To the outside observer at this moment I will look lost, confused and probably a little frightened as I smell the subtle waft of burning hair which they cannot. As they look at me, they will notice my eyes dull, cloud over if you will, as my jaw slackens and head tilts to the left, my shoulder bunching up to meet it until my ear is pressed flush against my collar bone. My eyes will roll back exposing the vain covered whites a split second before my legs fold in on themselves depositing me none too gently on the harsh unyielding ground. They will probably now take a step back, maybe call for help, or, if they know who I am and of my illness they will either walk away or if they are a member of my family they will clear the space around me as quickly as possible. Once on the floor the convulsions will start, my body contorting into unnatural shapes all the while practically vibrating with shakes with enough force to lift half my body off the floor at one time.
All of this will have happened in a matter of no more than three minutes, it will also have been silent but for the noises my thrashing body makes on the environment.
Inside all I know is a seemingly unending torment. I smell the burning hair and I know what will happen, it is a warning. The split second that realisation dawns on me I am trapped, I have no physical body or even a thought process anymore. All I know is pain, every nerve ending in my body is on fire, every type of pain imaginable burning and throbbing through my brain. I don't feel it when I fall to the ground, I don't feel the convulsions, all I can feel is agony eternal. My one and only thought is death.
All of this, the shame, humiliation and the fact that I know I will last no longer than eighteen months is what dictates my decision on reaping day. I am herded like an animal into my age section wearing my mothers hideous old hand me down dress which was once a rich deep pink but in the years since it was made, washed and re washed has faded to an almost off white, worn out and drained; fitting for a reaping in district twelve.
The crowd hushes as the round old man holds up his hands, he is here to pick the names out of the big glass bowls which will ruin two families lives forever. I scan all the female enclosures wondering idly who it is that I am about to save. As usual the girls name gets called first, Poppy Grey.
Poppy is a year younger than me at sixteen, I have seen her in school many times, spoken to her on a few occasions. I smile privately to myself, at least it is someone who does not hate or fear me. I watch the huge screen to my left as it finds Poppy in the mass of children, her face is drained of what little colour she naturally has, I see her visibly swallow, sway slightly and then take a deep breath just before she starts to move. Her eyes look empty, much like mine do before an episode.
Poppy is wearing red, this for some reason makes me smile again, red Poppy. I push my way none too gently to the edge of the pen waiting for Poppy to get level with me. As she nears I hop the fence, the peacekeepers don't like this and rush forward, I just have time to grab Poppy's upper arm and whisper in her ear before they get to us. Poppy's eyes flash and then start to water as I offer her a half smile out the corner of my mouth. I turn to the stage, catching a glimpse of my enlarged face on the TV and say in a voice I hope conveys strength and courage, "I volunteer!"
From there I zone out, I feel my legs walking up to the podium, I can hear far off voices, screaming, crying, the fat man's excited chatter at my districts first volunteer in generations. I don't catch the boys name when it is called, I look over to him standing a few feet away, black hair, pale skin, dark eyes. He could be one of hundreds of the boys at school, underfed and miserable looking.
We are then ushered into the Justice building, put in the rickety old elevator, then put in separate rooms for our friends and families to say a more then likely final goodbye.
I sit on the edge of the long couch, forearms resting on my knees taking a few deep breathes awaiting the arrival of my parents. As the door opens my dad flings himself in the room and onto the couch with me, hugging me tightly to his hard chest. My mother stands by the closed door, hand to her mouth with tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Hazel" My mother breathes out before coming to sit on the side not occupied by my father. I can see she is trying to hold it together, her face red and puffy. "What have you done?"
I look into her wet blue eyes, which is a mistake, all resolve I had has shattered after looking at the sheer devastation on her face. "I had to Mom" She shakes her head venomously at me but doesn't speak. "I'm sorry but..." I close my eyes for a second, how do you explain to the only two people in the world that you love that they would be better off if you were dead? "... the fits have started, I don't have long left now and I refuse to let the last memory you have of me to be of me writhing around in pain." I know it is a low blow but it is true, I don't want to be in pain any more and I don't want them to see me like it either, this is better all round.
My mothers howls are the only response I get before she is forcefully removed from the room by a peace keeper. My Dad watches her go, he still hasn't released his arm from around my shoulder. "I love you Petal." I smile at the old nickname, he hasn't called it me since I was a girl, since before I contracted my illness, before my sister Willow died.
"I love you too Dad."
The peace keeper who has been standing in the corner of the room, ignored moves forward towards my Dad. Looks like time is up. "Listen Petal." My Dad says hurriedly. "We are both so proud of you, and we love you more than anything, this is not goodbye do you hear?" As he says the last words he raises his eyebrow at me from the door, before I can say anything back to him he is gone too.
I sit back in my seat letting the tension ease out my body, I will not cry, not yet anyway. They will parade me through the streets to the train first, once on the train they wont be watching, I will not let my dad regret being proud of me.
I jump as the door bursts open. Before I can register what is happening I am enveloped in the red clad arms of Poppy Grey. From over her shoulder I can see Poppy's father standing in front of the closed door.
Poppy finally pulls back and studies my face. "Why did you thank me?" She asks referring to my whispered conversation with her.
My eyes find her father before I answer, he seems nervous. "You never once treated me differently." is the simplest explanation I can offer her.
Poppy's brow creases. "So?"
I wet my lips slowly deciding if I should tell Poppy my secret, a secret which I have miraculously been able to keep for over a month. "I've started fitting."
The illness I carry is common enough in the seam, roughly one in fifty of us has it, some are what is known as fit positive, the illness is in you but not yet active. This state is unpredictable some people are positive for decades before becoming 'fitters' others it can be as short as a few days. PF867 is the official name, originally a chemical warfare device against the up risers in district 13, as usual with the capitols pet projects it went wrong, it mutated and now is a death sentence for anyone who contracts it, except for the precious citizens of the capitol who hold a cure that anyone in the districts, even the richest district one wouldn't be able to afford. But here is the kicker, even if I were to win the games and be able to afford the cure it wont work on me, once you start fitting there is no treatment.
The illness marks me as different, everyone knows I have it for 'safety reasons' although it is extremely hard to catch, it is carried in the blood, only blood to blood contact or sexual intercourse can transmit the illness, but with anything like this, with such a stigma attached to it most people don't understand, they stay away from you, refuse to touch you or be in your general vicinity, They even have separate PF867 bathrooms at school. The best I can hope for now, even if I was richer than the president is to get some drugs to slow the effects, I would fit less often giving me on average three years of life from now instead of the 12 to 18 months I have at the moment.
I refuse let the Capitol's fuck up kill me, I will decide how and when I die, that is why I am here, in this room trying to explain to Poppy why she is safe from the reaping for another year. I can see myself now, on a big screen in the square as the games start, standing on my starting circle. I will look directly into the camera if I can find it, shout to my mother and father that I love them, maybe blow a kiss and then before the countdown is complete I will step off the disc, ending my life in an explosion of flesh. The thought makes me smile inside, that is how I want my parents to remember me, smiling and blowing kisses to them, not twisted in agony as my heart gives out from the final continuous fit that will last for hours.
Poppy and her father have the same look of horror on their faces, Poppy tries to hide hers with her hand. "When?" Poppy's father breaks the silence.
I sit forward, staring at the floor as I answer. "Five weeks, they have all been at home so far, I've already had six of them." I pause not sure if I should continue, when no comments are offered I carry on. "You know what will happen to me, I don't want to go like that. I thought that this way I can go quickly and painlessly." I look up from the floor, Poppy has tears running down her face. "I am really glad it was you Poppy, it makes me feel like my death will at least have served a purpose, I get to save you." A small smile plays on my lips as I finish speaking.
The door creaks open and a peace keeper enters the room clearing his throat indicating our visit is over. Poppy's father strides towards me and crouches on his haunches before me, reaching out he holds my hand and looked deep into my eyes. "Hazel, thank you for saving my girl. I promise you that we will do what we can to help your family." With that he lets my hand go, stands, takes Poppy by the arm and steers her out of the room.
I am exhausted, the drama of the past few hours has taken its toll on my body and mind, all I want to do is sleep.
The rest of the day passes in a blur of faces and instructions which leave me with the starts of a migraine, once on the luxurious train on the way to the capitol I make a beeline for my cabin, lock the door and fall into a restless sleep on the large too soft bed.