Chapter 1

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Chapter 1


I pry my eyes open and look around in a daze. The light streaming in from my window is practically nonexistent, but my eyes have no problem adjusting. On most days, I’m awake before the sun rises. Today, I’ve allowed myself just a few minutes extra sleep. It’s reaping day.

Slowly, I get up from my bed, being extremely careful to make as little noise as possible. My gaze falls on the sleeping form in the bed opposite mine. I frown at the troubled expression on Lindon’s face. Sometimes it hurts to look at Lindon, his blonde hair the exact shade that our mother’s was. It hurts to see so many of her features in him and to know that he has to grow up without her. I look like our father; same brown hair and lean build. But I have her eyes. They haunt me.

Fear rises inside me. Lindon is growing up, growing closer to having his name added to so many others, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, to freeze him now and keep him nine years old forever. I run my hand across his forehead lightly and pull his blanket more securely around his small body. As I walk out of our small room, I stop in my tracks and turn around to face my little brother again. In a quick decision, I grab the thin blanket from my bed and place it on top of Lindon. I swear he will not see the pain I’ve seen. I will protect him, I think to myself.

Quietly, I pull on my dark green button-down shirt and tuck it into my black dress pants. I’ve worn these clothes only a few times before, all on reaping day. There’s one difference this year, though. The Fourth Quarter Quell. I’m still in shock from when the card was read. Two victors instead of one. I shake my head, unable to fully comprehend it.

I walk the short steps to the kitchen and begin preparing breakfast, just like I’ve done for the past eight years or so. When I think back to my younger self, I’m surprised that this simple task bothered me. Now, I almost find relief in the task. The familiarity of it is inviting in a way. It’s just… I guess I’d rather stick with what I know. Taking risks and chances and just acting unpredictably is too dangerous to consider. I can’t take chances. I can’t deviate from the norm.

My mind wanders as my hands fall into their morning routine. I think back to last year, when I was doing the exact same thing. Only one more year, I think to myself. But that’s not entirely true. Only one more year for me…but Lindon hasn’t even begun. It frustrates me that I wouldn’t be able to volunteer if—I stop mid-thought because I can’t bear to even think the words that come next. The world wouldn’t be so cruel as to subject Lindon to the Hunger Games.

Oh yes, I think. It would.

These thoughts surface in my mind so frequently now with Lindon growing up. I try to block them out, to rid them from my mind, but it’s equally difficult to find a way to distract myself. Often, my thoughts lead me to memories from when life was easier, happier…from when my mother was alive. It’s been eight years since my mother died, but my memory of that day is clear as anything. I can feel my heart beat speed just from thinking about it. I found her. I heard her scream. I should’ve come faster, should’ve been able to save her. It was my fault.

I know my father feels the way I do—that he should’ve been there to save her. Since then, it’s almost as if a part of my father died along with my mother. He isn’t the same. He doesn’t smile or laugh as much. He doesn’t joke like he used to. He’s scared to let me in. But he’s trying and, for that, I am extremely thankful. My father hasn’t given up on Lindon or me.

I stepped up. District seven is definitely one of the more stable districts when it comes to food and shelter and such, though I wouldn’t be quick to say that all of us here have money to burn. Our family does okay. With my mother’s death, we lost her income as well. I was only nine at the time, but she taught me well. And I remembered. I decided, at that age, that I would provide for my family, that they would never go hungry as long as I was around. Where most people in this district limit themselves to solely harvesting lumber, I hunted and gathered as well as harvested lumber. I learned my skills with an ax from my father and my knowledge of edible plants from my mother.

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