Disclaimer: The Hunger Games and all the characters in it belong to Suzanne Collins.
Forty-two. That's how many entries Gale Hawthorne has in the Reaping. Forty two papers with his name on it, sitting on the clear glass bowl just waiting to be picked.
It was an uncomfortable feeling for him; it felt like he was being hunted. It felt like someone has set up a chain of snares especially around his house, just waiting for the moment Gale would walk in and trigger the trap.
He spent hours in the forest setting up countless traps and snares, waiting for whatever animal happened to walk into his contraption. A squirrel perhaps, or a wild turkey. For him it was his fortune- and their misfortune- that he just happened to lay the trap around their particular territory.
Every year, on Reaping day, Gale Hawthorne felt as vulnerable as the animals he's hunted.
Forty-two entries. It felt like the entire bowl might as well be made up of his entries.
Gale growled softly, his eyes squinting as he watched Effie Trinket's hand prowling the depths of the glass bowl. He stared at the glass bowl in the distance, silently calculating the chances of his name being picked out. Anything could happen now.
He glanced around him, looking at his siblings. Impossible, he thought.
He remembers being as young as they are. He remembers watching the sunset morph into an array of stars as he stared out the window, silently counting the hours in his head. He remembers his father's footsteps, flinging coal dust all over the kitchen floor.
Gale Hawthorne remembers waiting for his father to come home every night without fail. After all, what were the chances?
He wished the chances were big, so he wouldn't have been so disappointed when his father didn't come home. He wished he'd have expected it.
It was an uncomfortable wait the night his father didn't make it home. What he thought was a distant possibility had become a reality. He remembers waiting, trying to admonish himself for what he thought was a miscalculation of the hours in his head. Trying to convince himself that the chances of his father not making it home is nonexistent.
The same way he is waiting now, mentally squeezing the chances of his siblings getting picked down to zero. Whatever small chances they do have had to be eliminated. He can no longer take his chances; he'd have to step up for them if they were chosen. After all, it's been proven that the worst can happen.
Gale fidgeted nervously with the buttons of his shirt, trying to prepare himself mentally. He desperately wanted to tell himself it would never happen, but every time he stares at the glass bowl, the number forty two jumps out and tugs at his heart.
See, Gale expected to be picked; he expected his name to be inevitably fished out of the bowl in the next few minutes. Year after year, he's felt like he was dodging arrows when his name wasn't fished out of the bowl.
It was an uncomfortable wait for the hunter.
It wasn't anything like his waits in the forest. Waiting for an animal to set off his snare, waiting for an animal to come into his arrow's range. He wasn't the one hunting. It was like waiting to walk into a trap, or waiting to walk into the scope of a hunter's rifle.
He pictured himself in the middle of the forest; he pictures himself hiding under a bush, spying at a clearing. He pictured himself waiting as a pack of squirrels swooped down a tree, baited by the breadcrumbs he had laid on the ground. In his mind, Gale noticed a particularly fat one slightly lagging behind the rest.
That one, he would have thought to himself. It had the biggest chance of getting shot, an easy catch.
Gale imagined himself drawing his bow, aiming his arrow at the squirrel. He had it perfectly in his sight. Then, for a moment, Gale saw the squirrel turning around, as if acknowledging its hunter's presence.
For a moment, Gale saw not a squirrel, but himself. He was no longer the hunter, but the prey. He felt small, he felt helpless as he stared at the arrow aimed right at him. He felt paralyzed.
Then he was back, behind the bushes, holding his bow. He paused for a moment and released the arrow.
On stage, Effie Trinket ruffled through a few more tentative picks and finally pulled out a sheet of paper. She raised it high into the air and unfolds it. From his seat, Gale Hawthorne can only watch as her lips started to move.
He could see the arrow flying through the air, and once again he was back in the middle of the clearing, stunned.
Gale remembers feeling invincible every time he shoots down an animal, every time he snares a prey. He thought that must be how it feels to stand on that stage. Effie Trinket's voice boomed through the square.
The arrow lodged itself onto a squirrel, pinning it onto the ground. But it wasn't the fat squirrel he was aiming for: the hunter had missed.
The fat squirrel scurried away from the clearing. Lucky bastard, he thought to himself. Lucky bastard, he said to himself.
Gale stared pitifully at the boy who now stood at the stage, trembling in fright. Peeta Mellark had been chosen as prey, not him.
Today was the last day the hunter became the hunted, and he's managed to dodge all forty-two arrows just fine.