Prim likes to joke that Katniss has tunnel vision.
A "One track mind is more like it" she heard Gale say once. Katniss didn't find particularly funny and had proceeded to ignore Gale and his childish taunts for the rest of the day. Gale was extremely peeved at her reaction "Can't you take a joke, Catnip?" but for the sake of their friendship he never brought it up again.
Prim, on the other hand, still likes to tease her about it. Some days she'll wave a hand off to the side of her face, just to see if she'll turn—which is ridiculous, she's a hunter; there's no way she'd miss something so obvious in her peripheral vision.
Other days she's more inconspicuous. Prim will hide something in the house, something small or unimportant that Katniss doesn't use just to see if she'd noticed that it was gone. Normally it would drive Katniss insane, all this pestering, but she can't deny Prim anything. She loves Prim more than anything. It's this kind of love, unconditional and warm that makes her forget sometimes that Prim is, in fact, her little sister.
And little sisters sure can be annoying.
Katniss didn't notice at first. It was too early in the morning, and even though the sun rises earlier in the summer it is still far too dark for Katniss to have seen anything amiss. Katniss rises out of bed prepared to go hunting with Gale. She readies herself, making sure she's quite so as not to wake her mother or Prim.
As she heads for the door, Katniss reaches for the usual spot where she hangs her father's hunting jacket. Instead of the familiar, worn leather, she's met with nothing but air. She turns and is shocked to find her father's beloved hunting jacket not resting on the hook as always. It doesn't take Katniss long to figure out what happened to it.
Katniss is extra careful with her father's jacket as it is the only thing that remains of him. Everything else was either sold or blown to bits down in the mines. She knows her mother wouldn't dare touch it. Katniss made it very clear she was not to touch it; her mother lost that privilege when she let her daughters starve. Since it wasn't her mother that points to the only other person in their small home.
Prim must have hidden it as part of her annoying little game. Katniss lets out a groan. She does not have time for this especially today. Katniss marches to the bedroom they share with their mother, not caring if she wakes them both up. Katniss may spoil Prim with love and affection—which to her defense Prim needed from her as their mother was sorely lacking—but enough is enough. She swings the door open disappointed that it didn't make more noise.
It's still fairly dark out but enough light has filtered in allowing Katniss to make out the figures in the bedroom. She spots Prim curled up on her side next to their mother and the anger seeps out of her.
She's wearing their father's hunting jacket. Prim never wears it. It's much too big for her and meant to be worn by the head of the household, which is now Katniss.
Of course she's wearing it. Today's the reaping.
Feeling bad for almost waking them up Katniss heads out of the room quietly and slowly closes the door behind her. Prim should get as much sleep as she can. She knows how terrifying your first reaping can be.
Katniss decides it's warm enough out and leaves without a coat, purposely stepping on the tail of Prim's ugly orange cat as she heads out.
"You know what you did," Katniss says when the cat hisses at her.
Once in the woods, Katniss reaches under a hollow log and retrieves her bow and arrows. She takes a deep breath admiring the peacefulness of the woods around her. A rare smile works its way on her lips. Gale always did say she was the happiest out here.
She hears a snap and feels something brush past her. She turns and in a split second has her bowstring pulled back taught and an arrow pointing at her unlucky prey.
"Hey Catnip." says Gales holding some berries in his hand. He smirks and throws one in his mouth. He knows that's not her name, but after miss understanding her the first time she introduced herself the nickname stuck. Gale thinks it's a fitting nickname. He says lame animals are always seeking her company. She's actually catnip he says referring to the goat and cat at her house and the lynx that followed her around once. He's wrong. Besides the lynx that followed her around for scraps, the other two are only attracted to Prim. Katniss is not generous or compassionate like Prim. Any animal, lame or otherwise, should be smarter than to seek help from her.
"Dammit Gale." She lowers her bow "I could have shot you."
Gale shrugs, "No you wouldn't." He holds up his other hand "Look what I shot" he says holding up a loaf of bread with an arrow stuck in it. Despite still being mad at Gale for startling her Katniss lets out a small laugh. It's real bakery bread, not the flat, dense loaves her mother makes at home from their meager grain rations. She pulls the arrow out and inhales the fragrance that seeps out from the puncher in the crust. The smell is enough to make her mouth water.
"Mm, still warm." She says. "What did it cost you?" Fine bread like this is for special occasions and it must have cost Gale quite a lot.
"Just a squirrel. Think the old man was feeling sentimental this morning. Says Gales. "Even wished me luck." He snorts.
"Well, it is reaping day. We all feel a little closer today, don't we?" Katniss says thinking back to the way Prim and her mother were pressed up together this morning. Gale just shrugs. Katniss tries not to roll her eyes at Gales' blatant hatred of the merchant class. While most of the merchants—the wealthier and better-fed class of District 12— can be condescending and rude, especially about people from the Seam—the poorer and underfed class of District 12—there are exceptions. Mr. Mellark the only baker in the District 12 is one of those. He's always been kind and respectful when she's traded with him. Most other merchants turn their nose up at her and Gale when they trade—even though they're receiving fresh game—but Mr. Mellark is one of the few that doesn't.
"Prim left us cheese…but her mangy cat ate it."
Gale laughs, "Isn't it about time you drown that thing? It's fat enough now to provide a decent meal at least."
"Don't even joke. I tried that once and Prim cried for hours. As long as the thing never scratches her then I'm fine with having it around."
"Well, I got some berries. There's probably more up the hill. Then we'll be able to have a real feast."
Katniss nods her head and starts to climb up the hill alongside Gale. Their footsteps are quite, a crucial skill picked up after so many years of hunting together. They continue to climb, picking berries along the way before reaching their favorite spot—a rock ledge overlooking a valley.
They sit down together and Gale breaks the bread, handing her half. "Happy Hunger Games!" he says in an upbeat Capital accent, mimicking Effie Trinket— District 12's escort and the woman responsible for choosing the tributes. "And may the odds be ever in your favor!" Katniss plays along, tossing him a berry. He catches it in his mouth and they settle into a comfortable silence.
Katniss watches Gales stuff some berries into a slice of bread and takes a bite as she does the same. Their movements are so in sync it amazes her sometimes. She supposes she could attribute their synchronicity to their many years as hunting partners but it's more than that. They're just really similar in many ways—stealthy, stubborn, Seam-born, and head of their households. They both lost their father's in the same mine explosion and as the oldest, they both had to take on the role of primary provider.
She met Gale when she first came out here to hunt by herself. It was tense at first, both of them saw the other as competition, and not as allies, but once they grew comfortable around them a true partnership was born.
It's times like these, in the stillness and freedom that the woods offers them, that Katniss is grateful they both resorted to hunting to provide for their families. Gale's friendship means a great deal to her. They're close enough to be family—they certainly look like siblings. Sharing the same black hair, olive skin, and gray eyes. All trademarks of the Seam.
Katniss sighs. Today would have been a perfect day if it weren't for the reaping.
"We could do it, you know." Gale says quietly, breaking the silence.
"Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it." He says.
Katniss stares at him, stunned by the sudden turn in conversation. What made him think of such a ludicrous idea?
"If we didn't have so many kids." He adds quickly.
Between his two little brothers, baby sister, and Prim that makes four kids they have to feed. Not to mention their mothers who rely on them just as much.
"I never want to have kids." Katniss finally says.
"I might. If I didn't live here." Gale says.
"But you do." Katniss counters, irritated.
"Forget it." He snaps back.
Katniss snorts at his foul mood. It's his fault for bring it up. Why would they leave? They have family here, responsibilities! How could she ever leave Prim, who is the only person in the world she is certain she loves? And Gale…he would never leave his family.
So then why?
Katniss figures it has to do with this being his last reaping. It's exciting to be so close to over with the nightmare that is possibly being reaped into the Hunger Games, but while it might be his last reaping he's also in the greatest danger of being reaped. You become eligible for the reaping when you're 12 and your name gets entered into the reaping once. Ever year after that your name gets enter once more so by the time you're 18 and almost done with the reaping your name is entered a grand total of seven times.
It's more convenient for the capital, she thinks. Its far more entertaining to watch 18 years olds fight to the death than it is 12 years old.
In district 12, however, you have the option of signing up for tesserae to get grain and oil in exchange for more slips entered into the reaping bowl. You can sign up for yourself and every member of your family, which is something Gale and Katniss do every year. The threat of starvation today far out weighs the possibility of being reaped for the Hunger games tomorrow.
"How many times is your name in today?" Katniss asks.
"42," Gale answers. "I guess the odds aren't exactly in my favor."
Katniss and Gale make the most of the morning and get a pretty good haul. A few squirrels and even some fish they caught at the lake. Enough meat to trade and still have something nice for dinner. After the reaping, most people celebrate the relief of not being reaped. It's not a great practice, celebrating when two kids have been sent off to slaughter but people in District 12 have very few reasons to celebrate as is.
Before heading home, they swing by the Hob, the black market that operates in an abandoned coal warehouse. Greasy Sae, the bony old woman who sells bowls of hot soup from a large kettle, takes half the greens off their hands in exchange for a couple of chunks of paraffin.
They sell a couple of the fish for some coins to some of the Peacekeepers roaming around the Hob. The Hob and poaching in the woods are illegal, but most Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to these illegal activities because they're just as hungry for fresh meat as anybody is.
Once done at the Hob, Katniss and Gale head to the back door of the mayor's house to sell half the strawberries they picked. The mayor has a particular fondness for them and is one of the few people in District 12 to be able to afford their price.
The mayor's daughter, Madge, opens the door. She's in Katniss's year at school. Being the mayor's daughter, you'd expect her to be a snob, but she's all right. She just keeps to herself. Like Katniss does. Since neither of them really has a group of friends, they seem to end up together a lot at school. Eating lunch, sitting next to each other at assemblies, partnering for sports activities. They rarely talk, which suits them just fine. Still, Madge is the closest thing to a friend that Katniss has—besides Gale.
Today, Madge's drab school outfit has been replaced by an expensive white dress, and her blonde hair is done up with a pink ribbon. Reaping clothes.
"Pretty dress," says Gale.
Madge shoots him a look, trying to see if it's a genuine compliment or if he's just being ironic. It is a pretty dress, but she'd never wear it normally. She presses her lips together and then smiles. "Well, if I end up going to the Capitol, I want to look nice, don't I?"
Now it's Gale's turn to be confused. Does she mean it? Or is she messing with him? Katniss guesses the second.
"You won't be going to the Capitol," Gale says coolly. His eyes land on a small circular pin that adorns her dress. Real gold. Beautifully crafted. It could keep a family in bread for months. "What can you have? Five entries? I had six when I was just twelve years old."
"That's not her fault," Katniss says, angry with Gale for his insensitive words.
"No, it's no one's fault. Just the way it is." Says Gale.
Madge's face has become closed off. She puts the money for the strawberries in Katniss's hand. Katniss nods and makes to leave "Wait." Madge says. She reaches down and removes her gold pin. She places it in Katniss hand. "Good luck, Katniss."
Katniss makes to hand it back. The gold pin is far too expensive and she's not in a habit of accepting handouts. But before Katniss can hand it back, Mage closes the door.
Gale snorts. "You gonna tell me that's not her fault?"
Katniss glares at him and stomps away. "Come on. I have one last place to go before heading home."
They walk down from the Mayor's house into town. Most of the businesses are closed by this time on reaping day, but Katniss knows of one business that stays open right up till the reaping. The bakery. As the only bakery in the District, the bakery can't afford to stay closed for too long. People need bread after all.
Like at the Mayor's house, they head to the back door and knock. The baker is a regular customer of theirs, always buying their squirrels. Gale already traded a squirrel for a small loaf this morning, but Katniss is hoping to trade three of her squirrels for two hearty bread loaves.
She wants to make tonight's feast special, not only for Prim surviving her first reaping but also for Gale surviving his last. Besides, the baker might want more fresh meat to celebrate tonight too. He has three sons, one she knows is too old for the reaping but the other two aren't. The baker is a kind man; surely he'd want to celebrate having his sons around for another year.
The door opens and, like always, Katniss holds her breath, fearing the baker's wife, a shrill and nasty woman who despises everything—especially people from the Seam—will open the door. If the baker's wife opens the door there will be no bread tonight.
Instead of the baker, or his wife, one of their sons opens the door. He's tall and blonde, like most people from town.
"Gale." He smirks, leaning against the doorframe.
Gale frowns, "Rye."
The boys have a silent stare-off. Gale is frowning and brooding, but Rye continues to stare at him with an obnoxious smirk. Katniss clears her throat to get their attention. "Where's your father?"
Rye turns to look at her as if just noticing that she is there. His eyes trail her form with interest, and it makes her feel uncomfortable. His brown eyes finally land on her face. She's surprised for a moment, to see brown. She assumed the Mellark brothers all shared their father's blue eyes. Perhaps he's not the baker's son?
"Dad!" Rye yells, disconfirming her thoughts.
An older man appears at the back door.
"Gale. Katniss." The baker says in greeting. "Rye, why don't you go finish getting ready?"
"Ok, Later." He says with a wink thrown in Gale's direction. Gale's frown deepens.
"What have you got for me?" the baker asks.
"Three squirrels," Katniss answers, "Fat ones."
The baker nods, "Two loaves okay?"
The baker leaves to go retrieve the loaves. He comes back and hands Katniss the bag, "Good luck you two." He says with a kind smile before closing the door.
End of transaction. Katniss smiles a little at the smell and feel of the fresh bread in her arms. She enjoys trading with the baker, he's a man of few words and she appreciates that.
Katniss starts to walk away from town toward the Seam. Gale follows alongside her, silently fuming.
Katniss rolls her eyes, "What wrong with you."
"Nothing. It's just that punk, Ryean Mellark."
"Yea, what was that about? You know him?" Katniss asks.
Gale kicks a rock in his path, " Not really. He's in my year at school, but I run into him sometimes. He's got his own group of friends—mostly girls, the giant flirt— but he likes to hang out with some other kids too, a group of seam kids—mostly girls too." He says disgustingly. It's no mystery what he must be thinking—Slag Heap. The Slag Heap is another disputable location in District 12, where young boys and girls go to…err…you know—do married things. The only time a merchant boy pays any attention to a Seam girl is when he intends to take her to the Slag Heap. Most girls go along with it, hoping the boys will fall in love with them, or that they'll get something for their trouble. Everyone knows a merchant boy would never marry a Seam girl.
"Just hate the guy is all." Gale finishes.
Katniss rolls her eyes again, "You hate all townies." Townies is what people from the seam call people that live in town, the merchants.
"Yea well…they look down on us, why shouldn't we do the same?"
Katniss says nothing, not in the mood to argue or hear another one of Gale's "life isn't fair," rants. Life isn't fair. So what? How's complaining about it going to help them or put food on the table?
They reach the junction that separates their houses.
"I'll see you after the reaping," Katniss says.
Gales nods, "Yea. Go make sure you look pretty for the cameras," he says sarcastically.
Katniss makes it home to find her mother and sister ready to go. Her mother, light-skinned and blond, wears a pretty dress from when she lived in town. She was once a merchant before she fell in love and ran way to live with a coal miner. Her parents are the only case Katniss has ever heard of a person from Town and a person from the Seam getting married. It didn't exactly end up well for them.
But then again, love never does. Not in this place, not in this world.
Prim, who is an exact replica of their mother but younger, wears Katniss's first reaping outfit—a skirt and a pretty ruffled blouse. Katniss also notices that she's still wearing their father's hunting jacket.
"I laid something out for you too." Her mother says from her seat at the kitchen table.
Katniss nods without meeting her eyes. She heads over to the tub of warm water. She scrubs off the dirt and sweat from the woods and washes her hair. When she gets out she sees what her mother has laid out for her. A soft blue dress with matching shoes. It's pretty, no doubt hers from when she lived in town.
"Let's put your hair up, too." Her mother says. There are not many things Katniss lets her mother do for her, but it's a special day so she nods her head and lets her mother braid her hair. It's an intricate braid that lands softly on her shoulder. When she's finished Katniss sees herself in their cracked mirror. She looks clean and pretty, but still tiny and underfed. Angry too. She spots Prim looking at her through the mirror.
"You look beautiful," Prim says in a hushed voice. "I wish I looked like you."
Katniss walks over to the couch and sits down next to Prim. "I wish I looked like you, little duck." She hugs Prim. She knows these next few hours will be terrible for her. Her first reaping. She's about as safe as you can get since she's only entered once. Katniss did everything in her power to prevent her from taking out any tesserae.
"I had nightmares." Prim whispers.
Katniss runs her hand down Prim's head, soothingly. "I know Prim, but they're not going to pick you. Your name's only in once. The odds are in your favor."
Prim starts to whimper, "But…" Katniss feels a fat water drop hit her chest. She rocks Prim back and forth trying to soothe her. "Hey, it's going to be ok. We'll go and it will be over before you know it," That's a lie, the reaping can feel like hours—even though it only takes half an hour at most. "Then we'll come here and we'll celebrate. I got us fish, and some fresh bread too."
Prim continues to cry, "But…but…what…about…" As scared as she is, it's not herself Prim is worried about. Prim is worried about her. She's worried that the unthinkable might happen to her older sister.
"Hey," Katniss says pulling away from Prim, "I got you something."
Prim looks at her with watery, curious eyes.
Katniss pulls out something small and shiny and puts it in Prim's hand.
"It's a pin," Katniss says
Prim looks at it, in awe of how beautiful it is. "What is it?" She asks referring to the winged creature in the middle. The creature is a small bird in flight.
"It's a mockingjay." Katniss says. "If you wear this, nothing can hurt you. It'll protect you." Katniss can protect Prim against anything but the Capitol and the Games, so even though it's silly, she hopes Prim can hang onto this pin and feel comforted by it. Even as she stands alone at the reaping later today.
Prim wipes away her tears. "Ok. Thank you."
Katniss kisses her forehead. "You're welcome little duck. Now, how about we get you out of that jacket? You must be burning up."
Prim shrugs off the jacket, "Sorry."
"It's ok." She leans over, "I feel brave when I wear it too."
Prim lets out a small laugh.
"Girls," their mother says, cutting off their laugh. "It's time to go."
The town square is packed with people. Attendance is mandatory for everyone unless you are on death's door. People continue to silently file and sign in. Twelve through eighteen year olds are herded into roped areas marked off by ages, the oldest in the front, and the young ones, like Prim, toward the back. Family members line up around the perimeter, holding tightly to one another's hands. The space gets tighter, more claustrophobic as people arrive. It's not a feeling that Katniss welcomes. She's never been a fan of tight, in-closed spaces.
Katniss and Prim sign in, already having left their mother in the family-restricted area. Before separating, Katniss notices Prim's blouse has pulled out of her skirt.
"Tuck you tail in little duck," Katniss says, smoothing the blouse back in place.
Prim usually quacks when Katniss calls her that, but she's much too frightened to do anything else but shake.
"It's going to be ok." Katniss squeezes her hand, "Now go on." She leaves Prim in the area marked off for twelve year olds and makes her way to the section for sixteen year olds. As usual, the seam and merchant kids have segregated themselves into two groups. Even with the threat of the Games hanging over their head, there is no love loss between the Seam and townies.
Katniss stares up at the stage where the reaping will be announced. It holds three chairs, a podium, and large glass balls, one for the boys and one for the girls. Katniss stares at the girls' bowl, twenty of them have her name written on them—Katniss Everdeen.
Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read. It's the same story every year. He tells the history of Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave the districts new laws to guarantee peace and, as a yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, the Hunger Games were created.
In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl, and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
Taking the kids from the districts, forcing them to kill one another while the rest of Panem watches—this is the Capitol's way of reminding the districts of how totally at the mercy of the Capitol they are. How little chance they would stand of surviving another rebellion.
Their message is clear. "Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did District Thirteen."
The Capitol requires everyone in Panem to treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, a sporting event pitting every district against others. The last tribute alive receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food. All year, the Capitol will show the winning district gift of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar while the rest of the districts battle starvation.
"It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks." Intones the mayor.
Then he reads the list of past District 12 victors. In seventy-four years, district 12 has had exactly two. Only one is still alive—Haymitch Abernathy, a paunchy, middle-aged man, who at this moment appears hollering something unintelligible, stagger onto the stage, and falls into the third chair. He's drunk. Very. The crowd responds with its token applause, but Katniss refuses to join in.
It's the responsibility of the victors to mentor the tributes, help them win the Hunger Games. Mentors can help line up sponsors in the Capitol, which are rich people whom actually see the Hunger Games as a sport and not a mass massacre. They can use their money to send tributes in the arena supplies they need, like medicine, weapons, food.
As District 12's only living victor, Haymitch is the only person that can help tributes win, which is why—Katniss thinks— District 12 hasn't had a Victor in the last twenty-four years. Haymitch is nothing but a lazy drunk; he probably doesn't even bother remembering the tributes names. Tributes from District 12 are often the poorest and most underfed children in the District, which means they're usually from the seam too. There's little hope of them winning, but for Haymitch to do nothing—it makes him just as bad as all the people from the Capitol.
It doesn't help that he's a laughing stock. Haymitch, confused by the applause, tries to give Effie Trinket a sloppy hug. She avoids it, but Haymitch loses his balance and ends up barreling over the stage. The Capitol cameras are recording live and capture every minute of District 12's disgrace.
No one laughs. There's nothing amusing about a broken, useless man.
Trying to pull the attention back to the reaping, Effie Trinket trots to the podium, bright and bubbly as ever, and gives her signature, "Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!" Her pink hair and ridiculous makeup are off-place in such a drab place, especially on such a gloomy day. "It is such an honor to be here, in such a pristine and beautiful district." She fakes; being an escort to an outlier district like 12 has to be the worst type of job—well in the Capitol anyway. There are much worse occupations.
"Ladies first!" Effie says as she always does, crossing over to the large glass ball with the girl's names on it. She reaches in, digs her hand deep into the ball. Katniss holds her breathe, her heartbeat erratic. The only thing on her mind is Not Prim. Not me. Not Prim. Not me. Not Prim.
Effie pulls out a slip of paper and crosses back to the podium. She soothes out the slip and reads the name out in a clear voice.
"Maple Graystone." A seam girl emerges from the area marked off for fifteen year olds. She's tall for a Seam girl but severely underfed. If her cheeks weren't so sunken in, she'd be a real beauty. Her shoulders shake so much from her tears she actually trips twice before getting to the stage. Poor girl. Looks like a stray wind could topple her.
Katniss relaxes, so relieved that it wasn't herself or Prim. She can feel her blood rush in her ears. Amongst her relief she starts to feel guilty, guilty for being relieved while another girl heads off to her death, guilty for not think of anyone else, like Madge or Gale whom still has a high chance of being picked. This must be that tunnel vision Prim likes to tease her about.
She almost misses the boy's name as the guilt builds up for being so relieved without consideration for Gale or his brother. Effie reads the name, but Katniss only catches the last name of the boy reaped for the 74th hunger games
Katniss pales. She turns her head in time to see a tall and blonde boy head to the stage. She knows that boy.
It's Ryean Mellark.
Oh no. She thinks
Well here it is. The first chapter of a story I've been meaning to write for a long time. And yes, a lot of this chapter is directly from the book. In fact, the first two chapters are largely taken from the books. So yea, tell me what you think! 😊
And as always I do not own The Hunger Games