1The sun shines through the window and into my eyes. Groaning, I pull my blankets over my head, but they do little to block out the light. The light of a new day.
The day of the reaping.
I shouldn't be scared. The chance of my name being drawn is so tiny, there's little need to worry. District Three has over 190,000 residents. I'm just one. I don't have many entries at all. But I have my little brothers to worry about too. I'm praying for their safety, even though they are much less likely to be chosen then I am.
At our district's annual lottery known as the "reaping," all twelve-year-old's names are entered into the draw for the Hunger Games once, thirteen-year-olds twice and so on until you reach eighteen, when your name is entered seven times. However, you may add your name many more times in exchange for grain and oil.
The number of tesserae you sign up for is multiplied by the number of entries that you'd receive ordinarily. You also get an extra entry every year you take the tesserae.
My brothers and I have agreed to take two tesserae: one lot that we keep, and one that we either give to our mother or sell at the market. This means, at fifteen, having taken the tesserae since I was eligible to, my name will be entered twelve times.
We used to share the tesserae with our father as well. But that was before my sister was reaped.
Every year, there are twelve reapings: one for each of the twelve districts. None for the Capitol, the city that rules Panem; their citizens are safe. In each reaping, a male and a female tribute aged twelve to eighteen are chosen for the Hunger Games, in which they must fight to the death in an outdoor arena. The last tribute alive wins.
The citizens of the victorious district will receive food, oil and money. Usually, that's the Career Districts, 1, 2 and 4 - District Three missed out, maybe because we're poorer. The Careers tend to team up, and sometimes they'll let in others, but normally it's best to avoid them unless you have a strong team of allies and some decent weapons handy. But getting those things is easier said than done.
I learned that from my sister.
My sister's name was Vida, and she was reaped three years ago. She survived more than halfway through the Hunger Games, coming eighth, but the Gamemakers drained her water source and she died of thirst searching for another one. She was popular, though, in the Capitol. She was likeable. Friendly. Clearly, though, she didn't have enough sponsors to stay alive.
My father left, too, after her death. Just came home one night and announced that he was moving out. I don't know how he could afford to, since he didn't take any money, or where. But I do know why. Vida was his favourite. He doesn't want to get attached to the rest of us in case we are reaped.
I see him at the reapings though, each year, because there is no avoiding that for him. Everyone has to attend.
This is the second year my brother Emmanuel's name will be in the reaping, and the first year for little Gadge, who's just turned twelve. He's even quieter than usual.
I've prepared myself for the Games as well as I can. Sure, it's unlikely I'll be reaped, but I need to be ready. I have studied the previous victors in school, and a few years ago I taught myself to throw knives. Not well, but good enough to hit a target from a few meters away. I practice every so often.
I get out of bed and change into my outfit for this year's reaping. A short mint-green dress. Slippers. My silver headband. And the pendant necklace. Vida's necklace. The one she wore for every reaping, then gave to me before she left - she decided to take a blue ribbon that I got her as a present when she turned nine. She told me she wanted something with meaning, not just a necklace.
Well, it's not just a necklace. It's one of the prettiest things we have. It's a thin silver chain with a purple tear-shaped pendant. The pendant is probably just glass, and I don't think the chain is real silver, but it's gorgeously crafted. Grandfather bought it for my mother, and the only reason he could afford it is that he was friends with the jeweller and could negotiate for a lower price than the standard one.
Fastening it around my neck, I walk into the kitchen. We have five rooms in our house: my mother's bedroom (which she used to share with my father), my bedroom (which I used to share with Vida), Emmanuel and Gadge's bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom.
Our plain wooden dining table has a large bowl on it, containing a mix of oats, nuts, and sliced strawberries, with a drizzle of honey on top.
I take a smaller bowl and a spoon out of the cupboard, and serve myself. We always get some sort of treat from our mother on reaping day, and this year I guess it's the honey, or maybe strawberries - they're more expensive than her usual choices of apple or sultanas.
'You keep waking up late.'
Gadge always makes me jump. I don't know why, but I never hear him coming. He's the one member of the family who's less talkative than I am, but when he does talk, he's very eloquent. And he's smarter than he lets on. But he's terrified of being reaped. It's the only thing that seems to scare him.
'It'll be okay, you know. Your name's only entered thrice.'
Gadge - whose reddish hair is neatly combed for once - frowns. 'I'm going to have more when I get older, though, aren't I? And you and Em might get picked.'
'Emmanuel is... Emmanuel is going to be fine. We all are.'
'Vida wasn't.' He raises his eyebrows.
Rage courses through me, but I have to remember that he was nine when Vida died, that he didn't know her as well as I did, that our parents didn't let him watch that Games. He's not heartless. He's just being a little insensitive.
Emmanuel - we call him Em, even though he tells us not to - is like Gadge's polar opposite. He is outgoing, practical and very noisy, and he'd never think of bringing up topics like the cruelty of the Capitol, or Vida, or the Hunger Games. I like that about him, but his lighthearted attitude can't last long in District 3.
Gadge shuffles closer. 'And you don't really think that. Otherwise, you wouldn't practice throwing knives at your pillow.'
'QUIET!' I hiss. 'I told you not to mention that.' We have to pretend we're not worried - for our mother's sake. We can't make her any more nervous than she is already.
Gadge - who isn't the best at being empathetic - nods, rolling his eyes. 'I know, I know.'
The door bursts open, and Emmanuel runs in, dressed in his reaping clothes - a baby-blue linen shirt and tattered but clean tawny shorts. He's followed by my mother, looking gloomy and somewhat confused, although I don't blame her.
'Isaak is outside! Also, are you taking all the leftover cereal? Because...'
'No, and you can't have the rest - it's for tonight, after the... reaping. Right?' I look to my mother for confirmation and she nods, walking over and brushing hair out my face. 'You look nice, Paige.'
Emmanuel sulks. I grab my bowl and head outside.
Isaak is one of my best friends, but that's not saying much - I have hardly any friends. My other best friend is Elektra, who was one of Vida's classmates. She arranged with her mother, a schoolteacher, for her to take days off school so that she could look after my mother at work, during those awful months after Vida's Games, when my mother was too distraught to concentrate on anything.
We don't have much of a garden - just a patch of grass and a tiny pond out the back. No front garden, which means that Isaak is pretty much standing in the middle of a footpath. Fortunately, on reaping day no one has to walk to work, and anyway, they wouldn't hassle someone whose life is on the line.
Isaak's family is richer than mine, so he only has one tesserae. His only sibling is his younger sister, Drea, who is ten years old, so she has a couple of safe years to go.
I give Isaak a weak smile - he's dressed in a shirt so white it must be new - and we walk down the road towards the Town Square, where the reaping will be held in a few hours. Unfortunately, it's not exactly in the best part of town.
The west of District Three is the considered nicest part - it's where we have the market, schools and the houses of the rich. It has to be clean, because it's on the border with District Nine, the grains district, where they make the bread. East is District Six (which has just as much pollution) and District Twelve (where hardly anyone lives anyway).
Further east, you have the suburbs, where most people - me included - live, and a few businesses are based too. Next to that you have the slums, the factories, the barren fields that are supposed to be considered parks. That's where the Town Square is. At the very edge, it's basically just one huge junkyard. Filled with rubbish and spare parts.
Our district is surrounded by a thin forest. A lot of the eastern forest is dead, because of all the chemical leaks from the factories.
The two of us walk to the town square in silence. The reaping isn't until 11:45, so we have, according to the town clock, two hours and seventeen minutes. Isaak and I usually go to the Pineapple first.
Isaak has brown hair, brown eyes, and ashen skin, and he'll be getting a job as a computer-coder in a few months, in the same building his mother works at. In these aspects, he's considered a typical District Three citizen, but he's lucky he's smarter than most of the people in our class.
When we're sure no Peacekeepers - the Capitol's law enforcements - are looking, I start to climb up a set of pipes and onto the roof of Factory A9. It's known as the Pineapple, because the mass of pipes on one side apparently look like the leaves on a sideways-facing pineapple.
I've never had pineapple, but I've seen some in the market. Factory A9 looks nothing like one.
Up there, no one can see or hear us. We can talk about anything. That's a luxury few people can afford in District 3.
I've memorised the position of every pipe. I know without looking where to put my feet, so I'm at the top in seconds, even though I'm still holding my bowl with one hand. Isaak follows, but he's bigger than me, so he's a little slower. Once he reaches the roof, he pulls a small chunk of metal out of his pocket and hands it to me.
It's a District 3 tradition - giving someone a piece of something you've made is meant to bring good luck and strengthen the bond between you. At last year's reaping, I gave Emmanuel a piece of casing from a computer-mouse I assembled at school (which wasn't much good anyway).
I hadn't thought of bringing Isaak anything, so I feel guilty, and offer him some strawberries. He shakes his head, though. 'They're yours. I had breakfast already.'
We stare down at the sea of grey buildings that make up District Three.
'It's despicable, isn't it? The Capitolians living in luxury, no reapings or anything, while the rest of us are stuck with... this.' I gesture to the mass of buildings in front of us.
Isaak tilts his head to one side. 'It's not that bad. District Three is better off than, say, Eight. Besides, I'd rather be eligible for painful death than dye my hair pink and my skin orange.'
I laugh, picturing a pink-haired Isaak with a Capitol accent gossiping with Tatiana Blythe, the over-excited, kaleidoscopically-dressed woman who reads out the names of the chosen tributes at each reaping.
Usually we'd be joined by someone else - by Elektra, by one of Isaak's fellow programmers, by Enigma, the outgoing, klutzy girl who sits with us every so often at school and whom I definitely would not describe as an enigma. But today, they're all getting ready for the reaping. Dressing in their best clothes. Reassuring their loved ones. Telling themselves that it'll all be okay.
Cautiously, I peer over the edge of the Pineapple, and I see families already making their way to the town square. Girls in white blouses, floral skirts and cotton dresses. Boys in silk shirts and dark shorts - some of them are even wearing ties. Usually, everyone is in overalls, or school uniform, or plain, battered clothes. Or the generic grey-and-yellow tracksuits that are handed out once a month at the market.
Only the very poorest, like those living in the slums, wear the tracksuits. Once, when I went to the market with my family, they were giving away the tracksuits, and I tried to take some. My mother pulled me away, though.
She told me that the tracksuits needed to be saved for the most desperate, and wearing them marks you as someone who lives off giveaways. No better than a beggar.
She regretted saying that a few weeks later, when Emmanuel and Gadge made fun of two scrawny, mud-covered kids wearing the overalls.
But she was right. Even at our age, we know, and no one who takes less tesserae than they have people in their family would be caught dead in them. I'm wondering if the Capitol actually told the tailors to give the tracksuits away, so they could keep track of how many desperately poor people there are in the district. Of course, they do nothing about it.
I can't see anyone in the tracksuits today. Even those in the slums have probably managed to buy something cheap for the reaping. They don't want to show their desperation in front of everyone.
Not one of the pedestrians notices us. Isaak is nowhere near the edge, so of course they can't see him anyway, but I'm in plain sight. They probably aren't paying much attention to the Pineapple. It's nothing special after you've seen it every day of your life.
Suddenly, I hear a banging sound, like someone knocking on metal. It's coming from my left.
A Peacekeeper? Have they noticed me after all?
Climbing onto the Pineapple isn't technically illegal, but meeting with people where you can't be seen or heard qualifies as "suspicious behaviour." Anything that could allow people to plot against the Capitol will get you dragged into court.
Having decided not to mention Isaak to whoever it is, I peer over the edge of the building nervously. It's not a Peacekeeper or even an informant. It's a little girl with pale skin and brown hair, resembling me. She's wearing a faded blue-grey dress, and her hair is tied in a bun.
'Drea? What are you...'
'Mum told me to tell you and Isaak that you can't climb on the factory again. And you did.'
Isaak's little sister is an infamous stater of the obvious.
I look back at Isaak, who rolls his eyes and crawls over to her, keeping his head low.
'What are you going to do? Tell the Peacekeepers?'
Drea shuffles around nervously. 'No. Just Mum and Dad.' She lowers her voice. 'You could get in serious trouble if someone found you.'
Isaak raises an eyebrow. 'So what? Dayta could get in serious trouble if everyone knew that she stole from the market stalls. You could get in serious trouble if they found out you ignored it.'
That was a little unnecessary, in my opinion. One of Drea's classmates, Dayta, comes from a poor family. Her mother doesn't have a job and her father is only a cleaner, so they don't make enough money to support Dayta and her older brother. At one point they considered moving to the slums.
Our parents try and give our money to them, but they won't take it. Instead, Dayta steals from merchants. She targets the ones known for being temperamental or charging too much. Her parents know, and they don't like it, but they don't tell her to stop. It helps keep them alive, so why would they?
Drea backs away from us and into the wall of Factory A7. 'I told you, I'm not telling any Peacekeepers! Please don't get Dayta arrested...'
'We won't.' I whisper. 'Isaak was just kidding. Come on, climb up here with us.'
She shakes her head nervously, and gestures to the crowds of people now walking down the street. I guess she thinks she couldn't climb up in time without being seen. Maybe she's right, because she almost never does it.
I crawl back to the centre of the roof. 'Isaak?'
'Yeah?' He walks over to me, despite Drea repetitively whispering 'No...'
'We could just stay up here. They only check inside the buildings for everyone. They'd never check the roof. Wait... hold on... what if our name gets drawn and we're not there, so they... no, scratch that. It's a terrible idea.'
Isaak laughs. 'I've had worse ones.'
Then I'm laughing too, but there are so many things that could go wrong today. What if they choose two underfed twelve-year-olds to fight to the death? Or Isaak? Elektra? Emmanuel? Gadge? Or me?
My laughter cuts off suddenly, and so does Isaak's. He knows something's wrong.
'It'll be okay. Did you know that District Three is the third largest district in Panem? So many people other than us could get chosen.'
'Yeah, yeah, I know. I went to school. I'm in your class, remember?'
Jokingly, Isaak frowns and puts his hand on his chin. 'Are you? I don't remember you... hmmm... who was... Ah! Yes! Your name is Pearl, right?'
I laugh again. 'Close enough.'
We talk for a while, but then see the crowd getting bigger and decide it's time to go. Carefully, I climb down the pipes, but I jump the last meter - I want to get down quickly, and before any Peacekeepers show up. I spot Enigma in front of me, but she's busy talking to one of her other friends, so I ignore her.
Isaak and Drea run into the crowd with me, and we hold hands tightly. The town square isn't too far away now. I hope we don't see my father. It'd be too hard on my mother, who had to raise us on her own, too hard on my brothers, who were sidelined because he loved Vida the most.
It's not my father, however, that waits for us in front of the square. It's Isaak's. He's a tailor, so you'd expect his whole family to have fancy clothes at the reaping, but Drea, Isaak and him are all in relatively plain outfits. I haven't seen his wife yet, though.
My father, on the other hand, was a programmer. Maybe he still is. My mother's official title is "foreman and instructor," which basically means she issues the manager's orders to all the workers and makes sure they get carried out. It's easy enough for her. She's a natural leader.
Actually, Elektra - when I think about how many friends she has, how well she can hold a conversation - is just as charismatic. Maybe that's why my mother accepted her help. She respected her.
When we reach the town square, there are several Peacekeepers lined up and holding grey folders. As you pass, they mark one "X" in your age group, so the Capitol can keep track of our district's population. I walk over to the Peacekeeper holding the "12-18" folder, who marks me off and nods to me to keep moving.
Walking into the town square, I can already see the camera crews, the betting slips, the people who won't really care. And I can identify the mothers, the fathers, the siblings praying that their family will be spared.
White. Blue. Grey. Brown. Everyone is in similar clothes. They must look the same to the Capitol. Especially since nearly everyone has the same ashen skin and dark hair. I'm paler than any of my classmates - I often get asked if I'm feeling unwell.
I can see the stage now. District Three has had, coincidentally, three victors, who are now on the stage. Wiress, who is now in her forties and is an inventor. Beetee, who is older and just as smart, but nervous and fidgety. And Elyan, who is about seventy and never smiles. No one recent. District 3 doesn't do too well at the Games.
I notice that I've reached the fifteen-year-old's section and stop.
Next to the victors is Mayor Bell and Tatiana Blythe, who is famous in the Capitol. Even before she was an escort, she was a singer or a model or something. She always wears themed outfits at reapings.
This year, I think her theme is the sky: she's wearing a bright blue dress, her white wig is fluffy and cloudlike, and her boots are rainbow-coloured. The costume is more abstract than usual - last year she was a cat, and the year before that she was a garden, covered head-to-toe in ridiculous fake flowers.
'Paige!' someone whispers. I turn and see Elektra smiling and shuffling along - you can't do any more than shuffle in a crowd like this - towards the eighteen-year-old section.
Eleven-thirty. Fifteen minutes to go. The mayor is already setting up the glass reaping balls, which contain the names of all the possible District 3 tributes for the Hunger Games. The boys' has a deep red rim, the girls' has a blue one.
If I look behind me, I can see Gadge and Emmanuel in the sections for the younger kids - Gadge is easy to spot with his red hair. They frown at me.
Seeing them, being reminded of what's at stake, makes me start to panic again, and immediately face the ground. I hope I'm safe. I hope we're all safe. But that can't happen. Someone has to go into the Games. Someone has to die.
I hear a short fanfare and look up, even though I've heard the exact same fanfare every year - it proceeds the video about the Dark Days. The projector is displaying the seal of the Capitol, followed by District Three's.
The woman narrating the video tells the story of Panem - about the Old Continents, about North America, about the floods and wars that destroyed so much of it. From the ashes rose the Capitol and thirteen districts. But then there were the Dark Days, when districts tried to overthrow the Capitol. After a long, bloody war, all the districts were defeated. One of them was destroyed completely.
To ensure the Dark Days never happened again, the Capitol set up the Hunger Games. Every year, two tributes would be sent to the arena to fight, as a reminder that we are powerless against the Capitol.
As the video ends, the woman reminds us that, originally, the districts were numbered in order of wealthiest to poorest, 1 to 13, but District Three had such a big role in the rebellion that many of its resources were destroyed to weaken it. Now, 4 and 5 are richer than us, and that is our own fault.
On that happy note, the mayor steps towards the podium to introduce the three victors and Tatiana Blythe, who skips forwards and gives the mayor a lighthearted shove away from the podium, causing him to stumble.
'Happy Hunger Games, District Three!' Tatiana trills in her Capitol accent. 'May the odds be ever in your favour.'
The whole picture - the distressed-looking mayor, the victors who are practically asleep, Tatiana's stupid outfit and overly upbeat voice - would be hilarious if I wasn't in mortal danger. If every teenager in our district wasn't.
Tatiana pays us compliments about our "honourable victors" and "ever-growing population," but, despite her surplus of enthusiasm, you can easily tell that she's just trying to calm us down. To distract us from our imminent fate.
Eventually, she trots over to the boy's ball. 'But enough dilly-dallying! The courageous young man that shall represent your district in the 72nd Annual Hunger Games is....'
Not Gadge, I think. Not Emmanuel.
Cordin... I've heard that name before. I don't recognize its owner, though. I'd remember someone so tall.
He walks up to the stage nervously. For a second, I think he might be about to make a run for it. But he's not stupid. If he tried to escape, the Peacekeepers would stun him and drag him to the Capitol unconscious if necessary. The Gamemakers would make his time in the arena hell. But they wouldn't let him escape.
Tatiana backs away a little - even with her massive wig on, she's shorter than Ryann. He's pretty muscular, for a District 3 kid - he could pass himself off as a Career if he wasn't so skinny.
As Tatiana asks for volunteers, I turn around and smile at my little brothers. 'You're safe!' I mouthe. But it seems cruel. Especially since now I can hear a family crying for Ryann. By the sounds of it, a mother, a father and a little girl.
I face the ground, ashamed, while Tatiana reads out the name of the tribute who will be joining him.
She must recognise my surname. Everyone in the Capitol must know that surname. It was Vida's. The Capitol's favourite. The outgoing, optimistic girl who never lost hope. Who wanted to win for her family.
This reaping is rigged.