The paintings are very old, their colors cracking like mud in the sun. Every time an ancient person’s placid face or the cool light of a sunrise flakes onto my fingers I panic and try to blow the paint chips back where they belong. But I can’t stop touching the canvases. I can’t stop petting them where they stand against tall pine walls.
“Why would they keep paintings here in District 7?” I wonder aloud. My voice sounds dusty in the dim warehouse; I clear my throat as if afraid the enormous pieces of art will feel disrespected by my words. I tilt my head back to meet the healthy eyes of a prosperous-looking man with a thick, white ruffle around his neck.
Janus says, “No idea.”
“I almost wonder if we weren’t supposed to find these here.”
As soon as I say it my ears get paranoid. I hold my breath, waiting for a Peacekeeper to slam the warehouse’s door open. My brother puts a hand on top of my head and physically turns my gaze to the right, to a dirty batch of landscapes I haven’t looked at yet.
“I bet these paintings have been here for years,” he says. “Maybe even for decades. For so long everyone forgot them. Whoever stored them here died. No one bothers looking through this warehouse because it’s old and in a sparse section of the forests. No one expects to find anything here but mold and mildew.”
“What did you expect to find?” I ask, distracted from my anxiety by the rosy, smoky sunset of a pastoral countryside swept into being by waves of pigment.
“Mold and mildew.”
Janus chuckles, lets me go, and leans his back against the closed door. He crosses his ankles. “I have to get back to work soon. There are other warehouses and lumber doesn’t organize itself. Give yourself ten minutes.”
I kneel to rest my fingers on the brush strokes that make the country’s grass bend in the winds of early evening.
I’m embarrassed to say it for some reason. “Thank you.”
There is no response. I look over my shoulder, braced to see a Peacekeeper slamming the door open and banging Janus aside- but my brother is only considering the store of paintings, rubbing his chin.
“Maybe someone rescued them,” he murmurs. “Saved them from destruction during a war, or the rebellion.”
I eye the painting in front of me, imagining hands pulling it from a burning museum and passing it to a waiting friend before heroically plunging back into the flames for more.
“Who will rescue them this time?”
My fingers are powdered with decaying colors.
“I show you something I thought you’d enjoy, and you find a way to worry anyway!”
I don’t know whether to laugh at myself or cringe. “Sorry sorry.”
“We won’t tell anyone about them,” Janus says then. “We’ll protect them.”
I imagine throwing myself over the paintings as a Peacekeeper slams open the door-
“Maybe everything has its time to end,” I say.
The thought doesn’t make me happy.
“Sheesh.” Janus makes a disgusted sound. “You are so morbid, Jo.”
I lay my hand flat on the canvas, and take grains of the sunset and grass with me.
[The Hunger Games is copyright Suzanne Collins. This story is licensed under the Creative Commons as derivative, noncommercial fiction.]