Cantaré: Song of the Dying
[The Reapings are out of order so you readers don't have to wait eons for the next chapter.]
Normal warnings for this fandom apply.
As the familiar room folded out before him like the water colored pages in a picture book, a trembling, needle-hot breath was forced from his lungs as though it was woe to leave.
Pale, creamy walls sectioned off by smooth wooden beams and a yielding floor of soft wood unraveled from the folds of the darkness he had occupied. It was like coming home after a long, cold trek through the snow on a moonless night.
A door on the far wall slid open, so perfectly camouflaged that he had to take a moment to wonder if it was real at all, or if the mechanics of the dreamworld were at work here.
Kanato knew it was a dream because a room this warm and quaint had never existed in all of District 9.
A small, quiet voice whispered in his ear. He'd seen it before, many times before, so many times in fact that he could have traced out every detail with exact precision with his eyes closed.
He looked up expectantly as a small child entered, stumbling in on unsteady feet. There was a wide smile on his smooth, pale face.
Dark eyes were alight with mischief and in those dark depths Kanato could see two things: the absence of hardship, of the labor that characterized every citizen who walked under the Capitol's flag, and himself.
But he didn't need to look the boy in the eyes to see his reflection. It was enough to simply fix his gaze on the boy himself and recognize that they were one in the same, practically mirror images of each other.
His reflection stood before him, a thin hand outstretched, urging him over to the center of the room to play. There were toys scattered over the floor: colorful cards, an unsolved puzzle, iridescent marbles. They were toys he had never played with in his life.
"Let's play!" The boy laughed, his voice remarkably untainted by the harsh grit of the smokestacks, lighter than any bird he had ever seen flit across the smog packed sky over District 9. He could have listened to that voice forever without growing tired of it.
No such thing existed in all of Panem, he was sure, not even in the Capitol where everyone was perpetually happy.
"Kana, what do you wanna play?"
He pointed slowly at the marbles as if he was afraid that speaking might chase the dream away, might shatter this warm and comforting room into little shards. The little glistening balls of glass with little bursts of colors swirling around inside transfixed him, drew him closer and closer in awe.
The boy giggle at his confusion when he poured the bag out, the little marbles scattering with gentle clinks and shimmering glass.
He didn't know the rules. How did he play? The boy seemed to know how.
He was handed a smooth green marble, a tiny trinket in the palm of his hand with a delicate swirl of colors within, a little ocean inside a glass ball.
They played for a long time. He was unsure of how much time had passed, only that he wouldn't have minded if this dream never ended, if he never woke up to the cramped bedroom he shared with his parents. It might even be nice to simply fall asleep here and never wake up.
The second the bright yellow marble slid from his grasp, however, he knew that the dream had come to an end. It rolled towards the door, which was now slightly ajar.
The boy made to retrieve it and Kanato reached out, catching his brightly patterned clothes at the last second. His fingers, much shorter and a bit chubbier than his real ones, trembled and groped uselessly at the air when the boy extricated himself from Kanato's grasp. A reassuring smile was on his face, and a peaceful trance overtook him.
He wanted to believe those eyes.
Everything was fine.
Something moved in the thin gap of darkness beyond the doors, something sleek with glinting eyes like marbles and a sweeping tail that trailed behind it. A low, rattling hiss bled through the walls, the painful cry of something dying, not unlike a quiet, smooth version of the squeal of a machine taking its last breaths before it was dismantled.
Its snout nudged at the doors and the boy backed away, the marble forgotten.
The cat's eyes were golden and slitted, narrow blades that trailed over the room before stopping at the two other breathing, living beings in the room.
'Get away!' he wanted to scream, but no sound came out. No sound ever came out. It was like trying to be heard at a whisper in the middle of the factory during its busiest hour.
The cat's thin shoulder blades hunched into high arcs, shifting beneath a short coat pulled taut over its streamlined bones. Its muscles quivered and another low hiss escaped its gaping maw.
Kanato blinked. The cat leapt, clearing the distance between it and its prey in one single bound.
He clenched his teeth and a hitched, soundless gasp stole the breath out of his lungs. He bit his lip until he tasted the metallic tang of blood, but it was all red that he was seeing anyways.
it dripped from the cat's long fangs, seeped into the flooring, splattered over the puzzle pieces and marbles and the cat's short fur. Strips of cloth dangled from the creature's jaws and Kanato blocked out the choked sounds of the boy on the floor, the cat's satisfied hiss and perhaps his own screams.
He clutched his hands to his chest protectively, feeling that if he didn't do so, if he acted on instinct and reached for the boy, then he would soon be no better off. He might not even have a chance to scream.
The cat leapt for him -
and the room quivered, tremors riding through the floor and up the walls until he could barely stand (or was he already sitting?). The cat halted in its steps, ears quivering as well, and he saw the marbles on the floor roll down an incline through the blood, tracing clean little streaks behind them as they migrated.
The door opened for the last time.
His parents burst into the room, but they weren't his parents, not really. His parents were worn and battered by years working in the factories and in the processing plants specifically. They had calloused hands and wrinkled smiles and really were too exhausted to speak much, to even wave goodbye sometimes.
But these people - these clean, warm, impeccable people - were his parents.
The cat, despite its mass and the blood dripping around it, was no longer in his sight. He didn't know where it went, why it had gone and why it was only him left and -
his mother flew at him, her embrace sharp and painful and he could imagine those claws and those fangs tearing through his shirt instead, so, so easily...
And she was crying, grasping at his head and hugging him as if he would disappear if she let go. Maybe he would.
"Oh, thank goodness, thank goodness...Kana, I love you, we love you so much."
"Congratulations," said his father with pride, his voice a smooth baritone nothing like his mother's hysterical cries and chanting. He could hear the relief in the man's tone, though, and see his shoulders relax as he leaned down to ruffle the hair on his head. "You've finally graduated."
His chin was perched on his mother's shoulder and if he stood on his toes a bit he could see -
his eyes were impossibly wide, burning and quivering and unable to look away, unable to blink. Dark and glassy like the marbles, is what he thought.
And the blood shimmered, redder than the marbles, but all of the marbles were the same red now.
Weak, gasping breaths pushed themselves from his throat but he couldn't make a sound and his hands wouldn't reach.
'Can't you see he's dying? He's bleeding. Help him, please. Please...'
And the dream ended.
Kanato woke gasping and writhing, receiving nothing but heated warmth and stale, putrid air from the cramped bedroom. The only window in the room was sealed shut after a previous tenant leapt off the ledge in a desperate attempt to end her own life.
Even though he'd slept for most of the night he hardly felt rested at all, a distinct and familiar burn settling into the space behind his eyes, his throat dry and stinging.
The sun was just rising on Reaping Day, but in District 9 the only sign that the new day had come was the scattered, weak cloud of pale light that tried to penetrate the never ending blanket of smog.
Kanato drew his knees up against his chest and sat in his bed until his parents began to stir.
Hamon yanked at his washed out, threadbare shirt until he was quite certain it would tear. His elbow went with the motion, but Kanato hardly budged from his spot and allowed his arm to go limp.
"We're going to be late. C'mon, we only have two more years to go; let's get this over with."
Kanato nodded absently as he reached out with his bare hands towards the still, dilapidated form in the gutters. A pungent, sweet and sickly scent wafted up from the sewers, driven into the air by the heat from the pipelines beneath their feet. Along with it came the distinct, dank scent of death that could never quite be removed once it had fully permeated a place.
"Kana, what're you doing? C'mon," Hamon intoned harshly, a bit more on edge than he usual (although Kanato had always known Hamon for being particularly short tempered) because it was Reaping Day. Kanato's hands, too, were trembling slightly despite his urging for them to still.
His friend peered over his shoulder with a huff of impatience, a shadow falling over stretch of street he was crouched over. He heard Hamon utter a gag of disgust.
Kanato smiled a bit at his reaction. Hamon knew him better than that; he knew that Kanato had a short attention span when it came to things like this.
"Aw, that's disgusting, Kana. What's wrong with you? I swear your mom dropped you on the head when you were a kid. Let's go, already," Hamon groaned, reaching out to yank at his friend's arm.
Kanato offered the distorted, partially decaying corpse a last smile, the very edges of his lips tilted upwards in joy. It reminded him of the boy from his dream playing with the marbles, except the real world was much, much dimmer. With one last look of regretful longing he consented and allowed Hamon to drag him off to the square for the Reaping.
The boys' footsteps slowed as they neared the town square, already swarming with crowds of people in their best clothes and on their best manners. It wouldn't do to seem too eager; it might earn you the disdain of your neighbors and that was probably worse than actually being reaped for the Games themselves.
With an aggravated grunt, Hamon smacked Kanato over the head, firmly planting his hand on the top and pushing him down until he was staring at the grimy stones.
"Seriously, wipe that smirk off your face. You look like you're high," he grumbled.
"Sorry," Kanato said flippantly, shrugging his friend's hand off and raising his head. This wasn't the time to be staring at the ground with so many people gathered here.
The two boys took their places in the seventeen year olds section, readily exchanging half-hearted jokes and jibes with their friends and classmates. It didn't do much to alleviate their fears, but it was better than standing there crying or forcing themselves into panic attacks from the worry. They'd had six years to find efficient ways to cope under their belts, unlike the trembling twelve year olds in the back.
As the ceremonies started, Kanato's eyes trailed up to the smog cloaked sky and to the dark, blurry forms of the few birds that dared to live here. They were the types of birds that fed on decomposing corpses in the alleyways, the ones that lurked around garbages and dumpsters for their next meal.
The people of District 9 were probably more than a little similar to them, but without the wings that just made those birds silly little creatures in the end.
Who wanted to live here? No one did, just those stupid birds and the rail thin skeletons people kept as pets. No one wanted to live in Panem, period.
Hamon poked him in his side discreetly, drawing his attention to the platform. They'd finished the last of the opening remarks, the dreadfully dry speech the mayor was obligated to give every year (he could probably recite it in his sleep), and the District 9 escort was flitting about on stage, barely able to contain her excitement.
A pale, nearly white hand delved into the sea of white papers. Despite himself, Kanato felt his throat swell like it did after he woke from a nightmare, terror frozen across his face, his mouth dry and hoarse like he'd been screaming for hours. He couldn't swallow and couldn't speak even if he wanted to.
It was like seeing those slitted eyes narrowing in on its prey, a long tongue flickering out to swipe the blood from its lips.
And then, remarkably, there was nothing.
When they were younger, he and Hamon had clutched at each others' hands in anticipation, just waiting to hear their cursed names and for forces neither of them could ever fight to throw their lives away like trash. That was before they had realized that they lived like trash anyways, and had always been worth less than yesterday's garbage the moment they were born.
Hamon still didn't approve of him terrorizing their neighbors' pets and plucking the wings off the few birds he managed to catch occasionally, and Kanato didn't understand why. They were just animals, worthless ones at that (almost like them), and perhaps he had done it to understand why.
So Kanato forced his quivering nerves to subside, to sink back into the depths of his mind where they belonged because animals didn't tremble until they were hurting, until they were actually dying.
Some girl's name was called and he hated it just as much as anyone else.
Somehow, people were different. Each year he watched the Games as was required of him, but each year he probably spent more time throwing up and dry heaving than actually watching the screen. His friends teased him sometimes, made cruel jibes other times, and were there to wipe the vomit from his mouth and hold back his hair for the rest.
He couldn't explain it without sounding crazy.
How it felt like watching that boy die all over again -
How it felt like his body wanted to tear itself in two.
But, surprisingly, he didn't feel sad nor angry when his name was called. All he felt was emptiness and a cold, cold sense that he was forgetting something important. He couldn't remember what.
"Will Kanato Winton please step up to the stage?"
A smooth button slipped from her trembling fingers. Beca breathed in deeply, closed her eyes for a moment, and focused on the small collared shirt.
"Sit still," she said, though not unkindly, at the small boy swinging his legs over the side of the scraggly bed they shared. His worn secondhand dress shoes smacked against the rusty metal beams holding the bed together as he hummed a little meaningless tune, breaking to cough every few beats.
A strikingly loud clanging from the kitchen made her start with a snarl, but she withheld it at the last moment and managed to smooth her features out to give her little brother a smile. It wasn't the most reassuring smile, but it was something.
"You're gonna have to wait with mom and dad, 'kay, Joel?" Beca said while her attention was drawn to the buttons. It was going a bit smoother now. "It won't be too long. I'll come find you as soon as it's done, so try not to wander. After that, let's see if we can get you something from town as a treat."
Beca looked up at her brother wearily, faintly tracing the path through town in her mind to see if she could possibly risk passing through the more…unsightly parts of it or if she should just wait until Joel was safely at home. She couldn't trust her mother or father to see to any of that.
The little boy nodded sharply. Though he usually offered her a wide smile when she was feeling conflicted like this, today he was a bit subdued. She couldn't blame him. Last year he'd only been three and it was hard for him to remember everything about that day. After all, he had barely been able to understand why everyone was so tense and frightened on this day.
This year, though, he knew. It was something he didn't need to worry about until he turned twelve, but Beca could still lose sleep over it.
She'd almost lost count of how many times she had taken out tesserae since she was twelve years old, give her parents' startling inability to hold steady jobs of any sort. They couldn't even maintain their positions as garbage collectors or janitors with the way they were.
If the harsh, muttered cursing from the next room over was anything to go by, they were still at each others' throats and unlikely to even notice Joel as they walked to the town square. Hopefully they wouldn't lose him, though.
"Alright, done!" Beca declared, moving away with exaggerated glee. "You look absolutely wonderful. Now, let's go. If I don't drag mom and dad to the square, they might never go, even if it's the Reaping."
Though Beca wouldn't exactly mind it if the Peacekeepers dragged them away for good. Her only concern was that she still had this one last year to go and if she wasn't around, Joel…
Beca shook her head to clear those thoughts, but halted the instant a throbbing pain began to settle into her temples. Joel tugged at her skirt, a bit tattered at the hems and slightly musty, but her best clothes regardless.
"What's wrong, Beca? You want me to go get the medicine?"
She shook her head even though it hurt to do so and leaned down placing firm yet gentle hands on his thin shoulders. She could feel his bones protruding from his shirt.
"No, I'll be fine," she lied. Then more seriously, "Joel, I've told you: it's not medicine. If you're ever feeling bad, don't take it, just lay down for a bit and try to find something to eat. Now come on, I don't want to be late."
Beca marched up to the front of the crowd, sliding into place among all her eighteen year old classmates. They were girls she barely knew the names of, people she had tried not to concern herself with for a very long time now. They were talking amongst each other, trying to calm one another's fears. Beca was counting out the tesserae she had taken in her life up until now, this crucial moment.
Everyone was nervous, of course. It was their last year and who knew how many slips of paper each of them had in that bowl.
The crowd fell silent, not a single sound rising up from the square.
The mayor stepped up and all Beca could think was of how hypocritical he was for his subservience to the Capitol, for condemning his district's children to die for his own sake. She gritted her teeth and hid her clenched fists in her skirts; it wouldn't do to be caught showing open hostility now of all times.
The moments ticked by and the mayor was done giving his speech when their district's escort sauntered up to the girl's reaping ball with lofty and exaggerated motions. How badly she wanted to see one of them suffer like those kids suffered for the sake of entertainment and control.
Everyone in the Districts were seen as the same to the Capitol: nothing more than fun little toys they could wind up, pit against each other, and laugh at. Then it should be no different for the Capitol citizens, after all, they were human too (as much as she didn't want to admit it), even if they were barely such.
"And our District 7 tribute for this year is…Beca Marshall! Congratulations!"
Still accepting characters, just look on my profile for a list of open spots. I'm nearly done with the girls!
Kanato is my character, Beca belongs to Anarchy Girl.
Everyone, thanks for submitting characters!