N/A: I don't own any of the characters from the Hunger Games.
It was always cold when morning's crept form the horizon in District 7. The sweet smell of the woods and dirt danced through the landscape, and when you roused and stepped out of your home you could close your eyes and imagine the wild flower fields and sappy tree trunks that surrounded the buildings. The buzzing of sawmills and lumberyards echoed far from the District center into the wilderness.
A mile south, into the forest of District 7, morning fog was rolling off a mountain near a crystal lake. The clear water lapped at the rocky shore, as the dull light of dawn filtered through the tops of pine trees and a small doe emerged from the woods to drink. Minutes past as the deer elegantly stretched its neck to the peaceful waves. It was unaware of the eyes that watched it, unaware of the puffs of cold breath that rose from the shadow of a boulder.
"Now?" a small boy no taller than 4 feet asked. His dark eyes anxiously peered towards the deer.
An older boy, with scraggly hair and stumble on his chin angrily glared at his talkative companion and scowled. In his hand was a spear.
"Pandora, we've been sitting here for—"
Suddenly a fair hand reached out for the small boy and cupped his mouth closed. Her eyes were amber and her hair was long and dark. Without words she raised her finger to her mouth and shook her head.
Several heartbeats past before she lowered her hand and turned her attention back to the doe, still resting at the crest of the lake. Pandora Sullivan was hunting with her brothers. A ritual they performed habitually to collect sustenance for the rest of the family. It was a cold morning, despite the coming of spring, and her cheeks and nose were flushed with a hue of rosy pink. Quietly, she adjusted her body against the mossy rock and twitched her eyes to her older brother. August was tall, with piercing blue eyes, the only blue eyes in the family, though he still had the deep chestnut hue to his hair that all of the Sullivan children had. He licked his lips as he tightened his grip on the spear and suddenly popped up from behind the rock to heave the weapon with aim.
The doe began running in panic but it was too late. The spear flew through the air and dropped the animal before it had reached the woods.
"I can't believe you got it!" Pandora exclaimed, jumping away from the large rock and running towards the doe, she laughed as she pulled the spear from its neck, "We haven't gotten a deer in months."
"And we almost scared it away—or should I say Dash did, what were you thinking?"
The small boy in question furrowed his brow and peered between his older brother and sister, "I didn't want to come. I could still be sleeping now!"
"Relax, boys. It was Dash's first hunt," Pandora was kneeling next to the deer, her hands fumbled for something in her rucksack, "He's 10 years old, officially a man now."
"Well—let's not get ahead of ourselves," August quipped, grinning mockingly.
"I'm a man," Dash repeated his sister's words, tilting his head up with pride as he jabbed his brother's side.
Sunlight gleamed off of a blade of silver as Pandora pulled a knife from her bag and studied the form of the deer, "We better gather the meat fast. The lumberjacks should be coming through this area today."
August sighed as he snatched the knife from Pandora and shrugged, "I'll get the meat, you and Dash see what you can find in the woods."
Her eyes were wide in surprise as she climbed to her feet and arched her eyebrow, "Fine—but I'll want my knife back."
Although she could hear Dash following her into the woods, they didn't exchange words or glances. All that could be heard was the crackling of twigs and crunching of leaves underneath their feet. The sun was rising fast, shedding warm yellow glows of sun rays through the canopy of the forest. They spent the next hour gathering berries and herbaceous plants for teas and medicines before hearing the first signs of saw and axe-bearing men. Wordlessly, Pandora twitched her eyes from the blackberries of a shrub to the sound of machines and lively shouts.
"Time to go!" August was suddenly to her side, his hand wrapped around her arm and pulled her into a run as he motioned for his younger brother to follow.
It was against the law of District 7 to go hunting in the woods for two reasons. The first was that it was considered black market activity and would draw the citizens away from the public and legal market. The second was because it got in the way of the lumberyard workers. Despite the fact that Pandora had never heard what happens to people that are caught doing freelance hunting, she didn't want to find out. Her lips drew into a smile as she wove her way through the trees and over dewy logs, rocks, and roots.
It was when the trio leapt through a thicket into a meadow of tall grass that she heard August laugh in amusement. Her brown eyes cheerfully glanced to him and then to Dash. She could feel her heart thumping against her ribcage, but it wasn't from fear or anxiety. She felt free. The woods of District 7 brought it out in her, the forest of her home. Pandora knew that her brothers felt the same way, and this only made it better. Suddenly she heard herself laughing as well.
They ran even when they knew that they were at no risk of being discovered. Slowly the running turned into play.
"I bet I can beat you to the house!" August called out hurling his body over a log.
"We'll see about that!" Pandora yelled towards him, smiling as she quickened her sprint.
"Hey! Not fair! You guys have longer legs than me!" Dash complained, tailing behind his siblings.
Pandora laughed as she caught up to August and gave him a playful shove. They had reached the top of a hill and the center of District 7 was just in view. Buildings and mills sprawled out in a chaotic grid. The subdivision of homes and huts was on the outer edge of the web of constructions.
"Cheater!" August shouted with feigned anger as Pandora took the lead.
She smiled ruefully as she swatted low hanging branches out of her way and sprinted into the open landscape. Before she knew it she was running along the street that led to her house. Her eyes darted to a familiar face, an elderly woman who lived only a few huts down.
"Pandora Sullivan! Where are you going in such a hurry?"
Pandora peered over her shoulder to see her brothers only a few feet behind, "Can't talk now Mrs. Pritchard!" She exclaimed, darting around the old woman, so close that she brushed against her shawl.
"Well—" The woman scoffed, narrowing her eyes at the boys as they ran past seconds later, "—I never."
Dash beamed a boyish smile at her wrinkled face as he stumbled behind his brother, "Good morning, Mrs. Pritchard!"
Pandora shuffled her boots along the dirt road, grabbing the sides of the huts as she looked back to her brothers and laughed. Her smile grew as she made a sharp turn around a bend, but she was so busy watching her brothers that she hadn't seen the person in front of her. When she collided with the man a yelp flew past her lips. The mud underneath her feet shifted causing her to stumble back a few steps.
"Sorry—I—" her words stopped when she peered up at the man. He was a peacekeeper and he looked angry.
"Pandora! You cheating—" The boys had caught up to her, but August's voice cut off when he saw who she was staring at.
In fear, Dash hid behind August. Pandora's lips parted and her back straightened.
"What's going on here?" The peacekeeper exclaimed with annoyance.
"We were just playing," Dash whispered from behind the leg of his brother.
Pandora nervously rubbed her lips together and shook her head, "We were heading home."
"Sorry," August added on, his blue eyes shifting to the gun dangling from the peacekeepers belt, "We didn't mean to get in your way."
"Get out of here before I arrest you, you pathetic District 7 rats."
Pandora dropped her eyes, walking past the peacekeeper as she meekly adjusted the straps of her rucksack. Her amber eyes were still on the ground when she heard the peacekeeper called back to them. His words cut like a knife and were only made worse by the cruel laugh that followed:
"Oh and tomorrow's Reaping Day. Happy Hunger Games!"
She furrowed her brow in anger and peered to the faces of her brothers. There were no more smiles or laughs. They had left the forest and were back to the charred reality of Panem. The wooden planks creaked as they ascended the porch steps. Pandora was the last one to the screen door, she could hear her baby sister crying when she wrapped her fingers around the door and heard a high pitch whistle shriek from the west. The train was arriving.
"Are you coming inside?" Her mother called to her.
But her eyes lingered on the faint puffs of white smoke that emerged from the woods. She could see the arrow of darkness shoot across the tracks and into the station that reseted at the bottom of the valley.
Her lips parted, all remnants of joy left her face. "May the odds be ever in your favor," the whisper was disguised by the wind. Quietly she disappeared into her home, hearing the porch door close behind her.