The Night Before
The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village. It stood on its own and looked over a broad spread of the District. Ivy and ferns grew through the crevices of the old winding stone path, which led directly to the colossal structure. The mansion loomed proudly behind beautiful iron gates, flanked by rows of trees crowned in crimson, swaying gently to the chilly autumn wind. At its threshold stood the delicate marble fountain, the soft gurgling of the clear water melodic as it resonated in the surrounding silence.
The Mercedes came to a roundabout with a fountain at the centre, swept around it, and continued up toward the fantastic sprawling house. It was Victorian, redbrick topped with copper domes and spires that had long ago turned green. There must have been at least a hundred windows on five floors facing the drive. It was a house that just didn't know where to stop.
Our house was the result of years of hard labour on the back of swarthy Bengali-speaking workers. At the height of its sumptuousness, it was the jewel of the river; the house of an important government official. Even when we lived, nearly five decades later, its pertinence and grandeur endured. But the formality of the house was both frivolous and well receded, so our childish endeavours could be fulfilled and we were free to squander away what was left our childhood on the riches of the land.
This house is my home, where the laughter happens and I can rest at the end of the day. From the street it is bricks and mortar topped with tile, the same as any other. Yet if you step inside you'll feel it's so different, a place where the lungs choose to fill a little deeper and the heart beat a little steadier. I love my home. As daughter of the major of District One, I wanted for nothing growing up, I'd always had the best. My mother liked to spoil me like that.
I climbed out of the car and stepped up the marble stairs, pushing the door open. The house was welcoming from the wooden door to the wide hallway. Upon the walls were the photographs of me with my family, so obviously loved. The floor was an old-fashioned parquet with a blend of deep homely browns. The banister was a twirl of a branch, tamed by the carpenter's hand, its grain flowing as water might, in waves of comforting woodland hues. Under the lamp-shine it was nature's art, something that soothed right to the soul.
I took in all the beauty with a sigh. This would be my last day here for a while. The reaping was tomorrow and I was to volunteer. Everyone knew it and no one dared object, despite most careers training till they were 18 before volunteering. This however, had nothing to do with my birth and everything to do with my skill. I had been told even from a young age that I would be a victor for District one. It was always expected of me. My father told me on my 6th birthday that I was to begin training and he brought in the best trainers for my personal learning. By the time I was old enough to join the academy, I was exceptional with throwing knives and fairly talented with daggers. So good, that when I got to the academy, they told me to focus on survival skills instead as I was already better that most of the 18 year olds at fighting. Jealousy created a lot of tension and I went to the mat many times to defend my position. Eventually, dislike turned to grudging respect and I made a few friends.
Brutus Cage was my best friend. He taught me how to make poisons and acids from every day plants. My favourite creation of his was an acid so strong it could sizzle through the blades on my daggers and turn them into a kind of green goop. I'm not entirely sure of how it works but it was awesome none the less. I myself managed to make an acid that can disintegrate rubber and leave you with just black smoke. It was one of my favourite creations. I smiled reminiscing as I climbed the stairs the banister smooth in my hand. I would miss him most while in the arena.
Pulling open the door to my bedroom, I smiled. On the back wall was a mural, a tree with every colour of fall leaf imaginable and a few more besides. On the intricately carved pine bed was a hand embroidered orange cover. From every wall smiled black and white photographs of herself as a child with her mother, her father and her sister, Eliza. She had spent so much time at the academy, that she had become unaccustomed to these little touches.
Eliza bustled in with a tray of sandwiches and cake, her face so tired but wearing the same smile she always reserved for her twin. "Hey sis" I said smiling at her as she placed the tray down on my desk. She gave me a fierce grin in response "good to see you. Mother has said that you should get your clothes out ready for tomorrow. Any idea what you're going to take as a token?" She asked. I nodded to express that I understood. "I have no idea. Any suggestions?" I asked. I could tell she was bursting to tell me something and didn't want to ruin her moment. She smiled and drew something small and black out of her dress pocket; a ring. It was beautifully made, two small band of black metal with a strip of emerald sandwiched between them to make one ring. "I knew you wouldn't have," she replied holding the ring out to me "I want you to take this. I made it. Mother got me started in the business and it's the first ring I've made." She was clearly very proud of herself.
Mother was a jeweller and made rings and necklaces while my father ran the district. It had started off as a hobby, something she enjoyed but when her friends started ask who made it, she started to think. Three years later, her business was going strong and she was loving it. When I started training, mother and father decided I would be the tribute of the family while Eliza would help my mother. She had started on with her only two months ago and she was a natural. This ring stood only as an example of that.
I clasped my fingers around it and the cold metal bit into my palm. I smiled lovingly at my sister. My twin. My other half. "Thank you. I will win this for you. And with this," I held up the ring "I'll look damn good while doing it" I grinned cockily and winked. She snorted with laughter and doubled over. I laughed at her reaction and she punched me on the arm. "You wish" she chuckled softly. With one last smile she turned and left calling out, "don’t forget to get your clothes ready" as she departed.
I turned to my desk and placed the ring on it, smiling at my reflection. I then made my way over to the doors of my wardrobe flinging them open revealing rows upon rows of clothes and shoes. My eyes scanned over them until I settled on my decision. Reaching in, I pulled out a white top with a short floral skirt and some beige heels. Nothing too fancy, pretty enough to be memorable but not frilly enough to pass her off as just another rich snob from District One.
Laying the clothes out on my desk chair, I walked back to the wardrobe and pulled out a silk cream nightgown and quickly got changed before sliding under the covers of my bed with my book and dinner. Only three hours till the day of the reaping.