a new and thrilling task. Mounting the steps, I stand next to Amber Riverlace, who asks for volunteers. There aren't any. Then, I allow her to ask me questions while giving out answers with barely the wink of an eye. My age is fifteen. Yes, my father is Bane Saber. Yes, my mother was Lethe (Flare) Saber. Yes, my aunt Venom Flare participated in the Fiftieth Hunger Games- although she did not win.

Do I know Cato well? I pause. "We know each other. It's nothing special." What are my intentions in these Games? I smile, murdering the camera with my eyes. "To give Panem a good show."

Cato and I shake hands. His palm is cold. I give him a smirk that doesn't reach my eyes. So does he. Because inside, we're both frightened to death. I'm going into the Games with my best friend, and vice versa. At least one of us, at the end of this month, is going to be dead.

It doesn't occur to me until I'm in the Justice Building, pulling at the fraying threads of the worn couch, that Mara didn't even bother to volunteer.

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Names/Origins:

Glover- Named after John Hawley Glover, captain of the British Royal Navy during the 1800's.

Vigiara- "Oversee" (opposite of "Undersee") in Portugese means "vigiar." Tacking an "a" on the end gave the name a more feminine tone.

Amber- A shade of yellow, according to her unhealthy obsession with the colour.

Andrzej- "Manly" in Polish (pronounce it on-drez-eege, although I honestly don't know if that is correct).

Chigare (Mason) Sorrows- A distant relative of Johanna Mason (her grandfather was Johanna's great grandfather). Chigare is pronounced "shig-ar" and derives from "cigar."

Sangue- "Blood" in Italian.

Note: Hector and Gerik belong to Seta Suzume and her story "Your Own Kind."

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