We sit on one of the sofas in the lounge, in front of the TV, awaiting our scores. We each get a mark out of twelve, based on our individual sessions with the Gamemakers.
The TV turns on, and we all sit a little straighter. The Capitol emblem appears, then a picture of a stocky boy comes up, with the number 1 in the corner. This, then, is the male tribute from District 1. His score flashes up. Surprise surprise, he’s got a 9. No one has ever got more than 10 in the history of the Hunger Games, not even the Careers.
All of Districts 1 and 2 get nines and tens. Not surprising really. The others get either sixes, sevens or eights. So it comes as a shock when Josef pulls off a nine. Then my face flashes up, with the number 7 in the corner. I have to blink a few times when the number comes up. I got… a ten? No that can’t be right. I must have got the one and the zero the wrong way round. I bet my score is one. That’s more likely. But no, I really have a score of ten. Josef claps me on the back. “Well done Willow.” Clemensia hugs me, and I’m surprised to find that I don’t mind.
Mattia Linker then spoils the mood. “Now, we have the whole day tomorrow set aside for you to work on your interviews. Given you don’t have a mentor yet, I will work with you on presentation, and your stylists will work on what angle for you to go for. How does that sound?”
I roll my eyes once more at Josef, who says, dryly, “yes that’s absolutely fine.”.
Mattia frowns. “I’ll thank you not to be rude. As ‘acting mentor’, I get to control what sponsers you get in the arena, and if I hear you being rude one more time, I might accidentally forget to give you any sponsers.”
There is a couple of moments silence, then Clemensia clears her throat. “Why don’t you two head to bed. You’ve had a long day, and tomorrow’s going to be even longer.” She smiles.
“Come on Josef.” He follows me away from the lounge area, and towards the sleeping quarters.
The next day was every bit of intense as Clemensia had predicted. For the first 4 hours, I was with Mattia, while Josef was with Tigris. I couldn’t stand heels, but the majority of that time was spent mastering how to walk in them, when Clemensia came round to see how I was doing. “I’m fine,” I said. “I just absolutely hate these heels.”
“Heels?” Clemensia replied. “I haven’t given you any heels.” So I glared at Mattia for making me waste 2 and a half hours mastering every single art to walking with heels.
We then stopped for lunch, which took half an hour in total. It was mainly crackers and cheese. The lunches here are a lot simpler than the tea. But they are still more delicious and inviting than any meal we have at home.
After a juicy fruit salad, I went off with Clemensia, while Mattia ushered Josef towards another room. “Good luck”, I call after him.
“Okay Willow, let’s see what we can make as your angle. What sort of things do you like?”
“Well,” I say slowly. “I quite like climbing, but I’d rather not give that away to the other tributes as with my axe skills. I don’t want to show my talents, so they don’t know what to expect.”
“I think you answered that question perfectly.”
I look at her, confused.
She laughs, then says, “I think you’d look very good as a young, confident and cheeky girl. The audience will love it. But you don’t want to seem too confident to the point of appearing cocky.”
I nod. Although in my opinion I don’t care what the audience thinks of me, I know they can send me sponsers, which could be the difference between life and death.
“So, moving on, let me show you your dress for tonight. D’you know, I think they are thinking about introducing a chariot ride for the tributes, before the training begins. Sorry,that shouldn’t matter, should it? Anyway.” She moves towards a wardrobe and pulls out a silky ocean green dress, accompanied with a silvery green wreath of leaves. It looks beautifully stunning. I am itching to put it on.
“You have about an hour before you need to prepare for the interviews, so I suggest relxaing, or taking a shower.”
An hour later, Clemensia is dressing me in the gorgeous gown she showed me earlier. It feels even better on me than it looks. Finally, she places the wreath on top of my hair. She hasn’t added any makeup, which I’m grateful for, and the flat, woven sandals are more than perfect.
“So Willow, what do you think tomorrow is going to hold for you?”
“A nice, early morning scenic trip I guess. Only one that lasts indefinitely and only one person leaves.”
The audience laugh at this.
“And do you expect to win?”
I laugh. “Of course. Why shouldn’t I?”
Lucky Flickerman nods.
“I mean, first you think that you’re not going to, given that there is going to be twenty-four, and only one of those can win, but then you realise that, actually, someone has to win, so why can’t it be you?”
“Very well put Willow. But seriously, how do you feel about tomorrow?”
“I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.” I shrug. The audience are loving me, me and my confidence. I just hope they love me enough to send me sponsors.
A buzzer sounds. “And I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. Please give a huge round of applause to Willow Shiels!”
There is a large applause and a lot of cheering for me. And is it just me, or is it more than what the Careers got. It begins to dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, I might be in with a fighting chance.
The next morning arrives, cool and crisp. The sun filteres through the windows and streames onto my bed. I wake with a suppressed yawn. After about a minute, Clemensia knocks on my door.
“Willow. Willow are you awake?”
I mumble my assent, then attempt to drag myself out of bed.
“You need to wear this. You’ll get changed into your arena clothes when we get to the launch room, but for now, you are required to wear this.” She then leaves the room, and I slowly begin to dress myself. The clothes are simple. Grey trousers and a grey top. That’s it.
An hour later Clemensia and I arrive at the launch room, after a tracker had been injected into my arm on the hovercraft ride to it. She pulls out a package. Inside it are a pair of kahki-green trousers, fur lined boots, a murky green top, and a fur lined jacket.
“I doubt that the fur is for luxury.” Clemensia says at the surprised expression on my face. “It’s more likely to be very cold in that arena, and these are designed to keep you warm.”
I nod, before putting the clothes on.
In the warmth of the launch room, I am overheating, but Clemensia tells me to not take it off, as I might need the excess heat when the games begin. When Claudius Templesmith’s voice tells me to go to the launch pad, I begin to tremble all over. Clemensia gives me a brief hug. “Good luck Willow.”
The glass door closes, and I begin to make the ascent. Sunlight streams through the hole in the top of the shaft.
At least if I die, it will be with the sun on my face.
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