The sun's just setting as the television flickers to life. My family's shocked—we haven't had electricity since the day the Capitol told us the war was officially over. Of course, my mother didn't think it was really "over". They still had to deal with us.
The seal of Panem glows bright on the black background as the anthem pierces the silence. Jindra Macer, the longtime news caster comes on the screen, looking as perfect as ever. The Capitol shines behind her through the ceiling high windows in the studio.
"Good evening, People of Panem," she says in her ice cold voice. "Tonight, President Rivera will address you all. First however, an update on the aftermath." What a good word for this. Aftermath. Thousands die, building burned, morals forgotten, all summed up into one word. Aftermath.
Jindra readjusts herself in her chair as she introduces an analyst. Efren Peck, the war director, is shown, sitting in a brightly colored library. After exchanging niceties, Jindra gets down to business.
"Tell us, Director, what toll the war had on Panem." Peck's an ugly man, thin mouthed, with flabby cheeks and trout-like eyes. There's complete silence on set and here as he considers his words.
"The…toll, as you call it, is high. We have lost…quite a few men, women and children. Thousands." Peck lets the words settle deep into the hearts of all those watching. We knew the number dead here was astronomical, but had no idea about the rest of Panem. My mother sobs, and Khalia, the poor little beast I call a sister, burrows under the couch. I thought thousands were bad until the next words roll out of Peck's mouth.
"We have…eliminated…Thirteen." 13 what? I consider. The mayors of each district? Rebel leaders? Then it hits me as the pictures come on screen. A ruined city, a smoking Justice Building. Broken houses, singed trees. That is all that's left of District 13. Just as I begin to wonder, Peck answers my question. "None…survived."
Jindra doesn't seem surprised by the photos- either she was told previously, or she's as cold as I always suspected- so she already has a question ready. "The people of Panem are wondering- why?" Peck examines the reporter for a full minute before responding this time.
"They, in 13, threatened…all…the people of Panem. It was…regrettable…but we have stopped the people from hurting…themselves." Jindra nods in agreement, no emotion in her eyes.
"Thank you, Director. And now we hand it over to President Rivera in Capitol Center." The television blacks out for a second, then President Rivera appears on screen. From what I can see of the Capitol and its citizens, it looks as though there was no war to begin with. The battles never actually reached the streets of the Capitol, but I expected the people to look at least a little worse for wear. Cameramen zoom in on the front steps of the President's mansion, which has stood for nearly 500 years. The heavy mahogany doors open, aided by peacekeepers, and President Rivera steps out towards the podium at the top of the marble steps.
"People of Panem!" He roars to the crowd and cameras. I notice that his eyes are puffy, red rimmed. He can't have gotten much sleep during the rebellion. There's no way to feel secure in your power when millions root for your demise and burn posters of you in bonfires. "I have spent days trying to think of what to say to all of you. I knew this would happen from the moment the first gunshot rang through the air. I knew the Capitol would prevail above all! But I never imagined a full rebellion." He pauses, pulls in a breath. "Has the Capitol not been kind to you? Have we not kept you supplied with all you needed? Have we not kept you alive, even after the rest of the world crumbled?"
In my little house in District 4, there is silence. All Rivera says is true, but it's only half the truth. I want to scream, "What about the starvation? What about the sick children who have no chance of getting medicine?" but I don't break the silence in the house. The silence that probably stretches from the Capitol to whatever's left of District 13.
Rivera begins to speak again. "I weep for the lost. For the ones who died in vain. I even weep for those lost in District 13, although they began this rebellion that has killed so many. But I weep most of all for the children who died because adults could not settle their differences calmly." Liar. I don't believe the words that slither out of the old man's mouth for one second. Rivera has never shown that he cares for anyone but himself. "I wish, above all, for peace. But you know that peace is not so easy. You are all criminals. You must all be punished."
My mother begins to cry. We have no clue what our punishment will be, but judging by the rubble that is District 13, the Capitol does not go easy on its…enemies. Khalia crawls out onto my lap, a thumb in her mouth. "Stop that," I whisper into her soft red hair. "Grow up." She bursts into tears and my mother scoops her up.
"Shh, Kailaini. Leave her be." Then my mother turns to face the screen once again. Rivera is talking about a war tribunal he formed.
"I did not participate in any of the judgments, or the sentencing. But it is my duty to relay to you what has been decided." He opens up an envelope that was waiting for him on the podium. "The tribunal has found the people of Panem guilty of the murders of one hundred seven thousand and seventy three people." One hundred thousand? My family looks at each other in shock, then remember that there were thousands living in 13, and even our district lost 12,000 people after the shipyards burned.
Rivera looks steadily into the camera, knowing that the people are possibly rebelling again. He over-estimates how war-weary we've gotten, and how no one would dare cross the peacekeepers who now wander around town, making sure everyone is glued to their television.
"Remember what happened to 13, and keep our new peace. Now, I shall read your sentence." Rivera takes an inordinate amount of time to turn the paper over, scan it first himself, then speak. "The people of Panem, who have been tried by an appropriate war tribunal, have been found guilty on all counts. Therefore, the Districts are sentenced to an annual event known as the Hunger Games." A game. Games aren't that bad. Unless it's a Capitol game.
The crowd on the television looks confused. Obviously none of them have been let in on the secret yet. Rivera looks down at the paper again, clears his throat, and tells us the details.
"In these…Games…each District will be forced to send two tributes—one boy, one girl—who will be chosen at random. The tributes will spend time in the Capitol, to train, and then will travel to a specially designed arena, where only one can emerge as a victor." Rivera finishes, and then scans the crowd. I can't tell what the men and women are thinking under the layers of makeup and chiffon, but a few moments later, they explode into cheers, clapping, stomping their feet, whooping.
Rivera studies the crowd's reaction, a small smile playing on his pale lips. He clears his throat, and the sound dies down. "The tributes will be chosen from a pool of boys and girls, ages twelve to eighteen. None will be exempted, but volunteers will be allowed to take the selected boy or girl's place. The rest of the terms of the Hunger Games will be read by a peacekeeper in each district tomorrow at noon. Goodnight, Panem." With that, Rivera turns smartly on his heel, and goes through the mahogany doors into his mansion.
I can hear a small sound coming from my mother, like a wounded animal. I don't know what she could be thinking, but I only have one thought in my mind.
I'm 15. The perfect age for a competitor in the Hunger Games. Khalia is only seven, so maybe she'll be spared. How long can this punishment last, really? Eventually the President and those in charge in the Capitol will feel as though we've suffered enough, and stop the games.
I crawl up onto the couch, and squeeze in between my parents. Dad is staring at the television screen, which has really gone black. The power's gone again, but no one makes a move to light the candles. My mother begins to really sob, burying her face in Khalia's soft hair. My sister's eye glint in the darkening light as she stares steadily into my face.
We must have all fallen asleep in the living room, because when I wake, I find myself still curled up between my parents, and Khalia's using me as a pillow. As gently as possible, I slide down through the tangle of arms and legs, and turn to the window. By the look of the sky, it's around 6 a.m. Peacekeepers lean against buildings, most of them sleeping. No one is stirring in any of the buildings in sight, but I imagine some men will be up to work on the docks today.
I have nothing to do but look for something to eat. Nothing has reached the District since the day 11 rebelled, and District 10 was taken by the Capitol early on. They weren't going to send anything to us.
All the cupboards are empty, and I don't dare open the icebox, which is probably filled with rotting fish. We're one of a lucky few families to have a chicken coop though, so I head out to check for eggs. I notice the second that I step into the bright sunlight that something's wrong. It's the silence. I can't hear Pinto, our rooster, crowing at the sun. He's not too bright, so I don't think he's gotten out on his own.
Peacekeepers, I realize. They've been causing trouble because the Capitol hasn't bothered to send them food, either. Poor Pinto was probably a delicious feast for two or three of the men now sleeping in our gutters. I hope he tasted as bad as he acted. There's still hope for eggs, though, so I crawl into the coop.
The hens still cluck quietly inside, but not a one has laid an egg, and with Pinto gone, they never will. I grab the one closest to me, and bring her inside. My mother has gotten up, and looks at the bird in my arms.
"No eggs?" She asks a resigned look on her face.
"They took Pinto, too," I tell her, tears beginning to sting my eyes. She just grabs a large knife from the counter, and brings the hen outside. By the time my mother has the hen all plucked and gets the fire going, my father and Khalia are awake. No one speaks, but we really don't need to. Reality is finally sinking in after the months of rebellion, and the brief fever dream that was the rebellion.
We wait quietly inside the house until around 11:30, when a peacekeeper knocks loudly on the door, then demands we head to the square to hear the laws of the Hunger Games. I'm visibly shaking, and for the first time in years, I take my father's hand when he extends it to me.
Everyone is spilling out onto the streets, pushed forward like cattle by the peacekeepers. My mother grabs my other hand and my father pulls Khalia up into his arms so we don't lose her. Then we allow ourselves to be swept away by the crowd heading towards the justice building, where an enormous stage has been erected.
I'm amazed by how many peacekeepers there are now in town. They ring the town square, three rows thick, and still more surge in behind the crowd of townspeople. "Kai, Kai!" I hear Khalia yelling. She's still in my father's arms, safe, but she reaches out to me. I ignore her as the peacekeepers begin to quiet the crowd.
It's not as silent today as town had been last night. Men shuffle their feet, and I hear a few people cough into their sleeves. Maybe they don't realize that their children could be chosen. Statistically, it seems like a long shot for each of us. But even in a one in a million chance, one still has to be chosen. And our numbers are quite a bit smaller. After 15 minutes of waiting, the crowd begins to get restless. We just want to find out the details of our doom and go.
Finally, 45 minutes after arriving, a man climbs to the stage. He's followed by two heavily armed peacekeepers, both women. He's obviously from the Capitol, with bright pink hair, perfect button nose and a purple moustache tattooed over his lips. The people of the crowd, me included have a very bad reaction to the sight of him, dressed in fine clothes, and more than just a little pudgy.
"Ahem," the man begins, and the crowd hisses in response. Khalia wails, which I believe is ridiculous for a seven year old. "Hello, District 4. I am Leonel Kimbrall, from a faraway place called the Capitol, where President Rivera resides." Leonel pauses to let the words sink in a bit. Does he think we're idiots?
"Well, let's get straight down to business then, shall we?" Leonel pulls a paper out of his pocket, along with a pair of glittering spectacles, which he perches precariously on his nose. "I'm sure whale have a great time!" No one laughs at the pun. He seems pretty stupid to me. Leonel clears his throat again, and begins to explain about the Hunger Games.
"The President decided to send me to you the rules because I will be your liaison to the Capitol for the Games! I shall show the tributes around the Capitol, and make sure you run on schedule. Now, the tributes shall be selected at a little ceremony called a reaping in exactly one month's time. All boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 will be eligible. Today, you will all sign up for the reaping.
"A twelve year old will be entered one time, a thirteen year old entered twice, fourteen three times, and so on. However, if one so wishes, they may sign up for a Tessera, which is a monthly allowance of grain. The boy or girl must enter their name once for every tessera they ask for." There's more about how many tesserae are allowed, but I don't listen. I'm already entered 4 times in the reaping, but with the low food supply at home, I need the tesserae. Once for each family member? 8 times. I listen again for more details.
"The tributes will then travel, -by train! To the magnificent capitol, with me, to compete for what we call sponsors then train and travel to the arena. All of Panem's citizens shall watch the events in the arena. And remember- only one person can be the victor. Happy Hunger Games, citizens of District four!"
He smiles brightly, expecting applause, but we only look to the peacekeepers to see if we can leave. One of the peacekeepers on stage moves to the microphone.
"All citizens between the ages of 12 and 18 please stay in the square, and forms 2 lines- one for boys, on for girls. Adults and young children may leave." The peacekeeper nods, then motions to her comrades surrounding us, who begin to herd the adults out. My mother gives me a look of pure pain, and tries to tell me something, but she's pushed away by one of the men in white. My father gives my hand one final squeeze, and then is swept away with Khalia. In a daze, I move into the girl's line, and wait for at least two hours before giving a peacekeeper my name and age. She fills out four slips of paper, then asks if I wish to sign up for the tessera. I nod my head, and hold up four fingers. She nods, fills out four more slips, then waves me on.
I have no way of knowing whose name will be pulled at the reaping, so why am I certain it will be me?