I wake up in a fright. Every year I have the same dream of Katniss being picked for the games, but this year is different. This year I dreamed that my name was the one that was pulled from the bowl. This will be the first year with my name in the pool and I am scared. I know there isn’t a high probability of me being picked, but you are never safe, especially if you are a twelve year old. Those are usually the first to die. I switch beds to lie down next to my mom, usually I sleep by Katniss, but after a dream like that I need to be by my mom. Sleep is about to take me once more, when I hear the creaking of Katniss’s bed and I know that she is getting up to go hunting with Gale. We live in the Seam, District 12’s poorest place. Now, District 12 is already pretty poor, for being coal miners, but the Seam is the poorest of the poor. We don’t have a great amount of food, but we get by with the meat Katniss gets and the milk and cheese from my goat. I have a few hours left before I need to get up to get ready for the reaping, so I enjoy it because it may be my last. After dosing off, I hear my mom get up from beside me and she says to me with a shake of the shoulder, “Prim, it’s time to get up. We have to get you ready for the reaping.”
“Do I have to?” I ask.
“Yes. Come on; let’s go find something for breakfast.”
Mom climbs out of bed and I follow her out and into the kitchen. We find some berries and cheese to eat, which we consumed in silence. Then, mom prepares a tub of hot water for me to bathe in. Since it’s the Seam, we don’t have showers or bathtubs like the rest of Panem, which makes it harder to bathe every day. I have dirt under my nails and a thin layer of it on my skin, otherwise I’m pretty clean, so it doesn’t take long for me to get clean. By the time I’m done, I get out and dry off, then I go to my room where I see that mom has laid out Katniss’s first reaping outfit for me. Next to it, I see that she has also laid out her blue dress for Katniss. I quickly change into my clothes, which are a little big for me, and I tuck the shirt into the skirt.
Once I finish, mom comes in and starts to braid my hair.Just as she is finishing up, Katniss walks in after a morning of hunting. She has some fish and greens with her for the celebration afterwards, which she sets on the table in the kitchen. Mom tells Katniss that there is water waiting for her to wash up, but she replies with a quick okay and a cold shoulder. After dad died in a mining accident, Mom started to shut down. She could’ve had a life of luxury, or as much as you can get in twelve, but instead she fell in love with him and is now spending the rest of her life in the Seam. Mom couldn’t handle it once he died. Some days she wouldn’t leave her bed. All of us were withering away from the days without food. Finally, Katniss started to hunt, the way dad used to do. She started bringing home a little bit of meat, but it still wasn’t much for the three of us. Until she met Gale. Once Gale came into our lives, they became better. With both of them hunting, we were able to double the amount of food that was coming in, and they were able to trade for it, too, at the Hob, the black market. Eventually, mom started to come out of her stupor and she started to become the healer of District 12 again, like she used to do. But, no matter what she did, Katniss never forgave her.
Once Katniss finishes up, she goes to put on her dress and mom does her hair too. I sneak in to look at her. She doesn’t look like the rest of us, with her brown hair and dark skin, but she is still pretty. Both, me and mom, have light skin with blond hair, nothing like the rest of the Seam.
“You look beautiful ,” I say in a hushed voice.
“And nothing like myself,” she replies. She turns around and hugs me. It breaks her heart knowing that I worry so much about her. Katniss has a higher probability than me of being picked, with her name being in there twenty times from signing up for tessera, so I worry less about myself and more about her. As she starts to pull away from the hug, she says, “Tuck in your tail little duck.” I didn’t notice that my blouse started to come loose in the back, but she tucks it in for me. I giggle and give her a small “Quack.”
“Quack yourself,” she says with a light laugh. “Come on, let’s eat.”
The fish and greens are cooking in the stew for tonight and we decide to save the strawberries and bakery bread for the meal as well. Instead we drink some goat milk and eat the rough bread from the tessera grain, but nobody has an appetite.
At one o’clock, we head for the square. Attendance is mandatory unless you’re on death’s door. This evening, officials will come around and check to see if this is the case. If not, you’ll be imprisoned.
It’s too bad, really, that they hold the reaping in the square- one of the few places in District 12 that can be pleasant. The square’s surrounded by shops, and on public market days, especially if there’s good weather, it has a holiday feel to it. But today, despite the bright banners hanging on the buildings, there’s an air of grimness. The camera crews, perched like buzzards on rooftops, only add to the effect.
People file in silently and sign in. The reaping is a good opportunity for the Capitol to keep tabs on the population as well. Twelve- through eighteen-year-olds are herded into roped areas marked off by ages, the oldest in the front, like Katniss, the young ones toward the back. Family members line up around the perimeter, holding tightly to one another’s hands. But there are others, too, who have no one they love at stake, or who no longer care, who slip among the crowd, taking bets on the two kids whose names will be drawn. Odds are given on their ages, whether they’re Seam or merchant, if they will break down and weep. Most refuse dealing with the racketeers but carefully, carefully. These same people tend to be informers. The space gets tighter, more claustrophobic as people arrive. The square’s quite large, but not enough to hold District 12’s population of about eight thousand. Latecomers are directed to the adjacent streets, where they can watch the event on screens as it’s televised live by the state.
I find myself standing in a group of twelves from the Seam. We exchange quick looks of fear, as well as reassurance, then quickly refocus our attentions on the temporary stage set up before the Justice Building. It holds three chairs, a podium, and two large class balls, one for the boys and one for the girls. I stare at the paper slips in the girls’ ball. Only one has Primrose Everdeen written on it, but twenty of them have Katniss Everdeen.
Two of the three chairs fill with Mayor Undersee, a tall, balding man and Effie Trinket, District 12’s escort, fresh form the Capitol with her scary white grin, pinkish hair, and spring green suit. They murmur to each other and then look with concern at the empty seat.
Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read. It’s the same story every year. He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North American. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
To make it humiliating as well as torturous, the Capitol requires us to treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, a sporting event pitting every district against the others. The last tribute alive receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food. All year, the Capitol will show the winning district gifts of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar while the rest of us battle starvation.
“It is both a time of repentance and a time for thanks,” intones the mayor. Then he reads the list of past District 12 victors. In seventy-four years, we have had exactly two. Only one is still alive. Haymitch Abernathy, a paunchy, middle-aged man, who at this moment appears hollering something unintelligible, staggers onto the stage, and falls into the third chair. He’s drunk. Very. The crowd responds with its token applause, but he’s confused and tries to give Effie Trinket a big hug, which she barely manages to fend off.
The mayor looks distressed. Since all of this is being televised, right now District 12 is the laughingstock of Panem, and he knows it. He quickly tries to pull the attention back to the reaping by introducing Effie Trinket.
Bright and bubbly as ever, Effie Trinket trots to the podium and gives her signature, “Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!” Her pink hair must be a wig because her curls have shifted slightly off-center since her encounter with Haymitch. She goes on a bit about what an honor it is to be here, although everyone knows she’s just aching to get bumped up to a better district where they have proper victors, not drunks who molest you in front of the entire nation.
It’s time for the drawing. Effie Trinket says as she always does, “Ladies first!” and crosses to the glass ball with the girls’ names. She reaches in, digs her hand deep into the ball, and pulls out a slip of paper. The crowd draws in a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and I’m feeling nauseous and so desperately hoping that it’s not Katniss.
Effie Trinket crosses back to the podium, smoothes the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice. And it’s not Katniss.
At first I don’t move. How could they pick me? I had one slip of paper out of a thousand. Maybe I heard it wrong. But, then, everyone is looking at me, so I know that it was me that was chosen. I swallow down my fear and make my way up to the stage. My hands are clenched tightly at my sides as I stiffly walk past the others to the stage. Suddenly, I hear a cry from the crowd, “Prim!” A few seconds later I hear it again, only this time closer, “Prim!” With one sweep of her arm, Katniss pushes me behind her, just as I was about to mount the steps.
“I volunteer!” She gasps. “I volunteer as tribute!”
There’s some confusion on the stage. District 12 hasn’t had a volunteer in decades and the protocol has become rusty. In some districts, in which winning the reaping is such a great honor, people are eager to risk their lives, the volunteering is complicated. But in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are all but extinct.
“Lovely!” says Effie Trinket. “But I believe there’s a small matter of introducing the reaping winner and then asking for volunteers, and if one does come forth then we, um…” she trails off, unsure of herself.
“What does it matter?” says the mayor with a pained expression. “Let her come forward.”
I start screaming hysterically and wrap my arms around Katniss, not wanting to let go, and yell, “No, Katniss! No! You can’t go!”
“Prim, let go,” she says harshly, “Let go!”
I feel someone pulling me from behind, ripping me off of Katniss. I hear Gale speak in my ear trying to calm me down as he picks me up in his arms. Then, in a voice that he is fighting to keep steady he says, “Up you go, Catnip.” And he carries me away to my mother. I don’t hear or see what else goes on because of my tears. When I can finally look at the stage, I notice that everyone around us are touching the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holing it out to Katniss. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.
Some of the text comes from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins