Chapter 1: The Hob
Coal dust is the Seam's salt. You taste it everywhere, in everything, whether you like it or not. Sometimes when you taste it, it's real. There is coal in your fucking food-- fiber my dad might say. It certainly gets into the black market dealt groceries at The Hob, and if you're not eating a little of that you won't last very long.
Other times it's just in your head, just the memory of the taste lingering, haunting you, taunting you.
I feel like The Hob should probably have a deep fryer. First because a deeper fryer kills everything: parasites, bacteria, and any items put on the menu prematurely; second because dead weasel tastes better baptized in saturated fat. That's just a fact. Boiling hot grease will push the poor right out of even the nastiest meat, I'm surprised nobody's put one in yet.
On the other hand, years of coal dust deposited generously in every nook and cranny would probably make that a bad idea. But, shit, it would be fun while it lasted.
I come in from "poaching" some anemic-looking pigeons from the justice building where they've been hanging out, pooping on the shoulders of a statue of President Snow. I'm going to pass them off as quail, because for some reason people will eat squirrel but they get all uppity about eating pigeon.
Maybe it's because they prefer at least somebody gets the freedom to shit on the government-- Can't say I blame them.
Across the room I see Gale is already here. Darius is with him, his Peacekeeper uniform white as angel's wing in the front, with big gray handprints on the back that I suspect Gale is not inclined to inform him about.
"Fuck," Darius says, more as a statement than a curse. "They cook up some crazy shit to turn your eyelashes neon green and make flowers that smell like belgium chocolates, but you think they don't genetically modify grow crops?"
"I say they don't," Gale says. "They don't care about us, why waste their time making our food better?"
"Better? Better?!? Man, listen to yourself. Think about this for a minute. Let's say you have a post-apocalyptic hegemony--"
"A hegemony … you know, a collection of city-states where one state rules via indirect imperial dominance."
"I thought that was unipolarity?"
Darius reaches down and pulls his white Peacemaker uniform away from his body so that the symbols on the buttons and detailing around the crest lie flat. "Does this look like a situation constrained by anarchy to you?"
To this Gale shrugs and taps his cigarette against a 70th Annual Hunger Games commemorative mug, the ash dropping quickly in one huge chunk, leaving the end glowing orange and live.
"Anyway," Darius continues. "What I'm trying to say is that if you've got to rule the people, you got to control the food, but first you got to have food and lots of it. So of course they modify the shit out of that stuff. Bitch, if you want more proof look in the fucking mirror. You is fucking six foot a thousand and you eat less than two thousand calories a day. There is no other country in a world where people starve and grow so tall they have to duck in through doorways."
While Gale considers this, Darius finally notices me and my big old bag of dead pigeons.
"That's why all I eat is fresh, Grade A, organic. Hey sugar, damn look at you. Nobody makes their jeans look so good."
I assume he's referring to my pants on this particular occasion, though with the way he licks his lips it is hard to tell.
No matter, his attention is quickly draw to the cloth I have wrap up my kills in. I've used the slack to fashion the bundle into a little bag but loose pink blood stains seeping through the bottom make it obvious what it is.
"You looking to trade that?" he asks.
"Maybe," I say. I should slip a sly smile and play along, but I'm not that kind of girl. It's too exhausting to be that kind of girl. Instead I sit down next to Gale and hope his big presence gives any other passing suitors a pause.
"What you got?" he asks.
I keep my voice level and my expression bored. I accept a mug of whatever he pours me from the coffee pot. "Quail."
A sip confirms my suspicion that this is coffee like the rats with wings in my cloth bag are quail. It's brown, it's hot, it has a sludge consistency. It tastes vaguely of coal. I know better than to ask for milk or sugar.
Darius brightens at the suggestion. "Shit, really?"
I can feel Gale watching me nod. He knows as well as I do that our woods don't have any quail, but he also hates the Capitol and Darius is an extension of that. I don't think he'll step in.
"What you want for them?" Darius asks.
I shrug, tap the rim of my coffee cup and remark off hand "It's reaping day."
"So it is."
"You got any…?"
There's no point in finishing the sentence. Gale coughs loudly.
"You'd trade for that?" Darius doesn't believe it. Good thing it's not true then.
"Nah, I got a family to feed. Little sister, mother, you know. But it's reaping day and you might not see me anymore, so I figured you'd share. One for the road?"
Darius looks uncomfortable with this suggestion so I have to force a smile. It might look seductive, but it's fucking hard to look seductive while smelling of moldy wet leaves and bits of mud in your hair. I deserve the pouch of dry grass that comes out of his pocket.
But more to the point, the more stoned he is, the less likely he is to notice he bought five dead pigeons for six times their value. It seems like a fair deal to me. We are friends after all.
Darius shrugs his shoulders. "Gale?"
"Uh, no thanks."
"That organic too?"
"Don't get me started. You know in the Capitol they have weed that tastes like bubble gum?"
"No fucking way."
"That's what I heard. If either of you get reaped you have to send back some."
I roll my eyes. "Sure thing, on the top of my list."
"This is District 12 honey, if you get reaped your to do list might as well be a bucket list."
He has a point there.
After sorting a pinch of the lamb's head into a thin pile and rolling his joint, Darius licks the edge of his paper with quick stabby darts of his tongue. He's staring right at me as he does this, which gives it kind of a weird sexual overtone like he wishes that wasn't a joint he was tonguing. Shit. I feel Gale tense in his seat. I can feel his fists squeezing tightly in my defense and let me tell you I am not in the mood.
Luckily, the first hit on the lit joint and Darius is no longer so interested in my pants or what's inside them. The situation defuses.
Without a word he hands the joint over. Darius is an okay guy. I decided this a long time ago, but the hit just confirms it.
"Shit," he says. "How many times you in this year?"
"Don't know." I shrug. "A lot. They've got nothing but a huge fishbowl full of papers with my name on them."
"Mine too," Gale notes. "All for some extra bread made from genetically modified grain."
"Just be thankful you're not blue and your dick hasn't fallen off," Darius says. "Being gigantic is not the worst side effect I can think of."
Then he leans forward and whispers over the smoke. "I possibly got something … you know, a little bit stronger than this. For friends, you know. For a discount on your quail. You want some?" He raises an eyebrow, blows a big cloud of white smoke into my face just to see if I cough. I don't and the narrowing of my eyes makes a simple 'No thanks' all that's needed.
But I think if the reaping doesn't go well, I might have to reconsider that.
Chapter 2: The Reaping
I feel like I'm at an Amish high school dance.
Long lines of girls in very proper, modest dresses. Their hair in neat buns or braids. Not a hem line dares go above the knee. The colors are bland and sun bleached, ever present coal dust keeping everything in a palette of gray. Across the yard the boys are dressed with the same ridiculous and dehumanizing properness: carefully combed hair, pressed dress shirts, highly impractical loafers.
The girl next to me frowns and scratches at her sleeve. "Mom over starched again," she mumbles.
Towards the back the Peacekeepers linger. I sort through their faces as I move in their direction, trying figure out who's the most approachable while not attracting too much attention.
I settle on the third, a flabby specimen, not likely to want to put up the effort to beat me back into my place. I mean it's not like I'm leaving, what do they care whether I stand over there or over here?
"Hey," I say. "Can I bum a smoke?"
At first he doesn't look down. There's some stupid video on the screen that he's pretending to watch as if this will shame me into pretending to watch it too, but it's the same one every year. I know all the lines by heart.
Then his eyebrows lift far enough to disappear under the shadow of his visor. He still doesn't look down, but he acknowledges me in a disapproving way.
"Come on," I say. "Reaping day is stressful."
Unnamed flabby Peacekeeper shrugs and digs into his white pants pocket. The material clings to his body in all the wrong places and does him no favors, but for a cigarette I'd bat my eyelashes at him and act like he looks like fucking Finnick Odair.
I get bold enough to turn his wrist when he offers his open pack. "Damn," I say. "Not my brand. Oh well, I guess beggars can't be choosers."
Plucking a single cigarette from the pack, I'm fascinated by how he's managing this exchange without even tilting his chin down towards me. Everything above the shoulder is in a completely different world. Below it the hands move around for a lighter.
On stage a technicolor muppet has gotten ahold of the microphone and is blathering something about … something. I hear the words "Ladies first," but the unlit cigarette makes the fishbowls full of children's names seem so far away.
General Flabby finds his lighter and flicks a flame to life without even taking off his gloves. Color me impressed. Obviously these Peacekeepers are recruited for something.
"That's sweet of you," I mutter, the cigarette bobbing up and down with each word. I keep my hands behind my back and lean forward towards the flame. Just a few puffs and it's over.
The first drag is always the best. I blow the smoke out my nostrils and open my eyes slowly, as if seeing the man in front of me for the first time. "That's great. Say, when is the Capitol going to get around to digitalizing this thing?"
He doesn't answer. Around me there's a whole lot of noise: a rumbling wave of people turning, whispering among themselves, looking around for something or staring when they found it. You wouldn't think that staring could make sound, but it does … or rather it's a suspicious absence of sound that assaults your senses.
Over that there's screaming, crying, a big dramatic hubbub. Some of the Peacekeepers move forward and into the crowd.
"Come on dear, come right up on stage."
I take another drag, this time letting the smoke curl out in puffs with each word. "Think of the inefficiencies, gathering everybody together like this with just a few of you and picking out which kids are going to die. It seems like it would be better to do it digitally and just drag the winners out of their homes. Of course you wouldn't want to televise that and the fact reminds that computers are notoriously bad at selecting anything truly at random, but it beats a mob doesn't it?"
General Flabby ain't talking, but I ain't bothered either. I could probably do this all day, or for about as long as I need to anyway.
The crowd is still murmuring. I realize I'm still holding the pack of cigarettes, its red logo smudged by my sweaty thumbprint. "Huh." I click my tongue against the top of my mouth while the smoke curls up into my nose. "These are nice actually."
When I extend my arm to offer the pack back to its owner, for the first time General Flabby looks down at me-- he neither smiles nor scowls. His fingers touch mine over the pack, I'm quite sure he doesn't expect me to a lunge forward and doesn't understand what I'm doing until I've grabbed his standard issue pistol out of its hoister and cocked it under his chin. His eyes are wide then, I can't smile as much as I'd like without dropped my cigarette.
"Ms Effie," I call over my shoulder. "I'd like to volunteer as Tribute."
Well what was I supposed to do? They just reaped my little fucking sister.
A path clears for me almost immediately. Over the massive speakers music starts playing, something like sounds like the theme to a spaghetti western all noble mexican bugles and softly murmuring snare drums. It makes the long walk seem even longer and adds a little swagger to my step as four Peacekeepers escort me to the stage.
I hand over the gun and my cigarette, blow some smoke as I turn my head towards the cotton candy woman and the blond boy beside her. I remember him. I remember his mother beating the crap out of him. I remember trying to figure out if his bread tasted like dirt because he's a shitty baker or because he throws like a girl and the loaf landed in the mud when he tried to toss it to me.
Still that doesn't seem to matter now. I've just volunteered as Tribute. Twenty-four go in, only one comes out. Blondie is part of that and let me tell you… Little bitch is going down.
Chapter 3: The Tribute Parade
Peeta Mellark is one of those people that don't understand the difference between being a people person and not being able to shut the fuck up already.
He talks to everyone. Everyone. He is at present having a long conversation with one of our horses, not realizing that the animal is more charmed by the long strokes done his forehead and the sugar cubes in Peeta's hand. When the animal doesn't answer, it doesn't throw Peeta off. He just keeps on talking, convinced that he can make this animal with a brain the size of a walnut his friend same way he's made all the people with brains the size of walnuts his friends.
I am trying, unsuccessfully, not to let this intimidate me. So instead of watching him, I turn my back and scan the crowd.
The Capitol is full of the most ridiculous looking people I have ever seen. Like Oompa-Loompas ODed on human growth hormone, thousands of technicolor troll people press their faces against windows everywhere we go.
Or rather everywhere we're taken. Small distinction.
With their trends in body modification, rave daytime makeup, and horrific tolerance for oxidation dyes, it's very difficult to tell which citizens are men and which ones are women. People can present as almost anything. This has already proven as useful as it is fascinating. When my attempts to freeze out my district partner fail I distract him with a little game I call "Queer or Not Queer?"
"Peeta, Five o'clock in blue."
Looking up from the horse face, he smiles like he is oblivious to his inevitable, messy death and the five hours of expert commentary that will accompany it. This is what others find charming. I think it makes him look like an easy target.
Slowly his eyes seek out the right figure in the small crowd of onlookers. "Oh," he says. "I don't think so, no."
"Crystal encrusted pompadour too masculine for you?"
He shrugs. "I think I'm just getting accustomed to it. Seems normal compared to everything else."
I hope that's not true, because I don't know what I will do if I run out of things to distract him with before the government sanctioned killing spree begins and our acquaintance can formally be brought to an end.
"Hey did you see the black guys in the overalls from District 11?" he asks.
I immediately wish he would go back to talking to the horse. It's my own fault. I should never use our game to initiate contact, only deflect it.
"No," I say. "Why?"
Peeta chuckles to himself as the horse attempts to lick the last traces of sugar from between his fingers. "Oh, they're great. They're really funny. I was talking to them before and they were saying all this funny stuff about white privilege and restricting inter-district migration patterns as a way to keep minorities disenfranchised."
"And you found this funny?"
"Well they were nice. They knew right away that my family weren't coalminers."
"Yeah, something about everyone from The Seam being dark-haired and olive skinned and institutionalized racism trapping non-whites in cycles of poverty and second class citizenry."
I think it's pretty clear at this point that Peeta has as much chance of surviving the first five hours of the Games as he does finding his own nose with a compass and a field guide to human anatomy. I decide that it's probably best to humor him a little and then use him as a human shield later.
"One of them was telling me if he wins he's going to use his fame and fortune to publish his study exploring the overall discrepancy in amount of sponsorship dollars raised by light-skinned tributes compared to darker skinned ones."
"At least we have something going for us right?" He looks as if he might say something like "lucky to be blond haired, blue eyed" but our stylists come over with a small torch and mercifully save me from having to listen to the rest of Peeta's awakening to the subtleties of social injustice.
"Please light me on fire," I say, grabbing the chariot edge perhaps a bit too desperately. I am mostly joking, but the flame jumps up higher in Cinna's hand and he grins like a mad hatter.
"Funny you should say that."
Ten minutes later Peeta and I are riding through the cheering crowd, outfits ablaze with strange, heatless, tickling fire. When Cinna shouts a final instruction, Peeta tells me he wants us to hold hands but I think it sounds more like "Try not to inhale the flames." The mental image of Peeta accidentally snorting synthetic fire and belching out gassy balls of light is too amusing to maintain a scowl through.
Peeta notices and I think takes this the wrong way.
I expect his hand to feel clammy against mine, but it's ashy dry. Almost like he has a permanent layer of flour covering his skin. I try not to think too much about this as dramatic music blots out the crowd and loose strands of his blond hair glitter gold among the flames.
After all, he's an idiot who will die in thirty seconds. A pretty idiot-- granted-- but still an idiot.
I am distressed to find that I cannot light a cigarette on flames that shoot out of my sleeve. Just another frustration in a life-long, never ending list. What good is being a human flambé if I have to squeeze my lighter out of a skin-tight pocket anyway? What would Gale and Darius think of this? Me all dressed up like a flaming Barbie doll, smoking cynically and dodging roses thrown by rainbow colored ninnies?
Out of the corner of my eye I catch Peeta staring at me again. He's silent, cautiously holding his tongue against the roof of his mouth as if he has the words prepared but lacks the guts to actually speak. This only makes his attention more irritating.
"You shouldn't do that," he finally says. "Those things will kill you."
And I think to myself that if I spend the entire Games dying slowly of lung cancer in a tree while a baker's dozen of teenagers manage their hormonal melodramatic angst with spears and throwing knives I will be the luckiest tribute that ever competed.
Chapter 4: Tracker Jackers
I may have underestimated Peeta Mellark.
From the tree I can see him staring up at me. He is perfectly silent, no doubt the Careers think he's at least trying to sleep, but his eyes are steady and serious. The whites of them somehow manage to catch the moonlight so there is nothing but blackness rimmed by white, the rest of him gray and shadowy. I can't make out much of his expression, but he must really hate me if he can't bear to do anything other than stare at me all night.
He was nothing like this during training or when he went up on that big stage and told everyone he was in love with me.
Oh boy had that been interesting!
I felt cold. My eyes narrowed until I caught myself projected on the big screen and then I realized my misstep. I quickly looked around, feigning baffled, confused. This was only half fake, I was confused. I was also wandering if anyone has ever died of embarrassment in the arena. Perhaps I could be the first: Katniss Everdeen, crawled into a hole and suffocated herself because a boy likes her.
Once the shock passed I'm overwhelmed by one, very clear thought: This is bullshit.
And I made sure Peeta knew this as soon as we had a break from the cameras.
All right, I might have made sure he knew it with a fist to his jaw, but I figure in an environment where microphones are everywhere nonverbal communication is key.
"Fucking manipulative little twit," I cursed. My hands wrapped around his throat. I fully intended to strangle him before we were even in the arena. Sure it's against the rules, but really what's the worst they can do? Kill me?
He choked and sputtered and his lips began to match the blue in his eyes.
"You think you can play me for a fool out there in front of the whole country, huh?"
He shook his head desperately, sincerely but desperately. And this makes sense doesn't it? I'd be pretty desperate if someone was about to crack my windpipe open like a New Year's popper.
Saying goodbye to your yeast, bread boy.
"Not lying," he crooked out at the last possible second. I narrowed my eyes and only loosened my grip enough so that he doesn't pass out before I'm done berating him.
"Bullshit, you don't know me. How could you be in love with me?"
"Getting to know you a little more might relieve me of this affliction," he said. His voice rasped and vibrated against my grip. Slowly common sense began to take over. If I killed him now, how would they explain his absence? Where would I hide the body? More to the point who will distract viewers with his ridiculous grasp of white privilege?
In some sense having Peeta around makes me look better, and me looking better could possibly be converted into me living longer which obviously I have a lot invested in.
I dropped him. He flapped around like a fish for a moment, gasping for air in big throaty mouthfuls.
"So you love me," I said.
He rubbed the red marks forming on his neck. "Slightly less now."
"I want to protect you in the arena. That's my priority."
I couldn't help raising an eyebrow at that. "And if you can't?"
"Then I will avenge you."
This is all very medieval and melodramatic. It suits Peeta, I cannot help believing that he means it. To him the idea is probably romantic, but it's also awfully convenient. By claiming to protect me we have an alliance that we'll both defend, and if I happen to die he has a nice excuse to wash the blood of his victor-creating killing spree off his hands and look noble and righteous.
I couldn't help but think he's probably a cunning twat. A conclusion that seems justify once he teams up with the Careers.
In the darkness it is easy to get lost in these thoughts. I'm watching stupid Peeta watching me, and placing my bets on situation carefully. He is either the brilliant mastermind of my undoing or a complete fool. I know which one I want to believe, but I shouldn't underestimate him again.
Intermittently our staring contest is interrupted by a soft knocking sound. Like a woodpecker drilling in slow motion against a tree trunk, but that's impossible because woodpeckers are not active at night.
Stupid Peeta. I wonder what he would have done if the reaping had gone differently. Would he have volunteered to take another boy's place so that he could protect me? Does his supposed 'I would die for you' love go that far? Or would he just cross his fingers and watch my slaughter from the comforts of home?
I mouth 'I hate you' down at him, but I'm not sure if he can make it out in the darkness.
There it is again, that damn knocking. Some sort of squirrel humping some sort of mother fucking tree up here while I have to breathe in second hand campfire smoke and listen to those-- Is that Samuel L. Jackson?
There. Sitting in the crook of a birch tree, knocking on the papery black and white bark to get my attention. It's dark and his dark skin blends so perfectly I only know he's there by the flash of white when he smiles. He runs his finger across his throat with a tight, teeth gritting look. His version of a 'shhh' I suppose. Then he points up and his expression shifts, silently threatening me not to make him repeat himself.
So I look up.
There's a wasp nest only a few feet about my head, dangling menacingly about the Career's camp. How did I not notice this before? Aren't I supposed to have super observant hunter senses or something? It's as if one grew up overnight or the writer needed to whip up some convenient plot twist after writing herself into a corner.
I glance back down at the Careers camp. For the first time Peeta closes his eyes, not in pain or fear, but as if he has finally decided to sleep.
Then I look back across the treescape to where the impossibly adult District 11 tribute is hanging out. He's busy lighting up a cigarette and can only afford me a small, somewhat contemptuous, glance over his knuckles.
I don't know how to signal my question in the darkness. If I cut down the hive, what's to stop the wasps from attacking us?
Samuel L. Jackson observes me silently, all I can see are his eyes and the glowing end of his cigarette--the smoke, of course! Wasps don't like smoke. The smoke from his cigarette may be enough to help ward a few stray wasps off and perhaps, in my case, keep them from investigating too far from their carefully constructed hive.
Cigarettes are common gifts in the arena, both because their appetite suppressing qualities are useful and because nothing will drive you to adult vices like realizing that the mean girls from high school have now been armed. Haymitch sent me a pack with a jar of burn cream, the irony of the combination lost on no one I suspect.
With a hiss and spark of the lighter I have one of my own lit up. I give it a few minutes to burn, letting the nicotine hit my blood stream and release me from the stress of survival into the bliss of apathy. Clinging to the trunk of the tree I wave it around in front of myself before I even dare think of putting my knife to the branch.
I look down once more at the slumbering Careers. Peeta's eyes are still closed peacefully, but as I begin to saw through the bark I think I can see him smile.
Chapter 5: The Alliance
On the plus side, I have a bow and a quiver full of arrows now.
On the minus side, I have lost Samuel L. Jackson ... a badass motherfucker. If there's one thing I can think of that might come in handy in the Games, it's a badass motherfucker.
But in losing my one tentative ally in the chaos I have gained a dance sequence involving some hipster indie band too cool for anyone to actually have heard of and cameo appearances from a handful of notable B-movie character actors. There's color, there's light, there are freeze frames with dramatic code names slapped in bold lettering across them.
This is when I remember that tracker jack venom causes hallucinations. Right before I collapse into the brush and pass out.
The band dances on.
I don't know how long I am out. It could have been hours. It could have been days. The overgrowth, a canopy of convenient weeds that mostly hides me from sight, doesn't look familiar when I wake, but then again the last time I saw it it was probably covered in technicolor lizards playing drinking games with acorn shells. Tracker jacker venom is a bitch.
My head is killing me.
I lie back on the forest floor, enjoying the shade and listening to the birds calling back and forth to one another. I got stung, but so did all my most dangerous rivals. I can afford to let my guard down a little and enjoy the beauty of the woods. The leaves acting like green filters, creating a mosaic out of the sky. The rich smell of wet Earth mixing with the breeze. The snorting of squirrels deep and alarming like an elephant trumpeting.
I shot up at once, bow in hand but fumbling with an arrow in a way that would certainly get me killed if the danger was real. I scan the area around me for the source of the sound.
"Oh, you're up."
I recognize that voice immediately. How could anyone not know the velvety tones that breathed life into Nick Fury, Ordell Robbie and Mace Windu?
"Holy shit! I thought I hallucinated you."
Samuel L.Jackson tilts his head. He's standing over me, his expression intimidatingly blank. I wait for him to say something, but he seems in no particular rush to bond over tea and good conversation. For a second I wonder if the path of this righteous woman is about to be beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men … if you know what I mean. But it seems odd that he would save my life once, only to kill me now.
"None of this Mr. Jackson stuff, you think I want this on my IMDb profile?"
"Well I dunno … Jumper is on there, isn't it?"
He frowns, his eyebrows pressing into the bridge of his nose. "Hey look, sometimes at wrap parties you do things that ambitious Sith Lords catch on tape. Do I have to spell this out for you?"
I shake my head. "No Sir."
Samuel L-- I mean Rue, keeps sniffling and rubbing his nose. I think to myself that catching a cold has to be the worst possible way to spend the Hunger Games and wonder how I can make use of this new ally without catching something myself.
"Thank you, by the way, for saving my life."
He shrugs. "You've got the best chance of killing some of those crazy fuckers from District 1 and 2. I'm no fool."
"How many are left?"
"You took out the cheerleader from one, the girl from four … then some other fuckers died. I couldn't be bothered to remember them. I spent two days waiting for you to wake up sleeping beauty. You got any plans for survival besides climbing trees?"
He grabs at something hanging around his neck, a small metal tube that could have been a cross but lacked the arms of a cross. I can't really see what he's doing. It looks like he's twisting it open.
"Yeah I don't know--" I start to say. Then suddenly it hits me. "Is that cocaine?"
Rue looks up from the small vile with a snort. He coughs it back and sniffles a few more times and now I don't even need him to answer my question because it is undeniable. District 11 has much better sponsors than I do.
"Yeah, you know. Just a little boost."
Since that one year the Gamemakers left a small crop of cannabis growing wild in a field, drugs have been a touchy subject in the Games. There's nothing worse than getting the munchies while on a starvation diet, but the feeling of general well being led to the tributes setting up a commune instead of gory death matches. In the end razorback beavers mutts had to be unleashed in the arena to thin the herd.
"You're with the crazy white dude aren't you?" Rue asks.
Honestly there are no shortage of crazy white dudes. It takes me a minute to figure out he means Peeta.
"Not officially--" And then when I struggle with my own tentative understanding of the situation I decide to change the subject. "Aren't you too old to be reaped anyway?"
Rue shrugs. "Well that's the rules, but no surprise that brothers always get the short end of that stick."