“Annie,” a voice says. There’s something pressing on my shoulder. “Annie, wake up.”
I burry my face in my pillow. “Nooooo,” I moan, drawing out the word.
“Come on. It’s reaping day.”
I crack my eyes open. My twin brother Britton is standing over me. He’s bathed and dressed already. Must have been awake for hours. His hair – much less red than mine, more of a brown color – is combed. Bags and purple shadows hang under his blue-green eyes. I wonder if he slept at all.
Britton is lucky. He’s the only boy in the house, so he gets his own room. It’s small – barely more than a space for a bed – but it’s his. I share my room with our cousins, Lunetta and Adrie. We’ve put up a number of curtains to allow for at least a little privacy, but it’s not much.
Britton heads back to his room after waking us all up. He forces a smile and calls back to us, “I don’t know how you sleep so late. I can never sleep at all before the Reaping.”
The only reason I’m able to is because I stole a sleeping draught from our aunt’s medicine cabinet. She doesn’t know, of course – she’d have one of her episodes. Probably threaten to send Britton and me back to the community home. But we’re sixteen now, almost seventeen, and that makes us old enough to work, and I doubt she’d be willing to part with our salaries.
My cousins and I help each other into our dresses and comb one another’s hair. One must look their absolute best on Reaping Day in case they get called up. Don’t want the sponsors’ first impression of you to be in swimming clothes.
I lean forward in my chair, elbows on knees and head on hands. Reaping day is always the worst. The days when your tributes die are sad, too, but the day when children get told they will be sacrificed. That's the worst.
Our representative from the Capitol, Brae Briggar, dances over to the name-pools. She says some sort of introduction that I don't listen to and then reaches her bony arm into the bowl.
“Asper Brewre!” Brae calls.
He must be twelve, must be just old enough to have his name in the reaping. He’s young. Very young – yet his hair is naturally gray. His blue eyes shine with tears. At the back of the crowd, a woman – must be his mother – is sobbing uncontrollably. Two or three other women move forward to embrace her.
Brae clears her throat. “Now for the girls!” She prances over to the other bowl and reaches in. She accidentally grabs two, and takes her sweet time choosing which to keep and which to toss back with the others. She opens the slip of paper and clears her throat before reading, “Annie Cresta!”
After a few seconds, a girl emerges from the crowd. Flowing hair. Wide eyes. Maybe sixteen or seventeen. Visibly trembling. She stumbles a few times as she climbs the steps to the stage.
Brae smiles brightly. “Ladies and gentlemen of District Four, I present to you – your tributes!”
There’s plenty of mandatory clapping, then the tributes are led into the Justice Building. The Head Peacekeeper steps to the front of the stage and starts barking instructions. “Those of you wishing to bid farewell to the tributes, line up here in order of closest relation.”
We victors head straight for the car that will take us to the train station – except for Broadsea, who never goes to the Games because no one seems to care whether or not he’s there.
Asper Brewre and Annie Cresta. This are the children I will watch die.