Home > The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)(10)

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)(10)
Suzanne Collins

"Say we move on," I break in.

So the next three days pass with Peeta and I going quietly from station to station. We do pick up some valuable skills, from starting fires, to knife throwing, to making shelter. Despite Haymitch's order to appear mediocre, Peeta excels in hand-to-hand combat, and I sweep the edible plants test without blinking an eye. We steer clear of archery and weightlifting though, wanting to save those for our private sessions.

The Gamemakers appeared early on the first day. Twenty or so men and women dressed in deep purple robes. They sit in the elevated stands that surround the gymnasium, sometimes wandering about to watch us, jotting down notes, other times eating at the endless banquet that has been set for them, ignoring the lot of us. But they do seem to be keeping their eye on the District 12 tributes. Several times I've looked up to find one fixated on me. They consult with the trainers during our meals as well. We see them all gathered together when we come back.

Breakfast and dinner are served on our floor, but at lunch the twenty-four of us eat in a dining room off the gymnasium. Food is arranged on carts around the room and you serve yourself. The Career Tributes tend to gather rowdily around one table, as if to prove their superiority, that they have no fear of one another and consider the rest of us beneath notice. Most of the other tributes sit alone, like lost sheep. No one says a word to us. Peeta and I eat together, and since Haymitch keeps dogging us about it, try to keep up a friendly conversation during the meals.

It's not easy to find a topic. Talking of home is painful. Talking of the present unbearable. One day, Peeta empties our breadbasket and points out how they have been careful to include types from the districts along with the refined bread of the Capitol. The fish-shaped loaf tinted green with seaweed from District 4. The crescent moon roll dotted with seeds from District 11. Somehow, although it's made from the same stuff, it looks a lot more appetizing than the ugly drop biscuits that are the standard fare at home.

"And there you have it," says Peeta, scooping the breads back in the basket.

"You certainly know a lot," I say.

"Only about bread," he says. "Okay, now laugh as if I've said something funny."

We both give a somewhat convincing laugh and ignore the stares from around the room.

"All right, I'll keep smiling pleasantly and you talk," says Peeta. It's wearing us both out, Haymitch's direction to be friendly. Because ever since I slammed my door, there's been a chill in the air between us. But we have our orders.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I was chased by a bear?" I ask.

"No, but it sounds fascinating," says Peeta.

I try and animate my face as I recall the event, a true story, in which I'd foolishly challenged a black bear over the rights to a beehive. Peeta laughs and asks questions right on cue. He's much better at this than I am.

On the second day, while we're taking a shot at spear throwing, he whispers to me. "I think we have a shadow."

I throw my spear, which I'm not too bad at actually, if I don't have to throw too far, and see the little girl from District 11 standing back a bit, watching us. She's the twelve-year-old, the one who reminded me so of Prim in stature. Up close she looks about ten. She has bright, dark, eyes and satiny brown skin and stands tilted up on her toes with her arms slightly extended to her sides, as if ready to take wing at the slightest sound. It's impossible not to think of a bird.

I pick up another spear while Peeta throws. "I think her name's Rue," he says softly.

I bite my lip. Rue is a small yellow flower that grows in the Meadow. Rue. Primrose. Neither of them could tip the scale at seventy pounds soaking wet.

"What can we do about it?" I ask him, more harshly than I intended.

"Nothing to do," he says back. "Just making conversation."

Now that I know she's there, it's hard to ignore the child. She slips up and joins us at different stations. Like me, she's clever with plants, climbs swiftly, and has good aim. She can hit the target every time with a slingshot. But what is a slingshot against a 220-pound male with a sword?

Back on the District 12 floor, Haymitch and Effie grill us throughout breakfast and dinner about every moment of the day. What we did, who watched us, how the other tributes size up. Cinna and Portia aren't around, so there's no one to add any sanity to the meals. Not that Haymitch and Effie are fighting anymore. Instead they seem to be of one mind, determined to whip us into shape. Full of endless directions about what we should do and not do in training. Peeta is more patient, but I become fed up and surly.

When we finally escape to bed on the second night, Peeta mumbles, "Someone ought to get Haymitch a drink."

I make a sound that is somewhere between a snort and a laugh. Then catch myself. It's messing with my mind too much, trying to keep straight when we're supposedly friends and when we're not. At least when we get into the arena, I'll know where we stand. "Don't. Don't let's pretend when there's no one around."

"All right, Katniss," he says tiredly. After that, we only talk in front of people.

On the third day of training, they start to call us out of lunch for our private sessions with the Gamemakers. District by district, first the boy, then the girl tribute. As usual, District 12 is slated to go last. We linger in the dining room, unsure where else to go. No one comes back once they have left. As the room empties, the pressure to appear friendly lightens. By the time they call Rue, we are left alone. We sit in silence until they summon Peeta. He rises.

"Remember what Haymitch said about being sure to throw the weights." The words come out of my mouth without permission.

"Thanks. I will," he says. "You. shoot straight."

I nod. I don't know why I said anything at all. Although if I'm going to lose, I'd rather Peeta win than the others. Better for our district, for my mother and Prim.

After about fifteen minutes, they call my name. I smooth my hair, set my shoulders back, and walk into the gymnasium. Instantly, I know I'm in trouble. They've been here too long, the Gamemakers. Sat through twenty-three other demonstrations. Had too much to wine, most of them. Want more than anything to go home.

There's nothing I can do but continue with the plan. I walk to the archery station. Oh, the weapons! I've been itching to get my hands on them for days! Bows made of wood and plastic and metal and materials I can't even name. Arrows with feathers cut in flawless uniform lines. I choose a bow, string it, and sling the matching quiver of arrows over my shoulder. There's a shooting range, but it's much too limited. Standard bull's-eyes and human silhouettes. I walk to the center of the gymnasium and pick my first target. The dummy used for knife practice. Even as I pull back on the bow I know something is wrong. The string's tighter than the one I use at home. The arrow's more rigid. I miss the dummy by a couple of inches and lose what little attention I had been commanding. For a moment, I'm humiliated, then I head back to the bull's-eye. I shoot again and again until I get the feel of these new weapons.

Back in the center of the gymnasium, I take my initial position and skewer the dummy right through the heart. Then I sever the rope that holds the sandbag for boxing, and the bag splits open as it slams to the ground. Without pausing, I shoulder-roll forward, come up on one knee, and send an arrow into one of the hanging lights high above the gymnasium floor. A shower of sparks bursts from the fixture.

It's excellent shooting. I turn to the Gamemakers. A few are nodding approval, but the majority of them are fixated on a roast pig that has just arrived at their banquet table.

Suddenly I am furious, that with my life on the line, they don't even have the decency to pay attention to me. That I'm being upstaged by a dead pig. My heart starts to pound, I can feel my face burning. Without thinking, I pull an arrow from my quiver and send it straight at the Gamemakers' table. I hear shouts of alarm as people stumble back. The arrow skewers the apple in the pig's mouth and pins it to the wall behind it. Everyone stares at me in disbelief.

"Thank you for your consideration," I say. Then I give a slight bow and walk straight toward the exit without being dismissed.

8

As I stride toward the elevator, I fling my bow to one side and my quiver to the other. I brush past the gaping Avoxes who guard the elevators and hit the number twelve button with my fist. The doors slide together and I zip upward. I actually make it back to my floor before the tears start running down my cheeks. I can hear the others calling me from the sitting room, but I fly down the hall into my room, bolt the door, and fling myself onto my bed. Then I really begin to sob.

Now I've done it! Now I've ruined everything! If I'd stood even a ghost of chance, it vanished when I sent that arrow flying at the Gamemakers. What will they do to me now? Arrest me? Execute me? Cut my tongue and turn me into an Avox so I can wait on the future tributes of Panem? What was I thinking, shooting at the Gamemakers? Of course, I wasn't, I was shooting at that apple because I was so angry at being ignored. I wasn't trying to kill one of them. If I were, they'd be dead!

Oh, what does it matter? It's not like I was going to win the Games anyway. Who cares what they do to me? What really scares me is what they might do to my mother and Prim, how my family might suffer now because of my impulsiveness. Will they take their few belongings, or send my mother to prison and Prim to the community home, or kill them? They wouldn't kill them, would they? Why not? What do they care?

I should have stayed and apologized. Or laughed, like it was a big joke. Then maybe I would have found some leniency. But instead I stalked out of the place in the most disrespectful manner possible.

Haymitch and Effie are knocking on my door. I shout for them to go away and eventually they do. It takes at least an hour for me to cry myself out. Then I just lay curled up on the bed, stroking the silken sheets, watching the sun set over the artificial candy Capitol.

At first, I expect guards to come for me. But as time passes, it seems less likely. I calm down. They still need a girl tribute from District 12, don't they? If the Gamemakers want to punish me, they can do it publicly. Wait until I'm in the arena and sic starving wild animals on me. You can bet they'll make sure I don't have a bow and arrow to defend myself.

Before that though, they'll give me a score so low, no one in their right mind would sponsor me. That's what will happen tonight. Since the training isn't open to viewers, the Gamemakers announce a score for each player. It gives the audience a starting place for the betting that will continue throughout the Games. The number, which is between one and twelve, one being irredeemably bad and twelve being unattainably high, signifies the promise of the tribute. The mark is not a guarantee of which person will win. It's only an indication of the potential a tribute showed in training. Often, because of the variables in the actual arena, high-scoring tributes go down almost immediately. And a few years ago, the boy who won the Games only received a three. Still, the scores can help or hurt an individual tribute in terms of sponsorship. I had been hoping my shooting skills might get me a six or a seven, even if I'm not particularly powerful. Now I'm sure I'll have the lowest score of the twenty-four. If no one sponsors me, my odds of staying alive decrease to almost zero.

When Effie taps on the door to call me to dinner, I decide I may as well go. The scores will be televised tonight. It's not like I can hide what happened forever. I go to the bathroom and wash my face, but it's still red and splotchy.

Everyone's waiting at the table, even Cinna and Portia. I wish the stylists hadn't shown up because for some reason, I don't like the idea of disappointing them. It's as if I've thrown away all the good work they did on the opening ceremonies without a thought. I avoid looking at anyone as I take tiny spoonfuls of fish soup. The saltiness reminds me of my tears.

The adults begin some chitchat about the weather forecast, and I let my eyes meet Peeta's. He raises his eyebrows. A question. What happened? I just give my head a small shake. Then, as they're serving the main course, I hear Haymitch say, "Okay, enough small talk, just how bad were you today?"

Peeta jumps in. "I don't know that it mattered. By the time I showed up, no one even bothered to look at me. They were singing some kind of drinking song, I think. So, I threw around some heavy objects until they told me I could go."

That makes me feel a bit better. It's not like Peeta attacked the Gamemakers, but at least he was provoked, too.

"And you, sweetheart?" says Haymitch.

Somehow Haymitch calling me sweetheart ticks me off enough that I'm at least able to speak. "I shot an arrow at the Gamemakers."

Everyone stops eating. "You what?" The horror in Effie's voice confirms my worse suspicions.

"I shot an arrow at them. Not exactly at them. In their direction. It's like Peeta said, I was shooting and they were ignoring me and I just. I just lost my head, so I shot an apple out of their stupid roast pig's mouth!" I say defiantly.

"And what did they say?" says Cinna carefully.

"Nothing. Or I don't know. I walked out after that," I say.

"Without being dismissed?" gasps Effie.

"I dismissed myself," I said. I remember how I promised Prim that I really would try to win and I feel like a ton of coal has dropped on me.

"Well, that's that," says Haymitch. Then he butters a roll.

"Do you think they'll arrest me?" I ask. "Doubt it. Be a pain to replace you at this stage," says Haymitch.

"What about my family?" I say. "Will they punish them?"

"Don't think so. Wouldn't make much sense. See they'd have to reveal what happened in the Training Center for it to have any worthwhile effect on the population. People would need to know what you did. But they can't since it's secret, so it'd be a waste of effort," says Haymitch. "More likely they'll make your life hell in the arena."

"Well, they've already promised to do that to us any way," says Peeta.

"Very true," says Haymitch. And I realize the impossible has happened. They have actually cheered me up. Haymitch picks up a pork chop with his fingers, which makes Effie frown, and dunks it in his wine. He rips off a hunk of meat and starts to chuckle. "What were their faces like?"

I can feel the edges of my mouth tilting up. "Shocked. Terrified. Uh, ridiculous, some of them." An image pops into my mind. "One man tripped backward into a bowl of punch."

Haymitch guffaws and we all start laughing except Effie, although even she is suppressing a smile. "Well, it serves them right. It's their job to pay attention to you. And just because you come from District Twelve is no excuse to ignore you." Then her eyes dart around as if she's said something totally outrageous. "I'm sorry, but that's what I think," she says to no one in particular.

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