I know I'm still working on another Hunger Games fic but I couldn't stop myself. I missed the actual Games. To those of you who have followed my other writing I hope it lives up to the others, and to new ones I hope you enjoy as well. If you're feeling up to it leave feedback, if not that's fine too. I'm laidback. ENJOY.
The winds whispered. Their invisible tendrils swirled around crumbling buildings, decaying trees, and foul smelling sewers. Only a few trees grew in District 5, each one warped and deformed from the industrially scorched earth and radiating power stations. Meera Eastwood could feel the heat from those far-off power stations now. Her thick auburn hair answered the whispering wind with a stir, hair the color of aged blood. She was on the edge of a slanted roof. One foot gracefully dangled from the eave while the other pressed close to her chest.
The sun was beginning to rise. She craned her neck to the west. The lights of the power stations were still glowing in the half-light. Firefly Field. That was what the District 5 natives called it. From far off the glowing lights almost looked peaceful, it was hard to imagine that they housed most of Panem's electricity beyond their puffing smokestacks and electrifying walls, it was hard to imagine how deadly they were. The stations and factories surrounded the core of District 5 like a barrier leaving only a small livable area for the citizens. The shanties, or the core of D5, were the livable areas—a huge beehive of buildings pressed together. Despite the low population of the District it was a nest of starving people and strained muscles. Here people worked together, lived together, and died together.
There was no need for a fence around the District because every person, young and old, knew there was nowhere to run. Even if they found enough courage to escape into the strips of wilderness waiting for them to the south and west the chances of them surviving was slim—peacekeepers made sure of that.
District 5. The harnesser of electricity and power. If death were a place, Meera was sure it was here.
Normally she would have still been asleep, wedged in her bunk with the rest of the orphans in her poorhouse—not today, not this morning. Her stormy blue eyes squinted as the sun broke through the horizon. A strip of the wilderness turned gold for a heartbeat. Below her she could hear the District starting to wake but her gaze remained on the sky—the vast sky that looked as if some unknown being had cracked the sun open like an egg and watched it's yolk spill colors across the blue.
"Meera…Meera!" A small voice squeaked behind her.
Her hands gripped the edge of the roof, the metal eave was already warm form the morning sun. When her neck strained to turn around she parted her lips. The window she had slipped through was cracked open. A dirty face with round brown eyes was staring at her. She knew the face well.
"You better come back inside, Mapes is asking for us all downstairs."
"I—I don't know."
Meera took in a breath. "It's never a good sign when Mapes calls everyone down, normally she's asleep in her office."
"I saw workers from Firefly Field," Brown Eyes leaned away from the window for a split second to listen, "C'mon, we have to go. She's threatening to take away our breakfast if we don't."
Workers from Firefly Field. It sent a shiver down Meera's spine, a shiver that made her crawl up the slate tiles so fast that before Brown Eyes could blink she was gliding through the half-opened window and into a room filled with beds and dust.
The floorboards creaked as she followed her friend through the rooms. The poorhouse had 5 floors and many stairs.
"Zara. Meera," Mapes identified as they inched into the room, "Where have you been?"
"Sorry," Zara whispered bowing her head and falling in line with the other orphans who were waiting.
Meera didn't respond.
Mapes was a crude woman. Tall and lanky she towered over almost every orphan in her poorhouse.
"These are all of them, then?" One of the workers asked.
Meera peered to her left and then her right. All the orphans were standing in a row. There were only 20 of them but the room was so small that it looked like much more. The ages varied. Meera was 17, Zara only 14. Boys and girls were mixed together. Some had just lost their parents, others like Meera had lost them years ago. She felt bad for the new ones. Their salty tears were fresh on their cheeks, but she hadn't cried for a long time now.
"Yes," Mapes answered, eyeing each of her orphans carefully, "What is this about?"
One worker peered to the other and let out a long breath, "The Capitol commands more hands for help in the power stations, in the energy plants. We've been told to search the poorhouses for these hands."
Even though the worker was keeping up a strong façade one look in his eyes told Meera how sad he was. It was hard to send your own to toil in the factories for the sake of the rich. It was hard when the factories were so dangerous and workers dropped like flies because of accidents and exhaust.
A pang of fear sliced through Meera. She cupped her hands behind her back and noticed Zara tighten her posture nervously. Even Mapes suddenly looked anxious.
"How many?" Mapes's voice was softer than Meera had ever heard it.
"Only 3 from this one. Many of the orphans are still young."
The fear grew. Meera wasn't young anymore, not by District 5 standards. 17 was old enough to work in a factory. The thought terrified her.
"But with the Reaping tomorrow—"
"Orders, Ma'am. I'm sorry they're just orders. We have to follow them."
Slowly the workers broke apart. They passed by each orphan, studying them and jotting notes into their panels.
Steady breaths. Meera stared ahead. Her warrior face had been developed over the years of tragedy and starvation. She wouldn't flinch now. She wouldn't show fear.
Finally one of the workers got to her. She glanced to his face as he studied hers.
"Age?" The man asked.
"You're small for a 17 year old."
It was true. Meera was short, but maybe this was a good thing. She could feel her palms getting sweaty, "Yes."
Quickly he jotted something into the panel and rubbed his chin. She pursed her lips when he looked back to her, a deep sigh simmering from her lungs as he continued to walk.
A chorus of whispers and grumbled echoed down the line as the first two were picked. Both were boys. One of them barely looked 13. A second passed before the last was picked. This time it was a girl. She was Meera's age but much more tall, much more muscular.
"That'll do," one of the workers nodded.
"You should be proud of yourselves. From now on you're part of a different family."
The words were meager comfort for the chosen three. The smallest boy looked like he was going to break down in tears. Meera quickly realized he was one of the new orphans, one of the ones who had lost all his real family. Her eyes shut to blot out the sadness that was creeping inside. This was the world they lived in. This is what life is. The weak are devoured and the strong persevere. Soon Meera would have to face the factories, but not yet, not now.
Each of the chosen ones hung their heads low, letting the workers escort them to their futures. Futures laced with tragedy and labor.
Later that night she crawled into bed and pressed her face against the pillow. It wasn't stuffed with feathers, in fact Meera didn't want to know what it was stuffed with. The sheets smelt like dirt and sweat. She pulled the torn quilt to her chin. The open window let a cool breeze inside. All around her, through the darkness, she could hear soft snores and gentle cries. The cries were from the scared ones, the ones that mourned for the chosen three and for the coming reaping.
"Meera, are you awake?"
Zara's voice sounded empty.
"They're starting to take us when we're younger."
Zara waited for a reply but Meera gave her nothing.
"I heard some girls talking about running into the wilderness. Can you imagine? Maybe it would be easier that way. Maybe they're right. There has to be something else out there besides Panem."
Meera glanced to the window. The stars were twinkling.
"Those girls are fools."
"There is no maybe, Zara. This is our life. There's nowhere to go beyond all this. Don't you remember what happened to the boy from the shanties down by the lake?"
Everyone knew what happened to that boy. A day before he turned 18, a day before he was going to be forced into the factories with the rest of them, he tried to escape. He got only a mile into the surrounding wilderness before his foot caught on a booby trap. There wasn't much for the peacekeepers to do so they decided to disguise these little mines of death for courageous runaways. The boy blew up into a million pieces. Meera scrunched her nose as she recalled the black pillar of smoke and fire that climbed high into the sky that day. She was only 12.
"The reaping's tomorrow."
Zara's words brought her back to the cold dark room, to the musty sheet.
"Are you scared?"
Near the window the curtains knocked against a wall. Down the hall she could hear murmurs. No doubt Zara wasn't the only one terrified of tomorrow. She twisted the quilt closer to her face.
"Are you?" was her only reply.
"More than anything."
The reaping wasn't something that you got used to—the Capitol liked it that way.
"Are you, Meera?" she repeated.
For a heartbeat she thought of answering but the longer she thought about it the more speechless Meera became. Instead she rolled over and glued her eyes to the open window, to the sparkling stars—stars that gave her a small bit of comfort amidst the ache.
"Go to sleep, little Zara. Tomorrow will be long."
Long. That wasn't the right word for it, not at all, but it was the only word that she allowed her lips to make.
"Will you walk with me tomorrow?"
When she finally fell asleep she dreamt of the boy by the lake shanties. Only she was the boy and not herself. She was running through wilderness, over stone, and around wind torn trees. She could sense her own desperation, taste panic bitterly oozing in her mouth. A breeze of freedom taunted her, a breeze Meera Eastwood knew she would never truly understand.