The 76th Hunger Games

Ashby is the daughter of Katniss Everdeen. She has been told barely anything about the Hunger Games purely because of her mother's fear. This puts Ashby in a dangerous position. She and her family are being followed and it's up to Ashby to find out who they are and what they want. But what if ... they want her?

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2. Intruder Alert

Chapter Two

Intruder Alert

“What?” Mum asked in confusion. “No, Ash. That’s impossible.” Mum reached my side and paused. Her large grey eyes widened. That meant I was right. That meant the fence was back on and we’d have to wait for it to turn off or somehow go over it.

“Katniss, what are we going to do?” Dad asks, the worry clearly showing in his voice. My Mum looked around and spotted a tree very close to the fence. One thick branch loomed over the electric wire.

“Oh no! No way, ever.” I started to say but Mum held up her hand. Great, I was probably going to break a couple of bones on my birthday. We all paced quickly over to the large tree and Mum started muttering things.

“What kind of an idiot would turn the fence back on?” Was something I heard her say. I went up the tree first, seizing hold of the thick bark layering the tree. Fir climbed up after me and we slowly but steadily made our way to the branch over the wire.

“I don’t think this is safe, Ash. Mum’s lost her mind.” He muttered to me which made me laugh a little. Maybe it was stupid and unsafe but it was an adventure all the same.

I edged over the branch, carefully avoiding the fence, and got ready for the drop. Finally, I gathered the courage to fall and slid off the branch, landing nimbly on the ground.

“Come on, Fir. It’s okay.” I called. Mum and Dad weren’t so far behind him and he might decide he was going to be a wimp and stay up there all day. Luckily, Fir decided to man up and leaped down rather gracefully for a boy. Mum and Dad did the same.

“It hasn’t been on for years. Who would decide to switch it on now? And why?” Mum asked, directing the question at Dad and not us. Dad shook his head and shrugged.

“I’ll ask Haymitch about it later, okay?” He replied softly. Mum nodded and let Dad put his arm around her. She leaned into him as if he were the only thing keeping her upright.

I’d hoped at dinner, my parents would tell me what they’re secret was but they successfully managed to avoid the subject all evening. Much to my annoyance.

Fir and I had school the next day so Mum and Dad sent us to bed early. I headed up to my room, closing the door silently behind me. Today had been slightly exhausting and I just wanted to lie down and sleep for a couple of weeks.

Dragging my feet over to the long vertical mirror, I undid my single braid and let my glossy dark hair fall to my shoulders and over my watery blue eyes. My stare was so intense and I’d been told that many times by people before.

I carefully removed my black hunting jacket, matching vest top and black jeans. The harder job was removing my hunting boots. They went up to just under my knees and so did the laces. I was really glad they weren’t heeled like Savera Hayes. She could barely walk in those stupid methods to attract boys. Somehow they actually worked though. Not that I ever wanted to try wearing high heels just to get a boyfriend. I might as well commit suicide!

Later on, as I tried to get some sleep, but kept failing, I heard Fir stumbling across the corridor towards my bedroom. I sat up in bed immediately and watched as my door swung open and little Fir scrambled over to my bedside.

“Ashby, I can’t sleep.” Fir whispered. “Will you ... Will you sing to me?” Little Fir looked so hopeful and cute that I couldn’t say no. I slid over to the side of my bed and patted it.

“Get in then, Little Fir tree.” I replied quietly and Fir giggled as he flopped into my bed and snuggled down under the covers. I cleared my throat.

 

Deep 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 open

The sun will rise

 

Here it’s safe

Here it’s warm

And here the daisy’s guard

You from every harm

And here your dreams are sweet

And tomorrow brings them true

Here is the place where I love you

By the time the song had ended, I could hear Fir’s steady breathing and knew he was asleep.

“I wish I slept as easily as you, Little Fir tree.” I whispered and snuggled under the covers too. Hopefully, I could get some sleep tonight.

The next day, I woke up exhausted. Little Fir was wriggling around so I prodded him lightly awake. He groaned.

“Oh-Urgh-what?” He looked up at me with those large grey eyes. “Ashby, it’s early!” I laughed and rolled myself out of bed. Running over to the other side of my bed, I yanked Fir up.

“Come on, Little Fir tree. We’ve got school.” I replied quietly. “Oh and try not to anger Gunnar today.” I added slyly. He gave me a fake glare and ran off to his bedroom to get ready.

I quickly went over to my chest of drawers and pulled out a pair of denim jeans, a blue vest top and my hunting jacket. I also pulled on my hunting shoes and yanked a hairbrush through my hair. Running downstairs, I met Mum at the breakfast table. Dad had already left for work and Mum had made pancakes. She barely ever made pancakes.

“You’ve got a special day today at school, Ash. So pay attention, Sweetie.” She circled me with a smile on her face and stopped behind me.

“Tuck that tail in, little duck.” Mum said quietly as if it saddened her. She tucked in the shirt “tail” that was hanging out and pulled a chair out for me. I sat down quickly and reached for a pancake. Fir came down and practically leaped around in joy. He’d only ever had pancakes once before for his sixth birthday.

“Wow, pancakes! Are they real ones, Mum?” He asked excitedly. Mum smiled and nodded. Her hair was in a single braid like mine was yesterday. It was like our signature look.

I arrived at school with Fir after our twenty minute walk to find everyone in class, abnormally early.

“Oh no!” I cried. “Fir, get to class ... quickly!” Fir obeyed immediately and rushed off to find his classmates.

I entered the scruffy little classroom and everyone’s heads turned. I gave them a small wave and retreated quickly to my seat. Mrs. Herriot continued to speak.

“Finally, everyone in this class has turned twelve. Today, we are going to start learning about the terrible fate that befell on all of your parents. Some will have played big parts, some will have played small. Ashby Mellark, stand up.” I was completely alarmed but did as I was told. Everyone was looked totally confused too. I’d not been talking.

“You’re mother and father played the largest part in what happened. You should be proud of them. They set us free.” Mrs. Herriot told me with a large smile on her face. “You’re Mother was the mockingjay.” Little gasps and whispers filled the room. I frowned and felt my eyes narrow.

“I’m sorry. The what?” I asked in confusion. I heard sniggers from the back of the classroom but before I could turn and give them a piece of my mind, Mrs. Herriot continued again.

“The Mockingjay was the sign of rebellion. You’re mother took the role as the face of the rebellion.” She cried out dramatically.

“Rebellion? You’ve completely lost me.” Everyone turned to stare at me in amazement. Even Mrs. Herriot seemed totally taken back. What was so incredible about me asking about the rebellion and what on Earth it was?

“Have your parents told you nothing, Ashby?” She asked confused. Clearly I was more confused than her though. “They played such huge roles and yet shared nothing of the heroic deeds they did with their children! My my, it seems this shall be harder than I thought.” I hated Mrs. Herriot when she said that. When she acted like I was dumb. I wasn’t stupid, my Mum just always decided to keep me in the dark about things.

“Will you just tell me what the heck you’re talking about?” I yelled. I’d had enough of being lied to for the past couple of days. I knew my parents had been keeping something from me. Everyone let out little gasps at my sudden outburst.

“Right... of course.” Stammered Mrs. Herriot. She started pacing around like she did when she was nervous. “It all started roughly eighty five years ago. People rose up against the government and lost so, as punishment, the country was split into 13 districts. Thirteen had been supposedly obliterated after and uprising.” Everyone looked around at their friends. Seeing as I had none, I stared down. Mum had lived in a district?

“District one was luxury, District Two was masonry and District Three was technology. District Four was fishing, District Five was power and District Six was transportation. District Seven was lumber, District Eight was textiles and District Nine was grain. District Ten was livestock; District Eleven was agriculture and District Twelve mining. District Thirteen was something very different. District Thirteen was graphite mining and nuclear. That’s what made it so dangerous.” Mrs. Herriot continued.

It was all so much to take in. I could barely even believe what I was hearing. All this rubbish about districts and what they were for. I mean, what kind of idiot believes all that? I suppose she wouldn’t be telling us this if it weren’t true, I thought.

“Every year, to remind the districts of their power, they would force them to offer up 2 tributes, one girl and one boy. They would take part in a brutal and bloodthirsty game called the hunger games where 24 kids would go in and only one would come out. They’d be forced to kill everyone who stood in their way.  You’re mother and father, Ashby, were the tributes for the 74th and the 75th hunger games.” My eyes widened. My mother and father? I could see my Mother being in the hunger games. But Dad? He was too noisy, too sweet ... too much like Fir.

Suddenly, I could imagine little Fir running around in a forest being chased by a masked figure. They were quickly gaining on him, knife raised. Fir’s breath was coming out in exhausted puffs. There was nothing I could do to save him. The masked figure knocked him to the ground and grabbed Fir’s arm. Fir screamed in pain as the figure cut a line deep into his skin.

“Mrs. Herriot?” I asked, hand raised. She nodded but looked annoyed. I’d interrupted her speech. “If there is only one victor, then how did my parents get out twice?” Mrs. Herriot suddenly looked very pleased. Someone had noticed that little detail and that’s why she was all happy.

“You’re parents are incredible people, Ashby. The first time they went in, they managed to survive until the two of them were left. The Capitol, the people in charge, tried to turn them on each other. So, you’re mother took out a plant called nightlock.” I gasped. Nightlock? That was a deadly plant that killed minutes after it touched your lips. “Just as they were both about to eat the nightlock; the Capitol interfered, not wanting to be shown up. They were crowned victors for the first time ever. The first two victors in 74 years.” She spoke with such chilling passion. It was like she was obsessed with my parents and what they did. I hated that about her too.

I couldn’t possibly imagine being in the Hunger Games. What would it be like? On the run from 23 other people, all armed and trying to kill you. It would be horrifying. Then I remembered something my mother said.

“I distinctly remember you stomping around that arena.” That’s what she’s said. I almost laughed to myself.

“And the second time?” I asked, confused. Mrs. Herriot was certainly enjoying this conversation. She liked being right.

“The second time the previous living victors of the hunger games were selected and went back in. They all worked together to get your mother and father out alive at whatever cost because your mother was the start of the rebellion. She made your lives better. You could have been born into a world your parents lived in but Ashby’s parents stopped that. They stopped the Capitol.” Everyone burst into applause. This is crazy, I thought. My parents were totally awesome! They saved all of us? I could barely believe this. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like in the hunger games. I’d be scared and terrified ... but my parents went in there twice! I couldn’t wait to tell Fir.

“After the 75th hunger games, Katniss Everdeen went to district 13 where everyone was living underground in hiding. A rebellion was firing up in each district. Unfortunately, Peeta Mellark was captured by the Capitol. They made him do interviews with Caesar Flickerman, the hunger games interviewer, and afterwards, wiped his memory of Katniss. They made Peeta think Katniss had killed his family and that she wasn’t even human. They sent him to district 13 where he attempted to kill Katniss numerous times. He hasn’t been quite the same since.” I listen to Mrs. Herriot with horror. Those scum had brain wiped my dad? How dare they! I couldn’t imagine how that would have felt for mum.

“But what happened to Gale?” Asked a girl with gingery blonde hair and very, light blue eyes. Mrs. Herriot turned in amusement. Was there something funny about Uncle Gale? Something funny he’d done?

“I thought that might come up somewhere. Gale saw he was out of Katniss’s league and moved to District 2 which is far away near the Capitol ruins. But it’s not called that anymore, like this is no longer named district 12.” Little gasps rippled through the class. This was district 12? The mining district? No wonder mum had said to pay attention. And Uncle Gale had been in love with mum as well? I’d only ever known him as an Uncle but he wasn’t even that.

“Anyway, the leader of the Capitol was President Snow. Katniss, Gale and Peeta managed to find him and take him back to district 13 where they prepared for his execution. But for some reason, when the time came to shoot him, Katniss didn’t. She shot the president of district 13 who would have become the next ruler. Some say there are Capitol citizens out there today, seeking revenge.” She had no idea how bad she was at telling spooky stories because that wasn’t even vaguely scary.

The rest of the day was pretty boring. After our little history lesson, we paired up and had to look at information sheets about the Capitol and the way it worked and the other kinds of districts. It was so weird. I’d never imagined mum lived like that. Or dad.

I went and picked up Fir after school and saw him talking to a beautiful girl who I knew to be Librae Keene. She had very curly brown hair and big round, sparkly green eyes. You could see Fir liked her and I thought it was so cute. I scanned around the playground and someone caught my eye. I looked over and saw that Gunnar was spying on Librae and Fir with a look of sheer fury in his eyes. I knew that look and I didn’t like it.

I strolled casually over to Gunnar keeping a careful eye on Fir. He spotted me coming and looked truly alarmed and couldn’t seem to stop stealing glances every so often back at Librae. 

“Why are you so angry, Gunnar?” I asked in a mocking voice. “Can’t take it because Fir finally got his own back but getting the girl you wanted. Because people like him more because he’s so friendly and sweet. I can see the way they look at each other. Can’t you?” Gunnar gave me the coldest look I’ve seen in a long time. That made me laugh. For some reason, Gunnar thought he was so incredibly tough even when he was facing someone 2 years older.

“Fir is nothing more than scum.” Gunnar spat and I seized him by the collar, my face turning into an angry snarl.

“If he’s scum, what does that make you? Because I’m pretty sure Fir was always better than you in every way.” I hissed in his face then turned around abruptly and stomped over to Fir. I grabbed his tiny little hand, the one that wasn’t taken by Librae, and yanked him away.

“Sorry Librae. Mum and Dad want him home immediately. Come on, little Fir tree.” I demanded and Fir gave me a tiny scowl which, naturally, I totally ignored. I knew Fir was cross with me because I’d broke up his little conversation with Librae but Gunnar was almost smashing his face in from the pure looks of hate across the yard.

“You know Gunnar likes Librae too?” I asked and his eyes flicked up to meet mine. I shrugged. “Just saying.” Fir looked gobsmacked and which then abruptly changed to annoyed. His hands balled into fists.

“Oh no, that just gives him another reason to bully me every day.” Fir groaned and then it was my turn to be shocked. I’d known Gunnar bullied Fir but I hadn’t realised it was quite so often. I’d thought it was maybe once every so often and Fir seemed fine most of the time. Now, he was pretty close to tears. My heart wrenched.

“Come here, little Fir tree.” I said softly and pulled him into a hug. I let little Fir sob on my shoulder for awhile before taking his hand and walking home again. Barely anyone noticed us come in. There was a big fuss in the kitchen and I could feel the panic rising in me already. Something important was being discussed and we weren’t supposed to know what. I tugged at Fir’s hand and took him upstairs.

“Little Fir tree, don’t go downstairs. Mum and Dad have guests and I have a feeling they don’t want to be disturbed.” His blond little head nodded and I smiled at him. Fir ran over and gave me another hug with I accepted. Poor little Fir was going through something he shouldn’t have to. I planted a kiss on his forehead and left him in his room.

The guests didn’t leave until very late. I’m not entirely sure how late because I wasn’t looking at my watch but I knew it had to be pretty late. It was pitch black outside and the whole of our town was deadly silent. I smiled and snuggled down into my bed.

I woke up to Mum screaming. She had been screaming for Dad again, like she did most of the time. I’d been meaning to ask them a lot about what happened so I could go into school knowing a little more than everyone else. Now wasn’t exactly the time for that though. Mum went back to sleep soon after Dad started soothing her. He always seemed to calm her down. I started to wonder what her nightmare was about and I could take one guess: The Hunger Games. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. They’d give me nightmares too.

Luckily, there was no school the next day. I got up feeling full of energy and completely ready to go. I couldn’t wait for our next hunting lesson. It was going to be brilliant.

I made my way down stairs to find Mum wasn’t even awake. She knew today was a hunting day and she was always up early! I ran all the way back up stairs and into Mum and Dad’s bedroom. Mum sat up immediately.

“Ashby ... Ashby, what on Earth?” She moaned quietly. Kneeling by the side of my parent’s bed, I protested.

“Mum, you know Saturdays are hunting days!” I cried more loudly than I had intended. Dad rolled over to look at us.

“Katniss? Ashby? What’s going on?” He muttered quietly. I stomped my foot angrily and glared coolly at mum. She responded with a surprised or maybe an alarmed look. I heard Dad splutter with the laughter.

“Oh, god Katniss! She’s just like you were! You gave me that same glare about one thousand times.” Dad just couldn’t seem to stop laughing and Mum turned round to glare at him. This seemed to make him laugh more than before. I groaned and leaned over to give Mum a good prod.

“Mum! Today, we always go hunting. Why are you still asleep?” I complained. What was going on today? I sniffed and suddenly got the ghastly smell of alcohol. I almost vomited.

“Oh my god!” I yelled in disgust. “Are you- have you been drinking?!” The guilty expression on my Mother and Father’s face showed that I was right. I gave out a loud cry of despair and flounced out in a sulk. What were they playing at? They must have gotten drunk last night when all their friends were round. Absolutely ridiculous. Careless even, I thought.

It was another half an hour until Fir came down to have breakfast. He frowned when he saw me making boiled eggs with toast instead of Mum.

“Where are Mum and Dad?” Fir asked, his forehead crumpling, his round eyes widening and going all shiny like they had a whole nights sky in them. I smiled at him and pointed upwards.

“Mum and Dad are lazy and won’t get up. Would you have a go at waking them, little Fir tree?” I asked slyly. Fir had the worst methods to wake someone up with. One of which was jumping on the bed and screaming at them to get off their lazy “but holes” and go downstairs. That would teach Mum and Dad for drinking so much they’d even forget hunting days.

I was baffled at the total silence in the house as I had expecting shouting by now or maybe even just a little squeal from Fir. But there was no sound. No sound whatsoever. What on Earth was happening?

I climbed the stairs quietly, waiting for some sound, any sound, to be made. Nothing. Total silence. There had never been, not once in my twelve years, a moment of total silence. It sent cold shivers, like spiders, running down my back. I decided to stay quiet in case something was going on.

I stopped outside my parent’s door and heard a man’s low voice grumbling.

“Where is she? Where is the girl?” His voice sounded commanding with a hint of urgency in it. What girl? Footsteps thudded over to what I presumed to be the bed. I heard a sickening slap sound which made my whole body flinch in one agonising motion. My Mother let out a yelp. That was it for me. Nobody hurt my Mother, ever. I knocked the door and it hit the wall behind with a loud thud.

“Looking for me?” I asked coldly. I knew they probably weren’t but the line sounded pretty cool! I gave them my very best glare which Fir calls “the hot coals”. I inspected my surroundings, not daring to miss a single detail. Dad was on the floor with a bloody nose and a large, bulky man towering over him. Mum was backed up against the wall, a firm strong hand gripping onto her arm. Poor little Fir was shaking in the corner, a pristine gun pointed at his head. I almost broke my glare at the sight.

Every stare turned to me. My Mum’s eyes widened with fear, Dad leaned forward, attempting to get up and little Fir stood up to run for me when the gun smacked him over the head with a “snap”. My stare went even harder than I had ever felt it go before. This was not okay. Who the hell did these people think they were? The man next to my Mother grinned.

“Actually, we were.” Oh crap. Crap. Crap, crap, crap. Crap! This was so bad! I thought they were looking for some random person. They wanted me?! Why? Why was I important? Millions of questions hurtled into my brain all at once, causing me to almost stumble.

Unfortunately, at the precise moment, I was unarmed. This meant I was totally defenceless aside from my bare hands. Apparently, they were going to have to do.

A painful grip landed on my arm and I spun around to see a boy, a couple of inches taller than me, in a black mask and black clothes. As if reacting on instinct, my fist swung round and met his cheek, sending blood flicking everywhere in a 30cm radius. I didn’t have time to puke as he was recovering from staggering. He peeled away his first, long sleeved black top to reveal a short sleeved t-shirt. Lifting up the sleeve, he showed me a gruesome gash, stretching approximately 8cm down the top of his arm. In the middle, a shiny metal object was stuck in the flesh. I felt like vomiting but I kept my face composed.

“Remember me?” He asked slyly. Wincing a little as the boy touched the wound, he yanked out the metal thing, revealing an arrow head. It was an almost perfect one too. My eyes widened with horror. This was the boy I’d shot down in the woods.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” Then I paused to look back at my injured family. “Actually, no I’m not sorry. You didn’t have to go through all this trouble just to get me to say sorry for your stupid little wound. You’ve knocked out my 10 year old brother, probably broken my Dad’s nose and managed to actually scare Katniss Everdeen!” I hissed at his face. I could only see the boy’s eyes, which by the way were a beautiful glossy chestnut coloured, widened with surprise. They quickly went back to a mutual glare though.

“If you come with us, Ashby ... no one gets hurt.” The bulky man near my Dad growled. I laughed. Yeah, I actually laughed in the unfunniest situation I’ve ever been in.

“What, more than they already have?” I asked, returning back to a scowl, my eyes hardening. I heard a small groaning sound from Fir’s direction and ran over towards him without hesitation.

“Fir? Fir, can you hear me?” I asked urgently. He didn’t respond. “Fir?!”  I knelt down next to him, sliding his head onto my lap. His little hand slid some of his wavy curls back into place and my eyes were met by big round ones. He gave me a small smile.

“Hey, little Fir tree.” I whispered and pulled him into a hug. He felt so small and frail in my hands right then. Then suddenly I was furious with these people who had decided they could just barge into my house without asking. I was angry with these people who thought it was okay to knock out my little brother, punch my Dad and threaten my Mum. I was blazing with the heat of a thousand fires, that’s how angry I was. The thing that scared me most was, I was ready to kill.

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