A small voice, it is. Small, but strong, and oh so loud. It's a voice, so calm, collected and confident, a voice projecting words, clear, calculated, rehearsed some thousand times over. Two words, that nobody wants to hear.
It calls again, as though in fear of going unheard. Stupid, that. Not like we could've missed it, in the stone silence the reaping induces. No, we heard her alright. We just chose not to listen.
"I VOLUNTEER! I will be your tribute!"
And now, we know, we can't ingore her any longer. Perhaps we felt that we could shun her into sense, or obscure her from the eye of the peacekeepers, by simply refusing to acknoledge her cries.
But no. We could never be so lucky.
Because the girl on the stage has heard now, the girl on the stage has seen, and she's so terribly, desperatley happy, and it's not like we can tell her that we choose a plucky young idiot over her, not like we can tell her that even though there's somebody willing to die in her stead, we'd rather force her into the fray than let another soul gladly save her.
No. That girl is going to live.
It's the girl on the ground. The girl just barely scraping twelve, the girl with the small strong voice, the girl with the wavy blonde hair and the glassy brown eyes and the long flowing dress, blue, deep as the night, and the body so small, so breakable.
She is the girl who must die.
And as she walks forward through the breaking crowd, she shows no sign of fear or remorse. She is prepared for this day. She knows it must come. She is lifted onto the stage by two members of the crowd. We won't let the peacekeepers touch her.
The girl on the stage gasps a word of thanks, but she can't bear to look into the face of her saviour, a girl some three years her junior, a girl she commited to death. It shames her, but not enough, not enough by a long shot, for her to stay where she stands, and send the child back home. The older girl slides from the stage and shifts into the crowd.
So a child, a mere child, she stands, dwarfed by the depth of her situation, and her staggering beauty, her hair, her eyes, so perfect, stun us all. Stun us, yes, but that is not what breaks our collective heart. It's not her beauty, nor her integrity, nor her age, nor bravery.
It's that the girl who is not afraid, is not happy. No, she does not cry, no she doesn't run or hide, but she does not smile. She does not laugh.
Her soul is not one that yearns for glory. Her soul is one that could not bear to let another die.
Her face shows no confidence of victory.
We can see that she knows she will die.
So our Josie.
Is led from the stage, and into her grave.