A/N: Hello everyone! This is my first ever Hunger Games Fanfiction and I'm really excited about it. It will be a multichap and hopefully there will be two sequels. I was inspired to write about a past Hunger Games by reading the works of Caisha702, PK9 and Number One Fan of Journey, and chose Wiress as she's one of my favourite characters and there's hardly anything written about her. Also, as the works of Number One Fan of Journey are basically semi-canon in my mind, I've included several sneak references to them in the story. If you're familiar with Brutal and Horrible, try and see if you can find them!
Disclaimer: I do not own Hunger Games; it belongs to Suzanne Collins. I did not write Brutal and Horrible; they are by Number One Fan of Journey. Also, I thought I came up with the style of arena and the kind of weapon Wiress is going to use all by myself, but when I was browsing DeviantArt recently, I found someone else's picture of Wiress' games, and it was in a very similar arena with the same weapon. I remember having seen this picture earlier, so it was probably in my subconscious. But I just want to say: I did not intentionally copy this artist's idea of Wiress' arena and weapon. Also, my story is very different from the author's description of the Games underneath the picture. I developed the entire rest of the arena and everything that happens in the Games by myself. So if you're reading this, Atropos93, it wasn't my intention to steal the arena and weapon ideas, but do I give you credit for them. The picture is entitled Wiress's Games and is by Atropos93. Do not search it up if you don't want spoilers as to the arena and Wiress' weapon.
So I hope you enjoy!
I was born, raised, and died beneath a shadow. Not that of the looming stone factory dominating the skyline of my birthplace, although my house was one of the thousands hidden under its shade. Nor that of the hazy canopy that billowed daily from smokestacks, choking the sun in its sooty embrace. No; while every child of District Three sees and understands those things from birth, I first witnessed this shadow when I was seven years old, though I did not comprehend it for much longer.
I was walking home from school beneath the smoggy blanket we called sky, when my attention was captivated by a speck of pure white amidst the omnipresent grey. Rushing to where it lay, I discovered a small ivory-colored songbird, its downy feathers giving it the appearance of a fat snowball. It was, like me, far too young to survive on its own, and had in all likelihood fallen out of a nest perched atop a nearby building. However, as any child would, I took it home and kept it within a makeshift wire cage, where I might gaze upon its beauty every day.
Not many months had gone by when I learned a very unpleasant and inescapable truth about the world in which I lived. In a pointless act of defiance against this shadow, I flung open the cage doors and allowed the bird to escape into the night. Although I could not fly free, it could, and what right had I to deny it that liberty?
Within a week's time, I found the bird lying on the pavement again, its breath stifled from the toxic smoke defiling the air. This time, though, its feathers were streaked with pitch black soot.
I knew then that everything had been in vain. Nothing, no matter how innocent, could ever stay unstained.
Five years later, I had my childhood ripped away from me before a stage in a crowded town square, and the memory of that day and its harsh lesson flashed through my mind.
But it was not until I was seventeen that I fully came to realize how poignant that long-ago realization really was.
"Wiress. Wiress. Wiress."
I open my eyes.
The grimy window casts a mottled light over the contents of my bedroom, bathing everything in shades of grey. Vision still veiled with the ghost of sleep, I brush away a ribbon of dark hair and just make out the diminutive figure of my father in the doorway. He hears my bleary moan of acknowledgement and the door comes to a gentle close. Although the offer of rolling back over for another ten minutes of sleep is tempting, I bring myself to push aside the worn blankets and meet the day.
Flicking on the switch, I cast a brief look around my room, now blazing with the stark glow of a bare electric bulb. Like every other part of the home I've shared with my dad and little sister for as long as I can remember, it's modest but comfortable. Whitewashed walls free of any embellishments. Two small beds, stripped of their carelessly rumpled covers. Simple shelves neatly lined with the mementos typical of any District Three child: the first wire loop knotted in third grade, a sliver of glass from the lightbulb made in fifth, the fanatically dusted microchip that earned an A plus in seventh. And in the corner ... an exasperated smile crosses my face as I see that Talee has already left her mark upon the wardrobe. The tall wooden box has been ripped from its closet nook and deprived of every article of clothing owned between the two of us. Blouses, t-shirts, jeans and the rare dress have been discarded in an untidy heap of cloth. Rolling my eyes, I slip into a dull grey gown, give a half-hearted attempt at untangling my hair, and step out into the kitchen.
Dad's small, perpetually anxious face glances up from our breakfast of fried eggs. He surveys me head to toe behind his wire-rimmed glasses, opens his mouth as if to speak, hesitates, then mutters, "Eat up, honey. We've got an hour until..."
His quiet voice trails off. Completing the sentence wouldn't have been necessary, even if I hadn't known this day was coming for months. All the dread he's had to suffer for five years was revealed in that one unspoken word.
This will be my sixth. At seventeen years old, I have only this and one more year of attempting to make myself look presentable for people who could not be more distant from us if District Three lay in the ruins beyond District Twelve. One more year of being displayed like faulty factory equipment at the mercy of a manager, who decides with a cold eye what can be salvaged and what must be thrown to the scrap heap. One more year of hearing the gasp of a child no different from me as they are chosen to be yet another sacrifice to the power-drunk Capitol. One more year of watching them inevitably fall while a faraway city cheers its approval. One more year of gritting my teeth, hoping for the best, and wondering why.
I hated the Hunger Games the minute I understood what they meant, and it is a feeling that has only escalated over the years. It scared me, at first, that such intense anger could exist within a person without driving them to insanity. It frightened my father, too. He's always been a nervous man, but never more so after mom died giving birth to Talee when I was six. District Three may be one of Panem's wealthier districts, but when a family can't afford health care, they can't afford health care. To be honest, it hasn't affected me that much. I can't remember a thing about it, only that it drew the three of us together more tightly than a bundle of knotted-up cords.
Dad wanted to shield us from the harsh realities of the world. He kept attempting to delay the 'talk' in which every child learns why two of their district's youth disappear each year. But I was a curious child, and once my seven-year-old self knew, the damage could not be undone. Dad tried his best to distract me every time the blaring of the anthem announced what people referred to as the monthly 'slap-in-the-face' broadcasts – excerpts from past Games, most of which featured District Three tributes dying horribly. He'd hoped that my revolted obsession with the Games might die down. Yet it didn't, and it remains the only obtrusive thing about quiet, introverted, utterly unobtrusive Wiress Bentell. The perfectly average-looking girl who prefers to do her schoolwork alone, who spends hours braiding thin strands of steel at the wire-making factory, and who has never forgotten the name of any District Three tribute to die within the past ten years.
It seems morbid to most people. That's because it is morbid. It's awful and depressing and makes the thick black smog blanketing the sky every day seem that much darker. It's impossible to sleep at night when your dreams are swirling with the faces of people you never knew, people whose names echo a gruesome refrain even in your waking hours: Bynra Kendall, Thew Canda, Monit Scarnel, Lovi Vargas, Icon Puter, Maria and Spayne Carriedo... It's unfair that a seventeen-year-old girl should feel she owes these people some sort of debt just for breathing when they are not. It's wrong that she should remember their names better than those of her classmates, mourn their deaths more than that of her own mother.
But it's also unfair that she lives in a world where children lose the right to live by age twelve. So I see it as the only way I can remain unstained, at least on the inside. By respecting those who couldn't.
At least, that's how I justify it.
"Hell-oo? Earth to Wiress!"
Talee waves her hand frantically in front of my face, and I start, realizing that I've retreated into my thoughts as I so often do. She sinks back into her chair with a beaming grin illuminating her features, the epitome of an annoying little sister.
"Sheesh, someone's out of it today," Talee remarks jokingly. "Should I just eat your toast for you?" She pretends to tantalize me by holding out a piece of bread and jerking it back. "I am pretty hungry."
I sigh in exasperation but otherwise make no remark as I reach for a different slice of bread. Despite the fact that she's only eleven years old, Talee's wit never fails to astound me. I may be above average intelligence on the topics of math and machines and memorization, but when it comes to the world of people, I always get lost, unable to read the ever-changing facial quirks and voice inflections. And entering into an argument with Talee inevitably leaves me tongue-tied. I've learned to just nod my head and go along with whatever she says. I know her well enough to understand she prefers it that way anyway. In fact, she's about the only person I can read, apart from dad.
Sensing she won't get a response, Talee switches instantly to a different conversation. "So, d'you like my dress?" Abandoning her breakfast, she skips to the center of the room and twirls mock-vainly in the same patched navy-blue frock she's worn for the last five years. "Blitza Marquee says she's got a new one for this year's reaping. I told her to tell someone who cared. As if I'm going to lose sleep over what she's wearing, even if she is the most popular girl in my grade. Isn't she just the most obnoxious person ever?"
"You look fine, Talee," I put in absent-mindedly, poking at some scrambled eggs.
"You didn't even look."
"Yes, I did."
"Well, look again."
"Girls, please quiet down." We both turn our heads immediately towards dad's pained voice. Of course. He's always like this around the reapings – extra jumpy, anxious, disturbed by every little sound. And I can't exactly blame him. For over ten years he's tried and failed to shelter us from a world that wants to make us lose our innocence as quickly as possible. Last year, the 50th Games, in which a sickening twist meant twice the number of tributes were called to their deaths, was possibly the worst, though he's by no means laid-back now. Plus, this reaping is its own, special kind of cruel, seeing that this is the last year Talee is beyond the Capitol's grasp. Her last year of being truly unstained.
A tense hush descending over the table, we finish our meal in silence before the ominous tolling of eight o'clock draws us towards the town square.
Our little group separates at the entrance to the town square, where grim-faced peacekeepers divide up a sea of teenagers by age and march them into iron-fenced enclosures. Dad deliberately stalls, keeping us at the end of the line while others surge forwards. The creases on his face spell out his reluctance to let go, even if only for several hours.
His grip on my hand tightens as the arrival of two or so dozen newcomers carries us further towards the end of the line. Muttering nervously under his breath, he straightens his shirt, fidgets with his glasses, shuffles his feet, desperate to find words to convey his emotions. I squeeze his hand sympathetically, knowing exactly what he's going through. This is always the most awkward part of the reaping, as neither one of us is very adept at putting thoughts into words. We're usually interrupted by Talee, who can't be bothered with sentiment.
"Well..." he eventually comes up with, sighing deeply and running a hand through the stringy black hair so like my own, "I guess this is it. Stand up straight. Don't worry too much. One in a thousand chance and all that." His short, clipped sentences reveal a tidal wave of barely-suppressed emotion, and I'm almost overwhelmed by a similar rush of affection towards my father.
"I won't," I manage to get out, unconvincingly. "Worry, I mean." A tentative, watery smile is shared between the two of us, though I'm sure that my age and the high amount of slips it equals is on both of our minds. As if reading my thoughts, Talee steps in and fixes me with her calm but fierce brown gaze.
"Like dad said," she says firmly, steering me off to the side, "The odds are in your favour. I don't care if you're seventeen; you haven't taken out any tesserae and, believe me, at least half of these kids have. Six slips out of Panem knows how many thousand isn't anything to stress over. What's more, you know it's not going to be like last year. Only one girl from Three goes up, and it's not going to be you."
"But"- I begin weakly.
"But nothing," Talee interjects purposefully. "Unless you've been sneaking tesserae behind dad's back, you've got no reason to worry. And if you have been, the escort will have to dig you up, because dad will have killed you first."
Talee. From what I've heard dad say, she's the living embodiment of our mother. Lively, confident, strong-minded, spirited, and completely devoid of any sense of anxiety. Her outlook on life is to take each day at a time and not worry about anything that doesn't directly affect her. A pretty good outlook, too, just one that I've never had the willpower to follow.
"All right, I'll take your word for it," I tell her with as much confidence as I can muster. And then, just because I can sense she's starved for a little good-natured bantering to interrupt the reaping day gloom, "You'd better be right, otherwise you'll have to clean up the mess in our room all by yourself."
"Hey, it's not my fault that my dress was right at the bottom of the shelf!" Talee jumps right in eagerly, her glare melting into the usual feisty smile. "And you're one to talk, with all that clutter on the shelves."
"It's special," I insist, as she just smirks, "And it's neatly organi"-
I'm suddenly cut off by the iron clench of a peacekeeper's hand upon my shoulder. Dread dropping back into my chest like a stone, I shout a hurried good-bye to dad and Talee as the man shoves me impatiently into the seventeens' section. Picking my way towards the edge of the crowd to avoid an animated conversation among a large group of girls, I find a suitably deserted corner just as the mayor starts up the Treaty of Treason.
Like everything else to do with the Hunger Games, the Treaty is vile. After five years of pretending to be engrossed in every word of how 'justified' and 'righteous' the barbaric slaughter of children is, I've resolved to simply tune it out by thinking of other matters. I pointlessly imagine wrapping wire around the fence of the seventeens' section for several minutes, but the similarity of those bars to the ones I tried to keep a bird safe in ten years ago is too unsettling. My attention wanders instead to the people standing behind the droning mayor, the only residents of District Three who have heard their names drawn from the reaping ball and survived the weeks that followed.
Our district has only three victors. Old Axel Browser stands half-obscured at the back of the platform, nothing but his gaunt, empty face emerging from the shadows. He won the fourth Hunger Games and has never spoken since, or so rumour has it. The thought of a Games so haunting it defies retelling always leaves a hard, icy stone inside my chest. All I know is that it was before the Games had begun to settle in. Before they were televised and celebrated like they are now. Before chariot races and training scores, interviews and sponsors. Before careers took over the role of the hunter. Apparently everybody played that part.
Seated on the left side of the mayor is a potbellied middle-aged woman named Maybell Lectric. Unlike Axel, the circumstances of her victory are common knowledge in District Three. By the time of her victory in the 17th, the Games had begun to be televised, sponsorships to be set up, and children's lives to be bet on. Next to the starving tributes of Districts Eleven and Twelve, none were more hapless than ours. Lifetimes of sitting doubled-over before factory machines or conveyor belts, coupled with the polluted air, harsh punishments, and lack of open space to exercise in, meant our tributes were easy prey. They didn't even have the general fitness that working in the forests or fields gave the tributes of poorer districts like 7 or 10. Add to that the typical appearance of the population – short and scrawny, with ashen skin and dull black hair – and it's easy to see how unappealing we were to the sponsors.
Maybell Lectric shattered that stereotype. She had grown up amidst the rough-and-tumble of a community home, but it was her cunning rather than her strength which bought her the crown. Through a mixture of manipulation, backstabbing, and stealthy poisoning, she wiped out over a quarter of her competition, defying all expectations. The Capitol was in an uproar, the district in awe. There was even some speculation that District Three might join One, Two and Four in the rapidly developing 'Career alliance' of wealthier districts who trained their children for battle. But, as quickly as she had risen to fame, Maybell dropped from the public eye. Nowadays, she's rarely seen outside of her home in Victor's Village, and that's just when she goes to the market to buy brandy or chases away kids who ring her doorbell for a laugh. I've seen her shuffling along the narrow streets, hunched over and muttering bitterly, and it makes me all the more grateful that she didn't pass on what she had learned to the youth of the district.
The third and most recent victor is Beetee Joule, a young man who won the 39th, only twelve years ago. I know even less about him than I do Axel. I was just a child when dad caught me staring transfixed at the television screen upon which a pack of careers had cornered the young Beetee. Whatever he did to win, it was loud, violent, and obscured by dad's hands over my eyes. I can still remember the screams, though, and despite my hateful fixation with the Games, I have never desired to learn what he did to those tributes. It's the memory of those tortured howls that now strikes me as I watch Beetee adjust his crooked glasses and wipe a shock of obsidian hair from his forehead.
Just as he's doing this, the Mayor rolls up the seemingly endless Treaty of Treason scroll, igniting an uneasy tension throughout the crowd. Clearing his throat, he adjusts the microphone and announces the District Three escort for the 51st Hunger Games, Gallus Flamboy.
Although I've seen him every reaping day for the past ten years, there's something about Gallus Flamboy that never fails to make me cringe. It might be his freakishly pale skin – not a lifeless ash like the typical District Three complexion, but the blinding white of a skull stripped clean of flesh. Or maybe it's his outlandish orange hair, shooting vertically from his scalp and then flopping limply to one side like a rooster's comb. I notice with an unpleasant squirm that his arms are dappled with even more obnoxiously vivid tattoos than usual, and he's added to his collection of rainbow-colored lip rings. He has to be around six feet tall when one takes into account his high heels, which given the shortness of nearly everyone around him are so unnecessary as to be offensive. To top it all off, he can't be over thirty years old but is obviously so sick of his job that his enthusiasm is more to convince himself than us that "this year will be the best Games ever!"
"All right, District Three!" he sings with fake gusto, "Who's ready for the reaping of the fifty-first Hunger Games? Boys? Girls? Hmm?"
The dead silence across the square is the closest our district can ever get to directly insulting the Capitol. Gallus folds his arm in a childish impersonation of a pout. My gaze drops to the ground because I'm sure if I don't tear my eyes away from him they'll burn a hole right through his face.
"No one wants to go first?" comes Gallus' piercing whine. "Fine, then, if you don't care, we'll start with the boys!"
I stare intently at the smudged cobblestones, willing my mind to be as focused on their thin dusting of soot as my eyes are. Nothing can stop the rise of bile in my throat, as if impelled by my pounding heartbeat. A shuffling of papers, then the male tribute joins the long list of names which will undoubtedly haunt me the rest of my life:
The name isn't familiar, so I don't bother looking up as the unlucky victim makes his way to the stage. I try to find something fascinating about the ground, but my mind's gone blank and I'm only aware of the increasingly frantic throbbing in my chest. Just a few more minutes. Just one name and you can go home. You're going to go home. Homehomehome.
Gallus screeches some meaningless comment about the male tribute. He must be turning to the girl's reaping ball now...
It won't be you. Talee says so.
The slips of paper are ruffling together in a deathly whisper...
It can't be you. You haven't taken tesserae.
I'm hardly aware that my eyes have squeezed shut.
It won't be you, it won't be you, itwontbeyou...
Somewhere deep in the recesses of my memory, a white bird falls in mid-flight, its feathers stained black.
Well, that's the first chapter. What did you think? Reviews and constructive criticism are more than welcome!