Chapter 9: The Games, Day 2
The songs of the birds woke him up.
He opened his eyes slowly, the sunlight peeking through the branches he hid under, his mind still unsure of his suroundings.
However the laugh of a boy raised him from his sleepy state and made him realise where he was: the Games.
He stayed still, his hand creeping for the handle of his spear as he turned his head to look out into the clearing, his vision limited by the leaves.
It was a second or two before a boy and a girl came into view. They each had a backpack, but the girl was holding a knife.
"Remember? He was squealing like a little girl! 'Oh please, don't kill me!'" the boy said, laughing and smiling.
"What else do you expect when you fight at the Cornucopia?" the girl replied, shaking her head. They took a few more steps until the girl smiled and held up a hand.
"What?" the boy asked. The girl kept her hand still outreached, her pointer finger straight.
After a second or two, Haymitch watched a bright and surprisingly big green butterfly flutter around the clearing before landing on the girl's finger.
"Such a wuss, Seven," the boy said, shaking his head but still stepping forward to look at it.
"I've never seen one so big like this," the girl muttered, mirroring Haymitch's thoughts. Even though the insect was magnificent, something in the back of his mind told him it was a mirage; it was trouble.
"Well, let it fly away, we need to keep moving," the boy said as he started walking, continuing on the path the two of them were originally headed.
Haymitch kept his eye on the girl, and suddenly the butterflies wings stood still and the girl cried out, shaking her hand as the butterfly resumed flight. She dropped to her knees, cradling her hand.
The butterfly spiraled upwards before floating down onto the boy's hand. It's wings went still for another moment, and then he was also crying out in pain and falling to the ground.
"What the hell?" the girl gasped, now lying on the ground, her body convulsing.
"This thing is poisonous!" the boy cried.
They'd realized it too late.
Haymitch sat up, pushing the branches away. He grabbed his spear and strapped his backpack on before he slowly climbed down the rocks, keeping his eyes on the boy and girl now writhing on the ground.
Haymitch wished he could do something, but the rate that these two were turning white made him pessimistic. And based on their talk, they didn't seem too bad about killing, and he had told himself he wouldn't form any allies.
"Please," the boy cried, reaching out a shaky hand, which dropped as his body started to convulse.
Haymitch shook his head yet didn't move.
"Please," the girl said this time. She lifted her arm, holding the knife out to him, handle first. An invitation to kill them both.
Haymitch looked down, shaking his head again.
It took everything he had to turn around and walk away, ignoring the cries and yells and moans of the tributes dying behind him.
When the two cannons sounded a little later, he didn't even falter in his step.
A minute or two after, he stopped.
He then started unzipping his pants, knowing the cameras would stop following him if he was about to relieve himself… he took this short private time to give himself a few seconds to close his eyes tight and push back the tears, dropping his head. His first deaths, not even at his own hand, and he was reacting like this? Barely able to hold himself together?
He took a few deep breaths, and opened his eyes. He zipped his pants, fastened the buckle and then headed back towards the kids in a quick jog. Both of them had packs, they had to have something of use in them.
He reached their bodies and stopped. It had seemed a good idea at the time, but he wasn't so sure now.
he looked at the two bodies, eerily stock still unmoving.
They were dead.
All because of a fucking butterfly. Probably an invention of the Gamemaers.
He remembered Cassie saying something about viewer interest - the shorter the games were, the more 'unexpected deaths', the more threats - the more the viewers (outside of the Capitol) stayed loyal, keeping with the games past the first two days.
The boy was on his stomach, so Haymitch could open the zippers easily and not disturb the body so much.
There was a pack of sunflower seeds and dried beef, and two empty bottles. He took the food and the larger bottle of the two.
The girl's pack was filled with dirt and leaves, which left him confused.
He took the extra knife from the ground where one of the boys had dropped it, and slipped it into his left boot – using all of the four straps that fit each knife perfectly. He then looked around, and his gaze found the snow capped mountain in the distance, peeking above the treeline.
He didn't know why, but he had a bad feeling about it. His plan was to keep as far away from it as possible.
With the mountain at his back, he started to jog.
This way, he might even reach the end of the arena - it had to end sometime, it had to have a boundary.
He waited until the sun was at his back, the sunlight barely hidden by the branches of the high trees of the forest before he stopped to take a rest.
After many inner debates, outweighing the good with the bad, the negative and positive outcomes; Haymitch decided to take a chance and check to see if the Cornucopia was abandoned or not - a chance to get more supplies.
He had already gone through one of his bags of dried beef, and was chewing on the sunflower seeds now. And his water was almost empty. He hadn't come across any animals to kill and hunt and he needed to find a source of water or at least hope there was more at the Cornucopia.
He took a different route on his way towards the center of the arena, moving far to the right before he retraced the direction he came from. He rested every half hour on a low tree branch, knowing the area would be populated by twenty six others who wanted his life.
It was after two hours before he heard a group of voices. Thankfully he had the time to jump up a nearby tree and climb onto the second branch, leaving him hidden but giving him enough visual to see who he was racing against.
He counted ten figures move beneath him.
No surprise, the leader of the group was Slater, one of the Careers from Disctrict 2.
He had a larger than usual build, with buzz cut black hair and muscles that popped out with veins. He had on a backpack and was armed to the teeth, a bow slung across his shoulder and a sword and axe in each hand.
"Let's keep moving towards the mountain. Set up camp at the top, have a better view of everything," he said in a low and stern voice, "and not everyone could make such a climb," he continued in a tone, as though warning those amongst him that they would be left behind, or worse - seen as expendable - if they couldn't keep up. "Double the advantage."
The rest didn't answer; they just continued to follow him.
Haymitch waited a few minutes after they passed before he dropped from the tree and made his way towards the Cornucopia, keeping an eye on the group. He rushed beside them, staying quiet and keeping his distance, but doing so quickly, needing to get to there before they reached the Cornucopia and raided it of the very supplies he was after - supplies to last him long enough so the other tributes killed eachother as he waited for the numbers to die down.
He figured the less he head to come face to face to kill the better.
He reached it in good time. He found a few bags of fruit and was able to save one or two apples that weren't rotten or torn in half, and found two more lightweight blankets. He went towards the back and saw a few large jugs of water labeled H20. He wanted to take two but after picking the first one up he knew he wouldn't be able to lug them both away in time. He frantically looked around for smaller containers, to transfer the water but didn't find any. He took a deep breath and grabbed one of the large containers, box-like with a handle.
He dragged it to the mouth of the Cornucopia and peeked out. Nothing yet. He went out the mouth and crept along the outer side.
That's when he heard the shriek of a girl.
He turned, worried that the Career had already decided to off the weaker members of his alliance, but instead watched Slater pinching a girl's ass, grinning wickedly. The two had stumbled ahead of the group and into the field, but weren't paying attention to anything, which included him.
Haymitch picked up the carton and booked it to the trees. He made it far enough into the brush, just in time it seemed; he looked back and saw the rest of the group emerge into the clearing.
He stayed and watched as the whole group entered the Cornucopia, foraging for weapons and supplies before congregating at the mouth, waiting for what Slater had to say.
"Set some traps, Seven, I remember noticing you were good at those. Make sure anybody who enters this thing doesn't leave alive," Slater said, as though giving an order to an Avox rather than asking assistance from an ally.
'Seven', a smaller boy with curly red hair silently nodded, his jumpy demeanor a clear sign that he was rather forced into this alliance rather than given a chance. He grabbed some wire out of his pack and started to mold and manipulate a booby trap in the Cornucopia as Slater cleared his throat.
"Let's move on to the mountain!"
Haymitch watched Seven closely, paying attention to where he set the traps, which nick in the wire would either set the trap to kill, or the others that would only do slight harm.
The boy took a little while, enough for the group to get a head start. He finished one last tie of the wire and stood, his head turning frantic as he looked around and saw he had been left around. He shook his head and then started running towards the mountain, almost desperate to get back to the group even though he had been given an easy way out.
Too bad the kid would end up dead soon. The Careers were always ruthless to the lower districts.
He waited a minute or so and was about to leave to go further into the forest when he saw something from the other side of the clearing.
Another kid was running towards the Cornucopia, light on his feet, jumping around as though he suspected mines. Then he stopped just short of one of the first wires.
He then proceeded to jump past each trigger of the trap, and reached the entrance of the Cornucopia.
Haymitch watched in amazement as the boy smiled in triumph and started to walk forward. Then Haymitch noticed a small glisten and saw it was more wire…
He wanted to call out to save the boy but was too late; the kid kept his pace and tripped the wire. There was a loud snap and a small knife came flying out, picking up speed as it spun towards it's target. The knife lodged itself in the boys head and his body fell limp as it instantly crumbled to the ground.
Haymitch let out a sob before he could contain it and stumbled on his feet to sit on the water carton, closing his eyes tight.
Nothing could have prepared him for this.
Not Cassie, not Leo or any of the other gym trainers… not even the grotesque citizens of the damned Capitol, treating this like a real game, as entertainment.
He took a couple of breaths and then moved to stand up at the sound of the cannon. He took a final deep breath and went to filling his water bottles and water-skin, leaving the box much lighter to carry around.
He turned and started running back into the woods.
Where he should have stayed.