1 - Hunter
When I wake, I can still feel Prim's fingers woven into mine. The coarse sheets are twisted around my legs, and I can feel a sheen of sweat on my skin. Nightmares. Prim screams when she has them. I stay silent. I uncurl her fingers as gently as I can, swinging my legs out of bed and stretching my back. Morning light streams in through the unhinging shutters beside me, and for a moment Prim is an angel, her hair golden, skin luminous on the rough grey pillow beneath her. Flecks of dust are suspended in the shafts that the slats let in. And for a moment, the dull pang of hunger is gone.
The sensation does not last long. Prim stirs as I move as quietly as I can across the old floorboards. The wood is cold beneath my feet and a draught plays at the back of my neck. I pull on my hunting clothes; a threadbare tunic barely keeping me warm. Throwing caution to the winds, I pull on a thick woolen jacket. This is usually reserved for the coldest winter months, but I am willing to give myself some comfort today. The last day before the reaping. I should at least enjoy it while I can. I cannot let myself think about the worst case scenario. And today, whatever happens, I can be blissfully ignorant. A long mirror stands opposite the chest filled with our clothes, and I look at my reflection. The dark hue – an accumulation of coal dust and general weathering – that so often covers the faces of people from the Seam has reached me again. I throw my braid over my shoulder and make my way down the wooden stairs. There is a basin by the hearth which has working taps if we are lucky. Today is a lucky day. Perhaps they have decided that we have to look presentable at the reaping tomorrow. I smile at the thought, although I am not sure why; perhaps it is the distinct contrast between my definition and the Capitol's definition of 'presentable'. The chilled water stings my face, running down my wrists and dripping onto the hard-scrubbed floor.
The sun is almost completely up past the highest hill on the horizon. I lace my boots tightly over some socks that Greasy Sae knitted for me last year. They are by far the best present I have ever been given. Closing my door, I look around. The miners from the Seam are beginning to leave for work, heavy steps echoing the machinery that shudders across the town. I know their faces. I know some of their children. But there is something intimate about this time in the morning, when guards have not yet been put up, and the rawness of life has not been dulled by routine. We all look down.
The crude road brings me to the old dam, by the empty Hob. In a matter of minutes it will be buzzing with life. I pick up my pace, across the meadow. A thin mist covers the grasses on the incline, dew clinging to each blade of grass. I see a stray primrose, resilient and solitary amongst the tall grasses. I want to pick it for Prim, but decide against it. It's too vulnerable. I do not know why I have pity for a flower and not the game I will shortly be hunting. I suppose it's because a primrose is not edible. I tried to eat one, just after my father died and I had not met Gale, but ended up retching until my already empty stomach ached.
"Katnip." I spin around. I have let my guard down, standing with my face to the warm sun. Gale is on the other side of the fence, holding it up for me in mock chivalry. I duck under, seeing his amused smile, my forehead furrowing.
We continue in silence into the trees. The mist is here, too, clouding the light that streams between the tree trunks. It must be almost seven by now. I retrieve my bow, my hand closing around the leather grip that Gale found for me, slinging my arrows over my shoulder. Suddenly, Gale motions to me to stop and I follow his gaze. A deer. It stands about a hundred yards away, looking away from us. Silently, I quiver an arrow and feel the string tighten, aiming for under its shoulder, where I know I will reach its heart. A slight relaxation of my hand, and the arrow has found its target. The deer stumbles and falls. It is dead when we reach it.
"There's no way we can carry this," I look up at Gale, smiling at the thought of how much we can get for venison. Gale has already found a suitable branch. I stand aside as he pulls the deer around and ties its dainty ankles to the branch. He smiles at me, the lines of concentration around his deep blue eyes gone. We lift the branch, holding it on our shoulders. By the time we reach our usual vantage point, my back is straining from the effort. Gale is much taller, so gravity is not on my side, And carrying this weight seems effortless to him. We set it down, and Gale sets some snares while I close my eyes, leaning my head against the familiar rock. The sun warms my eyelids, light still visible through the skin.
I open my eyes abruptly as I hear him approach.
"I got something for you," he fishes into his pocket and pulls out a shiny object. As he sits down beside me, he presses it into my palm. His warm hands are rough. It's a pin, a bird in flight within a circle. A mockingjay. They have a few in the woods here. My mind wanders back to when my father and I used to hunt, how the mockingjays stopped their song to listen to his voice.
"I found it in the Hob," he interrupts my reverie.
"It's beautiful," I turn it over in dirty palm. I admit I had been disappointed that it wasn't edible. But somehow, the knowledge that this will last much longer than food is comforting. And I'm not lying when I say it's beautiful; the detail is impressive, each sinew carefully carved, making the bird look as though it could really be in motion.
"How many times is your name in there?" I ask after a while, because it's no use keeping quiet about something that both of us are thinking.
"42." He tries to sound off-hand, but he's avoiding my gaze and twisting his father's ring absently.
For some reason, I am angry at him. "Why don't you just sell that thing?"
He looks at me, with an expression I can't place. "It's my father's. Not the Capitol's."
We fall into silence again.
"I talked to Greasy Sae, yesterday," I recall for Gale. "She said 'I bet that Gale Hawthorne is going to get himself killed'. One day the peacekeepers will stop buying our meat and we won't be allowed to hunt anymore. They'll switch the fence back on and everything, and shut the Hob down…"
Gale laughs softly. "Sure as hell I'd get myself killed if they turned the fence back on. I'd kill every damned peacekeeper I found until they caught me."
I smile a little at how predictable he's become, torn between irritation and amusement.
"We could take off, you know," he says heavily. "Live in the woods."
"They'd catch us," I dismiss him, rubbing the pin with my thumb until it begins to shine.
"We've made it this far, Katniss," he has a fire in his gaze when he looks at me. It's as if I'm not there, as if he's looking past me at something. "We have the deer, that could keep us going for days-"
"Stop, Gale," I stand up. "We can't afford to think like that."
The journey to the Hob is silent. As they see us entering with our deer and Gale's squirrels, bidders begin to haggle with us. By the time we return home, our pockets are full. We reach my house. I can see my mother inside, watching some interview about the reaping tomorrow.
"See you tomorrow, Katnip." The tension abates. "And may the odds…" he throws me a squirrel from his belt.
"…be EVER in your favour," I catch it. He holds my gaze for a moment, and we share those thoughts that we can't afford to think of. I smile at him, a little sadly. Too many luxuries for today. I turn back into the house.