The trip doesn’t end when you get home.

I am alone with no home, friends or family, my only companion is the bottle next to me. Not the bottle itself, but the transparent liquor inside. Its dulls my senses numbing the pain.What is the point in these stupid, mindless and cruel games? What is it achieving among the people other than a wider gap between the wealthy and the starving. A world that breeds more elitism and crime with every passing minute. Why couldn’t I have just died rather than year after year being paraded around to be mocked and ridiculed.

I am nothing without her. I would’ve jumped off of that cliff there and then. But she pulled me away from the edge, despite having to compete, despite being in that arena. That is a debt I will never be able to repay, a burden I will always have to bear. Maybe if I told her to stay with me, it would be different, the media might paint our home, our people in a better light.

Twenty-three years I’ve had to play this charade, coaching, guiding kids to survive. Twenty-three years of boys and girls, being too weak, too beaten down to even bother training them into killers, victors. What’s the point when they barely have the energy to find food at home and the others are trained from birth? Each year I pretend it’ll be different, I’ll have someone strong, someone worthy of my time but every year I get lumbered with another target, another statistic against this dive, this barren land.

That ridiculous woman keeps appearing at my house – I’d call it home but I lost that the moment I ducked from what should have been a killing blow to my head. My family huddled around the small screen broadcasting the whole affair, were punished and what was it all for? Because I showed up the president, I made a mockery of him the moment I ducked. Another reminder that our people are just meant to go in to be hunted and killed by the soldier-like elite born. When I returned from the arena, I wasn’t greeted as a survivor or a victor. Instead, families and friends were at the front of the crowd crying, pointing to smoke in the distance. Barging past them, I stumbled down the town hall steps, running all the way to my home where the acrid smell of burning flesh hit the back of my throat. There were people rushing around with buckets of water, victims being pulled out of the remnants of surrounding houses but it was no use, there was nothing but fire and ashes left. From there I found myself in the victors village, in front of the house that my family and Rose should have been living in. I’d planned to propose to her when I returned from the Capitol. I couldn’t help but think about her when I lay there in the dark, hearing the beep of the machines that helped me regain my full strength and health. She had a soft wave to her hair that day before I was called up. The sun shone behind her as I looked out over the crowd, searching for her face. She had tears in her eyes, holding onto my brother, it was as if she had already lost me. But then a smile spread across her face, eyes looking right into mine and the light behind her increasing so much I could barely look. Blinking from the brightness I shielded my eyes and it was no longer a crowd surrounding her but a light grey dust falling around her, embers under her head. That was the image I’d remember them by now, the fire that took them from me had burnt the image into my memory and dreams.

That irritating woman wore pink today. Escorted by troopers, she carried a bucket of water with her when she entered the house, throwing it everywhere to rouse me. She’s lucky she brought those men in shining white armor with her or I’d have slit her throat like I did to those careers in the arena. She clearly hadn’t gotten any sensitivity training either or she would’ve worn a different bloody color. The flurry of fabric as she ran away from me squealing resembled the wings of those birds from the games. Images of swirling feathers and razor sharp beaks broke through my haze; flashes of red mixing with cerise, merged with her screams as the memory appeared before me like a vision. Poor Maysilee, no one deserved a death like that, not even the careers.

“Eyes bright, chin up, smile on! The day is here and we don’t want to be late! Get up, best clothes on and smile as everyone will be watching.” Her fake smile plastered on her face. Taking a small sigh she continued “ I’ve got a good feeling about today, I can just feel it.” Taking a deep breath in, grimacing from my apparent odor “well spit spot, we haven’t got all day!” she claps her hands before exiting.

I hate that woman. She is worse than the escort for the tributes when I was a kid and she really liked green and had a pox marked neck that not even the chiffon she wore could hide.

Making my way through the crowds, swaying a little from the liquor, I take my seat and get ready for the “spectacle” of the draw. Drinking deeply from the bottle in my hand, the whole affair passes by without so much of a blink that I couldn’t even tell you their bloody names.

The train however was a different story. The boy, some skin and bones brat, dares to ask when we start training before I even have a drink in my hand. Just woken up from some hellish “nap” and he already wants to start. I barely manage to pass on my sarcastic “congratulations” before he jumps down my neck. So instead of the advice he is looking for I merely tell him to “embrace the probability of his imminent death” and know that in his heart that there is nothing I can do to save him. It was worth it to see his face, looking back at me as if I shot his mummy. But it is about time these kids learnt what it is going to be like. They need to get used to the idea that they won’t survive, they will just be a number and everyone will forget he existed by next year. However unlike the other kids, the little bastard dares to take a swipe at me,shouting about me being a mentor and that is what I’m supposed to do. I may be a drunk, I may be grey but I am no less of a killer than I was when I was his age. Pinning him back with my foot I spilled whiskey on my new pants, to say I’m pissed off is an understatement. I storm out to the sleeping quarter angry at even coming to meet them. It should be her here instead, not me. Maysilee had the brains and personal skills to have made a good mentor. Hell, she even got me to like her. She had knowledge of poisons and the agility of a cat but in the end not even that could save her from the mutts. Instead I have to pass on the knowledge she should be, but I just want to forget and live my days out with my knife under my pillow and the only thing that helps me sleep through all of the terrors.

After changing, I sit down with him over breakfast – he’s stuffing his face with cream puff pies and all of the fruit he could wish for as all the tributes before him have done too. The girl, wandering in interrupts my advice to the boy who has the fighting spirit, she’s nagging me, asking me about finding shelter and food, I’ve not even had a bite of my toast. I politely, for me anyway, ask for the jam she has next to her but she keeps badgering on about the bloody shelter.

“Give me a chance to wake up sweetheart, this mentoring is very taxing stuff.” I explain as I fill the goblet in front of me from the hip flask that the rainbow lady didn’t manage to confiscate from me. However as I reach for it to take a sip, like a cobra she swipes the butter knife from the table and drives it home between my two fingers, nestling in the table.

I resist the urge to laugh as the escort cries out “that is mahogany!” and instead simply retort

“look at you, you just killed a place mat” but inside I’m smiling because for the first time in 23 years, I think we have found a tribute worth mentoring and she goes by the name of Katniss Everdeen.

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