The cannon rang out into the arena as the District 8 girl went limp beneath Leigh’s violent hands. I could not force myself to brush aside the chaotic rubble around me to see the body. I gagged as two realizations hit ─ the tribute of District 8 was only sixteen years old and… he was the twenty-fourth to fall.
I pushed myself from the pond I’d found shelter by, ready to bolt. But as I got one foot underneath me, Leigh stood before me, wiping the blood from her cheek. We stared each other down for a moment before she smiled.
“You okay?” she asked, offering me her hand.
I nodded, unable to speak. She knew what had to happen now, didn’t she? She knew despite our differences and despite our ups and downs through these games, including the secret semi-alliance formed shortly before her fellow allay Terlum died, that now it was either her or me.
“You need to get warm,” Leigh said as she brushed past me, headed for the Cornucopia.
She continued ─ the chilly water splashing under her feet ─ and I hesitated. The whirring of the hovercraft coming to retrieve the girl’s body alerted me to the limited time we had before the Game makers would impatiently force our hands.
Leigh was stronger than me, but I was more agile. And yet, we had functioned as a team before, and I could see no strategy alone. I realized how utterly vulnerable we were without each other. I reminded myself why I was here, why I was still alive, unfortunately; my only option was to fight ─ to become victim to my friend.
I took in a deep breath and clenched my trembling hands, preparing to take my steps to the heaven or hell that awaited me. The moves I made after that moment felt unreal, they felt separate from me as I waded behind Leigh. When she heard my footsteps, she rounded on me, raising the machete. Her eyes were sad for a moment, and I closed mine, holding back the tears of regret, of knowing that I would never return to District 3. That’s when I heard it ─ the hissing of a tiger nearby. My eyes snapped open and I located the disguised animal, floating just between us.
“I won’t fight you,” I blurted quickly, taking a step back. Leigh lowered the blade slightly, narrowing her eyes. She advanced a step. “I only ask that it be clean. For my family’s sake? Please.”
Leigh slowly surveyed the arena before nodding. “If you wish it.” As she advanced, the following events blurred into a lifetime; Leigh spotted the tiger just as it struck, and she fell as it repeatedly attacked. It growled and hissed and bit and tore through her muscles. Her screams were louder than any I’d ever heard. In the blink of an eye a gash appeared down her left arm, the blood starting pouring. I had to look away, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand here and watch her die… I began to notice something seemingly familiar about this Tiger, I’d seen it before, it wasn’t just an ordinary tiger, this… this was Alfred. Was this Harland seeking revenge? Had Leigh disobeyed him during the games? Her blood mixed with the open water, gasps for the oxygen that didn’t exist left her mouth. The blood was everywhere but Alfred was not about to give up, there must be an incentive to what was happening here. I noticed that Leigh had dropped her machete when Alfred suddenly attacked her. I walked up to it and slid my finger up and down the blade. Should I do it? I guess it would make it easier for her… I mean… short and simple… I walked over to where she lay, closed my eyes and held the machete up to her chest, and before she closed her eyes for the final time she stared at me wide-eyed, and gurgled, “You. Win.”
That’s when I did it… I stabbed her, something I never thought I had in me. I stood there and stared at her. I vomited. I vomited everywhere. I couldn’t even bring myself to walk up to her and remove the machete I’d just killed her with. I didn’t have the decency to do that. I needed to look away but I couldn’t. All I could bring myself to do was run. I took one last look at the Arena, something I hoped I’d NEVER see again.
I couldn’t breathe, or see, or think as I ran from that place. I did not hear the cannon sound, nor did I hear the voice of Mr. Game maker announcing my name to the world. I only ran…
I ran for Rowl, I ran for Mum, I ran for Dad but most importantly, I ran for myself. I began to realize something very important; the motives within us to reach a certain goal lead us to act in a specific way. Even when we are motivated to reach the goal we have set, our behaviour depends to a large extent on how we feel at a given moment. The world looks beautiful when we are in a good mood, and very unappealing when we are in a bad mood. During the Hunger Games, I’d experienced the world at the ugliest I’ll ever see it, I’ve experienced things I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, but now that it’s over… the world starving, no more dehydration, no more fear of dying. No more combat, no more faces lighting up the sky, no more canons. No more Rowl. All that remains are the memories, those that will haunt me till the day I die.