Suzanne Collins owns the Hunger Games.
I'm standing closest to the stage in the eighteen year old section. This is my last year, my final reaping. This is the final day before I sign up to work in the mines. It's not even a full day really, I'll go after lunch and sign up.
I look towards the boys section. I can see Rory with the fourteen year olds. He's growing more and more everyday, sprouting up like a weed. Vick is further down with the twelve year olds. He was boasting to his siblings this morning about receiving an A on his maths test but his heart wasn't really in it, too nervous about the reaping. It's his very first.
I look to the crowd where I can see a weary Hazelle holding a five year old Posy. Posy looks worried, even at this young age she knows that whoever gets picked today isn't coming home. She knows that the chance that one of her brothers being one of the tributes is a very real possibility.
My eyes drift to the empty space next to them. Gale. My heart squeezes painfully. Kind, stubborn, angry Gale who risked his life everyday just to put food on the table for his family. In the end he'd paid the price.
It had been almost a year since that fateful day when the sirens went off in school signalling a mine collapse. It had been almost a year since they'd dragged Gale out of the rubble and on to my mothers kitchen table to be healed. Except my mother hadn't been there, she'd died from the fever that had swept through the district the winter before. I couldn't save him, I didn't know how. I tried everything I could think of but we both knew it was of no use. I was deluding myself thinking I could put off the inevitable.
He made me promise before he died, made me promise to look after his family, to make sure that I carried on if not for myself then for him and posy and Rory and Vick who'd come to love me like an older sister since I had spent nearly all of my time at their house since my mother had died and most of it there before that.
I was the sole provider for their family now. I went everyday before and after school to the woods to bring in all the food needed to feed the five of us. I had even started to take Rory to teach him what to do if the time came that I was no longer able to provide for them. He was getting quite good, nowhere near mine or Gale's skill but better than I thought he would be. It was a relief to share the burden with someone.
The speakers crackled and screeched before blaring to life with Effie Trinket's silly Capitol accented voice. She reminds me of a bird with all her incessant tweeting and chirping that she does, she never seems to stop. Her constant happiness at sending us in to the games to be slaughtered never ceases to confuse me. How can she be so happy at seeing all the children she gets to know murdered brutally and pointlessly on live television? If Gale was here he would tell me it's because she's from the Capitol, and that everyone in the Capitol is diabolically heartless. I don't like to believe that though, I like to believe that somewhere deep down she actually cares about all the lives she ends just by reaching into a bowl and reading them out. But then again, I am an expert at denial.
"Welcome, welcome to the annual 73rd hunger games!"
She carries on saying what a pleasure it is to be here when everyone knows she hates being stuck with district 12, the poorest district, the one without any excitement as nobody has won since Haymitch.
The mayor then makes his speech, the same speech as he does every year about the dark days and the thirteen districts rebelling and then the beginning of the hunger games. It's a speech written by the capitol and he just repeats it with the same bored and slightly nervous expression everyone else has on their face. He can't wait for this to be over but he can't help but think this is the last time he could see his child alive in person. Just because he's the mayor it doesn't give his daughter a free pass. He has just as much to lose as anyone else here, but he just has a significantly less chance of losing it than most.
Haymitch, the only living victor and the town drunk is currently on stage sitting next to Effie, muttering loudly and drunkenly to himself, looking around for his drink which he obviously didn't notice was confiscated by peacekeepers more than ten minutes ago. He eventually stands up to find it but ends up tripping on his chair and sends both himself and Effie tumbling off the back of the stage.
There are a few sniggers but the truth is it's painfully embarrassing to watch and the mayor rushes through the rest of his speech so fast that you can barely tell what he's saying. Not that it matters, nearly everyone knows it off by heart and hardly anyone was listening to it in the first place, they all have more pressing matters to think about.
Once Effie has climbed back on to the stage and tried to fix her hair, which looks worse than before as you can see wispy bits of dark blonde hair poking out of the front of the massive pale blue wig. The wig clashes horribly with the shiny orange dress but apparently the look is the height of fashion in the Capitol or else she wouldn't be wearing it.
"Happy hunger games, and may the odds be ever in your favour!" She exclaims less enthusiastically than usual showing her irritation at Haymitch.
She quickly trots over to the girls bowl in her ridiculously tall high heels and plunges her hand into the bowl grabbing the first one she can before trotting her way back to the front of the stage.
"Katniss Everdeen!" She shouts.
Everything stops. No, it can't be me. It just can't. There are people with more slips in there than me. This is a mistake, it can't be real. This is just a nightmare and if I can just force myself to wake up then I'll be just at home in bed and this will all be forgotten. Wake up, wake up! Why can't I wake up!
"Katniss Everdeen?" She shouts again "come on dear don't be shy."
I'm in shock but I move forward obediently afraid of what will happen to me if I don't go, even if this is a dream. The crowd in front of me parts as I make my way through and I duck under the rope that acts as the barrier to separate the age groups.
My heart is pounding so loudly I'm sure all of Panem can hear it. My footsteps boom rhythmically as I make my way to the stage. Like the hands on a clock ticking slowly but surely with a measure of finality. This isn't real, this isn't real, this isn't real. I can't be reaped, they need me. Rory and Vick and posy need me. They can't survive without me and I promised Gale and I can't leave them. Who will tuck Posy in to bed and tell her stories and who will teach Rory how to hunt. This has to be a mistake, maybe she read my name by accident.
I can't leave them, they need me and maybe if I just explained that to them or if I could just wake. up. This is all a dream and ... This is real. I'm at the bottom of the steps to the stage and I'm climbing them and this is real. I'm going to the Capitol to be killed, to be brutally murdered on live television and this is real. I'm going to die. People are going to cheer. I'm signing my own death warrant and I don't want to be here, I want to be in the woods with Gale and joking and laughing... But Gales dead and I'm here alone and if I ran I wouldn't get more than five feet never mind the five miles that we'd once talked about.
"Well well aren't you a pretty one." She chirps cheerfully looking up at me.
Despite what many think I'm not stupid or naive. I know I'm beautiful. I'm not vain it's just a fact. My father used to say I had my mothers beauty but his colouring and I can't say I disagree. Everyone I've ever met that knew my mother when she was younger talked about how beautiful she once was, most beautiful girl in all of district twelve.
I get many looks from the boys in school and men around the district as I pass. I'm not a traditional beauty, not blone haired and blue eyed like my mother and the people from town or even from all the girls they show on TV that are from district two. With my dark skin and heavy lidded grey eyes the colour of storm clouds complete with my long black wavy hair I'm more sultry and sexy than anything else.
She cranes her head to get a good look at me before nodding in approval. She's obviously pleased that she's got someone aesthetically pleasing this year, although I can tell she disapproves of my outfit which isn't up to her capitol standards.
As she reads out the boys name I'm not even paying attention. My face shows no emotion and it hasn't since my name was called out. I can't show weakness. I can't let them think they've won already, so I stare straight ahead and try to focus on something that doesn't remind me that I'm a tribute and that I'm leaving the only place I've ever known, because if I start to think about that then I'll start to panic and then ... Effie Trinket is smaller than me. It suddenly pops in to my head and I hold on to it like a lifeline. If I focus on only this then maybe I can make it until I'm off stage to breakdown.
I got my height from my dad. He was tall at 6'3 and I stand at 5'10. Effie Trinket can't be more than 5'7 with her outrageously high shoes on so she has to look up at me even though I'm wearing boots with no heel at all. I've been able to eat better these last few years as I'm not constantly giving half my portion to Prim to eat instead. This means I've reached closer to what my natural height would be than I would have if she had lived.
Extra calcium from the goat milk and protein from the meat of the animals I shot made my bones grow bigger and my body develop more healthily. I didn't care though, a few extra inches and a larger more feminine figure meant little to me. I had no use for it. I was never going to get married or fall in love or have kids so it didn't matter what I looked like. I would rather look like a wild dogs behind and have her here with me than have her dead. I miss her. I hope she's with my family and Gale. I hope they're waiting for me, I might be joining them soon.
The unfortunate boy that has been picked to be sent to certain death with me is standing on the other side of Effie, and when we're told to shake hands I actually have to bend my knees a little bit.
He's a tiny twelve year old town boy. He has to be the smallest weakest looking twelve year old I've ever seen and big fat tears are rolling down his rosy cheeks. His hand seems lost in mine, and I think about this boy, about how he's probably going to get killed in the bloodbath, or starve for a few days first before being tourchered by careers.
What if I'm the one to kill him, what if it comes between me and him and I have to face him and what if I can't, what if I can, what if I'm the one to see the light fade from his eyes, if I kill him I won't be able to live with myself and then ... Effie trinket is smaller than me.