The Mercy Games

My name is Ever Mellark and I'm a District 12 Tribute for The Mercy Games, along with Chance Hawthorne. I refuse to let Snow's granddaughter win. Things have changed and are corrupt once more. All of the eyes in tainted Panem are on what the star-crossed lovers' daughter will do in the face of a new Games created by Kerra Snow. I have one promise I will keep: Save Chance or die trying.


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1. Escape

I think of the Meadow and the forest that stretches beyond it behind the chain-link fence. It's a place I go to release my anger by identifying herbs and gathering them or throwing knives at the ancient trunks. It’d be nice to be there now rather than being trapped in the 'History of Panem' lesson that we're forced to listen to for at least one day a week. They claim it's so that history isn't repeated twice but the human race is fickle and tainted. Nature, on the other hand, is stable enough to trust. My mother tells me I'm like her sister and my grandmother. I have healer's hands, she says, something she never had. She says it with such sadness, I try not to remind her too often.

But in the forest, I can wander amongst the trees for hours, collect my herbs and concoct new medicines safe in the knowledge that there's the fence separating me from the rest of civilisation. Wandering into the forest is no longer a crime but hardly anybody ventures out there because everybody has enough food. Only the traditional hunters dare to venture out and risk the odd wild dog pack attacking.  

I can almost imagine the soft grass under my bare feet by the lake my parents took us to when my brother and I were children. I can almost see my mother teaching my younger brother to swim summers ago. She had him swimming between her and my father. He was almost into my father's arms when he fell under the calm water in surprise he was actually swimming and scared our mother half to death with the fear he was drowning.

"Ever?" the teacher says my name. She still has a smile plastered on her face like usual but I must have missed the previous attempts to contact me in my mental haven. "Answer my question, please."

I stare at her a little longer, her grey-yellow hair over her shoulders and still pump like she was in her younger years when my parents knew her. "Can you repeat the question?"

She smiles at me with this sympathetic look in her eye. "Can you tell me how life has changed in Panem since the Hunger Games ended?"

"Certainly," I say while trying to take the sarcastic edge out of my voice. "After the Games ended, the Districts worked together to rebuild the civilisation. Eventually, everything was made bigger and better. Houses are no longer cramped and each has running water as well as frequent power. The Districts pulled together to distribute resources equally, even the Capitol eventually adapted to the smaller but fair share. This allows us to have better living standards than our parents did."

The teacher nods at me. "Well done, Ever. Perfect."

She proceeds to talk about how life would have been for us if things hadn't changed and I'm back in my safe haven, wandering along branches to collect the fruits from the end.

"Class is dismissed! But ensure you are in the Square for four o'clock," the teacher calls after she’s collected in the various sheets of paper. I didn't even notice her coming around.

The class begins moving, dragging chairs and guessing what the announcement is.

I'm the last out of the classroom, not that it surprises me because everyone else wants to make the most of the few hours before the mandatory gathering. But I just leave as if I have all the time in the world.

Cal's head can be seen bobbing along in the mass of students leaving, he waves at me and shouts something along the lines of 'I'll see you at home'. My brother is a social butterfly, always a string of girls chasing him and boys begging to be on his team during sport events. He's exactly like our father with his looks except from the blue eyes I have inherited instead. I nod to him in response and continue towards the usual meeting point for collecting Brae and meeting Chance. I lean against the gate that parts the school from the street, I'm expecting to see Brae running towards me like a bullet but instead when I look up, I see Chance. This isn’t unusual. I intended on meeting him.

But he's not looking for me. Alternatively, I'm watching as he strokes the strand of hair from another girl's face, whispering attentively in her ear like she is the only girl in this school yard. She laughs, swooning slightly towards him but his arms are there to catch her in a tight embrace.

Before I'm aware of what I'm doing, I've already marched out of the gates towards home. Out of all the things I could have seen today, why did it have to be that? I can hear him calling my name from behind me but this fuels my feet to move faster through the streets.

"Evy!"

I turn just in time to see Greasy Sae's granddaughter, the one she used to look after when she did the housekeeping for my mother. She helps in the sweet shop now Greasy Sae has passed on; her brother and his wife take care of her. Sometimes I want to see life through her eyes; she sees beauty where it's lacking even in the Capitol and other places like the old arenas or the mass grave which is the Meadow.

I smile, catching a glimpse of her in the shop door. "Hello, Raga."

"I have some lemon drops if you want one," she offers out the bag.

Quickly, I look over my shoulder to see Chance at the start of the Square. I walk over to her and take one from the bag then toss the sweet into my mouth. "Thank you. Do you mind if I come in? I owe Calen some sweets."

I duck under her arm and continue to walk into the small shop, smiling politely at Raga’s brother sat in the corner looking at the stock. "He claims that I ruined the cookies he’d been baking with our father but I argue the smudged look made it look artistic."

"I bet they still tasted good,” Greasy Sae's granddaughter says, walking back around to the back of the counter, placing herself behind the till. She pushes a bag of Vic's favourites in front of me and I hand her the coins.

I nod, taking the white paper bag and putting it into my grandfather's old game bag. "I'll see you soon."

I step out of the shop, confident that Chance would have kept walking towards the Victor's Village or the woods. Walking down towards the old Seam, I visit Posy, a friend of my mother’s, and give the bag of sweets to Posy's son.

"Is my nephew giving you trouble, Ever?" she asks, pouring the tea. "Will you two ever have an easy time?"

"What makes you say that?" I question. I reach out to wrap my hands around the cup.

Posy sighs. "He came here about five minutes ago asking if I'd seen you since the school shut."

"Oh" is all I can offer up for her, pulling the small boy, Henry, onto my lap.

"Ever, you know you can speak to me or your mother. Katniss isn't as bad at giving advice as she was in her youth.”

This makes me laugh because Dad tells me stories about Mom when she was younger, how she could give herself an unreadable expression so that nobody could see what she was feeling.

After that, we don't touch on the topic again.

"So what do you think this announcement is about?" Posy asks before sipping her tea.

I shrug lightly, lying through an innocent smile. "No idea."

Posy gave me this look, she knows I'm lying but doesn't press the matter. "It better be worth walking to the Square for in my condition."

She flinches as a shooting pain forms across her heavily pregnant stomach.

"You should stay home."

Posy shakes her head. "They’re nothing."

"You'll get to sit," I assure her and take a deep breath. "Posy, what do you—"

"Posy, guess what!" Aaron, Posy's husband, walks into the kitchen, cutting me off. "Oh! Hello, Ever!"

He walks over and kisses Posy then ruffles Henry's hair. "I got my promotion at the factory! You're looking at manager of the production line."

We talk about Posy's husband getting a promotion, the new kids, and Gale's blatant dislike for me which Posy assures me is just a front. I drink my tea, kiss Henry on the top of his head as I put him down and promise to visit tomorrow, leaving with my question still unanswered.

I hurry down the streets until I reach my front door; I push it open and hear my father talking. "No time to sit around, we have to be in the square for four."

Calen is the first to react in protest. "I knew having half a day off was almost too good to be true."

Dad just laughs, taking his piping bag apart over the sink. "Go and get ready, we're special guests apparently."

I take the game bag off and hang it on the back of the kitchen chair then pick up the letter with my name scrawled across it. "Sounds fancy," I reply passively to them.

"Haymitch just came over, we need to makes his excuses for him," my mother says as she appears, brushing her hair out of her plait. "He's doing a little research."

"What kind of 'research'?" Dad asks suspiciously. "This isn't into whether he can make his own spirit again, is it?"

She laughs. "He hasn't told me anything, Peeta, he's not very happy and that's all I have."

Mom walks over to me. "You better go get ready. Looking at that letter over and over again won’t change the content, Ever. Something is going on and we’ll figure out what it is before you have to go."

"You never know, they might have slept since then and woke up realising how ridiculous they're being," I say as I throw the letter back onto the sideboard.

"It's not like Paylor," Dad says, pulling his apron off. "She wouldn't ask anybody to have a wedding to keep the people happy. This is almost the same level of cruelty as–"

He doesn’t say but we all know who he’s referencing.

My mom gives me this look, the look that tells me she's caught the scent of wounded prey. "Come with me, I ordered some new dresses from my old prep team. You remember them, don’t you? They started their own fashion store after the rebellion?"

I mumble something that could possibly sound like 'yes' and I follow her. It’s not really out of choice, she would have dragged me if needed. We don't speak as we head towards her bedroom, I take a deep breath. The room always smells like freshly baked goods and the forest, my parents' scents combined. I see two dresses laid out on the bed. One is pale baby blue and the other a shade of emerald green.

"What's wrong?" Mom questions me.

"Chance," I answer vaguely, feeling the silky material of the pale blue dress.

She studies me for a moment. "Is this about the wedding? We will get you out of it if we can, Ever."

I nod; I don't doubt my parents or Haymitch when they say that. "It's just when we talk about it, he seems so much more defensive over it than I am. It’s almost like they’ve handed him a prison sentence. I know we’re young but there are harsher things they could have asked of us."

"Look, I don't exactly understand love as well as your father does but he loves you, Ever. Just give him chance; this whole marriage idea from the Capitol has thrown him off a little. It’s thrown us all."

"So much that he's flirting with Delly Cartwright's daughter, Mom?"

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