Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
- Dr. Seuss
Hunger Games Year 64
"Honey, are you ready yet?" Clove's mother called from the bottom of the staircase. Adjusting the weight of her elder daughter's messenger bag on her shoulder, she called yet again, "Clove! It takes ten minutes to get to the Annex. It's not polite to be late, especially on your first day!"
"I can't find anything to wear," came the delayed response.
Mrs. Holloway sighed, lifting the messenger bag off of her shoulder, and grabbing her younger daughter from the couch. Racing up the stairs, she swiftly pushed her eldest daughter's door open to find a war-torn room. Sitting in a growing pile of clothing was six-year-old Clove.
Clove's mother didn't bother to mention to her distraught daughter that most of these items were not suitable for training in the first place, including a white dress that Clove had accidentally ruined at a classmate's sixth birthday and spotted pajamas that were probably too small for her now.
Feeling her patience running thin, she set her youngest daughter aside and rummaged through a drawer, quickly withdrawing a black tank top and lime green pair of spandex shorts.
"When you're done putting on your outfit, don't forget to put on socks and double knot your shoelaces. You have two minutes, Clove, or your father will hear about this."
The young girl stuck her lip out in a pout.
As Clove began to put on the top, Mrs. Holloway nodded subtly and returned downstairs. She eyed Clove's bag critically and added two more juice boxes and an extra bag of her trail mix. Finally satisfied, she entered the garage, placing Clove's messenger bag in the backseat.
In the background, she could hear Clove trailing down the stairs. She placed her youngest daughter in her car seat, fastened her in, and then returned to the driver's seat. Clove appeared, pacing nervously in the garage.
Mrs. Holloway couldn't help but to smile. "You look great. C'mon, let's get going."
As they drove towards the Annex, all fronts were quiet. Clove gazed curiously out the window as the they took the dirt road north. Eventually, they made a left turn and she saw a field of green, a field so unlike what she lived.
It was an eight minute commute. Three miles and an eight minute commute. When they came to complete stop, Clove gazed upward to the multi-storied building.
This was it. This was the Training Annex of District Two West. It was a sight. She scratched a few fingers against the tightened hair tie and looked on nervously.
Her mother's words cut her ruminations short. "We'll be back in the afternoon. Do well."
Clove pried the door open and inched out cautiously. She dragged her messenger bag from the seat and pulled it against herself. Then, she took a breath and ran into the building, waving off at her mother.
Her mother watched her enter the building, and called out, "Clove, make us-" before pursing her lips together. Her little girl had already vanished from sight.
As Clove traveled within the building, she noticed just how far outwards the building stretch. The initial adrenaline wore off, creating a dull tension in her shoulders that made her wince. She dropped the blue messenger bag onto the floor and began to pull it along, looking for any help she could find.
That's when she came upon a woman sitting behind a counter. Clove stood on the tips of her toes and asked, "Mrs, where is the room where we put our backpacks?"
The woman with glasses looked away from her screen and down over the counter at her. She pointed hazily to the left. "You have about three minutes until class begins, so you'd better hurry."
Clove frowned slightly. "Thanks, Mrs." She rolled her shoulders, sighed, and began running towards the entrance of the locker rooms. As she traipsed along, her messenger bag began making unfriendly clinks as it dragged along the tile in hasty bumps.
The locker room was humid, brightly lit, but a bit dingy. The lockers towered high above her, with many already enclosed. Clove paced slowly, pulling a door open. Forcefully, she shoved the blue messenger back into place, and slammed the door with as much strength as she could muster.
Stumbling out the door, she sprinted down the hallway in search of the her classroom. She counted the class numbers in the distance, toppling over suddenly when she was by something strong. It took her less than a second to recover, shouting an apology to the blond blur that fell behind her.
Her eyes caught the sign signifying she had found the right room. A glay placard adorned the wall, written in black ink, announcing, 'Registered Youth: Level I.' Twisting the door handle, Clove entered in with wide eyes. The first thing she noticed was the absence of any adult, the second was comfortable, mat floors, and third was that not a boy was to be found in Class C.
She recognized some of the girls from school, less than half of the girls in the room. Sitting a safe distance from the girls, Clove eyed the door with anticipatory anxiety. It was less than a minute later that the door opened, and the rest of the girls behind her pivoted towards their new companion.
These companions were much older, and it took them no time to command them into a line. As they perused the girls, they made short observations - some neutral, many quite critical. By the time they reached her, the observations were brief. She was labeled 'petite,' 'unrefined,' and 'delicate.'
They then moved onto the next girl, a girl in pigtails and red tee, whose lip quivered as they labeled her 'uncoordinated' and various other mean remarks. Her breathing was shallow, her hands winding and unwinding into fists as she bit her lip. Clove's throat swelled and she felt a bout of tears to take over her. "Stop it!" she whispered to the girl. Pigtails response was an angry look, crossing her arms sullenly.
Orientation then began. Instructors separated them in assigned spots and then presented them with a small, circular pin. The pin read 'RY 64: Level I' with her last name in smaller print. "This pin must be worn at all times. Failure to present your pin will result in punishment. Are we understood."
"Yes," the group agreed together.
"For your first year, you have been placed in Class C. There are five first year classes - three boys and two girls. Boys and girls are kept separate for the first three years of introductory training."
There were three training subsets. The first three years were introductory training as Registered Youth - a recreational set of courses that taught them self-defense techniques. In these first three years they lived day by day, with threat of expulsion always lingering. At the end of their third year, a skills test was required for students hoping to move onto the next set of courses.
The second subset of courses was another three years, encapsulating the years leading up to reaping eligibility. That also consisted of another exam that eventually lead to another six years until they finished school.
The older of the instructors spoke boisterously, "Each of you are a part of the Year 64 cohort because each of you will seven years old one year from today . Whether that is tomorrow or next summer is unimportant. What is important is that you work hard and pay attention."
Clove watched as the younger of the instructors piped up, "Our district's last victor won only two years ago and she trained here. If an education here benefitted Enobaria Jamison, think of what it can do for you. If you are talented enough, clever enough, strong enough, it may be one of you who has the great honor of going on to represent District Two in a Hunger Games of your very own."
The orientation then closed with an order to run the perimeter of the room ten times, and in that moment, Clove swore the room grew infinitely larger. In the first few laps, the girls held their pace, but eventually the girls began to stagger.
Almost instantaneously, the duo swooped in like hawk to their prey. The instructors harped nastily at the girls. Clove hardly kept her pace, but it took a solid half hour for the laps to cease. She certainly wasn't the fastest in her class, but unlike the sobbing girls in the corner, she wasn't the slowest.
The instructors then told the girls to return to their spots. Unsympathetically, they screeched at the gaggle of crying girls that they had a choice between returning to their places or leaving and not returning. Hastily, they returned to their spots and watched through blurred eyes as their instructors demonstrated elementary sparring techniques - punching and defensive tactics.
After three demonstrations, they were split into two lines and paired up. Clove's side was instructed to punch, while the opposing side was to defend. Deviation from proper technique would result in a punishment.
Clove sunk into herself with self-pity upon being paired up with the nervous girl from before. Once in the proper stance, the command came for them to begin, and Clove began punching.
They repeated the same motion of punching and defending until they were nearly against the wall. Somewhat adjusted to the motion, Clove moved forward once last time and struck the girl. Her partner fell to the ground with a bouncing thud. Immediately, Clove stepped forward and outstretched her arm to her partner. "I sorta cheated," she admitted to the girl.
"You are not to deviate from the technique!" the younger of the instructors was upon them in an instant. "What is your name?"
Out of breath and slightly overwhelmed Clove replied, "Clo-Clove Holloway."
"You were told not to deviate from the technique, were you not?"
Clove bit her lip. "Yes."
"Ten extra laps, Holloway. Make sure you're not in the business of making this mistake again. Are we understood?"
The instructor then turned towards her partner, violently yanked her by a pigtail. "And you?"
"I'm… I'm… I really am so-so sorry," she winced at the instructor's warm breath. There was panic, and panic's reprieve. "I'm Noemi Winthrop," she squeaked out.
"You are dismissed, Miss Winthrop," the older instructor said, appearing much calmer than his colleague.
Noemi's eyes began to water, but with a quick gesture for the door, she ran outside of the room hysterical. "Where are those laps, Holloway?" the instructor grit out. Trembling, Clove began her laps around the gym, determined not to stop in fear of retaliation.
Several hours later past the morning hours, class was briefly dismissed. Feeling her energy in a peculiar sort of flux, Clove nearly skipped her way towards the girl's locker room. There was a stop at the fountain resulting in a disastrous amount of water soaking her shirt.
Walking along the path, she thought wistfully of all the things she could have been doing besides training. Her kindergarten teacher Mrs. Astrid had told her she'd be a great candidate one day, and her teacher had promised to never lie to them.
Toeing the edge of an underpass, Clove began to watch the various groups of older students making their way through the Annex. Some groups of friends began to challenge each other to various physical challenges, while others discussed what workshops they'd take in the free hours.
It was another minute along the way that she noticed a younger blond boy leaning against the wall. He didn't look like he wanted to be bothered, and Clove understood at the feeling. He was poring over a bag of trail mix and he glanced over him enviously, suddenly excited for her own bag.
It was then she noticed the teal ribbons laying wastefully on the floor beside him. "Hello," she said brightly.
The blond boy looked up, as if unsure she was talking to him or not. When he ascertained that she was, he looked up at her suspiciously. "What do you want?"
When she didn't reply right away, he turned away, eating another handful of the trail mix. Clove begged her mind to come up with something more to say. Instead, the boy broke the ice with a snide remark, "Nice shirt, newbie."
Clove took a seat beside him, with his glance over showing he hadn't welcomed this move. She chose to ignore his disdain, sitting next to him in silence.
There was no tactful way to broach this topic. How did she start? 'Hey, what were you doing in the girl's locker room?' or 'Hey, you stealer, why did you take my trail mix,' or 'Hey! that's mine, dumby!'
Clove supposed she could let it slide, but she was still so curious as to why he'd stolen the trail mix from her messenger bag. She hesitated, softly grabbing the familiar ribbons - her mother's signature ribbons - and clenching them in her hand.
Finally, she smiled at him, deciding what to say, and he looked back at her just as suspicious as before, "I can bring you more trail mix tomorrow."
The boy looked up, a ghost of a flush on his face. He scowled at her as if to be threatening, but when that didn't appear to work he let out a sigh a moment later. He rose, "Fair enough. I'm Cato Elroy. I'm in Cohort 63."
Looking down on her he seemed less intimidating.
"See ya' round, new kid," he said, mockingly waving as he stalked off. Clove couldn't help wondering with intrinsic joy if she'd made a possible ally already.
Written: May 6th, 2012
Edited: September 14th, 2014.
 - Today being July 1st, 64. Students in Clove's cohort have a birth date range of July 2nd, 57 to July 1st, 58.