Ned Rickman: Chapter 3 – The Interview

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Chapter 3 – The Interview 

(Caesar Flickman’s questions provided by the judges of the writing contest) 

Caesar Flickman: Welcome, Ned Rickman! How are you?

Ned: I’m great, thanks. 

Caesar: We’ve been learning as much as we can about all of our tributes, and you are one of the most surprising tributes,” Caesar says. “You’ve got an excellent job and career ahead of you, and yet you volunteered. You don’t seem to be a reckless decision maker; can you tell us what made you decide to volunteer? It’s not common from your district to see a volunteer.” 

Ned: I’ve always been a very careful person. You’re right in thinking I’m not a reckless decision maker, and volunteering at the reaping went against everything I believed in. But something in me urged me to do it, and I obeyed, even if I didn’t understand why. Yes, I have a good job and future ahead of me, but if I can’t even live up to myself, how can I do anything for my district? I believe that everything happens for a reason, and if I survive the Hunger Games, I will come back a changed man, a better man. I will know reason, but I will also know risks. I’ll understand caution, but I’ll also understand cost. And I’ll be stronger; we all will.

Caesar: Did anyone come to visit you before you came to the Capitol, and did they give you any advice?

Ned: My parents came to say goodbye. But they never said ‘goodbye’. They believe in me, and that’s more encouraging than any advice I’ve received.

Caesar: With such a great career ahead of you, you are sure to have a girlfriend, am I correct?

Ned: You’d think. But, what people don’t realize is that my job actually consumes all of my time and energy. I’d feel sorry for any girl who had to go out with me.

Caesar: You’ve been regarded as a genius! I’ve been told that President Snow has even said that you may be able to be head gamemaker one day. How do you feel about this?

Ned: Honoured, to say the least.

Caesar: Do you have anything you’d like to say to someone back home or to someone who’d like to sponsor you?

Ned: I’d like to say thanks to everyone who’s supporting me. It makes a huge difference, not only in my head, but also in here. *puts hand on chest* 

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Sunday Night with Ned Rickman: Chapter 2 – Goodbye

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Chapter 2 – Fear

Some things hurt right away, like being force-fed your own personal slice of hell.  You think that once it’s down, you’ve survived. But that’s only the beginning. Now it’s part of you; now it’s killing you from the inside out. The worst things are the ones that hurt later. 

 

The whirring sound of the train is lulling me into a restless nightmare.  Every time I close my eyes I see hers. I didn’t want her to come say goodbye to me. I didn’t want to see her at all. But I can’t stop thinking about it, over and over. Mom and Dad were saying their goodbyes after the ceremony before she came in.

 

Mom and Dad looked more flustered than I did. As soon as I saw Mom’s face, I knew she wanted to scream ‘why?’. She wanted to tell me that it wasn’t worth dying for a girl I would probably never live to love. But she didn’t say it. She wiped her tears, her mouth a thin, tight line and came over to hug me. She kissed my cheek. They both said they were proud of me, and they loved me.

And then Dad pulled all three of us into one big hug. That’s when the door cracked open, and I saw her long, dark hair swishing through the opening. Her eyes were bright, timid. 

“We’ll see you soon, son,” Dad said, turning away so I couldn’t see his face, taking Mom with him. 

Suzie stood in the doorway, wordlessly. For a second we both just stood there looking at each other.  Her eyes were still red from crying, and her dress was a pale blue. Part of me was screaming; this might be the last time I would ever see Suzie again.  What if I died before I ever told her? What if she never knew? What if she did? What would happen then? 

“You didn’t have to come,” I finally said. The seconds, which had been tripping over each other in their hurry had now slammed to a complete stop, leaving me hanging in the moment, squirming. 

Suzie took a step closer. She looked at the floor. “I’ve never talked to you before,” she said quietly, “and yet you just saved my brother’s life…I had to say ‘thank you’” 

Silence flooded the room again.  My brain was jumping like it was getting electrocuted, so many thoughts were pulsing through at once, sentence fragments, explanations, whole novels in my head I wanted to tell her. But I was mute. 

“Why?” she almost whispered. “Why did you volunteer?” 

Because I love you. There is only one answer for that question. Wasn’t it obvious? 

She just looked at me with those big eyes, a thousand different shades of green. 

“I…I just did,” I said. “I felt like it was the right thing to do.” 

Suzie sucked in a breath.  Her lips pursed in thought, and I fought the urge to pull her against me and kiss her. 

Her eyes flitted back to mine, and she threw her arms around my neck, reaching up on her tip toes. “I don’t want to be the reason you die,” she whispered, her voice cracking. “I know it’s a horribly selfish thing to say, considering what you’re doing, but I’ll never be able to live with myself if something happens to you.” 

I pulled back and looked into her eyes. Could she sense what I felt? “You won’t be the reason I die,” I said. “You’ll be the reason I live.” 

For the quickest instant, a smile hovered on her face, lighting up her eyes. “I’ll never forget you, Ned Rickman,” she said. “I’m indebted to you forever.”

And all too quickly, the clock jumped back into play as the seconds zipped away again, out of my reach. Suzie’s dark hair swished as she pulled back towards the door. Just before she got there, she paused. “I believe in you,” she said. And then she was gone.

 

“Morphling. You ever heard of it?” Lyda Humphrey asks, blue eyes hard, grey-streaked red hair pulled back in a tight bun. I’d never met her before this morning, but I heard that she won the games twenty-two years ago when she was eighteen by setting death traps for her opponents in the arena. After coming home, her fiancé disappeared, and she got hooked on the drug, Morhpling. 

“Of course I’ve heard of it,” I reply, sitting on an orange leather couch, the pounding in my chest dulled to a slow death march. 

“A victor’s best friend, I’m telling you,” she drawls, sitting at the dark oak table in the centre of the cab, forking a piece of stake. “Want some?” she adds, pointing to her plate. 

“I already ate.” One last hurried meal with my family–the last meal I might ever have with them.

“Not like this you haven’t,” she says. “One good thing about getting reaped is they treat you like a king before sending you to the slaughterhouse.” 

I’m glad Humphrey has such high expectations for me. “What happened to your fiancé?” I ask. 

The grin evaporates from her face, and she stops chewing. “Kenneth and I were going to get married. Screw everyone who said seventeen was too young–we knew what we wanted. But then his father got hurt–accident at the Hub–and the medicine he needed wasn’t available. But Kenneth got it; he never told me how. He was brave, Kenneth was. The bravest person I’ve ever met.  The Reaping was coming; we were going to get married the week after…” 

For a  second, Humphrey looks younger. The ghost of a girl, the one she used to, be breaks through the narrow lines of her long, worn face. And then the bitterness returns. “But I got reaped,” she says. “And I thought I’d never see him again.” 

“How did you do it?” I asked. “Did knowing he was waiting for you help you in the arena, or did it just make things worse?” 

“Love makes you crazy, boy,” she says. “I’m sure you’ve heard of those death traps I constructed; they weren’t a pretty sight, but I did it because I had to. And it paid off. I won.  I got back home, and there was a huge celebration. But Kenneth wasn’t there. He’d been taken to the Capitol for questioning about stealing the medical supplies that’d saved his father’s life. I never saw Kenneth again.” 

“Why?” I ask softly. “Were they trying to get to you?” 

“They’re always trying to get to you,” Lyda says, stabbing her steak with her knife. “The Capitol will take everything you have. Even if you beat them in the Games, they’ll break you. Because once your will is broken, they own you. And you’ll never step out of line.” She looks up, fury in her eyes. “So I had my Morphling to make it better, to make the pain go away. But it  only made it worse. I saw Kenneth in my head, heard his voice. If I didn’t get off the stuff, I would’ve gone crazy–crazier than I am now.” 

She sighs and pushes her plate away. “Point is, don’t let them know your weakness. You’ve got a girl, don’t tell them. You’ve got hopes and dreams, keep’em to yourself. An awful lot of people spill their guts to Ceasar Flickman, and it always comes back and bites them in the ass.” She looks at me. “You’ve got a girl, don’t ya? That brunette who was squealing all over that boy you volunteered for?” 

I nod. “I did it for her.” 

She clicked her tongue. “That’s a problem.” 

“What do you mean it’s a problem? It was my choice.” 

“It’s your weakness,” Humphrey says, “just like it was mine.” 

“You didn’t go into the games to save someone you loved.” 

“But I had someone I loved, and it nearly drove me mad.” 

“But you won.” 

“And I lost myself. If you want to win you have to forget the brunette, forget everyone. You have to do it for yourself.” 

“I am doing it for myself.” 

Humphrey looks at me. “So if the Peacekeepers attacked her house and killed her and her family this instant, you’re saying that you’d still be just as thrilled about winning the games? You’d still have a drive to live?” 

“First of all, I was never ‘thrilled’ about the Games,” I reply. “And yeah, I’d still fight. I’d win so I could get revenge. What do you think I’d do–roll over and die?” 

“I dunno. But love makes you crazy, I’m warning you,” Humphrey says. “I don’t know what’s going through your head, but I know what went through mine.” 

“What did you do when they killed Kenneth?” I ask. 

“Morphling. I told you. If my family didn’t force me off it, I would’ve been dead–brain dead at the very least.” 

I look over to the other side of the train where Nevelyn, the other tribute, sits. 

Humphrey notices my gaze. “I sure hope she’s not in love,” she says. 

Nevelyn’s bright red hair falls down her back, and she sitting on a chair talking to Wril Meggo, the male mentor. Despite the fact that he’s sixty-two, his face still looks young, and almost happy, with laughing blue eyes that have obviously never seen Morphling. His wispy grey hair goes down to his shoulders, and he’s eating a muffin so big it shouldn’t be allowed to exist.  Meggo won the games when he was only fourteen. I’ve been told he was a skinny kid, and nobody took him seriously. He surprised them by jumping down from trees in the middle of the night and stabbing the other tributes to death. 

I lean back against the couch and focus on breathing, maybe even sleeping. I’ll need all of my strength. But as soon as the room starts to dim and slow around me, I see her eyes. I feel her breath on my neck when she hugged me, her voice in my ears. In my dream she’s begging me, “Don’t go. Don’t die.” I’m holding her so close I can feel her heartbeat. And then she melts in my hands, staining my skin red. In an instant she’s gone, and only a puddle remains, dark red, bubbling around my feet, burning me. The flames lick my bloodstained clothes, and her voice whimpers from the ground, “Don’t go. Don’t die.” But she’s dead, and I’m burning alive. 

* * * 

A bead of sweat rolls down my back, and I feel a cramp coming on. But I don’t loosen my from grip from the handle. I hold the pickaxe tighter and bring it down on the wood again and again, harder, faster. With every slice, every satisfying split of wood, I regain strength.  I won’t stop until all that’s left is wood chips, ashes. I’ll destroy it all. 

Some of the other tributes have paused to watch me, but I don’t care who sees me. I don’t care what they do, and I don’t give a damn if Humphrey thinks I’m weak. This is who I am; this is how I feel. Deal with it. 

The knots, pressure points, and trap-setting stations aren’t nearly as interesting as the pickaxe one. I also enjoyed the knife session. I feel like there’s a beast inside me, clawing to get out. Maybe Humphrey was right. It hasn’t even been forty-eight hours since I left District 6, and I already feel like someone else. 

Meggo tries to flag me down after my shower, but I ignore him and let Eliana usher me off to meet my stylist. She’s a tiny girl, Enriqua Songlasia, with hazel eyes as big as hour glasses and pixie-short hair, bright pink. 

“Get it over with,” I say, dropping my clothes, waiting for her to turn me into a zombie replica of myself. That’s what people in the Capitol are–aliens. No one here looks normal. It’s as if humanity wasn’t good enough for them so they decided to cake it with face paint and hair dye to cover everything up. But that’s just the it–some things can’t be covered.

Enriqua begins her work. She doesn’t talk very much, so I’m surprised when she actually speaks. “I know you hate the Capitol,” she says softly. 

“I didn’t say anything.” 

“You didn’t have to,” Enriqua replies. “But I’m not going to make you like them. I’m making you into a finer version of yourself. And in the end, you decide who that’s going to be.” 

Her voice is inspiring, full of life. But her eyes are large and sad. It’s a deadness, a subtle pain that she can’t quite extinguish from her face, even beneath the layers of black makeup. Something horrible happened to her; I just know it.  But I don’t ask. I’ve been through enough today.

 

Nevelyn and I are showered in food every minute we’re not training or sleeping. Like Humphrey said, you really do get treated like a king. Eliana follows us around like a body guard, gushing about how lovely everything is. It’s at times like that when Nevelyn and I look at each other, and I know we both want to strangle Eliana. No one should be so happy about the Hunger Games. 

“Ned,” Meggo calls, right before I head upstairs for the night. I’ve been dodging him all day; I’ve started to think I’d get on better without my mentors than with them. 

“What?” I ask. 

“You’re afraid, son,” Meggo says, the blue light gleaming in his eyes. 

I spin around to face him. “Afraid of what?” 

“Suzie.” 

“Huh?” 

“You can’t tell her how you feel, and I know that’s hard,” Meggo says. “But I think it’s deeper than that. I don’t think you’re afraid of coming here and risking your life in the Games, or being broadcasted live across Panem. I think you’re afraid of going back to District 6 and actually talking to this girl.” 

For a full five seconds, I’m speechless. “Why would you think that?” 

Scars and wrinkles line Meggo’s face, but his eyes still look young. “Because all of this is under your control, to some extent. You choose who you fight, and how. You take your own chances, you reap your own rewards. But with this girl, you’ve got nothing. It’s beyond you.” 

“That’s not true,” I say, gritting my teeth. 

“Then why did you wait so long?” Meggo asks. “Why didn’t you tell her before?” 

Because I was busy. Because it might not work. Because I was afraid. 

“You’re trapping yourself, putting your mind in a cage,” Meggo goes on. “You have to free yourself. You can’t control her emotions, but you can control yours. It’s all in your head.” “What do you want me to do?” 

“Don’t win the Games for her,” Meggo says simply. “Win them for you. You can love her after. But she doesn’t determine your fate. You do. Now go get some sleep. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.” 

* * * 

“District Six, Ned Rickman,” a nasally voice says, announcing me into the training room for my evaluation.  I got up at 5am, refreshed after a dreamless sleep. I stand before the Gamemakers, eating their banquet at the table. I don’t know how to impress them, so I don’t even try. Instead I fall back into my old routine. I close my eyes and think back to District Six, in The Hub. I hear the whir of the train, the sound of metal against metal, the hum of the engine, the murmur of conversation as the workers take their morning break. I can almost feel the breeze on my face. It’s familiar to me, and it’s calming. 

And I begin writing on the ground, in the sand. Math is my strength; I write out a long and complicated equation that the judges probably don’t even understand.  And then I act it out. I take the ropes, which I contort with fine knots, the dummies for the knife-throwing practice, the traps for the animals. I put them together in a mathematical equation that defies both logic and gravity, that sends the knife spinning through the air, drops the rope, pulls the trap, strings up the dummy and stabs through its heart. 

I walk out the door and don’t look back. 

“This is for you, Suzie,” I whisper. “Even if I never get to tell you. Even if I do.” 

Hunger Games Fanfic – Ned Rickman: Chapter 1 – The Reaping

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As promised, here’s Ned Rickman’s first chapter from the Hunger Games Fanfic competition! 

Name: Ned Rickman

District: 6

Age: 16

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Chapter 1 – The Moment that Changed Everything

My brain works like a machine, click, click, click, and everything falls together. That’s why they put me on the front lines up here, designing the transportation system. In one minute, I can do more complicated calculations in my head than it takes five men all working together for half an hour. My boss, Big Silver, swears that one day I’m going to create my own race of super robots and take over the world.  That sounds like a cool idea. But any smart man knows better than to try and take over the world. The people who try always get killed. Me–I plan to stick around for a while.

Mom says I’m a gift from heaven, a walking, talking calculator. I’ve never seen a real calculator before, but I hear they have them in the Capitol. They’re for lazy people who can’t do math in their head. That just goes to show what the Capitol people are made of. 

 

I like things that make sense. The square root of 289 is always 17. The formula for surface area is always length times height divided by width.  Unchangeable things are things that can be relied on, things that will never fail.  Life is made up of logic; that’s what holds it all together. But even though I finished school when I was eight, and I designed the electronic synapse on the transportation system when I was thirteen, there is one thing that still has never made sense to me. It defies logic, gravity–it’s love. 

Maybe you think I’m too young to know what love is. And you’re right, I am. But I’m too young for a lot of things. I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I was just standing there in the marketplace at 2:15 on April 27th, three years ago. I was picking up eggs for Mom for dinner. And then I saw her, Suzie McNicoll. She lives eight houses down from me on Scavenger Lane. I’d known her since I was four, and for my entire life, she was just Suzie, the girl with long brown hair and grass-green eyes. On April 27th, she was still Suzie–but something was different. I can’t tell you what it was because there’s no formula, no equation that can accurately express it in words. It’s not even a feeling, because feelings definitely change and are in no wise reliable. 

It’s a fact. It’s a fact that Suzie is Suzie, and that I would do anything for her. Anything to make her happy. Anything to make her smile. For three years, I have held this fact inside me.  I don’t know what it is about love, but there’s something that makes it difficult to say. I’m only sixteen. I’ll tell Suzie one day. But right now, I’ll wait. I watch. And then I won’t tell her; I won’t need words because they never helped anyone anyways. I’ll show her what this love means.  There might not be a formula, but there is an effect, an effect that cannot be ignored. 

 

Suzie is at the Reaping. She’s here with her mother and her father, and her older brother, Wilson. I do not have any brothers or sisters, but my parents are here, wearing black. Mom is shaking, so Dad wraps his arm around her. They are in love. They’ve been in love for the past twenty-four years. 

I hear the sound of The Hub, the transportation system that zooms by from the crest of the mountain, through the districts to the centre square of the Capitol. And then the microphone comes alive, overpowering it. 

“Greetings, District 6,” Anton Brugue says. He is the mayor of our district. He’s a fat, balding man with dimpled cheeks and grey speckled hairs that occasionally sprout from the top of his shiny head. He always speaks in a formal voice. And he always has enough to eat. So does my family–because of my well-paying job. But I can’t say the same for other people in our district. I can’t say the same for Suzie’s family. So I help them–secretly. 

“Let the festivities begin!” a short woman named Eliana Nian exclaims. Her hair sticks up, stiff with brightly colored dyes from the Capitol. Her voice is jumpy and explosive. People call her ‘The firework’.  

 

The Hunger Games is another thing that does not make sense. Children fighting children, children killing children. There is no logic, no purpose but to torment, to terrify. The Hunger Games goes against everything humanity should stand for. President Snow has visited our district several times to view my work. He says I am coming along excellently. Maybe one day, if I continue to progress, I will be able to be head Gamemaker. President Snow smiled when he said this, the creepy kind of smile that makes chills run down my spine. He said I should be honored. 

President Snow doesn’t know that I’d rather die than construct his deathtraps. I am not a killer. But I’m a fighter.

 

“Girls, girls, girls,” Eliana says, her excitement spilling over into the microphone and evaporating in the crowd. Dull eyes, scared eyes face her, including mine. The papers crinkle as she slides her hand around the bowl, and then traps one in her hand, pulling it out. 

I want to shut my eyes, but I hold them open, one thought blazing through my head: Not Suzie, not Suzie, not Suzie.

“Nevelyn Rivers,” Eliana says, and I breathe a sigh of relief before looking at the girl, a redhead with braids and pink ribbons, standing, paralyzed, in the fourteen-year-old section. Despite my relief, pain shoots through me. Nevelyn has just been sentenced to die, realistically speaking, and Eliana is clapping as if Nevelyn is the new Victor. 

“Congratulations, child!” she exclaims. 

I clench my fist. I think of all the planning that went into the designing of the transportation system, the same kind of planning that went into the construction of the Hunger Games, each trap designed to kill and torture and draw the tributes together to fight for the death, just so President Snow can get his fill of blood. This is wrong. This is so wrong. 

“I know you’re excited boys, so let’s get down to it,” Eliana says, jamming her hand back in the bowl. She pulls it out and reads off the name before I even have time to think. 

“Wilson McNicoll,” she says, her cheery voice chirping like a robin, like the robin that got caught in the energy bubble and was fried alive last year when we were working out a problem at the Hub. 

I look at Suzie. Her face is drained of all color, stark white; she stares at her brother. And then she dashes towards him throws her arms around his neck, screaming. Her hair tumbles down out of the bun her mother must have arranged. Her soft green eyes fill with tears and her shrieks rend the air. People look down. People look away because no one can bear to watch. But they’re going to watch. They’re going to watch Wilson fight to the death. They might even watch him die. 

 

Actions speak louder than words. I feel my hands begin to shake. I close my eyes; I open them. Three years and I have done nothing. Now it is time to act. 

I fight my way through the crowd, refusing to look back as Mom tries to call me back. I make it to the platform. Everyone is looking at me now. Suzie freezes. Her large green eyes are teary. Her eyelashes are long and thick. And then I feel it. I don’t know how to tell you what it is, but it’s worth it. If I die, it’s worth it. Maybe the thing that keeps the world going isn’t logic, it’s the defiance of logic. It’s fighting against what shouldn’t be, what holds back and restrains. It’s this. 

“I volunteer,” I say. “I volunteer to be tribute.” 

“No–Ned, No!” Mom is screaming now. Dad’s arm is still around her shoulders, but now he’s holding her back. 

Eliana looks at me, little explosions going off in her eyes. “What’s your name, boy?’ 

“Ned Rickman,” I say. I stand tall; I refuse to think. I shouldn’t do this. I’m being stupid. But it’s the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do. 

A smile spreads across Eliana’s face. “What a brave boy, Ned. Congratulations!” she holds up my arm like I just won a wrestling match. “Let’s hear it for our new tribute, Ned Rickman!” 

There is silence. 

Suzie is death-white. She looks as if someone just shot her in the leg and she hasn’t realized it yet. The tears are still on her cheeks, but she’s not crying anymore. She’s hugging Wilson like she’s trying to strangle him, small as she is. When she turns and looks at me, her eyes are full of gratitude. But she can only hold it for a second before her eyes are swimming again. The relief is gone, and I see fear, fear for me. And devastation. 

 

If I make it back alive, if I survive this, I’m going to tell Suzie. I’m going to tell her what I can’t explain. Because I love her. And no matter what happens, that will never change. 

Meet Ned Rickman & Thimble Trickson from the 70th Annual Hunger Games!

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I’m excited to introduce my two tributes from the 70th Annual Hunger Games!

Meet sixteen-year-old Ned Rickman from District 6: 

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Description:

Smart. As in genius smart. Ned Rickman is a child prodigy, a calculative mastermind. But he doesn’t want glory. He doesn’t want to take over the world or become Head Gamemaker. He wants to win Suzie McNicoll’s heart. With dark, tussled hair and hazel eyes, Ned is a tall, lanky sixteen-year-old trying to make sense of his life. But that’s just the thing; it doesn’t make sense. 

 

and fourteen-year-old Thimble Trickson from District 8:

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Description:

My eyes are brown. But if you look at them in the light, they look golden, with a hint of blue. My eyes are sharp; they can see you long before you can see me. When I’m at the factory, I tie up my long brown hair and put it in a bun on my head. I may not be very strong, but I’m smart. Mother always said I made up twice for wit what I lacked in strength. And you need wit to survive in this world. I don’t give up easily, if you’ve noticed. And if I think you’re wrong, I’ll tell you. Just because I’m small, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a big attitude. I was raised to be my own person. And no one is going to stand in my way–not even you. 

 

Starting next week, I will be posting chapters from my tributes’ stories from last year’s Writing Fire: The Hunger Games for Writers, which took place on Figment: http://figment.com/books/607452-The-70th-Annual-Hunger-Games

At first, my reasons for joining the contest was to give myself a reason to write. I have a lot of ideas, but I rarely finish what I’m working on. Entering the Games forced me not only to create compelling characters, but to stick with them until the end. 

But the more I wrote about Ned and Thimble, the more alive they became. They weren’t just shadowy half-shaped ideas in the back of my mind, they were walking, talking, feeling people who had real lives and unique personalities, and I became attached to them.  I never considered writing fan fiction before, but it was a great experience. Writing within the already existing framework of The Hunger Games freed me from the stress of having to create my own world and plot line and allowed me to focus exclusively on the characters. I learned a lot while writing about Ned and Thimble; they practically clambered their way out of my head and onto the page. They captivated me, and I hope you find their stories just as intriguing as I did.

 

Each Sunday evening, I will be posting a chapter from Ned’s story, and each Thursday I will post one of Thimble’s.  Stay tuned for the Reaping next Sunday!

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