I was awake before the sun, doing my best to stifle the screams.
Dream, I tell myself, trying to calm the tremors running through my body. It was only a dream. It was only a dream. It was only a dream. Blood erupted from my brother's chest, caused by a spear thrown by a faceless tribute. Still only a dream.
I realize that no amount of mornings spent convincing myself that my nightmares aren't real will ever leave a lasting impression in my mind. But that won't keep me from trying.
After a few minutes of shaky breathing I slowly place my feet on the cold ground. I grab my shoes and already have the laces tied before my tired brain notices that I haven't put pants on yet. Sighing, I yank them off and pull on a pair of shorts and a fresh shirt before slipping on the shoes again and opening the door to leave my room.
My mother stands in the kitchen. I hesitate in the doorway, watching her. She floats in between the rusted sink and ancient table. Her eyes are panicked and dart around the room, and her hands tremble. I shake myself out of my daze and slowly approach her.
"Come on, mom." I say, holding out my hand.
Mother doesn't seem to notice me at first. When she does, her eyes widen with urgency. "It's today," she croaks. "The Reaping. It's today."
The clarity of her speech is disturbing. Normally mother has trouble focusing and forming complete sentences. Of course, she was talking about the Day of the Reaping. You couldn't get much more focused than that.
"Come on, mom." I repeat. This time I don't wait for her to take my hand. I grasp it tightly and guide her to our tiny living room. After murmuring some soft assurances I manage to coax her onto our threadbare couch, and within minutes she's asleep.
I absentmindedly stroke her hair, studying her face. People used to tell me I looked just like her, but our eyes are different. Hers are a light brown, but mine are green like the sea. Like my dad's.
"Luke," she mutters, voice thick with sleep. Frowning, I lean forward to kiss her gently on the cheek. I stand and walk to the front door, which creaks loudly when I open it. Mother doesn't stir and I shut it quickly behind me before sprinting off in the direction of the beach.
I don't really think about why I run. In District Four it's normal for kids to train for the Games. But those are the Careers, and I definitely don't fit into that category. I don't think of this as training. Training involves spears and coaches and a bloodthirsty attitude that I'll never have. This is more like a precautionary measure. Something to keep me sane. When my brother's presence is too much, when my thoughts become hysteric at the thought of the Games, I run. Other than swimming and tying knots, it's the only thing that can calm me down.
My house is closer to the market than the ocean, so it's a long run to the beach. I hardly notice. I'd been doing this practically every morning since I was ten. The only thing that had changed was that I'd gotten faster.
Once I arrived at the beach I threw myself down onto the cool sand. Focusing on catching my breath, for the next several minutes I enjoyed the feeling of the sun baking my skin. It's moments like these that I relish. When my heart thrums in my chest and my legs burn from exertion and the ocean whispers in my ears.
When my breathing slows down I notice something feels off. The beach – usually littered with fishermen heading out with the tide or Careers going through their morning routines – was deserted. I sat up and cursed with realization. The Reaping. How could I forget?
I don't start humming, which I have the habit of doing whenever I'm nervous. Instead, I grip my shirt in my hands and pull it over my head. I have a bathing suit that I wear whenever I plan to swim, but I don't have any reservations about swimming in my underclothes, especially when no one is around to watch. I dive into the crystalline water and float for around a half hour before paddling back to shore to sit next to my clothes.
I gaze out at the ocean and sigh. I stare at the sea a lot, more than the average person does. The water doesn't captivate me, but my thoughts do. When I was younger, my brother would take me to this part of the beach to swim. He would weave in and out of the waves, disappearing underwater for minutes at a time before popping up yards away from where he had originally started.
I always demanded to know how he did it, but he would only laugh and say, "I'm part fish."
"Is that where daddy went?" I would ask. "Did he turn into a fish?" Luke would nod gravely and tell me a fantastic tale about our gilled father, who was the bravest fish in the sea. I still don't know who my father is or what happened to him, so for all I know he really is out there, swimming around.
I don't miss him. I can't even remember anything about him, except for his eyes. I can remember Luke, though. I miss him every day.
Luke had always been strong and athletic, so no one was surprised when he volunteered for the 61st Hunger Games when he was eighteen years old. He had trained for all his life under the guidance of our grandfather who had died the year before. We were kicked out of the house where we lived with him in Victor's Village, and Luke was itching to reclaim the family honor. He charmed his way through the Capitol and got a 9 for his training score. Losing was never a thought in his mind.
It was almost ironic, if you looked at it from a cynical point of view, that the Games would be held in a desert wasteland that year. He hadn't stood a chance, and was killed in the initial bloodbath of the Cornucopia. I was eight.
Mom couldn't really handle it. She couldn't stay strong for me, and her sanity slowly slipped away. She doesn't do much of anything now, except drink alcohol when she can find it and do tiny, inane tasks around the house that serve no purpose. I make nets and take out tessera to fill the gaps that the money grandfather left us can't cover. I know I should resent her, but I don't. The only thing I hate now is the Games, and anyone who has anything to do with them.
"Odd day for a swim, wouldn't you say?" a voice asks, and I gasp. Without turning to look at who was speaking, I snatch up my shirt and yank it over my head. The voice chuckles and continues, "Shouldn't you be at home with your family?"
"Shouldn't you be at home with yours?" I shoot back and tug my shorts up my legs. I glance over my shoulder while I fumble with a button and nearly stopped dead. District Four's very own victor Finnick Odair stands five feet away from me, a smirk on his face.
Everyone knows Finnick Odair is good looking. In District Four, it's a well regarded fact. With his sea green eyes, bronze-colored hair, and wicked smile, he was definitely pleasing to look at. The Capitol had loved him when he was chosen to participate in the 65th Hunger Games. He seemed to love them too, the way he winked and threw kisses to the adoring crowd.
He had killed six of his opponents with a net and trident.
Finnick's smile widens as I get to my feet. Still feeling as exposed as I'd been moments ago, I fight the urge to cross them over my chest and stare directly into his eyes instead.
"No need to get so touchy," he laughs, holding up his hands in mock surrender. "I was only trying to make polite conversation. We're all a little closer on the Day of the Reaping, wouldn't you say?" His eyes are narrowed, and despite his light tone, it's obvious he's being sarcastic.
I decide not to respond and pull my hair out of the ponytail I'd put it in earlier today. It was still damp from the water.
"Nervous about the Reaping?" Finnick asks, acting like I hadn't ignored his first question.
"You could say that," I deadpan. I know I shouldn't be, considering the odds. I'm sixteen, so normally my name would only be entered five times. But I'd taken out tessera once every year, and in exchange for a meager supply of grain and oil, my name was in five extra times. It didn't help me sleep at night, but it kept my mother fed.
Anyway, considering the amount of starving kids that were forced to take tessera every year coupled with the Careers who might volunteer, the chances of me being chosen are slim. But sometimes slim just isn't good enough. Cresta is a well-known name in the Hunger Games, and I know that makes me more likely to be chosen. The Capitol loves familiar faces.
Finnick looks at me critically. "You'll be fine," he says after a few seconds.
I roll my eyes. "You can't guarantee that."
"True," Finnick admits. "But maybe the odds are in your favor."
I snort and think of my crazy mother, dead brother, and absentee father. They certainly hadn't been so far.
"I should get going," I say, eager to get away. Despite everyone's poorly hidden adoration for Finnick Odair, I'm not impressed. His arrogance practically radiates off of him. "It won't be long before it starts."
I don't have to say what it was. It was on the mind of every person in District Four, every kid with their name written on a slip of paper that could just as easily be their death certificate, every parent with a child between the deadly ages of twelve and eighteen, every person all across Panem.
The Reaping. The Hunger Games. What no one can escape.
"Wait!" Finnick says. "You never told me your name!" He doesn't ask me if I know his. Of course I know. Everyone knows.
I consider lying, but I decide to be honest with him. "Annie Cresta!" I call over my shoulder.
"I'll see you around, Annie Cresta!" Finnick yells after me. He doesn't seem to recognize my name.
I leave the beach ready for the 69th Annual Hunger Games to end.
"Isn't it such a relief?" my friend Lana asks from where she's stretched out on the sand. "I always feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders once it's over." She's referring to the Reaping, which had ended nearly an hour ago. Two tributes had been chosen – this year both Careers – and everyone in District Four breathed a little easier knowing that if they had to send two children off to the slaughter it would at least be two willing children.
I hate the Games. After what happened to Luke, I can't glorify any part of it. It isn't an honor like they tell us every year. It's punishment for an uprising seventy years ago that we didn't even take part in. Every year twenty four children are chosen from all twelve districts of Panem. While kids have nightmares about their names being chosen as tributes, the Capitol views it as one big party. It makes me sick.
Anyway, I'm safe for another year and can't say I'm not relieved.
"Yeah," I reply distractedly. "Me, too."
I don't really feel like talking, and Lana seems to understand. She knows from experience that I won't be myself until the Games are over. I watch her stand up and brush the sand off the backs of her legs. "It's getting late," she says. "Mom will want me home. See you tomorrow?"
I nod silently and shift my gaze to the ocean. I can hear people laughing, exchanging gifts, and talking in such a tone that said they were placing bets on this year's tributes. I shudder and wrap my arms around myself before getting up to leave. It's a long walk, and when I get home mother is right where I left her after the Reaping, passed out on the couch.
I slip past her and collapse into my bed. Nestled deep beneath the sheets, I wonder for the hundredth time why no one ever seems to cry because of the Hunger Games.
Disclaimer: It's called fanfiction.
Hi! *waves awkwardly* So I've been struck with an intense case of fangirling and Finnick and Annie are to blame. They're so...gah. I can't describe it. So, naturally, I've been banging my head against the keyboard and screaming, "ANNIE! FINNICK! ANGST! AAAAAH!" This is the result.
I hope you enjoyed the first chapter, and if you didn't I apologize. I've got a few chapters saved up, so updates should be coming regularly. Unless I get attacked by a giant squid or something.