I put one foot in front of the other through the square as we make our way up to the temporary stage. Just as crisp clean white uniforms encircle me, Peeta and Haymitch follow with their own ivory escorts. The hot sun glints off of the video cameras and machine guns while a golden Effie awaits us at the top of the stairs, wearing her plastic smile.
"Welcome, welcome!" she announces as she turns to the audience as we take our places. My mother and Prim are just a few feet away. Gale looms even further in the distance.
Effie's voice echoes off of the Hall of Justice as she makes the traditional introductions and I keep my eyes on Gale, waiting for him to look up at me. I know this may be the last time I see him, so I don't dare look away. But why isn't he looking back? I'm worried he won't make an appearance after the reaping for a proper goodbye.
It's time for Effie to pull my name out of the crystal bowl. Her hand hovers in the usual, made for television suspense and finally snatches up the lonely strip of paper. Again, hesitating in her usual fashion, she calls my name. As rehearsed, I walk up to take center stage to my mark, placing my feet perfectly over the X of white tape. After a moment, I realize Effie hasn't made another sound. I glance up at her to make sure nothing emotional has interrupted her speech, but when I look for her golden hair and long fake eyelashes, I see a melting face with large teeth.
"What are you waiting for, honey? It's just you in this year's games," she cackled as she lifts a mutated claw towards me.
I try to take a step back, but I find my feet tangled in vines of white tape. I twist myself around and cry for help from Peeta and Haymitch. As I turn, I see mutt versions of the two; Peeta's hair is frayed and foam drips from his cracked mouth, Haymitch's smile reaches from ear to ear, revealing snaggled and chipped teeth, already caked with red.
I turn back to the crowd and see they are inching towards me, claws raised.
I search for Gale, and when I find him in the horrendous crowd, he has his back to me. "Gale! Gale, help!" I scream out to him. My feet are cemented to the ground. My pulse quickens and I feel sweat drip down the back of my neck.
The heat is unbearable, and I find it hard to breathe.
I keep searching for any familiar face. My mother and Prim, who where just feet from me a moment ago, are nowhere to be found.
"No, no this, this can't be happening..." I stammer just as a loud canon goes off which makes me duck and cover my ears. Every video monitor flickers to life. President Snow's face floats in front of a black screen and he delivers his official announcement, "Congratulations, Ms. Everdeen. May the odds be ever in your favor." I stare at the floating head and watch his eyes glance back into the crowd's direction. Following his gaze, I see Gale has returned, dead center, with Prim on his shoulders. Hands grab me from behind to return me to a standing position and keep me still while Prim lifts my bow and looses an arrow straight into my chest.
My mouth gapes open as my lungs squeeze out every bit of air. Strangely, no sound escapes my throat. My hands clutch at my sweat soaked shirt and my legs kick at the blankets twisted about my feet. I force myself to breathe again and the next exhale finally allows a cry to pass my lips.
This dream was different than the others; there were no dead tributes, no fires, and no crumbling caves. Being killed by my own sister was definitely different. It seems no matter what I do for her; I will not be getting out alive.
Earlier that evening, Peeta and Haymitch joined my mother, Prim and I for a quiet dinner. Small talk was attempted, but really, what could you say on the eve of the reaping? Since our names were essentially called a month ago upon Snow's announcement of the Quart Quell, there had been time for last hugs and goodbyes. My anxieties of my departure from 12 - and this world - were slightly reduced when Prim assured me of her abilities, my mother of her sanity, and Gale of his duties.
About 9:30, Haymitch finally called it quits and for once sounded like the responsible one. "I don't know about you, but I don't want a rhinestone boot up my ass in the morning if we aren't ready before you-know-who arrives. Goodnight." He forced himself up from the overstuffed chair and glanced at Peeta, giving him his cue to follow.
"He's right," Peeta said as he cleared his throat. "Mrs. Everdeen, thank you for the lovely meal." He stood on his prosthetic with much more grace and ease than a sober Haymitch. For courtesy, I see them to the door; Haymitch quietly made his exit with nothing more than a nod, but Peeta lingered for a moment. He looked at the floor and started to mouth something, but wasn't able find the strength to say the words. As my first act to save him, I simply said, "See you tomorrow."
His head snapped up in relief and he smiled. "Yeah, see you tomorrow." When his blue eyes found mine, I returned the smile and lightly gave a squeeze to his arm as he stepped outside.
"Sweet dreams," I whispered as I latched the door closed.
I meant it sincerely. I crossed my fingers every night before I closed my eyes. I was sure he did the same. His paintings revealed that we shared the same condition. Although he had a paintbrush to quiet his nightmares, my screams only fed mine.
My mother popped up and clapped her hands together, "Okay, off to bed you two! Big day tomorrow! I want you to be ready when Ms. Trinket arrives!"
I knew my mother was trying her hardest to keep it together. I couldn't believe she didn't shut down again during the last games, and on the eve of tomorrow's Reaping, I was surprised she could even form whole words. So, I tried my best around my mother as well. I knew she heard my cries at night, yet every morning she welcomed me with open arms and a bright smile. Since the Quarter Quell announcement, I heard her cries too that only happened behind her closed door. However, she was smiling now, so why couldn't I?
I walked across the room and hugged her tightly. Even though this hug had the same meaning as last year, this time there was a warmth and life that I embraced.
"I love you mom," I whispered, nestled in her arms.
She pulled away and cupped my face in her fragile hands, "I love you too my dear, dear Katniss." A tear threatening to jump from its ledge interrupted the moment. She pulled away, sniffed and said, "Okay, off to bed! I will see you in the morning!"
Prim followed me upstairs and before we reached our respective bedrooms, she pulled me into a hug. "Oh little duck... I don't know who is stronger: you, me, or Buttercup. Seriously, I saw a Peacekeeper being cornered by that demon cat." My horrible efforts to lighten the mood worked; a quiet chuckle nervously came from my sister. She looked up at me and said, "Definitely Buttercup. But you're prettier."
It takes about fifteen minutes to finally calm down from this new nightmare. It must be a new record. I can't shake the images of Prim's last action from my mind.
I strip off my soaked shirt and go to the bathroom to fetch a cool washcloth. It's about 3 in the morning and there is no way I can attempt to close my eyes again. Instead, I peer out my window to Peeta's house; it wouldn't be fair to bother him this late at night. Then I notice a dim light in the window next door – Haymitch, on the other hand.
I pull on a clean shirt, loose drawstring pants and my father's jacket before I sneak downstairs. I don't bother with my boots since it is only a short walk across the way to my mentor's. I quietly let myself inside and a familiar and unpleasant smell greets me. Haymitch promised his sobriety, but I guess old habits never die. I understand now why he chooses to drown himself - he's drowning his memories.
"Haymitch, it's just me. I couldn't... sleep." I find him in his living room, curled up with a dusty bottle of white liquor. I can't believe he managed to hide a bottle of that stuff since our last binge.
With an annoyed groan, I take a seat next to him and start to speak. I know he can't hear me, but to have a warm body in the same room will do just fine as a confessional. I spill out details of my haunting nightmares and embarrassing flash backs; my fears of leaving my sister and mother behind, the hurt I felt when Gale knew I could never be with him and finally, death finds its way out of my mouth. Not the other tribute's, Haymitch's or Peeta's, but mine. I have to say it out loud so that I can finally accept my fate. The odds are not in my favor, but highly stacked against me - Snow reminded me of that. I am going to die in that arena, but not until Peeta's victory is guaranteed.
I regret my decision to use Haymitch as my confidant when he answers with a burp and a deep snort.
"You're right," I say with a defeated sigh, "it's pointless working myself up." I wiggle the dusty bottle from his unconscious grasp and take a long pull. When the liquid stops burning its way down to my gut, I raise the bottle to Haymitch, lean back, put my feet on the coffee table and take another swig.
My head begins to buzz and the warmth spreads from my stomach out to my toes. I play with the buttons on my jacket and study the warn brass of the clasps, watching light play across the metal. It reminds me of my Mockingjay pin.
I realize I can't remember when the last time I've seen it. I sit up and set down the empty bottle and put my head in my hands. I've locked it away somewhere safe, but unfortunately, somewhere forgotten too.
It is about 4:00 when I stumble out of Haymitch's house. There is something about pre-dawn that always sends a shiver through me, no matter what time of year. My bare feet squish along the dew soaked grass and I make my way to my old house.