The 100th Hunger Games
Perhaps it would have been an ordinary day for Rosa if it weren't for the eerie silence that greeted her when she awoke. The entirety of the farmhouse was quiet as a mouse. Had even the baby become aware of the tension? The only thing that Rosa could sense was a smell, the clear, sweet smell of birthday cake. She had told her mother not to make one, begged even, but her efforts had been in vain. "The ingredients cost so much money!" she'd said. "You only turn 16 once!" her mother had said. Had it only been yesterday? Yesterday, full of laughter and happiness and family. The difference between that and the silence of today made yesterday feel like a world away. Today was indeed the day of the reaping.
Rosa stepped out of bed to the godawful sight of a sea green dress hanging on the back of her bedroom door. Her mother's idea, now doubt. Everyone dresses smart for the reaping. Just in case. Just in case your name gets chosen and the whole of Panem will still you on camera. Dress smart in case today's the day you get called to a bloodbath!
Even though she detested the colour and even feel of the fabric, Rosa slipped into the dress and out the door, to breakfast downstairs. Her parents, both sets of grandparents and baby sister all lived in the small farmhouse in the middle of District 10. At 16, Rosa was the only one of the Greystone family to be at risk of being chosen for the games. At least, she was now. Last year, there was a her brother, too. But his name had been chosen last year. Suffice to say, he hadn't been the victor.
"Oh, hello dear," her mother greeted her when she reached the tiny kitchen. "It's late. Why didn't you wake me?" Rosa asked. "I thought you deserved a lie in, since it's... you know," her mother replied as she pulled out a chair for Rosa and fussed over her hair. "I'm not scared mom, I already told you that," Rosa replied as she batted away her mom's hand. "Don't be so rude young lady. Perhaps you think you're invincible but you mother and I live in the real world, and she's concerned. Have some respect," Rosa's dad said from across the table. "Well, don't be. I'm not going to get picked," she replied.
Eggs were for breakfast of course. Eggs were always for breakfast. District 10 was the district of livestock, but the Greystone's were a family of only chickens and dairy cows. No meat. That was the Green family's department. They were one of the richest families in district 10. They had a whole load of beef cows, and demand for beef from the Capitol was always in place. The Greens had enough money to buy all the food they wanted. But they Greystones provided eggs and milk, and that was almsot all they ate. In this small farmhouse, even bread was a luxury.
After chores, Rosa went back to her bedroom to get one last thing before the looming reaping. Sat on her windowsill was her brother's familiar ruby coloured necklace. She couldn't remember where he'd even bought it, but Rosa remembered how he'd wear it each and every day. After he died, and the Capitol returned his few belongings to his home here in district 10, Rosa had worn it every day. It was a small red cylindrical charm on a black string. She hung it around her neck, and she made her way downstairs where her mother waited with the baby. "Ready?" Rosa asked. Her mother, visibly anxious and unsettled, was undoubtedly remembering this time last year, when Rosa's brother had come downstairs and said the same thing. The last day they saw him.
It was a short walk to the town square where the reaping would take place. The eerie silence that had swallowed the small farmhouse hung over the entire town like a daunting raincloud. All the parents had the same expression on their faces; concern, anxiety. And the children all had the same look on their faces, too; nerves, panic. There wasn't a single person there who didn't feel sick with worry. Except for Rosa, the only person there with a smile. A sadistic smile at that.
Apoch fidgeted in his seat. The small stool of rotten wood that served as the only resting place in his small cell offered no comfort what-so-ever, and though the dull ache it conjured in his lower back was a nuisance, it paled in comparison to the raw pain of self loathing that clouded his mind.
"How could you have let this happen? HOW?!", the sentence rang through his brain like a siren that refused to be silenced.
Leaning forward in his seat, he pressed his clenched fists against his eye sockets, sending a warm pain through the compressed area. Gritting his teeth to the point at which he was sure he heard an audible crack, he found himself unsure of whether the pain he inflicted upon himself was an attempt at drowning out the abusive voice in his head, or whether the voice was attempting to further its deafening punishment in the physical world. All that study, all that preparation, all the times he'd been told about the importance of his role, and yet he'd tripped at the first hurdle. Taking his fists from his bloodshot eyes, he scanned the grey back-room in which he now sat; locked within the depths of District 8's Justice Building. He was certain that orders from the Capital detailing his appropriate punishment would arrive any minute, and for a moment, he took solace in the thought that his time under the crushing weight of his own self hate would most likely soon be over, for it was not in the Capitol's nature to be forgiving.
Gently lifting the tattered sleeve of his faded jacket, he found the lump of the Tracker-Jacker sting had doubled in size since he had last inspected it, though the pain had dulled considerably. The sting's severe narcotic effects were what had gotten him into the awful predicament, and even now, almost 48 hours after exposure to the single insect's venom, he still felt slightly woozy. For as long as he could, he focused on the slowly diminishing effects of the Tracker-Jacker's venom in a vain attempt to block out the thought of his family, his friends, and above all, his failed mission.
Just as he once again began the descent into depression, the iron door to his cell swung open to reveal the black uniform of District 8's muscle bound Peace-Captain. Apoch visibly perked up. "This is it, it'll all be over soon, just stay calm!" he mentally chanted to himself, "This humiliation is almost over."
"Apoch Finch, the capitol's orders have arrived". With that, the Peace-Captain stepped back, allowing the entrance of two peacekeepers into the cell. A quiet smile sat upon Apoch's lips as he was violently hoisted up by his arms and dragged away. Despite the fact that one of the peacekeepers had unknowingly squeezed the Tracker-Jacker bite, sending sudden blinding pain through his upper left arm, he remained calm. Closing his eyes, he accepted his imminent end.
A sudden rush of cool air and sunlight took him by surprise, and before he could so much as open his eyes he felt the peacekeepers release their painfully tight grip, sending him tumbling down a flight of stone steps. A chorus of gasps, linked with the intense pain of landing on his sting did nothing but add to his disorientation. As he desperately tried to focus and make sense of the situation, yet more hands crowded him, though these were gentle and slowly helped him to his feet.
"Released?" he thought, still lost in the moment. Behind him, a sea of sombre teenaged faces stared his way, each sporting a look that he could only read as, "I'm sorry...".
Still unsure of what had transpired, he turned back to face the Justice Building, just as the irritatingly high pitched voice of a young woman rung out across the crowded courtyard.
"HAPPY HUNGER GAMES!" it echoed, "AND MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOUR!"
Apoch's entire body numbed; even the Tracker-Jacker sting faded instantly.
Rosa quickly stopped smiling and swallowed. The smiling was causing people to stare and she didn't want anyone to know what was coming. And it was attracting the attention of Peacekeepers, whom Rosa hated with a passion. It had been a long time since district 10 had had a volunteer for the Games, and it wasn't hard to see why. Children in district 10 didn't know how to fight. Even if they did, odds are they'd die if they were chosen.
Everyone in the poorer districts hated the Capitol. While the children of 10, 11 and 12 starved to death on the streets, the Capitol had an abundance of food, so much in fact that a lot of it would get wasted. And their children didn't have to worry about the Hunger Games, they'd never get chosen. But children as young as 12 here in the districts were in danger every single year. Everyone in the districts is denied a childhood. Even if your family has enough to eat, you still have to worry about the Games. Worrying that you might die in a bloody fight should be something no child has to go through.
Rosa used to envy children of the Capitol. Then she would grow to envy children of the career districts; at least they knew how to fight. What could Rosa do? Throw an egg at them? Milk a cow in the middle of the arena? How would that save her life from a blood thirsty career who has no sense of sympathy or even mercy?
The Justice building looked bigger than ever at the reaping. Any other day, it would just be the Justice building. But on the day of the reaping, it stood wide and tall like an angry monster under a grey sky. The clouds hung low and everyone there had a look of terror on their face; it was like a scene from a nightmare. "See you in a little while, okay?" Rosa's mother said as she once again fussed over her daughter's hair. "Stay calm, kid," said her father. Really? The same words? The same thing they'd said last year, when her brother was chosen? Were they hoping for a better outcome this time? If so, they were going to be disappointed.
The Peacekeepers stood around the outside of the square as everyone took their place in the line to get their finger picked. It happened every year, they'd take your name down and a bit of blood. You wouldn't find a single friendly Peacekeeper in district 10; they took their job very seriously. Rosa wondered how someone could take pride in a job like that. Peacekeepers was definitely not the right term for them.
The baby cried in Rosa's mother's arms. It was the only sound apart from everyone's footsteps and Rosa couldn't help but note how apt the sound was. The sickest part of all of this was how any footage shown of district 10's reaping would be the names being called and the tributes. None of this would be shown on TV, none of what it was really like. But the teenagers in the career districts would all be volunteering and excited to go up, they'd show that on TV for sure. But not this. Not the faces of children, scared and worried and panicked. Not the truth. The Capitol would fall before it would tell the truth.
Everyone stood still facing the Justice building as a screen at the top of the grey steps played a video all about why the Hunger Games existed and why they were important. Footage from some of the games flashed before Rosa's eyes, and one small 12 year old in particular caught her eye. Rosa had heard her brother rant time and time again about Primrose Everdeen. He hated the Hunger Games and the Capitol more than Rosa did, and nothing got him more worked up than remembering Primrose Everdeen. She'd been selected when she was 12, her first year at a reaping, with no tesserae to her name. She never stood a chance. The victor that year had been a strong career named Cato, and he'd killed Primrose Everdeen in the most gruesome way Rosa had ever seen. It was one of the Capitol's favourite scenes.
Of course that was 26 years ago, so Rosa and her brother had only ever seen it in old clips of the Games, and Rosa didn't really know why she got to him so much. Now she was older, Rosa looked to her baby sister the way her brother used to look at her. That's when she understood. Watching Primrose, for her brother, was like watching Rosa herself in the Games. Everyone reacted the same way when a 12 year old was chosen. Disgusted.
A series of Peacekeepers stood behind the screen as it rolled up to reveal a small woman with stupidly bright blue lipstick and a green tint to her skin. She had sky blue curled hair and a pointed face. She was always at district 10's reaping, though Rosa had never before bothered to learn her name. Beside her stood a man and woman Rosa instantly recognised. They were the only living victors of district 10, bound to be mentors for this year's tributes. "Welcome all! Welcome, to the reaping of the 100th Hunger Games!" said the woman from the Capitol through a microphone on a stand. She spoke with the typical high pitched Capitol accent, and smiled as she spoke. She paused, waiting for cheering and clapping as she did every year. But everyone looked at her like she was an idiot. Rosa rolled her eyes. Why she expected district 10 to be excited about the Games was beyond her. "Let's get started shall we?" she said, and put her hand in the bowl to her right. "Ladies first."
Rosa hoped she would read out Silvia Green's name. She really disliked Silvia Green. She had smug attitude towards Rosa, simply because she was richer. She enjoyed nothing more than insulting Rosa at school and calling her family names. And of course, in the past year, mocking the death of her brother. How she would reget that if she herself was chosen. Unfortunately for Rosa, a 12 year olds name was chosen. She knew that girl, too. "Joanie Redblade!" said the woman from the Capitol. The adults voiced their disgust as the tiny girl made her way onto the stage, absolutely petrified. Rosa could practically feel her mother's relief. Don't be so eager, mom. Rosa thought to herself.
Next, the boy's name was drawn. "Sebastian Green!" Even better! After a year of torturing Rosa about her brother's death, let's see how Silvia liked it when her own brother died in the Games. Rosa would certainly get her back for all that name calling. Sebastian Green was the same age as Rosa's brother would be now, and had the same emerald eyes and blond hair that everyone from this part of district 10 had. The same eyes and hair that Rosa had. "Well, well, well. I expect some of you will be jealous, eh!" said the Capitol woman. Again she was greeted by silence. Everyone just wanted to go home. "Do we have any volunteers?" she then asked.
Usually this question was always greeted by silence. No one volunteered here. There hadn't been a volunteer in district 10 for a long time. But this was the year it would all change. The year the cameras would swing round and all the parent's would gasp and the Capitol watching on TV would be shocked. Rosa took a breath before the words "I volunteer," escaped her mouth. And I will have my revenge.
There was no noise as Rosa made her way through the crowd that was now staring at her, mouths wide open. Everyone moved out her way quickly, like she was to be feared. They couldn't clear her path fast enough. Whispers could be heard as she passed the other teenagers, but Rosa kept her eyes on the stage. As she put her foot on the first step, she heard screams from behind her. She knew that voice all too well. It was her mother. The baby was crying, and her mother was being restrained by two peacekeepers. Rosa ignored her mother's terrified cries and continued her slow ascent up the stairs. "Well, well, well! How exciting!" said the Capitol woman, "You will be the talk of the Capitol this year!"
Joanie Redblade sprinted towards Rosa and wrapped her tiny arms around her in a thankful embrace. Was that what everyone had thought? That she'd volunteered to protect this small child? Soon a peacekeeper was pulling Joanie off Rosa, and she continued walking across the stage. "And what might your name be?" the Capitol woman asked. "Rosalind Greystone," said Rosa down the microphone. Then the Capitol woman proceeded to act as if Christmas had come early, while everyone else was still in shock. Little Joanie Redblade was hugged tightly by her entire family, whilst Rosa's mother was dragged away from the square entirely. "Well, care to share with the Capitol why you decided to be district 10's first volunteer?" the Capitol woman asked when she'd calmed down slightly. Rosa thought, what would interest the Capitol the most? What would get them on her side? Revenge? Wanting fame? A joke? Protecting that Joanie kid? What would gain her sponsors? Rosa thought for a moment, before realising that anything she said would probably be a shock to the Capitol. Just the action of volunteering alone would get them talking. She shrugged and decided to lie. "I'm tired of milking cows."