The Beginning of the Hunger Games
As my eyes fluttered open, the room around me swam into focus. The Window was open to my left, bathing the room in golden light and filling it with the sweet sound of birds singing in the forest outside our house. Listening closer, I heard the low hum of the electrified fence that separated our district from the forest. From the outside. From freedom.
I tried in vain for the next twenty minutes to return to the unconscious state I had been in before finally giving up. I swung my legs over the side of the bed, stood up, and stretched with my arms above my head and my back arched.
I was halfway finished dressing in a comfortable outfit of sweats, a hoodie, and slippers when I remembered what today was – the Reaping.
A couple of days ago, the Capitol had announced that it would be starting a new competition between the twelve districts of Panem called the Hunger Games. Each districrt would send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to the Capitol. There, they would be trained and otherwise prepared, then be placed in a massive outdoor arena to fight to the death. The last tribute standing would be the winner.
Each district was to hold a ceremony to select its tributes. The names of all children would be entered and drawn out randomly. Twelve year olds were entered once, thirteen year olds twice, and so on. There was also a system called the tessera system where poor people could receive food in exchange for extra entries into the drawing, but here in District 1, the richest district in Panem, hardly anyone took any tessera.
I undressed, then put on my nicest pants - black with silver pinstripes – and then adorned a silk shirt that faded from silver on the right side to black on the left. I finished it off with my most expensive black shoes which I had polished last night and now were so shiny that I could make out my distorted reflection in them.
I walked into the bathroom, closed the door, and peed. I then walked over to the sink to wash my hands. I was drying my hands on the towel by the faucet when I looked up and saw my reflection. Did I look like a killer? I had been trained to kill, but I had never taken a life. I had turned sixteen two days after the rebellion had ended.
I had been trained as a spy for the Rebellion. My partner and I were to be placed in the capitol and assigned the impossible task of killing the Generals of the opposing forces. Sheek and I had been trained rigorously for the past two years. But since the Rebellion had ended, we had never been given the opportunity to use our skills. But this, this competition that was being called the Hunger Games, this was our opportunity.
It had taken Sheek and I all of five minutes to decide that we would be the ones to represent our District in the first ever Hunger Games. Not only was the winner spoiled with fame and fortune, but the entire district was showered with gifts from the capitol, mostly food. For the next year, your district would be well fed while the other districts barely scratched by. We figured that we stood a better chance than anyone else from our district because of our training.
We knew that both of us living was not an option – there was a very good chance that one of us would have to kill the other. But we knew that if the other won then our families would be taken care of and our friends wouldn't starve.
I walked downstairs to find my mother sitting on the couch with my twin siblings. The boy, Obsidian, was very shy, an introvert if I ever saw one; however, his twin sister Opal was wild. She wore her heart on her sleeve and was brutally honest in all endeavors. Both had my mother's sleek black hair, as did I. Today, I was wearing my hair forward and then scooped into a peak in the center of my forehead. Opal wasted no time in telling me that I looked like a Unicorn.
"Thank you, Opal," I said quietly. Obsidian laughed nervously, obviously unsure if he was allowed to be entertained by this. I gave him a stern look, and he immediately stopped laughing. Opal and I began to laugh so hard that by the time my mother had cooked breakfast, we were still rolling around on the ground laughing.
Little was said over breakfast. It had dawned on the family that this very well may be the last time they ever saw me. I tried to draw them into conversation, but they couldn't stop thinking about the ceremony to come. I gave up on conversation and finished my breakfast in silence.
By the time it was eight o'clock, we were all ready to go. As we were District 1, we had the first of twelve Reapings scattered throughout the day. All children were to be in the center of town by eight twenty, sharp. Anyone who was not present and was not near death would be imprisoned.
We arrived with no time to spare. I quickly ran to the section where all sixteen year olds in our district had been instructed to sit. My siblings quickly ran over to the section marked off for twelve year olds. I wasn't worried about them. In fact, I wanted their names to be drawn. If one of them was selected and somebody volunteered in their place, they would not be put back into the drawing the following year.
I looked around at the sixteen year olds behind me. I saw Sheek sitting in the very back corner of the very last row. She was alone so I got up and went to sit by her.
I sat down just as the mayor, Emerald Saxton, began speaking. Behind him sat two people, both obviously from the Capitol – they looked so eccentric that they couldn't possibly be from anywhere else.
The mayor was talking about the Hunger Games as if they were some sort of festivity. I decided not to listen.
"Rough morning?" I asked Sheek. She nodded. "Do you want to tell me?" I asked.
"My sister. I am going to miss her so much." This thought was obviously too much for her, and she began to sob again.
"Sheek, stop it," I commanded. "The more you think about it, the harder it will be. Just calm down, and go with the plan. It will be fine." With a final choked sob, she sat up straight and met my eyes.
We looked up and heard the mayor reading the Treaty of Treason. This is what had ended the Rebellion. This is what started the Hunger Games.
Despite the façade of playful competition the Capitol was casting over these games, the real motive behind them was clear. We were being punished. Punished for rising against them, and now they were taking children and having them massacre each other on live television.
The mayor was now introducing our escort from the Capitol, Ellika Maven, who got up and began to speak in the frilly and unbearably annoying Capitol accent. I couldn't help dreading the train ride to the Capitol with her. Her hair was parted down the middle, and then in fell to her ankles in tight ringlets. The left half of her head was bright orange while the other half was a yellow that would make the sun dizzy. Her appearance and her voice had already convinced me that I didn't like her. If that wasn't enough, her two favorite catch phrases were "Happy Hunger Games" and "May the Odds by ever in your favor" which didn't gain her much favor with the audience.
"Now its time to select the Girl Tribute for District 1," she said, indicating the two glass bowls filled with tiny slips of paper. There was a name on each one of them, and whoever was chosen would go up on the stage, shake hands with the mayor and Ellika, and then they would ask for volunteers. That is when Sheek would stand and say what she had to say.
"Drum roll please," said Ellika, obviously hoping for a reaction from the audience. What she got was a glare from each and every member of the crowd. Unfazed and with the biggest smile she could muster, she reached into the bowl and pulled out a single slip of paper. "Silk Bintty!" she exclaimed.
A dainty twelve year old girl who had been sitting next to my sister stood up and walked solemnly to the stage. The fear was evident in every part of her body – the pursed lips, the wide eyes, and the whole of her body that was shaking. I almost felt pity for the girl, but I knew that she had nothing to worry about.
She reached the stage and slowly walked up the stairs. When she reached the top, she shook hands with the mayor and Ellika, before tuning to face the crowd. They were silent. For a couple of seconds, there wasn't a sound in the whole of District 1.
The silent trance was broken when the woman spoke into the microphone once more. "Are there any volunteers?" No sooner were the words out of her mouth when Sheek stood up and spoke in her loudest voice.
"I volunteer as the girl Tribute from District 1," she said. The woman smiled broadly and motioned for Sheek to join her on the stage. Sheek gave me a reassuring smile, then began a steady pace up to the stage. When she reached it, she too shook hands with the mayor and the escort.
"Lovely!" said Ellika. "Now we will select the boy tribute," I was relieved to see that she didn't ask for a drum roll this time. She reached her hand into the glass bowl containing the boys names, and pulled out a single slip. "Emery Lamag."
A boy stood up in the section of eighteen year olds, but he didn't look eighteen. He looked, at best, fifteen. He was short and scrawny, and he couldn't have weighed more that one hundred pounds.
He began to walk, no, limp to the stage. When he got into the open aisle, it was apparent that his left leg wasn't right. When he turned to the side, I saw that his knee was turned backwards so that when he walked, it bent farther back like a bird's leg. It was sickening, and I couldn't help but be happy that I was volunteering for this boy.
When he came to the stairs, he looked down at them, and then he looked back up at the people on the stage. He couldn't climb stairs.
Ellika had just looked around for someone to help him up. She voiced her request over the microphone but nobody came forward. I figured it was a perfect time for me to speak.
"No matter," I shouted. "I volunteer as the boy tribute for District 1."
Every head turned toward me. I caught the boy's eye, and many emotions crossed his face: shock, embarrassment, awe, thankfulness. I was happy to have spared this boys life, but the thought then crossed me that in doing so, I may have forfeited mine.
I walked to the stage, shook the necessary hands, then faced the crowd. Sheek stood up next to me, and we stood together looking back at everyone we loved.
Ellika boomed over the microphone, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the tributes of District 1!"