Deep in the Meadow

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Chapter 2

I donโ€™t hesitate. I jump down from the tree and sprint off with Finnick at my heels. The consequences for being in the woods -especially as Iโ€™ve been caught before- are severe. Itโ€™s not just the whipping. Sometimes, the standard procedure is just to ready, aim, and fire the guns. I pull my hood up and run faster. Finnick does the same. Itโ€™s getting tense, we can hear boots just metres behind us when I find an extra burst of energy. Finnickโ€™s such a physical wonder that he keeps up with my speed and finally, the guards boots fall behind and disappear.

โ€œPhew,โ€ says Finnick, โ€œThat was a close one.โ€ I lean on my knees and pant. Running for my life is exhausting. I take off my hood, look up, and see we are already in town. Iโ€™m just about to turn away when Finnick says something, โ€œWe could do it,โ€

โ€œWhat?โ€ I ask,

โ€œLeave,โ€ he says simply.

Leave? What is this? We canโ€™t leave!

โ€œWe wouldnโ€™t make a mile.โ€

โ€œWe might,โ€ He replies. I turn to leave. Iโ€™m not Finnickโ€™s friend anymore so why should I run off with him? He isnโ€™t a friend. Or is he? I know what he is to me in my heart but Iโ€™m afraid if I think about it too much itโ€™ll become real. And then what will I do? Who will feed the family if Iโ€™m going off with Finnick? I canโ€™t do that to them. Not with my father having funny times where he has to clutch a chair while his hands shake. Not with my mother never talking and screaming in her sleep. Rye canโ€™t hunt. So I do. Without me they wouldnโ€™t survive.

โ€œSee you at the reaping.โ€ I say, and walk away.

The reaping starts off the same as always, a now sixty three year old Effie Trinket shuffles up to the stage and announces, โ€œHappy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor!โ€ As bright and bubbly as always, even though there is nothing bright and bubbly about this event. I spot Finnick in the crowd and he smiles at me. Starting cheerfully, Effie follows that with a cheerful, โ€œLadies first!โ€

She shuffles over to the girlsโ€™ ball and pulls out a name,

โ€œDianne Listone!โ€

I have a rush of relief and then double take. The girl has blonde hair and is in a wheelchair. Surely that is unfair! The girl is one I have seen several times at school, someone who has been my partner for lots of projects, someone almost like a friend. She has silent tears running from her dark blue eyes, she knows she has no chance. The crowd is muttering too, they know it is unfair.

Before I can stop myself my feet carry me up to the front of the crowd.

โ€œI volunteer,โ€ I shout, and as if I am afraid nobody heard me, โ€œI volunteer as tribute!โ€ Before I can register what I said somebody pushes me up onto the stairs.

I am completely shocked, I volunteered for someone, a girl I donโ€™t even know! My fatherโ€™s voice echoes in my head

โ€œNever volunteer, NEVER, do you hear me!โ€

As I look back into the crowd, I see my mother crying, I have never seen my mother cry before.

โ€œWhat is your name, child?โ€, asks Effie

โ€œWillow Mellarkโ€ I say, barely audibly.

โ€œIโ€™m sorry, can you repeat that?โ€ Says Effie a little impatiently.

โ€œWILLOW MELLARK!โ€ I scream at her.

Her face falls almost comically.

โ€œA Mellark child, oh dear. Now for the boys!โ€ she shouts, obviously trying not to cry.

โ€œDean Hawthorneโ€ she chokes out, while trying to stop sobbing.

I am relieved that it is not one of my friends when it hits me, Dean Hawthrone. Galeโ€™s son. Gale who was partly involved in killing my Aunt Prim with the bombs! I almost scream in frustration, surely this day couldnโ€™t get any worse! No, I am wrong, it can.

My parents and grandpa will be mentoring me. And watching me die in that arena because there is no way I can make it out. I am short and skinny and 15 and the others will all be monsters of 18 that have trained all their lives and can kill someone that is twenty feet away, and then there will be kids like me who are easy pickings, people to kill off before the good times begin. I will be lucky to get past the first day. Well no, I might have a chance if I get a weapon, I can use a bow and arrow and shoot birds out of the sky, but the sword is my real weapon. I can beat my whole family and not get a scratch on me. I can throw a knife well and hunt, I might actually have a decent chance. No I canโ€™t think like that, I have no chance and I canโ€™t act like I do.

Dean walks up to the stage, he is a strong seventeen year old boy with brown hair and green eyes, I canโ€™t help noticing how handsome he is. No, he is trying to kill me now, I can not forget that. We shake hands, his are soft but warm. Then we walk into the Justice building.

I sit on the couch that so many years ago, my mother sat in after she volunteered for her sister Prim. Which was kind of pointless as she died anyway in the war, that still happened even without my mother, onlyโ€ฆ The Capitol got reinforcements, the rebels were overpowered and everything went back to how it was except... that the years after the war the reaping seemed to be rigged. They would choose kids with some connection to the victors, like Finnick Cresta who won a few years ago when he was 17. In fact, with the people living in District 12 now, the Victorโ€™s village is as full as itโ€™s ever been. I run my hands down the velvet pillows underneath me. I know that I must not cry or show any weakness, if I am going to die, I am not going down without a fight. Then the door opens and my best friend Marly enters the room, she bursts into tears as she looks at me, and then collapses on the couch next to me and lays her head on my lap.

โ€œSing,โ€ she says as if she is the one who is going to die, not me.

โ€œWhy?โ€ I ask.

โ€œBecause you inherited your motherโ€™s singing voice and when she sings all the birds stop to listen.โ€ She gasps sobbing into my dress.

โ€œOK, but you have to stop crying,โ€ I say, then take a big breath and sing the song that my mother sang to me this morning. This morning?! It seems like an eternity ago, so much has happened since then.

โ€œDeep in the meadow, under the willow.

A bed of grass, a soft green pillow.

Lay down your head, and close your eyes.

And when they again open, the sun will rise.

Here itโ€™s safe, and here itโ€™s warm.

Here the daisies guard you from every harm.

Here your dreams are sweet, and tomorrow brings them true.

Here is the place where I love you.

Deep in the meadow, hidden far away.

A cloak of green, a moon beam ray.

Forget your woes, and let your troubles lay.

And when again itโ€™s morning, theyโ€™ll wash away.

Here itโ€™s safe, and here itโ€™s warm.

Here the daisies guard you from every harm.

Here your dreams are sweet, and tomorrow brings them true.

Here is the place where I love you.โ€

I finish.

She gasped and cries, โ€œPlease, Willow, you have to come back, PLEASE! Youโ€™re the only friend Iโ€™ve got.โ€

What can I say? For her to stop being ridiculous? Not to pretend? I say the only thing I can, what many chosen tributes will be saying as well. Only a few say it and mean it.

โ€œI will.โ€

She gives me one last hug and stares at my face as she walks out of the door with the peacekeepers, wiping her face as she goes.

My next visitor is my brother Rye, who will be staying at his friendโ€™s house when my parents and now me are away.

โ€œHi,โ€ he says. โ€œTry to come back PLEASE, I canโ€™t live without you.โ€

I give him the same answer I gave Marly, โ€œI will.โ€

โ€œDonโ€™t say it if you donโ€™t mean it,โ€ he replies.

โ€œI will,โ€ I say. โ€œNow come here.โ€

He snuggles in close to me and grins. โ€œWhat sits at the bottom of the sea and twitches?โ€

โ€œI donโ€™t know, what?โ€

He laughs. โ€œA nervous wreck!โ€

He snorts again and starts cracking up but stops when the peacekeepers enter, telling him his time is up.

He fights them and screams, โ€œCOME BACK WILLOW, COME BACK!โ€

โ€œRye!โ€ I shout desperately, but I am stopped by the wall of peacekeepers that come to stop me.

โ€œYou have two more visitors,โ€ one of them says.

Who? Who would come see a girl who will die? Who else cares about me? Iโ€™ve had my best friend and my brother, who else is there? My question is answered as first, Dianne, the girl who I volunteered for, wheels through the door. She still has tear marks running down her face, making the whole thing horribly vivid. โ€œI am so sorry,โ€ she says. โ€œI didnโ€™t mean for any of this to happen.โ€

โ€œI know,โ€ I reply

โ€œYou are allowed to wear one thing from your district in the arena, can you wear this?โ€

I stare at her outstretched hand, in it lies a necklace, made of fine golden chain, the symbol is of a bird with an arrow in its beak, I know what it is immediately. A Mockingjay. An exact replica of my motherโ€™s pin on a golden chain, held out by the girl whoโ€™s life I saved.

โ€œWhere did you get this?โ€ I ask

โ€œMy parents were rebels in the war,โ€ she replies with a proud smile, โ€œThey died in the bombing that killed your aunt, I was raised by my grandparentsโ€.

โ€œIโ€ฆ Iโ€™m sorry,โ€ I say, shocked

โ€œI knowโ€ she says โ€œI am tooโ€.

Then she wheeled out of the door and was gone. Huh. I guess she was one of my best friends after all.

I look up when the door opens to see Finnick walk straight through the door to sit right on the couch next to me. โ€œAre you alright?โ€ He asks. I stare at him, shocked, we havenโ€™t talked in weeks, months but here he is, acting like nothing happened. Again. First this morning now, now. And of course Iโ€™m not alright! I mean, I just got put in the Hunger Games for crying out loud! I shake my head at him and he looks away, his famous eyes disconnecting with my blue-grey ones. I think I got the best looks of my parents, my Motherโ€™s dark hair and tanned skin, and my fatherโ€™s blue eyes. Rye got his hair and my Motherโ€™s grey eyes. In front of me, Finnick doesnโ€™t say anything. Heโ€™s nineteen now, he won his games two years ago. I wish I could do the same. The peacekeepers stroll through the door and pull him away. I grab his hand.

โ€œFinnickโ€ฆโ€ I say hurriedly.

โ€œItโ€™s Ok!โ€ He yells, โ€œYou will be fine. You can win!โ€ His hand is ripped from mine as I think about what he said. โ€™You can winโ€™ What rubbish. I can not win. Iโ€™m Katniss Mellarkโ€™s daughter.

Then itโ€™s all over and Iโ€™m bustled onto the train, looking back with wide eyes at the woods that I call home fade away into the distance. Towards the Capitol. Towards my doom. The Hunger Games.

Panem is my home, always has been, always will be. Even though I wish that would change, it wonโ€™t. It will never change, no matter how much I want it to. That cruel reality I had to grasp from the moment I turned 9 years old, when my parents told me all about the war. The Hunger Games. Panem has thirteen districts, one Capitol. There are now, again, twelve districts. In revenge of the past two uprisings, or rebellions, they have the Hunger Games. The second war was the one my parents were in. The one they lost. Again.

They used District 13โ€™s weapons and the people of the districts to start the rebellion, then got the Mockingjay to end it. When we lost the war, something broke inside my mother. All those deaths. Finnick Odair, Cinna, Boggs, her sister Primrose. Everything they did. For nothing. All the destruction and the blood spilt was for nothing. The Capitol won. So the Mockingjay broke. She locked herself in a room with the book of deaths and stayed there muttering to herself. Screaming in her sleep. I looked after Rye. We had nothing. The house in the Victorโ€™s village was taken from us. We lived in town on the streets. Then we moved. To the woods. We lived there for about three years. Then my mother sold her Mockingjay pin. The pearl my father gave her. The spile. Everything. And we got a house. We had money. But not enough. My mother taught me to hunt, I gathered meat and plants. And made friends, Marly, Finnick, named after his father. Finnick was one of my best friends, exceptโ€ฆ He stopped. If we see each other, we donโ€™t talk. Except for today and that was radical. After what happened itโ€™s no wonderโ€ฆ

The Capitol took everything, and gave us the Hunger Games. The rules are simple. Every year the children of the districts go together to the reaping. Where they choose the tributes. โ€œTribute.โ€ I test the word on my tongue, that is me. That is Dean. The ones who are chosen to fight. There are twenty four tributes. Twelve girls, twelve boys. From the age of twelve to eighteen. The tributes are brought to the capitol for a week as a prepping. So the citizens of the Capitol can bet on the odds of your survival. So you get them to like you. Then the arena. The time in the arena is unlimited, it could be a day, a month, a year. It just depends how long it takes for everyone to kill each other except the last one standing. The last one is the victor.

I will not be the Victor of these games.

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