*~The Fallen Ladder~*
I attempt to pick a unique, red, fruit from the highest branch of a lush tree. I struggle to reach it as I climb on the last rung of the wooden ladder.
"Having trouble, Snowflake?"
"Isn't it dangerous to be that high up near the sun, Snow?"
I hear cruel laughter as I look down at all the dark skinned teenagers, who are covered with plastered smirks on their faces and pumping their leaf covered arms in the air. All the other farmers try to mind their own business, while they harvest.
No, they're not calling me a snowflake because they're admiring my uniqueness; I'm the complete opposite of the rest of my coworkers. The standard look for an average District 11 boy or girl is dark skin, dark eyes, and brown eyes. I just so happened to be the oddball.Whitish blond hair, pale ivory skin, and deep blue eyes. Those characteristics are almost unheard of in District 11. Boy, do the people take advantage of that. There's not a day that I don't get shoved in the berry bushes or pushed off the ladder. Or my rake gets stolen. This is something the Horan family has to deal with. Once, my older brother, Keavin, got whipped for allegedly stealing a basket of wheat, but little did they know that a bunch of boys did it to get my brother hurt. They wouldn't believe him. Both of my parents gets threatened everyday just for their appearance.
I decide to give up on the berry and I steadily make my way down the ladder, as I hear names like "coward" and "chicken" being called out. I feel something shake below me and suddenly I lose my balance. My feet lose grip of the rung and I descend through the branches, bringing them down with me. I land on the grass with a thud as the branches fall down next to me. Pain shoots throughout my whole body. I clamp my hands over my face.
"Ughh", My voice says in a muffled tone. Fits of laughter escape the mouths of boys and girls as they point. Even the other farmers try to stifle a chuckle as they pull crops from the earthy ground.
"Good one, Granger!" I hear a hysterical female voice chant. I remove my clammy palms from my face and take a peek at Granger; A built, dark skinned boy, who looks maybe a year older than me. He adjusts one of his royal blue overall straps and puts his big hands behind his head.
"All in a days work" He grins viciously, showing a gap between is upper teeth.
"Lets go, the Reaping is gonna begin soon," A younger girl with blood on her fingers mutters, probably from picking cotton.
The group of teenagers walks towards the big wooden gates that leads to their wooden shacks, as their conversations about tesserae fades out of a hearing distance.
I gradually pull myself up and check my body for wounds. Maybe I want a wound. Maybe I can get an infection from it so I'll be gravely ill. I won't have to attend the Reaping. Unfortunately, no injuries were found. Just disgusting pale skin.
I brush the sticks and leaves off of my torn dark blue overalls. Suddenly, hot breath tickles my ear and I stand still, waiting for the pain. Instead, a voice whispers. It's Granger's voice. He speaks in a slow, threatening tone.
"I hope it's your name Effie Trinket pulls, Niall."
With that, he jogs away.
* * *
I arrange my blond locks as Keavin holds up a large broken mirror.
"My arms are getting tired, Ni. It's just the Reaping; not dinner with President Snow." Keavin moans. Even though he's 21, he can act younger than me sometimes.
"Well if Effie reaps me, I want to make a good impression on the crowd." I say proudly. I may look like I could care-less about the Reaping, but really I couldn't be anymore terrified. If Keavin knew, he would make it the inside joke of the year.
"Mum laid out clothes for you on your bed," Keavin speaks, barely audible. I glimpse at him for a brief second before walking to my room. I walk over to my chair with pieces of cloth draped over it. A cotton, white, shirt. Tan, faded trousers.Woven sandals.Keavin wore this for the Reaping when he was sixteen. I was only eleven; when I didn't have have the weight of the Reaping tattooed in my brain. I still remember him ruffling my hair before he got in line to draw his blood. I strip off my dirty overalls and put on the outfit.It smells of wheat and soap. It smells like Keavin.
My mum walks in the door with tesserae in her hands. Her forehead has creases in it like whenever she gets mad. A lock of blond wavy hair falls in her enraged face. "Niall Timothy James Horan! Did I not tell you to exchange tesserae!?" She did actually, many times. I couldn't just let my family starve. I vividly can see Keavin's ribcage showing. No way could I let that carry on.
" Mum, I understand you're mad but we can't go on like this! What happens when-"
" What happened to your cheek. There's a huge bruise, Ni." My mum cuts me off. All the anger in her voice is gone and is replaced by a slightly worried one. She puts the tesserae down and gently brushes her fingers on my left cheek. I wince as pain flies across my cheekbone. I must of hit my face pretty hard.
"Some guy pushed me off the ladder. I'm alright, though. Hey, if I get reaped., it'll look like I fought somebody. Capitol people love that "bad boy look!" I say as I throw two punches in the air, trying to make my lie genuine.
" You're not going to get reaped, Niall, you're not," Mum sighs as she pulls me into a close embrace. We stand there for a couple of minutes in each other's arms. She strokes the back of my head slowly.
Then the train whistle blows and I know it's time.
*~Just Like Dad~*
"Ouch! Watch where you put that," I pleaded while chuckling as my mum places the dress pins somewhere else on the cloth that I wear. I stand on an elevated cylinder platform, where my mum makes me try on tux ideas, as she works on the piece of cloth. What an exquisite designer she is, too. Well, you have to be talented to make clothes for President Snow and Ceasar Flickerman!
"Stand still Lou. We can't afford to make another mistake." My mother mumbles between pins in her mouth.
No, we really can't, not after what happened to my father. Two summers ago, my father was making a tux for President Snow, so he could wear it at District 12, where he was in a tape. In the film, he went into the mines and explained the worker's routine. Once my father was finished, he was so excited to send it off to the Capitol. A few days later, Peacekeepers knocked on our door, which was a rare site. Peacekeepers rarely come to District 8, except for the Reapings. No crime really goes on here. They explained how the suit caught on fire from the coal. Since my father made it, he was put at fault and was to be executed. It wasn't his fault the cloth set on fire. Any material would set on fire! No, the Capitol, they didn't care. Once President Snow gets injured, that's when all hell breaks lose. My father's death took place in front of the Justice Building, for all of District 8 to see. I still remember the flames they tossed him in. A slow, painful death. I remember the other kids my age. Their faces were expressionless. Kids whose fathers were still alive. I remember the painful yelps he screamed with his last breathes. That memory makes a regular visit in my nightmares.
"Why hello, Ceasar Flickerman! What do you think about this year's tributes?" My twelve year old sister, Bonnie, asked jokingly as she enters the room.(A/N: Yes. That is Bonnie From "Catching Fire." The girl who escapes District 8 and travels to District 12! Continue Reading!). The suit I'm wearing is for Ceasar Flickerman this year. A sparkly yellow tux, which is definitely not my style.
"Well, I'd have to say my dear that all the tributes are absolutely splendid! Also, don't you love my suit for this year? I'd have to say it brings out my eyes!" I say in my best Ceasar impression making her giggle loudly, as she starts organizing cloths.
My mum, sister,and I live in a decent sized house. Enough rooms for mum to have her own designing room. We're always in here helping her. The Capitol gives us a decent amount of money for the suits. We're never starving, which is a big relief for me. Bonnie won't have to put her names in for tesserae.
" Miss. Twill mentioned Dad today."(A/N Yep. And that's Twill from Catching Fire too. If you didn't read Catching Fire, that's ok!) Bonnie murmurs, her voice a melancholy tone. She tucks her wavy, long, auriferous brown hair behind her ear. "She said having such bravery will exceed your highest expectations, setting Dad as the example." We sit in silence for awhile, not an awkward silence, just a moment to remember him. I try to envision the way he ran through our home giving Bonnie a piggy back ride.
Mum takes out the last pin and takes a few steps back.
"Perfect! Thanks for your help, Lou. You two get your Reaping outfits on now."
I nod as I step off the platform and follow Bonnie to the hallway, where our bedrooms are. I open the wooden door to my room and stroll over to my closet. My mum also spends her free time making nice clothes for Bonnie and I. I take a pair of black suspenders, a light blue dress shirt, a tan woven belt, black trousers, and a pair of black, leather shoes. I take off the disgustingly bright yellow suit and dress in front of my long mirror. With a quick fix of my chocolate fringe, I walk out and head over to Bonnie's room. The door is open and she sits in front of her pink vanity I got her one year ago for her birthday. Her hair is in a side ponytail and she wears a gorgeous, light green, knee-length dress with white stripes and a white flower on the left strap.
"Wow, Strawberry. I have such a beautiful sister, don't I?" I praise, calling her by her nickname because of the strawberry shaped birthmark she has over her right chocolate brown eye. She gives a small grin as she looks at me through the mirror. I walk over to her as I pick up a white woven necklace with a green ribbon on the end of her vanity.
"Dad would be proud." I mutter in a soft tone while putting the necklace around her olive, smooth skin.
"Dad wouldn't be proud of how much of a chicken I am," She mumbles under her breath, as she puts on a pair of white flats. I sigh and take her scrawny shoulders in my palms. "Bonnie, you have nothing to worry about. C'mon, I have nothing to worry about and I have my name in more times than you! Listen, you, me, and Mum, will all get ice cream afterwards. So, now you have something to look forward to!" I brush my finger over her birthmark. She chuckles a little as a tear glides over her cheek and nods. The train horn blares, signalling our time to departure. "Well, lets go then! The Reaping isn't going to attend itself!" And with that, I crouch down and turn my back to her. She climbs on and I lift her up and carry her down the hallway, running as I do so. Just like Dad did.
"Thanks for riding," I say sleepily as I let all of the passengers off the boat. They carry their fishing rods and fish that they caught. My father is the owner and captain of the boat. He drives it from the beach, to the fishing docks, everyday. I let the last costumer exit and I pull the lever that drops the anchor. "Good work today, Harry," Dad compliments as he pats my shoulder. " Well, it's not that hard to check tickets and say, 'Have a good day,' over and over again," I joke as I run my hands through my curly brown locks. I quickly snatch my tan backpack from the boat's floor. I jump off the boat and land on the wooden dock, as my father does the same.
"Better get some practice in before the Reaping, Harry. You're already in your Reaping clothes, so you've got some time." My father insists. See, my father is one of those crazy Career parents, always wanting me to train and practice like it was the only thing I'm taught to do. Well, I guess it was. I can vividly remember my dad handing me a spear to try out as a toddler.
"What's with the backpack?" My dad questions, furrowing one of his brows.
"Uh, rope. I'm gonna practice making traps, see you at the Reaping," I sigh and start jogging toward the left side of the beach, where my spears and tridents are resting against a bulky palm tree, unused. Hopefully he believed my obvious lie. I glance back to see if my father is still at the dock but there is no sign of him. I turn around and rapidly sprint into the other direction and head for the right side of the beach. I run over to a seaweed curtain, connected by two palm trees. I lift the thin material up and walk through it. It is a circular, palm tree lined clearing, with a beautiful view of the gorgeous District 4 sunset. A short, eleven year old boy with bronze, sun kissed hair and sea foam eyes, stands in the middle. He wears an over sized white shirt and baggy tan trousers. Finnick.(A/N Yeah! Its Finnick from Catching Fire And Mockingjay! Again, if you didn't read those books, it's fine! Proceed!)
"I'm starving! Got the fish?" he asks, the sense of excitement in his big orbs. This is what I did for the past three years, instead of training. I have been feeding and caring for Finnick. I was thirteen the first time I met little eight year old Finnick Odair. I recall collecting the tickets from the passengers. All of a sudden, an extremely skinny boy with only torn beige shorts was next in line. With the most angelic and innocent voice, he weakly said, "I don't have a ticket sir, but I'm willing to work for food!" He smiled enthusiastically and his eyes never left mine. They were filled with hope. I sighed and thought about it for a minute. How old was this kid? He looked way too young for a job and he was already signing up for work. Poor kid. I rapidly glided over to the lunch my father and I would have. Flounder. I swiftly cut the round fish in half and handed it over to the hungry boy. "Just take this," I whispered. I remember how his face lit up with complete and utter joy,as he gratefully accepted the fish in both hands. The next day and the day after that, he popped up again. The fourth time he showed up, I remember telling him to meet me by the clearing on the right side of the beach at sunset. There, I explained to him about taking care of him until his father earns enough money. Ever since then, Finnick met me in our little hideout every day.
"Yeah, I got the fish. Flounder, you're favorite! Also, I brought you some clothes," I boom while unzipping my backpack and tossing the cooked fish and the set of clothes to Finnick. I sit criss-crossed as I begin to nibble on my own meal. The outfit is a little big, but clothes are clothes when you have nothing else to wear.
"Thank you." He responds, taking a big bite of the fish.
"So, how's Annie Cresta?" I question, always concerned about his long time friend and crush.
"She's alright. Beautiful as always," Finnick answers dreamily.
"The Reaping's today, Harry. What if you get picked? W-what if you die in there and I starve? Then what?" He blurts out all at once, out of nowhere. I set the half eaten fish down. I suddenly have no appetite. What if I get reaped? I wouldn't be able to tell my dad to care for Finnick. He's way too busy catching fish and steering a boat. Finnick would die of starvation. That's what would happen. I wouldn't be as trained either. I didn't train in three years! I wouldn't stand a chance in the games.
"Fin.." I honestly don't know how to reply without making it sound negative. I run a sweaty palm through my wind thrown curls. I gather wise words in my head and look Finnick directly in the eye.
"Sometimes good things fall apart, so better things can fall together."
The familiar Reaping whistle goes off and echoes through the clearing. I get up, hand my unfinished fish over to Finnick, kiss his forehead, and head out of the clearing. I hope that was a decent last impression.
I drive my wooden axe into the bark of a bulky trunk, in the middle of the dense, vast forest.
"No.. Not like that Coy." My childhood friend whose the same age as me, Carver, says to his 12 year old sister, Coy. He takes the small axe from her teeny hands and demonstrates a perfect swing at the bark. My vision stays on Carver for a little bit. I've known him since as long as I remember. My parents died in a lumber accident when I was only 4 and I knew Carver's family back then. They decided to take me in their home and raise me like their own child. The wooden house we live in is far too small for me, Coy, Carver, their mum, and their grandma, but we manage. I even look like Carver and Coy. We have the same dark hair and deep brown eyes. It wasn't hard fitting in with them.
Coy takes the axe from Carver and gets ready to swing at the wood. Abruptly, something catches her fawn colored eyes. She runs a hand threw her long mocha hair and hands the axe to Carver, a glimmer of curiosity in her eyes. She starts walking behind two very large trees. Carver and I exchange looks for a second and then slowly walk over to her. Behind the tree, Coy crouches down next to a brown rabbit. She looks like shes terrified, pale as ghost, and her eyes are slightly dilated. I look up to see two Peacekeepers. One Peacekeeper with flaxen spiky hair and misty grey eyes points a gun at her, finger grasping on the trigger.
"Young lady, I'm afraid you've crossed the borderline to District 5. The penalty is execution." The other Peacekeeper with dark skin says in a monotone. Carver and I instinctively stand in front of the shocked Coy, both still wielding axes. How would we know that the borderline for District 7 ends here? That's not right.
"The Reaping's today though. You wouldn't want to murder a possible tribute." I remind shakily, trying to keep my voice from cracking. The Peacekeeper's gun is still trailed on Coy.
"Rules are rules. Do we want to do this the hard way? Step aside." The Peacekeeper with the gun demands heartlessly, losing his patience.
I feel my heartbeat in my fingertips. I turn around to see Coy, whose tan arms are snaked around Carver's legs. I can almost hear her thoughts. Let this be over. My eyes crawl over Carver, who has been staring directly at me this whole time. His eyes look at me for another second and then slowly creeps to the axe in his hand. Almost screaming out: Let's get 'em. I nod slightly.
"Alright then...Can I say a quick goodbye to my sister?" He requested.
"Make it quick."
Carver kneels down next to Coy and pulls her into an embrace. Coy's toffee orbs start to pool up with tears at the bottom. Carver rubs her back for a few more seconds. Suddenly, he jolts up and drives his axe right into the gun, making the Peacekeeper drop it. He snatches the gun, sweeps his feet under the man, and trips him. The man attempts to get up but Carver puts a foot on his throat. Short screams of pain come from his mouth which is turning a slight shade of blue. Carver presses the barrel to the Peacekeeper's forehead. I aim my axe at the dark skinned Peacekeeper but he scurries away into the forest.
"You and Coy go get ready for the Reaping. I'm gonna give this guy a one way ticket to hell," Carver ordered, bobbing his head towards our house. I help Coy up and we zip to our dwelling.
* * *
"Make sure you go in the twelve year old group. You'll be separated from your mum and grandma for a short time," I explain to Coy as we munch on round waffles with maple syrup. She twirls the fabric of her silky, light purple dress in her hands.
"How many times is your name in?" Coy questions, taking a large bite of her waffle.
"Thirty-four..I guess you'll be seeing me on the television this year."
"Your good with the axe. Maybe you'll pull through."
To be honest, the Games don't really frighten me. I maybe even willing to get reaped. I am good with an axe. I'm pretty strong. I climb decently. These little things might add up to a future victor.
"What about you?" I wonder, finishing my flapjack.
"Twenty-five, but Nan needs it the most right now," Coy confesses, referring to her ill grandmother.
Carver's mum comes out of her bedroom and rests a slender hand on Coy's shoulder.
"What beautiful children I have!" She avows, stroking Coy's gently undulating nutmeg locks.
" How's Nan doing, mum?" Coy inquires while her eyes dart up to her mother, who pauses.
"W-well..Nan is pulling through.'" She speak while trying to be reassuring.
"So where's Carver anyway?"
Coy and I exchange glances at each other. Nobody can find out about what Carver is doing to that Peacekeeper. We would all get killed! Or worse, become Avoxes. I would rather commit suicide then work for the Capitol. What happened in the forest earlier just proves how idiotic their rules are and how heartless they are.
"He's uh.. getting some extra work in," I stutter, while playing with my wooden fork.
"Alright sweeties, I think I'm gonna check on Nan before we leave," Coy's mum announces, while she creeks open the broken wooden door to Nan's petite room.
Just then, Carver walks in the house with droplets of blood on his right cheek. He looks out of breath. I stand up and guide him outside so Coy doesn't hear any details.
"Did you shoot the Peacekeeper?"
"Yeah, I shot the Peacekeeper, Zayn! That's the problem. Some other Peacekeepers saw me in the act. I ran here... as fast I could." He pauses to catch his breath.
"Something's gonna happen to us, Zayn. One or two of us are going to get reaped."
Ironically, after he spoke, the train whistle blares and echos throughout the forest. It's time. Time to become a tribute.
Good morning Babe! Hope you had a good night's sleep.. Meet me at the top of The Nut for training, as soon as you read this. I brought your sword and darts. Get your reaping clothes on!
I finish reading the curly, miniscule, penmanship on a yellow tinted note. I take the paper off of our stone counter. I roll my brown orbs as they reread the words: "For training". Miscelle and I have been living in my mom and dad's old stone house ever since both of our parents mysteriously vanished last year, right before the Reaping. To this day, the reason for our parents disappearance is unknown. Since that day, Miscelle and I have been in a strong relationship living together. Well, sort of. She's always nagging me about training for the Hunger Games. She decided for me that I'm going to volunteer to be a tribute this Reaping. It's just aggravating. Whenever I want to show my affection to her, it's always "Time to train!"
On top of the large mountain that holds the Peacekeeping force inside, otherwise known as, The Nut, is where we train. I've always disliked the location Miscelle picked. Such a tranquil and beautiful place like the top of a mountain shouldn't be used for violence.
I briskly shrug on my red and green plaid shirt and dark grey trousers. I make my way down the old rocky trail that leads to the multiple mountains. I take time to take in all of the gorgeous scenery that I pass by. Serene rivers pops up all over District 2 like old friends, while lush, feathery grass carpets the ground. All of it will be just snip-its of my memories in District 2 by the end of today, once I volunteer.
I make a right and clearly see The Nut in my view. I can almost sense the impatience that Miscelle is probably having right now. I work my feet into a jog as the mountain becomes larger with every stride. As soon as I arrive there I begin making my way upward on the stone-lined path Miscelle and I formed to make the route up The Nut easier. The higher I trudge up the path, the more I see of Miscelle's wispy, toasted almond strands of hair thump against the harsh wind.
"Hey, Mi," I say as my legs pull me on the top of the mountain, half of it sounding muffled when I gather her into a humble embrace.
"Liam! Just in time to watch the Captiol trains roll in. Let's sit." Miscelle booms as she returns from the warm hug and places herself on the stony edge of the mountain. Hm. Maybe for once we can have some relaxing time to ourselves. A grin spreads across my lips as I plop down beside her tall, pale, figure. I turn my head to look out on the train tracks. I tell myself not to remind Miscelle about why we originally came here.
"I see Effie. She's trying way too hard to look good." She points out as Effie Trinket clicks her way to the Justice Building in her disturbing bright pink dress.
"No matter how much she tries, she can never look as gorgeous as you," I compliment as I change my vision to Miscelle's heart-shaped, blushed, face. Her bronze orbs glare straight into mine as her full almond lips show a cute smile. I take that as a warm invite and my mouth gradually moves towards her pink ones.
Right before our lips compress, I feel her breath hitch and she moves away swiftly.
"We should train while we still can, Liam." She insists as she pulls herself up from the smooth, stone, ground. I conceal an annoyed look as I mimic her actions and we both start towards the stone, circular hut we built for holding our weapons.
She darts into the hut's shadows and shortly comes back with fatal weapons, including my darts and swords she mentioned she would bring. A torn, worn out, sandbag is slung over her bony shoulder. She sets the armaments down and positions the sandbag onto a sturdy, wide boulder. She steps aside of the rock and shows me a curious glance.
"Show me what you got."
I glide over to the deadly heap and pick out a fatal, navy dart from it. I aim the point towards a maroon "X" painted sloppily on the bag. I inhale a steadying breath and with the flick of my wrist, the dart glissades through the balmy, afternoon breeze and finds it's home in the center of the "X". I pay my attention back to my girlfriend as she crosses her ivory arms and smirks.
For twenty minutes, we balanced the time out by practicing my sword skills, doing cardiovascular exercises, and working on hand-on-hand combat. In the end, my bones complain every time I make a movement, my equilibrium threatens to give in on me, and droplets of sweat begin to tumble town my temple. Lovely. I could tell Miscelle pushed the workout more than usual, being today is the final today I get to train.
My bones relax as I take a seat on the boulder we used earlier for my darts. Miscelle follows my movements. My mind tries to memorize the view of every mountain The Nut looks out on. Soon all of this will be mere memories of District 2 by tomorrow.
My palm moves towards Miscelle's resting hand. The second our skin makes contact I feel her tense up as she shakes the ghost of my touch away.
"I'd rather not spend our last minutes being lovey-dovey, Li." Miscelle spats coldly.
I'm taken aback by her tone of voice for a second. This is Miscelle. My girlfriend I had for two years!
"Well, when can I show my affection? 3:30 to 4:00 on a Saturday? I shouldn’t have to wait for a right time to love you. That's what being in a relationship is all about! To show her affection to the person you want to be bound with for the rest of your life. I'm about to become a tribute and don't get support from you?" The words tumble out of my mouth before I can control them. These are the words I've been wanting to say for the longest time.
"C'mon Li, let’s jus-“
“Let’s just what Mi? Forget about the fight and keep ignoring each other? Whether I come back from The Games a victor or dead, either way I’m not your boyfriend.” I manage to choke out the sentence while trying to keep my voice from cracking. How is it that I’m close from breaking into a million sharp pieces while her face is emotionless?
Her eyes scream the element of surprise and she practically rips herself from the boulder. As soon as she lands on her feet she makes a mad dash for the path. I relievingly take a breath to think about what I just did. Suddenly, the weight of volunteering doesn’t seem so on my mind anymore. Nothing really matters now, because I’m a free man.
The annual train horn seems to call me as it bawls it’s familiar tune.