As I walk out the door I take my mother’s hunting jacket from the door, and my two knives from inside the vase in the hall. I don’t need many, I never miss. My sword is in the woods. In District 12, everything has changed. Peacekeepers occupy at least half of the population, each dressed in their polished white uniforms and masks. None speak unless they have to. Out the door alone there are at least fifty that I can see. I glance up to the mine next to our house and see they haven’t fixed the broken security camera I broke some weeks ago. It’s late morning, so I see several people who fell victim to the night raids on the stocks, our district’s whipping posts. I was there once for getting caught coming out of the woods. I’ve still got the scars.
I pull the hood of my jacket up over my head, covering my face and hair. There are pros and cons to living right next to the mines. You can slip out and no one will notice you. If you’re lucky you can salvedge some spare, free bits of coal from the sides. The cons far outweigh the pros though. The stench is awful, it weaves up through the mines into our house. And the cold! You’d think, as we live in the coal District, we would have lots of warm winters. Well… I wouldn’t call them warm exactly. Some winters we can scrape together a few coins to buy coal or warm soup from the Hob. And if we’re lucky, at school there are sometimes a few hours when the heat pumps work. Other times we sit there, chill to the bone while our teachers rattle on about how much we should thank the Capitol. I’m almost at the fence surrounding District 12. It’s changed too. Before, it was about five metres high and only occasionally had electricity. Now however, it’s ten metres high, has barbed wire in the bottom and top, and is always, always buzzing with electricity. You must be wondering how I get around it. Well, that’s quite easy to explain.
The fence is always electric nowadays. It sounds like angry wasps, and today, even though it’s the reaping day, is no different. Even from where I usually hide, a small bush about a metre away from the wire, I can feel the heat. The peacekeepers guard the fence 24-7, well that’s what they said, but it’s not true. Those of us who hunt, or the brave ones who sometimes dart in to take a few plums or apples to stew, know that every half an hour they leave, either to go to the bathroom or get a drink. Then the second guard comes on. That’s when you sneak in. There are several weak spots in the fence, each hard to spot and easy to get through if you move fast. I catch my breath as I reach the fence. I can’t see any peacekeepers. This strikes me as abnormal, usually there are at least ten or twenty on lookout. I quickly look around and dart into my bush. I’m not as small as I used to be so it’s branches tickle my face as I watch out the gap. No peacekeepers appear. Odd, but good for me. Still, I wait a bit longer before starting to edge out of the bush. It could be a trap but the lure of meat for dinner is too much. Without pausing to think, I run out of the bush, receiving several cuts to the face as I do.
I dive down to the ground as I hear the thumping of guard’s boots. I’m going to have to move fast if I don’t want another whipping. Without pausing, I wiggle forward on my stomach through the long grass to the edge of the wire. The boots are coming closer. I crawl through the fence and have just reached the outskirts of the woods when forty armed peacekeepers march to the fence.
I watch for a while then see, to my surprise, a masked figure running to the woods. The peacekeepers obviously see them because the next thing I know is that their blood is splattered on the ground and the masked figure’s body is being dragged away to be thrown in a pit. We don’t even have funerals in 12 anymore, too many people die everyday for the undertaker to manage. Pleasant. I just am thinking that maybe I should move on when I notice a second figure entering the woods, taking the advantage of the missing peacekeepers well. I decide to see who it is, maybe they could help me get food for my family. They could lead me to a secret meadow full of fat, juicy turkeys. They could also lead me into a trap that sends me to my death, but I can’t think about that now. I follow the person deeper and deeper into the woods, luckily, we walk past the hollow log where I store my sword so I take it out. You never know when someone will turn nasty. I follow them for a few more minutes when they stop and sit on a big rock. I know who this is instantly.
As I turn to leave he speaks,
“I knew you were following me.” He says, “Willow Mellark”
“Finnick Cresta,” I reply. He nods his head courteously and looks down at the ground. As he should. We have a history together, one I’m not really interested in sharing. We were best friends but that all changed after what he did. I look at him and see his sea-green eyes dart away from mine. He’s quite handsome, green eyes, golden skin and brown hair though I’m over the time when I wanted to be with him. Sometimes, at school, I see him looking at me just to see if I’ll look back. I don’t. He ruined our friendship through his decision. We stand there, looking into each other’s faces, him with hope, me with disgust.
“You want to help me get food?” He asks. At first I think of refusing but I miss his company and everyone feels a little better towards each other on reaping day.
“Ok,” I say, “Where should we go? We could hunt, fish or gather roots and berries.”
“We can hunt and gather at the same time,” he replies, taking my hand. “Come on!”
About three hours later Finnick and I are walking through the woods back to the fence carrying a small silver tin of berries each. It’s a horrible hunt. There was no game. None! Not even a small squirrel. The closest there was to a good kill were a few ducks, but they were boney and slim, not nice and fat like they are in the Fall. Apart from that the day was nice, being with Finnick again woke something in me. It was almost like old times. I didn’t know how much I missed him. It’s like the song:
’Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go’
And I let him go.
We’re almost at the edge of the woods when I see it. A patch of fat, juicy turkeys. Perfect for dinner. I gesture to Finnick to get down so he does without question. We draw our weapons, me, my knives, him, his trident. In two quick moves, a pair of turkeys fall to the ground. Dinner. We sling the turkeys over our shoulders and smile at each other. Finnick hasn’t lost his touch.
As we walk back to the fence I notice something abnormal about the peacekeepers. They’ve all got the Capitol crest on their uniforms. That’s a recent addition. I’m thinking about the possibilities that they came from the actual capital when Finnick’s hand falls on my arm.
Without hesitation, I do so. He leads me to a tall tree just at the boundary of the fence.
“Climb,” he says, gesturing to the tree. What? I’m not crazy! But apparently he is as he starts to scale the woody outside of the branches. After consideration, I follow him. I’ve made it to a very thin branch that hangs over the fence when he stands on it! He walks across the branch, above the fence, with impeccable balance. Just as he gets across, he jumps.
My heart screams and I scramble to the end of the branch only to see Finnick laughing on the ground.
“I hate you!” I scream down at him, “You scared me!” Then I realise my mistake.
Shouting at someone who just crossed the fence and who is with someone over the fence is not a very good idea. Almost immediately, I hear the sounds of peacekeepers boots heading in our direction.