I chomp down my burnt bread like I haven't eaten in days. Have I? How can I be sure? I look over at Eli, my sixteen-year-old brother, and ask when the last time we ate more than cheese from our cow we most fortunately have.
"About two days ago," says Eli. He bites into the squirrel meat viciously. "When I brought some fish in from the pond when I got off track." My brother takes his bow and his daggers and what-have-you hunting in the forbidden woods outside the broken electric fence surrounding our pitiful District 12. He usually sells the game at the black market we call the Hub. Wait, I sound like I live in a place of criminals. But I promise, we are simply doing what we can to remain alive. It is a wonder our District is still populated.
"Are you nervous about the Reaping?" Eli asks me. I am too engulfed in my stew to turn and see his face.
"A little...okay. Yes. A lot." I don't look up. "I'm terrified, Eli." I look up from my stew at Eli's caring eyes. I am scared. Very scared. The Reaping...it's tomorrow morning. The nightmares are sure to stir tonight.
And I was right. I dreamt that I got picked and killed in the Hunger Games. This morning as I get myself ready in the cleanest dress I have and eat a small slice of cheese. I sit making yarn dolls, trying to forget what could happen on this very day, and wait for Eli to come back from hunting with his friends. They come back with-gasp- a cooked turkey, my favorite. I chow down with Eli and his closest friend, Dean, whom I am acquainted to just as well. Then Dean leaves with a final "Good luck, guys" and Eli looks me in the eye.
"Listen. You won't be picked. Trust me. You won't be picked. There are thousands of names in there. You won't be picked." I trust him. I trust Eli like I would a father or a mother. If I had any. They both were killed by Peacekeepers. I don't know why, or how, or when, but Eli has raised me. I can trust him that I won't be picked. But I don't reply. Because now I am having second thoughts. I just stare at the wall until it is time to go line up with the rest of the first-timers.
The Reaping is basically the event in which they pick kids ages 12-18 to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. Sick. Definitely sick. Only one kid comes out, and they are rewarded with riches and fancy homes and things like that. But it's not worth the risk. Definitely not worth the risk.
Eli and I are separated when I march in line through the crowd. I start to breath heavily as the video plays. This is certainly the first time I've seen it when not alone in the crowd, crossing my fingers Eli won't get picked. Now I'm hoping I won't get picked.
. I stare, frightened, at Effie Trinket and her clown make up with matching afro (wig I hope). Her hands reach into the bowl.
"Ladies first!" My stomach lurches. Her Capitol accent is the only thing I hear. It's like I'm about to die, the way I feel. "And the female tribute is..."
I stare at her with wide eyes. She reaches into the large bowl of thousands of names. Thousands. And she picks mine.