Things were a little different this year. For this Quarter Quell, the 100th Annual Hunger Games, four districts would be chosen at random and six tributes from each of these districts would be chosen. Three boys and three girls. I'm Adam, from District 7. I don't particularly stand out in a crowd. I'd say I'm rather average standing at six feet tall with a young looking face, green eyes, and short brown hair. When the ancient President Snow gave the announcement about the new Quarter Quell there was a moment of great tension in Panem. If your district was chosen to have a reaping, then your fear was the same as every other year with the exception that it was more likely to be chosen to enter the Games. If you were one of the eight districts that don't have a reaping, then you can breathe a sigh of relief and return to your poverty. The following week of the announcement for which districts would be chosen I didn't watch. I couldn't handle the anticipation. Instead I ran to my best-friend's house. Her name is Lana Neele. She has the same green eyes as my own which are framed by some beat up old glasses and long dark brown hair.
We both begin our usual trek to the pine forest that borders the small outlying village we live in. The dark green needles and dry bark make me feel at home. I love the woods. Lana; however, does not. The bugs, the animals, the possibility of danger. That is not to say she can't take care of herself. In fact she's one of the toughest girls I know. The only one who I can actually wrestle with. She just prefers the hum-drum life of the town in lumber land. One time when we were returning from a rather disappointing hunt, an entire battalion of Peacekeepers marched past the fence between the village and the forest and we had to stay hidden in a nearby pine tree until all of them had passed by. It must have been well past midnight by the time we could finally get under the fence and go home. Her mother and my father had never been so furious with us before. Now whenever I drag her to the woods, she constantly reminds me of how we could get trapped behind the fence again or how easy it would be to get caught, but I just ignore her. This is how I keep both of our families fed, so I'm not stopping anytime soon.
A rusted chain link fence with barbed wire running along the top surrounds the town and "blocks off" the pine forest to citizens. I wonder if the other districts have fences like this one. Our peacekeepers do little to maintain it, but if you're caught sneaking out a public whipping is the least of your concerns. Lana and I have become pretty adept at sneaking away while people aren't looking.
Poverty is still pretty rough around here, but it hasn't really gotten worse since the rebellion, or so my father tells me. I was only three when Katniss Everdeen, The Mockingjay, led rebel forces against the Capitol. Secretly I look up to her courage for standing up against such a powerful force. Maybe if she had won the war I wouldn't have to go hunting in the woods to support my father and myself. My father goes hunting with me usually. He's the one who taught me how to use a bow and arrow. I remember how much I used to hate his archery lessons. If I made one mistake, if I didn't have the exact right positioning, he'd go off on me and yell so loudly every animal in the forest would scurry away. In the end it was good that he did act that way though. If not, there's no way I'd be as good as I am.
The Mockingjay also used a bow, but I'm nowhere near as talented as she was. I'm good enough to catch a meal every other day though. Lana has no knowledge of hunting or animal traps, but she helps patch up my gear for hunting like my game bag, boots, clothes, and quiver. As we are weaving in and out of the trees I spot my beautifully crafted bow hung high in a tree, right where I left it, where the only thing that could reach it is a squirrel or maybe a sparrow. Fifteen years earlier a mockingjay would have also been one of the many birds to catch a sight of my bow, but once Katniss Everdeen went into battle at the Capitol a fire bomb that killed several Capitol children and Rebel medics burned her severely. The rebel forces were caught off guard by the bombs and the Capitol took advantage of the moment. In the chaos that ensued she was arrested for treason and most of the rebels were killed. The Mockingjay was publically executed the following morning. The day after her execution, as an act of power by the Capitol, almost every single Mockingjay in Panem was found and slaughtered. I'll see one maybe once every few years, but they're nearly extinct now. It's only a matter of time before they finally are.
As we hurry on into the forest with no real intention of going anywhere we decide it's time to head back. I hold my hunting knife in my right hand tightly ready for an attack from a wild dog pack. Two years ago I was caught off guard by a few wild dogs and they got ahold of my right arm before I could pull my knife free. I managed to kill two of them before the last dog ran off. I barely made it home because of the blood loss, but my father patched me up pretty well and within a week I was fine to go hunting again. Hopefully our district would be spared the horror of The Hunger Games. I say goodbye to Lana as we duck under the fence and she heads into her small shack of a house where her mother is waiting with a small meal of bread and dried beef.
Back at my house the news is broken to me immediately. The four districts chosen are One, Five, Seven, and Nine. I remained silent, but inside I was shouting every curse word I could think of that my district was one of the four chosen. I knew almost everyone in the town and several children and teenagers from the slightly larger city to the north. Our smaller town usually got chosen more often during reapings, because poverty was more common with all the children signing up for tesserae. A couple weeks later was the much anticipated reaping. I dressed up in my best clothes, but they were covered in patches of new cloth where holes and tears in the fabric had begun to show. I met with Lana, who was dressed in a pretty knee-length floral dress, outside her house and we walked in complete silence to the city square three miles from our town. Our parents walked together behind us and discussed the weather like it was any other day. But it wasn't any other day. Groups of other potential tributes walked along with us up the dirt road that leads to the city. In a about an hour and a half we reach the city square and sign in. It's packed and a large stage is set up near the Justice Building. After thirty more minutes of waiting the peacekeepers begin roping off sections of children.
Lana is in the group of eighteen year olds with several other girls I know well like Charlotte Lamoureux, a tall girl with shoulder-length brown hair and light-brown eyes. Next to her was Suzanne Marquez, a shorter girl with jet black hair and near black eyes. A particularly large peacekeeper guides me to the roped off eighteen year old boy section by my shoulder. I nearly push his hand away when I remember this is a crime of defiance. I don't like to be touched by other people and this threat of punishment is the only thing stopping me from turning around and breaking his wrist. I find a spot near my good friend Collin Pearson. He's a tall, strong boy with dark tan skin, brown eyes, short black hair, and a love for a seventeen year old girl in another section. Clare Arellana is standing quietly, looking blankly at the stage with her pale green eyes. Her long golden hair is tied up into a tight ponytail and Collin's eyes never leave her.
"It won't be her Collin. Don't worry." I say reassuringly to him. He and Clare have a fierce love for each other and both lived in the slightly more well off section of District 7 in the city.
I stood to the left of Collin and directly in front of me stood a tall skinny boy with wiry glasses named Darren Johnson. He was the nicest guy I had ever met and we both shared a love for District 3's technology, even though neither of us would ever get anywhere near using it. He also lived in the city, but he was still miles away from having enough money to gain access to the gadgets of Three. Not to mention there must be some sort of rule about the districts communicating with one another in such a way.
Just then the district's escort steps up onto the stage dressed in a silly looking purple suit with an outrageous matching top hat. I don't pay attention to his name. My focus is completely on the glass bowls filled with names of the children in District 7. My name had been entered seven times. I never registered for tesserae. With my hunting I could provide for my father and I, not to mention Lana's mother had connections with a baker in the town so bread was never too scarce. Even though other people my age and younger had their names entered more times than myself, my heart begins to beat faster. It is my last year of eligibility and the thought of having to enter the arena and spill other children's blood for the entertainment of Capitol citizens and Snow's own heartless nature makes my skin crawl. Maybe the odds will be in my favor today. Maybe I won't have to kill.
A brief film is played depicting the Capitol's "generosity" to the districts after two terrible wars. As it concludes the man from the Capitol steps over to the bowl filled with the names of girls and pulls a slip out.
"Charlotte Lamoureux!" He shouts with vigor.
Charlotte has always been a strong girl. She never lets her guard down in front of others and today is no exception. She immediately heads to the stage as if she had been expecting to hear her name and remains calmer than any tribute I have ever seen upon having their name called. The district escort then strides towards the boy's bowl and theatrically yanks a name free.
No. He doesn't deserve this. He's too nice. Too well-behaved. Too pure hearted. The thought of him cutting someone down, or even worse, being cut down is terrible. I stifle a groan as he steps out of the roped off section and walks to the stage. His glasses fall off the end of his nose on the way up to the stage and he takes a moment to put them back on. I can hear his mother crying a few yards behind me. The district escort comments on his height and informs everyone that he might have what it takes to win. No one nods their head in agreement. He strides back to the girl's bowl and picks another name.
She gasps as the words register in her brain and I have to hold Collin in place as he is about to run to her. His large stature and strength are nearly too much for me and I have to remind him that the peacekeepers could punish him and his family for insubordination. He stops struggling, but begins to cry. The tears fall silently down his cheeks as he stoically processes what has happened. His heartbreak is enough to make my own heart crack. The Capitol man steps back to the boy's bowl and pulls another name free.
I don't know Curtis well at all. He was a small thirteen year old boy from the city. That's about as much as I know of him. Before Curtis can even take a step though, Collin does.
"I volunteer!" He shouts to the Capitol man as he strides up to the stage. Curtis mouths "thank you" to Collin as he passes by, but Collin didn't do it for him. I know what he's doing. He is going to go into the Games and protect Clare. He is going to die for her. The Capitol escort claps for Collin's bravery and steps back to the girl's bowl. Last name for them.
My jaw drops in shock. Lana can't move on her own and a small girl behind her nudges her forward. As she steps up to the stage I look behind me, but I can't see Lana's mother. She's as strong as her daughter, but I've seen even the toughest parents crack during a reaping. Last year a father watched his son get dragged to the stage by peacekeepers and he fainted on the spot. When he woke up he had the pleasure of watching his son get his throat slit by a girl from District 2. He hasn't spoken a word since.
Lana walks up to the stage and straightens her glasses. Even as her life has been taken from her, she feels the need to look decent. A plan begins to form in my head and I know I've been presented with a choice. And it's not one to be taken lightly. The Capitol escort pulls the final name from the bowl.
I step forward.
"I volunteer!" I shout as I already begin to walk forward to the stage. I climb the steps and Lana and Collin are both shaking their heads no, silently telling me to take it back and return to the crowd, but I can't now. I know what I have to do and even if I wanted to take it back, that would be against the rules. I will be going into the arena. I will fight to save Lana's life. I will die for her.