she_sells_seashells: maybe (Default)
Author: she_sells_seashells
"Bell" is supposed to be short for something, but the something isn't in her official files anywhere; her parents named her directly for the chime in the tower, that warns about the weather and the tide and, once a year, the required viewings on the village television.

Bell is six. She is not old enough to go out on any of the boats yet. She knows which kind she wants, though: she prefers clamming to all the other options (including trying to go into some support trade, like her mother, who mends and tailors and sometimes makes nets). She is not, even at six, naive enough to expect she'll get an uninhibited choice. So, at six, she has a spade and she wanders the beaches and collects clams. She will have clam-related experience when she's eight and it's time for her to start going to sea.

(Bell likes clams because someone once told her that quahogs, if no one eats them, live longer than any other animal in the world. Including people. They can live for hundreds of years. Bell has not yet comprehended the hypocrisy of liking to harvest and eat something because she admires its longevity. She's six.)

Her father's not a Peacekeeper any more, but he knows them, he was once one of them (and besides, she's six) and they leave her alone for the most part. It's technically poaching to bring her quahogs home and crack them open and wash the grit out and scrape them into soup. They don't get in trouble.

They don't get much dietary variety, either. Her parents come to rely on the clams, too fast. Ranae, her mother, patches up the broken window instead of buying rice; trades her sewing for Bell's new school textbook instead of katniss. Shark (his name is some archaic thing that starts with a "shar" sound, and then he was a Peacekeeper for years; the nickname was inevitable) spends the occasional voyage off from the salmon trawler, because he doesn't have to bring home salmon and coins in order to come home to dinner. They eat so many clams.

Bell keeps the shells.

This isn't selfishness on her part. Shells can be sold, but for trivial enough amounts that to most people, even District people, it's not worth it. The hauling of the shells to market would burn more calories than you'd get from the wheat you could buy with the proceeds, from most parts of the village. So the shells are hers.

Bell is six, and she is lugging a bag of such shells, shucked and cleaned, when she finds it.

She is by far the youngest person in the bar. In fact, even years later, even after she stops being the youngest person in the bar, she never sees someone who looks six (though she sees a few people who are). Everyone around her is tall and strange in any of a hundred ways and doesn't know what to make of a girl in wispy ragged hand-me-downs (she has a nice dress, but it's not for clamming) and dragging a sack of shells.

Someone other than Bell might have turned around and left, convinced herself she never saw such a thing or that it was a dream.

Bell sees empty chairs and she sits in one.

Bell listens.

Bell learns the following important things:

1. There are places that are not any Panem District or the Capitol.

2. This is the way to get to those places, is through this place.

3. Most places are nicer places to live than hers.

4. She could follow someone home, if she tried.

5. But then she'd be stuck there unless they brought her back through.

6. And they might not be able to do that, because the door appears whenever it wants.

7. When she leaves, it will still be the time when she left, probably.

8. The bar is actually a lady, she can make food appear, and she can talk, with napkins.

This last piece of information is exceedingly important. Bell drags her shells to the bar. She has two coins in her pocket which she found on the ground outside school. "I would like some food," she says to the air. "Please." She puts her coins on the counter.

A napkin slides forward. You'll need to be a little more specific, it says.

"I would like some food I can afford," Bell says reluctantly, even though she doesn't think even a bar who is also a lady could chase her if she dined-and-dashed.

This may or may not have been the sort of specificity the bar was looking for, but: food appears. There is a plate of noodles and beef and vegetables that aren't seaweed, smothered in sauce, and there's a hot soup full of ribbons of eggs, and there is a tall, cold drink as thick as wet sand and with chunks of a fruit she's never had before, and there is cake, thick dark cake with frosting as tall as the crumb.

Bell stares at it.

Slowly she slides her two coins across the bar.

And your shells, dear, says a new napkin.


She could trade shells for food. Just one bag of shells meant this sort of food.

Bell heaved the shells up and over the bar with a mighty effort and wasted no further time in putting away her meal. She was little, but she was hungry, and she paced herself, and the portions were really reasonable sizes even if they looked massive to her.

After she finished her food, Bell explored the rest of the bar.

There might, after all, be other things she could use in this hall of wonders.