Note: story is a spin-off from Not All of Me Shall Die. I recommend you read that beforehand.
'Till The Sweet Apple Grows
Bonnie MacFarlane wins the Fourty-ninth Hunger Games when she's fifteen years old. The arena had been a burning, desolate desert that year, scorching and searing, as unforgiving as the look on the blonde tribute's face. Bonnie had never been so close to the sun before. It was almost as if it dipped its heavenly rays down so near to the blazing, dry sands that it burned the skin off her face, hands, feet as she walked, tendrils of driven heat lashing against her pale skin.
Oh why, she cried, has the desert forsaken me?
The sun was all Bonnie knew. The sun had been her mentor.
Life in District 10 revolved around the white rays that burst from the sky. But that burning light above the arena was not her sun. It couldn't be. The heat steals all from the tributes that year. Their skin, their water, their dignity. There had only been four kills that year; the heat did the rest. This was not the same sun that glowed above Bonnie as she worked at her ranch, nourishing her and teaching her the lessons of the southwest, pressing its glorious mystery into her.
The sun had been her mentor.
No one had prevailed from the lowly ranching district before her. She enters the arena with a crude grasp on what to do and what to think without someone to tell her.
No parachutes come for the thin slip of a girl as she lays broken on the first night under the shade of a cactus. No one bets on the tribute without a mentor. But she snaps that night. Her thirst for water slowly turns into a thirst for blood because she's furious and something ignites in the pit of her stomach and it isn't until later that she realizes her anger was misdirected, because the entire time she was loathing the Capitol. But innocent tributes fall under her merciless hand.
Bonnie is cold and calculating and blazing and impulsive all at once as she slices a crude knife through the girl from 7 that has hair like spun cornsilk. It reminds her of her little sister, but she dismisses the thought because she's not really Bonnie MacFarlane with the three sisters and four brothers and twelve cows anymore. She wipes the knife on the pant of her leg as though she is cleaning a knife after a meal.
By the time the girl from 5 that teamed up with Bonnie on the third day realizes that the cactus water she gave her is poisoned, it's much too late. Bonnie's empty eyes that remind her of the white sun are the last thing she sees before she nods away into oblivion.
The third death at Bonnie's hands did not come as easily as she expected. She pounces on the girl from 4 in the middle of the night, but she is a Career and slept with one eye open. The vicious girl from the fishing district jumps up and lunges for Bonnie. She is all aggression and no finesse, but she is bigger than Bonnie and slices through her forearm before Bonnie finally hits the spot on her neck with the thin metal.
The girl from 10 clutches her arm as the blood pools on the dusty floor of the desert.
Oh why, she cried, has the desert forsaken me?
But still, no parachutes come. Bonnie yells out, disregarding the other tributes, and, in a state of deliriousness, she plunges her hand into the ragged mess of torn skin and tissue, hands stained red, before she finds what she's looking for and pulls out the small metal cylinder.
An inhuman screech, like that of a desert hawk, leaves her throat as she chucks the tracking device into the patches of dry mesquite bushes.
Then she runs.
She runs as far as she can.
The desert wind whips against her violently in the strokes of early evening, and the dust blinds and burns her vision, but still she runs.
It takes the Gamemakers exactly five minutes to realize what has happened. Exactly five minutes too late. Bonnie is already running into the scratchy, thorny cottonhead bushes, past the Cornucopia, lost amongst gnarled branches. Her arms and legs are bloody and burning, but she runs further and further into the empty thicket.
Finally, Bonnie falls underneath one of the gnarled bushes and collapses with a heavy breath.
The desert has born and bred me, she murmurs with cracked lips, it can bury me.
She could have lied there for weeks, months, years. Bonnie didn't know. The hours blew past her as the dust out of her hands. She feels bloody thorns digging into her sides, but she simply lies there and rations out the rest of her supplies.
A sip of the water. A quarter of the cracker. A slice of the jerky.
She hears the hovercrafts flying by, searching for her, but she lies still and quiet and reticent. In the midst of one of the cold nights, she hears the cannon fire and the photo of the blonde girl from 10. The thickets of the thorny bushes were too thick, too dense. Nobody can see her. They think she's dead. She might as well be. She would have laughed, but her throat is dry, and only muffled coughs come out.
Oh why, she cried, has the desert forsaken me?
In some dusty recess of her mind, she thinks maybe this is some sort of restitution, that the only reason she is suffering such a fate is because she deserves it. Maybe she shouldn't have sneaked that piece of sweet maple hard candy from the store when she was ten (it had been much too sweet and cloying anyways, and it melted in between her fingers in the middle of the western summer under the August sun). Maybe she should have helped that boy Ocie in her class when she was in her fourth year, when everybody else had been ganging up on him and making fun of his overalls and how he was the only boy whose family didn't own their own cattle (Bonnie would have given him one of her cows, anyways, because she really hated the smell of the barn and how her father would always make her herd them). Maybe she shouldn't have made fun of her little sister's freckles each and every day of her life just because Bonnie was witty enough to (Bonnie was really sort of jealous of her freckles, anyways, because Bonnie was all plain, with a straight nose and oval face, with pale eyes and clear pale skin, and some people mistook that for beauty, but really, she was all plain).
Bonnie MacFarlane wasn't particulary religious, certainly not like the old women with hunched backs and black shawls that left the rickety old church on the corner of the square with whispers of prayers on their cracked lips (she never took them seriously because she always heard her father say they must be have some divine forces on their side to live so long under this district, to which Bonnie would always reply, well, we have bovine forces) but she doesn't want to think that she is in so much pain just because. She thinks she's much too young to die and her heart aches because she wants to live so badly. She wants to go home and milk the cows without complaining for once and go a day without cracking a joke at someone and just say goodbye one more time. She pretends like the knife in her hand doesn't bother her, but she knows she's just a kid and she knows life isn't supposed to work this way. She doesn't want to think this is the end.
But it must be. Spots begin to appear behind her eyelids when they flutter shut from exhaustion, and her body feels slick with the looseness of thinning blood, and her tongue is sandpaper and her stomach is so empty she wants to vomit. She tries to speak a tender prayer in her last moments, but her throat dries up and comes only a pained cry and empty solace.
So, she thinks, the desert has born and bred me, her mind nears a thick fog, it can bury me.
Bonnie thinks she must surely be nearing the brink of insanity when she hears a voice pierce the quiet cutting desert air. She ties her blessings with the good Lord before she recognizes the voice with a start.
"Ladies and gentlemen!"
Claudius Templesmith. Announcing the victor. Looks like someone has outlasted Bonnie.
Strength appears in her brittle bones, and she pulls her shaking muscles up and runs. She runs with a long dagger in her hand, swallowing back blood and bile, swallowing back fear and regret, as she runs through the gnarled branches and to the Cornucopia. Because District 10 needs a victor. Because District 10 will not go down without a fight. And Bonnie MacFarlane is all District 10 as she bursts through the clearing with a shriek.
Claudius never got to finish his sentence to award the male tribute from District 1 with victory. Bonnie silences him with a knife through the boy's throat.
But right before her eyes go woozy and her legs give out, she has a thought.
There had been only four kills that year.
All of them were hers.
Meals have always been frugal in District 10 for as long as anybody could remember. Simple breads made from the hard tesserae grain and foul, viscous oil, messily held together by the sour butter from the cows. Patchy fruit from the catci that tasted dry but dripped with red juice, leaving a itchy taste on your tongue. Salted pork that the mothers of 10 prepared, saving the fat summer hog for cold and empty winter nights with the imported salt. But what the citizens of 10 craved most of all was the tepid, murky water they recieved weekly through rations, downing a glass as though it was a gallon after a long day's work on the dry ranch.
When District 10 accrued their first victor, the sheer amount of food that arrived in the bushels on the Capitol trains astonished them. District 10 holds their first ever celebration for their local champion, a victor's banquet. The entirety of the sprawling, sparse population pull together to the shady Joshua tree forests a while out from town, setting up old splintered picnic tables with thin white tablecloths. Burning lanterns dangle from the low branches of the trees, blanketing the celebration with a warm glow and illuminating the citizens with a substitute for good feelings.
The tables are heavy with fruits and starchy vegetables that taste ripe with green soil, soft breads made with chewy grain and heavy with raisins and nuts, thick slices of their own cattle's meat that are otherwise forbidden. Juicy strawberries coated heavily with sandy brown sugar like stardust. Rich, chocolate that flows down globs of decadent pastries, rolled and rolled in powdered sugar that melts on your tongue. The milky moon and sparkling lanterns reflect in the eyes of the eager, hungry children as they grab at the unrationed goods.
The water, oh, but the water. The adults gather round at the water imported from the Capitol, so pristine and clear and real. They glance at each other hesitantly for a while, not used to the open supply of the life-sustaining liquid. But once a child grabs at a cup as though it's the bitter nopal juice they drink daily, they all begin to sip at the stuff, cheering and toasting as though it's tinged with alcohol, but it tastes so sweet and so pure they couldn't tell. Everybody is high in spirits from the array of goods.
Once everyone settles down and finally sit to enjoy a proper meal, someone offers a toast to the guest of honor. Of course, she is the reason for the full bellies and quenched thirsts, so it is a given. They all nod in agreement as one rises to raise their cup to the fifteen-year-old girl that sits at the head of the rickety wooden table. They're ready for her to fire back with a drawling bite of a comeback, tearing through the table with laughter.
But her eyes are blank and unregistered as he acknowledges her. She stares out a thousand miles past them all, to the high mesas where the moon rests as if it holds an answer. The girl's large family sit in a solemn group as they're reminded once more that she's no longer the same girl who used to save the little moths from the spiders' webs. The girl they hold with honor can hardly hold herself together. She is reminding herself to breath, to move, to blink. Uneasiness blankets over the dinner.
They all realize, one by one, that the celebration isn't really a celebration at all. The table grows quiet.
Some bile must have seeped into the cattle, for the flesh tastes bitter as they take their first bites. District 10 realizes, collectively, that they never really cared for the taste of meat anyway.
They don't let her off easy. She made the Capitol and the Gamemakers look like fools as she rose from the dead to claim her victory.
"Well, damn," she giggles on stage with Caesar Flickerman after the Games, playing up her act with dull looks and smart winks. "I'm just a simple rancher girl from District 10. Ain't I had the slightest clue no one could find me!"
The airy, drawling laugh that permeates the heavy air of discontent in the districts does little to quiet the growing restlessness approaching hysteria. A tempest looms over Panem.
The only thing that keeps her going is the promise of the next year's Games. She's a mentor now. She can only think that the one good thing that arose from her victory in the Games is that District 10 tributes will no longer have to do it alone. So as Bonnie lies in her bed, screaming with scalding tears boiling over, she thinks she is crying with good reason. She cries so they don't have to. It is the only thing that keeps her going.
That, and the stupid farmhand that keeps coming over to visit her from the ranch over. She has only seen him around school once or twice and knows him only as her neighbor. But he won't leave her alone.
Euel Wright was sixteen and had hair the color of copper wire, the stuff Bonnie had only seen once or twice when her father was repairing the oil lantern on the front porch. Freckles dotted over every square of inch of his body, the sun's imprints of clocked hours under the heat. He had a wide smile and a bellowing laugh.
"Bonnie," he used to say her name with a strange twang at the end, and she'd always hated it and tell him to shut up, but he simply smiled and repeated her name once more, the soft syllables like sugar on his lips, "why are you so pretty?"
"I guess the good Lord gave me that extra helping of good looks that was supposed to go to you."
He would laugh then, and she would scowl and tell him to get lost, and he would say that he thinks he already did.
Slowly, though, she realizes she can't really get rid of him. So one day, when he comes over to her fence like he does every day after school, she asks him to take a walk.
Of course, Euel takes this as an insult to tell him to leave, and he starts insisting that she really needs to hang around people more, but she sighs, exasperated.
"A real walk, Euel. With me."
He's really annoying and asks her a lot of questions and has her regretting her decision within the first few minutes. But she doesn't want to go home, either, because she hates looking at her stupid cow's judgmental eyes, like she knows what she has done, and she hates the reminders all over their house that she's not the same Bonnie MacFarlane with the three sisters and four brothers and twelve cows anymore. So she finishes the walk and tells him to meet her at the fence tomorrow for another one.
Euel eventually learns Bonnie doesn't really talk much anymore. He can occasionally coax a few words of out her, but for the most part, they walk in silence.
For a long time, Bonnie had been alone. Alone, and unheeded, amidst a waste of wild air and veiled yellow sunlight, amidst a tangle of horrible memories that gather in dusty relics in her mind that pull her closer and closer to some dark pit. Euel manages to pull her back, one day at a time. Euel manages to win the battle against her past. Most days.
They pass a girl with hair like spun cornsilk in the town square, and looks remarkably like Bonnie's first kill in the Games. Without a word, she sprints out of the city and all the way to the sour apple tree in the Wright's front yard. She promptly climbs it.
Euel catches up a little while later. He understands and doesn't all at the same time.
"You'll forget about it all, eventually, Bonnie." His voice is like warm milk to a baby, but Bonnie has always hated milk. Especially warm milk.
"People don't forget!" she shrieks, her anger approaching hysteria. "Nobody forgets!"
"I forget," he tells her. "I forget when I look at you because all I see is... is... this girl full of love and life and wit and I can see her right in front of me and she is perfect."
"Well, I'd sure like to meet this girl,"
she scoffed. "I'm sure you two would make a nice couple. You, the saint, and this perfect girl."
It is Euel's turn to scoff.
"I ain't no saint. Nor shall I ever be. Not 'till the sweet apple grows from that sour apple tree you're sittin' on. I ain't no more a saint than you are."
Bonnie lets him take her down from the tree and take her home and hand her a glass of nopal juice.
After a while, Bonnie finds that a new feeling had settled comfortably in her chest, replacing the constant unease. The feeling amplifies when she sees that copper wire hair. A dull realization.
"Euel?" she whispers when they're underneath the collection of stars and nebulas in the western summer sky, the blanket of night pulling them together close.
Bonnie MacFarlane, for once in her life, finds words have all but disappeared from under her tongue. So in the slip of the moment, she presses her lips against the boy's firmly.
It says thank you for coming back when I pushed everyone away. It says thank you for holding my hand when I thought my heart would fall through. It says thank you for making me love you
When she pulls away, Euel's usual grin is wiped clean off of his face. The freckles somehow stand out even more underneath the moonlight, and Bonnie, for once, doesn't mind.
And because Euel knows her more than she cares to admit, he says, "Ain't no trouble, Bonnie."
The unspoken words hang heavy in the burning August air but neither of them murmur the three words that are running through their minds. They know what they feel and that is good enough for them. She takes the words and folds them up and hides them inside of her so nobody else can take them.
But she still hates the way he says her name.
They're laying on top of Euel's tin roof that's chilled from the night air. He turns to Bonnie.
"Bonnie, I want to marry you."
"It's wanting that gets so men many in trouble."
"No, Bonnie, I want to marry you. I want everything with you. If you'll have me."
"Man ain't got a choice if he wants everything."
"Stop saying my name."
"Bonnie. I want to marry you."
"Well, damn, maybe if you say it enough, it'll come true."
"I marry you, I marry you, I marry you, I marry you."
She's quiet for a while.
"Well, damn it Euel, what'd you do that for? Now how am I supposed to go home and tell my daddy I got married on your tin roof?"
Euel's laugh is loud and real and full of life. Bonnie thinks she sees a shooting star in the cloak of the night, skipping across the knit fabric of the sky in a blink. She shuts her eyes tight and tries to think of a wish but, you know, she's already married, and to a husband who has the most beautiful laugh in the world, so really, she can't think of anything at all.
Fire burns steadily and indiscriminately, eating up everything equally and with no pre-meditated purpose. It just burns and burns with no regard to anything else.
Bonnie was waiting under the blistering sun on a peeling bench outside of the Justice Building to sign some sort of papers. She's rolling her eyes because she's a teenage girl and she thinks they're drawing out her punishment for what she did in the games.
She hears the first screams before she can pick up a pen.
Everybody rushes out and sees the flames that lick that lands in thick tendrils, scorching and searing. People tumble out of the general store and the saloons and are screaming fire fire fire. The amber grass is blackened and she can feel the heat from miles away.
Her home is exactly miles away.
Bonnie runs like she did in the Games, but this time she feels real fear because she knows it's Sunday and on Sundays her entire family, all nine of them (plus twelve cows), stayed at home. She can see orange flames in the distance and she's praying that it's not the MacFarlane ranch.
But it is.
She's screaming and screaming and screaming her throat raw, and she runs to the house, unrecognizable already because it's entirely engulfed in the heat, but she runs to the house and into the flames without regard to it all.
Bonnie feels burns all down the sides of her as she breaks through the front door, but she ignores it. Her rescue attempt is in vain. The roof collapses onto the stairs and smoke is clenching at her lungs but she is determined to clench at her family even tighter.
Someone is pulling her out, but she's screaming and screaming and screaming her throat raw and kicking and scratching.
"Water!" she shrieked. "Somebody get water, please!"
District 10 has hardly any water to spare for their thirsty throats. Bonnie knows this, but she screams for someone to bring water to extinguish the fire anyway. The district is too dry and the sun is too hot and the fire burns on anyway.
Her house and a few neighboring ranches are reduced to ash before it hits her.
The Wright house is in worse shape than hers. Someone told her, much later, that it was the first to catch fire. The Capitol didn't want anybody to get suspicious, now, did they?
Euel Wright perished in the fire. Bonnie MacFarlane's three sisters, four brothers, two parents, and twelve cows all perished in the fire. There were a few other losses, but none was as great as the damage to the land and the crops and the cattle. Thriving District 10 is reduced to starve once more.
Bonnie is only fifteen when she loses it all. She thought the Capitol was done punishing her once she finished her final interview. She was wrong.
Bonnie is only fifteen when she accepts it all.
She likes to think Euel is waiting for her with his copper wire hair somewhere, somewhere where she is the perfect girl with the love and the life and the wit, somewhere where the sweet apple grows on the sour apple tree.
For once, Bonnie is successful in the return of a District 10 tribute. When Quincy Hudspeth wins the Sixty-second Hunger Games, they hold a rodeo in celebration and shoot fireworks into the air.
There is something sweet about the crudeness of the cheap, popping sparks that burn in the sweltering southwestern air. Something sweet, sweeter than watching the polished colored flames in the Capitol that Bonnie has seen so many times. There is something sweet about how much more effort and danger and care goes into it all.
It's not sweet enough to warm a smile onto Bonnie's face as she watches the young victor sitting underneath it all, the fireworks casting eerie shadows onto his scarred face. He scratches his cheek as though he's uncomfortable with all of the attention.
It's not sweet enough to warm a smile onto Bonnie's face as she wonders, for a moment, watching Quincy Hudspeth shy away from the rowdy, gleeful crowd with broken eyes, whether or not she did the right thing when she let him come home with hand-in-hand with victory.
Victory comes at a price. Bonnie knows this better than anyone.
"Do you know who Quincy Hudspeth is?" the young victor asks, looking around him, nearly tumbling into the ground with the effort as he spun around. "Because I sure as hell don't."
Bonnie stood there quietly as Quincy hiccuped. Quincy lets out a cruel chuckle, takes another swig of the dark liquor, and continues with his slurred rant.
"'Cause I'm pretty sure Quincy Hudspeth," he spits the name out with dedicated animosity, his mentor almost flinching at the venom so readily apparent in his voice, "died back there in the arena with the rest of the murdered tributes."
Still, Bonnie stands unwavering a few feet from him. Still, Quincy is waiting for her to say something. He is wasting his breath.
"Does it get better?" Quincy's eyes have softened now, silently pleading that she'll say yes, because quite frankly, he can't imagine it could get any worse.
And it can. And it did, for Bonnie.
But Quincy will know for himself soon enough.
For a long while, young Quincy is dazed with sheer bewilderment of Bonnie. He lives each step of his life with her in mind.
How someone like her, who has lost absolutely everything, is so open and loving and free. And how someone like him, who has lost absolutely nothing, is so closed and bitter and sullen.
So when he's eighteen and a girl waltzes up to him in the middle of a rattled saloon and winks at him and makes him smile, he thinks of Bonnie MacFarlane, and he lets her in.
"What's your favorite thing about me?"
Euel thought for a moment before answering Bonnie, but he saw the smile that twisted her face and came up with it quick.
"You can make me laugh 'till I cry, Bonnie MacFarlane."
When Bonnie's first tributes rolled into the cart of the train, her hands were wrought together tightly and she had been biting her lip nervously. She wanted everything for these kids. Everything she didn't have.
They walked in wide-eyed and with tear-stained cheeks and she realized that all the speeches and the techniques and the talks she's prepared had just gone out the window.
So she shuts her eyes and tries to remember the boy with the copper wire hair and does the one thing she does best.
She makes them laugh.
Please don't judge me for this. I know it sucks, it was a lame attempt at a back-story, but I found myself so immersed in District 10, I had to write it!
The Great Fire is mentioned in chapter one and chapter five in "Not All of Me Shall Die".
I hope you enjoyed this! Leave critique! Let me knowwwww!
fortes fortuna iuvat