A/N

Hi! It's Carrot here! This will be a compilation of any short stories I write! I'm quite happy with this one, but I'm afraid you won't understand what is happening in the ending . . . If you have any questions, just give me a shout! (: I'm not sure if I conveyed it clearly enough. I didn't actually tell you, it's supposed to be an implication. :L

~ Carrot

Lightning

It's been exactly two months since General Haymitch rose to power. We all believed he was exactly like he'd pretended he was- we didn't know any better. Well, maybe that isn't strictly true. Sometimes he'd slip, and the public would see a little bit of what was underneath. But then the next day he'd open up a new orphanage, or take a picture with a kid who had a terminal illness. Once he brought every single kid in my school a new laptop. That sure won us over. When I think about it know, God, we seem so shallow.

It's been exactly one month and seven days since he brought his new law into being: electricity was banned. In any form. Some people thought they could get away it, believed that the General would give them a chance if they were caught. They thought they'd be condemned to community service for a week or two, or something else as mundane as that. Again, we all did. We hadn't realised his Nice Guy fa├žade had been dropped like a bad habit, like something unsavoury. And to him, it probably was. We were wrong. The first person he caught was hung out on display in the town square, and we were told everybody had to congregate there for 'the performance'. His guards, which consisted of solely the people he had brought with him from his own country, did a head count, and yes, all four hundred and eighty three of us were there- soon to be four hundred and eighty two. We weren't a big town or anything like that, and the person who was to be punished was Johnny Gardner, one of the Nice Boys, on the list of Boys Your Daughter Should Date. So it was only natural everybody would want to see.

He was beaten and then skinned alive. They waited for him to regain consciousness, after his beating, when he passed out, before doing the skinning. It was disgusting and I watched everything. I had to. We were told that this would be the first and last warning, and that everybody had to watch. I remember thinking, Johnny Gardner is dead and nothing else. It rattled around my head like a dried up and shrivelled pea being shaken in a pot. I'd kissed him, once or twice. Maybe three times. The first time was when they were in Year 2 on camp, and the boys had snuck across the campus and into the girls' rooms, and they had all played Truth or Dare. I got dared to kiss Johnny Gardner for thirty seconds. His lips had been hot and tasted of peppermint gum and our front teeth had bashed together uncomfortably. Even though it had been my dare, he had been the one to kiss me. The second time was during P.E in fifth grade, when he had stolen a wet kiss from me while nobody else was looking. Both times I had gotten all flushed and red and stammered uncontrollably as well. But that was just the type of person Johnny was- it wasn't that he had liked me or anything; I was a girl, and he was a boy, and that was all there was to it. The third time had been the last time I'd seen him, not counting while he had been tied up at the square. They had been at a party and I had been downing cups and cups of spiked alcohol just to show everyone I was not uptight like everybody thought and that I didn't do everything by the rules and that I really could let loose when I chose to. Johnny had been there, and they had been dancing- well not really dancing so much as grinding on each other and gyrating their pelvises around, not that I would have ever done something like that had I not been completely intoxicated and inebriated to boot- and there had been a mutual attraction and he had leaned forward and pressed his lips to mine, flicking his tongue in, boldly, when I had gasped.

Standing there, in the square, watching him being clamped down by five people while others tore his skin off him and listening to his unceasing screams, I came to the realisation that that Johnny Gardner would not be kissing anybody anymore, because he was dead.

But, you couldn't just ban everybody from electricity, just like that. It's not just that we now have to pay to use oil lamps and the sort, now that we have to pay to use government sanctioned electricity- even then we're not allowed to control when or how we use it.

For some people, they can't live without it, without the feel of it crackling up and down their fingertips and occasionally sparking, they can't live without it feeding them the will to stay alive. In that first week, twenty seven people committed suicide, rather than live without it. I'm one of those people who can't live without it. It's like a drug, you know? That's more true then you probably know, actually; some people began to start having withdrawal symptoms. Dad began to have them- seizures during which he electrocuted me and Mom more than once, the shakes, stomach pains, lightning zinging between and out from his fingertips, lightning that he couldn't coax back inside of him.

We've always had an affinity for it, we Fulgors. We never thought it would turn out to be a bad thing.

It's been two weeks since I've been using electricity in secret. I couldn't stop it anymore. And I couldn't risk having to resign myself to start having withdrawal, people who do die, just like Dad did. It wasn't his fault, thought, so they decided to be merciful and when they came to our house in the morning, they only shot him three times- once in each leg, so he couldn't run even if he'd tried, and the third time was in the head. Mom kept scrubbing and scrubbing away at the part of the wall where his blood and brain matter had arced through the air and splattered onto it, insisting that she could still see the red staining the light cream. I didn't have the heart to tell her it was no longer there. I don't understand why they had to shot him three times; why couldn't they have just shot him in the head? In my eyes, that seems to be much more merciful than what they did. I guess they lied when they said they would be the quickest they could.

When I answered the door in nothing but a flimsy camisole and shorts, I'd thought that the leering smirks the three men had displayed hadn't been very on-the-side-of-justice looking. I guess I'd still wanted to keep up the charade. They'd made it sound like they were doing it for his own good, like they just wanted the best for him. They'd made it sound like an injection at school, we'll make it quick, don't worry, like a dentist's appointment.

It was just another part of me they'd taken away, stolen, made theirs. My town square wasn't mine anymore, not the same one where I pushed CJ Rowans into the fountain as a dare. Now it was the place where they made Examples of people. I'm never comfortable in my living room anymore, because every time I walk across it I see Dad dying, the moment of his death replaying over and over in my mind. The front of his head only had a small hole in it, but the back looked like it'd been blown away. We'd had to replace the carpet because the bloodstains wouldn't wash out, not like the one on the wall, and we'd had to dispose of the body ourselves, because, well really, they weren't going to do it. They'd taken care of our Problem for us already, hadn't they?

The Body. Huh. It makes it sound so impersonal and cold. Really, it's the only way I can refer to it without having a breakdown. If I say 'Dad's body' you'd think I'd broke down a dam from all the tears that come pouring out. And it wasn't my dad anymore. Everything that had made him Dad had been snuffed out like a candle. He was gone, he and his electricity, gone like they wanted him to be.

I didn't want him to be gone.

I'm in my room, pretending to be doing my homework and listening to the hit single of my favourite band, but I'm nowhere near my desk and I haven't even looked at my homework yet. It's sitting tucked away in the corner of my bag, just like I'm sitting tucked away on my bed in the corner of my room.

Mom's out grocery shopping, and my baby brother Peter's in the kitchen doing his own homework. It makes me feel a little guilty, because I'm not doing mine, but hey, he's in kindergarten and all he has to is draw a picture of his family. Even if it is incomplete.

Mom and I are so, so scared that Peter will discover electricity, so we're careful not to mention anything remotely related to it in any way at all. It's like we're walking on eggshells around him all the time, and we're ridiculously cautious, but, well, he's a Fulgor like us, and, as Gran used to say- before she kicked the bucket- blood will out.

I'm only telling you this because I know you won't tell. Well, here's the truth.

I practise.

Wait, you already knew that, didn't you? But it's still a secret. Gee, that makes it sound like I was confessing to something bad, like I just said I self harm or something else weird like that. But I'm not doing anything wrong, I know I'm not. It's hard, though, to remember that, when I'm sneaking around lying to Peter and my mom. I can't tell my mom because she wouldn't understand. She would cry and rage and scream and yell at me and accuse me of trying to endanger my family on purpose. She won't understand because she's not like me, not like Dad. She's not really a Fulgor, she just married into them. Even though I'm better about her not being able to understand, I hope to God Peter is more like her than Dad. I'm sad that I have to hide what I'm doing from Mom, because she trusts me, and I don't want to betray that trust, but I know, I just know, she won't get it.

I know I'm risking my family, but how will anybody find out? I don't tell anybody, not even my best friend Sierra, and we never keep anything from each other. Well, technically, I just made that statement untrue, but whatever. And, to be frank with you, I don't want to end up like Dad. I'm quite happy with my brains right where they are, inside my head, and certainly not outside of it, where they're not meant to be. I don't want my brains sprayed onto my living room wall. I don't want to be shot in the legs before I die, a long while before each shot, because the officials who say they're being generous are really sadistic bastards.

I don't want to die.

My fan is making an annoying clacking noise with each rotation, every slow sweep of its three blades. It annoys me, and I feel the electricity sizzling through me. I pretend it's because I'm annoyed at the fan, that I'm angry we can't afford a better one, that we can't afford to get it replaced. It doesn't matter what the excuse is, as long as I get to do things because I am angry.

"What are you doing?"

Peter's voice is soft and hesitant, and he is mesmerised by the hissing flickers of electricity that are forcing their way out from my fingers. Shit. How did I not realise he was there? He never enters a room without knocking, so that means that I was so caught up in myself I didn't even hear him knocking. I'm so pathetic. I'm so useless and selfish and I'm so self-centred. I don't want to die, but do I deserve to live anyway?

Peter, leave me alone! Why did you even come in here? I want to say, but that's too harsh, too cruel for him. He's never been treated as anything but perfect in his whole life, and I can't just be mean because I'm annoyed with myself.

"Nothing, Pete. Just . . . Just go back and do your work, 'kay?"

I look at him beseechingly, and he nods, but his eyes are doing that shifty thing that I do when I lie, the thing I got from Dad. It looks like he got it too. You know, things would be so much easier if we were both like Mom. But we're not, and it's tough luck.

Mom will be so mad at me. I have to tell her. Peter is now a threat that has to be contained. And it's my fault. All our hard work, the tower of cards we've been slowly building around us, it's all come crashing down because of me. And Mom doesn't even know it yet. It's not Peter's fault. He's young, and he doesn't understand. God, why does no one understand? It's all so troublesome. He won't be able to control himself. I am so not looking forward to my little chat with Mom.

I was right. She's not happy.

"You ruin everything!" she howls at me, being loud to make up for her smudged and ruined mascara. I don't even see the slap coming, but come it does, hard and fast and stinging. I don't cry, but my eyes water on reflex at the sharp sting of it. I touch my cheek and it is wet. My fingers come away bloody. Her ring had scratched me. It's her wedding ring, exactly like the one we buried with Dad, and somehow it's twisted around so that the side with the gem is facing the wrong way.

She covers her face with her hands and sobs. I stand there awkwardly and wonder if she's noticed my blood on her ring. "You're exactly like him," she spits when she finally takes her hands away, "You good for nothing brat! I work hard to support us, and you go and do this? We'll both die, you and me, and Peter too, and it is all. Your. Fault!"

She slaps me again, with her other hand this time. That hand doesn't have any rings, and I'm tempted to tell her she should switch her ring to the other hand, do that my cheeks will have matching gouges. I don't, because I don't want to push her any more then I already have. She's accurate in her accusation. I do ruin everything. I want to use the special thing, the thing that Dad taught me long ago, but I don't, because the price is too high to pay.

Peter lets out a yell, and we both rush to his room. My face blanches. Maybe, in the most secret part of me, I'd been hoping that Peter wouldn't figure out how to create and manipulate electricity. It that was true, my secret hope had just been utterly crushed.

He had set his homework- the one he didn't do when I told him to- on fire and is still generating electricity. It is strong and fierce and wild and lacking control because he doesn't know any better. My breath catches at the sight. I know better. And I really wish I didn't sometimes.

His face is wet with tears as he regards his blazing homework.

"I-I-I didn't m-mean to!" he bawls and I rush to shush and console him while Mom tries to beat out the flames before they spread to anything else.

I know better.

We're looking at Peter's little wooden table. There is a scorched burn mark smack bang in the middle, and it is distinctively homework-shaped. Well, homework doesn't really have a shape, but I'm sure you understand what I'm saying.

"Peter," Mom begins, and his hand is clutching mine like it's his lifeline. I wince. He's pretty strong, for a five year old. Or maybe I'm just weak and can't handle it. "Peter," she says again, "We will never speak of this again, do you hear me?"

He nods vigorously, relieved, and relinquishes his death grip on my hand. My poor fingers. I think I heard them creaking.

"Are you . . . Are you mad at me?" he whispers.

Immediately, Mom's eyes soften, like I knew they would, and she kneels down to console him, murmuring sweet soft things into his ear, things I crave but know will never get, and it is now I make my escape. She notices, of course she does, but she's busy with Peter now, and can't spare time for my antics. I'm bitter, but I understand. Peter is . . . well, Peter. You'd have to be heartless not to place him as first priority.

I slip into my room and leave my door slightly ajar, so it doesn't piss Mom off- regardless of her being bust with Peter or not- when it shuts with its bang, the way it always does.

I call Sierra, because that is what I do when I'm feeling the way I do right now.

She picks up on the first ring. "Heya, babe! What's up?" Her voice is cheerful and bubbly and I am so envious I cannot make a sound for a few seconds.

Then I say, "Just talk, please." It's more of a command, really, and Sierra usually doesn't take shit from me, but she can feel that something's off with me. She's my best friend. Of course she can.

She fills my mind with meaningless chatter that I listen to, but don't at the same time. Just the general gist of all this normality is enough to appease me. I close my eyes and fall asleep listening to her, because it is the one luxury I can afford. At least, until my allotted amount of government-sanctioned electricity runs out. Then I can't anymore.

I'm wearing a robin's egg blue sundress and my hair is braided with a blue ribbon entwined in it. Mom is wearing an old white dress and her hair is in an up-do. She looks like the Mom who used to wear that dress while she danced to old jazz songs with Dad. All that's missing is her smile, but I'm content, since I know that I won't be seeing it anytime soon. Peter is wearing dress pants and a t-shirt, and he looks adorable as always.

I wish I was at home right now, but it's impossible. My number is marked on left hand in blue ink: 210. My number, in the population. Now there's only three hundred and ninety nine people left. Today there is a parade on in the General's honour- another one- and it is compulsory to attend.

I say hello to everyone I see, because we are the kind of town in which everybody knows everybody. We stick together.

The trumpets start and my head begins to hurt. They say that the General himself might be here, attending. I look around, and across from me, I spy Sierra. I smile and wave a little wave at her, careful not to get spotted by one of the General's people. Sierra comes from an Italian background, and she is the typical Italian teenaged girl, the stereotype. Her long black hair has been let down, glossy in the afternoon sun, and she is wearing a vibrant yellow and orange dress that compliments her olive skin and makes her look like an exotic flower. She is so beautiful my head spins.

She waves back, but we can't really do anything, because we are being watched, all of us. I am bored and wish I was at home once more. I'd just bought a new book I was planning to read today, too. My head is pounding, and heat rises from the concrete pavement of the sidewalk. The sun shines down brightly- too brightly- and I wish somebody would turn it off. The heat is making me ill-tempered and grouchy, so I try to fish around for happy thoughts. I reel in the line and come back empty-handed. My private place is getting itchy, but I can't exactly alleviate the burning itch here in public, can I? So I hop from foot to foot and shift around, hoping it would just go away. I hate it how these things happen at the most inopportune times. Peter has wormed his way to the front, 'to thee the Gen'al'. He doesn't know that the General is bad, bad news.

I don't think I'm very brave.

The General and his soldiers are marching down the street. I look at the man, and try vainly to search for something, anything, that shows he is evil. There is nothing. All that flashes through my head are clipping from news articles, articles about him doing this, doing that, doing something. And he was always doing something good. I desperately wish for him to laugh, and rip off his mask and costume and somehow morph into a fat greasy man with a sleazy gleam in his eyes who sprayed spit when he talked. But all I see is a lean, tanned man in his twenties with a grim and serious look about him, and he is marching, marching, marching, in his neat and proper and tidy and pressed uniform adorned with neat and proper and tidy rows and rows of medals that shone and winked in the oppressing midday sun, looking for all the world like the soldiers marching in formation behind him. He has short close-cropped black hair and almond eyes that look to be almost yellow and then there was a little boy in dress pants and a t-shirt shuffling forward shyly, and I can feel and hear each heartbeat clearly and precisely. Boom-boom boom-boom, it thuds almost painfully in my chest, a bird attempting for freedom, and I am frozen, helpless, watching the guards spring forward into action and my mouth is dry as a bone and . . . .

The General raises his hand, and the guards freeze. The tension in the air is palpable and it seems as though everybody is holding their breaths.

In one swift movement, the man who killed my father as surely as with his own hands kneels down and is eye to eye with my little brother, my beloved, foolish, Peter.

"Hello there, little man," he smiles, and it is warm, and I can't believe it. But it is all just a farce, just a farce.

Peter turns red and mumbles something unintelligible to all except for me, and the General.

I want to show you something, he said.

He holds his hands in a posture he got from me, from watching me, a week ago in my bedroom, and my heart, instead of beating as slow as the dripping of water from a tap, which I thought had been unbearable, it speeds up, and that is so much worse.

I have never been brave.

My eyes are wide, and I am lurching forward, into motion, and everything is quiet for a moment. I am cutting through the thin veneer of people keeping me from my poor, thoughtless little brother, who had never known any better. But I know better, and I know what I must do. I scream out something, a mangled and garbled cry that even I myself don't understand.

The General's almond wolf's eyes are on me, calm and unsurprised, and, irrationally, I wonder if he has planned this.

Forgive me, Peter, I silently say, but it is more of a prayer, and I kick my brother, the apple of my mother's eye, away from the General, it is like a part of my soul has cracked off and melted, a breath exhaled, gone forever. I know I will never get it back as I look into Peter's eyes one last time.

I clap my hands together, and the electricity flows through me, rich and powerful and more than I have ever asked for.

I know better. I know that Peter, my baby brother, was about to die, and I had to stop it, stop the destruction of the only thing that makes Mom happy anymore. Because I can't, anymore. I stopped when I grew into my father's looks.

My mother. I crane my neck around, combing the crowd for her. Finally, finally I see her. She is not looking at me. Her eyes are fixed on Peter, and something sad and bitter heaves through me. Her eyes are fixed on Peter, like they always have been, and always will be. My last breath comes out, a sigh, and I see Sierra, looking at me, her face a picture of shock. Her mouth is open, and I want to giggle. Sierra, I think giddily, you're catching flies!

And, just before I am impaled by the oncoming bayonet, I realise that the itch was not an itch at all, but an inexplicable burning desire to pee.

I'm so tired.

My stomach still hurts, but they are only little twinges, now. It seems that the Good Doctor really was the best. I'm so confused, and my bones are weary. I think back to how I kicked Peter from me, how I hurt him, and my chest throbs in an agonising way. He probably thinks I hate him now. I honestly don't know why I am still alive. I expect it is because the General would like to make an Example of me. That is probably the reason, yes. It would have looked like I was making a attempt on his life. At least Peter is not dead. At least it will be me.

That's what I want to think, and I try, I really try, but all I can think is that I don't want to be gone. I don't want to die. I want to live, I want to breathe, I want to be one with electricity again, fully and completely, without restrictions. I want, I want, I want. When have I ever gotten what I wanted?

I think about the General again, his black hair and yellow eyes, and an uncomfortable warmth brushed against my belly. I bite my lip nervously and wonder if an infection is festering.

He probably wants to kill me himself. He has never killed anybody outright, you know. But this must look personal. And so he must make it personal. It is how things work.

According to the Good Doctor, I have been asleep for two weeks, my body knitting itself back together. I woke up, and it wasn't perfect, but it was functioning and didn't hurt as much as it could have, I suppose. I'm a little bit pissed off. Here I was, all ready to die, only to be rejected at the pearly gates, because the stupid bloody General who is not as old as I thought he would be has still decided to exert his control over my life, like he has been doing, indirectly, ever since he rose to power. I can't remember what his name is anymore. In my mind he is just 'the General', because that makes him sound more cold and more capable of evil. If I name in him, in my head or otherwise, it makes him sound more human. An he is not human, not by a long shot.

I'm so tired, I want to sleep and never wake up. It would be so easy . . . But life has never been easy, and I doubt it ever will be, not for me.

It has been exactly two months and three weeks since the General rose to power. Even without his mask on, it is hard to tell it is off when you look at him.

There is a gentle knock on my door. It must be the Good Doctor. I don't bother saying come in; why must I? By doing so, I am only deluding myself into believing I have some semblance of authority, of power. The door opens, and I see that it is, indeed, the Good Doctor. He is holding a white, form-fitting dress, and it is wrapped in the plastic. Brand-new. I hope it isn't for me.

It reminds me of Mom's old white dress, the one she always wore then she and Dad went dancing. I wonder who I will be dancing with. Maybe it will be the General . . . Or it could be the Good Doctor. I shake my head to clear it of foolish thoughts, as if it will work.

"Wear this," he says, so kindly I want to smack him, "You will be accompanying the General to the town square soon."

Ah. So I was right. But I can't bring myself to care. I have my hands on the dress, and it is all I can do to refrain myself from tearing open the clear wrapping. I take back what I said before. I'm so glad it's for me. I get to die in style.

I wonder how Dad felt when he died, and for the first time I do not break down. Was he apprehensive, like I had been before I had gotten the dress? Or had he been calm, willing to die, just to make the symptoms stop? Did he regret leaving, Mom, Peter and I behind? Or did he think it was for the best? I wonder why he didn't use that thing he taught me. Had he not wanted to survive?

I wasn't exactly a man, but when he had died, I had sort of filled his position as man of the house, even though it was Mom who supported us.

Mom. I reach up towards my cheek. There is a scar there, now, an indented line, pressed into my cheek. I wonder what the General thought when he saw it. Probably that it was some birthmark, no doubt. Did he think I was ugly for it?

Something hits me like a brick. Why hadn't I killed the General, instead of just creating a diversion? God, I was so stupid all the time. I never thought anything out.

Grumpy about my stupidity, I let my hand drop from my face. I was vain as well. I tear off the wrapping and lay it on my- it wasn't mine- the bed I had been sleeping in. I run my hands over the smooth fabric, feeling the bumps and swirls made by the embroidery. Mom's dress isn't half so pretty as this, but I like hers more. This is cold, and it reminds me of snow. It didn't snow here, but Dad had taken us all on vacation to the mountains, where it had snowed, and I'd caught a severe case of pneumonia.

I get dressed, thinking of how much nerve the General had when the soft satiny dress slid cross my skin. He is making me dress up just so he could kill me. I am of a mind to tear at the fabric and create holes that weren't for the arms in it. Only the thought of how much it must have cost stops me. It is such a nice dress, I think, holding my arms out and looking down at it wistfully.

There is a sharp rapping at the door, and I shiver in a strange and unfamiliar fear. That is most certainly not the Good Doctor.

Do you want to know my name?

There were the guards again. I knew I couldn't escape the reality of them for long. They surround my right side, pointing their big shiny metal toys- oops, I mean bayonets- at me, like I was going to blow up at any second. The General walks to my left, slightly in front of me. He is wearing a belt and scabbard, and in this is a sword. Probably to try and make my execution as showy as possible. It would be so much easier, and quicker, with a gun. I try to lag behind, so I don't have to deal with his stony silence directly, and also maybe to annoy him, but the guards don't slack their pace, so it is walk forward or be stabbed.

I'm a bit stupid, I know. I'll be dead today anyway, does it really matter when? But I am shallow and want to feel the satiny rub of the dress against my skin on me for longer, like the first brushed of desire. Was this how they treated Johnny Gardner, the boy who stole two or three kisses from me? He was my first kiss, you know. I'll always remember him. Sentimental value. Somehow, I think I'm being treated better. Johnny was bruised when I saw him, and that was before the beating. His face had been sporting a sickly yellow bruise all over one side of his face, and he'd had a black eye. That was when he's still had something that resembled a face. I shudder.

"Are you cold?" the General demands, rather than asks.

I'm not, but I answer him only with my silence. He does not deserve my words. I tilt my head so that my long, straight black hair falls like a curtain between us, so that I do not have to look at him. I wonder who took it out of its braid. It is the only thing that I've inherited from Mom.

Is Mom worried about me? It is unlikely, but I know that Peter will- Actually, he probably isn't either, not after the way I'd treated him. It is sad to realise that there is nobody in this world who would miss me when I die, today.

The General does not say anything to me for the rest of the walk.

My heart is calm, actually. But my palms beg to differ. They are cold and clammy and are sweating. I used to detest having to dance with boys with sweaty hands at school dances. The General and I will be dancing, and I have sweaty hands. It is ironic.

I skip a heartbeat as I see my Mom, but it is like she doesn't see me. She looks far away from here, and I'm sure she'd be evaporating if it weren't for Peter's hand in hers, grounding her. There is no recognition in her gaze at all. The only sign of life she shows is the expression of interest she adopts when she sees the dress, but soon that, too, is gone. I cannot bear to look at Peter, so I don't.

I don't see Sierra, but that's alright. I don't want to see her so that she sees I have seen her, because that will make it seem as though I want her to do something to save me.

The faces press in on me from all sides, quite a feat since there aren't that many people left in town. And soon, the population count will go down by one.

Somebody else will be 210 now. I won't have a number anymore.

I reach inside of me for my electricity, and I am so glad when I find it is there. For some reason, I expected the Good Doctor to have siphoned it away from me while I slumbered, helpless. It crackles protectively around my mind and I sigh, contentedly.

I don't want to die, but this is a good way to die. On my deathbed, the whole town, people I have known my whole life are surrounding me, and I am filled to the brim with electricity that makes me feel like anything is possible.

Suddenly, I think, Peter will do it again. He is too young to be able to exercise control yet. All the children are. They will all die. I am filled with an unexpected fear, and I know that if the General does not die, others will, and I am not prepared to let that happen. I am a dead person already, the least I can do is take the General down with me.

He is behind me, and I hear the slither of his sword, leaving the scabbard. Somewhere, someone if reciting my crimes and launching into a detailed description of my death, but I don't hear a single word. I feel him step closer and I shiver. He stops, and I wait, until I cannot take it any more.

I turn around, and my hair whips out behind me and hangs around my shoulders like a heavy cloak. I turn to face him, and he is frozen, like I was, that time, a long time ago now, to me. His sword has stopped mid-swing. That would have taken my head off, if I had stood still, like I was supposed to. It is rather surprising, really. Hadn't they been going to draw it out?

The crowd is whispering now, and no amount of threats from the guards can stop them. It is like a wildfire.

Abruptly, he lowers his arm. I look up at him, into his unreadable yellow wolf's eyes.

"What is your name?" he asks me, out of nowhere.

I think about keeping silent, like I have been doing all my life.

I smile at him from under lowered lashes, open my mouth and tell him the answer to a question I have never been asked.

My name is Hope. Hope 'Lightning' Fulgor. Ironic, isn't it?

For no reason whatsoever, I think of Johnny Gardner again, and of his stolen kisses. To tell you the truth, I have never kissed anybody in my life. I am always waiting to be kissed, like a princess from fairy tales, and I just shrug if it doesn't happen. I am nineteen years old, and I have never kissed anybody. I cannot wait any longer.

His eyes are surprised, for the first time. I reach out and grab his shoulders and pull him down, into me. Everybody is too surprised to react, even him. I crush our mouths together and twine my arms around him, one hand gripping the back of his neck fiercely, like I have been wanting to do from the moment I saw him.

He stands there, the General, stands still, being kissed and not doing anything about it. Then, to my surprise, he kissed me back, and I am weeping and I reach deep inside me, deeper then I even have before, in my entire life. The electricity rampages through me. I have taken it off its leash. It is free now.

It flows. And then, I become the conduit. Desire and forbidden electricity gushes through my veins, and I call it to me.

The lightning crashes down. It needs something to ground itself, like Mom needs Peter, more than she needs me, and it finds us. It tears it way down and into me, Hope 'Lightning' Fulgor, and the General, whose name I remember is Haymitch.

Good bye.

We are not where we once were, the General and I. We are not who we once were, the General and I.

We open our eyes, together, and he calls me name. Just once.

"Hope."