I know, it's been a while. I'm working on it. :)
Long ago, when I was young, my father used to take me on trips to District 11. Such visits are usually discouraged, but as my older brother was the Head Peacekeeper in the District, we were overlooked. Technically, he is my half brother- a son from my father's previous marriage- but still, the position he holds is not a envied one, and his superiors try to keep him happy. Thus, our visits.
I was about six years old at the time of my first visit. Before we arrived, I didn't really understand that there was a place so drastically different from the Capitol. On the train ride there, however, my father explained everything that he could to me. He was the stylist for District 11's Hunger Games tributes (another reason for the government to be lenient with us; he was quite a good stylist, really), and so I assumed that he must know everything about those people.
I was very, very wrong, of course. But my father's explanation was good enough to prepare me for the way the district looked, at any rate.
Our train flashed through field after field. I was on my knees in my seat, my hands pressed flat against the glass. My wide eyes hungrily drank in the scenes before me. The wide fields of crops. The orchards. The little gatherings of shacks, looking so foreign to me. And the people- hunched over as they worked, most not even bothering to look up as we sped by.
I turned my head back to frown at my father. "Da," I asked haltingly, "Why are the kids working? And why was there that huge fence- is there something bad out there?"
My father sighed heavily through his nose, and he ran a hand through his hair, which was dyed a painfully bright shade of yellow. His eyes flickered uneasily towards the window. My frown deepened. I couldn't fathom why my question caused him such unease.
Finally, he replied in a slow and quiet voice. "The kids are working because that is their life in this district. And the fence… is to keep them in. Not to keep something else out."
I fell back into my seat with a thump. I looked up at my father after a moment, troubled. "Why? Have they been bad?"
My father shook his head, smiling rather sadly at me. "No, Cinna. The Peacekeepers are just afraid that they might be."
The moment the Peacekeepers are mentioned, I felt a little more at ease. My brother Jann was their leader, so they must be doing the right thing.
I fell into a bit of a stupor as the same old fields continue to roll by. After what seemed like an eternity to my whirring little mind, the train finally slowed to a halt in the back of the district's Justice Building. Bouncing with excitement, I tugged my father's hand as we exit the train to the little platform. There was a number of Peacekeepers waiting for us there, all dressed in white. I craned my neck, looking for my brother, but I saw no sign of him.
The Peacekeepers hurried us to a small building that would be our home for the next week. I dashed inside, and in a matter of minutes I had run through every corner of the place. I hurried back to my dad, who is just setting our bags down in the tiny living room, and I tugged on his jacket. He looked down at me distractedly. "Yes, Cinna?"
"Da, it's too small! There's only this room, two bedrooms, and a little kitchen! I think my room at home is bigger than both of the bedrooms here." I drew my brows together, trying to put all of my displeasure into a single look. My father just sighed, however, and ruffled my brown hair. "Sorry, kiddo. That's just the way it is at a place like this. We'll be okay, though. It's only a week, right?" I scowled even deeper at these words, for they were heavily contradicted by his tight lips. Oh, well. At least I'd get to see Jann.
Just as the thought crossed my mind, I heard a strong, confident knock at the door. A smile spread across my father's face. "That must be Jann," he told me.
I literally jumped with excitement, and sprinted to the door. I tugged it open to see the welcoming arms of my dear brother. I leaped into his embrace, whooping. Jann, a wide grin on his tan face, cried, "Hey there, little Cinna! Good grief, you've gotten heavier." I giggled as he pretended to stumble under my weight. I knew it was a bluff, of course; I'd never met anyone as muscular as Jann.
He set me down and closed the door behind us before turning to hug my father. "It's so good to see you again, Da," he said enthusiastically. "I can almost pretend I'm back home now."
"That bad?" asked Da, raising his with a slight smile. Jan shook his head.
"It's just exhausting here," he said, and for the first time I noticed how truly tired he looked. He rubbed his short dark hair, and explained, "See, it's a lot of work for the Peacekeepers in 11. There's so much land, so many people…. And of course they all would like to see the lot of us burn, so we have to keep them under a tight watch. Organizing watches all the time- we're always having to make sure that no crops are stolen, or eaten while the people work… and the watches on top of the fence, of course. Speaking of which," Jann continued, turning to me with a grin, "How'd you like a view of 11 from the top of a watchtower, Cinna?"
"Oooh, yes, please!" I cried. I turned to my father, my eyes wide with excitement. "Da?"
He smiled at me, but I saw the hesitancy in his unnatural Capitol-blue eyes. "Jann, are you sure this will be safe?"
Jann nodded. "Oh, yes. Most definitely. There'll be some other Peacekeepers with us, and we're all armed."
My father still looked uneasy, but he caved in under my insistent "Pleasepleaseplease"s and Jann's confident smile. "All right," he muttered, a reluctant grin pulling at his mouth as he watched me punch the air.
A short while later, Jann, myself, a few of my brother's Peacekeeper friends were bouncing along in an armored truck. I was sitting in the front with Jann, wriggling with excitement. I knew I wasn't old enough to sit there, but Jann had put me there anyways, giving me a roguish wink as he did so.
The truck jolted along a dirt path that cut wound around the fields and orchards. With a sidelong glance at Jann, I slipped out of my seatbelt and pulled myself to my knees, just as I had on the train, to get a better look at the place. Jann said nothing, and I grinned to myself. I loved my brother.
The people of District 11 glanced up as we passed. I marveled at the weariness and resignation that I saw etched in their faces. When they set eyes on my brother at the steering wheel, however, some of that weariness melted away and betrayed looks of something that looked remarkably like hatred and anger. I swallowed painfully, and sank back into my seat.
It took us quite a while to finally reach the fence, by which time I felt as though I was simply going to wither away with boredom. As I felt the truck slowing down, however, I sat up again, ram-rod straight. Laughing, Jann hopped out of the truck and hurried around to help me down. As he did, I noticed that how tightly his hand was wrapped around his gun. Though I was at first a little bothered by this, the thought slipped form my mind the moment my feet touched the dirt. My mouth open slightly, I gazed in awe across the huge fields. I'd never seen anything like it before. "Come on, Cinna!" I heard one of my brother's friends call. "It's way better from the top of the tower."
"'Kay!" I shouted back. As I turned away, though, I caught sight lean teenage boy, standing at the base of a fruit tree. He stared at me. His look was nothing but hostile, and I felt myself shrink away. Before I could tear my eyes from his accusing gaze, however, a head poked out of the branches of the tree above him. It was a small girl. I thought she looked to be about my age, maybe a year older. The look that she gave me was one that I would never, ever forget. It was full of fire- an angry fire that I could not tear myself away from. Her burning eyes were the only thing that I could see, because I knew that that anger was meant for me. Me, my family, my friends. My whole world. For some reason that I didn't yet know, this girl hated me.
I say that I didn't yet know why. Well, that was going to change.
My brother's yell jerked me out of my trance, and I scurried after him, not looking back once. I stayed close to Jann's side as we trudged up a good few flights of metal stairs. Normally, I might have complained, but I was too nervous after the looks from the District 11 citizens to even notice the climb.
When we finally reached the top of the watchtower, I hurried over to the guardrail. My brother walked more slowly, taking his time to say a few words to the armed guards that were up there with us. I heard nothing of there conversation, however- I was far too enraptured with the view before me.
I feel Jann's hand on my shoulder. "'S something, isn't it, Cinna?" he says, a hint of pride in his voice. It really is- all those fields and trees, stretching out for as far as I can see. I nod vigorously. After a moment, though, a question comes to my lips, and it's not about the view.
"There was a girl down there, you know. She looked at me. She was really, really angry, too. It was like she wanted to hurt me or something- why, Jann? Did I do something?"
My brother's hand tightened on my shoulder until I yelped with discomfort. He patted my head in a distracted apology. When he spoke, his deep voice was trembling slightly with anger.
"Because she doesn't know what's good for her," Jann spat. "None of them do. We provide for them- we could just let them starve, but they complain anyways. They try to steal, too. It's disgusting. Especially taking it out on a little kid like you! It's all right, Cinna, I'll see her punished." He turned and jerked his head at one of his friends closest to us, signaling for him to go and follow my brother's wish.
But I wouldn't have it.
I chased the man down the stairs, screaming for him to stop. He would only take orders from my brother, though, and ignored me as he hurried on. At the bottom of the stairs, he set off at a run towards the tree where the teenage boy still stood. The boy looked up, panicked, then shouted something up into the tree. Through my film of tears, I watched my brother's friend raise his gun and shout for the girl to come down and for the boy to stand back. The girl landed gracefully on the hard earth, and the Peacekeeper grabbed her roughly. By that point, though, I had caught up.
I launched myself at the Peacekeeper, still screaming. Caught off-guard, he stumbled. I started beating him with my fists, sobbing. Then I felt a pair of hands grab my from behind and lift me up- Jann. Still, I struggled violently. "Let her go, Jann! You have to let her go!" I screamed, feeling as though my throat were tearing with the sheer volume of my voice.
"All right, all right!" Jann assured me, the surprise apparent in his voice. He waved to the boy and the girl, and they darted off. He took me aside, and knelt down next to me. He turned my chin up so that I had to look into his confused and suspicious hazel eyes. "What's gotten into you, Cinna? That girl needed to be punished. It happens all the time here, you know."
I nodded hesitantly. I wiped my nose, and murmured, "I don't know, Jann. I just didn't think she deserved any punishment. I think it's us that needs it, Jann..."
He forced a laugh, and stood up straight. "Don't be silly, Cinna. Now come on, let's get you home for dinner before Da starts to worry."
The whole ride back to our little house, all I could think about was the fear in that girl's eyes when she looked at Jann and his friend.