Before the games, the nightmares, my dead sister and all of the half-empty morphling syringes, I had a life.
I was not rich nor poor, beautiful or ugly, some probably would have even described me as quite plain, with my long, mousy hair, pale skin and small eyes as black as coal. I even had a plain name. Eda O'dell. Nothing special.
But I was happy up until what happened. I lived in an average sized cabin (which was standard for most people who lived in District 6) built out of strong wood with my entire family – my parents, four sisters (all younger than me) and three brothers (all older than me), so I was the 'middle child'. I didn't mind, though. I didn't need my family's attention.
I especially did not need the attention I got on one particular day.
As all of my brothers were past the reaping age limit, and my sisters all below twelve, I was the only one in danger of getting reaped. I was 14.
You'd have thought the thought of going to the reaping would send shivers down my spine make my heart pound - and it did. Only in a different way to the others. I didn't cry myself to sleep over it, or have nightmares like the other children. I wanted to go.
I wanted to win The Hunger Games. I had to. For my sister, the day she was murdered in the arena, I swore I'd win for her.
My parents and older brothers think I don't remember. But I do. I think of it each day, and with each day I grow more and more angry as I think of what happened to my sister. She was the same age as me, only much prettier with soft mahogany-coloured hair, bright brown eyes and sparkling personality. I still long for her hugs, her smell…
I bury my head into my absent sister's old doll. Well, it was a screwdriver with bits of charred fabric wrapped around it – but to me, it was priceless.
I stare at the tiny, fuzzy television with confusion.
Why was Cassie on that television? I had never understood, and nobody would tell me. It's not fair! I'm 6 years old, I should be allowed to know.
Mama doesn't know I'm watching. She usually orders me to close my eyes and sleep, but I never do. Right from the start I've been watching. Always watching just in case, because deep down I knew what was happening. I may not know the details but I'm pretty smart.
My sister was going to die.
I clutched the doll like it was a lifeline, as if somehow if I hold on to it tight enough, Cassie will live.
But of course, she didn't. The day she died is so clear in my head, as if the television is still on, flickering on and off, like plaiting my heart into a big tangled-up mess. It aches.
Cassie had survived until the final two.
I don't remember them coming to interview me, maybe they thought me too young or because I just wasn't a 'camera-ready' child, what with my gaunt face and chubby, pink cheeks, pale as the moon and about as round (though I had as much food as the rest of us in District 6, I did have a certain amount more of flesh than the rest of us) and far too happy and oblivious to the fact her older sister was in an arena full of other children trying to kill her.
But the day she died, I remember that clearly.
I was just about to drift into sleep, only to be woken by mama's crying and father's cursing.
'What?' I asked, demanding an answer.
I followed there gaze.
I found my answer.
Because on the screen, my sister, my big sister who was the one who played with me when no one had time, who gave me little mouthful's of her soup when mama wasn't looking, was dying.
A girl, much bigger than Cassie had pinned her to the tree and had seemed to broken her kneecaps with a rock.
Cassie's scream had no effect on the girl. She struggled, but she had no weapon. No strength.
Mama told me to close my eyes, but I couldn't. I couldn't even cry. I just watched, as this big, nasty girl hurt my Cassie.
The girl prodded her with some sort of spear, and started cutting her with a small dagger until she resembled the doll I held in my hand. I threw it to the floor.
The cannon boomed. And the girl smiled with glee.
For the first time, I was angry. I wanted to make them pay for what they did to Cassie.
For the first time, I wanted to kill.
I wanted to go to the Hunger Games. I wanted to win. I would make Cassie proud. She will not die in vain. The Capitol, the careers, everything.
Not really the thoughts you'd be expecting from the mechanic's daughter, Eda O'dell, the nice little girl with the big smile and gappy teeth.
I've never told anyone I was going to volunteer. I've been training secretly every day behind the tracks which is easy to cross near our house as there are never any peacekeepers around where we live. Since I was about ten, I've been thinking and training like a career.
I woke up at around four o'clock every morning and threw on my dad's mechanic suit which covered me from head to toe and if anyone was mad enough to be awake, I was vaguely undetectable.
I would sprint to the rails (about half a mile) and quickly cross the sleek, metallic tracks and slip behind the foliage.
Behind it revealed my own little 'hideout', it was such a relief to be out of the District with its strange fumes and stinking parts of different metal and oils for making trains and cars (our district was transport).
I had no real weapons, but I had stolen weird instruments from my father's garage and used them as spears and weights. I had my own knife, I had stolen it from the kitchen. It was a small and dainty one, but it was sharp with a good grip on the edge. The first time I threw it, I was surprised how far it went and even more surprised when it stuck into the nearby tree.
I am not vain, and I don't really brag but I can say that I am probably better than most of the careers now (well, with my knife anyway).
I was ready.
I woke up early, out of habit, I guess, but I had to stay in bed. My family would be making a fuss out of me and if one of them woke early and notice I wasn't there, they'd probably do something stupid like get the peacekeepers.
I sat, huddled in itchy blankets and thick cloth, and just tried to keep my mind blank.
I must have fell asleep, because the next thing I recall is my mother waking me up soothingly "Eda, hunny, I've put your clothes next to the fire. You better get up, it starts in about an hour." She gives me a sympathetic look, and caresses my cheek with tears in her eyes.
This gesture almost makes me tell her everything. About remembering Cassie, wanting to win and how I was going to volunteer. How hard this will be for her… first Cassie, now her second born daughter. But I will not die, and I'll convince her.
Instead of feeling nervous, I feel almost excited. It's cloudy, and spots of rain start to drip on my flustered face as I walk swiftly towards my age group. I had lost most of my friends through the year, I just never had time to go out and play like the normal kids.
I stood tall in my checked red and white table-cloth dress and black chunky heels inherited from my mother and look ahead at the large stage covered with cameras and Panem's emblem printed everywhere you look.
My palms start to get clammy, and I felt my blood pump through my veins as our escort, Caldwell Aldjoy, an obnoxious man in his late thirties, dressed in a bright orange waistcoat with black trousers with silver rhinestones walk towards the front of the stage as his Capitol inflicted voice booms across the district.
"Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favour!" I roll my eyes. Urgh, these Capitol people were so annoying.
He goes on about how he is so pleased to see such a 'wonderful' district, and how he's sure we're all as excited as he is. He drones on, and on about how we should be so proud if we get the chance to represent the district.
Finally, he gets to the bit everyone is waiting for.
He starts with "Ladies first." Just as most of the other escorts quote, and I feel my heart stop, literally I cannot breathe.
I shuffle my feet awkwardly as I wait what seems like hours.
Caldwell draws a dramatic breath and calls out the name-
A wave of confusion hits me like a tsunami. What? Me? I pull myself together. Oh, well, at least now I won't have to explain to my family why I was going to volunteer.
I smile, and walk confidently towards the stage where I stand in front of the whole of Panem.
I catch the look on my families face.
I want to cry, to run to my family, but I look away, the others cannot see that I am weak mentally, otherwise I am instantly targeted as a weakling. Which I am surely not.
I am only slightly aware of the boy standing next to me on stage, what was his name? Phoenix or something. Whatever. I don't intend on making allies, even if he is from home.
I shake his sweaty, trembling hand as the anthem of Panem plays, and I look out to see thousands of faces – most in relief - and then we are escorted to the brass doors of our Justice Building.
I sit in the dark, musty room which is full of expensive things that I'm sure nobody would really need – I mean a gold, crystalized grand piano? Really?
I am now a tribute, I thought to myself. Huh. I expected it to be more of a shock, but all I can think of is how my strategy will be. Play it strong like a career? Average and not attract attention to myself? Just as I'm thinking this, my three brothers burst in.
I've never seen them cry before. Ever. But they do now, all of them with tears streaming down there such manly faces that it looks strange and hugging me so tight I'm actually really afraid I'm going to be strangled. Their faces look so much in pain that I end up telling them everything.
I tell them how I've been training like a career ever since I promised myself I'd win for Cassie, and how getting picked today was such a shock today. But that I was ready.
"I'm going to win." I state. They all stare at me with admiration.
The next to come in is my sisters and mother.
I hug each of my sisters and promise them I'll come home. My eyes particularly sting when Abbie, the youngest gives me a small daffodil.
"It's for luck," she says with a smile. "Remember to bring it back, though!"
I laugh, and wipe away a tear.
I have a private word with my mother, who I also tell everything to. She looks me in the eye and says fiercely, "You have to win. I can't go through it again."
"I will. I promise." We embrace and she and my siblings are gone. It's not forever I tell myself, but I can't help getting chocked up in case the unthinkable happens.
Last is my father. He quickly shoves the door open and rushes towards me.
"Eda. Look at me," he orders. I stare up at his bright blue eyes, so different to the rest of us. "You're going to win. I mean it."
He kisses my forehead, and he looks like he wants to say more but he's a man of a few words and goes out as briskly as he came.
I tie the bright, yellow daffodil to a strand of hair as a reminder of my family. But I refuse to think I'm not coming home. I've promised to stay alive.
And I always keep my promises.