The Redhaven Spring

 

It was the first day of the Redhaven spring-time, not that it made any real difference from any other day or any other season. The sky still continued with its unnaturally consistent shade of leaden grey and the people still hurried about their business in their desperation to get out of the open. The air, as always, was thick with coal dust from the Redhaven mines- the kind that sticks to windowsills and clothing for weeks. The day was just as cold as winter. But, for some reason, the fact that it was indeed the first day of spring registered somewhere in the back of the mind of old Credence Daily so that when he awoke that morning, he couldn’t help but notice a slight lift in his mood. Considering that Credence’s mood rarely lifted above dejected at any point in the day, let alone in the morning, this was highly unusual. As a result, he came to the decision to bury this misplaced happiness beneath a sense of wariness and open suspicion. Resolved, he continued about his morning routine in his usual rigorous fashion, perhaps even taking a bit of extra care when measuring out each of his cornflakes to make sure they were all exactly the same size.

Getting dressed for work, he selected a tie of neutral brown so that he looked even more unremarkable than usual when he stepped out of his front door to join the heavy stream of expressionless pedestrians. But despite of all of this, that nagging feeling of high spirits continued to buzz at the base of his skull. Even when he spilt his morning coffee on his shoes and when his boss nearly fired him for breaking the fax machine, his light mood remained annoyingly persistent. By midday, Credence was feeling positively cheery. In his desperation to get away from the office, he took an early lunch and headed to his usual dreary lunch-spot in the local park. The park consisted of a bleak toilet block and a bench, with the occasional sickly weed growing out of a crack in the pavement. Security cameras, just like the ones that sat on poles in every part of the city, followed him as he made his way to the bench and began to eat his sandwich.

Suddenly, something quite unaccounted for happened. A bird, albeit a small and slightly bedraggled one, flew from above and landed lightly before Credence’s feet. He watched it with fascination. He’d never seen a bird before, though he had read about them at Education Camp as a boy, and had always thought that they were long extinct. Yet here was one in the flesh. It hopped slightly from foot to foot and stared with beady eyes at Credence’s sandwich. With shaking fingers, he broke off a piece of soggy crust and threw it to the bird. It gobbled it up promptly and gave him a look that almost resembled disgust. At this, a small smile forced its way to the surface and flickered briefly across his lined face.

He jumped to his feet, scandalised. The bird took off into the air with fright at his sudden movement. Credence, in all of his 71 years, had never smiled. His mother, his teachers, everyone had taught him better. Something very, very strange was going on and if anyone found out … Credence swallowed dryly. He hurried from the bench, nearly tripping over in his haste, and moved back into the main street. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and re-joined the stream of pedestrians that buzzed along the footpath. Was it his imagination or did their eyes linger on him for longer than usual? Oh god, they know. The thought spiralled around his mind and he felt his stomach leap with nerves. He needed to get away. At the next junction, Credence broke away from the herd of people and slipped into a deserted side street. A strange, sickly sweet kind of smell rushed to greet him and rocking nausea rose in his stomach. He closed his eyes, trying to calm his wheezy breathing, and leaned against the filthy alley wall.

“Please don’t…”

Credence’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the terrified voice. There was a rustling from a doorway a few paces down the abandoned street and the voice whimpered again.

“Please, I won’t do it again, I swear. Just don’t hurt me.”

Credence felt his heart beat rise in his throat and began to back away from the noise. It was better to not to get involved, in whatever it was, and just leave now. He nodded to himself and began to turn away. But he couldn’t. It was that feeling again. It held him there just long enough to hear a muted cry from the doorway and before he knew it, his legs were carrying him towards the source of the sound. The better part of Credence’s judgement screamed at him to leave, to stay out of trouble, but his legs carried him relentlessly forward. The whimpering voice grew louder in his ears as he moved and seemed to fill his every thought. Picking up a grimy metal trash can lid, he pushed himself up against the wall, silently begging his thundering heart to settle.

“Please…”

Credence spun to face the doorway and clumsily attacked before he even had time to think twice. With a muffled cry, he brought the can lid down on the head of a man who had been standing over the huddled figure of a young girl. The man crumpled to the ground with a slight groan and rolled onto his back so that Credence could see his face. Or rather, his mask. Credence gasped with horror and clutched at his chest as he took in the appearance of the unconscious figure before him. The white uniform, the mask, the tattoo at the nape of the neck … he was an officer of The Federal Enforcement Agency of Redhaven. The F.E.A.R, Credence’s heart dropped. The huddled girl looked up at him with tear-streaked, horrified eyes.

“Run…” she said, her voice shaking

Credence did not need to be told twice. He dropped the can lid with a clatter and stumbled down the street as fast as his old legs would take him. With a fearful glance at a nearby security camera, he ran onto the main thoroughfare. People shouted abuse as he bowled them over but he didn’t care. He just kept moving. There were no sirens, no signs that anyone was after him. But Credence knew better.

He tumbled round a corner, nearly running into a tiny old lady with a shopping trolley. A burning stitch had begun to blossom in Credence’s side and his breath racked against his ribs. Hide… you need to hide. A voice in the back of Credence’s mind guided him through the dark Redhaven streets. Somewhere… anywhere. A dilapidated building rose on his right with Lucky Mattie’s Accounting Firm clumsily blazoned in peeling paint on the cracked shop-front. Credence burst into the building and pushed a broken cabinet against the frame. The smells of damp and decaying wood wormed their way through his thoughts, and Credence stumbled as waves of nausea rolled through him. Desperation coursed around his body and he felt as though a gigantic hole was gaping within his chest. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think. The F.E.A.R would find him. And they would show him no mercy.

As panic began to claw its way up his throat, he fell dry-retching to the termite-eaten floorboards. The acid in his stomach brought tears to his eyes and the hole in his chest seemed to grow wider. Bang! A bone-shaking shudder vibrated through the building, causing plaster dust to fall in spirals from the ceiling. A second bang at the door drew a whimper from Credence’s mouth. He scrambled to his feet. With tears dripping from his chin and his heart beating furiously, he stumbled into the next room, desperately searching for a way out. This room was just as decayed as the rest of the building and was completely empty, except for a rotting wardrobe crouching gloomily in the corner. It was his only hope.

Credence scurried to the wardrobe and clambered his way inside. Barely a moment after he pulled the doors shut, he heard the splintering sound of the front door being smashed open. Fear gripped him. Credence shoved a gnarled hand over his mouth to stop himself from crying out. He slid quietly down the back of the wardrobe, fixing his wide terrified eyes on the swinging moth-eaten clothing that hung above his head. Several sets of quiet footsteps, betrayed by the soft creak of old floorboards, grew more pronounced as they drew near Credence’s hiding place. Credence screwed his eyes shut. An insane compulsion to scream, to cry out against the terror clutching at his heart, filled him but he bit down hard on his tongue to stop himself. He waited for the inevitable and concentrated on the sounds around him. Silence, except for the hammering of his heart.

Slam! The wardrobe flung open with a force that nearly ripped it from its hinges.  Credence yelped in fear and tried to scramble to his feet as a pair of cold hands clutched for him. A featureless white mask concealed his attacker’s identity. For all Credence knew, there wasn’t even a face behind that merciless mask. The officer clamped a gloved hand around Credence’s arm and he cried out in pain as the bones of his wrist were crushed. In desperation, he tried to kick out but the Officer brushed off his pitiful attacks and yanked him out into the light. Credence crumpled to the floor, clutching his wrist with his head down, as other hurried footsteps entered the room. This was it. This was the end. Fat tears rolled from the corners of his eyes. The Officers of The F.E.A.R circled his huddled form. He heard the terrible clicking sound of a gun being loaded and swallowed dryly. Please… Just let it be over, he begged silently. Please…

 

~

 

Credence’s mind was far from his body. He floated loosely in a hazy light that seemed to fill every part of him. He couldn’t remember how or why he’d left but in truth, he didn’t really care. It was just good to be away. Faded memories hung around the edges of his consciousness, jumping slyly from his grasp whenever Credence tried to pull them into focus. He kept up the chase though, chuckling as their wriggling forms continued to dance away from him. As time passed, the game gradually became easier and the details of the memories grew sharper. The enormous figures of a bird and an old wardrobe were the clearest, smiling down at him with huge, shifting faces.

“Wake up! We need to get out of here!” they chorused together.

Credence frowned at them, explaining politely that there was nowhere else in the world he’d rather be. But the bird and wardrobe paid no attention to his words.

“Wake up!” they repeated, sounding slightly more anxious.

Memories were rushing towards him now, pushing and shoving for a chance to be seen. A run-down building, a broken fax machine… meaningless images flickered through Credence’s mind. The memories were shouting now. They hollered at Credence as he tried to make sense of what they were saying.

“Calm down, calm down. One at a time, please,” he muttered distractedly, trying to push the memories back. But there were too many of them. They clamoured over him, swamping his mind with random pictures and nearly suffocating him beneath their weight. 

“WAKE UP, OLD MAN!” the giant figures of the bird and the wardrobe yelled over the rabble. Suddenly, Credence felt himself being pulled helplessly from beneath the pile of struggling memories. A sharp streak of pain flashed across his face, and then he was tumbling, away from the hazy realm of his memories. He fell directly into a place of darkness, where a dozen aches and pains pounced on him with delight. It was almost as though they’d been waiting for his return. This, Credence grudgingly recalled, was why he’d left his body in the first place. He groaned. Cracking open one groggy eye, he flinched with surprise as a shadowy face beamed down at him with wild eyes.

“Sorry about the slap, old man, but we really need to get out of here,” said the young man to whom the face belonged.

Credence absent-mindedly touched his stinging face and looked around in confusion. He was lying on a cold stone floor. The grimy metal bars of a gaol cell were just visible in the half-light and the powerful smell of earth told Credence that he was far underground. A crippling sense of claustrophobia filled him. Ever since he was a boy, he’d always hated the idea of going underground since hearing the stories of cave-ins from the old Redhaven coal miners. Credence took a deep breath, gathering his bearings.

“Who the hell are you?” he croaked, eyeing the young man warily.

“My name’s Dietrich O’Connell and I’m here to save your life.”

Dietrich grinned widely. As he helped Credence to his feet, more pains awoke and he stumbled. Dietrich sighed, before hoisting Credence’s small frame over his shoulder and carrying him out of the cell. If Credence had had the energy, he would have protested violently at the indignity of being carried, but he was far too exhausted.

Dietrich said nothing as he walked into the passage outside of the cell but Credence gasped, nearly tumbling from his precarious position. A scene of carnage lay before them. Dozens of mangled bodies lay along the passage way, twisted into unnatural positions. It took Credence a while to recognise them as Officers of The F.E.A.R due to the dark blood stains that tainted their uniforms. He gagged, willing himself not to throw up, as Dietrich strolled nonchalantly through the sea of corpses.

“Are you alright, old man?” Dietrich asked, accidently stepping in a puddle of partially-congealed blood.

“Don’t call me that,” Credence said absentmindedly and a feeling of light-headedness swooped down on him. Oh god … he thought, as he spiralled into unconsciousness.

 

~

 

Credence jolted awake, lurching away from the faceless bloodied figures that had haunted his dreams.

“Careful there. We wouldn’t want you hurting yourself, old man.”

The face of Dietrich O’Connell peered in from a doorway, grinning broadly. Light filtered into the room from an open window, and Credence could see Dietrich’s illuminated features for the first time.  He couldn’t have been older than 25, but deep lines tracked across his forehead like map lines. His grin, which seemed to make regular appearances, showed off straight white teeth and caused his wide eyes to crinkle softly around the edges. He stepped into the room, still smiling. Credence could see that his clothes were unlike any he’d ever seen. Fitting comfortably to his slim frame was a suit, fashioned from a satiny material of the richest purple imaginable, and his tie was adorned with colourful swirls and outrageous patterns. Dietrich crossed the sparsely furnished room and sat on the edge of the cot that Credence had been sleeping in.

“How are you holding up? Are you still in pain?” he asked, concerned.

“Who are you?” Credence asked suspiciously.

“I told you who I am.”

“You told me your name, but I still have no idea who you are,” Credence said coldly

Dietrich sighed and shifted his position on the cot so that he could see Credence better.

“I’m what you might call a revolutionary, against the tyranny of The F.E.A.R,” he said darkly. “I am the leader of a group of like-minded people. We are the ones who are willing to do what it takes to destroy The F.E.A.R.”

“Whatever it takes?” Credence scoffed, thinking of the scene of carnage that had greeted him upon leaving his cell “Even murder?”

A shadow of annoyance flickered across Dietrich’s face.

“Casualties are a part of war.”

“You’re a terrorist,” Credence spat.

“I saved your life, you know. The F.E.A.R would have eventually tortured you to death if I hadn’t come for you. You might try being a little less hostile.”

Eventually? Credence thought back to his terrifying encounter with the Officers of The F.E.A.R and frowned. Why would they have shot him with a tranquiliser dart as opposed to a bullet? Why would they spare him after what he had done?

“I know what you’re thinking,” said Dietrich, “Why would The F.E.A.R spare you, only to kill you later? Because you are a threat they’ve never seen before, my friend. Something happened to you, didn’t it? Something changed, yes?”

“You won’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

Credence swallowed. He bit his tongue, but the words poured out of him regardless.

“I was… happy. I felt good for the first time in… well, ever. I helped someone… a girl… I have no idea why. But I couldn’t stop myself.”

To his surprise, Dietrich smiled broadly.

“It’s really happening, then,” Dietrich laughed, joyously.

“What is?”

“The change, my friend. Things are changing now. They can’t control it, they can’t stop it. You aren’t the only one that’s feeling the change. It’s contagious,” he said, his eyes glinting. In that moment, Credence thought he saw something dark in those eyes. Anger? Madness? He looked again but Dietrich was smiling, and the flash of darkness was gone.

“People aren’t going to take it anymore. The oppression, the suffering… the people are ready for a revolution. And I am the one to lead it,” Dietrich continued.

Credence opened his mouth to respond, to call the very idea of a revolution ridiculous, but his voice faltered. For some reason, what Dietrich was saying made sense. Things had been changing – within the people, within the day to day running of things. Not huge dramatic changes, just little things. Small signs that people were starting to feel again.

“You are a part of that change, old man. The F.E.A.R captured you because they couldn’t just kill you; they needed to break you first. That’s what has given them their power all along,” Dietrich said, “but it was never meant to last. You know that. You’ve always known that. And together, we can stop them.”

“They will come for anyone who tries to stop them,” Credence said quietly.

Once again, Dietrich smiled broadly. He rose to his feet and stepped into the circle of light from the window, turning to face Credence.

“I’m counting on it, old man.”

“Don’t call me that,” Credence grumbled, but rose to his feet and extended a gnarled hand. Dietrich stared at the hand for a moment, before clasping it in a firm grip.

“Together, we can stop them” he said again, smiling broadly as he shook Credence’s hand.

Advertisements

The Victor of the 27th Hunger Games…

MORNING

I wake with a start, peering up at the sky from underneath frosted lashes. The coppery smell of blood meets me with a rush and an unsettled feeling grows in my stomach. Today is going to be a day of carnage. Even the dawn is violent; long streaks of red cloud line the horizon as the sun prepares itself to rise. I turn to Harlow, who is still curled on the icy ground, and I watch her as she sleeps. Only one can win, I think sadly. As though she can hear my thoughts,Harlow stirs slightly and opens her eyes. When she sees me, she smiles and sits up, yawning widely. I return her smile and reach for my pack, removing the remaining food we have and dividing it up. We eat breakfast silently, concentrating on each mouthful as though it is our very last.

 

When our bellies are full, we gather our possessions and quietly crawl out of the patch of bushes. Stepping into the bright Cornucopia clearing, a horrific sight meets our eyes. Partially hidden in the vegetation, I can see the mauled corpses of two of the remaining tributes. They appear to have been ripped to shreds by some sort of beast, their blood turning the surrounding blanket of snow crimson. We walk past them, trying to avoid looking at their faces. “Three of us left,”Harlowsays quietly. We move into the jungle and sit down on a log with a clear view of the Cornucopia. “There is one more tribute out there and they are going to be looking for a fight” I tellHarlow. Neither of us says what we’re both thinking: one of us is going to have to die for this nightmare to end. Instead, we distract ourselves by preparing our weapons. I am sharpening my knives andHarlowis cleaning Terlum’s spear when I am suddenly struck by an idea. “The Nerve-agent!” I say in excitement, rummaging through my pack.Harlow’s brow creases with confusion as she watches me fumble. “Remember the Nerve-agent that I used on the piranhas? I still have some. If we dip our weapons in this, all we need to do is cut the other tribute and they will be immobilised” I say, withdrawing the flask containing the purple concoction from my pack.Harlow’s face lights up and she eagerly immerses the tip of Terlum’s spear in the liquid. I do the same with my daggers and long blade, being careful not accidently cut myself in the process. With our weapons prepared, we settle back into wait. We keep our eyes locked on the Cornucopia, watching for the mysterious remaining tribute. Hours tick by slowly, our thumping hearts punctuating the passing seconds. Eventually, we can take the tension no longer. We rise to our feet, keeping our weapons at the ready, and steadily move into the open Cornucopia clearing.

 

The sun light beats viciously down upon us, melting the surrounding snow. Harlow and I move to the centre of the clearing, beside the Cornucopia, and stand back to back. Suddenly, a whooshing noise sounds, causing me to turn in alarm. I see a glint of silver and I hear a groan beside me asHarlowdoubles over. I whirl on my heel, turning to face my ally, and my stomach lurches. A spear protrudes fromHarlow’s chest, its sparkling tip winking in the sunlight. She looks at me with wide eyes and a trickle of blood runs from the corner of her mouth. “No…” I whisper helplessly, and I lunge to her side as she falls to her knees. “For Terlum…” she chokes, and falls forward onto the ground. My mind reels with shock as I watch my last friend in this wretched Arena die. Tears rush to my eyes, threatening to spill, but I furiously blink them back. That’s when I hear I noise from behind me, and I turn to see the final tribute standing with a sad smile on her face.

 

I draw my long blade, whirling it into the air and catching it. Just one cut, I think and lunge for her. As quick as lightening, she dodges to the side, drawing a small knife. She darts forward, snicking my cheek and I grunt with pain. As she tries to move back again, I lash out a kick into her knee and bring her crashing to the ground. I am just about to plunge my knife into her chest, when she rolls to the side and stumbles to her feet. She punches me in the stomach and I feel the air whoosh from my lungs. I double over, gasping for air, as she whirls a round-house kick into the side of my head. I collapse onto the ground, breathing raggedly. The impact with has left me temporarily blinded and has knocked my blade from my hand. Roll, my instincts tell me and I obey. I scramble on all fours, blindly searching the ground for my blade. My heart thunders in my ears, and I hear the crunching of snow as the remaining tribute moves towards me. Suddenly, the cold blade of my knife bumps against my fingers and I snatch it up. I jump to my feet and spin to face her general direction. Calm, I tell myself, you can do this. It’s just like when you were blindfolded in the training room. Time itself seems to slow. I breathe in deeply, desperately trying to calm my racing heart, and I line my long blade in my hand. In my mind’s eye, I picture the final tribute as she charges towards me. For Terlum and Harlow… I think and throw the blade with all my might. I hear a gasp of pain, a thud and then all is silent.

 

Slowly, I feel my vision returning and I blink rapidly as shapes begin to come into focus. Before me lies the remaining tribute, my knife buried in her neck and a look of surprise frozen on her face. Slowly, the meaning of her death sinks in and a jolt passes across my heart. I am alive. I am exhausted and I am broken, but I am alive. This single thought overwhelms me and a wave of sobs crash across my shoulders. I collapse to the ground as the tears pour from my eyes, melting the snow where they land. I pour the death and the hatred I have seen in this Arena into my sobs, hugging myself as though I might split at the seams. The harsh sun continues to beat down on my neck and the cut on my cheek continues to bleed, but I ignore them. I can only weep, for my friends, for my family and for the fallen, as a booming voice announces that I, Leigh Walk-lily, am the victor of the 27th Hunger Games…

 

Survival appeal:

Dear Queen Hewes and members of the Capitol,

 

Initially, my chances of survival were 1 in 26. Now, they are 1 in three. I am going to show you why I should be the tribute who survives.

 

My name is Leigh Walk-lily and I am one of the three remaining tributes in the 27th Hunger games. In the beginning, I managed to impress the Game Makers by earning a training score of 19/20. Even though I was initially targeted as a threat, I have managed to survive until now. While this is partially due to luck, it is mainly because of my survival skills in the Arena. For the past 13 days, I have over come a destructive cyclone, a vicious tiger attack, Needle-wasps, a raging fire, an elephant stampede, carnivorous plants, a poisonous flood, an attack from killer birds, tracker-jackers, an earthquake, deadly sinkholes, a shape-shifting snake, a drought, a black-out and a freeze. I have lost friends, and yet I have remained strong and determined enough to survive. I have also healed myself and my allies by using my knowledge and understanding of my environment. Throughout these games, I have successfully kept my journal up to date and I have made my entries as exciting and entertaining as possible. Because of this, my creative writing skills have been allowed to develop and flourish. I have also made videos and Voki animations of my experiences to entertain the Capitol. All in all, I feel that I have demonstrated by ability to survive these Games. Thank you for your time.

 

Leigh Walk-lily

The Darkness and The Freeze- Day 13

MORNING

The chirps from birds around me muddle with my dreams, convincing me that I am back in District 10. However, my mind slowly crawls back into reality and the images of my home fade, leaving only glowing traces on the backs of my eyelids.  Sighing gently, I move to sit up but I find that all the energy seems to have seeped from my body. My limbs are heavy and all I want to do is fall straight back asleep. I force myself up, groaning with the effort as my tired body struggles to hold my weight. My brain feels hazy, as though I have a fog hanging behind my eyes. Frowning with confusion, I look to see Harlow having the same problem. “What’s happening?” I ask, my words slurring together from the mere effort of speaking. Suddenly, the now familiar booming voice rings clearly across the Arena:

“Announcement: Oxygen levels have been depleted throughout the Arena. If you want to survive, get to the Cornucopia as soon as possible. This is where the most oxygen is. Also, water supplies are slowly returning. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favour.”

Harlow looks at me, shaking her head as she tries to clear her thoughts. “Cornucopia…” she mutters. We very slowly grab our packs, moving at a sloth’s pace as our brains muddle from the lack of oxygen, and clumsily climb out of the tree. Just before I reach the bottom, my heavy arms betray me, letting go and sending me crashing to the ground. I try to get back to my feet but the strain is too much for me. I just want to lie here and fall asleep… No! Sleep means death, a voice in the back of my head whispers. I try to shut it out, wanting to embrace the exhaustion that engulfs me. No, insists the voice, remember your vow. You must fight! This thought fills me, urging me to get to my feet. I very slowly drag myself up, Harlow helping me as best she can in her tired state. “Cornucopia…” she repeats. I nod, my head feeling as though it is under water, and we begin to walk through the dense jungle towards the Cornucopia clearing. In our oxygen-deprived states, it is impossible for us to follow the passage of time. We just keep moving, knowing that we will be fine if we can reach the clearing before we fall unconscious. As we draw closer, the fog in my mind begins to lift. Moving is getting easier and my thoughts become sharper with every step.  I shake the tiredness from my limbs and suck in deep breaths as the oxygen-levels rise.

Eventually, we reach the very edge of the Cornucopia clearing. Our bodies now free of exhaustion, we huddle in the bushes with our senses acutely tuned for other tributes. Harlow turns to me and nods, raising her weapon. I draw my long blade and follow her lead as she rushes out into the clearing, keeping low. When we are satisfied that the clearing is empty, we relax our stances. However, we keep our weapons at the ready in case of a sudden confrontation. Harlow moves to the cornucopia and I shadow her, watching her back. She rifles within, searching for any helpful items. “It’s full of winter coats and snow boots,” she says, holding up an overcoat in confusion. “I’d say this is a clue about tonight’s events,” I say. Suddenly, a crackling noise fills the air and the world is plunged into darkness. I reel back, gasping as the thick blackness presses against me. A sharp plummet in the temperature, leaving me temporarily stunned from the cold, accompanies the darkness. The shock from the temperature change very nearly knocks me unconscious, but I manage to cling on to the confusing world around me. The initial shock soon passes and a wave of shivers rack my body, sending me spiralling in the darkness. I am trying to regain my footing when a blinding light sends daggers of pain shooting through my head. After a few seconds of confusion, I open my adjusting eyes to see the Cornucopia illuminated.  The winter items sit comfortably in the glow and I can see that this is the only light source in the entire Arena. Suddenly, realisation hits me. They are forcing the tributes from the jungle, driven by their need for warmth, into the clearing.

“Oh no… ” Harlow says, rubbing her stinging eyes. “This place is going to be flooded with tributes soon! We have to grab what we can and run,” I shout, fighting off another wave of shivers. With numb fingers, we pull winter coats over us and collect oxygen-canisters from within the Cornucopia. The snap freeze has turned the moisture in the air to frost, leaving small ice crystals over every surface. We gather our new items and run furiously into the darkness, just as it begins to snow. When we are away from the light of the Cornucopia, the night consumes us and leaves us groping around the edges of the clearing. Harlow and I hold on to each other, fearful that we might get lost in this thick darkness. With my eyesight disabled, my other senses guide me to a small patch of bushes at the edge of the Cornucopia clearing. “We can’t stay here! It’s way to risky!” Harlow says, and I can hear her teeth chattering from the cold. “We don’t have a choice! Were just going to have to pray that we don’t get found.” I whisper, pushing my way into the depths of the bush’s foliage. Harlow hesitates, and then joins me. She hands me an oxygen canister and I clamp it to my face, breathing deeply. We huddle together in the cold as the snow falls in spirals on our numb faces. We can see the glow of the Cornucopia quite clearly from our position and watch as one by one, the remaining tributes stalk through the snow to claim the items within. As soon as they are rugged up, they stole away into the darkness of the jungle. I try as best I can to remember their names and districts but the cold sabotages my attempts. Five of us left… I think numbly.

Curling up on the frozen ground, I snug up in my coat. Harlow lies beside me, and through the darkness I can hear her breathing. We are hidden well enough but that doesn’t make me feel any less exposed. Being so close to the Cornucopia is frightening; this was the place where this nightmare began and is most likely to end. I shut my eyes against the darkness, swallowing as the frost rips the moisture from my throat. Tonight, my head is empty of thoughts and so my exhausted body quickly relaxes. In a matter of minutes, the sensation of snow falling on my face fades away and I am sent tumbling into the depths of sleep…

The Drought- Day 12

MORNING

 

I wake, yawning gently in the dull light, and the memory of Terlum’s death hits me like a bullet. My head rocking, I choke a gasp, and I decide to move before I wake Harlow. I remove my leaf-blanket and swing to the ground, noticing how warm the jungle is this morning even though the sun has not yet risen. I walk slowly, keeping my eye out for other tributes, and breathe deeply to calm my racing heart. As I move, I catch sight of my hands. My Needle-wasp sting has died down but my palms are black with dirt. I look worriedly at the sky as the sun peeps its head over the horizon and I decide to quickly wash the muck from my hands beforeHarlowwakes. Thoughts of Terlum reel through my mind as I move towards the freshwater spring. As I walk, I notice that the ground is surprisingly dry and that several of the nearby plants are looking unhealthy.

Eventually, I arrive and step through the tree line to the spring beyond. I halt in surprise when I notice that the spring is empty, and that the earth around it is cracked and dry. I frown with confusion, moving to a near by fern and wiping my hands on its leaves. Contemplating the empty spring, I head back towards our tree as the birdcalls signify the rising of the sun. I climb the tree as silently as I can and sit quietly on the end of the bough. I don’t want to wake my still-sleeping ally and invite questions about my morning venture. From my vantage point, I can see the Cornucopia glowing under the dawn-light. I know that we must venture there soon to face the rest of the tributes. I am still thinking about the other tributes whenHarlowsnaps awake. She cries out, her eyes glazed with sleep, and she sucks in a ragged breath. I move to her side and put a hand on her shoulder to stabilize her. “It was just a dream,” I say. “Terlum…” she whispers, and I feel a jolt pass my heart when I remember for the billionth time that he is dead. “I know,” I say “We’re going to be alright”. Suddenly, a booming voice fills the Arena, scaring the birds around us into flight:

“Announcement: all water sources have been suspended until further notice. If you don’t have water supplies, you may have to fight for them. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

Harlow and I look at each other in alarm. We both hurry to our packs, rummaging through until we locate our water flasks. “They’re all fill to the brim after yesterday. And we have Terlum’s as well. This should last us for at least three days” I say. “I can’t take this anymore. When will this end?”Harlowsays, leaning back against the tree trunk. I look her directly in the eyes and smile softly. “Soon. We’ll spend today gathering our strength and training. Tomorrow we move to the Cornucopia. There are only a few of us left now.” I say.

Before we leave our tree, we eat a hearty breakfast of roots and rats meat. With our bellies full, we gather our weapons and move our separate ways, agreeing to meet back at sunset. Heading off into the jungle, I decide to find a quiet place where I can practice my knife skills. As I walk, I notice that the heat of the day is intense, but I dare not drink too much water. Eventually, I come to a small clearing surrounded by a ring of sturdy trees. Smiling, I slip off my pack and move to the centre. I line my hand with my five smallest daggers, close my eyes and breathe in the earthy smells. I feel my heart slow as I try to imagine where each tree is. Spinning on my heel, I whirl in a circle and flick each knife one at a time. I open my eyes when I come to rest and grin widely. Each one of my daggers is shuddering slightly, buried deep within the wood of a separate tree. Still smiling, I move to collect them and repeat the exercise. After an hour or so, I replace my daggers and withdraw my long, serrated blade. I pick one of the trees at random and practice my close-combat. I am not nearly as good as I am at knife-throwing, but as the time passes, I begin to improve.

Colour seeps into the sky as the sun begins to fall, so I gather my things and move back towards our tree. When I arrive, Harlow is waiting, her trident balanced across her shoulder. Together, we carefully climb our tree and eat a quick meal. As night falls, the temperature plummets and so we huddle against each other for warmth. Eventually,Harlowfalls asleep but the comfort of unconsciousness evades me. My mind feels wired despite the fact that the day has exhausted my body. As I sit in the darkness, I realise how close the ending truly is. There are only a few remaining tributes which means that there are mere days before the final showdown. 26 of us entered this Arena. Only one can leave. I smile to myself and make a silent vow. No matter how hard things become in these next few days, I promise myself, I will fight. There is no giving up now. Holding this beam of hope in my mind, I gently shut my eyes as sleep carries me away…

 

The Shape Shifter- Day 11

MORNING

A sweet tune lifts me from my sleep and I smile when a see a small green parrot sitting on our branch, calling in the morning with its song. It eyes me warily when I sit up, but it doesn’t fly away. I whistle gently, and the parrot hops along the bough towards me. It continues to chirp happily, inching closer to my outstretched hand. Suddenly a loud beeping noise sounds and the parrot darts away in terror. It takes two steps and takes off, squawking as it flies for its life. I look around for the source of the beeping when I catch sight of a small silver parachute floating through the air towards me, emitting the sound. The parachute comes to rest in the nearby foliage and I move towards it. A gift from a sponsor!  I open the small container attached to the parachute and cover my mouth as a rich smell meets me. Within is some sort of cooked meat, dotted with spices. I instantly recognise the meat as rat meat; my father sold them in his butchers shop. Tied to the container is a small note: keep your strength up. I reseal the container, disconnect it from the parachute and place it in my pack just as Terlum approaches me from behind. “I didn’t hear you wake” I say. “What’s the parachute for?” he asks, yawning. “It’s a gift from a sponsor: rat’s meat stew. We’ll eat it this afternoon” I reply. He nods and moves to wake up Harlow. When the three of us are up, we grab our packs and carefully climb out of the tree. “Let’s split up. I’ll go and get more water; you guys stay here” Harlow says, moving off into the surrounding jungle. Terlum and I sit on the moist ground awaiting her return. “You know what? I think we have a good chance” Terlum says, turning to me and smiling. “Sure. We’ve come this far right?” I say, laughing. We chat idly, waiting for Harlow’s return. Time passes quickly and soon the midday sun is beating down on our necks.

“I’d better go and check on Harlow. I won’t be long” I tell Terlum. He nods but I can see in his eyes that he doesn’t feel comfortable being alone. I resolve to return quickly and move off into the surrounding jungle. The morning bird song has ceased, leaving the chirps of crickets and cicadas to fill the jungle. I walk hurriedly and eventually come to a nearby river. Harlow is standing by the bank, putting the last of our now-full flasks back in her pack. “Sorry I took so long. I got lost” Harlow says sheepishly when she sees me. Suddenly, a terrified scream rocks the jungle, causing birds to soar from their perches in fright. “Terlum!” I say, bolting back towards him with Harlow in close pursuit. We whip branches aside, hurriedly rushing towards our ally as a second scream sounds. When we arrive, the sight we see stops us in our tracks.  Harlow Lilywalk is standing next to Terlum with her hands around his throat. I gasp, looking in confusion at the real Harlow behind me and my stomach drops. The Harlow-copy whips around when she hears us, still clinging to Terlum’s throat and her face begins to ripple. She releases Terlum and grins widely as her skin slides to the ground, leaving behind shimmering, gold scales. Her body elongates, her limbs fusing together, and her pupils turn to sharp slits. In the Harlow-copy’s wake lies an enormous snake, with black diamond shapes dotting its stomach. It hisses and turns on Terlum, its yellow eyes cold and hungry. “NO!!” Harlow screams, and we both lunge forward. The shape-shifting snake bats us both aside with a swipe of its thick tail, hissing furiously. We both leap to our feet but it is far too late. Terlum screams in horror as the gigantic snake clamps its mouth over his head. He is gone in an instant, sucked into the belly of the horrific creature. “TERLUM!!” I scream, drawing my knife and lunging for the snake. It beats me aside again and slithers off into the jungle, as quick as lightening. I desperately try to follow it but Harlow puts a hand on my wrist. “There is nothing we can do” she says, her eyes filled with an impossible sadness.

I sob and sink to the ground, clutching at the ground as I shake in grief. Harlow joins me, her own eyes brimming with tears. My mind is numb with disbelief. He can’t be gone! Any moment, he’s going to come around the corner. He will be smiling and laughing like nothing happened. Sobs rack my body as I fix my tear dulled eyes on the spot where my imagination tells me that my friend will appear but he never does.  Harlow recovers first, standing shakily and dragging me to my feet. “We’re too exposed. We have to move.” She says, her voice thick with tears. We stumble back through the jungle, pausing to pick up Terlum’s pack. Harlow guides me -stabilises me- as my mind tumbles in circles. He can’t be dead, he can’t be dead, I think over and over again. Eventually, we come to our tree and clumsily climb to the tree bough where we slept last night. Neither of us speaks; we are caught in the turmoil of our own private grief. We eat some of the rat stew and roots but I don’t taste it at all. It could be cardboard for all I care. After dinner, we wrap up in our separate leaf-blankets and huddle against the trunk. Shutting my eyes, I desperately try to block out the images of Terlum’s death. I don’t even notice when the glowing face of my friend lights up the sky, alerting the other remaining tributes to his demise. I just keep my eyes firmly closed, pleading with myself to fall asleep. And just like that, my mind gives up, sending me spiralling into unconsciousness.