“Oh, Lizzie, isn’t it romantic?” Jessica squealed.
Elizabeth gaped at her twin. “They’re expecting us to kill each other.”
“Yes, but we get new clothes and we’re paired with a boy!”
Category: Sweet Valley
Characters: Amy Sutton, Beau Dillon, Belinda “Billie” Layton, Bruce Patman, Elizabeth Wakefield, Ellen Riteman, Grace Oliver, Henry “Hank” Patman, Janet Howell, Jessica Wakefield, Jim Sturbridge, Johnny Buck, Lila Fowler, Lois Waller, Madame Andr, Melissa McCormick, Mr Nydick, Rick Hunter, Winston Egbert
Length: 40-50k words
Notes: The original, unbeta’d version of this is up on SweetValley.Online, but this is the clean and final version. I posted daily and invited readers to comment/tweet me with sponsor gifts. Two people, Raven and Rosey, really took this to heart. They are awesome.
Date Published: 1 Nov 2017
Date Updated: 26 Nov 2017
“Hey, Lizzie! Wait up!” Jessica called out to her identical twin sister. She crossed the hall and joined her sister as they filed into the assembly hall.
Elizabeth was walking beside Amy Sutton, who was, in Jessica’s humble opinion, the most boring human being on the planet. And she had really stringy hair.
“Hi, Jess,” said Amy. “Do you know what this assembly is all about?”
Ordinarily Jessica would have ignored her, but the news was too exciting not to share. “Lila said it’s some sort of business venture between her father and Bruce Patman’s. She says we’ll really like it!”
Elizabeth frowned. “But the Patmans and the Fowlers have been feuding for so many generations, why are they now working together?”
Jessica was not at all interested in the feuds of generations past, she lived very much in the now, unlike her sister.
It always surprised people that two people who looked so alike—identical from their beautiful golden hair, eyes the color of the Pacific ocean, right down to the tiny dimple in their left cheek when they smiled—could be utterly opposite in personality. Jessica was into makeup and the latest fashions and the cutest boys, whereas Elizabeth was into reading, and horses, and befriending losers. They often joked that while Elizabeth was only four minutes older than Jessica, it was more like four years.
Jessica was an up-front bitch and a borderline sociopath, which were the core values of the Unicorns, an exclusive club comprising the prettiest and most popular girls at Sweet Valley Middle School. Elizabeth had a martyr complex and was only spiteful behind someone’s back—such as calling the Unicorns the “Snob Squad”.
Despite their alleged differences, the twins were the best of friends, and no matter what stunt Jessica pulled, she knew that Elizabeth could never stay mad at her for long.
“Actually, I heard the same thing,” Nora Mercandy said, stepping into the conversation. When she had first joined the school, everyone had mistaken her for a witch, when she was actually an orphan. Thankfully, her grandpa was really famous, so everyone decided to like her anyway. “I’ve heard that it’s a big project that needs Fowler Technology and one of the National Parks that the Patmans own.”
“How odd,” Elizabeth mused. “I wonder what it’s got to do with the school. I should take notes, this could make a great article for the Sixers.”
The Sweet Valley Sixers was the sixth grade paper. Elizabeth was very proud of it, despite how boring it was.
“Jess, do you know?” Elizabeth asked.
Actually, Jessica didn’t, but she didn’t want to admit that to her sister—much less in front of Elizabeth’s nerdy friends. She decided to try and be mysterious, like her favorite actress, Connie Boyer. She smiled knowingly (or tried to, it was hard to smile knowingly when you weren’t actually knowing), and said, “I guess you’ll find out in the assembly.”
“Jessica!” Lila Fowler’s imperious tones cut through the crowd. “The Unicorns are sitting together.”
Elizabeth smiled good-naturedly. “Go on, Jess. Go join the Snob Squad.”
Jessica’s mouth fell open. “Elizabeth! You have never once said that aloud!”
“Jessica!” This time it was Janet Howell calling, and Jessica was bound by duty to the President of the Unicorns. She skipped away and stepped in line beside Lila.
“I do wish you’d tell us what this is all about, Lila,” Janet said in a haughty tone. Jessica could only imagine how annoying it must be for Lila’s own cousin to be out of the loop.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Lila said. “And you’ll just die when you find out what we’ve arranged.”
Jessica tried to get further details, but Lila was clearly enjoying knowing something her friends did not. In fact, she definitely had a knowing smile on her face. It was infuriating. Lila might be her best friend, but sometimes Jessica wanted to kill her.
Once they were all seated in the assembly hall, Jessica noticed her twin was in the row in front of her. She could also see George Fowler, Lila’s father, sitting beside Hank Patman, father of Bruce. They were both wearing expensive suits and smiling at each other. At this point, Lila lost her cool and let out a squeak that sounded a lot like “Daddy!” Mr. Fowler glanced in their direction and gave a cool nod with a confused look on his face, as if he wasn’t sure which child had addressed him.
Mr. Nydick made his way to the center of the stage and cleared his throat into the microphone. Collectively, everyone present cringed. “Good morning, students! As you know, while Mr. Clarke is away, tending to his sick mother, he has left me in charge.”
In front of Jessica, Elizabeth’s hand shot up. “Mr. Nydick, are you sure you’re in charge?”
“All questions will be taken after the presentation and announcement,” Mr. Nydick said fixing Elizabeth with a stern glare. “Now, Mr. Fowler has brought in a video for you all to watch, to give you some background before the announcement is made.”
Randy Mason, one of the nerdiest kids in school, wheeled in what looked to be a projector screen, with a tiny VCR beneath it. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a compact disc.
Jessica frowned in confusion. “I thought we were watching a video,” she whispered to Lila.
Lila looked smug. “It’s the latest thing. Daddy found it outside of Sweet Valley. It’s called a DVD.”
“But what is it?”
Lila momentarily floundered, then regained her composure. “It stands for Difficult Video Disc. It’s very now. It shows videos.”
“Like a VCR?”
“Yes, but better.”
“Why aren’t we watching it on a TV?”
“That is a TV, it’s just really thin and modern.”
Jessica watched Randy Mason feed the disc into the Different Video Player, and a picture popped up on the screen. It was incredibly clear, and Jessica immediately started dreaming of having one in her room. She could just imagine how jealous the other girls would be over her slender TV and Different Video thingy.
The picture was of a golden circle with some kind of flaming bird inside it, perched on an arrow. The whole thing was aflame. It was very pretty. Then three words appeared on the screen.
Elizabeth blinked as the lights came back up. She had tried to take notes as the film had played, but in the dark it had been hard to write. And there was a lot of killing to take in.
Amy leaned closer. “Do you know where Panem is, Elizabeth? Maybe we could do a charity drive so they don’t have to have these fights?”
“I think that’s probably why Mr. Fowler and Mr. Patman are here,” she replied. “They probably want to help us save Panem. Maybe we could have a dance-a-thon or something?”
“Or we could sell cookies,” Amy suggested. “Or have a car wash.”
Julie leaned in on Elizabeth’s other side. “Or we could do a booklet about the trouble in Panem and sell it to our parents. They always buy our writing.”
Elizabeth noted that down. She was sure to be head of the organization committee for Panem relief. “I could get Dylan McKay to write something…”
Mr. Nydick stepped up to the microphone once more and raised his hands to ask for quiet. “Now, I know that was a lot to digest, but that is The Hunger Games. And now I’d like to hand over to Mr. Fowler and Mr. Patman to explain how the Hunger Games affects you.”
Lila’s father spoke first. “Hello everyone, my name is George Fowler, and I’m here to talk to you about the exciting opportunity that my partnership with Hank Patman will provide for you all.” He smiled around the room, and continued while Elizabeth took vigorous notes, because she was sure she would need to revisit these facts once a special Save Panem version of the Sixers was put in motion.
“Now, you may or may not know that I am incredibly wealthy and frequently visit Europe. On one of these trips I remembered to bring my daughter, Lila—” at this point, he waved vaguely in the direction of the Unicorns “—and she got quite enchanted by the film you’ve just seen.”
Enchanted? Elizabeth wondered. The tragedy of Panem was nothing to be enchanted by. Maybe he had misspoken, perhaps he meant that Lila had been moved by the documentary. Elizabeth shook her head. It was hard to imagine Lila moved by anything.
“And she started asking me, ‘Daddy, why can’t we have a Hunger Games back home?’”
Elizabeth’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t be serious. Then she smiled. Of course he couldn’t be serious, he was just forcing them to empathize with the poor people of Panem through shock value. She jotted down a quick note about Mr. Fowler’s technique and drew a smiley face next to it.
“At first, like all of Lila’s endeavors, I wondered about the cost. But then—as chance would have it—I bumped into Hank at the golf course, and we started talking about how to make this work, and we realized with the unspecified technology my firm produces, and the Patmans’ love of owning vast swathes of land, this was actually a match made in heaven. So I’m going to pass over to Hank, so he can tell you how this is going to affect you.”
Elizabeth stared at him. Surely he was going to end the joke before he finished speaking. Surely he was going to tell them that he wasn’t going to start a Hunger Games in Sweet Valley.
Bruce’s father moved to the microphone, and Elizabeth found that she did not like him. It was clear that Bruce had inherited his good looks from his father, but it was equally clear he had gotten his arrogance from him too. Although he smiled often, Elizabeth thought his eyes did not smile.
“I came here today to tell you kids about The Hunger Games. As you saw from the film, two children in each district are chosen, one boy and one girl, and they are placed in an arena to fight to the death. Now we don’t have districts in Sweet Valley, it’s too small for that,” Mr. Patman went on. “There is merely us—” at this point he gestured to himself and Mr. Fowler, “—you—” he gestured at the rest of the room, “and poor town. And it would be unfair to pit Sophia Rizzo against all of you, so we will be drawing names out of a hat for a truly random experience.”
Elizabeth gasped. She was beginning to feel that Mr. Fowler and Mr. Patman were not trying to shock the students into empathy, but were actually serious. Then she heaved an audible sigh of relief. Of course! If the Patman-Fowler enterprise were going to run the Sweet Valley Hunger Games, then they would need help organizing, selling tickets, maybe the school was going to host—it would be fine.
Mr. Patman beamed at the students. “Whose names, you might ask. The answer is your names.”
A collective gasp rippled through the hall, and uncertain whispers and giggles were heard.
Elizabeth could wait no longer and stuck her hand in the air, ready to make sure that she was really hearing this. Hers was not the only hand in the air, and Mr. Patman pointed at Winston Egbert. “Yes, young man?”
Winston stood up, and Elizabeth could see that his ears had turned red with embarrassment at being called on. “Am I right in thinking you want us to have a play fight?”
“What’s your name?” Mr. Patman asked.
“Winston Egbert, sir.”
“Well, Mr. Egbert, I now know not to bet on you. You are too stupid to survive. No, we are not talking about a play fight. Twenty-four of you will go into an arena and only one of you will walk out alive.”
Elizabeth’s hand dropped to her side numbly. Her question had been answered.
“Oh, Lizzie, isn’t it romantic?” Jessica squealed as soon as the assembly was over.
Elizabeth gaped at her twin. “They’re expecting us to kill each other.”
“Yes, but we get new clothes and we’re paired with a boy! Weren’t you watching the movie?” Jessica got a dreamy look in her eyes. “Imagine if I’m paired with Bruce Patman and he’d rather die than live without me, so we’re going to take the berries, and just at the last moment, we’re saved, because people love us so much!”
Elizabeth let out a sigh of frustration. “That wasn’t what the documentary was about, Jess. It was about an oppressive government, and two kids who gambled with their lives to make a point and somehow got away with it.”
“And did you see the dresses in the Capitol? They were very sophisticated, weren’t they?” Jessica went on as if she hadn’t heard a word Elizabeth had said. “Where is the Capitol, Lizzie? And Panem?”
“Oh, honestly, weren’t you both watching?” Lila’s smooth tones cut through the conversation. “It’s not a documentary, it’s a movie. It’s fictional.”
Elizabeth sagged in relief. “It is? Oh, that’s wonderful. I thought they were actually going to make us fight to the death.”
Lila smirked and flipped her light brown hair over her shoulder. “We really are, Elizabeth. It’s just we took our inspiration from the movie.”
“And what a great movie!” Jessica bubbled enthusiastically.
“Jess, pay attention, it was twenty-four children murdering each other!” Elizabeth yelled.
“But the dresses!” She turned to Lila excitedly. “If we’re picked, do we get dresses? And about those matching outfits everyone has to wear in the arena? I was thinking if a Unicorn gets picked, they should have theirs in purple, rather than red, what do you think?”
“Oh, absolutely, I’ll have Daddy organize it,” Lila said. “I’ll call an emergency Unicorn meeting at my house after school.”
Elizabeth moved forwards and took Lila’s arm. “But do you really want to get in an arena and kill your friends?”
Lila shook off Elizabeth’s hand as if it was covered in cooties. “For the most part, no, although I wouldn’t mind stabbing Ellen just once—oh, and Janet. Actually, Kimberley Haver never returned my luminous yellow mini-skirt, so her too—um, what was the question?—Oh, do I want to go in the arena? No, I don’t. It’s dirty, and probably cold. Fowlers don’t do sleeping on the ground, why else would I be absent for every single Super Edition about camping?”
“So?” Elizabeth prodded. Lila looked contemplative, and Elizabeth felt like she might get somewhere. “And if you don’t want to be in the arena, don’t you think everyone else must feel the same?”
“Hrmm.” Lila raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, don’t listen to her,” Jessica said. “She’s just being a stick-in-the-mud. She doesn’t really get trends. Tell me more about the uniforms for the tributes…”
With that, she tucked her arm through Lila’s and they headed off down the hall.
Elizabeth frowned. She wasn’t going to stand for this. Something must be done.
Jessica reclined on one of the loungers to the side of Lila’s Olympic-sized swimming pool. It would be nice to go into the arena with a tan, so that sponsors would like her best. Around her, there was some debate about the Hunger Games.
“Well I think,” Janet said, leaning forward and helping herself to a potato chip and some dip, “that anyone who considers herself a Unicorn should be determined to get in that arena. We want at least one Unicorn per grade.”
Mandy Miller pulled a face. “I’m sorry, Janet, but I literally just beat cancer. I’m not getting murdered on TV just because Lila and Bruce’s dads have some very strange ideas about what makes for entertainment.”
Lila looked affronted at this, and opened her mouth to respond, but Janet got there first. “Mandy, like I said, if you consider yourself a Unicorn, you will want to be in the arena,” she said icily. “If you don’t, then perhaps you’re not Unicorn material.”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of—being Unicorn material… all over Amy Sutton’s knife.” When everyone looked blank, Mandy prodded them. “Material, like matter, like my insides… never mind.” She sighed and reached for a chip.
After a moment of silence, Lila broke in. “I think what Janet is saying is that you’re either in or out. In the Unicorns and in the arena, or out of both.”
Mandy dropped her chip in the dip and left it there. “You know what? I love being a Unicorn, but not so much I want to die for it.”
“Think of how well it would play for the sponsors though: Cancer Girl—the fighter!” Jessica mused. “I wish I had something like that. Oh, it’s so unfair that I’ve never beaten cancer!”
“Maybe you could shave your head and tell people you beat cancer,” Ellen suggested.
Every single Unicorn glared at Ellen. “How could you suggest that, Ellen!” Mandy exclaimed.
“Yeah, Ellen, like I’m going to cut my hair!”
Mandy sagged back into her chair, muttering “That wasn’t what I meant.”
Jessica fluffed her hair, “So if we’re going to be paired with boys, who do you think you’ll get?”
She asked the entire group, but Janet answered first. “Well, I think Denny Jacobson and I would make a good pair. I think Jake Hamilton for Lila, what about you, Jessica?”
Jessica mentally ran through the cutest boys in school. Aaron Dallas was her sort-of boyfriend, but she wasn’t sure he was the one she wanted to romantically pretend to be willing to die for. Aaron was cute and all, but he wasn’t Bruce Patman…
After school, Elizabeth, Amy and Julie met outside the front of the school to discuss the state of affairs. Elizabeth had been thinking about the Hunger Games all day, and had hit upon an idea, but she needed her friends’ help.
“I was thinking we need to make a petition,” she said. “To show the school that most people don’t want to go into an arena and kill people.”
“Don’t they, though?” Julie Porter asked. “Every single class has been nothing but people talking about who they want to kill.”
Elizabeth was aghast. “Of course they don’t mean it, Julie! Nobody wants to kill anyone.”
Julie was unflappable in the face of Elizabeth’s outrage. “I don’t know, Liz. Surely you’ve heard those rumors about your sister?”
“What rumors?” Elizabeth honestly did not know. Rumors about Jessica were always wrong anyway. Well, mostly. Some. Well, three had been false, so far.
Julie and Amy exchanged a look before Julie answered. “That Roberta Manning and Sally Holcombe were murdered by your sister.”
“What? Don’t be absurd. Jessica would never kill anyone! And besides, Roberta Manning just randomly never ever showed up at school ever again after she was kicked out of the Unicorns. It was mere coincidence that her absence cleared space for Jessica to join. And Sally’s still around, isn’t she? Surely she’s been at a dance or a fundraiser, after being such an integral part of Belinda Layton dropping her entire identity in order to be pretty.”
Julie shook her head. “No. Sorry, Elizabeth, but nobody’s seen her since my birthday party.”
Elizabeth waved the idea away. “Well, never mind that, the issue isn’t whether Sally’s missing it’s whether Jessica murdered her, and I know for certain that she didn’t.”
Amy sighed pointedly. “No, you don’t. I could imagine her murdering anyone who crossed her. And besides… she’s got a point.”
Elizabeth’s jaw fell open. “What are you saying, Amy?”
Amy’s face hardened. “I’m saying the Unicorns have made my life hell before, and maybe the idea of taking them out is starting to appeal to me. And I’m not the only one: Nora, Brooke, Ginny-Lu—all terrorized by the Unicorns, and all three of them were outside Mr. Nydick’s office asking how to sign up.” She paused and thought. “He told them to sneak out after dark to see him. In their prettiest nighties.”
Elizabeth nodded wisely, Mr. Nydick quite often made that request when she had questions about her history homework. But she needed to convince Amy that she was wrong. “But Amy, you surely don’t want anyone dead, do you?”
Amy pulled out a notepad. “I’ve made a list. I’ve checked it twice. And then put it in order of most urgent to slightly annoying.” She held the pad out for Elizabeth to see. At the top of the list, underlined three times and highlighted in yellow marker, was the name Jessica Wakefield.
Elizabeth’s eyes filled with hot tears, and she took a step back. “Please, Amy, what can I say to stop you?”
Amy rolled her eyes. “Oh here we go again! You’re supposed to be my best friend, Liz, but of course you’re going to side with Jessica, just like always!”
The tears slipped down Elizabeth’s saint-like cheeks. “I can’t let you murder my sister,” she said in a hoarse voice.
“Then I guess we’re not friends anymore,” Amy said in a hard and final tone.
End Notes: This is where you come in. If you want to comment with questions to ask the tributes (they will be revealed in the next post), or if you would like to send sponsor gifts once they get in the arena, then comment. With regard to gifts, tell me what you want to send, from generic (weapon, food) to specific (eyelash curler, Tootsie Roll). I do reserve the right to change your gift slightly—I will keep to the type (weapon, food, etc.), but if I have an idea in mind and it won’t fit, I will slightly change it. However, please sponsor the tributes. They’re fucking morons. They need all the help they can get. Comment either on the entry, Twitter or Facebook.
After her argument with Amy, Elizabeth went directly to her thinking seat, an old pine tree in the Wakefields’ yard. When the twins had been younger, it had been their hideout, but time had marched on, and Jessica never came out there anymore. She had outgrown thinking.
Elizabeth pulled her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms around herself, feeling very frightened. It had taken her by surprise that Amy would be excited about the Hunger Games. Jessica wasn’t really a surprise, but Elizabeth knew her twin, and for the moment Jessica would be caught up in the idea of dresses and sponsors, but once she realized she would have to kill her friends, she would be just as frightened as Elizabeth was feeling now. After all, Jessica had never killed before, no matter what the rumors said.
She saw her mom pull up in her Fiat Spider, and suddenly felt better. There was no way that her parents would stand to see their children enter a death arena.
She leapt from her thinking seat and skipped across the grass to her mother. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, Alice dropped a bag of groceries into Elizabeth’s arms.
“Could you put these away and start dinner? I’ve had a terrible day at work, and need to lie down.”
Elizabeth considered pushing for her mother’s attention, but conceded that yes, her mom had a really hard life—sometimes she worked as long as four hours a day—and at least once a week she had to cook dinner, because Elizabeth wasn’t around. It was no wonder she was exhausted.
Elizabeth went into the house and started preparing dinner. Just as she was finishing laying the table, Jessica arrived home.
“Is dinner ready yet?” Jessica asked. “I’m so hungry—although I’m wondering if I should skip it so I look really skinny on camera when I’m picked as a tribute.”
“Oh, Jess, you don’t really want to be picked as tribute, do you?” Elizabeth asked.
“Of course I do! You get put up at Sweet Valley Plaza—the best hotel in Sweet Valley—and given a dress, and hundreds of people watch you on TV! Why wouldn’t I want that?”
“Because you’ll have to kill twenty-three other people to get out of there?” Elizabeth suggested.
Jessica shrugged. “So what? I’ve done it before.”
“Nothing. I mean I’ve thought about it before. I could totally kill someone.” Jessica replied easily.
“Who’s killing who?” Their brother, Steven, appeared in the doorway. Tall and good-looking, he looked like a younger version of their handsome father. He liked basketball and eating. Sometimes Elizabeth wondered if he liked Jessica better than her. She had once found him sniffing Jessica’s dirty cheerleading uniform. When she asked him about it, he said it was something that all big brothers did, but she had never caught him sniffing her clothes. Not even her clean clothes.
“We are going to be killing our fellow students,” Elizabeth said dolefully. “Our friends. All because Lila Fowler saw a terrible movie.”
Steven moved in front of the refrigerator and started throwing handfuls of whatever he could find in there down his gullet. But it wasn’t gross, because he was slender. “‘ot oo yooo meem?” he asked, dribbling bits of ham, cheese, lettuce, lemon and pot-roast leftovers down his chest.
Elizabeth gaped at her brother for a moment, then figured out what he had asked—what do you mean? She was about to respond but Jessica got there first.
Elizabeth couldn’t get a word in edgeways until her father came home. At this point Alice reappeared and served dinner, as if she had made it. Gosh, Elizabeth thought proudly, she really does make being a working mom look easy.
Around the dinner table, the Hunger Games were explained in excited bubbling bursts from Jessica, while their parents nodded thoughtfully.
“I don’t want to be involved!” Elizabeth burst out at the first hint of silence.
Everyone stared at her, shocked by her vehemence and volume.
“I don’t!” she said again. “Dad, do I have to be involved? I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t want anyone else to kill anyone. You’re a lawyer, can’t you find a way out of this?”
Ned shook his head. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but the law doesn’t work like that—a lawyer doesn’t have expertise in all aspects of law, and I’m a real estate lawyer.”
Elizabeth knitted her brows in confusion. “But weren’t you doing litigation when you were working for that chocolate company that had their recipe stolen?”
“No, that would come under the discipline of ‘intellectual property’,” Ned explained.
“So you do both that and real estate?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, I do whatever the plot requires, and the plot requires me to be of no help whatsoever. Honestly, it might’ve been easier to just send me away on a business trip instead of writing this dinner. It’s almost like the ghostwriter has a personal beef with how I practice law.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth sagged back in her chair. “Well, I’ll find someone else to help me. I’m going to write to the President of the United States!”
Alice nodded. “That’s not a bad idea, you’re white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and middle class. He might actually care about you. But I don’t think you’ll get a response in time, Elizabeth, the tributes are being picked tomorrow.” She turned to Ned. “I got a letter from the school today, but Jessica was so excited to tell us, I didn’t want to spoil it for her—it’s nice to see Jessica excited about something that happened at school.”
“I can’t wait!” Jessica exclaimed. “I’m going to be picked—and even if I’m not, I’m going to volunteer as tribute, just like Katniss—oh, Mom, could you braid my hair like hers? I want to look just like her—only blonder and skinnier—for the Reaping.”
“At least one of our twins is enthusiastic about this new project,” Ned said.
“How can you want us to be enthusiastic about it? We’re going to have to kill people!” Elizabeth shouted. Why weren’t her parents supporting her? They always supported her. Usually it was Jessica they disagreed with.
Her mom and dad exchanged a look and Ned answered. “Well, having you children has been a lot more work than we were expecting—and to be honest, you’re quite expensive, what with Steven’s appetite, Jessica’s clothes and schemes and Elizabeth’s constant quest for books. The Hunger Games gives us an opportunity to thin the herd a little. It’ll be interesting to see who survives.”
Alice wiped her mouth. “You know what? I’m actually going to call George Fowler now and ask if he would consider putting Steven’s name in the Reaping. I know he’s a high school student, but he’s so stupid it’s probably kinder to pit him against middle schoolers than kids his own age.”
In response, Steven started licking his plate.
After a few minutes, Alice came back looking disappointed. “I’m afraid it’s not going to happen. George and Hank plan to run a Sweet Valley High Hunger Games next month, so we’ll just have to wait until then.”
Jessica beamed. “Oh wow, I’m going to be an only child!”
“Jessica!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“What? We both know I’m going to kill everyone out there, including you—and when it comes to Sweet Valley High, Steven will probably starve to death in the first ten minutes.” She turned to her mother. “Can I paint Elizabeth’s room purple and have it as a Unicorn meeting room?”
Alice smiled proudly. “We’ll see.”
Over in the expensive part of town, Lila was in her father’s office. “The thing is, Daddy, I’ve been thinking.” She paused to give him a winning smile, the one that usually got her whatever she wanted. “I don’t think I want to go into the arena. I would much rather watch the games.”
Her father leaned forward and steepled his fingers together. “This is an interesting time to decide to back out of this venture.”
“I’m not backing out,” she assured him. “I just want my name out of the pot. Wouldn’t it be much better if I was outside, giving TV interviews about how my friends are doing? The Unicorns are so pretty and special, they’re bound to be picked.”
Mr. Fowler shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t be seen giving you special treatment, Lila. The name of every single student at Sweet Valley Middle School will be going into the draw.”
Lila gave another hundred megawatt smile. “So the odds are ever in my favor—nobody would notice if my name didn’t go in.”
He shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Lila. Time and time again I indulge your every whim, and you never learn the value of money. So this time you’re not getting your own way. You will see this through—after all, you wanted it so badly.”
“But, Daddy, I don’t want to sleep overnight in the arena!” She pouted. “It’ll be dark and dirty. And I’ll have to dress like everyone else.”
“Well, sweetheart, if you do get picked, you’re just going to have to find a way to kill everyone quickly, aren’t you?”
Before she climbed into bed that night, Elizabeth silently padded down the hall to Jessica’s bedroom, where she found her twin halfway out of the window, wearing one of their mother’s sexy satin nightslips.
“Jess, what are you doing?” Elizabeth gasped.
Jessica rolled her eyes. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m sneaking out to see Mr. Nydick to see how I can guarantee a place in the Hunger Games.”
“Oh, Jess,” Elizabeth said in a thick voice, with tears welling behind her eyes. “Jess, no. Please don’t. I don’t want you in that arena.”
Jessica glared at her twin. “Why can’t you ever support me? I really want to do this! You’re just jealous that nobody will care about you when I’m on TV all the time, and you’re just my boring sister who didn’t go through the Hunger Games! Well, I’ll show you! I’m going to be the first name picked tomorrow! And then I’m going to kill everyone else and be famous forever!”
With that, she hopped out of the window, leaving behind her heartbroken twin.
For the first time since school began, Jessica hopped out of bed early on a school day. She spent extra time on her appearance, braiding her hair just like Katniss’—and weaving in some purple ribbons, just to make it extra special—a little makeup, and a carefully chosen reaping outfit.
She teamed a black mini-skirt with hot pink tights, and threw on an oversized purple t-shirt. She frowned at herself in the mirror. Last night this had been the perfect outfit, but today, in the bright sunshine, it was lacking. As she scanned the room for the finishing touch, she spotted a bundle of sheer scarves from her Melody Powers phase. She plaited them together and made a wispy kind of belt, with fluttering ends that made her look dramatic. She nodded approvingly, but it still needed something else. Finally she took a purple eyeliner and carefully wrote the word “TRIBUTE” along her jawline on the right side.
Pleased with the final look, Jessica headed downstairs for breakfast. She struck a pose in the doorway and waited for her family to notice her. When they finally did, Steven gave a hoot of laughter. Her parents and Elizabeth were all trying to hide their smiles.
Jessica glared at him. “What are you laughing at? I look terrific.”
Elizabeth walked up to her. “Jess, did you write ‘Tribute’ in the mirror?”
“Yes, isn’t it neat?”
“It’s backwards. Remember? Things are opposite in the mirror?” Elizabeth said in a soft voice.
“It’s not backward, I read it perfectly in the mirror!” Jessica said. She had even checked the spelling on a hand-out from Patman-Fowler.
After a little convincing, Jessica was taken upstairs so that Elizabeth could re-write the word Tribute before she got to school and they set off. Elizabeth spent the walk badmouthing the Hunger Games, nothing could dim Jessica’s excitement. After getting back from Mr. Nydick’s house—he very much appreciated the extra effort she had made by stealing her mother’s nightslip—Jessica had replayed her favorite scenes from the movie in her mind, replacing Katniss with herself, and Peeta with Bruce Patman. Or sometimes Johnny Buck. Or Kent Kellerman. Or Donny Diamond. There were so many good-looking boys to choose from, and in her mind, they all wanted to die for her.
She couldn’t wait to experience that for real.
She ignored Elizabeth’s grumbles, and once they reached the school, she peeled away from her twin to join the Unicorns by the fountain. “Isn’t it exciting?” she asked as she reached them.
“Oh, Jessica, I love your outfit!” Ellen gushed. “And you’ve written something on your face!”
“Tuh—rib—oo-t,” Janet said slowly. “Oh, Tribute! That is wonderful, Jess.”
Jessica preened at the praise from the president of the Unicorns. Then frowned as she added, “I think I’m going to do the same. Lend me your pencil, Jessica.”
Within minutes, every single Unicorn had the word “Tribute” written in purple along their jawlines. Jessica was furious. Now no-one would know how she started an amazing trend.
It only got worse. By the time they were called into the Reaping assembly, almost everyone had the word written on their face. Jessica saw Amy Sutton and Julie Porter walk past, both following the trend, and overheard, “It’s so nice of Sandra Ferris to share these cool tips with us. She’s such a trendsetter.”
Jessica balled her fists so hard that her knuckles cracked. She took a deep breath and vowed to kill Sandra in the arena. She imagined herself knocking Sandra down in the faculty parking lot and bouncing her skull against the asphalt until the shock sent her hair frizzy again.
She glanced around the assembly hall. Not long now. On the stage was a table with two glass bowls, one contained blue slips of paper, the other pink. Mr. Patman and Mr. Fowler sat on the stage, looking very interested in the proceedings. To the side of them sat Madame André, Jessica’s ballet teacher.
Jessica twisted her fingers together and tried to think positively—she imagined that every single pink slip of paper had the name Jessica Wakefield written on it.
Mr. Nydick approached the microphone, and Jessica bounced in anticipation. Beside her, Lila was white as a sheet and breathing hard. She must be just as excited as me! Jessica thought.
“Good morning, potential tributes!” Mr. Nydick called out and the hall erupted in cheers and whoops. He looked rather surprised to have received such a warm response. Jessica let out her own yell of joy. Lila groaned.
“I know you’re keen to find out who the tributes will be, so allow me to introduce Madame André to announce the female tributes, and Mr. Davis to announce the boys!”
“Madame André?” Lila repeated faintly. “What’s your ballet teacher doing here? It doesn’t make sense.”
Jessica shrugged. Why not? Madame André was a wonderful teacher—well, she’d been wonderful as soon as she noticed Jessica’s talent—so why shouldn’t she announce the tributes?
“The districts will be assigned in order that the names are picked,” Mr. Nydick explained. “So the first two will be district 1, and so forth.”
Mr. Davis and Madame André took their places, and Madame André reached for a slip, but Mr. Davis got there first and grabbed the microphone. “It seems only right that we start with the men, since they’re the ones who are probably going to win, because girls are smaller, weaker and deserve to be paid less!” This time the excited cheering only came from half the audience. “So, for District 1, our first tribute is… TODD WILKINS!”
Todd? Her sister’s sort-of boyfriend? She could definitely kill him if she had to. She was still a bit sore about the time he chose Elizabeth over her. Even if he was really boring, it still stung to be unwanted, when she was the better twin.
Madame André picked out a slip and read it to herself before speaking. “And the female tribute for District 1 will be… Elizabeth Wakefield!”
Todd and Elizabeth made their way to the stage and stood awkwardly in the background.
How had this happened? How on earth could this happen? Jessica had demanded that she be the first girl picked—and she’d had to sit on Mr. Nydick’s knee and read him a bedtime story, referring to him exclusively as “Nydee-wydee”, while complimenting his beard, to ensure that. It was just like Elizabeth to steal her thunder like this.
“I’ll kill her,” Jessica muttered.
The next couple of names to be called were Ken Matthews and Amy Sutton and Jessica couldn’t believe it, being upstaged by tomboy-Amy and her short sort-of boyfriend.
My name will come out soon, she told herself. To her side, Lila seemed to be muttering, “So far, so good,” over and over.
Next came Patrick Morris and Lois Waller (a fatty? A fatty before Jessica?); then Dylan McKay and Sandra Ferris (Jessica clenched her fists so hard she drew blood); Jim Sturbridge and Belinda Layton (at last, a Unicorn); Tom McKay and Brooke Dennis; then Dennis Cookman and Grace Oliver (another Unicorn); Denny Jacobson and Janet Howell (oh, Jessica would never hear the end of this if so many Unicorns got in but she didn’t); Winston Egbert and Ellen Riteman (that at least amused her—Ellen had suffered so much teasing for the marriage project that partnered her with Winston, but now they were sharing a district too!); Peter DeHaven and Kimberley Haver (another Unicorn, and another nerd—at least Jessica could save face, she might be late to be drawn, but she’d avoided the nerds).
The stage was filling up with tributes, some pale and panicky, like Elizabeth, Todd and Patrick, but most looked pleased to be chosen.
By the time the penultimate names were drawn Jessica was nearly frantic. How could so many names be drawn and hers had not come up? “It’s not fair,” she hissed to Lila. “Mr. Nydick promised me I’d be the first name drawn!”
“Be reasonable, Jess, how is he supposed to rig it? Two completely different people are picking the names. And besides, be grateful—you don’t really want to go in there, do you? I know I don’t.”
“You don’t?” Jessica was confused. “But it was your idea.”
“I know, I just wanted to watch, I didn’t realize I’d be in the Reaping too,” Lila said, looking faint.
Jessica rolled her eyes. Lila was so weird. There would be nothing cooler than killing a bunch of people live on TV.
“And the male tribute for District 11 will be…” Mr. Davis beamed in pleasure. “Bruce Patman!”
A gasp rippled through the hall, and all faces turned to look at Mr. Patman to see whether he would object to his son being in the games, but the only reaction he gave was a small accepting nod, as if he was surprised, but not entirely unpleasantly, by the turn of events.
“That’s a good sign,” Lila whispered. “What are the odds….”
Madame André then announced the District 11 female tribute. “Lila Fowler.”
Lila swooned against Jessica, mumbling, “It can’t be, it just can’t….”
Jessica shook her off in irritation. “Oh, see, you got picked. I swear, if my name doesn’t come out for District 12, I’m going to volunteer.”
“Volunteer now,” Lila said. “I’ll give you all my allowance for a year if you volunteer for me.”
Jessica frowned, not sure what angle Lila was playing, but refusing to fall for it. “Get up on stage, your dad’s looking for you.”
Mr. Fowler was indeed scanning the crowd for his daughter, and he looked relieved when Lila finally got to her feet and walked to the stage. She took her place next to Bruce, who looked equally pale and worried.
Mr. Davis and Madame André each drew a slip, but clearly the excitement got to Mr. Davis, who tore the slip from Madame André’s fingers, and cheerfully announced, “And the tributes from District 12 will be… Rick Hunter and Jessica Wakefield.”
Jessica leapt to her feet and squealed, “Oh thank you! I’m going to be the best tribute ever!”
Madame André glared at Mr. Davis, and stepped forward. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”
“Don’t worry,” Jessica assured her. “They are.”
|1||Elizabeth Wakefield||Todd Wilkins|
|2||Amy Sutton||Ken Matthews|
|3||Lois Waller||Patrick Morris|
|4||Sandra Ferris||Dylan McKay|
|5||Belinda Layton||Jim Sturbridge|
|6||Brooke Dennis||Tom McKay|
|7||Grace Oliver||Dennis Cookman|
|8||Janet Howell||Denny Jacobson|
|9||Ellen Riteman||Winston Egbert|
|10||Kimberley Haver||Peter DeHaven|
|11||Lila Fowler||Bruce Patman|
|12||Jessica Wakefield||Rick Hunter|
Mr. Fowler and Mr. Patman took center stage once all the tributes were announced. Elizabeth could barely stand up. Why had she been picked? Out of everyone who wanted to be in the arena, why had her name come up instead? She could have stayed out of it, save for writing a daily scathing editorial about the barbaric nature of the Games for the Sixers.
She tried to smile at Amy, but Amy looked away, and Elizabeth felt another stab of fear—Amy had promised to kill Jessica, and now they would both be in the arena together. Elizabeth would have to keep them apart.
“Now,” Mr. Fowler said. “I know some of you are disappointed that you haven’t been chosen, but nobody’s a loser here—well, except for twenty-three of the students behind me next week—because we’ve got an impressive array of stars to officially start the Hunger Games!”
Elizabeth saw everyone in the audience straight up, suddenly excited again. For a moment she hated them, because they would not be sent into an arena to die. Then the moment passed, as she realized it wasn’t the audience’s fault she was going to the Games. She didn’t need to waste her time hating people, she needed to use that energy to change their minds.
Mr. Fowler continued speaking. “First of all, tonight all the tributes will be moved to hotel rooms at the Sweet Valley Plaza Hotel, and will spend the next few days learning how to use weapons. You will get updates and information about them—we will have a dedicated TV channel for The Hunger Games.” At this, there were a lot of suitably impressed “ooohs” and “aaaahs”.
“Secondly, we have a concert that starts at 3pm on Secca Lake, starring Johnny Buck, Donny Diamond and Melody Powers. Then we have our interview portion, where each of the tributes will have five minutes of screen time to show you their hidden depths. After that, they will retire for a good night’s sleep before the games start—while you all get to party the night away!”
More whoops and cheers. Elizabeth felt weak. She didn’t want to be taken away from her family and taught how to kill people.
“Isn’t it wonderful, Lizzie?” Jessica asked, sliding over to her side. “The Plaza! I hear they have 24-hour room service, and a TV channel dedicated to Johnny Buck music videos!”
“I would rather be at home,” Elizabeth said, blinking back the tears.
Jessica rolled her eyes. “You are such a wet blanket lately!” With that she moved on to speak to Janet Howell.
Elizabeth felt fingernails dig into her arm, and saw that Lila was grasping her arm. “I can’t do this, Elizabeth,” she whispered.
Elizabeth smiled. Finally, an ally.
Lila had gotten through school in a haze of barely-concealed panic. All around her there was happy chatter—people who were glad they hadn’t been picked, people who were glad they had. Lila was neither.
While she was worried about sleeping on the ground, and that was the excuse she had used with her father, it wasn’t her most pressing issue. Lila was pretty sure she was the only one who had figured out the problem in a constantly live-streaming channel. At some point, the tributes would have to pee or pas gas. Lila was unwilling to do either in public.
And in a less pressing way, she was worried that Jessica would murder her. She was fairly sure that neither Ellen nor Janet would have the nerve, but Jessica was a sociopath, and Lila was fairly sure she had killed before.
At some point she had come up with a plan. She had pushed a note into Melissa McCormick’s locker and asked her to meet her straight after school at Fowler Estate, but to tell no-one and make sure nobody saw her enter the grounds.
And now she was stuck pacing the grand foyer as she waited—Melissa was poor, she did not have a chauffeur that drove her around.
“Why are you pacing, Lila?” Mrs. Pervis stuck her head out of the kitchen.
“Because I’m going to be picked up in an hour, and taken to the Plaza, and then I’m going to train for a week, and then I get put in an arena with Jessica Wakefield of all people, and we have to fight to the death!” Lila snapped. “Oh, so maybe don’t start dinner, I’ll eat at the Plaza, and could you pack my things?”
“Oh, you’ve never been picked?” Mrs. Pervis’ eyes filled with tears. “Not you?”
“Oh, I have, and it’s so unfair!” Lila wailed.
Mrs. Pervis stepped out of the kitchen. “I really would have thought your father might have stopped your name going in.”
“So did I!” Lila raged. “But he said since it was my idea, I had to see it through.”
Mrs. Pervis patted Lila’s shoulder. “Well, I’m sure you’ll win. I’ll pack your nicest things.”
And with that, she left Lila alone.
A few moments later, the doorbell rang and Lila raced to open the door.
“Hi, Lila. Sorry I’m late,” Melissa said. She gave Lila a pointed look. “Of course, if you weren’t desperate to hide our friendship, you could’ve given me a ride over here.”
Lila dragged her through the door. “Did anyone see you walking up my drive?”
“Well, it’s a couple of miles long, so maybe?” Melissa said with a smile.
“Stop being smart—I’m not ashamed of you, Melissa, I’m deliberately hiding you as part of a strategy!”
Melissa raised a single eyebrow. “Uh-huh.”
Lila walked over to her purse and pulled out all her credit cards. “I want you to take these.”
Melissa gave her a small smile and shook her head. “Lila, I’m not taking your money. I think you probably mean this as kindness, so I’m going to say it’s sweet, but you don’t have to worry about me being poor.”
“Oh, blast you being poor! It’s not about that. This is about you protecting me, Melissa!” Lila snapped. “I want you to take these, and send me whatever you think I need by way of sponsorship gifts. The first thing I want you to send me is a tent or something that gives me privacy, so if I need to pee, nobody will ever know.”
Melissa gave a snort of laughter.
“Elegant, Melissa. Is it any wonder I don’t go out with you in public?” Lila paused and thought. “You might want to borrow something from my wardrobe whenever you buy a gift.” She pointed at Melissa. “That outfit and those credit cards don’t go at all. Ask Mrs. Pervis, she’ll tell you what to wear.”
Suddenly, Lila found herself somehow attached to Melissa, Melissa’s arms around her waist, and her head resting on Lila’s shoulder.
“What are you doing?” Lila asked suspiciously, utterly thrown by the gesture.
“It’s called a hug, Lila. It’s a way of showing affection,” Melissa explained.
“Oh. Well, I’m not sure I like it,” Lila said.
Melissa stepped away, and Lila wasn’t actually sure that was better. It had been rather nice to be… hugged, was that what it was called? It was like being secure, just for a moment.
Melissa straightened up and gave Lila a big smile. “It’s ok, I’ll watch all the time, and send you whatever you need, I promise.”
It was odd, Lila thought. Jessica was her best friend, but she honestly liked Melissa more. She trusted her, and she was pretty sure that Melissa had never killed anyone.
“You can count on me, Lila,” Melissa added. “I promise, with you and me working together, we’ll make sure you’re the one who comes out of that arena.”
Lila thought about that for a moment, then smiled. “Ok. Let’s try that hug thing again. What do I do with my hands?”
Jessica nearly exploded with joy when the limousine pulled up to convey the twins to Sweet Valley Plaza Hotel. “A limo!” she squealed. “The Hunger Games is the best thing ever!”
“Would you just shut your mouth!” Elizabeth burst out. “Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve got to go through this, without you being delighted over every single thing?”
Jessica pouted, she didn’t understand entirely why Elizabeth was being such a party pooper. Obviously, she knew that Elizabeth realized that she was going to die—after all, only one could win, and that was going to be Jessica—but up until that point there would be parties, and costumes, and time to flirt with boys! Elizabeth was even lucky enough to have her sort-of boyfriend in the arena with her. Why was she so focused on the downside? Jessica was getting fed up with Elizabeth’s moaning. “No I will not! I’m living my dream, Ms. Grouchy Pants, and if you want to sulk until I kill you, that’s fine—but you’re not going to do it out loud!”
“You are so selfish, Jessica Wakefield!” Elizabeth snapped, stamping her feet. “You don’t even care that you’re going to have to kill me to get out of the arena, do you?”
“To be honest, you’re lucky I didn’t kill you to get out of the womb!” Jessica replied.
“Well what if I kill you, Jess? What if I win, not you? How about that?” Elizabeth put her fisted hands on her hips and glared.
“That will never happen,” Jessica said confidently. “I’m going to destroy everyone in that arena, even my own twin!”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. Not this time. Every single time I give up and let you have your own way, but not this time, Jess. This time it means war!”
Behind them, Steven nudged his mother. “Mom, do you really think they might kill each other?”
Alice nodded thoughtfully. “Actually, this time, I really do.”
“Mom, what if Elizabeth kills Jessica?”
She slipped an arm around her Cheeto-covered son. “It’s ok, Steven. At the last minute, Elizabeth will sacrifice herself for Jessica. She always does. You won’t lose your favorite sister.”
Steven looked relieved. “Thanks, Mom.”
All the tributes were assembling in the lobby of the Plaza, and they were pairing the districts up, and taking photos of them on the sweeping stairs of the hotel. Julie Porter was there, assisting the photographer and taking notes. By the check-in desk was a table laid out with fake weapons for the tributes to pose with.
“What are you doing?” Lila asked when Julie swung past her.
“We’re taking photos for the commemoration booklet we’re producing. We’re going to sell ad space in it, and then sell the booklet to the families of the dead. The funds go to making the Sweet Valley High Hunger Games even bigger!” Julie said, breathless with excitement. “And with both Elizabeth and Amy in the games, I’m taking over as editor of the Sixers, so I’m here for the story as well. Do you have anything you want to say? This might be your last chance to get your side of the story out before you die.”
Lila’s fought the urge to roll her eyes. On the drive to the hotel, she had realized that the Hunger Games surely would not go ahead. They had a couple of days of training ahead of them, and Lila was sure that Elizabeth would use those days to stop the games. She would do research and find a reason to make it stop, or do one of her impassioned speeches that tugged on the heartstrings of everyone who heard them. She was certain that Elizabeth would save the day, but it was good to have Melissa and some credit cards as her backup.
Outside the hotel, there was a female scream of “I’m going to kill you!” and then the glass doors exploded inwards, and the twins tumbled in through the broken glass. Each one had their hands locked around the other’s throat.
The photographer rushed forward and started snapping pictures from as many angles as he could before two security people dragged the twins apart. Despite the bulky adult holding each of them back, they continued to lunge at each other. Jessica had a bloody nose from the fight. “You’ve broken my nose!” she shrieked. “You did that to destroy my chances during my interview!”
“Too right I did!” Elizabeth yelled back. “You’re going to lose, Jessica! I’m going to murder you in the arena!” With her cheeks red, her hair standing on end, and a small trickle of blood oozing from a cut on her left eyebrow, she turned to the rest of the room. “That’s means I’m going to kill each and every one of you too!”
Lila gulped. Apparently her plans had changed.
After the fracas in the lobby, the twins were forcibly separated.
Amy stood beside her sort-of boyfriend, and district partner, Ken Matthews, discussing the situation in low voices, while they waited for the twins to have their pictures taken. Typically, Jessica insisted on getting her hair and makeup cleaned up before a photo was taken. She also insisted on going before Elizabeth, much to everyone’s annoyance, as it meant everyone was waiting around for Jessica to be made presentable.
“I’m worried about Elizabeth,” Ken said to her. “This isn’t like her at all. I thought she was against the games.”
Amy nodded. “She was, and she was against me killing Jessica too, but she seems to have come around.”
“What do you mean, come around?” Ken asked. “I thought we were all against this? I thought we were rebelling?”
Amy gave him a scornful smile. “Why? Why would you want to do that? You are going to be in the arena with Bruce Patman and the Unicorns and you are allowed to kill them. What’s to rebel against?”
“I won’t do it,” he said staunchly.
Amy’s gaze fell on Jessica, now pretty and made up after her fight, with the words “DISTRICT 12” written along her jawline in purple eyeliner and a sharp knife in her hand, posing with handsome seventh grader, Rick Hunter, and Amy felt her blood boil. Jessica always got what she wanted, but times had changed. Amy was looking forward to the moment just before the life left Jessica’s eyes, the confusion of how Amy the loser could have murdered her—and then her eyes would go dark, and her lifeless body would crumple to the ground. “The games can’t come soon enough.”
Jessica reluctantly left the photograph area, so that Elizabeth and Todd could have their photos taken. Once Elizabeth was in place on the stairs, she called out, “I want a picture with blood on my face. It will prove I’m a fighter, unlike my wimpy sister!”
Jessica whirled around, but security quickly stepped between the twins before another fight could break out.
Todd had been given a cudgel which he half-heartedly held aloft, looking very close to tears. By contrast, Elizabeth had chosen a highly polished mace, and was pretending to lick one of the spikes, with a look of maniacal glee in her eye.
For the first time in her life, Amy contemplated which twin was more dangerous.
Elizabeth could barely sit still. All through breakfast, she had wanted to leap across the table and choke her selfish brat of a sister to death. She felt more alert than she had ever felt in her life.
After their photos had been taken, they had eaten, and three burly security guards had stood between her and Jessica at all times. They had then been sent to their suites. She and Todd were sharing on the first floor because they were District 1. Todd had wanted to talk about his feelings, but Elizabeth hadn’t wanted to listen, so she shut herself in her room and ignored the sound of sobbing that filtered through the door.
She had lain in bed remembering every single time she had backed down to appease her sister. Every single moment had given her a jolt of energy. She couldn’t remember sleeping, but she must have. And now she couldn’t wait to go to the training station.
They would be spending the next day and a half training on weapons, and in the afternoon tomorrow they would have their live interviews. Elizabeth couldn’t wait to get started. Todd, on the other hand, looked to be a few seconds away from another crying jag. “Perk up, Todd, you’ve got another day before interviews. You should use this time to learn some weapons. Think of it like homework before a big test.”
That was how Elizabeth was thinking about things. She had called room service and had them deliver books about weapons to her room, so she would not go into the training sessions blind. She had already decided that what she wanted was a nice sharp knife she could keep for close range, and something like a sword, cudgel or axe for more ranged attacks. She wasn’t very worried about anyone else’s skillsets, as (probably) nobody had killed before.
Although now that she was seeing things clearly about Jessica, she remembered that on two occasions, Jessica had asked her to help bury items for a “scavenger hunt” for the Unicorns. The items had both been the approximate size and weight of a teenage girl. One had been just after Jessica had joined the club, the other had been right after Julie Porter’s birthday party. Also, Jessica had insisted the items be buried in the middle of the night.
She felt another empowering surge of rage as she remembered that on each occasion, Jessica had allegedly twisted her ankle, and been unable to help Elizabeth dig.
Elizabeth looked across the room and saw her twin. Jessica glared at her. Elizabeth growled in response.
Todd stepped away from her.
She growled at him too.
“Did Elizabeth just growl at me?” Jessica asked in a faint voice as they walked into the training room—a client suite that had been converted into a gymnasium-like area, with sections related to each information booth. Mostly the booths covered weapons, but a couple related to shelter and safety.
“What was that, Airhead?” Rick Hunter asked. It was just her luck to be paired with Rick. He teased her mercilessly. He always called her Airhead—so she called him Bonehead. They had been bickering ever since they had been paired in the Middle School marriage project. Sometimes she thought he was cute, other times she thought he was—well, a bonehead—but right now she was too busy being terrified of her twin.
Jessica had always lived a life of comfort, knowing that she was the dangerous twin. They both knew one day one of them would snap, and probably destroy the world, but Jessica had always assumed it would be her—and, as an added bonus, Elizabeth would probably take the fall for whatever Jessica did. Now it seemed that roles were reversed.
“I think she really wants to kill me,” Jessica muttered as Rick led her towards a jeweler stall. It was some kind of foreign jeweler, not really her style, too bulky, but rather bold and striking nonetheless—and the designer name was next to their items. Jessica had never heard of “Shuriken” but she assumed that if the Patmans and the Fowlers were footing the bill, he or she would be the next big thing.
“Hrmm?” Rick looked up “Oh, yes, your terrifying sister. Well, I have to say, Airhead, I really thought you were going to be the scariest person in the arena.”
“Elizabeth has snapped,” Jessica mused. “I think we should make a plan to kill her.”
“A plan to kill her?” Rick repeated doubtfully. “We couldn’t even plan dinner without burning down the home ec kitchens.”
Jessica remembered their week of “marriage” very well. Some parts of it—certainly not the part where Rick surprised her with a kiss—were burned into her brain. “But we did kill our babies. Let’s face it, Bonehead, we already have a trail of bodies behind us.”
Rick sniffed dolefully. “I think it was very spiteful of you to bring up Steven Fido. And all of the Steven Fidos that followed him. You have brought back the pain.”
Jessica kicked Rick in the shins. “Rick, we’re going to an arena with a very terrifying Elizabeth in two days. I do not have time for your witty remarks.” She picked up one of the pretty shiny silver stars and waved it at him. “Now, figure out how we use these pendants to kill people!”
Rick nodded sagely, then the corner of his mouth twitched. And again. Then he let out a snort of laughter. “You were doing so well, right up until you thought these deadly weapons were jeweler, Airhead!”
“Bonehead, if you can’t be helpful, I will rip out your soul, tie it in a bow and wear it as a fascinator!” Jessica clenched her fist and slammed it on the table.
There was a brief second of calm, then Rick started screaming.
Across the room, Todd Wilkins fainted, and someone cried, “Jessica has cut off her partner’s finger!”
In an attempt to comfort herself, Lila called a Unicorn meeting. It seemed well-timed, as Jessica was at a loose end after maiming Rick, and Ellen and Kimberley were desperate for a reason to get away from their nerdy partners. Lila hadn’t seen her own district partner at all that morning. Bruce Patman had missed breakfast, and there was no sign of him in the training area. Lila was not worried about Bruce at all, she suspected he had overslept and without a butler there to constantly remind him to get up, he’d gone back to sleep.
Lila had been too tense to sleep. She had lain awake for most of the night, and bounded out of bed at the first hint of dawn. The situation with Elizabeth had alarmed her greatly. She wasn’t sure she could deal with two Wakefield assassins in the field. The best thing to do would be to kill one of the twins—preferably Elizabeth—and then see how things panned out.
Around her, Janet, Grace, Ellen and Kimberley were discussing their district partners, and how goofy or handsome they would look in the interview section. They looked happy enough. On her other side, sat Jessica, her purple t-shirt clashing horribly with the spatters of Rick’s blood on it. Jessica was chewing on a thumbnail and looking thoughtful. It was a rather alien look on Jessica, it made her look like Elizabeth—the old one, not the one currently standing on a table, swinging a sword and yelling, “Come on you wimps! Try and take me down!” while a swarm of security guards tried to get her down without being beheaded.
“I think we need to kill Elizabeth!” Jessica blurted.
Everyone looked to Janet for an answer. She nodded slowly. “And I think you should be the one to do it, Jessica. She’s your sister—your twin—it wouldn’t be right for anyone else to try.”
Lila thought that Jessica would meekly agree, and then manipulate someone else into doing it for her, but instead, Jessica replied, “Are you serious? My sister is trying to kill the security guards right now—and she’s taken out two already. We need to work together.” She stood up and gestured around the group. “After all, we’re Unicorns. We’re friends. We’re supposed to look out for each other. Isn’t that what being a Unicorn is all about?”
Janet gave an awkward half-smile. “Not really, Jessica. It’s about being pretty and popular. I’m friends with all of you because you’re pretty. I don’t want to look at ugly people when I eat lunch or hang out. Also, you’re just pretty enough to make me not gag on my lunch, but not as pretty as me. It’s been hard work finding so many girls that are just the right amount of pretty.”
Ellen preened as if she had received a compliment.
“First of all, what about that emotional lesson we learned when we all thought Lila was poor? Where friendship is more important than—”
Janet held up a silencing hand. “Poor we can handle—Mandy’s quite poor, Mary’s not very well off, even you, Jessica, you’re only middle class—but Lila’s still pretty, you all are. I’m sorry, but it’s just not about friendship.”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “Second of all,” she said, her eyes flashing in anger. “We go into an arena to kill each other the day after tomorrow. So it’s probably not a good time to tell us we don’t mean anything to each other.”
Lila had to hand it to Jessica, that was a smart argument. Then she frowned. Jessica wasn’t known for her smarts, that was Elizabeth. Jessica was known for her attention-seeking drama-queen ways.
“I’M GOING TO WIN!” Elizabeth roared before chopping the arm off a security guard that got too close.
Lila leaned forward. “Seriously, Janet, we need to band together against Elizabeth. Or we’re all going to die. I’ve seen the movie several times—”
“You have?” Janet gushed. “Tell me again what Peeta said about not being able to live without Katniss!”
Not for the first time, Lila thought her cousin was an idiot. Blood loyalty, and presidential loyalty be damned. “And when the games start, there’s a big bloodbath as everyone tries to get a kill. The smart people run—that’s what Katniss did.” Well, actually, it wasn’t, she just managed to avoid the main scrum of the fight. “We can hope that in the bloodbath everyone will swarm on Elizabeth, in a hope of saving themselves, or we can all agree to swarm on her.”
Jessica nodded. “That’s true. If anyone wants to survive this, we’re going to have to all work together to take Elizabeth out.”
Janet shook her head. “I’m not fighting Elizabeth. Let one of the boys do it.”
“Which one, Janet? Todd Wilkins or Ken Matthews?” Jessica snapped and gestured to the corner of the room, where Todd was huddled in a ball, rocking, while Ken tried to comfort him. “How about Bruce Patman? No, he’s not here. Dylan McKay?”
“Maybe he can bore her to death with an essay on why she shouldn’t kill people,” Lila put in and received an approving nod from Jessica.
“Winston Egbert?” Jessica suggested. “Peter DeHaven? What’ve they got? Jokes and school policies, that’ll really take her down.” She tapped a finger against her cheek and accidentally smudged her “DISTRICT 12” moniker. “How about Denny Jacobson? He’s a seventh grader and an athlete, he’s got a chance.”
“Oh yes,” Lila agreed. “He might do.”
“I’m not letting Denny near your monster of a sister!” Janet said. “He might get hurt, and I want him to die for me, not because of her!”
“What are we talking about?” Ellen asked.
Lila let out a deep sigh of frustration. Ellen was by far the stupidest human being she had ever met. “We’re talking about killing Elizabeth, Ellen. Keep up.”
“Killing?” Ellen said. “Why are we killing?”
Everyone turned to stare at her incredulously. After a long period of confusion, Jessica finally spoke. “Ellen, we’re at the Hunger Games. What do you think we’re here for?”
“Well, I kinda fell asleep in the movie, but as far as I could tell, it was a lottery for entrance into a beauty pageant, and then we have to go camping for a few days, and then we get a new dress as a reward.”
Lila dropped her head into her hands. They were doomed.
When they broke for lunch, Jessica dropped into the seat beside Lila. In theory, they were supposed to sit with their district partners, but Rick was waiting to have his finger sewn back on and there was still no sign of Bruce.
Elizabeth was also absent. After killing three security guards, and chopping parts off four more (hence the delay in getting to Rick’s finger), someone had finally sedated her with a dart gun. Jessica had heard that Elizabeth had suffered a broken nose. After killing and maiming so many of the security team, when the sedative hit her bloodstream, the surviving members felt no urge at all to catch her when she dropped like a rock face-first from the table.
Despite the jaw-dropping fear that Elizabeth now inspired, Jessica couldn’t help but feel proud of her sister for being so utterly brutal. Elizabeth was now the kind of tribute that Jessica wanted to be—although, come to think of it, neither of them were particularly like Katniss.
“Did you talk to anyone?” Lila asked.
Jessica nodded. She and Lila had quickly realized the rest of the Unicorns were write-offs, so had moved on with the plan by themselves. “Tom and Dylan McKay, Ken Matthews, Winston Egbert and Patrick Morris.” She ticked them off on her fingers. “Everyone but Winston and Tom said they weren’t going to fight her, because she’s scary. Tom said he could beat any girl, even if she was ‘on the rag’. I asked him what that meant, and he said Mr. Davis taught him that sometimes girls get ‘insane and dangerous’. Winston said he probably couldn’t fight Elizabeth by himself, but if we got a team that wasn’t as suicidally stupid as Tom, then he’d be in. How did you do?”
Lila raised a finger. “You know, Jim Sturbridge said the same thing about her being on the rag too.”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “I hate it when boys have secret codes. It bet they’re pretending they’re secret agents or something. So immature. Who else?”
“Obviously, after Ken had a panic attack when Elizabeth glared at him, I wrote him off. Dennis Cookman said he’d consider it, but he’s been working on not being a bully any more, and thinks that because Elizabeth is smaller than him, it might be bullying. Denny Jacobson said no way.”
Jessica sighed. “So we have Winston Egbert?”
“We have Winston Egbert.”
Another figure pulled out a chair and sat down at their table. A girl a few pounds heavier than Jessica or Lila, with brown hair pulled back from her face in a neat ponytail. “I hear you’re building a team to take down Elizabeth,” said Lois Waller. “I’m in.”
Eventually Rick got his finger sewn back on and he re-joined Jessica in the training room for the afternoon activities. She quickly filled him in on what he had missed—including Elizabeth being taken down by a dart gun.
He was surprised to learn he was part of an allyship. And even more surprised to learn that his teammates were Winston Egbert and Lois Waller. “Airhead, are you growing as a person?” he asked.
Jessica slapped him in response. She aimed for his face, but he anticipated her violence and brought his hands up to protect himself.
He fell about shrieking in agony when she knocked his finger off.
He was carted off back to the makeshift infirmary that had been set up.
Elizabeth’s bloodlust was aroused by the screams, and she took her place once more at the weapons table, this time with a mace and throwing stars.
Four security guards handed in their guns and badges and fled.
She took out two of them with the throwing stars.
Training was cancelled for the rest of the day.
Todd moved out of the suite and into the lobby, where an adult was present at all times.
Team Life, as Winston dubbed them, congregated in Jessica and Rick’s suite, because they were the only district pair who was on the team. The five settled on the plush couches, and set the Johnny Buck music video channel running in the background. With that done, Lois tried to move them on to the planning stage, but it wasn’t going well.
“Oh, I love this song!” Jessica exclaimed. “Isn’t Passing the Buck the greatest?”
“I like Bang for your Buck,” Lila replied, then frowned. “But I didn’t like all the girls in the video. Who do they think they are, touching him like that?”
“Well, later in the video they’re just touching each other,” Rick commented. “Is that better?”
“I preferred Buck Off,” Lois offered. “But none of that really helps. We should formulate a plan.”
“Oooh!” Lila squealed. “Buck You and the Horse You Rode In On is starting! It must be a Buck: Naked marathon.”
Winston jumped to his feet and turned the TV off with a snap. “No more Johnny Buck until we have a plan, because if we don’t have a plan by the end of the day, I’m reverting to my original plan, which was to run away as fast as I can.”
“How long do you think that will save you?” Lila asked.
“A day or so, my legs are long, I can outrun everyone here, and Elizabeth can only kill so many people at a time,” Winston said. He glanced down at the TV. “Hey, there’s a VCR in here. We should get a copy of the Hunger Games and watch it.”
Lois approved of that plan, and wished she’d thought of it. They should watch the fights and take notes. Sweet Valley Middle didn’t exactly produce the brightest of sparks, so there was a pretty good chance they would do what the movie showed simply because it wouldn’t occur to them to do anything else.
“Ooh, that sounds perfect!” Lila said. “We can call room service for popcorn and snacks.”
“Ask them if they have Tender Hearts as well,” Jessica suggested. “I just love that movie. It’s so sad when Beau Dillon finds out he has cancer.”
Rick affected a falsetto voice. “Airhead’s right. He’s sooooooooo cuuuuuuuuuuuuute.”
“No!” Lois said, moving to Winston’s side. “We’re not watching movies, we’re watching the opening part of the games. We’re trying to come up with a strategy.” She moved to the phone and dialed reception. “Hi, this is suite 12, could we please have a copy of the Hunger Games, five notepads and pens, some popcorn and five cokes please?”
Within minutes, room service arrived with their order, and Lois and Winston moved everyone from the comfy couches to the dining table, where they could easily make notes. Winston fired up the VCR and fast-forwarded to the beginning of the games.
“Oh! But I wanted to see Katniss’s dress with the magic fire,” Lila groused. “I don’t see why we can’t watch the whole thing properly.”
“Because,” Lois said severely, “you don’t pay attention to what matters. If you did, none of us would be here right now.” Lila opened her mouth to object but Lois talked over her. “If you’d have thought it through, you could’ve asked your dad for a beauty pageant, or something like ‘Sweet Valley’s Got Talent’, but instead of you demanded the child-murder games. You don’t get to object.”
Lila shuffled closer to Jessica, and shut her mouth.
It was a strange and satisfying feeling to tell a queen bee as important as Lila off. For years everyone at school had taunted her about her weight and made her feel as if she was less important than everyone. Even if people were kind to her, she felt nervous, as if she didn’t have the right to speak to a thin person. But now, just over a day away from the Hunger Games, she found she didn’t care what the thin beautiful kids of Sweet Valley thought of her. Especially since Lila had been the one to get them all into this mess. Lois was determined to live, and if that meant teaming up with three popular kids and Winston, then that’s what she was going to do. But she was going to do it with confidence.
“That metal cave thing—” Winston began.
“It’s called a cornucopia. It’s grey in the movie, but it will be purple metal in our games,” Lila corrected.
“Yes, that. I’ve heard that we won’t be given weapons each, but they will be piled in there, and we have to decide whether or not we want to go in there to get them.”
Jessica pulled a face. “Why wouldn’t we?”
“You go into the back of a tiny, cramped space with only one exit. Your sister follows you in. You both have weapons, but not a lot of space. And only she can run to safety,” Lois explained, and was gratified to see how Jessica paled in response. Lois had honestly not expected Elizabeth to be so… well, Jessica about the Hunger Games. She had anticipated petitions, letters to the President of the USA, impassioned speeches. Instead, Elizabeth was a bloodthirsty monster who terrorized grown men.
Rick raised his hand. “All in favor of not bundling into the death cone?”
“But on the other hand, we will need weapons, and leaving them all for Elizabeth is probably suicide,” Winston said.
Lila sighed. “And nobody else is going near Elizabeth but us, are they?”
Lois rewound the tape and hit play once more. “Lila, is your father doing this just like the movie?”
“Well, mostly, except there will be purple accents on the outfits of the Unicorns.”
Lois replayed a minute of tape again. “There are weapons and items scattered on the ground outside. In her current state, I would guess Elizabeth will run into the cornucopia, certain that everyone else is too scared to try. I think we should run for the items on the ground and attack her when she comes back out.”
“When she comes out laden down with swords?” Jessica asked doubtfully.
Lois paused the tape. “We’re going to have to move fast. When she goes in, we need to grab what we can and gather either side of the mouth of the cornucopia, out of sight and catch her unaware.” When she said that, she felt the room silently ask, Fat Girl, how fast can you run?
Winston pointed at the screen. “The stuff outside isn’t really very deadly. What are we going to do, hit her with rucksacks?”
Lois didn’t even flinch. “You can strangle her with the straps. You can put the bag over her head. You can throw it at her and see if she drops her weapons to catch it. If all five of us act at once, we can take her down. There might even be rocks on the ground.”
There was a silence as everyone digested that.
“I think,” said Lois. “We need to move the couches and the table out of the way, and practice running across the room and picking something up on the floor without stopping.”
Half an hour later, pillows, VCR remotes, coke cans and shoes were laid out all over the main living area, and they were taking it in turns to run and grab something. Lois and Winston were very very good at it. Lois could see the brains whirring away, wondering how the beautiful athletic popular kids were not as good as the fat girl and the lanky nerd.
It would never occur to them that kids just like them were forever knocking books out of their hands, and the losers at Sweet Valley Middle had made a career out of chasing the missing item down the hall, desperate to get it before the next popular kid could kick it away.
Lois planned to survive the Hunger Games. And if she had to use the bullies of Sweet Valley Middle to do so, she had no problem with that.
Given Elizabeth’s outbursts, the training was cancelled in the morning, which meant they moved on to the part Jessica was most looking forward to: the makeover before the interview.
Two meeting suites had been converted, one for the boys, one for the girls. In each there was a row of makeup chairs, and along the walls were dress racks brimming with the hottest new fashions.
While some boring official person with a clipboard had called out the order in which they would be made up or dressed, Jessica had prowled the clothing racks until she found the most perfect dress imaginable. It was a deep and royal purple, with rhinestones along the spaghetti straps, elegant feathers along the neckline and a large satin bow at the waist, from there it puffed out in graceful layers of taffeta.
It was the most breathtakingly beautiful dress Jessica had ever seen. She thought it would look perfect against her tanned skin and light hair. It crossed her mind that Lila, or any of the other Unicorns, would also love to wear it. After a moment’s thought, she took the dress off the hanger and threw it in the corner, under a couple of makeup cases.
Jessica’s name was called out and she went to a makeup chair. She was at the end, so to one side was a wall. Elizabeth was at the other end. Jessica assumed that she had been placed there to limit her interactions with other tributes, and to make it easier to drag her out of the main door when she inevitably had to be sedated again.
On Jessica’s other side was Sandra Ferris. Jessica scowled at her, and Sandra gave her standard “I don’t understand” look. For the first time since yesterday, Jessica felt a glimmer of her original goal when she heard about the games. She wanted to look pretty and kill everyone. And Sandra Ferris was the top of the list.
Jessica’s makeup artist arrived. “Well, aren’t you just pretty as a picture?” She said to Jessica. “We’re going to have fun making you look even prettier.”
Jessica beamed in delight. “And when you’re done, can you make sure you write ‘DISTRICT 12’ along my jawline in purple? It’s kind of my signature.”
Across the room, Elizabeth wrapped the cord of a curling iron around the neck of her makeup artist. Grace Oliver, who was in the chair next to her, jumped up and said she would wait until Elizabeth was done.
Jessica turned her attention back to the mirror and watched herself become ever more beautiful than usual.
With her makeup elegantly applied, and her hair curled into soft spirals, Jessica was ready to slip into her wonderful purple dress. She was sure to look spectacular. She paused for a moment to watch her sister head-butt a security guard, and thrust a hot curling iron in the face of a stylist. She was inspired and alarmed in equal measure.
She moved on before Elizabeth could notice her watching and turn her violence on Jessica. When she reached into the corner where she’d hidden the dress, she found it empty. Lila! she thought. It could be any of the Unicorns really, they could all spot purple fabric from ten miles away, it was one of the membership requirements, but Jessica suspected her best friend for this. Even when they were allies, she didn’t really trust Lila.
If I were Lila, where would I hide the dress? Jessica wondered.
In her suite maybe? Lila was wealthy, and with her surname in this venue, she could easily have gotten a bellhop to run an errand for her, while everyone was focused on getting made up or not being murdered by Elizabeth.
Well, there was nothing for it, Jessica would have to go to Lila’s suite and get it back. She was going to look terrific in that dress, and Lila would just have to wear something else.
Jessica waited until Elizabeth attempted to bite the ear off her stylist, and slipped from the room in the ensuing chaos. She crossed the lobby and took the elevator to floor 11. Lila’s suite was laid out exactly the same as Jessica’s. Jessica had taken the best bedroom, and she had no doubt Lila would do the same, even if she was sharing with Bruce Patman, so she crossed the living area to the bedroom.
She flung open the doors of Lila’s closet and set about ransacking it. While there were plenty of beautiful clothes in there, there was no sign of the wonderful purple dress. Jessica rummaged in drawers, and slammed them closed in frustration when she found nothing of use in them.
“Jessica? What on earth are you doing?”
Jessica jumped at the sound of an irritated voice behind her. She turned and gave Lila a winning smile. “Lila! What are you doing up here?”
“They only have Mac and L’Oreal downstairs, and you know I only wear Chanel makeup. Anything less brings me out in hives.” Lila sighed in irritation. “What are you doing up here?”
Jessica bristled at Lila’s accusatory tone. She wouldn’t be up here sneaking around if Lila hadn’t stolen her dress. “I think you know exactly why I’m here, Lila Fowler!”
“Of course I do. You’re sneaking around, trying to find a weakness so you can betray me in the arena.”
“I would never do that!” Jessica snapped, offended by the idea that she would betray Lila… in that particular way. Of course she’d hide a dress and then steal it back. But those were two very different types of betrayal.
“You’re stood right here, doing it. Did you find anything, you little snoop?”
“I can’t believe you’d accuse me of—”
“Would you two shut up? Some of us are trying to sleep!” Bruce Patman appeared in the doorway, wearing what appeared to be Batman pajamas, with the branding changed to reflect his surname.
Even sleepy and disheveled, Bruce Patman was one of the cutest boys in the whole middle school. He kind of reminded Jessica of her older brother. She gave him a flirtatious smile. “Hi, Bruce. I thought I’d have seen more of you since we’re both in the Hunger Games.”
Bruce waved that away airily. “Oh, I’m sure father will have this sorted any day now. I’m not worried about the Hunger Games.”
“If I were you,” Lila said, “I would worry. Even if you’re not scared of anyone else in the games, Elizabeth has killed almost every security guard our fathers have hired, and she’s maimed anyone else.”
Again, Jessica felt proud of her sister, but at the same time she hated her for stealing all her glory. This was the kind of tribute Jessica had wanted to be. It wasn’t fair. Elizabeth got all of the attention all of the time. Jessica was going to have to do something drastic to get the same kind of attention.
There was only one thing for it.
She launched herself at Lila and knocked her to the floor. Jessica climbed on top and wrapped her hands around Lila’s throat, squeezing the life from her. Lila hit out at her, fists feebly bouncing against Jessica’s forearms. Jessica could hear Bruce protesting for a moment, but he quickly fell silent and ran away. She wondered if she was actually going to kill Lila now—she hadn’t thought about that aspect of it, just simply that she should do something violent, like Elizabeth, and to a fellow tribute, rather than security people.
Lila was making little choking sounds now—just like Roberta Manning had after Jessica caught her sneaking out of Steven’s bedroom—and she probably didn’t have much time left.
Suddenly Jessica found herself dragged away from Lila by two strong security guards. Lila scrabbled away, one hand on her bruised throat, gasping and wheezing. At first it was just indistinct squeaks, but eventually Lila was able to form works.
“I’m going to kill you, Jessica Wakefield,” Lila promised.
“Not a chance, you spoilt brat!” Jessica taunted as security dragged her away from Lila’s room.
Jessica was escorted back to the elevators, down to the lobby and back to the makeover area. As she entered the room the first thing she saw was Sandra Ferris—wearing Jessica’s beautiful purple dress!
“Hi, I’m Beau Dillon. You may know me from the emotional movie, Tender Hearts. As it turns out, viewers stuck in a #MAGA world don’t really give a pimply shit for a pretty white boy’s struggle with cancer, especially when his family has insurance and can easily cover the cost without losing their house, so here I am hosting the inaugural Sweet Valley Hunger Games!”
Beau Dillon, the handsome eighteen year old star, with perfect shiny hair, sparkling eyes and clear white skin, beamed into the camera. “With me is Johnny Buck, who has actually pulled out of the concert at Secca Lake, because his setlist would run past his bedtime.”
Johnny Buck glared at the slight. “Thank you for that rousing introduction, you washed-up has-been! Tonight we get to meet the tributes of the Hunger Games, and Beau and I will be commentating the games themselves.”
“So let’s get right down to it and introduce the District 1 tributes…” Beau said.
“TODD WILKINS AND ELIZABETH WAKEFIELD!” they announced together.
Real Good Time by Alda blasted through the speakers as Elizabeth and Todd made their way to the couches. Elizabeth looked resplendent, despite her broken nose and black eye, with perfectly straightened hair and rather severe makeup that made her look like a beautiful assassin. Todd Wilkins walked several steps behind her with his head down and his arms wrapped around himself. He looked smart enough in his tux, but his body language radiated fear and panic, which ruined the overall effect.
While most of the tributes had their district written along their jawline in purple, Elizabeth had chosen “KILLER” in red. Todd had chosen “HELP ME”.
“Hello, Elizabeth,” Beau said as they took their seats on the plush purple velvet couches of the studio. “You’re looking just as lovely as when I last saw you.” He turned to the camera. “For those that don’t know, Elizabeth and I worked together on a fundraiser for Sweet Valley’s children’s hospital over Christmas of this year.”
Elizabeth looked blank. “Did we? I’m sorry, it’s just I’ve had so many Christmases this year, there was the one where a carnival ghost tried to steal my soul; or the one where we got some antique dolls that were really princes and we got taken to a magical land; or the Christmas where I wished I’d never been born and Sarah Thomas died; or the one where Jessica and I grew up overnight and were inappropriately romanced by actual adults; or there was the Christmas where Jessica tried to ruin my life by taking credit for my gifts; or the time she tried to ruin my life by—oh, that’s right, stealing my fundraising time with you because she wanted to date you.” Elizabeth gave a giggle. “I really am going to have to kill that witch.”
“That’s the spirit, Elizabeth!” Beau said.
Johnny Buck turned his attention to Todd. “And what about you, Todd? Do you have any people on your hitlist in the arena?”
Todd burst into tears. He sniffled into his sleeves, and his tears smudged the carefully written “HELP ME” along his jawline. “I want my mom,” he cried. “She makes cakes.”
“Way to go, Buck. Maybe you should just stick to singing,” Beau suggested. “Elizabeth, I don’t see you crying. Are you looking forward to the games?”
“Am I looking forward to them?” She repeated with a massive billion megawatt smile. “I’m so excited I literally can’t wait—note my accurate usage of literally there—I have been murdering anyone I can to tide me over.”
“That’s right, I have heard rumors about this,” Beau said. “What’s your kill count standing at right now?”
Elizabeth paused and thought for a moment, sometimes using her fingers to count. “Twelve dead, four in intensive care, and seven who sectioned themselves under the Mental Health Act, rather than continue to be around me.” She paused to smile sweetly in Todd’s direction. “And I’m going to kill every other tribute the minute we get into the arena.”
“I have no doubt about that, Elizabeth. Well, ladies and gentlemen, what do you think of District 1: Todd Wilkins—” absolute silence from the audience “—and Elizabeth Wakefield?” The whoops and cheers nearly tore the roof off.
“I think I have a favorite, Buck,” Beau said in faux-confidential tones. “Now, Elizabeth, is there anything you’d like to say before you leave the stage?”
Elizabeth gave the audience a winning smile. “Well, I would just like to say: thank you Sandra Ferris for starting this wonderful trend of writing Hunger Games words on our jawlines—and thank you for letting us all follow in your trendsetting footsteps!”
Elizabeth and Todd left the stage to thunderous applause, and were quickly replaced by Ken Matthews and Amy Sutton.
“So, Ken,” said Beau. “How do you feel about the games?”
Ken Matthews teared up and turned away from the camera.
Johnny rolled his eyes and then gave Amy a winning smile. “Can you tell us about your Hunger Games experiences so far and what you hope to achieve?”
“I have spent the training sessions stalking Jessica Wakefield,” Amy said. “I have hated her for a very long time.”
“Jessica Wakefield is the identical twin of Elizabeth, whom we just met, correct?” Beau said for the benefit of the audience.
“That’s right, Beau. She is a monster of a human being, a bully, a spoilt brat, she’s lazy and she’s stupid. She always relies on Elizabeth to bail her out, and up until two days ago, Elizabeth always rolled over and did what she said. But now Elizabeth is fierce, and Jessica’s days are numbered, I just hope that I’m the one to kill her.”
“Are you worried that Elizabeth might kill Jessica?” Beau asked thoughtfully.
Amy nodded. “I am. I think there are a lot of people who want—maybe even need—to kill Jessica, but only one of us can do it.”
“And if you can’t kill Jessica, who else are you looking forward to killing?”
“Oh, any and all of the Unicorns: Lila Fowler and Janet Howell in particular, I think. And Jim Sturbridge as well—he’s a bit sexist and stupid.”
“Well, Amy, I certainly hope you get your way.” Beau said, then turned his attention to her district partner. He softened his voice. “Ken, are you ok? Is there anything you want to say?”
Ken nodded. “I don’t want to be here. It’s not fair. Todd and I are the nice guys in school, we don’t want to kill anyone. We were certain that Elizabeth would somehow get the games cancelled.”
Beau nodded sympathetically. “So you have no intention of killing anyone, even if they try to kill you?”
Ken looked miserable. “I don’t know. I’ve been trying not to think about it.”
“Well, Ken, tonight you’re going to have to make a decision, because tomorrow you will be in the arena.” Beau turned to the audience. “Aren’t they wonderful? Give them a hand: Amy Sutton and Ken Matthews!”
Next to the stage were the District 3 tributes, Patrick Morris and Lois Waller. Patrick looked neat in his tux, but Lois was wearing three different dresses, stitched clumsily together and her hair was braided tightly against her skull in a very unflattering style. Unlike everyone else, who walked out to a burst of Alda’s Real Good Time, they walked out to Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls. Lois’ cheeks were flushed, but she kept her head held high.
Once they were seated, Beau immediately turned his attention to Patrick. “So, Patrick, how do you plan to overcome being paired with a fatty?”
Patrick looked thoughtful. “I suppose I’m going to try and outrun her. She’s fat, so she probably can’t run fast, so as long as Elizabeth gets side-tracked by killing her, I’ve got a hope of returning home to play my saxophone.”
Johnny Buck leaned forward. “Ah, so you’re a musician?” He paused. “Saxophones aren’t very sexy though, are they?”
There was a moment of silence, and Beau gave his co-host an incredulous look. “Stop talking,” he said finally. “You cannot interview to save their lives.” He turned to Patrick. “And do you think you’ll have a chance in the games?”
“I think if someone takes out Elizabeth, I could surprise everyone,” Patrick said.
“I exist, by the way,” Lois snapped. “I know you can see me, sitting right here. The camera adds ten pounds, so the home audience can definitely see me. You could talk to me too—fat isn’t contagious.”
Even Beau looked thrown by her attitude. “Uh, yes, um…”
“Lois,” she prompted.
“Yes, Lois. Um… you appear to be wearing three dresses, is there any reason for that?”
“Because I’m fat, Beau, and I need to be body-shamed for it. In Sweet Valley, there are only two dress sizes: ‘perfect’ and ‘kill yourself’. The stylists didn’t realize they had a larger girl in the tributes, so I look like this. But thank you for asking the boy about his plans for the Hunger Games, and the girl about her weight.” She gave him a spiteful smile. “Also, I’m glad Tender Hearts bombed. It was a terrible movie—and who releases a cancer movie at Christmas?”
Johnny Buck gave a great laugh at this, and Beau gave him another warning look.
Beau glared at her. “So, to talk about the Hunger Games, as you insist, do you really think you have a chance of surviving against all of the other thinner, more athletic tributes?”
“Well, I suppose you won’t likely starve to death,” Beau conceded.
“Not just that, gormless pretty boy. Do you have any idea how stupid these kids are? The Unicorns have spent their entire prep time being excited about what dress they’re going to wear tonight, the boys have either made period jokes or cried in the corner about how they’re going to die, and Bruce Patman hasn’t shown up for any training session, because he’s convinced his dad is going to get him out of it. The only person to truly worry about it Elizabeth.”
Johnny Buck beamed at her. “I think I’ve got my favorite now,” he told Beau.
Lois gave him a small but sincere smile. “Thank you. I really like your Buck: Naked album.”
Beau continued to glare as he announced, “And that was musician, Patrick Morris and fat girl, Lois Waller.” There was a smattering of applause.
Next out were Dylan McKay and Sandra Ferris. Dylan looked uncomfortable to be in the spotlight, but Sandra smiled and waved to the audience, looking fabulous in her purple dress. Before she sat down, she tried to swoop in for a kiss with Johnny Buck, he politely stepped away, and Sandra immediately burst into tears, and threw herself down on the couch.
“I’m sorry,” Sandra said, looking up and daintily wiping a tear away—somehow she had managed to cry without smudging her makeup, getting red eyes, or turning blotchy. “It’s just I used to be ugly, and when you rejected me, it brought back all those negative feelings. I think if I could get just one kiss from you, it would make up for all those years of being so ugly and unwanted.”
Johnny held his hands up. “Yeah, no. Not kissing an underage girl. Especially one who resorts to emotional blackmail. Let’s talk to Dylan instead. Dylan, how do you feel about the Hunger Games?”
Dylan looked thoughtful. “Well, I’ve spent my entire life living in my younger brother’s shadow, so I probably haven’t a hope of surviving these games. Tom’s the popular one, everyone likes him. Nobody likes me.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “You know what? Beau, either you deal with these attention-seeking brats, or we get Lois out here again. I can’t deal with this nonsense.”
Beau took a deep breath, then turned to Sandra. “I hear that you came up with this wonderful trend of writing your district on your face. How did you come up with it?”
Sandra frowned for a moment, then her face cleared. “You know what? I did! I was just sitting in the makeup chair, and it came to me, so I said ‘And when you’re done, can you make sure you write DISTRICT 12 along my jawline in purple? It’s kind of my signature.’”
“YOU LYING PIG!” came a scream from offstage, and the faint sounds of someone being bundled and suppressed.
“District 12? But you’re District 4?” Johnny said.
“That’s what I said. District 4.” Sandra nodded. “It was totally my idea.”
Dylan sighed. “Tom has all the best ideas.”
“Could you not say things like that?” Sandra asked. “Your negativity is triggering my issues. I keep remembering when I was as unwanted as you, and it upsets me.”
Dylan suddenly sat up straighter. “I’ve decided: if I only manage to kill one person in the arena before Tom kills me, it’s going to be you, Sandra.”
“IT’S NOT! I’M GOING TO KILL THAT IDEA-STEALING MONSTER!” came another off-screen scream.
“Well,” said Beau, as Sandra and Dylan left the stage. “Quite a lot of people seem to want Sandra dead!”
“That’s true,” Johnny agreed. “I hope Lois takes her out.”
Belinda Layton and Jim Sturbridge, the tributes of District 5, were next out. Jim ran ahead of Belinda, and moved straight over to Beau’s side.
“Hi, I’m Jim Sturbridge and I’m going to win the Hunger Games!” he bellowed.
“Woah!” Beau exclaimed. “We have a confident one here!”
“Of course I am! Everyone knows that girls are smaller, weaker and deserve to be paid less!” Jim said. “And so far all the boys have been wimps. It stands to reason that you are looking at the winner of the first Hunger Games.” He turned to gesture at Belinda, who was making her way slowly across the stage, tottering on the high heels her stylist had given her. “Look! She can’t even walk.”
Johnny got up and offered his arm to a grateful Belinda, and helped her across the stage.
“I’m sorry that took so long. My stylist said I had ‘boy legs’ from all the sport I did, so she put me in heels to make me prettier. I did say that I’ve never been good at wearing heels, but being pretty is very important to me. I had to give away my whole identity to my brother when he was born, and if I’m not pretty and girlish, my family won’t love me, because they have a real boy now.”
“If you want, Belinda,” Johnny said. “You can kick those shoes off, and go barefoot.”
“Really?” But she didn’t even wait for confirmation before slipping her feet out of the shoes.
“Sure. And tell us, what sport do you play?”
“Softball, baseball, basketball, netball, volleyball, dodgeball.” Belinda ticked them off on her fingers. “And to relax I go fishing. Or at least, I will until my brother’s old enough to take my place and—”
“No, Belinda, you’re going to die in the arena. At least your parents have a real boy to take over for you,” Jim interrupted, then turned back to Beau and gestured to Belinda. “She used to be my best friend, back when I thought she was a boy, but now she’s all frilly and girly, it’s not the same.”
Belinda glared at him. “Girly and frilly worked just fine for you when you were dating Sally Holcombe.”
Jim gave Beau a conspiratorial “Women, right?” kind of look. “She had boobs.” He cupped his hands at chest level, just in case anyone missed what he meant.
“And will Sally be waiting for you when you get out of the Hunger Games?” Beau asked.
Jim sobered somewhat. “No. Nobody’s seen Sally since Julie Porter’s birthday party. I really miss her boobs.”
“Belinda,” Johnny said. “What skills do you bring to the Hunger Games?”
“I guess I’m a good all-rounder,” she said. “I’m very sporty, so I think my fitness will put me in good stead against a lot of people who just happen to be thin, despite the fact they eat like pigs. Also, I’m a pitcher in my local softball team, so give me a projectile, and I can probably take off a few heads.”
“And Jim, what about you?”
He looked baffled for a moment. “Well, I’m a guy. I’m stronger and stuff. That’s what Mr. Davis said.”
“Well, there you have it: Jim Sturbridge, the boy; and Belinda Layton, the athlete!” Johnny Buck called. “Give them all a round of applause!”
District 6 came next, Brooke Dennis and Tom McKay. Both laid out their agendas quickly.
“I plan to kill literally everyone in the arena, without question,” Brooke said firmly. “When I first joined the school, the only person who was nice to me was Jennifer Wakefield—someone the twins made up. And while I’ve pretended to forgive and forget, I’m honestly not over it and I look forward to ripping out spines and making everyone pay!”
“I just want to hang out with Jim Sturbridge,” Tom said. “I don’t want to deal with silly girls and their nonsense.”
Grace Oliver and Dennis Cookman, also had pretty simple plans.
“I’m going to look after Grace,” Dennis said. “She followed me around when I was being a bully for no reason, and saved my life when I nearly drowned in a highly illogical and improbable cave setup.”
“I just wanted a new dress,” Grace said. “I often don’t have the best motivations in stories.”
District 8, Janet Howell and Denny Jacobson, came next. Janet prissily fussed with Denny’s clothes, and pressed against him like an adoring girlfriend. She announced their plans. “We’re going to get married right after the Hunger Games.”
“Denny, how do you feel about that?” Beau asked.
“Grateful that only one person can survive the games,” he replied.
“What?” Janet shrieked. “But in the movie Katniss and Peeta did, and they lived happily ever after!”
“That’s not how the games work though,” Johnny said. “There can only be one survivor.”
At this point, Janet started screaming that it wasn’t fair, and she wanted to go home, and had to be sedated with the dart gun usually reserved for Elizabeth.
Next came Ellen Riteman and Winston Egbert. Before Beau or Johnny could ask any questions, Ellen jumped in with her own. “Why was Janet screaming? Is screaming cool? Should I be doing it?”
Winston patted her on the shoulder. “She was screaming because she’s just realized that everyone but one is going to die in the games. Remember? We talked about this?”
Ellen shook her head. “I don’t get it. Aren’t we going camping tomorrow?”
“Yes, we are,” Winston said. “But we also have to kill each other.”
“Oh.” After a period of time, she said, “Could you write this down for me? Mom says it’s best to write things down if I’m likely to forget.”
Beau leaned forward. “So, Winston, what are your plans once you get in the arena? Are you going to ditch your imbecile of a partner?”
Winston’s ears turned bright red, as they always did when the focus was on him, but he sat up straight. “My plans in the arena are my own business, but I do think it would be cruel to leave Ellen to fend for herself.”
“Smart move, my friend,” Johnny said. “Play your cards close to your chest.”
After them came Kimberley Haver and Peter DeHaven. Kimberley was the first person to speak. “I think we’re just here to make up numbers. If you think of the hundreds of stories that have been told about Sweet Valley, and not a single book is about me.”
“Don’t you have a Unicorn Club book about you?” Beau asked.
“Yes, but the ghostwriter hasn’t read them. They didn’t really get a good release in Europe. Honestly, I’m frankly indistinguishable from Tamara Chase.” She sighed deeply. “Even he’s had a book about him—and his shtick was ‘Rockin’ Peter’.”
Beau nodded. “Yes, you’re very clearly doomed.”
After that, Kimberley had a hard time hiding her tears, so they were ushered off stage to make way for District 11, Lila Fowler and Bruce Patman.
They both strode towards the couches as if they owned the place—which, technically, they did. Lila looked spectacular in a hot pink mini-dress covered in sequins. Bruce was wearing a tux with a sequined cummerbund that matched Lila’s dress precisely. He didn’t look particularly happy about this.
“Now this is exciting, Johnny,” Beau said. “Before us are the children of the owners of this venture: Lila is George Fowler’s daughter; Bruce is the son of Hank Patman. I think we’re in for something special when these two hit the arena.”
“Absolutely, Beau. Now I heard that this was Lila’s idea. Lila, can you tell us about your thought process?”
Lila looked taken aback at the question. “Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect to actually be in the games myself. I had seen myself as a spectator, so when my name was picked it was a shock.”
“But it is a captivating movie, Lila. I can see why you’d be so inspired.” Then in a lower tone, Beau added, “Why can’t I get roles like that?”
“Because you’re a terrible actor, with all the stage presence of day-old oatmeal,” Johnny replied. “And Bruce, did you have any part in the creation of these games?”
“Well, no. My dad says I’m not an ‘original thinker’.” Bruce grinned widely. “It’s a compliment, it means I think like everyone else. Like I’m not weird.” He turned his attention to Johnny. “Did you know that people have said we look alike? I even parted my hair on the left today, just like you. We could be twins.”
Johnny feigned a smile. “Well… we’re both privileged white boys with brown hair—but that’s true of everyone except for Tom McKay, who’s a privileged white boy with blonde hair—but aside from that, I’m not seeing the resemblance.”
Beau broke in. “But never mind that, what skills are you bringing to the Hunger Games?”
Bruce looked blank for a very long time. “Well, I’m very handsome and everyone likes me.”
“And you think that will net you sponsors?” Beau prodded.
Again, Bruce looked confused. “Well, being rich and handsome usually solves everything.”
“Lila!” Johnny said, “What about you? What’s your plan for the arena?”
Lila gave him a winning smile. “Well, like any smart tribute, I’m going to keep my plans to myself, but I have several schemes in play. While everyone’s worrying about the Wakefield twins, nobody’s wondering what I’m up to, and that’s how I like it.”
Johnny nodded approvingly. “That’s smart.”
“Although I do plan to kill Jessica—I know so many people want to, but I really feel that I’m the one who deserves to. Yesterday, utterly unprovoked, Jessica attacked me in my room. I know you can’t rely on your friends in the arena, but I really thought she would wait until tomorrow to betray me. Still, she made a mistake. Now I’m ready for her.”
Johnny gave her a warm smile. “So, Lila has plans and schemes, and Bruce, you have… handsomeness?”
The pallor of Bruce’s complexion made it clear that it was dawning on him just how insubstantial his plan was.
They were soon waved of stage to uneven cheers (cheering for Lila, silence or boos for Bruce), and the final tributes were welcomed on stage, Jessica Wakefield and Rick Hunter.
“Jessica,” said Beau. “Now I’ve met your sister and she seems just lovely—and brutal. Are you planning to team up with her and become an unstoppable force, or are you going head to head in a twin deathmatch?”
“Definitely the deathmatch, Beau,” Jessica said. “I know everyone’s very excited about the body count that Elizabeth has racked up so far, but I just want to point out that Elizabeth has only been killing since the Hunger Games were announced. I have killed twice before.”
“Really? Do tell us more,” said Beau.
“Well, the first person I killed was Roberta Manning. That was a great kill, not only did it stop her fooling around with my brother, but it meant that a spot opened up in the Unicorns—a group I desperately wanted to join.
“After that I killed Sally Holcombe. It wasn’t so much that I had a particular problem with her personally—aside from the fact she was kind of pretty and spiteful, but not a Unicorn—I was just itching for a kill again, and she was rude to my friend Belinda Layton.”
“We met her earlier,” Beau offered.
“Yes. Anyway, since then I’ve been plotting to kill Sandra Ferris, who keeps stealing my ideas and taking credit for them—and my brother seems quite into her,” Jessica said.
“Stepping away from the potential incest,” Johnny broke in. “Rick, how are you feeling about the games? Did you know your district partner has killed before?”
“Well, there have been rumors about Jessica for as long as I can remember, and she’s definitely ruthless enough, so I’m not surprised. And she chopped off my finger on the first day of training.”
“She did? Tell us about that.”
“Oh, just the perils of being married to Jessica Wakefield!” Rick said jovially. “We had the same kind of problem during our marriage project. We killed multiple children.”
“Eggs, Bonehead! They were eggs!” Jessica snapped. “Stop pretending you’ve killed people.”
Rick nodded agreeably. “Yes, Airhead is right. They were only eggs. But I think it has laid the groundwork for the violence I’ve come to expect from her.”
“And this marriage project,” Beau said. “Any real-life romance there? Do we have a Peeta and Katniss situation here?”
Rick laughed. “Us? No. Airhead would let me eat the berries, just so she could win.”
Jessica nodded proudly. “I would. I’ll kill anyone—even my own twin—so that I can become the first Hunger Games victor!”
And with that, the interview stage was finished. Beau and Johnny wrapped up the outro, more pop music played, and people back home started to discuss their favorites.
Johnny Buck approached his PA, Rosey. “That Lois girl,” he said. “Give her anything she needs. Sponsor her whenever she wants something. The sky’s the limit, ok?”
Rosey nodded. “I’m on it.”
The same night, the bookmakers released the following odds for the tributes, based on their interviews:
|1:1||Elizabeth Wakefield (District 1)|
|2:1||Jessica Wakefield (District 12)|
|3:1||Amy Sutton (District 2)|
|4:1||Belinda Layton (District 5)
Lila Fowler (District 11)
Sandra Ferris (District 4)
|Jim Sturbridge (District 5)|
|6:1||Brooke Dennis (District 6)||Rick Hunter (District 12)|
|8:1||Janet Howell (District 8)|
|9:1||Dennis Cookman (District 7)|
|10:1||Tom McKay (District 6)|
|12:1||Grace Oliver (District 7)|
|13:1||Winston Egbert (District 9)|
|16:1||Denny Jacobson (District 8)|
|18:1||Kimberley Haver (District 10)||Dylan McKay (District 4)
Peter DeHaven (District 10)
|19:1||Ellen Riteman (District 9)|
|22:1||Patrick Morris (District 3)|
|24:1||Lois Waller (District 3)||Bruce Patman (District 11)
Ken Matthews (District 2)
Todd Wilkins (District 1)
After their interviews, the tributes were called into the training room one final time for some an announcement. To make life easier, Elizabeth was handcuffed to a wall and had six security guards armed with dart guns trained on her.
Mr. Fowler and Mr. Patman had arrived to make the final announcements. On catching sight of her father, Lila squeaked “Daddy!” and got a vague smile and a nod in response.
Once they had the room’s attention, Mr. Patman spoke. “Now children, for many of you this will be your last night alive. Because some of you are likely to panic, we plan to sedate you all so you can sleep tonight, once you are sedated, you will have your trackers implanted. One of you will be more used to being sedated than others,” he said with a pointed look in Elizabeth’s direction.
“While you are asleep we will transport you to the arena, and you will awake each in a separate room underneath it. You will have time to get up, washed and changed before you are required to get into your pod to be raised up onto your stand for the official start of the Hunger Games”
Mr. Fowler took over for the next part. “We have to make it very clear to you that you may not jump off your stand before the timer has counted down to zero and the games officially begin. If you step off even half a second early, the bomb beneath it will detonate and tiny bloody bits of you will be scattered all over the arena—leaving nothing large enough to bury. Think of your parents, they want a nice funeral.”
Mr. Patman took over, with a pointed look at his son. “If you decide to sleep through the games, and not get into your pod, the room will explode and kill you.”
“If you stay on it for longer than thirty seconds after the official start of the Hunger Games, then again, the bomb will detonate. Again, think of your parents,” Mr. Fowler said. “Immediately after each death, a cannon will sound. The trackers are send signals to the main control room, so we will know of your death as soon as it happens.”
Elizabeth’s free hand shot up. “Mr. Fowler, what happens if I beat someone’s brains against the stands? Will it explode?”
Everyone shuffled further away from Elizabeth, but Lois perked up her ears for the answer.
Messrs. Patman and Fowler conferred for a moment before Mr. Fowler replied. “To be honest, we don’t know, so if you want to risk it, go ahead.”
Even Elizabeth paused at that idea.
“There will be a cornucopia, a large metal horn-like structure filled with weapons,” Mr. Patman said. “It will be up to you whether you want to go in there.”
Elizabeth grinned and nodded at this. Subtly, Winston met Lois’ eyes and gave a very small nod.
“Mr. Fowler and I have spent some time engineering disasters in the arena—so if you don’t start killing each other, the arena will start killing you.”
This time Lois raised her hand. “What kind of things can we expect in the arena?”
Mr. Patman chuckled and wagged a finger at her. “Now, fat girl, that would be cheating. And it’s not like you’re going to win.”
“I beat your son at the bike-a-thon earlier this year,” Lois pointed out. “Didn’t he tell you?”
Both Bruce and his father flushed in shame, and Mr. Patman moved on quickly. “Once in the arena, your job is to kill each other. Or die, depending on your aspirations. When we have one sole victor, we will air lift them out of the arena, and we will have a big party to celebrate.”
Every single Unicorn put their hand in the air. “Will there be new dresses?” Jessica called out, not waiting to be picked.
“Of course. Or tuxes for the boys,” Mr. Fowler said.
“I bet not in my size,” Lois said.
“Well, no. You’re not going to win. We can’t have a fat victor,” Mr. Patman said. “But the odds are in our favor—as long as you or the gangly boy with the red ears and the stupid questions don’t win, all is well.”
“Now, unless there are any more questions, we’re going to administer the sedatives, and tomorrow you will wake up under the arena.”
Before falling asleep, Jessica’s last thought was, “I really thought there’d be more parties and flirting.”
Sandra thought, “I really am clever for coming up with the Hunger Games.”
Winston thought, “I hope I can trust Team Life tomorrow.”
Lila thought, “I really hope Melissa comes through for me.”
Lois thought, “They can and will have a fat victor.”
Elizabeth thought, “I can’t wait to start killing.”
Elizabeth woke up to a persistent loud beeping and flashing lights. At first she didn’t know where she was, but then it came back to her. She was in a room underneath the arena. There was a large digital clock on the wall, counting down an hour in glowing red digits.
Once she jumped out of bed, the alarm stopped and the lights stopped flashing. Elizabeth took stock of her surroundings. Very minimalist: a small bed, a wash cubicle in the corner, and a glass tube—presumably the loading pod—in the opposite corner, and a table opposite the bed. On one end of the table, neatly folded and stacked, were the clothes she was due to wear; on the other end was a jug of water and a glass, but no food. Elizabeth had never really understood why the Hunger Games were so called, the movie hadn’t explained it very well, but if she was supposed to go into the arena without food, then that sort of made sense.
Elizabeth quickly washed and showered, keeping one eye on the clock at all times. She could only imagine how slowly her twin was moving. Jessica was not a morning person. Elizabeth hoped she was up though, it would be disappointing if Jessica stayed in bed and exploded. Elizabeth wanted to kill Jessica herself, for all the years of betrayal and lies and nonsense she’d had to put up with.
She dressed in the Hunger Games uniform—a skin-tight all-in-one bodysuit of a strange black material that seemed lightweight, but also protective. Down the arms and the legs were single stripes of red. On the left breast pocket, Elizabeth’s name was embroidered in silver. She looked very pretty in it, and the dark colors would hide the blood spatter. She paused for a moment to pity fat Lois Waller, who would not look as good as all the other thin people in her uniform. Elizabeth smiled, she might be a murderer, but she was also still a saint. She would bet anything that Jessica hadn’t given a thought to anyone else’s plight this morning.
With fourteen minutes left before she was due to get in her pod, Elizabeth weighed up the pros and cons of drinking all the water available to her. She didn’t want to slosh as she ran, but at the same time, she didn’t want to get dehydrated.
She frowned. If it was called the Hunger Games, then thirst was implied too. She ended up drinking the lot.
Soon the time came to step into her pod. As it slid shut, and she was encased in the glass tube, Elizabeth felt a shiver of… what? Fear? Anticipation? She wasn’t sure. She was looking forward to the games. She had spent twelve years putting up with Jessica’s schemes and betrayals, and she was sick to death of being the good twin, the one everyone depended on. She was also cross that so many people wanted to kill Jessica—it wasn’t fair. Elizabeth had earned the right to kill her after all the stunts she pulled—stolen babysitting jobs, stolen acting roles, stolen time with celebrities, lies about boys, lies about their mother’s illness, lies about being related to NFL players—Elizabeth was just tired of it all.
But at the same time, gnawing at the back of her mind were the times when Jessica had come through for her—when Jessica had saved her from the carnival ghost who was trying to kill her, or when Jessica had saved her from the evil mask that tried to take over her soul.
Although, come to think of it, that was only two times out of several hundred—and both times Elizabeth had been in trouble, it had been because Jessica had promised to spend time with her, and then left her alone so she could spend time with Lila.
Screw that selfish witch!
The pod raised up, and Elizabeth eagerly looked upwards—she couldn’t wait to see the arena.
For a few moments, there was nothing but blue sky above her, but as she neared the top she was able to see more—snowy mountains in front of her, trees surrounding the clearing they were in. The starting setup was much like the movie, they were arranged in a grassy clearing, forming a perfect circle around the cornucopia.
The tributes were arranged boy-girl by districts, so on one side of her was Todd and the other was Rick, Jessica’s partner. Beyond Rick she could see her sister, also looking lovely in her Hunger Games uniform, but Elizabeth noticed that the Unicorns had purple stripes down the side, instead of red.
“Five!” A synthetic voice announced the countdown to the start of the games.
Elizabeth smiled when she realized that she was directly opposite the mouth to the cornucopia—that surely was not chance. That was the gamemakers, Mr. Patman and Mr. Fowler, choosing her as their beautiful, dangerous victor, she was sure. Jessica would not have such an easy time reaching the mouth of the cornucopia, being slightly to the side, the direct route from her stand would take her to the side of it, not the mouth. For once, luck was not on Jessica’s side.
Elizabeth had already decided that she definitely was going to get weapons. The rest of the contestants were no threat to her—except for maybe Lois Waller, but Elizabeth had heard Mr. Patman last night, “We can’t have a fat victor,” so she wasn’t too worried. People seemed to love Elizabeth, she would be showered in sponsorship.
Elizabeth stared intently at the weapons—she could see the glint of metal, but it was hard to tell what was in there. Probably swords, maybe throwing stars, some knives, she hoped. Those were the weapons she had inflicted the most damage with so far, and only a fool would not provide them for her.
There was the sound of an explosion, and behind the garish purple metal cornucopia, Elizabeth saw the spatter of an exploded body shower over the area.
“DENNY! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Even across the large area, Janet Howell’s piercing voice carried well.
Denny had been out of her field of vision, so it was impossible to know if he tripped or deliberately ended his life to avoid spending his last few… days, hours, minutes?—the end of his life anyway—as Janet Howell’s boytoy. Elizabeth suspected the latter.
Elizabeth leaped off her stand and headed straight for the weapons cache. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her sister make a break for the cornucopia too. Elizabeth pushed herself harder and was pleased when she pulled ahead of Jessica.
Across the clearing, Elizabeth could see Lois Waller and Winston Egbert gathering items scattered on the ground. She ignored that for the time being. She suspected they had a plan, but it was probably a low-level “grab supplies and hide” plan—after all, they were B-players. Elizabeth was more concerned with people like Jim Sturbridge and her sister, who had threatened actual violence.
The cornucopia was shockingly dark after the bright sunlight, and Elizabeth had to blink several times to adjust. The inside was stacked with every weapon Elizabeth could possibly want. She quickly made a decision to set up camp inside there, and kill anyone foolish enough to follow her in.
But first things first: she grabbed a sword for her right hand and a knife for her left, and whirled, ready to protect her new home for as long as it took to kill everyone.
As she turned, Jim Sturbridge pelted into the cornucopia yelling, “Die, silly girl! Die!”
Elizabeth thrust out her sword and let his own momentum impale him on it. “Your skit for the Sixth Grade Follies was truly awful!” She jerked her foot up to his middle and kicked him off her sword, sending him staggering backward. A geyser of blood spouted from the wound, spattering Elizabeth across the face and chest. Jim fell to the ground and started scrabbling backwards, his terrified eyes fixed on Elizabeth. “There was no script, no direction, no talent and no parts for girls! How does it feel to know you’re going to be murdered by a girl?” Elizabeth strode forward and thrust her sword through his chest.
Jim gasped several times, blood flying from his mouth. He managed to choke out half a sentence. “Mr. Davis said…”
Elizabeth twisted her blade and Jim fell silent. “When I win,” she assured his corpse, “Mr. Davis is the top of my kill-list.”
“And there’s the sound of the first cannon, Johnny,” Beau Dillon said from his place at the commentary desk with Johnny Buck. The two were sat at a large glass desk, with still images from the Hunger Games showing on the screen behind them, rotating every twenty seconds. The Hunger Games themselves were being transmitted live, with the commentators displayed in the corner of the screen.
“My Elizabeth gets the first kill for the inaugural Hunger Games!” Beau continued.
“Don’t call a twelve year old yours, Dillon, Hollywood is creepy enough without you adding to it on live commentary,” Johnny Buck replied. “Honestly, no surprise that Elizabeth would get the first kill, she is very committed to a high body count.”
“And also not surprising that fat Lois and nerdy Winston are hiding from Elizabeth by the cornucopia. Those kids should have done a Denny Jacobson, rather than even try,” Beau said.
Johnny put a finger to his ear. “Actually, Beau, I’m just getting word from our tech team that Denny’s death was accidental. Having reviewed the footage, upstairs have agreed that he sneezed and lost his balance.”
“Still, no great loss. Now, let’s see who Elizabeth kills next.”
Lois edged along the cornucopia, praying that everyone else in Team Life had stuck to the plan. Because of the district numbers they had been assigned, Lois was the only person on the left of the cornucopia, and although she had seen the others running as they planned, she wasn’t sure that they hadn’t run off into the relative safety of the woods. She had to hope they were still here, but she had to act like they’d left her—it was the only way to be safe.
Jim Sturbridge had barreled past them, screaming about how he was going to kill Elizabeth, and then abruptly went silent. Seconds later there had been a cannon fired. It made Lois glad that nobody in Team Life had thought to try the same thing.
Lois had managed to grab several items on her sprint across the clearing: a drawstring bag that contained nothing; a rock; and an empty water bottle. She quickly dropped the bottle and the rock into the bag and tied it up tightly. She took a step away from the metal wall behind her, and gave it an experimental swing. Not too bad. Some more heft would help, but it was better than nothing. There were no rocks close enough to add to the bag, they were all scattered further afield, and Lois wasn’t about to risk her life for them.
Around her, Lois was surprised by how many people were still lingering. Janet Howell, Kimberley Haver and Sandra Ferris were sifting through the stuff left in the open, and discarding most of it because it was neither cool nor flattering. Tom McKay, who had been halfway to Jim’s side when the cannon sounded, seemed lost and confused, and was just standing by himself.
Todd Wilkins and Ken Matthews were following after Janet and co, picking up anything they discarded, but there honestly wasn’t much killing going on. None, actually. Lois saw Dylan sneak up behind his brother with a rock, then stop, sag, drop the rock and walk away. Without Elizabeth, this would be a slow process.
She peeked around the edge of the cornucopia, and for a few seconds she saw no-one on the other side, then there was a quick flash of brown hair and red ears—Winston! So at least she wasn’t completely alone in her attempt to take out Elizabeth.
Suddenly, Amy Sutton came flying across the grass screaming, “I’m going to kill you!” She headed straight for Winston, and half a second too late Lois realized that—against all odds—Jessica had stuck with Team Life and was going to be murdered by Amy for it.
Winston, Lila, Rick and Jessica scattered, running straight across the mouth of the cornucopia. With an inhuman scream, Elizabeth launched herself out at them and landed on Lila. Elizabeth screamed again and raised a dagger, ready to bring it down on Lila’s throat—that’s when Lois struck. She ran forward swinging her makeshift morning star, and timed it perfectly to deliver a sharp uppercut to Elizabeth’s jaw.
Elizabeth flailed backwards and fell to the ground. She tried to get up, but immediately fell—clearly shaken by the vicious blow. Lois grabbed Lila by the shoulder of her jumpsuit and dragged her out of the way.
Lois looked up and saw that Jessica and Amy were engaged in a brutal battle, fists flying, legs kicking—as she watched, she saw Jessica lunge forward and take a chunk out of Amy’s neck with only her teeth. Blood sprayed out in a torrent all over Jessica, staining her face, hair and uniform. Amy gave a few feeble gurgles, then fell on top of Jessica, still bleeding.
“I’ve always hated you!” Jessica screamed, as she pushed Amy’s dead body off her. “This is the most interesting you’ve ever been, you boring nerd with stringy hair!”
“Oh god,” Lila murmured from the ground. “One twin’s as bad as the other.”
Above them, a cannon sounded.
“You killed my best friend!” Elizabeth screamed in fury, scrambling towards Jessica.
“I’m supposed to be your best friend!” Jessica screamed back.
Winston ran over to them, bumping into Lois in his haste. He grabbed Lila by the other shoulder. “Time to go!” The both dragged Lila to her feet and took off running.
Elizabeth noticed immediately and dropped her feud with Jessica to launch herself after them. When Lois looked back, she could see that Elizabeth was moving quite well for a potentially concussed person. “Faster!” she urged Lila and Winston.
Lila shook herself free from them—Lois just had enough time to think it was typical of Lila’s selfishness that she would allow herself to be saved by them, but then drop them as soon as they slowed her down—and she grabbed Kimberley Haver, who was just ahead of them.
Lila dragged her along and threw her in Elizabeth’s path. Calling after her, “That’s what you get for not returning my luminous yellow mini-skirt!”
Kimberley turned back to Lila and gave her an incredulous look. “That wasn’t me! That was Tamara Chase!”
Lila gave a helpless “same difference” kind of smile, and joined Lois and Winston in their escape. “All the seventh graders look the same to me,” Lila gasped as the three of them took off into the woods.
Elizabeth took down Kimberley with the practiced ease of someone who had been killing regularly for three days straight. A simple slice of her knife across Kimberley’s throat cut off any protests that it wasn’t fair, and that she wasn’t Tamara Chase. She fell to the ground, and a cannon sounded above.
By the time she was done with Kimberley, Lila, Lois and Winston were long gone, as was Jessica. Still, there were still people in the vicinity. Todd, Ken and Patrick huddled together and when she locked eyes with them, Patrick and Ken pushed Todd in her direction.
He walked towards her with his hands up in a surrender gesture. “Elizabeth, come on, I know you don’t really want to hurt anyone.”
She faked a lunge at him, just to see him shrink back in fear. “I’m sorry,” she said, not sorry in the slightest—was this how Jessica felt all the time? “That was mean, I won’t do it again.”
Todd continued to use soothing tones. “It’s ok, Elizabeth, you don’t have to hurt anyone. You’re my sort-of girlfriend, and we should be together.”
“Ummm.” She nodded. “But I don’t think we’ve kissed since book sixty-six. Or gone on a date. This is not a very good sort-of relationship, is it?”
“I could pick you some flowers,” Todd offered. “Or get jealous and threaten to kill a guy for talking to you?”
Elizabeth paused and raised her eyebrows. “Would you actually kill him though?” She peered around him and gave Ken and Patrick a shark-like smile.
“Todd, how many people can win the Hunger Games?” she asked.
He paled. “One.”
“Start running,” she advised.
Belinda Layton slowed from the bone-jarring pace she’d kept up since the countdown reached zero, but still kept moving, dragging Ellen Riteman behind her. Ellen wheezed at her to stop, but Belinda didn’t until they reached a relatively safe space.
In the Hunger Games there was no such thing as a truly safe area, but she and Ellen had gained a good amount of height by running up the hill, and the trees were thick enough to give them a good amount of cover.
She pushed Ellen to the ground, and sank down beside her, and they both tried to catch their breath.
“Speak quietly,” Belinda whispered. “And if you hear anyone coming this way, don’t say a word, but grab my arm, ok?”
Ellen looked frightened as she nodded. “Who are we hiding from?”
“Everyone else, remember?” Belinda whispered. She knew that it had been a risk taking Ellen with her, but it hadn’t seemed fair to leave her to be slaughtered by Elizabeth. And if Belinda was truly honest, it was comforting to know that Ellen lacked the intelligence to betray her.
“Because they’re trying to kill us?” Ellen asked. When Belinda nodded, Ellen frowned for a moment. “When will they stop trying to kill us? When does this game end?”
The responsibility of keeping Ellen alive suddenly weighed heavy on her. “Until I say.”
“What are we going to do?” Ellen asked.
“We’re going to find or make a weapon—you can swing a tree branch, right?”
“I can do that. And we kill anyone who’s not us, right?” Ellen said.
Elizabeth dived on Patrick Morris’ back. The unexpected weight caused him to careen face-first across the grass. He cried out and Elizabeth giggled as they both tumbled to the ground. Patrick tried to scramble away, but Elizabeth grabbed him by the shoulder and flipped him over so he was lying on his back.
She straddled him and grinned down at him.
“Don’t kill me, Liz,” he begged. “We’re friends, remember? You told my parents where I was when I ran away.”
“It’s nothing personal,” she told him, as she wrapped her hands around his throat. “It’s just I really like to kill people. It’s more fun than writing.”
Patrick gasped and squeaked, and tried to pry her hands away, but Elizabeth wouldn’t budge. She had found her calling—to kill everyone in the Hunger Games.
As the light left Patrick’s eyes, and the cannon boomed above her, Elizabeth thought, Five down, eighteen to go.
She looked around for her next victim.
“So, three kills to Elizabeth, one to Jessica, and one dead by stupidity,” Beau said. “I must say, it’s been a very slow start to the games.”
“Well, Beau, that’s because it’s not the movie. It’s also because these kids have never done anything like this and they haven’t grown up with a totalitarian government.” Johnny beamed at the camera. “It’s entirely new to them, and they’re just finding their feet. Give them time and I’m sure they’ll wow us.”
“Still, Elizabeth has taken to it like a duck to water, whereas Lois has… what, run away?” Beau said.
“Lois saved her friend, and I’m very sure that a girl as resourceful as her has a plan,” Johnny said. “And I can’t wait to see what she does…”
Initially, Lila, Lois and Winston headed through the trees. Winston and Lois had briefly discussed it and decided that flat land would be easier to move on, and they may find a lake with drinkable water. Lila had tried to offer her opinion, but they had already decided long before she could come up with anything smart to say.
After about an hour of walking though, they came out on a beach with beautiful white sand, soft waves lapping on the shore and glorious sunshine beaming down.
“Now this is more like it,” Lila said. “If only we had a beach towel and some sunscreen, this would be perfect, don’t you think?”
“No,” Lois and Winston said at the same time.
“Why not? What’s wrong with the beach? We can be like Robinson Crusoe,” Lila said.
“You mean aside from the fact there’s no food, no drinking water, and no cover?” Lois replied. “Well, there’s also the fact that the beach is surrounded on one side by water, and trees on the other, which means we can be ambushed, and our only hope is to swim away before someone kills us.”
Lila gulped. “We should find somewhere else.”
“I think we should go up that hill,” said Winston. “It’s quite steep, most people won’t make that effort.”
“And trees are good, aren’t they?” Lila offered, eager to be of use. It had occurred to her that Winston and Lois were actually quite smart, and she didn’t want them to think they didn’t need her. “We can hide in them.”
“Yes. We’ll want somewhere out of the way, hopefully with a wall behind us, so we can guard in as many directions as possible,” Lois replied.
“So we’re going up the hill?” Lila asked. She didn’t want to. It looked incredibly steep, and Lila was pretty sure she would get sweaty. Still, she comforted herself, Lois would probably get sweaty too—and she was still wearing her ugly tightly braided hair style, so Lila would look prettier than her.
“We are,” Winston said.
Lila was conscious that they were being filmed, and being the whiny one wouldn’t play well with sponsors—even if she was guaranteed gifts from Melissa. “Ok, we can do that.” She smiled at Lois. “By the way, I can do your hair once we get there—something more flattering?”
“Oh god no, leave my hair the way it is, Lila. I don’t care how I look.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Lila offered. Talking to Lois was a lot like talking to Melissa. It tended to highlight anything she said in front of the Unicorns was offensive to any non-Unicorn. It was a bit of a minefield.
“I’m not offended, I know I look awful,” Lois said, falling in step beside Lila. “That’s fine. Over the summer I read To Kill a Mockingbird—there’s this character, Scout, and she asks Calpurnia to braid her hair when she thinks she’s going to get into a fight that day. It suddenly popped into mind when I was getting my makeover yesterday. Anything that makes it harder for someone to grab me is ok by me, regardless of how I look.”
Lila thought about that. “Can you braid my hair when we stop next?”
“And mine right after that,” Winston said in a low tone. “Now, let’s climb a mountain!”
Jessica was lost. She had used Kimberley’s death as a distraction to get away while Elizabeth was enjoying her kill. Unfortunately, she had run for several minutes before realizing that she had not run in the same direction as Team Life.
She had noticed the slight downhill slope, but had only been thankful for the extra burst of speed it had given her. Once she realized she was going the wrong way, she tried to loop around, rather than retracing her steps directly, but the ground sloped more steeply the further she walked, and before long there was a sheer wall of rock and dirt to her left.
She wanted to cry, but she knew she was on camera. She took a deep breath and gave herself a silent pep talk. It would be ok. She was alone, she couldn’t hear anyone following her, she even had a weapon—admittedly, only a throwing star, but she had already removed Rick’s finger with one, so that was a plus.
Still, this wasn’t what she had anticipated the Hunger Games would be like. She had thought it would be mostly hanging around with her friends and occasionally killing people, using sensational moves like a superhero, and boys would watch and think how pretty she was when she killed.
The real Hunger Games featured a lot more being alone, being thirsty, and walking on uneven ground, while getting itchy from the dried blood all over her skin.
Suddenly, she heard a shout from up ahead. She flinched before she could hide it—she hoped the cameras were on someone else for her cringe. Should she follow the cry? It could be another one of Elizabeth’s victims.
The cry came again. It sounded like a male voice. It occurred to her that she might run into her sister, or someone else on a kill spree, and the sensible thing to do would be to go in the opposite direction. Then it occurred to her that Elizabeth was ahead of her as far as body count was concerned.
Before she could rethink the decision, she took off running. When the person cried out again, she turned slightly to the left and found herself in a small muddy clearing. In the middle of a pond was a tear-stained Bruce Patman.
His face lit up when he saw her. “Help me!”
“I’m not going in that mud,” Jessica said. “Look, there are little silver spangles on my purple stripes!” She turned to the side and showed off her uniform. It was much better than the non-Unicorns’ uniforms.
“I’m sinking!” he screamed. “Help me, Jessica!”
Jessica pulled a face, she really didn’t want to get muddy. But on the other hand, if Bruce was eaten by the swamp, it wasn’t like she’d get credit for it. And she was bored by herself.
And Bruce Patman was very cute.
“Oh, all right.”
“Hurry up, Jessica! I’m going to drown.”
Jessica rolled her eyes. The muddy water was up to Bruce’s chest by now. There were a few dying trees to the side of the pond. The nearest one was quite young and small, only a few inches wide at the base. If she knocked it down, maybe Bruce could use it as a kind of rope.
“Faster!” he yelled.
“Do you have any ideas on how to get you out? No, you don’t, so be quiet!” she snapped. There was a chance he would die, after all, so she didn’t have to be nice to him. And if he did survive, hopefully he’d be grateful enough to let it slide.
Delicately, trying to avoid the mud as best she could, Jessica placed a foot on the trunk, about two feet up from the ground, and pushed. The tree obligingly bent down. She pushed harder and the end branches landed in the water within an arm’s of Bruce. “Move slowly, you don’t want to tear off the smaller branches,” Jessica said.
Bruce sloshed towards the branch and grabbed hold.
“Not too tight,” she warned. “I saw on TV once that people sink faster when they panic, so go slowly. This guy was stuck in quicksand and he kept thrashing about—he died really quickly.”
Bruce inched forward at an angle until his hands were wrapped around a thicker part of the trunk. Once there, he pulled himself free with all of his might. With a great gross squelching sound he wrenched his feet free, and quickly dragged himself up the bank and on to dry land.
He looked disgusting. His neat left parting was skewwhiff, he had mud on his face, he was dripping wet, and he smelled absolutely vile. Usually he smelled delightful, as he strode past her in school, she would get a whiff of bodywash and a tiny hint of cologne, but now he smelled of dirt, rot and… worse things.
Jessica considered killing him. Surely the sponsors would be amazed at her cunning—to rescue a person from a disaster only to take them down once they thought they were safe.
She reached into her pocket for her throwing star, made by the famous designer, Shuriken. Maybe when she won, he would design her some kind of battle armor. She didn’t hold much hope for it hitting the target if she threw it, but if she drove it into his throat, he would die quite quickly. Maybe Shuriken would be so impressed he would sponsor her directly.
Bruce threw off her plans by dropping to his knees in front of her. “Jessica, you are a life saver—like, really. I know we’ve not always gotten along, I know you’ve always been heartbroken after that time we went out and then I left you for Veronica, but let me make it up to you. Nobody’s ever saved my life before. You’re really special.”
Jessica’s black little heart fluttered. Aside from the inaccuracies about him leaving her for Veronica (she was very certain she left him for Aaron), this was exactly the kind of declaration she had always wanted to hear. It was the kind of thing that Beau Dillon would say to the beautiful girls in his movies. It was the kind of declaration Connie Boyer received almost daily on All the World.
Still, it wasn’t cool to look too interested. “Tell me more.”
Bruce started to get up, but Jessica waved a finger at him. “And stay on your knees while you tell me.”
“Everyone follow me!” Janet bellowed authoritatively over her shoulder. She had amassed a small group of followers. Initially she had wanted to keep it Unicorns only, but after Kimberley Haver died, and Lila and Jessica both ran off, Janet decided that it was more important to have a group of people to boss around than what their social standing was. Her group comprised Grace Oliver, Sandra Ferris, Dennis Cookman and Peter DeHaven.
This was not how she pictured the Hunger Games. To be honest, she hadn’t really thought of the games at all. She had simply thought of all the pretty clothes she would get to wear in the lead-up (apparently one dress—that hadn’t been clear from the movie either), and then she and Denny would get married right afterward.
Now Denny was dead, and she was leading Grace and a troupe of nerds through the woods. Still, she was sure that viewers were watching her with awe. “There goes a born leader,” they would say to each other. “Look at her, leading everyone to safety! What a girl!” … “And so stylish,” others would add. “She’ll probably be President of the United States one day!”
Janet’s head was so filled with the assumed praise of the viewers, she didn’t notice immediately that Grace was tugging at her wrist.
“Janet!” Grace hissed.
Janet realized they were at the edge of the tree line. And dead ahead was the cornucopia.
“You took us in a circle!” Peter DeHaven said. “You’re going to get us killed!”
Janet took a deep breath. This had not been the plan. The thing was not to let anyone know that. Thankfully, there was no sign of Elizabeth. “Exactly!” She frowned. “Not the getting you killed part. This was all part of the plan, to walk in a circle, to draw away other tributes.” Yes, that sounded good. “It was a double-bluff!” She added triumphantly. She’d heard that in a spy movie, it sounded very clever.
“How is that a double-bluff?” Peter asked.
“Because we went one way, but we meant to end up here,” Janet explained. That was good, if they weren’t smart enough to keep up with her explanation, then nobody would ever notice this was a mistake.
“Isn’t that just a single bluff?” Peter pressed.
Janet waved him off. “We’re going to stay here, in the cornucopia.”
“What if Elizabeth is in there?” Grace asked in a soft voice.
“She’s not.” She couldn’t be. Otherwise this wouldn’t work, and Janet was sure that it would. “But we’ll send Sandra first.”
“Why me?” Sandra asked.
“Because I heard you say that you had a brilliant idea on how to beat her,” Janet replied.
“I did?” Sandra asked. “Yes, I did. I have the most brilliant ideas.”
Janet left a nice large gap before following Sandra across the clearing as they tiptoed towards the cornucopia. She was sure the viewers would be impressed with her tactical thinking. And she was also sure that nobody would really miss Sandra if Elizabeth killed her.
In the distance, there was a scream, and then a cannon sounded.
Everyone doubled their speed. Sandra came to an immediate halt in the mouth of the cornucopia and everyone crashed into her. “There’s no-one in here,” she reported.
Janet let out a quiet sigh of relief. “Good! Just as I thought. This is now our home. And we shall call it…” she trailed off dramatically as she came up with the most perfect name imaginable. “The Unicornucopia!”
Instead of the enthusiastic response she expected, there was a thoughtful silence. Eventually, Grace spoke. “But only you and I are Unicorns.”
“It reflects the leader, not the people,” Janet decided. “We’re safe here.”
“I think we should keep watch,” Dennis Cookman spoke up for the first time. “I’ve promised to keep Grace safe.”
“I was just about to say that.” Janet nodded and tried to look in control. “Come on everyone, pick a weapon and guard the Unicornucopia!”
Elizabeth looked up from the mangled corpse of Ken Matthews. He hadn’t been an easy kill. He and Todd had started running in the same direction, then split up. Elizabeth had realized that Todd had longer legs than her, so had chosen Ken as her victim.
Ken had darted around the trees, and to be honest, she had nearly lost him at one point, but then he had tripped and fallen down a slope, and she had pounced.
She was going to take a trophy, and she was kicking herself for not thinking of it earlier. After a moment’s deliberation, she decided to take a finger. Perhaps she could collect one from every kill, and wear them as a necklace.
Taking a finger off was a lot harder than it looked, she realized, after about ten minutes of ineffectually hacking with a knife. Next time, maybe she’d do something simple, like hair, or—
Elizabeth stopped sawing at his finger and instead turned her attention to his name sewn onto his uniform.
She looked around for a camera, but couldn’t find one, they were all hidden away within the arena. She settled on looking dead ahead as she announced, “In a few days, I’ll have one of these for everyone.”
Ellen and Belinda huddled together in the falling dark. They had managed to find some thicker trees to hide in. At one point they thought they heard a group hiking past, but they had stayed silent and still until they could no longer hear movement in the trees.
Belinda was worried. The cannon hadn’t fired for several hours now, and she remembered what Mr. Patman had said: if they didn’t kill each other, the arena would start killing them. She and Ellen had done nothing of interest.
And now they were cold, hungry and thirsty, and it was getting dark.
“Look! A fairy!” Ellen exclaimed.
Belinda clapped her hand over Ellen’s mouth, before she could say anything else at such volume, but looked where Ellen was pointing. There was a wispy sliver thing in the sky with a slow-blinking pin-sized light. It was making a light “bink” noise periodically.
Ellen knocked Belinda’s hand away. “We should wish on it!”
“Ellen, it’s not a fairy, it’s even better than that. It’s a gift from a sponsor.” Belinda got to her feet to catch the parachute. Under the parachute was a small metal cylinder with the initials “B. L.” on the lid. “It’s for me,” she told Ellen. “Any guesses what’s in there?”
“I hope it’s the Johnny Buck album,” Ellen said. “It was so cool meeting him. I wish I hadn’t forgotten we were supposed to kill people though.”
Belinda twisted open the lid and tipped out the contents. Very grudgingly a… baseball of some kind rolled out. It had been modified heavily though, with nine inch nails driven through it. It looked like the head of a mace.
“Oh! A Koosh ball! I love those. I have six at home. My favorite is called Alfred. He’s purple,” Ellen said. “Can I hold it? What are you going to name him?”
Belinda handed over the ball and the box it had arrived in. “Be careful, it’s not a Koosh ball, Ellen, it’s a gift from my dad. He’s sent me a weapon—it’s a message that he wants me to win. And that he still loves me, whether I’m boyish or girlish! Isn’t it wonderful?”
“I think it’s an angry Koosh,” Ellen decided. “Who’s Raven?”
“Raven?” Belinda shrugged. “I don’t know, why?”
“Because there’s a note. It says ‘Keep slinging, slugger!—Raven’.”
Belinda felt hot tears prick her eyes. “It’s not from my dad then?”
Ellen stroked the weapon gently, so as not to hurt herself. “We should call it Raven.” She held it up for Belinda to see. “It looks like a Raven, right?”
Belinda felt the crushing disappointment harden and solidify into a seething resentment, mixed with a dollop of hatred. Her parents didn’t think to support her, but a random viewer somewhere in Sweet Valley had cared more than her own parents. She had a strong urge to hurt people. A strong urge to win. And to go home. And to show her parents that she was fantastic, with or without their support.
“We’re heading back to the cornucopia,” she decided.
“And call me Billie.”
Lila couldn’t sit still, the urge to pee was overwhelming. This was exactly what she dreaded happening.
For the moment, Lois and Winston had decided that they were safe. They had walked for hours up a hill. At first, she had done her best not to look too disheveled, then she had tried not to complain, then she had focused on not panting too hard. By the end of the day her only priority was not falling on her face.
Being outpaced by a fat girl and a nerd was embarrassing.
Once the hill had become steep—around the same time they’d all switched over to calling it a mountain—they had tried their best to keep to a rock face. Lois had cheerfully announced that if there was a wall behind their backs, they were less likely to get a knife in the back.
Once they had reached a height that Winston and Lois had both agreed on, Lila had sat down, only to be pulled to her feet once more by Lois. They spent the next hour searching for somewhere “safe” to settle.
Amazingly enough they had found a gap in the rock face that they could fit into. It wasn’t big enough to be called a cave (it wasn’t even as big as Lila’s closet), but the three of them could all sit in there without much overlap.
Much. Lila couldn’t sit still, and she could tell that Lois had noticed her fidgeting. After a few minutes, Lois said, “It’s ok, Lila. I’m sorry if I scared you. Most people won’t climb up this high, you probably won’t get a knife in the back.”
The bladder situation was getting painful, and Lila couldn’t help but blurt out, “I really need to pee!” She felt oddly close to tears at that admission. Winston and Lois had already pee’d—with an annoying lack of embarrassment.
Winston’s face and ears turned red. “So go.”
“I can’t. I can’t pee on TV!” Lila jiggled, but she was now at the point where even that hurt.
“You’re going to have to at some point,” Winston said. “What’s the big deal? We all have to.”
“The big deal,” Lois said, “is that Lila is a pretty girl. Everyone at school and at home, even Lila herself, judges Lila on how pretty she is. Pretty girls don’t pee. Not even behind locked doors.”
Lila wasn’t sure if Lois was laughing at her or not, and was in too much pain to get into it.
“What’s that?” Winston said, suddenly pointing at the sky.
On its way down to them was a large bundle attached to a silver parachute.
“Sponsorship. I bet it’s for me,” Lila said. Then she realized she probably couldn’t get up without putting pressure on her bladder. “You can open it, Lois.”
Lois got to her feet and fetched the bundle. It looked a lot larger and heavier than the gifts had been in the movie. Lois detached the package from the parachute and held the items aloft for them both to see.
In the dying light, it looked as if someone had sent them a bucket and a shower curtain.
“It’s a gift for you,” Lois said.
“But what is it?” Lila asked.
“Someone sent you a bathroom, Lila.”
“You probably don’t know this, Jessica, but your dad, like, changed my life.”
Jessica made a disinterested sound. Ever since she had saved Bruce, he had been following her like a puppy, and telling her how much he had changed. And while the compliments he occasionally threw her way were nice enough, it was kind of… weird. Like that brief time when Rick Hunter had been sickeningly romantic to her. In movies, this kind of thing made her melt. In real life, it was just plain embarrassing.
“You see, when Elizabeth and I were together for the marriage project, I didn’t realize that you could be a real man and a family man at the same time. Then your dad told me how he works hard all day, and then comes home to spend quality time with his kids.”
“He does?” Jessica asked. She thought about it for a moment. “Well, I suppose he taught us ithig.”
“And he taught me about the kind of man I want to be,” Bruce continued.
“Someone who practices a hundred and thirty-seven different types of law, and occasionally gets accused of cheating on his wife by his kids?” Jessica asked.
“The kind of husband I want to be,” Bruce clarified. “I can be just like him. I can work all day, and then come home to my wife and kids and a hot meal, and give advice and help with homework—”
“I don’t really remember my dad ever helping with my homework,” Jessica said. “Actually, the one thing that really sticks in my mind is when he told Elizabeth and me not to bother him with our complaints about our teachers—even if the teacher was a massive sexist jerk.”
“And I think your dad would give me permission, so Jessica, will you be my wife?”
Jessica stopped walking and goggled at Bruce. He couldn’t possibly be serious, could he? They were only twelve. And only one of them was getting out of the arena alive, so why was he even asking? Still… he was Bruce Patman—he was the cutest boy in the seventh grade and fabulously wealthy to boot. The Unicorns would be so jealous if she got engaged—she would be the first Unicorn to get engaged, and Bruce was so rich that the ring would be exquisite.
But he’d be dead.
… but she would be his fiancée. Maybe she would be entitled to some of his wealth.
“Yeah,” she said. “Ok.”
“Great!” Bruce raised his face upward and stretched his arms out. “Ok, so we’re engaged! Can we get out of here now?”
“What are you doing?” Jessica hissed. “And lower your voice, we don’t want the others to know where we are!”
Bruce pointed at the sky in confusion. “That’s how it works, isn’t it? If we’re in love, we can leave, just like the movie?”
Jessica sighed and shook her head. “No, Bruce. Everyone else has to be dead, then you get to leave.”
“So we have to outlive everyone else and still get engaged before we get out of here?” Bruce asked.
Jessica opened her mouth to correct him, then realized it was much safer for her if Bruce didn’t understand the rules. “Yeah, that’s how it goes.”
“Man, that sucks.”
Jessica started walking again.
To keep herself occupied, she started planning her wedding.
With her bladder emptied, Lila felt much better. She also discovered her sponsor had sent over toothbrushes, toothpaste and mouthwash for all three of them. Actually, the three toothbrushes were in a single pack with a large red “SALE” sticker on them.
Lila’s heart plummeted. She suddenly remembered something very important about Melissa: she was poor. And she was good at being poor. When she had been Lila’s “poverty advisor”, she had insisted that Lila only buy what she needed, and only if it was on sale.
Lila had the nasty feeling that Melissa was still shopping by those rules, despite having access to a credit card you could buy a small country with.
“Gosh,” she said to Lois. “I hope my sponsor is going to be more generous in the future. They should remember that they’re not on a tight budget.”
Lois rolled her eyes. “What if they are? What if someone spent all they had sending you those things? Don’t be a snob, Lila.”
Lila felt her pre-Hunger Games self claw her way to the surface. “Oh, please! Anyone who sponsors me knows what they’re getting into, and needs to up their game. They should send over some food and drinks next, since we’re starving!”
“No, that’s what it said on the note enclosed with your gifts. ‘Don’t be a snob, Lila,’” Lois said with a grin.
Lila glared at her, and Lois didn’t even look bothered. It made Lila rather miss the days when an imperious glare from her would send Lois skittering away in fear. Without the pressure on her bladder, Lila was now very aware of her other discomforts—she hadn’t eaten all day, she had walked for most of it, except for when she was nearly being murdered by a monstrous version of Elizabeth Wakefield, there was nothing to eat or drink and her feet were killing her.
Moments later, another parachute made its way to them. Lila reached for it, but it sailed right past her to Lois. “Sorry, Lila, it’s for me.”
“What is it?” Winston asked. “A sink for our bathroom? Or maybe a living room, maybe a TV? We could watch ourselves watching ourselves.”
Lila fought a smile on that one.
“The note says it’s from someone called Ro$ey. She used a dollar sign for the S in her name,” Lois said. She stuck the note in her pocket, then opened the package. “Score!” she exclaimed. “Thank you, Ro$ey!”
Winston elbowed Lila. “It’s a TV.”
“Better,” Lois said. “It’s dinner. From DeSalvio’s. For all three of us.”
The three of them settled down in their cave with dinner and watched the sky for death announcements.
“And as day one of the Hunger Games draws to a close, six people are dead—four of which are down to Elizabeth Wakefield, one to her sister, and the other to pure idiocy. I think it’s very clear that Elizabeth has an obvious advantage in the games,” Beau Dillon said cheerfully.
“If she doesn’t starve to death,” Johnny Buck replied. “Of everyone in the arena, only Lois and her team have food and water.” He coughed and straightened up. “I have no idea who sponsored her, but what a sensible person they are! Elizabeth hasn’t had any sponsors yet, has she?”
“No, but Belinda—”
“—Layton has received a weapon as a gift.”
“All but Elizabeth have broken off into small groups, and Billie may be hindered by her choice in partner—Ellen Riteman—but she does have the skills to do something amazing,” Johnny said.
“So, that’s it for tonight’s coverage of the Hunger Games, join us tomorrow, bright and early for day two!” Beau finished.
Janet awoke to Peter DeHaven shaking her vigorously. “Get off me!” she snapped.
“We saw something moving in the trees,” he said.
“You said Dennis and I had to keep watch last night. And we’ve been up all night, but we’ve just seen something moving on the edge of the clearing.”
Janet rubbed her eyes and patted her hair. “Oh my god! Does anyone have a mirror and a hairbrush?” Around her, Sandra and Grace were stirring—and both were turning their attention to their appearance. Janet was going to have to come up with something to make herself look presentable—she was the leader, she had to look better than the others.
“But what about the people in the trees?” Dennis asked from his position in the mouth of the Unicornucopia.
Janet patted her hair again. Bed hair was certain—slightly worse on the right side. She couldn’t deal with anything else until she was pretty again. “A comb will do,” Janet insisted.
“Janet! Other people are coming towards us!” Peter said.
“Do you think they have a hairbrush?” Janet asked hopefully.
“Everyone gather weapons!” Peter said. He and Dennis already had swords in their hands because they had kept watch all night. That seemed enough, Janet decided. Fighting was boys’ work. And she had her hair to sort out.
“I’ve found a sort of spiked set of rings,” Grace said, holding aloft some kind of garish jewelry. It had four thick rings joined by a solid metal bar with half-inch spikes protruding from the bar.
“Oh, that would work as a comb!” Janet exclaimed. “Are there any more?”
Grace handed them out to Janet and Sandra. It wasn’t exactly perfect, but it was better than nothing.
“I think it’s Jessica and Bruce,” Peter called over to them.
“Jessica and Bruce what?” Janet asked, trying to pull the spiked ring thing through her hair.
“Jessica and Bruce are walking towards the cornucopia—”
“Unicornucopia!” Janet corrected.
Peter sighed deeply. “Jessica and Bruce are walking towards the Unicornucopia.”
Janet brightened. “Good, we could do with more Unicorns around here.”
“We are supposed to be killing the other tributes,” Peter said.
She ignored him and stepped out of the Unicornucopia. She spotted Jessica and Bruce approaching and waved to them. Jessica brightened and quickened her step.
“Now this could be interesting,” Beau said. “There could be a fight over the weapons cache in the cornucopia.”
Johnny leaned forward and rested his head on the table. “They’re going to talk about hair and makeup and boys. I’m so disappointed with Jessica, I thought she was going to kill Bruce, but instead she’s going to marry him. Can we cut to Lois?”
Jessica and Bruce joined the team at the cornucopia. When Janet approached them, she sniffed the air. “You do reek,” she said. “What on earth have you been doing?” Janet shooed everyone out of the cornucopia and into the open air. “Phew! That’s better!”
“I saved Jessica from a smelly bog,” Bruce broke in. “She would have died without me.”
“That’s—” Jessica tried to correct him, but he spoke over her.
“—Just what you do for your fiancée.” Bruce beamed at her. “Right, Jessie?”
“I saved you!” Jessica burst out, but her response was lost in the cooing of Janet, Grace and Sandra.
“You’re engaged!” Janet squealed. “That’s so romantic! Jessica, have you thought about your bridesmaids? I was thinking purple silk gowns, with long flowing trains, and posies of white roses.”
Jessica paused to consider that—if Janet was suggesting a long train, it meant she was thinking of upstaging Jessica, and if there was one day Jessica was unwilling to be upstaged, it was her wedding day—especially if she was marrying someone as rich as Bruce Patman. “Well, I’ll be all in white, of course, and I think—”
“You’re so brave, Bruce,” Sandra cooed. “I think it’s amazing that you saved Jessica. You must be really strong to pull her out of a swamp.” She gazed down at the ground. “Nobody has ever saved me. I guess it’s because I used to be ugly.” She looked up at Bruce through her lashes. “Although you did say I looked like Christie Brinkley.”
“And you do! I can’t believe you used to be ugly, not someone as pretty as you,” Bruce said.
“I saved Bruce,” Jessica said. “He was in a bog and sinking, and I knocked a tree down to save him.” That was absolutely correct, and it made her sound fantastic.
“You saved Jessica with a tree?” Janet asked.
“You’re so brave!” Grace added.
Jessica tightened her fingers around the throwing star she had in her pocket. She turned to Peter DeHaven, “I really did save him.”
Peter nodded. “You probably shouldn’t have.”
“I was walking through the woods, when I came to a smelly muddy bog,” Bruce said. “Jessica was sinking, and I told her that she needed to be still so she wouldn’t sink faster. I realized I had to act fast, so I kicked a tree—it must have been at least a hundred years old—and it fell down, so I ran across it and pulled Jessica free!”
“Oh wow!” Sandra breathed.
“If that’s what happened, why is he covered in mud and I’m not?” Jessica snapped.
“And when I realized how much Jess needed me, that’s when I had to propose,” Bruce added. “She cried when I asked.”
“That didn’t happen.”
“Jessica, if you’re going to marry me, you’re going to need to support me, like your mother supports your dad,” Bruce said.
I’m not, she realized. She didn’t need to continue this farce—Jessica planned on being the only person to get out of the arena, and now she had other people to talk to. Bruce had served his purpose.
She let out a scream of frustration and dove at him, with the throwing star clasped in her fist, determined to open his bragging, lying throat. As she flew at Bruce, Peter DeHaven got in her way and staggered toward the pair of them.
Peter let out a scream and fell to the ground clutching his bloody face. Bruce and Jessica landed beside him, Jessica on top of Bruce. At Peter’s scream, she paused in her tracks, her blade a mere inch away from Bruce’s throat.
Peter had some kind of spiky baseball on his face—Jessica wasn’t really sure where it came from. The nails in the baseball were deeply embedded in his eye and cheek. It looked as if his cheekbone had caved in from the impact. Blood flowed freely from the wounds and Peter continued to scream.
Someone yelled, “YAY, RAVEN!” in the background.
Jessica turned her attention back to Bruce. She raised her weapon, to get maximum impact, but before she could strike, her face exploded in a wave of pain. She dropped the throwing star and tumbled to the side, where she landed on Peter DeHaven and pressed the spiky baseball even deeper into his face. He screamed again.
Jessica blinked and saw Sandra standing above her holding a rock. “Leave Bruce Patman alone!” she screamed, before lunging at Jessica again.
Jessica thought fast and scrabbled backwards. She reached for the spiky baseball and wrenched it out of Peter’s face. It came away with a sick popping sound, dribbling blood and bone fragments. Peter screamed again and then fell silent. Above them a cannon boomed.
When Sandra launched herself at Jessica again, Jessica struck out with the baseball. She aimed for Sandra’s middle (she had heard somewhere that stomach wounds were very painful), but had to dodge away from Sandra’s flailing attack with the rock. Instead Jessica scored the spiked ball down Sandra’s left leg, leaving her uniform and skin in ribbons. She screamed and fell onto her butt.
“My legs!” She squealed. “Now I can’t wear miniskirts! Why do you hate me?”
Jessica dragged herself to her feet and screamed as she lunged at the idea-stealing jerk. “Many reasons! And you’ll be dead before I finish listing them!” She flew at Sandra and knocked her to the ground, with one hand wrapped around her throat to hold her down, and the other raised high with her spiky baseball. She brought it down with all her might—remembering every moment when Sandra upstaged her, every time she had stolen her ideas, every time she had manipulated Elizabeth into taking her side with her crocodile tears—and smashed it into Sandra’s face.
Sandra screamed and thrashed under Jessica, but she was in pain and weak, and Jessica had no trouble holding her down. She dragged the ball out of Sandra’s face, and slammed it back down again. She kept this up long after the cannon sounded.
“So, it seems that Jessica has finally found her inner monster,” Beau commented. “And both Peter DeHaven and the idea-filled Sandra Ferris have both died from balls to the face.”
Johnny slammed his face into the desk again. “I’m a Multi-Platinum award level artist. I deserve better than this. Now can we go to Lois?”
“Now we haven’t seen anything of Brooke Dennis, Todd Wilkins, Rick Hunter and Tom and Dylan McKay,” Beau said. “It’s almost as if the ghostwriter forgot they were alive.”
“Or just that she thought that nobody cared about anyone but Lila or Lois.”
“So let’s cut to what is probably known as ‘Team oh, I’d forgotten about you’.”
“George, do you have a moment?” Hank Patman said, catching sight of his business partner across a busy hall in Hunger Games HQ.
“Of course, what is it?” George Fowler replied.
Hank found a conveniently empty meeting room and indicated George should step inside. Once the door was firmly shut behind him, Hank said, “We have a serious problem.”
“What is it?”
“The fat girl.” Hank didn’t know her name, he honestly didn’t realize he would need to learn it. Everyone had assumed that a fatty like her would be the first to die at the cornucopia, her chubby little legs wouldn’t move fast enough to avoid an attractive athlete with a weapon. “Last night she was sent dinner, this morning she was sent breakfast, I’ve just intercepted another sponsorship gift, this one sending her a field hockey stick with a sharp point at the end.”
“That’s not good.” George nodded. “We can’t have a fat girl getting the best gifts. It gives her an unfair advantage over the attractive people. Do you have a solution in mind? Shall we block any gifts for her?”
“I actually have a different idea,” Hank replied. “I was thinking we should just send any gifts for Lois to Elizabeth Wakefield. She’s sure to win—has a Wakefield ever lost any competition in the last twelve years?—and she’s very slender and pretty. She’d make a good poster child for the company.”
“Yes,” George said. “Make that happen.”
Elizabeth was prowling through the woods, searching for her next victim when her first sponsorship gift arrived. She quickly unwrapped it and found it was a field hockey stick with the end sharpened to a vicious point. She frowned at it for a moment. It wasn’t really her. She had really made her mark using sharp metal weapons: knives, swords, throwing stars. The hockey stick was just… inelegant. There was something a bit working class about its simple functionality. Still, she had to be gracious, despite the fact that her sponsor was an idiot, who spelled her name with a dollar sign. “Thank you, Rosey,” she said with a passable attempt at sincerity.
She swung it a few times to make it look like she was grateful, then she tucked it into the shoulder holder that had come with it. Elizabeth couldn’t help but think that when it came down to it, she was going to revert to her sword. It was just a classier weapon.
She had lost everyone that had run off into the trees. She had seen that Janet and some others had taken the cornucopia, and she planned to deal with that later. Her current plan was to get some height and look down on the arena and formulate a plan on how best to kill everyone else.
She looked up the mountain she was climbing, and was surprised to notice it had started to snow.
“Lois, it’s snowing!” Lila said, grabbing Lois’ shoulder. The snow was coming down in thick flurries, turning the sky white. It was strange to see snow and know they were still in Sweet Valley. It would be even better if there was a warm ski lodge that served hot chocolate and was filled with cute boys.
“They’re moving us.” Lois got to her feet and dropped their toothbrushes, toothpaste and mouthwash into her drawstring bag.
“Can’t we just wait it out?” Lila asked. “We’ll climb back in the nook and wait for it to stop.”
“You ever see The Shining, Lila?” Winston asked.
“No, that’s far too contemporary a reference,” Lila said.
Winston thought for a moment. “If we stay here, we’ll freeze. They’ll just keep sending the snow down until we can’t move. It’s not regular snow; it won’t taper off until they want it to.”
In the time they had been discussing it, the snow had already stuck to the ground, covering it completely in a thin layer of white.
“We need to go,” Lila agreed.
They set off as quickly as they could, but it was slow going. The snow had turned the ground treacherous, and the cold combined with the steep terrain made it hard to make good progress. Several times they each lost their footing and skidded several feet on their butts or thighs before managing to stop.
Sliding down the slope caused heart-stopping terror. Lila cast out her hands, desperate for purchase to stop her descent—all the while as she slid, the idea of pitching over a steep sudden cliff was burned into her mind. It wasn’t just the idea of dying in such a horrible way—it was the idea of losing the Hunger Games in an accident.
Each time though, she finally found purchase, a tree, a rock, a stump—anything, and she would cling to it for dear life for several moments before moving on. Her hands were scraped raw, some nails ripped right off, and the dirt and snow worked their way into her cuts and her outfit.
She heard a groan, and the scrabbling of rocks, and looked upwards. Winston was skidding down the rock face too. Lila held tight to the tree stump that had saved her life—its roots were digging into her thighs, but it was a small price to pay—and threw out an arm to Winston. Their hands touched but they were slick with dirt and melted snow, and Winston slipped out of her grasp and continued straight down the hill.
Moments later, Lois came sliding down too. This time Lila managed to grasp Lois’ arm and stop her descent. Below them was a wide ledge, dotted with small bushes. Lila felt like she’d hit or gone through every single bush available on the way down, and they all had thorns. Winston came to a halt on below, and staggered to his feet looking dazed.
“I’m ok!” he called up to them. Then he froze as Elizabeth jumped out from the bushes.
Lois started slipping down to his side, and after a moment of deliberation—she didn’t want to go down to the ledge with Elizabeth, but staying up here alone was hardly safe either—Lila followed her down. They both scrambled down, mostly sliding on their butts and trying to avoid any roots or branches that would catch and snap bones.
Lila’s heart was racing by the time she hit solid ground. Elizabeth was swinging her sword at Winston, who was on his back and scrabbling away. Lois slammed into Elizabeth’s side and knocked her to the ground. Before Elizabeth could regain her balance, Lois lashed out with a crashing blow to Elizabeth’s cheek.
Lila got to her feet and wobbled over to Winston. She pulled him upright and turned back to Lois and Elizabeth, who were trading blows. Elizabeth got an ugly kick in that left Lois struggling for breath. She rolled away from Lois to reach for her sword and Lila charged forward and attempted to punt her in the face. Elizabeth ducked out of the way, and threw a handful of snow in Lila’s eyes. Lila took a moment to clear her vision, and Elizabeth took the opportunity to grab her sword once more. She moved towards Lois but Winston pushed her clear.
The sword sank into his side and upwards. Winston made a terrible gasping noise and fell backwards. The blood quickly stained the snow beneath him.
Lila felt a surge of rage. She launched herself at Elizabeth and shoved with all her might.
Elizabeth gave her a look of pure astonishment as she teetered backwards—her arms pin-wheeled helplessly for a few seconds—before she toppled off the cliff.
Above a cannon boomed.
Note: Apologies to Rosey for Elizabeth’s reaction to Rosey’s sponsorship gift—and her dickish reaction to the spelling of “Ro$ey” (which I did, not Rosey). Fuck you, Elizabeth, nobody likes you and that gift was for Lois. Who would take off heads like a pro.
“Jessica, maybe you should stop hitting Sandra. The, um, flying thingy wants to take her way,” Janet said.
Jessica took a deep breath and wiped the blood spatter off her face with the back of her arm. She let the breath out slowly and looked around. Ellen and Belinda appeared to have joined the group at some point—probably around the same time that Sandra expired.
Jessica stood up. “She probably thinks it was her idea for me to kill her.” She felt a little drunk on the power of killing someone she disliked so intensely.
“Can I have my ball back?” Belinda asked.
“It’s called Raven,” Ellen added. “And she’s called Billie again.” She thought a moment. “I’m still Ellen.”
Jessica looked down at the ball, it was incredibly gross, dripping with blood and bits of Sandra’s face. She would be happy to hand it over, but at the same time, was that a good idea? Belinda—Billie—had clearly flattened Peter DeHaven from a distance with it.
Billie seemed to sense her hesitation. “Jessica, when Peter went for you, I took him out. Unicorns are sisters.”
“What’s our surname?” Ellen asked. “If we’re sisters, whose surname do we have?”
Billie patted Ellen’s shoulder. “It’s like Sophia Rizzo and Sarah Thomas—they’re sisters, but they keep their own surnames.”
“Is your dad going to marry my mom?” Ellen asked.
Jessica handed the ball over. “Thanks. It’s a great weapon—there’s more in the cornucopia.”
“It’s actually called the Unicornucopia,” Janet corrected. “Because it’s purple. And we’re Unicorns.”
“I love it!” Jessica said.
They were interrupted by the appearance of another package attached to a parachute. It floated towards Janet, and she eagerly opened it, while everyone leaned closer to see what she had got.
She twisted off the top, dropped the box, and held the item aloft. It was a headband with a purple metal unicorn horn on it. “Isn’t it pretty?” Janet said. She put it on her head and winced. “It’s really heavy.”
“I think it’s supposed to be a weapon,” Billie said.
Janet shook her head. “No, it’s not, it’s a tiara. It shows that I’m the President of the Unicorns, and bound to be the winner of the Hunger Games.”
“Who’s it from?” Ellen said.
Janet shrugged. “Who cares?”
Billie picked up the card from the discarded packaging. “Oh, it’s from Raven. I don’t know who she is, but I like her. I think she should be an honorary Unicorn. She bought me my killer baseball.”
“I thought Raven was a boy—that’s why I named the angry Koosh Raven. All Kooshes are boys,” Ellen said.
“I think Raven’s probably a girl—probably someone who wants to be a Unicorn,” Billie said. “But Raven’s a good name for a boy or a girl, so the Koosh is fine.”
“What’s the Koosh?” Jessica asked.
Billie indicated the bloody spiked baseball. To Jessica, it couldn’t look any less like a Koosh ball, but if Ellen was set on it then it was probably easier to go along with it. And maybe it looked more like one when it wasn’t dripping gore.
“Have you got any food or drink?” Billie asked. “We haven’t had anything. We really should be a lot more dehydrated than we are. I guess it’s the Sweet Valley metabolism.”
“We don’t have anything,” Janet said.
“Well, we went up the hill, there was no food up there, so we need to try somewhere else. Surely they wouldn’t put us in an arena with no food at all.”
“Yes, I was just about to suggest that. We should split up and search for food and water,” Janet said.
“And we should leave someone to guard the corn—the Unicornucopia,” Jessica said.
“I’m going to do that!” Janet said quickly. “And I pick Belinda to guard me—uh, the Unicornucopia! The rest of you go away and fetch food.”
“Billie,” Billie said. “I’m going by Billie now.”
Janet shook her head. “No you’re not. I can’t deal with any kind of gender confusion. You’re a girl, so I’m calling you Belinda.”
Jessica leaned closer to Billie as they crossed paths. “If you want to throw that at Janet’s head, I’ll back you up if you say it’s an accident.”
Lois dropped to her knees beside Winston and pressed her hands over the wound. The blood was pouring out with no sign of slowing. On the other side, Lila helplessly squeezed Winston’s hands.
“Wake up, Winston!” Lila cried. “It’s ok, we pushed her off the cliff. You’re safe now.”
Lois was fairly sure that it wasn’t going to be ok. She was up to her knees in his blood, his face was pale and his chest wasn’t moving. She held a hand in front of his mouth, but realized it was pointless. The air was so cold she could see her breath. She could see Lila’s.
She couldn’t see Winston’s.
“Why won’t he wake up?” Lila asked. She didn’t sound upset, she sounded aggrieved. “Come on, Winston, we have to move now!”
“Lila,” Lois said in a low tone. “He’s not going to wake up.”
Lila looked up at Lois in irritated confusion. “Of course he is. I killed Elizabeth, the cannon sounded, and so Winston has to be fine.” Lila blinked several times.
“No, I don’t think the cannon was for Elizabeth—or maybe it was for both of them,” Lois said. Actually, she had the nasty idea that it was simply for Winston. The Wakefield twins lived charmed lives, and a fall off a cliff might kill someone else, but not them.
Lila swiped at her face. “I’m not crying!” she snapped. “I’m not. You are.”
“We have to go,” Lois decided.
“We can’t just leave him!” Lila paused and thought for a moment. “He’s a Booster! He’s on the same cheerleading squad as me!”
“It’s ok, I’m sad too, but the hovercraft will come and pick him up, and we should keep moving, just in case anyone else is out there.” Lois dug into her bag and brought out some tissues—part of the bathroom gift from Lila’s pragmatic sponsor. She wiped her eyes with one and handed the other to Lila.
Lila snatched the tissue and dried her eyes. “I’m only crying because all the Booster routines that I looked so wonderful doing needed Winston’s participation. It’ll take months to get someone else trained to his level.”
“Yes, come on, Lila.” Lois got to her feet and nudged Lila’s shoulder.
Before Lila got up, she neatly arranged Winston’s hands over his chest, and straightened his collar.
Over the past day or so, Lois had come to realize that Lila wasn’t quite as awful as she appeared to be. But she hadn’t realized that somewhere, buried really deep, there was a touch of niceness too.
The two walked in silence for a while. The slope was becoming more gentle the lower they got, so it was easier to walk. The path led down the mountain in a lazy zigzag. It probably was quicker to go direct, but neither of them were eager to revisit the bone-rattling terror-inspiring plunges of earlier.
After a long period of thoughtful silence, Lila suddenly spoke. “I’m very sorry about the time we tried to make you to eat shaving foam. It was mean.”
Lois gave her an incredulous look. It had been a long time since that happened, near the beginning of the school year, so at least seventy or eighty months ago. She had assumed that Lila had completely forgotten about the incident—it wasn’t as if it had scarred her. Then again, Lila had gotten a mouthful of shaving foam, so maybe it had stuck with her at the very least. Elizabeth, in her well-meaning but cruelly clueless way, had thought that had made them even.
As if Lila getting a gross mouthful of foam somehow equated to the feeling that Lois needed to be punished for having the audacity not to look like a cover girl, with her podgy thighs and her glasses.
Still, an apology from the great Lila Fowler was something. And it was a lot more sincere than either of the half-hearted attempts from the twins.
“Thank you,” Lois said. It wasn’t that she was still hung up on that one incident (how could she be, when there were so many?) that she couldn’t forgive and forget. It was more that because she wasn’t willing to start unpicking her psyche in a venue where any moment one of her school “friends” could come charging out of the bushes to kill her.
“Hey, what’s that?” Lila dashed forward and picked up something on the path ahead of them. She held it aloft for Lois to see. It appeared to be a solid wooden hockey stick, with the end sharpened to a point, and a leather strap or holster to hold it.
“That is a really great weapon,” Lois said.
Lila held it out, and Lois traded her drawstring bag for the hockey stick. She gave it a couple of experimental swings. It felt just right in her hands. Long enough for a ranged attack, but the wicked point on the end could do some damage. “I love this weapon.”
“So, you get a pointy stick and I get your bag?” Lila asked.
“Yes, you’ll want to load it with a nice big rock, rather than several small ones. If you get a good swing going, you can do some damage,” Lois replied. “Remember, I nearly took off Elizabeth’s head by the cornucopia.”
Lila swung the bag around her head. It didn’t have much heft, only containing the dental care gifts from Lila’s sponsor—including their three toothbrushes—but it would do once they found a good-sized rock to put in there.
“Keep an eye out for a rock,” Lila said. “I want to kill everyone in this arena apart from you.”
Lois believed her. Even stranger, she felt the same.
Elizabeth was fuming. That stupid present from that illiterate sponsor had nearly ripped her arms out of the sockets.
When she had toppled over the cliff—and, oh boy, wasn’t Lila Fowler just asking for it now?—the stupid holster from that plebeian hockey stick had caught on some rocks. Elizabeth had slammed to a halt, and the pressure she’d felt from the straps had nearly made her cry out in pain. She had nearly looked weak.
As soon as she had wiggled free, she had thrown the stick and the holster on the ground. She didn’t care who Ro$ey was, she didn’t deserve any thanks for such a stupid gift.
As soon as Elizabeth was done killing the rest of the tributes, she was going to hunt down this Ro$ey girl.
Ellen was alone. She was definitely looking for something, but she couldn’t remember what. Janet had insisted that Billie stay with her to protect the Unicornucopia—Ellen just loved that name for it. If they could just get rid of Dennis Cookman, then it would be like a Unicorn meeting.
She was at the bottom of a hill in a tree line, and she could hear other people around her.
There was a soft repetitive binking kind of noise from above, and Ellen looked up. It was another parachute. She knew they were good things. Billie had said so, so she ran over to it and caught it. It was surprisingly heavy. The metal box had her initials—E. R.—on the lid. Inside was a card that said it was from Ro$ey.
“Thank you, Ro$ey,” she said before tearing into the box. With a present this heavy, it was hard to know what to expect. Maybe shoes? Or a leather jacket, just like Beau Dillon’s girlfriend wore in Tender Hearts.
It was neither. It was large metal gun… thing. Ellen lifted it out. It wasn’t like a normal gun in movies, it was more like a spray gun with a metal tank attached.
“Oh! Spray paint!” Ellen exclaimed. That would be nice. Janet would surely be pleased with that. They could write their names on the Unicornucopia.
She experimentally hit a button to see what color paint it was—she hoped purple.
A jet of flame plumed out of the end.
Ellen let out a terrified yelp and ran screaming back to the Unicornucopia, leaving the fire-breathing spray painter behind.
“It’s a fridge,” Dennis Cookman said in disbelief.
Jessica, Dennis and Grace regarded the white refrigerator as if it were the holy grail. They were all hungry and thirsty, and if this had even a couple of items in it, their problems would be solved—for now.
“So pick it up,” Jessica commanded. “We’ll take it back to the Unicornucopia—it’ll be like our clubhouse or something.”
“We can’t take it with us, Jess,” Grace said. “It needs plugging in somewhere. There’s probably a wire under the ground.”
Jessica was not in the mood to hear the word “no”. To be honest, she never was. “So we’ll empty it and take everything back with us then.”
There was a cacophony of screaming and yelling, and out from the trees ran Team Oh-bugger-the-ghostwriter-keeps-forgetting-about-you. Brooke Dennis led the party, which quickly surrounded them—her team consisted of Dylan McKay, Rick Hunter, Todd Wilkins and Tom McKay.
“You are not taking our food source!” Brooke yelled. “It’s ours, we found it and we’ll kill you!”
Jessica looked around and saw that everyone was carrying either a rock or a hand-made spear made from a tree branch. She gave Rick a small smile and hoped he wasn’t too cross about all the times she had knocked his finger off.
There were five of them, and only she, Grace and Dennis were present—Ellen had wandered off, Janet, Billie and Bruce were still back at the Unicornucopia. Jessica had her ever-present throwing star, but it wasn’t much of a weapon on a two-against-one, especially if the two had rocks and spears.
She opened her mouth to say something—something soothing, something reminiscent of the old Elizabeth—but there came a rumbling from beneath her feet.
The very earth was shaking—Jessica was thrown off balance and slammed into Rick Hunter. She nearly fell, but he managed to keep them both balanced.
The ground gave another lurch, around them trees shook and a fissure opened up in the ground. Trees started to fall to the ground.
Someone screamed “EARTHQUAKE!”
Everybody started running.
When the ground first started shaking, Grace was paralyzed with fear. Sweet Valley had had an earthquake before—a very small one—and possibly, it should have had more, since it was later discovered that Sweet Valley was a suburb of LA, but she and the rest of the tributes were just not used to them.
She stood there motionless as the fridge toppled forward.
Brooke screamed, “EARTHQUAKE!” and around Grace, everyone started running, but it was too late for her. The fridge slammed down to the ground, squashing her flat. A cannon boomed.
“Nooooooooo!” Dennis Cookman yelled. “She’s Grace Oliver, not Olivia Davidson!” It was the last thing he said before a fissure opened up in the ground and he fell into it.
With great ugly groaning noises, trees fell. Tom McKay was in the path of such a falling tree. His brother, Dylan, tried to save him but tripped over his own feet. Instead he crashed into Tom, and they both fell to the ground, with no time to get up. The older brother died instantly when the falling tree caved his skull in. Tom was pinned beneath it, and slowly suffocated and more trees fell.
Above them, the mountain trembled, and a great slab of snow began its descent, starting slowly, but picking up speed.
Lois and Lila raced down the slope to the flatter ground. They had been very close to the base of the mountain when the earthquake hit. Lila’s instinct had been to stay put, but Lois had dragged her along, and Lila had followed instinctively, knowing that Lois could be trusted with life-and-death decisions.
They found themselves back in the clearing with the cornucopia in the center. Lila veered toward it, and after a moment Lois followed. Further towards the edge were a whole host of tributes was crossing the field, also heading towards the cornucopia.
“What do we do?” Lila gasped. If the ground stopped shaking, surely the other tributes would start fighting.
Lois kept running, so Lila followed her. When she reached the cornucopia, instead of getting inside, she ran past it, along the side. She came to a halt and offered Lila a stirrup. When Lila goggled at her for a moment, she said, “Get up!” in a tone loaded with exasperation.
Lila did exactly what she was told, and hoisted herself on to the low roof of the cornucopia. Once she was settled, she turned back and offered her hand to Lois, to help her scramble up.
They both took a moment to catch their breath, both lying flat, and holding wherever they could to ride out the shaking. Once Lila had stopped wheezing, she asked, “Why are we up here?”
“Because I don’t want to go into a poky cave-like room with a bunch of people who have never once been nice to me—and are now armed with the sharpest, most vicious weapons Sweet Valley has to offer,” Lois said. “But if you want to try it…”
“Well, there are a lot of Unicorns down there…” Lila said thoughtfully. Thankfully the shaking finally subsided, and she was able to lessen her death grip on the cornucopia.
“Exactly my point—can you trust them?”
Lila thought of all the times Jessica had stabbed her in the back—metaphorically, so far—over something as small as a sweater or a poster.
Lila glared. “My bag still doesn’t have a rock in it.”
“And things are heating up in the arena, Johnny,” Beau said.
In the brightly-lit studio, Johnny was still face-down on the table. “Winston died. I’m still very sad.”
“Yes, Elizabeth was vicious as ever when she gutted him like a fish. And wasn’t she lucky the got caught on some branches, otherwise she might have died.”
Johnny sat up straighter. “She still could. I think now that Lois has the weapon that was originally sent to her but somehow ended up with Elizabeth—”
“How do you know it wasn’t meant for Elizabeth? This Rosey sponsor has been donating to multiple tributes—today it was Ellen Riteman.” Beau’s eyes narrowed and he glared at Johnny. “Isn’t your PA called Rosey?”
“Um, actually it’s pronounced Rosé, like the wine. It’s a musician thing, you wouldn’t understand. So let’s talk about that earthquake, Beau!”
“Right, Johnny. So we have lost Grace Oliver, Dennis Cookman and Dylan and Tom McKay in the earthquake.”
“Yes, and they were massive losses that everyone was deeply invested in,” Johnny said. “Let’s check back in with Lois, Lila and the other twigs that nobody cares about.”
“As president of the Unicorns, I order you two to get down!” Janet demanded, looking up at Lois and Lila.
“As someone who has never been and will never be a Unicorn, I don’t recognize your authority,” Lois replied, feeling a jolt of joy. Telling Janet she couldn’t care less was so liberating. Every time someone was mean to her, she would spend the following night, unable to sleep because all the clever retorts that would have been so perfect at the time danced around her mind endlessly. She would resolve to say something sassy next time (and there always was a next time), but each time, the social politics of Sweet Valley Middle School would scupper her plans. Lois leant forward, and spoke in what she hoped sounded like a compromising tone. “But if you come closer I’ll stab you in the face.”
“Lila! Tell the fatty to get off the roof of the Unicornucopia!” Janet snapped.
Lois faltered for a second—she had forgotten for the past few hours that Lila was not just any Unicorn, but the cousin of the president. It wasn’t just mean girl solidarity they shared, it was blood.
“Janet, if you say one more mean word about my friend, I’ll drag you over so Lois can stab you in the face. And then I’ll be president of the Unicorns. And my first order of business is to make Lois the vice-president!”
Lois couldn’t hide the surprised smile that crossed her face on hearing Lila’s response.
Janet’s jaw dropped open in surprise. “Over my dead body will a fatty be a member of the Unicorns! Jessica, Belinda, Ellen! We’re killing Lila and Lois!”
The three of them ran out of the cornucopia, each armed with swords and knives.
“Lois,” Lila said. “Time to try out that wonderful weapon of yours.” She thought a moment. “And protect me, because all I’ve got is three toothbrushes.”
Jessica took a run at the cornucopia and tried to climb to the roof. Lila took a step towards her, but Lois got there first. She swung her hockey stick and it connected solidly with Jessica’s head with a hollow thwack. Jessica froze and dropped like a rock.
“RETREAT!” Janet cried, and took off without checking if anyone followed her.
Lois turned to Lila. “That was it?”
“Shall we take the cornucopia?” Lila gave her a hopeful smile.
Lois tightened her grip on her hockey stick. “Let’s!” Suddenly she heard the sound of rushing water, followed by the groaning and creaking of trees snapping under pressure.
“What’s that?” Lila asked in a whisper.
“TSUNAMI!” Lois screamed. “Get out of the cornucopia!”
“It’s called the Unicorn—” Janet’s voice broke off abruptly. “RUN!”
A huge wave broke through the tree line, carrying with it fallen trees and rocks. Tributes sped out of the cornucopia, their screams barely audible over the rush of water.
“How can it be that tall?” Lila asked. “Are we high enough?”
Lois had a few moments to holster her hockey stick and grab Lila’s hand before the wave hit them. They were nowhere near high enough. The water hit them like a speeding truck. They were knocked back, dragged along by the powerful current.
The water filled Lois’ mouth and nose.
Lila’s hand slipped from her grasp.
Jessica woke up in a water park. Or that was her first assumption. There was a patch of darkness right between trying to kill Lois Waller and waking up in a swirling vortex of filthy water.
She rubbed her eyes and tried to take in the surroundings that were whizzing past. There were fallen trees in the water around her, and she could hear the screams of other tributes—she thought she heard someone calling out for Lois—but the water was moving too fast for her to really process anything.
She whizzed past a long-haired brunette and thrust out an arm to her, but the brunette went under the water and didn’t resurface.
How could there be so much water? Jessica had never heard of such a thing before. Maybe the gamemakers had tilted the arena so the water spilled over them—like a big snow globe or something.
Suddenly, Jessica was thrust under the water by the weight of something pressing down on her. She choked on a mouthful of foul water and kicked for the surface. Something was caught around her neck and she tried to free herself.
Her head broke the water, and she found Bruce Patman clinging to her, screaming his head off. She kneed him between the legs—or tried to. The water resistance prevented her from doing anything other than appearing to move closer. Bruce gripped her even tighter.
“Let me go!” She yelled.
“But we’re engaged!”
Jessica dug in her pocket for her trusty throwing star—it was still there, thank goodness!—and gripped it tightly. “I don’t want to be engaged!” She burst out. “I don’t like you. You steal my accomplishments, you’re all clingy in private, and you liked Sandra Ferris!”
And with that, she drove the sharp end of the blade into Bruce Patman’s lying, bragging throat and opened it up. His hands flew to his throat to staunch the flow of blood, freeing Jessica from his grip.
A cannon boomed overhead, and Jessica let out a carefree giggle.
Lila woke up coughing. She had apparently come to a halt in some shallow water, against a thatch of trees that had managed to withstand the tidal wave. She dragged herself upright and waded towards ground. The water was only knee deep, and seemed to be receding quickly, not with the same force as it had appeared, but still enough to pull at her feet as she walked.
She scanned the area hopefully, but there was no sign of Lois. There was no sight of anyone really. She turned until she found the mountain—so, between her and it lay the cornucopia.
She stood staring in that direction for a few minutes, weighing up the pros and cons. Or, actually, after a bit of pondering, she realized she was merely listing cons: probably the rest of the tributes would head in that direction; Elizabeth might well head that way if the water receded so that she could pick up weapons; Lois would never do anything so stupid.
She just didn’t know what Lois would do next. Or what Winston would do. They’d do something smart. Something that would keep them out of the way.
She took another step and groaned. She looked down and noticed a large gash in her thigh. “Oh… ow!” She staggered out of the water and sat down hard. She considered crying, but it never really helped anything. Now she was aware of the wound, it hurt more than anything. She poked it experimentally. That hurt. Now what?
Lila sighed deeply. Her leg was flowing blood, not exactly gushing, but it was enough to make her worry. She didn’t know how to fix it, and she didn’t know where to go that would be safe.
The Hunger Games was officially the worst idea she’d ever had.
With light binking noise, a parachute arrived from above. She popped off the lid and found a tube of superglue and some bandages inside. What was the superglue for? Lila found a note from Melissa inside. “Wash the wound with your mouthwash, then use the glue to seal the wound. It’s what it was designed for.”
Lila wrinkled her nose in disdain. Melissa couldn’t send a medic or an ambulance or something? “Why are you so cheap, sponsor? Are you buying things on sale?”
Still, it was better than nothing, and it did solve one of her problems. Lila dug out her mouthwash from the drawstring bag—at least she’d managed to hold on to that during the tidal wave. She had never heard of anyone using mouthwash as antiseptic before. Trust Melissa to do something so money-saving as to double-up on one of her sponsorship gifts. As a poverty advisor, she was amazing. As a lavish sponsor, she was hopeless.
She nearly leapt into the sun when her mouthwash hit the wound. She managed to bite back the screams, but several guttural groans slipped out. After about three minutes of deep breathing, she had the presence of mind to dab lightly at the wound with some gauze to dry it enough to glue it together. She couldn’t think too hard about using glue to heal a wound, so she just quickly got it done. She was tempted to slap the bandages straight on, but it occurred to her that it might end up glued to her skin, and she had no idea how long it would take to get out of the arena and she didn’t want to be permanently stuck to a bandage.
She sat for a while longer breathing in and out and trying to work out what Lois would do (use her hockey stick to knock anyone down, survive, live) until she thought the glue had dried. She then applied a bandage. It wasn’t very neat, but she thought the bow she tied looked stylish, it had a kind of survival chic look to it.
She checked the rest of the contents of the drawstring bag—the toothbrushes and paste were still in there. She considered the contents. Nothing really weapon-worthy, but in a pinch, she could probably use the handles of a toothbrush to stab people. She pulled one out—Winston’s—and her heart gave a little lurch, one of her friends was missing, the other dead, and somehow she was still here.
She dropped the glue and the excess bandages in the bag, and when she could put it off no longer, she got to her feet. Rather than freak herself out by trying to plan out a big picture, she decided to make decisions as she came to them. Her first decision was to walk away from the water—find a path, and maybe a sensible place to hole up.
She hoped that if she kept making small decisions, maybe she’d find Lois.
She didn’t. She found Janet.
Janet, Lila noted with satisfaction, didn’t look particularly presidential. Her tribute uniform was ragged, her face was dirty, and her hair was a tangled wet knot on the side of her head. And she was still wearing the ridiculous unicorn headband that she had worn earlier. Probably because it was knotted to her head with her hair.
“Lila!” Janet looked pleased to see her. “About time! I’ve been looking all over for the Unicorns!”
Lila held up one hand and tightened her grip on Winston’s toothbrush with the other. “Stay back! Last time I saw you, you threatened to kill me.”
“Well that was then. Now you’re not with Lois. I think she had you under hypnosis or something. Imagine you saying that a fat girl could be a Unicorn.”
Lila glared. “As far as I’m concerned, right now she’s Vice President!”
“Sure, and Winston Egbert is taking you to the next dance!” Janet snapped back. “Oh, wait, he’s not because he’s de—”
She didn’t finish her sentence because Lila leaped forward and jammed the handle of Winston’s toothbrush into Janet’s eye.
Janet jerked several times before falling to the ground. Lila ripped the Unicorn headband from her cousin’s head. “Now I’m President! And Lois is Vice President!”
“Lila Fowler is letting her cruel side show,” Beau announced.
“I don’t think that’s the case, Beau,” Johnny said. “I think she’s changed, and now what we’re seeing is an angry young lady defending her friend.”
“So we have lost Brooke Dennis, Bruce Patman and Janet Howell in the tsunami. I must say, I was expecting a lot more violence, but I feel that the gamemakers wanted to liven things up.”
“Well, as I’ve said before, these kids are new to this as a concept, and I think it’s a lot to ask for them to start killing each other. Not everyone is a Wakefield with a terrifying serial killer buried beneath those all-American looks,” Johnny replied.
“So just to recap as day two draws to a close, still alive in the Hunger Games are: Belinda Layton, Elizabeth Wakefield, Ellen Riteman, Jessica Wakefield, Lila Fowler, Lois Waller, Rick Hunter and Todd Wilkins.”
It was getting dark. Jessica didn’t like it. She didn’t want to be alone in the dark. Last night she’d been with Bruce Patman—she still didn’t regret killing him though.
She was somewhere in a wooded area, she thought she was probably back where she’d ended up when the games started, around the same place she’d idiotically saved Bruce. She still had her throwing star. When she got out of the arena, she was going to keep it with her always.
She was cold, tired and hungry. And still damp from the tidal wave.
Suddenly she caught of whiff of something amazing—melted cheese, tomato sauce… pizza! Someone had pizza! She followed the scent, moving as quick as she could in the falling darkness.
She found Lila Fowler tucked beside a fallen tree, with a pizza box from Guido’s in front of her. Lila was clutching the Unicorn horn that Janet had received from a sponsor.
“Jessica, I killed my cousin, I will kill you if you come at me,” Lila said, in a cold hard voice that was nothing like her usual snooty drawl.
Jessica felt a stab of fear—Lila was a mean girl, and she could be cruel, but if she killed Janet, then she had upgraded herself. “I just want some pizza,” she said meekly.
There was a period of silence as Lila thought it over. “You can have a slice, but you have to stay away from me.”
Jessica thought about it for a moment—she was so hungry. She could kill Lila and take the whole pizza. She was standing up, and Lila was sitting down. She could lunge and stab her in the throat—she had done that with Bruce against rushing water. It would be easy.
“Let me clarify, Jessica,” Lila said. “I killed Janet with a toothbrush. Either take a slice of pizza and say thank you, or die in a very humiliating way.”
Jessica sat down a respectable distance away and helped herself to the largest slice in the box. “No pepperoni?”
“Thank you,” Jessica said sulkily. Maybe Lila didn’t really kill anyone, she consoled herself.
A few minutes later, three pictures appeared in the sky: Brooke Dennis, Bruce Patman and Janet Howell.
“So… a toothbrush?” Jessica asked sweetly.
Lila didn’t answer. A parachute appeared above them and drifted downwards.
“Alright! My first sponsorship gift!” Jessica exclaimed.
The package floated towards Lila and Jessica growled in frustration. “Come on! I’m a Wakefield! I’m the prettiest girl in the arena! Where’s my sponsorship?”
She shuffled an inch closer to see what Lila had received. It looked like some kind of fruit—a small box of dark berries. “Oooh, dessert?”
Lila ignored her and read the note attached. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she snapped before stowing the box in her bag.
Typical selfish Lila, refusing to share her gifts.
“Go away, Jessica,” Lila said.
Well that was just rude—and Jessica wanted another slice of pizza.
“We’ve been friends a long time, so I’ll give you a pass right now. Just go. I don’t have any more space for friends in the arena.”
Jessica’s eyes flashed angrily. “Lila Fowler, you’re mean! I’m gonna kill you.”
Lila tiredly raised her Unicorn horn. She gave Jessica a dead-eyed stare that motivated her a lot more than the weapon.
She scrambled to her feet. “I’ll get you tomorrow, Lila Fowler!” she vowed.
“No. You won’t.”
Jessica walked away quickly, an angry blush heating her face. She was embarrassed that she had been afraid of Lila—and shown it—on TV. She was going to kill that snobby jerk!
When it wasn’t dark.
Lois tripped and went sprawling on her face. Before she could even pick herself up, she realized that this moment would follow her through the rest of her life. Fat girl with wobbly bottom falls on face in the mud! The gamemakers were probably cleaning up the clip somehow, so her fall could be seen clearly. They would replay it over and over—not a clip of her doing anything cool, but this moment.
She fixed a wry smile on her face before she wiped the mud off her face. She rubbed herself down as best she could, but Lila had the bag—and even if she was still with Lila, she assumed that the tissues were a messy clot in the bottom of the bag after being drenched in the tsunami.
She was kicking herself for not realizing a tsunami was coming—she had been present for the earthquake and she knew the arena had a beach. If only she’d realized sooner, she and Lila could have prepared.
She found that she was missing Lila. That was odd. When it had been the three of them, she had worried that Lila would be a burden to them. Instead, Lila seemed to have the same worry, and even if she couldn’t help, she at least pushed herself forward and went along with Winston and Lois’ suggestions.
When the names and pictures had flashed in the sky, Lois had stood watching with her fingers crossed, and finally exhaled when Lila’s picture had not appeared.
Lois rubbed her shins. She had no idea what she tripped over, but whatever it was, it had heft. She cast about in the dark, trying to find it, and after a few cautious minutes, she found a box. She dipped her hands into it, and found there was some kind of a weapon. She pulled it out and ran her fingers over it lightly, trying to work out what she had found.
It was gun shaped, but not as solid. There was a leather strap and a tank of some kind attached. Given that she was in a Hunger Games arena with a bunch of very vapid people, there was a solid chance it was a water spray or something equally useless. But given that Ro$ey the sponsor existed, there was an equal chance it was a flame thrower.
“Come on, Ro$sey,” Lois muttered. “Cross your fingers for me.”
After several checks to make sure she was holding it right, she flicked the switch. There was a sudden burning jet of flame that lit up the area around her. Lois quickly took her finger off the switch. Stupid! She had known it would be bright, but she hadn’t realized it would light up the whole arena like that.
Still, this was excellent. This was a weapon. Her hockey stick was great, but this was exactly the kind of thing she could use to annihilate Elizabeth Wakefield.
She was going to toast that murderous twig like a marshmallow.
Elizabeth was furious when she went to sleep, and she was furious when she woke up. She had never realized how much fun it was to feel emotions, rather than suppress them.
How dare the gamemakers mess up her plans? She was enjoying killing people, and it was just plain cruel of them to kill people with earthquakes and tsunamis when Elizabeth was planning on killing them. She was lost, she only had one sword now, and the vicious torrent of water had managed to take out Brooke Dennis, Bruce Patman and Janet Howell—the thought it unlikely anyone but herself had been so dedicated to killing.
In the opening round, nobody but her had been so aggressive—except for Jim Sturbridge, but he didn’t last long. While it was true that her twin had it in her to ruthlessly murder people, she assumed that Bruce Patman’s wealth and “cuteness” would keep him alive, and Jessica would never murder the president of the Unicorns, she was too much of a social climber. So she might have killed Brooke Dennis.
Most of the day had been wasted searching for food, water and victims—in any particular order—and she had only managed to kill Winston. Lila Fowler, of all people, had pushed her off a cliff! And then her day was wasted with an earthquake, then a tsunami, and by that point, the day was a write-off.
Still, the sun was up now, and she was rested. During the night, a sponsor had sent her a gift—a pizza and some water—so at least she had a full stomach when she went to sleep, and could start the day by eating the leftovers. Her sponsor hadn’t left a note, but since it was useful, it was clearly not from Ro$ey.
After eating, she got up and swung her sword a few times before setting off.
She kept an ear out for anyone moving through the trees. After about fifteen minutes, she heard the inelegant crash of someone moving without any real awareness that there was a killer in the arena with them.
She made her way through the woods, careful to keep her footfalls as quiet as possible. After some slow progress, she came around the person and peeked.
It was Todd Wilkins.
She sighed. It would have been easier to kill him in the initial bloodbath. He was her sort-of boyfriend—although she thought that was probably on hold since she threatened to kill him. Even if he was willing to overlook that, it probably wasn’t good that he was terrified of her. Even worse that she was going to have to kill him anyway.
Elizabeth crept out of the trees behind Todd and swung her blade.
Todd didn’t even have time to make a sound before his head fell to the ground. Seconds later, his body collapsed, spurting blood, as the cannon sounded above.
Lila found herself heading back to the cornucopia. It wasn’t a great idea, but there were only six people left in the arena besides herself after the cannon sound this morning. Lila thought it was a fair guess that it wasn’t for Lois or Elizabeth.
Lila was bored and tired and sick of the Hunger Games. Also, the last present from Melissa was bothering her. Nightlock berries, just like in the movie. Melissa had some advice, just like always.
It wasn’t like Lila to feel altruistic, but there were only two people she wanted to win: herself and Lois. And if she was honest, maybe Lois deserved it more. After all, it was Lila’s own stupid idea to have a Hunger Games. And it wasn’t like she could imagine killing Lois just to win.
Only one of them was getting out. And Melissa had chosen.
Thinking about it, she should have given Jessica a berry when she asked last night, but she’d been so shocked to see suicide berries as a gift from Melissa—her trusted friend—that she’d just needed Jessica to leave.
She arrived back at the cornucopia. The ground was damp and squishy, but the water had receded entirely. The cornucopia was still standing, and a few weapons were still in the back of it, but the large cache that had been there in the start of the games was gone.
Lila helped herself to a knife and stowed the Unicorn headband in her bag. The knife was much easier to grip, so maybe she could take a few surviving tributes down.
Although she still wasn’t ready to admit it, her plan was to clear the arena for Lois, and then take the berries.
A voice boomed out overhead, echoing all around the arena. “Come to the cornucopia. There is food and gifts for everyone.”
Lila froze. It was her father’s voice.
She climbed up to the roof of the cornucopia and waited, trying desperately not to think about how her father was gleefully setting the remaining tributes on her for TV ratings.
In one hand she held her knife.
In the other was a handful of berries.
Elizabeth found Rick Hunter in the woods, lying on the ground, groaning. His leg was a tangled mess of blood and protruding bone. Apparently the tsunami had bashed him against every hard surface between here and the beach.
She ended his life with a vicious thrust of her sword.
She turned and headed towards the cornucopia with a serial killer smile on her face.
Belinda heard the second cannon of the day boom overhead. She did a quick count—that meant there were five other people in the arena.
She had outlived eighteen people, she still had hold of Raven, the Angry Koosh, as Ellen called it. She had lost Ellen, which meant she was no longer looking after someone. Although she hadn’t killed anyone, she was stronger than most.
The odds were in her favor now.
She headed towards the cornucopia.
“Oooh, I love gifts!” Ellen squealed before skipping away. “It’s a party at the Unicornucopia!”
“Darned right, there should be gifts!” Jessica muttered. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t had a single sponsor. Wasn’t she the best, most terrific Wakefield there was? Why hadn’t Steven sent her a gift? She was sure he liked her best. He was always sniffing her dirty clothes when he thought she wasn’t looking.
Well, she was going to show them. She was going to win the games without a single gift, it would be the perfect underdog story of a beautiful privileged white girl having to do without her privileges for a few days, and still managing to kill everyone else.
With a grim smile on her face, she headed towards the cornucopia.
“Lila!” Lois cried, and set off running towards the cornucopia.
Lila took a deep and steadying breath as someone appeared in the tree line surrounding the clearing. It was a female brunette, which told her absolutely zip other than it wasn’t a Wakefield.
The figure started running towards her, waving wildly.
Oh, Ellen then. Lois wouldn’t do anything that would slow her down while crossing the open, and no-one else in the arena would wave to her. Ellen was the only one who didn’t realize what was going on. She probably thought there was going to be a party or something.
Lila hopped down from the roof. It would probably be kindest to offer Ellen a berry. She didn’t know what was going on, and it would be less brutal than killing a friend. Nobody else would fall for it, but it would be one less person for Lois to deal with.
“Lila!” Ellen called as she reached her. “Is it someone’s birthday?”
Lila thought quickly. “I think it might be the owner of the games. They sent me some fruit, are you hungry?”
Lila held out the berries but Ellen didn’t take them.
“Are they blueberries? Because Mom says not to eat them because they make my tongue blue and it’s not ladylike,” Ellen said.
Lila shook her head and affected her most snooty air. “No, Ellen. They’re imported from Sweden, so they don’t stain your mouth. They’re very exclusive.”
Ellen frowned. “Is Sweden a real place?”
“Yes, it’s in Europe.”
Ellen’s eyes lit up. “They must be very expensive then.” She reached for a berry.
They both turned in the direction of the new voice, and Ellen stepped in front of Lila. Something whizzed towards them from the trees.
Ellen said, “Raven!” in a very surprised tone, and then it smacked her in the face. Ellen fell to the ground, screaming. Lila felt sick as she realized that a baseball, heavily modified with nails poking through it, and it had socked Ellen straight in the face. The nails were digging in Ellen’s left eye and cheek.
There was another scream, and Belinda came flying out of the trees. “You killed her, you stupid, spoiled brat!”
Belinda rushed at Lila and knocked her to the ground and wrapped her hands around Lila’s throat. Lila dropped the knife and berries on impact. She grabbed Belinda’s hands and tried to pry them free. “No!” she gasped. “You…”
“You were going to hurt her!” Belinda screamed.
Lila flailed and kicked out, but she couldn’t free her throat. She gasped for air, but there was none. Her vision clouded and her ears started to ring.
This is it, she thought. This is how I die. How utterly stupid. Her stupid idea for coming up with the Hunger Games, her stupid idea to pitch it to her father who never made any attempt to take care of her, her stupid idea to be kind to Ellen, when she could have just taken the berries and let everyone take care of themselves.
Lila’s eyes rolled back in their sockets, as she choked a final time.
Suddenly there was a colossal crack and the pressure on her throat lifted.
Lila gasped and wheezed, suddenly able to breathe. She pulled in great lungfuls of air and coughed them back out. She heard a cannon boom above them, and for a second she wasn’t sure whether she was alive or dead.
When she caught her breath, she looked up to see Lois smiling down at her, hockey stick in hand. To her side, Belinda lay, completely unmoving, a trickle of blood flowed from her ear, and part of her skull was caved in.
Beyond her, Ellen was whimpering and muttering nonsense. Blood oozed from her face. Lila felt a pang of regret—Belinda and Ellen were nice enough, and they’d probably had a bond like Lila and Lois. If things had been reversed, she would have killed either of them for trying to hurt Lois.
“Are you ok, Lila?” she asked.
Lila tried to say, “About time you showed up!” but was only able to croak at her.
A light binking noise alerted them to the arrival of another parachute gift. It contained several bottles of water. Lois handed one to Lila. “Your sponsor strikes again. Do you know who it is?”
Lila nodded, but wasn’t able to answer.
“You should sip that slowly,” Lois said.
Lila did as she was told. The water was very soothing on her burning throat, but it made her cough. She spent a few more minutes quietly sitting and sipping before she felt able to talk. Her body was tingling, and she couldn’t stop shaking.
She noticed that Lois had some kind of metal gun slung across her chest on a leather strap. “New weapon?”
“Oh this? Yes. I don’t know who sent it or who it was for, but I found it in the trees, completely unused.”
“What does it do?”
“It’s a flame-thrower. I’m going to flambé the twins,” Lois said.
Ellen let out another moan of pain. Lois frowned and moved to her side and gestured that Lila join her.
“Ellen, it’s ok. Lila’s here,” Lois said. She then pointed to Ellen’s hand and gave Lila a kind of raised-eyebrows nod thing. It took a moment or two to realize that she wanted Lila to take Ellen’s hand. The Unicorns weren’t really that kind of friendly, but she quickly realized that Lois wouldn’t understand a friendship based purely on wanting to be around attractive people.
Lila took Ellen’s hand. “Ellen, it’s Lila. I know you’re in pain, I’m sorry.”
“Is Belinda ok?” Ellen whimpered. “She’s my friend, she’s been taking care of me.”
Even though Ellen’s eyes were covered by a vicious baseball and blood, Lila moved between Ellen and Belinda’s body. “Yeah, she’s ok. She thought you and I were arguing.”
“It hurts, I want my Mom,” Ellen said.
“I know it hurts, Ellen.” Lois moved to Ellen’s head and held her hockey stick aloft. “It’s going to stop hurting real soon, I just want you to think of kittens and rainbows for a minute, it will help with the pain, ok?”
“I like kittens and rainbows,” Ellen said.
Lois brought down her hockey stick sharply and Ellen said no more.
A cannon boomed and Lila turned away to hide her tears. She herself had said that she’d wanted to stab Ellen, but the friendship between Belinda and Ellen had… touched her, weird as that was. Of all the people in the arena, she hoped those two were ok, wherever people went when they died.
Lois put a hand on Lila’s shoulder. “It’s just the twins now, Li, we’re nearly out.”
Lila let out a sob, which she quickly tried to cover with a cough.
“You called me ‘Li’,” Lila said. She hoped viewers would think that her voice was all squeaky because she’d just been choked, and not because she was crying.
“I’m sorry, Lila. God forbid a fatty give you a nickname.”
“I like it! We’re friends, aren’t we?” Lila burst out. “Because for years I’ve secretly been friends with Melissa McCormick—she’s poor, and she’s a terrible shopper, but she’s kind and funny.”
Lois crossed her arms and gave Lila a look that was part exasperation and part… fondness? “You really do say the worst things.” She paused for a moment, then added, “Li.”
“And you! You’re fat, and this uniform is really not flattering, and could your glasses be any bigger? Are you trying to hide your face or something?”
Lois tapped a finger on her arm. “I’m assuming this is going somewhere?”
“But you’re—pretty! Not in a Sandra Ferris makeover way, but in a way that is so much better.”
“You’re trying to say you like me?” Lois guessed. “That despite my wobbly bottom, you see value in me?”
“I’m saying that I see so much value, I haven’t thought about your wobbly bottom for days!”
Lois let out a snort. “You are really bad at talking about feelings. But to use your way of talking, you’re awful, you say things without even knowing they’re offensive, you have the stupidest ideas ever—next time you come up with something like the Hunger Games, run it past a smart kid, ok?—and you think being pretty and wealthy—”
“Fabulously wealthy,” Lila corrected.
“Yes that, you think that makes everything ok. You’re terrible. But I like you anyway.”
Lila sniffed and slid her bag off her back. She pulled out the slightly mushed box of remaining berries, the others were in the dirt beside her, and while she was ready to die, she wasn’t going to eat dirty berries. “I think we should take these,” Lila said. “I don’t want to fight the twins. You know that a Wakefield always wins. It’s just how these things go. At least we get to choose that they don’t kill us.”
Lois sat down beside Lila. “They’re the berries from the movie? They’ll kill us instantly. Where did you even get them?”
“My sponsor,” Lila said.
Lois shook her head. “We can’t. I don’t know what your sponsor is playing at, but that’s not the way. I’m not choosing to die. I’m going to kill the Wakefields. You said so yourself, one of them always wins, and they never have to make an effort—remember that lie Jessica told about being related to a football player, and it turned out to be true? Typical Wakefields. I can’t live in a universe where they always get their own way. I am going to destroy those blonde twigs!”
Lila wiped her eyes. “Ok, good, but even if you do that, only one person can win.”
“So I’m going to take these, to make sure it’s you.” She was sure her voice would shake, but it came out firm and decisive. She straightened up and nodded, proud that she had finally committed to her decision.
“Lila, don’t. Maybe once we kill the twins, we can break out or something?” Lois offered.
“I really want you to win, Lois. You deserve it.” Lila gazed at the dark little berries, and took a deep breath.
“Please don’t!” Lois said.
“Burn those blonde brats!” Lila said.
Lila suddenly found herself in Lois’ arms. “Oh, a hug!” she said. “Melissa taught me about them. They’re nice.” It was awkward because they were both sitting, but it was comforting. Lila decided that if she ever got the chance to live again, she would be friends with more people who hugged. Maybe have parents more like Melissa’s dad who didn’t earn as much, but was around for dinner almost every night. She’d be nicer to fat kids and poor kids and nerds, because they were better than the pretty elitist sociopaths she had befriended in this life.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Lois asked. Her voice was all tight and squeaky, as if she’d been strangled too.
Lila really didn’t want to die. “Yes, I’m sure.”
Lois moved behind her, so Lila could lean against her. Lila took a berry between her thumb and forefinger. Her hands shook. Lois’ arms around her were comforting, and she tried to move the berry closer to her lips.
“Close your eyes, Li,” Lois said.
Lila did. She placed her free hand on Lois’ arm and tried to breathe deeply and calmly.
“Now, imagine yourself on a beach somewhere…”
“Not a beach, the tidal wave is still too fresh in my mind,” Lila said.
She felt Lois nod. “Ok, where do you want to be?”
“Maybe high in the mountains, in a ski lodge, looking at the snow—no, wait, poor Winston!” Lila searched her brain for places that were soothing, but nothing came. She didn’t want to be at home, because that’s where her father was going to live long after she died. She didn’t want to be by a pool, because of the water. She didn’t want to be anywhere in Europe, because that’s where she’d seen that stupid movie that had given her the “brilliant” idea to start this up.
“It’s ok, Lila, you’re at my house,” Lois said. “We’re sitting in my room, listening to Johnny Buck’s Buck: Naked album. You’re telling me the latest gossip from school, and I’m rolling my eyes because you’re being awful, just like normal.”
“Is Melissa McCormick there?” Lila asked.
“Yes, she is.”
“Oh, so it’s a Unicorn meeting?” Lila said. She couldn’t believe she’d forgotten to tell Lois something so important.
“Yes, I killed Janet and made myself president, you’re vice-president, and we’re changing the rules on who can join.”
“Ok.” Lois started again. “So we’re in my room—which doesn’t have a single purple thing in it, you know—”
“Yes it does. I bought you a purple unicorn ornament for your birthday. You hate it, but you put up with it,” Lila corrected.
“I do. It’s on my desk, and you’re looking at it and smiling, because you know how much I hate it. And the three of us are just talking about our plans for the weekend—we can’t agree, because you want to go to the mall, I want to go bike riding, and Melissa wants to go roller skating. And all the while we’re arguing, we’re eating these expensive sweets that you’ve brought with you—imported from Europe, no doubt. They’re a little bitter, but we still like them.” Lois’ voice caught, and she had to take a moment before she could go on. “And you reach into the box and take one, and you put it in your mouth…”
Lila did so, picturing herself laughing with Lois and Melissa, sure that she was going to get her way over what they did that weekend. After all, they couldn’t roller skate or go bike riding if Lila had neither, they’d have to go to the mall first…
She bit into the berry, and in the distance she heard thunder.
Well, that settled it, no bike riding at least.
No, wait, that was a cannon.
Jessica heard the cannons sound—three very close together, so that meant there was only one other person left in the arena. And then one more cannon would sound and Jessica would be the victor of the Hunger Games. She would get fabulous dresses, she would probably be famous, and she only had to kill one person to achieve it.
The snap of a branch made her look up.
Her sister stood in front of her holding a sword. “Hello, Jess.”
Jessica felt her temper rise. “Of course it’s you! There’s only one other person left in the arena, and it’s you! You’re always doing this. You always try to steal my glory!”
“First of all, you incompetent moron, there are two other people left in the arena. Second of all, you’re the glory hog. You always have to be the center of attention, no matter what’s going on. I’ve killed eleven people in this arena, twelve security guards, and there’s a further four who could have died since I’ve been in there. I know math is hard for you, so that’s twenty-three dead and four potentially dead. And you’ve done what?”
“For your information, I’ve killed plenty of people: Amy Sutton, Peter DeHaven, Sandra Ferris and Bruce Patman! So there!” Jessica snapped. “Not to mention Roberta Manning and Sally Holcombe!”
“That’s still only six, you idiot.” Elizabeth shook her head and took a step forward. “You just don’t have this, Jess. Time and time again, you start something and then drop it at the end, you’d have been fine for a serial killer, just killing whenever you wanted, but this is a sprint, not a marathon.”
“And you say I’m stupid! At least I don’t think this is a running competition!” Jessica snapped.
“I’m a spree killer, you idiot. If you ever cracked a book once in a while, you’d know that that is what is required. Also, I have a motive—a really good one. I have been putting up with your nonsense for twelve years. Every time I do something, you try to take it!”
Jessica shook her head. “No, you’re the good twin, you’re supposed to let me do what I want.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flashed in anger. “I have. You have taken the shoes off my feet, you bullied me for being a teacher’s pet, you bullied Nora Mercandy, you bullied Amy Sutton, you said you’d take care of a dog and then you left me to look after it and the one time you were supposed to take responsibility, the dog nearly died!” Elizabeth took another deep breath. “You dragged me into pretending to be a triplet, you bullied Sophia Rizzo, you framed me for stealing money for the class trip with your lies, you blabbed ithig to everyone just to go to a party! You ruined my run at student council, you—”
Jessica frowned. “Are you really going to recap every book, just to pad the word count?” She waved Elizabeth’s accusations away. “Anyway, you let me do all those things. Every time I did something you didn’t approve of, you would tut and be horrified, and then go along with it, because you’re a spineless waste of space. And let’s talk about the times you’ve misbehaved, Lizzie! How about the time you sucked up to Lila just so you could ride a horse for free? Or all the times you’ve pushed your nose into other families’ affairs, because you’re obsessed with fixing everything, even though it’s none of your business! What about that time you dressed up like a librarian and walked around with a clipboard, tattling on everyone, all because someone had nominated you for the best student! And how many best friends have you had this school year? Every time someone new shows up, you befriend them, push your way into their problems and drop them as soon as you’ve done that. There is something really really wrong with you and I’m sick of everyone saying you’re the best twin, when you’re just as awful as me!”
“I can’t wait to kill you!” Elizabeth screamed in frustration.
Jessica took a step back. “Wait, what?”
“I said I’m going to kill you,” Elizabeth replied.
“But this is the part where we realize that we’ve just misunderstood each other, and you can never stay mad at me for long, and then I get my own way!” Jessica said. It was how their adventures always played out.
“No, this is the part where I kill you.”
Jessica stamped her foot on the ground. “But I want to win!”
“So do I!”
“I want to be an only child and have your room as my meeting room for the Unicorns!”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Well, the Unicorns are mostly dead, so I think I’ll take your room and use it as a library. I’m going to build a shrine to Amanda Howard right where your closet is!”
“You monster!” Jessica bellowed.
“And I’m going to ban purple from the house!” Elizabeth added joyfully.
Jessica leapt at her twin and knocked the sword from her hand. They both hit the ground hard, but that didn’t deter either one from attempting to land the first punch. Jessica got in there first and slammed her fist into Elizabeth’s mouth. Jessica split her knuckle on her twin’s teeth, but was gratified to see that she’d knocked several teeth flying.
Elizabeth hit back with a savage blow that broke Jessica’s nose and sent a torrent of blood flowing down her face. “When I kill you, I’ll finally be more than four minutes older than you!”
Jessica kneed Elizabeth hard between the legs—she didn’t know if it would work on girls as well as boys, but from the way Elizabeth groaned and shrank back, it seemed good enough. “I can’t wait to be an only child!”
Elizabeth scrabbled away from Jessica, and reached out, hoping to find her sword, but Jessica grabbed her by the hair and dragged her back towards Jessica. “I’ve never seen the point of you!” Jessica cried.
“Really?” Elizabeth lashed backwards with her elbow and knocked out a couple of Jessica’s teeth. “What about all the times you stole my homework or my clothes?”
“If you never existed, I wouldn’t need to steal your things. They’d just be mine!” Jessica threw an arm around Elizabeth’s neck and tried to squeeze.
They were so intent on their fight, they didn’t notice Lois step up to them, aim her flame-thrower and flick the switch.
Instantly the twins’ clothes and hair caught fire, and they both rolled away screaming.
Jessica tried rolling over on the ground to stamp out the fire, like they showed in movies. As she rolled, she saw Lois crack Elizabeth around the head with a hockey stick. Elizabeth stopped moving and a cannon sounded above.
“You killed my twin!” Jessica screamed, momentarily forgetting about the flames, the pain and her anger at Elizabeth. She staggered to her feet and lunged at Lois.
Lois brought up her hockey stick and Jessica was impaled on the sharp end of it.
She fell to the ground screaming.
She didn’t think she was going to win after all.
Jessica found herself in a spacious dark room with wood paneled flooring, black or dark grey walls, low lighting and a window that seemed to look out on the inside of a volcano—some kind of fiery lake with stalagmites and stalactites bordering it.
Standing beside her was Elizabeth, looking clean and tidy, with no evidence of bruising, cuts or missing teeth. Jessica checked herself—her Hunger Games uniform was clean and tidy, she didn’t feel any of the injuries she had sustained, her skin was smooth and unburned. She patted her hair, and that seemed tidy too.
On looking around the room, there was a desk at one end with a very pretty but stern looking woman sat at it. Around her were all her fellow tributes, as far as she could see.
“Where are we?” she whispered nervously to Elizabeth.
“I don’t know.” Elizabeth made her way to the desk. “Excuse me?”
Jessica strode over and elbowed her twin out of the way. “Where are we?” she demanded.
“Name?” the stern woman asked.
“Where are we?” Jessica yelled.
“Name?” After a moment of waiting, the woman turned her attention to a small funny screen. It was flat and shiny, and about the size of a book, covered in glass. There were words and pictures on it, and a picture of an apple on the back. What a loser, she played video games.
“Elizabeth Wakefield,” Elizabeth supplied.
The woman looked up immediately. “Wakefield?” she said. “So that makes you Jessica?” She gave them both a full smile, that made her very beautiful. She held up one finger and picked up a smaller version of her video game, touched the screen a few times and then held it to her face. “Yes, the Director please. We have the Wakefield twins in reception… yes. I understand. Of course.”
Was it a phone? That was amazing. Where was the wire? Maybe it was a cordless like Lila’s? Jessica started looking around for the base, but could not see any wires anywhere.
She took the phone away from her face. “I apologize, I didn’t realize you were the Wakefield twins. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Well, Jessica thought, that was more like it.
“Have a seat, and the Director will be with you shortly,” the woman said. “Can I get you anything to drink? I’m Belladonna, by the way.”
Janet Howell pushed forward. “Wait, why are you being nice to them? You’ve completely ignored me! I gave you my name and you told me to wait.”
There were angry murmurings of agreement around the room. Jessica gave them a smug smile. Of course they weren’t as important as her. It was right they should wait. Although she was interested to know why she was regarded as important—maybe these people, whoever they were, realized that she should have been president of the Unicorns. Or maybe they wanted to give her some kind of award or something.
Belladonna ignored Janet and went back to her screen thingy. If the little one was a phone, maybe the other one was a TV. “Are you watching All the World?”
Belladonna gave her a snooty look, and then forced a smile. “That show has been off the air since 1992.”
Jessica smiled back. “So?” Belladonna might be pretty, but boy was she stupid, with her video games and her stupid blathering about the future. It wasn’t like she was Randy Mason and actually cared about that kind of nerdy stuff.
Belladonna looked down at her screen, made a few swipes and some notes came up. Jessica didn’t have time to read them all, but she caught “Sweet Valley” and “time bubble” in there. Nerd. She was doing her science homework.
“If you take a seat, Jessica, the director will be down shortly to brief you on everything.”
Grudgingly, Jessica took a seat—the only one was beside Elizabeth—there was a space either side of her, so she suspected the other tributes were still sore about her doing so much killing.
Everyone should be dead.
“Are we dead?” Jessica called over to Belladonna.
“Leave her alone, Jess, she’s trying to work,” Elizabeth said.
“Oh, shut up Miss Perfect!” Jessica snapped.
“Jess! Don’t be so rude!” Elizabeth’s voice took on the patronizing and disappointed edge that Jessica hated so much.
“Rude? You tried to kill me! I hate you!”
“I hate you more!” Elizabeth yelled back.
“Ladies, what seems to be the problem?” A deep elegant British voice broke in.
They both turned to the source of the new voice. It was a tall man, dressed entirely in a black leather dress/coat thing. Jessica did not approve of boys wearing dresses, but given his accent, he was European, so maybe it was very fashionable there. Another thing Jessica didn’t approve of was how pale his skin was and his face—it was scored into with scars in straight lines, forming squares all over his face and nails had been driven into each corner.
“He looks just like my baseball,” Billie muttered.
For once, Jessica had nothing to say. She elbowed Elizabeth, feeling sure her perfect twin would come up with something to say. She always surrounded herself with the ugly and afflicted.
“Hello, sir,” Elizabeth said in a tiny voice. “What do you want with us?”
“Nothing at all, I’m here to welcome you. I’m the director of Hell. You can either call me the Director, or Hell Priest. It may occur to you to call me Pinhead, but I really don’t like that,” he said.
“Hell?” Jessica asked.
“Yes, you both are VIPs. We’ve had your names down since the moment you were conceived.” The Director took the larger screen from Belladonna, and touched the screen. “Now, I see we have some other high achievers here too. Janet Howell, your torture of every new girl at school is outstanding. I find it impossible to believe that nobody has killed themselves on your watch so far.”
Janet blushed. “I do my best.”
“And Bruce Patman, your relentless torture of Lois Waller for her size has been wonderful to watch. An insecure twelve year old needs all the berating she can get, otherwise she might be happy.”
Winston stepped forward. “Um… what am I doing here? I’m a good person.”
The Director checked his screen again. “Yes, well, clerical errors and antiquated rules… these things happen. Now, can I do a quick roll call?” the Director asked. “And then we’ll move on to our induction of Hell.”
The Director went alphabetically by first name, and skipped straight from Elizabeth to Grace. “Wait!” Jessica called out. “Where’s Ellen Riteman?”
The Director checked his screen once more. “Ah, yes, Ellen. She went to heaven.”
A gasp of surprise went around the group. Only one voice was positive. “Good for Ellen, I’m pleased for her,” said Billie Layton.
“But why?” Todd Wilkins burst out. “She was a horrible person! She bullied Ginny-Lu Culpepper for being country.”
“Yes, but she was thinking of kittens and rainbows when she died,” the Director replied. “Kittens, rainbows, flowers, puppies, the smell of freshly-cut grass, happy memories, things of that ilk, tend to get you into heaven.” The Director leaned forward. “They’re rather judgmental in heaven. They make snap judgments and stick to them.”
“Oh,” said Todd. “I was thinking about how hungry I was.”
“And here you are.” The Director continued down the list, and he went from Kimberley Haver to Patrick Morris, without stopping.
“Wait!” Jessica called again. “Where is Lois Waller?”
“She’s still alive. She won the Hunger Games,” the Director replied. “And her name is not on our list. Patrick Morris, where are you?”
“You didn’t say Lila Fowler’s name either,” Jessica said. “But you said Lois won.”
Janet stepped forward shaking her head. “Oh no, do not tell me she went to heaven! That spoiled brat killed me!”
The Director checked his screen again. “Her name has also been down for Hell since birth. She was an obvious choice, all that wealth, privilege and entitlement.”
Jessica glared. “So where is she?”
Note: Yes, this chapter was stolen from a pitched idea to the end of Freddy vs Jason, where both titular characters arrived in hell, still fighting, and Pinhead was supposed to step out of the shadows, and say, “Gentlemen, what seems to be the problem?” This never got off the ground, not least of all because neither studio owned Pinhead. So I stole it.
Lila gasped and bolted upright. It took several blinks to clear her vision, but she didn’t know what to make of what she was seeing. She was inside of a small uncomfortable room. There was seating along one wall, each with seatbelts. There were windows on the walls to the left and right of her, but all she could see was sky from them. Her brain felt quite floaty, as if she wasn’t quite connected to reality.
Kneeling on the floor beside her was Melissa McCormick, and behind her stood her brother, Andy.
Hadn’t she just been talking to Melissa? She and Lois were making plans… “I don’t want to roller-skate!” Lila cried. “Let’s go to the mall.”
“Give her some water, Liss,” Andy said, handing over a bottle of water. “She’s still a bit woozy.” He turned to Lila and gave her a smile. “How are you feeling?”
“You’re very cute,” Lila said. “Where am I?”
“You’re safe, Lila.” Melissa reached out and patted her shoulder. Lila shook off her hand and dragged Melissa in for a hug.
Melissa patted her back. “I see you’re getting the hang of hugging now.”
“Yes, it’s quite good,” Lila said. “For something that costs nothing.” She pulled back and gave Melissa a huge smile. She felt very soft and floaty. “What am I doing here? Where is here?”
“You’re in a hovercraft. You’re safe, and you’re out of the arena.”
“And I’m alive?” That was just marvelous. Being alive was the best thing ever.
“And you’re alive,” Melissa added with a grin.
“How did you do this? And why did you send me such rubbish gifts?” Lila demanded.
Melissa rolled her eyes. “Rubbish gifts—I gave you what you needed, and I bought things that were on sale. Did you know the night I sent you a pizza, I sent one to Lois too? It was buy one get one half price. Of course, Elizabeth ended up getting it, thanks to a mix-up. And of course, there’s all this—this was not on sale.”
“All this?” Lila still felt dazed.
“Well, when I realized that Lois deserved to win, I figured there was only one possible way. We needed to fake your death and collect your body before the gamemakers could.”
“You bought a hovercraft?” Lila asked incredulously. Then she preened. She had taught Melissa well.
“Not just a hovercraft, we bribed officials and bought a pilot and someone to work the winch. Mrs. Pervis gave me one of your Chanel dresses, and a cute little clutch and then I just flashed your credit cards and talked like I owned everyone. It took some doing, but eventually everyone went along with it. Johnny Buck’s PA—Ro$ey?—she helped too. She was certain that Lois could win, but she didn’t want you to die, so we did lots of scheming.” Melissa gave her another grin. “You owe me big time, Fowler. Do you know how many hours you’re going to have to log at the homeless shelter to make up for it?”
Lila grinned back. “I’ll buy you a new homeless shelter!”
“Well, you’ve got plenty of money,” Melissa said. “Every bit of money you had left after arranging this? I bet on Lois Waller to win at 24:1 odds. You’re probably wealthier than your father right now.”
Lila lay back on the floor of the hovercraft, still dazed from dying and coming back to life. She thought of all of her last-minute thoughts, her plans to be nicer to nerds, poor people and fat kids. It was nice to have a second chance. “You’re a Unicorn,” she said to Melissa.
“Am I now?”
“Yes, Lois and I decided.” Lila bolted upright once more, causing her head to swim. “LOIS!”
Melissa took her hand. “She’s fine, Lila. She took down the twins—burnt them to a crisp—and then the show went off air. They’ve been replaying highlights all day. Andy might have bought a Watchman on your credit card.” She held out the small portable TV to Lila, then frowned. “It’s weird, I thought they’d play highlights of Lois, but she’s not been in the footage at all.”
That was odd. Wait, what did Melissa just say about her gifts? “Pizza?”
Melissa shrugged. “Ok, we’ll hit Guido’s when we land.”
“No, no! You gave pizza to Lois, but it went to Elizabeth, right?” Lila said.
“Yes.” Melissa frowned. “Actually, now you come to mention it, Ro$ey said she sent that hockey stick to Lois but Eliz—”
Lila gasped. “Turn this hovercraft around right now!”
“Why?” Melissa asked.
“Because Bruce’s father promised that there would never be a fat victor!”
In Hell, the Director asked the tributes to take their seats for his induction speech. Elizabeth found a seat, and to her surprise, Amy stood by the one next to it.
“Can we be friends again?” Amy asked shyly. “I’m so sorry about how we fell out over something as silly as the Hunger Games.”
Elizabeth felt tears prick her eyes. “Of course, we’re best friends.”
“Until your sister messes it up again,” Amy said with a rueful smile.
“Yes, until then.” Elizabeth threw her arms around Amy. “I will never put Jessica first again. Well, until the next time she makes me.”
“I’m so glad we’re friends again!” Amy exclaimed. “Have you and Jessica made up yet?”
Elizabeth bit her lip. “No, we were very angry when we died, and Jessica has always been a nightmare to be friends with. But in all honesty, I can’t stay mad at her for long.”
“You should make up. I’m such a doormat that I’ll always take second place to Jessica, but I might occasionally get angry about it,” Amy said.
“It’s ok. I’m such a saint that I will always forgive you for your very valid feelings of inadequacy.”
They took their seats and the Director started his induction speech. Elizabeth leaned forward to listen intently and was delighted when Amy did the same.
“I wish I had a notebook,” Amy said. “Maybe we could start a newspaper in Hell?”
“I’d love that!” Elizabeth said.
“Girls, no talking,” said the Director. “What I’m about to tell you is very important for your safety. Now, because Hell is very inclusive, we have all kinds of monsters here, not just murderers and bullies like you, but other kinds. I want to make this clear: if any adult asks you to ‘come and play’—especially if it’s a burned man with a glove made of knives, or a skinny English man in a gold lamé tracksuit—sorry, sweatsuit—puffing a cigar—the answer is no.”
“What English man?” Amy asked.
Elizabeth shrugged. “I don’t know. The ghostwriter’s English, and she clearly doesn’t care whether her references travel or not.”
“Now for your safety, we have a very big man in a hockey mask who carries a machete. He takes his job very seriously, and will kill any of the men I mentioned if they go near children.” The Director cleared his throat. “But Jason has been known to get carried away, so I would stay clear of him in general.”
The Director straightened and continued. “Now, as you could possibly infer from what I’ve said, you can die down here. It lasts about an hour, and then you reappear in this room. You’re all welcome to try it, but it is infuriating, and most people in Hell try to avoid it.”
Elizabeth raised her hand.
“Yes, Miss Wakefield?”
“What do we do all day in Hell? Is there a school? Do you have horse riding?”
The Director shook his head. “No, there is no school or riding stable—horses are not evil, they do not go to hell, and while we do have a lot of teachers here, most do not want to teach once they have died. I understand Mr. Nydick of your school is due to join us in a few years, but I feel that he would be best kept away from minors.”
Elizabeth raised her hand again. “Is there a newspaper I could work on?”
“Ah, that, yes. Well, there are many ghostwriter positions available—the Twitter accounts of the current President of the United States and his sycophants, Katie Hopkins, multiple writers at The Daily Mail…”
Elizabeth sagged in disappointment. She didn’t want to be a ghostwriter, she wanted credit for her own work.
Winston put his hand up. “Just out of interest, who is our President? My parents will never tell me because it says it will date me too heavily.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what that means.”
“I want to go home and work on The Sweet Valley Sixers,” Elizabeth said. “I want to go horse riding.”
“There was a dance coming up for Valentine’s day,” Janet said. “I had been hoping to wear a great dress I found at Valley Fashions.”
“I was on a winning streak on my softball team,” Belinda Layton added.
The Director raised his hands. “Ah, well, as we have VIPs in the room, this does give you an opportunity, if both VIPs agree.”
“What opportunity?” Elizabeth asked.
“If you agree to both leave, everyone here can leave with you,” the Director said.
“Wonderful!” Elizabeth said. “We can go home.”
Jessica stood up and glared at her twin. “Not if I have anything to do with it. I like being a VIP! Do you know how incredible it feels to be more important than Janet Howell? I’m not going home to be a member of her club!”
“Jessica Wakefield, you are the most selfish, self-absorbed human being on the planet!”
“We’re not actually on the planet,” the Director said. “We’re in a physical location, created out of a spiritual ideal.”
“And you’re the most prissy do-gooding snot on the planet!” Jessica snapped back.
Any tributes sitting between them fled to the edges of the room as the twins flew at each other again.
Lois stood alone in the arena. The hovercrafts had collected the twins’ bodies, but had left her. Since then there had been nothing. No hovercrafts, no messages, no pictures in the sky. Nothing.
She was starting to get a bad feeling. Like maybe she hadn’t read the fine print and the final victor didn’t get air-lifted out of the arena, and instead had to survive alone in there.
No, that wasn’t it. She could remember Mr. Patman saying that the winner would be air-lifted out.
She froze. She also remembered him saying that they couldn’t have a fat victor.
She knew he would. Everyone would. Crown a girl with chunky thighs victor?
An industrial accident, it might be called. The gears of a badly functioning murder arena breaking down. Someone way below the decision-makers would be fired for it, and it would be a terrible tragedy, the fat girl underdog who was tragically killed in an accident. They did all they could. In the memorial show, they would treat photos of her so she didn’t look so heavy. They’d give her cheekbones and a bottom that didn’t wobble, and everyone could then agree that it was a sad story.
She felt panic rising for the first time since the games started. This was the thing she hadn’t planned for. It was out of her control.
She took a deep breath. She knew that they could rig earthquakes, and there was a good chance the one they set off now would be much larger in force than the one they used to entertain people with panic and deaths, this one would be used for murder.
It would cause a tsunami. And probably an avalanche.
She had to think.
She needed a high and sturdy place. Nowhere near the beach or the mountain. The cornucopia wasn’t high enough, the trees weren’t sturdy enough.
It wasn’t fair! She had won. She had beaten the twins. Was the universe so intent on giving them their own way that she had to be punished for it?
No, she wasn’t going to panic.
She set off quickly, away from the beach and mountain over into the part of the arena she had never explored. More trees, of course. The gamemakers weren’t very imaginative.
The trees weren’t very climbable, tall imposing trees with scrawny little branches at the bottom. She kept searching, hoping for something to save her. She moved ever upwards, up the slope, higher was better—trying hard not to think about how the trees were getting thicker, and if the earthquake or tsunami hit, the odds of her survival were dwindling the further into the trees she went.
“What is going on out there?” Beau snapped. “We’re supposed to be live! Why aren’t we live? My agent promised me this was a good gig. I need the exposure!”
“Rosey! What’s the status on Lois? Has she been picked up?” Johnny asked his PA. “And what about that other thing?”
“The trust fund is flying,” Rosey said. “But I don’t know about Lois. Nobody seems to know anything.”
“I need to be on TV!” Beau said. “It was a comedown having to switch from movies to commentary, but it’s even worse that we’re off air.” He glared at the various terrified grips hanging around, looking anxious. “Can’t you just put us back on?”
“Would you shut up!” Johnny snapped.
“Why? What’s the problem?” Beau asked, honestly confused.
“Lois won, but nobody’s heard any update. She might still be in the arena, and we’re worried about the twelve year old girl who has been through a three-day ordeal!”
Beau shrugged. “So? She’s just a fat girl.”
Johnny lashed out without thinking. Beau hit the deck and all the grips nervously began conferring about whether—once they were broadcasting again—it would be appropriate for Johnny to commentate over Beau’s unconscious body.
He turned back to Rosey. “Find her!” But his over-achieving PA was already on it.
Lois found a tree felled by the previous earthquake. It was pushed up against some others, and she thought she could hopefully run up it and maybe climb further up one of the trees it rested against. It wasn’t exactly perfect, but she thought if she looked for something better, she could die.
She started up the tree, moving as quickly as she dared. She lost her footing once, but pushed on, hoping that speed would somehow defy gravity—and just once, the Wakefield luck touched Lois—and she found herself hugging a tree.
She took a deep breath. “Good,” she told herself. “Keep it up, Lois.”
As she started climbing, the ground started to shake.
“Faster! Faster! Faster!” Lila yelled at the pilot. “Do you know who I am? I’m Lila Fowler! And if you don’t make this thing go faster, I will pay mercenaries to kidnap your family.”
She turned back to Melissa. “How are we going to find her? They’re not even showing the games on TV.”
“Everyone has a tracker embedded in their skin,” Melissa said. “We found you that way. The pilot is following the signal, Lila. It’s going to be ok.”
Below them the ground was shaking. “Faster!” Lila cried.
“We’re nearly there,” the pilot said. “But I can’t see her. There’s nothing but trees down there.”
Lila screamed in frustration. “Where is she?”
Then a hand broke through the leaves. It was followed by Lois’ face. “THAT’S HER!”
A basket was sent down to collect her, and after a few attempts, she managed to climb in. She was winched up into the hovercraft, and Lila could not get across the craft fast enough. She barreled into Lois and hugged her.
“You’re safe!” Lila cried.
“You’re alive!” Lois replied.
“Long story short, but blame Melissa, she’s a genius,” Lila said.
“But you’re officially dead, Lila, otherwise we have to fight. What are you going to do?” Lois asked.
Melissa stepped forward, “Oh, her? No, that’s not Lila, that’s my cousin, who is staying with us for a while.” She knocked Lila on the shoulder. “We should really empty your bank accounts as soon as possible. And Lois, we should get you to the studio and on camera before any more ‘accidents’ befall you.”
“Guys, look at this,” Andy said from the window.
The three of them moved over to his side—Lila managed to stand next to him, she had growing as a person, but he was still cute.
Below them, the arena was imploding. A tidal wave was sluicing through the main cornucopia area, and above that a plate of snow was crashing down the mountain, throwing up massive clouds of white snow.
Lois shivered, and Lila took her hand. “We survived,” Lila said.
Beau Dillon had been dragged out of the way by Rosey, and they were due to be back on air any minute. Hank Patman and George Fowler were feigning delight that Lois had been rescued, and they were “shocked and dismayed” that somehow nobody had rescued her.
Wardrobe had told her that they had nothing in her size. Lois had lifted her chin and said, “Then stitch three dresses together like you did last time.” She thought a moment longer. “I don’t care which ones. Make me look as ugly as you like.”
Twenty minutes later, still shiny-faced and wearing three dresses, in orange, pink and yellow, badly sewn together, she was seated at the desk next to Johnny Buck, ready to be interviewed.
“Lois,” said Johnny. “Do you realize how many hearts you captured in the arena?”
“Well, Lila Fowler considered me a friend, so I suppose that’s a start,” Lois replied.
“It is indeed. And can I say that your last moments with Lila were very sad for all of us.”
Lois thought for a moment. “I think that Lila has—had—such a powerful personality, I think in some ways, it’s like she’s still with us.”
“That’s true,” Johnny nodded. “And now that you’re out of the arena, what are your plans?”
“To be honest, Johnny, I’m exhausted. I think I’m going to go home, take a hot bath, and then put on some clothes that are designed for someone of my size.”
Johnny smiled. “And when you’re done, would you be willing to star in the music video for my new song?”
Lois’ jaw dropped. “Really? What’s the song called?”
“It’s called ‘Buck the Odds (Holla Holla Lois Waller)’, and once we’re off air, we can play you a demo.”
“You really wrote a song about me?” Lois asked, a blush lighting up her face.
“Yes. The hotline for the Hunger Games has been ringing off the hook with messages of support for you. There are many girls and boys who idolize you. You’ve really changed things in Sweet Valley for a lot of people!”
Lois teared up a little at hearing that. She quite often felt like the only person in town who couldn’t go straight onto the cover of Seventeen or Ingénue without a single moment of preparation. She was simply astounded that so many people felt the same way as her.
“We have heaps of fan mail for you—very few people could afford the sponsorship gifts, but they penned letters, sent you gifts for when you get out of the arena—and there’s about a hundred invitations to the Valentine’s dance that’s coming up in a few weeks.”
They talked for a few more minutes, but the tiredness hit Lois hard, and she found it hard to give intelligent answers. Johnny noticed and covered for her—telling the audience about his favorite moments of hers in the arena.
She managed to perk up for the final question thought.
“Now,” said Johnny. “I’m sure that very few people know this because I like to keep my life private, but for the past three years, I have been dating the most amazing woman in the world—my PA and so much more, Rosey. Last week, just before the Hunger Games started, I proposed, and Rosey made me the happiest man in the world by saying yes. And now Rosey and I have something to ask you, Lois.”
“Ok,” Lois said. “What is it?”
“Lois, would you be our only bridesmaid?”
Lois thought for a moment. “Well, before I answer, can I ask one thing?”
Johnny smiled. “I think you’ve earned that.”
“Can I have a dress—just the one, that fits me?”
“Lois, on that day, two ladies are going to have beautiful dresses designed specifically for them—one is my wife-to-be, the other is you.”
Lois beamed at him, again feeling the tears prick her eyes. “In that case, I would love to!”
The twins had been separated, but they were still trying to fly at each other and were tossing insults across the room.
Janet sidled up to the Director, and asked, “So, what happened up there? You know, in the real world. Did Lois really win?”
The Director checked his screen. After a few moments, he spoke. “Lois Waller is about to star in a music video for Johnny Buck, and she’s going to be his bridesmaid.”
Janet’s jaw hit the floor. “No way! Who’s he marrying?”
“His PA, she’s called Rosey, they’ve been dating for three years,” the Director replied. Janet sensed he didn’t have a lot of experience talking to teenage girls. He was probably not a Johnny Buck fan.
“Rosey?” Elizabeth asked in an acid tone.
“Rosey?” Belinda echoed. “She sent me my baseball. It looks a lot like you.”
“Fat Lois is going to be in a music video?” Jessica snapped. “Oh, that is it. We’re going back to Sweet Valley. There’s no way that chubber is getting the attention I deserve!”
It seemed to Janet that the Director looked slightly relieved at this turn of events. “Belladonna, could you arrange an exit path for everyone please?”
Even if they were going back, it was a good idea to keep abreast of the gossip. “So, she’s not famous this person who’s marrying Johnny Buck?”
The Director sighed and checked his screen once more. “No. She’s his PA.” He seemed to realize this was not enough information for her. “Belladonna is my PA, she organizes my schedule, weeds out time wasters, books my travel, alerts me to people who are not generating enough evil and those that are going above and beyond who need recognition for their hard work.”
Janet pulled a face. “That sounds boring. Why would he marry someone who wasn’t famous, like an actress or something?”
The Director looked confused. “I do not deal in marriage. What I deal in cannot be discussed with you until you are over the age of consent. Excuse me.” The Director stepped forward and held his hands up. “Now I want everyone to listen to me very clearly. When you leave Hell it is very important that you do not leave the door open. The last person must make sure it’s closed, otherwise residents of Hell that did not arrive with VIP guests may end up leaving without permission.”
“I’m going to kill Rosey!” Elizabeth yelled.
“I’m going to kill Lois!” Jessica yelled back.
“Yeah, yeah, close the door,” Janet said. “Can we go now?”
Buck the Odds (Holla Holla Lois Waller) by Johnny Buck
Switch on my television, looking for that list of names,
Those still alive in the Sweet Valley Middle Hunger Games.
Watching the action but I’m dreading every cannon boom,
Wait for the confirmation, building tension in the room
Oh how my heart stands still
Sky writing claims the kill,
A stranger’s name across the sky sky sky
They say that you’re too fat, you’ll never win like that,
But you will make them see, this is your destiny,
You’ll beat them at their game, the world will know your name,
We shout for victory, cry holla holla…
We raise our voices for Lois Waller.
Go Lois Waller, with your agile mind and sturdy thighs,
Hunt down those matchstick kids and see the terror in their eyes,
I ship my chosen tribute battle gear and paraphernalia,
Go Lois Waller, may the odds be ever in your favor.
Track down those wastes of space,
Use rocks to smash their face,
Just keep on pummeling, die die die,
And for the greater good, she’s gonna spill their blood,
She’s gonna tear out tongues, smash knees and puncture lungs,
Those pretty teens must die, no need to ask her why,
She’ll rip their hearts right out for a dollar…
So raise a clenched fist for Lois Waller.
So keep your Jessicas, your Lilas and your Amy Suttons,
Your Liz, your Kens, your Brookes, your Winstons won’t amount to nothin’.
Their bodies may be thin, you know their souls are so much thinner,
Go Lois Waller, you’re my winner winner chicken dinner.
That girl, she makes me quiver,
I stand when she delivers,
A potent chemistry, my my my,
The Wakefields always win, ‘cause they are blonde and thin,
But you are strong and smart, and you have won my heart,
Oh Lois, fan my flame, I hunger for your game,
You’re getting me hot under the collar…
I raise my flagpole for Lois Waller
(Written by Raven. Thank you.)
You can listen to Raven’s recording of this song at: SweetValley.Online
Lois was amused at the amount of girls wearing three ugly dresses stitched together badly.
“Lois, you are cool, but I cannot wait for this trend to pass,” Lila said, as Leslie Forsythe scurried past wearing green, orange and luminous yellow. She gave her a friendly wave, and Leslie looked shocked, but waved back.
“We’re taking ugly back, Lila. Get used to it,” Lois replied.
Lila buried her face in her hands and groaned. “Did you see Valley Fashions is now stocking the ‘Lois Dress’?”
Melissa laughed. “Is being enlightened hurting you?”
“Not me, just my wardrobe. Thank god I can still import from Europe.”
With Sweet Valley being the way that it was, everything had exploded quickly and then resolved itself—even without Elizabeth Wakefield to push her nose into everything. Hank Patman and George Fowler had been arrested for their part in trying to kill Lois after she won. Ned Wakefield had changed disciplines once more from real estate to litigation and was going to defend them.
Lila was now living with the McCormicks. Well, actually, they were living with her in her palatial estate. She hadn’t had to pretend to be Melissa’s cousin (and that was a bonus, because nobody could agree on what her name should be. They had all agreed it should rhyme with her real name, so that she would respond to it, but they only came up with Kyla, which Lila didn’t like) because her father was quickly arrested.
Lila had announced she was alive—she proclaimed it a miracle down to faulty suicide berries. Ned had approached her, saying she could probably sue the berry makers for failing to produce a suicide berry that adequately worked. Lila had thought about it for a second, but remembered she was gloriously rich (an upgrade from fabulously—Melissa had bet everything on Lois winning), and really didn’t need a Wakefield in her life in any way, shape or form.
“Has the Lois dress not reached Paris yet?” Lois asked.
“No. Please don’t hit Europe. I just want one dress all in one color, all in one design,” Lila said.
“Actually,” Melissa said. “That would be nice. The kids in the shelter hate that their clothes are all multiple bits sewn together. They’re wearing high fashion and they feel like they’re wearing old patched clothes. They’re grateful, but I think it’s damaging their self-esteem.”
Lila sat up. “See! Think of the homeless, Lois! Stop being so trend-setting!”
Lois rolled her eyes. “I’ve only worn a three-dress twice in my life. You know what Sweet Valley’s like. They get all obsessed. Honestly, Lila, it’s down to you to do something fabulous to get their attention.”
Lila nodded. The fashion tide had turned. Lois had hoped for a more inclusive Sweet Valley, but that was never going to happen. Instead, people now bullied kids for being too slender, not wearing glasses, being of average height, or eating salads. It frustrated Lois, but she was working on it. Lila had been called a “two-eyed twig” more than once in the past week, but she got off lighter than anyone who hadn’t been in the games. (Glasses were in. The bigger, the better.)
“Well, Valentine’s day is coming soon, for the fourth time this year,” Lila said thoughtfully. “We have a dance coming up. We should do a fundraiser for the shelter, and if we have a really cool theme, maybe it will distract everyone from the three-dress?”
Lois stuck her hand in the air. “Anyone in favor of Lila not coming up with the theme?”
Melissa’s hand shot up.
“Oh, ha ha, you guys are so funny,” Lila groused and took a sip of her soda. “I’ve learned—I have to run my ideas past you two now before I get funding. Fine, Melissa, what do you think the theme should be?”
“Where did that door come from?” Melissa said.
“Where did that door…?” Lila repeated doubtfully. “Is that like a metaphor or something?” It was very annoying having friends that were smart. Sometimes they would say things that she just didn’t get. She parsed it out. “Oh! Like, where did this opportunity come from? Count your blessings? That sort of thing?”
Melissa grabbed her arm. “No, where did that door come from?” She pointed to the middle of the lunchroom.
There was a big black double door. It apparently led nowhere, but something about it gave Lila a sense of unease. Beside her, Lois knocked the food off her knife and fork and held them tightly.
Suddenly it flew open and the Wakefield twins strode through, followed by the rest of the tributes from the Hunger Games.
“What is going on?” Lila mumbled.
“We’re back!” Jessica said, beaming around the room.
“You’re dead,” Lila said.
“Yes. And I said we’re back. Keep up, Lila.”
Winston pushed through the throngs of people and came to an awkward halt by the Unicorner. Lila leapt to her feet and threw her arms around him. “Winston! I’m so glad to see you!”
“She’s a hugger now,” Lois explained. “Melissa taught her how.”
Lila stepped back, blushing a little. It suddenly occurred to her that Winston was a boy, and hugging a boy was something different. Then again, Winston was something different too. Her world view had shifted in the past couple of weeks, and now she found herself looking at the tall gangling boy with the blush-red ears with fondness and admiration.
“Have a seat, you’re a Unicorn now,” Lila said quickly to cover their blushes.
Lois held up a hand—still clutching a fork. “Hi, Winston, it’s great to see you, but could you please explain how you’re here? I’m really glad you’re not dead, but it’s a bit confusing.”
“Oh, we went to hell—”
“Hell? But you’re a good person!” Melissa said.
“Yeah. Loophole. If you think about kittens or puppies or rainbows—things like that—you go to heaven. I was too busy thinking ‘Ow, I’ve been stabbed’ to think of cute animals,” Winston replied. “But Ellen did.”
“Oh, that was me,” Lois said. “I sent Ellen to heaven?”
Lila shrugged. “I suppose it’s as good a reason as any for her not to be in Sweet Valley High.”
Winston nodded. “Anyway, if you arrive in Hell with VIPs—the twins, of course, Hell was very happy to have them—the entire party can come back.”
“Well, that seems awfully convenient,” Lois said. “It’s almost as if the ghostwriter wanted to have her cake and eat it too.”
“Yes, now she can write a sequel, and set it in this universe if she wants to,” Melissa said.
“Can you lame-brains stop breaking the fourth wall and get out of the Unicorner?” Janet snapped. “This is for the elite only.”
Lila glared at her cousin. “Sorry, Janet. Things have changed. The Unicorns are a socially responsible group—we sponsor the Sweet Valley Homeless Shelter, membership is open to all, and we don’t stand for bullying here.”
Lois turned to Winston. “Why did it take a week to get back—you all died last week, over a span of three days?”
Winston sighed. “We had to wait for the twins to arrive—don’t you know that nothing happens without them? After that, there was a lot of paperwork for twenty-one dead people to return to their lives.”
“Who cares about stupid paperwork!” Janet screeched. “How dare you destroy my club!”
“It’s not your club, it’s mine and Lois’!” Lila snapped back.
“How dare you be in a music video for Johnny Buck!” Jessica pushed her way past Janet and glared at Lois.
Lois shrugged. “He likes me. His fiancé is really nice too. They invited the new Unicorn club to the wedding.”
“But you’re the bridesmaid!” Jessica exploded. “You’ll look terrible in a pretty dress, your fat will ooze out of every part of it!”
“Get stuffed, you two-eyed twig!” Sophia stepped up between them. “Leave Lois alone, she’s our hero!”
Jessica glanced around the group. “What’s a two-eyed twig?”
“Slender people who don’t wear glasses get bullied now,” Lois said with a wince. “I’m still working on it. I’d really like it if nobody got bullied, but it’s Sweet Valley, and miracles cannot be wrought.”
“Did anyone shut the door?” Winston asked. “Who was last through the door?”
But for the most part, the tributes had dispersed, they headed off to see their friends.
Elizabeth pushed her way past Janet and Jessica. “Who is Ro$ey and why can’t she spell her name? Where can I find her? I need to kill her.”
Lois stood up, face to face with Elizabeth—and despite the fact they were the same height, it felt to Lila like Lois loomed over Elizabeth. “She’s called Rosey, she’s a lovely person and the reason there’s a dollar sign in her signature is because she and Johnny Buck have been dating for three years and they’re going to get married. It was a secret message to me that they were both supporting me. And if you go near her, I will rip out your spleen and wear it as a hat.”
Lila leaned closer. “And you know what will happen then? Everyone will start wearing spleens as hats. Lois is incredibly popular right now. Seventeen and Ingénue are both fighting over who gets to put her on their cover first.”
Jessica and Janet both looked astounded at the news. “That can’t be possible.”
“People are betting on who she’s going to take as her date to the Valentine dance,” Lila added. She wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but it would make Jessica and Janet explode with rage. She smirked as she came up with another fury-generating lie. “Johnny Buck has a very cute cousin our age. He keeps saying he should introduce them.”
Lois gave her an indulgent but exasperated look.
“Guys, the door—it’s still open!” Winston yelled.
There was a great rumbling from the middle of the room, and suddenly out poured a horde of monsters, vampires, zombies and demons. They surged into the room, and started attacking.
A vampire grabbed Patrick Morris. He fought weakly against it. “No! I just got back! Flowers! Bunnies! Kittens!” Everything else he tried to say was cut off as the vampire chomped down on his neck.
A zombie dragged itself over to Denny Jacobson. “Denny! Nooooooooooo!” Janet screamed and ran towards them to fight for her man (whether he wanted her to or not).
Elizabeth let out a menacing howl and dove at the monsters.
“Lila,” Lois said calmly. “I think I need my flame-thrower.”
Note: If you think I’m actually going to write the proposed sequel… no. Super no. This was fun, but I’m so tapped out. I hope you liked it. I’m sorry if you didn’t. If you thought it got a bit silly… well, yes, it was. But there are several book plotlines that are frankly ridiculous, so this felt like a natural step forward since it was parody. About the ending? There were several ideas that floated around: it’s all a joke (like April Fool!); Elizabeth stops everything with an impassioned plea to the gamemakers and the viewers; same as, but with twist ending, Elizabeth is so far gone she kills everyone to teach them a lesson… all of them focused on Elizabeth, who I just don’t care about, so this is what I went with.
Special shout out to Raven and Rosey, who have been my personal cheerleaders throughout NaNo.
Super shout out to Raven, who wrote “Buck the Odds (Holla Holla Lois Waller)”.
Credits and Cover Art
@Bookshelf_Raven wrote the song “Buck the Odds (Holla Holla Lois Waller), and Stuart Taylor wrote the music to accompany it.
@Roseyonaboat created the artwork for this story and was the inspiration for the Ro$ey character.