Title: Jessica vs Elizabeth
“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!”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: I am going to post this, unbeta’d as it gets written for NaNoWriMo2017. I will post a clean, edited (hopefully coherent) version when it is finished, but if you want to see the raw, error-laden process of my word-vomit, here it is.
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 marvellous. 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 realised 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 first 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 barrelled 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 awhile.” 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 grown 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.