Lizzie and I are taken to directly to what I learn is called the “Remake Center”. Each tribute is taken into their own area when they arrive to be “perfected” for the opening ceremonies. I have three Capitol people work away at me for about two hours. They wash my entire body, remove the calluses from my hands, clean the dirt from my finger and toe nails, apply a strange cream to where my facial would grow if I ever let it get long, and trim and style my dark hair into a weird style that ends in a small upward point at the front of my head. The cream on my face tingles for a few minutes and then starts to cool before they wash it off. When they seem satisfied with my squeaky clean appearance they call in my personal stylist that will, as I’m told, get me ready for every public appearance until the arena.
She is a short plump woman with cat whiskers growing out of her porcelain cheeks. She tells me her name is Jadu, which I almost laugh out loud at, and starts to dress me for the show. The next twenty or so minutes are almost without any speech because she seems very annoyd to be doing her job, and only communicates in grunts and hand motions to make me move and reposition my body to make the clothes look right. “Clothes look right”, I think sarcastically. These aren’t clothes and I don’t see how they could possibly ever look good. From the waist down I am wearing what look like hairy bull legs. The hair is chocolate colored and sleek ending at my ankles where my shoes resemble hooves. I am not wearing a shirt, but instead I am fitted into a white leather vest with gold thread for stitches. I immediately go to button the vest but Jadu smacks my hands away and mutters something about sex appeal, which immediately makes me feel weird. I have never thought of that being a quality I held. I do have some muscles because of the hard work on the farm, but that’s it as far as I’m concerned, and I have never jumped at an opportunity to show them off. Also the thought of my family and Lizzie seeing me in this is almost sickening.
On my way to the starting point of the ceremony I wonder how this costume is supposed to accurately reflect the “flavor” of District 10 as Jadu said it would when she dismissed me. That’s when I see Lizzie standing next to our chariot. She is in an almost identical get-up, but her legs look like cow legs instead of bulls and her vest is black. I can tell she is embarrassed by the lack of clothes under the vest and the fact that hers is also unbuttoned. “Well you look great” she says with an averted smile.
“Same to you heifer” I return. I hate my sense of humor. We laugh as we mount a chariot. “So they are gona use chariots to show us off” I think. The other district chariots sit in front of and behind us as they fill with tributes. I realize this is the first time I have really seen the other tributes. I can’t get good looks at their faces though. Thet’s when I see them, my friends Grove and Willow.
During the war District 11 was second to rebel which put 10 and 11 in a close alliance. For the first couple of months in the rebellion 10 and 11 were it. That’s how I met Grove and Willow. Lizzie and I had fought along side them for almost a year before the war ended. We four became the best of friends saving each other’s skins more than a few times. Grove approaches us first, “Hey you two! What a coincidence that all four of us just happened to get reaped into this?” he says. I get the feeling I am not the only one who suspects this whole death tournament is a way to punish the worst rebels. “Yeah it’s weird that we were all chosen entirely by chance!” I reply as Willow literally jumps onto me and gives me a suffocating hug. “It’s so good to see you.” she says into my ear before pulling away. I smile back and before I can say anything Lizzie hugs both Willow and Grove and tells them how glad she is to see them.
Grove and I were always best friends, but there was always some tension between Lizzie and Willow, which I think is attributed to the way Willow would look at me sometimes. Now don’t get me wrong Willow is a pretty girl, but I like Lizzie more. Willow is kind of loud and overbearing at times. She was always the one who had a little too much fun on the battlefield, treating it almost like a game. Lizzie however was only in it because she was fighting for her family. Grove and I would usually sit back and take bets on how long it would take for one of them to punch the other one. Sadly they never did.
Before we could say much more to each other an attendant came by and wordlessly motioned for us to board the chariots. As the chariots lurch forward, Lizzie grabs my hand to keep from falling, but I personally didn’t think it that hard to stand up. The chariots take us to the town center passed screaming crowds of Capitol citizens. The ten minute ride ends in front of the President’s Mansion in a large plaza surrounded by thousands of people and numerous large viewing screens that we are all being displayed on as the whole thing is televised to the whole country.
As the chariots line up the President comes out of his home to take his place at the podium to begin the speech. President Snow is an odd man. I can never tell if he is twenty years old or if he has just been surgically altered to look that way. Nonetheless he is a strong young leader who is the cold face of Panem. He begins his speech by addressing the audience and telling us all that he will explain the ceremonies that will take place between tonight and the start of the actual Games. The president reveals that we will train for the next three days and be evaluated by the Gamemakers before taking the stage for a final interview. The interview will be a chance for the tributes to display our true selves to the Capitol and it’s many wealthy citizens who will be picking which ones of us they want to support, or “sponsor”, in the arena. The games will consist of all twenty-four of us in an outdoor arena where we must not only fight to the death, but also survive the elements and wildlife of the environment until a lone victor remains.
After the speech is over and the chariots have arrived in the Training Center that President Snow just spoke about, Lizzie and I are escorted by Uriah to the tenth floor to our new apartment. Our apartment will be our home right up until the morning of the Games. Lizzie and I kiss then share a long hug before going to our separate rooms to get some sleep before training starts tomorrow.
The next morning I awake to Uriah calling into my room that it’s time to wake up and eat. I go ahead and take a shower and return to my bedroom to find a black and grey jumpsuit that fits snugly to my thin frame.
“That’s what you are going to wear for training.” Uriah says as he bounces past my door headed back to the dining room. I imagine he has just been to make sure Lizzie is up. I readjust the suit as I walk to the breakfast table. It goes from ankle to wrist and threatens to chafe me with every step. The shoes that came with it are jet black and feel like I’m not wearing shoes at all because they are so light and flexible.
As I scarf down my large decadent Capitol breakfast Lizzie shows up.
“Morning!” I say as cheery as I can considering everyday I get closer to being potentially murdered by former comrades. She manages a small, “Hey.” along with a solemn smile. I can tell our impending fate is really weighing heavily on her. Her eyes are a little puffy and I can see that she must have cried a lot last night. So I decide to leave our morning conversation to that and just be as compassionate as possible from now on.
I don’t really understand the point of three days of training since 95% of us are veterans, but I go with Lizzie anyways to the basement level of the Training Center. There are already a dozen other kids there when we arrive, and we quickly find Grove and Willow to stand with as everyone else files in. I look around and notice over half of the tributes are kids I have fought along side. Some I like, and then some I less than like. Just before a large muscular woman with pale skin, who I assume to be our trainer, begins to speak someone punches me in the arm. I look to my right to see mu friend Rex. Now Rex is a character. He is about six foot three and weighs two hundred pounds, but he is the nicest goofiest guy I have ever met. He is from District 4 and we met halfway through the war. He always knew how to lighten situation no matter how grim.
“Hey hey cowboy.” He says with a huge white smile and slaps me on the back. The trainer starts to speak before I can reply.
“Alright everybody, my name is Jadis and I will be overseeing your training for the next three days. Remember that you can train at any station that you wish, and if you want some hands on practice with a specific skill then there will be experts on hand to help you.” Her voice is deep and powerful and demands attention. “At the end of the three days you will come back in one by one and demonstrate your best skill for the Gamemakers so that they can give you your final training score before your interviews.” We all stand still waiting for her to continue until she says with an eye roll, “Well go on then, you can begin.”
Everyone awkwardly disperses to find a suitable station, but I turn to Rex.
“Hey man it’s been a little while.” I say with a laugh.
“Yeah try a full year. What have you been up to?”
“Oh you know, just farming and staying alive.” I reply. “What about you?”
“Well just a lot of fishing…and I uh kinda found somebody.” He says with a blush.
“You mean you have a girlfriend?” I laugh.
“Yeah and she kinda got reaped with me. Hey Coral!” he calls to a blond haired girl who has been examining a station that looks like it is designed for some kind of food preparation skill. “Come meet one of the coolest guys ever”. Well I guess I’m coolest kid ever! Since when, I think.
Coral comes over with a charming smile and a really enthusiastic hand wave.
“Well hello coolest kid ever.” She says with a smile.
“Hi I’m Keith. It’s nice to meet you” I say as I shake her hand.
“Keith and I fought together for awhile.” Rex explains. “He’s a pretty talented fighter.”
“Well then I will have to watch out for him then won’t I?” she kids and then lightly punches me in the ribs and laughs. These two are perfect for each other, I think. Two complete goofballs.
I laugh and then introduce them to Lizzie, Willow, and Grove. Grove and Willow hit it off with their two new friends immediately, but Lizzie is much more reserved than usual. I just assume it’s because of the current circumstance, but I think I would lose it if I shut everyone out like she is trying to do. Of course I know what’s coming in less than a week, but it’s easier to get through this with friends. We can figure out the hard part much later.
The next three days pass by like a blur. Amidst training, the new group of six we have created becomes like a family. We quickly realize that our skills are very diverse. Grove and I are the best fighters, me with a sword, and he with throwing knives. Grove is great at identifying useful plants and herbs for eating and medicinal purposes. Rex starts a fire in lass than a minute, and Coral has unmatched agility and speed in our group. Lizzie stays mostly quiet and tries her hand at new survival skills, but she has always been best with a bow and arrow.
Near the end of the war the rebels began to run out of ammunition so we would alternate gunfire with conventional weapons like swords and bows. To our advantage everyone in the group is at least proficient with defending themselves.
On the last day of training I see a couple of the people that I less than like in the group of kids. One is a tall skinny girl from District 7 named Chipper, which was an ironic name considering her personality, was always really gruesome on the battlefield. She seemed to like killing Capitol soldiers, but not because it meant winning the war. She treated it as an art form almost. Taking special care with her executions when she could get in close to the enemy. Her favorite thing to do was to use small knives to make it slow. Another person I strongly dislike a boy from District 3 named Bolt. He was always the bossiest person in the room. He would never waste time telling you exactly what to do and how to do it which always ticked me off considering I’m taller and older than he is. He, like Chipper, was always a little too eager to kill. Both of them had to be fifteen or sixteen years old, but I never cared enough to find out.
As we all waited for our individual evaluations with the Gamemakers the room was full of chatter. Most of the tributes seem to at least know one other person, and other groups like ours have formed. Chipper and Bolt along with the girl from District 9 and the boy from District 1 seem to enjoy being on their own. That or no one will let them into their group. As the room empties they finally get to District 10 and Lizzie’s name is called. She gets up without a word and begins to walk towards the door until I grab her hand and stand to give her a hug. “Good luck.” I say with a grin.
“Thanks.” She quietly says without a smile, “You too.” And then she disappeared through the door.
After about ten minutes my name is called and I start to leave when Grove says, “Hey Keith good luck.” And I turn to see Willow and him both give me a thumbs up with huge smiles.
“Thanks.” I say with a laugh, and then I enter the training room.
The room is empty except for the Gamemakers up in their perch like they have been for the whole three-day process.
“Your time begins now.” A voice says through a speaker. I cross to the sword fighting station and pull five dummies into the center of the floor. I then arrange them into a plus sign formation, and grab two swords. The swords have black rubber hilts with molded grips that fit perfectly into my hands, and long shining silver blades that are each the length of my arm. As I mark my steps to be about ten feet away from the dummies I look at them. White faceless human looking figures, unmoving. Defenseless. I realize that I’m betting on all the other kids in the arena to be armed and fighting back, preferably attacking me first. I shudder at the thought of having to hunt down a defenseless innocent child, and then push the thought from my mind. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.
I take a deep breath and then charge at the first dummy closest to me. I quickly swing my swords upwards severing both of the dummies arms, then swing my right sword over it’s and bring it back lopping it’s head off. Beofre it’s head hits the groun I’m rolling over my right shoulder and cutting off the next dummy’s left leg. I come up out of the role, stand, and drive my left sword onto its chest after it hits the ground. Without turning around I kick with my right leg behind me, making contact with the central dummy’s chest and knocking into the dummy behind him. I spin around to my right and send both of my swords into the last standing dummy’s chest. When I have retracted my sword from him I take care of the two final fallen dummies. I have dispatched the five dummies in under fifteen seconds. I really don’t need any more time to show the Gamemakers anything else, and I leave with five minutes left of my allotted time.
The sun beats down on my back and the sweat runs down my neck from underneath the stupid yellow hats that the Capitol allows us to wear while we work. They are bright yellow and resemble a duck with a bill on the front to shade our faces. When we do any kind of work on our farm we can wear a pair of brown leather boots that come up to our mid-calf, denim pants that are almost always caked in mud and torn at the knees, and a thin white button up shirt only meant to keep the sun off of our skin. Today I have removed my shirt because the sun is so hot it does nothing but make me hotter. However the humiliating hat is keeping me from going blind or having a heat stroke, which is common in District 10. Most of the population doesn’t make it into their sixties because they have nerve or brain damage from heat strokes that either drive them to madness or they littereally fall apart inside. Since I’m eighteen I have to work with my two brothers and my sister outside while my mom and grandmother work inside the house. My dad works in the barn. He used to work with my grandfather before he was killed in the war. He and my older sister were killed near the end when the Districts began to lose. The war ended last summer about a month after District 13 was bombed to pieces and the Districts surrendered to prevent any more lives lost.
I quickly work to repair the section of the fence I have been working on so that I can go inside and bathe before I eat lunch and go to the reaping. When the Districts surrendered, the Capitol had this grand intimidation scheme to keep their heartless grasp around us. They created this “pageant” as they call it where a boy and a girl from each district will have to fight to the death until one is left. They haven’t told us much more about it than that, apparently it’s supposed to be a surprise or something. I’m not that scared after what I saw fighting in the war. I have killed people before, but it was only in self-defense because that is of course what you do in war. I didn’t like killing people but then I would remember how they neglected us and let us and let their people suffer, and I was able to fight for my mother and younger siblings. I am however worried about my twin younger brothers Buck and Charlie. They are both fourteen and we are all three going to the first ever reaping. My grandfather was the one who led the attack that allowed District 10 to push out all Capitol influence from our district. He almost single handedly began the rebellion and the Capitol knows who his family is.
I finish repairing the fence just in time to hear my mother calling Keith, my name, from the front porch of our house. There is a trend in the districts where parents use names for their kids that are inspired from the type of work we do that originated during the war in order to create a sense of nationalism or something. My parents caved and named one of my younger brothers Buck because my dad got bucked off of a bronco on his way to see their birth. I weave my way around our cows being careful not to step in the massive piles of their poop. The one thing I hate about the fields. It’s just really annoying when you can’t get the stuff off of your shoes until the end of the day when you come in to wash off. I can handle the threat of heat stroke or blindness, but not cow poop.
I walk the quarter of a mile to the house coming in just behind my dad who hugs me and ruffles my hair even though I’m eighteen.
“Better get yourself lookin’ nice if you’re gona be on TV!” he says with a bright smile.
“I’ll try my best” I say, and then head upstairs to take a cold bath.
I put on a non-torn pair of pants, take off the stupid hat, and put on my nice thin red button up that I only ever wore one other time to see my baby sister born. My short brown hair dries quickly on its own in the heat of the day, and my dad offers me some spray from a bottle that smells kind of like pine trees. He says it’s to make me smell good. I take it and wonder what makes it smell that way. When I get down stairs my mother and grandmother have pulled out all of the stops for our lunch and there is just enough for all of us. My dad, me, Buck and Charlie, and my little sister Angie. In District 10 we usually have just barely enough food and sometimes not enough, but it’s that way for everyone. When we finish we all get up, even little Angie who is only six, and walk together the mile and a half to the town center.
When we arrive I see that it’s extremely organized. All of the ineligible people like parents and children under twelve are funneled off to the side while my brothers and I are put in the center divided into groups of kids according to our age. The town officials get to sit on the stage next to a strangely dressed man who I know is from the Capitol. He has to be with those brightly colored clothes and odd make-up that makes me wonder what his true facial features actually look like. I have never seen a Capitol citizen in person, only on news broadcasts and other tv programs. As I stare at the strange man someone pinches my side and I turn to see Lizzie.
Lizzie is my best friend. We stood by each other as most everyone else our age fell around us during the war. Since we were some of the youngest and strongest able to fight we were always on or near the front lines of fighting. We lost a lot of friends in the war along with a few family members. Both of Lizzie’s parents were killed early on before District 10 pushed out the Capitol. Her parents worked closely with my grandfather to help rally the population. We started dating about six months ago, and I think I might even want to marry her someday. “Are you staring at the peacock too?” she laughs.
“Yeah I was trying to imagine what he looks like under all of that make-up.” She flips her long shiny brown hair purposefully hitting me in the face with it and says, “Probably like this.” ,while making the strangest face that can only be described as somewhat sexual with a touch of barn owl. We both laugh until the peacock man steps up to a microphone and welcomes us all in that weird way that the Capitol people talk. I grab Lizzie’s hand, give a squeeze, and hold it tight while we wait. I hadn’t noticed that I was actually pretty nervous until the man started talking. I start to get nauseous and then stare at one of two glass bowls that are on either side of the stage, and the change of focus calms me.
The only reason that I start listening again is because he starts talking about the war and how disrespectful the districts were. Now I don’t get mad easily, but when you start talking about how my grandfather and older sister were disrespecting him when they died by fighting for freedom, that’s enough to get my blood boiling, and I instantly hate this peacock man. Lizzie puts her hand on my arm and looks at me with her deep blue eyes to calm me down, and I realize I must have been squeezing her hand pretty hard.
The man then says his name, Uriah, and how honored he is to be escorting the “tributes”, as he says, from District 10 for the First Annual Hunger Games. He then says, “Let’s start with the ladies shall we?”, and then moves to the glass ball to his left. I now realize that these glass balls must hold the names of the eligible girls and the one on the other side of the stage must hold the boys, with Buck, Charlie, and my name in it. I remember them and crane my neck to see them standing next to each other about twenty-five yards in front of me.
I hear Lizzies name and look around to see who yelled it, and then realize Uriah the Peacock said it. I look at her and she at me. She has a look of fear and confusion in her blue eyes that make me want to hurt whoever scared her. But then two peacekeepers come and roughly grab her and haul her to the stage.
“Congratulations cutie!”, says Uriah
I stand rooted to my spot, my hand that used to hold hers now balled into a fist wishing hers was still inside mine. Mr. Peacock then strides, or more accurately bounces, across to the other glass ball and calls my name before I even have time to finish processing what happened to Lizzie. The final echo of “Keith Everdeen” rings through my head as peacekeeper hands grab my arms. I jerk my arms free knowing full well that I can walk myself to the stage. I awkwardly go to Lizzie not knowing how I should look or walk, quick and furious or slow and solemn. I haven’t really thought about this whole Hunger Games thing very seriously, after what I went through in the war it seemed almost childish. Uriah tells us both to hold hands and bow. Lizzie’s hand in mine feels different now with everyone staring and half clapping, not sure if they should be happy for us or not. Uriah has made this feel so upbeat, and that seems wrong.
When it gets sufficiently awkward Uriah thanks everyone for coming today, like we had a choice, and signs off to the cameras that I had completely forgotten about in all the excitement. The peacekeepers pull Lizzie’s hand from mine and take us to separate rooms in the Justice Building behind us. The furniture is very lavish and reminds me once again of the war when I got to see these rooms all the time in other districts. I have thought an awful lot about the war today. After ten minutes when I think that everyone has forgotten about me my entire family is brought in. My dad is the first to speak,
“Well I think we are supoosed to say goodbye”, he is trying his best to smile. My mother comes over with my grandmother and they hug me for a long time only saying things like: “I love you”, “I’m rooting for you”, and “ I knew this would happen”. As they start to loosen their grips on me I sit down and Angie climbs into my lap and hugs me like she always does not really sure what is going on.
“This is because of your grandfather. It’s the same reason Lizzie got picked too.” Says my dad.
“What do you mean?” I answer.
“Because they were first to fight and the Capitol hasn’t forgotten that. This was supposed to be random!” his voice has risen to a shout. Then it hits me. The Capitol has planned this. I wonder if the insurgent parents of other “tributes” in other districts are having the same conversation with their families right now. They are punishing the instigators first by sentencing their kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews to death.
Now I start to realize how doomed I am. I wont be up against Capitol soldiers. I will be fighting against innocent children and military children at that and maybe even some of my friends, and Lizzie. This will be cruel and cold and there is nothing that the Districts can do about it.
“What do I do?, I ask only partly to my dad.
“You fight to show them that the rebels don’t roll over under their boots and we won’t go down without a fight.” I’m about to throw in the towel because what he has said makes me disappointed in my father who I always thought was fighting for what was right and what he just said is not right. But then Buck and Charlie come over, hug me, and tell me they love me with tears in their eyes. Then Angie starts to cry because most everyone else is at this point and I know that this is what I will be fighting for. My siblings who will have to watch me die on live TV if I decide to give up. Before anything else can be said or done peacekeepers pull them all from the room and I yell “I love you!” as Angie’s whimpers fade down the hallway.
I wait for another half hour trying to hold onto my sanity and wonder if anyone else is coming to say goodbye, and I realize that the only other person who would is in another room saying goodbye to her loved ones. The girl I will be fighting. The girl I love.
As I sit there with my finger nails digging into the velvet covered chair two peacekeepers enter and take me to the train station where I assume I am going straight to whatever they have planned for us to fight until I hear a peacekeeper say that we are going to the Capitol. Oh great I think, the place we so desperately tried to break into and overthrow I will now be taken directly into as cattle. Lizzie enters the train immediately after me, runs to me, and hugs me tighter than anyone has ever hugged me before. She starts to cry and I feel like I might cry with her, but I’m too angry at the Capitol and stunned at everything that is happening to allow any tears to cry. Out of defiance I will not cry. Not even in private. Instead I lean down, and kiss her until she stops crying and kisses me back.
“We won’t kill each other.”, I say, which didn’t seem like a great thing to say, but it was something.
“I know. We are in this together.”, she says with a sad smile, and I feel a little bit better and I can tell that she does too. We are war veterans, not scared defenseless children at the mercy of the Capitol.
Then without explanation my father boards the train, the doors close behind him, and we start into motion.
One time shortly after the war began I watched my father execute some Capitol prisoners of war. They weren’t necessarily innocent and in need of mercy because they had recently killed all of the women and children left behind in a District 7 town. They stared him down as they died and the hardness is my father’s eyes was unforgettable. That’s why his flustered state has me currently confused. “What’s wrong, what happened, why are you here?” I ask a little too quickly to still seem resolved.
“They told me I’m supposed to be your mentor or something.” Hey says while regaining his composure.
“What does that mean?” asks Lizzie as she wipes her face with her sleeve.
“I apparently will be giving you advice on how to survive, which seems odd because we are all soldiers and know how to survive. But I am also supposed to get people in the Capitol to give you help in the arena, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to go about that.”
I immediately feel that this is another way for the Capitol to punish the rebels. Make them feel responsible for killing their kids if they fail to successfully “mentor” them.
“Well I’m sure you will do great!” I say, which again seemed like the wrong thing to say. I’m really off my game today. Maybe my death sentence has had something to do with that.
After a sufficient awkward silence as we all three try to digest the past hour of events Mr. Peacock comes to the rescue and tells us we need to rest up so we can look our best when we arrive in the Capitol in six hours. I take advantage of this opportunity to excuse myself to my room after hugging Lizzie and my dad.
I fall asleep rather quickly considering the adrenaline that was just coursing through me and wake up to Lizzie crawling up beside me. It can’t have been more than an hour. “I couldn’t sleep by myself.” she whispers and we both fall asleep only to be awakened again by Uriah knocking on the door telling us to get up and get ready to disembark. I jump up, still wearing the clothes from the reaping and head with Lizzie to the dining room where we boarded the train.
The sight of the Capitol out of the window stops me in my tracks. I want to hate it and feel angry at its existence, but it’s too beautiful to hate. I find myself admiring the colors, the architecture, the surrounding snow capped mountains. This shinning city that we so desperately tried to destroy has remained untouched from battle while our homes were desecrated and burned. “Ok”, I think, “I can hate it now”.