The 67th Hunger Games

Chapter 16

“Today is the day that I have been eagerly anticipating ever since the Reaping and I'm sure all of you have too,” announces Flickerman with a wink. It's 10am and none of the remaining tributes are doing anything very interesting. Calidia and Proc are sorting through their supplies, deciding what they can still carry and what to abandon now that there's only two of them. Viatrix has made her way up to the Cornucopia and is picking through the meagre debris for anything useful. While Ares' Gang are making good on their plan to replenish their supplies. It seems as though today will, indeed, be a day of rest in the arena.

“It is so exciting, this year, as all four of our original favourites are still standing.” They replay the montage from Day 1 – Winnow, Gaspar, Iristina and Calidia as they were after the death of the girl who fell off her plinth – and then show close-ups of the same four faces as they are now. They've all lost weight and the pair from District 9 are both sporting facial scars but they all seem as daunting and determined as they did that first day.

“Well, let's find out a little more about Calidia Murano and her district-partner, Proc Certosa.” The screen fills with an image of the District 1 Justice Building and a young Capitol reporter on the steps. The mayor, who he interviews first, has done this so many times that he reels off an almost-identical speech year after year. Then, there are Calidia and Proc's friends – two gangs of potential Career tributes.

“I always think it's sad when they have no friends outside of training for the Hunger Games,” murmurs Daria, who is too soft-hearted in Cai's opinion. Next, there are the two tributes' families. Calidia, an only child, has no-one but her parents in a house that is so large that it looks like it belongs in a Victors' Village. Proc, on the other hand, actually has grown up in District 1's Victors' Village as his father is a victor. The whole family – mother, father and three younger sisters – all have platinum-blonde hair and complete confidence in their man's ability to win.

“Now, we're going to visit the home district of Viatrix Purdy.” The mayor of District 7 has a much more difficult time praising the accomplishments of their surviving tribute. What do you say about a 13-year-old, whose latest kill was her district-partner? All of her classmates look stricken and none admit to being her friends; they keep repeating that they have no idea how she could have done something like this. They shove forward one boy, saying he was her boyfriend. Cai feels sorry for the lad, who looks even younger than Viatrix.”

“You must want her to come home, hey, laddie?” beams the local correspondent, trying to jostle some enthusiasm into the boy. He, however, looks whiter than all the others and shakes his head, vehemently.

“Renatus… he was my cousin,” he whispers, hoarsely. “How could she…?” The correspondent, obviously out of her depth, forces a smile and makes her excuses to escape the main square. Instead, she turns down the side-street that leads to Viatrix's home. Even with the judiciousness of the Capitol cameramen, it's possible to see Peacekeepers trying to restrain gangs of working people lining both sides of this side-street.

“Murderer! Murderous bitch!” screams a woman at the front of the crowd opposite the Purdys' front-door. “She murdered my baby boy!”

“Well,” laughs Flickerman, nervously, the editors having hastily cut back to the studio. “It seems that feeling is running high in District 7!”

“Indeed,” rejoins Templesmith. “It's always… invigorating to see the people in the districts taking such a… lively interest in the Games.” They cut back to the correspondent as soon as she is safely inside. She walks through a barren hallway that will be familiar to many a family in District 9. These sorts of homes aren't usually shown as it's so rare for a tribute from a poor family to get so far. Watching this down-at-heel correspondent traipse along the depressing hallway, Cai wonders what they'll do for Ares; she doesn't have any family and he hopes that no-one will mention her connection to Krill. The correspondent seats herself in a candy-stripe armchair, opposite the sofa upon which the Purdy family are sitting. Viatrix's mother is dowdy, father jaundiced and a little brother with spindly limbs and a rib-cage that's evident even through his shirt.

“So,” begins the correspondent, still trying to sound cheerful. “How does it feel to know your little girl has made it to the final eight?”

“We're horrified,” asserts the father, leaning forward. “O' course, we don't want to see our little girl die but, when she were Reaped, we knew that were going ta be the upshot. Can't think what she's doing.”

“I mean,” sobs Mrs Purdy. “Renatus used to babysit Bayan. He was a good kid. I can't believe she did this.” It amuses Cai to watch the correspondent trying to get the Purdys back onto the Capitol message but it proves useless.

“We did not raise a monster,” asserts Mr Purdy. “And that's what she be becoming.”

“But she promised to win!” complains the boy.

“What talk you about, Bay?” demands his father, turning to look down on the child.

“When Via said goodbye to me, she promised to win, no matter what!” The cameras leave them there, undoubtedly worried that the Purdys might break into an argument that doesn't fit with the Capitol's vision of the Hunger Games.

“At least, our two are not the most rebellious,” points out Adolphus and Cai has to concede that there is one small mercy.

“Now, let's hear from our reporter in District 9, who are celebrating the unprecedented feat of both tributes reaching the final eight,” explains Templesmith and, indeed, the square in front of the Justice Building is filled with long tables and half the district seems to have turned out to share lunch. Mayor Evander's cadaverous face is alight with a smile as the Capitol reporter puts her standard questions.

“I'm more proud of Gaspar and Iristina than I can possibly say. I know them both personally and they are extraordinary young people – heroes to our entire district! Not only for their courage in volunteering but also for their bravery during the school fire five years ago. You know, Gaspar saved my own son from that fire and he's been like a second son to me and my wife ever since. And, of course, everyone knows Iristina, the Bear Girl.”

“The Bear Girl?” queries the reporter and the mayor launches into the tale with much more detail than the girl herself would ever bother with. Eventually, he wraps it up and the reporter edges in another question. “Is your son here? Oh, and what about… Ashlee Briskman?”

“Yes, of course. Ketill! Ashlee!” The two cousins come running over and are all-too-eager to answer questions about their famous friends. Next comes a succession of school-friends.

“I wonder how many of them Ares would describe as a friend,” chuckles Cai, who is deep in his cups by this time in the afternoon.

“Not the friendly type?” queries Haymitch.

“Only to useful people,” retorts his friend, starting to sound sour.

“Well, you're useful,” grins the other man, displaying his yellowing teeth. “Always know where to get the best booze.” Cai stares at him for a moment and then they both burst out laughing. At the blacksmith's home, all eight Barjons are worried but steadfast; apart from the youngest, a girl of 10, whose eyes are red when she lifts them from her mother's skirt. The family produce favourable answers to all the standard questions and make a much better impression than the Purdys.
"So, we're all a little bewildered in the Capitol,” explains the correspondent with a polite smile. “Where does Iristina live? I mean, she can't possibly still live on the streets! Does she live here with you?" Cai's breath catches in his throat and he can feel his heart constrict. The wrong answer – more to point, the truthful answer – could destroy her; the Capitol might like their victors to be willing but they prefer their tributes to be innocent.
"Nah," Mr Barjon scoffs. "It were that there bear."
"Ah, yes, the bear," sighs the correspondent, evidently afraid the taciturn blacksmith will be the fourth person to tell that story today.

“Yeah, money she got from that were enough to get her a room come summer.”

“Right,” concedes the Capitol lady, although she sounds unconvinced. “Well, there's just one more thing. We were all so terrified last night – you know, when she had that problem with the morphling? – and, well, Gaspar mentioned a… Krill. Do you know who that is?” The parents both frown and the older siblings look cautious.

“Well, Krill is the Head Peacekeeper here but I don't know how Iristina would know him.” Now, Cai really can't breathe; if they interview Krill…

“Head Peacekeeper. Starving girl. Is that the story he's gonna tell?” asks Haymitch and he wishes he could tell his friend to go to hell. He takes a shot from the bottle before answering.

“I have no idea what Krill's gonna say.” He takes another shot. “She didnae wan' his name a-mentioned. Hates him, she does. So, he probably don't feel too pleasant towards her neither.”

“And the morphling?”

“No bloody clue. Didnae mention it.” He tips his head back and chugs a good third of the bottle before Haymitch snatches it from him. He watches, blearily, as the correspondent's car pulls up outside the office of the Head Peacekeeper. “Fat oaf,” he grunts as the man appears on screen, lounging in his desk-chair.

“Wassat?” frowns Haymitch.

“Fat oaf!”

“Nah, not that. Wassat in his arm?” Cai peers more closely at the screen and then he realises Krill has a needle sticking out of his arm.

“Bloody stupid, fat oaf,” he cackles and swipes the bottle away from his friend.

“Who are you?” Krill asks, dreamily, in an unnaturally light voice.

“Hepzibah Bobbin. I'm from the Capitol.”

“Wanna talk about that lying whore?” growls Krill, his voice once more his own.

“I'm sorry?” simpers the correspondent, uncertain how to handle him. “Who–?”

“Iristina!” bellows the Peacekeeper, swaying to his feet. “That lying whore! She left me, then she told fucking Flickerman that she had no boyfriend… What was I, then?” he adds, reverting to the unnatural tone of voice. The correspondent catches sight of the needle in his arm.

“Are you are on morphling?” she asks, scandalised.

“How else am I meant to watch my girl in them Hunger Games?! Lying whore,” he mutters as an after-thought, his voice once more dropping into his native baritone.

“Well, I think that answers all our questions. Back to you, Caesar, Claudius.” As the co-anchors make some inane remarks to smooth over Krill's behaviour, Cai feels a grin spread over his face.

“What you so happy about?”

“He told 'em the truth but they'll never believe it. Everyone'll think 'er his victim.” Another thought strikes him and he brightens still further. “Bet 'e don't keep 'is job long after'n that.” The idea of Krill 'retired' is enough to make him want to be a little more sober. “Let's go grab some grub,” he suggests and slaps his friend on the chest. “I'm buying; been making out like a bandit this week.”

“Our final visit of the day is to District 11, home of Winnow Oonagh,” announces Templesmith. They haven't paid for a Capitol correspondent to go out there. A local reporter interviews the mayor, takes the camera on a walking tour to Winnow's family home and interviews the remaining residents.

“I can not imagine how life would be without our little girl,” sobs her mother.

“We lost our oldest boy two years ago to cholera,” explains Mr Oonagh. “And our second boy three years before that to an accident at work.” All of the faces in the small, dark room are sad and worried.

“But are you not proud of your daughter for coming so far?” prompts the reporter.

“Yes!” gasps her mother. “I only pray she can win!” The reporter drifts back into the streets to interview friends, teachers and parents for whom Winnow has babysat. They all agree that Winnow is the anchor of her family and a rock to the whole community. Winnow's form tutor drags the reporter and camera-man into the school and shows them a corridor lined with pictures of the girl at various events she has helped to organise.

“I do not know how any of us will go on without her. She is our hero.”

When they pitch camp that night and take stock of their supplies, she is well-pleased with their haul. In one of the traps Winnow set yesterday, they had found two animals that look like rodents but are the size of small deer. So, they have meat and they caught some fish but not many and they have gathered berries, edible bark and some tubers.

“Wish we still had some of Renatus' bread,” she offers with a rueful smile and the other two nod.

“Lend us a hand, Tina; cant get the blasted thing to light.” She levers herself up and, 10 minutes later, they have a heap of smoking boughs.

“How is it that it's getting hotter every day but the tree branches are too wet to light easily?”

“I do not know. It seems to make no sense,” answers Winnow, who is gutting fish. They sit around – chewing bark, cleaning fish, washing tubers – until they can cook on the fire. Their meal is done and they are about to decide who will take each watch, when the seal appears in the sky.

“Let's see who Viatrix killed for us,” suggests Gaspar and they all move to where they have a clear view of the seal. The first face to appear is that of the girl from 2 but it's followed by Glaucus' picture. They're all still staring at the sky, waiting for a female face with a number 7 to appear, when the anthem starts to play. Iristina turns to look at the other two and sees her own horror reflected on their faces.

“Viatrix is still alive.”

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