Surprises: The 68th Annual Hunger Games

For 68 years the Capitol has held the Hunger Games to keep the rebellious Districts in check. This year will be full of surprises and shocking twists that nobody could have anticipated. So watch as the 24 tributes battle it out until one remains in an arena guaranteed to surprise the entire nation of Panem.

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2. Happily Ever After

Elektra Sparke, 17, District 3 Victor

My eyes burst open, welcoming the sunlight shining through the window. It helps to remind me that the world isn't entirely made of darkness. I slide out of my massive bed, and try to forget my latest nightmare.

I was back in the arena, being held by the fleshy faceless sewer monster, watching as Kathrynn, the female tribute from District 12, brutally maul Samuel, my district partner. I wipe away the newly formed tears, and put my slippers on. It's the longest day of the year, yet I've still managed to wake with the sun. I check my clock. It's just past five in the morning. At least I managed to sleep throughout the night. I walk over to my dresser, and look at the pictures laying on top of it. They're of me on my victory tour, each picture in a different location, the 12 districts plus the Capitol. I look at the one of me in my home district, District 3. I'm smiling and waving to the crowd, the clear blue sky shining above the central square. I look out of my window, towards town, and see the drastic changes that have occurred in the past two years since I was reaped for the Hunger Games. Since that fateful day, the demands from the Capitol have rapidly increased, tripling the amount of factories, causing a toxic cloud of smog to continually loom over most of the district, the victors' village being one of the few places unaffected by the intense polluting air.

I walk into my bathroom, and quickly wash up for today. There is an air of importance about today, but I can't seem to remember. I get dressed in what I call my 'comfort' outfit; a loose lounging outfit. I always wear it when I've been woken by horrific nightmares. I grab the book I was reading last night, and sit down to continue where I left off. Reading has now become a past time of mine; it helps me escape from reality in a sane manner. It's about a young girl that escapes from her tormenting life, and finds a handsome man that whisks her away to her dream reality. They live happily ever after, with two children and a few pets. It's ironic that the few books the Capitol allows people to read always end happily ever after, the main character enduring a hardship, then escaping to the life they've always dreamed of. In a roundabout way, it's probably a message to the districts, that this is the life we could have had if we hadn't blown it by rising against our tormentors. And speaking from experience, I know hardships never end happily ever after. Instead, they leave a broken mess that's all but dead to the world, wishing that they never had the misfortune of being born.

I close my book, placing it back on the shelf. Out of all people, I am one of the few that has essentially achieved the happy ending. But I haven't. I'm still trapped in the confines of the district, it's just that my prison cell has been coated with glitter. And I'll never find love and start a family; it's suicide being a victor and having a child, as they're guaranteed a place in the Hunger Games. The Capitol loves it when a victor's kid is thrown into the arena. Almost all of the time, they never make it out of the arena alive, with the exception of being a Career, but the odds are entirely in their favour anyway; they train for the Games starting the day after their first reaping.

It's now seven, so I make my way out of my bedroom, casually glancing at the calender pinned on the wall. My heart drops to my stomach when I see today's date; reaping day. Another pair of children'll be sent to their slaughter, and to make matters worse, I'll be mentoring them, alongside my fellow mentor, Beetee. He won his Hunger Games close to thirty years ago. He doesn't seem to be haunted by memories of the arena, unless his erratic twitchy nature counts. But he manages to hide all that behind a calm mask when dealing with the tributes. I respect him for that, because in his own way, he's showing he won't let the Capitol get to him.

I walk downstairs with heavy feet. I'm not ready to try and give hope to two kids that have been sentenced to their doom. I didn't mentor last year, and I'm glad for it. Both the tributes met horrifying ends; the male's head was blown clean off at the bloodbath, and the female was fooled by the 12 year old girl from District 4. At least her death alerted a swarm of tracker jackers that engulfed her tiny murderer.

I walk into the kitchen, and prepare myself some breakfast, but the anxiety has eaten my appetite up. I'm more nervous than the day I was reaped. It won't be me going into the arena, it'll be two kids that have no experience of surviving in a hostile environment. A horrible thought suddenly creeps into my brain. What if Rose, my best friend, is reaped? The Capitol would lap that up; me trying to keep my best friend alive, knowing her death would destroy me. But that's how they like their undesirable victors, broken and dead to the world. They have various ways of doing this; slip some alcohol through their door, introducing the destructive Morphling drug into their lives, forced prostitution with the disgusting citizens of the Capitol, or their personal favourite; sending someone close to them into the arena. Either way, they'll do whatever it takes to break you. That's why they must hate Beetee; after all these years they haven't broken him. I've learnt that they've thrown everything they could at him. They publicly executed his family on the grounds that they were conspiring to start an uprising. They even went as far as sending all his friends into the arena; he won at the age of sixteen, so they managed to send roughly six unfortunate kids to their deaths. But he never let them destroy him, he rebelled until they had nothing left to use against him. If it came to that with me, I don't think I could resist the Capitol if they threatened to kill anyone close to me.

I'm suddenly aware of a sound, and I tense up. I breathe a sigh of relief when I realise it's just my mother coming downstairs.
"Good morning, Elektra," she says, preparing her own breakfast, "Sleep well?"
"Yes, I slept the whole night," I reply. I really hate her knowing about the nightmares that ravage my sleep. I glance at the clock again. Half nine. I hear a noise from outside, and I can tell straight away what it is, the thick Capitol accent is hard to miss. The front door bursts open, and my prep team stroll in. Apparently, you don't lose your prep team once you get out of the arena; you have to have them for your victory tour, and for your first year mentoring.
"Good morning!" Lyra, her arms adorned with harps, skips towards me, crushing me with her embrace, "I've missed you so much! Of course, you can guess how thrilled I was when I heard the news I was to prep you for your first year of mentoring! In fact, I was so excited, I had to settle with gems for that evening instead of stars! But it was worth it, looking less fabulous, because I get to see you again!" she lets out a giddy squeak.
"I've missed you too." I say, wriggling out of the death-grip. As soon as I do, all three herd me into my bathroom, and rip my clothes off. The makeover session begins with them rubbing a pink liquid all over my body. They then mummify me in wax strips, tearing it all off in one swift motion. Tears prick my eyes as I'm left red and sore for what feels like the millionth time in my life. They apply a powder on my shoulder that removes all traces of the stitching done when I got out of the arena. It forms a circle around the top of my arm, like an armband. It turns out that whilst having the recovery operation, my loose arm fell off my body. It was a close call, but they managed to save it. Still, I'm self conscious about it, since it's a tell-tale reminder of my arena experiences. That is one of the only things I like being 'treated' by my colourful prep team. I pretend to listen as they ramble on about how they received oak tables instead of mahogany ones. I just smile and nod as they do my hair in an elaborate style that I could never replicate. Finally, they put me in a flowing white dress, and declare that I'm now presentable to the world.

It takes everything I've got, but I manage to convince my prep team that I will be fine walking to the reaping alone. It feels awkward in these shoes, but I walk out of the mansion, and head towards the central square for the reaping. I pass by the queue of children as their fingers are pricked and they're herded into age groups. I have to stop myself from joining the queue; old habits die hard. Instead, I walk around the square, entering from behind the justice building, they already have the transportation taken care of for the tributes, and sit in one of the chairs on stage. There are three to choose from, since our district only has three living victors. Old Antony died of a heart attack last winter, and the other seven also passed away over the years. Now there's only me, Beetee, and Wiress left alive. There were three other victors after Beetee, not including Wiress and myself, but they all took their own lives after being unable to cope with the trauma of being a victor.
"Good afternoon." A voice startles me. It's Beetee, who'll share the job of being mentor to this year's tributes with me.
"Yes, but there's nothing good at all about today," I reply, "I don't want to have the job of sugar-coating the imminent deaths of two of these kids." He's about to say something when Wiress joins us. She says nothing, just looks sombre as she stares fixedly into the crowd. I wonder what the Capitol did to break her.

Suddenly, the mayor walks over to the podium centre stage, and begins the same speech heard every year, how Panem rose from North America's ruins, how the districts rebelled, and how the Hunger Games are a sign of submission and loyalty. The speech goes on forever, and the mayor's voice is annoying to listen to. It's monotone and nasally, and the party here during the victory tour was unbearable since he kept talking to me, and I couldn't understand most of what he said. If only we were richer, like Districts 1 and 2. They have a projected film shown to them, instead of their mayor droning on and on. I'm actually relieved to hear Rory Parksson's high pitched trill when the mayor steps off the podium, and he steps on.
"Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the sixty eighth annual Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favour!" he squeaks like he does every year. I see he changed his fiery red colour scheme to a forest green one this year, his hair done in such a way it seems as if vines are wrapping themselves around his head. He then teeters over to the glass ball full of names on the far side of the stage. "Ladies first!"

I look up at the perpetually grey sky. I don't want to see the name being drawn. Don't want to see the poor child make their way to the stage.
"Magnum Flowes!" I let out a sigh. It's not Rose. I turn to see a golden haired girl make her way to the stage. I see her exchange a terrified glance with someone in the male crowd, and he mirrors her look. Her bright green eyes begin to well with tears, and she focuses her gaze elsewhere.
"And now, for the boys!" our pile of vegetation formerly known as a district escort shoves his hand deep into the bowl, and pulls out a slip.

"Veris Sphene!" Veris Sphene. I know that name. We used to share a few classes in school, but we never really interacted. He walks to the stage, his pale face devoid of any emotion. It's then that it strikes me. His eyes are the exact same as the eyes of the District 4 girl that nearly killed me back in my games. I pinch my arm to bring myself back to reality. The two tributes are now shaking hands, the crowd performing the mandatory applause. The Peacekeepers arrive on stage, directing the pair to the justice building for the goodbye hour. A Capitol attendant calls me and Beetee over, and we climb into a long black car. We set off from the square, headed for the train station. As it draws into view, I begin to panic. It's the exact same train used when I was a tribute. The same train I learned about my late district partner Samuel lying about his age to feed his starving family. At least they got the food on the twelve monthly parcel days for the whole district. I'm suddenly aware I'm shaking, and Beetee puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder as we get out. I walk onto the platform as the cameras snap a few pictures of us. It'll be nothing compared to what the two tributes'll get, since one of them might come home with a crown. And I imagine it would be the highest honour to have taken a picture of a future victor. I climb the silver steps, and make my way to my cabin. It's far more luxurious than the tribute cabin. It almost looks like an exact replica of one of the bedrooms in the victor's mansion. I sit down on the bed, and dwell upon the thought I've had since the reaping.

How am I going to get one of these two children out alive?

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