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My sister’s wedding really aroused the town. She had just passed the age of thirty, yet she and her new husband have been together for nearly a decade or two; and, coming from such a small sector, not many weddings were common around our parts. In fact, the last marriage I can remember back to was the old spinster, who married the gardener when I was seven; that was over ten years ago! Needless to say their wedding was downright gorgeous; her gown was a soft golden white, she made all of the foods including the cake on her own; meanwhile, the gardener filled the town square in red and pink roses from the bottom of the gutters to the top of the signal towers. His brother owned what little electricity we were supplied from the North, so we all agreed to shut down our homes for the night, and string a sky-full of bright twinkling lights all across the center of town for their special event. With the setting in place, the entire town closed down completely for one whole evening to celebrate the festivities. We all were allowed to dawn the fanciest strip of clothing we owned and gather in the square as our one mayor held the ceremony. It didn’t last long to our dismay; it definitely was not as long as the weddings we hear about upstate that was for sure. Here though, in the small confinement of Pauper, we held the ceremony, danced until the sun went down past the forest line, and finally the newlywed bride and groom were allowed to send a flaming lantern into the night sky for good fortune and a passionate future.


My older sister’s wedding, however, was a little bit different. No wonder... It had been ten years since the seamstress and gardener tied the knot; now things were very different---incomparable actually. Things in Pauper haven’t been going well…not since the riots that occur up in the city started a few years ago. The world was slowly recovering from a massive war held by our ancestors’ long-since past, and now we may be recreating their mistakes. Since then, time seemed to turn monotonously without change, and by today’s standards, not a person could remember if we were the ones cleaning up the war or suffering among another? It was far before my time, my great-grandparent’s life span either, but somehow or another, the entire planet was filled with explosions, leaving the few survivors struggling to repopulate the human race and struggle to find sanctuary on forgotten chunks of land, that were cheated over fifty percent of their original span.


According to history, things such as the sky, used to be blue as a Redchest’s egg; the earth was a wonderful green that stood out vividly compared to the dark pine trees and the dirt which was a rich brown like the bark; the sun would shine yellow all day, and turn to peach right before the sky would glow with stars and a grey-white moon cast out in the center of it all. Now, the earth was always a dull grey, like ashes that could never blow to a new location; flowers were the only color to the earth’s floor, and even they viewed dreary and depressed most of their short lives before they shriveled up to die; the sky remain a cloudy haze of white all day long, while the nights are black as pitch, with no moon or stars to brighten it in the slightest. Such a world was common, normal even for the generation, no one alive today is old enough to remember the old world and its history, but we do know how beautiful and free they all used to be before the great war.


With the people hostile, and the land desperate and injured, a small group of survivors banded together to create a government called “The Hand”, whose main purpose was to construct order, and punish all insolence with unrestrained force. The planet was then separated into seven different sections. There were three continents organized (one north of the other) on the left half of the planet, and three (the same way) on the right; in the center, would be the district conversion area where anything could happen, from meetings between each sections president, to the trade and distribution of slaves and prisoners from all different lands. This center district, cleverly titled, “The District Bind,” is an off-limits area to everyone except for the presidents and the capitol government. This being true, there was no way to leave your own continent, and only one way to trade goods and that was through Bind.


Each district was the same size and similar shape all throughout the world. They say the continent used to be bigger, bearing countless towns, cities, and states of all different sizes, but after the explosions, the water levels rose and swallowed over half of each country, leaving only tiny centers isolated within the massive ocean. Our country was known as Ameera, the main production of energy, as well as modernization. There are four towns and a capitol in Ameera: Yorkshire, the producer of electricity and only source of cable to all of Ameera; Washsea, the water-weaponry civilization that accepts all imports from Bind; Orchard, the only area in our district that has soil still fertile enough to farm successfully and provide us all with food; and lastly was the town of my people called Pauper.


How we received the name Pauper, was a mystery long forgotten, but that was us, the lowly town known only for our oil that was as black and subtle as our lives. Like the ebony liquid, we would seem noticeable at the most random of times and places, explode into something worthwhile, and then sputter out and die a worthless crater. Our capitol was simply called the Capitol, a city where no one person ever visited or wanted to visit in the first place. Those people, who lived in the Capitol, were unlike the rest of Ameera, they dress differently, talk oddly, and live totally different lives to people compared in Pauper.


The President of Ameera, leader of the Capitol, was a man named Westchester Cost; once a year or so, he and his men would ride to the four towns of Ameera and collect status, supplies, census, and requests, then send them personally overseas to Bind and the Hand. I do not know if that is what the five other countries do, but it’s what Ameera does and that is all we’ve ever known for generations. They ride through town in their vehicles that run off of the energy from Yorkshire; all are dressed in white suits so clean that they blind our eyes just to look at for too long. The Capitol team bore styles and colors on their hair and faces, unknown to the people of Pauper who had seen only the color grey. Once, I remember watching the Capitol men and President Cost talking with our mayor about the census. I was perhaps six at the time, starving and wandering the town in search of a meal tradable by a liquid ounce of oil that was strapped to a water sack at my hip. The president looked over at me only for a moment, his face was as bright as his suit, his hair no exception, but the real feature were his eyes that stared towards me like two pieces of gold. Now, I had seen gold only once on my mother’s wedding band before the entire supply of fine metals in Pauper were confiscated for construction purpose in Bind---even so, I learned about gold in pictures from class, and even on the television once. It was a brownish yellow, a hard, heavy object that was as valuable as it was rare. Cost took a meager step towards me, but his crew quickly advised him elsewhere before he had time to reach. Though, after they were gone, a small wrapper had replaced the footprints where he once stood. I rushed to it, and un-crumbled the paper to see that it was nearly a whole bar of never-before-seen chocolate! I took that home and shared it with my parents and sister, hesitant to eat it at first, but after that first nibble on the sweet, rectangle, I quickly devoured my share, sometimes letting pieces melt away in my mouth for fun. That was the first and last time I had ever had chocolate, and just thinking about the taste to this day, fills my mouth with delight. It vexed me, that for such a creepy, devilish, cruel man like Cost, why would he grant me---a tar-covered street girl---such a wonderful treasure? Since then, I’ve held onto the slightest notion that maybe he wasn’t so bad after all...


Nobody liked Cost though, and that is where the riots come in. You see, once a year he does something other than the annual census…he personally chooses two district civilians from each of the four towns---one boy and one girl from ages twelve to twenty-nine, each to compete in a contests of wit, skill, and survival. The Capitol civilians are all exempt from participating in the games being the distant descendants of past victors from even the first set of games; yet for the rest of the lucky eight tributes, they are placed into battle where only two can remain. The two that stood out among the rest, will be the ungrateful few that get to sail to Bind, once again to find themselves in the peak of war with the other winning, duo tributes of the other five countries. While battling in Bind, only one of the twelve contestants can stand and remain a victor, and to that winner, they receive a place in the government table, privileges to travel with the president to wherever they desired, and also they receive a life-time contract of fame and fortune, providing sustenance for their sector town for one entire year and an immediate home in the Capitol for the rest of their lives. Obviously Ameera has not seen a champion in many, many years---the last one being from Washsea seven contests ago.


Only one tribute on record had ever been from Pauper and he competed over thirty years ago when he was fifteen. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the games, and I think he won because of some pollution epidemic that soiled all of the water in Bind for the rest of that year, and he kept the only supply rationed in a cave somewhere. Now, this victor refused to live in the Capitol, and stayed here in the rock bottom town of Pauper for a reason nobody will ever know. His home was at the corner of the city, lone and structurally unsound. He would stay confined in there for twenty-three out of the twenty-four hours in a day, all year round, but eventually, he toured to other places every year to sponsor the poor saps condemned to die either in Ameera’s games, or rarely and even more cruelly served into the Bind competition. Still, his memory is something of pride for Pauper, and thus his name is posted at the edge of town on a large, decrepit billboard stating, “Pauper: population 73, Home of the 50th Hunting Game’s victor, Atom Newark”.


Newark was a sad lonely man, in his mid-forties, and whenever I caught a glimpse at him, he looked as though he hadn’t bathed in---well, ever? Like the rest of us, he wore a grey shirt, made way too tight, and also the same brown pants and black boots, caked with mud and oil. His face was low and sagging, but he had a square jaw that sort of held his appearance together. His brown eyes were always bloodshot with dark black bags protruding beneath them, and his hair was a matted mess of brown and grey, all shagged on top of his head. His right wrist bore the black-ink scar of the “P” issued for all Pauper Tributes allowed into Bind, left permanent to remind everyone that you are a living hero. He slouched when he trekked through town on his way to the brewery, he seemed sad, angry, and just plain drunk most of the time, and a passing by victim could literally smell the years of spilt alcohol and vomit encrusted in his clothing, but they never said anything about it. After all, Atom was our town’s hero...


It came as no surprise that Newark did not attend my sister's wedding today; he never did anyone’s unless they sprung for a cheap bottle of wine. Still, the other seventy-two of us gathered in the square, and were waiting on the mayor to stop telling jokes long enough to begin the ceremony. My sister, Terrain, was standing mid-stage, dressed in a simple piece of white silk that fell to the floor at both her feet and her wrists. Her glossy black hair waved its way down to her back and her green eyes stood out like one of the Capitol people. She had her arm locked around my practical brother, Dew, and they made their way up the aisle. He was about as tall as she was, tanned skin like her, (though we don’t know how anybody in Pauper could get any sun around all the clouds,) he had spiky black hair and dark brown eyes that always appeared fairly happy and were definitely smiling today. He was fitted into a rented suit top, while his pants remain our issued brown, but he had them washed so well, they looked almost new---the same went for the black boots. Around the grey-wash cobblestones of the town square, lay a few white roses, pale and lifeless as usual, but still pretty given the occasion. There was a small cake (courtesy of the baker), but no music, not a little light bulb going, nor a bright white day behind the clouds; instead, it was just the Paupers and the dim sky that kept us company, and even then, the sky was growing darker by the minute with an oncoming storm approaching.


By the time the old mayor made it to the microphone, the storming wind had already begun to blow just ever so slightly. It made the back of my neck sticky for some reason, but I simply tucked my hair into the back of my shirt, and listened into the ceremony. I was on the first row to watch my big sister marry, next to me, were Dew’s parents, his brother the gardener, and his wife, the Seamstress. Even though Dew controlled the power company, even he couldn’t have gotten any power for his wedding day. It was a sad truth, but with Pauper struggling as it was, even Terrain agreed it would be better just to settle with fire lamps and a lantern sent into the sky. They had been saving a miniscule portion of funds for decades in order to have this special wedding, but they did not have enough to make everything perfect like Terrain’s younger fantasies had dreamed about.


The spinster woman Dew’s brother married, was a mother, once again pregnant, and on top of that her seamstress business had shut down earlier last year when she broke her arm falling from a broken staircase. To this day, she can no longer grip anything in her right hand and with this tragedy, she was practically out of business. She did manage to gather her strength to help fit my sister for her old wedding gown. Dew’s brother, Colby, still ran the flower shop, but he couldn’t grow any flowers with color if he’d tried; and how he did try for his little brother’s wedding. We were lucky to even just get the dried up white rose petals.


Ultimately, I was no use to anyone in the wedding; I have no job, no business, and as for our family, Terrain and I are all that was left. Our parents both died when I was twelve in a derrick incident, and we never had any grandparents that lived over my sister’s fifth birthday. We did have an older brother at one time, long before I can remember, but he was chosen to go into the Hunting Games when he was sixteen, and immensely uncommon for a Pauper, made it into Bind; though from there, he didn’t make it back. My sister was his twin sister and she could not take his place in the Reaping, then our parents were too old, and I was only two, plus Terrain and I being girls meant we couldn’t have substituted for him if we’d begged to, even if I was old enough to compete. His name was Tracker, and from what re-runs I caught of the games on the television (before my mother hastily turned them off) was that my brother made it to the final three in Bind’s competition, but the other two Foreigns made a quick alliance and killed him before they started on one another. He was one of the only Paupers ever to make it to Bind, and I was extremely proud of him for that. I have one picture of Tracker back at home, and from what I can tell, he looked exactly like Terrain, only stronger, taller, and obviously manlier. They both resembled our mother in appearance, but I was all my father. I had brown hair that curled its way around my face, and blue-grey eyes that were and odd look considering everyone else in this town had brown or green. My mother always called mine Hazel, but I had seen Hazel eyes before, and they were always a greenish-brown, not a blue. I always had had lighter skin than Terrain, yet I was still tanner than anyone in my class. They were all as pale as dead, white roses. Unlike my sister, I knew how I got tanned; all throughout my life, my dad would take me into the forbidden forest, where the clouds could actually burn my skin reflecting off of the lake within this wooded area. At the lake, far from any security or spies, my father would teach me how to shoot; whether we used guns, arrows, even just throwing knives, and eventually I got as good as Tracker used to be, at least that’s what my father always said. In a way, I think I was the void to his lost son, considering I would rather have been with him in the wild, hunting, rather than doing laundry and cooking with Mother and Terrain.


After my parent’s deaths, Terrain went to work for Dew’s sister-in-law, the seamstress; she had an apprentice job in town, such a job as that did not earn enough to feed both myself and her, but my sister was much too small to get any other occupation. My skills aside, the extra outdoor activity made me stronger than Terrain; I grew a little taller, and I just seemed bigger than her in every aspect, while still remaining one of the smallest in my class. I suppose it didn’t take much to be bigger than Terrain though, she was short, skinny, and fragile because of a health issue that she was born with; this disorder was invisible and incurable, and it made her back and bones weaker than the average Paupers’. My sister can get around town alright, but bending over, climbing, and running were three different tasks that she just couldn’t handle. That’s why only a seamstress could hire her; it was the only job that didn’t include a bunch of heavy lifting and moving around.


I became a hunter, and would sneak away into the forest behind both Terrain and the patrols’ backs and bring back meat that I could sell in the market. People in the market didn’t care where the meat came from, as long as they could eat it. Pauper folks survived off of white beans and broth made of boiled water and herbs. The baker and his family rarely make enough bread for everyone in town, so most of us can’t get that with every meal. Sometimes Terrain and I are blessed with a piece of cheese or something to add a special bit of flavor, but most of the time it was just the lima bean soup. Now with the new sensation of meat, everybody wanted a share, and that is where we made the most profit. Some people exchanged goods with us for a portion of the kill; for instance, we both received medical care from the town healer, in return for a leg of deer once a month. Dew was able to give us cable, the wedding details were practically paid off, we could get fire wood in the winter, and even the baker and I have a deal in exchange for an assured loaf of bread every once and a while, he gets half a squirrel.


The baker was indeed my best customer; he was a round man, jolly most of the time, and he always smelled like cinnamon and bread. The Baker was in charge of breads, cakes, and the pastries that few people in Pauper could even afford. Other than the mayor, the baker was one of the richest men in town, he lived in a home/shop in the town square, and he had four sons and a daughter, each strong, healthy, and well fed. His wife died about twelve years ago, giving birth to the little girl, but still the baker loved her the most. His youngest son was in my class, but we’d never spoken other than that one time his father sent him to thank me for the squirrel I traded them. The baker’s entire family had lush, maple-colored hair and skin, plus eyes that were as crisp and brown as the cakes they made; the son from my class though, had bright, golden blonde hair, and honey colored eyes just like their mother had. The baker sometimes talks to me about his wife, (without realizing it most of the time) saying how he had to walk blind through her old-time, sun-colored eyes just to try and see what she was thinking. He’d talk about how moody she could be, but how gentle she usually was; it was sad to see how much he loved her, and how lonely he is without her today. Terrain says that’s why he bakes so much that no one can ever eat all he offers from his inventory; he was filling the void of his lost love by baking all hours of the day, and this is why, I always secretly cut him an extra inch of meat once or twice a month.


***


After my sister cast the flaming lantern into the dark, night sky, she and Dew would move to his home closer to town, near the power plant. He lived in a fair one bedroom, one bath, kitchen and living room kind of house. It was small, but still bigger than ours, and he had his entire power plant right in the backyard to accept the transmission from Yorkshire. Needless to say, he never had a black out like we did, but that was the perk to being the cable guy. Terrain said I could come and live with them near town, but I declined. I was seventeen years old and I did not want to spend my days sharing the house of two newlyweds in their thirties!


That night the storm had started, but through the odd rain intervals, we found a way to pack all of my sister’s belongings and transfer them to Dew’s house. It was nearly midnight by the time we were done, I was soaking wet, and now I was alone, sitting by the dim lit fireplace as thunder violently shook the walls of my house and the lightning poured in through the windows with the occasional, elusive rain drops that snuck inside from time to time. All of the rooftops in Pauper were made like hats for the homes, so that the water just sort of slid off into a moat around them. No one except for a few people that lived in the center of town had glass for the windows, so this was the only way to ensure we didn’t all drown in our sleep every time it rained.


My home was built very far away, but it was no different from anyone else’s; I had a small living room with one, two-person sofa, a small armchair, and a fire place. There was a minuscule television on a short table by the couch, and one lone lamp near the door that hardly ever worked. Next to that room, I have my own kitchen now, complete with an oven run by fire, and a few cabinets bearing some cracking, porcelain plates, and bent silverware. There was a small back door that led to the forest near my house. For some reason the woods were closer to my house than any, which was good for my hunting career, but having no neighbors, plus the town so far away for two miles---I wonder why I was never lonely until now? Above is a bedroom only big enough for one person’s bed, another dim lamp, and then a door. And, right beside the bedroom was a bathroom complete with a toilet, and a shower head that only knew how to spit out cold shards of water, trapped on my roof from the rain the few nights before. That was all I had, and it was somehow okay because it was all my own!


The patrol officers and mayor are letting me keep my old house because I supply them with the illegal meat. The thought of law abiding men like the Patrol bending the rules for me was strange, but after a while of starvation and health problems, nobody really cares if one little girl risks her life to hunt. Meanwhile, the Hand does not allow hunting because it will somehow defy them in one way or another. I never understood that, and if it were true, why not send us food, so I wouldn’t have to hunt in the first place? Either way, if they knew I was going into the forbidden forest, and not only that, but hunting in there as well, I would be struck dead on the spot. The thought of being struck dead made me jump a little when the lightning echoed my thoughts. I’ll admit it was a little frightening being alone in the storm; I had never liked when it would thunder because sometimes these spiraling vortexes of wind would come down and suck up everything in their paths. Once these wind devils took the entire left half of Pauper where nearly fifty people had homes, most left destroyed and almost all of the victims left dead across town; and Pauper’s population decreased by a quarter of what it used to be twenty years before.


I was assured by Dew and Terrain that this was simply a thunderstorm though, so I reluctantly crawled into the small chair near the fire and tried to deal with it. I sat in silence with my arms rested beneath my chin, listening to the roaring in the sky and the sharp shards of water that sliced across my roof. Other than the occasional house shake, I guess the storm wasn’t all that bad, and maybe we could both reach a settlement, where it would get to rage it’s war on nature, and I could endure its rage and get to sleep before dawn. But, no matter how hard I tried the joint-teaming of the weather and also the nightmares of the Capitol punishing me for hunting---or worse, punishing Terrain---thoughts such as these, kept me turning over restlessly in my seat.


I must have found peace sooner or later because I think I fell asleep; when I opened my eyes, the house was lit white, and sunny, and there wasn’t a sound of rain anywhere to be heard. The peace soon ended when I realized, I was in my bed, and tucked in neatly on top of that. I remember vividly falling asleep in the chair by the fireplace. How could I have gone up the stairs and tucked myself in? Did Terrain send Dew to check on me or something? She must have, or else how could I be here, who else could have carried me to bed. The fact she doesn’t think I can take care of myself is a little bit insulting, but I shook the thought away and pulled on my boots for a quick morning hunt.


***


When I’m in the forest, alone, surrounded only in marsh and trees, I can really be myself. I don’t take my father’s rifle hunting anymore, reason one because it’s too loud and reason two because they don’t make bullets anymore, and I’m saving them for if I need them in the future. Although my shot is one-hundred times better with a gun, I am reduced to using the bow and arrow. The shots I make to the game are neat, but not as indiscreet as they’d be if I would have used the rifle.


I was climbing in the trees now to avoid being seen by my target, a buck-deer, which was grazing alone in the open forest newly refreshed by rain and morning dew. With its meat, I can feed at least five families in Pauper, pay off the doctor, and even have a little left over to buy something from the baker. I aimed my arrow, pulled back, silently on the string, and after a moment, released. The flying dart struck through the creature’s brain and halted below his jaw line. The buck died instantly, and painlessly, but still, I felt bad for killing it. I think about it every time I kill something, that I am the one thing standing between its life for the rest of the day, or if that be the day it dies.


I hoped down from the trees and pulled the arrow from the deer’s skull. I grabbed it by the antlers and pulled, only to be drug down into the mud. This animal had to be over two-hundred pounds, there was no way I could lift it and tote it all the way into town by myself. But, this was such a remarkable kill, I can’t just leave it, I definitely won’t waste the poor creature’s life in just accidental sport. His death will bring other people some life; I will make sure of that. With that in mind, I got an idea, marked my location by leaving behind the bow and arrows, and ran into town, heading straight to the baker’s shop; surely one of his giant sons could lift such a heavy slab of meat?


The bakery was painted a soft gold that almost glittered because of the sweet smell coming from inside. When walking through the door, a person could become overwhelmed in a golden haze, just because of the aroma and I suppose the way the lights were colored? Out in front was a small counter filled with tiny pastries; in the back I assumed was his oven, and above is where his family lived because I’ve seen them wrestling to beat one another down the stairs before, and I have heard the heavy footsteps thunder across the ceiling.


“Excuse me, Mr. Avery?” I smiled politely through my many heavy breaths.


“Why, if it isn’t Miss Ivey?” he chuckled back at me, laughing while his stomach shook as he did so. He handed a wrapped up loaf of bread to the woman in front of me, and then gave over his full attention, “What can I do for you today, Kitty?”


Honestly, I hated it when people called me Kitty. My name is Kat’sTail Ivey. I was named after my mother’s favorite flower, the Pink Cat’s Tail. Though she’d only seen it in pictures, she dubbed it her favorite and thus forth named me Kat, and needless to say that she wasn't the best speller, so my mother actually spelled my name with a "K" instead of a "C". You can well imagine how many nicknames I’d gotten because of this odd, mispelled name. Kitty, Whiskers, Catnip---you know, the works? Although, the baker and I were always pretty good friends, so if he called me Kitty every now and again, I think I would live.


“I shot a buck over by the creek. Got it right through the skull too, but it weighs too much for me to carry, and he’s a big deer Mr. Avery...”


“What do you need from me then, if you already killed the creature?” he shrugged confused.


“Well, I could use some muscle to carry him into town. I think one of your boys could pick it up, easy!?” I eased.


“You want one of my sons to go into the Forbidden Forest?” He asked, a little shocked, though I thought I was being perfectly obvious, “That’s a little risky Kat, especially because the constable is on hot water just for allowing you in there.”


“It would be done really quick sir, I swear. We’d be in and out in ten minutes flat,” I said.


He kneaded some dough around his hands, and pursed his lips in consideration. I glanced over at a family picture on the wall and saw every one of his sons. They stood around six foot tall, all as strong as I could imagine, they were all handsome, posing on the steps outside the bakery. His youngest son stood out to me though because of that golden head of hair. Everything on the four boys was identical in size and brawn, except for the baker’s youngest son, Pita. Why, even Mr. Avery’s daughter had curly maple-colored locks and chestnut eyes, but not Pita. A glance over to the other wall showed me the baker and his late wife. Her skin was as healthily glowing as theirs’, her eyes a lovely shade of copper-brown, and her long, glowing hair equally as warm and golden as fresh baked bread. Pita looks so much like her, and I can tell it probably hurts the baker to compare the two.


“Alright,” he caved, “You can borrow Pita, but you must promise me, you won’t get him into any trouble.”


Dang it! Why did he have to pick Pita? He just strikes me as odd for some reason, and then I feel bad for him because his father practically hates him for looking like his dead mother. I would have gone with twelve year old, Rye, if I had to, but she would have had as much luck towing that buck as I would.


The baker named all of his children after bread for some reason; Challah, Farl, Johnny-Cake, Pita, and Rye. I swallowed my real thoughts about my new muscle, and simply replied in a happy, grateful tone, “Pita? That would be great, thank you Mr. Avery.”


“Pita! Come down here!” Mr. Avery called loudly.


In no time at all, Pita walked quickly down the narrow stairs and over to the two of us. By the time he stood next to me, I noticed that I only came up to his collarbone and he was nearly two of me in strength. Why, not even the baker himself reached over Pita, and no doubt he was the tallest of his brothers and sister.


“Yes sir?” Pita asked, his voice lower than Mr. Avery’s by a long shot. It struck me off guard for a moment because the last time I’d heard his voice, we were both ten and he said, “My dad wanted to thank you for getting us that squirrel.”


“Pita, you and Kat are going to go retrieve a buck she shot in the woods. In return, she’s offered us a good portion of the heap,” he said. That was a part of the deal I was unaware of, but it didn’t matter, there was plenty to go around.


Pita did not look too convinced, and even seemed like he was about to protest, but with that look Mr. Avery gave him, alongside the fact I was standing right next to him, he held his tongue in and replied softly, “Yes sir.”


Pita and I didn’t say a word as we left the bakery. When we were out of town and nearly to the point of passing my house, I caught the scent of the bakery that clung to Pita’s clothes. It was a fresh, vanilla smell that had a touch of cocoa. Me, being the awkward teenage girl that I was, thought: Maybe we can work a conversation into the smell?


“So, is it fun working at the bakery?” I asked.


“It’s alright,” Pita frowned, “Dad never lets me cook most of the time and so I usually just deal with the icing.”


“Why doesn’t he want you to cook?” I wondered.


“Well, he does, but my mother always frosted the things he made---he has no icing talent whatsoever. Also, I think it upsets him to take her job?” he said calmly. Way to go Kat, we’re talking for three seconds and already you bring up the dead mother...wonderful.


“I’m sorry,” I sighed, “I didn’t mean to---“


“No, it’s alright,” he interrupted in a nicer tone, “Of all people, you know what it’s like to lose your mother.”


He wanted to rephrase that as soon as he’d said it, and immediately looked down at me to try and explain himself, but I stopped him with a chuckle, “I know what you meant Pita, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one who struggles to make conversation.” We both chuckled weakly for a few seconds, until he stopped suddenly.


We were at the edge of the forest line, a place they tell you to never go when you’re a kid. I think my dad and I were the only ones who could go in here and not get caught because we lived so close by. A boy like Pita would never think to go near it because he lived in town with most everything he needed at his disposal.


“It’s okay?” was all I could think to say.


He shook his head as though out of a trance, and replied to me gruffly, “No, I know…I was just thinking...” The way he responded and proceeded to lead the way into the forest afterwards told me that I probably shouldn’t ask him what it was he was zoned out about.


I took him about a mile into the woods and we found the buck, still dead where it was shot. Pita removed his grey shirt, so that he wouldn’t get any blood or mud on it, and asked me to carry it, while he got the deer. I did, and it was then I noticed how muddy the storm had made the forest last night. Without the sun to dry the ground, and the trees making the whole thing even worse, the earth would remain ashy mud for weeks at most. I suppose that I was so used to hunting in the mud that I didn’t realize the terrain change; if I had, I probably wouldn’t have drug one of the Avery boys into the mess in the first place. I was in mid apology when Pita lifted the dead carcass over his shoulder like it weighed nothing at all. I’d imagine my jaw was dropped because when he looked over at me, he let out a small laugh.


“Lead the way Kat,” he motioned, flicking his chin back towards home. Oh, right…Well, I held onto his shirt, adjusted my bow, and led him back through the wood, telling Pita when to duck and where to step, though he didn’t really need me to tell him at all. His feet sank into the mud a couple of times, and even I found myself ankle deep in wet piles of dirt. But, Pita never complained and even laughed on occasion at how much his father would probably scorn him for coming home so filthy.


By the time we made it back to my house, Pita set the deer gently against the side of my wall and looked himself over. Pita was right; his entire bare chest was completely caked in blood and soggy earth.


“You can borrow the water and wash all of that off,” I said guiltily, “I don’t think your father’s customers would like you coming home drenched in blood.”


“Are you sure you just don’t want to get me in your shower?” Pita grinned. I was either blushing speechless, or too red and angry to speak, but Pita just laughed at me, and teased, “I was just kidding, Kat. Yeah, I think that would be a good idea. Walking into town looking like I do, someone would think I just murdered somebody and buried them out in the woods.”


I gave him a look and led him inside, where I rest the shirt on the kitchen counter, and proceeded to tell him, “The bathroom is upstairs to the right.”


He was already halfway up the staircase when I’d started talking, and we exchanged glances for a moment before he replied, “Well, I kind of just assumed----?”


“Just go get clean so you can leave!” I spat coldly. Still, Pita only laughed and disappeared until I heard the shower start up. I half-figured he would start singing or something to make the fact I had a naked boy in my house all the more embarrassing and intolerable, but he didn’t. The shower had shut off as soon as it had started and Pita came down, barefoot, with dripping wet hair of gold and a clean upper body. His pants that he wore were still filthy and his shoes were layered in mud, but he carried them in his free hand. This made me look down at my own shoes in remorse to see how much filth I’d trekked into my own house.


“Umm, so I guess I’ll walk you back to town Pita,” I said.


“You know I’m like seventeen right? I can walk myself,” he chuckled.


“Yeah, well I have nothing better to do and I can explain the mud to your dad so you don’t get in so much trouble, I owe you that much.”


“Fine, whatever makes you happy. Lead the way again, Katnip,” he said. I scoffed, chunking the shirt as his face, and we made a fast, awkward trail back to town. Strangely, the entire main street seemed empty and barren; things were the same when we got to the bakery; it was completely closed down.


“It finally happened,” Pita joked seriously, “He moved away and didn’t tell me.”


I ignored his sarcasm, “It doesn’t look like anybody in town is open. You think there might be something happening in the square?”


“Like what, your sister’s wedding was the only thing that could have shut down the town, other than the---“ A worried glance to each other was all we needed, and we set out in a full sprint to the town square where President Cost had just drawn the names of this year’s Hunting Games champions.


He held two slits of beige paper in his fingers, and was talking loudly over the speakers, “I now present you with Pauper’s newest warriors, set to head into the Capitol arena. There, they will battle six other tributes and then participate in the Bind’s Hunting Games in hopes to achieve fame and eternal glory!”


Pita and I shoved our way to the front through the shocked and ecstatic crowd-people while Cost gave his speech. The box he sorted through for name drawing was already put away, so we knew we’d missed the drawing. With every person the two of us pushed aside, a deeper stinging set in my stomach, like this somehow affected only me. This horrible paranoia got worse and worse with every shove, until Pita and I were finally at the foot of the stage.


“---Your own alumni, Atom Newark has agreed to mentor the two of you in the games. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I proudly announce to you one last time, your District’s 85th Ameera Games Tributes: Dew Ark, and Rye Avery!”

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