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Mason a memoir


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I do not own any rights to this book, just putting it online as a pdf so more people can enjoy fanfiction

I do not own any rights to this book, just putting it online as a pdf so more people can enjoy fanfiction

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  • 1. Mason: A Memoir Chapter OneScrew that.Honestly, thats the first thing that goes through my head. No sappy, melodramaticbullshit, just a simple objection. Because there is no way that my name was just called.I have things to do. I was supposed to be teaching Wane how to handle a hatchettomorrow, and whats going to happen to the spider I was going to stick down the backof Sals shirt? I mean, for christs sake, I even told mother Id help make dinner tonight.I was feeling extra benevolent. Its reaping day, even I make an effort to be nice. Andnow Im just...done? Sent off to die? So long, Johanna, its been fun! Thats…sudden. Noteven a day to get my affairs in order. Whos going to get my stuff? Theres not much ofit, but Sal would probably appreciate my other shoes (theyre girls shoes, but his are amess), Wane might like some of my books, when she gets old enough to understandthem, and Mother…well, mother can just sell whatever they cant use.Barely a second has passed since my name was called, the echo from our stupid Capitolescorts annoying voice is still in the air, microphone feedback still ringing a little. Hardlyanyone has even turned to look at me yet. Im still caught up in my thoughts, unable tomove, when an image of Wanes scared face, waving me goodbye from outside the housenot ten minutes ago, flashes into my head. And then all of a sudden, Ive doubled overand Im crying like theres no tomorrow.Johanna. What the hell are you doing? You dont cry. But I am crying, sobbing into myhands as if Ive got a death wish by drowning. Get a grip. GET A GRIP. I try to snapmyself out of this episode mentally, but I just cry harder. Then Im howling andwondering if maybe Im having an out-of-body experience, because I seem to have lostall control."Can someone please give Miss Mason a helping hand?" I hear a voice from seeminglyvery far away, though the accent tells that its our escort onstage, April Flora (which Iseriously doubt is her legal last name). Then someone has a light grip on my elbow andtheyre leading me through the crowd and to the stairs of the stage. I catch a glimpse ofdark hair through both my tears and the gaps in my fingers (Im still covering my face)before whoever it is has slipped back to their place and Im left to stumble up onstage.If Im going to get a handle on the crying, it needs to happen now. I cant look like aweakling in front of the whole district—the whole country. Thats not how I want to beremembered. But Im still wailing when April calls the male tribute, some guy Ive nevermet. The name sounds vaguely familiar, but I cant put a face to it until he steps out ofthe fourteens section. He doesnt have a chance, I can tell that much and I can barelysee yet. I dont know what work theyve got him doing in the forests, but its clearlynothing physical. If I had a mind to (and I wasnt crying so hard) I could tackle thisJuniper kid to the ground in point five of a second."Lets give a big round of applause for our two District Seven tributes!" April says into themicrophone, though her voice is already so loud she doesnt really need it. Thereslukewarm applause from the audience, only a fraction of the noise that a crowd so largeshould be able to produce. Then our District Seven tributes! are being swept into theJustice building, and Im still crying.
  • 2. I manage to calm down to the point of just doing that gross, gasping thing you do after agood sob session when they deposit me in some fancy room in the Justice Building. Thewalls are paneled with something dark that I think is mahogany but Im not sure becausethe tears have left my eyesight a little blurry. I collapse onto a red sofa, feeling spent.Who knew that crying could be so taxing? Not me, thats for sure, because I dont cry.Except, apparently, when it really matters.I glance around the room: its easily the nicest place Ive ever been. Duh. Compared tothe literal shack where I live (lived), this place is insane. If I were ever going home, Idprobably try to slip some of the stuff in here in my pockets. Heck, even the doorknobwould fetch a good price with someone.Im just staring at the doorknob, appraising how much someone would be willing to payfor the lump of shiny metal when the knob in question turns and the door opens. Incomes my family, to say goodbye. Wane has clearly been doing some crying of her own,and has her arms wrapped around mothers neck, though mother told Wane not a weekago that shes getting too big to carry. Sals not crying, though he looks pretty upset. Hetries to hide it, though, and the first thing he does is paste on a smirk and ask "What waswith the crying? Thats not the Johanna Mason I know.""I wouldnt expect you to understand." I say to my older brother in a superior tone,because what am I supposed to say? I just got scared and flipped out? I dont think so."Its all a part of my master plan." I say off the top of my head.Sal picks up on the sarcasm, but Wane is a little young for understanding those subtleindicators, so she wriggles out of mothers arms and throws herself onto my lap. "Whatmaster plan?" She asks.Normally Id be shoving her away from me, probably calling her a rude name, but thiswill be the last time we see each other and I want her to remember me well. "My masterplan for winning the Games, of course." I reply confidentially."Please. Enlighten us." Sal says. His voice almost cracks around enlighten, but he keepsit together and sits on the other side of the sofa."I dont know if you can handle this genius, but give it your best shot." I say, scramblingto come up with something. "If I look weak enough, no one will bother me." I say. Hey.That actually has some merit. Ive always been a good liar, but only with rehearsedstories, so Im surprised to hear that the story Ive come up with is so…reasonable. Itactually makes sense."Huh." Sal says, giving me a calculating look. "That might actually work." Something thatlooks like hope begins to spread across his features, and thats not really what I meant toaccomplish."Hey, you understood. Guess youre not as stupid as you look." I say with a weak smile."Please. Come up with something original, why wont you?" Sal rolls his eyes as if werejust ragging on each other on the way to work after school, but he cant hide the pain inhis eyes. I am thankful for the fact that everyone is holding back on the emotion, though.I dont think I can handle much more crying.Then the door has opened again and a Peacekeeper is saying that they have to leavesoon, so wrap it up. He slams the door and Wane digs around in the front pocket of her
  • 3. dress as if shes just remembered something. "Here, I got you something to be a token."While she searches, tongue sticking out a little bit, mother takes her opportunity to saygoodbye. Shed been standing somewhat awkwardly off to the side up until now, but shetakes a few steps forward and grabs my hand. Sal scoots to the side and she sits down,grasp on my hand so tight that I begin to lose feeling in my fingers."Johanna, I dont have a speech to make." Shes a woman of few words, is my mother."Just know that we all love you and well be waiting for you to come home.""Yeah, love you guys too." I say casually, though I can feel the back of my throatbeginning to sting again."No, Johanna. Thats a demand. Youre coming home." My mother orders."Well, Ill try my best, but I cant make any promises." I frown. Of all the times formother to be unreasonable.Her grip on my hand tightens yet further, and I try to pull away. But shes strong fromthe years of working in the forests, and I cant free my hand. "You will come home." Shesays, an almost dangerous look in her eyes."Sure, sure! Ill come home, I promise!" I say, eventually managing to yank free.Mothers hand, now empty, occupies itself with bunching up her skirt and then smoothingit out, then repeating. She looks angry, for once showing a little maternal instinct."I cant find it." Wane says unhappily. "But here, take this instead." She holds out aclosed fist and then drops something small and dirty into my outstretched palm."What is it?" I ask, holding it up to eye height. It seems to be a circle with an eclecticcollection of crumbs, dirt, hair, splinters, lint, and other assorted particles that one mightfind in a pocket."S a sucker candy. I was gonna eat it, but I think you should have it. Hope you dontmind that I started on it." Wane says. I resist the urge to say something along the linesof thats gross, you little brat, now get the hell away from me but seeing as we maynever speak again I try to accept the sentiment for the well-meaning gesture it is andpocket the slightly sticky candy."Thanks, Wane." I say, hoping that the distaste isnt showing in my voice."Times up." Says the Peacekeeper, and opens the door to the hallway. Wane jumps offmy lap and gives me a long stare until mother stands and takes her hand, beginning topull her out of the room."Win, Johanna." Mother says, in a tone that clearly dictates now is not the time todisobey me. Ive gotten the tone innumerable times, but this is the first time its beenabout anything of importance. I nod solemnly to her, and she whisks Wane out the door.Sal hangs back for a second, just long enough to give me an excessively tight hug andsay "Good luck." Then he walks out without looking back.Theres supposed to be other visitors in the rest of the hour, but Ive just seen the last ofmy only family and of course Ive got no friends. Well, thats not strictly true. Id thoughtthat maybe Carey or Arla would visit me, or maybe even Nichol. We all work together, I
  • 4. would have called them friends, but I guess that doesnt amount to much when thingsget serious. So instead Ive got a while to think on my plan.Its not really a plan yet, what I told Sal I was doing. Pretending to be weak so no onewould bother with me. Its barely an idea, just a nuance. It needs some refining to evenbe worthwhile, and I dont know if I want to do it anyway. Im no weakling, and Im noactress either. But…Ive already done the breakdown routine at the reaping, I should atleast use the tears to my advantage.Right?Right.So I think on it, and decide that yes, Ill go through with my "master plan". I can totallypull this off. (Probably.) By the time the Peacekeepers come to take me away, Ivegotten myself sobbing again by biting my tongue hard enough to have to keepswallowing the blood in mouthfuls (nauseating, but unavoidable). They roll their eyes atme when they think Im not looking, and I duck my head so they cant see the smirkspreading across my face. This wont be hard at all.
  • 5. Chapter TwoJuniper is nothing to worry about.I know, for a girl pretending to be pathetic, I certainly dont reserve judgment. But youcan just tell. For starters, hes obviously got zero physical capability. Maybe hes got adesk job or something, because this kid probably hasnt ever even picked up an axe.Were all lanky in Seven, just because of the nature of our work. But the lean build alsocomes with strength, something that Juniper is utterly lacking in. Hes also maybe themost acne-stricken teenager Ive ever seen, which isnt about to win him any sponsors.And, to top it off, hes stupid as dry rot. Or doing a very good job of acting.No, hes just an idiot.Thats the main problem with us Sevens, why we have such a bad track record in theGames. We may be strong, fast, survivors who are handy with axes, but the majority ofus are simpletons. Wouldnt know a Career if it tried to pin us to a tree with a knife: andthat happens all too often.Another one of our flaws is a weakness for food. We dont get much to eat in Seven, atleast those of us who work in the forests. I dont know about the people who live in townor are in charge of us lowly woodcutters. But when food comes our way, we take it. Nomatter what that food may be. As a result, weve all got pretty strong stomachs (I onceate three pinecones and a beetle in one sitting and didnt even get a little sick). Soobviously, when faced down with a table of the best food in Panem, were likely to attackit like weve never eaten before and never will again. I abandon my act for a little whileat dinner on the train, figuring that everyone is too busy chowing down to pay anyattention to me. Well, April conducts herself with prim-and-proper Capitol decorum, butthe rest of us arent so civilized.By the time were all surely feeling a little sick from the sheer amount of amazing food, Ipick back up the act and try to look teary again. I bite my lip (which tastes likestrawberries and blood, not an entirely pleasant combination) and stare down at theempty plate in front of me. I dont blink until my eyes start to water then let the tearsfall. Im a natural. I congratulate myself while slowly standing then spinning around andrunning out of the room.As soon as Ive closed the door behind me I begin walking again, swaying a little with therocking of the train. I wonder if maybe I should actually bring my mentor in on this littlescam of mine. Her name is Isa, and shes almost eighty. She seemed normal enoughduring dinner, but Ive heard tell that they really unhinged her in the arena, sixty-someyears ago, and that her mind has only declined with age. Yeah, she wont be any help. Idecide. Last thing I need is to tell some crazy old coot my secret, shell probably let it slipto everyone. Well, theres always the male mentor, Blight…but I dont know about that.He seems trustworthy and what little I can remember from his Games eleven years agotells me that hes smart. But Juniper is his primary responsibility and I dont want to givehim too much to do. And anyway, he might choose Juniper over me and leak my plan tohim.So its just me in my own little web of deception. Something about that is amusing, andIm smiling when I open the door to my cabin and step inside. The cabin is nothing likehome, and I cant decide if I like it or not. This room is all plush and windows and pinkwallpaper (hey, I didnt ask for it), whereas home is…well, its certainly not like this.
  • 6. I guess you could call Seven one of the wilder districts. At least, it is for those of us wholive and work in the forests. Im clueless about the people who live in town, or theprocessing plants, or the sawmills, but most of us have our livelihood among the treesand its sort of bred us an attitude. We report for work or school in the mornings, do ourshifts in the afternoon, punch our timecards every day, but thats about the most controlthe Capitol exercises over us, besides keeping our weapons under lock and key. We dowhat we like, and we do it when we like. Children are left to their own devices, so theyreraised to be self-dependent daredevils. I climbed onto my first roof when I was four,could scale the tallest of trees by six, learned to handle a hatchet at eight and was set tosplitting logs, got given my first axe at ten and was quickly a tree-cutting expert. Whilethis was going on, we were being encouraged to learn the habits of "borrowing" foodfrom our neighbors, take our money wherever we could get it, and basically be authority-flouting hotheads. But of course, we know where to draw the line. If the authority inquestion is in the form of a Peacekeeper or a foreman, then you hold your hands behindyou back, your chin high, and take whatever they dish out.Point is, we roll with the punches in Seven. If we werent graced with the worstintelligence in the gene pool, wed win the Games every year. Which is why I thinkpeople may be a little doubtful of my act. But I have to make it believable, if Im going touse the crying at the reaping to my advantage. So I rub my eyes until they look goodand red, mess up my hair a little more, and then splash some water on my face (to makeit look like I tried to clean up). I really want to change out of my horrible reaping dressand see if theyve got something close to my customary overalls in that closet, but Idecide against it because if Im so distressed then why would I care about my clothes?Ive only just come to this conclusion when theres a knock on the door.I do a last check in the mirror in the corner to makes sure that I look like enough of amess (I do) and open the door. Its Juniper, standing awkwardly way too close to thedoor. He doesnt say anything, just stares at me, so I take the initiative. "Can I helpyou?" I ask, trying to make my voice sound as wobbly as possible. Its not really thathard, because Im beginning to think that the fourth plate of food was a mistake. Imfeeling a little green."Um, were gonna watch the reapings. Everyone thought you might want to join us."Juniper says, shuffling in place. He decidedly doesnt meet my eyes, and twists his handsnervously. What a loser. A doomed loser, too."Thats so thoughtful of you." I say in what I think is a kind voice. What do I know ofkindness? I keep my head down and follow Juniper to the car he came to find everyonegathered around a television. The District One reapings are wrapping up by the time wetake our seats, but I have time to gauge that the two are the deadly norm. Neither hasmuch going for them other than brute force, but thats certainly enough. Same with theboy from Two, but the girl has a little smile that I dont like the looks of. She looks likeshes saying that she knows something we dont, and thats worrying. As always, Threemanages to look as though theyve never set foot out of the computer lab before today.The boy from Four is pretty cute, but I dont pay much attention. Not going to matterwhen hes trying to spear me through the neck, is it?Five is nothing special, as always. The boy from Six starts laughing like a crazy personwhen they call his name, and I wonder if hes entirely sane. The girl from Six isntanything to worry about, shes only thirteen and barely four feet tall. Then its our turn,and Im surprised to see that I look even weaker than I thought I did. And thats sayingsomething. The commentators have plenty of remarks about my "spectacle"."This is one to look out for, thats for sure!"
  • 7. "Shes clearly the most dangerous player in the Games so far.""Everyone had better watch their backs!"Of course, this is all dripping with sarcasm. I glance around and see that everyone islooking at me, so I stare at the bright light on the ceiling until tears begin to well up inmy eyes. Isa, April, and Juniper look away nervously, but Blight pats my shoulder. Maybenot the most comforting gesture possible, but I appreciate the sentiment. Especiallybecause Im feeling progressively worse. My churning stomach was only agitated byseeing myself get reaped for the second time, and I dont have to pretend to lookmiserable. I give him a watery smile, and he half-returns it before turning back to thescreen.Ive missed the tributes from Eight, but judging by the tone of the commentators, theyrethe usual bloodbath material. So are the two from Nine, and Ten also falls short of havingthe slightest ghost of a chance. The girl from Eleven is a stocky, muscular piece ofglowering work, and I mark her as one to watch out for. The boy is no threat, though.Twelve is its usual pathetic self, then with a few last comments the program ends.At that point, Blight makes an attempt on the conscientious mentor front, asking usabout strategies and special skills. Seeing as Juniper is hopeless and Im pretending to beso, we dont get too far with that. Eventually we all retreat to our cabins, and I spend anoh-so-pleasant hour puking my guts out. Turns out that I have motion sickness.Violent motion sickness.Im sick on and off all night, so Im not in an amazing mood by the time the train rolls toa stop the next morning, in the Capitol. Im not at all cheered by the crowds andnauseatingly bright colors, and its hard to not glare at everyone I see. I have to remindmyself about a thousand times that I dont want to look menacing, but its hard. Thesepeople both disgust and scare me, the way they react to us poor damned souls rollinginto their fancy city. I cant even forget my act when the prep team is attending to me(torturing me might be a better expression). What if they gossip to their friends that Imfaking it? So I try to act like a mouse, scared and quiet and just begging that I dont geteaten by a snake.The stylist shows up maybe an hour in and introduces herself as Tillie. I decide rightaway to not like her. She isnt too extreme, considering what Ive already seen here, butstill utterly fake. Shes wearing so much makeup I cant even imagine what her facereally looks like, under the sparkles and eye shadow and bright pink lipstick. Her accentis even more grating because her voice is so high, and even the briefest introductionssends shivers up my spine."Well, youre nothing special, but we can fix that!" Tillie chirps. Its all I can do to holdback some snarky comment about any number of her physical features, but I manage tomake do with a quiet thank you and what I hope is a grateful smile.Theres no need to really act for Tillie, so I just suffer my treatment in silence. She seemsto be disdainful of the prep team, and does most of the work herself. Im not in theslightest inhibited, so theres not really an awkward factor, but its still pretty painful. Somany beauty products I dont have names for more than a few and I dont even knowwhat most of them do. Tillie takes particular offense with my eyebrows, and I dont haveto pretend to make my eyes water once she breaks out the tweezers.
  • 8. Its a long, painful few hours later when we find out that her idea of "fixing" me isdressing me up like a tree. Go figure. Sevens been trees for a good quarter century."Dont you look marvelous." Tillie doesnt really make it a question, and I cant disagreeanyway. So I just nod and she leads me up to the City Circle. Im one of the first here,only the two from One and the boy from Ten have arrived already. Surprising, what withthe amount of care and time it took to prepare my costume. (You dont know me if youthink I was being serious there.)While we wait for everyone to show up, I set to streaking my makeup like Ive beencrying again. I need to come up with some more original stuff, because I cant build apersonality on crying. But my musings are put on hold by the arrival of Juniper, a mirrorimage of me (though significantly spottier: they couldnt entirely fix his acne). God, Ilook even worse than I thought. Tillie is an idiot. She cant possibly think this is actuallygoing to help us."Nice costume." Juniper says dryly."At least I wear it well." I say in my old voice, then catch myself. I try to lose the cynicaltone and say "The stylists are really nice, arent they? I think they actually like us."Juniper laughs shortly. "Please. I bet theyve both got money on our lives."Money on our deaths, more like. "See? Already theyre rooting for us." I smile. Juniperrolls his eyes at my naivety and I feel like flipping him off except I cant do that. So I justface forward again, trying to contain a glare.The chariots slowly fill up as tributes arrive. Theres no socializing, except cursoryintroductions between the Careers. We all look pretty typical: bedazzled costumes forOne, something mechanical that makes no sense for Three, us as trees, some sort oflivestock for Ten, racy miners jumpsuits for Twelve. I think Eleven looks best out of all ofus, in well-cut outfits that seem to be fashioned like some sort of grain. Everyone elsejust looks plain stupid. Well, Im the girl in the tree suit. Im not one to talk.The fanfare plays, and the doors open. District One is first out, to huge applause fromthe crowds outside. One is always a favorite. Dandy for them. Two gets a similarreception, Three not so much. But the applause picks back up at Four, though theyrelooking idiotic as fish. Juniper turns to me as Five makes their appearance, and asks "Arewe supposed to wave and stuff?""I dont know. Do you think we should?" I have zero intention of waving or smiling forthese people, so I hope to high heaven he says no."I dont see how itll make any difference. Were doomed anyway." Juniper says casually.Its our turn next, and hes acting as though he could care less, but I can see hownervous he is. I hope my own act isnt so transparent."Dont say such things." I say, widening my eyes like Im scared. Ugh.Then its our turn to roll out the doors. Im almost blinded by the flashing lights anddeafened by the shouting crowds, so my head ducks involuntarily. I decide to keep itthere, staring at my brown cloth shoes. I hope that in getting the sponsors to ignore me,Ill achieve the same of the other tributes.
  • 9. I begin to feel a little sick after maybe ten minutes of our twisted parade through thecity, motion sickness striking again. Im flushed and sweaty under the makeup, trying tobreathe deeply and keep my nausea under control by the time we roll to a smooth,synchronized stop in the City Circle. I breathe a sigh of relief, glad that Im not going tohurl. That might help my character a little, but seems like overkill. President Snow makeshis speech from a balcony above us, blathering on and on about…god, who knows? I stoplistening after maybe three minutes. I amuse myself by counting the number of peoplewho I see that are dyed red in the stands around us. I lose count around fifty and starton orange.Ive gone through the rainbow and moved on to silver by the time Snow finally shuts upand the nights "festivities" are done. Its a relief to get back to the training center,though I dont enjoy being stuffed into the elevator with all the other tributes and theirentourages. I need my elbow room—I guess you could call it claustrophobia. But luckily,theres never any shortage of empty space in Seven, so its generally a non-issue. Wehave to push out way to the doors on floor seven and I can see that Juniper is just asdrained as me."Well, I cant say that you two were very good." April says with a sigh as the elevatorcloses behind us. "And especially you!" she turns on me, pointing a finger. "What wasthat stunt you pulled?""What stunt?" I ask innocently, though I know shes referring to the fact that Icompletely ignored the audience."You know what I mean. They couldnt have even shown your face onscreen unless theyhad cameras in your knees." April folds her arms at me.With all the psycho surgery here, that might be possible. "I just felt sick." Thats thetruth."Well, youll need to get over that if you want to have any chance of survival." April says."At this point, your odds are nonexistent."Thats the kind of thing that would set me off if I was who Im pretending to be. I realizethis a little late and it probably looks a little disjointed when I cover my face with myhands and run off down the hallway to my room as fast as is possible in the treecostume. I slam the door behind me for dramatic effect.The room is huge, five times bigger than my entire house. Well, seeing as our house islittle more than two rooms and comprised mostly of scrap wood, shingles and bent nails,thats not saying much. But the room is still crazy impressive. Im seized with an infantileurge to play with every single gadget, even those that I dont know the use of, and Idecide to go ahead. First, though, I strip out of the horrible tree costume. I dont knowwhere to put it, so I leave it on the floor and go to search through the closet, utilizingone of the contraptions on the wall to do so. But none of it is to my liking, its all toofancy. So I dont bother to get dressed. Not like anyone cares.I set to playing with the apparatus around the room and Ive accidentally zapped myselfa few times, turned the heating way up, and switched all the lights to a dark blue glowby the time Im showered (the shower is both bizarre and amazing) and theres a knockon the door. I scramble to get back into character and find something to wear beforeanswering the door. Its Blight, telling me that theyre having dinner and wanted to knowif I feel up to joining them. I reply that I am, and shadow him quietly to the dining room.
  • 10. I dont really know what to think of Blight. I cant quite recall his Games, I was only threeor four. Hes not an amazing mentor, only as good as can be expected. He doesnt talkmuch, or at least hasnt so far. Hes a big guy, broad-shouldered and well over six feet,but I dont know if theres a brain behind it. Probably not. We are from Seven.Dinner is an awkward affair in which no one talks, except for April. And she only pipes upoccasionally to make a comment about the food (which, by the way, is just as heavenlyas before). We all disperse to our rooms as soon as weve eaten, no small talk. Which isfine by me: it means that I dont have to make an effort with my act and provides feweropportunities for me to slip up.Im stuffed and incredibly tired by the time Im back in my room. I fiddle around with thelight level for a while to try and get them to turn off, but only succeed in making themglow a bright, clinical white. So I give up and collapse into the giant bed, where I quicklyfall asleep despite the headache-inducing lights.Being pathetic. Its exhausting work.
  • 11. Chapter ThreeThis is it, Johanna. I try to prepare myself for another long day of being a weakling. Itssurprisingly difficult: walking with my shoulders drooped just right, the hesitation in myvoice, the skittish reaction to anything sudden, the tears constantly just on the edge ofspilling forth. Ive developed a few guidelines for myself to follow in the days of trainingto come, and Im a little worried by how easily Im slipping into the role. I cant allowmyself to actually get weak, it would spell death for certain.Though, after observing the other tributes train for only half an hour, I decide that deathis pretty much a certainty anyway. Well, its only really the Careers that spell imminentand painful demise, but the girl from Eleven is also to be watched. Shes handy with thetypes of weapons one swings: probably from reaping grain. I name her Scythe, becauseits just so overdramatic that I cant help but chuckle to myself when I think of her andthat makes it all a little less terrifying.I watch Scythe lop off the head of a dummy with a wicked sharp sword and decide to getinvolved in something else before she catches me staring. I stick strictly to survivalstations, because Im (of course) a pro at handling all sorts of wood-choppinginstruments and I might not have too poor luck at some other weapons. That wouldnthelp my image. So I stay innocuous, drifting from empty station to empty station.Sometimes I let them teach me things, like at the knot-tying station, but other times Imake a big show of making mistakes such as "accidentally" setting a shoelace on fire andflipping out.Im putting back on a slightly scorched shoe to chuckles from around the room whenthey announce lunch. I, of course, sit alone after getting food. I try to not eat asravenously as usual, but do it nervously and in keeping with my other fake mannerisms.Im sitting at a table in the corner of the room, being ignored. That is, until the boy fromSix decides to sit with me. I cant very well turn him away, thats too aggressive for myalter ego. So I watch in silence as he…I dont really know what to call it. But the boykeeps up a running monologue through the whole meal, talking to someone that isntthere. I mean, I know he isnt talking to me and just not looking at me because he keepscalling the person hes addressing "Celine"."Everyone keeps acting like theyre scared of me. I just dont get it, Celine. Im notscary." He says, throwing up his hands and dropping a bread roll. Not scary. Justpsycho. "Anyway, training is going well, I think." Psycho continues to talk to "Celine"through the rest of the meal. I wonder if shes a real girl, maybe back home, or if shessome product of his imagination.Juniper eventually joins me and psycho, for lack of anyone else to sit with. He sits downand I see that hes got a few carrots on his tray. Its a stupid thing, really, but it sort ofdepresses me. Mother bought carrots whenever we could afford it and gave them to usraw. She said it improved eyesight…or was it bone density? I cant remember. I neverlistened.I catch myself staring at the carrots and biting my lip, so I decide to play this up. I pinchmy arm under the table, hard, and manage to get some tears. So soon Im cryingquietly, fixated on the orange vegetables in question. "Im sorry." I choke out. "Its justthat my mother…" I dissolve into heavier tears, and psycho stands up uncomfortably."Come on, Celine…lets go…" he goes to find an empty table on the other side of theroom. Then they announce that lunch is over, and I try to pull myself together.
  • 12. I spend the rest of training in much the same manner. I skulk in corners, learn survivalskills, make obvious mistakes. The other tributes laugh amongst themselves at meoccasionally, but mostly they ignore me. What idiots. This is almost too easy. But by thethird day, Im beginning to get a little on edge. I havent insulted anyone in days. I canalmost feel my sarcastic capability draining away. And the nicknames Im making up forthe other tributes are getting progressively worse. I mean, it started going downhillaround "psycho", which was well below my usual standard, but by the time I get aroundto naming the girl from Two with the mysterious smile, all I can come up with is"Smiley". Makes sense, I guess, because its what I noticed about her first, but its sounder par that I feel a little stupid saying it myself. For lack of better ideas, though, itswhat I call her.Im kneeling at the edible plants station and watching Smiley from afar. Shes in a badmood, having just had the instructor kick her butt in a wrestling lesson (he just had tograb her long ponytail and it was pretty much over), and is shooting a row of dummiesas though each one has done her a great personal wrong. Despite her irritation, heraccuracy is unnerving. I turn back to identifying plants, not wanting to scare myself morethan necessary. The instructor is getting a little fed up with me, because even though Imactually trying, I keep mixing up wild carrot and poison hemlock. I want to snap at theinstructor, preferably something very insulting, but I make do with dissolving into tearsafter she reprimands me for about the fiftieth time. It really rubs me the wrong way, butI do it anyway.So my mood is in the negatives by the time they announce lunch, and its not improvedby the fact that they start calling us for audiences with the Gamemakers before I canfinish my soup. Well, luckily, District Seven of course goes seventh on the roster, so I dohave a little extra time. They call Juniper first and I wish him good luck in my nervousvoice. The pressure to act has sort of lessened, but I have to keep it up at least to somedegree. I jump when they call my name, then rush out of the room like Im allembarrassed.Most of the Gamemakers are in varying stages of drunkenness by the time I make myappearance, and I feel a little like yelling at them for their blatant disregard for ustributes. We at least deserve to be watched as we fight for the recognition that may saveour lives. But some of them are still paying attention, so I hold back and make a beelinefor the rack of axes in the corner. Ive only just picked one up and felt the relief of havingsomething so familiar in my hand when I remember that I cant give up my act evennow. Though no tributes are watching, my training score will reflect my skills. And I dontwant a high number. So the next thing I do is drop the axe and let it almost hit my foot,jumping back at the last second.I continue to make ridiculous mistakes throughout the whole session. I cut myself on athrowing knife, I trip over the spear rack, I back up into a dummy and fall to the ground.The expressions on the few sober Gamemakers faces are almost comical by the time oneof them clears his throat and says "You may go.""Thank you." I say with a sweet smile up to the Gamemakers table. Yech.No one is waiting when I step off the elevator on the seventh floor, so I head back to myroom. Im in a bad mood, due to the days of keeping my personality under wraps, mystaged failure of training, and the idiotic nature of the nicknames Im coming up with (itsuggests that Im actually going soft). So I spend a very pleasant few hours insultingeverything I see, just to cheer myself up. Most of it isnt very clever, but it makes mefeel better.
  • 13. Ive still got a little time to kill before dinner, so I set myself to trying to comb out myhair. Ive got a lot of it, never having had the opportunity to really cut it. Normally I justtie it back in a messy bunch that reaches almost all the way down my back, not brushingit or anything. But Tillie did something to it thats keeping it glossy, so I guess I shouldprobably keep it nice while I can. Ive just untied it when I remember Smiley and herdefeat earlier today in training. The instructor used her hair to pull her to the ground.Shit. I have to get rid of my hair, now. Its a liability. Someone could take it and pull meback if I were trying to run away, or it could get tangled in a tree or whatever, orsomeone could take a page out of that instructors book and use it in a fight…heck, theycould even strangle me with it. Its that long. I cast around for scissors but after failingthat, for something else sharp. Like a knife. But obviously, theres nothing of the sort. Soa tribute cant try to commit suicide. Im considering stealing a knife from the table atdinner tonight when my eyes light on the mirror. Theres an idea. Before Ive eventhought about it, I find myself using the comb in my hand to smash a corner of themirror. It breaks easily, so I guess they didnt think that a tribute might try what Imdoing. They dont give us enough credit: I could easily slit my wrists with any of thesebits of glass. And why not? Even with my strategy, I still dont like my chances. But no,thats not fair. Itd get everyone in trouble: Juniper and Isa and Blight and probably myfamily as well. They might even reap another girl to take my place. And who am I to playgod?So I just take one of the larger shards and tie my hair back again, then begin hacking atit. I cut close to my head, and by the time theres a knock on the door, April summoningme to dinner, my head is about five pounds lighter. The cut isnt very glamorous, unevenand choppy, but functional. Thats one less way to die.April doesnt see it quite that way. Her mouth literally falls open when I open the door."What did you do?" she asks, aghast."What does it look like I did?" I ask snippily, catching myself too late. I dont feel likeblundering through my mistake, so I just stalk off down the hallway. Even the mostpathetic have their moments, right?Everyone seems shocked by my transformation at dinner. I feel like asking them whatthe hell is so interesting about my hair, but I just throw myself into a chair and beginsteadfastly ignoring everyone. A few of those weirdly silent, white-uniformed attendantsserve dinner, and I stare at my plate as if its the most fascinating thing this side ofDistrict Five. Everyone eventually gives up on staring at me and begins talking abouttraining. Eventually our mentors (well, really only Blight) begin talking about strategy.They drill Juniper and me about the other tributes, about what we think we learned,about how we want to use the new skills. I answer the questions in my head, because Ido want all the help I can get, but I dont participate because Ive already sacrificed toomuch of my character tonight. Im beginning to think that it was too smart to cut myhair, like my pathetic side wouldnt have thought of it. Well, no going back now.We turn on the television to watch the training scores handed out. One gets twin nines,which comes as little surprise. The boy from Two gets a seven, but Smiley gets a ten. Ireally have to come up with a better name for her, I think as the two from Three getscores that match their usual low standard. Everyone seems to be conforming to thenorm this year, high scores for Four, low for Five, medium for Six (psycho gets a seven,and I wonder what he did to merit that: he wasnt anything impressive in training).Juniper scrapes a five, just on the edge of dismal.
  • 14. Then my face is onscreen with an almost comical numeral one flashing in front of it. Ihave to contain a snicker at the crestfallen expression on everyones faces. I manage tokick myself hard enough to get some tears going, then just cover my face with my handsand dash from the room. Thats only the fourth one ever "awarded" to a tribute. If therewas any doubt in my mind before, I know for certain that I will be ignored now.Someone has replaced the shattered mirror and swept up the shards on the floor when Isaunter into the room. Convenient, I think, ruminating on the mirror. Isnt there a sayingabout mirrors? Step on one and you break your mothers back? Whatever. Im too tiredto think straight. I decide to just go to bed now, even though its barely seven. Ivelearned to control the lights at this point, and I turn them off instead of brighter thistime. But unlike the nights previous, I just cant sleep.Training is over. We have our scores. Tomorrow is the interviews. And the day afterthat…Dont think it. I warn myself. But I cant help it. The day after that, I probably die.And if theres one thought thats capable of keeping you up all night, thats it.
  • 15. Chapter FourCaesar Flickerman is looking stupid for the tribute interviews, in his sparkly suit and hisface this year done up in dark purple. But Im looking stupider.Tillie had a fit when she saw my hair. "What have you done, what were you thinking, Icould lose my job, what are we going to do now?" But after she consoled herself from thecrushing loss, she fixed up the uneven cut into what she calls a cute bob but I think isjust idiotic. However, she has done my character a favor. The haircut, paired with mypink little-girl dress, speaks to my innocence and helplessness.I think Im going to puke.The interviews are pretty much on par with what they usually are. The Careers from Oneand Two go on and on about their training and how theyre planning a violent demise forevery other tribute—its not especially pleasant stuff to listen to, but the audiencecertainly seems to like it. I find out that Smileys name is actually Daphne, but at thispoint Smiley just sounds better in my head. And her creepy little smile is omnipresentanyway. The district Three tributes mostly stutter, and its obvious that theyd rather beanywhere but here. Hey, they can join the club any time they want. The cute guy fromFour ends up being named Rafi, and he apparently has a proficiency in throwing spears. Ididnt notice during training, so I guess he might just be making stuff up to impress thesponsors.Psycho goes and talks to Celine the whole time, completely ignoring Caesar. Itd be funnyif he didnt seem so deranged while doing it. The girl from Six is named Pixia, which Ifind a little amusing. Of course, its an idiotic name, but it sounds a little like pixie and ifher interview is anything to go by, thats what she is. Small and pretty with a meanvindictive streak. But she could be making it up as well. I am, Rafi is, whos to say thatany of us are being honest?Then its my turn, and I try to accentuate my act while going up to the chair next toCaesar—stumbling a little halfway there, keeping my shoulders hunched, not looking atthe audience. I sit in the chair without looking at Caesar as the seconds of my interviewpass by. He makes a few attempts at small talk, but we dont get very far with that. Sohe moves on to topics of importance, namely, my dismal training score. Well, he puts it alittle gentler. "So, Johanna, how do you feel about your training score of one?" Hedoesnt mention that one is almost comically low."Oh, I was so disappointed. I tried so hard, Id thought that maybe…" I shake my headand look down at my knees, acting like Im all distressed."Well, as long as you tried your best, thats all that matters." Caesar says, patting myarm."You really think so?" I ask hopefully, looking up."I really do." There are a few appreciative awws from the audience, but not many,because they know that what were saying is utter tripe. What matters is whether I cansurvive or not, and my training score dictates that I cant.Caesar moves on. "Any family at home?"
  • 16. Ah. Thats a touchy subject. My family situation has always been…complex. To hear mymother tell it, the father of me and Sal is "Just not in the picture, alright? Now stoppestering me!" but shes been telling us that story for our whole lives, even when itstopped making sense. Because if hes not "in the picture", then where did Wane comefrom? She certainly looks as though she belongs in the family, with my nose and Salsears, and the wide-set eyes we all share, but then there are the features that clearlycome from no one we know. But I was only ten when she was born, so obviously mycapacity for imagining sordid extramarital affairs wasnt at its peak. And by the time Iwas old enough to really wonder, the memories had gotten too fuzzy to make anyconclusions.But thats far too complicated to try and explain to the Capitol audience, so I just go witha tremulous "Yes, I do, and I miss them very much."After a few more attempts at meaningless conversation, Caesar brings up whatsapparently a very big deal. "I think that one thing were all wondering is what happenedto your hair?"What is wrong with these people? They all care far too much about my hair. Is theresome sort of hair conspiracy Im missing out on? I hadnt bothered to come up with anyreason for cutting off my hair, deciding that everyone would see it for the non-issue it is.But apparently not. And cutting it so that no one could use it against me in a fight is fartoo calculating for my character. I need to come up with a sob story, and do it now."Well, my mother used to do my hair. Shed brush it every night. A hundred strokes, shesaid. And while she brushed, she would tell stories and sing songs…and I just…couldntlook at it." I dissolve into tears and stumble back to my seat when the buzzer rings notten seconds later. Well, I was nothing stellar, but I think I probably looked harmlessenough.Juniper is forgettable, as are the two from Eight. Nine and Ten have just about nochance, which is a little surprising because normally Ten does alright. I learn thatScythes real name is Linnea, but that simply sounds too innocent for her. However, its awhole ton better than Scythe, so I decide that thats what Ill call her.Twelve ends things with a bang (heavy sarcasm) and were hurried back to the TrainingCenter. The elevator is just as claustrophobia-inducing as the previous times weve allbeen in it, but I take the opportunity to step on the feet of everyone near me—just forkicks. They wont know it was me, and its funny watching them try to figure it out.We shove our way out of the elevator and immediately we find that as per usual, Aprilhas plenty of comments about our shortcomings. I want to tell her that shes in noposition to be making critiques, what with those stupid flowers she weaves into her not-naturally blond hair and that constantly clueless expression she wears. Juniper decidesthat he doesnt want to put up with her, so he just shakes his head and walks off into hisroom.With Juniper gone, I can say what I like. Blight and Isa wont matter in a few hours."April, why dont you do yourself a favor and find someone who actually gives a damn?" Iask, interrupting her pointless tirade. Its not up to my usual standards, but Im a littlerusty. And anyway, the relief from saying whats on my mind is instantaneous. Everyonegives me questioning looks and I stomp off down the hall to my room, kicking off mystupid pink shoes and slamming the door because I feel like it.
  • 17. But the relief is short-lived, because I make the mistake of trying to go to sleep. Itsimpossible. I know that its because Im so scared, but I tell myself its anything but that.First my haircut makes the pillow feel weird. Then the bed is too soft. The room is toocold. The room is too hot. Its too dark. Its too bright. It must be one in the morning bythe time I cant think of another stupid complaint to keep me up and eventually I justcollapse into the sheets of the bed—theyre a mess at this point, I keep getting up—andlet exhaustion take over.I wonder if there will be nightmares? Of course there will be. What kind of idiot am I?Nightmares are unavoidable. I am a tribute, after all. One of the twenty-four unluckiestsouls on the planet.And hey, I finally remembered what it is they say about mirrors. Break one and you getseven years of bad luck. Because the universe just hates me that much.
  • 18. Chapter Five"So. Stun me with your expertise." I say, holding out the tribute uniform for Tilliesinspection. I dont know what to make of it, and if she can give me any clues then Ill bejust that much better off for my entrance into the arena in less than ten minutes.Tillie scans the clothes, pursing her lips. I get the distinct impression that shes trying tomake stuff up on the spot, because she probably is. "Well, I suppose that this could besome sort of…and maybe here…yes, that makes sense…right, so thats…meaningthat…yes. You understand?" She says vaguely, gesturing to different bits of the uniform."Oh, yes. I completely understand. Thanks. It would have been so irritating if you hadntexplained that properly." I say snippily. She could at least try."Just get dressed." Tillie says with a glare, probably wondering just where this girl hascome from because shes certainly not who I was yesterday.I shrug and begin to pull on the uniform. Its too bad that Tillies clueless, because Icould really use some suggestions as to what this maddeningly vague uniform means.There are plain black pants, no pockets, which tie closed at the bottom. Actually, thatshould probably be a clue, but I dont know to what. But the rest of it really isunhelpful—grey shirt with sleeves that stop halfway up my forearm; yellow-brown-ishjacket that I have to pull on over my head, made of some synthetic material; thin graysocks; black boots with metal snaps instead of laces. I dont know what any of thisindicates beyond what I hope is a simple arena. Sometimes they just have a forest,nothing special, and sometimes the arenas are whacked-out meshes of all sorts of terrainthat make about zero sense. If nothing else, I want trees. For the obvious reasons.Im feeling more than a little shaky by the time Tillie leads me into the Launch Room, butI just clench my jaw and dig my nails into my palms, unwilling to let it show. I stand stillas stone on the metal plate, waiting for the glass to come down. When it does, Tilliegives me a cheery wave and I sort of want to flip her off except Im too tense to move.I do manage to turn my face up to the bright light from above, because even a few moreseconds of knowing what Im facing could be the difference between life and death. Butits too bright to see anything until a few seconds after the plate has clicked into place.And even then, I cant make sense of anything. This is nothing like the towering forestsof Seven, this is so alien that I cant even really absorb it.Yellow. Dingy yellow, thats what the ground is. The ground is too high, almost up to myknees. Grass? Yes, thats it. Im looking at a huge field of grass, yellowed by the bakingsun above us in the pale blue sky that seems to go on forever. No clouds, the sun isincredibly harsh. In the distance, to my left, I see something that may be trees. But itsso far away, it just looks like a smudge. Could be anything, I suppose.Prairie. The term comes to mind, from some old story mother told me and Sal when wewere kids. About a family who lived in a place like this. She said that the story wasancient, from even before the formation of Panem, so Id doubted its authenticity. Butclearly parts of it were accurate.The Cornucopia, gold and gleaming, is sitting in some higher grass about twenty yardsaway. I can sprint that far, maybe, but Im not really a runner. I tire fast. Should I try forsupplies, or just make a break for safety? Well, I do have to keep up the act, at least fornow. What would my pathetic side do? She wouldnt throw herself into the thick of
  • 19. things, shed run away as if her life depended on it (because it would). But Im going toneed supplies if I want to live, and an axe would be invaluable.Im still trying to decide what to do when the gong sounds and Claudius Templesmithannounces the beginning of the Games, signifying that our sixty seconds of waiting areup. Maybe Ive transformed into more of my character than Id like, because I spook andrun forward, not away from the bloodbath but right towards where it will be worst: themouth of the Cornucopia. Oh, hell. This is not going to be pretty. But Im too far gonenow to turn back. I just have to let this take me where it will.The tributes standing next to me were the little pixie from Six and the boy from Three. Ihad thought that neither of them would be any problem, but clearly I was wrong. Well,the boy from Three is still far behind, trying to figure out which way to go. But the pixiehas sprinted past me, almost a blur with her speed. She makes her way to the mouth ofthe Cornucopia and snatches up whatever she can before dashing off into the grass anddisappearing. She pays me no attention, which I find heartening. If Ive fooled her, I mayhave fooled the others.And it turns out that I have. Id thought that maybe I could avoid the worst of thebloodbath, but of course the Careers have trained their whole lives for this and theyrethe first there. Im passing far too close to Rafi of Four, who is throwing Smiley a bowand a quiver of arrows, before I can even try to change direction. But he just lets me runpast him, barely sparing me a glance. He probably would have stabbed me or somethingif he were armed, but he hasnt gotten around to that yet and must think itd be toomuch effort to kill me with his bare hands. Not that he couldnt, if he had a mind to.But then Ive sprinted past him and Im slipping over the pile of supplies at the mouth ofthe Cornucopia, my eyes locking onto the axe lying just off to the side. Its what I reallyneed, what will guarantee me the best chance of survival. I should probably be grabbingwhatever I can, but Im a little busy running for my life. I do manage to snatch a very,very small brown backpack off the ground when I bend down to pick up the axe, butthats it.My fingers have just closed around the varnished wood handle of the weapon in questionwhen the first arrow streaks past me. Its a near miss, and I lose a chunk of hair. Tilliewill be so disappointed with me. I think, looking around to see where the shooter is. Ofcourse, its Smiley. I remember her targeting that row of dummies in training—shes anamazing shot. She reloads and I set off running faster, wondering why shes botheringwith me. I thought Id convinced everyone. Of all the people to see through me, it has tobe the girl whos probably the most lethal tribute in this entire arena.Her next shot scrapes along my shoulder. Its shallow cut, barely a scrape, but it stillhurts. I run faster and find myself doubling over and disappearing into the higher grass,out of sight. Im not worth pursuing, even if Smiley has seen through my act. I run andrun until I think I might collapse, and then I allow myself to slow to a walk. I keepheading away from the Cornucopia, wondering what my next move should be. The sunhas moved a little to the west, and Id say its been maybe an hour since the beginning ofthe Sixty-Eighth Hunger Games. Theyre probably still fighting, but they wont be formuch longer.I take the opportunity to sit down and inspect my cut. Its not serious at all, barelybleeding, though it really is quite painful. While Im resting, I go through the smallbackpack I picked up. It cant contain much of worth, its so small. And indeed, thecontents of the bag are measly: a small pocketknife that probably couldnt even facilitate
  • 20. a good stab, iodine tablets for purifying water, a small packet of crackers, and a waterbottle about as tall as my palm and not even as wide. I begin to get a little angry withmyself, because I was right there at the mouth of the Cornucopia. Thats where all thegood stuff is, and I completely missed my chance!Well, at least I have my axe. I look over the weapon and decide that the risk was worthit. The axe is a little heavier than Im used to, but thats fine. Just means I can throw itfarther. The handle is a dark wood polished to a shine, though I dont recognize what sortof wood it is. The head is a gleaming silver and the blade wicked sharp, not yet stainedwith blood.Not yet stained with blood. I dont want to dwell on the slightly morbid thoughts Ive justhad, so I pull myself to my feet and prepare to keep walking. The iodine tablets and thewater bottle tell me that there is water in this arena somewhere, though I clearly wontbe finding it in this dry field. Ill need water if I want to survive…but how to find it? Well,what do we know about water? Its…wet. You drink it. Bathe in it every few weeks, whenyou can. You cry water, as Ive found to hold very true recently. Rain is water, but I dontthink were going to be getting rain any time soon. Trees need water, lots of it.Trees need water. All I have to do is find some trees, and Ill find water. Didnt I thinkthat I saw trees, back at the Cornucopia? Really, that smudge could have been anything,but I think its my best shot. They were…to my left? Where would that be now? I take achance and change direction, hoping that Im heading the right way.Ive not gone very far before the cannon shots begin going off. One, two, three, four,five. I pause in my walking and count thirteen blasts. Thats a lot, compared to the usualnine or ten. I know that I am safe, as is the pixie girl, but otherwise Ill have to wait forthe death toll tonight.I set off again, pushing through the grass. Its gotten taller the farther from theCornucopia Ive walked, and now reaches a little over my head. Though its dry andscratches me every few steps, the grass is surprisingly resilient and springs back up onceI step off of it, creating a sort of bubble around me. They must have messed with itsgenetic makeup. I can feel the claustrophobia creeping somewhere in the back of mymind, but I grit my teeth and ignore it. I cant let myself get distracted, not when I couldbe a mere fifty feet from another tribute and just not know it—this grass, however muchI hate it, is good cover.I think I may be heading in circles by the time an hour has passed, and Im almostcertain after two hours of identical brownish yellow grass. God, I hate this. I cant evensee the sky unless I stare straight up, but the sun still manages to be insanely bright. Ican feel myself getting sunburnt, and the temperature must be almost a hundreddegrees. Im crazy thirsty, my blisters have blisters, and Im probably going to wander inthis stupid prairie until I collapse. I want to just start shouting at the sky to release thefrustration at this endless field and barely manage to contain myself.And thats before I see the snake. Small and pale brown, it just slithers across my pathand doesnt even look at me. But I jump back anyway, stifling a shriek. (Tell anyoneabout that, and youll regret it.) I hate, hate,hate, snakes. Theyre so…so…slithery…andcold…and snaky….I cant describe just why theyre so unnerving. But I dont need areason. This one seemed to not care that I even existed, but this place isprobably crawlingwith the filthy things, and who knows if they will all be so benign?
  • 21. I walk for the rest of the day jumping at every little noise—its either a tribute or a snakeand I dont fancy running into either. Im not at all cheered when the sun sets, leavingthe air with a slight chill, and I know that I will have to bunk down for the night soon.Horrible prospect, but I cant walk forever. I give up all hopes of reaching the trees bynightfall and resign myself to a night in the field.There are no paths, no clearings, so I just stop in my tracks and sit down. I hate the ideaof spending the night here with the snakes and tributes and whatever else must becrawling through this field, but its unavoidable. I grip my axe tighter, glaring around atthe shadowed grasses."There better not be any snakes out there." I whisper so quietly that probably even thecameras cant pick it up. "I mean it. Youll regret coming near me." I say, shifting the axeinto a more stable position, ready to bring it down on any offending snaky necks—dosnakes have necks? Are they just one long neck? Or one long tail? Ive never understoodthat.Theres no response from the grass. "Yeah, thats right. You better run." I say, thoughsnakes cant actually run. I lie down warily after checking behind me for unwantedreptiles, reluctant to try and sleep.This is going to be even less fun than Id thought. And thats really, really sayingsomething.
  • 22. Chapter SixIm distracted from my uneasy scanning of the area by the sky lighting up and theanthem playing, the daily death toll. I stare up at the screen in the sky, wondering inpassing what would happen if the hovercraft were to drop it. I mean, I know it probablywont happen, but itd be awfully convenient if they were to crush a couple tributes.Then the image on the screen switches to the boy from Three, who stood next to me atthe Cornucopia. He didnt live long past that, clearly. Then his district partner is flashingin the sky, Three dead in the bloodbath as usual. Then theres Rafi, which surprises me alittle, but I cant say Im too devastated. One less Career is always good. Both from Five,and then the psycho from Six. I feel sorry for Celine (if shes even real) because the wayhe talked to her suggested they were sweethearts. Sucks to be her.Then Junipers in the sky, looking as if the photographer surprised him. Poor Juniper. Justsome pimply kid who didnt deserve to die. Its a short and not especially flatteringeulogy, but the only one I can give and probably the only one hes going to get.Then theres the girl from Nine, and both from Twelve (that comes as no surprise), theanthem plays again and the sky goes dark. Thirteen dead kids. That leaves me with allthe Careers except Rafi, the little pixie, the boy from Nine, both from Ten, and both fromEleven. I should probably be more upset that thirteen children have just been murdered,but I honestly just feel tired. Gross, sweaty, tired. Which is such a lovely image to bebroadcasting to Panem. In the next few days Ill be expected to either do some killing orget killed myself, and I dont really want to think about that.Bright stars, brighter than in Seven, have come out in the sky, and a huge yellow tingedmoon is starting to rise. Its kinda a nice image, and I think I might actually be able tosleep. Even a little breeze has picked up—what am I saying? I cant sleep. Not with theCareers and the snakes and the other tributes. Were all in this field, blundering arounduntil our inevitable and bloody run-ins. No, sleep is out. I can rest, but I cant sleep.I manage to hold out for about a minute, but I know I cant keep it up and convincemyself that it couldnt hurt to just close my eyes. Itll just make my hearing betteranyway and thats whats important in this grass…Im woken by the sun pressing on my eyelids. Crap. I fell asleep after all. But evidently, Iwasnt found because Im still alive. I just got lucky, but at least I also got some sleep. Iopen my eyes to the glaring sun and make to sit up, but before I can I realize what thatstrange weight is. Right where my ribcage ends, there lies a perfectly coiled snake.Holy…there isnt even an expletive to describe the insane jolt of panic that runs throughme. I freeze, eyes locked onto the reptile. Of course the Gamemakers picked up on metelling the snakes to keep their distance, with all their fancy instruments. And nowtheyre using my fear to toy with me. This cant possibly make for good television,theyre probably doing it for their own amusement. Sick fucks. What am I supposedto do? If I try to move the napping snake, itll wake up. If I try to wriggle away, itll wakeup.The snake is black, with bands of red. Does that mean its venomous? Or does it have tobe yellow as well? This is the Hunger Games. Of course its venomous. Its not especiallylarge, but could certainly do some damage. I have to get out of here. Maybe, maybe, Ican get away without waking it?
  • 23. I hold my breath and try to tilt slightly to the side, bracing against the ground with myarm and getting ready to jump up and run. The snake is just beginning to slide to theside when it shifts slightly. I freeze and inspect it closely. Did I just imagine themovement? It certainly seems to be asleep now. I tilt further and the snake looks like itreally is just going to fall off of me when its head lifts.We both move at the same time. I flail backwards, forgetting about caution, and thesnake (still, unfortunately, on my stomach) springs forward. Not away from me, but rightat my left arm. I know immediately that its a direct hit—the pain, the blood, how could itnot be? The snake drops to the ground and vanishes into the grass, leaving me trying ashard as I can not to cry. It hurts so, so much. That was nothing like the snakes in Seven.I hate them as well, but theyre little things, gentle. We dont bother them and they dontbother us. I think that the snake only managed to get me with one fang, but its enough.Theres too much blood, it hurts so much, I feel a little dizzy. Is it from venom, or justmental? Surely, surely the snake was venomous. What am I supposed to do? Thoughweve got our fair share of snakes in Seven, they dont bite, so our knowledge ofhandling this sort of situation is rather limited. Arent I supposed to suck out the poison?Better than doing nothing. I clamp down on my arm just below the elbow, where the biteseems to be (its hard to tell with all the blood) and begin trying to draw out the venom.Im spitting mouthful after mouthful of blood, wondering just how much I can stand tolose. Its refusing to congeal, and I dont think Im getting the venom out. I dont knowwhat the Gamemakers have done to it, but I know its bad. I can see that the skin istightening, turning a red more vibrant than the blood. Theres a sensation that could belikened to the area around the bite being on fire, but that would be an understatement.God, I hate the Gamemakers. This sort of thing cant be natural. My vision begins toswim, and I only manage to direct myself to fall onto the arm that isnt wounded before Ihit the ground.Hoofdstuk 7 ist verswchwunden:P
  • 24. Chapter EightThe sun is beginning to set when I finally wake up. And my god, sore is anunderstatement. I can barely move without protest from every joint in my body, and myarm is so numb I have to look over and make sure its still there. I try to stand, but Isoon find thats out of the question for a little while, so instead I take inventory of mysituation.Im alive. Wounded, but alive. Whatever sort of venom the Gamemakers injected intothat snake, I probably didnt get enough to kill me. I dont think Ill be able to use myarm properly for a while, because the skin has sort of bubbled up, its red and streaky.Im still adrift in this field. Water could be miles away, and Ill need water if I want tolive.And duh, I want to live. So I force myself to take hold of the pack and my axe and standup. Blood rushes into my head and I think I might collapse again, but I tell my body veryspecifically what to do and manage to set off walking. I know where Im going, I can tellby the sun, but its almost nightfall and soon Ill be walking blind.Luckily, walking in a straight line isnt all that hard. Ive always had a good sense ofdirection, so Im pretty sure Im going in the right direction. The death toll happens righton time, as soon as the sun goes down. The girl from Ten and the boy from Two aredead—maybe the Careers jumped the girl but she managed to take one down with her.Whatever. Doesnt affect me. All I have to do is keep hiking through this infernal field inthe hopes of finding water. I can go maybe another day without it, and even now Im notfunctioning properly. I stumble every few steps, everything is slightly blurry, my arm isbeginning to ache and pain flares up when its touched by the grass, and my head ispounding.Hours later, my backpack feels like it weighs a thousand pounds and the axe feels tentimes heavier. (I cant do the math, because my mind is so foggy.) I shouldnt be so outof it yet, that shouldnt set in until about noon tomorrow. It must be the venom. Thebright and even somewhat beautiful stars are beginning to fade by the time I decide thatI may as well just give up. If I cant get water, I wont be able to recover from thesnakebite. And the bite prevents me from getting water.Is that irony, or just a sick coincidence? I stumble to a stop and sit down, trying to keepmy bad arm from the grass. And I had fully intended on making good on my promise tomother, winning and going home…only to be thwarted by a stupid snake…Theres a slight rustling in the grass nearby, and my head snaps to the source of thesound. God, no more snakes. I cant hold out against another bite, thats for sure. I closemy eyes and try to listen hard, find out if the noise is a snake or just some sort of bug.The rustling has stopped, but theres some other sort of background noise. A…rushing. Acontinuous rushing.Like water. Can I hear water? I use the axe to push myself upright, energized by thehope that there might be water so nearby I can hear it. I try to walk in the direction Ithink its coming from, and though each step is incredibly painful I force myself to keepgoing. The rushing gets louder with each step I take, and I think the grass is growingshorter. Yes, the grass is getting shorter, certainly. I can vaguely see something over thegrass if I stand on my toes.
  • 25. The grass takes a sudden drop to waist height, and I see that the "something over thegrass" is trees. Thank god. Water, water, water. I break into a pained and not especiallygraceful run towards the trees that dictate water just beyond them. The sky is justbeginning to light up as I reach the first of the trees. I dont even bother to scan forother tributes, Im in such a rush to reach the water. Theres a small dirt incline that Ialmost trip going down, but then Im surrounded by trees, running over weirdly softgrass thats actually green. Twenty feet away, a large creek runs swiftly. Between meand the creek are plenty of trees—box elders, silver maples, cottonwoods. None of themare very large, but theyre close enough to the trees at home that Im smiling before Iveeven reached the water.I kneel in the little bit of mud that separates the creek from the grass and fill up the far-too-small bottle from the pack. I really just want to jump into the creek, but I cant swimand it looks to be maybe fifteen feet deep in the very middle. Maybe when Im in bettercondition. It kills to be responsible and wait the proper half hour for the iodine to purifythe water, but I manage to do it.At the end of the half hour, water never tasted so good. The bottle empties fast, its sosmall, so I refill it and wait another half hour, watching the sun rise. I decide that Imrehydrated after the fifth bottle, and repeat the process once more to get water to tendto my injuries. The cut on my shoulder is easy to rinse and itll probably be healed prettysoon anyway, but the snakebite is a lot more serious. The water is really painful on theskin, which has tightened and gained a sort of melted look, still red and now tinged withyellow. I decide that I need to bind it and even though its ridiculously painful I tear astrip of cloth from the sleeve of my shirt and wet it, then wrap it around the bite.Once the pain subsides, I do begin to feel a little better. The sun isnt too hot yet, Imsurrounded by trees, Ive got water, and at least for now I should be safe from the othertributes. So I find a good tree and climb it, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep. ThoughIve actually slept for about half of the Games so far, my night of stumbling through thefield has left me drained. And if I can stock up on sleep now, Ill only be better off later.So I shimmy up the trunk of a relatively large silver maple and try to hide myself in thebranches, in the unlikely case a tribute comes along. I dont need to strap myself to thetree or anything, I can keep my balance even when asleep (I speak from experience—butdont tell the foreman).The sun is beating when I wake up, too hot even through the leaves of the tree. Imthirsty again and I dont think Ill be able to fall back asleep, so I jump down from thetree into the soft grass. I get more water and sit in the grass, eating a few of thecrackers from my pack while I wait for the iodine to run its course. The crackers taste alot like sawdust, but theyre food. And yes, I do know what sawdust tastes like. Refer toan unfortunate field trip to a sawmill in my first year of school.It feels a little foolhardy to just be sitting out in the open, but Im almost certain I couldtake on any of my fellow tributes if they were to show up. I could split open their skullwith my axe before they can blink, from twenty feet away. I guess that Smiley is the onlyone I really have to worry about, and shes got the other Careers holding her back. Iwonder how long itll be until she kills their dumb asses. Probably a day or so. Then I canbe worried.I should probably get moving, try to track down some tributes, but that would involvegoing back into the field and I really dont want to do that. Its nice here, cool in theshade, I have water, Im well rested, my injuries arent really bothering me at themoment. I think Ill stay here, lying in the grass and staring at the sky, for a whilelonger. But I cant sit still for long and begin to get antsy after only a few minutes, I need
  • 26. to occupy myself with something. I really dont want to leave my creek yet, to that fieldfull of those vile snakes and the tributes out for my blood, so I decide to wade in theshallower part of the creek for a while. To wash off the blood and sweat of the past fewdays, you understand. I leave my shoes and socks on the bank, then decide to hell withit and leave the rest of my clothes with them. Not a big deal. Though I do keep on thegrey undergarments that were a part of the uniform—this is on national television, andthere are kids watching.I keep the axe within a seconds reach while I wade in five feet of water, trying to keepvigilant. I should be more worried than I am, but I cant help it. I guess thats my fatalflaw, being too self-assured. But I have good reason to be, honestly. I just sort of hangaround in the cool water for a little while, knowing that I cant make it to the oppositebank where I can see a grassy area similar to the one on this side. But thats a littleboring, so I spend some time trying to teach myself to swim in the shallow water. Salwas always going on and on about how he wanted to learn to swim, and I always calledhim weird for it. Such a random thing for a Seven to want. But I think he may have hada point—though I can only manage an uncoordinated splashy stroke, and only for a fewseconds, swimming is a lot of fun.Youre not here to have fun. I decide that Ive indulged myself for far too long. I forcemyself out of the water and get dressed again, now slightly damp. My arm is still achingand a little bit of that fiery feeling has come back, but I can get along. Even without myleft arm, I can still climb the tallest tree in the area to try and get a look at the arenafrom above.The tree is an unusually tall cottonwood, and I have to walk about ten minutesdownstream to find it. But when I scale the branches as high as theyll hold me, the walkis worth it. The tree is easily taller than the dirt incline leading to my creek, and when Ifinally peer out of the leaves I can see the field stretching far into the distance and get agood idea of how the prairie is organized. From what I can tell, the grass is tallest nearerto me, and goes down to a regular grass height in the distance. I cant see any tributes,but I do try to find them. If I want to get out of here, theyre going to have to die. (Sadbut true.)I find a good spot and lean against the trunk of the cottonwood, resigning myself tohours of surveillance. The day slips past and I see no tributes, not even a movement inthe grass or a shadow in the distance. Whereis everyone? Its midafternoon when Idecide that I cant just sit in this tree and wait for tributes to come to me. Time to getpreemptive. So I drop down out of the tree, not enjoying the thought of going back intothe grass. But at least now I have somewhere to return to.I climb back up the incline and unhappily reenter the grass, carefully watching my stepfor snakes. How many hours can I spend looking for tributes before I must return to thecreek? Its been a slow day, so I should probably make for the creek when night falls.Who knows what the Gamemakers have planned to make these Games more interesting?Id rather be somewhere marginally safe when they decide to liven things up. Id put thetime around four right now, so Ive got a little while.The field is just as horrible as before, the sun beating down and the grass scratchy,though I dont see any snakes. The temperature must be over a hundred, and I know Imgoing to be wicked sunburnt tomorrow. If Im alive tomorrow. Yes, I will be alivetomorrow. Im going to win this and go home. Whatever the cost. Its only thosethoughts that keep me walking forward through the damned field, knowing that its allgoing to be worth it. Each step is a step closer to home.
  • 27. It must be six and Im considering turning back when I hear it. The crackling of dry grassunderfoot. I freeze, wondering if that was just me taking an unusually loud step. But no,there it is again. Not a regular step, more of a stumble and a dragging noise. A woundedtribute. This will be beyond easy. I try to move towards the tribute in question as quietlyas possible, though they wont be able to run anyway.Somewhere in the back of my mind, those pesky little voices are trying to stop me. Whatare you doing, injured and unprepared, this is pure murder, that tribute is innocent, howcan you do this? But I cant allow myself to listen because how am I going to get home ifI let morals get in the way? I can sort all that out later. So I just slip quietly through thegrass, following the footsteps.I see the tribute, the boy from Nine, before he sees me. I come up behind him, seeingthat indeed he was injured very badly, probably at the Cornucopia—he wont live long,even if I dont kill him. (But just letting him go wont sit well with the sponsors.) Justabove the knee, hes tied his sweater in a sort of bandage around a wound so bloody thatthe sweater is almost entirely soaked red. Im squaring off against my target, his neck,when he makes to turn to the left. I try to disappear further into the grass separating us,but its already too late and hes seen me.I give up on trying to make this a clean kill and just shift my hands to a stable hold onthe handle of the axe, ready to spring forward and make contact however possible. Theboy has just enough time to sigh in relief because oh thank god its only her when thatshiny silver axe blade is inches deep in his skull. The cannon fires, and Johanna Masonhas one tribute on her kill list.Quick, probably mostly painless. It was that fast. That easy. It shouldnt have been thateasy. I dont mean that he should have put up more of a fight, because he was aweakling to begin with and wounded by the time I got to him. But shouldnt I havestopped myself, listened to those little voices? Its one thing to kill, but a cold-blooded hitfrom behind…Shut up, shut up, shut up. Shut up, Johanna. Youre going home, and whoever stands inyour way is just making a mistake. Its what you have to do. No its not, I dont have todo anything—yes it is. These tributes are just obstacles in your way, now wipe the bloodoff your axe and clear out. The hovercraft will be here soon.So I do that. I wipe as much of the blood possible off onto the ground and sling the axeover my shoulder, heading back to my creek for the night just as the sun begins to set.And just to please the sponsors, I whistle a little tune as I walk. See? Johanna Mason isunbroken. Couldnt care less.(But somewhere in my mind, I know thats not true.)
  • 28. Chapter NineI arrive at the creek just before the sun goes down. Ive got some time before the deathtoll, so I set more water to purify while waiting. Im pretty sure that the only death todaywas my kill, the boy from Nine (I dont know his name). But I was asleep for a while, Icould have missed something.I watch the sky from the grass, wondering if the sunset Im looking at is even real or justsome apparition on a huge screen. Are we penned in, under a dome of some sort? Myunfortunate case of claustrophobia begins to creep up my spine, and to prove to myselfthat I have plenty of room I flop onto my back, throwing my arms out to the sides. See?Lots of space. Im still lying down in the grass when the sky lights up with the death toll.As Id thought, just the boy from Nine appears in the sky. That leaves me with fourCareers, the pixie girl, and Linnea. Of course, there are also the two from Ten andLinneas district partner, but I dont think theyre really threats.The anthem plays once more and the sky goes dark. I re-bind the snakebite, which hurtsjust as much as before but only when I touch it—otherwise its just sort of numb andfeels a little tingly. (Its also now turned an extremely disturbing yellow-blue color, whichI dont think can be good.) Ive still got a few crackers left and seeing as Ive eaten justabout nothing over the past few days they suddenly look really, really good. Ive barelyblinked before the last of my food is gone. They confiscated my token, the sucker candy,because I guess they thought I might try to eat it. Not that I would, because theres somuch inedible matter on it that itd probably make me really sick if not kill me, but Illprobably be pretty desperate by the time I get out of here.So what am I supposed to do for food now? Can I eat snakes? God, I hope not. Theyreprobably poisonous anyway. I guess that the snakes have to eat something other thantributes, so maybe I can find mice in the field or whatever. And I might even have asponsor or two at this point, now that theyve seen what I can do. Well, Ill think ofsomething.But right now, Im going to sleep. The audience might have been satisfied with my killearlier, but chances are that the Gamemakers have something not entirely pleasantplanned for us tributes in the near future. I want to be in the best condition I canmanage when that happens, so I need to rest. I make my way back to the tallcottonwood and scale the tree to the highest branch thatll hold my weight, the one I saton earlier.Im about to drift off when a thought occurs to me. Shouldnt I be more upset? After all, Ikilled a boy today. Not two hours ago. I ought to be…I dont know, crying or something.Praying. Asking his district, his family for forgiveness. I should be disregarding the rulesIve put in place for myself, forgetting about how hes just a felled obstacle in my pathhome. But instead Im accepting them as the truth. Is something wrong with me? Thisisnt normal, surely.Johanna, this is the last time Im telling you. Shut up and go to sleep before I smack youinto next Tuesday. I tell myself, gritting my teeth and willing my mind to leave me aloneso I can sleep another slightly chilly night away. I manage to keep from further worryabout my lack of distress at the kill, and do eventually fall into a shallow, restless sleep. Isurface over and over, and I know this is going to be one of those nights where you wakeup more tired than you went to sleep. At some point in the early hours of the morningIm no longer sure whats real and what Im dreaming, but then Im pulled into real
  • 29. consciousness by the flashing of a light on the ground. I perk up and pinch myself toinduce some clarity, and I can just make out voices from the ground."Put that out, you idiot!" the circle of light sweeps to the side all of a sudden, likesomeones hitting the flashlight its surely coming from. The voice sounds female, but itshard to tell."Why should I? No one is here." That voice is definitely that of a male tribute. TheCareers? I freeze, hoping to not be seen. I cant take on all of the Careers at once."Theyre asleep, of course. But you could wake the dead with that thing." Says the firstvoice."Its not that bright." The boy says defensively, but the light flicks off. The voices soundto be near the base of my tree, and though they dont know Im here I still hold mybreath. I cant fight two tributes, even if theyre not the Careers.The first voice sighs. "Thank you.""For what?" The boy teases, trying to make the first person give him a proper apology."For recognizing that Im always right, now shut the hell up!" the first voice says, walkinga little closer. I decide that its a girl. Maybe the pair from Ten?"Ooh, rawr. This isnt the best time to be PMSing, you know." The boy says, following thegirl, who spins on him and puts her hands on her hips. I can see both of them throughthe leaves now, facing off maybe ten feet away. I cant make out too much, because itsso dark, and I still dont know who they are."Dont make me regret teaming up with you. Oh, wait. I already do." The girl says,taking a step towards the boy. The amount of venom in her voice is enough to make theboy take a step back, and he holds up his hands defensively."Whoa, calm down." I think he might be about to apologize and theyll just go on theirmerry way, but then he says "Its just the hormones talking.""You are an utter idiot. Its a miracle we havent been killed yet.""Yeah, because of your constant bitching.""No, because you seem to have a complete disregard for caution and safety and not tomention the whole fire debacle—""What, you think you can scare me with some big words? Nice try, Rachel.""Im not trying to scare you. Im simply talking and if youre too stupid to see that whatIm saying is the truth then—""Im not stupid! Stop treating me like I am! Ever since you got that fancy job in town,you think youre all that. And let me just tell you that youre—""I got that fancy job in town because I was smart enough to take the opportunity whenit came and pass the tests, unlike someone…"
  • 30. The two are stage whispering, though Im pretty sure that at any moment theyre goingto begin yelling. Its sort of funny to get this look into the lives that I know nothing aboutand will surely be ending soon. The boy hisses something at the girl, Rachel, the two nowforehead to forehead. I cant hear it, but it sounds nasty. Rachel gasps in outrage, and Iguess he touched a nerve."You know what? Im done with this." Rachel says, voice tight. It sounds like the boytries to say something else, but he cuts off halfway through and theres a cannon shot.The boy collapses out of my sight. Whoa. Thats sudden. Or maybe not: from the soundsof their argument, theyve not been on the best of terms. I guess she finally just hadenough? Rachel sighs and pockets her knife, then kneels down to take the boys pack.This is my chance.I drop down out of the tree, landing in a crouch. I can take on one girl, even if she isarmed. She did in the boy for me, now I just have to get her and thats two obstaclesgone in five minutes. Good progress. The expression of shock on Rachels face is almostcomical as she stumbles to her feet, fumbling for the knife shes just put away. I imaginehow this looks from her perspective: a mystery tribute materializes out of nowhere,armed with a deadly-looking axe, and stares at her with a little smile before taking a stepforward and shifting the axe to gather more momentum when swung.Yeah, shes scared.Well, not for long. Rachels only just pulled her knife when I make my move, closing thespace between us in about a second and connecting the blade of the axe with her neck.Theres a spurt of blood, and then a cannon shot. Thats two tributes Ive killed now. Ididnt hit hard enough to decapitate her, so Ive got to yank the axe out of herneck. Well, thats just lovely, I think, wiping the axe on the grass. Two tributes less tofight. Two tributes closer to home. Thats all this is.This is turning out to be a pretty quick Games. Three days in and already were down tonine tributes. Or has it been four days? How long was I out after the snakebite? Doesntmatter. It cant be long before the Careers turn on each other now. Or, more realistically,Smiley kills them all. Shes the one to watch here. Well, Linnea is clearly also a threatand the pixie girl is a danger as well. And then theres me. Us four deadly girls. Wellprobably be the last ones left to fight. (And Ill be winning that fight.)The sun will be coming up soon, so I decide to quickly go through the two tributes packsand get back to the field, to try and track down another tribute. (The faster these Gamesare over, the less chance the Gamemakers have to mess with us.) The two must havebeen sharing one backpack, because Rachel doesnt have one of her own. They have alittle food, meat jerky and incredibly stale bread. Enough for maybe two days, if I donteat much. A half-full water bottle of a more reasonable size than mine. A roll ofbandages, only a little missing. Something labeled as sunscreen—medicine of some sort?Its certainly not food, as I find out a little late.I bind the snakebite with the bandages from their packs, trying to be as gentle with it aspossible. Mostly its just sore and achy, but actual contact brings waves of pain. I dontthink I got all of the venom out, and I dont want to agitate it any more than I have to.Theyll fix me up when I get to the Capitol, I just have to hold out until then.The sun begins to rise, and I reluctantly head back into the field. I cant just hang aroundand wait for the other tributes to kill each other, as much as Id like to. So its a long dayof trudging through the grass, backpack heavier than ever with the extra water. Not that
  • 31. Im unhappy about the water—today feels like the hottest day yet, and I know Id begetting sunburnt if I wasnt already red head-to-toe. I give the sunscreen a try aroundnoon, thinking that the name might signify it heals sunburn. It doesnt, and Im prettysure that my blood is going to start boiling if the sun gets any hotter."How hard would it be for them to give us some rain, honestly?" I mutter to myself,glaring at the ground while I walk. My only comfort is that the other tributes must be justas unhappy.Theres about ten seconds delay, and then it all begins to happen very fast. First, theresa cannon shot. I look up, and realize that I just looked up without squinting. The sun hasbeen covered by a very thin veil of clouds, blown in by the quick wind starting to pick up.Another cannon shot. The wind gets faster, bending the grass forward. Its still too tall tosee over, what with the probable genetic modification allowing it to stand against thewind, but I have to struggle to stay in place. The wind dies down a little, just in time tohear the third cannon shot and the fourth in quick succession. That must be the Careersturning on each other, as is inevitable. I dont know why whoevers doing the killingresorted to a fight, didnt stab the others while they slept. Maybe they just snapped, likeRachel? Tensions build in the heat, after all. Ive been on edge all day, and I wasnt withfour other people who would very soon be my mortal enemies. Whatever the reason,were now down to five. Me, the pixie, Linnea, her district partner, and a Career. Almostcertainly Smiley.Another gust of wind through the grass manages to push me forward a few inches. Aquick glance at the sky reveals that a bank of storm clouds has rolled in, the sun is nowcompletely covered. Its like the Gamemakers have made it their mission to screw withmy mind. I warn the snakes to stay away from me, they make sure I get bitten. I ask forrain, they send me a storm.And what a storm it is. Just like in that story mother told us, weather on the prairie getsugly fast. A light rain begins to fall, and Im glad for about a second. Then the wind picksup further and the rain gets heavier, painful when it hits my bite. Back to the creek?There are trees there, shelter from the storm. But what about lightning? Trees attractlightning like nobodys business, at least in Seven where theyre the tallest thingsaround. But I dont think that I have any choice, because this storm has crossed that linewhere its not just an inconvenience, this is going to be really dangerous in a fewseconds.Not that danger is any change. Still. Ill feel safer surrounded by trees, and an illusion ofsafety is as close as Im getting. I turn back, hoping to make it to the creek before thisgets really bad. I can take cover in a tree, wait out the storm.But of course, its not easy. The wind has picked up to howling proportions, pushing meto the side with every step and whipping through the grass, flattening it to the ground.Id be in danger of being seen by the other tributes if rain wasnt coming down in sheets,making seeing more than a few inches in front of my face impossible. Im stumblingblind, arm on fire and no idea if Im even going towards the creek anymore.My sense of direction has utterly abandoned me, I could be walking in circles. I could bewalking towards the edge of a cliff or right at another tribute, and Id have no idea. Onlythe knowledge that giving up would put me utterly at the Gamemakers mercy (as long asIm being entertaining, they wont kill me off) keeps me moving forward. Minutes, hours,days, I dont know how long the storm howls on, I dont know how long I blunder
  • 32. through the leveled grass. Exhaustion is beginning to set in, I dont think I can keepgoing much longer, when I see a shape through the sheets of grey rain. I try to shieldmy eyes with a hand, squint through the driving rain, see if Im looking at a tribute orwhat. No, its too big for a tribute. I take a few steps closer, almost tripping over theclumped grass the ground. My cottonwood. Its my tree.Oh, thank god. Im saved. I begin to stagger with renewed energy, ready to just cling toa branch of my tree and wait for this storm to end. The Gamemakers cant keep it goingforever, the audience would get bored. But Ive been so numbed by this freezing rainthat when I reach the edge of the dirt incline leading to my creek, I trip over my foot andgo pitching down the small hill, head over heels.I swear that my life flashes before my eyes. I shit you not, I do a three-sixty flip. I landin an uncoordinated crouch, sighing with relief. But the incline is muddy and running withrain, and I slip again. A rather colorful collection of swear words runs through my headas I roll down the hill, cutting myself or hitting on every single freaking stick and rock inthe hill. I dont remember the dirt being this rocky before. Maybe because before I wasntrolling down it at a ridiculous speed, just trying to get to my feet. I almost manage it,too.But the grass is slick with rain as well, the wind is still whipping across the arena atbreakneck speeds, and Im not really operating at full capacity right now. I manage touse my momentum from the fall down the hill to propel myself upright, but unfortunatelythat same momentum sends me toppling backwards into the creek with an ungracefuland slightly embarrassing windmilling of my arms that causes me to drop my axe,hopefully on the ground.The creek has gone from calm and barely moving to swelled and agitated with the storm,and Im immediately wishing that I spent a little more time teaching myself to swim. Butsomehow, I dont think it would have done much good. Because the creek has risen justenough to take away any control of mine, tossing me about in the churning water likeWanes ragdoll when that dog got a hold of it. Unfortunately, the creek still isntespecially deep and Im hitting the rocks on the bottom every few seconds. I can feelmyself getting cut even through the relentless beating of the water, and I eventually justtry to tuck my bitten arm and my head in a moderately safe position, waiting to bob tothe surface for another panicked breath before being sucked back under.However this ends, it aint gonna be pretty.
  • 33. Chapter TenThe second I hit the riverbank, I scramble to get a hold of something. The slippery,muddy grass works against me but I manage to latch onto a rock and pull my head outof the water. I spend about ten seconds sucking oxygen, but when Im almost pulledback under I summon whatever strength I have left and pull myself onto the riverbank,where I proceed to cough up a ridiculous amount of water and try to breathe as much aspossible at the same time. I deem myself properly oxygenated after about a minute andflop onto my back, closing my eyes against the still driving rain.I lie there for who knows how long, trying to ignore the pain from the injuries that thetumble through the creek induced. Keeping conscious is hard enough, because I hit myhead pretty hard a few seconds before slamming up against the riverbank. But eventuallythe rain begins to die down, then theres a ray of sun across my closed eyelids, and thenthe storm is gone as quickly as it began.I sigh and wonder if I could just stay here for a while longer. Im so tired. But no, I haveto assess my condition and retrieve the axe from the other side of the creek. Thenmaybe I can sleep. After that, of course, I have to track down the remaining few tributes.But Ill take this one step at a time. First, see just how badly that little escapade has hurtme. I know I didnt get away unharmed, because I can feel an unusual amount of pain,but its sort of all over and I dont know what specifically has been hurt.Mostly Ive just got minor cuts, bruises, scrapes, stuff not really worth worrying about.Im covered almost head to toe in the small injuries, bloody and purple where Im notsunburnt. Now thats attractive. I bet all the ladies in the Capitol will be rushing out toget my look. I try to remind myself that I dont give a crap about Capitol fashions whileinspecting the more serious injuries Ive just received.Luckily, nothing seems to have broken, but Im still not in very good condition. Theres adeep and ragged cut going halfway down my shin, though it isnt bleeding so much. Areally nasty looking bruise across my lower ribcage that hurts a lot when I try to move.Not much to be done about that. Most worryingly, a spot right in the middle of myforehead that hurts too much to touch. No blood, just a deep pain. If Sal were here, hedprobably make some joke about me not having to worry about brain damage because Idont have a brain in the first place. Then Id shove him into the creek. Or maybe not—the storm may have given way to late afternoon sun, but the creek is still agitated andcertainly not safe to try and cross. And theres my axe, right there on the other sidewhere I dropped it. In the mud by the edge of the water. I wont be able to get to it untilthe water calms down, but I feel a little testy without it near me. I know that there areprobably no other tributes on this side of the creek, surely none of them can swim, but Istill feel all too vulnerable without the axe. And vulnerable isnt really my thing.I swear to myself that first thing tomorrow Im getting back across the creek. Even if itsnot back down to normal, I have to have my axe. Until then, I have some time to kill. Mypack stayed on my back so I have my supplies, soaked but mostly unharmed. They gotluckier than I did, thats for sure. Well, the sunscreen is ruined, but its useless anyway. Ibind up my cuts with the bandages and fix the wrappings around the snakebite (whichhas been miraculously spared from further harm in the creek, but has sort of swollen andturned a purple-yellow color). The bread is soaked and itll be covered in mold by thistime tomorrow, so I go ahead and just eat it while I can. That leaves me with food formaybe a day, though I can go without food if I have to for a while.
  • 34. Now that Ive tended to my injuries and eaten something, Im more than ready to sleep.So I find a silver maple that I think will probably do the job of hiding me and climb upinto the branches. The ascent is a little difficult, because Im so beat-up, but I can stillmanage it. The sun is beginning to sink in the sky by the time I work past the pain andinto a shallow sleep, and Im woken by the anthem far too quickly.The death toll begins with the pair from One, the boy from Two, the girl from Four. As Idthought, Smiley is the remaining Career. Then theres a picture of the pixie girl giving thecamera a coy little smile. I guess she must have died in the storm—maybe she stumbledinto another tribute, or the wind hit her at an unfortunate angle? She was so small, itwouldnt take much to toss her into the air…well, she did remarkably for someone of hersize. Then theres the pair from Ten, Rachel and her district partner. Busy day. Wellprobably get through the night without further incident.Im a little worried by the utter lack of remorse I feel looking at Rachel in the sky.Honestly, this cant be normal. There should be at least some sort of emotion. I bet thateven a Career would feel something. Whatever. Its good that I dont care. Morepractical. Gets me just that much closer to home. And heck, when I win Ill have enoughmoney to visit the head doctor who has an office in town. I can work it out then.I lean back against the trunk of the tree and prepare for a very uncomfortable night. Iwas so battered by that little tumble in the creek that even just breathing hurts, mybitten arm keeps prickling and theres a constant twinge of pain from it, and that spot onmy forehead is still radiating a deep, dull pain. Im edgy without my axe in arms reach,knowing that Im basically defenseless against, say, Smiley and her arrows. And not tomention, everything is still wet. I tell myself that it wont hurt once Im asleep andeventually drift off uneasily.But I of course have to wake up at some point. So when the sun rises, I drag my tired,beat up ass out of the tree and prepare to cross the creek. The water has gone down alittle over the night, but I dont think its quite safe yet. Too bad. I need that axe if I wantto get out of here alive, and there it is in the riverbank where its been since I dropped ityesterday.The water rushes over my boots when I step into the creek. I wade as far as possible,trying to keep my direction straight and ignore the frigid cold of the water. I have toswim when I reach the halfway point, though swim isnt really the right verb. More like"try to keep my head above water and move forward a little while the current shoves medownstream at a worryingly rapid pace". I manage to touch onto the ground and pullmyself, sputtering somewhat, from the water. I have to follow the creek back upstreamfor about ten minutes to get to where I started, but Im cheered when Ive finallyretrieved the axe. Its mostly unharmed, a little scratched, and I take a little time towash off the mud in the creek. For purely aesthetic reasons. Im not worried about theglint of the blade attracting attention from the other tributes, because Im sure as hellnot hiding from them.There are four tributes left. The boy from Eleven is probably the easiest kill still in thearena, I dont know how hes even stayed alive so long…unless…could someone else beusing my strategy? Is he flying under the radar to deflect attention? No, he cant be.Maybe hes trying, but though I dont remember much about him from training I know hegot a five as his score, which means he isnt trying to hide any talents or is too stupid todo it well. So hes not anything to worry about.
  • 35. I make to climb up the incline, avoiding the water rushing down the hill in a quick movingstream. It seems to be spilling over from the field above us, taking the path of leastresistance and flowing where there was already a path in the ground. I slip a little due tothe mud, but manage to make it up the hill and survey the storm damaged prairie. Thelandscape has changed so dramatically that Im not sure what Im looking at for amoment.The rain and wind have managed to push down the resilient grass and the field has beencompletely leveled—I can see for miles into the distance without the grass in the way.Theres maybe ten inches of water on the ground, spilling towards the edge of the inclinedown to the creek. The flattened grass underwater is waving slightly with the current,almost as if its being blown in the wind. Lets just hope that all of the snakes havedrowned, I think grimly, setting off into the grass. I dont like being so exposed, no treesaround me, not even the grass to provide cover. But itll make finding the other tributeseasy.The sun has made a full recovery from the storm yesterday and Im honestly a littleworried that the water on the ground is going to start boiling by mid-morning. The heatis painful on my many small injuries from the stream and the more serious wounds donttake too kindly to it either. Well, the spot on my forehead is mostly unaffected, seeing asthats an internal wound, but it still hurts. The pain has receded to a deep, resonatingache, and I know it cant be good. Its still too painful to touch and I dont know whatswrong exactly.Im not making any headway with the whole "find everyone and kill them so you can gethome before the Gamemakers pull any more sadistic tricks" agenda, and Im wonderingjust how to locate the other tributes. Theres no cover on this giant plain, with the sunbeating down as it is finding the tributes should be insanely easy. Bad luck, I guess. Youknow, I never used to believe in luck, but since breaking that mirror I think its beenmaking a case for its existence. The lousy fortune Ive been having in the arena seems tobe sending some sort of message from the universe. And Ive got seven more years ofthis shit to get through.My luck doesnt improve around one in the afternoon, when I see the tribute. Small anddark, maybe a mile away. Theres no one else that I can see, so I know that when theycollapse and the cannon fires it must have been a distance kill. Smiley, then. Shootingfrom some safe spot on the other end of the field. But even shes not good enough toshoot from so far away she cant be seen.Impulsively, I hit the ground. Maybe Smiley has some sort of gadget that allows her tosee long distances, maybe shes found some sort of cover in the grass, who knows. I liein the water, ignoring the pain of the grass on my injuries, until I begin to feel a littleridiculous. But I dont want to stand up, who knows if Smiley is just waiting for me to doso? So I do some sort of bizarre crawl with my elbows, knowing how stupid I look. Betterthan being dead, but Sals never going to let this one go. Its a long afternoon later whenI finally reach the end of the field and allow myself to stand, to make my way back downthe hill and take cover in a tree for the rest of the day.I have to formulate a new plan, because obviously just going out and hunting down theothers on the plain isnt going to work. I climb my cottonwood to consider the problem—only to find someone else already in it. I have to say, the shock of seeing the eyesstaring back at me through the leaves is enough to make me jump. One of the eyes isswelled shut, a large cut across it and bruising mottling the dark brown skin in the area.The other eye widens in surprise, but quickly narrows into a glare.
  • 36. My mind kicks into high gear, thinking faster than I could do consciously. Obviously, thetribute is Linnea. Or, by her somewhat silly alias, Scythe. Whatever. Shes dangerous.Wounded, clearly, but Im almost certainly much worse off. Ill need every advantage Ican get to face this girl, with all her skill.So I give a little shriek and fall from the branch, making sure that I land upright butpromptly end up on my butt. I scramble backwards, shrugging the backpack off andtossing it to the side. I hold the axe like I dont know what to do with it, hoping to foolLinnea as she less-than-gracefully drops from the tree. The side of her shirt is torn and Ican clearly see a lot of bloody bandages below the tear, but she otherwise seems to bedoing alright. She hasnt lost a lot of weight, she clearly has been in her element thisentire time, the endless prairie mimicking where she worked in Eleven.Shes got a short sword with a slight curve to the blade in her hand, and I pretend to sortof lose it when she experimentally swings it through the air. You know, shaking, slightwhimper, eyes wide. Linnea isnt one to waste time with theatrics, and just makes herattempt on my life without chit-chat. I appreciate that. (The lack of theatrics, not theattack.) I manage to roll to the side and just barely escape the swing of her sword-likeweapon, thinking ten steps ahead of where I am now. Obviously, I have to fight back,but I dont know how to do that without giving up my act. I mean, it wont matter onceshes dead, but if I miss…Linneas not even fighting me like a real enemy right now, onceshe sees what I can do…She swings again, and I duck the sword by about half an inch. Split seconds count, and Ispring to my feet and move a little to the side. Linnea does some weird twirly thing withthe sword that I dont think can be of much practical use (but it sure looks cool) whileshe advances further. The creek is only inches away by the time I stop backing up andshe stops coming forward, because shes got me cornered and we both know it. I go anyfurther back, and Ill fall in the water. Then Id be an absurdly easy kill.It looks to happen ten times slower that it really does, my mind is working so fast.Linnea takes a swing at my neck, powerful and fast, but Im faster. The force from herswing carries her into a bit of a spin and helps me when I lean back just far enough forthe blade to barely miss my beck and then take a step forward, building up as muchmomentum as possible. I shift my hold on the axe to the most stable position I can get inthe time allowed and Im hurling the axe at her abdomen. The axe just barely leaves myhands, flying through the air for about half a second before its up to the handle in thebase of Linneas ribcage. She gasps, stumbles backwards, hits the ground. She holds onfor maybe ten seconds, wheezing for breath, in pain and in shock, while I stand frozen.Linneas cannon fires and shes dead.Something about this death feels weirdly personal, maybe because it actually came to afight or because Ive been paying attention to her since the beginning. Whatever thereason, I feel more like Ive actually killed a person instead of just another tribute.Linnea, Scythe, the Scary Girl From Eleven, she was a real girl who wanted to go home.She probably has family watching. I have family watching. How does this look to them?Wane and Sal and mother…watching me kill children…Hey, Johanna. Just a friendly suggestion. Why dont you shut the fuck up? Im notallowed to think about those things. Im doing this all to get home to my family, andthey will take me back. They understand, I know they do. So why think about it? Im justwasting energy trying to analyze this.If only it was really that simple.
  • 37. Chapter ElevenI cant stand to spend the quickly approaching night in my cottonwood after whats justhappened, so I head downstream to find a new tree. I make do with a shrimpy silvermaple that I can only climb maybe ten feet up before the branches are too small to holdme. I dont even care about being completely unhidden, because when the death tollappears in the sky, its affirmed. District Eleven is out of the running. The boy dead outof nowhere and Linnea without even really fighting.Just me and Smiley now. Itll all be over this time tomorrow, I can guarantee that. Mostwould probably say that itll be over either in their victory or their death, but I know thatthis can only end one way. My victory. And then I can finally go home to my family anditll all be worth it.To be honest, I dont know why I keep saying that this is all in the name of my family.Truthfully, I dont like Wane and I could care less about my mother. I guess that Sal isthe only person who I even like and were not really that close.But theyre family. And if theres one thing all us Sevens hold as the truth, its that familystays together. Youre stuck with them, and you make it work. The fact that whoeverfathered us Mason kids has disregarded that norm only reinforces our belief that werefamily and thats about as deep a bond you can get. So yeah, it makes sense that Imonly doing this for the three people waiting at home. I wont let them lose anyone else.A quick, cold wind has picked up and I curl up tighter, ready to bunker down for anothernight of very little sleep. But surprisingly, Im not kept up with thoughts of remorse forLinneas death or worry over my family at home and their interpretation of whats goingon, I fall asleep almost immediately. Exhausted from the injuries and the day of huntingand the fight with Linnea. No nightmares or anything.Its only just dawn when I wake up for absolutely no reason. Everything is still damp,theres that early-morning chill to the air, the sky is vaguely lightening with the rising ofthe sun, and the air is charged with anticipation. Figuratively, of course. Smileysanticipation of her final fight—though surely she cant think its going to be much of afight. The audiences anticipation of the culmination of this years Games. My anticipationof my quickly approaching victory.I try to jump down from the tree, but I mostly just fall. All my injuries stiffenedovernight, any movement is painful and jerky. I spend a few moments trying to regainfull control of my body, but give up and decide that Ill loosen up as I walk.And walk I do. I avoid the water streaming into the creek from over the hill, less thanyesterday but still a lot, and climb back up to the field. Im not really surprised to seethat with the draining away of most of the groundwater the grass has made itscomeback, now standing as tall as ever. There are still a good few inches of water on theground, though, and Im glad that whatever these boots are made out of seems to bewaterproof.I know its weird, but this field is beginning to feel a little like home. Six days, not even aweek, and Ive become attached to the arena. Its messed up, that I should like thishellish place, but I cant help it. It feels like I know the dry grass and the creek, thehopefully drowned snakes and the shimmering sun. Not that I dont miss the dark forestsand sawdust in the air of Seven, but this is somehow much more real. It all comes down
  • 38. to the bone in the arena, home seems so far away that I cant even call up an image ofit. This is all thats real.Well, not for much longer. Soon Ill be back home, and this will feel like some nightmareI can just forget about. I try to encourage myself to keep going, find Smiley and just endthis. I walk in the direction that she seems to have been shooting from yesterday whenshe killed the boy from Eleven, hoping to pick up some trace of her and find the girlbefore she finds me. Ill need the element of surprise and my act in full force if I want tooff Smiley. Shes got the advantage of being able to kill from a distance, whereas I canonly throw my axe with accuracy, say, twenty feet. And shes been trained, clearly verywell.Unfortunately, the groundwater makes tracking difficult. I walk for miles and miles,exhausted and in quite a lot of pain by the time I stop to for water. Its late afternoonand the sun is beginning to lose a little of its glare, but the temperate is still far north ofninety. I wonder if Im even recognizable on television, sunburnt, bruised and cut as Iam. Tillie must be in conniptions seeing the state of my hair. Matted and bloody, theyreprobably going to have to cut most of it off when I get back.I stand around for a little while, wishing for shade or a breeze or something. But I dontdare say anything, because going by the Gamemakers track record theyd probably set atornado into motion. To justify my extended water break, I consider my options. Should Igo back to the creek and give up for the day? Or should I keep going and risk spendingthe night in the field again? After all, that didnt work out so well last time. I sigh andbegin walking again, recognizing that I might just have to suck it up and stay in this fieldfor the remainder of the Games in the interests of practicality.Time gains a sort of elasticity as I walk. The sun seems to stop crossing the sky. Italmost looks like Im moving without actually going anywhere, everything looks sosimilar. It could have been hours, it could have been mere minutes when I bump intoSmiley.Im looking at the ground so carefully, trying to pick up any clues as to where she is, thatI dont notice my quarry approaching me until we smack foreheads, her apparentlyintently scanning the ground as well. We both fall back, saying some version of "Ouch!",though both of our versions involve creative swearing. What with my forehead beingalready hurt, I see stars. Weve both clapped a hand to our heads when we look up andrealize that weve just literally run into our only remaining competition.Okay, so its not a very dignified beginning to the last fight of the Sixty-Eighth HungerGames. But its the best anyones getting.Smiley moves faster than me. Ive only just stumbled back a few steps when shesalready got an arrow notched and aimed straight at my heart. Well, Im fucked. Butwhere Linnea wasted no time with theatrics, Smiley allows a few seconds for herunnerving little smile to creep onto her face and lets the anticipation build. She chucklesa little, and Im pretty sure that shes going to launch into some clichéd monologue whenI take advantage of the lag and fall into the groundwater, biting my tongue as hard as Ican. The tears start flowing, and I try to assume the least threatening position possiblewhile still keeping a steady hold on my axe.All the while knowing that this is a total shot in the dark and most likely going to be abloody train wreck of an attempt at survival, I begin doing something that goes againstthe very core of my being. I beg.
  • 39. "Please, please, dont hurt me, I promise I cant do anything to you, Ill just go away andyou wont see me again! Ill die soon anyway, please just dont kill me! I dont want todie yet!" Yech. Sickening stuff. I howl and shake, trying to make it seem like Im moreupset than I am. "Really, youll still win, just give me a little longer, please! Im beggingyou!" I know that the whole situation is balancing on the edge of a knife, because Smileyisnt stupid. Shes seen through my act from the beginning, this probably isnt going toconvince her of anything.But she is human. They tried to train it out of her, she may be too smart for it, but insideevery Career there is a real person. A deadly and unforgiving person, but they have thatinherent and inconvenient tendency to be decent. And thats all I need. That split secondof empathy, of hesitation.All I need to jump up and spin out of the path of her arrow, not yet released, and windup for an extremely powerful swing of my trusted axe. That shiny blade glints in theunmoving suns glare as it splits the air and ends this years Hunger Games. Its a clean,simple kill. The blade ends up inches deep in that hollow between Smileys neck and hershoulder, she collapses. Still smiling a little, eyes not even closed. Her cannon fires andIm the victor.But I dont even process it for a moment. Instead, I bend down next to Smileys bodyand slide her eyelids shut. The action doesnt quite fit with my image of doesnt-give-a-damn, and Im actually not really sure why I do it. I hate the girl, after all. But I guessthat I respect her, even if she couldnt put up a real fight.Claudius Templesmith is booming something in the background, but I cant really hear it.Mostly Im just registering the vibrations of his amplified voice bouncing around in myribcage. Because I did it. I won. Just like I knew I would. Im going home, to my family,to mother and Sal and Wane…no, first Im going back to the Capitol to be fixed up bydoctors. Theyll drain me of venom and heal my head wound and smooth over all theother injuries too numerous to name. Probably cut my hair again, too.Then I get to go home. Back to Seven…there arent words to describe the relief I feel. Itsall over now, barely a week and yet it feels like its been so much longer. But now itsfinished, just a nightmare to forget.Well, its about damned time. While I wait for the hovercraft thatll get me out of thisplace, I spit a mouthful of my own blood from my bitten tongue onto the grass. My littleway of telling the Gamemakers that they can go to hell.And theres no doubt in my mind that they will be. Part Two Chapter TwelvePine.Its the first thing that hits me. The smell of pine. The second I step off the train, Iwonder how Ive never noticed it before. Strong, crisp, bitter, almost sweet…"Johanna!" Comes the squeal from across the platform. I turn to the source of the soundand am quickly almost bowled over by some sort of high-speed projectile. "You did it!"No, wait. Thats Wane. My sister has tossed herself into my arms, babbling on and on
  • 40. about how she knew that Id be coming home just like I promised. Shes heavier than Iremember, which is weird because we all know she isnt getting enough to eat. But Idont really mind, its just such a relief to hold one of the three people I did it all for. Ipull Wane a little closer as the other two people elbow their way through the cameracrews and reporters on the platform. Never mind that I actually kind of hate my littlesister, Ive obsessed on this moment for so long that it had better be picture-perfect.Sal and mother are noticed by some woman with a clipboard and ushered forward,suddenly people of importance. Theres an awkward moment where we all just sort ofstare at each other, trying to read the expressions of the others. Maybe Iveoverestimated my family? Maybe they dont want me back after all. I mean, the thingstheyve seen me do…I cant really blame them…"Im going to have to take about fifty baths after this, but can I get a hug?" Sal asks witha smile, holding his arms out."Believe me, Im not going to enjoy this either." I say, though I suddenly cant stopsmiling. Wane quickly ends up sandwiched between me and Sal, wriggling to get to theground in the interests of breathing. Im actually enjoying the hug, just because it tellsme that they will take me back. Theyve reconciled whatever problems they have withmy actions in the Games and we can just go back to how it was before.My mother isnt really one for affection, but the look on her face tells me everything Ineed to know. She approves. Obviously, not of the specifics, but that I followed herorders and made it home. She nods, faint smile playing around her eyes, then wereswept up in that annoying media buzz that seems to permeate every moment of theGames. We answer the questions of the reporters in the most cursory fashion possibleand try not to glare at the cameras, hoping that they let us go soon.Blight is the target of a lot of questions from the reporters, mostly concerning Isasdeath. Ive recently found out that Isa died the second morning of the Games—apparently, just because she was old and kind of messed up. I didnt really know her, soI cant say that Im too distraught, but I can tell that Blight isnt taking it too well and hejust wants the reporters to leave him alone.Eventually the reporters either get bored with us or decide that they have all the footagethey need, and were sent off. Blight gets to head back to Victors Village, thankfullyescaping the cameras, but were told that theres something wrong with the electricalwiring in the house Ive won, so we get to spend another night in the shack I grew up in.Its a good opportunity for us to pack up whatever we want to take with us, as well.Its weird, that with all the fantasizing Ive done about District Seven lately, it should beso different from my image of it. I mean, I live here. I should know what its like. But itall just seems to have changed now. I keep glancing around to make sure Im not aboutto be ambushed, I keep one eye on the ground to look out for snakes, and I keep tryingto tighten my hold on the axe I dont actually have. Objectively, town looks the same asever, Peacekeepers and government people and shopkeepers milling around, going abouttheir business, ignoring everyone below their station. Apparently, that still applies to myfamily. Born a woodcutter, die a woodcutter, I guess.Its late afternoon by the time weve had our papers checked and are given permission toenter the fenced-off majority of the district where the raw lumber comes from, where theforests are and where those of us who cut wood live. There are different sectors of thedistrict—where the sawmills are, where our few factories are, the town, and of course the
  • 41. forests. As do most Sevens, my family hails from the forests. Thats where the mostpeople are needed, after all. Machines can help with processing and production, but theactual attainment of lumber is up to us.Youd think that with that in consideration, theyd treat us a little better. Sadly, thats notthe case. Most of us live in little communities of shacks huddled up against the fence thatseparates the district from the wild forests outside (well probably have to expand intothem someday). The Peacekeepers dont really like to visit our communities—somethingabout lice and having better things to do anyway, but I think theyre just being lazy. Sowe basically do what we want, though of course in moderation. After all, we dont wantto attract attention.But today, our little cluster of homes seems too quiet. No children running half-nakedthrough the dirt roads, daring each other to jump off that roof or climb that gutter pipe.No women gossiping loudly as they head off to work. No less-than-legal marketing goingon in the spaces between houses. No men returning from their shifts and complainingabout their kids and their wives and the price of everything these days. Those old guysthat sit on the porch of one house and smoke something in pipes with vaguely purplesmoke are missing. Where houses have curtains and shutters, theyre pulled and closed.Where they dont, the windows are dark and the doors latched shut."Well, thats weird." Sal says, voice seeming unusually loud in the silence thats settledover our community."Ill say. You guys didnt get struck with an epidemic of the plague while I was gone, didyou?" I ask as we make our way down the main street, glancing around apprehensively.We call it the main street because theres a general store of only the most dubiousquality, for when theres no time to get to town. Also, someones put down a few rejectplanks in the middle of the street to walk on when it rains and the streets turn to mud.(High-class living in Seven.)"Well, there has been a cold going around…" Mother says quietly, almost a mumble,unnerved by the quiet. This really isnt normal.As if to accentuate her point, theres a muffled sneeze from across the street. We all lookto find the source of the sound and see a house with what I guess you could call awindow (really just a hole carved into the wall) with the very top of someones head anda pair of wide eyes staring over the sill. We stare at each other for a few seconds, then itgets a little too weird and I wave experimentally at the child behind the window. Theireyes widen further and they disappear quickly, theres the faint sound of running, thenits quiet again."Who are these people, and what have they done with our neighbors?" I ask. Theatmosphere here is always half verging on riotous, boisterous on the best of days. "Theydidnt drug the well, did they?" I ask, actually worried that the Peacekeepers got fed upwith the noise pollution and spiked the well we all get our water from with tranquilizers."I dont think so…" Sal says, scanning the area again, as if looking for clues as to whatexactly is going on.We eventually decide that we cant fathom whats happened to our neighbors and justmake our way through the community to our little house. At least one thing hasremained unchanged. The water-stained shingles, the broken hinges on the door thatmother keeps saying shes going to fix, the porch that used to have steps but now you
  • 42. just have to jump onto. Just three rooms, missing a part of the roof, glass blown out ofhalf the windows, but its home.Mother has to leave for her shift almost as soon as we arrive, and she instructs us tostart packing up whatever we care about enough to bring with us. There are plenty ofsmart-ass comments about how you cant pack something you dont have, but we do getdown to work when she leaves."Think we should bring these?" Sal asks, pulling some dusty, moth eaten and half foldedblankets from under the rusty iron bedframe that we rotate ownership of every week(everyone else gets to sleep on the floor)."Nah…not like theyre much good anyway." I say, surveying from the doorway the backroom where we all used to sleep. "Whatd you guys do to my overalls?" I ask, impatientto get out of these clothes given to me by the Capitol."Uh…long story." Sal says, rubbing his right ear like he always does when hes nervous.He quickly turns his attention to unfolding then re-folding the blankets, pointedly notlooking at me."Alright, Ill ask again." I say, narrowing my eyes and walking over. "What did you guysdo to my overalls?" I think I can probably guess, but I dont want to jump to anyconclusions."Uhm. We dont have them anymore." Sal says, busily fiddling with the blankets.I jump onto the bed and kneel on the thin mattress on the bedframe. I glare down at Sal,between the bed and the wall, as he continues to not look at me. I lean over the foot ofthe bed, trying to get an answer."You…dont have them." Sal nods quickly. "So you sold them." I say, crossing my arms."Uh, maybe." Sal rubs his ear again."You guys sold my clothes?" I cry, jumping up and standing on the bed. "Of all the dirtythings to—"Sal jumps to defend their motives. "Look, wages got cut again and we needed to eat, andthat kid next door blew out another one of our windows and glass is expensive—""Oh, save it! You thought I wasnt coming back!" I cut him off, jumping down to theground. Sal stands and backs against the wall, holding up his hands defensively,probably worried that Im going to hit him. With good reason, too."Look, Jo—""Dont call me Jo. You never have before and its a stupid nickname anyway." I cut in."You didnt let me finish saying Johanna!" Sal protests, stalling for time."Just…make your excuses. I cant wait to hear this one." I roll my eyes.
  • 43. "Its just…you cant really blame us, can you?" Sal asks. "The odds were stacked againstyou so high its a miracle you lived.""Yeah, thats the whole idea. I lived. And you guys gave up on me? Some family.""To be fair, it was a tough win." Says Sal."What do you mean? I did just great." I say, suddenly defensive. But I know what hemeans—the noticeable dent in my forehead, the latest of my Capitol-approved haircuts(this time really, really short and kind of spiky) mandated by the awful condition I was inat the end of my stint in the arena, that skittishness that I cant tone down.Sal just sort of mumbles something, and I decide to let this go. Hes right, I cant reallyblame them. I probably would have done the same. "Fine. Whatever. Just…pack yourstuff." I say, trying to keep a lid on my temper. I leave the room, in hopes of findingWane. She, at least, seems to be nothing but thrilled to see me."Johanna, I cant reach." Wane says, looking back at me when I enter the small room wecall a kitchen (really the only thing that makes it a kitchen is the woodstove that we doour cooking on and provides our heat in the winter). Shes trying to take our once-silverkettle off its peg on the wall, but coming up short by several feet."Here." I pull the kettle off the wall and let it drop, chuckling a little to myself as Wanescrambles to catch it before it hits the ground. I begin handing her down cracked cupsand plates from the shelf on the wall and she carefully stacks it all inside the kettle,tongue sticking out a little as it always does when shes concentrating."Hey, did you have the sucker candy with you? I didnt see it." Wane asks offhandedly asI hand down the last of our badly chipped cups."No. They confiscated it." I say, turning to look at the wood stacked in the corner of theroom (its not safe to leave any wood outside—the stuff is majorly expensive, ironically)and contemplating whether were going to need to bring it."Whats conf-us-cated mean?" Wane asks, trying to put the lid back on the kettle withoutbreaking anything."They took it. So I couldnt try to eat it." I say, deciding that we dont need the wood.Well probably have one of those fancy coal stoves anyway."Ew. Thats gross." Wane says with distaste, wrinkling her nose."You were the one that gave it to me." I remind her, walking over to the window in thecorner and looking out at the street, alerted to the fact that somethings going on by thesudden influx of noise (its one of the windows with no glass). To my surprise, I see thatthere are now people on the street, going about their usual business. With less vigor thanusual, true, but still closer to the norm. "Hey, Wane, look." I wave her over, and shedrags our two-and-a-half-legged stool to stand on and look out the window with me."So?" Wane asks after a moment of quiet observation. "They just look normal." She says,watching a mother with a scarf wrapped around her head practically dragging a veryangry looking boy at a fast clip while lecturing him. Wane waves at the boy and he flipsher off before disappearing around the corner. (This makes her huff in frustration.)
  • 44. "Yeah. They look normal. Now that were gone." I say, not really liking the conclusionsthat my mind is drawing."Now that youre gone." Wane says matter-of-factly, jumping off the stool and pushing itinto the corner. "Theyre scared of you.""Excuse me?" I ask, not believing the shrewdly analytical words tumbling out of my littlesisters mouth. "Theyre not scared. Thats stupid.""You werent here. I watched them watch you…they are scared." Wane says, picking thekettle off the floor."Oh, grow up. Just because you cant handle it—""Im not scared. Im seven now, you know. Im too big to be scared." Wane says as sheheads for the door. "But everyone else…" she smiles faintly as she disappears into thebedroom, looking far older than the seven she claims to be (I know shell be six foranother two weeks, but whatever.)I can hear muffled conversation from the bedroom, Wane and Sal talking. When Sal heldup his hands and backed into the wall…I thought that he was just worried Id hit him,because after all Im pretty pissed at them for selling my stuff, but now that I think aboutit…there was actual fear in his eyes. Well, crap. My brother is scared of me as well. Wecan pretend that its all just like it was before, but it seems like everyone in this districtexcept Wane and maybe mother is scared of me now.So much for a heros welcome, then.
  • 45. Chapter Thirteen"So…what is it?" I ask skeptically, poking the substance on my plate with my fork.Around the table, Wane and Sal are doing the same."It started out as soup. I think." Mother says, sitting down and poking at her own meal."Youre going to eat it and love it.""Well. Maam yes maam." I mumble, deciding that we could do worse. Its hot andsomeones giving it to me, that makes whatever this dinner is great in my book. Iexchange shrugs with Wane and Sal, and we all begin poking at our indistinguishablefood.Weve been living in my house in Victors Village for a few months now, and were havingsome trouble adjusting to the lifestyle. For instance, mother cant cook in the slightest.Back home, we just boiled our tesserae grain and ate the mush that came from it withwhatever else we could afford. (Carrots, a lot of the time.) But now its whole other canof worms. Or whatever this stuff is.Were having other problems along with the food situation. Five times already weve hadto call Blight over to reiterate his instructions on working the washing machine in thecellar, three out of those five times the rooms been half flooded by the time he arrived.(We still dry our washing on a line outside, not wanting to bother fighting with thedryer.) Sal almost burned down the house trying to reset something they call a circuitbreaker, also in the basement. Wane keeps slipping down the stairs, having never hadany experience with stairs before recently. Shes almost broken a bone several times sofar.I have problems as well as the ones with the new level of living. Nightmares. I dontknow why they didnt start until I got out of the arena, but that night we spent in our oldhouse I woke up at two in the morning, paralyzed with fear and drenched in sweat.Everyone else was still asleep—I didnt scream or anything. Which is, of course, good. Noone needs to know about the night terrors, the drowning and the snakes and the endlessfields and the storms that never stop. People know that those things are playing out inmy head every night and they think Im crazy, or worse, they pity me.But of course, there are times when I feel good about winning the Games. When theydeliver the shipments of food each month, the people stop hiding from me and they smileinstead, knowing that they will eat for weeks on end. When Sal gets the new shoes he sodesperately needs. When Wanes cough refuses to go away and we can get her medicine.So no, victory hasnt been a total loss. But it aint all its cracked up to be. Thenightmares, the guilt, the imminent threat of mentoring…Im called out of my somewhat morose thoughts by my siblings running through theiroverdramatized "gagging because mother is just such a bad cook we really cant stomachwhatever the hell this is" routine. Its something theyve come up with recently, now thatweve actually got options in food. It generally begins with something resembling a spit-take and ends with one or both of them on the floor, pretending to be dead. Today itsWane twitching slightly on the floor as Sal drinks copious amounts of water.I try to get over the shivers that seeing someone fake death brings on. "Oh, look! Wanesdead! Its about time, dont you agree?" I ask mother, who gives a disapproving look butdoesnt say anything. "At least now I can have her room…do you think we should have a
  • 46. funeral, or just let the Peacekeepers come for her?" Mothers about to protest, but Wanejumps back up."Hey, wait! She cant have my room!" Of course, thats what she responds to. "Mom, youwouldnt give her my room, would you? Its not fair!" She wails."Keep that in mind the next time you feel like criticizing my cooking, then." Mother saysin a lofty tone, then smiles to reassure Wane that shes kidding. Wane always has beenher favorite."Yeah, no offense, but I think this actually is inedible." Sal says, finally putting down hiscup. "Ill make something instead." Sal stands and collects the plates of whatever it is totake back to the kitchen. Hes the only one out of us that can cook at all, mother onlykeeps trying because shes got some sort of idea that now that we can our family has tobe all domestic. Shes not getting very far on that front, let me tell you. She keeps tryingto convince me to try out one of the talents off a list that April sent us, which are allreally stupid. I mean, I dont bake, I dont paint, and I sure as hell dont sew.But not all of us victors set such high standards. Our neighbor Jonathan something-or-other was convinced by his wife to take up playing the flute, and it never stops. I mean,sure, there are brief periods of respite and we generally get a break for six hours atnight, but otherwise its nonstop. And really, hes not all that bad, having had forty yearssince his victory to practice, but theres a certain point at which its just too much, youknow?Were enjoying one of our short breaks from the music while waiting for Sal to come upwith something reasonably edible, when Wane jumps out of her chair and beginsspinning around in place. We watch silently for a moment, then I ask "What are youdoing?""Spinning." Wane announces proudly."Thats just going to make you dizzy." I say."I know." Wane giggles. "Its fun.""Youre stupid." I say shortly."Mom!""Johanna.""Just saying."Theres a sudden crashing from the kitchen, followed by an exasperated shout from Sal.We all hurry to the door to the kitchen to make sure nothings seriously wrong. No, Salsjust knocked a pot of water set to boil on the stove to the ground and is staringdisappointedly at his new and now soaked shoes. "I say we just go hungry tonight." Salsuggests. We all quickly agree, though mother does set water to boil, the one thingshe can make.Its a cold, damp night that smells heavily of pine, with rain on the horizon. Everyone isprobably praying for a downpour to get out of work, and I think theyre going to get it.Just like we used to, we dig out blankets to sleep on the floor and keep warm drinking
  • 47. hot water (not tea, that stuff is gross). We could easily heat the house with that fancygenerator in the basement but I guess were just old-fashioned like that. Jonathan beginsplaying that irritating flute again about when the sun goes down, and none of us reallywant to go and tell him to shut up. Instead we light candles to see by (who needselectricity anyhow?) and while away our time telling stories over and over, playing cards,seeing just how many ways we can wake Wane up when she drifts off in mothers lap.Its not a very glamorous way to pass the time, certainly not one fitting a victor, but itsso like old times that I cant help but drop my guard a little. Its not often that you get tosee me in one of my easier moods, normally Im ready to snap at the slightestprovocation, but that night I pretend its before it all and just relax a little.Maybe we have problems—we have nightmares, extreme survivors guilt, annoyingneighbors, and no clue how to work all our fancy new machinery—but things could beworse. When Sal looks at me without fear, when Wane manages to understand far pastwhat her age dictates she should be able to, when mother goes to great lengths topretends its all normal like she is tonight…this is easily worth it all.
  • 48. Chapter Fourteen"I swear, I have to give that speech one more time and Ill rip someones head off." Icomplain to Blight as were shepherded into the Justice Building. Ive just recited mylines for the fifth time, on the District Six stop of our Victory Tour. The script is just sosickeningly clean and unobjectionable, all about how their tributes were models ofcomportment and sportsmanship up until the end (yeah, not kidding). The more grimyqualities of the arena—just get through this, survive for one more day then you can getout of here and theyll fix you —arent really represented in the speech."Remind me not to stand next to you in District Five, then." Blight says, glaring a little atthe Peacekeeper who keeps elbowing him. "But if youre taking suggestions, I say thisguy." He mumbles. I smother a snicker and avoid the eye of the Peacekeeper, whoseems to have an idea that were talking about him.Im sick of the Victory Tour already, and were only five districts in (we, of course, skipSeven because thats my home and the Capitol springs for a celebration at the end of allthis). The speeches, the fancy dresses, the pretending to care what their officials say,train rides after a lot of food—hello, motion sickness, Im Johanna Mason—and actually,seeing the conditions in the other districts. I mean, really, theyre dismal. We get on finein Seven, being ignored by authority and doing as we like. Its not a comfortableexistence, but we clearly have it a lot better than the districts Ive seen so far.They are poor in Twelve. Coal dust clogs the air, everyone is coughing like crazy, half thepeople seem to be on the edge of collapse. The weirdest thing is, that there areapparently classes based on appearance. The people who are pale and have blond hairseem to be a lot better fed than the others, they actually stand straight and some seemto have lived past forty. Who knows. Twelve always has been a rather backwards district.District Eleven…scary stuff. Our chain-link fence is huge and impossible to cut through,but its not electrified because most of us live right up against it. Theirs is both, withmetal plates covering the ground around it and guard posts every few yards. I guess thatthe fence should have been a clue, but the district was shockingly miserable. This isgonna sound corny, but it almost seemed like their spirits had been broken—they barelyeven tried to look like they cared. I dont think they need all the security, because theresno way those people are rebelling any time soon.And of course, I had to deal with the families of Linnea and the boy, who ended up beingnamed Sorrel. Linnea has a little brother, Sorrel a twin sister and there was a little babystrapped to his mothers back (she was crying too hard to hold it). I didnt make apersonal speech, not much that I could say, and I could practically feel their glaresburning holes in the back of my skull.And its not much better in Ten and Nine, though their conditions are significantlyimproved. They, at least, seem to be getting half the food they need and thePeacekeeper numbers dont dwarf theirs. Ten is mostly made up of endless fields andendless sky, whereas the factories in Nine pump out so much smoke that the sky almostseems to be raining ash. (Not the healthiest of environments, granted.) Eight is a returnto awful circumstances, stinking processing plants and refineries surrounding collapsingapartment blocks housing too many starved people. The people there are more angrythan anything, they seem to be almost itching for rebellion. Its really kind of terrifying.They might just get fed up and try to fight back, and theyd be blown off the map likeThirteen was.
  • 49. Compared to what weve seen so far, Six is tame. No one has more than a superficial for-the-cameras interest in me, so Im basically left to my own devices. Well, theres Blight.Hes got a full time job here, keeping me from wandering away or mouthing off toofficials or eating the entire fancy celebration dinner by myself. And listening to mycomplaints cant be fun either."Who let that guy in? The last thing he needs is a feast…" I say, looking over at themayor of Six."Keep it down, Johanna." Blight says with an apprehensive look towards the HeadPeacekeeper, walking by with some drink that smells stronger than any alcohol Ive everencountered."Just saying. Hes what, three hundred pounds?""Dont say that to his face." Blight pastes on a smile as the mayor comes over with arather resigned look on his face to shake hands and take pictures and do whatever elsehis position stipulates. Yes, such a difficult existence, power and prestige and more thanenough to eat. His life truly is a trial.District Five is just about the same as Six, one of the middle districts thats often passedover. The people are tired, not angry. Nothing special. They really just want to get somefood and maybe shorter work shifts, its pretty clear that rebellion isnt on anyonesminds here. What a relief. (Hey, I dont wanna be blown up. You have a problem withthat?)District Four, on the other hand…they have absolutely no reason to be upset with theirlot. Sparkling oceans, the money to train Career tributes, quaint little villages tucked intoa rocky coast…I wish that Id had the luck to be born here. (Luck isnt really my forte,though.) And, its in Four that I meet a very interesting person.Hes at the dinner hosted by the local government the night after the ceremony, which isweird because no victors were invited in the other districts. I guess that the guy is asclose as we have to a celebrity here in Panem. He expresses this by flawlessly ditchingthe cameras minutes after walking in the doors (fashionably late, of course) and makingnice with the officials until they get bored with him and hes got all night to himself.Weirdly enough, he decides to spend that time with me."So." Is what alerts me to his presence. I look up to see about the last person I wasexpecting to ever be face to face with, the famous, somewhat salacious, (and extremelyattractive), Finnick Odair of District Four."So." I counter, trying to ignore the critical way hes looking me over and not do thesame to him. I think the guy needs to go up a shirt size, but most people here wouldprobably disagree (him included)."Miss Mason." He sort of licks his lips as he says my name, which honestly kind of freaksme out. He probably thinks its seductive, and its not like his track record would tell himdifferently. "In the flesh.""Thats right." I say shortly, looking away and deciding to not like this guy. All that Iknow about him is that hes an overconfident womanizer and the faster he goes away thehappier Ill be. "Care to leave?" I ask, perhaps not very politely.
  • 50. "No, sorry." Finnick says, not really looking all that sorry, but he does assume a morenormal stance and almost seems to shrink a few inches. "Better?""Not much." I say, turning my attention back to my drink, something that I think mighthave alcohol in it and is a pale blue color. I think Finnicks going to get bored and goaway, but he leans up against the wall next to me and watches the celebrations with mildinterest."Shouldnt you be dancing? It is your party, after all." He says after a short pause.Theyre making this a bit more of an occasion here in Four, and theres dancing now thatweve had our dinner."Im really missing out, arent I?" I ask. "I mean, who could pass up the opportunity todance with that?" I gesture to the mayor of Four, whos had a little too much to drink andis halting his drunken shouting in favor of considering passing out."It cant be long until that guy gets alcohol poisoning." Finnick mumbles, and I get theimpression that this isnt an unusual occurrence.Theres a bit of an awkward lag, and eventually just to break the silence I ask, "So whatswith the umbrella?""Whats that? Oh." Finnick picks up the pink paper umbrella in his drink and looks at it fora moment. "Everything tastes better with an umbrella. Didnt your mother teach youanything?""Paper umbrellas dont really have a place in Seven." I say, rolling my eyes. "We preferto spend our time on useful things.""No, look." Finnick drops the umbrella into my drink (which Im now pretty sure isalcoholic) and motions for me to drink. I dont, I just frown at him. Finnick shrugs."Alright, then. Your choice.""So…are you going to leave, or what?" I ask after about a minute of silence."How are you liking the Victory Tour?" Finnick asks, ignoring my question. Rude."Not much, right now." I say with a pointed glare."Its weird, isnt it? The fake cheers, the cameras, the parties they really dont want tothrow…" Finnick say almost sadly. Isnt this guy a Career? Thats not really a normalattitude. "At least we get the grand tour of Panem, right?" I simply give Finnick a lookthat I hope conveys I really want you to go away, right about now.He doesnt take the hint."Its funny, almost. They give us victors such power…we know what its like across thecountry, we have the audiences on strings, we have battle experience…and then wereexpected to shut up and watch.""What are you talking about?" I ask, trying to put all my exasperation in my voice. Andthats dangerous talk, anyway. Not something you just say. It stings a little ofdissatisfaction with the government.
  • 51. Finnick again ignores my question. Instead of answering, he straightens up off the walland says "Well, then, Miss Mason. Pleasure meeting you. If youll excuse me, Im goingto go dance with the mayor." He takes back on his old posture and saunters off.I watch from afar as he chatters animatedly with the mayor, who seems to want nothingmore than to punch him out. Blight walks up concernedly, having recently detachedhimself from a rather uncomfortable-looking conversation with the Vice-HeadPeacekeeper. "What did Finnick Odair want?" he asks, as we watch Finnick actually ducka poorly aimed punch from the mayor and smirk as he takes a few steps back."Oh, nothing." I say. Blight shrugs and I take a sip from my drink. I dont really want toadmit it, but it does taste better with the pink paper umbrella.Sadly enough, District Four is easily the high point in the Victory Tour. Three isdepressing, freezing cold rain pouring down and the people sick, starved, andoverworked. Another angry district. Theyre obviously pretty pissed at the government inThree, probably more than anywhere else so far. Not that I blame them—conditionsare really abysmal. Wouldnt take much to push them over the edge. One and Two areunpleasant, being Career districts, and Two is the worst because of Smiley. I keep havingto refer to her as Daphne, her real name, and it again feels like the Capitol anesthetizingthe arena before exposing the general population to it.But the Capitol is easily the worst. Whereas in the districts it was all obviously a shamthat they were in the least interested in doing anything more than stabbing me forrevenge, they love me in the Capitol. Im like a celebrity. I have to pander to the whimsof seemingly every reporter in the city, answering question after question. I get to haveseveral more interviews with Caesar, and its all I can do to not punch his made-up littleface off the third time he asks if theres "A lucky boy back home?" Everyone wants toshake my hand, or hug me, there are a few people who try to kiss me, and everyoneclaims to have sponsored me (obviously false, seeing as I got absolutely zero gifts in thearena). By the time we get to the feast at Snows mansion, Im exhausted and neverwant to see another Capitol citizen again.But oh, no. The night is only beginning. I think I dance with just about fifty percent ofthe people in the Capitol, and make small talk with even more of them. Its a long,painful two hours later, almost eleven o clock, when I finally break away and make myescape to a dark corner hidden behind the huge (almost forty feet high), gilded ivorygrandfather clock that carefully ticks the time away until we can finally go home. I haveto ditch some creepy guy named Pompey who cant keep his eyes off me, but manage todisappear into the shadows—most people are too drunk by now to even notice Im gone.To my surprise, when I slip around the corner theres a girl already there. Shes young,maybe ten or eleven, sitting against the wall, wearing a poufy blue silk dress and anexpression that clearly says Im bored out of my skull, get me the hell out of here. Sheslowly turns her head towards me, curtain of dark hair swinging, and deigns to raise aneyebrow at me in question. Who are you and how dare you disturb me?Of course, she knows who I am. So I just say, "I was just looking for a place to hide fromthe cameras." off the top of my head, feeling a little scared by the girls stare. Under herhalf-lowered eyelids theres something eerie about her eyes—theyre a natural darkbrown, but something about the way they glint in the light, something about the way herpupils keep dilating…Im really regretting trying to take refuge here by the time shereplies.
  • 52. "Sure. Plenty of room. Sit." Its a friendly enough statement, but theres somethingmenacing in her tone. I cant quite place it, the double meaning of the words, but itseems a little familiar.I sit against the side of the clock, feeling slight vibrations run down it as it tick-tocks pastthe seconds."So, who are you?" I ask. There are no other kids here, probably why shes so bored. Shemust have really important parents to be invited to an event of this scale. Maybe theyrein television or something."Minerva. President Snows granddaughter." She says offhandedly, then pulls a smallpink packageout of a silvery clutch bag I didnt notice before. "Gum?" She asks. I shakemy head no, trying to get over the minor heart attack I think her reply has just broughton. Snow has a granddaughter? Snow has kids? This little girl is related to the very manwho causes so much suffering across the nation, controls the Peacekeepers, is thehighest authority behind the Hunger Games?The girl, Minerva, takes my shock for something else. "I know, horrible name, huh?" Shepops a piece of gum (whatever that is) in her mouth and says "What were my parentsthinking?""Who, um," I clear my throat. "Who are your parents?" I ask, hoping to get some moreinsight into this story shes telling me. Snow has a granddaughter? Its sort of a difficultthought to reconcile. Granddad…too innocent a title for the man."Oh, you dont care about that." Minerva says with a little smile, swinging her head tolook at me through her eyelashes, eyes glinting like mad. "I know how it works. You justwant to know about Grandfather." She chuckles a little and takes a moment to blow abubble with her gum (which honestly surprises me a little—isnt it food or something?)."Yes…everyone wants to know about Grandfather. Its because theyre all scared of him.Youre scared, arent you?" She asks, not looking at me and popping another bubble."No." I say defiantly, though I know its not really true. If this girl is enough to unnerveme, the man who holds my life and the lives of everyone I care about in the palm of hishand is certainly frightening enough."Well…you should be." Minerva says lightly, then pops another bubble. As if aware of theshift in atmosphere from an innocent conversation to a chilly warning, the grandfatherclock begins to chime. Not midnight, thats a little too corny, but eleven. Half an hour leftuntil this thing is scheduled to end.Minerva speaks over the clock. "Good meeting you, Miss Mason. Ill be sureto…mention…our conversation to Grandfather." she pops one last bubble and stands,disappearing before the clock has finished tolling.Mention our conversation? Does Minerva mean to tell Snow that the latest of his victorsdoesnt fear him? Or at least, she pretends not to? Am I going to be in trouble with thegovernment for what Ive said? No, if these peoples attitudes are anything to go by, Ima celebrity now. But still…its not too hard to just make someone disappear.Blight locates me when the party is wrapping up. Im found as almost a nervous wreck,having spent the past half hour imagining every way a person could just drop off the faceof Panem. Electrocuted resetting a fuse, fallen off a ladder repairing a gutter, drowned in
  • 53. a river that doesnt exist, an accident in the forests between shifts, a push down thestairs, maybe just never returning from the Capitol one year after mentoring…"Johanna, you okay?" Blight asks, seeing whats probably a rabbit-on-the-run look on myface."Great. Im great." I say standing and brushing off the ugly green dress I was forcedinto. "Are we being released?""Yeah, after a last round of photos." Says Blight. I groan but it isnt quite believable andBlight knows somethings up. "You sure that youre alright?""Im fine, alright? Shut up and lets go smile for the cameras." I say, pushing past Blightand gritting my teeth for the last of the media blitz. Its not like I can tell him that Ivebeen spending my time worrying over how many ways our dear old dictator could makeme disappear. I know Im overreacting, I cant get in trouble for lying to a girl about thefear or lack thereof that I have for her grandfather.Can I?
  • 54. Chapter FifteenIts been raining pretty much nonstop for the past few weeks and the wooden stage setup for the reaping days prior has actually sprouted moss. Most of the children assembledin the square have the air of animals emerging from hibernation to find that its stillmidwinter—tired, cranky, and hungry. Not a great image to be projecting of our districton national television, but there you go.Aprils making her banal and twittery speech, seemingly unaffected by the generalatmosphere of Can we go back to sleep yet? coming from the crowd of teenagers. I reallywant to just cup my hands around my mouth and shout "GET ON WITH IT, ALREADY,"but I dont think that would go over too well.April does eventually get around to actually reaping two kids, who both stumble onstageas if theyre still half asleep. Theyre both forest kids, almost eighteen and have obviouslybeen using the weather and interruptions in work it causes to get over the way theforemen have been overworking everyone lately. The girl, Sitka Edwards (stupidestname Ive ever heard) is a little shorter than the boy, Douglas Bell, but theyre bothclearly physically capable. Do they have the smarts to back it up?God, look at me. Half a minute as a mentor and already Im pretending like I know whatto do. Lets just be honest with each other, these tributes are screwed. Theyve got Blightand a mentor who only won last year (Blight is taking a turn mentoring to train thenewest member of the team, me, even though he shouldnt have to mentor for the nextthree years) compared to some of the Career districts where the tributes have twomentors each, highly trained and experienced.Well. At least the Careers cant compete with us in terms of style.The tributes emerge from goodbyes with passive expressions, not in the least upset.Probably because apparently neither of them has any family—there were kids their age,but no one else. Theyre probably Community Home kids, which will give them anadvantage. The Home kids dont get much to eat, but theyre worked hard in theforests. Again with the pretending Ive got any clue what to do. Peacekeepers who alsoseem like theyd rather be anywhere else (preferably asleep) escort us to the trainstation, and I grimace at the thought of spending the next twenty hours fighting a losingbattle with motion sickness.So I dont eat anything at dinner, even though it gets me some questioning looks fromeveryone else. To justify my actions, I give mentoring a try. We dont get very far withthat. Sitka ends up being one of the people who works with electric saws in the forests,which is going to do her about zero good in the arena. Douglas actually asks what aCareer is (turns out in the end hed just never heard the term before, but its still prettydiscouraging). And then theres the whole I Know These Kids Have No Chance And WillBe Dead In A Week No Matter What We Do thing. Blight has a bit more experience withthese matters, being I think in his mid-thirties, and manages to steer the conversation ina productive direction. Were actually making progress when I accept that not eatinghasnt actually fixed anything and have to disappear for the rest of the train ride.Sitka and Douglas give me resentful looks when we meet up again at the train station inthe Capitol, for abandoning trying to mentor them. I shrug and they share conspiratoriallooks, walking ahead of me and Blight and practically shoving through all the reporterson the platform.
  • 55. "You okay?" Blight asks."Is that all youre capable of saying?" I snap, beginning to follow our tributes."No. Just wondering." Blight says with a shrug, not even having to try to keep up."Yeah, well, Im not okay." For a lot of reasons. Blight doesnt ask and I dont elaborate,so the atmosphere is pretty awkward until Douglas asks Sitka what she thinks thecostumes are going to be."Were trees, of course. The question is, will there be branches? Are they even going tobe able to see our faces?" Sitka says wisely in response. Douglas then relieves a little ofthe tension by taking bets on the costumes. (None of us have any money on us, so wejust write out IOUs.) By the time theyre whisked off to prep, I have a new appreciationfor the tributes. Maybe not the brightest, but theyre alright. Shame they have to die.We dont have to be anywhere for hours, until the opening ceremonies, so Blight showsme around the Training Center. As tributes, were confined to our floors. Now weve gotfree run of the whole place, though its really not all that interesting. I mean, the roof ispretty cool and the view from up there is kind of amazing, but the lobby is dull andempty and the maze of dim hallways primarily for the white-uniformed staff is dull,empty, and creepy."So, whats the deal with the people in white, anyway?" I ask Blight as we finally get outof the back hallways into a properly lit area I think on the fifth floor and make our way toan elevator."You mean the Avoxes?""Do I? Thats what Im asking, dumbass."Blight pretends like I just said yes. "Enemies of the state. Slave labor, sort of.""So why dont they talk?""Their tongues were cut out." Blight says, not looking at me.I sort of choke on nothing. "They what?""Their tongues were—""I heard you! What do you mean, they cut out…" I shake my head, suddenly hyper-aware of my own tongue. "Thats sick.""Tell me about it." Blight presses the button for the elevator and it arrives almostimmediately. We step inside and I resist the urge to reach up and make sure that mytongue is still there. Instead just ask where were going next."Control." Blight replies simply. "The real name is Center for Remote Control ofSponsorship and Mentoring or something like that, but we just call it Control. Shorter,you know." He hits the L button for Lobby as well as a nondescript white button youcould almost overlook and holds them for a few seconds, then the elevator begins todescend through the walls. This isnt the fancy crystal elevator the tributes use, this one
  • 56. is metal and industrial, in the middle of the building. The doors open right into a largeroom, already with a few people bustling around and setting up for the Games.This is by far the most interesting room weve seen so far. Screens everywhere,computers and keyboards and numbered stations one through twelve. Mostly the peopleare congregated around stations one, two, and four, so I guess the Career mentors arejust getting a jump on preparations, comparing tributes and setting up alliances officially.The station labeled seven looks identical to the others, screens and keypads, two chairsstacked against the wall. Everything is turned off, all the screens are black."This place can get pretty hectic. But for now, just poke around and learn how to workeverything. Dont be late for the Opening Ceremonies." Blight says, before backing intothe elevator and disappearing. Im still not sure what to think of Blight. He doesnt saymuch, but I cant decide whether its because hes stupid or just not a talker. Sometimeshes friendly and I think he cares about how Im doing, then he just vanishes.Well, whatever the reason, I still have to figure this out for myself. I try making my wayacross the large room towards the District Seven station, but halfway there Im waylaidby perhaps the last person I want to see."You again?" I ask Finnick Odair, whos just sidled up and is smirking at me over a cup ofsomething that I cant identify, but smells familiar."Me again." He takes a sip of whatevers in the mug. "Can I offer you a coffee?""No." I say shortly."You sure? Theyve already set up the table." Finnick jerks a thumb behind him, and Ilook over to see a low table seemingly about to collapse with the amount of coffee (whichI gather must be a drink of some sort)."That seems a little excessive." I say."Not in the least. This stuff probably saves ten tributes lives a year. Otherwise wed allbe out of it by day three.""You cant save a tributes life." I point out."Well…for a while." Finnick says, then takes another sip. "Really, I cant interest you—""Get it through your thick skull. I dont want anything." I stalk off. But I cant shakeFinnick and I spend a not-so-pleasant afternoon with him explaining the differentfunctions of the screens and gadgets at my station. I am thankful to have a guide, and Ihave to admit that when hes not trying to impress anyone Finnick isnt so bad, but Imcounting the minutes until the Opening Ceremonies begin and we get out of here.It feels like an eternity, but the time eventually comes for the Opening Ceremonies andwe have to go up. The female mentor from One, who I think Finnick called Cashmere,makes us all late when she forgets her lipstick downstairs and we have to go back. Youdthink it a trivial and girly problem, but she punches the man from Two who tries todissuade her so hard that he hits the wall and no one argues with her after that.
  • 57. We get some looks for being late, and our tributes have already begun the processionthrough the Capitol. "We both owe our tributes money." Blight says when I walk up nextto him, referring to the betting on costumes we did earlier."Its not like theyre going to be around to collect." I reply. Blight raises an eyebrow atme but doesnt say anything and we stand in silence for the rest of the OpeningCeremonies. None of the tributes are anything special this year, basically the norm. Well,I might just not be really absorbing the tributes because Im not going to be fightingthem for my life in a few days.Sitka and Douglas dont really express any interest in the tributes at dinner, all theyreally want to is eat and sleep. (Way to not perpetuate teenager stereotypes, guys.)Douglas doesnt seem to care that no one makes good on their bets, and everyone goesoff to bed early. It feels like we should be doing more to try and make sure they make itthrough the Games, but its really kind of futile.Training passes in a blur. Sitka ends up being really good at lighting fires and we all haveto evacuate the building when she accidentally makes one a little too well. It leads to alot of joking about how she should just find an elevated place and set the rest of thearena on fire. Unlike Blight, I think the idea actually has some merit, and Sitka promisesto do it if she can. Douglas, on the other hand, is hopeless. No skills, no real personality,not even going be able to score sympathy points. Sitka scrapes a seven as her trainingscore and shows up at dinner that night with slightly singed eyebrows, and Douglas getsa four for being completely mediocre. Neither makes an impression in the interviews andwe send them off to bed on the night before the Games promising that well pay themwhat we owe someday. There are sardonic laughs all around.Blight and I are up until midnight, signing sponsors. Ha-ha, of course were not. Therearent any sponsors. Were up until midnight hoping for last-minute sponsors, but wehave no luck. We manage to catch a few hours of sleep before being up bright and earlyto report to Control. Like Blight said, its pretty hectic, everyone dashing about and tryingto finalize sponsor deals or find their fellow mentors, Career mentors conferring loudlyand Haymitch from Twelve already drunk. Our sad, sponsorless selves set up and wait forthe Games to begin.Weve got maybe ten minutes to wait. The tributes must be putting on their uniforms,maybe Tillie is being just as unhelpful to them as she was to me (Tillie seems to be stuckwith Seven, even though most of the other stylists shuffle districts). I dont even realizethat Im nervously running my fingers over the dent in my forehead—a habit Ive recentlypicked up—until Blight asks if I want coffee because hes getting some for himself."Yeah, fine." I say, not really caring. Didnt Finnick say that it saved tributes lives(temporarily)?The countdown on the smaller screen off to the side ticks to sixty seconds and a hushfalls over the room. Everyone scuttles to their places, Blight included. He hands me a hotmug with what I guess is coffee in it, and I try it when the time ticks to forty seconds.Its really strong, bitter, hot, and a little gross, but I keep sipping nervously at it andtheres none left by the time the Games begin.Almost immediately, Sitka does something incredibly stupid. She just jumps right off herplate, forgetting completely about the landmines that are only deactivated after a minuteof waiting. Duh, shes blown sky-high. I groan loudly, both for our tribute thats just beenblown up and for the fact that Seven will now always be remembered as "The district
  • 58. where people are stupid enough to blow themselves to bits". The screen on Blights sideof our station that shows the tributes, their name, district, headshot, training score, andwhether theyre alive or not, registers the first death of the Games and Sitka Edwardsspicture goes grey. And she had some promise, too. I mean, it was a long shot, but thethick forests of this years arena would have gone up like a tinderbox if shed had thechance to execute our half-serious plan."Stupidity springs eternal." I say, beginning to feel a little jittery. Is that from seeing mytributes unorthodox and very bloody end, or from the coffee?Blight just sort of rolls his eyes at me, and I shrug and shut up. We watch Douglas makea messy exit from the bloodbath, a deep cut on one thigh, with no supplies to his name."And no sponsors? Why, I simply cant fathom what the people of the Capitolare thinking." I say. Blight still ignores me, and I turn back to the screen, preparing towatch Douglas slowly bleed to death. And that he does.Douglas stumbles through the thick woods for almost half a day, but eventually hes justlost too much blood and curls up in a briar bush for an anti-climactic and quiet death.And so it comes to pass that District Sevens out of the running even faster than DistrictTwelve.Well, this is a promising beginning.
  • 59. Chapter SixteenTechnically, once our tributes are dead we can go do whatever we want, save for leavethe building. I mean, we could, but wed be practically drowned in paparazzi (an ideathats sort of bizarre, at least to a girl from Seven). But everyone else still has at leastone tribute, and I dont want to be categorized as some weird loner on my very first day.So I sort of hang around, drinking coffee—its weird, but a little addictive. And itscertainly keeping me awake. Blight and I watch the Games play out without speaking,both drinking our coffee. Its late afternoon by the time Blight just gets up and vanishes,leaving me by myself. I shrug and take the opportunity to put my feet up on the back ofBlights chair, leaning back and drinking my coffee.But Im not alone for long. A mere five minutes later, Finnick saunters over. He dropsinto Blights chair and doesnt leave even when I nudge his head with a foot, casuallywatching the proceedings in the arena."So, tell me. Am I being stalked or what?" I ask, swinging my legs back to the ground."Not in the slightest. I just thought you might want to meet some of the other mentors.""Dont you have a tribute?""No. Hes dead.""Well, what about the girl?""Mai can handle her.""Will you leave me alone if I let you introduce me to everyone?""Sure.""Fine, then." I concede, standing. "Lets get this over with."We begin with District One. The woman Cashmere has no interest in speaking with agrubby little girl from District Seven (I want to punch her out for that, but I rememberthe lipstick incident and think the better of it) but the man Garnet is polite enough to sayhello and then turn his back."Well, they never have been very social." Finnick mumbles as we walk away.I almost have a heart attack when Enobaria from Two gives me a feral little smile, butmanage to get a grip before saying "Enobaria, what did we tell you about eating goldflakes?", crossing my arms."What?" Enobaria growls."Its really quite bad for your digestion, and thats not to mention what its done to yourteeth." I say, concerning the fact that apparently Enobaria has sometime in the past yearhad her teeth sharpened to points and inlaid with gold. Its a little frightening, but no oneneeds to know that.
  • 60. "Finnick. Get this girl out of here before I rip out her throat." Enobaria says, turning backto her screen."Shell do it, too. Or shell try." Finnick says, leading me away from the District Twostation. We dont get to meet the man, Claude, but I dont really care."And this is Beetee and Wiress of District Three." Finnick says as we come up behind twopeople muttering to each other at something written in a notebook. They jump at themention of their names and the man turns around."Oh, Finnick, hello…" He seems to notice me and his expression clears a little. "JohannaMason?" he asks, something that looks a lot like fear flickering on his face. Great.Another person who Ive managed to scare."Thats right." I say, resignedly shaking his outstretched hand."Well, as Finnick said, Im Beetee and this is Wiress." I wonder why Wiress (which is acompletely ridiculous name—so is Beetee, for that matter) doesnt introduce herself, butshe seems to barely notice that were here. Shes scribbling furiously on the notebook onher lap, as if she doesnt write down whatever shes thinking right now shell forget it."Whats she doing?" I ask Beetee, wondering if Wiress is completely sane. Shes nowwriting so fast I think shes going to tear the paper, almost frantic.I dont really understand Beetees reply after "Shes working out the numbers for—". Hesays it quite fast, suddenly very animated, and I barely know any of the words."Yeah, I didnt get any of that." I say slowly. "All I heard was volts.""Well, voltage is crucial in the equation, but theres much more to it." Beetee looks likehe wants to go on, but I cut him off."You know…Beetee…thats kind of a mouthful. You have a nickname?" I say off the top ofmy head, trying to stop him from talking about whatever-it-is again."Um, not really…" Beetee says, disconcerted."Well then, I say we go with…Volts." I say, picking a word out of the conversation atrandom. Not bad, Johanna. Im getting my knack back."Volts? I dont—" Beetee is cut off by Wiress beginning to mutter to herself. He sighs, asif saying to himself she would do that now, wouldnt she?"She nuts or something?" I ask, perhaps not very tactfully."No, just—""Nuts and Volts. Got a ring to it, dont you think?" I ask Beetee. Hes frowning as if notreally sure what to say or whats going on. So I turn to Finnick, whos trying not to smile."You agree?" I ask him.Finnick smothers a snicker, then says "Oh, yes. Quite fitting."
  • 61. "Hey!" Beetee protests. Finnick cant keep it together and hides his smile behind hiscoffee cup.Wiress looks up as if shes just realized were talking about her. The two from DistrictThree look very similar—theyre both really pale (dont they ever have sun in Three?),rather small in stature, and have black hair. The only difference is that Beetee hasglasses and sort of stares under them instead of through them. Really, theyre evencreepier than Finnick.Well, no, thats not fair. Finnick isnt really creepy, he just cant take a hint. Or an order.Whatever. Hes not really bad company, and I think I may have met at least one victorwho I can stand. Finnick doesnt mind my sense of humor, hes friendly enough, and hesstopped with the seductive act. Hard to believe that this is the same guy we see ontelevision."Those two are weird." I mutter to Finnick as he leads me to the District Four station tomeet his fellow mentor, Mai."Well, theyre a little odd, true, but theyre brilliant." Finnick says, stopping for a momentto watch onscreen the girl from his district having a little spat with the other Careers overthe order of watches."Brilliant?" I ask skeptically."Really. Smartest people in Panem, in my opinion. You should see some of the thingstheyve made.""Huh." I cant say that I really believe Finnick, but honestly I dont care.Mai is friendly enough, though all she wants to talk about is battle strategy. I just sort ofstand there and let her talk for a while, then Finnick makes our excuses and we move onto District Eight. Silas and Cecilia both have children, and theyre annoying for a whilegoing on about them. I dont see why a victor would ever have children, and Im againreminded why I so prefer my mothers more removed parenting to the style of peoplelike Silas and Cecilia—theyre quite irritating. Im seconds from snapping "I dont careabout your little brats, okay?" when Finnick backs out of the one-way conversationpolitely.Over time, I gather that hes friendlier with the victors from Three, Six, Eight, Eleven,and Twelve than anyone else. God knows why. Nuts and Volts are just weird, Cecilia andSilas have their whole kid thing going, the two from Six are total freaks—morphlingaddicts, Chaff from Eleven is half-drunk and theyve still got a tribute (Seeder at leastseems normal), and Haymitch Abernathy is…well…Haymitch Abernathy."Hey, Fnnick! Cn I interst you n a drink?" He slurs the second he sees us, obviously afew drinks south of sober. If what we see on television is anything to go by, hes like thisall the time. A raging drunkard."No, thanks, Haymitch." Finnick says. "Im just introducing our latest victor to everyone.""Whassat?" Haymitch doesnt really seem to grasp whats going on."Johanna. Johanna Mason." Finnick says, slightly louder.
  • 62. "Oh, the axe girl? Where?" Haymitch takes a long draught from something in a darkbrown bottle."Right here." I say, waving a hand to get his attention. Haymitch blinks around for amoment, then sees me and breaks into a smile."Cn I interst you n a drink?" He says."Well…what is it?" I ask."No." Finnick cuts me off."Hey, now." I say. "Its none of your business.""Youre what, fifteen? And you dont drink with Haymitch anyway. Always ends badly.""Sixteen in three weeks." I say. "And if I can win the Games, I think I can handle adrink."I think Finnick is about to protest again, but then Haymitch looks disappointedly at hisbottle. "Empty." He says despondently, then stands. Hes pretty wobbly but manages tostumble past us, clapping me on the shoulder as he goes. "Good job on getting knockedout of the Games before Twelve. Takes effort." He chortles as he heads across the room,probably in search of more alcohol."He grows on you." Finnick says as we watch Haymitch bump into Enobaria and almostget his head ripped off for it. Drunks, morphling addicts, freaks, Careers with angerissues, hopelessly creepy nerds. Thats who Im expected to get along with now. Victoryisnt all its hyped up to be.I follow Finnick back to the District Four station, just because I dont feel like sittingalone. I lean over the back of Mais chair (without asking permission, of course) andwatch the Careers do their Career thing. You know, hunting, arguing, building internalalliances and basically providing good television for the audience. Its weird to see howdifferent the process is for Career mentors—theyve actually got stuff to do. Lining upgifts, constantly following their tributes on the map that shows the location of thetributes in the arena (using the trackers implanted into their arm before the Games),consulting with the other Career mentors about every little decision—it seems likeexhausting stuff."It looks like hard work, being a Career." I say somewhat sarcastically as the Careersprepare to go out hunting for the night. Even though the sun must have set over thecandyfloss Capitol, Im not tired at all. Must be the coffee."Oh, yes. Such a trial." Finnick says, not taking his eyes off the screen. I cant tellwhether hes being serious or not, but Id chance a guess at not so much. Mai jumps onmy comment and goes on and on about training and all that crap. I just let her talk.I spend the next few days in a similar manner. Listening to Mai go on, chatting withFinnick and eventually deciding that hes tolerable, and watching the room descendfurther into chaos as tributes die (once the mentors have no one to watch over theresnothing to stop them from getting blind drunk and you can just imagine how thatsworking out). Its looking like another victory for District Two by the time a week is up,
  • 63. and weve all sort of lost interest in the Games. I know, it sounds horrible, but theresreally no point in worrying about tributes that arent ours.Haymitch has just arrived with several large bottles of something that looks to be almostpure alcohol to cheers from his more inebriated drinking buddies, and I decide to get outof here before they have a chance to open the bottles."Im gonna go shower." I say, standing up out of Mais chair (shes on a coffee run) andstretching."You want me to join you?" Finnick asks, slipping into his seductive persona. Im not surewhether he does it consciously or whether its just all the years of acting for the camerasthat induces the little episodes."Tempting as that sounds…someone needs to get over themselves." I say, pattingFinnicks head as I walk off."You dont know what youre missing!" Finnick calls after me. I cant decide whether toshudder or laugh at the suggestion. In the end, shudder wins out and it just feels tooweird to shower, no matter how much I love the fancy Capitol showers (we dont evenhave a shower in the house I won—running hot water is rare enough in Seven). So I justhang around on the seventh floor for a while, not doing anything much. Im justconsidering heading back downstairs when theres a knock at the door. That better notbe Finnick, or Im tossing him down the stairs headfirst. I go to answer the door and findthat its not Finnick but one of the Avoxes, a woman with a lot of dark freckles.What with the new information about Avoxes and the fact that theyre mute slaves,formerly "enemies of the state", I gently bite my tongue to reassure myself that its stillthere. The Avox holds out a piece of neatly folded paper, tastefully heavy and yellowed.It smells strongly like blood and something a little more foreign—roses?I unfold the paper and try to read the swooping ink cursive in neat lines. It takes me amoment, but I gather that the message is an informal summons from President Snowhimself. Tea and a chat, reads the letter. I recognize the innocent words with a doublemeaning as the same technique Minerva employed on the Victory Tour—like grandfather,like granddaughter. I knew I recognized Minervas attitude from somewhere. Is thismeeting about the talk Minerva and I had? What I said wasnt too daring, just atransparent claim that I dont fear someone, but you do hear stories…people disappear.All the time.I sigh and thank the Avox, who nods respectfully and promptly vanishes, probably intothe maze of dim hallways that are officially Avox territory. The note called me to Snowsoffice in his own mansion (apparently theres a car waiting outside) as soon as I got themessage, which I guess means right now. Every second begins to feel a little longer thanit should, seeing as I might not have too many left.I know that if Snows calling me in for a private audience, Im pretty much screwed.Lucky, lucky me.
  • 64. Chapter Seventeen"Ah, Miss Mason. Please, come in." President Snow says from behind his giant mahoganydesk as I stand in the doorway, a crisply uniformed Avox having just opened up a hugecarved door, also mahogany. I walk in, no footsteps due to the thick patterned carpet onthe floor. The door closes softly, barely a noise. "Sit, sit." Snow says, gesturing to thechair in front of his desk.I do sit, feeling a little like an already convicted criminal sitting before the judge forsentencing. The desk really is huge, large enough to put Seven back weeks in production,and it seems to separate me and Snow by miles. Not far enough, if you ask me.The smell of blood and what Im almost certain is roses is so strong, I dont know how heeven makes it that potent. For the first time Im seeing Snow without make-up, notunder stage lights, and at a somewhat close range. His face is sort of screwed up, puffylips and tight, sallow skin, but its the eyes that scare me. Snake eyes. You know I hatesnakes, even more so after my unfortunate run-in with a particularly vicious specimen inthe Games. I can barely think of snakes without shuddering, so having one staring at mefrom across a desk is absolutely terrifying.President Snow holds up a finger for me to wait just one second, writes something with aflourish, and marks the piece of paper with an official-looking red ink stamp. He puts thepaper, pen, ink pad and stamp in a drawer on his side of the desk, locks it with a keythat he then drops into a different drawer. When he finally looks up, he doesnt sayanything for a moment, just rakes his eyes over me, focusing for a second here andthere, like hes sizing me up or something.Im feeling distinctly uncomfortable by the time he says, "Youre not especially pretty, areyou?""Im a damn sight prettier than you." I say, firing up almost immediately. I realize mymistake too late and I almost think that the way Snow doesnt respond right away meansthat he wants to execute me or something. Luckily, he then chuckles a little. Relief runsthrough me, and I hate myself for it. Im not scared of this guy. Really. (Okay, so, maybea little.)"Oh, how I wish I could cut out that tongue." Snow says lightly. I panic for a moment,but Snow goes on to ask "Tea?" I stare dumbly at him, wondering if hes acting sostrangely just to mess with me. "Lovely." Snow presses a button on his desk, one out ofmany, and I guess it rings some bell in a kitchen or something, because not ten secondslater a male Avox enters the room with tea on a fancy tray. He disappears after pouringtwo cups and handing one to me, leaving the other on the desk in front of Snow. Thedoor closes softly and were alone again, Snow smiling faintly at me over his teacup."Drink up." He instructs, but I do no such thing. If theres one thing that I know aboutsnakes, its that they use poison with finesse. Accepting tea from the enemy…practicallysigning my own death warrant.Snow sighs. "Miss Mason, I really would like to keep this as civil a meeting as possible.Lets not make this harder than it has to be.""Its just tea." I say, hating the shake in my voice. Get a grip.
  • 65. "To you, maybe. But here in the cultured Capitol, even an innocent cup of tea can havesuch importance, such meaning…" Snow says. He then takes a sip of his own drink andraises his eyebrows at me to do the same. Instead, I place the cup on the table andsmile back at him."Im sorry. I dont have much of a taste for tea." I say sweetly. Its true, but I hope thathe sees the real message here: dont tell me what to do, because I wont."Alright, lets stop wasting time." Snow says, voice suddenly hard as steel. The nicetiesare over with, and I feel myself sitting a little straighter in anticipation of whatever hesgoing to say. I only know it cant be good. "I have a lucrative little side business going,and you will be a part of it.""What side business is this?" I ask, suddenly taken with an uncooperative urge. "Organpoaching? Black market jewelry? Designer drugs?""Youve got the nuance. Its certainly illegal. But—" Snow chuckles a little. "Theres nosuch thing as illegal for me, is there? I am the law.""Is it some sort of gambling ring? Organized crime? Tax extortion?" I suggest, knowingthat all of a sudden were playing a little game with each other. Like children dancingaround in a ring, its all fun and games until someone slips. Not that in this case its funat all."Well, yes, all that, but thats not what concerns you." Snow says, smiling wanly as ifhes losing patience with me."Then please, do tell. What is it that concerns me and my not especially pretty self?" Iask, putting my elbows on the desk and folding my hands, leaning forward. Snow mimicsmy position and were now only about a foot apart, blood and roses threatening tostrangle me."Prostitution, dear Miss Mason." Whispers Snow, scent of blood intensifying andoverpowering that of the roses. Almost like its coming from his mouth. Not surprising,what with the amount of people this snake has bitten."Excuse me?" I ask, not really sure what Ive just heard."Sex, Miss Mason. Sex for money.""Yeah, I know what prostitution is, thanks." Seven has its red-light districts too. Sort of."But how exactly does that concern me?" I can guess, but Ill give Snow one last chanceto reconsider before I break one of these china teacups and slit his throat with theshards."Pompey Granger. Senator for another six months." Snow says, now having dropped thesilky attitude entirely. Pompey…thats the guy who I met at the feast on the Victory Tour,who wouldnt leave me alone. I remember him as basically being really creepy. "He hasexpressed a certain interest in our latest victor. And who am I to deny him? Especiallywith the impressive sums of money he is willing to pay for a night of your company?"This whole idea is so ridiculous that I cant help but laugh. Johanna Mason is not aprostitute, and President Snow sure as hell isnt my pimp. After I stop laughing lightly, Isee that Snow is staring at me with a deadpan that reads only as I am being completely
  • 66. serious and if you dont recognize that then maybe a bullet to the brain will help convinceyou."Thank you for the kind offer, but I think the prostitution scene isnt really for me." I say,standing with what I hope is a sweet smile masking the anger beginning to boil up. Iveturned and made it halfway to the door when Snow speaks back up."I hear that youve met my granddaughter." He says, and I freeze in my tracks. Crap. Idhoped that maybe the fact he hadnt mentioned Minerva yet meant that he wouldnt, likeshed forgotten to mention me to him. Of course not. Shes his little pet, isnt she? "Shetells me youre not scared of me."I cant resist turning around and raising an eyebrow at him, the very model of defiance.In some more rational part of my mind I know Im probably going to pay dearly for this,but the anger now beginning to seep through me is enough to shut that right down. Andanyway, its not like he could do much to me. Ive already survived through basically theworst thing a person could have thrown at them: the Hunger Games. Maybe Im actuallynot scared of him."You may reconsider after hearing what I have to tell you." Snow says. He beckons mecloser, and I walk over while trying to keep the most dominant posture possible. Armscrossed, hips slung a little to the side, expression that Ive perfected over the years (Goon, impress me. I dare you.) Snow keeps beckoning until were back to leaning over thedesk at each other, this time only inches apart."In return for going along with my orders, your family gets to live." He whispers, thesmell of blood all that I can register. The silky tone is back and that tells me everything Ineed to know—were back to talking about his "side business"."Oh, dont worry, I only kill one for each time you refuse me. Who first? Your mother?Such a lovely woman…unfortunate cook, though. Or your brother? Sal, isnt it? Apromising young man. Or that little sister of yours? Wane? Adorable thing. I do lovechildren so."How does he know all that? About my mothers cooking, and everyones names off thetop of his head? Are the houses bugged? The thought almost makes me dizzy (or is thatthe smell of blood?), that even our most private moments could be eavesdropped uponby the Capitol."Of course, not killing leaves quite a bit of room for improvisation." Snow goes on toplainly describe what improvisation could entail, the suggestions for mother and evenlittle Wane explicit and those for Sal none to pleasant either. I dont think even Snowcould order such horrible things to be done, hes just bluffing. None of that is the kind ofthing people can do."Dont worry, Miss Mason. Youve got some time to reflect. You wont turn sixteen foranother three weeks, and then youre out of the Capitol until the next Games. Thatsplenty of time to reconsider your rather foolish decision." Snow says.I stand up straight, thinking clearer now that Ive left the cloud of blood and roses thatsurrounds our dear old dictator. Disgusting man. Never, ever would I agree to anythinghe suggests. Hes not really able to do any of those things to my family, its laughablethat he would even say such things.
  • 67. "Dont count on it." I say sharply, then turn on my heel and stalk out of the room, nofootsteps due to the thick carpet. The door closes softly, the crisply uniformed Avoxstares straight ahead, and I storm back to the car waiting outside.Pretty much the second Ive sat down in the car to be chauffeured back to the TrainingCenter, my little adrenaline rush begins to fade and I realize that I may have made amistake. Whats wrong with me, mouthing off to the president? Refusing his orders? (Hissick, twisted orders?) Can he do what he said to my family? Will one of them be deadwhen I arrive back home, as a warning? That cant be. Its my job to protect my family,they dont know just how evil the Capitol is, they cant know.Have I just condemned my family to death? The thought is making me wobbly, and Imshaking like our old roof in a storm after about two minutes. Normally I really enjoythese rare car rides in the Capitol, but this time I cant think about anything but oh mygod Ive just convinced Snow to kill my family and If I want to save whoever survivesthis time then Im going to have to sleep with that creepy Pompey guy. For money, noless. No, whatever hes willing to pay just goes to Snow. My payment is not havingeveryone I care about killed.I think Im going to hurl by the time we arrive at the Training Center, and its not themotion sickness. Ive moved past being scared and now I just feel dirty, like theres alayer of something oily that I cant scratch off on my skin. I sprint through the emptylobby and will the elevator to move faster, hoping that if I can take a shower itll get ridof this mental image of contamination and I can think about this logically. Im alreadypulling off my clothes before Im even in my room, wanting to do this as fast as possible.But the shower isnt hot enough, theyve put a limit on the little touch-screen panel thatcontrols temperature. Mildly warm isnt going to do anything, I need to get this off me.And its not even real, like a sort of diseased phantom second skin, the water needs to beso hot it fools my mind into thinking Ive shed a layer of skin. I might actually have tolose some skin, but I dont even care. The contamination has begun to press on mymind, making rational thought impossible. They might even be ordering Peacekeepers tooff someone in my family right now, and I couldnt even be upset. All I know is that Ihave to get this shit off me right now or I am going to lose it.How can I disable the safety measures? Well, I cant do anything. I need someone withtechnical skills…"Theyre a little odd, true, but theyre brilliant. You should see some of the things theyvemade."District Three is electronics. The two mentors from Three will know how to work thepanel, fix the temperature safety measures. Not an ideal situation, but I dont care whohelps as long as I can burn off this slick second skin.The elevator certainly takes its time heading back to Control, and I know Im drippingwater all over the place. Whatever. The doors finally open onto a Control half fixated onthe bloody Career battle onscreen and half enjoying a drunken party, and I stalk acrossthe room to find the only two people not partaking in either of these activities comparingnotes and muttering to each other."Hey! Volts!" I dont bother calling Wiress, because if hes creepy then shes doubly soand I dont really want to interact with her more than necessary. "Can you disable thesafteys on the shower?" I demand, coming to a slightly slippery halt.
  • 68. "Um, why?" Beetee asks worriedly."Doesnt matter. Can you or cant you?""Ive, um, never tried…maybe…" Beetee frowns, looking over at Wiress. She gives a littleshrug and goes back to her notes, lazily writing out a long equation."Well then." I grab Beetees arm and begin yanking him out of the room. He gives adespairing look back at Wiress, but she doesnt even look up.Beetee stands as far away from me as possible on the elevator, and I feel like telling himto get over it. Im not that scary. I pace impatiently on the carpet while Beetee takes agood fifteen minutes pulling the panel out of the tiled wall and messing around with thewires behind it. Finally, finally he reports that hes managed to disable the safetymeasures, but hangs around for a moment."Johanna, you know it could be very dangerous to come into contact with water thats—""No lecture, thanks! Appreciate the help, Volts!" I open the door and push Beetee backinto the hallway, then slam and lock the door. He knocks for a little while and calls myname a few times, probably worried that Im going to end up killing myself with what Ihope will be extremely hot water, but I ignore him and he eventually goes away.I test out the new safety-less shower and find that its just hot enough. Okay, maybe alittle too hot, but its doing its job. I wash off the smell of blood and roses, the sickthoughts of prostitution, the panicked worries of my family, the slimy second skin. Imblistered and actually in quite a bit of pain by the time I deem myself properlydecontaminated and turn off the water, but at least now Im clean. No trace of Snow orhis twisted little "side business" could survive that heat. I probably shouldnt have evensurvived, the temperature should have been enough to make me pass out at least.I guess Im stronger than Snow gives me credit for.
  • 69. Chapter EighteenI hesitate for a moment, hand on the doorknob. I cant hear any sound from inside myhouse in Victors Village, and thats not encouraging. The dead make no noise. If Snowshad any of my family killed to warn me, this is when I find out.Ive just turned the knob when the door flies open. Theres Wane, standing in thedoorway. "Johannas back!" She calls into the house. "Johanna, Johanna, what was theCapitol like? Is it like you see on TV? Did you meet—""Wane. Wane, is everyone alright?" I say, falling to my knees and grabbing hershoulders. "Sal and mother, are they okay? Do you know where everyone is?""Yeah, were all here…" Wane shrugs me off and takes a step back. "Are you okay?""Youre sure everythings fine." I say, trying to show that Im being dead serious."Course Im sure." Wane says suspiciously. She backs off and heads back up the stairsafter saying "Welcome home, then," in a tone that clearly says Ive weirded her out. Sheslips halfway up the stairs but manages to catch herself and disappears.Im not satisfied with Wanes claim that theyre all alright. I wont rest until Ive seen formyself that no warning has been delivered on the orders of Snow. I think I can smellsomething cooking, so I try the kitchen first. Yes, theres mother and Sal, thankfully bothalive and well."See, you have to stir it. Or else itll burn." Sal is explaining patiently, demonstrating thestirring in question to my mother over a pot of something that smells spicy."Well, that would explain a lot." Mother mutters, looking down at the pot in a pensiveway. "But you dont have to stir water.""Well, yeah. Its water." Sal says as if talking to a very slow child."Im home." I break into the conversation, sauntering over to see what theyre cooking.Chances are itll be unrecognizable soon. Actually, I dont recognize it now, but it looksedible, which is always a step up.No one bothers to ask how the Capitol was because they must have an idea of how muchit sucks to mentor. To be responsible for two kids, helpless as they die…not much canbeat that out for capability to drive someone crazy. They dont know what else happenedin the Capitol, and Im not about to tell them. I have to protect them, strange as itsounds. Kids are supposed to be the protectees."So, is this dinner?" I ask."Well, hopefully…" mother says, taking the spoon from Sal and experimentally dipping itin the pot."Right, now stir…" Sal instructs her, then turns to me. "Were probably not going to havedinner tonight." He admits. Well, yeah, hes letting mother mess with the food. Always abad idea.
  • 70. Its about then that I really begin computing the fact that everyone is still alive. I makemy escape from the kitchen and drop onto the first stair of the flight leading to thesecond floor, suddenly unable to stop smiling. I knew that the President was onlybluffing. No one is that amoral. Hes just using empty threats, trying to intimidate me.Well. Nice try, Snow. I wont break that easily.Im still jumpy for about a week, a nagging suspicion that Snow was only waiting for meto get home to off someone so that I could witness it firsthand. Every knock on the door,every sudden noise at night, every person I see walking in Victors Village, and Ithink Peacekeeper with orders to kill. But of course, it never is. Its always our neighbors,my fellow victors. There are seven of us total, but only five are still alive. Of course Isadied and the other female victor, Regan I-dont-know-her-last-name suffered an untimelydeath due to a train accident.Alive theres me, of course, Blight, and Jonathan with the flute, but I dont really knowthe others that well. Gage is notoriously unhappily married (leading me to believe thatmarriage doesnt really work out for victors—victors kids are almost always reaped, too)and Rowan has turned to drink. Not that I really blame him, Ive even considered goingand stealing a bottle of something from him after a few particularly graphic nightmares.But I dont want to do that to my family, and I certainly dont want to become one ofHaymitchs drinking buddies.Its been maybe two weeks and Ive decided that were all going to be fine when motherannounces the latest of her ideas for domesticating me. "You remember old Myrtle,right?" She asks me one night after a dinner of something burnt that she tried to make(ignoring Sals instructions)."Sure." I say, affirming that I remember our old neighbor, an elderly lady who would becompletely sluggish until you set foot in her precious yard—then she was shockinglymobile and more often than not would chase you off with her cane. She was so defensivewhen it came to her yard because she spent most of her time gardening: the only personI knew who wasted her time with trivial things like flowers. She was incrediblyprotectiveof them."She passed away three days ago and—""Probably slipped trying to whack another kid over the head." I mumble.I think mothers going to yell at me for disrespecting the dead or whatever, but insteadshe says "Well, yes, but thats beside the point. The Peacekeepers were coming for herwhen I passed on my way to work, and they said that anyone who wanted her gardencould take it.""You didnt say that we wanted it, did you?" I ask, praying for a negative answer."I did." Mother says, and I groan. "Just the roses, people had already claimed the rest ofit. Most of that stuff was edible, I had no idea.""But why?" I ask. Such a pointless thing to lay claim to."April rang today." Mother says, referring to the telephone that only April ever calls uson. Shes got some idea that were all chummy when really the truth couldnt be moredifferent. "She says that you had better get a talent soon, and I figured that if you tookcare of the roses we could at least have something to show the cameras."
  • 71. "Oh, no. No way. You signed up for this, you can take care of the roses." I personallyhave zero interest in flowers, theyre pointless and stupid, so April can just deal withhaving a talentless tribute. Probably wont improve her opinion of me, but whatever."I have to work! Youre the only one of us who has nothing to do all day." Mother says, atouch of jealousy in her voice. Its true that she still has work, Wane has to go to school,and Sal has both work and school. The way work is organized in Seven is that yourerequired to take a two-hour shift in whatever your industry is (factories, forests,whatever) every day, as a minimum, from the day you turn thirteen onwards. But thepay for that is dismal, barely enough to support one person who doesnt need to eat. Sofor extra money, you can work as many shifts as time will allow, though wages arealways poor. As long as Im alive no one in my family will ever have to take more thanthe mandatory shifts, and Ill never have to work in the forests again, but should I diebefore the rest of my family theyd have to move back home and take up their old workschedules."Hey, thats not true. Im very busy." I say."Doing what?" Mother asks. I dont have an answer, and she knows it. "Im bringinghome the roses tomorrow. Just make sure they dont die and Ill be happy.""I wont do it!" I warn mother as she stands and begins to make her way out of theroom."Well just see about that." Mother says confidently.Sal ends up taking care of the roses.He doesnt complain once, either. The summer is hot and sticky, not ideal conditions forbeing outside and kneeling in the dirt, but Sal throws himself into gardening with avengeance. Wane and I spend a good hour over the course of the next few monthswatching him from an open window. Its just so funny, and April totally buys our lies thatIm the one gardening. (Shes thrilled.)"Well make a girl out of you yet." Wane comments one particularly bright Sunday (wecan practically see the back of Sals neck getting sunburnt from our vantage pointinside)."Whats that supposed to mean?" Sal asks, not looking up from the ground. Hes spent allday transferring the roses from pots to the ground, seeing as today is Sunday and theresno work."Well…" I grin at Wane. "You cook.""You garden." She adds, leaning over the windowsill and looking down."And youre the only one who can work the washing machine.""Hey, now. That doesnt make me girl." Sal protests, looking up and squinting slightlyfrom the sun."Well. I suppose we could get a second opinion." I suggest. "How about that girl whosalways hanging around?"
  • 72. "Uh, what girl?" Sal asks, turning his attention back to the ground."The one who you think we dont notice." Wane says. "Who you meet every morningbefore school…""And walks back from work with you…" I join in."And always makes you late after said work…""And who spends every Sunday here. As a matter of fact, where is she? Shouldnt youtwo be working on your roses about now?" I say, sharing a smirk with Wane. Shes lessannoying now that shes grown up a little, and I find it kind of nice that we know eachother well enough to gang up on Sal as we do. Ah, the joy of sisterhood. Always having apartner in crime and someone to blame it on if things go south."I dont know what youre talking about." Sal mumbles, rubbing his ear. But he does.Wane and I are referring to the girl who has become sort of omnipresent in our lives,though we pretend not to see her out of respect for Sal (something thats in shortsupply). She does spend every Sunday here, working on the roses with Sal. They seemto have fun together, and shes quite pretty. Whatever limited maturity I have is allthats keeping me from breaking into chants of Sals got a girlfriend! Sals got agirlfriend! every time I see her."Sure you do." Wane says, crossing her arms. "Dont lie to us. Well find out somehow.""See, Im clearly not a girl because I could never be as irritating as you two." Sal says,standing and brushing some of the dirt off his clothes."Come on, dont try to hold out…" I say, chuckling at Wanes solemn nod of agreement,so out of place on such a little kid. Well, not so little any more. She seems a lot olderthan her seven years, though I cant think why. I hate the idea that its the stress ofhaving a victor for a sister thats aged her prematurely, so I try not to consider it."Fine! Man, you two should go into business as torturers for the Capitol. You wouldnteven have to lay a finger on the prisoners." Sal says, throwing up his hands. He seems torealize a little late that what hes just said stings a little of knowledge and dissatisfactionconcerning the Capitol, so he hurriedly says, "Her name is Myrtle."I remember wondering if the houses are bugged, so I quickly follow up with "Not like oldMyrtle? Who the roses belonged to?""Yeah, just like her, actually. My Myrtle was named for her grandmother. Shes just beengiving me some gardening tips.""My Myrtle?" Wane asks suspiciously."Oh, you know what I mean." Sal says testily, rubbing his ear so vigorously I think itmight fall off."My Myrtle?" I echo, turning to Wane. "You know what that sounds like to me?""Sal has a girlfriend! Sal has a girlfriend!" Wane crows happily, no qualms about seemingchildish because, I suppose, she is still a child. Technically.
  • 73. Sal groans in frustration. "You two are hopeless!" he says, stalking off along the side ofthe house."Hey, did you two kiss yet?" I call after him, sticking my head out of the window. "Didyou hook up?" I shout even louder."Shut up!" Sal shouts, not turning around. I can see that hes crazy red, and not from thesunburn either. He ducks around the corner of the house and disappears.Wane stops chanting. "Whats hook up mean?" She asks."Ask mother." Ive probably already stolen enough of her childhood.Myrtle shows up maybe five minutes later, and we dont see either her or Sal for the restof the day. Its good to know that someone in this family still has a life in the district. Ihardly ever venture out of the house anymore because its just so awkward. Everyoneavoids catching my eye, Ive always got a good few feet of personal space because noone wants to get too close, and everyone is really polite if theyre trapped in aconversation or whatever, but I can tell that theyre really just frantic to get away fromme. Its sort of bizarre, seeing as most Sevens are pretty close, and before this wholeordeal I was a part of the district. I even had friends, sort of. Now its just me and myfamily.Which is why Snow had better not touch them. Hell regret it every miserable day of hislife. And believe me, he lays a finger on my family and that life wont go on much longer
  • 74. Chapter NineteenIts going to be another disappointing year for District Seven. Whereas last year ourtributes actually had a ghost of a chance and were stupid enough to screw it up forthemselves, these two are barely fourteen and sawmill kids, meaning that their lungs arepractically swimming with sawdust. The boy is named Ash and the girl is Willow, whichkind of cracks me up. Whats with all the tree names, anyhow? I mean, I get that werethe lumber district and all, but these parents are taking it a bit far. I, at least, have asensible name."Come on! Look alive!" I call, leaning back in my chair."Johanna…whats going on?" Gage asks, entering the dining room. Hes been off talkingto Silas of Eight, now returning to our floor in the Training Center with maybe tenminutes until dinner."Oh, just trying to work in as much training as possible." I explain, gesturing to thetributes who are currently running around the perimeter large dining room."What?" Gage asks, frowning. "Youre making the tributes run laps?""Well, thats one way to put it…" Really Im just having them run because it amuses me,but you could say it however you want. Oh, dont look at me like that. Of course Isympathize with the tributes, I know what its like to be them, but I cant think of themas real people. Then itll hurt when they die. Call it a coping mechanism."Oh, my god." Gage mutters. "Guys, guys, stop running." He turns around and walksover to stop the tributes, who stumble to a halt and nod at him, eyes wide, then fall intotheir chairs, wheezing. Its the sawdust. "Johanna, what did I say about abusing thetributes?" Gage says, turning on me."Nothing.""Thats right. Because I shouldnt have to.""Its not abuse.""Johanna." Gage says with a glare."Gage." I mimic his tone."Okay, listen to me." Gage turns to the tributes, both struggling for breath. "You guysdont have to do anything she says. Really." They nod at him dumbly, their breathingbeginning to get back under control."Hang on, Im their mentor too." I protest. Gage gives me a disparaging look, and I jumpto defend myself. "Well, fine, then. Just dont blame me when they die because theycouldnt run fast enough to escape the bloodbath."The girl, Willow, tears up and Ash pats her back, nailing me with a fierce glare. I shrug,because its not like it matters. The chances of these two surviving the first day are slim-to-none, so well worry about that if it happens. Ive got enough on my mind as it is.
  • 75. I assume that as soon as Seven is out of the Games, Ill be called in by Snow again. Totell him that I havent reconsidered, and that I still dont fear him. He hasnt done any ofthe things he claimed he would, and frankly I dont think he even can. No one has thatsort of absolute power over life and death, not even Snow. Whatever Minerva would haveme believe, I have no reason to be scared of him. Still, I bet that he wont be very happywith me."Man, I love this stuff." Gage mutters to himself two days later, on the morning of theGames. Hes talking about the large mug of coffee in his hands, something thats grownon me as well. Not the taste, but the capability to keep me awake for days on end."You can say that again." I agree, downing the last of my coffee. Three minutes to thebeginning of the Games, and Control is just as hectic as last year, everyone scramblingto get the sponsorship money prepped and all their monitors working properly (Wiressand Beetee are in high demand this year, everyone seems to be suffering from some sortof glitch with the maps that track the tributes)."I never have it at home. Its been exactly four years." Gage says, looking pensively atthe coffee."Why?" I ask. Its not like he cant afford it."My wife says its the work of the devil or something. I dont even think devils are a realthing. She just uses that excuse for anything she doesnt like." Gage says, trailing off andmumbling into his coffee. I know that Gage and his wife are infamously unhappilymarried, but I blame him for being stupid enough to go for it. At least he was smartenough to not have kids.I just shrug and turn my attention back to the monitors. Weve got exactly two sympathysponsors this year, and theyve donated about enough to buy a cracker. Or maybe anaspirin pill. Generosity abounds in the Capitol, clearly."Ladies and Gentlemen, let the Seventieth Hunger Games begin!" And were off.Onscreen, we can see that the arena isnt really anything special, an expansive greenfield dotted with pale wildflowers, a slow-moving river in the distance, a thin saplingforest off to the west. Not too far away, we can see the river winding its way up thebrown mountains that ring the entire arena. (Well, theyre a little small for mountains,but much too big to be hills.) All the tributes hang back on their plates for a few secondsafter the gong rings, probably remembering That Girl From Seven and her bloody,explosive end last year. District pride, everyone. Try it sometime.Its not five minutes later that Ash is on the ground, soaking in a pool of blood thats bothhis own and that of the girl from Five next to him, both taken out by a particularlydestructive swing of a mace wielded by the boy from One. At least it was probably fastand relatively painless. But Willow manages to snag a very small backpack and take offwithout being targeted, a real piece of luck."See, I told you I wasnt abusing the tributes. She could never run that fast if it werentfor my methods." I say as we watch Willow running through the sapling forest."I think thats fear, Johanna.""Whatever."
  • 76. Hardly any tributes die in the bloodbath compared to the usual number, only five. Ash,the girl from Five, both from Twelve, the boy from Eleven. I know were in for a long haulthis year and take my opportunity to get more coffee in preparation, seeing as we couldhave to be awake for days, weeks on end. I run into Finnick at the table by the elevatordoors that never seems to run out of coffee (A wise strategy on the part of whoever putit there—ply the mentors with coffee and theyll just quietly do their work)."Are you really going to drink all of that?" I ask Finnick, watching him set up a sort ofassembly line, filling mug after mug with coffee and then moving on to drop in sugarcubes from a packet that was in his pocket."Cant fall asleep." He mutters, not looking up."And why is this year so special?" I ask, picking up the only pot that still has anything init. "Hey, theres only decaf left!""Sorry." Finnick says, trying to pick up all his coffee but coming up short by the severalextra hands hed need to carry it all. "Little help here?" he asks."Fine." I help Finnick ferry the coffee over to the District Four station, knowing that Ireally should be going to watch Willow. "You didnt answer. Why is this year special?" Iask again, halfway to the station."I, uh, know the tribute." Finnick says evasively."Who is he?""Its the girl, actually. Annie Cresta.""How do you know her?""Not that its any of your business, she used to live next door to us. We, uh, I guesswere kind of friends." Finnick says, about as vaguely as possible."Whatever you say." I remember Annie Cresta from the interviews as being completelypassable, quiet and sweet, technically a Career (shed been trained) but lacking in anykiller instinct. Finnicks probably going to lose a friend this year.I return to the District Seven station after conceding to myself that Im not getting anymore information from Finnick. As I predicted, this years Hunger Games slowly spin outinto a test of endurance. Id be totally done for if this had been my year seeing as mystrategy was basically "forget about how beat up you are and just get out of here as fastas you can and theyll fix you", and these Games are ending no time soon. The sponsorsare really holding out on us this year and the tributes are being forced to heal theirwounds themselves and hunt for whatever they can catch, even the Careers. (Its funnyto watch them struggle.) Willow has had amazing luck so far, hiding out in one of thetaller trees and basically just avoiding confrontation. She wont be winning with thatstrategy, but its keeping her alive. And his year, thats the name of the game.I keep an eye on Annie Cresta, Finnicks friend, and constantly wonder how shes made itso far. Every time the Careers manage to track down a tribute, she closes her eyes andclaps her hands to her ears, and she hasnt actually killed anyone yet herself. The otherCareers want her gone, but her district partner, a really giant guy whos probably beentraining since he was two keeps sticking up for her every time they try to off her. And the
  • 77. Careers need the boy, Dorian, because hes such a powerful asset and they dont knowhow much longer theyll have to stick together. So Annie Cresta is tolerated.That is, until one particularly blustery day in the arena. Its already been an eventful day,a bloody run-in between two tributes in the early morning and another sponsor coming infor Willow (we can send her some food, which may end up saving her life—she refuses toleave the tree). The weather is really headed south, clouds gathering and rain spittingdown. What begins as a semi innocent jab at Annies lack of kills becomes a fully-fledgedargument that quickly turns violent."We cant keep her around, you idiot! Shes dead weight!" Thats the boy from One whokilled Ash."You better shut up, or Ill put new meaning into dead weight." Dorian saysthreateningly, tightening his hold on his sword."I say we ditch the mad girl too." Says the girl from Two, lazily putting in her two centsfrom the sidelines."Shes not mad, shes just…" Dorian trails off because it wouldnt be smart to say thatAnnies "clearly something closer to unbalanced", always murmuring to herself andsmiling for absolutely no reason. But shes holding it together and always manages to becoherent when addressed. Though honestly, that isnt too often. Even her advocateDorian doesnt talk to her much, probably a little weirded out by her strangemannerisms."Look, were not going to let her slow us down any more and if you dont agree then welldump you too." Says the girl from One, coming to stand by the others. Annie is watchingfrom the sidelines, seemingly too petrified to run. Idiot girl. She should be booking it forthe mountains right about now.And thats when it turns violent. The rain has just started coming down in earnest andIm not sure but I think the ground might be shaking (its hard to tell, seeing as werejust watching on a screen) and the fight is difficult to distinguish. Theres blood, oh yes,lots of blood, and the sound of metal on metal and metal on flesh is echoing aroundControl, being played on almost all the monitors. I tear my eyes from the whirling battleonscreen to glance at Finnick, over at the District Four station. Hes pacing, pacing,pacing, so fast I think hes going to wear a hole in the floor. The other mentor, Mai again,isnt even trying to stop him, so I guess this has been going on for a while. Poor Finnick.He and Annie must be closer than hes letting on.The ground has stopped shaking by the time the fight draws to its close. We can seealmost clearly when the girl from One, having forced Dorians sword from him, takes awild swing and actually lops off Dorians head. The head flies through the air, hitting thewet grass and rolling for a few inches before coming to a gentle stop face-down, barelybumping the toes of Annies boots.She screams. Finnick paces faster. I think I may have had too much coffee, Im alljittery. Annie screams. Finnick paces yet faster. Annie turns and runs through the rain,away from the Careers now turning their attention to her. Finnick almost trips butcatches himself and paces some more. I rub the dent in my forehead to work off some ofthe excess energy, trying to ignore the fact that I feel a little sick.
  • 78. Annie hides. Finnick paces. It rains. A day passes by and Finnick hasnt stopped pacingyet. If anyones had too much coffee here, its him. Willow is miserable and starving inthe rain, but clings to life, up in her tree. Shes not going to win this, shes just delayingthe inevitable. She might as well let go of that branch and fall to her death right now andsave herself the suffering. But no, this is an arena of endurance and everyone is holdingon fiercely to survival. Unwilling to give an inch.Then the rain clears up. Everyone is brightening, coming out of their shelters, shakingout their wet hair and preparing to get on with the killing they have to do. Its a shortgrace period of hope for the tributes brought to a screeching halt by whats unmistakablythe ground shaking. There have been tremors before, little things that you couldconvince yourself youd imagined. But this? No, this is undeniably real. The groundshakes and the cameras cant get a clear picture of anything, its chaos onscreen untilthey get an aerial shot worked out.The aerial shot shows us something not entirely encouraging. The river, up until now lazyand shallow, was being held back by some sort of dam by its source in the mountains.And now the earthquake has broken that dam and thousands of tons of water arecoursing down the mountainside at breakneck speeds. The earth stops shaking, but thedamage has been done.Willow is right in the path of the water. She hears the roar of the coming tide and tries tojump out of her tree, to run, but shes been stuck in her cramped crouch for too long andher landing is messy, her run slow and stumbling. Shes made it maybe five feet beforethe new-and-improved river has taken its first life, her body tossed by the raw impactbefore disappearing into the water."Dont think she was going to outrun that one." Gage remarks darkly. It sounds like acomment I might make, except something seems to have messed with my mind. Anniesunhinging, Finnicks bizarre behavior, our first tribute that seemed like a real personkilled, the impending sense of disaster that I now feel creeping up on me—no, its beencreeping this whole time, now its pouncing—about the meeting Ill surely be having withSnow soon. So instead of appreciating the dark humor, I rub the dent in my foreheadmore vigorously, not replying.The water pours into the arena, on and on for hours. The flow doesnt lessen, itincreases. The Gamemakers must have drained something like an ocean to fuel theflooding of their arena, but its not like they care. Anything to make sure the Games area hit, right? Three tributes die in the initial event, leaving the number at four. Three ofthem are smart enough to climb trees, because surely they cant swim, but Annie Crestajust stays huddled in a thorn bush, whimpering and letting the water pool around her.Eventually it rises so high that shes picked up off the ground, but then she just treadswater. Over time her expression clears and the haunted air shes had since the Dorianincident becomes peaceful as she paddles around in the twenty feet of water, probablyremembering childhood swims in District Four. Shes deluded, but at least shes happynow.Two of the tree tributes drown as soon as the water rises high enough to sweep them offtheir perches, but the other, I think the boy from Nine, kicks off his shoes and dumps hisbackpack, managing to tread water frantically. Annie paddles around lazily, floatingabout and stroking in wide circles as if she hasnt a care in the world. The boy from Nineis probably just going on instinct, he doesnt know enough to be aware that floating onhis back would be the best chance of survival. But this is an arena of endurance, andneither gives in.
  • 79. I look over at the District Four station, to see if Finnick has collapsed yet. You cant pacefor days on end without feeling some fatigue—even with coffee. But no, hes nowstanding still, eyes glued to the screen that shows whats being broadcasted to all ofPanem, currently Annie and District Nine swimming for their lives. Mai stands and sayssomething to Finnick, and he nods a little but otherwise makes no sign that hes heardher. Mai walks off, leaving Control. Nothing she can do now."Ill be right back." I say to Gage, who nods distractedly and simply downs the last of hiscoffee. (Im surprised that the man isnt doing cartwheels, what with the amount ofcoffee hes drunk in the past week.) I walk over to Finnick and join him in silent vigil,watching Annie do an unconcerned backstroke."Now youre the one who cant ditch me." I joke, because I know Finnick would probablyrather be left alone. But he turns to me and gives a weak smile that looks forced on sucha tired face. He hasnt slept in almost a week, been too busy pacing. Worry lines that Icould swear werent there a few days ago have made an appearance, and the wayFinnicks swaying isnt entirely encouraging."Why dont you sit down." I suggest. Finnick nods and drops into his chair, looking a littlelike a child who isnt quite sure whats happening. I take Mais chair and pull my knees upto under my chin, wondering what exactly is up with Finnick. I mean, I get that he andAnnie friends and all, but this is kind of overboard. If I had a friend in the Games (notgoing to happen, seeing as I have no friends in the first place) Id be worried, yes, butnot on this level. "Spill." I command."What?" Finnick asks, voice a little rusty from disuse."Whats with you and Annie?""I already told you, were friends.""No, youre not. Friends is trying a little harder to get them sponsors. Friends is makingsure that the stylists dont make them look stupid. Friends is keeping a careful eye onthem. Friends is not staying awake for weeks and pacing a hole in the floor while youworry yourself into oblivion."Finnick doesnt reply.I try to piece this together on my own. "Shes sort of pretty." I say, watching Finnick fora reaction. He doesnt have one. But Finnick doesnt seem like the type to fall for atribute, not to mention the fact that hes had about five different girlfriends every time hecomes to the Capitol, all ridiculously rich, ever since he turned sixteen.Hang on. You wont turn sixteen for another three weeks, and then youre out of theCapitol until the next Games. Thats plenty of time to reconsider your rather foolishdecision. Something clicks into place, something that I think has sort of been floatingaround ever since my little conversation with Snow. Of course Finnick would be involvedwith Snows "side business", how could he not be? But I cant remember him having anyfamily, they were never shown on television at all."So Annies the one youre protecting." I say, knowing that Finnick probably wont seewhere Im coming from with this.
  • 80. But he turns from the screen and gives me a critical look. "How…" he sighs, shaking hishead and looking back at the screen.I feel a sort of new appreciation for Finnick. If hes going along with Snow, he must havenot even needed a warning. Anything to protect Annie, who is clearly the one girl heactually loves. So much that he wasnt smart enough to wait to see if Snow was bluffingor not. I know that Im being stupid, but I cant help liking Finnick that much more for it."Shell be fine." I say, surprising myself a little. Im generally not one for encouragement,but some people deserve a little assurance."But shes…" Finnick doesnt seem to know how exactly to say that Annies totally lost it,and I dont think hed really appreciate me saying it for him."Look, shell win and come home. And shell get better." Im lying through my teeth, youcant reverse insanity, but its worth a shot."I cant fix her." Finnick says despondently, watching Annie kick idly across the floodedarena."You can try." I say, though I know hes right. Finnick doesnt respond and we watchquietly as District Nine goes under with a last little cry and a small splash. Annie is thevictor. Such an anticlimactic end—usually the Games wrap up with the final two tributesfacing off in an extremely bloody battle. This was almost peaceful. The hovercraft comesfor Annie and someone has to come down the ladder and drag her up, because she wontdo it herself."Told you." I say. Finnick sighs heavily, doesnt say anything, and stands to go receivehis tribute. Theyll land in the Capitol and fix up Annies body, but I dont know what canbe done for her mind. Probably not a lot. But we can always try.Right?
  • 81. Chapter Twenty"Im sorry."I turn to see District Sevens resident shoemaker, a woman who Ive disliked for quite along time. Its hard to get time and clearance to leave the fenced-in forests to get totown and we Masons seem to run through shoes unusually fast, so whenever we manageto come to town we drop by her store and spend whats often half the months pay onshoes. Shes fallen into the habit of closing the store whenever we try to stop in, and Icant fathom why. Were a joy to have around, really.I pull away from the hand shes placed on my arm, wondering what exactly she thinksshes doing. No one talks to me anymore, not voluntarily. "What are you talking about,Claire?" I ask sharply. Ive only just arrived back in Seven from the Capitol, am walkinghome from the train station. Or I was, before Claire decided to bother me."The accident." Claire says, blinking in surprise.I narrow my eyes. "What accident?""Oh. Oh, dear. Have you just gotten back into town?" Claire takes a step back, lookinghorrified with herself."Yeah. What accident?""Oh, Im so, so sorry." Claire says, eyes wide. She pulls her coat a little tighter againstthe unusually blustery September weather and hurries off.What was that all about? What accident? I walk a little faster. No reason to panic, but…"You again?" I ask, disappointed to see not Snow but the little brat Minerva behind hisdesk when I enter the giant mahogany office."Im like a stray puppy following you home. You cant get rid of me." Minerva says with alittle smile, easily managing to make the words unnerving.More like a disease. "Wheres your dear grandfather?" I ask, not wanting to waste time."Grandfathers at a meeting. Hell be a few hours. And then were going to the zoo.Therell be cameras, but you take what you can get…" Minerva says, shrugging andleaning back in Snows chair. Its way too big for her physically, but somehow she seemsto fill the space with her utterly creepy aura.What the hell is a zoo? Not important. "I dont have a few hours." I say, though I do.Were not being sent back to our respective districts until tomorrow morning, but I dontwant to spend all day waiting for Snow with his weird granddaughter."Oh, well then! Well just call Grandfather out of his meeting and he can see you at once!Because the future of our entire country is worthless compared to you and your timeconstraints!" Minerva says. Little bitch."Take a message for me, wont you?" I say cuttingly, ignoring her comment.
  • 82. "Sure, but itll cost you…" Minerva says casually. "On a more important note, what doyou think of this color on me? Im worried its a little flashy for television, you know?" sheasks, gesturing to the vibrant pink of her childish smock dress and ribbon holding backher dark hair. Shes dressed like a six-year-old, not a girl of eleven or twelve as she mustbe. Probably for the cameras she was talking about."You look horrible. Not that the color has anything to do with it. And Im not paying youanything." Im getting fed up with this girl. Its like shes being irritating on purpose.Though, actually, she probably is. "Tell Snow that he can take his side business andshove it." I snap, frustration making me a bit franker than is probably wise."In those words?" Minerva asks, raising an eyebrow. I wonder if she knows what Imreferring to. Maybe, maybe not."Phrase it however you like." I say, turning around and heading for the door. Minervalaughs, a high-pitched childish chortle, as the same crisply uniformed Avox who tendedthe door last time I was here closes the door behind me with barely a sound.Is it just me, or am I getting more stares than usual? More quickly averted glances, morepeople suddenly seemingly all too interested in the cobblestoned street? No, thats justthe paranoia talking. Im infamous. This is how town always is. But what accident wasClaire talking about? Maybe some sort of…fire in a factory? A logging accident? But whywould Claire apologize to me if it was just some industry incident?In hindsight, telling Snow to shove it was probably a mistake. I walk yet faster, trying tohold back from breaking into a trot. Dignity, everyone. Id like to preserve what of it Ivegot left. But I really just want to full-out sprint to my house in Victors Village, terrified ofwhat Im going to find there. An accident. Snow angry with me, doing what he claimedhe would from the beginning. Brutal murders, twisted "improvisation".Dont panic. Dont panic. He didnt do anything last time. Maybe Sal just screwed upagain with the fuse box. Maybe mother flooded the cellar again. Maybe Wane fell downthe stairs and broke something this time. This is just some stupid little thing, Claireoverreacting. No reason to worry.The wind gives out halfway to Victors Village and Im forced to hurry home unaided bythe airstream but even so it takes me about five minutes to make whats usually atwenty-minute trip across town. Everything looksnormal. Same twelve houses, lights onin four of them—even mine. Thats encouraging.The dry early evening smells more faintly of pine than when its raining, and the sky isstuck in that pale half-day, half-night stage. Just like every other day. The house hasntbeen burned down, the lights are on, and theres the laundry on its line outside.Whatever Claire was going on about, my family is fine. Snow hasnt got the guts to hurtthem. Smart decision on his part.I walk across the grass that separates our houses, ignoring the fact that everythingseems eerily quiet. Jonathans not playing that damned flute, for once. Gages wife isntraising hell, shouting about whatever it is she shouts about twenty-four-seven (thoughthat might just be because Gage isnt home yet). The silence is settling uneasily on myshoulders, just because its so unusual. To dispel the sense of anxiety, I pause outsidethe house and pull some of the dry laundry down from the line. It smells like pine.Everything does here.
  • 83. "Im home." I call into my quiet house, closing the front door behind me and droppingthe laundry by the door. Wane doesnt come slipping down the stairs. No one calls Howwas the Capitol? even though they know it was horrible. Theres no hum of conversationfrom elsewhere."Hello?" Its warm. Too warm. We never use the heating until late November at least.And the windows are closed. Wrong. This is wrong."Anyone home?" I make my way down the hallway, checking the kitchen several timesover. I always seem to find Sal there. Nothing is burning in the oven, blackened on thestove. Wrong."Guys, this isnt funny." It couldnt be further from funny. All the beds are made upstairs,the cellar doesnt even have any puddles on the floor. Wrong. I would think they juststepped out, but this house looks like its never been lived in. Not by the Masons, atleast. This is wrong.Theres a slight chill from the next room over—the window just above the flowerbedwhere Sal had his roses is open. I go to investigate why only this one window is open asit should be, and see the folded paper resting on the sill. An odd place for a note, I think.But who can understand the way Snows mind works? I recognize the tastefully yellowedheavy paper, the looping ink cursive. A short message.I did try to warn you.I dont cry. I dont collapse. What do you expect? No, I pull myself out the open thewindow and drop into the flowerbed, proceeding to yank the roses that Sal so carefullycultivated out of the ground. Because I cant stand even to have these natural, belovedroses around me. They stink of Snow. And anyway, Sals not going to be around to care,is he? No. Because Snow killed him. Killed all of them.Which is wrong. Wrong. Only one, he said. For each time. One. Maybe my rash wordsmade him angry enough to break his rule. Maybe Minerva embroidered the message andmade it more offensive than I meant it to be. Maybe the Peacekeepers misunderstoodtheir orders. Maybe Snow decided that I wasnt worth holding back on. Not in highdemand, just get rid of the problem right now. Trying to break my spirit, like the peopleof Eleven. A mistake. Didnt work, wont work.Im going to kill Snow. Slowly. Blood. Screams. Better than he deserves.There will be a time for sadness, a time for depression, bargaining, denial, whatever thehell goes on after ones family is murdered. But right now, as I lug the roses across ouryard and dump them by the side of Rowans house, scratches covering my hands andarms, all I feel is anger. Boiling on the surface. Explosive. No one had better try toapproach me right now, because Ill bite their head off. Probably literally.I go back to my house and open up every single window. Its freezing inside, but I dontcare. I boil myself a kettle of water and spend the night wrapped in blankets, drinkingwater thats way too hot, and imagining all the ways I could kill Snow. Im having sometrouble—nothing seems bad enough for him. But Ive got a year to figure it out.And then? And then, my friends, Snow pays.
  • 84. Chapter Twenty-One"You guys have meetings in closets? Really?" I ask, crossing my arms and surveying therag-tag state of our little…well, I guess you could call it a rebellion. At a stretch.Crammed into a maintenance closet on the twelfth floor weve got, along with somemops and caustic cleaning products, a rather unorthodox group of insurgents.Mags and Haymitch are the leaders. Haymitch isnt quite fit for command, being thedrunk he is, and Mags isnt as young as she used to be. But it was Mags who started thiswhole thing, almost a quarter century ago, convincing a trusted group of victors to join.It was mostly getting together and drinking, talking about revenge with no intent onacting on any of it, in those early days. If the stories are to be believed. But whenHaymitch got involved, they sort of whipped themselves into shape. Haymitchactually is out for revenge. And drunk or not, hes extremely determined.Wiress and Beetee are the brains behind the organization, as is to be expected. Theyvegot dozens of boxes full of papers—highly illegal papers—detailing weapons, explosives,scanners that detect metal, these little keypad devices for communicating overthousands of miles, anything you could name, really. Anything someone thought mightbe useful at some point, theyve drawn up a schematic. Im not sure whether that makesthem admirable or insane. Probably just insane.Mostly, the rest of them are foot soldiers. Helping in their own important, thoughsignificantly less so, ways. Finnick and all his connections with the wealthy and powerfulof the Capitol, Mai and her knowledge of battle strategy, so on. I recognize all the facesaround the brightly lit maintenance closet: theres Cecilia and her kid buddy Silas ofEight, theres Chaff, his alcohol, and Seeder of Eleven, theres Blight (Im a littlesurprised hes been involved with this the whole time and never thought to include me,but whatever), and for some reason, the morphlings of Six are standing shakily in acorner."You have a better idea?" Finnick asks, quietly closing the door behind us and givingeveryone an extra few inches in which to stand. "Everywhere else is bugged." Imnot quite sure how Finnick convinced me this was a good idea. All I want to do is marchover to Snows office and bash his brains out. But Finnick caught me on my way to thelobby and I had told him the whole story before I even realized what had happened.Manipulative little bastard, he is.Johanna, this way is better, we can help everyone like this, youll never even make it tohis office, were really making progress, all we need is a figurehead, soon well come outof the shadows and Snow wont be able to stop us—I thought Finnick was never going tostop talking. Just to shut him up, I agreed that Id forget about my "find Snow and tosshim out a window after some violent torture" approach and join their little rebelliongroup. I have to admit, for all their apparent amateurism, these "rebels" are prettyimpressive. If Im reading it right, they have a huge, huge underground network acrossmuch of Panem and the upper-class Capitol (all the people with real power). They saythat Plutarch Heavensbee has been involved from the beginning, back when he was alowly intern. Now hes Vice-Head Gamemaker, calling the shots. Not in favor of therebellion, not yet, but he says that as soon as we come out of the shadows hell openlyjoin the cause.But for now?"Repeat after me." Haymitch says.
  • 85. "Repeat after me." I repeat."Dont be difficult." Haymitch glares, tipping back his bottle for the last drops of whateverwas in there (dont worry, hes got several bottles more)."Dont be difficult.""Johanna, Im warning you.""I dont see what the point of swearing me in is. If I wanted to blow the whistle, thiswouldnt make any difference.""Just cooperate.""Whatever.""Well start again. Repeat after me. I solemnly swear…"I roll my eyes. "I solemnly swear…""On my life, my familys life, and all alcohol everywhere…""Hang on, thats not a part of the swear." Seeder protests."It is from now on." Haymitch replies."Hear, hear!" Chaff agrees, substantially less than sober.Mags says something thats hard to understand. Shes going on eighty and had a stroke afew years ago, so her words are often difficult to decipher. But Finnick can translate."She says can we please stop wasting time?""Sorry. I solemnly swear on my life and my familys life that I, Johanna Mason,"Haymitch begins again. "Will keep secret all that is said and done in these meetings.None of what happens here will ever leave the room."Room is a bit of a stretch."I solemnly swear on my life that I, Johanna Mason, will keep secret all that is said anddone in these meetings. None of what happens here will ever leave the room." I canthelp but snicker. "Thats a bit dramatic, dont you think?""Well, good enough, I guess." Haymitch says grudgingly, not answering my question.And so Im officially a rebel."Right. I call the meeting to a close. See you all next year." Haymitch says half an hourlater, surprisingly steady on his feet for someone whos been drinking heavily this wholetime. We have to leave in pairs of two, itd look suspicious if everyone just reappeared atonce (not that theres anyone around to see—the tributes are finishing up their last dayof training and the other mentors generally stay on their floors). Wiress and Beetee leavefirst, just in the interests of security, because theyve got all those papers on them. Chaffand Seeder leave next, Seeder reluctantly helping drunken Chaff keep his balance byholding his remaining arm. The next to go are Cecilia and Silas, Mags and Haymitchdiscussing something animatedly (no idea what it is), the morphlings.
  • 86. "Can someone please tell me what the morphlings have to do with any of this?" I askafter theyve gone. Theyre useless, really."They stumbled across a meeting a few years ago. Probably looking for somewhere to hitup." I dont think thats how morphling works (dont you need an IV?) but I dont arguewith Mai. "Only way to keep them quiet was to have them join." She says. "Finnick, letsgo.""No, you go with Blight. I want to talk to Johanna." Finnick says, surprising me. I lookover questioningly, but Finnick avoids catching my eye. Mai and Blight shrug and maketheir exit, leaving me and Finnick."You didnt say the swear right." Finnick says after a moments delay."What, you mean the bit about it being overdramatic? Big deal." I reply."No. Youd swear on your life, but not your familys."Fuck. Id hoped no one would notice, or at least have the intelligence not to ask. Ofcourse I cant swear on the lives of my family. "Must be because Im going straight toSnow and telling him what you guys are doing." I say, rolling my eyes. None of whatstranspired over the past year is any of Finnicks business."Theyre dead." Finnick says quietly. Its the first time anyones said it out loud, and Ifeel my face close off with the weight of the words. Dead. Theres a certain finality there.Not that I was deluding myself that anything would change, its just a shock."Oh, someone give the pretty boy a prize!" I say, clapping slowly and exaggeratedly."Nothing to be mad at me about.""On the contrary, you prying into my personal life is definitely something to be madabout." I snap, making for the door. I know I shouldnt be snubbing Finnick, hes onlytrying to help, but this is coming way too close to the boiling anger thats still fresh, onthe surface. And even I know that youre not supposed to touch things that are boiling—you get burnt.Finnick steps between me and the door. "Look, youre angry, I understand, but—""Understand? Understand? You dont understand shit. Annies alive, isnt she?" I snap."Annie…" Finnick seems to be unable to say that Annies gone round the bend, and thepain in his eyes only makes me angrier."Yeah, Annies psychotic, but shes alive! Youre not completely alone, unlike some ofus!" And now Ive given away too much."Dont call Annie psychotic. Its—""What, not right? You know it is. She cant be fixed.""Just shut up about it, okay? Im trying to help." Finnick says, seemingly having sometrouble keeping his composure.
  • 87. "You cant help. I fucked up, Finnick. I made a mistake. I told Snow, literally, to take hisside business and shove it." Finnick blinks, disturbed. He should be. Thats not somethingone tells ones dictator to do."Well, that might have not been the smartest thing to do." Finnick says bluntly."Yeah, I know. I know. I thought he was bluffing. I should have just let Snow whore meout." I say, staring at the ground and hearing the bitterness in my voice."Okay, stop." Finnick says, pain all across his face. He looks like hes regretting startingthis conversation."Fine. Ill be going, then." I say, trying to push past Finnick to the door."No, wait. We got off topic. I wanted to say that Im sorry.""Sorry? For what?" I laugh shortly, still angry."For not warning you. Or at least having you talk to Haymitch. I was just so worriedabout Annie.""Haymitch?" I ask despite myself. What does Haymitch have to do with anything?"Snow didnt mention him?" Finnick asks, seemingly actually surprised."Should he have?""The same thing happened to Haymitch, only for something he did during his Games. Hewas supposed to be the example, a warning.""Well, the warning came a little late." I say, not entirely surprised to hear aboutHaymitch. I always had some idea something had happened that turned him into theheavy drinker he is today—Chaff drinks, Rowan drinks, Liza of Nine drinks, but Haymitchreally makes a twenty-four seven lifestyle out of it. Not just for occasional help, forconstant relief."Just know Im sorry." Finnick says, opening the closet door and pulling the stringattached to the bare bulb on the ceiling, turning off the light."Yeah, I get it." I say, stepping out into the silent hallway after Finnick. Not like it reallymatters, but I appreciate that hed try. "You know, youre not so bad." I say, reaching upand patting Finnicks shoulder as we walk down the hallway to the elevator."Im touched." Finnick puts a hand over his heart, pretending to tear up."Yeah, you should be." I cant help but smile, my first genuine smile since the day of myreturn to District Seven and an empty house.Blight doesnt ask what Finnick wanted, being his usual silent self. Not a word passesbetween us until were trying to cram as many tips as possible into the minds of ourtributes that night. Theyre both tired and obviously they know their chances are aboutzero, so all they really want to do is eat dinner and go to bed, but Ive decided that weregoing to win this year. A victory for Seven, for me, is a loss for Snow. Yeah, yeah, I hear
  • 88. you. Selfish, doesnt really care about the tributes, whatever. One of them will get to win,and that should be good enough for them."Okay, say it back." I command.The boy tribute, Marcus (were making a departure from the stupid tree names this year)sighs but repeats the condensed version of our guidelines, "Supplies and water…"The girl, Abby, finishes. "Shelter and a plan.""Right. Now, lets say you cant find any cover." We continue on in this vein for quitesome time, the tributes just getting more frustrated with what they think is the futility ofit all. If I could stop lying to myself for more than a few seconds, Id know theyre right.Blight and I eventually do let the tributes go. "Ah, theyll come around." I say, watchingthe two leave the room muttering conspiratorially. Ingrates. We might not bethe best mentors, but at least they dont have Haymitch. Hes not too bad, when hesmoderately sober, but theres a reason Twelve hasnt had a victor in so long.Blight gives me a sort of thoughtful look. "I know why youre trying so hard this year."I know that hes talking about the "accident" that offed my family, my vendetta againstSnow, (news travels fast among the victors, apparently), but I play dumb. "Because Idont want those children to die painful, televised deaths?" Children isnt really anappropriate word, Abby is even a little older than me, but having been through theGames one begins to think of anyone not a victor as innocent, in need of protecting."Im sorry." Blight says simply, looking at the far wall.I feel the anger, still liquid hot, stir a little. "Can everyone please just shut up aboutbeing sorry?"Blight just looks at me questioningly. I wish the guy would talk for once, his mime act isgetting irritating."You didnt do anything wrong, you couldnt have helped anyone, its not your fault. Soyoure not sorry."Blight begins to protest. "I just—""No, stop talking." I snap, but Blight opens his mouth again. "Seriously. Youre onlysounding stupider and stupider. I dont want your sympathy, got it?" No, what I want ismy family back, but that isnt about to happen.Blight holds up his hands in surrender, and I know this probably hasnt gone the way hehoped it would. Really, I shouldnt have snapped at him. But this is different from withFinnick, because he really does have some responsibility and understands at least a bit ofmy situation, whereas Blight is just going through the motions of caring. Im sorry—sorryfor what? If I never hear that anyone is sorry ever again, itll be too soon.Blight is a little more removed than usual during the pre-Games bustle in Control thenext morning, which is really saying something. Im still a little pissed at him, eventhough I know its on some level unreasonable, and I wish someone would come overlooking for a fight. Course, everyone is way too scared of me for that to happen. Pity.
  • 89. Despite the fact that I tried harder for these tributes than in the Games previous, itsanother bloodbath year. Abby shot, Marcus a knife through the neck. Probably notpainless, at least not in Marcuss case, but at least its fast. Its funny, that they almostget off easy, the bloodbath tributes. I mean, sure, theyre dead, but at least theyre notone of the runner-up tributes, going through all that suffering to no end. Plus, theyresaved the sad fate of victory.And so Snow wins again. Tributes dead, my helplessness established. "Im going forcoffee." I say shortly, just wanting something to do. I feel a little like pulling a Finnickand doing some pacing of my own, get out as much of that frustration and anger as Ican. But I make do with walking at a fast clip across Control, glowering at the ground.I dont make it too far, because about halfway across the room I collide with someonejust as distracted as me. I keep my balance, but the person I bumped into quickly dropsto the floor and scrambles to gather up all the papers theyve dropped."Watch where youre going, wont you?" I ask Beetee sharply."Sorry, sorry…" He says distractedly."What did you say?" Consciously I know his apology has nothing to do with anything, butit still agitates that layer of anger thats tired of hearing people apologize. "Sorry?""Uh, yes?" Beetee asks nervously, probably worried by how fast my voice climbed theoctave scale."Shut up." I snap. Beetee doesnt seem to be quite sure whether he ought to ignore meand go on collecting those ever-present papers, or run off. Im overreacting, butIm so sick of hearing apologies."Um…sorry?" Beetee doesnt seem to be quite sure what Im talking about and whetherIm going to try and hit him or not, so he tries to collect his papers as quickly as possible.I dont see why hes always writing stuff down, anyway. If hes as much of a genius asIve heard, shouldnt he be able to work this stuff out in his head?"You just dont get it, do you?" I ask, hearing my voice grow a little louder. Im beingirrational, you say? Guilty as charged."No?""Well then!" I almost shout. A glance around the room reveals that about half thementors are staring worriedly in our direction. Probably wondering if Ive gone crazy andif Im going to end up killing Beetee before snapping back to my senses. Not that manypeople would care. Well, Wiress would probably care and he is important to our namelessrebel organization, but whatever. I dont want anyone to see me as crazy—or crazierthan they already do.And if they decide to investigate? Well, if this is the state an apology that has nothing todo with anything can reduce me to, I dont think I can handle another talk like the one Ihad with Finnick. And Finnick is the only one here who doesnt annoy me most of thetime, Ill allow him to talk about the "accident".So I just turn on my heel and stalk out of Control. The anger begins to simmer down alittle bit after a while, but as always its still on the edge of boiling. I while away the rest
  • 90. of the Games on the seventh floor, not wanting to return to Control after my littleepisode. Its lonely, quiet, good time for brooding on what often occupies my mind.Killing Snow, that is. Pleasant ideas, not ones to share with anyone else.After all. Who wants to be known as crazy?
  • 91. Chapter Twenty-TwoIt was a dark and stormy night.Nope, not kidding. Of course its dark, its the middle of the night, brainless. And it isindeed storming in our dear District Seven. The weather is quite bad, sheets of rainprobably doing some damage to the forests (youd question why anyone would put thelumber district in a place thats so affected by bad weather until you remember that ourgovernment is made up of idiots), and a lot of the houses in our little fence communitiesare probably being robbed of their roofs by the wind. But this schmancy Capitolconstructed house can easily stand against the storm. Lucky thing, too (though as we allknow, luck aint really my thing). The weather out there is really ugly. Has been all day.So it makes sense that when I open the door on the frantically knocking girl, shessoaked to the bone. It makes somewhat less sense that she goes on to fumble with thelock and deadbolt that Ive never used and then collapses against a wall, breathing ingulps.We sort of stare at each other for a moment, and I wonder whether this is going tomorph into some weird nightmare. The storm certainly sets the stage well enough. Letme think, did I go to bed tonight? Actually, Im pretty sure I just fell asleep at the table.Its all sort of fuzzy, as most nights are. After a stint in a gladiatorial arena and havingthe authorities off your family, you dont tend to sleep too well."Can I help you?" I ask, deciding that this probably isnt a nightmare. Havent seen anyblood yet, for one.The girl stands straight from her position leaning against the wall and says "I just got lostin the storm."I cast a glance at the hastily locked door. "Is that so."The girl gives a nervous laugh, her breathing beginning to get back under control. "Yeah,you know, with the wind and all…visibility isnt great right now.""So I suppose that now you want me to let you stay here.""Just until the storm goes down a little?"Im not really inclined to allow this stranger to wait out a storm here, but I feel like Irecognize the girl from somewhere. Of course, shes drenched and winded, so shewouldnt look much like any image of her in my head, but Im still curious. "Fine." Thegirl smiles and walks down the hallway, around a corner, and into the kitchen, as if sheknows the exact layout of the house."Youre really pushing it, you know." I say from the doorway, watching the girl rummagethrough a cupboard on the wall. She drops an armful of assorted food from inside thecupboard on the table in the middle of the room and plunks down into a chair, tearingopen a box of crackers."Mhm." She says through a mouthful of cracker. "Heard that one before."I cant help but like this girls slightly flippant attitude, so I drop into a chair opposite herat the round table. "So where do I know you from?"
  • 92. "We might have met summer before last." She says, steadfastly not looking at me. "Myname is Myrtle. I know—knew your brother."Ah. This is Sals unofficial girlfriend, Myrtle as in Old Myrtle. Thats how she knows herway around. "Youre the girl with the roses." I say and Myrtle nods affirmatively, havingfinished the crackers and moved onto some bakery bread (stuff shes probably neverseen before)."So why are you here?" I ask.The wind howls, and Myrtle waits for it to quiet down to say, "Got lost, I told you.""Sure you did." I say skeptically. Myrtles in some sort of trouble, why else would she beoutside of the fence in such weather? Its dangerous out there, though of course nothingcompared to what Ive seen in the arena.Myrtle just mumbles something, so I shake my head and stand. "The second it stopsraining, youre leaving." Not that I have something against her. I just dont like people ingeneral. And of course, Myrtle is a reminder of the fact that Sal never really got thechance to grow up thanks to me. Hed be almost twenty-one, if it werent for mymistake. He might have married, moved up the ranks in the forests, had kids…"Gotcha." Myrtle says, continuing to eat through the food she found in the cabinet withsurprising speed. I dont really mind, seeing as shes obviously eating poorly the rest ofthe time. Find me someone who isnt."And, um, Johanna." Myrtle says a little quieter as I reach the doorway, planning ongoing back to bed and just hoping shed be gone in the morning. "Im sorry."I turn on my heel and deadpan at Myrtle. Is this girl for real?Apparently, Myrtle takes my expression as something else. "Just…about the accident andeverything. They, uh, well, they didnt deserve it."Okay, thats stupid. She didnt know "them", she just knew Sal. But…this could be anopportunity. "What accident?" I ask."Uh…you dont know…" Myrtle says confusedly."No, no, I know which accident, just…" I walk back across the kitchen and drop back intomy chair. "What exactly happened?" I say, leaning a little across the table."Didnt you…no one…you werent told?""If I had been, would I be asking?""Well…um…they drowned…""Drowned?" I ask, almost entertained with the transparency of that cover story. "What,in the bathtub?" Im referring to the tub in the bathroom upstairs that it took us foreverto figure out (it was Wane who worked it out in the end—she came slipping down thestairs babbling about how water was coming out of the wall and none of us believed heruntil the ceiling started to drip).
  • 93. "Uh, no?" Myrtle says, seemingly very puzzled by my amused reaction to the news."Then where? Where could three people, at the same time, possibly drown here inSeven?" We dont have any lakes, any rivers, nothing. Sometimes after a really heavyrain therell be tiny little ponds, but they disappear fast.Myrtle cocks her head to the side. "I dont know.""Well then." I stand, wondering why everyones swallowed such a flimsy story. Myrtleseems to be having some trouble grappling with the thought that she, everyone, hasbeen lied to."But…what happened, then?" Myrtle asks as I turn to leave the room.I dont answer her. Its one thing to know youre wrong, another entirely to know whatsright. Id probably be arrested for spreading anti-government sentiment, too. Yeah, thenews that our Peacekeepers killed an innocent family wouldnt go over too well, I musewhile heading up the stairs, leaving Myrtle alone with her confusion.Consciously, the news of the not-especially-impressive cover story hasnt affected me atall, but that night the drowning nightmares make a forceful appearance and Im thrilledwhen I wake up. Well, Im tangled in the bed sheets on the floor, having thrashed aboutso much, but at least Im awake. I spend a few minutes breathing deeply just to remindmyself that I can and dispel the last of the suffocating pain in my chest, staring at thesky out the window from my vantage point on the floor. The storm is just petering out,sky still pale grey but the rain over with.Myrtle is gone when I head downstairs, though I note that shes taken most of my foodwith her. No big deal. I can afford more. One of the very few pluses of being a victor:youre in no danger of starving to death any time soon. Myrtle and whatever family shehas could use the help, probably. Shes in some sort of trouble or another, judging by herspontaneous and panicked appearance last night.Unfortunately, that leaves me with no food. I dont want to go into town, my notorietyhas only increased since the "drowning" and Im avoided like the plague. Well, maybe notthe plague. More like a really bad stomach flu. Not death itself, but still prettyunpleasant. Whatever. Pick any analogy you like, I still dont like going into town. Soinstead, I walk over to Blights house. He ought to have some food."What do you mean, no?" I demand on Blights doorstep a few minutes later, having justfound out that he apparently doesnt have any food."I mean no.""Oh, no kidding? I know what no means, theres no reason to be a smartass." I snap,pushing past Blight into the house. He must have something."Its market day." He says simply, following me without closing the door. A stupid thingto do, seeing as the rain has left a chill in the air along with the renewed scent of pine.I ignore Blight and go on to rummage through the kitchen, not actually finding much."Well, help yourself, I guess." Blight says before disappearing with barely a sound, trueto form.
  • 94. I do help myself, and eventually find some really stale bread at the back of a cupboardon the wall. Good enough. And its better than what Ive been eating lately—you thoughtmy mother was a bad cook, you havent seen me.I dont get very far with the bread before I pick up on the clicking. Click-swoosh-click-swoosh. Repetitive, quiet, undeniably there. I try to ignore it, but the noise gets insidemy head and interferes with my mind, derailing even tiny trains of thought. I manage tooverlook the noise until it gets only a little louder, at which time I stand abruptly to goinvestigating and hopefully shut up the clicking. I never used to be this easily irritated.Maybe its some sort of side effect from the crazy stress my minds been under for thepast couple years.Blight is nowhere to be found, so I cant ask him, but when I stick my head into the livingroom (April refers to it as a parlor, whatever thats supposed to mean) I locate thesource of the sound. There in the corner by a window, in a rocking chair thats so roughlyhewn it must have been brought along when Blight moved in, sits an old woman knitting.She doesnt look up at me, though I know she must register Im there. Her knitting,something blue, is spread all across her lap and the arms of the chair.Out of nowhere, Blight materializes next to me in the doorway. Maybe this is how he wonhis Games: slinking around the arena like a shadow, killing the other tributes before theyeven knew what happened."So whos the knitting lady in the corner?" I ask. The "knitting lady in the corner" doesntreact to my words, just goes on click-swoosh-click-swooshing."My grandmother." Blight says simply. Lot of grandmothers in my life lately. Salsgirlfriend named for Old Myrtle, the woman who I think is Blights only family."Well, tell her to keep it down." I say. The noise, though relatively quiet, is superirritating.Blight doesnt respond, and I just return to my bread in the kitchen. With the click-swoosh as a constant backdrop, I cant help but wonder. What has Blight done to protecthis family, his grandmother? What has Snow made him do?The real question is why. I muse, mind lighting on something Ive spent a lot of timeconsidering. Snow claims its for the money, the price offered for whatever we victors arewanted for. But the evidence doesnt support that—Haymitch, an example? Me, my wholefamily?No, Snow does this for fun.
  • 95. Chapter Twenty-Three"You know, I think we need a name." Finnick says thoughtfully during the meeting of ourrebellion group. The year is that of the Seventy-Third Hunger Games, Im twenty yearsold, and I completely agree with Finnick."Youre so right. Its gotta be something snappy, something with…flair." I say, leaningagainst the wall in our maintenance closet. Its actually my job to lean against the wallhere, making sure that the tiny, newly installed, listening device behind my shoulder isntable to pick up anything. Wiress found it when our duo from Three swept the closet forlistening devices. Its the first weve found and not a very good one, so all thats neededto disable it is proper blockage of the microphone. Not that I feel entirely sure this safetymeasure will work, but Wiress and Beetee assured us that theyd run into the technologybefore."Yeah…I think the word youre looking for is panache." Finnick says from his corner of thecloset.I dont know what panache means, but Ill trust him on this one. "Right. The name has tohave panache.""Lets call ourselves…the Finnick Fan Club." Finnick suggests.Everyone just stares at him dully. Were still waiting on Haymitch to show up so themeeting can get started. Its not Magss year for mentoring, so hes the only one incharge of our group. But this is Haymitch were talking about, so theres always a chancehes passed out somewhere and never going to arrive.No one seems very enthusiastic, so I agree with Finnick. "Thats got a certain ring to it,doesnt it?" Not that I really like the idea of being a member of Finnicks fan club, andhes probably already got a thousand of them across Panem, but its funny to watcheveryone else deliberating over whether its really in their best interests to disagree withme. A plus of having no one like you/everyone be scared of you.So within five minutes, were the Finnick Odair Fan Club. I suggest we make banners,Finnick says he can make badges for everyone, but the name is as far as anyone else iswilling to let us take this. So theres some more slightly uncomfortable silence, and mostpeople slide to sit on the floor (I cant do that, seeing as Ive got to block the bug). Chaffis working his way through a bottle of something that smells pretty strong though sanshis drinking buddy, the morphlings are seemingly very fascinated by a cobweb in thecorner thats glistening slightly in the harsh light, Silas and the other mentor from Fiveholding a halfhearted conversation about nothing in particular, Wiress and Beeteemuttering about something written in a notebook that I cant possibly understand—as perusual."Hey, who wants to hear a joke?" Chaff asks after maybe five minutes of relative quiet."No one, Chaff." I say, hoping to deter him. This can only end badly."Okay, why did the ox cross the field?" Chaff says, ignoring me."To get away from you?" I suggest."To get to the other side!" Chaff says, then laughs as if this is the funniest thing ever.
  • 96. "Chaff, youve told that one about a thousand times, and it was only funny the first ten."Seeder says in a long-suffering voice, staring disinterestedly at the opposite wall."Scratch that, it was never funny at all.""Okay, well, how about this one? Knock, knock!"Seeder sighs. "Weve heard this one too.""No, I promise, this one is new.""Fine. Whos there?""Boo!""Oh, not this again.""Dont cry, its only me!" Chaff goes on with the punch line as if Seeder had played along."Id cry if it was you." I mutter.Chaff glares at me. "Shut up, Johanna. Okay, I have another one. Two men—""It was a literal bar." Seeder says dully."Oh. Alright, well, how about—""It wasnt his wife, orange you glad I didnt say banana, weve heard these all before andtheyre not funny." Seeder snaps."All right, all right. Calm down." Chaff says, and there are a few moments of blessedsilence. "No, no. I have one that I know I havent told before.""We dont want to hear it." Seeder says.So Chaff takes his jokes elsewhere. Namely, to Wiress, whos sitting on his other side."Youll appreciate this one. So one particle goes up to another particle and says I think Ilost an electron! The other one says are you sure? and the first one says…Im positive!"He chortles loudly, and Wiress uneasily laughs along."Well, thats not strictly…" She begins after Chaffs finished laughing, but trails off beforefinishing the thought. As usual."Accurate." Fills in Beetee. "Overlooking, of course, the obvious in that particles of anysort are incapable of speech," (He chuckles a little at this) "A particle that, to uselaymans terms, loses, an electron does not necessarily gain a positive overall charge."He goes on in this vein for a while, Wiress occasionally piping up to add something."Oh, you two can suck the fun out of anything." Chaff mumbles, now clearly unwilling totell any more jokes lest they be analyzed by our personal team of pedants. If you askme, the mentors from Three deserve a round of applause for getting Chaff to shut up,even if they didnt do it deliberately, but no one does ask me so I just keep leaningagainst the wall.
  • 97. "I say we give Haymitch five more minutes, and then we just leave." Silas sayseventually, to general approval from the Finnick Odair Fan Club.The five minutes are almost up when Haymitch comes bursting into the maintenancecloset, door flying wildly and smacking against Finnick before Haymitch kicks it closedagain. Finnick puts a hand to his nose and resentfully glares at Haymitch, clearly notappreciating having a door opened onto him."Now, is that any way to treat our namesake?" He asks, sounding somewhat nasal as hedoes due to the hand hes keeping over his nose, which got the worst of the door."I—namesake?" Haymitch says, distracted from whatever clearly important news he wasabout to break to us and turning to Finnick."Yeah. Thats our name now. The Finnick Odair Fan Club." I say for Finnick. Everyoneavoids catching Haymitchs eye, standing up from the floor and trying to look like wehavent been waiting for something going on an hour.Haymitch shakes his head in a way that seems to say thats a problem for later. "This ismore important than that stupid name." He says, taking a deep breath and pursing hislips, seemingly about to explode with the enormity of his news."Well, get on with it." I say.Ive barely gotten out the with it before Haymitch is saying, all rushed-like, "DistrictThirteen."There are a few moments of confused silence wherein we all look around at each other,utterly nonplussed."Yeah, District Thirteen, what about it?" Asks Aubrey from Five, a rather quiet victor whowon only two years ago but apparently really, really wants to see Snow taken down.Probably has something to do with the fact that her brother was the other tribute fromFive. Anyway, Cecilia brought her along to our meeting last year and she was sworn inwith significantly less time-wasting than me."Well, it was blown off the map almost a century ago, theres nothing left but smokingruins, and Haymitch is obviously so drunk he doesnt even know what hes saying." I say,shifting against the microphone in the wall slightly."Shut it, Johanna." Haymitch says with a glare. Actually, he seems to be pretty muchsober. I almost dont recognize him. "Look here." He says, holding up something that Idont recognize at all. No, actually, something about it vaguely calls up a painstakinglysketched schematic that Wiress enthusiastically showed me one year, babbling in anentirely uncharacteristic way. One of their little inventions, then. I think its that keypaddevice thats supposed to be able to communicate with others of its type over thousandsof miles."I made contact." Haymitch says, seemingly barely able to contain himself.Theres a beat of silence. "Where?" Asks Wiress simply, seemingly shocked."The roof." Haymitch says, apparently very, very proud of himself.
  • 98. "The roof? But thats far too—" Beetee begins.Haymitch cuts him off. "I know. But I managed it.""How?" Wiress asks, using again her famously vague phrasing."I just jammed the—"I talk over Haymitch. "Hate to ruin your little nerd-out here, but the rest of us have noidea what youre talking about." In fact, Im quite confused. Because Haymitch seems tobe talking about contacting District Thirteen, which makes about zero sense. Id pass himoff as being so hammered hes completed a circle and now seems sober, except thatWiress and Beetee seem to know whats going on and they certainly havent beendrinking."Patience, Johanna. Its a virtue." Haymitch says, clearly a little irritated. True, no oneelse is being so critical of his nonsensicality, but someones gotta keep him grounded. Icross my arms, careful to keep my shoulder on the bug, and he rolls his eyes. "Ill startat the beginning."And so he does. As Ive found that it usually does, the credit really comes down to Wiressand Beetee. (No one pays them much attention, but they do come in quite handy.) Idont think those two ever sleep, what with the story Haymitch is telling us. A few yearsago, they picked up on a heavily encrypted, unsigned, unauthorized signal that was mostdefinitely not from the Capitol on some sort of airwaves network that I dont understand.They eventually tracked the origin of the signal to where the remains of District Thirteenare, at least according to the information the Capitol gives us. But clearly, theinformation is accurate, because Haymitch has finally managed to tweak the keypaddevice (following the directions our personal tech team gave to him last year) intobreaking the encryption and sending a short message to the source of the transmission.Apparently, if theyve managed to use airwaves with such skill, Thirteen isnt a pile ofsmoldering graphite but in fact doing very well.Not that we can know until they respond. If they can respond. If weve even madecontact at all. Even Wiress and Beetee are a little out of their depth here. Of course, thatdoesnt stop them from being know-it-alls."You spelled…" Wiress begins, poring over the keypad device which she snatched fromHaymitch halfway through his explanation."Rebellion incorrectly." Beetee completes the sentence distractedly, still staring overWiresss shoulder at the device (Shes the only person whose shoulder he can see over,since theyre both so short in stature)."Really?" Haymitch asks. Wiress holds the keypad device out to him, pointing at the dimscreen, and he mumbles something that sounds like "Im sure they wont notice."The day of training must be almost over by the time were finished bringing Haymitch upto speed with the listening device development and going about the usual business(conjecture, scenarios, planning, so on. Nothing definitive or very interesting).Im mentoring with Jonathan this year, and he seems to have barely noticed I was goneby the time I return to the seventh floor. Or maybe he did but was distracted by the
  • 99. arrival of our tributes off the elevator, the boy positively bawling and the girl trying toboth refrain from rolling her eyes and comfort him."One of the Careers described exactly how they were going to kill him." The girl, Amber,replies when we ask what exactly happened to Matthew and why hes sobbing."How graphically?" I ask as Matthew tries to dash past us but has his shoulders caughtby Jonathan."It was...pretty graphic." Amber says, looking vaguely sickened with the memory.I let Jonathan handle Matthew, seeing as Id probably end up making the kid more upset.Amber relays to me what the Career in question (Finnicks tribute, the boy from Four)told Matthew. Ill just let you know that the kid apparently has a thing for intestines and"mercy" isnt in his vocabulary. Draw your own conclusions.Amber seems a little shaken up, but she certainly recognizes that this is nowhere nearthe worst shes going to be going through in the next few days. Assuming she survivesthe bloodbath. I mean, Amber is a contender, sensible and good with an axe as all forestkids are, but I dont think shell be winning this. Just being honest with myself here.Of course, I dont tell her that. "Ill talk to Finnick about controlling his tribute, but if hetries to bother you again tell him that Maris is a name for girls." I say to Amber as wewait patiently in the dining room for Jonathan and Matthew to show up so we can eatdinner. Yeah, the sadistic boy from Four has a girls name. Im guessing no ones everdared make fun of him about it, but theres a first time for everything.The next day, it turns out that theres a good reason no ones ever made fun of Maris.Amber shows up after training sporting a black eye, using her good eye to glare at meresentfully. "He said that Maris was his fathers name." She says bitterly. Amber hasgood reason to be bitter—now shes going into the arena already wounded and half-blind.My fault, Mariss fault, her own fault, whatever. Shes screwed either way. As is Matthew.If he was skittish before, the fourteen-year-old now acts like a shadow and you canbarely speak to him without startling him into dashing out of the room.I spend a good part of the pre-Games prep time in Control the next morning bitching atFinnick for letting his tribute hit mine. (Fighting amongst tributes during training is totallynot allowed but what are they going to do about it, really?) I know it wasnt his fault andI shouldnt be wasting time like this, but it amuses me. Finnicks used rolling his eyes andjust letting me say what I like by now, and hes got the patience to wait in quiet until wehit the one-minute mark in the countdown and I head back to the District Seven station.The Gamemakers got sort of lazy this year making the arena: simple pine forests lining alow mountain range. The arena looks a lot like home except for the elevation and thethick fog. Maybe theres more to it than meets the eye, or maybe its just going to be aneasy year environmentally.Not, of course, that anything else is easy. Matthew is dead within the first minute afterthe Seventy-Third Hunger Games begins, the girl from One having snatched the axe hewas going for at the Cornucopia right out of his hands and neatly swinging it into hishead. Amber manages to escape with a small hatchet and a loaf of already-slightly-soggybread, and I think Tillie (still our stylist, unfortunately) must have pulled some stringsbecause theyve made her up and concealed the worst of her black eye. If Id known theywere going to do that, Id have tried to step in. Amber will need all the help she can get
  • 100. to bring in the sponsors, because so far her level-headed and intelligent angle has wonher about enough sponsorship money to buy a quarter roll of bandages.The Games quickly show that theyre adhering to the usual standards: nine dead in thebloodbath, Careers all surviving and hunting down two other tributes that night. The nextday dawns chilly and foggy, and Amber is alive if not especially happy. Shes spent thenight in a tree and is now damp and stiff, but begins trekking downhill. I assume thatshes doing this to find water, our primary directive, seeing as water runs downhill.Smart, but not very obvious. Wont be bringing the sponsors flocking.Jonathan comes and goes intermittently, basically being a really flaky mentor. I knowthat Amber is technically only my responsibility, but he could at least act interested. Hesnever around long enough for me to say this, though, and I watch Amber by myself.Finnicks tribute, the infamous Maris, is doing just great, so he doesnt even drop by forchats occasionally. Its a lonely Games for both me and Amber, but at least I have coffee.Amber flies under the radar, camping out by a small pond she finds by the base of one ofthe mountains in the range and using the fog to her advantage, avoiding confrontation.She does just fine with surviving on her own, finding some obviously not very tasty butcertainly edible moss on the rocks and living off of that. The other tributes kill each otheroff or give in to the cold when they send sleet down in the middle of the second week,and its not too long before Amber is alone with the three remaining Careers. Im prayingthat the girl from One survives their in-fighting because she, at least, has some sense ofmercy and tries to get the killing over with quickly and efficiently. But no, its Maris fromFour who emerges victorious, which is just great. My luck is wearing off on my tributesnow.I share an apprehensive glance with Finnick across the room, because he seems toappreciate that Maris is a bit of a sicko just as much as I do. Amber is clearly scared, butshe puts on a brave face and goes looking for Maris. Stupid girl. Throwing it all to thewolves just as she can see victory—avoiding conflict has worked for her so far. Ill neverunderstand just why we Sevens were cursed with such awful analytical skills.Ill spare you the trauma that the gory details would surely cause your innocent little self,but the final battle aint pretty. Ill suffice to say that Mariss victory is announcedpromptly and hes pulled onto the hovercraft with Ambers keening screams surely stillechoing in his ears, covered in blood and with a sly little smile on his face. The finalbloody still shot of him smirking reminds me a little of Smiley, Daphne, whatever youwant to call her. I still have a hard time with the fact I never really felt anything but alittle respect for her, just after the end, and my anger at the Gamemakers. Its not a niceidea, that I dont struggle with things I clearly should, but thats just how it is.I fall in next to Finnick during the exodus of mentors out of the now-darkened Control,which will be left to gather dust for a year. "Now, that was quality television." I saysarcastically."Trust me, I didnt tell him to do that." Finnick says, looking a little nauseated. Thoughby the end of the Games most mentors who are going to be getting drunk have done so,there are still plenty of people left to be shuddering a little and sharing looks with theirdistrict partners that clearly say cant wait to meet this one."Yeah, I know. Youre not that creative." I say, and Finnick give me a doubtful look. Hejust shakes his head and looks away, and is quickly called over by Gloss of One(Apparently the sister of Cashmere: I can see the resemblance, though Ive never seen
  • 101. them together in person), probably to congratulate him on having a tribute who won so"spectacularly".At least this cant last much longer. Weve made contact with a district thats operating,at whatever level, completely outside of the Capitols control. The people of the districtsare getting sick and tired of being overworked, underpaid, starving and lied to. Haymitchsays that all we need now is a mascot of sorts, someone to fight for, someone to rally thepeople. He says that well probably find that person in the Quell in two years, seeing astheyll have more to fight against than the average tribute and a tribute is the perfectexample of all the evil the Capitol embodies in the first place.Or maybe not. Maybe well just have another Career victory, maybe well have to wait fordecades more. Countless tributes, countless abused district people may have to diebefore we can find ourselves someone worth fighting for. Itd be just our luck.
  • 102. Chapter Twenty-Three"I think she might be the one, guys."Thats what Haymitch says to general disapproval from the Finnick Odair Fan Club."Youve got to be kidding us. Shes just some silly girl with a sob story." I say, crossingmy arms. I cant say that I really like Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire, whatever youwant to call her. Shes stupid, for one. Stupid enough to volunteer for her sister, sign herown death warrant. For another, theres the obviously fake romance shes got going onwith the boy from her district, Peeta. (Yes, as in pita bread. I thought it was funny too.) Imean, she does have that training score of eleven, but that just means shes got sometalent with the bow and arrow Haymitch mentioned."Yeah, Johannas right. Shes nothing special." Chaff agrees with me from the other sideof the maintenance closet, by the door. Its his job to block the bug this year."Thats what youd think. But shes certainly got potential." Haymitch says.I can tell hes preparing to launch into some long-winded speech about the assets weveapparently overlooked in Katniss, so I jump in. "Haymitch, whatever you think you see inthis girl, youre wrong.""Shes strong. Unassuming, but strong. I can just tell." Haymitch says, not making a tonof sense."Well, show us some proof." I say, knowing that Haymitch cant. Whatevers possessedhim to think that Katniss would be a fitting mascot for our rebellion-in-the-making, itcant stand up against good old-fashioned sense.Haymitch sort of mumbles something, then says "Youll see. Im right.""Im sure." I reply definitively. We move on.The usual business is attended to, as well as the extensive poring-over of the reply toHaymitchs message to Thirteen. He received it months ago, but only now do the rest ofus get to read it. Theres a lot of formal mumbo-jumbo about going through officialchannels in the future (which I dont understand, but whatever) and then they getaround to addressing what Haymitch said. In response to the fact that weve got theVice-Head Gamemaker on our side, they want to know if we can put them in contact withhim. They want specific information as to whats going on in each of the districts, asmany as we can contact. And they say that in Thirteen they have weapons, ones thatcould help stand up against the Capitol if theyre ever given the opportunity. They dontgive us too much information, no specifics, though they certainly ask for them."And…theres a post-script. They, uh, point out the spelling mistake." Haymitch mumbles,eliciting chuckles from all corners of the maintenance closet. Everyone loves to laugh atHaymitch—he sets himself up for it.Were sent back to our respective floors at that point, all going as a group because its solate that no one is awake anyway. The Games begin in eleven hours, its past midnight.Though, no one, not tributes nor mentors, sleeps well on the eve of the Games. Andwhen only getting to bed after the moon has already begun to sink, one sleeps evenworse. So by morning, weve devolved into cranky toddlers, snapping at anyone who
  • 103. tries to talk to us and complaining that the glare off the screens in Control is too bright.Gage asks if I have a hangover, and I almost bite his head off."Ladies and Gentlemen, let the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games begin!" ClaudiusTemplesmith booms across the arena, making me wince with the sheer amplification of isvoice. I dont remember it being that loud during my Games.Our tributes dont live long, young cousins this year. Laurel and Andrew. Shot andstabbed, respectively. Quiet, quick ends. Not as undignified as it could have been. Ofcourse, it doesnt make for a promising beginning of the Games. Gage and I settle down,preparing to watch whatever these Games will throw at the tributes.I watch Katniss as the days pass by with little incident, seeing if what Haymitch has saidabout her has any merit. She has a close shave with dehydration—collapses in the pondthat saves her life. I cant help but compare her experience to mine, how she gave upunder far less stress than me. After all, she hadnt recently been shot up with venom andher arena so far is tame by my standards, yet she still let herself give in. I like Katnisseven less after coming to these conclusions, especially seeing as her silly and sparklyangle has the sponsors flocking. Well, she probably wont live long.After about a week, a tracker jacker attack, and drama a-plenty amongst the Careers,were all shocked out of that lazy stupor everyone seems to fall into once their tributesare dead. "I—I can—I can reactivate the landmines!" Thats what the boy from Threesays, desperate and cornered. Every single head in Control swings to stare at the DistrictThree station, stunned. He cant do that. Can he? The landmines cant be fiddled with,youd be blown sky-high. Or nothing at all would happen. The Gamemakers wouldntallow it.Onscreen, the Careers are shown to be thinking along the same lines. But after a goodbit of tech-talk that I dont understand in the slightest, the boy from Three convincesthem to let him try. He digs up one of the mines and spends days poring over it, carefullyprying off plates and tentatively crossing wires. I dont know what the hell hes doing,and to be frank, it looks like he doesnt either. But eventually, he manages it. The minesare activated, the trap is set up, the Gamemakers have been thoroughly snubbed. Imguessing Seneca Crane, our distinguished Head Gamemaker, isnt too happy that thelandmines, never supposed to be a part of the arena, have been turned into a weapon.Finnick seems to be in especially high demand this year, so basically the second histributes are dead hes gone. I dont really envy him, not in the respect of what hesdoing, though I wish (as I do quite a bit of the time) that Id had the sense to take hispath. Everyone would still be alive and well. Though, I wouldnt be involved with theFinnick Odair Fan Club, thats for sure. Even if Id been asked to join, I would haveturned them down. I wouldnt be so angry, wouldnt have that boiling need for revengethrough me. No, its not just on the surface anymore, the anger has seeped tosomewhere a lot deeper and taken hold there.Its these melodramatic thoughts that occupy me through the Games, as I keep an eyeon Katniss Everdeen. She pairs up with Seeders tribute, the little girl who I think isnamed Prue, and they plan to take out the Careers supplies. Katniss spies on the Careercamp from afar the next day, watching as the girl with the fox-like face, Irene from Five,outsmarts the boy from Threes landmines. I like Irene, because shes so much like me,in my Games. Course, shes not quite as strategy-minded, seeing as shes allowing hercunning to show, but shes still my favorite to win the Games.
  • 104. Katniss, on the other hand? She makes a good shot with her arrows, stolen from the girlfrom One, and sends the Career campsite up in flames. Shes tossed backwards, clearlyhurt and probably deafened, as anyone with half a brain could have predicted. Shes suchan idiot. Couldnt she have seen that coming?Finnick shows up after Katniss crawls from the scene of the explosion while the boy fromThree has his neck snapped, and we watch in pensive silence as the girl who Seeder callsRue—not Prue—gets snared in a net. The boy who set it, Marvel from One, wont getaround to checking that trap until later, but she wont be able to escape."I met her. Rue." Finnick says quietly."Yeah?" I ask simply."Yeah. We ran into each other on the elevator. Shes sweet.""Thats a pity.""I know."And we watch in silence again.I feel a little respect for Katniss, seeing the raw pain on her face when she witnesses herlittle ally get speared. Marvel is shot dead within seconds, and Katniss holds Rues handwhile she dies. Then, of course, she ruins it by singing. Some sappy song about ameadow. Saccharine sweet and perfect for the Capitol. Not so much for those of us withany sense of taste. At least Rue looks happy.My opinion of Katniss Everdeen remains low through the Games. Her tacky, glittery, soout-of-place romance with bread-boy both bores and irritates me, and Im insanelyjealous of fact that theyre raking in the sponsors. Haymitch seems utterly overwhelmed,and Finnick says he hasnt seen so many sponsors lining up since his own Games. Whichis stupid, seeing as during his own Game he was in the arena.The worst bit is that no one will let me forget Katniss. Shes just another tribute whoprobably wont win. I shouldnt be paying attention to her. But I have to. She and bread-boy dominate the broadcast, everyone in the Capitol is talking about her, even thementors cant seem to get over the Girl on Fire. I really want to slap some sense intoeverybody, but stupidity will out, I suppose.Irene dies, poisoned by the berries Peeta gathered. Its a shame, too. I thought she hada real chance, and she was the only one of the tributes I actually liked. I mean,compared with the star-crossed lover and that psycho from Two, Cato, she was basicallyideal.Theres the fateful night where Katniss, Peeta, and Cato are all chased across the arenaby the bloodthirsty wolf-ish mutts, made to look like the dead tributes. We watch as theybattle atop the Cornucopia, Cato is tossed to the mutts, hes slowly torn to pieces. Its adark, somber sight in sharp juxtaposition with the plastered mentors in Control having agood time of the last days of the Games. I silently watch Catos grisly end with Finnick,rubbing the dent in my forehead, over our untouched coffee.Haymitch is having a tough time of it by the last day of the Games, keeping sober forKatniss and Peetas sake. And when Claudius Templesmith booms the latest
  • 105. development—"Greetings to the final contestants of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games.The earlier revision has been revoked. Closer examination of the rule book has disclosedthat only one winner may be allowed. Good luck and may the odds ever be in yourfavor."—you can tell that he really just wants to find a bottle of something strong andforget about the Games.Katniss aims an arrow at Peeta, a screeching halt to their lovers routine. But when hethrows his knife into the lake and removes the tourniquet from his leg, she lets the bowfall and turns red, ashamed, then drops to the ground to plaster the bandage back to hisleg. "We both know they have to have a victor. It can only be one of us. Please, take it.For me." Peeta says, the very picture of love-struck. Willing to give it all up for Katniss.But Katniss stands slowly from trying to attend to Peetas leg, something dawning on herface. Something at first wondering, then fierce. And she pulls out the berries. I recognizethe berries, they are the nightlock, what Irene ate, what killed her. At first I think Katnissis just going to commit suicide, give the victory to Peeta, but then she rolls some intoPeetas palm as well.We all know they have to have a victor—or do they?If Katniss and Peeta have both poisoned themselves, there will be no victor. A direct,bold snub to the Gamemakers, thats what this is. We do not accept your authority, werefuse to play by your rules, we are more than pieces in your Games. Peeta is clearly justmadly in love, doing whatever it is Katniss tells him. But Katniss, oh, Katnissunderstands. Ive underestimated this girl. Shes avenging and cold and determined. Andmaybe even smart."Stop! Stop! Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to present the victors of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark! I give you—the tributes ofDistrict Twelve!" Claudius Templesmith shouts in a panic, and just in time. Katniss andPeeta spit out the nightlock, wash out the remains with water from the lake, are pulledup into the hovercraft, both most surely alive. And the Games are over.The post-Games programming is playing on the monitors, the commentary and fireworksand headshots and celebration across the Capitol, but Control is having no part of it.There is an undercurrent of muttered conversation, loaded glances, muted panic. Groupsof mentors are beginning to congregate across the room as everyone hurries to discussthis turn of events, this slight of the Gamemakers, the Games, Snow himself. Everyoneknows this cant be good. Wiress is decidedly crying, having one of her moretemperamental days and set off by the stand Katniss took. (She never has been quitestable.)Haymitch is hurrying out of the room, to receive his tribute. Tributes. But on the way outto the elevator, he halts for a second, just a second, by the District Seven station whereFinnick and I sit. (I dont know where Gage has gone.) "Theres your proof, Johanna." Hesays, looking quite proud of himself."Yeah, yeah. You were right. Congratulations." I say grudgingly. Haymitch doesnt hangaround, hes got tributes to attend to, so were left alone. I look over at Finnick, and weshare a little smile. Everyone else may be scared, I dont blame them. But this…this isjust what weve been waiting for.Too bad it had to be Katniss.
  • 106. Part Three Chapter Twenty-FourThe beginning of winter slips by snowy and frigid, and theres a definite vibration ofcalm-before-the-storm to the air.No, maybe not. Maybe its something more complicated. Theres something here, theanger of the other districts, simmering just below the idyllic, snowy surface. We may bebetter off than most others here in Seven, but that doesnt mean our situation is good.The Peacekeepers are fed up with the weather interfering with our work schedule, sothey have people working through the night to make up for lost time in every sort ofweather. I havent seen for myself, but Ive heard stories. People simply dropping fromthe cold while working under the increasingly critical eyes of their foreman, or the winddrowning the shouts of "Felled!" and thus causing people to be in the path of the fallingtrees. Work-related deaths have skyrocketed, they dont even bother keeping the counterof "Days since last accident" anymore (the record was twelve).This I know for a fact: a cousin of one of our old neighbors smuggled his axe back homeduring a spell of particularly thick snow and tried to cut through the fence separating usfrom the wild forests. He got caught (surprise, surprise) and now the fence is electrifiedtwenty-four-seven. The Peacekeepers conveniently neglected to inform anyone of thisfact, so we were left to find out for ourselves through getting zapped. I know. Friendly.While the snow swirls around the windows, my house begins to feel a littleclaustrophobic. I mean, Ive got tons of space physically, but without distractions fromoutside all I find myself thinking about is the fact that I really shouldnt be alone. Waneshould be building snowmen, Sal should be fretting over the fact that his roses arefreezing, mother should be complaining, as she always did, that snow gives herheadaches (which I dont understand, but whatever). Or maybe not. Theyd be a lotolder. Maybe things would have changed. But in my head, Wane will always be seven,Sal will always be seventeen, and mother will always be Johanna-its-not-polite-to-ask-a-lady-her-age. (My response to this had always been since-when-are-you-a-lady.)To dispel the lonely and slightly melodramatic ramblings of my mind, I begin spendingtime, uninvited, over at Blights house. His grandmother is always sitting in that rockingchair, still knitting the blue thing that never seems to grow any larger. The click-swish-click-swish which so irritated me in the beginning fades into almost being nonexistent inmy mind, so Blights house is actually pretty nice. And hes always got food, too. Wedont talk much, but he doesnt mind my omnipresence.With the snow as a backdrop, the layer of collective anger through the district ratchetsup from simmering to something more like sizzling. Another bout of deaths, this time in afactory fire. Tesserae rations are cut back. Prices for everything shoot up. The startwhipping people who dont show up for work, even if they simply couldnt have traversedthe snow. Execution becomes the standard punishment for stealing, not just whipping.Were not used to the harsh treatment, though I doubt wed be much happier if we were.I wonder aloud to Blight one day if this is what things are like in the other districts all thetime."Especially Three. Things were really bad there, werent they?" I ask, recalling the smogthat they call a sky and the sickly, destitute conditions of the people. And, of course, theanger which I better understand now.
  • 107. Blight doesnt respond, just gives me a cautioning look while his eyes flicker to thecorners of the room by the ceiling. Maybe hes found that the houses are tapped. I dontknow, I dont have the tech prowess to recognize bugs.We hit the boiling point one clear day. Theres still plenty of snow on the ground, feet ofit, but its manageable. Blight says that seeing as Im the one eating most of his food, itsmy job to go get groceries now that the storm has broken. Though not without a certainmeasure of complaining, I set out, bundled in my old coat from even before I was avictor and an assortment of knitted something-or-others that Blights grandmother madeat some point. I look a little strange, but at least Im warm. And, plus, no one will be ableto recognize me with my hood up and the green scarf-like-thing pulled up over the lowerhalf of my face.Blights made me a list of what to get, a relatively short list, and most of the stores Ineed to visit are in the main square or on the way there. So Ill start in the square anddrop by the other places on the way back—less time I have to carry the food.No one is around town, which at first I attribute to the snow. I figure that theshopkeepers will still be working, seeing as they live above their stores. No big deal. Butthen I pick up on the footprints. Lots of them, pockmarking the snow, all headed in thesame direction. The same direction Im going, towards the square. Strange. I walk a littlefaster, wondering why on earth everyone would have congregated in the square. And asI approach, I can see that seemingly most of the people in the district have beencrammed into the square, a wall of bodies blocking off whatever it is theyre facing.Peacekeepers flank the crowd. Theyd be close to invisible in their white uniforms if itwerent for the guns. Which is strange. Peacekeepers dont just carry guns around, butthere they are. Black, slightly resembling rifles, but not quite. I try to slip into the crowdwithout being seen, but a Peacekeeper notices me."Youre late." Is all she says, stepping in front of me. "Summons must be responded toright away.""Sorry. I tripped. You know, over…the snow." I say lamely."Tripped?" The Peacekeeper looks faintly amused with my story, seeing as Im clearlyarriving much later than everyone else for whatever it is were doing here. I dont like thesilence of the crowd, the foreboding in the air, and Im suddenly reminded of the storiesIve been told by the mentors from districts where the laws are harsher than here. Silas,from Eight, told me that when someone gets executed they make everyone watch. Andthe square is huge, large enough to hold almost all of us if we really pack in. This cantpossibly be good.The Peacekeeper just shakes her head and waves me forward into the crowd. For goodmeasure, she pushes me forward once Ive turned around and I bump rather roughly intothe people on the outskirts of the crowd. Its funny, though not in the way thePeacekeeper thinks (shes chuckling). Youre not supposed to push victors around, butits impossible to tell who I am with the scarf-thing covering all but my eyes and thehood masking the recognizable dent in my forehead.I push my way through the muttering crowd, determined to see why were here. Irecognize that I cant like it, but I still want to know. Everyone seems to be disapproving,sharing heavy glances, but I cant pick up anything from that. Theres a child, a girl in aheavily patched coat that seemingly originally had a red paisley pattern, standing at the
  • 108. front of the crowd. I slip into the space behind her and watch over her head at the sceneunfolding in front of us."Let me—go!" The girl says, managing to push away from the Peacekeeper previouslyholding her arms behind her back. It takes me a moment to place the girl with the wildeyes and frayed blue dress, but I recognize her much faster this time than when we lastran into each other. Myrtle as in Old Myrtle, in trouble with the Peacekeepers again."We will begin with the reading of the charges…" Says our Head Peacekeeper, Domitan,standing to the left of Myrtle and the Peacekeepers trying to keep her still. Domitan is, tothe casual observer, completely unremarkable. Mid-thirties, diminutive physique, thetype of person you look over completely. Until you hear him talk. The sheer, undilutedauthority in his voice would be enough to make even Snow stop and pause for amoment, consider following his orders.I watch Myrtle struggle with the Peacekeepers as shes charged with quite a lot of things.Some Ive never heard of before, some seem pretty reasonable, and others make mevery scared for her. Theft, not so hard to believe. Shes got a big family, tesserae isntworth as much as it used to be. Trespassing, also makes sense. Probably goes hand-in-hand with the theft charge. Spreading malicious anti-Capitol lies? Not so much.Destabilizing local government? I begin to get worried."Its true, I tell you!" Myrtle pleads to the crowd after Domitan reads the chargeconcerning lying about the Capitol. "They didnt drown!" Oh, shit. I wont jump toconclusions, but suddenly I really dislike where this is going."As a repeat offender, the penalty is customarily execution…" Domitan begins again,ignoring Myrtle. "But Im feeling generous today." He smiles a creepy little smile. Soundlike anyone we know? "Lets tally this up…five hundred lashes, I believe." He says,looking down at the paper hes holding in one hand. (In the other hand, hes got thatexpertly oiled brown whip—Im officially scared for Myrtle.)Theres a swell in the muttering from the crowd, everyone is shocked. Myrtles mouthactually falls open for a moment, then she asks shakily "Um, actually, could you justshoot me?" Five hundred…shed die for certain. Slowly and painfully, but surely."Dont be smart!" Says one of the Peacekeepers behind her, cuffing the side of her head.Theyve given up on trying to hold her back and Myrtle is now standing by herself, buttheyre keeping close in case she decides to make a run for it."Shall we begin with the theft charge? Or lying about the government? You can decide."Domitan says, smiling at Myrtle. She frantically turns to the crowd, knowing how dire hersituation is."Please, you have to believe me, Im telling the truth! Really, it wasnt an accident!" Shepleads with us. The Peacekeeper who hit her moves forward, and Myrtle manages toduck to the side. "I dont know what they did, but it wasnt an accident!""Youre only making it worse." Theres a hushed voice from a few people back, and Myrtlejumps on it. She turns, walks a few steps over, points in the general direction of thevoice. Everyone nearby looks away, but Myrtle doesnt let that discourage her.
  • 109. "No, no, Im not! It cant get worse! I just want all of you to hear this!" She says, raisingher voice. People near the back of the crowd will barely be able to see her, never mindhear her, but I guess this is the best shes going to get."Answer me this. Where, where on earth, could someone possibly drown in Seven?"Myrtle asks, now pacing in front of the crowd. "Did anyone actually see it happen?" Hereyes rove across the crowd, meeting mine for just a moment. She had better not betalking about what I think she is. "No, no one did! Because it was no accident!" Everyoneis listening in silence now. "I dont know what really happened. I wasnt told. Butwhatever they say, whatever lies they tell…" Even the Peacekeepers are listening with asort of grudging interest now. "The Masons were as good as murdered." She says, voicedropping a few octaves. Of course.Every curse I know runs through my head, even some that Im pretty sure arent actualswear words. Whats wrong with this girl? I understand that she doesnt have much timeleft, is making the best of what shes got. But the way theyre talking, shes beenspreading stories for a while. See, this is what happens when you get people involved inyour problems. They get these high-and-mighty ideas of truth and justice and all thatshit. And then were all in trouble.The muttering of the crowd has increased to a low rumble, everyone either wonderingwhat exactly shes talking about (I may be infamous, but my family wasnt), seeing if thismatches with the rumors theyve heard, or maybe even saying yes, its true, thats whatI heard, shes right. I want to make a break for it right now, before Myrtle beginsdropping more than family names. But thatd look suspicious."Just ask yourself…who is next? We know the law is harsher now." Shes pacing up anddown in front of us, through the snow as if its barely there, though the hem of her dressis thoroughly soaked. "No one else has disappeared. Maybe, though, just maybe, its onlya matter of ti—""Thats enough." Domitan says, stepping forward. "Weve let you talk—""Just remember this, remember my—" Myrtle tries to talk over him."Insubordination is not—""Its true, I swear, just remember—""Silence yourse—""Theyll lie! They will!""Or we will silence you ins—""You, your family, keep vigilant—"Myrtle and Domitan are basically shouting over each other at this point, neither onemaking a ton of sense. Myrtle is frantic, moving double-time to make up for the fact thather hours are surely numbered. Domitan is red-faced and flustered, unaccustomed toanyone not being frightened into submission by him. He clearly has no experience withany sort of disobedience and wants this to end as fast as possible.
  • 110. So it makes sense when he stops shouting and makes a sign with one hand to thePeacekeeper who cuffed Myrtle earlier, who quickly takes the strap keeping his gun onhis back and pulls the gun in question into a primed position, ready to shoot. Everyoneseems to pick up on this and all sound falls to a quick hush.Every sound except for Myrtle, that is. She continues with her little tirade as if its goingto do any good. Myrtle is still shouting when the Peacekeeper pushes her to her kneesand pulls the trigger. Putting a bullet straight through her head.The crowd stops talking, stunned into silence. This is not what they expected to happen.Myrtle should have been whipped, not executed. Though, theyre more or less the samething. At least this way was fast. I dont seem to be breathing quite right, but I know thiswas better than slowly being beaten to death. Rationally, that is.Domitan tries to take back control of the situation, talking about "See what happens tothe noncompliant, you all would do well to take a lesson from this example, next time wewont be so patient," so on and so forth. Hes still a bright red from the momentary lossof control, almost as red as the blood in the snow. Myrtles blue dress isnt quite so blueanymore, streaked red with the blood seeping from just above her ear. Shes dead, thecrowd is completely silent.And thats another name to add to my list of kills. Id never thought Myrtle would go onand spread stories about what I told her, that there never was an "accident". Didnt havethe sense to stay quiet, keep her information to herself. And look where its gotten her.Executed, thats where. I know that rationally I didnt technically kill her, but if Id keptmy mouth shut that night she showed up during the storm…The girl in the used-to-be-red-paisley coat is shaking like a leaf in the wind, and Iassume that Im doing much the same as I begin to back away. Theres not much room,were crammed in here like growth rings during a year of wildly fluctuating weather, but Imanage to push my way back through the crowd. Everyone seems too numbed by theimpromptu execution theyve just witnessed to mind the way Im pushing, at least up bythe front of the crowd. And by the time I make my way to the edges of the crowd, wherethey saw nothing, the news has already spread through whispers and loaded glances.No Peacekeepers try to stop me when I break free from the crowd and begin running full-out from the scene of our latest incident. Well, not full-out, theres plenty of snow on theground, but Im doing my best. Its weird, that someone whos seen and done so muchworse should run from a simple, relatively painless execution, but I think Im allowed tobe irrational.Poor, innocent, misguided Myrtle. Perhaps not hardened by the loss of only Sal, simplywounded. All she wanted was justice, or at least, recognition of the truth. A stupid thingto want, in this country. Panem is not a just place, we never pretended to be. I guessMyrtle only needed confirmation of that from me to lash out in the only way she could—desperately and with a bad end."Where are the groceries?" Asks Blight simply when I burst back through the door to hishouse, unwilling to go back to my empty home after whats just transpired."Groceries?" I gasp through the scarf-thing (It somehow stayed on), winded from myrunning. I fumble with the deadbolt on the door, reminded of a similar scene with ayounger and more innocent (and alive) Myrtle almost a year ago.
  • 111. "Yeah. The food?" Blight says, probably wondering if Ive lost my mind.I pull the scarf-thing down and take a breath of cooler air, trying to compute whatexactly Blights talking about. Groceries…groceries…groceries…its not clicking. I cantthink right, all thats occupying my mind is Myrtles bloodstained dress and my role inmaking it possible."Um…" is all I say.Blight glances at my hand, and I do too. Theres the short shopping list, grasped in onestill nervously sweating palm. I un-crinkle the list and stare at the slightly smudgedpencil marks, my mind still not quite wrapping around the whole concept of groceries.The shopping trip of less than an hour ago seems to be so long ago, so much hashappened since I set out…So I just hand the list back over to Blight and silently go to take off my coat and otherassorted cold-weather gear. He doesnt really know what to make of this turn of events,which I suppose must seem rather strange from his point of view. I simply sit in Blightsliving room, on the worn dull red sofa in front of the Capitol-provided television and listento his grandmother click-swish-click-swish. I think Blight goes out to get the grocerieshimself at some point, but Im pretty numb for the rest of the day and not in the mostobservant of moods.The nightmares are vivid red and blue that night, drifting in and out of the dull yellow ofmy arena. I wake up several times, fitfully slipping from conscious to unconscious, curledin the corner of the dull red sofa. I cant stand going back to my empty house, not for awhile. When I finally surface for real, nothing has changed. The snow is still on theground outside, Blights grandmother is still click-swish-click-swishing, Myrtle is just asdead as ever.But I can feel a certain shift in my mental state. Its disturbing that I should be back tonormal so soon, but the numbness is gone. Pain hasnt arrived in its stead, just a sharpawareness of whats happened. Ive already got so many deaths on my consciousness, Isuppose this one wont push me over the edge. Myrtle may have known me a bit betterthan the tributes of years past, but I guess Ive developed a thicker skin through thoseyears."It doesnt hurt anymore, have you noticed that?" I ask Blights grandmother, not reallyexpecting a response. "I guess theres a limit to how much someone can take. And thenyou block it out." Blights grandmother stops click-swish-click-swishing for a moment andlooks up at me. Her eyes are a shockingly deep brown, and they very nearly seem tounderstand."Its almost a relief." I laugh a little, standing up. Im going to go see whether Blightactually did get the groceries or if I just sort of made that up. I hope he did, because Imhungry.I almost think that I hear a chuckle from behind me as I step out the door, but when Ilook back all that I see is Blights grandmother, click-swish-click-swishing, just as happyas you please.
  • 112. Chapter Twenty-FiveAlmost as if picking up on the atmosphere in the district, the temperature wastes no timein climbing to a more reasonable place. The snow melts away quickly, perhaps due to theincrease in temperature, or perhaps due to the anger that now radiates seemingly fromeach one of us Sevens.I havent left Victors Village since the Myrtle incident, but Blight relays the goings-on inthe district to me. The huddles on the streets which dissipate at the mere suggestion of awhite uniform, glaringly discussing their grievances with the authorities. The scuffles thatbreak out in the factories and the defiance of foremen in the forests. The swift, harshpunishment that follows. Myrtles pleas didnt fall on deaf ears, and everyone hascertainly remembered. Shes become our own little mascot, what Haymitch wants Katnissto be. Myrtle the Martyr. Its got a nice sound to it, in my opinion, but I dont think thenames going to be catching on. Even without a fancy name, Myrtles still the first thingthat comes to mind when anyone brings up discontent with the government.Its a week after the incident when the first real fight breaks out. Myrtle doesnt have anysiblings, but cousins a-plenty. (I know almost all of them, seeing as we used to be asgood as neighbors—there were always grandkids running around Old Myrtles house.) Idont know which cousin started it exactly, one of the older ones. Apparently theydplanned it, because virtually all of the people working in that small sector of the forestjoined in on the quick, violent fight. It didnt last long, Peacekeepers shut it down almostimmediately, but what they did manage to do was destructive. Or so Ive heard. Only afew eyewitnesses made it out alive, and I certainly wasnt there. We dont have anyspecifics, just rumors.The Peacekeepers make it very clear that anyone who tries to pull anything like that everagain will be shot on sight. So were left to conspire quietly until we find something elseworth fighting for, something else to push us over the edge. I dont doubt that there willbe something, though I have to wonder what it will be. Maybe Haymitch will be able towhip Katniss into shape, make her less irritating somehow, make her a proper mascot,make her fit to lead a rebellion.Meh. Probably not."Required viewing tonight." Thats what Blight says while I play out our usual routine.Namely, me rummaging through his kitchen for something to eat since I dont want to gointo town. Its sad that my own people should have such an issue with me, but someonemade the connection between the murdered family Myrtle was talking about and thevictor whose family disappeared years ago. Not a tough connection to make, seeing asshe did give the name "Mason", but it still took everyone long enough. Anyhow, myconnection to Myrtles execution has only made me more disreputable and town is reallyquite unpleasant."What is it?" I ask. Theres still half a year to the Games, and thats the only thing thatsusually required watching. Maybe Snows giving some speech tonight. Hope not. Theynever really mean anything, just venomous propaganda about the Capitol that I canbarely process because Im so busy imagining Snow toppling off his podium, or maybebeing impaled by those flags on either side of him. There are other versions of his deathtoo, those are just favorites."Theyre announcing the Quell." Blight says a little too readily. I file away another littlebit of information about Blight: one of those sentimentals who counts down the days until
  • 113. the Games and makes sure to memorize each and every tributes name, thinking itll helpmake their deaths count. Or maybe not, Im only guessing here. But thats as good asyou get with Blight.I dont reply, just make some sort of affirmative noise to show that I understand. Whatam I supposed to say? Oh, hurrah! We get to find out what specialized hell our tributeswill be going through this year! Three cheers for torturous, televised death! I think not.I dont bother going back to my house, because the last bout of snow knocked out mytelevisions reception (they said theyd get someone on that, but Im getting this funnyfeeling the authorities dont really like me) so Ill have to come back here to watch theQuell announcement anyhow. So I sit on that dull red sofa, watching Blightsgrandmother click-swish-click-swish all day and keeping up a lazy one-sidedconversation. She doesnt talk, I havent heard her say one thing since that chucklewhich I may or may not have imagined.Blight shows up after a few hours and we flick on the television with half an hour untilthe reading of the Quell card. I assume well be paying little attention to more Capitolpropaganda until eight oclock, but when the screen lights up were greeted with KatnissEverdeens face staring at us. Lovely. I think at first theyre playing her Games in arerun, but then I gather that shes in a wedding dress.Thats right. Peeta proposed to her, sappy speech, glittery ring, and all. Fake and stupid,but the Capitol is eating it up. Blight too, apparently. When I suggest that we turn thetelevision off and wait until Katniss is suitably off-air to turn it back on, he shushes meand watches the program intently. I guess we all have our weaknesses.Caesar Flickerman narrates as the Capitol crowd cheers and boos their way through theevent, reacting to the dress selections depending on whether they like or dislike them.We see still shots Katniss done up in all her finery: six dresses to compete for theprivilege of being worn at the actual wedding. Lace and roses and ringlets. Satin andgolden tattoos and plant foliage. (That one strikes me as a little silly.) Diamonds and afilmy veil and serene sparkles. Tight-fitted silk and red velvet accents. Swirling stitchesand a long train. Eyelets and a bouquet of yellow wildflowers."Im going to be sick." I groan, unable to take even one more moment of KatnissEverdeens fashion show. Actually, Katniss doesnt look too thrilled either. Her smiles,forced even in the first few pictures, are now positively grimaces. Shes not a very goodactor, and its obvious to anyone thats looking that she hates all of this: the cameras,the dresses, the makeup, the attention.Blight just shushes me even more violently than before, watching with fascination. I rollmy eyes but hang back from making further comments because the program is wrappingup after resounding cheers for a dress with heavy draping silk and pearls."Lets get Katniss Everdeen to her wedding in style!" Caesar shouts to the crowd to awall-shaking expression of approval from the audience. "And remember to stay tuned forthe other big event of the evening." The crowds reaction to that one is a little lessenthusiastic, they dont seem to be quite sure what hes talking about. "Thats right, thisyear will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Games, and that means its timefor our third Quarter Quell!" The crowd certainly responds to that, and President Snowtakes the stage to thundering cheers. The anthem plays, and while the mood in theaudience is still light, we grow solemn. Blight gets over his little moment of happiness
  • 114. (idiotic happiness, but happiness nonetheless) and I sit straighter, getting ready to rollwith whatever punch Snow deals us now.Snow begins to give his speech. The Dark Days, rebellion, death, destruction,annihilation, war, these are all words used in about the first minute of the speech. Imofficially impressed—I simply cant pull off that level of melodrama. Someone give Snowa prize."When the laws for the Hunger Games were laid out, they dictated that every twenty-fiveyears the anniversary would be marked by a Quarter Quell. A Quarter Quell was to be aHunger Games of greater magnitude, to keep fresh in our minds the memory of thosekilled by the districts rebellion." Snow says. The edge to his tone is razor-sharp, none ofthat silky stuff he tried to pull last time we met. I think on the Myrtle incident and thedefiance that followed, wondering if Snow is speaking directly to District Seven. No,probably not. If this is the stage of rebellion weve reached, they must be a year and aTuesday past us in districts like Eight and Three."On the twenty-fifth anniversary as a reminder to the rebels that their children weredying because of their choice to initiate violence, every district was made to hold anelection and vote on the tributes who would represent it." Snow says, cruel little smile onhis face. I cant imagine how it would feel to be chosen not by chance (or by a possiblyrigged reaping), but handed in by my own people. True, theyd pick whoever had thebest chance of winning, but the idea still comes with an awful sense of betrayal."On the fiftieth anniversary, as a reminder that two rebels died for each Capitol citizen,every district was required to send two tributes." Snow says, and I have to restrain fromshuddering at the pleasure in his voice, like he enjoys remembering the suffering of theforty-eight children. Haymitch won that year, pulled a "stunt" to do so (according toFinnick) and has never been the same. I never saw the second Quell on television, but itmust have been brutal."And now we honor our third Quarter Quell." A little blonde boy wearing an elegant whitesuit steps forward, offering up a box to Snow. He smiles at the boy as he opens the boxand reveals rows of tastefully yellowed envelopes (or maybe theyre just old), enough toprovide for century upon century of Quells. He plucks out an envelope labeled 75 andpulls the card out of it. I brace myself, Blight stiffens as well. Only his grandmotherdoesnt tense up, innocently click-swish-click-swishing in her rocking chair thats beenpulled around to face the television (this is technically required viewing, even if you dontlook at the screen).Snow reads without hesitating, like hes rehearsed this moment. "On the seventy-fifthanniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannotovercome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped fromtheir existing pool of victors."…What?"What?" I ask. I dont really expect an answer, and I sure dont get one. Blight looksexpressionless, processing this unprecedented turn of events. Itll hit him at some point.It hasnt even hit me yet, not really. Behind the sounds from the television (they justsound like static to me), theres nothing. Blights grandmother has stopped click-swish-click-swishing and her knitting needles have fallen to her lap, as she stares with shock atBlight.
  • 115. "What?" I ask to anyone who will listen, standing. I give in to the childish temptation andstamp a foot to the ground, and demand "What?" again, this beginning to sink in.No response.I dont need one. I can figure this out for myself. I am going back into the arena. Im theonly living female victor of District Seven, they wont even need to reap me. Fuck, Imgoing back into the arena.I manage to mostly contain the animal noise welling up from somewhere deep without aname, and it comes out as a cross between a growl and a choking noise. Id thought thatthere werent any lines left to cross, Snow had already put me through all he could. No,not quite. Its just gotten that much worse. I am going back into the arena.The animal inside hisses, the remnants of ancient humanity from feral stages of evolutionhisses, the savage thing that incites us to fight and kill hisses. It raises its hackles,unsheathes its claws. This is too far. Just one step too goddamn far. My instinct, no, theanimals instinct, is to break something, break someone, tear something to pieces,avenge itself on the universe.Its only every measure of self-control that I have which keeps me from flying into thedestructive rage that I really, really want to. Instead, I simply storm out of the room. Icant hold back from kicking the small table by the side of the sofa, a little outlet for theprofound amount of anger (and betrayal) still building somewhere deep inside. I lash outat the table a little harder than Id thought and it hits the ground a few feet away, theCapitol-provided lamp that I have an exact copy of shatters into dozens of blue ceramicpieces.Its cold and smells sharply of pine outside, but I barely notice. Time begins to dosomething funny, passing by in little flashes of hot anger with blank spaces in mymemory in between. Im in my house before I even know it, door slamming even thoughI never opened it. Then Im hearing the phone mid-ring, and next thing I know Imanswering it."Hello?" Asks a familiar voice."Hello." I reply shortly, wanting anything but to get sucked into a conversation with Aprilright now—shes the only one who ever calls me."Johanna?" No, this isnt April, the voice is decidedly male and more familiar anyway."Finnick?" I place the voice. "Since when can we call between districts?""Um, since always, but…I was trying to call Annie…" Finnick says guiltily. Guiltily becauseyou dont tell your friend that they were just a wrong number when their entire universehas just imploded."She wont pick up. Not if shes seen the announcement." I say, knowing that somethingof this magnitude would easily set off the mad girl. I dont want to be on the phone rightnow, so the sooner Finnick goes to attend to Annie the happier Ill be. I dont know whatI do want to be doing, but its sure as hell not this.
  • 116. "I was just checking to see if she had. But, um…are you okay?" Finnick asks, soundinglike he wants this conversation to be over as well. I play second fiddle to Annie, ofcourse."Im doing just great, thanks. This is exactly what I was hoping the Quell would be. Allmy dreams have come true." I say in my patented deadpan, almost able to hear the levelof Finnicks discomfort over the phone."Uh…" He says, clearly trying to decide whether theres any way to extract himself fromthe conversation without pissing me off further."Dont worry about me. Go to Annie." I say tersely and put the phone back into its spoton the wall rather harder than necessary. Finnick and Annie have each other, and beingfrom Four their chances of being reaped again are significantly lower than anyone elses.Me, on the other hand? Alone and doomed. Ive never believed any of those old wivestales except this one, but I think we can all agree that breaking that mirror was a seriousmistake. The seven years will be up in a few months, but my bad luck is going out in ablaze of glory.Superstition continues to ruin my life.
  • 117. Part Four Chapter Twenty-Six"Whoa, Blight, check it out! Were trees! This is such a shocker!" I say to my identicallydressed district partner. Our costumes for the opening ceremonies are, surprise surprise,trees."I think we look smashing." Blight says wryly, looking down at me from the chariot. Iclamber up as well, sitting next to him. Of course, of course, they had to reap the onevictor who I actually know. Why couldnt they have picked Rowan? Ive only spoken tohim once or twice (they never make him mentor, alcoholic that he is, it just wouldnt befair to the tributes), and hed be easy to dispose of in the arena. No, it had to be Blight.Because Im cursed."Well, I do look good in anything…" I say with an exaggerated batting of my eyelashes.Blight snorts and turns towards the front of the chariot, leaving me to scan the room.None of us look good, in fact, we all look awful. In more ways than one. I mean, theresthe obvious in that these costumes are ridiculous and that almost everyone is glowingsomehow, Cinna of Twelves idea of illuminating the tributes stolen by the other stylists.But then theres also the twisted nature of our little ceremony. Kids in costumes is badenough, but thats more silly than anything. These are adults who are accustomed tohaving at least a little pride, I know all of them and a select few are my friends. We dontdeserve the indignity of this type of death. Id prefer to pull a Myrtle, get executed.Though, some of us can pull it off better than others."What do you think, Johanna? I think its a little conservative, personally…" Finnick says,thoughtfully rubbing some of the netting from the costume hes wearing between twofingers. The costume is anything but conservative, a skimpy sort of net cleverly knottedso that technically Finnick cant be called naked."You walk a fine line between tasteless and pornographic." I say dryly, kneeling on myside of the bench and looking down at Finnick over the back of our extremely leafychariot."I know. Isnt it marvelous?" Finnick says, rolling his eyes. "Our stylist may not be verycreative, but he knows whatll bring the sponsors to the yard…""Oh, like they havent been lining around the block to sponsor you since the day theyreaped your name." I say. Finnicks probably got more sponsors than any of us, thoughmost likely weve all got someone who remembers what we can do. Except for maybe thereally old victor-tributes, like Woof from Eight.Finnick gives a hm and rummages in a small bag I didnt notice before, pulling out asugar cube and popping it in his mouth. Im pretty sure that the sugar is for the horses,not the tributes, but Finnick always has had a bit of a sweet tooth."Well, well. Would you look what the cat dragged in." I say quietly, noticing KatnissEverdeen across the room. She is positively stunning, glowing in a skin-tight jumpsuitshifting reds and oranges like some ethereal being that could send us all up in smokewith a snap of her flaming fingers. Cinna has stolen the show yet again, and Katnisslooks nothing like the girl theyve been making her out to be on television this whole
  • 118. time: in equal parts pre-teen, newly engaged, and virginally innocent. Yes, this blazingand beautiful seductress isnt anywhere near the Katniss I know."She looks…different." Is how I express this thought, staring at Katniss 2.0 in both shockand jealousy. Stupid, stupid Katniss. She has all the luck."No kidding." Finnick says, watching Katniss closely as she heads across the room to theDistrict Twelve chariot, standing awkwardly by its side. She looks none too at ease withher new image, uncomfortably patting the neck of one of their coal-black horses. I recallher discomfort at the wedding dress photo shoot and take in her lack of grace in this newrole, deciding that the Katniss we see here isnt as close to the real thing as the purelittle girl we see on television."Go talk to her." I say to Finnick, who gives me a questioning look. "You know. Get toknow her, mess with her mind a little. For fun.""We should be nice. She doesnt know anyone." Finnick says thoughtfully."I cant believe you just said that. Shes a victor. She can handle it. Go." I say shortly,waving Finnick forward."Well, I do have a certain talent for messing with minds…" Finnick says with a little smile."Exactly. Now go."Finnick walks over across the room to Katniss, and I snicker when he positions himself soclose to Katniss she cant help but stare right up into his eyes. Katniss shrinks back a fewinches, but at least she doesnt start swooning. The amount of awkwardness hidden inher dramatically made-up face only affirms my guess that Katniss really is a lot moreinnocent than Cinna is dressing her to be.After a few minutes, Finnick slinks back over, slightly discouraged and chased off by thearrival of Peeta (identically dressed to Katniss). "Well, she passes my test." He says,tipping out the last sugar cube and plenty of crumbs from the bag into one hand."Shell have to do a little better than that to impress me." I say, though Im not quitesure what Katniss will have to do to qualify as worthy of my time.The music plays and one of the white-uniformed attendants who isnt an Avox tellsFinnick to join Mags in their chariot. (Magss costume is a little less revealing, seeing asshes an old lady, but its nowhere close to appropriate.) He disappears and I spin aroundto face forward, preparing for the ordeal coming. My little internal battle with motionsickness—they say you grow out of it? Lies. Every year, I spend half the train ride to theCapitol puking when I ought to be helping the tributes, and this year was no different.An apparent solution is to keep my eyes on one thing, so I settle on Katniss and Peetasglowing costumes. It doesnt help, not really, but I manage to keep it together. As theCity Circle darkens, the two become more and more mesmerizing, the reds and orangesfalling in and out of yellow and purple tinged phases. They are getting far more thantheir fair share of screen time, though Finnick and the Careers are getting plenty of air-time as well. I get a few flashes onscreen, but not many. Good thing, too. I dont wantmore people than necessary to see my awful costume.
  • 119. Im in a distinctly bad mood by the time we make our final go around the City Circle andthe Opening Ceremonies are over. Im feeling awfully sick and green with jealousy overKatniss and Peetas amazing success, and Snows speech was both boring and blatantlyvenomous: all about how "and all but one of these brave souls will never see home againbut we respect and appreciate their sacrifice for our wonderful country which by the wayI am the dictator of and oh Im just so amazing I like to murder people in my spare timebut thats not important whats important is seeing off these twenty-four tributes with thehonor they deserve especially because I will have essentially killed almost all of them in aweek—"Okay, so he didnt really say all that. But thats how I heard it.Im slightly cheered seeing Chaff, rather tipsy, throw his arm around Katniss and kiss herfull-on the mouth. Everyone is laughing raucously by the time Katniss manages to shovehim away, and Katniss is violently red under her makeup as Chaff stumbles away andlaughs loudest of all. I think Peeta might try to defend his innocent fiancée, but he justlaughs with the rest. I decide to like Peeta.Were shepherded towards the elevators by agitated attendants who are clearly upsetwith the comradeship between us victor-tributes. One of them complains to another in ahushed voice about what a hassle its going to be to sweep up the glitter from DistrictOnes sparkly costumes off the floor, so to piss them off I pull off my intricate leafyheaddress and let it drop over my shoulder to the ground. Ive fallen in next to Katnissand Peeta, and Katniss gives me a shocked look. Ugh. A goody-two-shoes as well.Im considering making my escape and avoiding Katniss and co. at all costs, but athought hits me. This could be fun. So I casually fix my hair and roll my eyes at Katnisswithout really planning out what Im going to say. "Isnt my costume awful? My styliststhe biggest idiot in the Capitol. Our tributes have been trees for forty years under her.Wish Id gotten Cinna." Thats all true. "You look fantastic." That part is also true, but Imless willing to admit it.Katniss stumbles over her words for a moment, then says "Yeah, hes been helping medesign my own clothing line. You should see what he can do with…velvet." Pfft, her ownclothing line? I almost bite my tongue off trying to contain the laughter, but manage toget out a response."I have. On your tour. That strapless number you wore in Two? The deep blue one withthe diamonds? So gorgeous I wanted to reach through the screen and tear it right offyour back." Lies, all of that. Im not even sure that she wore that dress in Two. It mighthave been Three, or Five…or maybe Im just imagining this.Clearly Katniss doesnt know either, because she just stares straight ahead. The silenceis boring, so to liven things up I pull down the zipper on the side of my costume andshimmy out of it. I kick it to the side, mentally falling into hysterics at Katnisssscandalized look. She acts like shes never seen a tree strip naked before.I end up in the elevator with the victor-tributes from One, Three, Eleven, and Twelve,and many of their mentors. Blight too, but he sort of melts into a corner and doesnt sayanything. Katniss makes it a point to stand on the side of Peeta furthest from me, thoughsteadfastly holding his hand. This leads to a little bit of acrobatics, but she eventuallyfinds herself a spot.
  • 120. "So Katniss designs clothing. What about you, Peeta?" I ask, deciding to go easy onPeeta. He seems like a decent kid, so far."I paint." Peeta replies readily."Yeah? Like what?""Uh, you know…stuff." Peeta mumbles."Mhm." I say slowly. I wonder what hes really painting, if hes not willing to talk about it.Maybe he paints pin-up girls or something. I wouldnt want to tell anyone about that.(Though, those are big words from the naked girl.)"Yeah…how about you?" Peeta asks, being too sociable for my liking. But at least hesmaking an effort.Seeing as Ive never really gotten around to acquiring a talent, I make something up. "Igarden." Well, that was the cover story. Though I pulled out the roses years ago, Ivekept "forgetting" to tell April that. If she doesnt know Im not doing anything, therell betrouble."Oh. Cool." Peeta says. He seems amused by something, and is having a little troublekeeping his eyes up. Katniss is fuming quietly.I wave goodbye cheerily after stepping off the elevator on the seventh floor, and Blightslinks out after me. "That was mature." He comments in a deadpan, clearly beingsarcastic, once the doors have slid closed."Maturity is my forte." I counter. "Whats the matter, not liking the view?" I ask with alaugh."I know you dont like Katniss, but shouldnt you give her a fair chance? You dont evenknow her." Blight says quietly."Ah, Blight, Blight, Blight." I chuckle, shaking my head. "Its like you dont know me atall." Fair chances are not something I give frequently.And especially not for Katniss.
  • 121. Chapter Twenty-Seven"Welcome to the last meeting of the Finnick Odair Fan Club, everyone." Haymitch says,calling us to order."Thats a bit dark." I snicker."Johanna…" Haymitch just sighs. I shrug, deciding not to be a bigger pain in the neckthan necessary. Hes right, after all. In the case that one of us Finnick Fan Clubbers pullsa double win, therell be no one left to meet with. An unfortunate truth, that Snow hassucceeded in destabilizing the core of our rebellion so thoroughly by this Quell.Mags says something that Im pretty sure includes the words "evacuate" and"mockingjay", clearly more than ready to get past the usual bickering.Haymitch elaborates, seeing as none of us have been around Mags long enough yet toget the hang of understanding her again. (Its been years since shes mentored.) "Shesays that we think this Quell may actually provide us an opportunity to evacuate theMockingjay to District Thirteen.""Mockingjay?" I ask. There are more important things to discuss, for instance why isanyone being evacuated anywhere and what do we hope to gain from this?, but Ill takethis one step at a time."Yeah, the Mockingjay. Katniss, of course. Where have you been?" Comes the chorusfrom around the closet. I blink around at the faces, seeing that Blight looks just asconfused as me." a mockingjay? What, is she some sort of bizarre…mutt?" I ask, nonplussedand wondering if Ive somehow missed the fact that Katniss can morph into amockingjay. Wouldnt be the strangest thing Ive ever heard."No. Its our symbol. The symbol of the rebellion, if you will. So thats the name wevegiven to Katniss." Haymitch says, impatient to get on with business."Mockingjay is the worst codename Ive ever heard." I say, though I really dont have aproblem with it. Being contrary just amuses me."I dont believe anyone asked your opinion." Haymitch says nastily, probably wishinghed brought a bottle along to deal with the level of uncooperativeness in ourmaintenance closet. "Now. Evacuating the Mockingjay."So we get down to work. Haymitch pulls some sort of ethical shit on us, saying that itwouldnt be fair to the other tributes if he told us all that he knows about the arena. Weprotest loudly, but apparently Haymitchs moral compass points due north. We are toldnothing, not even Mags. Fourteen pairs of disgruntled ears are told to shut up about thearena and listen to whats really important here."There will be a forcefield encircling the arena. A dome." Haymitch says. We are told tonot touch the forcefield under any circumstances. It will have to be broken down to allowany rescue hovercrafts into the arena, a job which falls to, you guessed it, Wiress andBeetee. "Your prime directive is to disable the forcefield." As soon as Haymitch has told
  • 122. this to the two from Three, theyre gone. For all intents and purposes, they may not evenbe here, theyre sucked into that world of schematics and equations and complicatedscience that makes close-to-no sense. None of us understands that world, but it certainlydoes come in handy."As for the rest of you…" Haymitch takes a deep breath. "Protect Peeta and Katniss…at allcosts. For this evacuation to succeed, their lives need to be placed above yours."No one likes this, not at all."What are you, mad?" "Im not dying for Peeta or Katniss!" "You cant make that kind ofcall!" "Ill do no such thing!" "In your dreams, madman!" It doesnt even matter who sayswhat, and to be honest Im not really sure. Were all basically saying the same thing."Do you want this rebellion to go off as planned or not?" Haymitch demands. We all saythat yes, of course we want it to work. Why does he think were here? "Well then. Youwill protect the Mockingjay to the bitter end. Its not up for debate."We all share conspiratorial looks—of course we cant argue, Haymitch is right andeveryone here knows it. "Wait, wait, wait." I say. "Protecting Katniss, that makes sense.But Peeta?"Haymitch sighs. "Shell never admit it, but Katniss wont be able to function withoutPeeta. Their romance was faked, but…she just cant do it.""Im not going to be babysitting some teenager in the arena because," I adopt a falsettothat sounds nothing like Haymitch except when hes had a couple too many drinks."Katniss just cant do it." I slip back into my regular voice. "Shell just have to manage."My assertion is met with approval from the Finnick Odair Fan Club. Not so much fromHaymitch (Mags has decided either that Haymitch is doing a fine job by himself or thatshe doesnt want to deal with this and has sat down against the wall and nodded off). "Iknow what Im talking about, Johanna. She really wont be able to figurehead a rebellionwithout Peeta.""Then I guess it sucks to be all of us, because Im not taking a knife for Peeta any timesoon. I dont even know the kid." I say, because its true."Then get to know him. You have all of training. Spend time with Katniss and Peeta,warm them up to the idea of allies. Because, trust me, Katniss wont want them."Haymitch says, laughing a little at that last thought. I cant argue with the reasonablesuggestion, therell be plenty of time for that later. Ill build my case against the star-crossed lovers and duck out of this whole bodyguard deal later.After all. Who wants to be running around a gladiatorial arena with a couple whiny,hormonal teenagers tagging along? Not me, thats for sure.
  • 123. Chapter Twenty-Eight"And so then he says: Wait, thats not my wife!" Peeta says, and our little circle of victor-tributes at the knife-throwing station bursts into laughter."I think he could give you a run for your money, Chaff!" I say to the man who isundeniably the worst joke-teller Ive ever met. Im pretty sure hes told that same jokeseveral times, but hes just not that funny. Chaff makes a face at me as the knife-throwing instructor harrums impatiently. To appease the instructor, Peeta winds up andmakes his throw. He nicks the target, but the knife ends up on the floor."Nice try." I say semi-sarcastically. Peeta tells me that hes sure I couldnt do better, so Itake my own shot. I dont do much better, though I manage to get a wobbly stick on thetarget. I never have been much good with knives anyhow—theyre so light that Iovercompensate with force and that throws off my normally good aim.Theres a lot of sarcastic clapping and smart-ass comments about "yeah, way to goJohanna, you sure showed him" and I see the instructor roll his eyes at our total lack offocus on training. We victor-tributes arent really concerned about these Games, at leastnot during the day. When the sun is up over the candyfloss Capitol, we are flippant andundefeatable. When the sun sets, well, thats another story. But for now, we are Victors.Seeder strikes up some blasé conversation with Peeta, about his mysterious paintings.They drift off to the knot-tying station, where Finnick is giving the instructor a lesson in amockingly serious tone. (Like I said: lack of focus.) Chaff walks off with Mellie from Nine,a quiet victor who pipes up with an occasional wisecrack when opportunity presentsitself, but otherwise just hangs around. A little weird, but tolerable. Gloss drops by andpulls away Cecilia, god knows why. The Career victors tend not to spend much time withus lowly mortals.So Im left alone. I make casual conversation with the instructor for a while, not reallythat concerned with training. I mean, Ive already had some pretty exceptional trainingfor the Games, even if it was a little while ago. And my chances are better than mostpeople here—Im the youngest victor-tribute except for Katniss and Peeta. (One of thosetwo, of course, is an accidental victor. Peeta was never supposed to win.) Some others,like Finnick, are still in their prime, but my memories are still freshest. Usually a badthing, but good right now.Or at least, thats what I tell myself. We all know that I wont be making it through thisone: not if I go along with the plan. Or should that be Plan? Ill call it the Plan. Somethingthis important deserves capital letters. Where was I? Ah, yes. Me laying down my life forKatniss/Peeta according to the Plan. Not that Im thrilled about the idea of becoming aquickly forgotten martyr for our cause, but if I have to…Ill die for our Mockingjay. Anunfortunate truth.Of course, I dont have to tell anyone that. I continue to play devils advocate during ournow daily meetings of the Finnick Odair Fan Club. (Whats a devil, anyhow? People dropthe word all the time but when asked what it means they stare like youre crazy.)"So what do we think of Katniss?" Asks Haymitch to the assembly of Finnick Fan Clubbersin our maintenance closet. Hes slouching awkwardly against the wall by the door, thisyear being his to block the bug. I think we should just chop the wires off the thing now,but apparently thatd be "suspicious" or whatever.
  • 124. Everyone looks around at each other with eyebrows raised, silently asking each other ifits safe to say the most likely unsavory thoughts running through their minds. No onereally likes Katniss—many of us will probably be dead in her name in a few days, thosewho wont be are going to lose friends, and her anti-social attitude isnt helping any. Imabout to voice my opinion frankly, because thats what I do best, when Haymitch shakeshis head."Okay, well start with an easy one. What do you think of Peeta?" He says, lookingaround."I like him." Finnick says. "Hes a decent kid.""And hes really trying, too." Says Seeder. "He honestly wants to make friends." Pity thatmaking friends with tributes generally gets you gutted in the end.The male morphling mutters something that Im pretty sure includes the word "purple".Its hard to tell. But nevertheless, the mutter is enough to get every head to swingtowards the morphlings. They dont talk. Like, ever. I dont even know their names.Theyre back to staring glassily off into space, looking in equal parts a wee bit loopy andin need of some serious help. Ive noticed Peeta spending some time with them over atthe camouflage station (which, by the way, they completely totaled—paintwas everywhere by the end of training today) but I assumed they were mutually ignoringeach other.Looks are shared all around, but we all know that the morphlings are both too out of it tobe aware that were waiting for them to follow up. So we turn our attention back toevaluating Peeta. Its brought to the table that he knows how to handle a knife and ispretty good at hand-to-hand, but isnt anything special at either of those skills. Everyoneseems to think that Peetas a nice kid who doesnt deserve his lot, though thats notreally a compelling case to become allies. Beetee comments that Peetas "not thebrightest bulb on the parallel circuit", which I guess is some sort of District Three way ofsaying that someones rather stupid."Not that he wouldnt be a good ally." Beetee adds after a moment of thought."Volts, I dont think you really have any room to be picky with allies." I say snippily.Because really, no sane person would consider anyone from Three viable allies. If I wasthem, Id be praying Haymitch just doesnt reconsider them being essential to theescape. Its probably the only thing thatll keep them alive, even if its just temporarily."Just saying." Beetee mumbles, turning slightly red."Actually, this brings up a question." I say, considering whether I really want to steer theconversation in this direction. Whatever. "Katniss was hanging around you guys earlier,right?" Wiress nods, being her usual untalkative self. "What did she want? She doesntwant to ally with you, does she?""I dont think so." Wiress says."Shes just a little scared of the rest of you." Beetee says matter-of-factly. "It doesntsound like she wants allies at all."
  • 125. "Way to go, Johanna. You scared off the Mockingjay." Finnick says sarcastically fromwhere hes standing on my right. I pull a face at him, trying to think up a comeback. Imworking a little slower than usual today—havent had a chance for coffee.Haymitch tries to marshal a little bit of maturity and order back into the meeting."Speaking of Katniss. What do we think of her?" He speaks loudly and slowly, as if thatllmake us stop bickering."Shes a little strange. Anti-social, you know?" Cecilia says."I kind of like her. Shes got a certain…she doesnt crack under pressure." Finnick says,the expression on his face saying that he knows those arent the right words. Hesprobably referring to the fact that she didnt try to hit on him when they talked at theOpening Ceremonies, which I dont really think counts as "pressure"."Well, shes got talent with a bow and arrow." Chaff says."Not much." I say. From what we saw in the Games, all she did was shoot some apples,a guy at very close range, and the insanely easy target of Cato post-mutts. I could havedone that. "I dont like Katniss. At all."Haymitch rolls his eyes as if to say here we go. I pay no attention. "Shes silly, not veryintelligent, over-the-top sappy, exaggeratedly tragic, her romance with Peetais so tacky, shes too innocent for comfort, and honestly, she just plain old annoys me.Shes no good as a Mockingjay. You were deluded and now were all doomed because ofit." I say, turning to Haymitch at that last bit. If Haymitch hadnt thought that hed seensomething in Katniss, she would have just been another quickly-forgotten tribute and theall too convenient Quell card probably never would have been picked."No. Shes brave, shes smarter than she shows, she hates the sappy and tragic anglejust as much as you do, she actually cares about Peeta, she isnt as innocent as sheseems, and its not our problem if she annoys you." Haymitch replies."Okay, so maybe to you shes not insufferable. Does that make her a good Mockingjay?No, it does not." I retort.Haymitch waits for a moment, choosing his words with care. "You saw the speech shegave in Eleven, right? About Rue?""Well, yeah. But my connection went out almost as soon as shed finished." I say,referring to when, on Katniss and Peetas Victory Tour, the screen suddenly went blackand then switched to the Capitol seal and a sharp audio tone. Katniss had just finishedtalking about Rue and Thresh, giving them thanks and praise. It would have been wayover the top if she hadnt actually meant all of the heartfelt speech."Mine too." Finnick says before Haymitch can follow up."My connection went out too." Mai says, a suspicious look growing on her face."Yeah, me too." Silas says, to a nod from Cecilia."Ours too." Wiress and Beetee say together. Its weird, how they do that.
  • 126. Chaff and Seeder give Haymitch a look and smile sadly at the rest of us. Haymitch goeson. "Then you didnt see that she almost caused a riot, did you?""Im sorry?" I ask, not sure what Ive just heard. A riot in Eleven—thats unheard of.Theyre widely considered the most down-trodden, mistreated, and discouraged district."The Capitol cut the connection because we almost had an uprising right then and there."Seeder says. "They shot McKinnon, I used to know him, and when Katniss and Peetawere shuttled back inside…""It would have turned into a fight if they hadnt gone ahead and shot at random." Chaffsays with a dark chuckle.We all absorb this for a moment. Even District Eleven almost had an uprising. Thingsreally have picked up speed. There was a fight in Seven—a fight that was quickly hush-hushed and now only exists as rumor. Thats not so outlandish an idea. But this?"Well, thats nothing compared to what went on in Eight." Cecilia says shortly, breakingthe silence."Ah, yes. Why dont you tell us about what happened three months ago?" Haymitch says."Well, it happened the night they read the Quell card…" Silas begins.They had a real uprising. A true, hardcore, we-are-aiming-to-kill uprising. Peoplecongregated in the streets to watch Katnisss wedding dress shoot (but really they werecongregating to get into position). After the reading of the card, the public screens in thestreets were switched off. And the face masks went on, weapons came out, blows andshots were exchanged. The center of town became the epicenter of the rebellion,chanting crowds and banners of what else but Katniss and Peacekeepers shooting atrandom. But the Peacekeepers didnt stand a chance, off-guard as they were. The rebelstook the district bit-by-bit, their rebellion lasted almost a week. Then the reinforcementsarrived."It was over pretty fast after that." Cecilia chuckles, though clearly she thinks this isanything but funny."It was almost the same in Three." Haymitch says. Wiress and Beetee nod in agreement."It all started the day Katniss and Peeta came on their victory tour.""They whispered about her..." Wiress says quietly."In the streets." Beetee finishes.According to the account of the victor-tributes from Three, people got ideas. They begancutting mockingjays into packing Styrofoam on the assembly lines, they started talkingseriously, weapons were made and gathered, mockingjays and the word Katniss beganshowing up painted onto the sides of buildings, shopkeepers held hushed and candle-litrallies in their cellars late at night."Well, everyone was just angry. There was no real plan. Things kind of just...explodedone day." Beetee says, slightly sadly. "The whole district was in chaos." The onlyconstant was the chant under the gunfire and screaming, the chant of Katniss KatnissKatniss, of for the mockingjay for the mockingjay for the mockingjay.
  • 127. "See?" Haymitch says after we hear the sobering account of how exactly thePeacekeepers dealt with the uprising. "Shes already led three districts to real, right-outrebellion. And thats without even trying."Well, thats not how it was in Seven. We fought for Myrtle the Martyr, who had no helpfrom anyone. Just a loud mouth, a louder conscience, a bloody end, and a very dedicatedfamily. A worthier mascot than Katniss any day. But if the other districts have decided tofight for Katniss, there is nothing I can do about it."Fine." I say shortly. "But that doesnt mean I have to like it."And my fate is irreversibly sealed.
  • 128. Chapter Twenty-NineThough clearly its all thats occupying our minds, Blight and I dont talk about the Planoutside of meetings. We dont talk about anything, much. Just simple stuff like "Pass thesalt." at dinner or "Why dont you come down to training today?" while the sensible oneof us prepares to head down for the second day of training."Why should I?" Blight asks disinterestedly. Weve run into each other outside of theelevator, me ready for another day of training-but-not-really, Blight clearly not ready togo anywhere."Well, for one, it might convince you to change out of your pajamas." I say, eyeing theblue-striped flannel in question."Eh." Blight makes a face and shrugs weakly."Suit yourself." I say, pressing the down button on the elevator panel."Why are you going down to training?" Blight asks after observing me waiting for theelevator for a few seconds."Eh." I echo his response from a few moments ago. I cant really offer a good reason,seeing as there isnt one. No matter how hard I train, theres still no question when itcomes to my impending demise."Suit yourself." Blight says, repeating my words before drifting off. Probably back to bed.I dont know whether I envy him being able to spend his last days as he likes, or thinkhes a lunatic for having so little conviction. Probably a little bit of both.I spend the beginning of training that day trying to do a few things. One, find a way tostrip down again and make Katniss uncomfortable. Its such an easy thing to do, yet sorewarding. Unfortunately, I cant think of anything. I mean, Ive already done thewrestling routine, and there arent really any other options.Second, find a nickname for Peeta. Id try out Pita, his namesake, only that soundsexactly the same as his actual name. Bread-boy is alright, though not very clever. Peetaclams up and gets this dark look when I try "lover-boy" on for size, so I settle on bread-boy. He doesnt really mind, which takes away some of the fun, but whatever.After a while, I cant put it off any more. I grit my teeth and search the room for Katniss,ready to carry out number three on the agenda: talk to Katniss so that she knows me atleast a little before entering the arena. Obviously, the first place I look is the archerystation.Yes, theres Katniss, shooting with a little smile on her face. The instructor is tossing uplittle brightly colored, feathery somethings and Katniss is shooting them through one-by-one as if this poses her little challenge at all. Two with one arrow, three in quicksuccession, five on one throw. My mouth drops open somewhere around three in quicksuccession. When the instructor runs out of feathery things Katniss slowly lowers herbow, smirking. Its excellent shooting, astounding really. So much more than I had herpegged to be able to do.Im so impressed that I dont object when Finnick invites her to sit with us at lunch. Imean, yeah, she sat with us yesterday but that was only because she tagged along with
  • 129. Peeta and she was basically ignored. This time, she sits in the middle of the table andgrins like a madwoman at being accepted. (It feels like grade school all over again.)Conversation turns to our district escorts—making fun of them, that is. Finnick does sucha good imitation of their escort, an overweight woman whose skin color changesdrastically every year and speaks in such an affected and trilly accent you cant evenunderstand her, that I almost think shes standing behind us.Katniss stands and does a quick little sketch with Peeta that they clearly havent plannedout (its more laughter than anything else) of their escort, some woman they call EffieTrinket, scolding Katniss for walking incorrectly in her high heels. Katniss is played byPeeta, Effie is played by Katniss.Okay, so shes at least funny. I admit to myself as Katniss and Peeta plop back into theirseats, laughing with everyone else. Katniss seems unsure of herself with all theattention, and I get the distinct impression that she doesnt do this sort of thing often,but Peeta takes to stand-up comedy like a woodpecker takes to pecking wood. (Finnicklaughed the first time he heard me use the saying, which I dont get. Woodpeckers peckwood, it makes total sense! He says that in Four they say "like a fish takes to water". Ithink their version is absurd.)I stop trying to make Katniss uncomfortable by stripping, though I dont let her off thehook quite yet. She agrees (somewhat apprehensively) to give me a lesson in shooting ifIll give her a lesson in axe-wielding. Not that Im good at shooting, or that I ever will be,but it provides me with a chance to get to know Katniss a little better. As a person, shesnot so bad."Of course, its what she that still really annoys me." I explain to Finnick as we waitoffstage for the interviews to begin. Were all just standing around and chatting, andKatniss and Peeta have yet to arrive so its safe to talk about them."What, that shes a…" Finnick trails off, knowing that its unsafe to say shes thefigurehead for our rebellion. Not here, not now."Not really. Just that it all comes so easily to her. Its not natural." I say, vaguelyreferring to how Katniss has taken to the role of the Mockingjay like, as Finnick wouldsay, a fish takes to water."Cant really blame her for that." Finnick says with a shrug. Hes wearing something thatskillfully dances the line between tasteful and trashy (something for all the clients) andcompliments his eyes, because some of us have all the luck. Tillie, apparently nowcampaigning for Stupidest Stylist Of The Century, has put me in something pink that hasa decidedly ugly skirt and a neckline with lots of little sparkly bows."Guess not. Here, help me with this." I say, beginning to turn my neckline in on itself andhiding the bows. "Get the back." Finnick turns the collar in the back and smooths it out inthe front, disguising the worst of the lumping that the hidden bows have caused."Thanks." I say, looking down on our handiwork with approval."Your stylist is going to have a fit." Finnick says. Hes right, Im really going to get it fromTillie later for this, but looking as least stupid as possible is worth it."Yeah, but I—whoa." I say, looking over at whos just appeared backstage.
  • 130. "What is it?" Finnick asks. I point towards Katniss and Peeta, dressed to the nines in alltheir wedding finery. Peeta wears an elegant tuxedo and gloves and Katniss one of thedresses we saw during the photo shoot. Heavy, stiff white silk, pearls everywhere. Pearlsaround the low neckline, pearls in patterns on her full skirt, pearls on the fitted bodice,pearls on the swooping sleeves, pearls in her elaborately dressed hair.Um, what?There are a few seconds wherein we all glare daggers at Katniss and Peeta, both forshowing up yet again in spectacular, show-stealing costumes, and for the messageunderneath the white silk and pearls. Finnick and I share a dark look then approachKatniss and co. in tandem. This development, whatever it is, can only end badly."I cant believe Cinna put you in that thing." Finnick says to Katniss as we stop in front ofher.Katniss jumps to defend her beloved stylist. "He didnt have a choice. President Snowmade him."Cashmere tosses her styled curls and sniffs "Well, you look ridiculous!" She takes Glossshand and pulls him into place, to the front of our lineup for making our onstageappearance. What a bitch. Katniss doesnt need to be insulted now, even I recognizethat.President Snow just keeps crossing the line, doesnt he? Now adding insult to mortalinjury, he turns the wedding dress that never should have been worn into Katnisss burialshroud. Ive never been one for symbolism, prefer when things are straightforward, buteven I can see how twisted this is.Everyone starts to line up, most people patting Katnisss shoulder or squeezing her handcompassionately as they go. Sympathetic gestures accompanied by stony glowers,because we can all see the vindictive undercurrent in Katnisss wedding dress. Seederhugs Katniss again, really tightly, and the anger on her face over Katnisss shoulder isalmost scary.Before joining Blight in line, I stop Katniss and straighten her necklace of pearls. "Makehim pay for it, okay?" I say. Katniss nods, though clearly shes baffled. Oh, you be quiet.Im allowed to break my dislike of Katniss in solidarity with another girl who had her liferuined by Snow far too young. Its sort of a victor thing: however we feel about eachother personally, at the end of the day, were all in this together.And its that attitude which we assault the audiences across the country with, playing ourinterviews just right. We are still strong, banded together, resolutely against Snow. Ourtime may be almost up, but no one should ever underestimate the power of martyrdom.Of course, we cant come right out and say that. We are clever in the words we choose—we are the victims here, we have done nothing wrong, neither you nor I deserve this."I—I just cant stop crying! I really cant! Every time I think about how much you all willbe suffering for losing us—why, it just sets me off! Gloss can tell you, Ive been a wreckfor weeks! And that must be nothing compared to your pain!""Its true, shes been going through tissues like a fiend. But I can see why. After all thewonderful kindness thats been shown to us here, I find it almost hard to believe thatsomething like this has happened…"
  • 131. "Can this possibly be legal? The rules of the Hunger Games clearly dictate that onceyouve won, youre out of the reapings. For life. Has this Quell been thoroughly examinedby experts of late? Its far too late now, for all of us, but perhaps further investigationshall find that this Quell simply contradicts itself.""To my one true beloved, an ancient poem that describes exactly my feelings for you. Iseem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times... ""There were so many weddings coming up this year. My father, remarrying. I did loveLouise so—Louise, if youre watching this, Im sorry for calling you a witch, I didnt meanit—and my sister met the nicest boy. My nephew, he just got engaged. And we cantforget Katniss and Peeta, what a joy that would have been. But Ill never know any ofthose weddings, and you wont know Katniss and Peetas either…such is life, I suppose…""Such a deep bond has formed between the victors and the people of the Capitol, a bondon such a profound level. Surely there can be no one cruel enough to sever such aconnection? Can something not be done about this situation?""Naomi, Sarah, Tommy…my poor babies back home…hi, sweethearts! Mommy loves you!I cant even imagine how they must be feeling, knowing that…well, that their mother maynever come home…you can understand that, cant you?""See, in District Eleven, everyone thinks that President Snow is all-powerful. He has allthe answers, all the control, doesnt he? But now…well, if hes so powerful, why cant hechange this Quell?""Shes right, of course. President Snow is so powerful, he could change the Quell in aminute if he wanted to. He must just think it doesnt matter to anyone. But it matters,doesnt it? Do we no longer mean anything to you? Because you all still mean everythingto us."By this point, the audience is basically a wreck. Crying, shouting, calling for change,bewailing the tragedy of this Quell. Not that they really care about us, they simplydespise that they will be losing their favorite victors. Were not really people to them,nothing close. We rank closer to animals in a zoo. (I looked up what a zoo was.) We arefun to look at, our antics are amusing, but were not worth a second thought once thegates have closed.But when Katniss takes the stage by storm in her bridal shroud, theres almost a riotright then and there in the stands. The outcry of injustice from the Capitol audience isdeafening, one horrified voice indistinguishable from the next. Because, for the first time,they see it. It being the truth. That this isnt just some clinical way of keeping thedistricts in line, not to Snow, not anymore. No, now hes enjoying this. Getting off ontwisting the knives in our backs. Its sick and wrong but true and now they can see it forthemselves."So, Katniss, obviously this is a very emotional night for everyone." Caesar Flickermanmanages to get out when theres a lull in the shouting from the crowd. "Is there anythingyoud like to say?"Katnisss voice shakes, perhaps on purpose or perhaps because she really is sad andscared. "Only that Im so sorry you wont get to be at my wedding…but Im glad you atleast get to see me in my dress. Isnt it just…the most beautiful thing?" She stands
  • 132. slowly and begins to revolve on the spot, raising her arms with those long, floor-brushingsleeves, above her head. I roll my eyes. That bits been done, Katniss.But then the crowd begins screaming, and I see the wisps of smoke coming off ofKatnisss white dress of silk and pearls. She spins faster, and the hem of the dress burstsinto flames. Not the silly, fake-looking stuff of her costumes last year, this is undeniablyreal and it consumes her dress while expelling heavy grey smoke. The smoke thickensyet further, now mingling with scorched black silk that swirls in the air around thebuilding fire. Pearls are clattering to the stage, unharmed by the flames, as wide-eyedKatniss spins faster and faster. For a fraction of a second she is a spinning pillar offlames and smoke, then it is over.Katniss slowly raises an arm and looks at it, then gazes at herself on the big screenabove the crowd. Katniss is not naked, not wearing flames or pearls, but feathers, tinyand black. Black, except for the patches of white on her sleeves. The headpiece hasburned away and turned into a sleek and fitted veil of slightly softer black-grey thatblends seamlessly into her dress.Katniss has been transformed into the Mockingjay.She sits back down and takes a deep breath, probably trying to work this all out in herhead. Caesar reaches out and touches her still smoking headpiece with a light hand."Feathers." He says. "Youre like a bird.""A mockingjay, I think." Katniss says, giving her sleeves (her wings?) an experimentalflap. "Its the bird on the pin I wear as a token."Ha-ha. The Mockingjay is so much more than that. Caesar knows it, too. Surely. But hedoesnt show it, he just smiles weakly and says "Well, hats off to your stylist! I dontthink anyone can argue that thats not the most spectacular thing weve ever seen in aninterview. Cinna, I think you better take a bow!" Caesar flings a hand towards whereCinna sits in the stands.The stylist in question rises and gives a courteous little bow, somber but proud. Cinna istotally screwed, in my opinion. This will not have been overlooked by Snow. He will notbe escaping from this one unscathed. As if any of us will be.The audience, until now shocked into silence, gives Cinna, the dress, the Mockingjay, awild standing ovation. You can barely even hear the buzzer that signifies the end ofKatnisss interview over their cheering and clapping. The crowd quiets down when Peetatakes the stage, ready to bring down the house. I personally will be shocked if he doesnthave something very big planned for this interview."Well, that was quite the show, dont you agree?" Caesar asks Peeta as if hes breathlessfrom the excitement of it all."I know, what a shocker! All the flames and those black feathers…well, it actuallyreminded me of this one time…" Peeta tells some silly story about overcooking a wildturkey and trying to hide the blackened end product from his mother, Caesar follows upwith a story about some ill-fated birthday party this past winter where the dress codewas feathers.
  • 133. "I didnt go, but Ive heard the rumors…" Caesar says confidentially. But before he can goon to describe these rumors, Caesar stops and evaluates Peetas distracted expressionthen effortlessly steers the conversation towards the big questions."So, Peeta, what was it like when, after all youve been through, you found out about theQuell?" Caesar asks."I was in shock. I mean, one minute Im seeing Katniss looking so beautiful in all thesewedding gowns, and the next…" Peeta trails off before finished the thought."You realized there would never be a wedding?" Caesar prompts gently.Peeta asks if we can keep a secret. From who, dumbass? The whole country is watching."Were already married."Peeta reveals to the mesmerized audience that, before the Quell of course, the star-crossed lovers got together and did something called a toasting. It all sounds prettycomplex to me: the dress and the papers and the song and the cake and then this wholetoasting thing. In District Seven, marriage is very simple. It basically consists of twopeople shacking up and starting to churn out babies. Sometimes you sign the papers,sometimes you dont. Easy as that."But I have to confess, Im glad that you two had at least a few months of happinesstogether." Caesar says to resounding applause."Im not glad. I wish we had waited until the whole thing was done officially." Peeta saysbitterly.He has surprised everyone, even Caesar, who takes a moment to reconcile this beforesaying, "Surely even a brief time is better than no time?"Peeta shakes his head sadly. "Maybe Id think that too, Caesar. If it werent for thebaby."Oh.Well then.All our efforts are for naught. Peeta has just wiped us clear off the board. All our fancytalk about loss and justice and children left behind and meaning everything to eachother—worth nothing. Because this? This is as bad as it gets. Katniss is pregnant.Well, no, not really. Surely not. Haymitch would have told us this, as a part of his"Katniss is amazing and totally deserves your protection in the arena" spiel. This isnt thekind of thing you just forget to tell everyone. This has been planned, this is just a story.Right?The crowd has no doubt as to whether this is true or not. They do not catch on right offthe bat, they need the people around them to nod and shout and cry and confirm thatwhat they fear is true. But when the lie begins to sink in…well, it aint pretty. Theaudience howls and screams and moans in pity and horror. They shriek for reprieve,
  • 134. forgiveness, the rescue of Katniss and Katniss Jr. There can be no denying, this ishorrendous. No one can condone a pregnant teenager being shipped into a gladiatorialarena to fight for her life—the life of her yet unborn child.We cant hear the words of Caesar Flickerman over the crowd. His lips are moving, butthere is no sound that can overcome the wailing from the audience. They play theanthem, sound cranked up so loud that Im pretty sure it shakes loose dust from theceiling above the stage. Katniss stands and receives the weeping Peeta, they join hands.And then it happens. Katniss reaches out behind her and takes Chaffs hand. Or, morelike, whats left of his arm. Chaff hesitates for a moment, then takes Seeders hand.Seeder reaches out for Isaac of Ten, who takes the hand of Isabel from the same district.Some of us are quick to catch on. I join hands with old Woof and Blight as, down the line,Districts Six, Four, and Three do the same. We hold fast, and I can feel the tensionrunning down our row. Because of all the things Ive ever done, this is easily the mostblatantly anti-Capitol. By the time Brutus and Enobaria have completed the chain we arewound tight enough to snap, yet we stand tall and sure.Its on all the screens when they play the last notes of the anthem. The lights onstageare bright, reflecting against our tired but proud faces, and neither the howling of thecrowd or the anthem can shake us. We are being broadcasted to all of Panem, the firstand only show of public unity between all twelve districts since those Dark Days when weopenly fought the Capitol.Theres panic in the crowd as the screens begin to flick off, the techies controlling theairwaves plunging the broadcast into a blackout too late. The lights onstage go out, andwe slowly begin to let go. Blight drops my hand the second the lights are out, so I try tostumble towards the light of the Training Center. I want to find Peeta and Katniss,especially Katniss. I dont know what I want to say to her—something. Something bigand important and profound that befits the uprising we victors have just pulled off all onour own.I bump into Finnick in the middle of the chaos in the City Circle. We lock eyes for amoment, then begin pushing our way through the crowd towards the elevator that Peetaand Katniss have stepped onto. A harried-looking Peacekeeper steps in front of us,though, and were trapped on the ground as Peeta and Katniss shoot upwards to thetwelfth floor. More Peacekeepers show up, no guns and clearly no directions either. Theymake to with separating us victor-tributes and our mentors (those whove managed toshow up, anyway) by district and only allowing us to head to our floors district-by-district, no talking allowed. Smart idea on their part.Before they let Blight and me onto the elevator, were told that there will be armedguards making sure that everyone remains on their assigned floors. There is to be nomore communication, no more conspiring. "Understood?" Barks the Peacekeeper. We allnod yes, yes, understood. Blight and I are just about shoved onto the elevator and webegin the quick ascent to the seventh floor."Well." I breathe after a few moments of silence."Well." Blight says, seemingly just as winded as I am. Far below us now, we can still seethe chaos in the City Circle through the glass elevator walls. Panic-stricken ants, thatswhat the people of the Capitol have devolved into.
  • 135. "Well." I say again, more definitively as the elevator doors open on the seventh floor andwe step out. Theres nothing else to say, nothing else that can even be said. Except,perhaps, one thing."Sweet nightmares." I say with a little wave to Blight before heading off towards myroom. Because no matter how brave and proud and undefeatable we are onstage, nomatter how well we play the part of victors, no matter how thoroughly weve justsnubbed President Snow, we are, in fact, just tributes.And when has the world ever been fair to tributes?
  • 136. Chapter Thirty"Well…here you go." Tillie says, handing over my district token. My token is a delicatesilver chain and with a thin disc of the same metal at the end, a mockingjay motifidentical to Katnisss stamped into it. Its not really mine, or at least it wasnt originally."Now, Haymitch, while I appreciate the gift, you know that our love is far too deep foryou to need to give me things." I say, fingering the silver necklace disinterestedly."Can it, Mason." Haymitch says with a glare. "Its not a gift. Its in case Katniss doesntwant to ally. It might convince her that youre not a mistake.""You shouldnt mislead children. Its not nice." I say, closing the necklace in a fist."Ha-ha, youre a riot. Make it your token, just in case.""Hate to disappoint, but Ive already got a token." I say truthfully."Be sensible." Are Haymitchs parting words. As soon as hes disappeared back off to thetwelfth floor, I hold the necklace up to eye height. Not really my sort of thing, shiny,silver, and delicate. And the Mockingjay insignia—so last spring.And I do, in fact, have a token. I havent been wearing it around like Katniss wears herpin, but Blights grandmother gave it to me the day before we shipped out. I guess shetook a break from knitting that blue thing which never grows any larger, because thewhite bracelet-like token is certainly something different. Its knitted or crocheted orsomething, has a pattern of zigzagging holes, is a few inches wide, and I have to tie itaround my wrist. Its not something I would have thought to get myself, I was probablygoing to go token-less again, but I do appreciate the sentiment. Its nice that she caresenough to…um, knit for me.Okay, so maybe its not as sweet a gesture as Id like to pretend it is, but Ill tell myselfthat someone cares."Thanks." I mutter, fastening the chain and slipping the disc under my sheer blue collar.The uniform for this year is bizarre to say the least. A jumpsuit that, as I said, is sheerblue and zippers up the front (Making me a little glad that I havent followed thetraditional victor path and gained a little too much weight—this isnt flattering anyway,but its not as bad as it could be). Theres a purple padded belt about six inches thick.Cloth shoes with grippy rubber soles. I dont know what to make of it at all, except thatsomething this strange can only signify that the arena will be about as bizarre.Tillie sighs, watching the mockingjay disappear beneath the cloth. "Good luck." Theexpression on her face isnt as clueless and silly as every other time Ive seen her, sheseems to almost recognize that the mockingjay isnt just some flashy dress or a sparklypin. I recognize that perhaps a little too well, which is why I eventually conceded toswitching tokens."Yeah. You too." I say, not entirely sure what I mean. Tillie gives me a funny look, andwe dont talk again.Tillie gives me a halfhearted little wave as the glass comes down over my plate in theLaunch Room, and I return it. Last time Ill ever see her. I try to loosen up a little andarrange my face in some semblance of calm while the plate rises. Doomed efforts.
  • 137. As with my first Games, the arena is too bright at first to make anything of. The plateclicks into place and I blink quickly, trying to analyze where I am. Something blue. Theground is blue. Too shiny, even now still too bright. Is it…moving? The ground is blue andshiny and moving. The sky is pink…the sun in it huge and white-hot.…Im sorry, but what?Water? Is it water? I reach down and touch the blue, shiny, moving ground. Yes, water.Some of it laps onto the plate and over my feet—the shoes appear to be waterproof.Something smells strongly of salt, so I guess that must be the water.Okay. Get this straight. Im standing on a metal plate, in the middle of saltwater. To theleft…a strip of sand. It leads to an island of sand, thats where the Cornucopia is. On theother end, a short beach and something green beyond that. Worry about where you areright now. To the right…another plate. Theres Cecilia, looking around and seeming aboutas baffled as I am. Shes a threat. For all that talk about her kids and how much sheloves and misses them—it wont take her long to turn bloodthirsty.There. The gong has just sounded. Our sixty seconds are up. No more time to think.What now? Jump. Thats the obvious answer. Meet up with as many allies as you can, getsome supplies, get out of here. Jump!But…I dont want to jump. Ive spent the past seven years plagued by nightmares that asoften as not consist of me drowning over and over. I cant stand to take baths more thanan inch or two deep. I cant jump into a lake with no idea what is waiting in its saltydepths. Ill have a panic attack or something, end up on the bottom of the lake. I cant. Ijust cant.Jump, dammit! I jump.I barely know how to swim. Im even a little scared of the water. But Im better off thanmost of the people here, whove never seen water in anywhere near this quantity in theirlives. Cecilia is flailing around to my right, clearly not going to make it to land. Finnickwill be fine, Mags too, probably. Katniss and Peeta…well, I dont want to think about that.Its been so long since Ive swum, I barely remember how any more. But I guess its alittle like splitting logs—one of those things your body never really forgets. Andsomething seems to be keeping me afloat anyhow, maybe the salt. I manage to pullmyself onto the strip of sand to my left, then proceed to cough up a lungful of water. As Ispit out the last of the saltwater, eyes running and throat stinging, I try to pull myself tomy feet. Where now? What now? Run. Another obvious answer. Run to the Cornucopia,get whatever you can.But no, that wont work. Im not operating by myself this time, I have allies now. Finnick.Where is Finnick? He will be of more use than anyone else in this watery arena. Andwhere is the Mockingjay? I scan the area, letting my eyes skip over anything that isntKatniss or Finnick. And there they are, making their escape from the scene. Mags andPeeta tag along as they run to the beach. How did Katniss and Peeta learn to swim? Nomatter. They are too far gone, I cannot chase after them. My only choice is to try andmeet up later.Okay, so now what? My other allies. Blight pops to mind, but I cant see him. He must beon the other side of the Cornucopia. Cecilia? Were technically allies, though I wouldntput it past her to forget about all of that in the interests of getting home to her kids. But
  • 138. when I look over, shes sunk beneath the surface of the water. Chaff or Seeder? No, Icant see them either. Itll be no use going searching for my allies, just a time-waster andpotentially dangerous.There. Theres an ally, flailing around in the water. Ugh. Beetee would so not be my firstchoice if I had to pick someone to team up with. But there he is, only one spoke over.And hes essential to our escape. I sigh a little, knowing that really I dont have much ofa choice, and execute a messy dive back into the water. (Something I picked upwatching District Four tributes in the Games. My version is significantly less professionaland hurts when I hit the water.)"Hey! Volts!" I call, scrambling up onto the next sand spoke over. Beetees only justmanaging to keep his head above water, splashing like mad. But his head snaps intowards me at my call, and I motion for him to swim in. But he doesnt, which I take tomean that he cant. So, reluctantly, I slip back into the water and swim out. Whoeverwas sharing this wedge of water with Beetee, theyve gone under or made it to theCornucopia, so theres no one to fight.Beetee continues to struggle even when I begin trying to tow him to land, and I want toyell at him except Im using my energy for something a little more important. Namely,keeping both of us alive with my extremely limited swimming skills. My effort, thoughvaliant, is not especially impressive and we both waste more time hacking up water whenI land us on the sand spoke.Im on my hands and knees, trying to cough out as much of the water as possible, whensomething large and wet comes slamming onto the sand. I fly to my feet, scrambling forsomething to use as a weapon, when I realize that the "something large and wet" isanother tribute. Specifically, Wiress. Shes breathing, but struggling to do so. Then asoaking and somewhat bedraggled Blight pulls himself onto the sand, standing upstraight without coughing out any water."Where did you learn to swim?" I ask with interest while dropping back to the ground andshaking Wiress roughly. She stirs and coughs up a little water—at least shes alive. Smartidea on Blights part, to tow her in. Well need both Nuts and Volts if we plan on gettingout of here. Theyre a tag-team."Long story." Blight replies quietly. I try to remember if his arena was water-based ornot. Perhaps. It was a long time ago.Wiress stops coughing, and I deem her fit to travel. "We should get out of here." I say,looking up at Blight."Yeah. One and Two are spreading out." Blight says, jerking a thumb towards theCornucopia, where the Careers are indeed beginning to go on the offensive."The sooner we find Finnick and Katniss, the—" I begin, cutting off when I realize thatone of our company isnt with us. "Wheres Volts gone?" I ask sharply. Itd be just likehim to get some stupid idea and run off without checking with anyone else.Blight doesnt answer, and he doesnt have to. Because Beetees already halfway to theCornucopia, still coughing as he runs right into the thick of the fighting. My goodness. Ithought this guy was supposed to be smart."What is he thinking?" Blight asks to no one in particular.
  • 139. "Beats me." Is all I say in response, helping Wiress into a kneeling position and hittingher repeatedly on the back in an effort to get her to cough up all the water. If Beeteewants to get himself killed, its not my problem. I mean, the Plan may not go off exactlyas we hoped, but Wiress should at least be able to set up something to blow theforcefield. Shes still a genius, even without her other half.Beetees out of sight for a moment, hidden behind Mellie of Nine and Enobaria lockingknives. By the time theyve moved out of the way, Enobaria kicking Mellie square in thestomach and knocking her to the ground (Mellie wont be making it out of this one),Beetees clutching something gold and running back towards us. I think he may just havegotten lucky enough to escape from this alive and unharmed, but then Enobaria is back.Mellie is most likely dead on the ground, and Enobaria is out for more blood. And bloodshe gets, before being called away from killing Beetee thoroughly by the more pressingopponent of Chaff."Volts, youre such a moron." Are my welcoming words to the stabbed and still coughingBeetee as he stumbles to a stop just in front of us on the sand spoke. He appears to beholding a spool of wire—seems familiar somehow. Maybe I should have been payingmore attention when they were going off on their technology tangents in our lastmeetings."Will you live?" I demand. Beetee nods, though he doesnt seem quite sure. "Then letsgo." Blight pulls Wiress to her feet and she blinks around as if just realizing where weare.We run (or stumble, in Beetees case) along the spoke and towards the thin strip ofbeach lined by something green that I now recognize as forest. No, not exactly forest.Jungle. Rainforest. A strange, alien word to go with this strange, alien arena."Well, full speed ahead, then, I guess." I say as we stand on the edge of the trees.Theyre still fighting at the Cornucopia, but that cant last much longer. Blight takes thelead, Wiress behind him, Beetee next in line, me watching our backs. Not like Im armedor anything. Wed be totally helpless if we were jumped.This forest—no, this jungle—is different from anything Ive ever known. The dirt is blackand spongy underfoot, crawling with little things both seen and unseen. (Hopefully nosnakes.) From the dirt springs all manner of plant life, vibrant greens and damp browns.The temperature must be well north of a hundred degrees, but the sun isnt blisteringand beating like in my first arena. This is a slower sort of sun, the sort that slinksthrough the air and wraps around you, tendrils of humidity making even the smallest ofmovements like taking an afternoon stroll through melting wax. The mosquitoes andother unknown bugs frolic through the air, unaffected by the mist of evaporating waterthat we can see where the sun shines through the canopy of wide leaves far above ourheads.Im miserable to say the least.And, sadly enough, Im not even the worst off here. Wiress is muttering to herself,counting something out on her fingers when shes not tripping over the undergrowth.Walking behind Beetee, I can see that the knifing Enobaria dealt him may not have beenfatal, but pretty much the whole length of his back has been gashed open and itsseeping blood in a not entirely encouraging way. Blight just suffers in silence, much as Ido.
  • 140. Well, okay, thats a lie. "This blows." I moan, smacking a mosquito off my forehead. "Nofood, no water, no weapons, no shelter, and you." I jab Beetees unhurt shoulder with afinger. "Think you could walk a little slower, there?""Youre not exactly encouraging the sponsors, Johanna." Is all Beetee says mildly inresponse, not actually walking any faster. True, the guys injured, but weve all gotta putup with this.I grumble something and try to keep scanning the area. Weve got to keep an eye out forthat forcefield. Haymitch told us not to touch it under any circumstances, so I guess itspretty dangerous. The other victor-tributes—okay, Ill cut the crap, were just tributesnow—are still going to be far behind us but Finnick and co. left the bloodbath before wedid, and I wouldnt put it past Katniss to shoot someone straight through the skull beforeseeing who it is.It must be noon and I dont think Beetee can go on much longer (Im getting tired andIm not losing blood every second) when Wiress starts singing. "Hickory, dickory, dock,the mouse ran up the clock…the clock struck one, the mouse ran down…hickory, dickory,dock…" She sings quietly to herself in a lilting and clear voice, giving a certain dimensionto the nursery rhyme. Weve got a version in Seven about an weevil burrowing in a tree,but hey, whatever works.The novelty wears off pretty damn fast."Wiress. Shut up." I snap, forgoing the traditional step of a polite request. Given thesituation, I think we can all overlook the lapse in manners. (Not that I would have donemuch differently anyway.)"Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock…" Wiress sings her ditty again, as ifshe hasnt heard me. I allow her to repeat herself three more times, then I push pastBeetee and take Wiress by the shoulders, spinning her around to face me."Be. Quiet." I say slowly. Wiress nods up at me, eyes wide, as if she understands.I make my way back to the end of our line. No sooner have I done so than Wiress beginssinging again. "Hickory, dickory, dock…"Wiress wont stop singing, no matter how many times I tell her to or how many timesBlight asks. Beetee doesnt even try, and when asked, he says that she wont stop untilshe feels like it. "Minute, hour…day…it could go on for a long time." He says. Notencouraging.I manage to grit my teeth and keep plodding through the jungle for about another hour,at which point I basically lose whatever cool I had retained. Weve just enjoyed a briefrespite from Wiresss singing, about three minutes long. I think that its over, that shestired of the song and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The jungle suddenly looks a lotfriendlier, I feel a lot less thirsty, I begin to appreciate just how pretty the sun is glintingoff the mist drifting through the air…almost like home, on a day when the sawdust isespecially thick. See, maybe this arena wont be that bad after all. All it took was for herto stop singing."Hickory, dickory, dock..."
  • 141. Chapter Thirty-OneI snap.Snapping basically consists of shoving Beetee out of the way (he hits a tree with theinjured side of his back and says something they may have to censor before broadcastingthis) and stalking over to Wiress who, for a few seconds more, is blissfully unaware ofwhats coming her way."Wiress! For the love of all that is good, SHUT UP!" I try to refrain from shouting, but failrather miserably."Calm down!" Blight pulls me away from Wiress. She takes her head in her hands,leading me to believe that I may have shaken her a little too hard. Ah, shell live.I shake Blight off and fold my arms. "Im not going any further. Weve got no supplies,hes injured, shes…whatever she is, and were not going to find Finnick and Katnisstoday." Plus, Wiress is driving me insane.Hopefully when we stop shell find something todistract her."Fine. Lets find a clearing or something and stop for the day." Blight says.I walk ahead of the rest of my allies, still fuming. Volts, I dont think you really have anyroom to be picky with allies. In my head, my voice sounds really high-pitched and silly.Because guess whos stuck being their ally now? Lucky, lucky me, thats who. No, maybejust stupid me. After all, would it have been such a stretch to go find someone else?Anyone else? Chaff and Seeder couldnt have been very far, and I could have just bookedit after Finnick and Katniss. Or ditched Nuts and Volts and run off with Blight—better thanthis, anyhow.I find the clearing first, having walked ahead of everyone else. The sunlight filtersthrough a thinner canopy of leaves coming off the trees around the clearing and in themiddle of the sort of oblong-shaped space theres a bit of actual sunlight."Here looks good." I call over my shoulder to the stragglers still making their way over. Ikick at the spindly ferns and wide, waxy-leafed plants that hug the ground in the clearingand create a sort of mossy carpet. The plant layer above the dirt makes me a littleapprehensive as to what hides beneath the leaves, but Ill follow the I actually dont wantto know philosophy here.Ive stood right in the little spot of straight sun in the middle of our clearing by the timeeveryone catches up. The sun is nice, a little relief from the humidity in the less directlight. I turn my face in the direction of the pink sky and tell myself that its just to soakup some sun, but really Im hoping to see a silver parachute with some water. I dontknow if its its all the salt I swallowed, or the heat here, but whatever the reason, Imway thirstier than is normal. We all are."We need to find some water." Blight says, coming to stand next to me as Wiress andBeetee make their way into the clearing. Wiress is still singing softly.I stop staring at the sky and look at Blight. "Yeah, we wont be able to go very long likethis. Plus, I dont know how much more blood he can lose." I tilt my head in Beeteesdirection. That spool of wire had better be worth this, because if he slows us down and
  • 142. endangers us then dies anyway, were all fucked. I personally plan on getting out of thisarena alive, and without the blood of my friends on my hands. Call me crazy."You stay here with them. Ill go back out to look. We could be really close to a stream orsomething." Blight says, already beginning to turn away."Wait, wait, not so fast." I grab his shoulder. "You cant leave me with them. Ill go, youstay."Blight rolls his eyes at me. "Fine. Be careful."Well, I was going to go out there and start shouting my position and how one shouldapproach if they were going to try and kill me, but hey, being careful sounds like an okayidea too.I just leave the clearing and pick a direction—perhaps east? I think so, but the trees aretoo thick to really see the sky and the sun probably isnt even real anyway. Whicheverway Im going, I circle the area slowly and keep an eye out for brighter sun or breeze,signifying a break in the trees and hopefully water. Nope, nothing. Just more bugs, moreslightly damp plants, more sun filtering slowly through the branches. This arena isgetting old fast."Nothing." I report back to my allies, returning to our clearing after a little more timethan I had anticipated. I may or may not have gotten a little lost trying to make my wayback. It all looks the same, okay? Not like you could have done any better.Everyone is sitting among the layer of vegetation, Blight a little apart from Wiress andBeetee. Blight looks like hes going to say something, but then the cannon shots startgoing off. One, two, three, four. Eight in total. Not very many compared to otherGames…but it seems like so many. At least I know that Finnick and Mags are alive, aswell as Katniss and co. and my allies. We may get out of this yet. Even so.I dont catch anyones eye as I find myself a spot on the ground next to Blight, ploppingdown onto the plants. I ignore the little voice nagging at the back of my mindsaying there are probably snakes here and not to mention all the bugs here are probablypoisonous and—"So what now?" Blight mutters, quiet enough that Wiress and Beetee dont hear. I mean,I dont think Wiress will really be any help in planning and by this point Beetee is onlyhalf-conscious."I dont know. I cant see us pulling any sponsors, and I think were going in the wrongdirection." We would have found some trace of Finnick and Katniss and them if we weregoing the right way. We must have gotten lost somewhere along the line."I say we stay here for the day. Maybe by tomorrow, hell be—" Blight just lets his eyesflicker over to Beetee, who seems to be considering passing out. Maybe by tomorrow,hell be dead. Not something you can really say, but I get the idea."Fine. But as soon as we can, lets get back to trying to find…" I trail off, not wanting tofinish the thought. The less the audience knows about our plan, the better. Wed all bescrewed if someone pieced together that theres something funny playing out amongstthe tributes.
  • 143. Blight and I both sigh, then wince. My throat just hurts so much. I swallowed way toomuch salt in the first place, and then didnt drink for hours while I hiked through therainforest and did a lot of sweating. I know this may be hard to believe, but Im nothaving a ton of fun.It suddenly strikes me just how damn tired I am. Ive been trekking through the arenafor hours on end—its now late afternoon—Im dehydrated, its hot and humid, andWiresss singing has finally gone down a few decibels. And heck, I have allies now. Whileotherwise its a pain, this does provide a few nice opportunities."Keep watch." I say to Blight, deciding that I may as well take a nap. Im sorry, whatsthat? Gladiatorial arena, no time to snooze off, stay alert, youre an idiot thats going tobe dead in a minute? Ha. Is this where a damn is supposed to be given? This isnt anydifferent from leaving someone on watch at night, except the sun is up and the Careerswont be hunting yet.The ferns are soft and the sun is slow, Wiress has finally stopped singing. Im out like alight. There are no nightmares. Of course not, seeing as Im literally living a nightmareright now. Find me one victor who hasnt been having awful nightmares about returningto the arena since the day they won. I dare you.Blight shakes me awake around sundown. "Death toll." He says simply. A harshawakening. I blearily rub my eyes and pull myself to my knees, dreading the death tallyto come.Its just as hot as before when the sun sets. A disappointment. The twilight is strangeand pale, not really night but nothing like day either. Wiress is singing again, more toherself than anything. I dont see how shes managing that, because my throat feels likesandpaper: singing is totally out of the question. Not that I would anyway."Wont be able to see the sky." I say slowly and simply as the sky darkens a little further.Im still too bleary to say anything with many frills or even correct grammar. Plain oldwords will have to do.No one says anything back, but Blight stands and heads for the largest tree that ringsour clearing. The lowest branch is about five feet up, but Blight is from Seven and thus atree-climbing expert. He may be a pretty big guy, but Blight easily manages to clamberup the tree and disappear into the branches. I guess hes climbing to somewhere highenough that he can see the sky.The twilight begins to glow and the anthem plays, so I guess the death toll has begun.We can catch little glimpses of the screen in the sky, but not much. No faces can bemade out. Brown hair here, a hint of a smile there.Blight drops back to the ground, moving much more clumsily than before. He doesntlook anything as he slowly reports, "Aaron. Sonders. Cecilia. Woof. Mellie. Lew. Gina.Seeder."Aaron from Five. I dont really know him, hes one of the more messed-up victors (ha-ha,thats a contradiction in itself) and hardly ever mentors. Sonders—no idea who that is.Must be one of the morphlings, theyre the only ones who I dont know the names of. Idont have the energy to ask which one. Cecilia. Her kids will never see her again. Woof.Never knew him too well, but he held the door for me once. I tried to say thanks and hedidnt seem to hear me. Mellie. Well, she hung around, but we were never friends. I cant
  • 144. quite remember which of her jokes made me laugh, but I know they did. Lew from Ten.Never knew him either. Gina from Ten. Only won a few years ago, never got to knowher. Seeder. Well, lets not think about that."What does the arena look like from above?" Asks Beetee. He still looks pretty out of it,but at least he can still string together a sentence. Better than I can, anyhow."Big. Green." Blight says, clearly also suffering from that mixture of exhaustion, thirst,and creeping depression which has so thoroughly wiped me out."I mean, could you see any water or other types of terrain?" Beetee asks."No water. No…it…stopped. Were…penned in." Blight looks about ready to drop, andanyone can tell that his mind has been dulled and tongue thickened from the tryingconditions in this arena. I want to go back to sleep really badly, but I know that now itsmy turn to keep watch."Penned in?" Beetee asks. The only one of us who isnt completely exhausted. I hate himfor it. No one should be allowed to be so alert after this sort of day. I mean, for christssake, hes the badly bleeding one."Yeah. Like…the trees stop. A dome. The Cornucopia…the middle. Trees on the outside.Then it stops. Nothing there. A wall." Blight shakes his head. "Johanna, keep watch." Hesits back on the ground and quickly lies down, falling asleep instantly. Lucky bastard."Well. That certainly raises some questions." Beetee says, fiddling with his glasses. "Ifwere under a dome, how did that hovercraft get in? How are they ventilating the arena?Are they at all? How—""Volts, shut up and go to sleep before I throttle you." I snap, not in the mood to dealwith any tech-talk right now. Beetee, clearly not intent of getting throttled, takes my kindadvice and goes to sleep. Wiress, curled up like a little mouse, still mumbles to herself.Shes been out since the second Blight finished giving out the names of the dead.Wiress wakes up suddenly with a gasp, a few seconds before we hear it. The tollingof…bells. Strange. No one else wakes, but Wiress seems to be deeply disturbed by thebells. They ring twelve times, then theres silence."Tick, tock." Wiress whispers. "Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.""Wiress, go to sleep."Wiress obeys, still mumbling tick-tock to herself. I dont understand this bellsdevelopment or why Wiress is tick-tocking, Im feeling far too slow to even consider whatit means. This is one of those whatever, Ill deal with it in the morning types of things.I dont enjoy my night on watch. My injured, unarmed, and exhausted allies are countingon me to at least give them a few seconds warning before theyre killed. It was so mucheasier operating on my own—I could spend the nights up in a tree, go where I wanted,do what I wanted, and I have a feeling that when the time comes to do some killing itllbe harder with these three tagging along.Its a long, lonely, numb night. Its still way too hot, Im still way too thirsty. My alliesbreathe asynchronously, crickets or something of the like chirp a loud background static,
  • 145. Wiress mumbles to herself. Occasionally a "tick, tock" or a strain of "hickory, dickory,dock" breaks through the mumbling.I had a favorite nursery rhyme when I was a kid. Ring around the rosie, a pocket full ofposy, ashes, ashes, we all fall down. I loved the morbid connotations—Sal told me how itwas about some sort of ancient plague that killed, like, half the people on the planet. Itcracked me up. (I was a pretty strange child.) Ring around the rosie, a pocket full ofposy…I sing to myself in my head, lacking anything better to do.Ring around the rosie…Isnt Katnisss sister named Rosie?Pocket full of posy…Doesnt Katniss have a cousin named Posy?Ashes, ashes…The girl on fire?We all fall down.Pretty self-explanatory, that one is.The pale white moon has long since passed the little patch of sky above our clearing, itmust be past midnight. There seems to be a thunderstorm in some other sector of thearena. How lovely for that sector. Im sure theyre having a dandy time.The lightning from over left-a-ways finally stops. Must have been about an hour. I dontknow what time it is, exactly. One or two in the morning. Maybe Blight would be willingto take over watch. Probably not. Maybe I could force Blight to take over watch."Tick, tock." Wiress mumbles.I look over at Blight, assessing whether I should go at this in a sort of "awBlight please Im just so tired Id so appreciate it if youd take a teensy turn on watch" or"Blight, get your fat ass on watch right now or I am going to tie you up with a bow andleave you on the beach for the Careers to find". But before I can pick an approach, Inotice the clouds.Clouds.…Clouds.Clouds!It takes my befuddled mind a few seconds to make the connection, but when I do, I snapto full alertness. I practically skip around our campsite, kicking my allies awake.Because clouds equal rain and rain is exactly what we need.
  • 146. "Rain, rain, rain!" I almost crow, hoping to provide a little more incentive for my allies toget up. "Clouds, guys!" I drop to the ground and shake Blights shoulders. "Blight, itsgoing to rain, come on! Get up!"Wiress catches on pretty quick, standing up bolt straight and turning her face skyward.Beetee seems to have lost a lot more blood over the night and needs a hand in standing(totally a guy you want as an ally), but also seems to understand that our lives haveprobably just been saved. You know, maybe the Gamemakers aint so bad after all.Blight gives me a smile, an actual smile, as the raindrops begin to hit the leaves of thetrees around us. Plunk, plunk, plunk. We can only hope that the rain will last long enoughfor us all to get at least a mouthful. This wont be enough to rescue us, but it can hold usuntil we find some real water source.I know that something is wrong the second the first drop hits my dry tongue. The wateris salty. Thats not right. I had been expecting the warmth, not like anything here couldbe cold. Does it rain saltwater here, as well as having it in the lake? But no, not quite.Theres something else. Copper undertones. A sort of half-sweet, half-salty, bitter and alltoo familiar taste.Blood.A drop falls onto Blights forehead, I feel one hit my cheek. The rain hitting us isundeniably red, even in this strange light.It is raining blood.The rain increases to a steady drum on our shoulders and our heads, as we just gape ateach other and try to come to terms with whats going on. I cant even really processthis. Its just so bizarre, so messed up, so twisted that it doesnt quite make sense.Blight is the first to snap to his senses. "Weve got to get out of here."I concur. "Back to the beach? Or further into the jungle?" The blood rain increases to thepoint where it hurts a little as it drums down onto us."I dont see that it really matters. Nowhere is safe." Beetee says, swaying a little underthe still-increasing torrent of rain."Tick, tock!" Wiress nearly shrieks, breaking the running tick-tock mumble shes hadgoing for the past few minutes. Beetee gives her a questioning look, seemingly just asconfused as the rest of us. Id ask him what he thinks Wiress means if the blood-rainwasnt now coming down in red, hot sheets.Blight gurgles something, and I try to shout "What?" over the bloodrain. But it comes outsomething like wugbluugt because theres no way to talk without getting a mouthful ofthe warm, sticky, salty…ugh. I dont even want to name it.We all seem to catch the same brainwave, and decide to give up on any form ofplanning. Weve got to get out of here. Not that the bloodrain can really hurt us, but itsmore of a psychological thing.Whose blood is this?
  • 147. I guess it could be some sort of synthetic, or maybe…animal blood or something, butthats just not Snows style. Is this the blood of political prisoners, slaughtered Avoxes?There must have been thousands of deaths to facilitate this sort of downpour. Itspractically falling from the sky in buckets at this point. Is this the blood of my fellowtributes families? Whoever Wiress and Beetee have, Blights grandmother? Have theybeen killed in further punishment? Not my family, of course, they died years and yearsago.Though you never know, with all those Capitol technologies…I gag on the blood thats made it into my mouth, horrified by the unreasonable but stillall-too-likely idea thats just crossed my mind. No, no, no, no…I tell myself to stop thinking, stop thinking right now. I focus all my attention onstumbling after the shadowy red forms of my allies. One almost falls over, must beBeetee. Wiress shrieks "Tick, tock!" again from over to my right. The largest shadow,that must be Blight, is ahead of the rest of us. I duck to the right and grab Wiress,pulling her after Blight. Shes clearly gone a little loopy (loopier) and I wouldnt put itpast her to wander off and get lost in the bloodrain.Im not quite sure how long we stumble through the bloodrain—must be almost an hour.I think that perhaps, perhaps, perhaps the downpour is lessening (good thing toobecause were not making any progress out of here), when it happens.Theres a sharp zap! and a shadowy red form flies through the air, crashing to a bloodysplash-landing a few feet away. I count heads. Wiress tick-tocking. Beetee not looking allthat steady."Blight!" I shout/shriek/garble. I slip and slide over the bloody forest floor and almost tripover Blight, but drop to my knees and fumble for a wrist or something, praying to find apulse. I think I poke Blight in the eye, since I cant see a thing, but it doesnt matter.Because when I find his neck and search for a pulse?Theres nothing.
  • 148. Chapter Thirty-TwoNo, no, no, no, no, no, he isnt dead, he cant be dead, Blight is fine, hes just gottenshocked or something, I just missed the pulse, no no no no—"Hes gone, come on!" Ivaguely register Beetee trying to pull me away from Blight. Hes not very strong in thefirst place, badly injured and exhausted now, but I offer no resistance and Beeteemanages to pull me to my feet and away from my dead district partner.The forcefield. I think dully. At least now we know why Haymitch told us not to touch it.Beetee doesnt let go of my arm, seeming to both need the help with standing and knowthat I wont be able to go anywhere without someone directing me. Wiress is franticallytick-tocking somewhere to my right. When I look over, I can almost see her. Thebloodrain has lessened to sheets now.I dont know if I was friends with Blight. I dont know if I ever really knew his family. Istill cant quite put my finger on him. Does it really matter, though? Blight was Blight,and now hes dead.The bloodrain lessens further, and I tell myself to get it together. When the cameras canget a proper shot of me, I need to be presentable. Not literally, of course, seeing as bynow Im soaked with unidentified blood and a mess anyway. But I cant let theGamemakers have the satisfaction of seeing how much their underhanded murder ofBlight has hurt me. So by the time the bloodrain becomes a drizzle then is over as fast asit began, Ive arranged my face in an expression I think I can maintain. A good old-fashioned, homegrown glower."Tick, tock." Wiress says, now seeming more urgent than frantic. Shes not screaminganymore, at least. Ive still got no idea what she means. Well leave figuring that out toBeetee.Speaking of Beetee—where is he? I swear, if this guys run off again to go get injuredand slow us down yet further, I may just end up killing him myself. More aggravationthan hes worth, Volts is.Ah, no, he hasnt run off. Hes just collapsed, is all. Lovely. I nudge Beetees shoulderwith my foot. Yeah, hes breathing, but only just.Okay, lets take stock of our situation. Its perhaps three or four in the morning, sunrisejust under the horizon. Its still about a thousand degrees and buggy. Still no water, nowwere just doused in blood. I think we all probably swallowed quite a bit as well, whichcant be good. Wiress is still ticking and tocking as if all of our lives depend on it. Beeteewont be able to survive much longer without medical attention. And I still want to getout of this arena. So I have to meet up with Katniss, and make sure that Wiress andBeetee live long enough to get that escape planned. Only one option, then, really."Try to keep up, Nuts." I say, taking Beetee under the arms and pulling him into a mostlyupright position."Tick, tock, tick, tock…" Wiress says, staring at the leaves above us and not payingattention.
  • 149. "Wiress. Wiress. Wiress! WIRESS!" That gets her attention. "Follow along close." I say. Idont love the idea of what Ill have to do next, but I get on with it (though not without acertain amount of heavy sighing).Beetees surprisingly light, but its still no picnic trying to drag him through the jungle. Ikeep tripping over stuff seeing as Im going backwards, Wiress looks like shes apt towander off any second, of course weve still got no water and now were simply dousedwith blood (I cant get the taste out of my mouth), and Beetees still bleeding from thecut along his back."Tick, tock. Tick, tock."Im too tired to even care that Wiress wont stop saying that. I dont know what itmeans, and I dont speak Wiress-ese well enough to figure it out. I can only figure that ithas something to do with the tolling of the bells last night, because thats when itstarted.Im ready to drop by the time the sun clears the horizon. Must be five or six in themorning now, and I havent slept in over twelve hours. I havent slept properly for dayson end. My mouth tastes like dried blood, my throat just aches at this point. Id say thatmy vision was swimming if that probably wasnt just the heat shimmering through thehumid air.We must have sponsors. Even Wiress and Beetee, despite being from Three and eithercrazy or on the brink of death. I did a pretty impressive job in my first Games, and it wasonly a few years ago. I should have tons of sponsors. Maybe the Gamemakers are forcingmy mentor (It was Gage who got assigned to me) not to send any water or medicine, ormaybe theyre withholding the sponsor money entirely. There are favorites to win theseGames, and I am not one of them. Ive been too big a bother for too long."Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock." Wiress says, looking right at me. No dice—Ive got noidea what shes talking about and repetition isnt going to help.As the sun climbs higher in the pink sky, Beetee seems to get heavier and Wiress seemsto become more urgent. I just get more miserable and thirstier. I dont even know whatexactly my plan is. As of now, the steps are,One: Get to the beach.Two: Reorient self.Three: Track down the Mockingjay."Tick, tock. Tick, tock."Easier said than done, all of that. Even with the vague hope that Beetee surviveshowever many hours itll be until we get to the beach, I still dont know exactly whereKatniss and Finnick ran off to. Finding them is a whole other can of worms that I wonteven try to think about right now. Ive got enough on my plate without…er, worms. Hm.That certainly sounded better in my head."Tick, tock. Tick, tock."
  • 150. Perhaps eight or nine in the morning, and I begin to wonder if this is really worth it. Thiswhole Plan. If I just dumped Wiress and Beetee here, then I could make it back to thebeach in a fraction of the time it would take dragging these two along behind me. I couldfind an axe and perhaps some passed-over supplies in the Cornucopia, go on to pull adouble win. Easy as that. I could do it, I know I could. Its ugly and awful, but I knowthat Im capable of killing my friends to get out of here. When it really comes down tothe bone, arent we all?"Tick, tock."Of course, then Katniss would die. And there would be no more Mockingjay, no moreuprisings, no more rebellion. So that cant be. Its my job to lay down my life for theMockingjay, as unfortunate as that is."Tick, tock."Ten or eleven oclock, and I dont think I can go on much longer. Its been a long day—along few days—what with Blights death, the crippling thirst, and the exhaustion. Allnotion of staying strong so as not to give the Gamemakers any sadistic satisfaction isquickly draining out of my head. Those are brave and noble acts for the strong, which isdefinitely not what I am right now. Were all shit outta luck if I collapse here and letWiress and Beetee die, but I am only human.No, really. I know that you can forget sometimes, considering how amazing I am, but Imactually a regular person just like you."Tick, tock. Tick, to—" Wiresss tick-tocking is cut off by a huge rumbling in the distance.Id put it at a few miles to our left and much closer to the forcefield than we are, but Istill jump. Theres an enormous roar that starts by where Id assume the forcefield is andspeeds past us. I worry that Ill be deafened when whatever it is thats roaring past usmakes the leaves above us rustle with the sheer speed its moving at, but I can hear itwhen the cannon fires. Twelve dead now.I just sigh and get back to dragging Beetee through the forest. Wiress trails alongbehind, unfocused and tick-tocking. Whoever has just died, they havent disturbed ourexhausted and miserable little procession."Tick, tock. Tick, tock."You know…I think the jungle may be getting a little thinner. The trees smaller, the sunbrighter, the ground sandier and less densely vegetated? I tell myself not to get excited,we may not be anywhere near the beach and even then my job is only a third of the wayfinished."Tick, tock. Tick, tock!"Yes, I can definitely see the bright sun through these next few trees, the dirt is dustywith sand. I make a final push through a curtain of vines, and were on the beach. Thesand is hot, I can tell even through my shoes, and the sun is bright. I stumble a fewmore steps onto the sand, Wiress now exiting the jungle a little slowly. Now that she hasthe space, Wiress begins ticktocking while she makes wide, loopy circles.
  • 151. Im suddenly just so frustrated with Wiress. Slowing us down, singing us into insanity,putting everyone in danger with her bizarre behavior. Its not rational, I know that shesless than entirely sane and therefore not really responsible, but I cant help it.I drop Beetee and he slams to the ground while Wiress continues to ticktock. In my fit oftemper, I stalk over to Wiress and shove her to the sand. Im too thirsty to shoutanything at her, but what I do want to say isnt exactly polite."Johanna!" Theres a call from somewhere not too far away—across the beach. My headsnaps in the direction of the sound, wondering who would shout to the person they wereabout to kill. But no, the caller isnt a Career. Even from here, I can tell that the white-and-bronze-and-green (green?) figure running across the beach towards me is Finnick."Finnick!" I shout back, disregarding the pain that comes with talking. The other twowhite-clothed figures must be Katniss and Peeta—raising the question of Where isMags?—which is honestly a huge relief. Thats my duty fulfilled right there. Ive deliveredWiress and Beetee to the Mockingjay, now all I have to worry about is…actually, now Ihave to worry about protecting Katniss and Peeta as well. One job complete, anotherbegins.Finnick is alive and seemingly uninjured when he slides to a sandy stop in front of me,though he also seems to be decomposing. He appears to be covered in peeling scabs andhas been dyed an awful greyish green."Corpse is a good look on you." I comment, trying to disguise the fact that I really justwant to give Finnick a hug for surviving. I havent got too many friends left, I need tokeep those that I do have around."Its medicine. For the…well, its a long story. What happened to you?" Finnick asks,clearly referring to the fact that Im brick-red and a total mess otherwise."Ugh. You dont even want to know." But the urge to complain to someone wins out. "Eh,Ill tell you anyway. See, we were trying to meet up with you guys but I guess thatsomewhere along the line we went the wrong way, so we just kept walking and walkingand not really getting anywhere. Wiress wouldnt stop singing and hes pretty badlyhurt—oh, hell survive, dont worry about him—and we couldnt find any water so wecamped out in a clearing for the day."Finnick just nods, probably picking up on the fact that now Im just spouting frustrationfrom yesterdays sheer awfulness. I dont really want a response."Well, it was a little past midnight and shed just started tick-tocking when it happened.The bloodrain." Katniss and Peeta finally catch up to Finnick, coming to a stop over bythe side. I dont halt my story. "We thought it was rain, you know, because of thelightning, and we were all so thirsty. But when it started coming down, it turned out tobe blood. Thick, hot blood. You couldnt see, you couldnt speak without getting amouthful. We just staggered around, trying to get out of it. Thats when Blight…hit theforcefield."I trail off, and Finnick jumps on the opportunity. "Im sorry, Johanna."I feel my eyes narrow with the effort it takes not to let the pain show (again—I do like tokeep around anyone who can stand me, and I think Blight might have actually liked me),
  • 152. but I manage to keep my voice level and answer casual. "Yeah, well, he wasnt much,but he was from home. And he left me alone with these two."I look over at Beetee and nudge him with the toe of my show. "He got a knife in the backat the Cornucopia. And her—"Wiress has stood back up and is now circling again. It looks even worse when I considerthis from the perspective of someone who hasnt seen Wiress descend to this level."Yeah,we know. Tick, tock. Nuts is in shock." Hearing her name seems to attract Wiress, andshe comes careening into me. I push her back to the ground. "Just stay down, will you?"I snap, kicking a little puff of sand at her."Lay off her." Katniss says snippily.Of all the nerve. "Lay off her?" It hurts to hiss, but I dont particularly care. BeforeKatniss can even blink, Ive stepped towards her and slapped her so hard therell be amark for days. "Who do you think got them out of that bleeding jungle for you? Youfucking ungrateful bitch, Ill have you know that I wasnt even—Finnick, put me down,Im not done with her—Im not done with you, you little slut—""Geez, Johanna, calm down." Finnick mutters, rolling his eyes. Hes smart enough to notactually expect me to calm down, and I do in fact continue to see red. Despite the factthat Finnicks tossed me over his shoulder and I cant tear Katniss apart like Im achingto, I still kick and scratch at Finnick and am generally a difficult person to carry.Im shouting at Katniss so whole-heartedly that I barely notice Finnicks waist-deep in thewater until he starts dunking me in it. "—just a little harlot with an inflated sense of self-worth, thats all—" And I go under. The saltwater stings my eyes and I swallow some,seeing as Im not at all expecting the dunk. I come up spitting but still shouting. "Illhave you know that youre only—" Under again. Im choking on the saltwater whenFinnick pulls me back out of the water, but I still manage to get in a good few digs at thequestionability of her babys parentage before I give up. "Okay, okay, put me down, youwin. HEY! DOWN! I—well, I didnt meandrop me.""You said down." Finnick says with a shrug. Bastard. He knew exactly what I meant."Playing dumb isnt cute, Finnick." I snap, rubbing my arm where it hit the sand. Theblood thats been caked on comes away with the combination of salt and rubbing, so Idecide to take this as an opportunity to get clean."Please. Anything is cute on me." Finnick says with a saucy wink. Charming, that is."Not done up like that, its not." I say, commenting on the decomposing quality that themedicine gives his peeling skin."Ugh. Dont remind me." Finnick says, looking down at his grey-green skin. The seawaterhas washed off some of the medicine, so Finnick runs back over to their campsite, Iguess to retrieve whatever theyre storing the medicine in.While hes gone, I unzip my jumpsuit and pull it off, then toss it onto the beach. Ill washthat out later. The white undergarments are totally soaked with blood as well, but I dontthink Ill be pulling my stripping routine again. To be honest, doing it in my first Gamesmay have been what got me noticed by that creep Pompey.
  • 153. By the time Finnicks back, Ive used a combination of saltwater and sand to scrape offmost of the blood from my left side. Im still streaky, but its better than before. Finnicksits on the sand and reapplies the grey-green medicine from a tube while explaining tome what happened to them while we were in the jungle."Katniss tried to warn us, but Peeta hit the forcefield." Finnick says. I cut him off beforehe can go on."Hed be dead if hed hit the forcefield." I say bluntly. If it killed Blight, why should Peetaget to survive it? Thats about the epitome of unfair."Yeah, he did die. I did CPR." Finnick says casually. Oh, yeah, no biggie, you just broughtPeeta back from the dead, is all. Theres barely ever any call for CPR in Seven—any life-threatening injury done to you in the forests probably involves an axe sticking out ofsomewhere vital or a tree crushing you like a little ragdoll. Not really something you canrecover from."Ah. Well. Good for you." I say vaguely, scraping the blood off the back of my hand."Yeah, well, we stopped for the day then. Katniss shot some sort of rat, and we got watera little after sundown. Well, a spile, really. But water all the same.""Thats a relief." I say, because it is. If they hadnt had water either, I probably wouldjust give up hope right now. My thirst has reached the point where its just a dull acheand a wicked headache, and I know Ill be able to make it a while longer. Besides, I wantto know something more. "So…what exactly happened to Mags?" I ask cautiously.Finnick doesnt answer, a shadow crossing his face. I have the sense not to press formore.By the time Im clean and Finnick and I rejoin Peeta and Katniss on the beach, theyvebasically handled the situation with Wiress and Beetee. Theyve tied some sort of mossthat I guess must be absorbent along the cut on Beetees back, and hes sleeping off theinjury by the edge of the jungle. Either that, or hes going into a blood loss-induced comaand probably going to die. Id personally prefer the former option. Wiress is clean andsitting on the sand while Katniss coos to her, pleading for her to eat something."Cmon, Wiress, just a little shellfish, I promise it wont hurt you, yes, tick, tock, I know.How about at least some water?""Hey, Ill take her food." I offer politely, plopping down on the sand and snatching thetightly woven bowl of water right out Katnisss hands. In what Im pretty sure is a newrecord, I manage to drain the bowl in about point five of a second. They dont have allthat much water so I limit myself to half of their other bowl, but they do have quite a lotof shellfish. Those I just help myself to, the sudden relief from thirst making me realizejust how hungry Ive been this whole time. I need Finnicks help cracking the shells ofthese strange little water creatures, and theyre kind of slimy, but theyre food.While I eat, Finnick retells (at Katnisss prompting) the story of how they got here. Thepoison fog, thats the burning he was talking about. Deeper than fire. Ugh. And themonkey mutts too—poor morphling. She didnt deserve to die. As if any of us do.I notice that Finnick doesnt actually mention what happened to Mags, but Im notinsensitive enough to bring it up. Ill just wait until hes asleep.
  • 154. Of course, Finnick tries to make that very difficult. "Ill take watch, really, its not aproblem.""Hey, I can go on watch, if no one else wants to." Peeta offers from his position off to theside."Finnick just offered, moron. I think its pretty safe to say he wants to." I snap. "Ill takewatch, though. I dont want to sleep." Now that Ive got some water and some food intome, I actually feel as if I could stay awake for days. This whole sleep-deprivation thingreally plays with your mind."Im just trying to be nice." Peeta says back, giving me a wounded look. This is not a boywho belongs in the arena.In the end, I end up taking watch with Katniss. Im not quite thrilled, but it does give mean opportunity to ask some sensitive questions. I look over to make sure that Finnickreally is asleep, and ask Katniss the question thats been carefully avoided since wearrived. "Howd you lose Mags?""In the fog. Finnick had Peeta. I had Mags for a while. Then I couldnt lift her. Finnicksaid he couldnt take them both. She kissed him and walked right into the poison."Katniss says slowly. She decidedly looks away from me, biting her lip. Its a little thingcalled guilt."She was Finnicks mentor, you know." I say in my best accusatory voice. I see noreason to lessen Katniss guilt—shes got good reason to feel bad."No, I didnt." Katniss just looks so despondent as she stares out at the sea that it makesme feel a little bad. She didnt mean to kill Mags, after all."She was half his family." I dont let Katniss off the hook quite yet, but I can hear thattheres less of a bite behind my words. I never knew Mags well. I didnt meet her beforethe stroke that pretty much destroyed her capability to talk, so we never even had acoherent conversation. But she was close to Finnick, one of his very few real friends.More than friends, they were practically family. As I told Katniss.We sit in silence for a few moments. Who knows what is occupying Katniss strange littlemind? Sometimes she really does seem like the silly, sparkly girl from television andthen, bam, all of a sudden, shes this deep and depressed victor. Not that I like her eitherway."So what were you doing with Nuts and Volts?" Katniss asks me.I answer before I think. "I told you—I got them for you. Haymitch said if we were to beallies I had to bring them to you. Thats what you told him, right?"Smooth, Johanna. Very slick. And Im not even being sarcastic. Dont tell me that youdont get excited when you manage to pull off a split-second lie. I had to protect Wiressand Beetee because without them, how are we to get out of here? But of course I cantsay that, Im on camera. I had to lie (very impressively, might I add) on the run."Thanks." Katniss nods. "I appreciate it."
  • 155. Ingrate. She doesnt really appreciate anything. She doesnt know what the hell is goingon. And shes a crap liar to boot. "I hope so." I say, giving Katniss the most venomouslook I can muster. It looks like it works, too, because Katniss flinches away a little."Tick, tock." When Katniss and I look over, we see Wiress crawling over from her spot byPeeta. "Tick, tock." She is staring at the jungle, eyes dilated with fear. "Tick, tock, tick,tock." Wiress is now more than urgent, she is ticktocking as if all our lives depend on it.What a psycho."Oh, goody, shes back. Okay, Im going to sleep. You and Nuts can guard together." Imsick of dealing with Wiress, and I dont have to anymore. What a relief. I leave Katnisslooking slightly disappointed and Wiress ticktocking desperately, and drop to the sandnext to Finnick. Something about the unevenness to his breathing suggests that hes notreally asleep, which makes me cringe. He probably heard me and Katniss talking aboutMags. Well, its not like I didnt put Katniss through her paces about it. He cant object.The sand is warm, the saltwater lake is quiet, and Wiresss ticktocking doesnt stop mefrom falling asleep. Even though Im not all that tired anymore, I go out like a light."Get up. Get up—we have to move." Katniss gives me a rough shake, and I scramble tosit upright. It takes a moment to get my head on straight and figure out that were notbeing attacked, and even when I do, Katniss isnt making any sense."The arena. Its a clock. We have to move. The fog could come back, or the monkeys. Orwhatevers in the next sector. Theres no way to tell if itll come onto the beach, but Idprefer not to be around to find—"I interrupt the frantic Katniss. "Excuse me, but what are you talking about?""Tick, tock!" Wiress mumbles in her sleep."That." Katniss gestures to Wiress. "I dont know how she figured it out, but the areaworks like a clock." She points to the jungle where we emerged from earlier today. "See,there, the blood rain begins at one-thirty, morning and afternoon. And then, there, attwo, the fog. And then at three, over there," Katnisss pointed finger moves to the junglecloser to us. "Thats the monkeys.""Tick…tock." Wiress mumbles slower."See, its a clock, that must be twelve, and now its almost time for the fog to begin.Were too close, we have to move!" Katniss pleads."Tick…" No "tock" follows, but I think we all know what Wiress means. Wiress knows. Shealways knows, thats her eerie intuition. I dont know too much about the way Wiressmind works, we need Beetee for that, but I can understand this. As if anyone couldnt.When Wiress says something, she means it. And what she means here is now obvious.This arena is a ticktocking time bomb."Tick, tock."And we are running out of seconds to spare.
  • 156. Chapter Thirty-ThreeI dont want to give Katniss the satisfaction of being right about the arena being a timebomb, though its pretty obvious that shes correct. So all that I concede to is a reluctant,"Better safe than sorry, I guess.""Thank you," Katniss says, nodding at me."I think it makes sense," Peeta says, ever the pushover. A certain level of skepticism ishealthy, especially if you havent known Wiress for very long at all. Id feel better aboutlistening to Katniss here if Beetee would wake up to tell us all what Wiress is talkingabout for sure, but hes still completely out of it."Yeah, it sounds…reasonable to me," Finnick hesitates before saying "reasonable"because, after all, this is the arena. As if anything here has even a measure of reason toit.So we all quickly set to packing up the campsite. I get the food and water, Peeta runsover to the edge of the jungle to fetch Beetee, Finnick goes around and picks up theirother stuff—the medicine, some mats, their weapons, the spile and a silver parachute—and Katniss tries to wake the still quietly ticktocking Wiress. Were all packed up quickly,and Im actually pretty eager to get out of here. The bloodrain must still be falling, but itwont be for much longer and then the fog that killed Mags will be coming for us.But, true to form, Beetee makes things rather difficult. He cant walk yet, Peeta has tocarry him, but hes still managing to slow us down. "Wire." He struggles against Peeta,not wanting to be picked up."Shes right here. Wiress is fine. Shes coming too," Peeta says, as if speaking to a veryslow child. Ha-ha. If Peeta is going to learn one thing in this arena, its that you dontpatronize Nuts or Volts. Never ends well."Wire," Beetee insists. It looks like Peetas about to just roll his eyes and pass Beetee offas not really in his right mind due to blood loss, so I step in."Oh, I know what he wants," I say impatiently and scan the sand for the wire. There it is,covered in blood, on the sand a few feet away. Id thought that Finnick picked it up. Istalk over and pick the spool of wire off the sand, wondering how to play this. Itd lookmore than a little suspicious if suddenly I knew just how important this wire is."This worthless thing. Its supposed to be some kind of wire or something. Thats how hegot cut. Running up to the Cornucopia to get this. I dont know what kind of weapon itssupposed to be," I give the wire a light toss and stare at it critically as I walk back over."I guess you could pull off a piece and use it as a garrote or something. But really, couldyou imagine Beetee garroting someone?" I have to roll my eyes at the last bit, the idea isjust so outlandish. I mean, yeah, Beetees a victor and thus obviously done some killing,but hes just so…mild. Not exactly the stuff of nightmares."He won his Games with wire. Setting up that electrical trap. Its the best weapon hecould have," Says Peeta with a little shrug."Seems like youd have figured it out," Katniss says suspiciously, narrowing her eyes atme. "Since you nicknamed him Volts and all."
  • 157. My eyes narrow right back. Doesnt Katniss know anything? Cant she tell that there aresome things that shouldnt be said on national television? "Yeah, that was really stupid ofme, wasnt it?" I snap. "I guess I must have been distracted by keeping your little friendsalive. While you were…what, again? Getting Mags killed off?"Okay, that one went a bit far. Katniss narrows her eyes at me and tightens her fingersaround the knife tied to her belt. I feel my own hands tighten into fists, seeing as Ive notyet gotten around to arming myself."Go ahead. Try it. I dont care if you are knocked up, Ill rip your throat out," I snap atKatniss. I cant really kill her, pity as it is. She is our Mockingjay, it is my job to protecther. Ick.Finnick steps in before this escalates. "Maybe we had all better be careful where westep," he says, shooting both of us warning looks and taking the spool of wire from myhand. He places it on Beetees chest and says, "Theres you wire, Volts. Careful whereyou plug it."Beetee stops resisting movement once hes got his wire. Finnick suggests that we go tothe Cornucopia and watch the arena from there, to see if were right about this clockthing. A smart idea. We set off towards the Cornucopia carefully, just in case the Careersare camped there. They probably arent—weve been on the beach for hours now, at onepoint almost all asleep, and they havent attacked yet.As Id thought, theres no one at the Cornucopia when we arrive. Peeta puts Beetee downby the side of the Cornucopia, and he struggles to sit up a little straighter. He callsWiress over and she scampers across the sand, expectantly awaiting orders. I could havesworn she had a little more free will before totally losing it here in the arena."Clean it, will you?" Beetee asks of Wiress, referring to the thick layer of blood thatsdried on the spool of wire. She nods quickly and kneels by the waters edge, beginning tosing again."Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock…the clock struck one, the mouse randown…hickory, dickory, dock.""Oh, not the song again," I groan, rolling my eyes. "This went on for hours before shestarted ticktocking."Wiress stands suddenly. "Two," she says simply, pointing to the beach where a curtain ofsomething thick and white and misty has begun to seep out of the trees. Must be the fog."Yes, look, Wiress is right. Its two oclock and the fog has started," Katniss says, walkingover a little closer to Wiress."Like clockwork," Peeta says. "You were very smart to figure that out, Wiress."Wiress just smiles and goes back to dunking the wire in the water. If I were her, Iwouldnt just be smiling. Id be pissed at Peeta for the continued patronization."Oh, shes more than smart. Shes intuitive," Beetee says, seemingly waking back up.Good. About time he stopped being dead weight. I can hear the irritation in his voice, sohe must be alert enough to pick up on Peetas condescending tone. "She can sensethings before anyone else. Like a canary in one of your coal mines."
  • 158. "Whats that?" Finnick asks Katniss."Its a bird that we take down into the mines to warn us if theres bad air," repliesKatniss."Whats it do, die?" I ask. Because honestly, how else does a bird warn anyone ofanything?"It stops singing first. Thats when you should get out. But if the airs too bad, it dies,yes. And so do you," A shadow crosses Katniss face, and she shuts up. About time.I busy myself with finding a weapon in the Cornucopia. The supplies, all weapons forsome reason, are highly picked over and theres not a ton left. Swords clearly either waytoo heavy or way too light that I cant use anyway. I cant see any knives or anythingelse that I have marginal skill with. Bows and arrows that Id probably end up killingmyself with—same story with the maces, spears, so on. Ah. Here we are. An axe. Silvermetal, a little lighter than what Ive had experience with, but itll work fine. And theresits mate, under a fancy-looking trident. Cool. Two axes. Could do worse.Its been a long time since Ive had to use an axe, seeing as I havent had to work in theforests since my victory and I didnt do too much actual training during the trainingperiod in the Capitol. But Im still pretty gosh-darn good with them, and I get a kick outof Katnisss expression when I manage to hurl one at the side of the Cornucopia so hardthat it sticks a few inches into the hot metal.Finnick joins me at the pile of weapons. We dig up a bunch of knives lashed together andsplit them up evenly. I consider grabbing a third axe, but decide against it. Finnicksecures a second trident for himself and we go over to join Peeta and Katniss, crouchingon the sand and looking at a leaf. Fun."And ten to eleven is the wave," Katniss says as we approach. I kneel on the sand nextto Peeta and see that hes sketching the arena out on a leaf with the tip of his knife. Itsall that I can do to restrain from making some joke about poor little Peeta missing hiscoloring books back in Twelve."Did you notice anything unusual in the others?" Katniss asks me and Beetee, referringto the different sectors of the arena."Nope. Just the bloodrain," I reply."I guess they could hold anything," states Katniss. I hold back from thanking CaptainObvious for that little nugget of wisdom."Im going to mark the ones where we know the Gamemakers weapon follows us outpast the jungle, so well stay clear of those," Says Peeta, drawing more on the leaf."Well, its a lot more than we knew this morning, anyway." He says, sitting back onto thesand.Im pretty sure that I notice it first. Wiress has stopped singing. My first reaction is relief:thank goodness, its about time. But…she hadnt quite finished her verse yet. She wasonly on the mouse ran down the clock.Katniss is on top of the situation the second she realizes something isnt quite right. Sheloads an arrow as she twists around, finds her target, and shoots without hesitation into
  • 159. Glosss temple. It doesnt take me much longer than it took Katniss to assess thesituation—Wiress sliding to the ground, throat slit, sopping wet Gloss collapsing almoston top of her, similarly drenched Brutus, Enobaria, and Cashmere emerging from thewater—but I have to say that her reaction time is surprisingly good.Maybe I am getting old, I reflect as I wind up to hurl one of my axes at the nearestCareer. Cashmere coughs once, seemingly surprised by the sudden appearance of hotiron in her chest. There isnt too much blood, but she falls to her knees anyway, probablyunable to breathe. I barely even thought about it. Good.The fight has come upon us suddenly, but the element of surprise hasnt done theCareers much good. Brutus hurls a spear at Peeta—who is still scrambling to get intofight mode—and Finnick knocks it off its trajectory, but in doing so takes a cut to his legfrom Enobarias knife.Three cannon shots. Wiress is dead, the Careers from One are dead. The Careers fromTwo would have joined them if there had not been a Cornucopia for them to retreatbehind. Katniss sprints headlong after them, as fast as is possible on the sand, with herthree functional allies dashing behind. Brutus and Enobaria have the lead, though, andtheyre halfway down the sand spoke to the beach by the time we round the Cornucopia.Out of nowhere, the sand jerks right out from underneath us. I hit the ground as itbegins to spin fast, fast, faster. The sand is flying thick through the air, I cant getpurchase on anything, were whirling too fast to keep our positions and I can feel myselfsliding towards the edge of the water. I can only dig my heels in and hope for the bestuntil we finally stop spinning with a jolt.We all sit up, coughing. My head is still spinning and Im feeling more than a littlenauseous. Everyone else seems to be feeling the same, and we all take a minute try tospit out as much sand as possible.I count noses. One, two, three. "Wheres Volts?" I ask, already standing. We make awobbly circle of the Cornucopia: Beetee is nowhere to be found."There," Finnick points out to the salt lake, maybe twenty-five yards out. Beetee is barelykeeping afloat—no opportunities for swimming in District Three, go figure—and Finnickswims out to tow him in.Were all just standing there waiting, scanning the area to make sure that the Careersarent headed back for another round (unlikely, but you cant be too careful) whenKatniss starts as if shes just remembered something."Cover me," she orders, then drops her weapons and sprints off down one of the sandstrips."Wheres she going?" I ask Peeta, befuddled. Maybe the suns gone to her head.Peeta just shrugs as we watch Katniss dive off the sand spoke and start stroking throughthe water towards where Wiress body has been thrown to. I cant for the life of mefigure what shes doing.Finnick shows up with Beetee, who drops to the sand and begins hacking up about a literof water. We stand quietly (except for Beetees coughing) and watch Katniss fumble
  • 160. around in the water by Wiress body for a moment, then swim back as the hovercraftsclaw descends for Wiress.Katniss walks back along a sand strip, infuriatingly slowly. There are Careers still veryclose by—now isnt the time to take a little stroll. She finally reaches us and I see thatshes holding the spool of golden wire: that must be what she was getting from Wiressbody. Well, good thinking on Katniss part, though Im sure she could have done it faster.Katniss drops the wire into Beetees lap then straightens up and gives us all a long look.There is pity in her eyes, though she tries to hide it. Well-meant, perhaps, but Katnissonly irritates me more through feeling sorry for us. We dont want her pity.Katniss then wastes a good five minutes with her arms wrapped around Peeta. Bully forthe star-crossed lovers: theyre both still alive. The rest of us just wait around patientlyfor them to finish. Finnick tends to the cut on his leg, Beetee fiddles with the wire, Istand about and try not to look spare.As anyone could predict, it doesnt take long for me to tire of Katniss rubbing it in thatshes still got her district partner where the rest of us are alone. Not that shes doing iton purpose, shes just clueless. I finally snap, "Lets get off this stinking island."Katniss reluctantly lets Peeta go, and we gather up our belongings. I lost one of my axeswhen the island did its spinning routine and Peetas map is gone, but otherwise wevekept everything. The medicine, the spile, our other weapons."Lets go to the twelve oclock beach," Peeta suggests. "Well have a few hours of calmand there shouldnt be any of the fog still about on that part of the beach."We all agree, and I set off towards the twelve oclock sand strip just as Peeta and Finnicktake two different directions. Maybe theyre still just dizzy or something."Twelve oclock, right?" Peeta asks. "The tail points towards twelve.""Before they spun us. I was judging by the sun," Finnick says. I had been going off of thevery tall tree thats in the jungle past the twelve oclock beach—but now that I check,theres a similar tree in every wedge.Beetee gives a quick lecture in logic which leaves me thoroughly confused. Somethingabout not knowing that its four oclock because they might have spun the jungle too. Noone else gets it either, but Katniss pretends like she does."Yes, so any one of these paths could lead to twelve oclock." She sums up (though thatdoesnt actually sound much like what Beetee said). Stupid Katniss, acting like shes somuch smarter than the rest of us. So much better. Shes not.We circle around the Cornucopia, looking for some clue as to which wedge the paths leadto. I suggest that we follow the tracks of Brutus and Enobaria, but theyre gone. Thejungle all looks the same, even to me, the tree expert, and there are no other varyingfeatures along the beach."I never should have mentioned the clock," Katniss says bitterly. "Now theyve taken thatadvantage away as well.""Only temporarily," Beetee says. "At ten, well see the wave again and be back on track."
  • 161. "Yes, they cant redesign the whole arena," Peeta chimes in."It doesnt matter," I say impatiently. Cant Katniss just get over it already? "You had totell us or we never would have moved our camp in the first place, brainless. Come on, Ineed water. Anyone have a good gut feeling?"We pick a path at random, no idea what were getting ourselves into. The jungle looksharmless enough, sleepy and green. But, of course, thats only temporary."Well, it must be monkey hour," Peeta says. "And I dont see any of them in there. Imgoing to try to tap a tree."Finnick steps in. "No, its my turn," he says."Ill at least watch your back," Peeta says, unaware that he cant be allowed to puthimself in danger like that. Katniss needs him."Katniss can do that," I say. After all, Katniss is at least, to some extent, capable oftaking care of herself. "We need you to make another map. The other washed away." Ipull a large leaf off a tree at the edge of the jungle.Peeta gives me a funny look. I know that this must seem incredibly out of character tohim: Johanna would rather have Peeta making a useless map than actually doingsomething productive? Well, he doesnt have to understand, not as long as he andKatniss get out of here safe.Katniss and Finnick head off into the jungle, Katniss casting a suspicious look back at me.She is confused as well, anyone would be. Why are we all trying so hard to protect herand Peeta? Were supposed to be killing each other. She can probably understandsomeone trying to protect the pregnant Mockingjay, but Peeta would be a little harder tofigure out.Those of us remaining on the beach sit on the hot sand, baking in the sun. Never thoughtId miss the rain of home. Peeta sketches on his leaf with the tip of his knife, Beeteefiddles with the wire, I pick at the peeling sunburn on my shoulder. Its been a very longday, and none of us are interested in breaking this little moment of peace.Peeta has just finished his new map when we hear the scream.Everyone snaps to attention, and were all on our feet before we even really know whatshappened. I jump to the worst conclusion immediately: Finnicks lost it and tried to killKatniss."Was that Katniss?" I ask, in mild panic mode.No one responds right away, and Im about to charge off into the jungle and make surethat our Mockingjay is all right when Beetee says, "No, it didnt sound quite like her.Maybe they ran into another tribute?""Its Prim," Peeta says, looking at us, both befuddled and panicked. "I recognize thevoice, thats Primrose, Katniss little sister."
  • 162. "The blonde girl?" I ask, suddenly putting a name to a face. The little twelve-year-oldthat Katniss volunteered for—her sister, of course—isnt Rosie, but Prim. The wholecountry is besotted with the sweet child, and Ive tried to ignore her as much as possible."Yes," Peeta says, seemingly very confused. Welcome to the club, Peeta. "But how canshe be here?""She cant be," Beetee responds, stating the obvious."Im going in there," Peeta says, getting this determined look and hurrying towards thejungle. But he doesnt get very far—he falls back after only a few steps, seeminglyrecoiling from some sort of impact and lifting a hand up to his forehead. "What—theres awall or something here. Glass or plastic."I take a few steps forward, a hand outstretched. Peetas right: between us and thejungle, theres some type of invisible barrier. Peeta throws a shoulder against it, but thebarrier holds steady."Id warrant a guess at some type of very thick acrylic glass," Beetee says, tapping thebarrier."Good to know," I say dryly as we see Katniss and Finnick emerge from the deep jungle,sprinting towards us. They both look wild, panicked and pained, but I cant figure outwhy. If Prim really is here, why would they be running away from her? Why would itbother Finnick? After all, shes Katniss sister, not his."Katniss! Katniss, theres…" Peeta tries to warn Katniss and Finnick about the barrier,hitting a hand against it, but he picks up pretty fast that she cant hear him.Finnick barrels headlong into the wall, catching the impact with his nose. It breaks,theres blood everywhere. He doesnt get up right away, theres something haunted in hisexpression. There must be more going on here than we know. Katniss manages to turnslightly and hit the wall with her shoulder, bouncing back to the ground. She jumps rightback up and runs her hands over the wall which, as we now find out, extends all the wayaround the wedge. Katniss and Finnick are trapped."Katniss, its okay, its all going to be fine, well get you out of there, all right?" Peetaflattens his hands up against the wall and Katniss places her own hands in the sameplaces on the other side of the wall. She cant hear him, clearly, but she stares with ascattered determination at Peetas face.I try to do something useful, and throw one of my axes at the barrier from a little bitaway. It just bounces off, like Id thought it would. The axe vibrates from the impacteven as it hits the sand, and its obvious that we wont be making any dents in thebarrier. That doesnt stop Peeta from trying, and he alternately stabs and saws at thebarrier with his knife. He gets nowhere, but neither Beetee nor I try to dissuade him.People do pointless things because of love. Not that Im not worried about Finnick, but Ican at least be objective about this. We just cant get through the barrier.It feels like a very long hour that we wait. Theres nothing we can do besides sit next tothe barrier and wait while we get sunburnt. Finnick goes into a sort of lockdown, andcurls up on the ground with his hands over his ears. I cant fathom whats going on inthere, but it cant be good. Peeta continues to try and work away at the barrier (to no
  • 163. avail) while Katniss shoots every arrow that she has at the bird which are congregatingon the branches of the nearby trees."Those are jabberjays," I comment, looking at the birds through the barrier."Perhaps Prim didnt really scream," Beetee speculates. "Perhaps it was just thejabberjays.""But how did they get the screams?" Peeta asks, not pausing in his attack on the barrier."Voice modulators, I expect," Beetee says. I dont know what that is but it sounds prettylegitimate and I dont want to sound stupid on national television, so I dont ask.We know that the barrier has fallen when Finnick slowly raises his head and removes hishands from the sides of his head, and then, swaying, stumbles quickly back onto thebeach. He drops onto the sand next to me, staring straight ahead and shaking a bit."Are you okay?" I ask, although a better question would probably be Are you going to beokay? "What happened?"Theres a pause. I dont think that Finnick is going to respond until he mutters somethingthat sounds like it includes "screaming", not looking over at me.Finnick stares steadfastly at the saltwater lake, shivering in spasms. I wonder fleetinglywhat Im supposed to be doing in such a situation as this. I dont know—hug him orsomething? Tell him its going to be okay? Im no good at this sort of thing, so I justleave Finnick be. Peeta, on the other hand, runs right into the jungle and scoops Katnissinto his arms, then walks her back to the safety of the beach. Katniss seems to bepetrified, and doesnt appear to be blinking.The best I can figure, the jabberjays were playing a recording of Prim screaming, thoughFinnicks reaction would suggest that there had been other recordings as well. Annie,maybe? Its a horrible thought, voice modulators or no. Poor, frail, insane Annie. Butclearly, Katniss sister was doing her share of tortured shrieking and that cant have beeneasy on Katniss. Shed hate me for it, but I feel some amount of grudging sympathytowards her. I would lose it hearing Wane being tortured.Of course, hearing anything like that is extremely unlikely.Peeta murmurs comforting things to Katniss, rocking her back and forth slightly. Sheeventually unfreezes, and then the shaking begins. Peeta tells her that everything isalright, but she argues. "You didnt hear them.""I heard Prim. Right in the beginning," Peeta replies. "But it wasnt her. It was ajabberjay."Katniss refuses to believe Peeta, and says obstinately that, "No, they were torturing her,shes probably dead.""Katniss, Prim isnt dead. How could they kill Prim? Were almost down to the final eightof us," Peeta says. "And what happens then?"Katniss answers despondently, "Seven more of us die."
  • 164. I laugh before I even know it—Katniss has just summed up the whole essence of thearena in five bitter words. I couldnt have said it better myself. But Peeta shoots me aglare, and my other allies flinch. Well, shes right. If they cant take it, too bad.Peeta eventually manages to get Katniss calmed down a little bit, and Beetee chimes inwith the reassurance that schoolchildren in Three learn how to modify voices—so it cancertainly be done.Katniss doesnt seem quite convinced, and I, frankly, am tired of wasting our time onthis. "Of course Peetas right. The whole country adores Katniss little sister," I snap, justwanting to get this behind us. Before I really think, Im saying, "If they really killed herlike this, theyd probably have an uprising on their hands." Not that they dont already."Dont want that, do they?" Taken by a sudden rush of insubordination (or perhaps justof stupidity), I throw back my head and shout, "Whole country in rebellion? Wouldntwant anything like that!"Hm. A mistake, do you think? Maybe my moment of defiance will provide some sort ofencouragement to the districts—most of which Im sure are at least planning to revolt—or maybe they cut away from me in time and Ive just ruined any chance I had of gettingout of here. My mouth is always getting me into trouble, but checking it seems to beimpossible.I glance about at my allies: everyone is staring at me with varying expressions of shock,from extremely shocked (Peeta and Katniss, who havent known me all that long) tomoderate (Finnick and Beetee, who are accustomed to me saying things I shouldnt).There is something guarded in the two less shocked expressions, a knowledge that thetype of talking Im doing could easily get us all killed.I suddenly feel very exposed, out on the wide, bright beach. This isnt safe. Not thatanywhere is. But an illusion of safety is as close as Im getting. I snap, "Im gettingwater," and grab one of the shells and the spile off the sand, starting towards the jungle.Katniss tries to stop me as I walk past her, grabbing my hand. "Dont go in there. Thebirds—"The birds are gone, for one. For another, its not as if theres anything they could do.Who could they possibly torture to hurt me? "They cant hurt me. Im not like the rest ofyou," I say, not a little bitterly. I dont know where the bitterness is coming from,its good that they cant hurt me. How could it not be? "Theres no one left I love."Well, that may be one way its bad. Maybe its not better to be alone as Ive told myselfall these years. Maybe, maybe, its not really just a defense mechanism as Ive toldmyself all these years. Maybe, maybe, maybe, Im just jealous of Katniss because shereally has people who care.No. Nope. Not true, I repeat in my head as I walk through the jungle. Im better off.Cant be hurt. I eventually just pick the nearest tree and pull one of the knives out of mybelt, beginning to hack at the trunk. The bark is rough—I didnt pick a great tree to tap—but Im too stubborn to go find a different one now that Ive started.Better this way. Better this way, I repeat as I stab at the tree. Better. Am I? I am. Betterthis way. No, Im not. Everyone I care about is dead. Yes, dead, I killed them. No, ofcourse Im not better. What good is it, to have someone, if you cant feel the fear oflosing them? Thats what makes having someone real. Knowing that they could be gone,
  • 165. you appreciate that you have them while you do. Thats the pain part of having someone,the terror of them being hurt or killed or fundamentally lost.I dont appear to be making much progress with the tree but I dont really care anymore.Because now all these thoughts that I havent let myself think for all these years arestarting to think themselves and I can barely keep up—the mind is a funny thing likethat.When someone you love is in pain, thats bad. But when theyre gone, well, thats worse.Because you know that theyve been lost to you and that it was painful, certainly. No onewants to hurt the people they love. No one wants to have their loved ones painfully lostto them forever.The hole in the side of the tree is jagged and still way too shallow, but I make one laststab and then shove the spile into the tree. Therell be some sap in our water. Toofucking bad.And as the one whos responsible for having everyone I love lost painfully forever, theresreally no end to the torture. Katniss had an hour, and her sister isnt even in danger. Imgoing to have to live with this for the entire rest of my life. And its all true.Yes, yes, all true. Little Wane, who grew up too fast but still stuck her tongue out whenshe was focusing. Sal, who grew roses and was the only one who could work the washingmachine. Mother, who couldnt cook for her life and was determined to domesticate me.Even Myrtle, who had a very strong conscience, a very blue dress, and may have at onepoint joined the family. Blight, who was perhaps my only friend and who I didnt keepclose enough when it mattered.Theres something warm and salty filling my eyes. Not tears. No way. Must just be thesweat. Its hot here. Just like its only the pollen making my throat so tight. Keeping myhands on the shell and the spile, I rub the sweat out of my eyes with a shoulder.Im not crying. I dont cry. I cant let Snow have that satisfaction. Not tears, never. Imnot allowed to be upset, never mind show it.Thats enough water. The shell isnt even full all the way and theres sap swirling throughthe water, but its good enough. I yank the spile out of the tree and hurry back throughthe jungle to the beach. Suddenly the jungle feels claustrophobic and even moredangerous than the wide open beach. Its a relief to get into the dazzling sun on thesand.I shove the shell of water into Katniss hand, and a little spills on her. But she doesnt sayanything, and doesnt complain about the sap in the water. Good. The girl is finallylearning when to shut her mouth, when her comments would only get her into trouble.Now if only I could do the same.
  • 166. Chapter Thirty-FourNight falls fast, as it has every day before. And like before, its not really night. Its anodd, pale sort of twilight thats just as hot as the daytime and leaves us all wide-awake.We hang about on the beach for a bit, gathering more water for the night. We set aboutpreparing a rubbery dinner of raw fish while we wait for the death toll.We dont have to wait long. Time is fuzzy in this time bomb of an arena, but we knowthat the Gamemakers deem the day to be over when the sky lights up with the deathtoll. The first of the faces is Cashmere, her brother Gloss right on her heels. I killedCashmere, and Katniss killed Gloss. It wasnt hard at all. Thats worrying, perhaps, but agood thing. How are we ever to get out of here if we have a moral crisis over everyCareer we kill?The next face in the sky hits a little closer to home. Wiress. Not that we were everfriends. She really kind of creeped me out. But she was always smiling a sort ofdistracted smile as she scribbled in her notebooks, she was always so eager to tellanyone who would listen about her latest idea, she was always just so…agreeable.Honestly, that might have been what annoyed me about her, but I do respect anyonewho can maintain a truly good attitude. Especially if that person is a victor.Seeing Wiress in the sky hit some of us a little harder than others. The second herpicture appeared, Beetee started and ducked his head as if someone had just slappedhim out of nowhere. Hes now refusing to look up from the sand, and I think hes shakinga little. Tough. Thats what you get for getting close to someone, as I know all too well.Finnick flinches when Mags appears in the sky, but hes already had a day to adjust tothe fact that shes dead and keeps his eyes on the sky. Rhea from Five blinks into thesky, then the female morphling. Blight follows. Seeing him feels a little like a roundhousekick to the chest, but I dont even flinch. Drew from Ten makes his appearance sky last,and then the sky goes back to pale.I count up the deaths. Eight today, eight yesterday. Thats fifteen. No, sixteen. I neverhave been much good with math. But I know that that makes two-thirds of us dead injust two days. Some Games do go very quickly, but none so fast as this."Theyre really burning through us," I say."Whos left? Besides us five and District Two?" asks Finnick.I have to think for a moment, but Peeta immediately says, "Chaff." Its a good thing thatChaff has survived to this critical juncture in the Games, because he got saddled with thetask of keeping anyone who opposes our little alliance busy. The longer he can distractBrutus and Enobaria from us, the better.Not seconds later, I catch sight of the silver parachute floating down through the palesky. Its glinting in a light that doesnt seem to be coming from anywhere as much asemanating from the forcefield that apparently curves around this entire arena. Theparachute lands on the beach and Katniss tears open the papery foil. Out tumbles abunch of small, square bread rolls. Yum. Dinner. There are quite a lot, but then again,they aresmall."These are from your district, right, Beetee?" asks Peeta as Finnick gathers up the rollsand begins to count them. He sets them out in a tidy grid, but not before handling them
  • 167. extensively. Finnick turns the bread over and over in his hands and rubs it, lookingalmost obsessive. I think about making some sort of "easy, tiger" comment, but giventhe circumstances, it probably wouldnt go over too well."Yes, from District Three," says Beetee. "How many are there?""Twenty-four," says Finnick. Well, hed know, seeing as hes just about molested everyroll at this point."An even two dozen, then?" asks Beetee."Twenty-four on the nose," says Finnick. I dont get what the big deal is with the twenty-four. How many times do they have to say it? I glance over at Beetee, and he gives me asignificant look. What? What about the bread is so important?Maybe…maybe this is the signal Haymitch told us to wait for? "Well send you a signal byparachute. We dont know what itll be yet, but itll tell you the day and time of therescue. Have Katniss by the forcefield at the time the signal indicates." Twenty-four rollsfrom Three. Day twenty-four, hour three? A month seems an awfully long time to wait forthe rescue—two-thirds of us are dead after only two days. Then maybe day three, hourtwenty-four? Midnight tomorrow? Makes sense. So all I have to do is keep theMockingjay and Peeta alive until midnight tomorrow."How should we divide them?" asks Finnick."Lets each have three, and whoever is still alive at breakfast can take a vote on therest," I say with a little smirk. Katniss laughs and I glance over at her, surprised but alsoapproving. Shes had a realistic grip of our situation lately.We wait for the wave to crash over the ten-to-eleven wedge and then head over to thatpart of the beach to make camp. We set up our mats over the damp sand and eat a quickdinner of raw fish, warm water, and the signal rolls from Three. Its not easy to ignorethe clicking from the eleven-to-twelve jungle: it sounds like some sort of twisted chorusof insects. Im not eager to find out whats making the clicking, and we stay off that partof the beach.Katniss and Peeta offer to take watch, and Im not one to object. As of now, Ive slept forabout three hours this entire Games. We arrange ourselves on the woven mats andalthough Im not too sure about leaving the two lovebirds on watch, it doesnt stop mefrom falling asleep almost immediately.There are nightmares. There havent been any since I got into the arena, but I guess thatthe mind of a victor cant be relied upon to stay calm for very long. The nightmare isstrange, and its not so much that its terrifying but that theres a feeling of deep,gripping fear that holds through the whole thing.Im fifteen again in the nightmare, and my hair is long like it hasnt been for years. Itmakes my head surprisingly heavy. There are figures standing in the distance, four orfive of them. I dont know why, but I have to get to them. Ill lose them if I dont, andthats the gripping terror that sets in. I hurry across a white plane, and the figures get alittle bigger. But my head keeps getting heavier and when I look back, I see that my hairis growing at a worrying pace. Its almost to the floor now and slowing me down. But Ikeep going, and get close enough to see who the figures are.
  • 168. Sal and Myrtle are holding hands, and mother has a hand on Sals shoulder. Wane issitting on Blights shoulders, one arm wrapped around his head. Theyre all waving. Myhead is getting heavier and heavier, and I look back again. My hair is wet now, addingabout ten pounds. I dont know where the water is coming from but now its streamingonto the floor and pooling around me and my head is getting heavier and its gettingharder to move. And suddenly Im underwater and obviously cant breathe and my headhurts and all that hair is weighing me down and tangling around me and Im terrified thatIll never be able to reach the surface and reach the figures in the distance so Ill losethem and its all my fault—and then I wake up.I sit up with a gasp, heart beating double time. Well, that was weird, I think to myself,trying to calm down. It doesnt really work. Not that the dream itself was too awful, Iveseen much, much worse. That dream didnt even make sense. But it was still terrifyingfor some odd reason. Or maybe no reason at all.Well, its obvious that I wont be able to go back to sleep. Im wide awake now, barelyeven able to blink thanks to the adrenaline. Katniss and Beetee are restlessly asleep onthe mats, but Finnick has disappeared. I look down the beach and see him sitting withPeeta, on watch. Might as well."Peeta, Ill take over," I say as I walk over. After all, Peeta has been awake the longest."You should get some sleep.""Youre sure?" Peeta asks even as he stands. "Im still fine." His statement losescredibility because he yawns widely about half a second later. "Okay, youre right. Seeyou in a few hours," Peeta says as he walks past me and over to the mats."A few hours?" I ask as I sit down next to Finnick. Hes facing the jungle, so I face thesaltwater lake. "What time is it?""Around three," Finnick replies simply."Nothing happened while I was out?""No. Not really."Theres nothing more to be said. The moon is large and pale, its still about a thousanddegrees, and the saltwater lake is lapping back and forth lazily. You couldnt call itsmovement anything like a tide, but its certainly not motionless. I shudder imaginingbeing in the water: Ive not been too keen on water after that near-drowning experiencein the first arena, but after my latest nightmare Ill likely be a little leerier of water thanusual for a while.The Careers are probably nowhere near our camp, and Chaff of course isnt going toattack us, so its tough to stay alert. Id much rather just let my mind go blank for a littlebit. What a relief that would be. Im so tired, but at the same time my mind is going athousand miles an hour."Oh, hell," I mutter as I drop my head into my hands. No other way to express thisstrange mixture of exhaustion and drive."What is hell, anyway?" asks Finnick after a beat.
  • 169. The question brings me up short. Ive always thought it just a swear word, but all theother curses I know actually have a meaning. "I dunno," I answer shortly. Mother used totell stories, but Id never really listened."My father always used to tell me it was somewhere you went if you did something bad,"Finnick says reflectively."Yeah. Me too. And that it was really awful there.""Right. The worst place anywhere.""But then…what is it?""Maybe it was some sort of high-security prison in the old world. Theyd send people whodid really bad stuff there, and its the worst place you could be.""Makes sense."Theres a pause. "What do you think we did, then?" asks Finnick, sounding like hes onlyhalf kidding. "The worst place you could be, thats the arena. So what did we do?" Hessmiling, as if this is just a joke, but I can tell that theres really a bit of a question here.I chuckle, though nothings really amusing. "I dont know about you, but I broke amirror," I say. Discounting, of course, the obvious in that Ive killed almost a dozenpeople both directly and indirectly."Yeah? How long ago?""Just hit seven years.""Hey, thats good," Finnick says, still staring at the jungle. "Means your luck should beturning around, right?"I have to laugh, because its just such an outlandish idea that my luck should ever begood. "Nah, actually, Im not superstitious. I just have really shitty luck.""Isnt luck kind of a superstitious idea, though?""Ive seen it in action, thanks very much," I say. We can attribute most of the things thathave gone wrong in my life to luck, honestly. Beginning with my name being reaped upto this Quell. Well, maybe not this Quell, considering just how convenient it is.Finnick doesnt reply, and I havent anything else to say. The hours slip past and the suneventually rises, chasing the pale dim from the sky. It gets a little hotter after daybreak,if thats even possible. Peeta is up first, though hes gotten the least sleep. He comes andsits next to Finnick and me, running his hands through his blonde hair (which could reallyuse a wash). We make easy conversation for the cameras. Beetee wakes up next andalso joins us by the edge of the water. It looks like he hasnt even slept. I guess that Iwasnt the only one having nightmares last night.Beetee seems to be distracted by something and though he joins us in our inane chat(which is really just to keep up a low level of interest from the Capitol), he periodicallydrops out of the conversation to write something out in the sand quickly and then rub it
  • 170. out. Numbers and letters and shapes that make no sense to me appear in the sand, andI wonder if this is the planning for the rescue spilling over from Beetees overworkedmind onto the sand. Or, hey, maybe this is something he does all the time.By the time Katniss finally wakes up, our second shipment of bread rolls is arriving on aparachute. Im the one who tears open the parachute this time, and Finnick countsanother twenty-four rolls. Theyre the same type as last night, from Three. This basicallyconfirms it: the rescue is tonight at midnight. A jolt of fear and anticipation hits me—midnight tonight, and we will either jumpstart a rebellion or…die. Something very finalabout that. After the beginning of the rebellion, what more good am I?"Thats thirty-three," says Katniss. "How shall we split them up?""Lets each take five, and the last eight…" Finnick trails off before finishing the thought,but we all know that he would have said that the next eight will divide up evenly if onemore of us dies. My joking about who will be alive to eat the rolls seems kind of tastelessnow, in the harsh sunlight.Katniss finishes her breakfast just after Peeta, and then grabs his hand, pulling him to hisfeet. "Come on. Ill teach you how to swim." Im all for this plan, because it means thatboth Katniss and Peeta will be occupied for at least an hour. And the longer theyreoccupied, the less likely they are to get into trouble."Any other plans for today?" asks Finnick after Katniss and Peeta have run off to thewater."Well, if were not otherwise occupied, Id like to spend today working on the plan," saysBeetee. I have a minor heart attack because hes just told everyone in Panem of ourescape plan, but then he tacks on, "You know, the plan for dealing with the othertributes."That sounds fine (better than fine) to me and Finnick, so we all separate to do our ownlittle tasks. Beetee goes to play with the wire and occasionally write something in thesand. Finnick heads off to do some little "housekeeping" tasks: weaving a new net,patching one of our mats, cleaning blood off our weaponsI take it upon myself to watch Katniss and Peeta to make sure theyre not getting up toanything shifty. If I know anything about Katniss, shell be getting uncomfortable withthis alliance by now. And if Katniss decides its time to pull the plug, were in a seriouslysticky situation. I guess we could always just hit her over the head and wait for therescue, but I doubt thatd go over too well with Peeta. And so before we knew it, wedhave two unconscious teenagers and a forcefield to blow up, not to mention everyfreedom-fighter in this country hating us for hurting their Mockingjay.But it really does look like Katniss is just teaching Peeta to swim (though it appearstheyre doing more pointless splashing than anything), so I just go to take a nap by theedge of the jungle. I didnt get such great sleep last night, and the hot sun is chasingaway the post-nightmare jitters. It doesnt take that long to fall asleep, and (in a nicechange of pace) the sleep is peaceful.Im woken by Finnick shaking my shoulders. "Johanna. Wake up.""What?" I snap irritably, blinking up into the sun. I do actually need to sleep.
  • 171. "Beetee thinks hes figured out the plan," Finnick says. A pause. "The plan to get rid ofthe other tributes."I snap to full alertness. "Good. Lets go," I say, standing. You know what, I can sleepwhen Im dead. No time now. And anyway, I might be dead in a few hours, the way thisis going.Finnick and I join the others further down the beach. "Okay, everyone back," saysBeetee, waving us all back a few feet. He quickly sketches the arena out in the sand, acircle divided into twelve wedges. The arena isnt neat or clean, but Beetees got his mindon other things."If you were Brutus and Enobaria, knowing what you do about the jungle, where wouldyou feel safest?" asks Beetee. His tone isnt condescending, not at all, which is strange. IfI were him, Id be patronizing the fuck out of us. Not as if we havent done it to him."Where we are now. On the beach. Its the safest place," says Peeta."So why arent they on the beach?" asks Beetee, rather densely in my opinion.Duh, "Because were here," I say impatiently."Exactly. Were here, claiming the beach. Now where would you go?""Id hide just at the edge of the jungle," says Katniss. "So I could escape if an attackcame. And so I could spy on us.""Also to eat. The jungles full of strange creatures and plants. But by watching us, Idknow the seafoods safe," says Finnick.Beetee gives us a smile that seems to say weve done better than he expected. "Yes,good. You do see. Now heres what I propose: a twelve oclock strike." Twelve oclockstrike. Double meaning, much? "What happens at exactly noon and midnight?""The lightning bolt hits the tree," says Katniss immediately."Yes. So what Im suggesting is that after the bolt hits at noon, but before it hits atmidnight, we run my wire from that tree all the way down into the saltwater, which is, ofcourse, highly conductive," begins Beetee. "When the bolt strikes, the electricity willtravel down the wire into not only the water but also the surrounding beach, which willstill be damp from the twelve oclock wave. Anyone in contact with those surfaces at thatmoment will be electrocuted."There is a long pause wherein we all try to untangle this in our minds. It makes sense…intheory. The wire picks up the lightning or something from the trees, and it travels downthe wire into the lake. Apparently, saltwater is conductive. And the damp beach will pickup some of the electricity. Apparently. But will that actually work? And how exactly doesthis factor into the real plan here?"Will that wire really be able to conduct that much power, Beetee? It looks so fragile, likeit would just burn up," Peeta says, frowning heavily. He sounds just as confused as therest of us.
  • 172. "Oh, it will," says Beetee. "But not until the current has passed through it. It will actsomething as a fuse, in fact. Except the electricity will travel along it.""How do you know?" I ask skeptically.Beetee sounds a little surprised as he says, "Because I invented it. Its not actually wirein the usual sense. Nor is the lightning natural lightning nor the tree a real tree. Youknow trees better than any of us, Johanna. It would be destroyed by now, wouldnt it?""Yes," I say sullenly."Dont worry about the wire—it will do just what I say," Beetee says surely.We discuss our plan for a little longer, back and forth between the scientist and hisbefuddled colleagues. I dont see how this plan will help us break down the forcefield, butIll just have to trust Beetee here. I dont like to have to depend on someone else, but itdoesnt appear that I have much choice.Eventually Katniss and Peeta agree to the plan, and its just up to me and Finnick. Helooks over at me, raising his eyebrows. I dont understand this plan, and especially nothow itll help us get out of the arena. But we have no option but to trust Beetee. "Allright," I say. "Its better than hunting them down in the jungle, anyway. And I doubttheyll figure out our plan, since we can barely understand it ourselves.""So were decided?" asks Beetee. Everyone nods. "Id like to take a closer look at thelightning tree before setting up the trap, so we should probably get going right now.Weve only got a few hours."Beetees last words ring in my ears as we head into the jungle. Weve only got a fewhours. A little over a quarter of a day, nine hours. Ticktock, the arena is a time bomb,and when it goes off, I stand a pretty good chance of not surviving. Im definitely not atthe top of the list for rescuing. First, Katniss, because shes the Mockingjay. Peeta next,because Katniss needs him. Then Beetee, because, well, hes a genius. Theyll want himfor something. Hell, even Finnick is probably on the list. He could be useful forpropaganda or whatever. But me? What do they care if Im collateral damage? Lets behonest with ourselves, Im basically useless after Katniss is safe.As we climb up the slope through the muggy air, making our way to the lightning tree, Islip into a more and more pessimistic mindset. We kid, we make jokes, we all act as ifweve been so desensitized to death that we dont even care anymore. But even asvictors, we really dont want to die. But, as usual, it doesnt appear that I have much of achoice.
  • 173. Chapter Thirty-Five"Uh, Johanna, could you come here for a moment?" asks Beetee from where he standsby the lightning tree. Hes been examining it, measuring or something, since we got hereabout an hour ago."Yeah?" I ask as I walk over. I havent been doing anything much, tapping for water andhelping Katniss and Peeta prepare some tree rat by throwing chunks at the forcefield."Just…hold this for a second," says Beetee, handing me the end of the wire. I dont seewhy, but then again, there probably isnt a reason. Beetee walks the spool around thetree a few times, giving the wire a critical look as if hes taking measurements mentally.(Hes probably not.) I stand impatiently, holding the wire to the tree and wondering whatthe point of this is."Twelve tonight," Beetee says in a low voice as he pauses next to me for a moment, notlooking up and fiddling with the wire."I know," I mutter back. What kind of idiot does he peg me for?"Youre ready?""Sure.""Okay, I have everything I need, thanks," says Beetee at a regular volume. I nod andback away from the tree. Its certainly possible that the Gamemakers overheard ourconversation. As I remember quite keenly from my first Games, their instruments arefinely tuned and can pick up very slight whispers. But we didnt really say anything toorisky. This could, for all the audience knows, just be a plan that were keeping fromKatniss and Peeta. And its good to know that our most important ally is with the agenda.Soon after, the hour turns. Were alerted to the time by the clicking that rises from theeleven oclock wedge next to us. Its loud, much louder it was from the beach last night,and sends chills down my spine. I dont like bugs. Especially not bugs that are almostcertainly huge, man-eating, infused with bloodlust, and armed with huge pincers.We all listen to the clicking for a moment. "Its not mechanical," says Beetee surely."Id guess insects. Maybe beetles," Katniss remarks."Something with pincers," Finnick adds. So, yeah, basically all the conclusions I justcame to.The clicking rises further. Maybe the bugs are just clicking louder because they knowtheyre near potential prey, or maybe…theyre getting closer? Will they cross theirwedges boundaries? I dont want to find out."We should get out of here, anyway," I say, hoping that I dont sound as nervous as Ifeel. "Theres less than an hour before the lightning starts," is the excuse I use.We set off to the next wedge over, back into the bloodrain sector. We stay by theforcefield and sit down to eat our meal of gathered jungle food. I sit without talking, in avery poor mood. Not only am I pretty sure that I wont live much past midnight, weresitting perhaps right next to the exact spot where Blight died. I mean, sure he could have
  • 174. hit the forcefield anywhere along its length in this sector, but you never know. Imgetting chills, feeling sick, just thinking about that zap! and that wet crash as he hit theground…I shove all such morose thoughts out of my mind as Katniss climbs a nearby tree towatch the lightning strike the tree in the twelve oclock sector. Her description isnt tooscientific ("It…well, it was sparking, right, and the lightning sort of surrounded the treefor a second, and I could hear it crackling. It was this sort of blue-ish-white…") butBeetee seems pleased. The tree probably doesnt really matter anyway. Or maybe thelightning figures into our escape: the tree is right next to the forcefield, after all.The rest of the day passes by in quick little dollops. Time begins to warp as I try to dragout the remaining seconds while my heart beats in triple-time, creating a ratherconfusing sensation. We seem to hurry through the jungle in seconds, our naps by theedge of the jungle barely even happen. But when it comes to keeping watch over the restof my allies, each second seems to take aeons to pass. I stubbornly refuse to get into thewater to go fishing for dinner, so while the others splash about and secure oysters andfish, I stand in the harsh sunlight and get a wicked sunburn, keeping a careful eye out fortrouble.I wish time would just pass faster. We need to get this over with. The anticipationtwisting in the pit of my stomach makes me antsy, and I pace to try and work out someof the excess energy. Ive been trying to kick the habit of rubbing my dent, it leaves myforehead raw and itchy, but at around three in the afternoon I just give in and rub as Ipace. It helps keep me collected, as calm as possible.The sun sets painfully slowly, the pale sets in over the sky. I join the others by the waterto eat dinner, but before we start, another parachute drifts down from the sky. Finnickrips open the foil and reveals another round of signal rolls from Three and a little tub ofsome sort of red sauce. The rolls are immediately counted by Finnick, and again thereare twenty-four. The rolls total to thirty-two, and we each take five. Seven left, which ofcourse wont divide between any number of survivors. We leave only bread for one."Whoah, this sauce is actually really good. Here, Katniss, you have to try some.""You know, I always have liked our bread. Everyone says its tasteless, but I…I dontknow, I just really like it. Its nice, having it here.""Oysters have sort of grown on me. I really liked them as a kid, and we ate them all thetime. I just got sick of them, I guess. But Im starting to get my taste for them back.""We dont have fish this salty in Twelve. I like it. Way better than those crappies Rennused to sell in the H—I mean, never mind."Everyone else chats about the dinner, but I stay silent. I cant even really taste it. Blameit on the stress. The sky is plain pale and the dinner is plain bland and really cant we justget to blowing this place up already? The anticipation (and alright the fear as well) iskilling me.The anthem plays and the Capitol seal lights up the plain pale sky, but no faces appear toentertain the Capitolites. They will want to see some blood before tonight is up, and ifthey dont, the Gamemakers will be forced to take action. Well, they will have blood, nodoubt about that. Or at least some very pretty explosions.
  • 175. Our hike up to the lightning tree is an exercise in time. Each step is quick, quick, quickerthan usual, but the hike seems to take forever. Were walking without moving, weigheddown by something were not accustomed to, and, ticktock, were running out of time.Beetee seems to take ages swathing the tree in wire with Finnicks assistance. Each loopof wire around the tree seems to be made painstakingly slowly, though one look atBeetee and you can tell that hes rushing. I tap a foot nervously, trying to keep as still aspossible for appearances sakes. Katniss and Peeta stand off to the side, looking veryspare. Technically were all standing guard, but the jungle is silent (besides the bugs)past our little clearing. Its worrying. A very peaceful calm before a very violent storm.The wave crashes over the ten oclock wedge as Beetee finishes wrapping up the tree.Ticktock. Precious seconds are lost as Beetee tells us the rest of the plan."Johanna, Katniss, since you two move quickest through the trees, I want you to take thespool down to the beach and unwind the wire as you go. Try not to let the wire tanglearound anything, keep it off the ground until you get to the ten oclock beach. Then, layit across the sand and drop the spool with whatever wire is left into the water. Deep intothe water. Make sure that it sinks, and then run for the jungle. If you go now,right now,youll have enough time to get to safety.""I want to go with them as a guard," says Peeta, almost before Beetee hasfinished. Peeta, we dont have time for this!"Youre too slow. Besides, Ill need you on this end. Katniss will guard," says Beetee.Peeta opens his mouth to object, but Beetee cuts him off. "Theres no time to debatethis. Im sorry. If the girls are to get out of there alive, they need to move now."Im handed the spool of wire. Its warm and heavy, and seems to already be tingling withelectricity that is so far not present."Its okay," Katniss reassures Peeta. "Well just drop the coil and come straight back up.""Not into the lightning zone," Beetee reminds Katniss, wasting valuable seconds. "Headfor the tree in the one-to-two-oclock sector. If you find youre running out of time," NO,WE HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, PLEASE, TALK SOME MORE, "move over onemore. Dont even think about going back onto the beach, though, until I can assess thedamage.""Dont worry. Ill see you at midnight," says Katniss, taking Peetas face in her hands. Helooks like a lost little boy who belongs anywhere but here. Katniss turns to me and asks,"Ready?"I surprise myself with just how calm and normal I sound as I reply, "Why not?" I evenshrug a little. "You guard, Ill unwind. We can trade off later."And were off.We move quickly. Each time Katniss begins to lag a little, not feeling the same urgencyas I am, I press on faster. She always catches up. The jungle is dark and deceptivelyquiet, the only sounds our hurried footsteps, our heavy breathing, and the insects in thejungle around us. Its not easy to keep the wire from tangling in the plants or aroundtrees, and a few times we have to back up and alter our angle of descent a little to keep
  • 176. the path of the wire clear. But all in all, we make good speed. Katniss doesnt talk,something Im thankful for.About halfway down the slope through the jungle, the clicking of the beetles starts up.Its after eleven. Ticktock."Better hurry," I say. "I want to put a lot of distance between me and that water beforethe lightning hits. Just in case Volts miscalculated something.""Ill take the coil for a while," Katniss offers. Good—I could use a bit of a break. My armsare killing me."Here," I say as I pass over the coil.We both have a hand on the spool when suddenly it vibrates slightly. Not some imaginedvibration from nonexistent electricity. This is real. The wire springs down at us from upthe slope, curling as it flicks through the air and wraps around our wrists. The severedend lands at our feet, barely bumping the toes of Katniss cloth shoes. Tickticktock, wereall really fucked now.Katniss knows. Our eyes meet and her sharp intake of breath tells me everything I needto know. Katniss knows that the wire has been cut by someone above us. Katniss is arabbit constantly on the run, she will panic. She will shoot first and think later. She mightshoot me, Finnick, Beetee, perhaps even Peeta in a fit of panic. Only one thing to do.Before Katniss can take the arrow from the quiver on her back, Ive pulled the spool backand smacked it as hard as I can into Katniss temple. Theres a vindictive pleasure thatcomes with hitting Katniss, but I have no time to dwell on it. She falls to the ground, andI drop down on top of her, pulling a knife out of my belt at random. First thing to do, cutout her tracker. The less the Capitol knows about where she is, the less likely it is thatthey will be able to pull Katniss from the arena.Katniss only struggles weakly, but then, I did hit her really hard. Cant expect too muchfrom her. As I dig the point of my knife into her forearm by the tracker, I hear footstepsbehind us. Loud, crashing footsteps. The opposite of stealthy. That means Careers:Brutus and Enobaria have cut our wire. Who can fathom why? But whatever the reason,they are coming for us. Move, Johanna. I twist the knife and tear the metal tracker freefrom Katniss arm. She makes no protest besides a weak whine. Maybe I hit her toohard.Brutus and Enobaria are approaching too quickly for me to get into any sort of fightingmode, and I probably wouldnt be able to defeat two Careers anyway. So all that I can dois smear Katniss blood over her face and hope that the ruse works. Katniss looks asthough she could be dying, blood pouring from her arm, dark spot on her head where Ihit her with the spool, and now, blood all across her face. Maybe she is dying.Now Ill have to pull Brutus and Enobaria from Katniss and just hope that they dont looktoo closely. I hiss, "Stay down!" to Katniss and shoot to my feet. I take off sprintingdown the hill, being sure to make enough noise to let Brutus and Enobaria know thatthere is prey over this way. I hear Brutus shouting from a mere twenty feet away, "Shesgood as dead! Come on, Enobaria!" and the chase is on.Now, not to brag, but I know trees. I am a Seven. For the first fifteen years of my life, Istudied, worked, slept, breathed trees. Katniss knows hunting, Peeta knows bread,
  • 177. Beetee knows machinery, Finnick knows water. I know trees. And because of this, I findit almost easy to evade the Careers through the darkened jungle.Now that Im not worrying about my allies, I can really fight. Or, in this case, run. Run,run, run, as fast as you can, you cant catch me…another nursery rhyme. This is almostlike being a child again, playing hide-and-go-seek in the forests after the workers wenton break. I always kicked ass at hide-and-go-seek, a skill that Ive clearly retained overthe years. I run on autopilot, around trees and over fallen logs, through clearings of fernsand flowers, the jungle flying past in a dark pale blur. I take around a hundred feet onthe Careers within a minute. I can hear them crashing through the jungle behind me:theyre trained and strong, but theyre confident. Theyre loud, and slow anywhere but ona track. And here, what matters is being quick and stealthy.When Ive gotten enough of a lead, I begin scanning the jungle ahead. I dont have toomuch time, ticktickticktock. One, because this place is probably about to blow up. Two,because were going to hit the beach soon and then Ill be cornered because Iwill not swim. So I try to pick shapes out of the blurry jungle, spotting trees with lowbranches. I zero in on a tree with silvery bark up ahead by about fifteen feet: perfect forclimbing. At least, if you know trees. And I do. So that works out great.When Im almost on the tree, I use all the momentum Ive been gathering from thedownhill sprint to vault onto the lowest branch, landing with my hands on the nextbranch up and half-kneeling on the first branch. I think I scrape my knee, somethingdefinitely tears, but I have better things to do than worry about that. I pull myself to thenext branch and quickly scamper up into the higher branches. The leaves are large anddamp and should do a pretty decent job of hiding me—besides, I must be at least thirtyfeet up. I wont be easy to see from the ground, especially not in this dim light. As longas I can calm down my breathing, I should be basically undetectable.The Careers run right under me, plowing through the jungle below the tree. Morons, Ichuckle to myself. No, I have to stay focused. What now? Find Finnick and Beetee. Willwe still be able to get out of here with the wire cut, have Brutus and Enobaria attackedthem already, how do we keep Katniss alive and Peeta complaint until midnight?"Shes gone," gasps someone from maybe ten or fifteen feet away—Brutus and Enobariahavent gone far. Whatever they say next I cant quite make out: Im elevated abovethem, the clicking from the eleven oclock wedge is loud, and theyre not all that close. Iassume its something along the lines of "lets split up" because Enobaria comes runningback up the slope and Brutus sprints off towards the one oclock wedge.Great. Im trapped. I cant head into the eleven oclock sector, thats where the insectsare. Brutus is in the one oclock sector. Enobaria is back up the hill. The beach and thelake are down the hill. Im basically penned in, with our Mockingjay lying injuredsomewhere in Enobarias path and time quickly running out. I dither for a moment: facethe Careers, the water, or the beetles? Staying here is obviously a bad idea.I begin to climb back down the branches as a first step. Obviously going to have tohappen at some point. But before Im even halfway down, I hear a quick, surprised shoutfrom the one oclock wedge. A cannon shot follows right on its heels.Thats when I really start to worry. Because certainly, the others will be panicking. Peoplekill without thinking when theyre cornered. I really have to get out of here, and getKatniss to Beetee. Yes, thats really the only thing to do. So I drop down out of the tree
  • 178. and hurry back up the hill. The clicking is loud, probably near its apex. Eleven thirty orlater. Ticktickticktock.I basically run uphill in a straight line, trying to retrace my steps. I cant go as fastheading uphill, but still make it to where I left Katniss in about five minutes. But Katnissisnt there anymore. Crouching in the plants, I can see the indentation in the dirt whereshe fell, her blood smeared and splattered all over the place, the golden wire tangledacross the plants. Follow the wire, something tells me. With any luck, itll still be curledaround Katniss wrists, wherever she is. Maybe shes been captured, or maybe she justgot up and ran.I follow the wire for about twenty yards, but then the trail stops. I think that I hear arustling ahead in the jungle, but then something more pressing grabs my attention. Afamiliar voice shouts, "Katniss? Johanna?" from somewhere in the dark, and my headsnaps in its direction: downhill, and not too far away. Finnick. I run in the direction of thevoice: surely Beetee and Peeta will be with Finnick. We can collect ourselves, findKatniss, ditch our trackers, and have plenty of time for Beetee to work out someimpromptu way to bring down the forcefield. He can do it, Im sure. Ill just have to trustthat he can.Another cannon shot. "Katniss! Johanna!" Finnick sounds more frantic than before, but Ican tell that Im getting close.I chance calling out myself. "Finnick?" My voice is too hushed, hell never hear me, butBrutus and Enobaria are probably very near. Wed likely all be able to see each other ifthere were no trees. But I have no choice. "Finnick!" I shout for real, still running ahead.A rustling in the jungle nearby, a more hushed call of my name. "Johanna?" I cantactually see Finnick, hes still got that god-awful green medicine all over his skin and thatmakes camouflage in the dark no problem."Im behind the tree with the flaky bark," I say quietly, creeping forward. Gotta warnFinnick as to where I am or hell probably panic and attack me. "Do you have everyoneelse?"A shadowy form that of course is Finnick slips out from behind the tree with flaky bark.The medicine almost seems to absorb the light from the pale moon. "No. WheresKatniss?""I thought you had her! Where are the others?""I dont know! I thought that you had them!""Well, thats just great," I say harshly. "What happened? Why did you all split up?" Mytone is accusatory, and I speak very fast. We dont have much time: it must be at leastquarter to twelve by now."Beetee kept saying something about the tree not being ready so we couldnt leave, andPeeta was getting really paranoid. I think he was about to try and just knock Beetee outand drag him out of there, but then Brutus and Enobaria showed up. I think it wasEnobaria who stabbed Beetee, and it looked like he was bleeding a lot. Peeta and I ran indifferent directions, I guess they followed Peeta. And now here we are."
  • 179. "No, they followed the wire to Katniss and me. I managed to throw them off, but Katnissis missing and I think Enobaria might have gotten her," I reply. "And now here we are."No allies, no way out, and the Careers after us."Well, look, theres no use in giving up. Those cannon shots could have easily beenBrutus and Enobaria, right? Chaff and Peeta are both still out there, and they can fight.So what we have to do is track down Katniss and Peeta, and pray that Beetees stillalive," says Finnick hurriedly. Were giving away a lot of our plan here, but whatever.Fuck it. Were almost through here anyway, one way or another. "Well just have tohurry.""Then why are we standing here looking pretty?" I demand. "Peeta went that way,right?" I point off towards one oclock and Finnick nods. "Ill get him. You go up the slopeand try to find Katniss. Deal with Enobaria if you can."Finnick nods sharply. "Take care of yourself," he says semi-bitterly. Finnick turns andruns off into the jungle, and I do the same.I run across the slope, lungs and legs burning. But fatigue cannot exist now, it doesntfigure into my plans. I can still hear the clicking from our neighboring sector, but itsounds fainter than before. Tick, tick, tick. "Peeta! Peeta!" I throw caution to the windsand just scream. We have to get him to safety. One rebel leader is better than none.The lightning storm will start soon—if Beetee really is incapacitated, well be trapped hereand Ill probably be fried by lightning: Im still in the twelve oclock sector. Tick, tick, tick,minutes to midnight.I think Ive just heard a voice shout a response to my shouts when, ticktickticktick—Boom.A shock runs through me, so fast that it might have been imagined if not for how shakenit leaves me. But then the sky lights up a dazzling white-blue, a huge crack! echoes fromelsewhere in the arena. A quick wind whips through the trees, setting the canopy into anepileptic frenzy, and I am tossed to the ground. The wind passes, though, and I try toget up. Im wobbly from the shock, but I can still stand. Far above, the sky is no longerpale. Its a dark, velvety black. Stars, too. The real sky is above us.Were saved, runs through my head. The rescue will go off. Beetee must have not beenhurt that badly. Well all be safe. Theyre going to take us away from this arena and wellall be safe. Im dizzy from the relief, and a smile begins to creep onto my face.Its a lovely few seconds of bliss that, as usual, is brought to a screeching halt. Ourtimebomb of an arena goes off for real. The ground explodes, dirt and plants and allmanner of insects tossed into the air, me along with it. A second later, I hit the groundwith much of the dirt as other areas erupt. Trees around me are bursting into flames, awicked wind howling across the arena. Dirt grinds between my teeth, Im blinded by theash, sparks fly all around. The sky lights up with…fireworks?I cant hear over the explosions. I can barely see. Breathing is even harder. Moving is animpossibility. But even through this tempest, I see the hovercraft materializing aboveme. I feel the metal claw scooping around me before I even have time to try and move.The dirt falls away and the din increases as Im pulled from the ground and into the bellyof the hovercraft.
  • 180. A large, intricate seal is stamped on the flat underside of the hovercraft, right in themiddle. Bay doors slide open in the center of the seal and a bright light emanates fromthe hatchway. In the light, doctors are most likely waiting to receive me.Of course, Id probably be significantly more relieved if it werent the Capitol seal on thebottom of the hovercraft.
  • 181. Part Five Chapter Thirty-SixI am very, very cold when I wake.For a moment, I dont even try to open my eyes. I have a really bad feeling. I dont knowwhat it is, exactly, and I dont know why I have it, but dread has settled deep in mymarrow. I just want to lie here for a few more seconds—Im so incredibly tired. And socold, too. Where am I, anyway? I can tell that Im lying on a chilly floor made of tile orstone or something, but the awareness just leaves me more confused, if anything.Sluggishly, I open my eyes and blink around. The only thing I can register is white—blindingly bright white. Im in a small room, the floor, ceiling, and walls are all pristinely,oppressively white. It hurts my eyes. I must have been out for a long time.The last thing I seem to remember is white as well: a white light surrounded by dark. AmI…dead? Was that light the fabled light at the end of the tunnel that everyone talksabout? Is this all there is to being dead: an obsessively white room to spend the rest ofeternity in? No, that doesnt sound quite right. There was more to the light than that,wasnt there? It was coming from…a hatchway, I seem to remember. Odd. And therewere fireworks in the darkness. And stars. Wasnt there some sort of design around thelight? Something large and very intricate? A seal?Oh. And it all comes flooding back. The Capitol seal. The hovercraft. The arena going topieces. Our missing Mockingjay. Actually, to hell with the Mockingjay, what about me? Iwas taken by the goddamn Capitol, for fucks sake!This recognition comes quickly and along with it a hot flood of anger. It pushes my eyesall the way open and me into a sitting position. Fuck, Im in the Capitol. In a room whichI assume is a cell. And Im not fucking dead.Id assumed they would kill me as soon asthey could. But nope, Im definitely still breathing, I can feel my heartbeat. And if Imalive…They want me for something.The realization is sudden and chilling, chasing the hot anger from me in one quick sweep.They want me. Oh, this is bad, this is very, very bad. Quick, quick, what do Iknow? Whos involved with the Finnick Odair Fan Club, for one. They probably alreadyknow all about that, though. A little about District Thirteen, perhaps. I know how theywere contacted, and I vaguely know the orders they gave us. Thats not valuableinformation, but its information. I know a little about how the escape from the arena wasorchestrated, but theyd really need to have Beetee for in-depth explanations. Do theyhave Beetee? Finnick? Peeta? Katniss must have been rescued, or otherwise shes dead.Maybe everyone but me is dead. I wouldnt be shocked.Okay, so, rationally speaking, we dont know all that much, I tell myself as I stand. But isthat good or bad? I ponder, beginning to pace back and forth across the cell. Its small,and I can only take a few steps each way before having to reverse direction. (Whilepacing, I note that Im barefoot.) Maybe the fact that I wasnt deemedimportant/intelligent/sensible/whatever enough to keep rebel secrets is both a blessingand a curse. Blessing, because theyll surely figure out pretty fast that Im pretty muchclueless. Curse, because pretty much is the operative sentiment here. To survive, I have
  • 182. to be valuable. To be killed quickly, I have to be utterly worthless. And Im not either ofthose.So I just have to convince them that Im valuable. Act like I have information, but holdback as much as I can. Drag out the names that I know, dress up the paltry facts andnuances that I have locked away. I can make the information last. And of course, thatonly really starts to matter once I get to the point of being willing to talk.Which will happen, Im sure. They say that everyone has a breaking point, and the onlyissue is finding it. I dont put myself above that—Im not a moron. I dont assume myselfinvincible, superhuman. Much the opposite. My breaking point may be harder to find,take more work to manipulate, and not be worth as much as many, but it existsnonetheless.I sigh, going over to the back of the cell and sitting down, leaning my back against thetiled wall. This will not be easy. This is going to be the polar opposite of easy and thenmore. In simpler words, fucking impossible.No, no, dont think like that. Not impossible. Difficult, but not impossible. We can get outof here yet. How to begin with my campaign for survival?I decide to begin with figuring out where I am more definitely, take better stock of mysituation. Clearly, somewhere underground. (Not only because there are no windows—what sort of self-respecting prison is anywhere but the deepest corners of a secludedlabyrinth?) Im almost certainly under the Capitol. Probably in some sort of catacombsfull of cells.I must say, this doesnt really fit my description for "dungeon". I picture filthy stonefloors, rats, damp piles of hay, skeletons chained to walls…stuff like in the storybooks.Not this immaculately clean box, walls and floor and ceiling all shining white tile. Theresno grout in the tile, the space between the tiles is filled in with shiny silver metal. Theroom is brightly lit, somehow. I dont see any lights per se, but the tiling in the center ofthe ceiling seems to glow somehow. (Its surprisingly bright for not being a proper light: Icant look right at it.) The room smells harshly of antiseptic, but I dont mind that somuch. It could be a lot worse. Theres no door, it suppose it must be hidden in thepattern of the tile somehow. The floor has a slight incline to it, sloping towards a small,square drain in the center of the floor. Ugh. I suppose thats the only semblance ofbathroom facilities, then. Lovely. I can already tell that this is going to be a lot of fun.Looking closer at the walls, I also see similar drains. Sort of. Theyre white, instead ofdull silver like the drain on the floor, and protrude from the wall like extra-wide tiles. Theholes in the drains are placed at regular intervals and are pretty large: maybe theyre forpumping in knockout gas if things get out of control? Ill make them use that gas, I canpromise myself that.So I know where I am, now how am I? Covered in bruises, for one. These cant possiblyall be from the arena: I didnt even get that badly hurt this time. My knee is skinnedpretty badly, although its scabbing over—didnt I do that trying to jump into a tree orsomething? I still have my tracker in. I should have cut that out in the arena, but therewasnt time. Im still really cold, both inside and out: something deep inside mymidsection hurts in a numb way, which is sort of confusing. Maybe this is some new levelof hunger that Ive achieved by not eating for days on end. We eat all right in Seven, so Idont know hunger as those from poorer districts do—our work in the forests requiresthat were in good physical shape, though I went to bed hungry plenty as a child. Thatexplanation doesnt feel quite right, but…what else could it be?
  • 183. And Christ, is it cold. Im barefoot on the chilly tile and naked besides a pale blue, paperyshift, and despite the lack of windows or vents the room seems to have a cold breezerunning through us. Maybe its those drain-things on the wall. And why is my head socold? I wonder passively, raising a hand up to the back of my head. I practically have aheart attack at what I find: because I find nothing. Im bald. Jesus Christ, what the fuckhappened to my hair? Did they cut it all off? What…why? Its not as if I had much of it inthe first place, it wouldnt have gotten in the way of whatever theyre going to do to me.Totally uncalled for. I liked my hair. It was nice. The way it was sort of…there. On myhead.Well, what to do now? Wait.And so I wait. I sit with my back against a wall and just sit. Nothing more to be done.The anticipation of whatevers coming my way is making me sick to my stomach, but Ivegot nothing to do but wait. Theres no way out of here—I dont even know where thedoor is, and then there are certainly guards posted everywhere down here. Im probablybeing filmed with some sort of tiny, hidden camera (the type they use in the Games), buteven though theyll surely see any sort of episode it wont do me any good. Imthoroughly trapped. In some part of my mind, I find itdisheartening/disturbing/discouraging that Ive given in to apathy so quickly, but I knowthat Im being realistic.I have no grasp of time inside the box, but it feels like its been maybe an hour before Idecide to take advantage of the fact that Im probably being filmed."Hey. Hey you, on the other end of the screen," I begin loudly. More caution is perhaps inorder, but whatever will happen will happen, no matter how vocal I am. "Is there anyway I could get some food in here?" I ask the corners of the room, guessing that anycameras will be there. Hell, maybe Im not actually being watched and Im just talking tomyself. Its not as if theres anyone else to talk to."I guess that you guys probably just serve gruel or whatever usually, but if you could tryto rustle up some bacon or a little coffee, that would really be tops," I suggest helpfully.There is no response. I watch the walls for a moment, foolishly half-hoping that they mayin fact decide that a hungry captive is an uncooperative captive and bring me somethingto eat, but they dont. I frown."So its the silent treatment, then?" I ask the walls. "Youre being very immature aboutthis." No, Im the one being immature, but whatever. I may as well entertain myselfsomehow. "Seriously, guys?" I ask, raising my voice a little. "Come on, whats a girlgotta do to get some food in this place?" I very nearly yell at the corners of the room.Silence in response.I huff and go back to waiting.A time later, Im roused from my activity of Staring At The Very Interesting Floor by aclick. I look up to see a large section of the tile sliding out of place, back away from theinside of the cell. It proceeds to slide off to the right, disappearing behind the wall still inplace. I jump to attention—the door! A way out!But no, in the newly revealed doorway stands a white-uniformed Peacekeeper, helmet onand visor down. Oh goody. I tense and jump to my feet—here we go. Brace yourself, alittle voice in the back of my mind says. I tell it to shut its fat mouth.
  • 184. The Peacekeeper steps forward, and I note the bowl in his hands. (Her hands? Theuniform makes it tough to tell. Ill go with "he".) Dinner, perhaps? Are we delaying anytorture for today?As if Im some sort of danger, the Peacekeeper doesnt approach me where I stand onthe other side of the cell, but instead takes a few steps forward and puts the bowl ofwhatever down on the drain. I duck forward and grab it up while the Peacekeeper-guardstands ramrod-straight by the still-open door. Im not fool enough to try and make abreak for the door, so I inspect the metal bowl of whatever it is. I think its probablyfood, seeing as theres a dull metal spoon stuck into the grey goopy stuff."Well, its not quite what I had in mind, but Im sure you all tried your best," I say, eyingthe slightly pasty substance in the bowl.Silence from behind the gleaming black visor."Were feeling talkative today, arent we then, Sonny Jim?" I ask sardonically as I poke atthe food-goop-stuff.No response. Id wonder if I was going deaf from all the silence, if only I couldnt hearmyself talking.I tell myself to suck it up and tip back the bowl of grey whatever-it-is-exactly, eating itquickly and trying not to think too hard about it. Theres no taste to speak of, and I finishoff the bowl surprisingly quickly: I must be hungrier than Id thought."It could use some salt. You might want to tell your guys in the kitchen," I say, puttingthe bowl back on the floor in the middle of the room. Id probably get punched out if Itried to approach the Peacekeeper-guard.The Peacekeeper-guard picks up the bowl and then says in a deep monotone, "ThePresident will come speak with you soon. Remain complaint with his orders and all shallgo smoothly.""Ooh, the big man himself, coming to see little old me?" I ask, ignoring the rush of panic."Im a high-profile case then, arent I, Sonny Jim?" I dont know quite where thenickname is coming from, but heck, Ill take it.Sonny Jim leaves without responding. The door slides back into place very quickly andlocks with a click.Sighing, I sit back down to wait some more. Isnt torture supposed to be moreinteresting than this? Not enjoyable, of course, but stuff is supposed to happen. There issupposed to be…I dont know, screaming, and knives, and scalpels, and burns, and…well,stuff like that, I guess. Not endless hours of waiting and grey paste that settles like clayin the back of my throat. Im not complaining, certainly not. Just confused.It may be hours that I wait, I cant really tell. I may fall asleep for a little bit. I think Italk to myself for a while, but I cant remember later. My throat feels scratchy, so I guessthat I might have. Im thinking that its sad Im starting to lose my grip so quickly by thedoor slides open again.I scramble to my feet as in through the door walks my least favorite person in the world.Presenting your beloved dictator, President Coriolanus Snow. And the belle of the nation,
  • 185. his lovely granddaughter Minerva. (Shes here…why?) The smell of her bubblegummingles with that of the blood and roses, making bile rise in my throat. ThreePeacekeeper-guards accompany the dastardly duo. This cell is small, and threes acrowd. Five is just cramped.The immediate impulse is to jump forward and wrap my hands around Snows throat, butthe Peacekeeper-guards all have small black boxes in their hands that would looksomething like portable radios except for the fact that on them theres a live bolt ofelectricity flickering between two metal knobs. I dont doubt that they could take me outin a second."Miss Mason," President Snow says softly as a way of greeting."Dickhead," I reply just as cordially.The Peacekeeper-guards tense and one steps forward, but Snow calls them to a halt witha simple shake of his head."Welcome to the Capitol," says Snow. His patented silky tone of voice is being used tofull potential."Bite me," I reply shortly, at a lack of anything smarter to say.Snow continues on as if I havent said anything. "I dont make a habit of seeing guestspersonally, but I was giving Minerva the tour of the Catacombs anyway," he puts a handon Minervas shoulder, "and she wanted to stop in and visit you.""How touching," I say dryly. Minerva looks much older now, seventeen or eighteen. Herdark hair is very, very long and very glossy. Shes still dressed like a six-year-old chinadoll: soft pink ruffles and Mary Jane shoes. Her eyes still sparkle eerily and shes stillchewing bubblegum. I still hate her guts."Hello, Johanna," Minerva says, giving a blindingly white smile that almost matches thetile of the room. "It certainly has been a long time, hasnt it?""Get fucked," I snap.Minerva blinks innocently as she pops a pink bubble. I note that shes wearing eyeshadow, strangely juxtaposed with her little-girl clothes. I feel a huge surge of hate: thisgirl was the middleman in bringing about the death of my family. Its only thePeacekeepers and their electric weapons which keep me from launching myself at her."Now, now, ladies, lets be civil," Snow says, looking highly amused by the wholesituation. "Johanna, we have a very simple request to make of you."I raise an eyebrow doubtfully, crossing my arms."Simply tell us all the information you have—and dont try to hold back, well know,"Snow says. "Thats all we require of you."I dont reply.
  • 186. "You do this, and well let you go," says Snow. Minerva laughs at that, a high-pitchedwarble."Really?" I ask skeptically."No. I lied," says Snow with a creeping smile. "We will do you the favor of a quick andpainless death.""Believe me, you want that favor," says Minerva with a smile."Tempting offer, but Ill have to turn you down on that one," I say."Johanna. Look at yourself. Youre in no position to hold out," says Minerva with a smile.Reflexively, I do look at myself before I can even help it. A weak, hungry, beat-up girlwith no hair and a hospital shift thats more likely to give her paper cuts than provideprotection. Okay, shes got a bit of a point.I say nothing, just set my jaw and glare at Snow.He looks at Minerva proudly. "Ive trained her so well, dont you think, Miss Mason? Hermother was such a disappointment, but this one…well, shes something special." Minervastraightens at this and begins to practically glow with pride."Yeah, Im sure that shes a lovely puppet," I snap."No, no, much more than that. Youll succeed me and run the country one day, wontyou, Minnie?" Snow asks Minerva. Or, Minnie."Of course," replies Minerva with a simpering smile."Dont count on it," I say sharply. "The Mockingjay is safe. Your districts are uprising. Youand Minnie will be the first up against the wall.""Thats a nice sentiment," says Snow lightly. "Unfortunately, youre wrong. Your friendsare dead. You have no allies. The uprisings are being crushed as we speak. You have norescue to hope for."Minerva pops another bubble, smiling."Spit that out!" say Snow sharply to her. She turns red and, scowling, digs around in apocket for a wrapper, then spits her bubblegum into it. The sudden lack ofprofessionalism is slightly amusing, at least to me. Theyre humans too, a funny thought."The best you can do at this point is to give us what we want. I do promise that you willbe killed quickly and with…minimal pain," Snow says, back on topic.I pause as if Im really considering this. My eventual reply is, "Kiss my ass.""I suppose that with your history, we might have expected you to make this ratherfoolish decision," Snow says."This is your last chance. You can still reconsider," Minerva chimes in. Her enthusiasmdoesnt seem to have been dampened by the sharp rebuke. The smell of bubblegum has
  • 187. faded from the air, leaving only blood and roses. Not that its much comfort: in such asmall space, the smell is especially cloying and makes me want to hurl. The back of mythroat feels tight, and its a little difficult to breathe."Nah, Im good," I say, sounding much calmer than I feel."Well. Thats that, then," says Snow, turning towards the door. Minerva mirrors hisactions, and they begin to head for the door."I did try to warn you," says Snow without looking back as they leave the cell. Minervalooks over her shoulder and casts me a quick smirk, before disappearing behind the wallwith a swing of her glossy hair. The Peacekeepers fall into a line and walk out of theroom after the President and Minerva.And Im left to wait with only the lingering scent of blood and roses for company.
  • 188. Chapter Thirty-SixIm so confused.I wake up without going to sleep and find myself strapped to tables in the middle ofblindingly white spaces, and the second I blink Im back in my tiled cell with plenty ofnew injuries to keep me company. I have a plethora of new bruises staining my skin,shallow crisscross cuts that sometimes seep blood, stripes of burns that itch and peel.And I cant remember any of it happening.Sometimes its the other way around. Sometimes I remember being hurt but there areno marks to prove it. The doctors with their medical face masks and thin plastic gloves,their eyes which glitter but betray nothing. The gleaming silver instruments which I haveno names for, the reams of questions which I have no answers for."Where is Katniss Everdeen?" asks the doctor from behind his white medical face mask. Isay doctor only for lack of a better word. I think that Soulless Bastard Devoid of AllInherent Goodness in Human Nature would work nicely, but thats a bit long."Dont know," I mutter, still befuddled. Ive only just woken up to find myself here. Myhead feels foggy, my vision is blurry, my arm hurts. I think its strapped too tightly tothis table.I earn myself a quick burn on the collarbone for my unhelpful answer. Only a nick. Theyseem reluctant to really damage me permanently, but that doesnt mean theyre nothurting me. The nick radiates hot, dry pain and I really, really want to put some water onit, or something,anything, thatll make the hurt stop. Suck it up, I tell myself, gritting myteeth."Where is Katniss Everdeen?" asks the doctor again. I cant see properly, its too whitebright, and I dont know if hes alone or not. Maybe there are others, scuttling about justpast the edge of my vision like snakes in the grass."No idea," I lie.It feels like theyre using some sort of wide metal strip, heated to sizzling temperatures.Not hot enough to feel cold, not hot enough to destroy nerve endings, just hot enough tohurt like a bitch. The doctor doesnt just nick me this time, but presses a solid stripeacross the bottom of my ribcage. I shrink away from the heat, back into the table, ascream catching in my throat."Where is Katniss Everdeen?" asks the doctor again, conversationally."Nailing your mother," I spit, skin on fire. I try to grit my teeth and stay as still aspossible. Breathing is hell, every shift of my skin sets off fresh waves of agony, but Ihave to have oxygen. Duh. Is it just me, or is there not enough air in this room?Shouldnt I not have to gasp like this to breathe?The doctor presses the hot strip onto my arm, the one thats pinched too tight to thetable. I try to jerk away but I cant, and the doctor just keeps pressing harder and harderand harder and it doesnt burn it justhurts and I try to buck away but that just wrenchesmy arm against the restraints and I think that my skin is melting against the heat orsomething, I dont know, all that I know that I want it to stop stop stop stop STOP—
  • 189. "District Thirteen!" I shriek, for the first time allowing a sound to escape me. Thepressure lessens. "Shes in District Thirteen," I gasp. Somewhere in the back of my mindI grasp that Ive just made a mistake: whos to say what theyll do now that they knowwhere Katniss is? Send in Peacekeepers, bomb the district, burn the whole place to theground? But I hurt too much to even really care—I just want the pain to stop, to go tosleep for a very long time."Very good," says the doctor in a voice completely lacking in emotion. Theres a lightpressure in the crease of my elbow, too close to the burn to really be felt.And then Im waking up back in my tiled cell, freezing cold and drenched in sweat.Shivering, I blink around. I hurt too much to try and move, my collarbone and myribcage and my arm, and god, my arm. Whats wrongwith it? Theres a dry, scorchingpain radiating from all three offending spots, but its worst on my arm. Less of a burningitch than pure pain and it hurts and I want it to stop. But what am I supposed to do? Ithink that the awful looking purple-and-red-and-brown stripes are burns and I dont haveany medication, not even any water.Its not even cold in the cell anymore, not cold enough to offer any relief to the pain. Itseems to be getting warmer by the second. Is it? I mean, is it really? I know that Imway too hot. Im too hot and Im breaking into a sweat but I can feel that the floor is stillfreezing under me. I try to press my burnt (burnt?) arm into the cold tile but that endsup being a very poor idea because ithurts and I jerk away but that pulls the burn on myribs and I really cant move at all as it gets hotter and hotter and hotter.The burns rankle and hiss, needle-pain that needs water as the temperature climbs. Ihave no choice but to close my eyes and shake, chills running in spasms across my skinand the light turning red behind my eyelids.Someone is screaming. Its not me, either. I can tell, despite the fact that I cant focuson anything besides the hurt and the chills and the heat and how sick I feel. The voice ismale, anyway. There are no words, just one long, keening howl.No, no, whats that? "No! Katniss—what—you—stop it! I—" words and then the howlsbegin again.So...Katniss is here and hurting someone in the cell next door. I dont even care. I justfeel so awfully, awfully, sick. My blood is rushing in hot and cold flashes, the tile is slickwith sweat, all that I can hear is the screaming from the cell over and all that I can thinkis that I hurt and I think Im fevered but I cant really be sure, my mind has turned into aconfused red landscape with no rhyme or reason and no up or down just hurtand—And all of a sudden, its over. I dont feel hot anymore and I dont hurt anymore and Idont think that Im sick anymore. The red light has disappeared and the white of the cellis a balm that eases the pounding in my head. My burns (burns?) dont hurt so muchanymore. In fact, comparatively, I feel just great.That was…bad, I think, pulling myself to a sitting position against the back wall. I had anawful fever once when I was little, six or seven years old, I think. I was sick, doctor-sick,but we hadnt the money so I just had to sweat it out. All that I can remember is the red.Quite clearly, as well. Everything in my head was a dirty red and didnt make any sense.But I got better, just like I have now. Maybe they gave me a shot or something—wouldnt do to have their captive dying on them.
  • 190. Well. Enjoy this break while you can, I tell myself. I begin to check out my burns (Imnow convinced that they are, indeed, burns), see if theyre even still there. Theyvecertainly erased marks before.Yeah, still there. And theyre ugly, too. Brown and grey and peeling. They still itch hotlyand feel too tight, but thats negligible compared to how they felt before. I cant see theburn on my collarbone, just because of the angle, but that must be almost healed bynow.And the screaming starts up again. Not me, whoevers in the next cell over. I dont knowwho it is, but they sure know how to scream. The voice is definitely male, but thats all Iknow. That probably means Finnick, Beetee, or Peeta, but I guess that it could always besome other "guest" that I dont know. I listen up for a moment. Well, theyve got a pairof lungs, Ill grant em that. Does it really matter who it is? As long as they dont tellanything. (Have I told anything? I cant be sure. Its all very, very fuzzy.)Checking out the burn on the inside of my arm—the worst of the lot by far—I noticesomething strange: on the other side of my arm, theres a red-raw groove cut around myelbow that runs down to almost the wrist and cuts off. I frown—what? I trace the grooveup to my shoulder, where it disappears under the neck of my paper shift (which is quicklyfalling into tatters). Pulling the collar out of the way and looking down at my chest I cansee more of the grooves crisscrossing across my skin in curvy lines: theyre not thatdeep, but theyre wide. It looks like theyve scabbed over. The grooves extend all downmy arms and legs, on my back, one even cuts across the back of my neck.As the man in the next cell over screams, I begin to imagine just what could have madethese. I dont remember it, but that means just about nothing. All that I can picture arelittle gleaming silver snakes rustling across my skin and digging in, tunneling their wayacross my body. Its more likely some sort of knife thats made these marks, but nowthat Ive seen the snakes I cant un-see them. Have I really seen them? Are the fracturedimages wrestling about in my mind real or imaginary? Theyre both real and not real andtheir eyes glitter but reveal nothing and they hurt.Or at least thats how it is in my head. And whos to say that my head is right aboutanything these days?The man in the next cell over certainly screams Katniss name a lot. And its not in a dirtyway or anything, but in a paralyzed-with-fear-and-pain-except-I-can-still-scream way.Katniss definitely isnt here. Theyd have killed her immediately if they had her, tossedher body on a pike and hoisted it above the gates. (Metaphorically.) The best I canfigure, the man is Peeta and hes having some sort of delusion that Katniss is going tocome save him or whatever. I think Ive done plenty of hallucinating myself (cant reallybe sure, though), so I dont blame him. It sometimes feels like Im imagining half thisstuff.Imagination. So wonderful in childhood, especially in Seven. When trapped inside for allthose chilly, rainy days, imagination was basically all we had. Pinecones too. But mostlyimagination. Such a gift to have an active, even overactive, imagination during thosedusty, never-ending afternoons. Wed pretend that the floor was boiling water, wedpretend that Sal was a bloodthirsty monster, wed pretend that we were shepherdsguarding our flocks of woodlice. But now, imagination quickly turns into a curse.Its because of that damned imagination that after a time, even the restive breaks frompain become a torture in themselves. Peeta (well go with Peeta) hardly ever stops
  • 191. shrieking, and its mostly nonsense about mutts and Katniss and fire and wires. I hateimagining what theyre doing to him that could make him scream like that. He alwaysseemed rather a stable guy to me. Just picturing him so hurt as to be screaming like thatis almost painful in itself. Eventually, it gets to such a point that Peetas torture becomesmy torture. I just cant stop imagining things, the knives and the shots and the awfulscreams.Or maybe Im not actually imagining any of that and its just happening to me? I canteven really tell anymore. Everything has been fractured, a swift blow to a mirror breakingevery image into a distorted times-ten version of its regular self. It doesnt seem likeanything is happening, but all these injuries have to be coming from somewhere. All thecuts that sting and almost glow red, the bruises which show up in the most unexpectedof places, other abrasions and sores of utterly alien origin to me. Theyre new. I dontknow where theyre from, but theyre certainly new.The apprehension begins to really get inside my head. I know that they must be hurtingme. But I cant recall it at all, so maybe, actually, Im only imagining all of this. I haventleft this blinding white cell in so long, maybe its given me a sort of snow-madness.Thats a thing, right? Like snow blindness? Tile-madness. That, for some reason, strikesme as a simply hilarious idea. Every time my mind flashes to tile-madness, I just startlaughing like crazy and cant stop. Except that when I blink, Ive stopped. So time haselapsed, but I dont know whats happened, and there are the new cuts and burns toprove that I havent just been here the whole time, and Im just so confused that it getsme started on tile-madness all over again.The cycle never really seems to stop: I hurt but I dont, Peeta screams about fire-muttsand drowning in wire, I laugh because, Hey, Annie, were all insane now, right? andperhaps none of this is real at all but it hurts so I assume that it must be. Im so utterlyconfused after a time that its almost a relief when something concrete happens.The room begins to fill with water. It pours in heavy streams from the grates on thewalls, and I guess that something is blocking the drain in the floor because it doesnt allsink away. I perk up and sit straighter, staring at the heavy streams of water splashingagainst the tiles on the floor. This is the first thing Im sure of thats happened in a longtime.Its okay at first, because the water is cold and thats nice on my cuts and burns andstuff. Plus, its been a while since Ive had a bath and Im covered in blood and sweat soits good to have water. In some part of my mind, I know that I ought to be warier of thiswater, but Im slowly losing touch with that part of my mind which controls stuff likecommon sense and danger instincts. Pain processing is taking over a lot of mybrainpower these days.But then the water really starts to pool up, pouring from all four walls. And I start to geta little antsy, because I really dont like deep water at all. Too many bad memories haveingrained the connection of water-equals-death into my mind, and this is rather a lot ofwater. I shakily get to my feet, using the wall for support. The water level continues tocreep upwards, up to my knees, up to my waist, up to my shoulders. I really start topanic when it hits my chin. The water is cold, almost painfully cold, and glints awfully inthe light. The water is deathly still, where its not pouring from the walls.The water keeps rising and rising and rising and eventually it picks me up off the groundto the point where Im treading water weakly. I cant even really swim in the first place,and Im awfully tired and weak and it hurts to move these days. I tread and tread and
  • 192. tread as the water rises and rises and rises, and eventually there isnt even enoughspace between the water and the ceiling to tread anymore so I try to float and eventuallytheres barely an inch left and Im trying to keep the panic under wraps and breathe aslittle as possible. I get a little water in my mouth: saltwater. Why? Whats the point ofthis, anyway? Its terrifying, but there are no questions being asked. How am I supposedto answer? How am I supposed to end this?A burst of static. And then a level, calm voice is asking, "What is President Coinplanning?" The voice doesnt sound quite real—the lapses between words, the rushedsound of the letters. I can picture a team of doctors at a panel plugging in pre-recordedwords to be repeated by some computer."I dont even know who that is," I splutter, trying to breathe and keep treading and notfreeze up. And I dont, to be honest. No idea whatsoever. Who knows how they can hearme?Something hits me. Only not really. A raw impact, all over, that makes every one of mymuscles flinch. The impact quickly fades into stinging, glowing pain. I stifle a scream—what was that? Ithurt, goddamnit! It hurt!What was it? My eyes feel sore, my heartshouldnt be going quite this fast."What is President Coin planning?" the lovely disembodied voice asks again with theexact same lack of inflection and calm tone as before."I dont know!" I cough in between hacking up water. I went under for a second there, Icant stop shaking and Im more splashing than treading by now.Another smacking impact. I really cant swim at all, Im just trying to hold my breath asmy entire body spasms and I go under, eyelids flickering and letting saltwater run intomy eyes. It hurts even before the impact morphs into smacking pain, Im shaking, andeverything, everything is sore now but it hurts too and its just bad on all levels.I fight my way back up to the surface, choking and coughing up the saltwater. There isno time to rest, barely time to suck a breath thats half water. "What is President Coinplanning?" the voice asks, no pressure or inflection."Dont—know—" is all I can manage to spit out. Im slipping under again before theyeven have a chance to do whatever it is theyre doing to me again. Honestly, I have noidea. It feels a little like that shock in the arena, from when the forcefield exploded.Shocks? Electric shocks? Theyre certainly doing a good job—inside and out, Im stingingand shaking uncontrollably and everything is both sore and in glowing pain all at thesame time and my eyes hurt way back far in my head and my head hurts too,hell, everything hurts and stings and hurts and I cant do anything but sink.And then they flip the switch and I think this time they cranked up the whatever-it-is-doing-this because I end up quickly pulling myself into a ball and just trying to ride outthe spasms but ithurts and I just cant help trying to scream except of course Imunderwater and all the good it does is get saltwater in my lungs and I cant cough it outright and I cant really move and everything just hurts so much and lights, lights arepopping behind my eyelids and everythinghurts and—And the next thing that I know, its dark and Im lying on the tile and very, very tired andvery, very sore. People are shouting. "Open the door. Open the goddamn door!"Whatever. I really, really just want to sleep. Theres a soft sliding noise, and a flashlight
  • 193. beam is sliding across the floor and someone is shouting again. "Someone in here! Theydont look too good—wheres the needle—we have to put them out—" I fight to open myeyes, but Im just so tired and everything is so sore. Dont even hurt anymore. I thinkthat I honestly dont care, actually. There are figures in the room, but whatever. Theresa slight pain just below the crease of my elbow, but hey, its not that bad. Probably ashot of some sort. Not medication, I dont think. It doesnt hurt.Actually, I think its putting me to sleep. Lovely. Im so tired. Maybe I simply wont wakeup. Mm. That would be nice. Wouldnt that be nice?
  • 194. Chapter Thirty-SevenI wake up.And I feel like hell.Everything hurts, or is at least sore. Even inside. My brain feels fried. The whole world isfuzzy and numb, but not fuzzy and numb enough to be painless.It takes me a moment to make a few neurons fire in unison, and while I want to askwhoevers here (I can hear someone scuffling about nearby) something along the linesof where the hell am I and what am I doing here—because I can tell that Im on somesoft surface, not the tile anymore—all that I can manage is a groan."Oh, shes awake! Doctor, doctor, shes awake!" an excited, eager voice chimes out,making my head throb. Noise is bad. I can hear beeping, too. Soft and regular. Someonecoughs weakly. It hurts my head. Cant I just go back to sleep? It was nice, there, softand quiet and dark."How are you feeling?" asks the same earnest voice from somewhere by my head—I cantell that Im lying down.A colorful array of expletives runs through my mind—the best way to describe how Imfeeling. But again, I cant manage anything but a groan. A bit louder this time, it must benoted. But still not exactly poetry."Oh, sorry, thats sort of a silly question to ask, huh?" the voice sounds innocentlyamused, making me pretty much want to crack their skull open. Who is this dipshit,anyway? I can tell that the voice is female. Didnt she call to a doctor? Is she a nurse?Am I in a hospital?In response to whoever-it-is airheaded question—honestly, how do they think Imfeeling?—I give the loudest aggravated groan I can manage."Up her drip, Eva. Shes not scheduled to be lucid for another forty-eight hours in anycase," says an unidentified male voice. Perhaps the doctor.I dont really know what theyre doing, but I cant muster up the energy to protest beforeI start to feel sleepier and everything hurts less and my head is getting quieter. I justhave time to guess that the drip the doctor (doctor?) mentioned has something in itputting me out before I fall asleep again.The next time I wake up, I feel more like a person in pain than a defenselessinvertebrate being stepped on repeatedly by something very large. Not good, but better.Im still pretty confused, not quite sure how I got here and where exactly "here" is.I open my eyes and blink about. I can tell that "here" is some sort of hospital. The light isbright, which both hurts my eyes and makes me nervous for some reason, but its nottoo bad. Im lying in a cot with papery sheets on it and a blanket folded at the bottom, aclipboard tacked to the frame. Theres an identical cot across the small, windowless roomwhere a heavily bandaged man appears to be asleep. The soft beeping is coming fromthe monitors hes hooked up to. The walls are a clinical white and the floors a pale greentile. It makes me jumpy—who can say why? From a stand next to the cot, an IV dripdelivers a pale purple liquid into my bloodstream via needle-in-elbow-crease.
  • 195. I never have been too fond of needles, I think to myself, justifying why the needle isscaring me so much. I want to rip it out, get rid of the pinching and make sure that itdoesnt hurt me. Come on, get it together. Its just medicine. But medicine for what? AmI sick? Actually, knowing that Im in a hospital raises more questions than it answers.I try to sort things out in my head. My name? Easy. Johanna Mason. Where am I? Duh. Ahospital. Where am I from? Of course, District Seven. How am I? Not so great. But afterthat, everything gets a little tougher to figure out. It feels like theres a lot more to thisthan I can remember, but I cant think of it. Its frustrating: theres something there inthe dark middle of my mind, waiting for the floodlights to illuminate it, but theressomething blocking the switch. I just cant remember.Whatever, I think to myself, leaning back against the plastic headboard of the cot. No bigdeal. Ill remember everything at some point. Im probably on a lot of drugs right now,anyway. Everything still both looks and feels sort of fuzzy.Im just closing my eyes to see if I can fall back asleep when in from the brightly lithallway walks a rather young woman with a wide smile and a small multi-level cart."Oh, my, youre awake a little early! The doctor didnt have you scheduled for anothertwo hours!" says the woman, who I take to be a nurse. I recognize her voice as thewoman from yesterday who called to the doctor—what did he call her? Emma orsomething? "Lucky I brought your meds anyway, right? As they say, Ill take being over-prepared before under-prepared any day of the week!"I stare at her doubtfully."Ill be with you in a moment," she says to me, smiling as she pushes her little cart overto the other cot in the room. "Mister Webber, time for meds," she says softly to thehighly bandaged man, who rouses himself slightly (the first sign of life Ive seen of himso far besides the monitors beeping). I dont think that bandage-man can really move,and the nurse tips back a small paper cups worth of pills back into his mouth and followswith a cup of what I guess is water. Ugh, I think to myself, shuddering as bandage-mantips back the water. Awful. I have no idea why, but suddenly the idea of water isrepulsive. Like I cant breathe and my whole body is aching. I think I had a nightmareabout water, actually. Salt water."All right, Miss Mason, here are your meds…" the nurse says after wheeling her cart overto my side of the room. She hands me a small paper cup. "And here, water to take themwith." She follows up with an identical cup that contains water instead of pills.I quickly reach over and put the water back on the cart. I cant say why, but I dont evenwant to be anywhere near it. It makes my eyes hurt way back in my head and I feel likeI cant get enough air. "Ill just take them dry," I say quickly."What do you mean? Silly, you cant take all those dry," the nurse says with anannoyingly wide smile.Christ, what is this nurses problem? Im not four years old. Does she talk to everyonelike this? "Im fine. Or you could get me some coffee or something," I suggest (althoughI know theres no way thatll happen)."Im sorry, but we dont have any coffee. Youll just have to take your medicine as is,"the nurse says, casting me a smile then turning to fiddle with the IV.
  • 196. I refuse to get any nearer to the water, so I end up just downing the numerous pills dry.It takes a little while, but I manage to get them all down by the time the nurse hasfinished working at the IV."So, since youre new, Ill give you the run-down, okay?" asks the nurse. I give noresponse besides a dull stare. She remains enthusiastic. "You can call me Nurse Eva, andI make the night rounds. You may ask me any questions you have when Im here, butdont come looking for me. Its strictly disallowed for patients to leave their roomswithout an escort," the nurse, Nurse Eva, says. "The doctor will be around to see you inan hour or two. Until then, try to get some rest. Youre making a remarkable recovery sofar, but its too early to tempt fate." She turns and begins to wheel her cart out."Hey, wait," I say in the loudest voice I can manage. I can talk pretty well, but when itcomes to raising my voice I end up sounding kind of whispery and hoarse, seeing as Iclearly havent been using my voice much lately. "Where am I?" I ask.Nurse Eva halts in the doorway, smile slipping off her face as she turns. "Oh dear.You dont remember, do you?""No, I remember everything, Im just asking for a lark," I snap. "Where am I?""Youre in District Thirteen. In our hospital wing," Nurse Eva says haltingly.Okay, I can remember Haymitch talking about District Thirteen. A lot of us talking aboutThirteen, actually. There was a closet? But whatever, I can remember that it wasntactually blown off the map."How did I get here?" I ask, moving down the list of the most pressing questions."From…from the arena, right? The Quarter Quell?"Thats right, the arena. I remember now—we were "reaped from the existing pool ofvictors". Me and Blight. And Blight…Blight didnt make it. There was bloodrain and insectsand jabberjays and a Mockingjay, a forcefield and Careers and a lot of bread. And…therewas a chase, wasnt there? That last night? And…and everything...exploded? That soundssilly, but I think its true. And…a hovercraft and a bright light? A seal?Before Nurse Eva even says it, I remember. Oh, god, I remember all too well. "No.From…from the Capitol," says the nurse.I dont reply. Shit, thats right. Shit. Shit. I was in the Capitol, and…and…oh, god."The doctor will be here soon enough. Hell explain everything to you," says Nurse Eva,casting me a sympathetic smile as she wheels the cart from the room.Oh, my god. They took me from the arena and…they tried to get answers from me.Thats as much as Ill let myself think. I can remember now—nothing concrete, justflashes. Sparks and saltwater and tile and ugly brown-grey burns and a fevered redlandscape and…and…it hurt. It all hurt.Is…is it psychosomatic, that everything is starting to hurt more? Now that I know thatthe scabbing grooves on my arms are supposed to hurt, theyre starting to. Same withthe long, straight cuts and the wide, blotchy bruises. And now that I know the patches ofstiff, brown-grey skin are burns, theyre starting to itch and call for water. (But no, notwater, definitely not water. Just not that.)
  • 197. And thats only what I can see. The rest of my body is under these papery sheets and Impretty sure that I have on very thin pajamas of a sort. But what I cant see is reallystarting to hurt. Not like hot, concentrated, pain. Just a tingling ache with little pricks ofpain all over, my mind compensating for the fact that I dont know where Ive been hurt.The next few hours are by no definition fun. Unless ones personal definition of funinvolves pain that may or may not be real, splintered memories clambering over eachother for a chance to make one flinch next, the relentless feeling that one is about towake and find oneself back in a tiled cell, and being unable to breathe properly forreasons only mental. But thatd be a pretty twisted way to define fun, so I think that wecan safely state that the next few hours are by no reasonable definition fun.Im so panicky by the time the doctor walks in that Im about convinced that the wallsare going to attack me. As a result, the very mild-looking doctor makes my heart stop fora moment when he walks in. I scold myself mentally—are we really scared of doctorsnow?Oh, yeah. Yeah, we are."Hello, Miss Mason, Im Doctor Giles, the head of the division," the doctor says as hewalks over to the side of the cot. "Nurse Eva tells me you woke earlier than expected, soI expect that at this point you have some questions. Ill bring you up to date, all right?"Is everyone in this district always so fucking nice? I ask myself as the doctor comes tostand by the head of the bed. The friendly attitudes are kind of scaring me, to be honest.But I dont ask, because another thing thats scaring me is this doctor. I know that hewont hurt me in the rational part of my mind—this is District Thirteen, and Imsafe. But what if Im not even really in Thirteen and this is some twisted trick to try andmess up my mind even more? The thought occurs to me all of a sudden, and I stopbreathing for a moment."Miss Mason? Are you all right?" the Doctor asks in a concerned voice.I pull myself out of the minor panic. "Just peachy," I say through gritted teeth.The Doctor seems to not appreciate the sarcasm."Wonderful. Now, I suppose that you want to know whats been going on, then?""Might be nice," I say, compensating for the terror with overtones of derision wheretheyre not needed."As I hear that Nurse Eva told you, a team recently recovered you and two others fromthe Capitol," the Doctor begins."Who?" I interrupt. "Who else?" I feel like I remember hearing Peeta shouting aboutsome sort of fire-mutt—maybe that was a dream or something. "You have Katniss, right?Shes safe?""Yes, Katniss Everdeen is safe, and has been actively assisting the war effort," the Doctorassures me. What a relief—to think, if Katniss had died it would have all been fornothing. "And we also recovered Peeta Mellark and a Miss Annie Cresta," the Doctor says,looking down at the clear plastic clipboard that he carries. He wears the same pale greenscrubs as Nurse Eva and a white medical lab coat. Its a nondescript look, but is still
  • 198. somehow a little frightening. The coat especially. "Miss Cresta barely sustained anyinjury, but Mister Mellark has been…not himself.""And that means what?" I ask sharply. Not himself? I mean, they cant really expectPeeta to just snap right back to normal after an experience like the one hes had. Itd bestupid to even hope."You havent the clearance for more details, Im sorry," says the Doctor in a not-especially-apologetic tone.I sigh exasperatedly—clearance? What is that even supposed to mean? Peetas conditionis a secret or something? "Fine," I say. If they wont tell me, they wont tell me. "AndFinnick, hes all right? And Beetee too?""Yes, Finnick is also safe here. Beetee sustained some serious injuries in the arena, buthell be back to normal in a few months," the Doctor says, seemingly not getting at allimpatient with my reams of questions. Hes probably used to questions, anyway, workingin a place like this. And I just want to know whats going on—after and in the midst of somuch confusion, a little certainty is comforting."Well…what about me, then?" I ask after a pause, out of questions to delay the inevitableBig Question. "Am I—will I be…okay?" I hate hearing how my voice shrinks, the suddenrealization that Im actually quite worried and definitely not "okay" at the moment. Get ittogether, I tell myself sharply."Well. Thats certainly a loaded question," the Doctor says thoughtfully, looking backdown at his clipboard. "Youre responding very well to the tissue-regrowth supplements,so your surface injuries are really no problem. There would be significant pain, of course,but we have you on a steady low-level drip of morphling for now." That explains hownumb and fuzzy my head feels—itd be great to go back to sleep, but Im way toonervous to even close my eyes."So thats good, then?" I ask. Even to me, my voice sounds thin and scared. Ugh. I canthelp it, though."Yes, that part is good, but theres still a lot that we dont know. We ran some tests whileyou were out,"—I shudder at that, although the Doctor doesnt seem to notice—"and itappears that recently youve been repeatedly exposed to high voltages," the Doctor saysin a casual tone. "We cant be sure of the effect its had on you internally, but there wereno burns or skin lesions, so we can chance a guess that the electricity was well enoughcontrolled to not cause permanent damage. However, theres always the possibility ofnervous or vascular damages that havent presented themselves yet. Well have to keepa close eye on you for a while, and continue testing.""Oh," I say simply, trying to take that all in. Nervous or vascular damages? Skinlesions? Repeated exposure? "I…I only remember the…um, the shocks once," I say,having to force out the words. They make the muddled memories a little clearer, andwith remembering comes pain—or at least such a vivid memory of pain that it feels real."Really, now? Thats interesting," the Doctor says, looking down the bridge of his nose atme.
  • 199. "Glad to know that Im of interest," I say dryly, rolling my eyes. Was this guy hangingout around the corner picking his ass when they handed out bedsidemanner? Interesting? Thats all he can say?"Well, confusion and memory loss are not unusual after traumatic events," the Doctormuses, mostly to himself. "Tell me, how long do you think you were in the Capitol?""I dont know. A week or two," I reply after a moment of consideration. I cant really puta time to anything, but two weeks or so seems like a safe bet. Its a long time, but notridiculously long. And besides, they surely wouldnt have waited too long to come andrescue us."Youre off by about four weeks," the Doctor says, sounding intrigued. "And you reallycant remember anything after two weeks?""No, Im just lying to my doctors for fun," I say sharply. "I just dont really remember.Its all run together. I—four weeks? So that means…six weeks?" Oh, good for you,Johanna, you can do basic addition.Six weeks, good god. Thats…what, two-thirds of the time that I cant remember?Something like that? I dont even know what happened, what I said. They could havedone so much to me, and I wouldnt even know. They could have done anything. And didI tell them anything? Were any secrets slipped, any lives lost, because I couldnt keep mytrap shut? Sure wouldnt be the first time. Dont think like that! I reprimand myself. Idont need to go there, not now of all times. Not with this panic setting in, that I haveliterally no idea what Ive been going through for the past few weeks.Apparently, I look just as shell-shocked as I feel, because the Doctor looks me over for amoment then says, "Im sure this is a lot to take in, and youre probably tired. Ill leaveyou to sleep for now, and we can talk again later. Does that sound good?"Sounds better than talking to you, I think. I dont really say that, because I have one lastrequest to make of the Doctor before he disappears to traumatize more patients. "Canyou up the morphling a little?" I ask in my best oh-pretty-please voice, tilting my head abit towards the IV stand next to the cot. I want to sleep, just to put off really processingthis awful new information. And I dont trust my mind to keep free from nightmareswithout the drug—god knows, the waking hours are enough of a nightmare at themoment, I dont need them in my sleep as well.The Doctor gives me a highly disapproving look, but says, "Only this once," and goes andworks his doctor-magic on the morphling. I sigh to myself with pleasure as the drugenters my bloodstream. Its nice, cool and soft somehow. It acts fast, very fast, andwithin seconds Im feeling very drowsy. The doctor walks out quickly, and by the timehes out the door Im slipping into a sort of purple-tinted haze of dull peace.Its so, so nice. I know this time that I will wake, theres really no question, but for themoment I choose just to enjoy the morphling. Maybe those guys from Six had it right allalong, I think to myself as I slip off.
  • 200. Chapter Thirty-Eight"Now, before we start, I need you to know that youre completely safe," the Doctor says,looking at me seriously from his seat on the little metal chair hes brought in. Im stillpropped up in bed, as I have been for days now, and Im not at all hopeful about thisnew "strategy" the doctors have designed."Sure," I say doubtfully. Safe, as if. Ive not felt safe since my first Games, and thesedays theres barely a moment when Im not scanning the hospital rooms as if the wallswere about to try and kill me."This will go best if you can keep an open mind," the Doctor says, giving me areproachful look. I dont really have any intention of keeping an open mind about thisstupid-as-fuck therapy notion. Supposed to help me come to terms with all the shit thatsbeen hitting the fan lately. Or something. I personally think this is just a sneaky way forthe doctors to weasel information out of me about the Capitol, information thatshonestly too painful to just hand out."Yeah, yeah," I mumble, already anticipating the time when this is over. I wonder whatNurse Eva will bring for dinner tonight? In the beginning my diet was purely pills and IVfluids, but weve moved on to solid (if bland) foods now. Baby steps.The Doctor chooses to ignore my rather poor attitude about this. "Ill let you begin. Isthere anything you want to talk about?""No.""Listen, Johanna, youre completely safe. Theres no reason why you shouldnt be able totalk openly.""Nothing to say.""Well, Ill take the lead, then. Have your experiences in the Capitol developed achronological order yet, or are your memories still sensation-based and not falling intoany timeline?" Experiences. Way to sugarcoat, Doctor."Uh, the second one," I say disinterestedly. Everything I can remember is still just onebig painful muddle."Now, Johanna, what you have to understand is that—""Im completely safe, right? Is that all youve got to say?" I ask sharply."Its true," the Doctor says simply. "Nothing can hurt you here in District Thirteen.""Yeah, right," I say dully. "Everything is dangerous. Even here. You guys must haveweapons, right? Enough to blow us all to dust if some moron dropped his cigarette in thewrong place? Or I could get the wrong meds and die before anyone even knew what waswrong. Or we could get bombed, or the ventilation could stop working, or—""Johanna, be realistic about this," the Doctor stops me calmly. Okay, so maybe 101Remotely Possible Ways To Die In District Thirteen was about to get a little hysterical,but I still dont appreciate the interruption.
  • 201. "I think youre the one who could use a good healthy reality check," I say, narrowing myeyes.The Doctor can sense that things will be getting ugly soon, and "therapy" doesnt lastmuch longer. "Well, I can see that we wont be making any more progress today," beginsthe Doctor with a slight sigh after a couple more short-lived attempts. I mumblesomething along the lines of no shit, brainless, which the Doctor either doesnt hear orchooses to overlook. "So what do you say to revisiting the counseling tomorrow?""Have I got a choice?""No.""Then that sounds just great.""Superb. Well leave this until the same time tomorrow, then," the Doctor says, standingto go."Im wordless with the joy," I call after him in the most emotionless voice I can manage.Its not too tough—Ive been feeling drained lately. Theres a low level of pain even withthe morphling, which leads me to believe that it may not be entirely real. But it stillhurts, so who really gives a fuck if Im imagining it? It makes it difficult to really careabout anything but whether I can get the doctors to up the morphling or whether Ill begetting anything good for dinner.The area of their hospital level where I am is chilly and relatively quiet, at least at themoment. (Well, its always chilly, but since arriving Ive found that Thirteen is allunderground and therefore almost constantlycold.) There arent too many opportunitiesfor injury here, but when they do occur theyre serious—training related, or from thosedown in weapons design and testing. Because of this, my time in the hospital quicklybecomes long stretches of waiting peppered with periods of frantic activity.The waiting is hours and hours of dull, cold, quiet that are punctuated only by thebeeping of bandage-mans monitors. (I dont know what happened to the guy, but hesclearly in awful condition. Maybe chemical burns or something. I hate imagining it.) Itshard to ignore my mind during all the quiet, solitary spells, but the morphling helps dullmy thoughts and I nap a lot anyway.The moments of activity, though, are good. My main form of entertainment is watchingthe workings of the hospital out the doorway: when stuff actually happens, its reallyinteresting. Disorder in the halls as the injured are rushed in and tossed about in the seaof chaos, doctors shouting to each other and nurses dashing about with armfuls ofbandages and medicines, unconscious patients being rushed past the door on thoserolling bed things. What are they called, again? My memory has been less than goodlately anyway—even simple stuff is slipping me by sometimes, not just memories fromthe Capitol and the arena.Mealtimes are pretty good too. Nurse Eva is constantly cheerful, but honestly, I dontmind so much. Her comments often grate on my nerves, but, just between us, I kind ofadmire how positive she is. Its nice to be around someone so happy, especiallyconsidering just how screwed up my thoughts are these days."Weve got a special treat today! The kitchens dug up some pudding that theyve hadpackaged away for years, its still good—the wonders they can work with chemicals, I tell
  • 202. you—and the President thought that with the Mockingjay having been out of the districtfor so long, everyone could use a pick-me-up. Isnt that nice?" Nurse Eva chatters awaywhen she arrives on the night round bearing meds and dinner."Sure," I mumble, staring critically at my dinner tray while Nurse Eva gives bandage-manhis meds. Bandage-man is allowed to tip back the cups of pills and water by himselfthese days, but only under close observation. Dinner tonight appears to be a thick soupof some sort of vegetable substance, a small cup of milk, and of course the pudding. Idont know what pudding is, but the way Nurse Eva talks, it must be good. Its a dubiouswhite-yellow color, and wobbles worryingly when I shift the tray. Were not trusted withmetal utensils, so I begin to eat the vegetable-sort-of soup with a dinky little plasticspoon as Nurse Eva busies herself around the room, chatting."Katniss is doing such good work in District Two, we see the bulletins every night in thecommon room—its technically just for the doctors, but us nurses spend plenty of timethere, its our little secret—" Nurse Eva says with a slight chuckle as she re-folds thecorners of bandage-mans bed. What a world, where spending time unauthorized in acommon room is the deepest secret you have. Its unreal. "Shes really such a natural,just so down-to-earth and so good with the little ones. And the soldiers, oh, you shouldsee the looks on their faces when they meet the Mockingjay. The Mockingjay! The waythey look at her—even the wounded ones, mind you—its like shes more thanhuman…our Mockingjay…such an inspiration…""Huh," I grunt disinterestedly.Katniss, the inspiration! Katniss, the Mockingjay! Katniss, such a natural! Katniss, sogood with the little ones! Katniss, more than human! I sneer to myself, stabbing at thesoup. Fuck that. She hasnt even properly done anything.Nurse Evas eyes shine as she continues to gush about Katniss, coming over to fiddlewith my IV. But, then again, everyone loves her. She must bedoing something right. "And of course we all worry about her so, District Two is so verydangerous at the moment, and the rebels are having so little success. But after all,Katniss is there now, and from what the head doctors hear in the meetings theyrestrategizing to take that mountain—oh, I can never remember what its called, can you?""Not really.""Well, its no matter, weve all got faith. With us all working behind her, Katniss can dojust about anything, dont you think? Its really a matter of support, in my opinion. Iknow that Katniss can take care of herself, but she needs us just as much as we needher. The driving force of the rebellion, thats all of us here in District Thirteen. Nothingagainst the rest of the districts, of course. Were all such an important part of the wareffort.""Mm.""Now, you get a good nights sleep, because tomorrow were going to have to cut backyour morphling drip and you know how much—""What?" I demand, bolting upright. "Youre what?""We have to start cutting you back by two hundred milliliters a day or youll almostcertainly develop an addiction, and we certainly dont want that, now do we?" Nurse Eva
  • 203. smiles calmly as she tells me that they plan to tear away my support system, subject meto unnecessary pain, make my memories sharp enough that itd be like the Capitol allover again, and do it as happily as if they were giving a kid a chicken pox shot. Maybe Illget a sticker if Im good."You cant do that," I say, panicking a little."Of course we can—we have to. Now you get some sleep," says Nurse Eva with anobliging smile. She hurries out, leaving me to worry by myself. (Well, theres bandage-man, but hes not much company.) I cant really imagine how itll be with less morphling,but from the way the doctors talk, Im in bad shape. I mean, I can see all the bruises andcuts and scabs and strange, nameless injuries, but they dont hurt beyond a dull ache.And then theres the internal damage that the electricity (I cant help but shudder everytime I think of it) has apparently caused. Who knows how Ill feel once they start scalingback the morphling? Well, it wont be all daisies and rainbows, I think to myself. I knowthat much.Im tired—disproportionately tired, considering that I havent left this bed in almost aweek. The doctors havent taken me for any tests, preferring to watch my progresscarefully without interfering. (I like the hands-off approach. Much easier on me.) The cotisnt very comfortable, Im convinced that both the thin mattress and the pillow are madeof wadded-up papers, but it doesnt really matter, not with all the morphling in mysystem. My thoughts are always fuzzy and a little dulled, so its a simple matter ofclosing my eyes and lying still to fall asleep for the night. I havent had any nightmares ina while, and my sleep is peaceful.I wake up in crazy pain.Everything, ever little muscle, every joint, every bone, is shouting at me with a deepache akin to really awful growing pains, only much deeper and much fierier. There aresome spots where the pain is clearer, sharper, and some where it feels hotter and morefevered. My head is pounding in time with my heart, and Im thinking too fast.They must have slowed the drip. I must have slept through it. What time is it? Its hardto tell time in this underground district, with no natural light and no clocks in the rooms.When will the Doctor be coming to see me for "therapy"? When will Nurse Eva bebringing dinner and meds? The sooner one of them arrives, the sooner I can demand tobe put back on the drip. Its too soon to take me off, clearly. I need another week at theleast. And the morphling felt so good, all cool and hazy and sleepy…all the colors sort ofblurred together, and that was nice. So much better than this hot, achy pain.I wait. I sit and twiddle my thumbs and play with my bracelet that reads MENTALLYDISORIENTED in big black letters and stare at the ceiling and wait. Theres nothing betterto do—its what Ive been doing for a week and a half now. Just sitting and waiting forthe next meal, the next medical crisis outside. But now, of course, everything hurts and Ijust want to go back on the drugs. The IV bag is still full, but it just doesnt empty intomy bloodstream anywhere near as fast. There are moments of cool relief, but it alwaysebbs back into the pain.It must be hours when I decide that I cant take it anymore. Im going to go find adoctor. I dont even care if I know the doctor or not, as long as theyll fix the morphlingsituation. Theyll understand, they have to. I mean, this is what doctors do. Make peoplebetter. These doctors, anyway. They have good intentions.
  • 204. I fumble with the IV needle, and pull it out of the little plastic socket taped to my armwith a pinch. It makes me panic a little, my heart beats faster, memories of the needle-pain and "medicine" now not dulled by the morphling. Everything that I can remember isclear as day, the missing time now a muddle of half-images. Its bad. And thats why weneed the morphling.The tile is cold on my bare feet when I slide out of the cot. This whole place is cold,really. Its got me constantly on edge. My head swims for a moment, vision darkening, asI adjust to being upright again. As soon as I can see properly again, I head for the door.I have to sort of shuffle along, unable to keep my balance properly, but I make it to thedoorway. I hold the doorframe and look up and down the corridor—no one there. Itsbeen a quiet day.So I shakily step out of the room and head off to my right. There are other rooms, quietbut for some coughing and the beeping of machines. People are lying passively in theircots with varying degrees of injury: bandages, casts, splints, braces, so on. I hearsomeone talking, and look into the room. Just a man chattering away loudly in his sleep.His roommate looks about ready to strangle him."Are you lost?" asks someone from behind me.I jump and spin around, heart stopping for a moment. Im jumpy these days. But onceIve begun breathing again, I realize that the man who just asked if I was lost must be adoctor or a nurse. Oh, good. "No, I—" I inspect the man more carefully. Hes not wearingthe white coat, but the grey uniform of the soldiers Ive seen so far. "Youre not adoctor," I say accusingly."Good of you to notice," the man says dryly. Well, maybe "man" is a bit of anexaggeration—he cant be more than nineteen or twenty, at the absolute most. "Are youlost or not?" It must be my MENTALLY DISORIENTED bracelet. I dont even need thething. (Well, okay, I do, but its bit undignified to look constantly in need of help.)"I know you. Youre from the television. Youre that Gale kid," I say, ignoring thequestion. Im not lost, not really. I dont know my way around, but I can find my wayeasily, at least from here."Katniss cousin. Right. And youre Johanna Mason," the Gale kid replies. (I dont knowhis name past that.)"No kidding," I say. "What are you doing here? The nurse told me they bombed outTwelve.""Some of us got out in time. Not a lot, though." The Gale Kids face tightens."How about Katniss sister? Primmy?" I ask, unable to quite recall the little girls name."Is she all right?" Katniss was pretty torn up over that jabberjay thing in the arena—itdbe bad for her if they really killed her sister."Shes fine. Shes here now, actually. Im trying to find her.""Cant help you with that one," I say. "I havent seen much of the hospital besides myown room at—" With no warning at all, theres a rushing in my ears and my visiontunnels a little. My knees buckle and I just barely manage to catch myself against the
  • 205. wall. The dizzy spell is gone as soon as its come, and I stand back up straight, feeling awobbly. Damn drugs. And lack thereof."Are you sure youre all right?" The Gale Kid asks suspiciously."Oh, yeah, just great," I say, feeling a little snippy at this innocent question. "I mean,sure, Im recovering from weeks of patented Capitol torture and cant even take a damnwalk around the hospital without falling over, but other than that, things are super rightnow. Thanks for asking."The Gale Kid blinks briefly in surprise, and so do I. What was that all about? Since whendo we say things like that? Since when do we even think things like that? It must be thelack of morphling talking."Im just going to go back to bed," I say, rubbing my temples. "Good luck finding thatgirl." I start back off down the hall, suddenly just too wiped out to deal with all this. Illsleep instead of getting more drugs. Therell probably be nightmares, but at least nothingwill hurt."I was there, you know," says The Gale Kid after me. "I was a part of the rescuemission." He pauses. "Took a bullet from a guard."Well, cool. Why exactly is he telling me this? Justification? Hoping for praise? Just for myinformation? No reason at all? "My knight in shining armor," I say over my shoulder,lacking a serious response.I look back when I reach the doorway of my room, and the corridor is empty again. Whata weird conversation. I dont even know the kid. He got shot because of us? I guess itwasnt too serious—I dont know exactly how long Ive been here, but it cant have beenmore than two weeks. Katniss cousin seems kind of strange, anyway. Like the kind ofkid who doesnt know how to smile.Bandage-man is still blissfully asleep. I wonder if hes on morphling. Now theres an idea.Can I siphon off of him? No reason to get the doctors involved, eh? I pad across the floorto bandage-mans bedside. Nope, the liquid in his IV is pale blue, not purple."Miss Mason? What are you doing out of bed?" a clear voice rings out from the doorway,sounding very worried. I turn to see Nurse Eva and her cart. Shes giving me a concernedlook—I guess that Im not "scheduled" to be out of bed yet."Making my jailbreak," I say, rolling my eyes. "Nothing. Just stretching my legs." I walkback over to my cot quickly and sit back down, sliding under the papery covers.Nurse Eva looks skeptical, but proceeds to hand out meds and dinner as usual. I askabout the morphling, but she shoots me down immediately. "Dont be silly, Miss Mason!Such an idea!" Im sore from walking around and my head hurts like crazy, but luckilydinner has milk and not water today, so I can actually drink. Nurse Eva has little to say,and Im sulking from her laughing dismissal of my request for the drugs I need.Nurse Eva leaves me alone with bandage-man and in serious pain after a fraction of theusual time. She has no chatter today, no news from the outside world. I cant sleep, so Ijust cross my arms and fume all by my lonesome.You know what? Ive decided that I really fucking hate this district.
  • 206. Chapter Thirty-Nine"Im alive," she says blearily."No kidding, brainless," I say tactfully, dropping down onto the Mockingjays cot. Shedoesnt look so hot, drawn and pale under her olive-toned skin. Hey, at least shes alive.Missing her spleen, sure, but alive.Katniss flinches when I hit the mattress. I grin and ask, "Still a little sore?" whileunplugging her from the morphling drip and sticking the needle into the socket taped tomy own arm. I explain to Katniss, "They started cutting back my supply a few days ago.Afraid Im going to turn into one of those freaks from Six. Ive had to borrow from youwhen the coat was clear. Didnt think youd mind." Yeah, like she has any ground to mindon. Its her fault that Im in this mess in the first place—if it werent for our dearMockingjay here, I wouldnt need the drugs to keep my mind level and body mostly freeof pain. Thanks, Katniss. Can always depend on you to fuck things up for me.Katniss doesnt seem capable of saying much, and just sort of stares uncomfortably ather blankets. Well, shes barely had time to think these days, from what Nurse Eva tellsme. Off to District Two, constantly shooting propaganda spots, blowing up mountains,being shot at. All that fun stuff.Ahh. The morphling begins to take hold in my bloodstream, and I sigh as the lovelycooling sensation begins to seep through my veins. "Maybe they were onto something inSix," I say, airing my thoughts from a few weeks prior. "Drug yourself out and paintflowers on your body. Not such a bad life. Seemed happier than the rest of us, anyway."Katniss stares at me blankly. Is she all the way here? Is it the drugs or something?Maybe the operation didnt go so smoothly as Nurse Eva had me believe. I make to saysomething along the lines of aphid got your tongue? but the morphling does tend tomuddle the part of the brain that controls speaking, so before I know it Im saying,"Theyve got this head doctor who comes around every day. Supposed to be helping merecover. Like some guy whos spent his whole life in this rabbit warrens going to fix meup. Complete idiot. At least twenty times a session he reminds me that Im totally safe."I wish that I could say that Im exaggerating about the Doctor, but Im not. Or at leastthats how it feels to me.I manage to coax a response out of Katniss with that one, and she smiles because theidea is just so ridiculous. Safe? Bitch, please. The best were getting is a sensation thatwhile theres nobody jumping out into the road right now and trying to stab us, theresdefinitely something in the bushes back there."How about you, Mockingjay? You feel totally safe?" I ask."Oh, yeah," says Katniss, voice rusty. "Right up until I got shot.""Please." I roll my eyes. "That bullet never even touched you. Cinna saw to that." Notthat I ever met Cinna. But Haymitch harped about him plenty.Katniss frowns, reflecting back. "Broken ribs?" She asks slowly."Not even. Bruised pretty good. The impact ruptured your spleen. They couldnt repairit," I say, giving an unconcerned wave of my hand. "Dont worry, you dont need one.And if you did, theyd find you one, wouldnt they? Its everybodys job to keep you
  • 207. alive." Its a dirty job, and weve all got to do it. Leads to some shitty situations for a lotof us. But if thats what our Mockingjay needs, who are we to object?"Is that why you hate me?" asks Katniss, right-out. Just like that. Well, I suppose that Isure havent been subtle about it, have I? And I can respect honesty."Partly. Jealously is certainly involved," I say lightly. I mean, while were all being honesthere... "I also think youre a little hard to swallow. With your tacky romantic drama andyour defender-of-the-helpless act. Only it isnt an act, which makes you moreunbearable." I pause, wondering if theres anything Ive forgotten. No, those are basicallythe fundamentals. "Please feel free to take this personally.""You should have been the Mockingjay," says Katniss after a moment, totally unoffended."No one wouldve had to feed you lines."Well…maybe. But I lack the luck and clumsy natural charisma that makes Katniss such aperfect Mockingjay. "True. But no one likes me," I say, simplifying."They trusted you, though. To get me out," Katniss says. Its not like they had a ton ofoptions for rescuers, but I wont argue. Let Katniss think as highly of me as she likes."And theyre afraid of you.""Here, maybe," I say. I think they are a little afraid, actually. Its nothing new. Maybecloser to cautious: Im not exactly in rough-and-tough fighting condition right now. "Inthe Capitol, youre the one theyre scared of now." Not Thirteen and their nukes, not thedistricts and their angry inhabitants, not shady groups inside the Capitol, but Katniss andher personal army of freedom-fighters. Well, technically its not hers. But thats how itmust seem.All of a sudden, Katniss face lights up. My first thought is that shes just that excited tohear that everyone in the Capitol is scared of her, but her eyes have focused onsomething a little past me. A quick glance back towards the doorway reveals her cousin,the Gale kid. Seeing them together, Im struck by how little they look like each other:completely different facial structures, completely different builds, their noses couldnt bemore different. Maybe theyre not related after all. Or maybe their mothers just lookedreally different.I decide that its time to make my escape and disconnect myself from the needle. Ivegot enough morphling in my system to last for almost half a day (shes got a serious dripgoing) and I can always come back. Katniss room is only around a few corners and downsome stairs from mine. And plus, despite Nurse Evas ardent claims that its strictlydisallowed for me to be out and about, no one ever gives me any grief.For a bit of a laugh, I say confidentially to Katniss, "Your cousins not scared of me."Confusion flickers on her face, and I contain a grin as I slip off the cot. I bump Gales legwith my hip as I walk past. "Are you, gorgeous?" I catch a quick glimpse of Katnisssurprised face as I leave the room and laugh all the way down the hall. Theres beenprecious little to laugh about in my life lately.I know my schedule pretty much by feel now, although theres not really any proper wayto tell time down here. I can tell that its midmorning now, about time for the Doctor toshow up for our daily train wreck of a therapy session. Hes really trying, Ill give himthat, but he just shouldnt be trying to counsel anyone. His life experience is limited to
  • 208. what they give him here in Thirteen: i.e. strictly scheduled activities and safety. Must benice, eh?Im back in bed in plenty of time, and when the Doctor arrives I must look as innocent asthe day I was born, if significantly more hopped up on morphling. Its not all thatnoticeable to others, but to me the strange color-blending (everything takes on a purpletinge as well) and cooling effects are pretty strong. The most one could say about theoutward effects of morphling is that it tends to loosen ones tongue. And as we all know,therell be a drought back home before Johanna Mason watches what she says."Well, to start off, how do you feel today?" asks the Doctor, sitting up very straight in hislittle chair. He has his ever-present clipboard and a pen barely touching the page:probably on his toes for information. I still cant believe that hes doing all this just to behelpful. Or even because someone higher up on the totem pole told him to be helpful."Just peachy," I say, giving a thumbs-up that could be taken either as sarcastic orsincere. The Doctor isnt puzzled or simply chooses to ignore the gesture. He does thatvery often—its irritating not knowing which one of us is actually messing with the other."Of course, Id be a whole lot better if you could put me back on the morphling.""Mhm," the Doctor dismisses my not-so-subtle hint, ticking something on his clipboard."And have your memories become any clearer? Is there anything specific youd like totalk about?""Well, I was thinking just yesterday that bigger portions of dinner might be good. Oh,and that you would probably look a lot nicer if you did something different with your hair.The center parts not really doing you any favors." I have nothing to say, not to thisDoctor and not to anyone else. Ill deal with the fallout myself—thats how its alwaysworked. Im too goddamn stubborn to do it any other way."Johanna, ignoring the past wont make it go away," the Doctor says, giving me adisapproving look. "It happened, and we might as well deal with it."Thats all just too serious and sensible, so I ask, "We can always try, right?" and grin.The Doctor does not appear amused. "That was a joke. You can laugh. Its okay. Thatwas funny." Uh, wait, no it wasnt, I realize slightly belatedly. These drugs, I tell you.They make you play tricks on yourself and then laugh at your own stupidity whilewondering just what happened."Were here to help you, Johanna. Im here to help. If youd just talk to us—""Look, I told you, I dont have anything to say. Im doing just fine, and I dont want yourhelp," I say snippily, hoping to end the session there. Sometimes, if Im blunt enough,the Doctor decides to "give me time to consider" and fucks off.No such luck. "Theres no shame in needing help, Miss Mason.""But I really dont. Im doing just great without you guys," I say, lying stubbornly to allinvolved. "You know what, I think Im even ready to leave the hospital."A pause in which both the Doctor and I are rather confused at whats come pouring outof my mouth now. Leave the hospital? What am I, crazy? How am I supposed to get mymorphling topside of this place? Maybe Ishould leave the hospital. I shouldnt be so tiedup over losing someone elses drugs. Maybe the doctors are right after all. Maybe I would
  • 209. be getting better if I werent inhibiting myself like this. I think it would be easier tohandle myself away from these clinical lights and antiseptic hallways. I might sort of beable to lobotomize myself, scoop out all those messy memories. I might be able to dowithout the morphling if it was only physical pain facing me. It might be nice. Yeah, knowwhat, I think I do want to leave this hospital."What? Of course you cant leave the hospital!" the Doctor says, deciding that this is all aridiculous joke. "Youre still in the very early stages of recovery! Youre doing very well atthe moment, but close monitoring is still necessary."Goddammit. As soon as I make a decision that I think could actually be good for mymental state, the doctors decide to fuck shit up for me. Welcome to my life, kids. Its notgoing great. "What if I did a sort of out-patient deal? Like, come in every week forcheckups or whatever," I ask, determined to salvage my request.It looks like the Doctor is about to laugh out loud, so I amend quickly. "How about Icome in every day? Every single day. And we could still do therapy. Whatever you guysneed. I just really want to leave the hospital." A more talented manipulator would cry ormake puppy-dog eyes, but I cant bring myself to do that sort of thing anymore."Im sorry, Miss Mason, but we simply cant discharge you," the Doctor says, nowrealizing that Im being totally serious about this. "You know that we want whats best foryou, and its not safe to leave the hospital yet. You arent even up and about yet."Well, actually, I have been wandering around the hospital for a few days. But I cant saythat, because hell want to know why and where, and then itd all come together with themorphling, even if they havent already got a sneaking suspicion. "Fine," I spit, admittingdefeat. Ill try again in another few days. "Can you at least get me a better roommate?This guy is like a vegetable." I jerk my head at bandage-man, across the room."Now, Miss Mason, Mister Webbers not actually in a vegetative state, he just—""Yeah, I dont actually care, just move me somewhere else.""Well, we dont have too many beds open. But Ill see what I can do," the Doctor says,standing. "Well try this again tomorrow. Ill see that the Nurse tells you if we findanother place for you.""Youre a pal," I call after the Doctor as he leaves. I sigh and settle back into the pillow,estimating how long itll be until I should get down to take another hit from Katniss drip."Am I really that bad a roommate?" comes the question from across the room."Holy—" I scramble upright, panicking. I realize that the question has come from mythus-far silent roommate bandage-man, and comment sardonically, "It speaks!""Theres nothing wrong with my vocal cords," says bandage-man, sounding a littleamused. Hes just staring right up at the ceiling. Most of his face is all bandaged upexcept for one eye, a patch on one cheekbone, and his mouth, and Id be convinced thatI was imagining this whole conversation if it werent for the fact that I could see hismouth moving.
  • 210. "Whats wrong with you, then? Ive been here for weeks and youve barely moved," Iask, honestly curious. Theres nothing much to remark on in this hospital, so anythingeven a bit out of the ordinary is worth looking into."I am—was, I suppose—a tester in our Defense department. I didnt react as planned toan incapacitating agent. Chemical burns. Thats all I can tell you," bandage-man saysmildly, as if this is all no big deal. "How about you? Ive been trying to piece it togetherfrom what the doctors say, but—""Wait. Hold on," I say as something hits me. "Tester? Whats that supposed to mean?" Itsounds obvious, but why would he be "reacting" to things that hes testing? "Do youmean like tester or testee?""Well, I dont think that testee is a word, but yes, I suppose so. I wasnt actually doingthe testing, things were being tested on me. Except—""What? Things—what? They tested shit on you?" I shake my head in disbelief at thelabored little nod which bandage-man makes. "Your own district. Not even thePeacekeepers or the Capitol or whatever. Just other Thirteens.""Why...yes. How else are we supposed to know if our weapons work?" asks bandage-manbemusedly."Well…I dont know. But youve got to be the stupidest guy Ive ever met if theyrethrowing chemicals at you and you dont even care," I say sharply. Whats wrong withthis guy? Whats wrong with this district?"Its not that I dont mind. Its my job. I have to do my job," bandage-man says with aninordinate amount of pride in his voice."I dont see why youre so gung-ho about a job that landed you all wrapped up in thehospital," I say, narrowing my eyes. "Do they brainwash you guys or something? Youknow, youre getting sleepy and all that? Sounds very…Capitol to me."Bandage-man sounds highly offended when he replies, "No, of course not. We couldnt bemore different from the Capitol. Were not forced to do anything. We know what our jobsare and we do them. Were trying tostop the Capitol. We hear about what they do in thedistricts. Our schoolchildren watch a Hunger Games when they turn twelve. Weunderstand that we sometimes have to go to great lengths to do some good. Its not as ifthe world revolves around us.""Oh, so its the good of the state over the good of the individual then?" I ask shortly."Thats not so noble as you dress it up to sound.""I wouldnt put it exactly like that," bandage-man says, sounding a little ticked off. "Dontsay that sort of thing about my district.""Well, you gotta admit, the state screwed you over. I think someones been manipulatedhere," I say. Bandage-man says nothing. Well, damned if I wont tell the truth exactly asI see it. Too bad if it makes him uncomfortable."Maybe it would be better if you were moved to another room after all," bandage-mansays acridly. "Im going to sleep."
  • 211. "Thanks for the heads-up," I say, lying back down against the pillow. The effects of themorphling are starting to mellow out now and leaving me very tired—or maybe its ourlittle argument thats left me so wiped. I cant tell if I need to take another hit, to nap fora while, or to keep squabbling with a deluded man who can barely move for his severechemical burns.I really, really need to get out of this hospital.
  • 212. Chapter FortyIm actually in a good mood. For the first time in ages, Im happy. And surely myhappiness is nothing nothing compared to how our newlyweds Annie and Finnick Odairmust be feeling.The ceremony was beautiful. Nothing like what weve got in Seven. There was singingand shiny new clothes and a fancy speech. I got special permission to come, the firsttime Ive been out of the hospital so far. Thirteen isnt much to look at, all dull greyhallways and light strips that could really stand to be a little brighter. The weddings beena lively spot for the people in this grey district, and all involved are practically inconniptions of joy. Im not in such a state, but of course Im happy. My only survivingfriend just got married—to the only woman on this planet who actually loves him, noless. I dont know Annie past the lengthy stories that Finnick tended to tell, but then, hedid tell them a lot. And as one hes of the very few people who can stand me, I knowFinnick pretty damn well. They both deserve this. It sounds sappy, but I really am gladthat they can be together.I push through the crowd of people whove been lucky enough to attend the wedding totry and get to the Finnick and Annie. I dont even have to say anything—just the rightapproving nod and hint of a smile is all it takes. Our lovebirds are both already grinningwidely, but at my show of approval Finnicks smile grows to the point that it threatens tosplit open his face. I dont suppose that he ever intends to let go of Annies hand again,but he still pulls me into a massive one-armed hug. I pat his arm the best I can,considering that Im pretty much pinned into the hug.When I manage to get free, I smile wider and say to both of them, "You deserve this.Congrats." Its simple, but I think it suffices.I guess that Finnick is about to reply (Annie seems to be past words), but before he saysanything we hear something strange—music. A smattering of applause. Somebodylaughs. We look towards the center of the gathering hall where the wedding was held andwe see that some guy who made it out of Twelve with his fiddle has struck up a tune andthe refugees have started up a dance. Some Twelves not yet dancing rush over and pullthe newlyweds with them. Come on, we always have a separate dance for thecouple! Finnick looks back over his shoulder. "Talk later!" he calls before hes swept awayby the laughing Twelves.I cant dance and dont even want to, so instead I go to steal another cup of the spicedcider that we got after the ceremony. Were only supposed to get one, but some peoplemust have opted out because there are extras on the low table where they were set out.I stand off to the side by the wall and sip my cider, watching the Twelves doing somesort of spinny dance to a fast-paced tune.I catch sight of Katniss across the hall. Shes not dancing either, which surprises me.Theres her sister and her cousin and basically the remainder of her people having a goodold time, and she chooses not to join them. Shes got to know how, it seems to be somesort of innate Twelve thing. And then theres the fact that seeing our Mockingjay joyfullydancing about would be a big old "FUCK YOU" to President Snow. I hurry across theroom, keeping out of the dancers way, and get Katniss attention by pinching her abovethe elbow.She turns on me, scowling. I glare right back and demand, "Are you going to miss thechance to let Snow see you dancing?" Katniss doesnt reply, but seems to consider this
  • 213. mentally for a moment. She then nods and hurries off into the crowd. Katniss really canbe a strange girl at times, but at least she knows a sensible idea when she hears one.The dancers seem to be having an awful lot of fun. I suppose that living in humble littleDistrict Twelve has its advantages, because they all seem to have had enough free timeto learn a wealth of dances. There are dances where they twirl quickly, ones where theymake lines and hold hands, ones where the footwork is so quick I highly doubt that anyof them are doing it even remotely correctly. Even the little kids seem to know somethingabout dancing, and I see Katniss cousin with a little girl sitting on his shoulders. Sheslaughing as they spin about with a woman who looks like she may be their mother. Howflipping sweet.I watch from the sidelines while the rest of the wedding party gets filmed. Katniss andher sister are the stars of the night, and the people with cameras spend a lot of timehovering by them. The cameramen look as though theyre from the Capitol, glitteringtattoos and dyed hair half grown-out back to its natural shade. I wouldnt call themrefugees, but theyre definitely not from around here. No else one seems to notice thecameras, theyre having too much fun. Someone calls for a special bride-and-groomdance, so Finnick and Annie are pressured into taking the floor by themselves. Neitherreally knows how to dance, thats obvious, but everyone is cheering anyway. A coupleyoung Twelves demonstrate some sort of jig that has all the Thirteens in stitches. Itsjust good, clean, fun for everyone. Well, not everyone. I seem to be the only person herenot partaking in the fun. Certified wet blanket, thats me.I dont know how long Ive been skulking on the sidelines when I run into Beetee, who Ihavent yet seen here in Thirteen. He seems to be the only other person not dancingbesides me. He looks tired. Happy, though. The wedding has cheered everyone, after all."Not dancing either?" I ask, bored to tears of watching these dancers and willing to talkto anyone to break the monotony. I mean, it was mildly entertaining to watch them forthe first half hour or so. Then it really started getting old."No. Definitely not." Beetee chuckles a little. "Couldnt if I wanted to.""I guess that you guys do about as much dancing in Three as we do in Seven.""If you mean none at all, then yes, thats about how much we dance," says Beetee. Hesstill holding the paper cup that we got our cider in, and seems to have spent the pasthour or so distractedly tearing it apart bit by bit. Never could keep his hands still. "Well,we did do this thing at Midsummer every year…always a fiasco…but thats a long story.""I think that some girl tried to organize a school dance when I was in the fifth grade. Butwe had to work after school, so the Peacekeepers shut that down pretty fast," I say. Icant really remember the incident exactly, but everyone was definitely excited about theidea before the law intervened.We watch side-by-side without saying anything for a while, but then I notice a coupleinactive Thirteens literally pulled into the big spinning circle thats forming. Ihave zero intention of dancing, so I ask Beetee, "So hows District Thirteen treatingyou?" in an attempt to look occupied."Thirteen is all right. Theres a lot to do here. But its good work. Keeps me busy."
  • 214. "What have they got you doing, then?" I ask, continuing the conversation to ward off thenearby dancers, who are eager to stop anyone from "missing out"."Ive been working down in Special Defense. Weapons development. I cant really talkabout it," Beetee says, nervously making another small tear in the paper cup. "Howabout you? Are you…doing okay?""Getting better," I say tersely. Things have been a little better lately. I can handledrinking water now, although it still sets me to shaking. My memories are quietly startingto sort themselves out a little: I can build a rough timeline now. Not that I really wantto—I hope that if I leave that part of my mind alone for long enough itll become rustyand stop bothering me."Are you going to get out of the hospital soon?" asks Beetee as he watches the circle ofdancers spin round and round, nearing the end of their dance."I wish," I reply. The doctors are being stubborn about this particular issue, and I dontthink Id make it very far if I tried to sneak out.The circle disperses with a last wavering note from the fiddler. "I think theyre going towheel in the cake now," Beetee says, starting forward. "Oh. Wait." He stops suddenly."That was supposed to be a surprise." He looks back at me. "Dont tell Finnick or Annie?""Dont worry. Wasnt planning on it." I start after Beetee. "Did you say that they weregoing to wheel in the cake?""From what Ive heard, its quite large," he replies as we walk. Most of the Thirteensseem to be clued in, and everyone begins to converge around the doors to the gatheringhall.The doors open, and the cake is indeed "wheeled in". Quite large doesnt really begin tocover it: the thing takes four people to push and must be almost as tall as me. The wholething has been iced in blues and greens, little icing waves swelling across the many tiers.There are shiny pearls and silvery seals, boats with bright sails and shoals of sugaredfish, and, on the very top tier, a little bluff with a small white cottage and two figures infront of it.Everyone is speechless, myself included. Thats got to be more food than Ive ever seenin my life. Thats just a ton of cake. And its such a fine creation. Really. It sounds silly,but this is the nicest thing Ive seen inforever. The cake looks like something theyd makein the Capitol, its that fancy. Are we really supposed to eat it?Well, considering that theres something like eight hundred people here, we dontreally eat the cake so much as decimate it. By the time weve all had a serving and somepeople manage to sneak back for seconds (they catch me when I try, unfortunately), itwould be exaggerating to say that crumbs remain. The cake puts most people into agood mood, and everybody stands about chatting for a while.The President of Thirteen, this really sour-looking woman with weirdly straight grey hairwho I think is named Nickel or something, seems to be all tied up over the fact thattheyve had to keep the lights on after lights-out, and announces that anyone not back intheir Compartment in the next fifteen minutes will be stuck here all night as they intendto turn out the lights for real at the end of that time. Seeing as this district gets reallyfucking dark after the lights go out, I locate the young doctor who was supposed to be
  • 215. keeping an eye on me this whole time (he got a little preoccupied with the dancing, Iguess) and we make our way back to the hospital.My room in the hospital is quiet when I arrive, my roommate—no longer bandage-man—not yet back from the wedding. My unofficial request to be transferred to a new roomactually got through, and Ive been moved from the more intensive area of the hospitalto this new place. Its progress, although Im not too happy about who Im roomingwith—Katniss. The Katniss. Of course. What other?I help myself to a hit off of Katniss morphling IV, enough to guarantee untroubled sleep,and hop into my bed. I know how the schedule works by now: Katniss wont be herewhen I wake up, probably. Theyve got her up and about already, doing Mockingjayduties. We cross paths for a few hours a day but Katniss seems to want to avoid alltrouble, so she doesnt talk to me. I dont talk to her either, although Im sure that Icould provide myself with some sort of entertainment by getting on her nerves.I dont want to waste my energy on pointless things like that, though. Its much betterspent on useful activities, like…napping. The morphling keeps my brain operating on alow level, a serious improvement. I still wish that I could escape the hospital, but I canhandle it. Directing my mind away from the unsavory topics keeps me level and drowsy,the way I like it.Of course, there are some things that still manage to bother me. News crews come in tofilm Katniss in bed (such thrilling broadcasts these days), because apparently theres arumor going around that shes dead. Katniss waves and chatters and shows off the rowof stiches on her abdomen. The news crews want nothing to do with me, its not as if thecountry has any interest in me, alive or dead.The Doctor continues to pester me with his daily attempts at therapy. I ignore him, nowset on the idea that the only way to help myself is to get out of this hospital. I ask aboutgetting discharged almost every session, although I have stopped asking about themorphling. I think hes really starting to put two and two together with Katniss IV andeverything, so I try to keep myself on the minimum of drugs possible. (Its still rather alot.) The Doctor doesnt seem to think that Im all that stable, and maintains that its inmy best interests to stay right here in the hospital. I dont really mind, until one day, hesays something that snaps me right out of my little haze."What do you mean, not allowed?" I hiss, angry enough to feel it even through themorphling hit which Ive just taken."Isnt it clear? Youre not allowed to go to the Capitol. Why in the world did you think thatyou would be allowed?" the Doctor asks, almost laughing. Hes just dropped the bombthat theres no way Ill be allowed to go to the Capitol at all. Im not addled enough tohave expected that Id be a soldier, not with the condition Im in. But Id thought thatwith all Snows put me through—me personally—theyd allow me to fly in and at leastseehim executed."Why not?" I demand, although Im pretty sure that I can anticipate the answer."Because, Johanna, youre still recovering from a very traumatic time mentally, and yourphysical condition is such that you cant even leave the hospital. Not to mention—"
  • 216. "The only reason I cant leave the hospital is because you wont let me!" I interrupt. "Imdoing just fine! Why cant I go to the Capitol?" I demand again. "And I wanta real answer this time.""I gave you a real answer, Miss Mason, and its that youre simply not in any condition tobe going anywhere.""I wouldnt even be doing anything. I know that you guys are going to let Katniss kill thePresident, right? Yeah? So why cant I just watch?"The Doctor gives me a look that suggests Im not really helping my case here. "Johanna,the fact remains that you havent undergone any of the training that would authorize youto enter the field, even after the area has been secured. Without those clearances,theres just no way that you could get to the Capitol."I realize that Im out of arguments and cross my arms, refusing to say anything more.The Doctor gives up and leaves me to fume. The longer I sit alone, the angrier I get.With everything that Snows done, from the Hunger Games, to killing my whole familyfor no good reason, to stopping just short of killing me by way of torture, I think that Ishould at least be allowed the satisfaction of seeing him die. And why not? Because ofthese stupid blanket bans and this stupid, stupid district! I hate it here! I just want out ofthis fucking district! I want to see Snow die! Goddammit, why is this so hard for thedoctors to understand?By the time Katniss arrives, Im mad enough to chew pulpwood and spit sawdust. Itturns out that shes in much the same situation as I am."They want to fly me in for the surrender. For the surrender. I wont even get to fight.Can you believe that? They say I have to train if I even want to get to the Capitol. Imthe Mockingjay! They know I can take care of myself. I mean, I can see where theyrecoming from, but it still all seems ridiculous." As she paces across our hospital room,Katniss makes a noise of frustration halfway between swearing and grunting. I have tosmother a laugh—she looks so pissed that its almost cheering me up."Quit complaining. At least you get to go to the Capitol. Even if you do have to train. Imgoing to be trapped here in this stupid district," I gripe, the unfairness of the situationcrashing down on me all over again."I think that anyone who passes the training can go into the field," Katniss says. "Maybeyou can train too."I dont think that the doctors are too keen on the idea of letting me train, but if I havethe Mockingjay backing me then I dont see how theyre going to refuse. "Fine. Ill train.But Im going to the stinking Capitol if I have to kill a crew and fly there myself," Igrumble, half-serious."Probably best not to bring that up in training," says Katniss lightly. "But its nice to knowIll have a ride."The remark is just so unlike Katniss—Id been expecting her to get all preachy—that Ihave to smile. Katniss grins back, and somehow I feel our relationship shift. Were notfriends, thats never going to happen. But were in this for a mutual gain, so I guess youcould call us allies. Well, good. I dont want a friend, but I can tell that Im certainlygoing to need an ally. Some things just cant be done alone.
  • 217. Chapter Forty-OneSo training turns out to be a lot worse I thought it would. I mean, I knew that it wasgoing to be no good—from sitting around in a hospital all day to running laps around afield with a gun? Not a fun transition. But from the very moment that Katniss and I arrivefor training, things start shaping up to be terrible."I think they put us in the wrong group," I say quietly to Katniss as we walk up to themiddle-aged woman who I take to be in charge of us trainees. "This looks like thepreschool." All the others walking onto the field with us look like theyre fourteen orfifteen: kids. Im a little insulted, but then, theyre all clearly in much better conditionthan we are."Shh." Katniss elbows me. "Keep it down," she says, glancing about at the othertrainees. Those who overheard are giving me dirty looks, but Im not too concerned. Imnot here to make friends with the Thirteens, Im not here to have a good time, Im hereto make sure that I can go to the Capitol.Well, making sure that I get to go to the Capitol is no small task, as it becomes clear.The trainer, a woman who I sense will tolerate no messing around and who weresupposed to call Soldier York, doesnt waste any time and orders us right to stretching. Ireally want to pass this stupid training, so I do try my best—though as we go on itbecomes painfully obvious just how out-of-shape I am. I think by the end of thestrengthening exercises that Im done for, but it turns out that weve still got a wonderfulfive-mile run ahead of us.Katniss and I are left in the dust almost immediately. Well, not the dust, really, theyvegot a proper field for training and its got actual green grass. This is the first time thatIve been aboveground in ages, but I cant really enjoy it. The air smells all wrong, too.None of the heavy, crisp, almost bitter-sweet pine that Ive come to associate with air. IfI dont smell pine then Im not at home, which means that Im probably in the arena orunder the Capitol. And that makes me very nervous.And not to mention that were probably going to be slogging around this field for the nextalmost-hour (if I can even make it that long), and every step is hell on my…everything. Ishould never have just decided to let the morphling from last night tide me over. Stupid,stupid, stupid. What is wrong with me? Everything hurts and Im starting to go a littlecrazy from the air and the heat and the sheer sharpness of everything. I know rationallythat things could get a lot worse, but at the moment, I feel the most unfortunate personin Panem.Katniss fades fast, and by the time were just hitting one mile it doesnt look like shesgoing to get much further. Im sure as hell not going to run this alone, so I attempt toget Katniss moving with the best of my motivational insults. "What, are you really goingto give up like that? We all know that you could really stand to work on your endurance,but this is seriously sad even for you. Come on, dont stop and curl up like a little wood-louse, get your ass in gear!" Were approaching the corner of the field where Soldier Yorkstands and Katniss is wheezing like crazy, clutching one hand to her bad ribs. She lookslongingly at where Soldier York stands as were lapped for the second time by a group ofthe speediest trainees."Im out. Sorry," gasps Katniss, stepping away and wheezing her way over to SoldierYork. I mutter short-breathed swears at her retreating back, although I really shouldntwaste the breath. I dont know how much further I can get, to be honest. Theres no way
  • 218. Ill make the full five miles—my head is swimming, my vision is going funny, my lungsfeel like theyre on fire, and my limbs have long since grown numb—and Im barely amile in. Not to mention the side effects of me being an idiot and skipping the morphlingthis morning: my mind is going a million miles an hour, my blood is running in hotflashes, and everything that isnt numb hurts like the devil.I steel myself to one more lap around the field (which, honestly, seems to be gettingbigger every time I glance away: is my mind going screwy? Or maybe Imjust really tired?) and bring myself up next to some trainees finishing the last of their fivemiles—I really have been going at a snails pace—when I next approach the corner whereYork stands. Its my hope that she wont notice I didnt actually do the full five miles if Iarrive with a bunch of others. She seems pretty sharp, but when I stumble to a stopshes handing off a slip of paper to Katniss and doesnt notice anything. The othertrainees give me disdainful looks, but no one blows the whistle on me and Im left to suckoxygen in peace.Katniss disappears with her paper and doesnt return for the afternoon session. Wereherded back inside and into a room with rows of desks, where we spend a few hourslooking at a bunch of diagrams projected onto the white wall. The diagrams are made upmostly of lines (dotted and solid) and letter Xs (red and blue and black), and they makevery little sense. I try to pay attention, but my mind is racing and my body is aching andIm alternating between very hot and very cold. It feels almost like I have a bad fever,and that makes concentrating on Soldier York very difficult."Now here we have a maneuver we call...yes?""The Lucky Fifteen?"A stupid name if I ever heard one, I think to myself, tapping my fingers on the desk. Itsonly the promise that I may actually get to fight if I do well at the assessment that keepsme from falling asleep."Thats right. This is an ambush maneuver, named because the usual number of soldiersin an ambush mission is fourteen. However, when there is one extra soldier, the teamhas the tactical advantage of identifying the most pressing target and setting thefifteenth member of the team, most usually a specially trained soldier, to eliminating thattarget. Understood? Good. We will discuss the finer points later. Now, in a situationwhere one member of the squad is injured and unable to perform…" York says as sheclicks to the next slide, which shows just the same amount of incomprehensible squigglesand Xs as the previous.I try to soak in as much as I can, but when I return to the hospital room at the end ofthe day I dont feel as if Ive learned anything. Well, I never was much good in schoolanyway. The whole sit down and pay attentionthing was never really for me.When I arrive, the white curtain is pulled across the middle of the hospital room Katnissis now sharing with me, and I pull it aside in a big rush, eager to get at Katnissmorphling drip. Its been too long, Im accustomed to a hit every eight or ten hours asneeded. Its been at least sixteen, which is leaving me not a happy camper. Well, theresKatniss lying on her back with eyes closed and jaw set, and theres the IV stand, but themorphling is gone. I panic right away."Katniss. What the hell have you done with our morphling," I demand, shaking hershoulder roughly in case shes asleep.
  • 219. Katniss yelps in pain, eyes flying open. She rushes to put her hands on her ribcagethrough the thin hospital pajamas shes back in, but stops just short. Katniss hisses abreath out through her teeth and then says, "They had to get rid of it. Theyre giving mesomething to make my ribs heal up faster, and it wont play nice with the morphling."I stumble backwards the few steps across the room and onto my own cot as if the newshad somehow physically shoved me. "So…no more morphling? This isnt just, like, acouple-hour deal?" I ask, surprise quickly melting into an itchy nervousness."Yeah, Im pretty sure that the morphling is gone for good," says Katniss, not turning herhead but sliding her eyes as far to the side as theyll go to look at me. "Im sorry, if thatsworth anything."I wave her off, trying to remain calm. Ive made it the better part of the day, right?Maybe I just dont need it anymore. "It had to happen at some point," I say, soundingsurprisingly nonchalant even to my own ears. Maybe this is all for the best! This couldtotally work out perfectly. I can be out of the hospital soon and finish my training clear-headed.I have a pretty different attitude by midnight. Sleep ends up being impossible right offthe bat, Im all achy and sore and pins-and-needles, never mind the fact that my brain isgoing so fast that its a struggle to ignore the painful and twisted up memories leeringaround the edges of my mind. And as the last traces of morphling get used up anddisappear from my bloodstream, my mood and mental state descend deeper and deeperinto the…the depths of somewhere very deep. Okay, that one got away from me. Say ithowever you like, Im in a really awful state by the early hours of the morning.Katniss ends up being the recipient of my venting, unfortunately for her. She seemsunable to sleep as well, I suppose because of whatevers burning that ring into herribcage—shes pulled up her pajama shirt to allow some stale underground-filtered air hither ribs, and I can see the bruised-and-burning halo of needle-pricks on her torso. Ithink that her meds are whats causing that acrid burning smell, too. I know that Ishouldnt really be subjecting her to such verbal abuse when shes already in awful painbut, you know what, too bad. I determine my need for relief greater than my concern forher feelings.I dont want to tarnish the innocent souls of any young children reading this (becauseof course youll all grow up to be little angels if youre protected from swearing), so Iwont go into specifics of what I said. Were taught to be imaginative in Seven, andcursing is no different. Katniss doesnt seem to mind, and to be honest, going off on herisnt really helping me much. Again: too bad.Morning comes all too slowly, and its not like some peachy bright new day of hope orwhatever. Im feeling positively sick, everything hurts, my mind is sparking like crazy,and I can tell that Im shaking. When I look down at my hands they have a slightly greentinge. Im in too bad a condition to be concerned with what a mess I am. All that I wantis to get some relief. And real relief, not sleep where everything is screaming andeverything hurts."I dont think that I can do it," confesses Katniss, still flat on her cot, when I tell her toget her ass up for training. Well, Im not enthusiastic about it either, but this is whatSnows reduced me to and Ill see him pay if its the end of me.
  • 220. "Come on," I snarl, yanking Katniss off her cot. "Were the victors, remember? Were theones who can handle anything they throw at us." Katniss seems to harden her resolveand goes about gingerly pulling on her grey uniform, which I never even changed out of.Her ribs look even worse in the light, but that is, to use the common phrase, too bad.Im repeating to myself that I can handle it, this is what I do—survive—while I dragKatniss up to the training field. We yank open the door, arriving a little late (which Imsure is a big deal here) and see that its pouring down rain in sheets.Oh god. I cant handle this. I feel all the blood drain out of my head and to somewherearound my feet. Maybe theres some sort of panic-control center down there, becausewith the extra blood it really goes haywire. I think that I stop breathing. All of a suddeneverything is seized by that stinging ache, followed by small involuntary spasms thatbring fresh, real pain."Its just water. It wont kill us," comes the naïve comment from our naïve little friendKatniss.Easy for you to say, I think, knowing that Id be glaring daggers at Katniss if I could turnmy head to stare at her. Oh, this is so, so, so bad.But Im going to the Capitol. Snow is going to suffer, and Im going to witness it. So Ineed to get myself the fuck together and get out there. Into the rain. Move, I commandmyself. So I set my jaw and stomp into the rain. The water is warm, almost like thebloodrain, and absolutely sheeting down. I manage to keep down the bile, and Katnissand I begin running with the group of (infinitely faster) trainees that passes us in therain. Maybe York wont notice anything: visibility must be about zero.I manage to slug it out for about two miles this time, using the mind-over-matterstrategy and simply ordering myself to go on. I swallow down the bile that keeps tryingto make its jailbreak from my throat and just stumble through the spasming. I will dothis. Its not a matter of can, may, is able to. I just will. Katniss wimps out after a mileagain, and I end up practically collapsing on top of Soldier York when I round the cornerfor mile three. York orders me to stop at that point—dont want a trainee passing outsomewhere in the rain—and I oblige with little reluctance.Our field lunch is some fish-and-beet soup that tastes almost as bad the first time as itdoes when it comes back up halfway through the bowl. My stomach has simply workeditself into knots—hell, with the chaos being wreaked through the rest of my body and mymind, I guess that all the other little organs decided that they might as well join theparty! Well I sure hope that they have fun before I collapse of liver failure or some shithalfway through the afternoon! Wouldnt want to begrudge them that!Im so far gone that I think my internal organs are sentient. This is bad, I reflect as wepack up our lunches for the afternoon training. It keeps on raining, and Im feeling a littlehysterical by the time that were taught to assemble our guns. I cant stop my handsfrom shaking for long enough to put the pieces together. Katniss does it for me whenYork isnt looking. I force out a grudging "Thanks," and she just nods at me. Allies.After weve all put our guns together (by whatever means necessary), we move to theshooting range. The remaining hours of training are spent there. Its pretty much adisaster for me—I can barely aim the gun, never mind hit a target properly, and therecoil of the gun is almost enough to knock me off my feet—but Katniss glows withsuccess. York even gives her an approving nod. Katniss downplays it, saying, Oh, no, this
  • 221. is really not that good, its so different using a bow, I really cant get the hang of this, butthat only serves to drive me further up the wall.Im starting to calm down and have progressed into a stage of vague confusion and dullacceptance by the time Katniss and I drip our way back down to the hospital. Weve justgotten through the door of the hospital when, out of nowhere, I say, "This has to stop.Us living in the hospital. Everyone views us as patients."I dont really know what makes me say it, but as soon as its slipped out I know how trueit is. Maybe something about the scornful looks that the other trainees keep giving us(me in particular). Couldnt hit the target, lost my lunch, needed help assembling mygun, couldnt finish the five miles—anything is a reason for them to stare down theirnoses at me. I dont like being seen as some invalid. And besides, getting out of here willjust get me further away from this mess with the morphling.Now that Ive got the Mockingjay, a very powerful ally, backing me, getting out of thehospital isnt impossible. Still no walk in the park, but it happens. She pulls some stringsand gets Haymitch down to the hospital, taking our side. He seems distracted anddoesnt have much to say to us, and also looks to be sober. Hes talking completelycoherently and while he looks smaller, almost shrunken, and has an unhealthy color tohim, its nice being around him without worrying about the cloud of alcohol vapor givingyou brain damage. Ive barely seen Haymitch since getting here, but I know that hes gota fuckton of work to do here so I dont hold it against him.Haymitch must have loads of power here, because by lights-out Im out of the hospital.The Doctor is highly displeased and makes a big row about it, but its over his head now.I blow him a kiss aver my shoulder as we walk out the doors just to see how pissed hegets. (Pretty pissed.)It feels really good to be free, almost good enough to cancel out the misery thats set innow that the sparking in my brain has slowed down. True, I have to share myCompartment with Katniss and were right across the hall from her mother and sister (Inow have a thirteen-year-old as a babysitter—great), but its still better than thehospital.Katniss goes to take a shower and I sort of wipe down with a cloth. No more water today,thanks. I think Ill lose it for real. When Katniss is out of the shower, I go around andexplore the Compartment. Two uncomfortable gray beds, a white regulation desk andmetal chair, a white bureau. I pull open one of the drawers and take in the contents: abrown leather jacket so worn it looks almost like suede, a grey uniform, a locket, a lumpof shiny foil-like cloth…it takes a moment to hit me. Katniss things.I slam the draw shut right away. Not out of respect for Katniss, specifically. Just out ofrespect for someone elses privacy and space. Sensitive topics for me. "Sorry," I sayshortly."Its okay. You can look at my stuff if you want," replies Katniss, focusing maybe a littletoo much on re-braiding her hair.Well, okay. If she says so…I pull open the drawer again and begin looking through it. Ipick up the gold locket first—her token from the Quell arena. Flicking it open, I see tinypictures of her mother, her sister Prim, and her cousin Gale. (Though Im growing moreand more to doubt that theyre cousins.) The little picture-people all look very happy.Must have been before that fateful reaping, I suppose. I unwrap the shiny foil which I
  • 222. now realize is a parachute from the arena. Inside is our spile. It calls back memories ofpainful, aching thirst and the bloodrain that Blight—"Makes me thirsty just looking at it,"I say, shoving my brain off that track. I go back to looking at Katniss stuff.Deeper in the parachute is something that it takes my mind a moment to place: a shinywhite pearl. "Is this—?" I intend to ask if its that pearl Peeta gave her in an innocent actof generosity in the arena, but Katniss cuts me off."Yeah," she says tightly. "Made it through somehow."I suddenly feel sorry for her. "Haymitch says hes getting better," I make up. I haventreally talked to Haymitch at all.Katniss doesnt reply for a moment, and I think for a second that Ive said somethingcompletely false and destroyed whatever trust we have. But then Katniss says, "Maybe.But hes changed," and I breathe a small sigh of relief. I need to keep this ally, as itsbecoming clear."So have you," I point out. "So have I. And Finnick and Haymitch and Beetee. Dont getme started on Annie Cresta. The arena messed us all up pretty good, dont you think?" Ifeel as though I might begin to rant about what the arenas done to us all personally, so Idirect the conversation back to Katniss. "Or do you still feel like the girl who volunteeredfor her sister?""No," Katniss says simply."Thats the one thing I think my head doctor might be right about." Through all his stupidmumbo-jumbo and reassurances, the Doctor has managed to make that one thing stickwith me. "Theres no going back. So we might as well get on with things," I say rathersagely. Even if I am only repeating what someone else said. I neatly re-fold Katnissparachute and place her things back where I found them. The lights flick out just as Iclimb into the bed across from Katniss. The bed is a little more comfortable than my cotin the hospital, but not much."Youre not afraid Ill kill you tonight?" I ask Katniss, making it clear with my tone thatIm joking. Although, with our history, its not really such a preposterous idea."Like I couldnt take you," Katniss says into her pillow, sounding muffled. Obviously notgoing to happen, because were both such train wrecks at the moment that killingsomeone is out of the question—itll be a feat just to get out of bed in the morning. Theidea is just so absurd that its quickly got both of us laughing.Latest realization? I think that Im starting to like having an ally.
  • 223. Chapter Forty-TwoToday has been a very, very good day at the end of a very, very good week. Yeah, Iknow, shocker: for once I dont think that every aspect of life is awful. Its a newsensation. I think that I like it.Ive been doing better and better since moving in with Katniss, and I feel almost likemyself again. Sleep is still no fun, but I dont feel motivated anymore to try and sneakinto the hospital to lift some morphling. (Not that I could if I wanted to—Thirteen is sodark after lights-out that moving around is impossible.) I even did well in training todayand, though its taken us a week to get to this point, it was nice to hear York say, "Finejob, Soldiers," at the end of the day.Things continued on their unusually good track when we arrived in the dining hall, wherereal, actual food was waiting. None of the processed almost-but-not-quite-food food thattheyve had up until now. Real, actual beef with real, actual vegetables in real, actualthick broth and real, actual bread to go with. Katniss met up with her cousin after gettingfood and I trailed them to a table that includes Finnick, Annie, and a girl that Katnissintroduces as Delly Cartwright.Even considering the improvement in food rations, Finnick is just crazy cheery. Ive neverseen him quite like this, not even when we were just two innocent (or, you know, not somuch) mentors doing our mentor thing under the Capitol. He was friendly then, but quickto throw up defenses. Hed often slip into his public persona which, while an entertainingpersona, was always doubtful. He was quick to argue and quick with a joke, and he drankrather too much coffee. Now, he just seems happy. Happy and alive. It sounds silly, Imwell aware. But if you could see it, you would agree. Its Annie making him this way. Imsure of it.Everyone is feeling very chipper at the moment, not just Finnick, and everybody else atthe table is swapping stories. Im more interested in shoveling back this stew at themoment, so Im just listening. "So were all sitting around the table, right? And then—allof a sudden—she just jumps up and starts screaming her head off!" says the girl whoKatniss introduced as Delly Cartwright. Shes very pale and looks like shes lost a goodamount of weight lately: a refugee from Twelve. She seems very open and very friendly,like the sort of person whod usually get on my nerves."So were all freaking out, we dont know whats wrong, and it turns out that shed putthe spider in her lunchbox after all!" I normally wouldnt find this pointless story aboutsome prank involving a spider that her cousins tried to pull all that entertaining, but themood in the dining hall is just so light that I cant help laughing along with everyone else.Were all seeing firsthand the wonderful healing effect that some proper food can have onpeople. I find it almost a little hard to believe—I mean, its just some stupid stew, whowould think that it could have this great an effect? One good meal is knitting the holes inthis hodge-podge mess of a district, brightening outlooks, making us all a little friendlier,reminding everyone that the whole world hasnt become one big endless war. There arechildren running all about the room, finished with dinner in record time and now playingsome form of tag that involves a lot of happy shrieking and the It to have their eyesclosed. Laughter and chatter bounce off the walls. Im so starved for anything good thesedays that Im honestly enjoying the cheery atmosphere.Even Katniss, notoriously antisocial, is keeping up with the conversation around ourtable. Shes laughing brightly at the absurd story that Finnick is telling about a turtle
  • 224. nabbing his hat and swimming off with it when, all of a sudden, her eyes lock onto apoint just above the seat next to me. She freezes and chokes on her bread for amoment."Peeta!" chirps the Delly girl nervously, just as I look around and see the very boy inquestion. Yes, Peeta Mellark, in the flesh.Now, Im not too certain what happened to Peeta. No one in the hospital would talkstraight to me about that. What I have been able to glean from conversations that Iwasnt really supposed to hear and what little the doctors would tell me is that they didsomething to his mind—something bad. That hes not himself anymore, something morelike an engineered mutt. Full of mistrust and hate. I think thats probably adramatization, but who knows?In an instant, all the liveliness and happiness has been sucked out of our table. Katnissappears to be panicking slightly, and Gale is glaring daggers at Peeta. Finnick seems tobe in equal parts apprehensive and confused. Annie looks to not be all the way here atthe moment. Only Delly Cartwright makes any effort to act normally."How nice to see you…out and about," she says, the warm tone gone from her voice butthe smile still pasted to her face. Now shes just being polite.This whole scene seems kind of surreal to me. There are two big guys standing behindPeeta, guards, I guess. (For him or for the rest of us?) Hes balancing his dinner trayunsteadily on his fingertips, unable to hold the sides due to the metal cuffs on his wrists,which are connected by a very short chain. This is Peeta, the boy who is too inherentlygood to belong in the arena. What could they have possibly done to him to necessitatethis?I look around the table, searching for clues, to see everyone else shifting away slightly,moving as they might if they had just spilled coffee on themselves and were trying tokeep their skin from touching their hot clothes. Im getting a little tired of everyone beingsuch wusses, so I break the ice. "Whats with the fancy bracelets?""Im not quite trustworthy yet," says Peeta. Theres a very distinct and extremelyunexpected edge to his voice. A hostile, mistrustful edge. Something that Id expectmore from…well, anyone but Peeta. "I cant even sit here without your permission."Well, its not like I can blame him for this new attitude. It all seems quite reasonable tome. "Sure he can sit here," I say to the guards behind Peeta. "Were old friends." I patthe seat next to me and Peeta sits down, after a go-ahead nod from the guards."Peeta and I had adjoining cells in the Capitol," I explain to the rest of the table, mainlyto watch how uncomfortable Katniss gets. What? We may consider ourselves allies now,but I have to take my laughs where I can get them. "Were very familiar with eachothers screams."I almost make myself flinch with that one, and Annie does that thing where she clampsher hands over her ears and tunes us all out. Finnick shoots me an angry look for makingAnnie retreat into her head as he puts and arm around her. I regret nothing."What?" I ask. "My head doctor says that Im not supposed to censor my thoughts. Itspart of my therapy." Yeah, because thats working out so well. Finnick doesnt seem all
  • 225. that satisfied with my excuse but goes ahead to murmur something to Annie that makesher slowly take her hands off her ears and come back to us.There is a very long silence wherein everyone else pretends to eat, and I sit still becauseIve finished my food already. Peeta casts suspicious looks around at everyone betweenbites.Delly eventually makes another stab at conversation. "Annie," she says cheerily, "did youknow that it was Peeta who decorated your wedding cake? Back home, his family ownedthe bakery and he did all the icing."Annie tentatively looks at Peeta. "Thank you, Peeta," she says softly. "It was beautiful.""My pleasure, Annie," replies Peeta, sounding a bit more like the Peeta that I thought Ihad pegged before this whole mess. Gentle. Kind. Sane. However you want to put it.Finnick seems to decide that this situation has all the potential necessary to get reallyugly really fast, and makes his exit with Annie. "If were going to fit in that walk, webetter go." Finnick somehow manages to pull off the acrobatics necessary to carry boththe trays with one hand while still holding Annies hand. It seems unlikely that either ofthem will ever let go. Could get pretty awkward in the bathtub. "Good seeing you,Peeta.""You be nice to her, Finnick," says Peeta. "Or I might try and take her away from you."Youd think that Peeta was joking except for his tone, which is just so cold that it soundslike a downright challenge.Peetas implying a lot here—that hes after Annie, that she would ever leave Finnick, thathe doesnt trust Finnick, and that Katniss has somehow ceased to matter. I know Peetacant be feeling too kindly towards humanity as a whole right now, but its always beenobvious that hes totally smitten with Katniss. What could have damaged his mind sothoroughly that he wouldnt only stop acting all lovey-dovey over Katniss, but ignore hercompletely? Even imply that he has his eye on someone else?Luckily for everyone, Finnick dismisses the challenge. "Oh, Peeta," he says lightly. "Dontmake me sorry that I restarted your heart." He shoots Katniss a worried look, then leadsAnnie off.Delly reproaches Peeta once Finnick and Annie have walked off across the dining hall,which is still ringing with friendly chatter and laughter. "He did save your life, Peeta.More than once.""For her," says Peeta, nodding at Katniss while still looking at Delly. "For the rebellion.Not for me. I dont owe him anything." Well, to be honest, he does kind of have a pointthere.Katniss should be smart enough to know that Peeta is probably baiting her with this sortof remark, but she bites anyway. "Maybe not," she says. "But Mags is dead and yourestill here. That should count for something.""Yeah, a lot of things should count for something that dont seem to, Katniss," saysPeeta, addressing Katniss directly for the first time. "Ive got some memories that I cantmake sense of, and I dont think the Capitol touched them. A lot of nights on the train,for instance." Peeta nails Katniss with a glare, and she frowns deeply, looking very hurt.
  • 226. What happened during those nights on the train? They didnt…seal the deal, did they? Ihave to smother a laugh at the thought. Its just completely ridiculous.Peeta makes a gesture with his spoon between Katniss and Gale. "So, are you twoofficially a couple now, or are they still dragging out the star-crossed lover thing?" heasks.Okay…definitely not cousins. I mean, Twelve was always a little backwards, but I doubtthat theyre too into incest out there. Katniss and Gale seem to be unwilling to answer,so I step in. "Still dragging," I say. Not that Ive had a lot of exposure to the propagandaspots lately, but it seems unlikely that the country would respond all that well to Katnissabandoning Peeta after hes just suffered through a stint in the Capitol.Peeta isnt thrilled by the response. He tenses, and I can see the tendons in his neckfrom where I sit. It seems almost involuntary, his hands quickly crushing into fists thenalmost as suddenly splaying out strangely. He is so much more messed up than thedoctors had me believe.Gale doesnt look too thrilled either—everything about this situation is escalating tooquickly. I think that Im going to have ringside seats to a fist fight, but Gale just says, "Iwouldnt have believed it if I hadnt seen it myself.""Whats that?" asks Peeta."You," replies Gale."Youll have to be a little more specific," says Peeta coldly. "What about me?""That theyve replaced you with the evil-mutt version of yourself," I say, summing it upso that no one else has to. Delly begins to look distinctly uncomfortable, wriggling in herseat as if shed really like to leave but knows that shed probably just make Peeta upset.Katniss looks very distressed.Gale calmly finishes his milk. "You done?" he asks Katniss. She stands in lieu ofanswering and they both walk off with their trays."Those little…" Peeta follows Katniss and Gales retreating backs with his eyes, glaringand muttering under his breath. I cant understand what hes saying, but it sure doesntsound flattering."Peeta, when are you going to give Katniss a chance?" Delly says with an entreating toneto her voice. "You know that shes not that bad."Peeta turns his head back towards the table and focuses in on Delly. "Delly, you and Iboth know how I feel about this." He turns to me. "You tell her, Johanna. Atleast you know that shes not so great as everyone thinks.""Well…" I begin lightly. Before I can say another word, Delly shoots me a glare so severethat Im shocked into being quiet—she seemed like such a mild girl. Delly opens up herexpression again quickly and looks back at Peeta."Peeta, that isnt true. Come on. You know that its not. You love Katniss, remember?"Delly pleads with Peeta, leaning forward a little over the table. Her proximity only serves
  • 227. to make Peeta twitchier. "You used to talk to me about her all the time in Twelve. Iremember how excited you would get if you even saw her in the corridor at school.""But there is no school anymore, remember? Theres no District Twelve, even." Peetatakes on a vaguely sing-song, taunting tone to his voice. "Its all just ashes now, isnt it?And all because of her. The Girl on Fire." Peeta positively spits out Katniss nickname. Hedoesnt sound anything like himself."Thats only the venom talking, Peeta, believe me. I know that you still care for Katniss,even if you cant see it right now." Delly sounds unusually sage for a sixteen-year-old. "Ifyoud stop pushing everyone away you might be able to see that.""Look, Delly, Im not pushing anyone away. People really dont care," Peeta says,sounding both aggravated and resigned. "Its not the venom talking. I can just see thingsfor what they are now. Katniss doesnt give a damn about me, she never did.""How can you say that?" Delly demands, voice jumping a few octaves. "Katniss has givenup so much for you! Its inconceivable that she not care about you. And if you hadntbeen hijacked, you would be able to—""No!" Peeta shouts, slamming his hands onto the table as he jumps up out of his seat.The chain between his wrists clinks against the table. "This has nothing to do with that,Delly! Nothing at all! If you werent so ignorant about how the world works, then you—""Im not the one being ignorant here, Peeta!" Delly says, jumping up from her seat aswell. She matches Peetas volume decibel for decibel, although her tone is a lot moreearnest and I dont get the sense that shes liable to punch someone out any moment.She certainly seems ticked off, though. "Youre not yourself! Anyone who knows you atall can see it! You love Katniss, and thats that! Shes done so much for you, youre justbeing selfish by treating her like this! I dont know if you realize how much its hurtingher that claim this is how you really feel, because its pretty obvious to the rest of us!This is not the Peeta Mellark that I know, and, if I can be frank, you need to get ittogether!"Delly stops shouting and breathes, her chest heaving. I think she said that all in onebreath—impressive. Especially considering how high her voice was by the end. Likesomeone had just dropped an encyclopedia onto an elf. A little mashed-elf voice. Cute.Many of the people sitting at our neighboring tables have stopped what theyre doing tostare at the unfolding scene over here. A bunch of the kids playing tag have stopped intheir tracks nearby to stare."Gosh, youre right, Delly," sighs Peeta, dropping back into his chair. "I just dont knowwhats wrong with me lately." He shakes his head and appears to lose himself in thoughtfor a moment or two."Its completely all right, Peeta," Delly says, smiling obligingly. She doesnt sit, but theangle of her shoulders softens and she goes on to speak innocently. "I know that youvebeen having a rough time, and Im sorry for going off on you like that. I just feel like youdont really understand the effect that youre having when you have moments like that,and…Peeta?"I look back over at Peeta, who is suddenly looking very angry. He stands up again slowly,realization and rage dawning on his face. "Actually, I do know whats wrong! Its her! Itsthat filthy mutt! Shes the one who did this to me!"
  • 228. "Oh, no, Peeta—" Delly tries again, disappointment all over her face."Dont try to tell me that its not true!" shouts Peeta. "I know that youre just lying! Lyinglike everyone else! I cant trust you, I cant trust anyone, and I especially cant trust thatmutt Katniss! Didnt you see what she did to me in the arena? All that fire—and mydistrict! My whole family! How could I ever have thought—"All of a sudden, Peetas tirade is interrupted. Not by anything in particular, though. Hejust stops, blinks a couple times, then frowns deeply. "No, no, no! Thats not true! Comeon, you know that its not! Katniss would never hurt you. She was willing to die for you inthe Quell. Calm down. Youre not talking sense—no, she didnt do anything to yourdistrict or to your family!"He stops again. The interval is shorter this time, and soon enough hes shouting again."Yes, yes, yes she did! It wasnt her directly, but why do you think they sent in thehoverplanes? All because of her! The Mockingjay, she calls herself. Defender of thepeople," Peetas voice takes on that nasty edge again. "Shes just a filthy slut who hadthe nerve to say that she was carrying my child—""Peeta!" Delly cries, aghast. I gotta say, thats pretty rough language, considering thatits coming from Peeta."Stop it! Leave Katniss alone! Leave me alone! I want you out of my head! Get out! Stopit! Leave us alone!" Peeta pleads with someone that nobody can see, perhaps not evenhim. "I know that all youre doing is lying! Youre the liar here, not Katniss! Shes neverhurt me! But you have!""Oh, thats not true, and you know it! Remember the fire? And what she did to your leg?She drugged you and betrayed you and burned you! And she laughed! How can you haveforgotten? Im the only one that you can trust! Come on, youre smart enough to knowwhen youre being lied to! Or at least you used to be." Peetas voice takes on a sort ofcajoling tone. "Come on. Im your only friend."I lock eyes with Delly for a moment: she looks resigned, as if this is all old news to her. Iwonder if this happens often. What is this, anyway? Is Peeta arguing with somephantom entity inside his head? Or is he arguing with…himself? The whole dining hall isriveted at this point, spoons dripping stew back into bowls from midair, children frozen inthe aisles, all eyes wide to see what happens next. "Im the only one whos never lied toyou. Unlike that stinking mutt who you used to call your—""Leave me be! Youre a filthy liar and I hate you! You can just get away from me before Ihave to hurt you!""You dont want to hurt me, Im your friend.""No, youre not! Please! Just go away!"Im not sure if Peeta is about to break down and cry or swing an uppercut at himself, butwe never get to find out. The two guards, whove been pretty much useless up to thispoint, remember that theyre supposed to be, you know, guarding, and each take one ofPeetas arms. He fights against them, but Peeta is eventually dragged out of the dininghall. Hes still shouting as hes pulled out the doors.There is a very long moment of silence.
  • 229. "Uh…Im sorry about that, everyone," says Delly nervously to the huge audience wevegained. She chuckles a breathy laugh. "As youve seen, our friend has been goingthrough a rough time lately, and, well…um…" A thousand-odd pairs of eyes are stilllocked in captivation onto our table, so I step in. Dellys attempt at peacefully dissolvingthe tension isnt working so great.I stand and address the room. "Shows over, folks," I say loudly, cupping my handsaround my mouth. "Nothing more to see here." One by one, heads turn back and eyesare averted, and a low hum of conversation starts back up. Most likely, everyone isdiscussing the scene theyve just witnessed.Delly seems unable to string together a proper sentence at this point, so she just laughsanother breathy, nervous laugh and flashes me a shaky smile, then gathers up her trayand hurries off. I glance about to make sure that no one is looking for the moment, andpull Peetas tray over. Hes still got plenty of stew left. Yum. Its a little cold by now, butno matter. What? Its not like Im going to let all that food go to waste. And itsgood.Upon finishing both Peetas and my dinner, I leave the dining hall amid plenty of staresand whispers. Its almost time for 19:30—Bathing, or, in my case, 19:30—Sitting in theCompartment While I Ought to be Bathing. Time to head back to my Compartment, inany case.Katniss is there when I arrive, sitting on her bed and frowning at one of her MilitaryTactics books. I toss myself onto the foot of her bed and proceed with bringing her up todate. "You missed the best part," I say.Katniss looks up from her book as if shed rather not be disturbed. I go on. "Delly lost hertemper at Peeta over how he treated you. She got very squeaky." I consider for amoment. "It was like someone stabbing a mouse with a fork repeatedly. The wholedining hall was riveted.""Whatd Peeta do?" asks Katniss."He started arguing with himself like he was two people. The guards had to take himaway. On the good side, no one seemed to notice that I finished his stew," I say. Thatwas really good stew, I reflect while Katniss looks at me with a sort of calculatingexpression.She elects not to say anything more about her insane (did Delly say hijacked?) fiancée."Well," she says resignedly. "I think we should probably go over some of the terms onthis list," says Katniss, looking back down at her book. "I dont recognize half this stuff."So we spend a couple hours quizzing each other on the vocab terms out of the militarybook. Theres a written examination at the end of testing, along with some physical tests.I cant see myself doing too well with the written exam, but Im trying as hard as I can. Iborrow one of Katniss books while she goes to visit her mother and Prim for a whilebefore lights-out.When its too pitch-dark to read and Katniss and I are both in bed, she asks a question ofthe sort that Ive been dreading. "Johanna, could you really hear him screaming?"I wait a moment before answering. "That was part of it." And it was. It really, really was."Like the jabberjays in the arena. Only it was real. And it didnt stop after an hour."Taken by a sudden macabre urge, I add, "Tick, tock."
  • 230. "Tick, tock," whispers Katniss, more to herself than to me, I think.A reprisal of those strange withdrawal-induced nightmares, sleep makes no sensetonight. Up is down and red is blue and hot is cold and pain is relief except that theresnot really ever any relief, is there? No, at least one thing makes sense. The screaming isalways crystal-clear.
  • 231. Chapter Forty-ThreeAs the invasion of the Capitol draws closer, District Thirteen begins to buzz withanticipation. The soldiers cleared for combat are sorted into different divisions and theninto small squads. You can tell that someones been approved for battle because they geta very short haircut and start getting larger meals—generally all that you get is enoughcalories to get you to your next meal, but I guess that theyre trying to bulk up theirsoldiers before they go up against the Capitols machines and Peacekeepers.The dining hall and the corridors hum with talk about the opening offensive, which seemsto have something to do with securing the supply tunnels and train lines feeding into theCapitol. Its unusual to step into any common space without seeing a knot of peoplediscussing the invasion, and debates occasionally break out during mealtimes.With the atmosphere of Thirteen so invasion-centric, my drive to get through trainingonly increases. The days melt into a big cycle of drilling, long workouts and longer runs,practicing with weapons of all sorts, and sitting through hours-long lectures on tactics.Along with Katniss and a couple of the other trainees, I get moved into this special classthat the soldiers all call the Block (although my schedule refers to it as Simulated StreetCombat.)The Block is basically a fake Capitol street block built right here in Thirteen, and weresupposed to navigate it with the rest of our "squad" through different scenarios. I try totake it seriously, but it really all feels like childrens playacting to me. Peacekeepers AndRobbers or something. (No one ever wanted to be the Peacekeepers when we playedthat. How strange.) Whenever theres a gunshot or an explosion the squadron leader(just a voice in an earpiece) tells you if you got hit and you have to fall over, pretendingto be dead. I can barely keep from giggling each time I hit the ground. Not, of course, tosay that its easy.Our little missions—searching a building, fighting our way up to a rooftop, ambushing agroup of Peacekeepers, so on—are carried out in groups of eight and are rigged so thateverything which could possibly throw a wrench into the proceedings goes ahead anddoes just that. The cobblestones are rigged to explode if you step on the wrong one,snipers appear on balconies and rooftops, a child cries and leads you into an ambush. (Isuggest to the rest of the squad that we just ignore the little brat, but no one elseagrees.) They even gas us. Its supposedly harmless but I get a massive headache forhours and I only took in a few breaths of it. Katniss whines about her headache all day,even though she got less than me.But all in all, training is progressing great. I can assemble my rifle easily by now, and abunch of other types of guns as well. It still kills, but both Katniss and I can run the fivemiles in a moderate amount of time at this point. Filming crews begin showing up atrandom hours and mostly film me and Katniss on the shooting range. I dont really mindthe cameras, though the guys running around with them can get pretty obnoxious. Ofcourse Katniss is the one they really want to film, but they still keep the lenses trainedon me quite a bit as well. Im getting better at shooting, but Im still much more talentedwith my axe. Probably always will be.The camera-people are ecstatic when Peeta begins showing up for the morning workouts,even if Katniss seems less than excited about it. Theyre always sort of nudging Katnissto try and talk to him, spend maybe just a couple moments together. I guess it would bebetter for the audiences than having the star-crossed lovers all alienated at this criticalmoment, even if Peeta is a hijacked-deranged psycho who still needs two guards with
  • 232. him at all times. Soldier York generally keeps the camera-people from interfering, butshe has to turn her back sometimes.Despite the improvements in training performance, it appears that Soldier York doesntthink were ready for really fighting yet. Im losing hope of getting cleared for combatwhen, only a few days before the opening offensive, York unexpectedly tells me andKatniss that weve been recommended for our final exams and that were supposed toreport for testing immediately. I have to refrain from cheering. Finally.Theres no time to get nervous. The exam is split into four parts: an obstacle course—which I ace, a written exam on tactics—which I think I pass within a wide enoughmargin, a timed test of weapons skill—passable, and a street combat simulation in theBlock—which we dont get to take for a while."Apparently everyone gets a new situation," says a girl with a square jaw and hair reallynot long enough to braid put into an awkward little tuft at the back of head. "Nothingthat weve done in training before." Theres some sort of technical holdup keeping us allwaiting outside the Block, and everyone is exchanging what little information that weknow."Yeah, my brother told me that theres no way to tell what youre going to get," adds anolder-looking boy, maybe eighteen or nineteen. "But," he lowers his voice, "I also heardthat its designed to target each individuals weaknesses."Each individuals weaknesses? What are my weaknesses? Honestly, I dont even want tothink about that. It doesnt really matter what they throw at me. Victor, remember?Thats the whole idea. So instead of worrying, I just sit against the wall and try to notthink about anything in particular. No reason to get freaked out over this. Ive trainedhard, and in any case, Im me. Ill do fine.The girl with the square jaw is called first, followed by a couple other Thirteens. I getcalled somewhere around sixth or seventh. Katniss nods me good luck as I pass her, andI sort of nod back. Allies. The transition from grey holding room to pink-and-orangeCapitol decadence is sudden, but Im too concentrated to really care.Things start out normally. According to the squadron leader on the program, my squadleft me behind when one of the cobblestones exploded and we had to scatter. (Desertingbastards.) Im supposed to make it to the end of the street without getting shot, blownup, captured, or any combination thereof. And, as luck has it, the squadron leaderinforms me that my gun has jammed. So its mostly a stealth mission. Now if only wehad some trees, Id be out in ten seconds or less.But really, its not that hard. I just keep to one side of the street and move quietly andquickly, keeping under overhands and behind mailboxes and benches. There arePeacekeepers on the roofs and balconies, but none in the street. It strikes me as a littlestrange—that cant be realistic. This is supposed to be close to the real thing, right?Simulated combat situations and all? It feels like Im missing the point here. Is theresomething else that Im supposed to be doing? I narrow my eyes and pause for amoment, sure that this is all just too easy. But the squadron leader doesnt give anymore orders, so I skeptically keep heading towards the end of the street.Im almost at the rendezvous point at the end of the Block when the real obstaclepresents itself. Not Peacekeepers, no, something far more sinister. It surrounds usconstantly, around our land and in our skies. It runs through our veins and our lungs. It
  • 233. could kill us in seconds without facing a single moral holdup. We barely ever think aboutit, except passively. But its there, and its dangerous.Water.Fucking water.I barely even have time to panic. The water, clear and cold, floods up through the shiny-clean storm drains and leaves me swimming in seconds. I drop my rifle in shock andstart trying to tread water as it rises. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck—stop it!Stay calm! I have to stay calm. If I cant stay calm then I cant get out of here and Ihave to get out of here if I want to see Snow pay, pay for everything and of course Iwant that so I just have to stay calm.But my mind is running too fast and my heart is beating at a fevered pitch and poundingin my ears and making the back of my eyes hurt, and staying calm is just completely outof the question. And so the water continues to rise and I start to slip because after all Icant even really swim properly, so I end up slipping under.I catch a glimpse of sunset-colored candyfloss stone below me and then Im closing myeyes and trying to breathe but of course Im underwater so all that serves to do is makeme swallow water. Its very, very cold and almost hurts my lungs from inside but Imcoughing as much as I can only its not doing much. Is this saltwater? I cant tell. Maybeit is. Maybe thats blood that Im tasting. Maybe its salt. Who knows? Not me, thats forsure, I dont know anything.My throat hurts. Did something tear? I dont know. I cant scream. Thats unusual, Imsort of a screaming expert at this point. Maybe something is broken. I cant breathe andI cant scream and I can barely think and everything is just going haywire, it all hurtsand my head feels like its splitting open with everything flashing through my head soquickly and the pain behind my eyes is killing me. I flinch because something hits me,something thats not really there but of course it must be there because I can feel it,right? Suddenly I cant stop flinching, all of my muscles are convulsing at strangeintervals and not really together, so who cares if its real because it hurts and everythingis aching and oh god my head and it hurts—And then everything all of a sudden stops, and Im lying on the orange-and-pink sunsetof a candyfloss street which feels lovely warm and Im mostly not twitching anymore so Idecide to take this as a little respite from the popping lights and bright white behind myeyes, and I allow everything to go to grey and then to black. Just like falling asleep.I feel very tired when I wake. Not sick, not angry, not in pain. Just tired. Tired and veryachy. I slowly open my eyes to see a familiar grey ceiling. White walls. Rough blankets.The hospital. Theres a needle in my arm, a familiar pinch. Im far too tired for that tomake me nervous. The bed across from me is unoccupied. Theres no sound outside ofmy own breathing, no beeping machines and no coughing patients, no gossiping nursesor panicking doctors. Nothing.Im too tired to care. My eyes refuse to stay open. I blink heavily, knowing innately thatto sleep would be an awful mistake. If real life is bad, dreams are a thousand timesworse. There can be no relief, it would only be worse. The medicine in the IV, morphling,dulls everything, which helps. But it also makes me drowsy. I cant sleep. I just have tolie here in limbo. Thats all that can be done. Forever, if I must. Limbo isnt so bad, afterall. Much better than a lot of alternatives.
  • 234. Im forced to blink and rouse myself from my half-awake state when Finnick walksthrough the door. No doctors with him. Hes probably not supposed to be here. I dontcare. Just the sight of a familiar, friendly face is enough to reduce me almost totears. Get it together, I tell myself shakily, even my inner monologue lacking any of theusual strength."Haymitch told us," says Finnick, sitting right down on the edge of my cot."Did he?" I ask shakily, unsure whether I ought to be amused or worried or downrightscared or a mix of all three."Yeah. Me and Katniss." He sighs. "I…well, Im sorry. About what they did.""Its okay," I reply, though Im not sure why. There would have been a time when thissort of apology would have irked me greatly—its not his fault, is it? But Im just spent.Too tired to get angry.Finnick sits quietly for a moment, frowning and bouncing a knee as if theres somethinghe wants to say but cant get out. "Were shipping out to the Capitol soon, me andKatniss," he ends up eventually saying.All of a sudden, Im terrified for Finnick and Annie and Katniss and anyone else whosprobably about to get hurt a whole lot more by the Capitol. "And youre going to becareful out there, right?" I ask, hearing a little hint of desperation to my voice. Hedoesnt know how dangerous the Capitol is. No one knows except for me and maybePeeta, but hes so messed up, how could he really know anything?"Ill stay safe. Dont worry about me," says Finnick, smiling quickly. He pauses for amoment. "Im really supposed to be in Command right now, but—""No. Listen to me." I grab Finnicks wrist. "The Capitol is more dangerous than you know.You have to stay safe. If you die out there, Ill kill you." I try to sound as serious as I canbut I can hear that Im coming off as more scared than anything."Im going to be fine," says Finnick, pulling his arm from grip and giving my hand a quicksqueeze as he stands. "I have to go. But dont worry about me. Ill see you once wevewon the war, right?""Just…take care of yourself," I say quietly, echoing his words from the arena on that lastpanicked night. When we werent sure if either of us were going to make it out alive. Iwasnt scared then, out of nowhere, Im scared now. Last time I could fight, but now Icant do anything but sit back and let things happen. Not that I havent tried. Its justthat nothing has worked, and now Im here with no fighting chance.I suddenly wish that Id said something more to Finnick than be careful. I dont know—told him that I was glad he was still my friend after all these years, or a bunch ofRemember Whens or something. At least hugged him. Because all of a sudden, I havethis dreadful feeling that well have to be awfully lucky to both make it out alive. And theodds have never exactly been in our favor, have they? But Finnicks gone, up toCommand I suppose, and the best I can do is try to memorize how that last squeeze ofhis hand felt. Its the best were going to get.Sleep becomes even more of a terrifying idea now that Im almost certain Ive just seenmy only friend off for the last time, and Id ask a doctor to scale back the morphling if
  • 235. there were any around. At least I have a little measure of control over my mind when Imawake. Not much, but some is better than none.Its in this slightly panicked and overall messed up state that Katniss finds me some timelater. She crosses the room quickly without saying anything, carrying a small whitebundle."Whats that?" I ask, hearing a certain rasp to my voice."I made it for you. Something to put in your drawer," says Katniss, not answering thequestion. "Smell it." Its a strange request, but Im too wiped to question it. The bundle,which I think is made of bandages or something, smells like pine.Its a little thing, to make me come undone so completely. "Smells like home," I say,really hoping that I dont start crying. That would really just make this day, wouldnt it?Starting to bawl in front of Katniss? Im not sure that I can really help the fact that myeyes flood with tears, the smell of pine just calls back so many memories and a verystrong longing for my home district."Thats what I was hoping. You being from Seven and all," says Katniss, soundingpleased. "Remember when we met? You were a tree." She pauses. "Well, briefly."It seems like such a long time ago, when Id stripped down in that elevator just to freakKatniss out. We were all having fun with Katniss: Chaff and his kiss, Finnick and hissugar cubes, me and my costume (or lack thereof). Everything has changed so utterlyand completely since then—not for the better, either. And all thanks to one person, Ireflect, exhaustion quickly making way for a frustratingly familiar cocktail of anger andhatred."You have to kill him, Katniss," I say suddenly, reaching out and seizing her wrist onimpulse. Unlike Finnick, she tries to pull away a little but eventually stays put."Dont worry," she says calmly. But Im sick of people telling me not to worry becauseI am worried. I know. Katniss has been through a lot, but shes still got a certain amountof belief in the inherent goodness of human nature. And that makes her weak.She should be worried. We all should be. I need to know that she takes this all seriouslyenough."Swear it," I hiss. "On something you care about.""I swear it. On my life."But thats not strong enough. I know. Ive been asked to swear things before, things Ididnt take seriously because I could only place myself on the line. Only one swear reallymeans anything to victors. "On your familys life," I insist."On my familys life," Katniss repeats.I sigh and let go of her wrist. Now I can be sure that shell do what I couldnt—makeSnow pay."Why do you think Im going anyway, brainless?" jokes Katniss. That makes me smile alittle. Allies. Perhaps friends.
  • 236. "I just needed to hear it," I say, closing my eyes and pressing the square bundle thatsmells of home to my nose. Katniss gets up and goes. At least her Im sure Ill see again.Katniss has perhaps that same ability that I do—the ability to somehow make it througheven after everything else collapses around you. True victorhood: being the last onestanding.By the time a doctor finally shows up to check on me, Ive been sitting alone with thepine-bundle for hours and Im not feeling like a wreck for the first time in what seemslike forever. The whole room is starting to smell like home and if I close my eyes I canalmost pretend like I never left. I dont protest when the doctor increases my morphlingdrip, though Im pretty sure that the pine is a better medicine any day.The simple assurance that home will always be there works wonders. I may have beenhurt and kicked around and drugged and forgotten and alone, sometimes all at once, buthome has that uncanny ability to remain standing when everything else has crasheddown about it. Seven is resilient like that. Just the same way Id like to imagine itspeople are.
  • 237. Chapter Forty-FourKatniss looks sick, I reflect as the Mockingjay in question enters the grey conferenceroom.Its not her body or her face that looks sick. Shes in her Mockingjay suit, meaning thatthe worst of her burns are covered up. Her hair is twisted into its usual braid. Her facehas been made up and you can only see a few patches that dont look quite right. Shesmaybe a bit thinner than usual, but otherwise, she looks physically fine. Its her eyes.They arent dead-looking, like shes given up. Theyre haunted, scared, confused.Altogether messed up. Sick. Not doctor-sick. Like she needs sleep and soup but shesreally only getting pills. I dont blame her for being sick. Her sister is dead. Her boyfriendmay have killed her. Her other boyfriend is still semi-deranged. She must be feeling usedand betrayed on both sides. I can sympathize.We all look sick. Some more doctor-sick than others. Peeta hasnt been made-up and theburns on his neck and face are red and melted-looking. Other than the burned patches,he is very pale and looks as though he hasnt slept in ages. Beetee looks exhausted andcant stop fidgeting about, nervous energy having multiplied with the recent stress.Enobaria has a very unhealthy tint to her skin, and it looks like she hasnt washed herhair in a while. Haymitch in some sort of twilight zone between drunkard and reformeddrunkard. Im still not having too much fun getting along without my morphling. Thoughits been easier navigating the drug withdrawal this second time around, I still feel sickhalf the time and Im not sleeping well. Or at all. Ill make it through, Im not uncertainabout that. But for now, things really just kind of suck.At least Annie seems to be doing okay. That whole pregnancy glow thing. Its just toobad that the fathers been murdered."Whats this?" asks Katniss upon seeing us all sitting around the table. I actually have noidea what were doing here. After an indeterminate amount of time in a strange twilightof morphling and pine back in the hospital, a doctor all of a sudden informed me that Idbeen ordered to report to the Capitol. Not to fight, the war was won at that point. Butthey gave me a grey uniform and herded me onto a hovercraft with no explanation pastorders, and here I am."Were not sure," answers Haymitch. "It appears to be a gathering of all the remainingvictors.""Were all thats left?" Katniss seems to be half aghast, half resigned."The price of celebrity," says Beetee, being incomprehensible as usual. "We weretargeted from both sides. The Capitol killed the victors the suspected of being rebels. Therebels killed those thought to be allied with the Capitol."Well, we all know that Two was totally in cahoots with the Capitol, meaning that Enobariaalmost certainly was as well. "So whats she doing here?" I ask, glaring at Enobaria."She is protected under what we call the Mockingjay deal," answers ThirteensPresident—the whole countrys President now—who I now know is called Coin, as sheenters behind Katniss. "Wherein Katniss Everdeen agreed to support the rebels in
  • 238. exchange for captured victors immunity. Katniss has upheld her side of the bargain, andso shall we." Well. Thanks, Katniss. But you coulda left Enobarias name off the list.Enobaria gives me a satisfied little smirk that, for some reason, causes me an irrationalamount of rage. "Dont look so smug," I spit out. "Well kill you anyway."The President chooses to ignore this remark. "Sit down, please, Katniss," she says,closing the door and walking to the head of the table. Katniss sits between Annie andBeetee, then places a strange white rose on the table. From across the table, the stenchof Snows signature roses makes bile rise in my throat. Whats Katniss doing with one ofhis flowers?Coin wastes no time. "Ive asked you here to settle a debate. Today we will executeSnow."Im hit by a huge sense of relief after hearing those words. Today. What hes had comingto him for all this time. Finally."In the previous weeks, hundreds of his accomplices in the oppression of Panem havebeen tried and now await their own deaths," continues Coin. I feel as though it mightmake me a bad person to be so pleased by this, but there you have it. "However, thesuffering in the districts has been so extreme that these measures appear insufficient tothe victims. In fact, many are calling for a complete annihilation of those who heldCapitol citizenship. However, in the interest of maintaining a sustainable population, wecannot afford this."Its strange, the way she talks. Afford this. Sustainable population. The victims. Its allvery detached. Like everyone is just a statistic. A number on her little chart. A formulafor getting the result she wants. But who actually gives a damn? Because this is allgetting me the result I want—a dead President."So, an alternative has been placed on the table. Since my colleagues and I can come tono consensus, it has been agreed that we will let the victors decide. A majority of fourwill approve the plan. No one may abstain from vote. What has been proposed is that inlieu of eliminating the entire Capitol population, we have a final, symbolic Hunger Games,using the children directly related to those who held the most power."All seven heads turn towards Coin in shock.Seeing as this idea sounds completely bat-shit insane, I ask, "What?""We hold another Hunger Games using Capitol children," says Coin, summing it all upneatly for us."Are you joking?" asks Peeta, his tone indicating that he thinks such a joke would be inextremely poor taste."No," answers Coin simply. "I should also tell you that if we do hold the Games, it will beknown it was done with your approval, although the individual breakdown of your voteswill be kept secret for your own security.""Was this Plutarchs idea?" asks Haymitch, sounding suspicious.
  • 239. "No. It was mine." Yeah, well, that figures, the Creepy President Lady comes up with atwisted idea like this. "It seemed to balance the need for vengeance with the least loss oflife. You may cast your votes."Barely has she said this when Peeta bursts out, "No! I vote no, of course! We cant haveanother Hunger Games!""Why not?" I retort. The idea may be twisted, but that doesnt mean it doesnt have acertain appeal for me. I have my reasons, after all.For starters, theres the list of names a mile long. Wane, Sal, mother, Blight, Myrtle,Finnick—there are too many people to even call each one by name. All my fellow victorsbesides these six, all the tributes I couldnt save, all the tributes I killed, countlessothers. There have been Hunger Games and interrogations and murders and intimidationtechniques, and far too many innocent people caught in the crossfire."It seems very fair to me," I say shortly. "Snow even has a granddaughter," I add. Oh,boy, does he have a granddaughter. "I vote yes." Its evil of me, Im sure, but I feel anintense satisfaction at knowing Ive just cast my bet for Minerva to have a taste of herown medicine.The thought is sort of ruined for me when Enobaria quickly follows up my vote with hers."So do I," she says, sounding almost careless. "Let them have a taste of their ownmedicine." I hate that shes mimicking my thoughts, because our thought processessurely cant have been more different. I have reasons. There are people Ivoted for. Enobaria voted because shes a cold, cynical bitch.Well, okay, so am I. But theres still more to it than that.Peeta looks around at everyone else. "This is why we rebelled! Remember?" he asks,sounding like hes pleading with those yet to vote. "Annie?" Even the name sounds likean entreaty."I vote no with Peeta," she says quietly. "So would Finnick if he were here.""But he isnt, because Snows mutts killed him," I remind Annie bitterly. She lookssteadfastly at the table."No," says Beetee. "It would set a bad precedent. We have to stop viewing one anotheras enemies. At this point, unity is essential for our survival. No." According to him, its allabout the numbers as well. Essential for survival. Nothing moral there. Or maybe he justdoesnt feel like sharing with the class."Were down to Katniss and Haymitch," says Coin. There is no response from either ofthem. Katniss and mentor sit with their brows furrowed and seem to consider deeply. Orperhaps Katniss is just high and Haymitch is just drunk. Could go either way.Without looking up from the sickening rose shes placed on the table, Katniss finally says,"I vote yes…for Prim."How strange."Haymitch, its up to you," says Coin.
  • 240. Peeta jumps up from his chair and begins arguing every angle, thumping the tableoccasionally as he batters Haymitch with the atrocity of this whole idea. But Haymitch isstaring right at Katniss and seems to be ignoring Peeta altogether.In the end, he sighs heavily and says, "Im with the Mockingjay.""Excellent. That carries the vote," says Coin. "Now we really must take our places for theexecution." Shivers of excitement accompany hearing this statement.People flood into the room and were all swept off to the front doors of the mansion. Afterbeing directed onto the small terrace in front of the mansion, Im told where to stand andwhat to do - nothing, just stand there as Katniss does the deed. Theres a huge crowd inthe City Circle, restless and rumbling. Anticipation and hate crackles in the cold wintersunlight. The crowd spills over into the side streets, children sit on the shoulders of thosetaller than themselves, some people are crying. An emotional day for us all.When Katniss steps out onto the terrace, freshly powdered and holding her fancy bow,the crowd goes wild. She stands, proud and straight and victorious, with her profile tothe crowd. Im almost deafened by the cheers of the crowd when a couple guards walkSnow out. I resist the temptation to spit at our dear ex-President as they walk him past.See? I do have class.Once Snows been tethered by the wrists to a short post (unnecessary—wheres hesupposed to escape to?), Katniss steps forward and lines up her shot. The anticipationmakes me feel almost a little sick.But when Katniss releases her arrow, it doesnt find its mark. My first reaction is to thinkthat Katniss just got too nervous with the gravity of the situation and couldnt manage it.Embarrassing, but whatever. Shell just take another shot.But oh, no. This is our Mockingjay, our Girl on Fire, our fearless defender. She shootstrue and straight. Always. Its what got her here. She is known to never miss. And so shehasnt. The arrow has found its mark, all right. But its at a different President whichKatniss has chosen to shoot.Its President Coin who tumbles off her balcony, dead.Basically, as is the way of the universe, the next thing to happen is everyone going nuts.The crowd falls into pandemonium, the less stable shrieking in panic and the more stableangry that their dictator isnt dead as promised. Meanwhile, only a few yards away, Snowlaughs his last bloody, foaming laughs and then begins spitting up a red bile. He wheezesa couple times and coughs up something substantial and dripping with blood, then hacksfor breath for a moment before going still. Very still. Dead still.Snow is dead, anyone could see that, but the moment is tainted. He wasnt killed bysomeone who deserved the revenge, he just choked. Whatever he didnt do himself isfinished by the crush of soldiers that quickly swarm around him. Theres too muchfighting in my mind and around me for any of it to sink in, for me to celebrate ourvictory.At least its over.Katniss is dragged into the mansion and the doors slam behind her and her convoy ofsoldiers. Snows body is carried off by others in grey uniforms. The same quickly happens
  • 241. to Coin, Katniss arrow still in the side of her head. Very quickly, theres no evidence thatanything has transpired besides the panicking and outraged crowd and Snows blood onthe ground.It seems like the crowd is about to really lose it, so, in the interest of not getting killed inthe chaos, everyone in our party retreats into the mansion. We victors are shuttled into awood-paneled conference room and told to wait for orders. (Because following orders iswhat were all really known for.)"What was that?" I demand once the door has closed behind the harried soldier fromThirteen, blocking out most of the roar from outside."I have no idea!" says Annie, eyes wide with fright. "Why would Katniss do that?" Sheturns to Haymitch."Its probably very complicated," answers Haymitch, forehead creased into a deep frown."Shes been sick. Theres a lot going on with her.""Oh, its not that tough to figure out," I snap at him. "I think that she thinks shes beenused and just took it out on Coin. She has been used, you know that." I direct the last bitat everyone, not just Haymitch."Maybe shes finally just lost her mind," says Enobaria carelessly. "Wouldnt besurprising.""I think that it was probably the grief over losing her sister," says Beetee, chipping in histwo cents. "Such a traumatic event is bound to cause some irrational behavior.""Poor Katniss…shes been through so much these past weeks especially and now this…"adds Annie quietly."All of you, just shut up," orders Haymitch. "I have to think." He drops into one of thechairs at the long conference table and spends a very long time staring at the polishedwood of the table. After what seems like forever but is probably only a few minutes, hespeaks back up and asks, "Beetee, do you think that the room is bugged?""Most likely.""Alright." Haymitch sighs, then turns back to the rest of us. "Theyre probably going towant to put Katniss on trial for this. I doubt that theyll sentence her, being theMockingjay. But there will certainly be fallout, and shes going to need a better defensethan I didnt like Coin so I shot her. Im going to try and talk to some people." With this,he gets up and walks over to the door, then knocks loudly on it until someone opens it.He demands to talk to Plutarch and, after a brief argument, gets shown out.Well, Haymitch ends up being right. Our resident Katniss expert, he is. Katniss is put ontrial, although she never appears personally. She is accused of high treason, anddefended chiefly by Haymitch and some Aurelius guy. Im not deemed stable enough totestify. As anyone could have predicted, Katniss isnt convicted. Shes our Mockingjay.There would be another rebellion if they executed her, and I think weve all had enoughof war for the time being.With no one left to lead our country, some of the few remaining officials toss together aballot for an emergency election. Some Paylor lady from Eight is put into power—
  • 242. apparently one of the big rebel leaders. I dont really care whos in charge, as long as itsnot Snow.They dont want someone whos been as much of a bother as I have staying the Capitollonger than I have to, and theres certainly no job for me here. As soon as Katniss iscleared of her charges its suggested to me - in a way that makes me feel like its notreally a suggestion - that I clear off. Apparently, if I can find lodgings elsewhere, I canjust hop on a train to anywhere in Panem. But Id really rather be in Seven.Its also slyly suggested a couple times that I join up with the military, seeing as theyrehunting for recruits. I say that Ill think about it. I dont really see myself as the armysort, but who knows how desperate for a purpose Ill be after a few months? For ages,my drive has been to see Snow dead. Now that he is, Ive sort of been cut loose. Im adrifter now. Could be interesting. Or it could be really fucking boring.In any case, getting home is the first order of business. I manage to get passage on atrain—Im not important enough to charter a hovercraft or anything. Theres no one tosay goodbye to in the Capitol - everyone else has already gotten back to their respectivehomes. As the lone passenger on the train, I wander alone for the whole trip. Apparentlywere in no rush, and the train makes what feels like a million stops. Butfinally,finally, we roll to a stop in the familiar train station. I hurry to the door and waitimpatiently for it to open. The familiar smell of pine, so much stronger than I rememberit being, hits me the second that the door slides back and almost knocks me back a stepor two.There are a couple people milling around the platform: an old guy with a limp, a womandragging a whining child by the hand, a few young adults with an impressive collection ofminor injuries between them. No one notices me hopping off the train. Theyve all gotbigger things to worry about, I expect. The first person to look at me as I walk across theplatform is a girl who seems to be about eight years of age, trailing after a boy who lookslike he could be her older brother. Shes wearing a red paisley dress that looks much toosmall for her and has a bandage wrapped around one forearm.Its a simple thing: she just glances my way and then flashes a bright smile at me, butthe shock almost makes me stop in my tracks. I cant remember the last time a fellowSeven outside of my family looked at me with anything but apprehension or plain oldfear. Im still trying to get over the shock and form a smile to return when the boy shoutsover his shoulder, "Abby, are you coming or not?" and the girl runs off after him.I cant help but grin to myself as I walk across the platform. Oh, its good to be homeagain. The End