Chapter 1: Surviving.The stack of wood in my arms gives me splinters, but that's nothing new to me. It's either splinters or no fire. Fire is what we live on in my house. Cooking, bathing, even purifying the water so we don't die.
I trudge up to our little shack of a house. It may be small, but I'm grateful. Most people nowadays don't even have a house. It's two sticks and a sheet for them. My two sisters, Jessa and Elisa, play with a rubber ball. I smile to them, but it's not genuine. I haven't smiled a real smile in a very long time.
I push the door open with my boot, carrying in the wood and dumping a few pieces in the dying fire. The flames lick the wood, and I stare at it for a minute. I cock my head to the right and see the sun setting.
"Jessa! Elisa! Jeremy!" I go outside. "Hey, can you guys help me cook? Jeremy, I need you to help Mom." They have always helped. I don't raise this family on my own. After Dad died in another bloody war, Mom took care of us. But then she was shot in town. Hit her right behind the brain. She was extremely lucky she didn't die. She lost all vision and hearing, and she barely can do anything.
I turn on my heel and go back inside. Jessa brings in the bucket of wild onions. I pull out the bunny carcass from the ice box. We got this before all of the shops either got bombed, burned, or just abandoned completely. We were very lucky.
I watch as Elisa boils a bucket of water over the fire. Once the water is bubbling, Jessa throws some onions in. I cut up the rabbit with a long knife, the same knife my father used to cut meat with. I pull off the fur and the fat, leaving the best parts. Jessa puts the pieces of cut-up bunny on an iron skillet and hooks it over the fire. I sit on a wooden stool, moving around the rabbit chunks.
When everything finishes cooking, I put it on old chipped plates that survived years. I put the food on the plates, and the kids start eating. I look at them and sigh. They could have had amazing lives, futures with lovers, but they are stuck to cooking and cleaning and trying to stay alive. These children are very near malnourished. But I keep food on the table. I keep them alive.
I carry a plate to the bedroom. We all would share this room if I didn't sleep on the rug near the fireplace. Anything to keep them comfortable and happy. Mom lays there, limp and possibly asleep. I stroke my hand on her arm, and she jerks, but relaxes. I tap her chin, to let her know I brought food. She opens her mouth and I push a chunk of rabbit in. She chews it up. It takes maybe 10 minutes to do this.
When I finally get a chance to eat, it's dark. I put more logs in the fire and eat my dinner. I scarf it down, like the animals.
Jessa cleans up; she's the oldest next to me. She just turned 13 two months ago. Elisa runs her fingers through my matted hair, attempting to get the twigs and leaves out. She is only 8. Jeremy is 11, and quite handsome. He would easily find a loved, if these wars would end.
"Kia..." Elisa stops with my hair. I feel it and see the knots are gone. "You don't think you'll have to fight, do you?"
I smile up at her. "No, we'll be fine. And if I did, Liana would help take care of you guys." Liana has been my best, and only, friend for as long as I can remember. We made a promise to each other that no matter what happened to the other we would keep each others' families alive.
"Okay." Elisa stands and stalks off to the bedroom. Jeremy an Jessa follow. I sigh, curl up on the rug, and let myself drift off.
The sun peaks through the window. That's my cue to wake up. I pull on my boots and jacket and head out the door. The soft ground squishes beneath the soles of my shoes. I walk into the silent forest, and look at my snares. I have one set up here, another 50 paces east, and the last 60 paces west. The first one is empty, but the other two each contain a brown rabbit with white spots. I grab them and carry them back to the house.
After I leave, once again, I make my way to Liana's house. Her house is the exact same as mine, besides the people inside. I walk along her dirt drive, dust trailing me. I walk up to her door.
"Hey, Li, open up!" I bang on the door. Liana opens the door, standing in her boots and leather jacket. Her brown hair, cut short to make hunting a little bit easier, is untidy. Her wide brown eyes are alert. Why wouldn't they be? It's the last day before we are sent in to battle. I just know they're going to take both of us, or at least one of us.
"Kia, Mom told me that they're taking us. All of us. Anyone 15 or older, but only up to 27." She sighs, and it's not a relieved sigh, it's more of a trying-to-breathe sigh.
"I knew it. Markam said it was soon," I say, thinking back to a few days ago when a town's boy named Markam told me that they would take all of us.
We go behind Liana's house, grabbing the bow-and-arrow set. I pick up mine, the one with my name engraved write where my fingers grasp it. She grabs hers, and we take off running for the woods. It could have been like a normal day, racing, but now it's running because that's how I escape my fear. That's how I hold myself together. But the only thing on my mind isn't my own fears, but it's for the safety of my family and the fact that I'm going to die in less than a week.