"I am a part of the great nation of Panem."
I recite the phrase like a record. It's been thirty-two years since I first acknowledged this as truth. I'd never actually accept such a thing, but I had to face facts. Once my northern brother had gained control, my name was set. We were finally united, just like I always wanted. My brother and I had become one nation... at a price. Your number one goal, as a nation, is to seek and maintain peace, among your people. Peace is a delicate thing to hold onto, and Matthew had the perfect solution. Divide ourselves into thirteen districts, and have one as the central power of government.
At least it made perfect sense to him. The sea levels had risen, shrinking our respective land masses. Matthew had taken the biggest hit. This somehow entitled him to be District Seven, leaving me to embody everything else. I wasn't going to complain about this, but it seemed odd. However, Matthew was never one to be greedy. He was once the second largest nation, on our planet, so maybe he wanted to try being smaller. He said all he wanted was a good view of the ocean
At the time, there was a good chance it was true.
Everything seemed to be going alright, but I soon realized something was wrong. Laws and shipments were sneaking through. Things being approved without my knowledge. I should have put a stop to it there. I should have known this was going to end badly. Ever since that young Coriolanus Snow was elected president, Matthew started acting strange. He actually started lying to me, and keeping secrets. It wasn't like him at all.
Odder still was when he gave over the rights of District Seven, deciding to take over a small sector of District Three. Even though he was right smack in the center of my land, I hardly ever saw him. Pretty soon he started calling himself the Capitol. Somehow President Snow had gotten Matthew under his thumb, and he wanted me to obey him as well. There was no way that was ever going to happen. Matthew and I were partners. I wasn't subservient to anyone. This punk kid may technically be designated as "my boss" but he was a few hundred years from being able to tell me what to do.
Then something happened that I never saw coming. Matthew sided with Snow. He came to see me many times, after that. Trying to convince me to join them.
I used to be strong. Independent. In control of my own life. He should have known I wouldn't be ok with taking commands from that little shit. His logic, on maintaining peace was undeniable. This was the only way to succeed. This was what he believed. President Snow was a psychopath. What was even worse is that he had convinced my brother that he was right. Then I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I was so angry at Matthew that I had actually enacted a rebellion.
Why did I do that? It was soon clear to me that Matthew was losing his mind.
I was a rebel by nature, so it was my initial instinct. I was so sure I could force Matthew back to my side, while Snow was so thoroughly woven through his mind.
It ended in disaster. I had underestimated the resources at my brother's command. Fire bombs were dropped, demolishing one of my districts. I still remember the pain burning through my legs successfully hobbling me. I still had some feeling, but not enough to carry me. Since then I have been locked away down here... the last real conversation we had continuing to ring in my ears.
"It kills me to do this to you. I hope you realize that."
I could still feel how tight the shackles used to be, on my arms, as I struggled against them. How useless my legs were, and still are. "You can't keep me down here. You know how I am. It will only be a matter of time before you end up against me, just like Arthur. I don't want it to come to that. Please, Mattie. Stop this."
"That is exactly why I need to keep you down here. Because I do know you." His hands gently cupped my head, smiling at me endearingly. "I know you better than anyone. I love you." The innocent glow I normally saw in his eyes had mutated. There was still affection, but it was marred by a spark of insanity. Masking any love he used to hold with what he had now deemed as logic. I closed my eyes, trying to fight back my tears. This was no longer my Matthew.
He merely smiled, laying a light kiss upon my cheek. "Just give it some time, dear brother. You'll come to see that my way is best. This is how you maintain order."
I growled, snatching my head from his hands. "What about my people?"
"They will be well taken care of."
"Under your rule, right?"
"Only until you come to your senses."
My head was starting to hurt, from rage. "I will never follow Snow."
"But Alfred, this is what you always wanted." His grip tightened on my chin, turning my head to face him. He was still smiling. "We can finally be united, if you'd just stop being so stubborn."
As the only act of defiance I could inflict, I spat right into my Matthew's eye. He recoiled, wiping his face on his sleeve.
"I will never unite with you."
I was expecting some kind of instant retaliation. Usually when in this situation, I would get smacked, or kicked. Hit in some way for daring to not submit, but none came. Instead, Matthew rose to his feet, taking a step back. Any hint of affection he had for me was gone. "Then you will never leave this place." He spun around and started for the door.
"It doesn't matter." I called after him, my nails digging into the palms of my clenched fists. "You can keep my body locked up down here, but my heart still lies with my people. "It will only be a matter of time before they rise up against you, on their own."
I wasn't sure how I was expecting him to react, but I truly didn't foresee what came next. Matthew's face settled into a calm smile. "Then I'll have to do something about that."
That encounter still haunted me. Was there something else I could have said? Something else I could have done? How far back did my mistakes go? Why couldn't I see what Snow was doing to him?
Today marks seventy-four years. Seventy-four years locked in this small room, with a vid screen as my only companion. Stuck down here in complete isolation. The shackles had gotten rather loose against my diminished arms, over the years, and had worn sores into my upper arms. No other nation had bothered to come to my aid. Maybe they didn't care. Maybe they thought I got what was coming to me. It really didn't matter. The only nation I could ever rely on was the one who turned on me. The one you love most is the one best capable to cause the most pain.
Matthew was certainly right about one thing. He knew me better than anyone else. He knew the best way to hurt me. The best way to break my spirit.
Each year, twenty-four of my people, one male and one female from each of my districts were to compete in a battle royale. A competition where they will be forced to fight each other for the amusement of the Capitol, and I would have to listen to them cheer as bits of myself was worn away. Twenty-four go in... only one comes out alive.
A competition called the Hunger Games. I often wondered if this was another jab at me. I was stuck down here, with no food or water, since my imprisonment. Living in a constant state of starvation. Unable to die. Not so long as my people lived.
I had no sense of time or dates, down here, but I always knew when the Hunger Games were coming. My only handle on a time frame. I would feel the panic from the struggle to survive settle into anxiety as the Reaping loomed closer.
The Reaping was the event to kick off the Hunger Games each year, where they picked who would be competing. This was also the only time I ever saw Matthew. He would march into my room, spreading a stronger presence of power with each passing year. I stared down at those shiny expensive shoes, as he knelt in front of me, plucking the white rose from his lapel. The silk petals brushed across my sallow cheeks, but I refused to look up. "Say it." He spoke softly, but there was no longer any love in his voice.
I closed my eyes, feeling a strain on my throat. There was once a time when I loved to talk. In some opinions too much, but that never mattered to me. Now it was a lot harder. It had been fifty-one years since I stopped talking. To do so now made me sick, and put a great strain on my vocal cords. Only speaking once a year.
"I am a part of the great nation of Panem."
His lips brushed against my forehead. "Indeed we are great, brother." Matthew placed the rose in front of me, on the floor, along with the corpses of the ones that came before it. I'm not sure what this was supposed to symbolize but I always took it as a memorial for the part of me that he murdered each year.
The vid screen could be heard flicking to life, before Matthew left me alone for another year.
"Good morning everyone, and welcome to the seventy-forth annual Hunger Games." Came the all too familiar and very enthusiastic voice of Caeser Flickerman. The announcer for this spectacle since its conception. A roar of cheers ruptured from his announcement.
He gave his normal opening jargon designed to get the crowd excited before the Reaping. Matthew always made sure there was power to my cell at this point, so I wouldn't have to miss a single second of what he assured me was the most anticipated event of the year.
I didn't watch anymore. I didn't have to.
I could feel the pain of my people. The fear that filled my heart as every child, twelve to eighteen, stood; waiting to see if their name was called. Fear. Sorrow. Pain. That was all I felt as they watched their friends, family, or even themselves called to the stage. Throwing innocents, most who have never raised a hand in anger, into an arena where they will be killed just for being unfortunate enough to be one of my children.
There were still strong amongst the tributes, but they were just as equally trapped. Even the victors can never escape. They only became direct slaves of the Capitol.
If there was one good thing to be taken from my imprisonment it was that I have never been closer to my citizens. I recognized each and every one of my people by name, able to picture the horror etched on their face. Knowing their most intimate fears and dreams.
It was a nightmare.
I listened as each name was called, presenting the tributes for the next brawl. The only shift I could feel was the anxiety melting into a disorienting mix of sorrow and relief after knowing who was to be the Capitol's next victim. Districts One, Two and Four (Also known as the Careers) were coupled with cheers, from their own, but I wasn't fooled. They were just as scared as everyone else to see their people go.
For the most part the tributes stayed within the fifteen to eighteen year old range, this year... that is until District Eleven. I flinched at the sound of Rue's name. She was twelve. Her name had just gone into the Reaping. She had never taken rations. Her name was only in that damn glass bowl one time. An actual one in eight hundred chance, and it had happened. I hated to have my youngest taken. Time and time again I would tell myself it was better this way. In this new life, it was better for them to die, than to continue living like this, but I could never quite convince myself to believe it. It just wasn't how my mind worked.
Finally, District Twelve. The first level of hell was almost over. Then the terror will subside back into a dull panic from a select few, and hunger pains from everyone else.
Effie Trinket, the representative for District Twelve, had taken the stage. Her perky voice made my ears hurt. It was sickening how peppy Matthew's people were about this event. "As usual, ladies first." Even with my eyes fixed on the floor, I could still picture that Capitol scum crossing the stage, her perfectly manicured claw dipping into the large glass bowl on her left. There was a pause as she plucked the piece of paper, holding it up.
Damn it. Two districts in a row, reaping from my youngest. The odds certainly weren't in my favor this year.
Someone, from the crowd, started screaming as Primrose was led onto the stage. As much as it hurt to feel their pain, it was far worse hearing it.
"I VOLUNTEER!" She cried in a dead panic. "I volunteer as tribute."
Volunteers weren't anything out of the ordinary. Typically they waited until the representative asked, and was more common in the Career Districts, but it happened.
It had been forty-eight years since I looked up at that screen.
I don't know what compelled me to lift my head to watch as this new girl was led up to the stage by Peacekeepers. Her name was Katniss Everdeen. Primrose's elder sister. She wasn't anything special. As a matter of fact, she was rather selfish. All she wanted was to protect her sister. Her father died some years back, and she had little if any affection for her mother.
What was it that drew my attention to this girl? She introduced herself to the crowd and slowly a wave of hands rose into the air, over the crowd. Three fingers held high, on each hand, as a sign of respect for this brave girl. Evidently, they could feel the same thing I had. Something Katniss herself didn't even realize.
Thirty-two years had passed since I had cried, for my people. Having been driven numb from the constant pain of loss. As I watched the confused and panicked look on Katniss' face my long dehydrated eyes welled with tears.
It took a bit for Katniss to fully realize what she had done. She had no idea what tracks were laid out before her, or even why she had to be the one to walk along those rails, but the events were set in motion.
Katniss Everdeen was later designated as 'The Girl on Fire' by the people in the Capitol. They had no idea how appropriate that title was, for this one unconscious act sparked a fire in me. Something that I hadn't felt since I finally accepted my new name. Something that became more clear as I watched Katniss fight her way through the massacre, and clicked into place at the sight of those berries.
A spark of hope, igniting that spirit of rebellion I had lost so very long ago. It seemed a shame to put such a heavy burden on her, when she hadn't yet realized the gravity of her actions, but there it was. I finally knew why I was drawn to Katniss Everdeen. I saw myself in her. She reacted to situations exactly as I did. How I used to. I didn't look to Katniss as a symbol of rebellion. I saw the soul of my fighting spirit finally coming back to life. All I needed was for her to reveal herself.
A couple days after Katniss and Peeta were named as the victors of the seventy-forth Hunger Games, Matthew entered my room. This was unusual since he only ever graced me with his presence at the start. After the crowning of each victor, the power to my cell would be cut, and I'd be left in darkness until next year. He knew. The great and powerful Capitol already knew what I was feeling and came down to confirm it with his own eyes. I stared at my former brother as he entered the room. It had been nearly fifty years since I could stand to look at him and see what he had become. There was no longer any trace of the kind-hearted brother I used to know. The one I once would have volunteered for, without realizing what I had done, until after the fact. His eyes were cold, and that long blonde hair was now cut short, with half of his head shaved, and dyed an un-natural shade of violet. He wore a brand new freshly tailored suit, with a white rose resting in his lapel, once more. Not one trace of the nation I once loved was left. There was still a strong imposing force radiating from him, but the dominance I typically felt looming over me had somehow diminished.
I didn't need to say anything. Neither did he.
Matthew's eyes narrowed, turning towards the screen, where Caeser was interviewing Katniss and Peeta. I had to admit, Caeser looked good, for his age. Then President Snow made his way onto the stage to crown the victors. Him, not so much. (Father Time had kicked his ass.) He was giving them that award winning fake smile, but there was rage in his eyes. The same rage I could feel radiating from Matthew.
Still rather weak, my head dropped back down, unable to stay up. However, I didn't want him to think the spark was dying, so I did the only thing I could think of. I whistled. Four simple notes, imitating Katniss' mocking jay song. Such an insignificant little tune that instilled the right kind of fear in my twin as he spun around to face me.
The delicate line that his perfect plan for peace walked was rattled. We both knew it.
I could feel the glare boring into the top of my head as Matthew stormed out of my cell. Moments later my small room went black.
At the start of the seventy-fifth year I was awarded a special treat. Every twenty-five years there was to be a special type of Reaping to keep things fresh. Making sure the Capitol didn't get bored with these so called "games". Typically, the lights and vid screen would randomly come on, for any special announcements, but this time Matthew came in on his own, to cut them on manually. He acted as though he were interested in the announcement, but was really trying to gauge my reaction as President Snow spoke.
"And now we honor our third Quarter Quell." A little boy in white stepped up to him, opening a small box with an array of yellow envelopes. The drawing had to be a formality. President Snow already knew what the event, to mark another twenty-five years of the games, was going to be. Why else would Matthew be observing me?
President Snow opened the envelope, and pulled out a small white sheet of paper. Without hesitation, he reads, "On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from the existing pool of victors."
What? What could they possibly hope to accomplish from this? I scanned through the numbers in my head. All of the people that would be up for the Reaping. My previous victors.
District 1: four males – seven females
District 2: five males – seven females
District 3: four males – two females
District 4: five males – four females
District 5: three males – two females
District 6: three males – two females
District 7: one male – three females
District 8: three males – two females
District 9: three males – two females
District 10: two males – two females
District 11: three males – one female
District 12: two males – two females
Many of which had grown old and died, of course; seeing as how this has been going on for seventy-four years. At least it wasn't my children, but heaven help any of the elderly victors to be thrown back into the ring.
A hand grabbed my hair, which had gotten quite long in my imprisonment, and jerked my head up, breaking me away from my thoughts. Matthew was kneeling before me, forcing me to stare into his eyes, which were now an alarming shade of orange, but still held that psychotic gleam. "Say it."
I just stared back, still filing through the information, when it hit me. More victors than I would have liked had committed suicide, after their victory. They could no longer live with the horrors they had witnessed. Amongst these numbers was a Miss Canary Luthe. A female victor from District Twelve. How convenient that District Twelve finally had a replacement for her, just as President Snow announced this Quarter Quell.
It had been many years since my will to fight had burned out, and they were trying to destroy the spark before it had proper time to ignite. It wouldn't work. Even if Katniss Everdeen died in the arena, the will to fight was back, and it wasn't going to be snuffed out so easily.
My eyes narrowed against Matthew's gaze, a wry smile touching my lips, and I said it.
"I am Panem."