The reaping of Finnick Odair

Written for the Hunger Games fanfiction writing contest.
Just a drabble really, exploring the day of Finnick's reaping, and a small bit of worldbuilding for district four. Hope you like!

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1. The Reaping

 

 

This morning, when I look in the mirror, a linger on my face a little longer. I take time to map out the distance between my eyes and my ears, the proportions and curves across it. There aren't many of those- curves, I mean. The sweep of my nose is an elegant and smooth one, and my lips are full, for a boy. Beyond that, though, my face has no features even remotely curved. I am striking and square-faced all the way. My cheekbones are very prominent, but not in a way that makes me look weak and sick. My jaw is rigid and square, my ears nestled underneath a mess of sort of orangey curls, which are not really orange and not really brown, so I don't know what to call them. My eyelashes are long, my skin clear, my eyes a very forward shade of green, and I'm not even remotely ashamed to say that I am stunning. Totally stunning.

I don't particularly mean that in a self important or arrogant way. It's just the truth. I'm pretty sure denying it would make me seem even more of a prig than accepting it would do.

I'm not sure why I look in the mirror for so long this morning, really. I know what I look like. Even if I didn't, I'll definitely be certain by the end of the day.

I'll be certain because it's reaping day, and on reaping day, they put people's faces on television. They focus on the reaping, yeah, but there are also a lot of crowd shots mixed in. The shots are supposed to show all the children in your district, but district four is big, so they can't possibly show everybody. Instead, they'll choose about a thousand children to show on the cameras, and everybody else stands about in the surrounding streets. The Capitol likes to make the districts look good, so the ones they pick are the most healthy and attractive ones. My face tends to crop up a lot.

 

A sudden noise outside my window gives me a start, and it breaks me from the trance of my mirror. The noise is far off, but very excited. I'm certain it's something to do with fishing- they'll have caught something exciting like a whale, or found a new place where shrimp like to breed. I'm betting whale.

I look out of my window towards the noise, in a futile effort to find out what it is. I don't even know why I look, because it's going to be coming from the beach, and you haven't got a hope in hell of seeing the beach from my house. Our district's trade is fishing, so most people probably think that it's all swimming and eating and making fishing rods, and don't get me wrong, because it is, it's just that it's not like that in the way everybody thinks it is.

The way it works in four is very clinical and industrialised. You go to school when you're about three, but really it depends how clever and strong you are. In your first year, you'll learn to swim. It's a very young age to learn to swim, but you just have to, or you're totally useless here, and if you don't drown quickly, somebody'll probably just kill you to get you out of they way. They teach you by throwing you into a very deep and cold pool, which is actually seawater, fish and all, because the water in the pools runs up from the sea in channels which have special pumps and dam systems so that it doesn't all just run back out into the sea when the tide goes out. They throw you in the pool and they leave you in there until you almost drown, then pull you out and bring you back. They do it over and over again until you learn to do something about it. It sounds very brutal, but it works, and more importantly it works fast, which matters because you really, really can't do anything in district four until you can swim. After you can swim, they teach you about four hundred different ways to catch fish, and see which one you're good at. They take the one you're best at, teach you about it, and when you're eighteen, they put you in a tram and you go to live where you'll be useful. They can split you up into all sorts of different groups, like people who can make fish hooks, and people who can actually use fish hooks, and that sort of thing.

There's only one thing about the way things work in four that I actually like, and that's all to do with the reapings.

The whole time that you are of reaping age in district four, your school will allot you a number from one to twelve, just like they do in the actual games, and your number dictates how heavy the social obligation for you to volunteer in a games will be, and how likely it is that somebody will volunteer for you if you are reaped. If you get a one, there's basically no way you'll end up in the arena, but if you get a one you're probably twelve, and if you're not, you'd have to be really fat, really stupid, or have something a bit wrong with you. People who are twelves are usually bloodthirsty lunatics, who've been trained up since they first held a weapon, and they're basically certain to try and volunteer. Even if you don't, I think that you're actually more likely to get reaped. It happens almost every year that they pick an elven or a twelve. Too often to just be co-incidence. I think the capitol pick people out to make the games more interesting.

I'm a twelve.

 

I stay looking out of the window for a bit, even though I can't see the beach, can't see where I really feel at home. I probably won't try to make it to the beach today, because everybody goes on reaping day. To say goodbye. Just in case. I don't think there's really anybody in the district who doesn't feel at home in the sea, on that beach, with the fish and the seaweed and the birds. I feel exactly the same way.

But no, I'm not going to try and go today, because it will be completely crowded. It doesn't feel like home if it's busy there. It's not worth fighting through the packed streets of our city to go to a place that is not my home.

So instead, I just look out of the window, down over the city. I think it's a bit much to call it a city, really, because it's not. It is big, but that does not make it a city. When you talk about cities, people think about huge soaring skyscrapers and fast trains and rich people, like the capitol. We may be in favour of the capitol here in four, but it's nothing like the place. Compared to the capitol, four is a hovel.

Shanty-town. That's what we really live in, a shanty town. Those aren't supposed to exist anymore, because they're technically illegal. They're from before the dark days, before even Panem. They existed in places where people had to go to work, but couldn't afford to live. I don't know much about them, and I've only ever seen a photo of one in a history book, but the crazy stacks of houses, all different shapes and sizes, built from necessity, are more reminiscent of our district than the pictures of any city I've ever seen. The houses here are improvised, really, and built on top of each other. You need a ladder to get to my house, and you have to climb in through the window because somebody built a house next door to us, where our door used to be. I don't really mind, though.

When you look out of my window, all you can see are the houses. They're thrown about and crooked, and I love them. I know that shanty towns used to be for poor people, but here they're just home. We've got food, work, stability. We're not in poverty. We're just at home.

After a minute or so, I snap myself back into reality, because feeling sentimental today could be genuinely fatal.

 

For a few minutes I pace about the house and try to feel anxious, try to fret about, in the way I know everybody else does, but it doesn't really do anything for me. In the end, I just leave the house. I climb out of the window and run across the rooftops like always, and end up in the square, hours early.

It's good because I don't have to queue up to be registered or anything, and I can choose roughly where I stand, too. Once more people arrive they'll push us about into order, height and age, probably, but if I'm there first, I won't have to move as much. I go near the front, where they're setting up the stage. Some of the people are from four- you can tell by their clothes and their hair and skin colour, and you can tell by the pity in their eyes when they look me over. You don't get that look from a Capitol.

The peacekeepers stand at various points around the stage, and I wonder whether, if you looked beneath the visors, you'd see that same look of pity. It's so easy to forget that they're actually people under all the shiny white latex, but they are, and sometimes I wonder how they think. It's hard to imagine who would sign up for a job like that. Either they're all sadists, or they're all deluded- signed up for images of propaganda, for an ideal of heroism. Panem forever, and all that. And they ended up here. Herding kids to their deaths. I don't imagine it's quite what they expected, and I almost pity them.

Still, at least they're not working in twelve or eleven or something. At least the kids here actually have a chance at survival. The kids here are never going to be twelve year olds screaming for Mum, kicking and fighting lamely. There was a girl like that last year, a tiny little thing, and they just had to hold her down and clamp her mouth and carry her off, just like that. And I don't think I could do that, no matter who I was serving.

Maybe they are all sadists after all.

 

I sit down where I am, cross my legs and wait. For some of the time, I look at the sky, for a lot of the time I think, and for most of the time, I try not to. The square slowly fills up around me, with people whose faces come in varying shades of grey. The anxiety in the air is so tangible it could be drawn into thread and used as fishwire- there is fear on everyone's lips, in everyone's hearts, in everyone's minds.

Well, not in mine, but I'm starting to think that there's just something a bit wrong with my brain. There are other people who aren't scared, but I don't want to sit by them, because they might actually eat me alive.

I'm not afraid, but it's not because I want to be chosen per se. I'm not afraid because I know, sooner or later, I will be.

I'm not stupid. I know that the capitol want me. I'm interesting- I have the face, I have the personality, I have the charisma, and I have the combat ability- all of this combines to make me the perfect tribute, the gamemaker's ideal. I am everything that the Capitols admire, I know this. They want me.

The Capitol get what they want, and one day, they will get me.

I imagine they've had their eyes on me for a while now. I don't know exactly when they'll pick me, I just think it's coming someday. So there's no use in fearing the inevitable, is there?

 

There's something about being around so many anxious people that puts me a little on edge, though, even if it's not full fledged fear, so I do find it unpleasant. I stay sat down and try to wish everybody away, and for once in my life, people actually do ignore me. It's refreshing.

When it gets towards showtime, a peacekeepers comes over to me, and nudges me with a gun. He (or maybe she, I can't honestly tell, and I don't honestly care) doesn't take the mask off, and doesn't speak either. It's okay, because I get the point. I'm not supposed to be sitting down.

I stand up swiftly, don't bother to protest, and flash a smile at the white suit. It's a good smile, I know it. I have a catalogue of all my faces, and I can always pull up the one that's just exactly appropriate, just right for the time. This one is embarrassed, friendly and humble.

The suit reaches out a stiff, latex limb, and I think it will hit me, but it doesn't. It rests a hand on my shoulder, and the visor looks right at me. I don't see the eyes, so I don't fully understand, but I know this is not a threat, it's not hostile. I don't know what it is.

 

Twenty-six minutes later, when they reap me, I have a theory.

 

The name Finnick Odair is called, and it surprises me more than it should. All the self preparation, for all the emotional dissociation I'd enforced, seems to wash away into nothing, a wall of sand against the tide. I'm not strong or cold or any of that.

I'm just scared. Really, really scared.

 

I'm glad I stood at the front. I don't think I could walk much further than I do.

 

It's as though I'm falling absolutely inside myself. A sudden, gaping hole- the fear- has been torn open in my chest, and with each second, with each breath I take, another piece of myself is folding away inside. Like I'll soon be gone.

I don't know how to comprehend it. I don't know how to swallow it, I don't know how to show it. I don't know what to do with it but let it consume me entirely.

I fall into dysphoria, severe and sudden, and I can only relate it to one thing, one feeling. An image springs up in my mind, of a little boy, about three, trying not to die, coughing and crying in a pool so deep and cold, he can't conceive of it ending. And he loses the surface. He can't escape. Cold leaches into his skin as he frets and flails, cold that paralyses him. He's stiff and sore, his movements become slow, stilling, and he makes a desperate gasp for air- one that draws in the seawater, gushing smoothly into his lungs. His brain knows he's dying, now. And he's drifting.

Little Finnick Odair. There's only one way out. He'll have to learn to swim.

I'll have to learn to swim.

 

I've found my way to the stage now, and I'm standing on the stage looking out at a sea of cheering faces, flushed with admiration, yes, but primarily, relief. I don't much care for them. I see the peacekeepers that surround them, though. I think I understand that strange gesture, now, twenty-six minutes later, for what it was. An apology.

Somehow, the suit knew who I was. Somehow, it knew what would happen next. And for some reason that comforts me. I can't tell which suit is mine, so I pretend that it's all of them, and that feels nice. I could call them all a friend.

So that's stroke one. Arm forward, leg back. I'm starting to swim.

 

I lift my arms in mock triumph, and find myself a mask. The perfect smile.

That's stroke two. Arm forward, leg back. I'm nearing the surface.

 

I look to my left, and I see her. The girl tribute. And I do mean girl. She's practically a baby. Tiny and slight, pale and oddly perfect, hovering on the brink of movement. Intangible. Like a breath of sea foam, or a change in the wind. She doesn't look frightened or happy, but blank and aloof and like she's better than all of us.

For a moment, I believe her.

 

And that's stroke three. Arm forward, leg back. And I'm home.

The girl tribute is something to ground me- an ideal, a goal, a tug back into reality. The girl gives me structure and purpose, the beginnings of an action plan.

 

A few weeks from now, I will know her as something more. I will know that nobody volunteered for her because she is a twelve. I will understand why she's a twelve, too. I will know her as somebody special- far more so than I. I will know her as true perfection, as an unearthly combination of gentle, kind, sweet and deadly. I will know her as a child that I would give my life tenfold to protect. I will know her as the girl with the ribbons, knotted round her fingers to comfort her, and the girl with the silver tongue. The girl who IS the ocean- for all its beauty and its fury and its bounty and its strength, and as the girl who truly, truly IS better than all of us.

And I will remember her as the girl with the dagger through her chest.

 

For now, though, she's just a girl, who I plan to kill.

I imagine myself slitting her jugular.

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