Closed collaborative work between Lilley and rhetoric.
A Hunger Games prequel spin-off.
Chapter One: the haunting sickness of morality
Ruarí (Rory) Savage
Word Count: 1,052
Rory was sitting at the table, her fingers idly playing with her long hair; her body stretched out, the front legs of the chair raised off the ground so her heels could rest flat on the hardwood floor. She could hear them gathering in the streets. Everyone in her District, lining the alleys and the sidewalks, cramming into the town square to stare with empty eyes up at the projection screen beyond the Presenter. Rory did not want to get up; she did not want to acknowledge what was happening beyond the thin walls of her home. Only six more years, she told herself, and forced her body to rise from the seat and move out the front door.
Outside, the sun was warm and bright and the people around her clapped and cheered as a smiling man with too bright eyes took the podium and quelled their clamoring with a few gestures of his smooth, callous-free hands. Everyone knew Radek; he’d been the Presenter for District 3 for as long as she could remember. Rory hated him; she hated the way he did not meet anyone’s eyes, the way his gaze glossed over them as if he were scanning the contents of a bakery window. Who was he to look at them? They, who provided everything he needed in order to live his cushy life, in order to allow him to never want for anything while those that worked for it died in the streets during cold nights when food was scarce. She let his droning voice tumble through her without bothering to listen, without bothering to acknowledge the death sentence he was about to lie upon two heads. This was the Reaping, after all, everyone knew what to expect.
Rory might have been a resident of District 3, but she was nobody’s fool; she knew the rumors, the haunting stories of other Districts, where the children died of hunger and minor illness, where the fathers and mothers became trapped in mines or fell into factory machines. Everyone knew the truth; but so few chose to believe it. In District 3 it was easy to forget; they were the Pharmaceutical District, after all. They practically invented forgetting. Her District might not be pulling Radek’s weight, but someone’s District was, and that burned like an ember in her guts.
He chose from the female lottery first, as always, with a sickeningly polite, “Ladies first!” His hand pulled out a crumpled name and he flattened it out carefully on the surface of the podium before squinting to be sure he was reading it properly. He said, “Hazel Lewis!”
Even the crowd stopped moving. There was complete stillness in the square; no one spoke, most had stopped breathing. This hadn’t happened before in the history of the Reaping.
Hazel Lewis was two days away from her 25thbirthday, and she was six months pregnant. Most potential entrants avoided the possibility at any cost until they were well beyond 25, but Hazel had hoped her meager entries would protect her – she’d never needed spare entries for food rations in her life, not with the money her parents made at the lab. Not many in District 3 applied for the extra entries; unless they were career gamers. Careers took the maximum number of entries every year, hoping their names would be drawn.
Radek caught on to the hushed tension in the air and cleared his throat into the microphone. He said, “Where’s our lucky participant?”
Rory’s body moved forward, as if on command, and each centimeter forward was like pushing through dense liquid. She wasn’t breathing, she wasn’t thinking; she was reacting, and she had no choice. Her life had stopped belonging to her.
Hoping to drown out any possible response from Hazel, Rory was screaming, “I volunteer!” She pushed through the crowd, the nearby bodies moving away from her with an eerie slowness, as if she were moving much faster than everything else. Her tongue still moved, without instruction, and she heard herself saying, “I volunteer to take her place!”
Radek looked at her; right at her, his crystalline blue eyes meeting her cerulean scowl without flinching. He said, “Well now, we haven’t had a volunteer in quite a long time. Come to the stage, young lady.”
Rory did not meet Hazel’s questioning eyes as she came to the podium. Radek smiled at her as if she’d just won the most prestigious award in all of the Capitol, and said, “Now, tell us, what’s your name, darling?”
She rolled her eyes, not bothering to disguise the rude gesture. “I am Ruarí Savage,” she purred. “Now don’t you have a second name to draw, darling?” She offered him back his pet name with a hiss and a second glower.
Rory was shuffled into a metro car by people she didn’t recognize and no one said a word to her. The crowd did not seem to miss her from the stage, and she watched the rest of the Reaping on the flatscreen monitor hanging in the train car.
Radek cleared his throat and plunged his hand into the slips of names, drawing the male participants slip and offering the crowd his patented grin. Rory’s chest clenched tightly as she heard the name. “Jadon Lewis!”
It seemed the games were after the Lewis’. Rory could hear Hazel’s scream from inside the confines of the metro car. She saw movement in the crowd before she realized what was going on. Someone caught Hazel as her knees buckled, her shrieking echoed in the valley of District 3. The man holding her up was unfamiliar to Rory, but his eyes transfixed her. She’d never seen anyone encompass such distinctly different things before.
He was a cliff side with the waves battering his surface; Hazel clung to him, the crowd pressed in on him, everyone reaching out for Hazel. He met Jadon’s panicked eyes across the sea of people, and it seemed there was an inaudible conversation between them. Jadon’s arms went around Hazel’s torso and the stranger stepped away. He looked at the stage and before his lips moved, Rory knew what he was going to say.
She wondered if her expression had been as unflinching as his when she’d called out to volunteer.
The stranger said, “I volunteer in his place!”