I twist the hem of my shirt as the platform rises up through the tube. My heart’s racing, but I still the tremble in my hands as I ride up into the arena. The lift glides to a stop, jerking me, and settles into place. I glance around at the other Tributes, and notice that I’m between defyingravity and ongoeslife. So, the Gamemakers have us in District order. That couldn’t have helped me more.
I glance at the other Tributes briefly, nodding at the others from my District, then focus on the Cornucopia, scoping the items within. I see little of interest, but then notice the cloak lying next to the rope. Invisible at night…so much terror I could inflict. They’d never see me coming, and I would just appear, strangle or smother them with the cloak, then disappear back into the night.
But then movement in the Cornucopia distracts me. A tail wags around the edge of the wall, and I’m torn in two. That’s the dog the instructors told us about. My skin prickles, and I sense that the Games are about to begin. I only have a split second to decide which item will help me most.
The gong sounds, and I make up my mind.
I race across the long grass towards the Cornucopia, and zero in on the dog. That animal will win me the Games, I think. I swing into the Cornucopia with my fellow tributes and grab the dog’s leash, then sprint away with the dog on my heels. We reach the woods safely, and I meander deeper, the dog brushing my legs as we march inwards. She’s a German Shepherd, I notice, a good breed. Protective, obedient, loyal…sensitive. Intelligent too, by looks and breed, but not a muttation. No, she’s purebred. A tough dog. She’s been trained to quickly identify poisons, and that’ll save precious time during the Games.
I worm past a fallen trunk, then pause. What should I call her? Her harness is black, and so’s her fur. That’ll be nice at night. I smile. Sonar. That’s perfect. I say the name out loud, and her ears perk up, her eyes bright. She knows that’s her name now. Grinning, I lash her to a nearby tree as I get my bearings and breath. She’ll counter all of the other major items except the celebrity, and who cares about them? I can sleep soundly with her by my side, unafraid of what I can’t see and she can smell. That’ll take care of the cloak. Her leash can function as any kind of short rope I need, and if it comes down to me or her I can eat…but only if I have no other choice. And she can distract and attack in a tight spot. Tribute plus angry dog versus lone tribute equals my odds, every time.
I look around, scanning for a water source. I don’t see anything, but I hear the trickle of a creek. I unwind Sonar’s leash and lead her towards the sound. That’s another added bonus. When I don’t have time to test the water for poison, she can sniff and give me an instant evaluation. And her sixth sense can warn me of more than just poison. She’ll sense dangers from the Game Makers or other tributes long before I will (animals always see it coming). And her hackles will warn me if the tribute’s seeking an alliance or trying to kill me.
We break through the tree line, and stumble into a stream. Sonar sneezes the water off her snout, then sniffs the water and starts drinking. Good water, at least. I scoop up a handful and drink the cool, clear water, letting it spill down my throat. Her drink finished, Sonar shakes herself, spraying me with droplets. Her ears snap ramrod straight, and she whips her head upstream. A soft growl grumbles through her throat, and her nape rises. I tighten my grip on the leash and step across the stream, heading back for tree cover. Whatever’s up there isn’t good, and I’m not ready to face other tributes just yet.
The wind chills my damp pant legs, and I wonder about the temperature at night. Of course, I’ll have Sonar, so that will take care of a blanket and heat source, but still…I don’t know what I’m up against yet. But with my dog, I stand a good chance of surviving these Games.