The thin branches of the dead winter trees whipped slowly in the bitter wind of this cold winters morning. I lay motionless on a bed of dead leaves, listening, listening for any sign of life. All I heard was the whistling of the wind, I could tell todays hunt would be unsuccessful. I'd been lying in the same spot for the past hour. Noiselessly I checked my watch; 10:15. Gale should have been here over two hours ago. It was unlike him to be late, especially as late as this. My worry began to set in, the conditions were horrific. What had happened? Had something happened to Rory or Vick? Or even Posy? I'd nearly given up and decided to head back when I heard a small snap. I shot up and looked around, I couldn't see anything…maybe it was a rabbit? Or maybe even Gale.
"Gale?" I called quietly, barely raising my voice above a whisper. What if it was a peacekeeper? It was reaping day and District 12 was crawling with them. If I was found out here I would be punished severely.
"YOU! STAND UP!" A voice boomed, shit it was a peacekeeper! Thoughtlessly I raised my bow and aimed for the direction of the voice, I was about to release the arrow when Gale burst through into the clearing laughing so hard he could barely stand or breath.
"Gale!" I shrieked. "What the hell were you doing? I nearly shot you!" Did he not realise I could have killed him.
"Calm down Catnip. What were you going to do anyway? Shoot a peacekeeper? I'd love to see how that could help your cause." He chuckled, but he was right. Shooting a peacekeeper would have gotten me executed.
"I wasn't thinking it was instinct." I grumbled.
"Don't get me wrong Catnip; I would have loved to see you shoot a peacekeeper. Especially today, what an amazing way to say fuck you to the Capitol." Gale's eyes glazed over the way they always do when he talks like this about the Capitol.
"Gale…" I sighed; truthfully I was just glad he was saying it to me, and here in the heart of our woods where we were safe from the prying ears of the Capitol and their peacekeepers. He smirked at me in reply.
"Shh Catnip I'm just kidding." I could tell he didn't want me to worry but I knew him better than that. I knew he believed what he had said and that he honestly wishes it were true.
"Where were you anyway, I was beginning to get worried." I sat myself on the rock next to Gale. My leg brushed his and our arms were touching. I felt my heart rate increase, something only hunting could do, well until recently anyway.
"Mom. She wanted to spend some extra time with me." I looked away, unable to meet his gaze.
"How many?" I asked. He knew what I meant without me saying.
"42." He stated simply. His voice void of all emotion. I could barely bring myself to look at him. The odds were most definitely not in his favour.
"Cheer up Catnip this is my last year! After this I am safe and all I have to do then is worry about keeping you safe!" Gale tried to sound positive but there was a slight uncertainty in his voice. That's only if he didn't get picked, and there was a huge possibility that he would. His voice broke the silence.
"How many for you?" There was something strange in his voice, a darker tone, anger? Maybe.
"20." I still had more than most people but I also had half of what Gale had. This obviously wasn't good enough for Gale though, because the next thing I knew he was up on his feet and punching a tree.
"Damn them Katniss this isn't God damned fair!" He was fuming; he was even beginning to scare me. After pacing for a few more minutes he eventually calmed down and turned to me. "We could do it you know?" I looked at him in bewilderment.
"Take off, live in the woods." I stared at him in disbelief. That was a stupid idea! Was he being serious? It was Gale, of course he was.
"We wouldn't make it five miles." The idea was preposterous.
"Oh I'd make it five miles, I'd go that way." He pointed off into the distance, towards the forest where all you can see is a green canvas of trees for as far as the eye can see.
"What about the kids? Rory? Vick? Posy? And even Prim?" We couldn't drag them with us, and we couldn't leave them here either, they would punish them.
"They could come with us!" Gale seemed adamant that this was a good idea and that it could work.
"Can you imagine Prim in the woods?" I couldn't help but laugh, the one time I had tried to take her hunting had ended in disaster. I shot a rabbit and she ended up crying for an hour begging me to take it home to mother to save.
"Yeah, maybe not." He smiled sadly to himself.
"I'm never going to have kids." I stated.
"I might, if I didn't live here." He seems off in some distant land, a small smile playing on the corners of his lips, he looked so content that I nearly didn't want to say anything to him but that wasn't me.
"But you do live here. So will any kids you have, and do you really want to subject them to the reaping?" All traces of happiness were removed from his face.
"Whatever Katniss. We better be getting back, it's nearly time for reaping." With that he stood and began to walk away.
I caught up quickly. I felt guilty for what I had said hurt him, but at the same time it was true and I couldn't ever let him go through the pain of losing a child. I don't think he could ever go through the pain of losing a child. We walked in silence back to District 12. We had reached the fence before either of us said a word and it was Gale to break the silence.
"Dress nice Katniss, see you in a few." He didn't look at me before jogging in the direction of his house. I dawdled on the way back to my house. I knew my mother would make a fuss as it was reaping day but I couldn't deal with it.
When I finally arrived home Prim was already dressed in her reaping clothes, I remember that they were my first reaping clothes also. They hung loosely on Prims small frame and I noticed a tail sticking out of the back of her skirt where the shirt had come un-tucked.
"Tuck your tail in, little duck." I said soothingly. Prims eyes were full of fear and I knew she was worried about her first reaping. "Prim, your name is in there once, they won't pick you." I look her dead in the eye, not a doubt in my mind. This seems to calm her for a while.
"There is some water in the tub…I thought you might like to clean up." My mother distracts me from my moment with Prim. I look at her unsure of what to say. My relationship with my mom was rocky to say the least. All respect I had for her was lost after my father died and she left us to fend for ourselves.
"Okay." I said simply before finding my way to the tub. I scrubbed all the dirt from the woods away, leaving me cleaner than I had been in a long time. Soap was a rarity in the Seam and so was normally saved for special occasions. Unfortunately, the reaping falls into that category. I finally managed to scrub most of the dirt from my skin and walk to the bedroom to find a pale blue dress lay neatly on my bed. It was one of my mother's from her apothecary days. I smiled sadly to myself, I knew how much this meant to her and I could tell she was trying to reach out to me. To apologise for leaving me, but I wasn't Prim and I couldn't forgive her so easily. I pulled the dress over my head and made my way down to the living room where Prim and my mother were waiting.
"You look beautiful." I can see a tear glistening in her eye and Prim stared at me her jaw dropping slightly.
"I wish I was as pretty as you." She says after a moment.
"Oh not little duck, I wish I looked like you!" I smile and crouch down to stroke her hair.
"Katniss let me put your hair up." My mother suggests and I agree reluctantly. By the time she had finished the bell had sounded letting us know it was time to leave for the town square. Prim gripped my hand tightly. I gave her a gentle squeeze back. All I wanted to do was protect her but this was the one thing I couldn't protect her from. I could make sure she always had a roof over her head and food to eat, but I couldn't take her name out of that bowl.
When we arrive Prim tries to hold onto my hand and refuses to let go.
"Prim listen to me. I'm going to be right over there. You go stand with your friends and I will find you when it is over. I promise." Prim nodded silently, allowing herself to be checked in and then wandered off to find her friends. I found my way to the group of girls my age, most of whom I knew from school, but I didn't really have friends. Only possibly Madge. She and I had a mutual thing, we worked together at school and sat together at lunch, never really speaking much but it meant we weren't alone. I'm not sure we could be counted as friends though. I looked around in search of Gale, he was taller than most boys and towered over the crowd surrounding him. It didn't take me long to find him , he gives me an apologetic look and mouths "You okay?" I simply nod in return. I try to search for Prim but I cannot find her in the crowds.
Soon enough the anthem starts playing and Effie Trinket takes the stage. She is dressed in bright pinks, her face painted white and her hair also matching her pink outfit. She reminds me of a clown and I can't help but laugh.
"Welcome, welcome! How lovely it is to be here!" She smiles, but everyone knows it is fake. She doesn't want to be here. She wants to be in one of the better districts, one of the districts where there are actually winners. Our district has only had two winners in the seventy four years the hunger games have been running. One of them is dead, and the other is a drunkard. I've met him several times at the Hob. He is here today, sat on a chair next to Mayor Undersee, Madge's father, he can barely stay on his seat. She begins to play the same video that is played every year. It depicts how the hunger games came to be, about the uprising and the demise of district 13. It then goes on to say how much of an honour it is to be a tribute in the hunger games. Towards the end I look over to Gale, who has his gaze fixated on me. He smirks and mouths along to the video "War, terrible war!" I can't help but giggle a little, and as much as I try to hide it the people around me hear. A faint blush rises to my cheeks and I drop my head in shame. The video ends and Effie begins to speak.
"And now time to pick the tributes, ladies first as usual. Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favour!" She walks over to the large glass ball, filled with hundreds, maybe even thousands of slips. Twenty of which have my name written on them. I draw in a deep breath, holding it in until the name is drawn, praying and hoping it isn't me. Effie makes her way back over to the microphone, where she carefully unfolds the slip and reads out the name.
And it isn't me.
It's Primrose Everdeen.