The train grinding on the tracks rattled my bones as the quiet squeal of the wheels stung my ears. I kept my eyes on the flaky pastry tearing apart at the pull of my grimy finger tips, with tiny pieces of grain stuck underneath my nails, trying to figure out if I was angry or depressed. Without even having to look over my shoulder I could tell that Jaz was furious though I haven’t heard her speak since the car ride. I was surprised that she even left her room at all.
Turing my mind back over to my bread I tore off a thin piece that looked almost like the tip of a small sickle and brought it to my mouth. The buttery flake seemed to melt on my tongue as the flavour turned into a scent that drifted into my nose. Back at home my dad used to make bread all of the time but never like this. I wonder how much more the capitol keeps from us.
As I was stuffing my face with the buttery pastry Jaz slapped her bony hands down on the table and pushed herself back. She stood up out of the gorgeously crafted chair and marched out of the dining room with the door slamming behind her. My eyes were wide open from the suddenness of the scene although I guess I should have expected that from her.
I set down the remains of the bread and got up to follow her. My nerves kicked in as I pushed open the big metal door and caught a glimpse of Jaz’s long straggly chocolate hair. She was sitting with her legs crossed and her head tilted towards the window. I hesitated just as I entered the room then approached her trying not to step too loudly and draw in her attention. I instinctively grabbed the chair next to her and sat back trying way too hard not to look at her.
“What do you want?” She spoke softly and without breaking her stare at the tunnels ahead.
“Nothing...really...I just thought I would say something if we were going to be spending the next little while together.”
“You don't have to.” Jaz turned her head and looked at me with her brown eyes crawling into my soul. “I’m sure you care about me as much as you care about that stubby, black, table in the corner.” Her tone was sharp and cut at my mind as I tried to find something, anything, to say.
“Well, I mean I don't really know you.”
“Good.” Her words shocked me as I shook my head a little. “That means that this whole thing will be a little less painful for the both of us.” She turned back to the window as the shimmering city came into view.
The tall glamorous buildings and beautiful blue body of water was quite overwhelming compared to the wheat field that I call home. My mouth opened a little as I tried to take in the bright images rolling by. Jaz seemed unphased by the tall slate stone tower and the giant stark white bridge that passed by and was oddly underwhelmed by the metal domes and luxurious streets. I had never expected to ever see such sights in my life. The capitol was nothing like I had expected.
For the next ten minutes I sat like a statue mesmerized by the capitol and all of its wacky citizens. It felt like a dream being here but I was pulled back into reality when we were shouted at by our mentors as we arrived at the station. Suddenly a pit formed in my stomach that made me realize just why I had never wanted an opportunity to see this city.
The second I stepped off of the train I was being shoved and pulled towards a glass building so tall I couldn't see the top from where I was standing. I shuffled along the concrete ground with my eyes still glued to the building. Every tinted panel of glass was sparkling as the sun peaked out from the edge of the tower glaring at me. Just then I brought my gaze back down to what was happening in front of me and saw the largest doors I had ever seen. They were dark yet they shone brightly as I was aggressively ushered through them into a large room.
The inside of the building was just as spectacular as the outside. My head couldn't stop turning trying to take in as much as I could but we didn’t stay there for much longer than thirty seconds. As I was, again being pushed, we walked towards a long hall and had turned around trying to find Jaz. I wondered if she had already tried to run away yet. After my heart began to race I saw her sneering at the man ushering her over my left shoulder. I exhaled quietly, relieved that they hadn’t split me up from the only person I know here. When I brought my attention back to the long and brightly lit hallway I noticed a door open inwards on the right. A lady with dark purple hair tied up in a circular bun on the top of her head and sharp, pointy, nails walked out and stood with her arms crossed. The man pushing me stopped a meter in front of her and left down the hall. I looked up at her in confusion as she reached out and wrapped her hand around my forearm making it look tanned and dirt coated compared to her porcelain complexion.
The second I entered the room there was a distinct, foreign smell that made me scrunch up my nose. Along with the strong scent came a shiver up my spine and standing hairs on the back of my neck. Over in the corner of the room was a man with surprisingly normal looking blonde hair, partly hidden behind a grey curtain, with a large tattoo of what I can only say is a pair of angel wings on his upper right shoulder. He turned around to meet my eyes and pointed towards the stone table against the wall. Without question I sat down noticing the coolness of the metal and saw the purple haired lady approach me.
“Undress and put this on.” She spoke excitedly and shoved a sky blue dress in my face and dropped it on the table. “We will get started on your make over in just a few seconds!”
The next hour was a painful blur of being poked and prodded with sharp, sticky, shiny tools. I may have even fallen unconscious during the plucking but the ice cold water shooting at my face brought me back every time. As soon as the session stopped another strange man walked into my curtained off room and peered down at my face. He had a black moustache with twirled ends and bright green eyes that almost seemed to glow.
“Hello.” He spoke sternly and continued scanning my body. “Looks like your prep team outdid themselves. That makes my job a lot easier.” He put his hands on his hips and turned back to me. “Well, what are you waiting for?” His tone was somewhat cheerful. “Get up and follow me. We’ve got a lot to discuss.”
At the mention of leaving the cold, hard table I got up abruptly and practically threw myself down onto the ground stepping closely behind the tall strange man. We walked out of the room and further down the hall feeling the slight breeze tickle my skin covered only by the thin papery dress. We continued down the hall all the way up to a white door with a beautiful crystal handle. The room we entered was dark with navy painted walls and velvet cushioned chairs. The man gestured for me to sit while he crossed his legs and cleared his throat.
“So, before we get started I will introduce myself.” As kind as his words were, I could tell he was anything but interested in having a decent conversation with me. “I’m Demetrius, your personal stylist for the games and may I just say congratulations for making it here.”
“...Thanks.” My voice was no louder than a mutter.
“Alright!” He sounded squeaky like the lady with the purple hair. “Let's talk about your outfit for tonight. So I was thinking that you would wear a crown made of strands of wheat! Thats what district nine is right?”
I nodded and worried what kind of crazy ideas he had in mind for me.
“Great. I also wanted to make sure that both tributes from nine should be matching. It would look silly to be in different outfits. So I thought that the both of you could wear outfits that would be covered in grains! How about that?”
Later that night I found myself standing in a beige sleeveless shirt and pants covered in literal grains and a wheat crown tied around my head. I brought my hand up to touch the crown and brushed my fingers along thin, scratchy, strands of wheat wrapped around a smooth metal band. I have never felt more ridiculous in my entire life. Looking over at Jaz, seemingly about to burst in fury, I had to bite my cheek to stop myself from laughing.
Just around the corner I saw a wooden chariot pulled by two gorgeous horses the same colours as our outfits.
“Alright you guys!” Demetrius rubbed his hands together ecstatically. “Your time has come!” He motioned aggressively for us to step onto the chariot and seemed as though he would have pushed us on if we didn’t move that second. “Okay, so when the crowd sees you smile big and make sure to wave. Remember, you want people to like you.”
Just seconds later the tug of the chariot moving again jerked Jaz and I back forcing us to grip the edge for balance. I looked back at Demetrius one last time feeling as though he’d let us off this thing and saw him move his forefingers along the corners of his mouth as he smiled. I turned to face the front and was almost deafened by the screams of the crowd.
As soon as our chariot rolled into the open, the lights almost blinded me and the audience was overwhelming. Some of them were tossing flowers at us. As we were just about to reach the circle where all of the chariots paused I could hear my heart beat in my ear and the heavy breaths fall out of my mouth. Just then I caught a glimpse of the district four tributes stopped at the edge just after the circle. They had their hair slicked back with fish pins in it and wore great big smiles. Oh shoot, that's right, I have to smile. Just then I smiled bigger than I ever have before and raised my left hand and waved it for everyone to see.
A few moments later our parade came to a halt. I looked around and saw everyone else stare up at the head of the circle, even the crowd. I followed their gaze and found myself staring at the president looking down on us. Once everyone’s attention was all pointed at the front a voice boomed around the large room and rattled my brain. I only heard a few words muffled through the microphone before my mind went blank.
The audience’s screaming and cheering filled my mind back up with immense fear and strangely enough, exhilaration. Before I knew it our chariot was jerking us around the circle and back towards the entrance.
Once I stepped off of the high wooden platform I noticed Jaz stride through the rest of the tributes and turn a corner. I was really hoping someone would have told me where to go or what to do but there was no one else in the room except for the other tributes. I nervously searched around for any clue of where I was supposed to be and found my legs moving towards the exit following after Jaz. On my way to leave the room I had to push and squeeze past the male tribute from one, three, and the female from twelve. While I was mid squeeze, I looked over and saw the blonde haired boy from one look me up and down and scowl. His eyes were a beautiful shade of blue and had a nearly flawless complexion. The second I noticed him open his mouth of pearly white teeth to say something I walked away as fast as I could.
Finally I made it around the corner and chased down Jaz through the hall. When I caught up to her she was waiting impatiently with her arms crossed and back towards the wall at the lift. As soon as the doors opened she stepped inside and reached her arm out to touch the keypad but froze when she caught sight of me walking towards her. It was quite awkward for the both of us once the door shut blocking out everything else.
“That was quite a show, huh?” I glanced at her as I swayed my arms down by my grainy pants.
“Yeah,” She turned around and stared out the glass wall. “it sure was.”
I wasn’t sure what to say next but I refused to stay silent. This could be the last person I ever talk to.
“So...what are you thinking of trying first at training tomorrow?”
“You don't have to fill the silence.” Her tone was strict and sharp slicing through my soft words. “Were not friends.”
“Well why can't we be?” I don't know why that came out so high pitched and desperate.
Jaz turned towards me and looked up to meet my eyes with her arms unraveling by her sides.
“Do you think this is a joke?” She spoke louder than I'd ever heard her speak before. “We are going to die Marco!”
I opened my mouth to say something but nothing but an audible breath came out.
“Yesterday we were sentenced to death. We've got two weeks to live.”
Just then there was a ding and the number nine flashed on the metal wall. The door opened and Jaz stormed out heading to her room where she would probably hide until training tomorrow morning.
“Wait!” She refused to hear me and kept walking. “Jaz, wait!” I stomped off after her and shouted one last time before I’d give up and go to my room. “How do you know you’re going to die?!” I stopped in the middle of the carpeted hall about to turn around when she took her hand off of the door handle and shut her eyes.
“You don't have to be brain dead to know that people like us don't win.” She put her hand back and clicked open the door.
“Maybe this time is different.” I was trying to be hopeful but deep down I knew she was right. I wasn't going to leave that arena alive.
“No, Marco.” she looked back at me with water clouding her eyes. “When I said goodbye to my dad yesterday...I meant it.”
That was the last I saw of her until the next morning.
I stood there for just a moment longer then left for my room where I could wash off this ridiculous make up and take off these itchy pants. When I reached out for the handle I hesitated. I didn’t want to just go to sleep, no, I was too mixed up for that right now. I turned around and walked back to the elevator.
I started to feel a sense of doom and desperation. Maybe that was how Jaz felt when she was here, staring down at everyone else. The tears trickled down my cheek and dripped off of my lip. I sunk down into the corner and rested my head, still covered in wheat, against the glass wall. When the doors shut I began to sob. I’d never work in that field again. I’d never make bread with my parents again. I’d never sit on that small hill and watch the sunrise with my little brother, Brand, again. I’d never pet the crop dog who always bumped into to me while I worked again but the worst thing of all...they’re going to have to watch my death live on the screen in the square.