Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen
knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub
the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces. But today the black cinder streets are empty. Shutters on the squat gray houses are closed. The reaping isn’t until two. May as well sleep in. If you can.
Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam. I only have to
pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow.
Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all
of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with barbedwire loops. In theory, it’s supposed to be electrified twentyfour hours a day as a deterrent to the predators that live in the
woods — packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears — that used
to threaten our streets. But since we’re lucky to get two or 5
three hours of electricity in the evenings, it’s usually safe to
touch. Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for
the hum that means the fence is live. Right now, it’s silent as a
stone. Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out on my belly and slide under a two-foot stretch that’s been loose for
years. There are several other weak spots in the fence, but this
one is so close to home I almost always enter the woods here.
As soon as I’m in the trees, I retrieve a bow and sheath of
arrows from a hollow log. Electrified or not, the fence has
been successful at keeping the flesh-eaters out of District 12.
Inside the woods they roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real paths
to follow. But there’s also food if you know how to find it. My
father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to
bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing even to bury. I
was eleven then. Five years later, I still wake up screaming for
him to run.
Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, more people would risk it
if they had weapons. But most are not bold enough to venture
out with just a knife. My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father
along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods,
carefully wrapped in waterproof covers. My father could have
made good money selling them, but if the officials found out
he would have been publicly executed for inciting a rebellion.
Most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who
hunt because they’re as hungry for fresh meat as anybody is.
In fact, they’re among our best cus
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