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Bleed Faster: A Hunger Games Story


It's the 72nd annual Hunger Games, and unlikely Tribute Marlin Cuttle must face the death and destruction of the Arena despite having about as much chance of survival as the fish she's named for. Will Marlin wriggle off the hook or end up as supper for this year's particularly vicious batch of Careers?

Action / Thriller
Age Rating:

Chapter 1: Blood Spattering

For three days in the training centre, I sidle between the stations just trying to avoid crying or being noticed. That’s my best defence, my biggest chance of living longer. Not living, just living longer. My goal is to live long enough to get killed by the Careers, then at least it’ll be quick. Don’t show enough fight to provoke them into enjoying killing you, be small and pathetic enough that it’ll be fast. A mercy killing. It’s not a winning strategy, but it is a strategy, and I think it’ll work. Even my mentor seems to have stopped noticing me. I think she gave up on me when she realised I’m from District 4 and don’t even know how to catch fish.

You can’t become a killing machine in three days. If you’re five foot in socks and eighty pounds soaking wet, you can’t become a killing machine in three months. There are Careers in my district, but when my name was read out nobody volunteered. It happens. I get it. You train for years and, when the time comes, death just doesn’t seem so appealing. This may have something to do with the caliber of the other Careers this year. District 2’s Caius and Juno -- radiantly beautiful, finely toned and volunteering with glimmering white smiles on their faces -- could have been made in a Victor Factory. That’s kind of what Districts 1 and 2 are, I guess. They’ve been in training for the Games since they were born, proficient with any weapon and so charming it’ll be raining parachutes from their sponsors. Even Caius and Juno look like small fry compared to the District 1 juggernaut, Romulus, an 18-year-old, six foot wall of muscle who stabbed his own brother to death to stop him volunteering as Tribute and stealing his glory. Strength, skill and speed, they can drum into you in training -- bloodlust, you can’t teach.

Figuring there’s no point trying to develop any fighting skills because I’d never win a fight against the Careers anyway, I spend three days trying to memorize edible plants and insects, shelter building and camouflage techniques, basic First Aid. I won’t survive this but at least by eating the right bugs I can avoid a death soaked in my own filth. I don’t want to look stupid on TV. While the Careers hack and chop with their shining weapons, showing off their fatal precision, the other tributes wander between stations, some glazed, some focused, some putting a brave face on and giving it their all, as if making a beautiful fish hook or snare will somehow stop Romulus slitting their throats. Reel, the boy from home, refuses to meet my eye as he climbs out of the pool. He’s the fastest swimmer the Games have seen for twenty years and hopes to make an alliance with the Careers. He doesn’t want to be tainted by association with me, and I don’t blame him.

There are some odd fish this year. Gaur from 10, a hulking 17-year-old who seems to have the IQ of a small child, bobs around giggling to himself, uninterested in anything but the buffet table. The plump girl from 8 has eyes puffy from crying, and the short, dark-haired boy from 5 doesn’t look far off tears either. Teff, the boy from 9, has not said a word since the Reaping. On day one of our training, he stumbles in like he’s seen a ghost, spends twenty minutes fumbling with cord at the knot-tying station and walks out again. He does not return and I don’t see him again until our training scores are announced.

I get a three. Even crying girl gets a four. Maybe she popped out something half decent in her individual session with the Gamemakers. Maybe the crying, pathetic thing is just an act and she’s actually a secret axe-wielding tornado like Johanna Mason was last year. I doubt it. Reel is awarded an 8 and our mentors clap him on the back. He’s so proud his beaming grin doesn’t falter when my three is announced. I’m impressed I got more than a one. I was in front of the Gamemakers for no more time than it took me to tell them that I’m not their performing monkey and to grade me how they like. They read out my name on TV but I won’t tell them anything else about me. Can you get points for insolence alone? More likely they’re upping the scores of the worst tributes to try to make the results of the Games seem less of a done deal. Districts 1 and 2 don’t get less than a ten, and Romulus is awarded a 12. My mentors don’t even bother to pretend I’ll get any sponsors. Like I say, I did well to get a three.

Having the worst thing happen to you -- and being picked at the Reaping is pretty much the worst thing that can possibly happen to a person -- is strangely freeing. Why worry when you’re definitely going to die, probably in under a few days? On the morning of the 72nd Hunger Games I’m in a surprisingly good mood and wolf down as much as I can at breakfast. Reel has turned grey and eats nothing more than a piece of dry bread. Knowing the Careers will hog all the food at the Cornucopia and I’ve no chance of catching an animal in the wild, I gorge myself silly. Tiny sausages with crispy skin, fluffy golden grains dotted with butter and apricots, delicate almond tarts, charred baby aubergines and liver pate. I drink a full quart of freshly-squeezed orange juice and attack a tray of exquisite chocolates as big as a billiard table, brushing powdered sugar from my fingers when it’s finally time to ascend to the arena. Time to die. I’m cleaned, powdered, dressed and gently but firmly pushed into the clear tube that sends me to the surface. “Good luck, Marlin,” my mentor murmurs. I’m going to need it.

From my platform, I can see other tributes fanning out around me. To my left, the boy from 6 -- Otto, I think? -- stands sweating and shaking like a morphling addict. Juno, the statuesque blonde from District 2 is immediately to my right. Perfect, she won’t have to go far to choke the life out of me. I consider just running into the Cornucopia and getting it over with, taking a swift spear to the heart in the Bloodbath, but despite all evidence pointing to my certain death, I can’t bring myself to hurry it along. I won’t make the logical decision and secure a quick death. I want to live. I’ve eaten so much since arriving in the Capitol that my jacket is tight, and I’m about to adjust the zipper when I remember that the platform is mined, and I keep still while the timer is ticking. Under the platforms is a green field, as short and immaculately kept as a sports pitch, hardly the breathtaking wonderland of previous arenas. Surrounding the field is tall, swaying grass, rushes and some kind of grain, taller than two men, so we’ll have to enter it blind. Before us stands the Cornucopia, but it’s fifty foot above us, up a hill with steep, rocky sides. I remember the girl, Dafne, from 7 being good at climbing and I’m glad that at least one tribute outside of the Careers will get their hands on the food and weapons in the Cornucopia.

Otto from 6 turns to look at me and his eyes roll back in his head, his knees buckling under him. I don’t know what comes first, the loudest bang I’ve ever heard or the mist of blood spattering my face. Just as I lose my footing and stumble, the music plays and I’m spared the same explosive fate as the boy whose blood wets my cheeks. My ears are ringing as little Libby from 11 takes this distraction as a chance to slip off her podium and run for the tall grasses. Smart girl. Garnet from 1 bounds off her podium, running in powerful, graceful strides for the wall, the only tributes ahead of her the nimble pair from 7, Dafne and Alder. All of the tributes are running, chests heaving, feet pounding the even field, running for the treasures of the Cornucopia or the hiding places in the tall reeds. The tributes scatter towards resources or away from danger as fast as their legs will take them, except for Romulus, who doesn’t need sharpened tools to kill. He lunges for the two tributes nearest to him, an ungainly girl from 12 and Cleet, the gap-toothed boy from 8, and smashes their heads together, roaring with satisfaction as Cleet’s nose flattens into red gruel. The girl staggers and Romulus crushes her throat with one hand, swinging the bleeding boy around and snapping his spine across one jutted knee. Poppy, I remember as she dies in the grass. Her name was Poppy. Romulus, blooded and pleased, heads for the Cornucopia like he’s going for a stroll in the Capitol.

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