Warning: The following chapter contains a fairly graphic scene portraying attempted rape. If you'd rather not read, you can skip ahead to chapter two and still get the gist of what happened, and the rest of the story is pretty tame.
"I'm heading out, Sae!" Katniss called as she hung her apron on the hook and grabbed her sweater and book bag.
"Girl, don't you have a better coat than that? It's cold out there!" the older woman answered as she wiped down the lunch counter.
"I know," Katniss answered. "I didn't realize this cold snap was going to hit today. I'll wear something warmer tomorrow. Goodnight, Thom!"
"'Night, Katniss!" Thom called from the kitchen. "Be careful going home!"
"I will. Goodnight, Sae."
And with that Katniss went out the door of Greasy Sae's Diner into the dark streets of District Twelve. It was early October, and the region had been enjoying a late Indian Summer until earlier this afternoon when the cold winds of autumn had finally blown in. Katniss wrapped her threadbare sweater tighter around herself and set out on the long walk home.
Her footsteps echoed as she made her way through the empty town square. It was a little after eleven, and most of the District was already asleep. The availability of electricity here was sporadic at best, so most people rose and went to bed with the sun. Katniss saw a few lights here and there as she walked through town—the Peacekeeper's Headquarters was lit up as always, and she saw one dim light burning above the bakery. But for the most part she was in darkness, and she was grateful for the clear sky above that allowed the moonlight to guide her steps home.
That's Wednesday over with. Two days 'til the weekend.
For just over a year now, Katniss had been working evenings at Greasy Sae's every day after school. It wasn't the most glamorous job, but she was grateful to have it. It was steady work with steady pay, which was more than a lot of her neighbors in the Seam could claim to have. She still liked to hunt on the weekends to supplement her income, but waitressing kept her family fed during the lean months of winter when game was scarce and edible plants few and far between.
Waitressing would keep her out of the mines, too. Sae had already promised her a full-time position in the spring when Katniss left school for good. Waitressing was hard work, but not nearly as hard as working down in the dark mines twelve hours a day would be. That's what her best friend Gale had to endure and she knew he hated every minute of it. Katniss was not sure she would be able to survive if she was forced to spend her life in the darkness—in the same tunnels and shafts that had stolen her father's life years before.
Crossing the line that divided the town from the Seam, Katniss stepped down from the concrete sidewalk onto a dirt path. From this point onwards, the houses she passed grew smaller and shabbier. Here the darkness was complete—no one who lived in the Seam could afford to waste fuel sitting up at night.
She hurried her steps. The sooner she could make it home, the sooner she could go to bed. She was exhausted—it had been a rough night at the diner. Just after the dinner rush, a group of townies had come in, obviously drunk. They had been rowdy, and a few of them had repeatedly made lewd suggestions in her direction. This wasn't anything Katniss wasn't used to, and she had deflected their attentions in her usual brusque manner, but it was still a pain to deal with. That, plus the fact that they had left nothing behind except a huge mess and a lousy tip.
Katniss hesitated when she reached the Meadow, a large field dotted with a few trees and small bushes. She knew she really should stick to the road, but if she cut through here she could be home ten minutes sooner. She thought longingly of her warm bed, and of Prim, who never went to sleep until she knew her big sister was home safe and sound. She could hear a dog barking somewhere in the distance, but other than that all was silence.
She turned and stepped onto the grass.
It seemed colder out in the middle of the field, without the buildings to block the wind from blowing straight through her sweater and up her skirt. Not for the first time, Katniss regretted that her uniform consisted of a simple cotton button-up dress that barely reached to her knees. She made a mental note to wear her heavy stockings tomorrow, but that wasn't much help now.
Just keep going, Katniss. Get across the Meadow and you're almost home.
To distract herself from the chill, Katniss began to make a mental checklist of tasks she needed to complete over the next few days. Homework to finish, laundry to mend, items to trade for or buy. She was so occupied in her thoughts she didn't even notice she had company until they were almost upon her.
"Well, well…look what we have here, Ryland. It's the Seam Slut of Greasy Sae's!"
Two dark figures emerged from the shadows of a tree just ahead. Katniss immediately recognized two of the young men who had been in the diner earlier that evening. They were both holding half-empty bottles and staggering a bit as they walked lazily towards her.
The one who had just spoken was a hulk of a man, tall with broad shoulders and a thick neck. He had been one of the worst troublemakers at the diner, repeatedly making absurd requests of her and making sly jokes full of innuendo at her expense. His name, she thought, was something like Devin or Evan—his face was familiar, and Katniss was pretty sure he had been a couple years ahead of her in school.
The one named Ryland was not as large as his friend, but he still towered over Katniss. She knew nothing about him except that he was a townie, just like Devin or Evan.
They were townies, they were drunk, and they were standing between her and her home.
As the men walked closer, Katniss quickly evaluated her options. She could turn and run, but she had her doubts whether she could outpace them long enough to reach safety. Also, she feared that running would only serve to set off their predatory instincts. Home was ahead, and not that far away. Maybe she could still talk her way through. She was not afraid—if she could fight a full grown bear for the rights to a beehive, she could certainly face down these two drunken idiots. She started walking forward again, longing for her bow.
"Where you going, slut?" Ryland laughed nastily.
"Just heading home, guys. It's been a long night," she said, keeping her tone light.
As she drew nearer to them, she let her right hand fall casually to rest on the bag hanging at her side. Her fingers stretched into the side pocket to feel the knife she always kept hidden there. They would leave her alone if they knew what was good for them.
The two men closed together, blocking her path, and she was forced to stop again.
"Excuse me," she said.
"Why don't you come hang out with us?" said Devin or Evan. "We'll party."
Katniss shook her head and started walking again. "Sorry," she said as she forced her way between them. "It's cold and I'm tired. Maybe some other time."
They let her pass, but when she glanced over her shoulder she saw that they were following her closely.
"Oh, come on," said Ryland. "Come play. We promise we won't bite."
Katniss kept walking quickly, resisting the urge to run.
"Sorry," she said again. "I just want to go home, okay?"
"I don't think she wants to party, Devin," Ryland said in a fake-concerned voice.
"Of course she does," his friend answered, and Katniss could hear the sneer in his voice. "All those Seam sluts like to party. She just doesn't know it yet."
Katniss felt a hand grab her left wrist, and then things started happening very quickly. Acting on pure instinct, she spun around, bringing the knife with her. Devin released her wrist, looking down in amazement at his own forearm. A long, bright red line marked the path of her knife.
"Bitch cut me!" he exclaimed, as if he couldn't believe she had had the nerve to defend herself. Katniss met his eyes and suddenly understood that she had grossly underestimated the danger these men presented to her.
She dropped her bag and turned to run.
She only got about twenty feet before she felt her scalp nearly come off as one of them grabbed her long dark braid, using it to slam her backwards to the ground. Quick as lightning, she was up and running again.
"Get her, Ry!"
This time Ryland tackled her at the knees, and she went flying forward. The impact knocked the knife out of her hand, and she tasted blood. She felt the panic starting to overtake her.
"No!" she screamed as she clawed at the ground, looking for purchase while she desperately tried to shake off Ryland, who was now clinging to her ankles. With great effort she freed one foot and then sent it flying backwards again to connect with his face. She heard a satisfying crunch and suddenly she was free.
She scrambled to her feet and took two lunging steps forward. Then Devin was on her, knocking her to the ground for a third time. He flipped her over to her back, straddled her waist, and slapped her across the face. Katniss answered with a right hook, but it seemed he was so drunk he could feel no pain.
"Stupid bitch!" he spat, as Katniss writhed beneath him, trying to throw him off. Her hands beat uselessly against his body until he grabbed both of her wrists and pinned her arms above her head.
"Think you can say no to me? Think you can just walk away? Think you can cut me and live to tell about it?"
His voice was menacing, but what frightened Katniss the most was the small grin he wore. Dear god, he was enjoying this.
"Please," she whispered.
"Please!" Devin mocked. "Did you hear that, Ry? Someone's decided to try being polite all of a sudden."
Ryland walked up beside them, holding his hands to his face. With satisfaction Katniss saw blood oozing between his fingers.
"Goddamn whore broke my nose!"
Devin looked up at his friend, and Katniss seized the opportunity to stretch her neck up and bite down on the inside of Devin's arm as hard as she could. He screamed with pain and yanked his arms back. With a great heave, Katniss twisted her body and tried to worm her way free. For a second she thought she might make it, but then Devin's giant hands grabbed her shoulders and flipped her back over as if she weighed no more than a rag doll. She clawed at his face, screaming and sobbing in frustration and fear.
He pinned her wrists again and laughed.
"She just doesn't learn, does she, Ry?"
"Doesn't seem to."
"I think maybe I ought to teach her a lesson. What do you think?"
"Sounds about right to me."
"Take her arms."
Katniss sobbed as Ryland moved to kneel at her head, holding her wrists down, and Devin moved back down to straddle her thighs. She had never felt so completely powerless, so completely without control.
"Please," she sobbed. "Please."
"Shut up," said Devin coldly as his eyes roamed up and down her body, his hands moving her sweater off to her sides. Suddenly with one harsh movement he tore open the top of her dress to reveal her bra, sending buttons flying. When Katniss felt the cold air hit her bare skin, she started screaming again.
"Somebody! PLEASE HELP ME! PLEASE!"
Devin slapped her again, silencing her.
"I said shut up."
Then Katniss felt the hem of her skirt being pushed up.
"No, no, no, no. Please stop. Please stop. Please. STOP!"
"I said shut up!"
Devin reached up, grabbed the sides of her head and slammed it back onto the ground.
Katniss' world started to fade. As if she was underwater, she could hear her attacker's voices, but she couldn't understand what they were saying. She could hear her own heart beating loudly in her chest, air rushing in and out of her lungs. Blackness started to creep in on the edges of her vision.
Remotely, she felt something cold on her hip, the sensation of something coming loose, and she understood that he was cutting her panties off with a knife. All she could do was register surprise that he hadn't used the knife before, and to wonder what he would do with it when he was finished. Everything felt so unreal—as if she was watching from a distance as this happened to someone else.
And then, suddenly, the weight of his body on hers was gone. Her hands were free. Katniss rolled onto her side and vomited into the grass.
Dimly, she could hear grunts, feet shuffling on the ground, a cry of pain.
She curled up into a ball and slid gratefully into darkness.