The Games: Chariot
I sleep for a few hours but wake before dawn. I dress and find myself sitting on the bed thinking of the Capitol. In a few hours, we will be bombarded by people and thrown into preparation for the parade later. There will be no time to get settled.
I cherish these last few hours of silence.
I think about killing twenty two other Tributes. Their families watching, one parent who will probably accompany them here as their mentor. My parents facing those people when I end their children’s lives. Will they be relieved when I die? Will the monster I turn into even be worth mourning?
The silence becomes overbearing and I force myself to leave the room. It’s not really mine, it will never be. It’s just a place to sleep, like the room in the training center. The room that was mine, the place that meant more than just a bed to sleep in, is back home, never to be seen by me again.
I glance out the window on my way to the dining area. I can see the sunrise, the bright oranges and deep reds. I’ve always loved the sunrise. I wonder how many I have left or if I will even be able to see one in the arena.
I walk into the dining car where Effie is examining a plate. She looks at me as I enter. She pulls herself into her usual Capitol smile and I wonder if she’s even slept. She still looks just as meticulously prepared as ever, but there’s something about her eyes, even hidden under the makeup, that seem so worn.
“Oh, Ivy dear, I didn’t think you’d be awake so soon. That’s good. I won’t have to worry about you being on time,” she trills, smiling.
“Just everyone else,” I say, taking a seat in one of the overstuffed chairs beside the screen.
She sits across from me in another chair. I haven’t spent a lot of one on one time with Effie, but she has given me gifts over the years and tried, desperately, to get me to call her auntie. Something I haven’t been able to do, because she’s not. She doesn’t have any children of her own, but I think she likes to view us as surrogates. Though we’re not as refined as she probably wishes.
“You mustn’t worry about the Capitol. They will love you. I’m sure of it.”
“I’m not worried about them.”
“What are you worried about?” she asks, sincerely, and it’s the first time I’ve heard her voice lack its bubbly brightness.
“What happens after.”
“You win. You come home--”
I look at her, cold and hard. “I’m not coming home. We both know who I’m going to save. And what I’m going to do in that arena.”
She’s silent as her hand grips the arm of the chair. If it was possible to tell beneath the makeup I would say she’s gone pale.
She takes a deep breath. “Well then, we must make sure that, for the time being, we show them your beauty. And we make sure they remember you.”
I can’t help but smile.
“There’s the real smile. It’s much prettier than the usual one.”
“What?” I ask.
“There’s the face the world sees and the real one. We all do it. The real one is usually better.”
She checks her watch and her Capitol trill returns. The fake face back on. I begin to understand not only Effie a little more but my parents as well. There are the brave faces for Twelve, the happy faces for the Capitol and the other Districts, and the real ones that I’ve seen, if only temporarily.
“It seems it’s about that time. Breakfast will be served shortly. I’ll go wake the others.” Effie squeezes my shoulder as she passes. She leaves the dining car to retrieve everyone else and once again I’m alone with nothing but the silence and my thoughts to keep me company.
I shut my eyes and I must fall asleep for a short while because the next moment I’m being gently shaken awake by my father. I open my eyes and see him smiling at me.
“How long have you been out here?” He asks kindly.
I rub my eyes and shrug. It can’t have been too long, but I’m not exactly sure.
“Are you hungry?”
I nod and he offers me his hand to help me off the chair. We walk to the table as my mother and brother arrive. We serve ourselves and once again I’m overtaken by the rich flavors of the food. Bas eats faster than me and is already on his second plate by the time Haymitch shuffles in with Effie ranting about lateness behind him.
“Where’s the pin?” my mother asks curiously.
I look down at my dress, realizing I must have taken it off and forgotten to put it back on.
“I’ll go get it.” I stand and make my way back to the room. I find it on the nightstand and pick it up. The gold shine hasn’t weathered over the years. I wonder how many times my mother has taken this out of the drawer. It seems polished, like every so often someone has made sure to keep it intact.
I feel the train slow and grip the pin tight. I realize I’m shaking as I can hear cheers from outside. I return to the dining car. Effie claps her hands.
“Alright, let’s give them something to cheer about.” She smiles. Haymitch takes a swig from his bottle and follows her out the exit to mild applause.
My father squeezes my mother’s hand before holding my brothers shoulder and walking out with him. The crowd gets louder. I look out the window and watch my brother making half waves, the crowd loves him. Their bright outfits and hair are almost blinding against the white of the cityscape. They flood the streets and surround the training center, trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the interior of the train or of the Tribute and Victor before them. Some try to touch Bas or my father; they seem to be able to avoid them deftly, my father guiding my brother through.
My mother pulls me close. “Don’t look at them. Don’t give them anything. They don’t deserve it.”
I’m taken aback momentarily by the anger and darkness in her voice. I want to smile but I can’t respond as she’s pulling me forward and the next thing I know I’m standing in bright daylight with a screaming crowd of Capitol citizens before me.
They care most about my mother out of the four of us, but still I hear shouts of my name mixed amongst hers.
She holds my wrist tightly as we walk forward. I can’t breathe, all around me are painted faces with eyes of glee and idolization. There’s another look too, only in a few, but it’s darker and it makes my heart race with fear. I see it in an older man, with gold around his eyes and wearing too much jewelry. When he grabs my other arm, pulling me away from my mother, he stares me up and down like a starving person for food.
“I’ll be rooting for you. Just like I rooted for your mother.”
My mother returns and shoves him away, placing herself between me and the man. He appears insulted. I can feel the pin digging into my palm as I hold it tighter.
“How dare you?” The man brushes his suit where my mother shoved him. His mouth is agape as if what she’s done is unthinkable.
“Don’t touch her,” she threatens. My father runs back to us.
“Hey now what’s the problem?” he asks, trying to smooth it over with a smile, but he knows what happened and I can see an anger threatening to reveal itself in him by the way he clenches his hand.
“My wife is not the problem here. We appreciate the support. If you want to sponsor, leave your name with Effie.”
The man attempts to interject but my father adds, “Be grateful I got here when I did and that there are people around. Enjoy the Games.”
My father steers me back on the path. “Katniss,” he calls and my mother stares down the man as he disappears into the crowd. She follows after me. They keep me between them, though the occasional brush of my shoulder or theirs still gets through.
I don’t know how I look, but I feel like I’m going to be sick. I watch the ground, trying to block out the cheers and the leering looks. I focus on the metal in my hand. The feel of it. The weight. It helps to silence the noise. I didn’t expect it to be this bad.
My mother whispers in my ear, “It’s okay. We’re almost there. Just watch the ground.”
I nod as we pass the last of the crowd. Bas, Effie and Haymitch are waiting just inside as we enter.
“What happened?” my brother asks coming to my side.
“Capitol citizens are an excitable bunch,” Haymitch says. “You okay, kid?”
“Good. Welcome to the training center, where you will be living in luxury. Until of course you’re surviving in a hostile environment where you’re not sure when you’ll get a meal or if you’ll make it to the next day.”
“Haymitch,” Effie warns. “Your stylists are waiting.”
I hand my mother the pin, afraid that I will lose it. Effie guides us to a separate wing as my parents watch us go. I look back and my mother nods as I walk forward with Bas beside me. They get into an elevator and head up to our floor.
“What’d they do to you?” Bas asks quietly as we walk.
I shake my head. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“They were shouting things at me. It was weird. Some woman tried to kiss me.” He shudders. “Dad stopped her.”
I look at him. “I had some guy grab me.” I can feel the impression left behind by how tightly I held the pin. The Mockingjay is outlined in my skin, like a reminder to be strong. Even as it fades I feel like the symbol has been burned into me.
“I hate these people,” he whispers.
“Why are they like this?” I ask.
He shrugs. “Because they are.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“It’s not a fair question.” He groans. “Fine. Because we let them. Because no one stood up to them. Is that a better answer?”
“What do you think they’re gonna do to us?” he asks.
“Set us on fire most likely.”
He looks scared and I can’t help but laugh.
“Bas, not really, you know that. It’s not real fire.”
“I know, but still. It’s not something I really want,” he says, running a hand through his hair.
We pass through a smaller hallway, where I can hear water running and people laughing. Effie stops us in front of two doors on opposite sides of each other. She smiles, proudly, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.
“Here we are. Ivy you go into the room on your left, Basil the room on your right. I’m sure you’ll both look absolutely stunning. I’ll see you both later. Remember, chins up and smile.” She imitates her advice and we both nod.
“Good luck,” I tell Bas before I open the left-hand door.
“Yeah, hope they don’t cut all your hair off,” he laughs opening the right door.
“I hope they cut yours,” I add and he looks offended as I walk into the room.
I’m bombarded by my prep team almost immediately. They kiss me on the cheek and give me a hug like we’re old friends. In truth I’ve seen them maybe once or twice. I was more familiar with my mother’s old prep team, as they would come by once a year to get us ready for interviews. They’ve all since retired or become head stylists for other Districts.
My new prep team, Ambrose, Reeta, and Dietrich, have all chosen to keep the flames motif in their outfits and hair. They fawn over me, trying to impress me with tales of the Capitol and how I’ll shine or burn brighter than all the others. There’s a big laugh for that joke.
I’m stripped before they hose me down and wax every unwanted hair off my body. This is new. They don’t usually do this for interviews because I’m barely on camera. It’s not a pleasant experience.
After the uncomfortable waxing, they give me a robe and sit me down. It’s at about this time that we break for lunch, which I’m grateful for. They don’t talk as much with food in their mouths.
Lunch ends too quickly and it seems they’ve only become louder with a full stomach. They set to working on my hair, pulling and brushing to get it as smooth as possible. They cut my split ends, and put product after product in my hair. This I’m used to and I sit silently as they work. There’s a shine and curl to my dark hair when they’re done.
“Oh that looks gorgeous, Ambrose,” Reeta says in a high pitched squeal.
“She’s so much better at this than some of the others, right?” Ambrose says and the others agree with him.
“Remember the girl last year?” Reeta asks. The others nod in agreement. “She wouldn’t sit still. I was afraid I would cut her ear off.” They all laugh.
Next they work on my makeup. I sit still as they run black around my eyes to make them stand out, putting light touches of gold on the top.
“Oh that’s stunning. Those pretty blue eyes are going to stand out so well,” Dietrich says, satisfied with his work.
“They really are gorgeous. I’m jealous,” Ambrose says as he adds some gold touches on my arms.
“Well, I mean, look at her parents, of course she’s gorgeous. The audience is going to fall all over you. I won’t be surprised if you have sponsors lining up out the door come morning,” Reeta says with a smile. I try to smile back. I know they are saying what they think will make me feel better, will give me some kind of confidence going into this. They are telling me what they know, what they think is good news.
All I keep picturing is the Capitol man that grabbed me and the leering looks as I walked to the training center. I keep imagining how pretty they’ll think I am when I’m killing some other Tribute or when I’m lying on the ground dead. Will they find my eyes so stunning when there’s no life in them?
After what seems like forever they finally deem their work done and hug me goodbye. Once the door shuts I feel like I can breathe. I slump in my seat, careful not to mess up my hair. The last thing I want is for them to have to come back.
The door opens and I sit up straight.
“You don’t need to do that,” Cinna says and I turn, immediately relaxing. He’s aged well over the years. His hair is graying and he has wrinkles but he does nothing to change the look of age. He still wears earrings, and has gold on the corners of his eyes. I’ve always appreciated the minimal embellishments he’s chosen. Just enough that it looks good, not overdone to the point of it being sickening.
He carries a plastic covered black dress with a long train.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, genuinely, before giving me a hug.
I shrug. “As well as can be expected.”
“How’s your mother doing?”
I sit back in my seat. “I don’t really know. She almost got into a fight with someone earlier, but other than that, she’s been the same. I guess after so long she’s used this place.”
Cinna shakes his head and smiles. “Your mother is a very private person, which can be difficult here.” He furrows his brows before looking at the dress. I can tell he’s remembering my mother. The teenager that once held the hopes of Panem on her shoulders. He swallows the memory down and turns back to me.
I make a noise of agreement. He places a hand on mine.
“Still, a fight is unusual, even for her, what happened?”
“Some man got a little too close and pulled me away from her to tell me he’d be rooting for me. To be honest I didn’t really feel like I wanted him to root for me,” I say, the truth spilling out. It’s easy to talk to Cinna, especially after knowing him for years.
He nods and his eyes go dark, like he has some insight into the interaction that I don’t. “Some people don’t understand personal space. Speaking of which, need to get you dressed and ready to remind them what the Mellark family is made of.”
He removes the dress from the plastic and hands it to me. The fabric is dark and though it looks heavy it isn’t. It shines against the light and is silky smooth as I put it on. He holds the train, which actually seems more like a cape. It’s too long for me to walk around with it. I hope it doesn’t get tangled in the chariot. He finishes last minute touches, and then we are out the door walking to the staging area.
This will be the first time I’m in the same room as the other Tributes. I can’t size them up fully, not until we enter training, but it’ll give me somewhat of an idea of who I’m dealing with. It’ll also give me a chance to get the necessary sponsors to ensure Bas’s victory. I think about the Capitol citizens and my heart races. My hands shake but I force them to steady. There is no room for weakness anymore.
We take an elevator down to the staging area. I focus on the floor, trying to collect myself.
“Don’t give them anything. They don’t deserve it,” Cinna tells me. His words, which echo my mother’s, give me the last bit of strength I need to hold my head high as the doors open.
He doesn’t follow me out. I look back. “Go to the last one. I have to check on your brother, but I’ll be back. You’ll be fine.”
I nod as the doors shut again. I turn back to the staging area and see the Tributes of One and Two with their mentors talking amongst themselves. I guess they’re already preparing their team. I pass Four, but see only Beck by the chariot talking to Finnick Odair.
The only other Tributes are the ones from Seven. The boy, about thirteen, I think his name is Grover, talks to Johanna Mason. Even though she’s well into her forties, she still looks the same as the Victor who marched out of her arena. Despite the few wrinkles signaling her age, she could still chop someone up with ease. I’ve always been frightened by her, even before seeing her in person, but now that I have that fear hasn’t lessened. She looks me up and down as I pass, giving me a nod of recognition. Her Tributes turn to stare at me before she immediately draws their attention back to her. I wonder what she’s telling them. Make friends with me or kill me. I swallow and force myself to continue to my chariot.
I can hear the audience outside, already growing restless. It makes my stomach turn. I give the horse a couple pats to calm myself.
Slowly, more Tributes and stylists funnel in. Not everyone’s mentors join them, or only one does, and I wonder if it makes the ones without them seem stronger, like they can stand on their own.
“You look very princess-like,” a voice says lightly.
I turn to face Beck Cresta, his smiling face greeting me. His hair is shorter than it was at the reaping and I realize his style team cut it. It’s been mussed up in a sort of half wave with product that gives it a shine. It makes his green eyes stand out more. They’re so green that it reminds me of home and of the trees in the woods. I have to look anywhere but at his eyes as he talks to me. He leans against the chariot, but slips and forces himself to stand straight. I’m not sure what he’s trying to accomplish by coming over here. If it’s intimidation, it’s not working. If it’s trying to ally himself with me, he’s having less of an effect.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I ask, noticing his outfit. They’ve given him some kind of half open shirt to show off his chest, which has been oiled to give him a shine and tan. There’s some kind of netting around his waist over leather pants. They’ve pierced his ear with a gold fishing hook. Tridents and shells have been embroidered on his loose vest.
“That someone’s making a point. And you look...nice.” He shrugs. “I’m Beck.”
“I know, I saw the reaping.” I narrow my eyes.
“Well I saw yours, Ivy, but I was being polite.”
“What are you supposed to be?” I ask, annoyed. Why is he here?
“Pirate. They thought it would be a nice theme since my mother was a mermaid during her Games and all. And this year is all about history, isn’t it?” He laughs, though there’s no humor in it. There’s a deep seeded anger that I understand.
The noise from the audience outside increases as more people pack into their seats in anticipation. Beck looks towards the entrance and I think I see a shudder, but he covers quickly, straightening and turning to address me, the bravado back.
“I thought they were always about history. The rebellion. Or do they not give you an education in Four outside of preparing you for the Games?” I smirk.
He cocks his head to the side, staring me down, weighing his next remark. “Oh come now, we both know I’m not the only one prepared.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I shrug.
“Yeah I’m sure.”
I hear an elevator open and watch Cinna walk out of it with my brother beside him. They head towards Beck and I. Beck takes one look at them and begins to walk away, but not before he adds, “You know you should give the horse a sugar cube, maybe eat one yourself. Good for the nerves.”
I watch him as he reaches Finnick, who grabs his shoulder and talks to him quietly. They look back at me every so often and my hand clenches. He’s just trying to find a weakness. It was probably Finnick’s plan to send him over too. I can’t trust anyone here, no one except Bas.
Still, there’s an odd way Finnick looks at Beck as he speaks, like he’s more worried than giving him advice. When they look at me one final time, there’s a similarity to their expression that’s almost eerie. It’s then that I realize why they look similar. I’m not the only one here with two Victor’s for parents.
“What did he want?” Bas asks and I’m broken from my thoughts.
I turn to Bas. “He told me I looked princess-like.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He looks towards Beck, whose getting onto his chariot with the girl from Four. She’s much shorter than him but stands straight and watches everyone around her with careful precision. She’s going to be a problem. They both are.
“That’s what I said.” I try to laugh and it manages to bring a smile to Bas’ face. Cinna attaches the trains to our outfits. While I wear a dress, Bas wears what looks like a suit fit for royalty. The train looks like a cape on him. They haven’t done much with his hair, just trimmed it and styled it back and they haven’t put much makeup on him. Just enough to give him a shine under the lights.
When Cinna’s finished he looks at his work to make sure it all fits the way he needs it to. He nods approvingly. “It’s timed so as soon as you hit the lights, the train will burn away. So don’t panic when it starts.”
Before he leaves he adds, “Don’t give them anything.”
“That’ll be easy,” Bas adds and I agree. Cinna smiles before he takes his leave.
“You think Beck’s ally material?” Bas asks as we board the chariot.
I shake my head. “I already told you. We don’t need anyone.”
“Yeah, because the two of us against twenty two others really puts the odds in our favor.” He rolls his eyes.
“Do you trust me?” I ask. He looks at me like I’ve asked him if the sky is blue.
“Of course. But—“
“I’ll keep you safe. I promise.”
That’s the end of the conversation as the anthem plays and the chariots pull forward. As soon as we exit the staging area, our trains light up and fire plumes around us. The crowd screams and chants our names.
We give them nothing. We don’t even acknowledge President Snow or his granddaughter. They don’t deserve it. No one here deserves our attention. I can feel the anger burning through us and I hope there’s a mishap that causes this fire to become real, to burn this entire building down and take everyone with it. But it doesn’t happen and we return to the staging area unharmed.
If I thought the stares were bad before, it’s worse after the reactions of the crowd. One and Two in particular keep a close watch on us as we meet our parents and Haymitch before boarding the elevator.
I feel a squeeze on my shoulder and turn to see my mother behind me. She gives me a look, asking me if I’m okay and I nod, turning back to the doors as they open.
We walk into the vast room and I’ve never seen a view like the one outside the window. I may hate the Capitol and all it stands for but I have to admit looking out over the city with its lights against the dark sky makes it seem beautiful and peaceful even.
I feel exhausted and go to my room, peeling off the dress once I’m inside. I go into the shower and let the water wash off all the product and makeup they’ve put on me. When I finally feel like myself I exit and find a pair of pajamas in the drawers.
That night I dream of cheering faces, twisted with their exaggerated wigs and painted faces. They grab at me and pull at me until I’m being torn apart, my screaming silenced as they drown me in a sea of applause.
It stops suddenly when I’m reminded of green eyes and the peace of home. The next thing I know, I’m sitting in a tree above a lake and there’s nothing that can hurt me for miles. I sleep soundly for the first time in a long time.