"Achlys Skylark, if you don't get down here right now, I'm leaving you to the Peacekeepers!"
The threat cut through my dream, bringing me to reality. "I'm coming, mom..."
I love my mother, really. But she comes up with the best threats, sometimes you just have to hate her a little bit, on the inside. She was rushing around, trying to get ready for the day. Reaping day. Where all must gather from the district to be chosen to fight to the death in the annual Writer Games... I shivered and hoped to death that it wouldn't be me... Or my brother, Markus, or my little sister, Rosey.
I stayed in bed for as long as I could before another round of threats from my mother made me think that maybe it would be a good idea to get ready.
I bound down the stairs in my flannel pajamas, where I find a pot of warm water waiting for me in the bathroom.
"Wash up," my mom tells me.
I scrub myself raw and run my fingers through my long, black hair. When I start to wrinkle like a prune, I dive out and dry myself with a warm towel.
I dry my hair as I stare at a peach-colored dress that is spread out on my bed, along with brown wedges.
"Are you sure?" I ask my mother when she walks in, putting an earring on.
"Positive. Hurry up. The reaping starts at two."
I shut the door and try the dress on and then slip on the brown wedges. The dress falls just above my knees and is made of a slippery, non-absorbent fabric. I brush out my hair and look into the mirror, thinking, You've got to be joking.
There's a knock on my door.
"Come in," I say.
Rosey enters with Brite and Crystal, my friends. Brite has lovely, blond hair that stops an inch or two below her shoulders. She's wearing a floral skirt with a dark blue blouse. Crystal has grayish eyes, but is pretty all the same. She has on a green dress that stops just above her knees as well, with a black belt around her waist.
They smile when they see me. "So they've gotten you in a dress at last," Crystal says.
"Shut up," I say, which brings them to laughter. I roll my eyes. "Let's go meet Mackline and Samuel."
* * *
We walk to the square together, chatting away and then they put us with a clump of fifteens from our neighborhood. I stand next to Mackline and look up at him.
"You ready for this?" he asks me.
I take a shaky breath and say, "Not really. I just hope that they don't choose Rosey or Markus... it would kill me. Or if you were chosen. Or Sam. Or..." I trail off, but I think he gets the point.
Mackline is tall, with dusty brown hair and dark eyes. He is strong, and I guess that if he was chosen I would probably be thrown into a deep depression. I sigh and watch as the woman from the Capitol takes the stage.
"Happy Writer Games!" she trills into the microphone. "And may the odds be ever in your favor."
Samuel, in the normal silent way he has, comes up next to me and takes my hand. "It'll be okay," he whispers. I close my eyes.
I cling to his hand for dear life and pray that it won't be me... And it isn't.
My eyes snap open and I watch Brite take the stage. Beautiful, lovely, courageous Brite, who I can now see tears streaming down her face.
And I know what to do.
"Any volunteers?" asks the Capitol lady.
I raise my hand. "I volunteer."