The Hunger Games Larry Stylinson

In The ruins of a place once known as North American lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlaying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Harry Styles, who lives alone with his mother and younger sister Gemma, regards it as a death sentence when he steps forward to take his sister's place in the Games. But Harry has been close to dead before — and survival, for him, is second nature. Without really meaning to, he becomes a contender, but if he is to win, he will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

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1. Part I "The Tributes"

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.  My fingers stretch out, seeking Gemma's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattres.  She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.  Of course, she did.  This is the day of the reaping.  

I prop myself up on one elbow.  There's enough light in the bedroom to see them.  My little sister Gemma, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother's body, their cheeks pressed togetehr.  Sitting at Gemma's knees, guarding her, is her cat.  Small, black and white with green eyes.  Gemma named her Dusty, insisting that the black patches on her coat looked liked patches of dust.  Dusty hates me, or at least distrusts me.  Even though it was years ago, I think she still remembers how I tried to drown her in a bucket when Gemma brought her home.  Don't get me wrong, I love cats, but the last thing I needed was another mouth to feed.  But Gem begged so hard, cried even, I had to let her stay.  It turned out okay and she's a born mouser.  Even catches the occasional rat.  Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Dusty the entrails.  She has stopped hissing at me.  

Entrails.  No hissing.  This is the closest we will ever come to love. 

I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots.  Supple leather that has molded to my feet.  I pull on trousers, a shirt, sweep my curls to the left and grab my forage bag.  On the table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from hungry rats and cats alike, sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves.  Gemma's gift to me on reaping day.  I put the cheese carefullly in my pocket as I slip outside.  

Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to the morning shift at this hour.  But today the black cinder streets are empty.  Shutters on squat gray houses are closed.  the reaping isn't until two.  Might as well sleep in.  If you can.  Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam.  I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow.  Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-like fence topped with barbed-wire loops.  In theory, it's supposed to be electrified twenty-four hours a day as a deterrent to the predators that live in the woods - packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears - that used to threaten our streets.  But since we're lucky to get two or three hours of electricity in the evenings, it's usually safe to touch.  Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is alive.  Right now, it's silent as a stone.  Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out on my belly and slide under a two-foot stretch that's been loose for years.  

As soon as I'm in the trees, I retrieve a bow and a sheath of arrows from a hollow log.  Inside the woods, the flesh-eaters roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals and no real paths to follow.  But there's food if you know how to find it.  My father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to bits in a mine explosion.  There was nothing even to bury.  I was eleven then.  

Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, most people would risk it if they had weapons.  My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers.  Most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who hunt because they're as hungry for fresh meat as anybody is.  In jact, they're amoung our best customers.  

In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself.  Liam.  I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley.  A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes.  The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile.  Liam says I never smile except in the woods.  "Hey Hazza," says Liam.  My real name is Harry, but when I first told him, I'd barely whispered it.  So he thought I'd said Hazza.  

"Look what I shot."  Liam holds up a loaf of bread with an arrow stuck in it, and I laugh.  It's real bakery bread, not the flat, dense loaves we make from our grain rations.  I take it in my hands, pull out the arrow, and hold the puncture in the crust to my nose, inhaling the fragrance.  Fine bread like this is for special occasions.  

"Mm, still warm," I say.  He must have been at the bakery at the crack of dawn to trade for it.  "What did it cost you?"  

"Just a squirrel.  Think the old man was feeling sentimental this morning," says Liam.  "Even wished me luck."  

"Well, we all feel a little closer today, don't we?" I say, not even bothering to roll my eyes.  "Gemma left us a cheese."  I pull it out.  

His expression brightens at the treat.  "Thank you Gemma.  We'll have a real feast."  Suddenly he falls into a Capitol accent as he mimics Katy Perry, the maniacally upbeat women who arrives once a year to read out the names at the reaping.  "I almost forgot!  Happy Hunger Games!"  He plucks a few blackberries from the bushes around us.  "And may the odds -" He tosses a berry in a high arc towards me.  I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth.  "- be ever in your favor!" I finish with equal verve.  We have to joke about it because the alternative is to be scared out of your wits.  Besides, the Capitol accent is so affected, almost anything sonds funny in it.  

 Liam spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese, carefully placing a basil leaf on each while I strip the bushes of their beries.  We settle back in a nook in the rocks.  From this place, we are invisible but have a clear view of the valley, which is teeming with summer life.  the day is glorious, with a blue sky and soft breeze.  The food's wonderful, with the cheese seeping into the warm bread and the berries bursting in our mouths.  Everything would be perfect if this really was a holiday, if all the day meant was roaming the mountains with Laim.  

"What do you want to do?" I ask.  We can hunt, fish, or gather.  

"Let's fish at the lake.  We can leave our poles and gather in the woods.  Get something nice for tonight," he says.  

Tonight.  After the reaping, everyone is supposed to celebrate.  And a lot of people do, out of relief that their children have been spared for another year.  But at least two families will pull their shutters, lock their doors and try to figure out how they will survive the painful weeks to come.  

We make out well.  The predators ignore us on a day when easier, tastier prey abounds.  by late morning, we have a dozen fish, a bag of greens and, best of all, a gallon of strawberries.  I found the patch a few years ago, but Liam had the idea to string mesh nets around it to keep out the animals.  

On the way home, we swing by the Hob, the black market that operates in an abandoned warehouse that once held coal.  We easily trade six of the fish for good bread, the other two for salt.  Greasy Sae, the bony old woman who sells bowls of hot soup from a large kettle, takes half the greens of our hands in exchange for a couple of chunks of paraffin.  When we finish our business at the market, we go to the back door of the mayor's house to sell half the strawberries, knowing he has a particular fondness for them and can afford our price.  The mayor's daughter, Madge, opens the door.  She's wearing an expensive white dress and her blonde hair is done up with a pink ribbon.  

"Pretty dress," says Liam.  

Madge shoots him a look, trying to see if it's a genuine compliment or if he's just being ironic.  "Well, if I end up going to the Capitol, I want to look nice, don't I?"  

She puts the money for the berries in my hand.  "Good luck, Harry."  

"You, too," I say.  She leans in and gives me a quick kiss on the cheek, then closes the door.  We walk toward the Seam in silence.  

Liam and I divide our spoils, leaving two fish, a couple of loaves of good bread, greens, a quart of strawberries, salt, paraffin, and a bit of money for each.  

"See you in the square," I say.  

"Wear something pretty," he says flatly.  

At home, I find my mother and sister are ready to go.  My mother wears a find dress from her apothecary days.  Gemma is wearing her first reaping outfit, a skirt and ruffled blouse.  It's a bit big on her, but my mother has made it stay with pins.  Even so, she's having trouble keeping the blouse tucked in at the back.  

A tub of warm water waits for me.  I scrub off the dirt and sweat from the woods and even wash my hair.  I then dress in my reaping clothes, a dark blue blazer, white shirt and trousers.  Once I was dressed my mom came over and played with my hiar, trying to make my bown locks look presentable.  "You look great," Gemma says.  

"So do you," I smiled and hug her.  It's her first reaping and she's about as safe as you can get, since she's only entered once.  I wouldn't let her take out any tesserae, but she's worried about me.  That the unthinkable might happen.  

At one o'clock, we head to the square.  Attendance is mandatory unless you are on death's door.  People file in silently and sign in.  The reaping is a good opportunity for the Capitol to keep tabs on the population as well.  Twelve -through eighteen-year-olds are herded into roped areas marked off by ages.  Family members line up around the perimeter, holding tightly to once another's hands.  On the temporary stats that is set up before the Justice Bulding are two large glass balls.  One for the boys and one for the girls.  Twenty of them have Harry Styles written on them in careful handwriting.  

Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read.  It's the same story every year.  He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America.  He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms and the fires.  Then came the Capitol, ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperit to it's citizens.  Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of hte districts.  Tweleve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated.  The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws and a yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us The Hunger Games.  The rules of the Hunger Games are simple.  In punishment for the uprising, each of the tweleve districts must provide one boy and one girl, called tributes, to participate.  the twenty-four tributes will be imprisioned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland.  Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death.  The last tribute standing wins.  

"It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks," intones the mayor.  Then he reads the list of past District 12 victors.  In seventry-four years, we have had exactly two.  Only one is still alive.  Zayn Malik.  Zayn suddenly appears, while hollering something unintelligible.  He staggers onto the stage, and falls into a chair.  He's drunk.  Very.  The crowd responds with it token applause, but he's confused and tries to give Katy Perry a big hug, which she barely manages to fend off.  The mayor looks distressed.  Since all of this is being televised, right now District 12 is the laughing stock of Panem, and he knows it.  He quickly tries to pull the attention back to the reaping by introducing Katy Perry.  Bright and bubbly as ever, Katty Perry trots to the podium and gives her signature, "Happy Hunger Games!  And may the odds be ever in your favor!"   

Through the crowd I spot Liam looking back at me with a ghost of a smile.  

It's time for the drawing.  Katy Perry says as she always does, "Ladies first!" and crosses to the glass ball with the girl's names.  She reaches in, digs her hand deep into the ball, and pulls out a slip of paper.  The crowd draws in a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and I'm feeling nauseous and so desperatly hoping that it's not me, that I won't get picked this time.  

Katy Perry crosses back to the podium, smoothes the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice.  And it's not me.  

It's Gemma Styles.  

 

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