Our Golden Fiftieth: A Celebration of 5 Decades of Panemian Bravery

Told through interviews with its best and brightest

Collected and edited by Balbinus Sperrycrocket

Chapter 24: The Blight

Seeder Howell, 29

Victor of the Thirty-Ninth Annual Hunger Games

I was three years old when the blight came. In the Capitol, they called it somethin' else, somethin' fancy with two whole words to itself, but in Eleven, we called it the blight. I think most people just called it the blight. That's what it was, after all, and it didn't deserve no pretty name. Don't even deserve a chapter in this book, frankly, so I hope you call it the blight and leave it at that. I was three but I still remember it, remember it clear as day. My first memories were of that, the blight. Terrible memories, to be your first. Terrible.

It came right before the Quell. Had to have been the Twenty-Third or Fourth, if I got's my maths right. Don't remember the year exactly, I was three after all, Mr. Sperrycrocket sir, but I remember the pain.

We wasn't ever full in my house. I never expected to have three meals a day. We didn't got one sometimes in the winter when momma ran outta the stuff she'd jarred and daddy was too sick to go out in the snow. This was different than a hungry night in a snowstorm, though. I was only three, shit, but I knew it was different.

Daddy was cryin' when he came home the day it hit. We lived in a hamlet so small no one'd ever gotten around to givin' it a name, and all we had was the land. No city for hours, barely any neighbors either. Just us Howells and the land, spread as far as the eye could see. It wasn't good soil, but it was soil, and we toiled every damn hour out on those fields until we pulled up enough to get by on.

Daddy was cryin', and I ain't ever seen my daddy cry, not before that day and not again, not even when I came home from the arena. He just looked at my momma and told her all the plants was gone. Momma didn't believe him, had to go out and see for herself. She was cryin' when she came back like daddy, and me and my brothers and sisters, we started cryin' too, 'cause we didn't know what else to do. I mean, shit, I didn't even know how to talk right yet, but I saw the pain, Mr. Sperrycrocket. I saw the pain in my momma's eyes, and I knew right then I needed to start cryin', and start cryin' hard.

I can't remember anything else exact, Mr. Sperrycrocket, I was three after all, but I remember the pain. I called it my belly-ghost, I did. Made my momma laugh so hard with that nickname for hunger that I swear that's all that saved her. The belly-ghost didn't leave me after we all cried that first day, didn't leave me for the rest of my life. I could eat every damn thing piled on this pretty table between us, Mr. Sperrycrocket, and the belly-ghost would still be there. I've known it ain't gonna leave for a long time now.

Yeah, the belly-ghost's still there, there from the blight, but it ain't as sharp as it was then. Ain't ever felt nothin' like that in my life since, pain that sharp. I got stabbed too many times to count in my Games, you know that sir, and I almost died at the bottom of that ravine, but I ain't ever felt true pain since the blight. Even when all my blood was leavin' me in that dirty little ditch, it still didn't hurt more than the blight.

There's nothin' like watchin' half your siblings starve to death next to you in bed, nothin' like watchin' your daddy collapse in the kitchen and wonderin' if he's ever gonna get back up. There's nothin' like losin' half your brothers and sisters in a year and cryin' every night 'cause the belly-ghost hurts so bad and 'cause your momma can't even move out of her chair no more. There's nothin' like knowin' the only things you gots left are skin and bones, and you're only three years old but you know you too skinny to keep livin' much longer.

It was a long year, that blight year. The winter killed it, and I barely made it, but the blight's never left me alone since. Worse than my Games, I'd say. I'd rather almost bleed to death in that ravine again, Mr. Sperrycrocket sir, than go through the blight again. I swear that ain't a lie, swear it down to the tips of my toes. Ain't nobody need to go through the blight ever again.

Claudius Templesmith, 42

Official Hunger Games Commentator

This isn't something that everyone knows about me, and not because I'm embarrassed of it. It's just not something I talk much about. I'm the commentator of the Hunger Games; people want to hear about the tributes, not me. There's no shame in that. I don't find my own life story to be particularly interesting either. But still, that's besides the point. The thing people don't know about me is that I grew up in District Nine, and I was still there when the rubigine-vastante hit. I was born here in the Capitol, Balbinus, don't you fret, but I still lived in Nine for most of my childhood. Unfortunately, I was old enough to remember every sickening detail of when the rubi came.

I was sixteen then, in the sweet spot between adolescence and adulthood. My father was a Capitol Liaison to the District, so we lived in a nice, cozy home in the best sector of Nine's capital, Sorghum. It was a nice life, even if it was out in the Districts; the streets were clean, and everyone kept their heads down and worked hard. Humble beginnings, sure, but I owe my work ethic and manners to the people that grew up with me there. There are plenty of savages in the Districts, plenty in Nine even, but in that quiet little sector of Sorghum, things were peaceful. It wasn't the Capitol, but it was nicer than you'd expect from a backwater like Nine. To top it off, I met a girl there that shone brighter than any in our magnificent city. Rini, the love of my life, we really fell in love that spring when I was sixteen. Her sister was two years gone in the Games, and she was finally starting to trust me again. Things were beautiful, idyllic even. No homeless in the streets, no sneers from the people around me, a pretty girl in my arms every evening. I thought it couldn't get any better than it was right then.

I was right, sadly. My father knew about the rubi before anyone else did, and the way he slowly walked out of his office and back to the dinner table when he got the call was one of the most frightful things I've seen in my life. My father's always been joyous, you know him Balbinus, the type to never take anything seriously. A good-natured man, always laughing and smiling. The way he couldn't even tell us what had happened, the way he just stared at us...it was harrowing.

I laughed when he told me it at first, because of course I did. I was a dumb sixteen year old who was madly in love and didn't understand what his words really meant. I didn't understand what a supply chain was or how every single one of them would be disrupted by this little bacterium. I didn't realize what the District people would do when they had no food and nothing holding them back from the carnage they were capable of. I was sheltered, mercifully, up until that time. I thought I had everything, and that nothing could take it away. The rubi proved me wrong in that regard.

We were lucky, I guess you could say; the rubi and its chaos made my family move back to the Capitol and allowed me to have this illustrious career. I still felt the shocks of the thing as it spread throughout the nation, though. Everything was crumbling, falling apart. People even fell down dead in the streets of the Capitol sometimes from the hunger. No one knew when it would end. I thought I had no future left, truly. I thought it was the end of the world. Thankfully I'm sitting here with you, but...I can't quite put it into words, I'm sorry Balbinus. It was just unimaginable devastation. That's all I can really say.

Takami Wired, 50

Victor of the Sixteenth Annual Hunger Games

Before the blight, I used to bake goods for the families of all the tributes that District Three lost. It was my talent after all, baking, and I thought I might as well put it to use. I wanted to help the community, and that was my way. I'd killed four kids in my traps to come home, but I got to see my parents again. No other kid from Three had gotten that luxury besides me back then, so I baked to make up for it.

Every week, I'd cook up dozens of pies and cookies and anything else I had my mind on, and I'd bring it to their houses. Lay it down on the front doorstep if they weren't home, or go inside and have a little chat with them if they were. It was heart-warming, fun even, the thing that got me to get out of bed every day. I thought I was saving lives; I thought I was serving the greater good. I fell in love with Emma on those trips, when I helped her get a job and fed her cookies every night. We got married, and together we baked until it seemed like we'd used up all the flour that Nine had ever made.

When the blight came, we'd just had our first little girl, Elodie. She wasn't even fourth months old yet when the trains stopped coming to the District with food. Emma and I went on baking for a couple of weeks, pretending like it wasn't real, like the trains were going to come back soon and save us from what we knew was coming. We pretended we didn't know that we were reliant on the other Districts for food, that we couldn't grow shit for ourselves. We just kept baking and used up every bit of food in our house. I even made sardine cookies that were more fish than dough at the end. And every time we'd drop off the treats, people seemed hungrier, more desperate. Before, they'd been quietly thankful, but now, they were begging us to come back, begging like I've never seen since.

We had to stop a month into it. There wasn't any food in the District, and I wish that was an exaggeration. I had an endless amount of money from my Victory, and still I could barely find enough food for my little family. All the money in the world, and I could barely afford a loaf of stale bread. All the money in the world, and Elodie was so hungry she stopped crying and just laid there so long I thought she might be dead.

Even when the blight was gone, I couldn't bake for the families anymore. I tried so many times, but I couldn't make myself do it. It felt...superficial. I could make a 3-tier cake for Emma's birthday, but I couldn't even make a sugar cookie for a dead girl's mother anymore. It felt hollow, knowing all they'd lost. It felt wrong, to come out of that gleaming Victor's Village where all three of us had survived when most of them had lost too many to count. It felt wrong to put a pie on their doorstep as if that would fix anything. Baking could no longer again erase the fact that I had let more kids die on my watch. Sugar and flour could never again cover up that type of guilt.

Albina Dovetail, 64

Minister of Agriculture, 14-28 A.T.T.

It was chaos when the first reports came back from our agents in Nine and Eleven that all the crops were dying. I didn't believe it at first; it was my thirty-eighth birthday when we found out about the rubigine-vastante, and I thought they were pulling my leg. I'd been on the job for ten years, but I was still young for a Minister. All the older agents still treated me like a kid, and they'd mess around with me sometimes. So I thought they were teasing me since it was my birthday. We all thought it was impossible for every crop in the two biggest Districts in Panem to fail at once. Well, that's what I thought at least. I never called anything impossible ever again.

It leaked out of a field lab in Nine, where Capitolite scientists were testing pesticides on every strain of plant disease they could cook up. Reckless experimentation, surely, and they went beyond the parameters I authorized for them. They made their strains of blight too powerful, and they didn't quarantine the fields properly. The President knew it wasn't my fault, and the onus fell on those researchers. I watched myself as their bodies were riddled with the bullets of the firing squad. They broadcasted it across the nation, and I truly believe they deserved it. I mean, there's no way around it. Mistakes are mistakes, but punishments must be made when an experiment gone awry kills forty thousand people in less than a year.

My job was full of technical details I won't bore you with, Balbinus, but it was horrifying. The lack of control was the scariest thing. There was absolutely nothing I could do to help. None of us could, except for the scientists in their labs trying desperately to find a way to stop it. We got to it eventually; it withered away by the winter, and new technologies were developed in case something like this ever happened again. It was too late, though. We'd already lost so much.

It wasn't my responsibility, I knew that, and I didn't bear any guilt from the deaths caused by the rubigine-vastante. Still, it taught me that my job was largely symbolic. In a real crisis, I could do absolutely nothing. I tried to keep working for a couple more years, did my darndest to become dedicated again and lift the country out of the rut it was in from the rubi. I succeeded; Nine and Eleven were exceeding their quotas again by the last year I served as Minister of Agriculture, and I was deemed a national hero for my efforts. President Gaius Snow himself, rest his soul, hung the Panemian Medal of Freedom around my very neck. Still, I felt helpless, and I had to retire early. It just opened my eyes to how out of control we are on this earth. Maybe that's a little dark, Balbinus, but it's what the rubi taught me. We like to pretend we've mastered mother nature, but she can destroy us whenever she pleases. We need to be more thankful for her benevolence as of late.

Blight Jonson, 26

Victor of the Forty-Second Annual Hunger Games

Ma got pregnant with me during the blight year. Pa said I wouldn't make it. They lived in the lumber-camps then, as far north as you could go in Seven. They could barely get food to the Capitol, you think they were gonna get some to the little lumber-camps where there was snow even in May? No, they weren't gonna get food up there. They were on their own, on their own that whole blight year.

Pa told Ma I wasn't gonna make it, and he's right, I shouldn't have. It was the worst famine this country's ever seen, and they were stuck up north with nothing but some pine needles and a few songbirds in the trees. Ma says he chuckled darkly and said if I somehow made it, he'd name me after the fucking blight itself. And so when I made it, even though Ma wanted to name me Tim, Pa insisted that they name me Blight. He was a man of his word, see, and he thought it would be sort of funny. He was a strange man like that, you know. So Blight it was, and always has been.

When I got Reaped, Pa said if I'd made it through the blight, I could make it through anything, and he was right. He said I was named after the meanest thing to ever come to Panem, and I had to be meaner in that arena, so I was. Sometimes I wonder if I'd've made it home if I'd been named Tim Jonson instead. The foolish thing is that sometimes, I don't think I would've.

A/N: Welcome everybody to my third SYOT, Withered Hope! I've been so excited to post this; this prologue is potentially some of my favorite writing that I've ever done, and I hope it set the stage for the devastation Panem is facing during the blight and maybe piqued your curiosity and creativity enough to submit!

This SYOT is going to be very open ended in terms of how many submissions I accept. 23 of the slots are going to be open to submissions, and I might accept all 23, or I might only accept a handful. It's really going to depend on the amount of subs I get, and how I'm feeling about the story. However, if I get a ton of awesome characters, I will definitely be down to write them, so please send me your kids! I'm just allowing myself the space to not commit to a full 24 tribute story, since that took me so long before in Blow Me Over. However, if I get that many great submissions, I'll definitely consider taking 23 tributes from my readers. I'm guessing we could have anywhere between 8-23 reader submitted tributes, so there's a lot of flexibility here! Just give me your best ideas; I love all types of diversity, and my favorite thing is writing from a perspective I have never explored before.

I'm going to be putting the form and some tidbits about each District on the bottom of my profile so this prologue isn't cluttered, so feel free to go there to read more. I'll also be putting up a list of rules, a form, and list of who has submitted where so no one slot gets too flooded. There will be one slot closed where I am creating my own tribute for this story. Important notes: you can submit up to two tributes if you'd like, and I may accept both, one, or none of them. This is also not a FCFS, as I want to have the highest caliber cast possible. Submissions are going to be open for a month, until midnight EST on April 8th, so take your time making someone really good! Everything else is on my profile.

Also, I have created a blog for this story at wh24hg . weebly . com, please go check it out!

Anyway, I hope you all liked this first prologue. The rest of this story is going to be in 1st person as well once we get to the intros; I debated switching to 3rd person for this SYOT, but I decided that my other stories are all in 3rd so I wanted to keep one with 1st. We're going to have a few more prologues, posting once a week until the cast reveal! They're all going to be even more experimental and out-of-the-box than this one :)

Also credit to those who inspired me with this format: Oisin55 for this idea from his story Arrow, and also optimisms for reminding me of it in her story A Proportional Response. Both fantastic works, check them out!

I hope you guys enjoyed this, please leave a review to let me know what you think, and I'm so thrilled to see what tributes you send my way. Let's make Withered Hope one to remember!

Until Next Time,