We're almost to the end of the Reapings *_* I know it gets a bit boring at times, since it's such a repeat-but you really need to know this stuff to understand the Capitol chapters.

We're 125,000 words in already and we're fixing to have a very...interesting view of the Capitol soon. Believe me, all the action doesn't always happen in the games. XD

The FINAL reapings will be on Tuesday.

Thursday is our first heartbreaking Capitol chapter.

Please note that in the future there may be disclaimers on chapters that may become kind of...graphic in nature.

Erik Fiske of District 11

By NicKenny

We must all make do with the rags of love we find flapping on the scarecrow of humanity."
― Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

I stuck my hands into the basin and splashed some water onto my face, removing the worst of the grime from the previous night's work and wiping the traces of sleep from my eyes. I changed out of my work clothes into the crisp white shirt that I had put aside for occasions that warranted some attempt at presentation. I guess this was as important an event that was likely to occur in my lifetime. My last Reaping. The first Quarter Quell.

My hands gripped the sides of the basin as I breathed in deeply, trying to dispel the sense of unease that had taken a hold of me. Anyone could be chosen. And let's face it; few enough people would care if I was reaped. No one cares about a Scarecrow.

I walked aimlessly through my house, caressing memories as I passed from room to room. My eyes rested on the small bookcase in what was once my parent's room. My vision blurred as I remembered the last time I saw my father, his face flushed with rage as his fist lashed out against a Peacekeeper, the image illuminated from the flames of burning books.

I picked up a book, wiped the coat of dust of it, opened it carefully, almost reverentially, and then flicked through it before shutting it once more, and returning it to its place among its own kind, my last connection with my parents. My last connection to my childhood.

I became a man at the age of twelve.

My first Reaping came and passed by uneventfully. I vaguely remembered the female tribute of that year breaking down into tears, pleading for someone to volunteer in her place. Her pleading was met with pitying stares and tearful eyes, but no one offered to take her place.

She died during the bloodbath.

Something broke in Dad the night that girl died. He was one of the few teachers in District Eleven, and had taught that girl since she was a child. He became angry and bitter towards the Capitol, and their more visible branch in the Peacekeepers, and often muttered things in the privacy of our home that would have got him whipped to unconsciousness. I think the fact that I could be chosen as tribute, and that there was nothing he could do to protect me, just stoked the flames of his anger, and almost certainly helped lead to what happened next.

He became secretive, slowly becoming more and more withdrawn. We'd later discover that he had been trying to encourage dissatisfaction among others in the district against the Capitol and the Peacekeepers, though had met with little success. People were too afraid to even consider fighting back.

Of course, this was always going to lead to trouble. My father, a schoolteacher whose idea of war was solely based on textbooks, was always going to be caught. I just never expected it to happen in the way it did.

One night, coming up to my second Reaping, one of my father's students ran up to our home screaming hysterically about a fire. An orange haze could even be seen in the direction she had come from. The school had been in that direction. Dad had yelled at us to stay where we were and ran off in the direction of the school. My mother was trying to comfort the girl, who had completely broken down into a fit of tears.

Therefore, it wasn't that difficult for me to slip out through the back door while she was distracted, and I hurriedly made my way towards the schoolhouse, hoping to find and help my father. After all, if I could be reaped, if I could be expected to fight and kill other people, surely I could be relied on to help.

He just must have forgotten to ask me.

At least, that's how I reasoned it at the time. I was twelve, so cut me some slack.

When I reached the school it wasn't burning. It never had been. However, droves of Peacekeepers were filing in and out of it, despite the protests of the growing crowd. They came out of the building, each time, arms full of books, and they walked to the centre of the schoolyard to where a massive bonfire had been constructed, but not yet lit, and threw the books on top of it.

I ducked and weaved my way towards the front of the crowd, to where Dad was arguing with a white clothed individual who I recognised, with all the terror that my twelve-year-old self could summon, as the Head Peacekeeper of our District, RyneArtois. I couldn't make out the words of their argument over the noise of the protesting crowd, the angry Peacekeepers and the wailing of children, caught up in this event.

A Peacekeeper appeared with a container of petrol, and began sloshing it over the mound of books. Another took out a lighter, and casually lit the bonfire, immersing us heat as the petrol-soaked volumes burst into flame. The crowd's yelling increased, and I had almost made it to Dad when, suddenly, he spat something out atArtoiswhich I could not make out, but managed to silence the mass of people around him. The Head Peacekeeper looked around, seemingly as shocked as everyone else with whatever my father had said, before regaining his composure and, with a brutal look in his eyes, backhanded my father across the face.

I froze and stared as he fell back, into the arms of a man I vaguely recognised as one of my father's fellow teachers. The teacher helped him back to his feet and said "Just leave it Mal, it's not worth it."

My father paused, seemingly considering the wisdom behind his colleagues words, before launching himself at Artois, throwing a punch at his face which connected with an audible, shocking crack. A group of Peacekeepers launched themselves at Dad, preventing him from landing another blow.

Artoistook his hand away from his nose, and wiped the blood onto his sleeve, smearing a red stain over the white of his uniform. He pushed the Peacekeepers holding my father away, grabbed him by the collar and smashed his head into Dad's face.

I stood there, paralysed with fear, as the huge Peacekeeper dragged my father over to the bonfire and his voice rang out, clear for all those assembled to hear.

"This is what happens when you oppose the Capitol."

And with that he threw my father onto the bonfire. I screamed and screamed, the sudden action breaking my paralysis. Hands pulled me away from the scene and the last I saw of my father was of him burning, screaming and writhing in pain, as RyneArtoislaughed.

If I could kill that man, I'd do so without a second thought. Some people didn't deserve to live.

By the time I made it home, they had taken my mother. I never saw her again. I still don't know why they never came for me. Maybe they thought I'd provide another warning to the people of District Eleven. This could be your children: parentless, alone, starving, destitute.

I shook my head slowly and walked out of the room, through the kitchen where the remains of last night's meal lay on the table, not having been cleaned up. I ignored it. After all, if I was getting reaped, it wouldn't really matter, would it?

I entered the hall, and gazed at my bow, propped up in the corner of the room. To this day, I couldn't believe that I had been cleared for one. I found myself wondering, not for the first time, how many strings Damien must have had to pull to get me clearance.

It had been Damien who had saved me after my father had been killed. He dragged me away from the scene, knowing full well that if the Peacekeepers realised who I was I'd have been executed too.

He took me to his home; he had a son my own age who I vaguely knew from school. Adam and I had been pretty much inseparable ever since. Damien was a Scarecrow, a member of the District Eleven Peacekeeper Auxiliaries. They had gotten the name from the old term "straw man", meaning a being that has the shape of a man, but nothing except worthless straw inside. It symbolises men lacking an important quality. It symbolised what District Eleven saw as treachery. They had little love for us.

But they were not traitors. They, a mixture of kids too young to be reaped and grizzled men in their old age, took on the many jobs that needed to be done to protect District Eleven, but that the Peacekeepers saw as beneath them. While the Peacekeepers bullied the local population, imposed taxes and curfews, and generally instilled terror, the Scarecrows protected the fields, patrolled the perimeter of the district, hunted down animals considered to endanger crops or people and kept the animals needed for farm-work safe. Basically, they did what needed to be done to keep District Eleven running. They were protectors, nothing more, nothing less.

They took me in, gave me food, and taught me their trade. I learned how to use a sling to kill birds that tried to eat the seeds after planting time, to snare rabbits and hares looking for food, to clear out tracker jackers from their nests which plagued our district, to kill foxes praying on the small amount of livestock we were permitted to have. I hunted down wolves that had broken through the fence, along with other Scarecrows, and we taught them to fear District Eleven. We protected our district. We protected our crops. But what does that have to do with how others perceived us. We worked for the oppressors, and as a result people weren't likely to have much time for us.

However, even this time wasn't untouched by the Capitol, and the wreckage they had wrought on my life. People looked down on me, partly for who I was and who my parents had been, but mainly because I was a Scarecrow, the lowest of the low in the eyes of my district.

I suppose there had to be some group of people for my district to look down on. Everyone has to have something to look down on, even if it was just the earthworms.

If the Peacekeepers made the ordinary people's lives difficult, then they really went to town on us. Almost all of our kills were confiscated, and all we received was the sense that we should be thankful that they didn't have us whipped for poaching. When we were permitted to sell our kills, we received a pitiful amount of money for our troubles. Many people assumed that, because we were technically a branch of the Peacekeepers, we were well fed and supplied with other necessities. In reality this couldn't be further from the truth, although reality isn't always acknowledged.

More than one Scarecrow had starved to death; it had simply become part of the job. I had once been searching for a colleague to relieve him of his watch for the night, when I came across his corpse lying in the sun, crows pecking at his flesh.

Some things stay with you. It's little wonder I had trouble sleeping at night.

On my sixteenth birthday, Damien had presented me with a hickory bow. I received it with a quiet, and almost reverential, sense of awe. The man had become of a father figure as my own had been, and through listening to how the other Scarecrows spoke of him, I had been of the opinion that there was little that he couldn't do.

This, however, was something that I couldn't fully comprehend. Only a handful of Scarecrows were issued the authorisation to carry bows. You had to be thoroughly vetted by the district's Mayor and it had to be known that you were of no threat to the Capitol. Even then, having passed all those requirements, they kept the numbers down to a few dozen, lost in the tens of thousands living in District Eleven. To this day I still don't know how he did it, but I suspect means which may not be considered entirely ethical, possibly not even legal. That didn't decrease my respect for him though. He had taken me in, given me a home and a family after my own were taken away from me. In my opinion, I was as much a Cooper as a Fiske.

I left the house, closing the door softly behind me as I gazed at the throngs of people coming into the town for the Reaping. I smiled as I glanced at the scarecrow in front of my house, which I had built when I was fifteen, having just joined the Scarecrows and was still immersed in a sense of accomplishment and pride. What happiness I had left in me after my trip down memory lane quickly evaporated as the chilling thoughts of this year's Reaping took hold of me.

We would have to vote our own tribute into the Hunger Games.

We would have to sacrifice one of our own.

What sort of sick bastard came up with that idea? It wasn't enough for those sadistic bastards up in the Capitol to simply pit the Districts against each other and watch our children die. Now we had to participate in their games, present lambs up for the slaughter.

The voting would tear our district apart. People already hated the Capitol, and the rioting after last year's Games, particularly in the way counter measures were handled by the Peacekeepers, had only fanned the flames. I remembered seeing last year's tribute's families at the Victory Tour. The suffering in their eyes…

I remembered looking at Lilly Cross' family, trying to hide their pain after having to bury a second child. Watching her brother, the only one left, having just lost his younger sister, piling new grief onto his shoulders.

Staring at the parents and grandparents of Vaughn Shumway, not even trying to keep their composure, tears visible in their eyes.

I remember thinking to myself "This is what happens when we stand by and let the strong abuse the weak. This is the cost of cowardice and hesitation. This is what the Capitol could do to any one of us."

From that day I vowed to myself that if I was ever chosen to enter the Hunger Games, I wouldn't let it change me. I would remain true to myself. I wouldn't turn into an amusement for the Capitol's denizens, bloated and decadent off of the blood and sweat of the districts. I wouldn't let them win.

That's why I voted for myself at the Voting ceremony, three weeks ago. I know it wouldn't make much difference in the grand scheme of things, one vote among thousands. But it meant something to me. I wouldn't play their games.

Well….I would try not to. I had to vote for the female tribute….

I had spent hours wondering who to choose, who I could sacrifice without the guilt haunting me and keeping me up at night. Especially if she was chosen.

Who deserved what was essentially a death sentence.

No one.

In the end I voted for a girl I vaguely remembered from my time in school all those years ago. I don't know who or what she was now. I didn't even know if she was still alive.

Perhaps it was better that way.

Her name doesn't matter. I've tried to blot it out the past three weeks but every night her eyes stare into mine, her face full of uncomprehending sadness. I prayed she wouldn't get chosen. I had never prayed for anything as hard as I have the last three weeks.

I made my way through the crowds towards the registry queue's, joining the end of the long line of eighteen year-olds, staring at faces ranging from sadness to fear to anger. My eyes met those of several of those waiting, and each time I found myself wondering if they would be the ones chosen. Would we see them leave home, full of fear, hope, anger or desperation, only to see them fall to some tribute from another district, their blood falling from their wounds as the District mourned for futures that would never be, and another coal would be added to the fires of rage in our hearts.

One day soon, we would have enough. Elevens might be slow to rouse, but we burn all the more fiercely because of it. When the Capitol finally overstep the line….well…on that day they'll see what farmers and labourers can do.

I finally made it to the front of the queue and stoically proffered my hand to the waiting Peacekeeper, who jabbed my finger with some sort of medical device, glanced at it, then waved me on. I held my finger up and regarded the small cut on the tip of my index finger dispassionately, before shrugging it off and joining the lines of eighteen year olds gathering in the centre of a cordoned off area of the town square, the biggest open space in any of the villages in District Eleven.

There was a lot of shuffling about as more and more people joined the lines. I tried to reassure myself that with so many possible tributes, my chances were surely miniscule. How could I, an unknown within my own village, be selected by a district-wide vote? Surely…surely I'd be safe.

Our district's mayor, Marcus Swain, took to the stage, silencing the crowd with a wave of his hand. Few people in our district didn't respect him. He was widely known as a good, kind man, thrust into the position of mayor against his will, and did all he could to restrain the Peacekeepers when they got out of hand. We could have had a worse man in charge. A much worse one. My mind flashed to RyneArtois' coarse, ugly features. I would enter the Hunger Games in a shot if I thought it'd give me the opportunity to wipe that smug, disgusting smile off his face. I if could cause him even a fragment of the pain he had caused me. If I could make him suffer, as so many others had suffered at his hands.

I imagine other eighteen year-olds have less sadistic dreams.

As our mayor began his long, rather dull speech, my eyes fell on the person behind him, beaming at the crowd and actually showing an interest in the mayor's rather half-hearted praise of the Capitol and its policies.

His normally tanned skin shone in the sunlight as I realised that this year it was literally golden. Obviously he wanted to look his best for the Quarter Quell, but dying your skin gold? Possibly a tad extreme. His hair, eyebrows and lips had been dyed a similarly and, as the mayor's speech was brought to a close, I realised his irises had been dyed too!

Capitol people were weird. Bloodthirsty, decadent, oppressive bastards, but at least that could be understood. Who'd honestly want to look like they just swam a mile in paint?

The mayor held up his hands and announced "District Eleven, please give a thunderous welcome to our district's escort, Vikus Heron!"

The crowd reluctantly clapped as Heron, in all his golden splendour, took to the stage, receiving the microphone thrust at him by the mayor, and smiled warmly to the crowd.

"Ladies and gentlemen of District Eleven!" he began, seeming not to notice the crowd's lack of enthusiasm. "Welcome to the Reaping for the first ever Quarter Quell!"

I frowned, disgusted at the note of glee and excitement in his voice at the prospect of another year of watching children murder each other, wondering how the members of the Capitol could be so removed from the death and suffering the Games caused.

"Perhaps this year we'll finally have a victor! We've been long overdue!"

I snorted, unable to believe this man's attempts at integrating himself into our district. He would never be one of us. Even the Peacekeepers were more our kin then this golden sycophant. This was just another insult on top of all the others that the Capitol had piled on our backs.

He looked around, the smile on his face never fading despite being met with such a sullen and hostile reception. "I'd like to apologise for not making it to the voting day, I was detained by other matters. This is going to be the biggest Hunger Games we have ever seen, so obviously everyone up in the Capitol are so busy trying to make it a success!"

He looked over to the mayor, who shrugged, then turned back to the crowd and announced with a beam. "I suppose we should get down to business! Time to reveal this year's tributes! Selected by you, District Eleven!" He looked down at the crowd. "Isn't this going to be fun?"

This time, the lack of response was noticed and his smile slipped slightly. He straightened up and shrugged, regaining his grin. "The tributes names have been placed in an envelope; even I don't know who's been selected!" He motioned for the envelope to be brought to him and my heart dropped when I sawArtoisstriding onto the stage, envelope in hand. He handed it to Heron and turned away, but as he turned his eyes landed on me for a moment, and he smiled that evil little smile of his. My sense of unease grew, and I shook myself, tuning into Heron's announcement.

He began to open the envelope, paused, shot a cheeky smile to the cameras circling over the crowd, and took out a rectangular piece of paper. He smiled, cleared his throat, and read:

He paused once more, trying to build the tension, as if it needed to be built on, before chuckling to himself and announcing:

"The female tribute for District Eleven in the twenty-fifth Hunger Games will be….."


My heart drops. I refused to believe what I was hearing, praying there had been some mistake. But no, the girl, Bianca Neve, made her way up to the stage, almost stumbling at the start, before being caught and straightened up by another girl of about the same age, presumably a friend, who whispered something reassuringly in her ear. She walked up onto the stage, visibly trembling, but not as badly as she had been.

He turned back to the crowd, nonplussed. "Now all that remains is your male tribute. And he is….."

The pause seemed to run on and on, dragging out the moment into what felt like eternity. The crowd hung on his words, terrified for what he was about to read out.


My mouth dropped in disbelief and I froze, unable to accept what was going on when my mind insisted that this had to be some sort of dream. Some sort of nightmare.

I made my way up to the stage, shaking my head as I walked. I glanced up and saw Vikus Heron beaming at me, his mouth forming syllables that I couldn't make out over my shock. I then noticedArtoisstanding behind him, his smile even wider than it had been previously.

I almost stopped in my tracks but willed myself to carry on, mind racing. Surely even Artois, Head Peacekeeper or not, wouldn't try to rig a Reaping. Especially not a Quarter Quell. I looked back up to him, into his eyes, past his snoutlike nose that hadn't been properly set after my father broke it those years ago, which I had heard gave him breathing problems still. My doubts vanished. He would be that petty. Taking my parents from me clearly hadn't been enough for him.

He wouldn't be happy until all of us were dead.

Well that wasn't going to happen. I was going to win these games.

I was going to come back.

I nodded to Heron as I walked up onto the stage, and shook his hand. He smiled warmly, taking me in. "My, you're a big one aren't you?" he exclaimed.

I simply shrugged, unsure of how to reply. I mean, somehow people could always tell that I was tall, just by looking at me.

I offered Bianca a tentative smile, trying to quash the feelings of panic and guilt. She smiled a little, but didn't meet my eyes, and stared blankly at Heron when he offered his hand for her to shake. When she didn't he grabbed her hand and then grabbed mine, and, with a triumphant roar, exclaimed; "District Eleven, your Tributes for the Twenty-Fifth Hunger Games!"

He raised our hands in the air, and beamed for the cameras. I had little doubt that thunderous applause would be added by the tech crews up in the Capitol, though the silence that greeted his actions couldn't have been quieter.

I looked into the crowd, noticing faces that I vaguely remembered from before my parents had been taken from me, seeing fellow Scarecrows, all faces united in sadness as they see us in person for what may be the last time.

I glance over to Bianca, and am surprised to see her staring upwards, rather than at the crowd, though perhaps it's simply because she doesn't want anyone to see the tears in her eyes. In the corner of my eye I notice the beam on Heron's face, and I frown, anger rising along with bile as I turned back to the crowd, and as I looked down at them again my anger grew. I pulled my hand out of his grip and stepped away, noticing the eyes of the crowd following me as I did so. I raised my hand again, this time free of Heron's death grip. I splayed my fingers of my raised hand wide into the sign of the Scarecrows, supposed to resemble the sun, my face grim, my message obvious.


I began to smile as, one by one, the Scarecrows in the crowd raised their hands in a similar salute, chuckling as the rest of the crowd took it up, some clearly following others out of a desire to conform, but others….well….

I lowered my hand to my chest and tapped it three times.

Goodbye my friends.

Perhaps I had been wrong. Perhaps people did care. Maybe a Scarecrow could rise.

We were escorted away from the square by a unit of Peacekeepers, and herded into separate rooms in the district'sJusticeBuilding. I walked into the room and winced as they shut the door behind me, suddenly fully realising what was about to happen. My life was not my own any more, it belonged to the Capitol. Only luck and the deaths of twenty-three other people would allow me to regain it. Even then, only maybe.

Feelings of guilt started to rise again and I punched the wall, furious at myself and the Capitol. Bianca Neve would also be entering the Hunger Games.

She was the girl I had voted for.

Not for any particular reason, not spite or I just didn't know that many girls outside of my "family" of Scarecrows. Her pale white skin made her stand out in District Eleven, and made her memorable. I wasn't sure why she looked like that, her family were all darker, at least those that I could remember. I always assumed she had a pigment deficiency or something.

I just never thought she'd actually get chosen. I mean, there were thousands upon thousands of people in our district. Any one of them could have been reaped. So why did it have to be the girl who I had voted for? Why did I feel like I was to blame, like somehow this was all my fault.

I would have to kill her.

I sat down on a chair in the corner of the room and held my head in my hands. This was it. I'd have to become a killer if I wanted to live.

I cast my mind back to last year's Hunger Games, remembering all the tributes considered to be serious contenders at one stage or another: Boston Williams of Ten, Elia Zervakos of Four, Roy Rosseau of One….

All of them serious contenders, all aggressive and powerful in their own way, lethal and deadly….

Yet the last two were Aleah Armani and Jules Surket, tributes not known for their strength or ability with weapons but for their intelligence and cunning.

Brain is clearly more important than brawn, at least in this scenario. Very well then.

I won't shirk from the hand I've been dealt. Panem would remember the Scarecrow.

They'll remember me.

My thoughts were interrupted as the door swung open and Adam and Damien walked into the room, their normally cheerful expressions now glum. I was struck by how much they resembled each other and, not for the first time, felt a slight pang of jealousy. I would never have what they have.

Adam tried to smile but fell short; merely offering "I can't believe it was you… I just…. just don't understand."

I just shrugged. "Guess it was just in the cards."

All at once Adam hugged me, tears in his eyes, and muttered "You'll be back. You can hunt, trap, fight and you're deadly with your bow. They won't know what hit them."

I hugged him back, tears welling up in my own eyes and managed to say "Course I'll be back. You really think anyone's gonna stop me?"

I had forgotten that he was several years younger than me, he had always seemed to be more mature than his years would suggest, and had always been my right hand in everything I had ever done since his family took me in, going along with every prank we pulled, even when we had tried to lure a nest of tracker jackers onto a Peacekeeper patrol, an action we could have been executed for. He was my brother, blood be damned.

And Damien was my father. He looked at me and nodded, before placing a hand on Adam's shoulder and asking him to let us have some privacy for a moment, ignoring his protests. Adam sighed and said "Goodbye. Just come back, yeah?"

I nodded and smiled. "You can count on it."

Damien was quiet until Adam left the room. He then turned to me, his face grave, and said. "Artoisfixed the votes, didn't he?"

I paused, uncertain what to say, before shrugging again. "I think so. I have no proof though. And….I can't let someone else take my place. Not now."

I then told him that I had voted for Biance Neve, and explained my predicament.

"I just don't think…if it came down to it….I don't think I'd be able to kill her…."

There was a long pause, silence filling the room, before Damien smiled sadly and grabbed my shoulder.

"I wouldn't expect anything else. You're a good kid Eric. I just wish…I wish this hadn't happened. I just wish things weren't this way."

"I know. It's not your fault though..." I trailed off, not sure how to finish. I looked him in the eye and smiled sadly.

"I don't think I'll be coming back."

Damien just smiled sadly back to me and nodded, taking something out of his coat pocket.

"Well then… I guess I better give you this now then." He opened his clenched fist and something dropped out, and caught in the air, the chord connecting to it still wrapped around his hand. It was a circular piece of wood, slightly concave, with a small hole in the top with a chord running through it. On the disk a sunrise was carved, illuminating the fields of grain in the foreground.

I looked up at Damien, and smiled at the tenderness in his eyes. He was presenting me with my dorak,a wooden disk carved with something meaningful about the boy's life, presented by his father to him when he becomes a man, traditionally after his last Reaping. As far as I knew, this was a custom unique to District Eleven. I assume other districts have their own ceremonies.

And I guess this was my last Reaping. I was a man now.

I allowed him to place it around my neck, hugged him and whispered, "Thank you." before a Peacekeeper came into the room to take him away. As he reached the door he turned back and said.

"By the way,Artois' niece was reaped over in District Two. Sade."

He then smiled and raised his hand, fingers spread wide, in the sign of the Scarecrows.

I smiled back, the dorakswaying around my neck, as I watched him walk out the door, sadly reflecting that this might be the last time I ever saw him. I then shook my head, and scolded myself for having such a defeatist attitude. I was a man now, time like I acted like ' niece had been reaped too? That was…interesting… Could this be my chance to finally cause that bastard some pain?

This isn't the end.

I'll be back.

The Scarecrow will rise.

Bianca Neve of District 11

By Johnbeerius

"'Why, I don't understand?'
'She's mad! Jealous of you! She'll stop at nothing!'"

—Walt Disney

I roll over and open my eyes. On an average day, I'm a morning person, but today's not an average day. This time, it wasn't my inability to sleep in that ruined it for me. It was fear. The kind that wracks your body and makes it absolutely impossible to eat or sleep very much. Luckily, it had only started last night; otherwise I'd really be a mess.

I sigh and clamp my eyes shut, striving to fall back asleep. But after as much tossing and turning as a stormy sea, I give up. I slip out of bed and onto my knees. Pulling the box of clothes out from beneath my bed, I start rummaging for something somewhat presentable to wear. After going through the box what seemed like a million times, I finally settle for a blue shirt that's tucked into a yellow skirt with a red hair bow to distract people from the shabbiness of the outfit. Though, judging by the looks of my falling-to-pieces shoes, it won't really work out too well. Oh well, better than nothing.

"Eh-hemm," I hear someone cough. I turn around to find two of my brothers glaring at me.

"Geez, Bianca, why do you have to get up so early?" my brother Mike groans. Greg, my other brother, just glares as usual. It's very typical of the two of them. Mike always seems to be sleeping or lying around. My mother insists he is on a growth spurt but I'm pretty sure that's just her praying that she'll finally get a tall child out of our short family. And Greg, he's just grumpy.

I cock my hip and smile coyly. "The early bird gets the worm, dearest Michael," I say in an overly cheery voice.

The glare slowly melts off of Mike's face and he shrugs. A yawn stretches the corners of his mouth as he begins to speak. "I guess worms aren't for me, then." And with that, Mike plops back into bed. Greg continues glaring but I just shrug. He's better off left in his own little world. But I guess they were justified because my mother gets up after my ruckus. Soon enough, I hear the rest of my siblings start to groan; it's kind of hard not to all get up at once when your dilapidated shack—whoops, I mean house—only has two rooms in it. One of the rooms is a bathroom, so the remaining room serves as a kitchen, bedroom, family room and dining room.

Luckily, Blake, Kalden and Sheldon are out of the house. So that leaves Dad, Mom, Drake, Drew, Mike, Greg and I. It's still a pretty sucky situation, but there could be ten people in our home instead of seven. I always feel bad for Drake, though. His life is the worst of all. Everyone in my family is trying to get him out of the house, but he just can't seem to do it. This is mostly because he is the hugest airhead in the world, but I seem to be the only one in the family who knows that he can't help it. The whole family keeps bagging on him because Sheldon is out of the house but he's two years younger than Drake who is still living off of our couch.

"What the heck? Biiiannncaaaaa," Drake whines. I feel my sympathy for him vanish for the moment.

"Oh, Drake, I'm sorry, but you missed your appointment. Mike and Greg were on time and got to file their complaints. But I'm afraid that without an appointment we can't have this discussion," I tell him. Drake looks at me with confusion riddling his features.

Greg grunts, "You should be here when Mike and I tell her how annoying she is next time. That will probably in five minutes because you know how Bianca is." He finishes his insult with his trademark scowl.

"Oh yes, they are a daily occurrence," chips in Mike, yawning as always.

"More like minutely," Drew mumbles. We all look at him in surprise and he blushes, quickly burying his face into his pillow. Drew is deathly shy and even within his family, rarely talks. But I use my family's pause of shock to my advantage; I try to think of a clever comeback.

Unfortunately, my plans are foiled by my mother: "Boys, be nice to Bianca." Well, I guess that works too. When she turns her back I stick my tongue out and smirk. They all scowl except for Mike, instead he just yawns. Greg opens his mouth to say something but with a look at Mom he retreats back to a sulk. With seven boys my mom always longed for a little girl, now all the boys hate how she dotes on me (Well, as much as a poor-as-dirt mother can).

"Come on, family, we need to get ready fast so we can meet the rest of the boys. They said to come by the wheat field, they had to take an early shift so they'll just wait there for us," my dad says.

After a while of prodding, my family is finally ready. I allow myself a quick giggle at the sight of us. All our clothes are pretty shabby and there is barely enough fingers to count us on. My father is the only normal looking one. That's because my brothers all match the dwarf-like height of my mom. I'm a lot taller than them and I'm only average height. And I look different because of my pale skin that simply refuses to tan. Being in District Eleven, everyone's skin ranges from olive to dark black. And my pasty tone does not fall within that range; I'm easily the palest person in my district. Once again, I'm the odd one out. Even my dwarfish brothers fall within range with their Mexican features. Or at least that's what my grandma told my mom; I have absolutely no idea what a Mexican is. I dismiss the thought as we begin to file down to the wheat field. Halfway there we are ambushed by my other brothers.

"Blake, Kalden, Sheldon!" I squeal, excited to see my more civilized brothers. I give them each a big hug. When I release Sheldon, he sneezes in my face. "Ewww!" All of my brothers then begin to laugh. Maybe they aren't so civilized after all.

"You're, ummm, you're—Sneezy! You're Sneezy," Drake yells trying to playfully insult Sheldon. Sheldon ignores the attempt at an insult and sneezes again. Drake bursts into laughter.

"I was going to say something else," Greg says, "but I guess we'll keep it rated G and go with Sneezy." My mom gives him a quick scowl.

I smile and laugh at my goofy family. But I promised my friend, Winnie, that I would talk to her before reapings. I tell my family this and leave to find her. After a while of searching I find my friend. She is perched on a tree branch scanning the area for me. "Winnie!" I shout. Her eyes follow my voice; once she spots me she smiles and leaps down from her branch. She quickly catches her balance and grins again. Her bird-like stance and the mischievous sparkle in her dark eyes make her look impish. I feel myself smile. "Oh no, Winnie, what are you cooking up?"

Winnie ignores me, standing on her tip-toes to catch a peek at something. Finally she flashes a smile. "Oh my gosh, here he comes," Winnie squeals.

I see a loved figure approaching. "Shut up, Winnie," I say hastily, "we don't want him to hear us. He'll think we're freaks!" Winnie nods enthusiastically. I look back at him and beam. It's Randy Tomlinson, and I've had the hugest crush on him practically since I first looked at him. His real name is Ferdinand, and you'd think he'd match the unattractiveness of his name. In reality, he is anything but. He smiles back at me and I feel my heart flutter like the wings of a butterfly. But then the butterfly comes crashing down, into the icy reaches of despair. Randy has been intercepted by Brittney Whittaker, the most beloved girl in the whole district. My heart sinks a little lower; Randy was never coming towards me, but towards Brittney all along.

I feel hot tears burn at my eyes, so unlike the cold sorrow that gripped my body. The tears were for so many things; Randy and Brittney, me even thinking that Randy could like a girl like me, my family's situation and Brittney tormenting me since the first grade when I've never done one wrong thing to here. Life just didn't make sense. But I take a deep breath and instead of letting the tears drip I sigh. "Why does she hate me?"

"She hates you because she's jealous," Winnie says. I raise my eyebrows skeptically. "Why shouldn't she be jealous? You're beautiful, kind, unique and you have the coolest best friend in the history of the world. Plus, I think Randy likes you."

I look back over at Randy and see Brittney still hovering by him. She's sticking her chest out and flipping her long hair. I roll my eyes. "The reason doesn't matter because she is still a jerk. I mean, the nicest thing she has ever done to me is when she makes fun of my skin and calls me eggwhite."

It seemed Brittney's sensors kicked in right then because she started walking over towards us. I swear she is like a shark and can sense a wounded fish from miles away. "Hey, look, it's Eggwhite and her dark little friend, Shortstuff," Brittney jeers. Winnie stands up as straight as she can, trying to look intimidating but that's impossible for her kind soul. Brittney looks at us for a reply, but as soon as I open my mouth for an answer, she cuts me off. "You know what they say, every woman for herself. I hope with that in mind, you'll understand."I feel Winnie shrink down next to me and my heart sink. "You're aware that it is the Quarter Quell. I also assume you know that this year we got to vote on our tribute, or should I say...scapegoat. Instantly I thought of someone perfect for the job. I thought of you. And just in case that others didn't feel this way, I told them my thoughts and told them to pass it along, and you know how influential I am. Anyways, I just wanted to wish you good luck. You'll sure need it. And may the odds be ever in your favor."

Brittney smirks and struts away. My heart sinks even further. The whole district will listen to Brittney; she's basically sent me off to my death. I feel Winnie's small hand grab mine, she leads my shell-shocked body to the town square.

Winnie squeezes my hand reassuringly. I felt myself shaking with fear. At first, it was just mild tremors. But as the speech finished and the Head Peacekeeper, Ryne Arte, mounted the stage with an envelope in his hand the shaking escalated. Winnie's hand was my only anchor from a total melt-down. Peacekeeper Arte slides the envelope into our escort's golden hand. The escort clears his throat and opens the heavily decorated envelope.


Winnie gasps next to me and I think my heart is about to explode. I take a steadying breath and force my legs to carry me onto the stage. On the first step, my knees buckle and I stumble a little. Winnie grabs my elbow and steadies me. I suck in another deep breath and continue my way up the stage. When I'm on the stage I turn my gaze up, I don't want to see Brittney's smirk.


I spot a tall, dark boy walk to the stage with his head held high. I faintly recognize him as the District's orphan and one of the Scarecrows. So, generally, I've never been around him much because Scarecrows are looked down upon, even though their job is to keep the crops safe. But I don't have much time for remorse because the girls' envelope was coming next.

My family bounds into the room and scoops me up in a bear hug. Ramblings of advice and confessions of love blast in my ears. I think I even saw Greg get a little teary-eyed. Seven big hugs, seven kisses on the cheek and seven pieces of advice from my seven brothers. Each one of them is important to me. We hold onto each other for as long as we can, but our time together is severed by Peacekeepers dragging my family away.

Winnie rushes in to replace my family. I let the tears come flooding back from earlier, this time with no restraints. I feel a warm and comforting hand on my shoulder. Winnie gently turned me around and gave me a hug. I feel a tear drip down my face and land on Winnie's shirt. It is quickly absorbed by the fabric. "It's okay, Bianca. Brittney is just an attention-seeking slut," she whispers in my ear. There is Winnie again, helping me beat back the sadness. She does just as her shirt did, absorb and hide the sadness. "She'll soon get what's coming to her. And Bianca, no matter what happens, you've been the best friend. Forget what I said earlier, I'm not the coolest best friend in the history of the world, you are." After that statement, we both break down into body-wracking sobs. We hug each other tight until the Peacekeeper rips away another one of my loved ones. But then something surprising happens, another visitor comes in. I gasp as he walks in; it's Randy.

"Hello, Bianca," he says. He shuffles his feet nervously before starting again. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that it took until now for me to get up the nerve to talk to you." He looks at me and begins rambling, "Brittney is a huge jerk. How dare she send you away? I didn't vote for you to go, I voted for her to go into the games. I like you, Bianca, try to make it back, try to prove Brittney wrong. I'll try to help; maybe I'll send you sponsoring gifts or help your family."

The door swings open and an angry Peacekeeper stomps in. Randy takes my hand and squeezes it as the Peacekeeper takes his other arm and pulls him away. He lets go of my hand and gives me a sad smile. The Peacekeeper returns without Randy and leads me to the train. I see my family and Winnie crying together at the train station, trying to get a last glimpse at me. Tears drip down my face and my mind is clouded with fear, longing for my family and friends and Randy's confusing goodbye.

But things could only get worse from here.