I walk through the trees, the satisfying sound of leaves crunching under my feet soothing my nerves.
In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Gale. I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills over to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods.
"Hey, Catnip," says Gale. "Look what I shot."
He holds up a loaf of bread with an arrow stuck in it, and I laugh. It's real bakery bread, not the flat, dense loaves we make from out grain rations. Fine bread like this is for special occasions.
"Mm, still warm," I say. He must have been at the bakery at the crack of dawn to trade for it. "What did it cost you?"
"Just a squirrel. Think the old man was feeling sentimental this morning," says Gale. "Even wished me luck."
"Well, we all feel a little closer today, don't we?" I say, not even bothering to roll my eyes. "Prim left us a cheese." I pull it out.
His expression brightens at the treat. "Thank you, Prim. We'll have a real feast." Suddenly he falls into a Capitol accent as he mimics Effie Trinket, the maniacally upbeat woman who arrives once a year to read out the names of the reaping. "I almost forgot. Happy Hunger Games!" he plucks a few blackberries from the bushes around us. "And may the odds—" he tosses a berry in a high arc toward me.
I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet tartness explodes across my tongue. "—be ever in your favor!" I finish with equal verve. We have to joke about it because the alternative it to be scared out of your wits. Besides, the Capitol accent is so affected, almost anything sounds funny in it.
I watch as Gale pulls out his knife and slices the bread.
Gale spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese, carefully placing a basil leaf on each while I strip the bushes of their berries. We settle back in a nook in the rocks. From this place, we are invisible but have a clear view of the valley, which is teeming with summer life, greens to gather, roots to dig, fish iridescent in the sunlight.
"We could do it, you know," he says.
After a scary and quixotic conversation with Gale and fishing, we start to head over to the strawberry patch I found a few years ago.
As we walk over, I hear a rustle of a disturbed bush. I look over to see a stag, pretty lean with a good, muscled limbs and pretty meaty upper body. I'm pretty sure it'll make a good price at the Hob.
I slowly draw an arrow, notching it and pulling the string back.
I hear Gale lean in close, his mouth to my ear.
"What are you planning to do with a whole stag?" he whispers, trying not to scare it off despite his disagreement.
"I'm going to sell it," I whisper back, aiming for the eye. "I'm sure he'll make a good sell at the Hob."
He stays quiet, leaning away as I prepare to let the string loose.
Then it wails, a throwing dagger suddenly appearing at its neck. It staggers back, wailing in pain as it tries to run away.
Another dagger makes an appearance at its head, close to the eye.
It falls to the ground, blood slowly seeping out of the two bloody yet clean wounds.
Gale and I duck, waiting to see who the culprit that took my kill was.
As we duck down behind a log, we see a boy about my age, maybe a year older, jump down a boulder behind a tree that kept us from seeing him. I stare as he pulls the daggers out, seeing the wounds are actually cleaner than I thought. A perfect slice where the daggers hit, no ragged edges. I raise my brows, impressed.
He looks around while tucking the two, beautifully crafted daggers into a belt that holds multiple daggers—both throwing and usual stabbing daggers—almost like if he knew someone else was in his presence but he looks back down at his kill and hauls the stag over his shoulder, carrying it himself. He's obviously strong. But who is he? I've never seen him at the Seam. If he has to hunt for himself, he's got to be around the Seam.
He leaves, leaving Gale and I staring after him. We both stay quiet until we know he's gone.
"Who is he?" I ask.
"That's…that's um, I forgot his name, but he's in my class. He's not really social and he lags at school. Not much of a talker," he says.
I look back at the previous spot.
"How come we never came across him in hunts?" I wonder aloud.
Gale shrugs, seeming irritated that someone else was taking our game.
"I don't know, but let's just get the strawberries," he says.
I nod, walking with him but looking back at the spot the boy was at. Who is he?
Hey guys! I know that I have another story but I've been writing this one longer and I just wanted to see how much people would like it or read it. I hope you guys enjoy.