The Hunger Games Trilogy
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The Hunger Games Trilogy
The Hunger Games Trilogy
Cato is the male tribute from District 2 and the main antagonist of The Hunger Games. Katniss considers Cato to be her and Peeta's most fearsome opponent because of his size and strength, skill with many weapons, and taste for killing. Like most Careers, Cato has complete confidence in his abilities and expects that he will be the victor. Katniss believes he is not completely sane after seeing his reaction to the destroyed food supply,where he snaps the neck of the boy who was supposed to be keeping watch. He is the last tribute to die. During the finale of the Games, he is pushed off the Cornucopia to the wolf muttations—fearsome creatures created in the Capitol—who prolong his death to the point that, when Katniss finally shoots him to put him out of his misery, he is nothing more than a gnawed and
Cato / Tribute• District 2• Male
Glimmer is a career tribute from district 1. For her entrance in the chariot parade as described in the novel, she was spray painted silver, but in the film she wore a hot pink headdress and a long pink dress alongside Marvel. In her interview in the novel, she wore a see-through golden dress, but in the film it her dress was a frilly, feminine pink knee-length babydoll dress. Glimmer told Caesar Flickerman in the interview that she was prepared. During the Games, Glimmer was among the career trackers whom Katniss attempted to kill by dropping a nest of tracker jackers on them as they slept. Glimmer did not escape the attack and died along with the girl from district 4. Glimmer once again appeared in the book as a muttation, which was created by use of her DNA by the Capitol. She is portrayed by Leven Rambin in the film.
Glimmer / Tribute• District 1• Female
Marvel is the male tribute from District 1. His name is unknown to Katniss until the Victory Tour in the second book; throughout The Hunger Games he is simply known as "the boy from District 1". He is a career tribute and Katniss's third kill. When only eight tributes remain, he kills Rue by spearing her in the stomach. In the book, Katniss is shown to have launched an arrow through his throat, causing him to drown in his own blood; in the film Katniss shoots an arrow through his stomach in retaliation. In the film, Marvel is portrayed by Jack Quaid.
Marvel / Tribute• District 1• Male
G Bb A D
The four-note melody that Katniss uses as her signal with Rue (and that plays at the end of most trailers) is G-Bb-A-D.
By: Suzanne Collins
PART 1 'THE SPARK'
I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air. My muscles are clenched tight against the cold. If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor. I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs. But instead I sit, as motionless as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods. I can’t fight the sun. I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months.
By noon they will all be at my new house in the Victor’s Village. The reporters, the camera crews, even Effie Trinket, my old escort, will have made their way to District 12 from the Capitol. I wonder if Effie will still be wearing that silly pink wig, or if she’ll be sporting some other unnatural color especially for the Victory Tour. There will be others waiting, too. A staff to cater to my every need on the long train trip. A prep team to beautify me for public appearances. My stylist and friend, Cinna, who designed the gorgeous outfits that first made the audience take notice of me in the Hunger Games.
If it were up to me, I would try to forget the Hunger Games entirely. Never speak of them. Pretend they were nothing but a bad dream. But the Victory Tour makes that impossible.
Strategically placed almost midway between the annual Games, it is the Capitol’s way of keeping the horror fresh and immediate. Not only are we in the districts forced to remember the iron grip of the Capitol’s power each year, we are forced to celebrate it. And this year, I am one of the stars of the show. I will have to travel from district to district, to stand before the cheering crowds who secretly loathe me, to look down into the faces of the families whose children I have killed…
The sun persists in rising, so I make myself stand. All my joints complain and my left leg has been asleep for so long that it takes several minutes of pacing to bring the feeling back into it. I’ve been in the woods three hours, but as I’ve made no real attempt at hunting, I have nothing to show for it. It doesn’t matter for my mother and little sister, Prim, anymore. They can afford to buy butcher meat in town, although none of us likes it any better than fresh game. But my best friend, Gale Hawthorne, and his family will be depending on today’s haul and I can’t let them down. I start the hour-and-a-half trek it will take to cover our snare line. Back when we were in school, we had time in the afternoons to check the line and hunt and gather and still get back to trade in town. But now that Gale has gone to work in the coal mines—and I have nothing to do all day—I’ve taken over the job.
By this time Gale will have clocked in at the mines, taken the stomach-churning elevator ride into the depths of the earth, and be pounding away at a coal seam. I know what it’s like down there. Every year in school, as part of our training, my class had to tour the mines. When I was little, it was just unpleasant. The claustrophobic tunnels, foul air, suffocating darkness on all sides. But after my father and several other miners were killed in an explosion, I could barely force myself onto the elevator. The annual trip became an enormous source of anxiety. Twice I made myself so sick in anticipation of it that my mother kept me home because she thought I had contracted the flu.
I think of Gale, who is only really alive in the woods, with its fresh air and sunlight and clean, flowing water. I don’t know how he stands it. Well… yes, I do. He stands it because it’s the way to feed his mother and two younger brothers and sister. And here I am with buckets of money, far more than enough to feed both our families now, and he won’t take a single coin. It’s even hard for him to let me bring in meat, although he’d surely have kept my mother and Prim supplied if I’d been killed in the Games. I tell him he’s doing me a favor, that it drives me nuts to sit around all day. Even so, I never drop off the game while he’s at home. Which is easy since he works twelve hours a day.
The only time I really get to see Gale now is on Sundays, when we meet up in the woods to hunt together. It’s still the best day of the week, but it’s not like it used to be before, when we could tell each other anything. The Games have spoiled even that. I keep hoping that as time passes we’ll regain the ease between us, but part of me knows it’s futile. There’s no going back.
I get a good haul from the traps—eight rabbits, two squirrels, and a beaver that swam into a wire contraption Gale designed himself. He’s something of a whiz with snares, rigging them to bent saplings so they pull the kill out of the reach of predators, balancing logs on delicate stick triggers, weaving inescapable baskets to capture fish. As I go along, carefully resetting each snare, I know I can never quite replicate his eye for balance, his instinct for where the prey will cross the path. It’s more than experience. It’s a natural gift. Like the way I can shoot at an animal in almost complete darkness and still take it down with one arrow.
By the time I make it back to the fence that surrounds District 12, the sun is well up. As always, I listen a moment, but there’s no telltale hum of electrical current running through the chain link. There hardly ever is, even though the thing is supposed to be charged full-time. I wriggle through the opening at the bottom of the fence and come up in the Meadow, just a stone’s throw from my home. My old home. We still get to keep it since officially it’s the designated dwelling of my mother and sister. If I should drop dead right now, they would have to return to it. But at present, they’re both happily installed in the new house in the Victor’s Village, and I’m the only one who uses the squat little place where I was raised. To me, it’s my real home.
I go there now to switch my clothes. Exchange my father’s old leather jacket for a fine wool coat that always seems too tight in the shoulders. Leave my soft, worn hunting boots for a pair of expensive machine-made shoes that my mother thinks are more appropriate for someone of my status. I’ve already stowed my bow and arrows in a hollow log in the woods. Although time is ticking away, I allow myself a few minutes to sit in the kitchen. It has an abandoned quality with no fire on the hearth, no cloth on the table. I mourn my old life here. We barely scraped by, but I knew where I fit in, I knew what my place was in the tightly interwoven fabric that was our life. I wish I could go back to it because, in retrospect, it seems so secure compared with now, when I am so rich and so famous and so hated by the authorities in the Capitol.
A wailing at the back door demands my attention. I open it to find Buttercup, Prim’s scruffy old tomcat. He dislikes the new house almost as much as I do and always leaves it when my sister’s at school. We’ve never been particularly fond of each other, but now we have this new bond. I let him in, feed him a chunk of beaver fat, and even rub him between the ears for a bit. “You’re hideous, you know that, right?” I ask him. Buttercup nudges my hand for more petting, but we have to go. “Come on, you.” I scoop him up with one hand, grab my game bag with the other, and haul them both out onto the street. The cat springs free and disappears under a bush.
The shoes pinch my toes as I crunch along the cinder street. Cutting down alleys and through backyards gets me to Gale’s house in minutes. His mother, Hazelle, sees me through the window, where she’s bent over the kitchen sink. She dries her hands on her apron and disappears to meet me at the door.
I like Hazelle. Respect her. The explosion that killed my father took out her husband as well, leaving her with three boys and a baby due any day. Less than a week after she gave birth, she was out hunting the streets for work. The mines weren’t an option, what with a baby to look after, but she managed to get laundry from some of the merchants in town. At fourteen, Gale, the eldest of the kids, became the main supporter of the family. He was already signed up for tesserae, which entitled them to a meager supply of grain and oil in exchange for his entering his name extra times in the drawing to become a tribute. On top of that, even back then, he was a skilled trapper. But it wasn’t enough to keep a family of five without Hazelle working her fingers to the bone on that washboard. In winter her hands got so red and cracked, they bled at the slightest provocation. Still would if it wasn’t for a salve my mother concocted. But they are determined, Hazelle and Gale, that the other boys, twelve-year-old Rory and ten-year-old Vick, and the baby, four-year-old Posy, will never have to sign up for tesserae.
Hazelle smiles when she sees the game. She takes the beaver by the tail, feeling its weight. “He’s going to make a nice stew.” Unlike Gale, she has no problem with our hunting arrangement.
“Good pelt, too,” I answer. It’s comforting here with Hazelle. Weighing the merits of the game, just as we always have. She pours me a mug of herb tea, which I wrap my chilled fingers around gratefully. “You know, when I get back from the tour, I was thinking I might take Rory out with me sometimes. After school. Teach him to shoot.”
Hazelle nods. “That’d be good. Gale means to, but he’s only got his Sundays, and I think he likes saving those for you.”
I can’t stop the redness that floods my cheeks. It’s stupid, of course. Hardly anybody knows me better than Hazelle. Knows the bond I share with Gale. I’m sure plenty of people assumed that we’d eventually get married even if I never gave it any thought. But that was before the Games. Before my fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, announced he was madly in love with me. Our romance became a key strategy for our survival in the arena. Only it wasn’t just a strategy for Peeta. I’m not sure what it was for me. But I know now it was nothing but painful for Gale. My chest tightens as I think about how, on the Victory Tour, Peeta and I will have to present ourselves as lovers again.
I gulp my tea even though it’s too hot and push back from the table. “I better get going. Make myself presentable for the cameras.”
Hazelle hugs me. “Enjoy the food.”
“Absolutely,” I say.
My next stop is the Hob, where I’ve traditionally done the bulk of my trading. Years ago it was a warehouse to store coal, but when it fell into disuse, it became a meeting place for illegal trades and then blossomed into a full-time black market. If it attracts a somewhat criminal element, then I belong here, I guess. Hunting in the woods surrounding District 12 violates at least a dozen laws and is punishable by death.
Although they never mention it, I owe the people who frequent the Hob. Gale told me that Greasy Sae, the old woman who serves up soup, started a collection to sponsor Peeta and me during the Games. It was supposed to be just a Hob thing, but a lot of other people heard about it and chipped in. I don’t know exactly how much it was, and the price of any gift in the arena was exorbitant. But for all I know, it made the difference between my life and death.
It’s still odd to drag open the front door with an empty game bag, with nothing to trade, and instead feel the heavy pocket of coins against my hip. I try to hit as many stalls as possible, spreading out my purchases of coffee, buns, eggs, yarn, and oil. As an afterthought, I buy three bottles of white liquor from a one-armed woman named Ripper, a victim of a mine accident who was smart enough to find a way to stay alive.
The liquor isn’t for my family. It’s for Haymitch, who acted as mentor for Peeta and me in the Games. He’s surly, violent, and drunk most of the time. But he did his job—more than his job—because for the first time in history, two tributes were allowed to win. So no matter who Haymitch is, I owe him, too. And that’s for always. I’m getting the white liquor because a few weeks ago he ran out and there was none for sale and he had a withdrawal, shaking and screaming at terrifying things only he could see. He scared Prim to death and, frankly, it wasn’t much fun for me to see him like that, either. Ever since then I’ve been sort of stockpiling the stuff just in case there’s a shortage again.
Cray, our Head Peacekeeper, frowns when he sees me with the bottles. He’s an older man with a few strands of silver hair combed sideways above his bright red face. “That stuff’s too strong for you, girl.” He should know. Next to Haymitch, Cray drinks more than anyone I’ve ever met.
“Aw, my mother uses it in medicines,” I say indifferently.
“Well, it’d kill just about anything,” he says, and slaps down a coin for a bottle.
When I reach Greasy Sae’s stall, I boost myself up to sit on the counter and order some soup, which looks to be some kind of gourd and bean mixture. A Peacekeeper named Darius comes up and buys a bowl while I’m eating. As law enforcers go, he’s one of my favorites. Never really throwing his weight around, usually good for a joke. He’s probably in his twenties, but he doesn’t seem much older than I do. Something about his smile, his red hair that sticks out every which way, gives him a boyish quality.
“Aren’t you supposed to be on a train?” he asks me.
“They’re collecting me at noon,” I answer.
“Shouldn’t you look better?” he asks in a loud whisper. I can’t help smiling at his teasing, in spite of my mood. “Maybe a ribbon in your hair or something?” He flicks my braid with his hand and I brush him away.
“Don’t worry. By the time they get through with me I’ll be unrecognizable,” I say.
“Good,” he says. “Let’s show a little district pride for a change, Miss Everdeen. Hm?” He shakes his head at Greasy Sae in mock disapproval and walks off to join his friends.
“I’ll want that bowl back,” Greasy Sae calls after him, but since she’s laughing, she doesn’t sound particularly stern. “Gale going to see you off?” she asks me.
“No, he wasn’t on the list,” I say. “I saw him Sunday, though.”
“Think he’d have made the list. Him being your cousin and all,” she says wryly.
It’s just one more part of the lie the Capitol has concocted. When Peeta and I made it into the final eight in the Hunger Games, they sent reporters to do personal stories about us. When they asked about my friends, everyone directed them to Gale. But it wouldn’t do, what with the romance I was playing out in the arena, to have my best friend be Gale. He was too handsome, too male, and not the least bit willing to smile and play nice for the cameras. We do resemble each other, though, quite a bit. We have that Seam look. Dark straight hair, olive skin, gray eyes. So some genius made him my cousin. I didn’t know about it until we were already home, on the platform at the train station, and my mother said, “Your cousins can hardly wait to see you!” Then I turned and saw Gale and Hazelle and all the kids waiting for me, so what could I do but go along?
Greasy Sae knows we’re not related, but even some of the people who have known us for years seem to have forgotten.
“I just can’t wait for the whole thing to be over,” I whisper.
“I know,” says Greasy Sae. “But you’ve got to go through it to get to the end of it. Better not be late.”
A light snow starts to fall as I make my way to the Victor’s Village. It’s about a half-mile walk from the square in the center of town, but it seems like another world entirely.
It’s a separate community built around a beautiful green, dotted with flowering bushes. There are twelve houses, each large enough to hold ten of the one I was raised in. Nine stand empty, as they always have. The three in use belong to Haymitch, Peeta, and me.
The houses inhabited by my family and Peeta give off a warm glow of life. Lit windows, smoke from the chimneys, bunches of brightly colored corn affixed to the front doors as decoration for the upcoming Harvest Festival. However, Haymitch’s house, despite the care taken by the grounds-keeper, exudes an air of abandonment and neglect. I brace myself at his front door, knowing it will be foul, then push inside.
My nose immediately wrinkles in disgust. Haymitch refuses to let anyone in to clean and does a poor job himself. Over the years the odors of liquor and vomit, boiled cabbage and burned meat, unwashed clothes and mouse droppings have intermingled into a stench that brings tears to my eyes. I wade through a litter of discarded wrappings, broken glass, and bones to where I know I will find Haymitch. He sits at the kitchen table, his arms sprawled across the wood, his face in a puddle of liquor, snoring his head off.
I nudge his shoulder. “Get up!” I say loudly, because I’ve learned there’s no subtle way to wake him. His snoring stops for a moment, questioningly, and then resumes. I push him harder. “Get up, Haymitch. It’s tour day!” I force the window up, inhaling deep breaths of the clean air outside. My feet shift through the garbage on the floor, and I unearth a tin coffeepot and fill it at the sink. The stove isn’t completely out and I manage to coax the few live coals into a flame. I pour some ground coffee into the pot, enough to make sure the resulting brew will be good and strong, and set it on the stove to boil.
Haymitch is still dead to the world. Since nothing else has worked, I fill a basin with icy cold water, dump it on his head, and spring out of the way. A guttural animal sound comes from his throat. He jumps up, kicking his chair ten feet behind him and wielding a knife. I forgot he always sleeps with one clutched in his hand. I should have pried it from his fingers, but I’ve had a lot on my mind. Spewing profanity, he slashes the air a few moments before coming to his senses. He wipes his face on his shirtsleeve and turns to the windowsill where I perch, just in case I need to make a quick exit.
“What are you doing?” he sputters.
“You told me to wake you an hour before the cameras come,” I say.
“What?” he says.
“Your idea,” I insist.
He seems to remember. “Why am I all wet?”
“I couldn’t shake you awake,” I say. “Look, if you wanted to be babied, you should have asked Peeta.”
“Asked me what?” Just the sound of his voice twists my stomach into a knot of unpleasant emotions like guilt, sadness, and fear. And longing. I might as well admit there’s some of that, too. Only it has too much competition to ever win out.
I watch as Peeta crosses to the table, the sunlight from the window picking up the glint of fresh snow in his blond hair. He looks strong and healthy, so different from the sick, starving boy I knew in the arena, and you can barely even notice his limp now. He sets a loaf of fresh-baked bread on the table and holds out his hand to Haymitch.
“Asked you to wake me without giving me pneumonia,” says Haymitch, passing over his knife. He pulls off his filthy shirt, revealing an equally soiled undershirt, and rubs himself down with the dry part.
Peeta smiles and douses Haymitch’s knife in white liquor from a bottle on the floor. He wipes the blade clean on his shirttail and slices the bread. Peeta keeps all of us in fresh baked goods. I hunt. He bakes. Haymitch drinks. We have our own ways to stay busy, to keep thoughts of our time as contestants in the Hunger Games at bay. It’s not until he’s handed Haymitch the heel that he even looks at me for the first time. “Would you like a piece?”
“No, I ate at the Hob,” I say. “But thank you.” My voice doesn’t sound like my own, it’s so formal. Just as it’s been every time I’ve spoken to Peeta since the cameras finished filming our happy homecoming and we returned to our real lives.
“You’re welcome,” he says back stiffly.
Haymitch tosses his shirt somewhere into the mess. “Brrr. You two have got a lot of warming up to do before showtime.”
He’s right, of course. The audience will be expecting the pair of lovebirds who won the Hunger Games. Not two people who can barely look each other in the eye. But all I say is, “Take a bath, Haymitch.” Then I swing out the window, drop to the ground, and head across the green to my house.
The snow has begun to stick and I leave a trail of footprints behind me. At the front door, I pause to knock the wet stuff from my shoes before I go in. My mother’s been working day and night to make everything perfect for the cameras, so it’s no time to be tracking up her shiny floors. I’ve barely stepped inside when she’s there, holding my arm as if to stop me.
“Don’t worry, I’m taking them off here,” I say, leaving my shoes on the mat.
My mother gives an odd, breathy laugh and removes the game bag loaded with supplies from my shoulder. “It’s just snow. Did you have a nice walk?”
“Walk?” She knows I’ve been in the woods half the night. Then I see the man standing behind her in the kitchen doorway. One look at his tailored suit and surgically perfected features and I know he’s from the Capitol. Something is wrong. “It was more like skating. It’s really getting slippery out there.”
“Someone’s here to see you,” says my mother. Her face is too pale and I can hear the anxiety she’s trying to hide.
“I thought they weren’t due until noon.” I pretend not to notice her state. “Did Cinna come early to help me get ready?”
“No, Katniss, it’s—” my mother begins.
“This way, please, Miss Everdeen,” says the man. He gestures down the hallway. It’s weird to be ushered around your own home, but I know better than to comment on it.
As I go, I give my mother a reassuring smile over my shoulder. “Probably more instructions for the tour.” They’ve been sending me all kinds of stuff about my itinerary and what protocol will be observed in each district. But as I walk toward the door of the study, a door I have never even seen closed until this moment, I can feel my mind begin to race. Who is here? What do they want? Why is my mother so pale?
“Go right in,” says the Capitol man, who has followed me down the hallway.
I twist the polished brass knob and step inside. My nose registers the conflicting scents of roses and blood. A small, white-haired man who seems vaguely familiar is reading a book. He holds up a finger as if to say, “Give me a moment.” Then he turns and my heart skips a beat.
I’m staring into the snakelike eyes of President Snow.
In my mind, President Snow should be viewed in front of marble pillars hung with oversized flags. It’s jarring to see him surrounded by the ordinary objects in the room. Like taking the lid off a pot and finding a fanged viper instead of stew.
What could he be doing here? My mind rushes back to the opening days of other Victory Tours. I remember seeing the winning tributes with their mentors and stylists. Even some high government officials have made appearances occasionally. But I have never seen President Snow. He attends celebrations in the Capitol. Period.
If he’s made the journey all the way from his city, it can only mean one thing. I’m in serious trouble. And if I am, so is my family. A shiver goes through me when I think of the proximity of my mother and sister to this man who despises me. Will always despise me. Because I outsmarted his sadistic Hunger Games, made the Capitol look foolish, and consequently undermined his control.
All I was doing was trying to keep Peeta and myself alive. Any act of rebellion was purely coincidental. But when the Capitol decrees that only one tribute can live and you have the audacity to challenge it, I guess that’s a rebellion in itself. My only defense was pretending that I was driven insane by a passionate love for Peeta. So we were both allowed to live. To be crowned victors. To go home and celebrate and wave good-bye to the cameras and be left alone. Until now.
Perhaps it is the newness of the house or the shock of seeing him or the mutual understanding that he could have me killed in a second that makes me feel like the intruder. As if this is his home and I’m the uninvited party. So I don’t welcome him or offer him a chair. I don’t say anything. In fact, I treat him as if he’s a real snake, the venomous kind. I stand motionless, my eyes locked on him, considering plans of retreat.
“I think we’ll make this whole situation a lot simpler by agreeing not to lie to each other,” he says. “What do you think?”
I think my tongue has frozen and speech will be impossible, so I surprise myself by answering back in a steady voice, “Yes, I think that would save time.”
President Snow smiles and I notice his lips for the first time. I’m expecting snake lips, which is to say none. But his are overly full, the skin stretched too tight. I have to wonder if his mouth has been altered to make him more appealing. If so, it was a waste of time and money, because he’s not appealing at all. “My advisors were concerned you would be difficult, but you’re not planning on being difficult, are you?” he asks.
“No,” I answer.
“That’s what I told them. I said any girl who goes to such lengths to preserve her life isn’t going to be interested in throwing it away with both hands. And then there’s her family to think of. Her mother, her sister, and all those… cousins.” By the way he lingers on the word “cousins,” I can tell he knows that Gale and I don’t share a family tree.
Well, it’s all on the table now. Maybe that’s better. I don’t do well with ambiguous threats. I’d much rather know the score.
“Let’s sit.” President Snow takes a seat at the large desk of polished wood where Prim does her homework and my mother her budgets. Like our home, this is a place that he has no right, but ultimately every right, to occupy. I sit in front of the desk on one of the carved, straight-backed chairs. It’s made for someone taller than I am, so only my toes rest on the ground.
“I have a problem, Miss Everdeen,” says President Snow. “A problem that began the moment you pulled out those poisonous berries in the arena.”
That was the moment when I guessed that if the Gamemakers had to choose between watching Peeta and me commit suicide—which would mean having no victor—and letting us both live, they would take the latter.
“If the Head Gamemaker, Seneca Crane, had had any brains, he’d have blown you to dust right then. But he had an unfortunate sentimental streak. So here you are. Can you guess where he is?” he asks.
I nod because, by the way he says it, it’s clear that Seneca Crane has been executed. The smell of roses and blood has grown stronger now that only a desk separates us. There’s a rose in President Snow’s lapel, which at least suggests a source of the flower perfume, but it must be genetically enhanced, because no real rose reeks like that. As for the blood… I don’t know.
“After that, there was nothing to do but let you play out your little scenario. And you were pretty good, too, with the love-crazed schoolgirl bit. The people in the Capitol were quite convinced. Unfortunately, not everyone in the districts fell for your act,” he says.
My face must register at least a flicker of bewilderment, because he addresses it.
“This, of course, you don’t know. You have no access to information about the mood in other districts. In several of them, however, people viewed your little trick with the berries as an act of defiance, not an act of love. And if a girl from District Twelve of all places can defy the Capitol and walk away unharmed, what is to stop them from doing the same?” he says. “What is to prevent, say, an uprising?”
It takes a moment for his last sentence to sink in. Then the full weight of it hits me. “There have been uprisings?” I ask, both chilled and somewhat elated by the possibility.
“Not yet. But they’ll follow if the course of things doesn’t change. And uprisings have been known to lead to revolution.” President Snow rubs a spot over his left eyebrow, the very spot where I myself get headaches. “Do you have any idea what that would mean? How many people would die? What conditions those left would have to face? Whatever problems anyone may have with the Capitol, believe me when I say that if it released its grip on the districts for even a short time, the entire system would collapse.”
I’m taken aback by the directness and even the sincerity of this speech. As if his primary concern is the welfare of the citizens of Panem, when nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know how I dare to say the next words, but I do. “It must be very fragile, if a handful of berries can bring it down.”
There’s a long pause while he examines me. Then he simply says, “It is fragile, but not in the way that you suppose.”
There’s a knock at the door, and the Capitol man sticks his head in. “Her mother wants to know if you want tea.”
“I would. I would like tea,” says the president. The door opens wider, and there stands my mother, holding a tray with a china tea set she brought to the Seam when she married. “Set it here, please.” He places his book on the corner of the desk and pats the center.
My mother sets the tray on the desk. It holds a china teapot and cups, cream and sugar, and a plate of cookies. They are beautifully iced with softly colored flowers. The frosting work can only be Peeta’s.
“What a welcome sight. You know, it’s funny how often people forget that presidents need to eat, too,” President Snow says charmingly. Well, it seems to relax my mother a bit, anyway.
“Can I get you anything else? I can cook something more substantial if you’re hungry,” she offers.
“No, this could not be more perfect. Thank you,” he says, clearly dismissing her. My mother nods, shoots me a glance, and goes. President Snow pours tea for both of us and fills his with cream and sugar, then takes a long time stirring. I sense he has had his say and is waiting for me to respond.
“I didn’t mean to start any uprisings,” I tell him.
“I believe you. It doesn’t matter. Your stylist turned out to be prophetic in his wardrobe choice. Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, you have provided a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem,” he says.
“Why don’t you just kill me now?” I blurt out. “Publicly?” he asks. “That would only add fuel to the flames.”
“Arrange an accident, then,” I say.
“Who would buy it?” he asks. “Not you, if you were watching.”
“Then just tell me what you want me to do. I’ll do it,” I say.
“If only it were that simple.” He picks up one of the flowered cookies and examines it. “Lovely. Your mother made these?”
“Peeta.” And for the first time, I find I can’t hold his gaze. I reach for my tea but set it back down when I hear the cup rattling against the saucer. To cover I quickly take a cookie.
“Peeta. How is the love of your life?” he asks. “Good,” I say.
“At what point did he realize the exact degree of your indifference?” he asks, dipping his cookie in his tea. “I’m not indifferent,” I say.
“But perhaps not as taken with the young man as you would have the country believe,” he says. “Who says I’m not?” I say.
“I do,” says the president. “And I wouldn’t be here if I were the only person who had doubts. How’s the handsome cousin?”
“I don’t know… I don’t…” My revulsion at this conversation, at discussing my feelings for two of the people I care most about with President Snow, chokes me off.
“Speak, Miss Everdeen. Him I can easily kill off if we don’t come to a happy resolution,” he says. “You aren’t doing him a favor by disappearing into the woods with him each Sunday.”
If he knows this, what else does he know? And how does he know it? Many people could tell him that Gale and I spend our Sundays hunting. Don’t we show up at the end of each one loaded down with game? Haven’t we for years? The real question is what he thinks goes on in the woods beyond District 12. Surely they haven’t been tracking us in there. Or have they? Could we have been followed? That seems impossible. At least by a person. Cameras? That never crossed my mind until this moment. The woods have always been our place of safety, our place beyond the reach of the Capitol, where we’re free to say what we feel, be who we are. At least before the Games. If we’ve been watched since, what have they seen? Two people hunting, saying treasonous things against the Capitol, yes. But not two people in love, which seems to be President Snow’s implication. We are safe on that charge. Unless… unless…
It only happened once. It was fast and unexpected, but it did happen.
After Peeta and I got home from the Games, it was several weeks before I saw Gale alone. First there were the obligatory celebrations. A banquet for the victors that only the most high-ranking people were invited to. A holiday for the whole district with free food and entertainers brought in from the Capitol. Parcel Day, the first of twelve, in which food packages were delivered to every person in the district. That was my favorite. To see all those hungry kids in the Seam running around, waving cans of applesauce, tins of meat, even candy. Back home, too big to carry, would be bags of grain, cans of oil. To know that once a month for a year they would all receive another parcel. That was one of the few times I actually felt good about winning the Games.
So between the ceremonies and events and the reporters documenting my every move as I presided and thanked and kissed Peeta for the audience, I had no privacy at all. After a few weeks, things finally died down. The camera crews and reporters packed up and went home. Peeta and I assumed the cool relationship we’ve had ever since. My family settled into our house in the Victor’s Village. The everyday life of District 12—workers to the mines, kids to school—resumed its usual pace. I waited until I thought the coast was really clear, and then one Sunday, without telling anyone, I got up hours before dawn and took off for the woods.
The weather was still warm enough that I didn’t need a jacket. I packed along a bag filled with special foods, cold chicken and cheese and bakery bread and oranges. Down at my old house, I put on my hunting boots. As usual, the fence was not charged and it was simple to slip into the woods and retrieve my bow and arrows. I went to our place, Gale’s and mine, where we had shared breakfast the morning of the reaping that sent me into the Games.
I waited at least two hours. I’d begun to think that he’d given up on me in the weeks that had passed. Or that he no longer cared about me. Hated me even. And the idea of losing him forever, my best friend, the only person I’d ever trusted with my secrets, was so painful I couldn’t stand it. Not on top of everything else that had happened. I could feel my eyes tearing up and my throat starting to close the way it does when I get upset.
Then I looked up and there he was, ten feet away, just watching me. Without even thinking, I jumped up and threw my arms around him, making some weird sound that combined laughing, choking, and crying. He was holding me so tightly that I couldn’t see his face, but it was a really long time before he let me go and then he didn’t have much choice, because I’d gotten this unbelievably loud case of the hiccups and had to get a drink.
We did what we always did that day. Ate breakfast. Hunted and fished and gathered. Talked about people in town. But not about us, his new life in the mines, my time in the arena. Just about other things. By the time we were at the hole in the fence that’s nearest the Hob, I think I really believed that things could be the same. That we could go on as we always had. I’d given all the game to Gale to trade since we had so much food now. I told him I’d skip the Hob, even though I was looking forward to going there, because my mother and sister didn’t even know I’d gone hunting and they’d be wondering where I was. Then suddenly, as I was suggesting I take over the daily snare run, he took my face in his hands and kissed me.
I was completely unprepared. You would think that after all the hours I’d spent with Gale—watching him talk and laugh and frown—that I would know all there was to know about his lips. But I hadn’t imagined how warm they would feel pressed against my own. Or how those hands, which could set the most intricate of snares, could as easily entrap me. I think I made some sort of noise in the back of my throat, and I vaguely remember my fingers, curled tightly closed, resting on his chest. Then he let go and said, “I had to do that. At least once.” And he was gone.
Despite the fact that the sun was setting and my family would be worried, I sat by a tree next to the fence. I tried to decide how I felt about the kiss, if I had liked it or resented it, but all I really remembered was the pressure of Gale’s lips and the scent of the oranges that still lingered on his skin. It was pointless comparing it with the many kisses I’d exchanged with Peeta. I still hadn’t figured out if any of those counted. Finally I went home.
That week I managed the snares and dropped off the meat with Hazelle. But I didn’t see Gale until Sunday. I had this whole speech worked out, about how I didn’t want a boyfriend and never planned on marrying, but I didn’t end up using it. Gale acted as if the kiss had never happened.
Maybe he was waiting for me to say something. Or kiss him back. Instead I just pretended it had never happened, either. But it had. Gale had shattered some invisible barrier between us and, with it, any hope I had of resuming our old, uncomplicated friendship. Whatever I pretended, I could never look at his lips in quite the same way.
This all flashes through my head in an instant as President Snow’s eyes bore into me on the heels of his threat to kill Gale. How stupid I’ve been to think the Capitol would just ignore me once I’d returned home! Maybe I didn’t know about the potential uprisings. But I knew they were angry with me. Instead of acting with the extreme caution the situation called for, what have I done? From the president’s point of view, I’ve ignored Peeta and flaunted my preference for Gale’s company before the whole district. And by doing so made it clear I was, in fact, mocking the Capitol. Now I’ve endangered Gale and his family and my family and Peeta, too, by my carelessness.
“Please don’t hurt Gale,” I whisper. “He’s just my friend. He’s been my friend for years. That’s all that’s between us. Besides, everyone thinks we’re cousins now.”
“I’m only interested in how it affects your dynamic with Peeta, thereby affecting the mood in the districts,” he says.
“It will be the same on the tour. I’ll be in love with him just as I was,” I say.
“Just as you are,” corrects President Snow.
“Just as I am,” I confirm.
“Only you’ll have to do even better if the uprisings are to be averted,” he says. “This tour will be your only chance to turn things around.”
“I know. I will. I’ll convince everyone in the districts that I wasn’t defying the Capitol, that I was crazy with love,” I say.
President Snow rises and dabs his puffy lips with a napkin. “Aim higher in case you fall short.”
“What do you mean? How can I aim higher?” I ask.
“Convince me” he says. He drops the napkin and retrieves his book. I don’t watch him as he heads for the door, so I flinch when he whispers in my ear. “By the way, I know about the kiss.” Then the door clicks shut behind him.
The smell of blood… it was on his breath.
What does he do? I think. Drink it? I imagine him sipping it from a teacup. Dipping a cookie into the stuff and pulling it out dripping red.
Outside the window, a car comes to life, soft and quiet like the purr of a cat, then fades away into the distance. It slips off as it arrived, unnoticed.
The room seems to be spinning in slow, lopsided circles, and I wonder if I might black out. I lean forward and clutch the desk with one hand. The other still holds Peeta’s beautiful cookie. I think it had a tiger lily on it, but now it’s been reduced to crumbs in my fist. I didn’t even know I was crushing it, but I guess I had to hold on to something while my world veered out of control.
A visit from President Snow. Districts on the verge of uprisings. A direct death threat to Gale, with others to follow. Everyone I love doomed. And who knows who else will pay for my actions? Unless I turn things around on this tour. Quiet the discontent and put the president’s mind at rest. And how? By proving to the country beyond any shadow of a doubt that I love Peeta Mellark.
I can’t do it, I think. I’m not that good. Peeta’s the good one, the likable one. He can make people believe anything. I’m the one who shuts up and sits back and lets him do as much of the talking as possible. But it isn’t Peeta who has to prove his devotion. It’s me.
I hear my mother’s light, quick tread in the hall. She can’t know, I think. Not about any of this. I reach my hands over the tray and quickly brush the bits of cookie from my palm and fingers. I take a shaky sip of my tea.
“Is everything all right, Katniss?” she asks.
“It’s fine. We never see it on television, but the president always visits the victors before the tour to wish them luck,” I say brightly.
My mother’s face floods with relief. “Oh. I thought there was some kind of trouble.”
“No, not at all,” I say. “The trouble will start when my prep team sees how I’ve let my eyebrows grow back in.” My mother laughs, and I think about how there was no going back after I took over caring for the family when I was eleven. How I will always have to protect her.
“Why don’t I start your bath?” she asks.
“Great,” I say, and I can see how pleased she is by my response.
Since I’ve been home I’ve been trying hard to mend my relationship with my mother. Asking her to do things for me instead of brushing aside any offer of help, as I did for years out of anger. Letting her handle all the money I won. Returning her hugs instead of tolerating them. My time in the arena made me realize how I needed to stop punishing her for something she couldn’t help, specifically the crushing depression she fell into after my father’s death. Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.
Like me, for instance. Right now.
Besides, there’s one wonderful thing she did when I arrived back in the district. After our families and friends had greeted Peeta and me at the train station, there were a few questions allowed from reporters. Someone asked my mother what she thought of my new boyfriend, and she replied that, while Peeta was the very model of what a young man should be, I wasn’t old enough to have any boyfriend at all. She followed this with a pointed look at Peeta. There was a lot of laughter and comments like “Somebody’s in trouble” from the press, and Peeta dropped my hand and sidestepped away from me. That didn’t last long—there was too much pressure to act otherwise—but it gave us an excuse to be a little more reserved than we’d been in the Capitol. And maybe it can help account for how little I’ve been seen in Peeta’s company since the cameras left.
I go upstairs to the bathroom, where a steaming tub awaits. My mother has added a small bag of dried flowers that perfumes the air. None of us are used to the luxury of turning on a tap and having a limitless supply of hot water at our fingertips. We had only cold at our home in the Seam, and a bath meant boiling the rest over the fire. I undress and lower myself into the silky water—my mother has poured in some kind of oil as well—and try to get a grip on things.
The first question is who to tell, if anyone. Not my mother or Prim, obviously; they’d only become sick with worry. Not Gale. Even if I could get word to him. What would he do with the information, anyway? If he were alone, I might try to persuade him to run away. Certainly he could survive in the woods. But he’s not alone and he’d never leave his family. Or me. When I get home I’ll have to tell him something about why our Sundays are a thing of the past, but I can’t think about that now. Only about my next move. Besides, Gale’s already so angry and frustrated with the Capitol that I sometimes think he’s going to arrange his own uprising. The last thing he needs is an incentive. No, I can’t tell anyone I’m leaving behind in District 12.
There are still three people I might confide in, starting with Cinna, my stylist. But my guess is Cinna might already be at risk, and I don’t want to pull him into any more trouble by closer association with me. Then there’s Peeta, who will be my partner in this deception, but how do I begin that conversation? Hey, Peeta, remember how I told you I was kind of faking being in love with you? Well, I really need you to forget about that now and act extra in love with me or the president might kill Gale. I can’t do it. Besides, Peeta will perform well whether he knows what’s at stake or not. That leaves Haymitch. Drunken, cranky, confrontational Haymitch, who I just poured a basin of ice water on. As my mentor in the Games it was his duty to keep me alive. I only hope he’s still up for the job.
I slide down into the water, letting it block out the sounds around me. I wish the tub would expand so I could go swimming, like I used to on hot summer Sundays in the woods with my father. Those days were a special treat. We would leave early in the morning and hike farther into the woods than usual to a small lake he’d found while hunting. I don’t even remember learning to swim, I was so young when he taught me. I just remember diving, turning somersaults, and paddling around. The muddy bottom of the lake beneath my toes. The smell of blossoms and greenery. Floating on my back, as I am now, staring at the blue sky while the chatter of the woods was muted by the water. He’d bag the waterfowl that nested around the shore, I’d hunt for eggs in the grasses, and we’d both dig for katniss roots, the plant for which he named me, in the shallows. At night, when we got home, my mother would pretend not to recognize me because I was so clean. Then she’d cook up an amazing dinner of roasted duck and baked katniss tubers with gravy.
I never took Gale to the lake. I could have. It’s time-consuming to get there, but the waterfowl are such easy pickings you can make up for lost hunting time. It’s a place I’ve never really wanted to share with anyone, though, a place that belonged only to my father and me. Since the Games, when I’ve had little to occupy my days, I’ve gone there a couple of times. The swimming was still nice, but mostly the visits depressed me. Over the course of the last five years, the lake’s remarkably unchanged and I’m almost unrecognizable.
Even underwater I can hear the sounds of commotion. Honking car horns, shouts of greeting, doors banging shut. It can only mean my entourage has arrived. I just have time to towel off and slip into a robe before my prep team bursts into the bathroom. There’s no question of privacy. When it comes to my body, we have no secrets, these three people and me.
“Katniss, your eyebrows!” Venia shrieks right off, and even with the black cloud hanging over me, I have to stifle a laugh. Her aqua hair has been styled so it sticks out in sharp points all over her head, and the gold tattoos that used to be confined above her brows have curled around under her eyes, all contributing to the impression that I’ve literally shocked her.
Octavia comes up and pats Venia’s back soothingly, her curvy body looking plumper than usual next to Venia’s thin, angular one. “There, there. You can fix those in no time. But what am I going to do with these nails?” She grabs my hand and pins it flat between her two pea green ones. No, her skin isn’t exactly pea green now. It’s more of a light evergreen. The shift in shade is no doubt an attempt to stay abreast of the capricious fashion trends of the Capitol. “Really, Katniss, you could have left me something to work with!” she wails.
It’s true. I’ve bitten my nails to stubs in the past couple of months. I thought about trying to break the habit but couldn’t think of a good reason I should. “Sorry,” I mutter. I hadn’t really been spending much time worrying about how it might affect my prep team.
Flavius lifts a few strands of my wet, tangled hair. He gives his head a disapproving shake, causing his orange corkscrew curls to bounce around. “Has anyone touched this since you last saw us?” he asks sternly. “Remember, we specifically asked you to leave your hair alone.”
“Yes!” I say, grateful that I can show I haven’t totally taken them for granted. “I mean, no, no one’s cut it. I did remember that.” No, I didn’t. It’s more like the issue never came up. Since I’ve been home, all I’ve done is stick it in its usual old braid down my back.
This seems to mollify them, and they all kiss me, set me on a chair in my bedroom, and, as usual, start talking nonstop without bothering to notice if I’m listening. While Venia reinvents my eyebrows and Octavia gives me fake nails and Flavius massages goo into my hair, I hear all about the Capitol. What a hit the Games were, how dull things have been since, how no one can wait until Peeta and I visit again at the end of the Victory Tour. After that, it won’t be long before the Capitol begins gearing up for the Quarter Quell.
“Isn’t it thrilling?”
“Don’t you feel so lucky?”
“In your very first year of being a victor, you get to be a mentor in a Quarter Quell!”
Their words overlap in a blur of excitement.
“Oh, yes,” I say neutrally. It’s the best I can do. In a normal year, being a mentor to the tributes is the stuff of nightmares. I can’t walk by the school now without wondering what kid I’ll have to coach. But to make things even worse, this is the year of the Seventy-fifth Hunger Games, and that means it’s also a Quarter Quell. They occur every twenty-five years, marking the anniversary of the districts’ defeat with over-the-top celebrations and, for extra fun, some miserable twist for the tributes. I’ve never been alive for one, of course. But in school I remember hearing that for the second Quarter Quell, the Capitol demanded that twice the number of tributes be provided for the arena. The teachers didn’t go into much more detail, which is surprising, because that was the year District 12’s very own Haymitch Abernathy won the crown.
“Haymitch better be preparing himself for a lot of attention!” squeals Octavia.
Haymitch has never mentioned his personal experience in the arena to me. I would never ask. And if I ever saw his Games televised in reruns, I must’ve been too young to remember it. But the Capitol won’t let him forget it this year. In a way, it’s a good thing Peeta and I will both be available as mentors during the Quell, because it’s a sure bet that Haymitch will be wasted.
After they’ve exhausted the topic of the Quarter Quell, my prep team, launches into a whole lot of stuff about their incomprehensibly silly lives. Who said what about someone I’ve never heard of and what sort of shoes they just bought and a long story from Octavia about what a mistake it was to have everyone wear feathers to her birthday party.
Soon my brows are stinging, my hair’s smooth and silky, and my nails are ready to be painted. Apparently they’ve been given instruction to prepare only my hands and face, probably because everything else will be covered in the cold weather. Flavius badly wants to use his own trademark purple lipstick on me but resigns himself to a pink as they begin to color my face and nails. I can see by the palette Cinna has assigned that we’re going for girlish, not sexy.
Good. I’ll never convince anyone of anything if I’m trying to be provocative. Haymitch made that very clear when he was coaching me for my interview for the Games.
My mother comes in, somewhat shyly, and says that Cinna has asked her to show the preps how she did my hair the day of the reaping. They respond with enthusiasm and then watch, thoroughly engrossed, as she breaks down the process of the elaborate braided hairdo. In the mirror, I can see their earnest faces following her every move, their eagerness when it is their turn to try a step. In fact, all three are so readily respectful and nice to my mother that I feel bad about how I go around feeling so superior to them. Who knows who I would be or what I would talk about if I’d been raised in the Capitol? Maybe my biggest regret would be having feathered costumes at my birthday party, too.
When my hair is done, I find Cinna downstairs in the living room, and just the sight of him makes me feel more hopeful. He looks the same as always, simple clothes, short brown hair, just a hint of gold eyeliner. We embrace, and I can barely keep from spilling out the entire episode with President Snow. But no, I’ve decided to tell Haymitch first. He’ll know best who to burden with it. It’s so easy to talk to Cinna, though. Lately we’ve been speaking a lot on the telephone that came with the house. It’s sort of a joke, because almost no one else we know owns one. There’s Peeta, but obviously I don’t call him. Haymitch tore his out of the wall years ago. My friend Madge, the mayor’s daughter, has a telephone in her house, but if we want to talk, we do it in person. At first, the thing barely ever got used. Then Cinna started to call to work on my talent.
Every victor is supposed to have one. Your talent is the activity you take up since you don’t have to work either in school or your district’s industry. It can be anything, really, anything that they can interview you about. Peeta, it turns out, actually has a talent, which is painting. He’s been frosting those cakes and cookies for years in his family’s bakery. But now that he’s rich, he can afford to smear real paint on canvases. I don’t have a talent, unless you count hunting illegally, which they don’t. Or maybe singing, which I wouldn’t do for the Capitol in a million years. My mother tried to interest me in a variety of suitable alternatives from a list Effie Trinket sent her. Cooking, flower arranging, playing the flute. None of them took, although Prim had a knack for all three. Finally Cinna stepped in and offered to help me develop my passion for designing clothes, which really required development since it was nonexistent. But I said yes because it meant getting to talk to Cinna, and he promised he’d do all the work.
Now he’s arranging things around my living room: clothing, fabrics, and sketchbooks with designs he’s drawn. I pick up one of the sketchbooks and examine a dress I supposedly created. “You know, I think I show a lot of promise,” I say.
“Get dressed, you worthless thing,” he says, tossing a bundle of clothes at me.
I may have no interest in designing clothes but I do love the ones Cinna makes for me. Like these. Flowing black pants made of a thick, warm material. A comfortable white shirt. A sweater woven from green and blue and gray strands of kitten-soft wool. Laced leather boots that don’t pinch my toes.
“Did I design my outfit?” I ask.
“No, you aspire to design your outfit and be like me, your fashion hero,” says Cinna. He hands me a small stack of cards. “You’ll read these off camera while they’re filming the clothes. Try to sound like you care.”
Just then, Effie Trinket arrives in a pumpkin orange wig to remind everyone, “We’re on a schedule!” She kisses me on both cheeks while waving in the camera crew, then orders me into position. Effie’s the only reason we got anywhere on time in the Capitol, so I try to accommodate her. I start bobbing around like a puppet, holding up outfits and saying meaningless things like “Don’t you love it?” The sound team records me reading from my cards in a chirpy voice so they can insert it later, then I’m tossed out of the room so they can film my/Cinna’s designs in peace.
Prim got out early from school for the event. Now she stands in the kitchen, being interviewed by another crew. She looks lovely in a sky blue frock that brings out her eyes, her blond hair pulled back in a matching ribbon. She’s leaning a bit forward on the toes of her shiny white boots like she’s about to take flight, like— Bam! It’s like someone actually hits me in the chest. No one has, of course, but the pain is so real I take a step back. I squeeze my eyes shut and I don’t see Prim—I see Rue, the twelve-year-old girl from District 11 who was my ally in the arena. She could fly, birdlike, from tree to tree, catching on to the slenderest branches. Rue, who I didn’t save. Who I let die. I picture her lying on the ground with the spear still wedged in her stomach…
Who else will I fail to save from the Capitol’s vengeance? Who else will be dead if I don’t satisfy President Snow?
I realize Cinna’s trying to put a coat on me, so I raise my arms. I feel fur, inside and out, encasing me. It’s from no animal I’ve ever seen. “Ermine,” he tells me as I stroke the white sleeve. Leather gloves. A bright red scarf. Something furry covers my ears. “You’re bringing earmuffs back in style.”
I hate earmuffs, I think. They make it hard to hear, and since I was blasted deaf in one ear in the arena, I dislike them even more. After I won, the Capitol repaired my ear, but I still find myself testing it.
My mother hurries up with something cupped in her hand. “For good luck,” she says.
It’s the pin Madge gave me before I left for the Games. A mockingjay flying in a circle of gold. I tried to give it to Rue but she wouldn’t take it. She said the pin was the reason she’d decided to trust me. Cinna fixes it on the knot in the scarf.
Effie Trinket’s nearby, clapping her hands. “Attention, everyone! We’re about to do the first outdoor shot, where the victors greet each other at the beginning of their marvelous trip. All right, Katniss, big smile, you’re very excited, right?” I don’t exaggerate when I say she shoves me out the door.
For a moment I can’t quite see right because of the snow, which is now coming down in earnest. Then I make out Peeta coming through his front door. In my head I hear President Snow’s directive, “Convince me.” And I know I must.
My face breaks into a huge smile and I start walking in Peeta’s direction. Then, as if I can’t stand it another second, I start running. He catches me and spins me around and then he slips—he still isn’t entirely in command of his artificial leg—and we fall into the snow, me on top of him, and that’s where we have our first kiss in months. It’s full of fur and snowflakes and lipstick, but underneath all that, I can feel the steadiness that Peeta brings to everything. And I know I’m not alone. As badly as I have hurt him, he won’t expose me in front of the cameras. Won’t condemn me with a halfhearted kiss. He’s still looking out for me. Just as he did in the arena. Somehow the thought makes me want to cry. Instead I pull him to his feet, tuck my glove through the crook of his arm, and merrily pull him on our way.
The rest of the day is a blur of getting to the station, bidding everyone goodbye, the train pulling out, the old team—Peeta and me, Effie and Haymitch, Cinna and Portia, Peeta’s stylist—dining on an indescribably delicious meal I don’t remember. And then I’m swathed in pajamas and a voluminous robe, sitting in my plush compartment, waiting for the others to go to sleep. I know Haymitch will be up for hours. He doesn’t like to sleep when it’s dark out.
When the train seems quiet, I put on my slippers and pad down to his door. I have to knock several times before he answers, scowling, as if he’s certain I’ve brought bad news.
“What do you want?” he says, nearly knocking me out with a cloud of wine fumes.
“I have to talk to you,” I whisper.
“Now?” he says. I nod. “This better be good.” He waits, but I feel certain every word we utter on a Capitol train is being recorded. “Well?” he barks.
The train starts to brake and for a second I think President Snow is watching me and doesn’t approve of my confiding in Haymitch and has decided to go ahead and kill me now. But we’re just stopping for fuel.
“The train’s so stuffy,” I say.
It’s a harmless phrase, but I see Haymitch’s eyes narrow in understanding. “I know what you need.” He pushes past me and lurches down the hall to a door. When he wrestles it open, a blast of snow hits us. He trips out onto the ground.
A Capitol attendant rushes to help, but Haymitch waves her away good-naturedly as he staggers off. “Just want some fresh air. Only be a minute.”
“Sorry. He’s drunk,” I say apologetically. “I’ll get him.” I hop down and stumble along the track behind him, soaking my slippers with snow, as he leads me beyond the end of the train so we will not be overheard. Then he turns on me.
By: Suzanne Collins
PART 1 “THE ASHES”
I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather. This is where the bed I shared with my sister, Prim, stood. Over there was the kitchen table. The bricks of the chimney, which collapsed in a charred heap, provide a point of reference for the rest of the house. How else could I orient myself in this sea of gray?
Almost nothing remains of District 12. A month ago, the Capitol‘s firebombs obliterated the poor coal miners‘ houses in the Seam, the shops in the town, even the Justice Building. The only area that escaped incineration was the Victor‘s Village. I don‘t know why exactly. Perhaps so anyone forced to come here on Capitol business would have somewhere decent to stay. The odd reporter. A committee assessing the condition of the coal mines. A squad of Peacekeepers checking for returning refugees.
But no one is returning except me. And that‘s only for a brief visit. The authorities in District 13 were against my coming back. They viewed it as a costly and pointless venture, given that at least a dozen invisible hovercraft are circling overhead for my protection and there‘s no intelligence to be gained. I had to see it, though. So much so that I made it a condition of my cooperating with any of their plans.
Finally, Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker who had organized the rebels in the Capitol, threw up his hands. “Let her go. Better to waste a day than another month. Maybe a little tour of Twelve is just what she needs to convince her we‘re on the same side.”
The same side. A pain stabs my left temple and I press my hand against it. Right on the spot where Johanna Mason hit me with the coil of wire. The memories swirl as I try to sort out what is true and what is false. What series of events led me to be standing in the ruins of my city? This is hard because the effects of the concussion she gave me haven‘t completely subsided and my thoughts still have a tendency to jumble together. Also, the drugs they use to control my pain and mood sometimes make me see things. I guess. I‘m still not entirely convinced that I was hallucinating the night the floor of my hospital room transformed into a carpet of writhing snakes.
I use a technique one of the doctors suggested. I start with the simplest things I know to be true and work toward the more complicated. The list begins to roll in my head…
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be dead. Most likely he is dead. It is probably best if he is dead…
“Katniss. Should I come down?” My best friend Gale‘s voice reaches me through the headset the rebels insisted I wear. He‘s up in a hovercraft, watching me carefully, ready to swoop in if anything goes amiss. I realize I‘m crouched down now, elbows on my thighs, my head braced between my hands. I must look on the verge of some kind of breakdown. This won‘t do. Not when they‘re finally weaning me off the medication.
I straighten up and wave his offer away. “No. I‘m fine.” To reinforce this, I begin to move away from my old house and in toward the town. Gale asked to be dropped off in 12 with me, but he didn‘t force the issue when I refused his company. He understands I don‘t want anyone with me today. Not even him. Some walks you have to take alone.
The summer‘s been scorching hot and dry as a bone. There‘s been next to no rain to disturb the piles of ash left by the attack. They shift here and there, in reaction to my footsteps. No breeze to scatter them. I keep my eyes on what I remember as the road, because when I first landed in the Meadow, I wasn‘t careful and I walked right into a rock. Only it wasn‘t a rock—it was someone‘s skull. It rolled over and over and landed faceup, and for a long time I couldn‘t stop looking at the teeth, wondering whose they were, thinking of how mine would probably look the same way under similar circumstances.
I stick to the road out of habit, but it‘s a bad choice, because it‘s full of the remains of those who tried to flee. Some were incinerated entirely. But others, probably overcome with smoke, escaped the worst of the flames and now lie reeking in various states of decomposition, carrion for scavengers, blanketed by flies. I killed you, I think as I pass a pile. And you. And you.
Because I did. It was my arrow, aimed at the chink in the force field surrounding the arena, that brought on this firestorm of retribution. That sent the whole country of Panem into chaos.
In my head I hear President Snow‘s words, spoken the morning I was to begin the Victory Tour. “Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, you have provided a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem.” It turns out he wasn‘t exaggerating or simply trying to scare me. He was, perhaps, genuinely attempting to enlist my help. But I had already set something in motion that I had no ability to control.
Burning. Still burning, I think numbly. The fires at the coal mines belch black smoke in the distance. There‘s no one left to care, though. More than ninety percent of the district‘s population is dead. The remaining eight hundred or so are refugees in District 13—which, as far as I‘m concerned, is the same thing as being homeless forever.
I know I shouldn‘t think that; I know I should be grateful for the way we have been welcomed. Sick, wounded, starving, and empty-handed. Still, I can never get around the fact that District 13 was instrumental in 12‘s destruction. This doesn‘t absolve me of blame—there‘s plenty of blame to go around. But without them, I would not have been part of a larger plot to overthrow the Capitol or had the wherewithal to do it.
The citizens of District 12 had no organized resistance movement of their own. No say in any of this. They only had the misfortune to have me. Some survivors think it‘s good luck, though, to be free of District 12 at last. To have escaped the endless hunger and oppression, the perilous mines, the lash of our final Head Peacekeeper, Romulus Thread. To have a new home at all is seen as a wonder since, up until a short time ago, we hadn‘t even known that District 13 still existed.
The credit for the survivors‘ escape has landed squarely on Gale‘s shoulders, although he‘s loath to accept it. As soon as the Quarter Quell was over—as soon as I had been lifted from the arena—the electricity in District 12 was cut, the televisions went black, and the Seam became so silent, people could hear one another‘s heartbeats. No one did anything to protest or celebrate what had happened in the arena. Yet within fifteen minutes, the sky was filled with hoverplanes and the bombs were raining down.
It was Gale who thought of the Meadow, one of the few places not filled with old wooden homes embedded with coal dust. He herded those he could in its direction, including my mother and Prim. He formed the team that pulled down the fence—now just a harmless chain-link barrier, with the electricity off—and led the people into the woods. He took them to the only place he could think of, the lake my father had shown me as a child. And it was from there they watched the distant flames eat up everything they knew in the world.
By dawn the bombers were long gone, the fires dying, the final stragglers rounded up. My mother and Prim had set up a medical area for the injured and were attempting to treat them with whatever they could glean from the woods. Gale had two sets of bows and arrows, one hunting knife, one fishing net, and over eight hundred terrified people to feed. With the help of those who were able-bodied, they managed for three days. And that‘s when the hovercraft unexpectedly arrived to evacuate them to District 13, where there were more than enough clean, white living compartments, plenty of clothing, and three meals a day. The compartments had the disadvantage of being underground, the clothing was identical, and the food was relatively tasteless, but for the refugees of 12, these were minor considerations. They were safe. They were being cared for. They were alive and eagerly welcomed.
This enthusiasm was interpreted as kindness. But a man named Dalton, a District 10 refugee who‘d made it to 13 on foot a few years ago, leaked the real motive to me. “They need you. Me. They need us all. Awhile back, there was some sort of pox epidemic that killed a bunch of them and left a lot more infertile. New breeding stock. That‘s how they see us.” Back in 10, he‘d worked on one of the beef ranches, maintaining the genetic diversity of the herd with the implantation of long-frozen cow embryos. He‘s very likely right about 13, because there don‘t seem to be nearly enough kids around. But so what? We‘re not being kept in pens, we‘re being trained for work, the children are being educated. Those over fourteen have been given entry-level ranks in the military and are addressed respectfully as “Soldier.” Every single refugee was granted automatic citizenship by the authorities of 13.
Still, I hate them. But, of course, I hate almost everybody now. Myself more than anyone.
The surface beneath my feet hardens, and under the carpet of ash, I feel the paving stones of the square. Around the perimeter is a shallow border of refuse where the shops stood. A heap of blackened rubble has replaced the Justice Building. I walk to the approximate site of the bakery Peeta‘s family owned. Nothing much left but the melted lump of the oven. Peeta‘s parents, his two older brothers—none of them made it to 13. Fewer than a dozen of what passed for District 12‘s well-to-do escaped the fire. Peeta would have nothing to come home to, anyway. Except me…
I back away from the bakery and bump into something, lose my balance, and find myself sitting on a hunk of sun-heated metal. I puzzle over what it might have been, then remember Thread‘s recent renovations of the square. Stocks, whipping posts, and this, the remains of the gallows. Bad. This is bad. It brings on the flood of images that torments me, awake or asleep. Peeta being tortured—drowned, burned, lacerated, shocked, maimed, beaten—as the Capitol tries to get information about the rebellion that he doesn‘t know. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to reach for him across the hundreds and hundreds of miles, to send my thoughts into his mind, to let him know he is not alone. But he is. And I can‘t help him.
Running. Away from the square and to the one place the fire did not destroy. I pass the wreckage of the mayor‘s house, where my friend Madge lived. No word of her or her family. Were they evacuated to the Capitol because of her father‘s position, or left to the flames? Ashes billow up around me, and I pull the hem of my shirt up over my mouth. It‘s not wondering what I breathe in, but who, that threatens to choke me.
The grass has been scorched and the gray snow fell here as well, but the twelve fine houses of the Victor‘s Village are unscathed. I bolt into the house I lived in for the past year, slam the door closed, and lean back against it. The place seems untouched. Clean. Eerily quiet. Why did I come back to 12? How can this visit help me answer the question I can‘t escape?
“What am I going to do?” I whisper to the walls. Because I really don‘t know.
People keep talking at me, talking, talking, talking. Plutarch Heavensbee. His calculating assistant, Fulvia Cardew. A mishmash of district leaders. Military officials. But not Alma Coin, the president of 13, who just watches. She‘s fifty or so, with gray hair that falls in an unbroken sheet to her shoulders. I‘m somewhat fascinated by her hair, since it‘s so uniform, so without a flaw, a wisp, even a split end. Her eyes are gray, but not like those of people from the Seam. They‘re very pale, as if almost all the color has been sucked out of them. The color of slush that you wish would melt away.
What they want is for me to truly take on the role they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. It isn‘t enough, what I‘ve done in the past, defying the Capitol in the Games, providing a rallying point. I must now become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution. The person who the districts—most of which are now openly at war with the Capitol—can count on to blaze the path to victory. I won‘t have to do it alone. They have a whole team of people to make me over, dress me, write my speeches, orchestrate my appearances—as if that doesn‘t sound horribly familiar—and all I have to do is play my part. Sometimes I listen to them and sometimes I just watch the perfect line of Coin‘s hair and try to decide if it‘s a wig. Eventually, I leave the room because my head starts to ache or it‘s time to eat or if I don‘t get aboveground I might start screaming. I don‘t bother to say anything. I simply get up and walk out.
Yesterday afternoon, as the door was closing behind me, I heard Coin say, “I told you we should have rescued the boy first.” Meaning Peeta. I couldn‘t agree more. He would‘ve been an excellent mouthpiece.
And who did they fish out of the arena instead? Me, who won‘t cooperate. Beetee, an older inventor from 3, who I rarely see because he was pulled into weapons development the minute he could sit upright. Literally, they wheeled his hospital bed into some top secret area and now he only occasionally shows up for meals. He‘s very smart and very willing to help the cause, but not really firebrand material. Then there‘s Finnick Odair, the sex symbol from the fishing district, who kept Peeta alive in the arena when I couldn‘t. They want to transform Finnick into a rebel leader as well, but first they‘ll have to get him to stay awake for more than five minutes. Even when he is conscious, you have to say everything to him three times to get through to his brain. The doctors say it‘s from the electrical shock he received in the arena, but I know it‘s a lot more complicated than that. I know that Finnick can‘t focus on anything in 13 because he‘s trying so hard to see what‘s happening in the Capitol to Annie, the mad girl from his district who‘s the only person on earth he loves.
Despite serious reservations, I had to forgive Finnick for his role in the conspiracy that landed me here. He, at least, has some idea of what I‘m going through. And it takes too much energy to stay angry with someone who cries so much.
I move through the downstairs on hunter‘s feet, reluctant to make any sound. I pick up a few remembrances: a photo of my parents on their wedding day, a blue hair ribbon for Prim, the family book of medicinal and edible plants. The book falls open to a page with yellow flowers and I shut it quickly because it was Peeta‘s brush that painted them.
What am I going to do?
Is there any point in doing anything at all? My mother, my sister, and Gale‘s family are finally safe. As for the rest of 12, people are either dead, which is irreversible, or protected in 13. That leaves the rebels in the districts. Of course, I hate the Capitol, but I have no confidence that my being the Mockingjay will benefit those who are trying to bring it down. How can I help the districts when every time I make a move, it results in suffering and loss of life? The old man shot in District 11 for whistling. The crackdown in 12 after I intervened in Gale‘s whipping. My stylist, Cinna, being dragged, bloody and unconscious, from the Launch Room before the Games. Plutarch‘s sources believe he was killed during interrogation. Brilliant, enigmatic, lovely Cinna is dead because of me. I push the thought away because it‘s too impossibly painful to dwell on without losing my fragile hold on the situation entirely.
What am I going to do?
To become the Mockingjay… could any good I do possibly outweigh the damage? Who can I trust to answer that question? Certainly not that crew in 13. I swear, now that my family and Gale‘s are out of harm‘s way, I could run away. Except for one unfinished piece of business. Peeta. If I knew for sure that he was dead, I could just disappear into the woods and never look back. But until I do, I‘m stuck.
I spin on my heel at the sound of a hiss. In the kitchen doorway, back arched, ears flattened, stands the ugliest tomcat in the world. “Buttercup,” I say. Thousands of people are dead, but he has survived and even looks well fed. On what? He can get in and out of the house through a window we always left ajar in the pantry. He must have been eating field mice. I refuse to consider the alternative.
I squat down and extend a hand. “Come here, boy.” Not likely. He‘s angry at his abandonment. Besides, I‘m not offering food, and my ability to provide scraps has always been my main redeeming quality to him. For a while, when we used to meet up at the old house because we both disliked this new one, we seemed to be bonding a little. That‘s clearly over. He blinks those unpleasant yellow eyes.
“Want to see Prim?” I ask. Her name catches his attention. Besides his own, it‘s the only word that means anything to him. He gives a rusty meow and approaches me. I pick him up, stroking his fur, then go to the closet and dig out my game bag and unceremoniously stuff him in. There‘s no other way I‘ll be able to carry him on the hovercraft, and he means the world to my sister. Her goat, Lady, an animal of actual value, has unfortunately not made an appearance.
In my headset, I hear Gale‘s voice telling me we must go back. But the game bag has reminded me of one more thing that I want. I sling the strap of the bag over the back of a chair and dash up the steps to my bedroom. Inside the closet hangs my father‘s hunting jacket. Before the Quell, I brought it here from the old house, thinking its presence might be of comfort to my mother and sister when I was dead. Thank goodness, or it‘d be ash now.
The soft leather feels soothing and for a moment I‘m calmed by the memories of the hours spent wrapped in it. Then, inexplicably, my palms begin to sweat. A strange sensation creeps up the back of my neck. I whip around to face the room and find it empty. Tidy. Everything in its place. There was no sound to alarm me. What, then?
My nose twitches. It‘s the smell. Cloying and artificial. A dab of white peeks out of a vase of dried flowers on my dresser. I approach it with cautious steps. There, all but obscured by its preserved cousins, is a fresh white rose. Perfect. Down to the last thorn and silken petal.
And I know immediately who‘s sent it to me.
When I begin to gag at the stench, I back away and clear out. How long has it been here? A day? An hour? The rebels did a security sweep of the Victor‘s Village before I was cleared to come here, checking for explosives, bugs, anything unusual. But perhaps the rose didn‘t seem noteworthy to them. Only to me.
Downstairs, I snag the game bag off the chair, bouncing it along the floor until I remember it‘s occupied. On the lawn, I frantically signal to the hovercraft while Buttercup thrashes. I jab him with my elbow, but this only infuriates him. A hovercraft materializes and a ladder drops down. I step on and the current freezes me until I‘m lifted on board.
Gale helps me from the ladder. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” I say, wiping the sweat off my face with my sleeve.
He left me a rose! I want to scream, but it‘s not information I‘m sure I should share with someone like Plutarch looking on. First of all, because it will make me sound crazy. Like I either imagined it, which is quite possible, or I‘m overreacting, which will buy me a trip back to the drug-induced dreamland I‘m trying so hard to escape. No one will fully understand—how it‘s not just a flower, not even just President Snow‘s flower, but a promise of revenge—because no one else sat in the study with him when he threatened me before the Victory Tour.
Positioned on my dresser, that white-as-snow rose is a personal message to me. It speaks of unfinished business. It whispers, I can find you. I can reach you. Perhaps I am watching you now.
Are there Capitol hoverplanes speeding in to blow us out of the sky? As we travel over District 12, I watch anxiously for signs of an attack, but nothing pursues us. After several minutes, when I hear an exchange between Plutarch and the pilot confirming that the airspace is clear, I begin to relax a little.
Gale nods at the howls coming from my game bag. “Now I know why you had to go back.”
“If there was even a chance of his recovery.” I dump the bag onto a seat, where the loathsome creature begins a low, deep-throated growl. “Oh, shut up,” I tell the bag as I sink into the cushioned window seat across from it.
Gale sits next to me. “Pretty bad down there?”
“Couldn‘t be much worse,” I answer. I look in his eyes and see my own grief reflected there. Our hands find each other, holding fast to a part of 12 that Snow has somehow failed to destroy. We sit in silence for the rest of the trip to 13, which only takes about forty-five minutes. A mere week‘s journey on foot. Bonnie and Twill, the District 8 refugees who I encountered in the woods last winter, weren‘t so far from their destination after all. They apparently didn‘t make it, though. When I asked about them in 13, no one seemed to know who I was talking about. Died in the woods, I guess.
From the air, 13 looks about as cheerful as 12. The rubble isn‘t smoking, the way the Capitol shows it on television, but there‘s next to no life aboveground. In the seventy-five years since the Dark Days—when 13 was said to have been obliterated in the war between the Capitol and the districts—almost all new construction has been beneath the earth‘s surface. There was already a substantial underground facility here, developed over centuries to be either a clandestine refuge for government leaders in time of war or a last resort for humanity if life above became unlivable. Most important for the people of 13, it was the center of the Capitol‘s nuclear weapons development program. During the Dark Days, the rebels in 13 wrested control from the government forces, trained their nuclear missiles on the Capitol, and then struck a bargain: They would play dead in exchange for being left alone. The Capitol had another nuclear arsenal out west, but it couldn‘t attack 13 without certain retaliation. It was forced to accept 13‘s deal. The Capitol demolished the visible remains of the district and cut off all access from the outside. Perhaps the Capitol‘s leaders thought that, without help, 13 would die off on its own. It almost did a few times, but it always managed to pull through due to strict sharing of resources, strenuous discipline, and constant vigilance against any further attacks from the Capitol.
Now the citizens live almost exclusively underground. You can go outside for exercise and sunlight but only at very specific times in your schedule. You can‘t miss your schedule. Every morning, you‘re supposed to stick your right arm in this contraption in the wall. It tattoos the smooth inside of your forearm with your schedule for the day in a sickly purple ink. 7:00—Breakfast. 7:30—Kitchen Duties. 8:30—Education Center, Room 17. And so on. The ink is indelible until 22:00—Bathing. That‘s when whatever keeps it water resistant breaks down and the whole schedule rinses away. The lights-out at 22:30 signals that everyone not on the night shift should be in bed.
At first, when I was so ill in the hospital, I could forgo being imprinted. But once I moved into Compartment 307 with my mother and sister, I was expected to get with the program. Except for showing up for meals, though, I pretty much ignore the words on my arm. I just go back to our compartment or wander around 13 or fall asleep somewhere hidden. An abandoned air duct. Behind the water pipes in the laundry. There‘s a closet in the Education Center that‘s great because no one ever seems to need school supplies. They‘re so frugal with things here, waste is practically a criminal activity. Fortunately, the people of 12 have never been wasteful. But once I saw Fulvia Cardew crumple up a sheet of paper with just a couple of words written on it and you would‘ve thought she‘d murdered someone from the looks she got. Her face turned tomato red, making the silver flowers inlaid in her plump cheeks even more noticeable. The very portrait of excess. One of my few pleasures in 13 is watching the handful of pampered Capitol “rebels” squirming as they try to fit in.
I don‘t know how long I‘ll be able to get away with my complete disregard for the clockwork precision of attendance required by my hosts. Right now, they leave me alone because I‘m classified as mentally disoriented—it says so right on my plastic medical bracelet—and everyone has to tolerate my ramblings. But that can‘t last forever. Neither can their patience with the Mockingjay issue.
From the landing pad, Gale and I walk down a series of stairways to Compartment 307. We could take the elevator, only it reminds me too much of the one that lifted me into the arena. I‘m having a hard time adjusting to being underground so much. But after the surreal encounter with the rose, for the first time the descent makes me feel safer.
I hesitate at the door marked 307, anticipating the questions from my family. “What am I going to tell them about Twelve?” I ask Gale.
“I doubt they‘ll ask for details. They saw it burn. They‘ll mostly be worried about how you‘re handling it.” Gale touches my cheek. “Like I am.”
I press my face against his hand for a moment. “I‘ll survive.”
Then I take a deep breath and open the door. My mother and sister are home for 18:00—Reflection, a half hour of downtime before dinner. I see the concern on their faces as they try to gauge my emotional state. Before anyone can ask anything, I empty my game bag and it becomes 18:00—Cat Adoration. Prim just sits on the floor weeping and rocking that awful Buttercup, who interrupts his purring only for an occasional hiss at me. He gives me a particularly smug look when she ties the blue ribbon around his neck.
My mother hugs the wedding photo tightly against her chest and then places it, along with the book of plants, on our government-issued chest of drawers. I hang my father‘s jacket on the back of a chair. For a moment, the place almost seems like home. So I guess the trip to 12 wasn‘t a complete waste.
We‘re heading down to the dining hall for 18:30—Dinner when Gale‘s communicuff begins to beep. It looks like an oversized watch, but it receives print messages. Being granted a communicuff is a special privilege that‘s reserved for those important to the cause, a status Gale achieved by his rescue of the citizens of 12. “They need the two of us in Command,” he says.
Trailing a few steps behind Gale, I try to collect myself before I‘m thrown into what‘s sure to be another relentless Mockingjay session. I linger in the doorway of Command, the high-tech meeting/war council room complete with computerized talking walls, electronic maps showing the troop movements in various districts, and a giant rectangular table with control panels I‘m not supposed to touch. No one notices me, though, because they‘re all gathered at a television screen at the far end of the room that airs the Capitol broadcast around the clock. I‘m thinking I might be able to slip away when Plutarch, whose ample frame has been blocking the television, catches sight of me and waves urgently for me to join them. I reluctantly move forward, trying to imagine how it could be of interest to me. It‘s always the same. War footage. Propaganda. Replaying the bombings of District 12. An ominous message from President Snow. So it‘s almost entertaining to see Caesar Flickerman, the eternal host of the Hunger Games, with his painted face and sparkly suit, preparing to give an interview. Until the camera pulls back and I see that his guest is Peeta.
A sound escapes me. The same combination of gasp and groan that comes from being submerged in water, deprived of oxygen to the point of pain. I push people aside until I am right in front of him, my hand resting on the screen. I search his eyes for any sign of hurt, any reflection of the agony of torture. There is nothing. Peeta looks healthy to the point of robustness. His skin is glowing, flawless, in that full-body-polish way. His manner‘s composed, serious. I can‘t reconcile this image with the battered, bleeding boy who haunts my dreams.
Caesar settles himself more comfortably in the chair across from Peeta and gives him a long look. “So… Peeta… welcome back.”
Peeta smiles slightly. “I bet you thought you‘d done your last interview with me, Caesar.”
“I confess, I did,” says Caesar. “The night before the Quarter Quell… well, who ever thought we‘d see you again?”
“It wasn‘t part of my plan, that‘s for sure,” says Peeta with a frown.
Caesar leans in to him a little. “I think it was clear to all of us what your plan was. To sacrifice yourself in the arena so that Katniss Everdeen and your child could survive.”
“That was it. Clear and simple.” Peeta‘s fingers trace the upholstered pattern on the arm of the chair. “But other people had plans as well.”
Yes, other people had plans, I think. Has Peeta guessed, then, how the rebels used us as pawns? How my rescue was arranged from the beginning? And finally, how our mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, betrayed us both for a cause he pretended to have no interest in?
In the silence that follows, I notice the lines that have formed between Peeta‘s eyebrows. He has guessed or he has been told. But the Capitol has not killed or even punished him. For right now, that exceeds my wildest hopes. I drink in his wholeness, the soundness of his body and mind. It runs through me like the morphling they give me in the hospital, dulling the pain of the last weeks.
“Why don‘t you tell us about that last night in the arena?” suggests Caesar. “Help us sort a few things out.”
Peeta nods but takes his time speaking. “That last night… to tell you about that last night… well, first of all, you have to imagine how it felt in the arena. It was like being an insect trapped under a bowl filled with steaming air. And all around you, jungle… green and alive and ticking. That giant clock ticking away your life. Every hour promising some new horror. You have to imagine that in the past two days, sixteen people have died—some of them defending you. At the rate things are going, the last eight will be dead by morning. Save one. The victor. And your plan is that it won‘t be you.”
My body breaks out in a sweat at the memory. My hand slides down the screen and hangs limply at my side. Peeta doesn‘t need a brush to paint images from the Games. He works just as well in words.
“Once you‘re in the arena, the rest of the world becomes very distant,” he continues. “All the people and things you loved or cared about almost cease to exist. The pink sky and the monsters in the jungle and the tributes who want your blood become your final reality, the only one that ever mattered. As bad as it makes you feel, you‘re going to have to do some killing, because in the arena, you only get one wish. And it‘s very costly.”
“It costs your life,” says Caesar.
“Oh, no. It costs a lot more than your life. To murder innocent people?” says Peeta. “It costs everything you are.”
“Everything you are,” repeats Caesar quietly.
A hush has fallen over the room, and I can feel it spreading across Panem. A nation leaning in toward its screens. Because no one has ever talked about what it‘s really like in the arena before.
Peeta goes on. “So you hold on to your wish. And that last night, yes, my wish was to save Katniss. But even without knowing about the rebels, it didn‘t feel right. Everything was too complicated. I found myself regretting I hadn‘t run off with her earlier in the day, as she had suggested. But there was no getting out of it at that point.”
“You were too caught up in Beetee‘s plan to electrify the salt lake,” says Caesar.
“Too busy playing allies with the others. I should have never let them separate us!” Peeta bursts out. “That‘s when I lost her.”
“When you stayed at the lightning tree, and she and Johanna Mason took the coil of wire down to the water,” Caesar clarifies.
“I didn‘t want to!” Peeta flushes in agitation. “But I couldn‘t argue with Beetee without indicating we were about to break away from the alliance. When that wire was cut, everything just went insane. I can only remember bits and pieces. Trying to find her. Watching Brutus kill Chaff. Killing Brutus myself. I know she was calling my name. Then the lightning bolt hit the tree, and the force field around the arena… blew out.”
“Katniss blew it out, Peeta,” says Caesar. “You‘ve seen the footage.”
“She didn‘t know what she was doing. None of us could follow Beetee‘s plan. You can see her trying to figure out what to do with that wire,” Peeta snaps back.
“All right. It just looks suspicious,” says Caesar. “As if she was part of the rebels‘ plan all along.”
Peeta‘s on his feet, leaning in to Caesar‘s face, hands locked on the arms of his interviewer‘s chair. “Really? And was it part of her plan for Johanna to nearly kill her? For that electric shock to paralyze her? To trigger the bombing?” He‘s yelling now. “She didn‘t know, Caesar! Neither of us knew anything except that we were trying to keep each other alive!”
Caesar places his hand on Peeta‘s chest in a gesture that‘s both self-protective and conciliatory. “Okay, Peeta, I believe you.”
“Okay.” Peeta withdraws from Caesar, pulling back his hands, running them through his hair, mussing his carefully styled blond curls. He slumps back in his chair, distraught.
Caesar waits a moment, studying Peeta. “What about your mentor, Haymitch Abernathy?”
Peeta‘s face hardens. “I don‘t know what Haymitch knew.”
“Could he have been part of the conspiracy?” asks Caesar.
“He never mentioned it,” says Peeta.
Caesar presses on. “What does your heart tell you?”
“That I shouldn‘t have trusted him,” says Peeta. “That‘s all.”
I haven‘t seen Haymitch since I attacked him on the hovercraft, leaving long claw marks down his face. I know it‘s been bad for him here. District 13 strictly forbids any production or consumption of intoxicating beverages, and even the rubbing alcohol in the hospital is kept under lock and key. Finally, Haymitch is being forced into sobriety, with no secret stashes or home-brewed concoctions to ease his transition. They‘ve got him in seclusion until he‘s dried out, as he‘s not deemed fit for public display. It must be excruciating, but I lost all my sympathy for Haymitch when I realized how he had deceived us. I hope he‘s watching the Capitol broadcast now, so he can see that Peeta has cast him off as well.
Caesar pats Peeta‘s shoulder. “We can stop now if you want.”
“Was there more to discuss?” says Peeta wryly.
“I was going to ask your thoughts on the war, but if you‘re too upset…” begins Caesar.
“Oh, I‘m not too upset to answer that.” Peeta takes a deep breath and then looks straight into the camera. “I want everyone watching—whether you‘re on the Capitol or the rebel side—to stop for just a moment and think about what this war could mean. For human beings. We almost went extinct fighting one another before. Now our numbers are even fewer. Our conditions more tenuous. Is this really what we want to do? Kill ourselves off completely? In the hopes that—what? Some decent species will inherit the smoking remains of the earth?”
“I don‘t really… I‘m not sure I‘m following…” says Caesar.
“We can‘t fight one another, Caesar,” Peeta explains. “There won‘t be enough of us left to keep going. If everybody doesn‘t lay down their weapons—and I mean, as in very soon—it‘s all over, anyway.”
“So… you‘re calling for a cease-fire?” Caesar asks.
“Yes. I‘m calling for a cease-fire,” says Peeta tiredly. “Now why don‘t we ask the guards to take me back to my quarters so I can build another hundred card houses?”
Caesar turns to the camera. “All right. I think that wraps it up. So back to our regularly scheduled programming.”
Music plays them out, and then there‘s a woman reading a list of expected shortages in the Capitol—fresh fruit, solar batteries, soap. I watch her with uncharacteristic absorption, because I know everyone will be waiting for my reaction to the interview. But there‘s no way I can process it all so quickly—the joy of seeing Peeta alive and unharmed, his defense of my innocence in collaborating with the rebels, and his undeniable complicity with the Capitol now that he‘s called for a cease-fire. Oh, he made it sound as if he were condemning both sides in the war. But at this point, with only minor victories for the rebels, a cease-fire could only result in a return to our previous status. Or worse.
Behind me, I can hear the accusations against Peeta building. The words traitor, liar, and enemy bounce off the walls. Since I can neither join in the rebels‘ outrage nor counter it, I decide the best thing to do is clear out. As I reach the door, Coin‘s voice rises above the others. “You have not been dismissed, Soldier Everdeen.”
One of Coin‘s men lays a hand on my arm. It‘s not an aggressive move, really, but after the arena, I react defensively to any unfamiliar touch. I jerk my arm free and take off running down the halls. Behind me, there‘s the sound of a scuffle, but I don‘t stop. My mind does a quick inventory of my odd little hiding places, and I wind up in the supply closet, curled up against a crate of chalk.
“You‘re alive,” I whisper, pressing my palms against my cheeks, feeling the smile that‘s so wide it must look like a grimace. Peeta‘s alive. And a traitor. But at the moment, I don‘t care. Not what he says, or who he says it for, only that he is still capable of speech.
After a while, the door opens and someone slips in. Gale slides down beside me, his nose trickling blood.
“What happened?” I ask.
“I got in Boggs‘s way,” he answers with a shrug. I use my sleeve to wipe his nose. “Watch it!”
I try to be gentler. Patting, not wiping. “Which one is he?”
“Oh, you know. Coin‘s right-hand lackey. The one who tried to stop you.” He pushes my hand away. “Quit! You‘ll bleed me to death.”
The trickle has turned to a steady stream. I give up on the first-aid attempts. “You fought with Boggs?”
“No, just blocked the doorway when he tried to follow you. His elbow caught me in the nose,” says Gale.
“They‘ll probably punish you,” I say.
“Already have.” He holds up his wrist. I stare at it uncomprehendingly. “Coin took back my communicuff.”
I bite my lip, trying to remain serious. But it seems so ridiculous. “I‘m sorry, Soldier Gale Hawthorne.”
“Don‘t be, Soldier Katniss Everdeen.” He grins. “I felt like a jerk walking around with it anyway.” We both start laughing. “I think it was quite a demotion.”
This is one of the few good things about 13. Getting Gale back. With the pressure of the Capitol‘s arranged marriage between Peeta and me gone, we‘ve managed to regain our friendship. He doesn‘t push it any further—try to kiss me or talk about love. Either I‘ve been too sick, or he‘s willing to give me space, or he knows it‘s just too cruel with Peeta in the hands of the Capitol. Whatever the case, I‘ve got someone to tell my secrets to again.
“Who are these people?” I say.
“They‘re us. If we‘d had nukes instead of a few lumps of coal,” he answers.
“I like to think Twelve wouldn‘t have abandoned the rest of the rebels back in the Dark Days,” I say.
“We might have. If it was that, surrender, or start a nuclear war,” says Gale. “In a way, it‘s remarkable they survived at all.”
Maybe it‘s because I still have the ashes of my own district on my shoes, but for the first time, I give the people of 13 something I have withheld from them: credit. For staying alive against all odds. Their early years must have been terrible, huddled in the chambers beneath the ground after their city was bombed to dust. Population decimated, no possible ally to turn to for aid. Over the past seventy-five years, they‘ve learned to be self-sufficient, turned their citizens into an army, and built a new society with no help from anyone. They would be even more powerful if that pox epidemic hadn‘t flattened their birthrate and made them so desperate for a new gene pool and breeders. Maybe they are militaristic, overly programmed, and somewhat lacking in a sense of humor. They‘re here. And willing to take on the Capitol.
“Still, it took them long enough to show up,” I say.
“It wasn‘t simple. They had to build up a rebel base in the Capitol, get some sort of underground organized in the districts,” he says. “Then they needed someone to set the whole thing in motion. They needed you.”
“They needed Peeta, too, but they seem to have forgotten that,” I say.
Gale‘s expression darkens. “Peeta might have done a lot of damage tonight. Most of the rebels will dismiss what he said immediately, of course. But there are districts where the resistance is shakier. The cease-fire‘s clearly President Snow‘s idea. But it seems so reasonable coming out of Peeta‘s mouth.”
I‘m afraid of Gale‘s answer, but I ask anyway. “Why do you think he said it?”
“He might have been tortured. Or persuaded. My guess is he made some kind of deal to protect you. He‘d put forth the idea of the cease-fire if Snow let him present you as a confused pregnant girl who had no idea what was going on when she was taken prisoner by the rebels. This way, if the districts lose, there‘s still a chance of leniency for you. If you play it right.” I must still look perplexed because Gale delivers the next line very slowly. “Katniss… he‘s still trying to keep you alive.”
To keep me alive? And then I understand. The Games are still on. We have left the arena, but since Peeta and I weren‘t killed, his last wish to preserve my life still stands. His idea is to have me lie low, remain safe and imprisoned, while the war plays out. Then neither side will really have cause to kill me. And Peeta? If the rebels win, it will be disastrous for him. If the Capitol wins, who knows? Maybe we‘ll both be allowed to live—if I play it right—to watch the Games go on…
Images flash through my mind: the spear piercing Rue‘s body in the arena, Gale hanging senseless from the whipping post, the corpse-littered wasteland of my home. And for what? For what? As my blood turns hot, I remember other things. My first glimpse of an uprising in District 8. The victors locked hand in hand the night before the Quarter Quell. And how it was no accident, my shooting that arrow into the force field in the arena. How badly I wanted it to lodge deep in the heart of my enemy.
I spring up, upsetting a box of a hundred pencils, sending them scattering around the floor.
“What is it?” Gale asks.
“There can‘t be a cease-fire.” I lean down, fumbling as I shove the sticks of dark gray graphite back into the box. “We can‘t go back.”
“I know.” Gale sweeps up a handful of pencils and taps them on the floor into perfect alignment.
“Whatever reason Peeta had for saying those things, he‘s wrong.” The stupid sticks won‘t go in the box and I snap several in my frustration.
“I know. Give it here. You‘re breaking them to bits.” He pulls the box from my hands and refills it with swift, concise motions.
“He doesn‘t know what they did to Twelve. If he could‘ve seen what was on the ground—” I start.
“Katniss, I‘m not arguing. If I could hit a button and kill every living soul working for the Capitol, I would do it. Without hesitation.” He slides the last pencil into the box and flips the lid closed. “The question is, what are you going to do?”
It turns out the question that‘s been eating away at me has only ever had one possible answer. But it took Peeta‘s ploy for me to recognize it.
What am I going to do?
I take a deep breath. My arms rise slightly—as if recalling the black-and-white wings Cinna gave me—then come to rest at my sides.
“I‘m going to be the Mockingjay.”
Buttercup‘s eyes reflect the faint glow of the safety light over the door as he lies in the crook of Prim‘s arm, back on the job, protecting her from the night. She‘s snuggled close to my mother. Asleep, they look just as they did the morning of the reaping that landed me in my first Games. I have a bed to myself because I‘m recuperating and because no one can sleep with me anyway, what with the nightmares and the thrashing around.
After tossing and turning for hours, I finally accept that it will be a wakeful night. Under Buttercup‘s watchful eye, I tiptoe across the cold tiled floor to the dresser.
The middle drawer contains my government-issued clothes. Everyone wears the same gray pants and shirt, the shirt tucked in at the waist. Underneath the clothes, I keep the few items I had on me when I was lifted from the arena. My mockingjay pin. Peeta‘s token, the gold locket with photos of my mother and Prim and Gale inside. A silver parachute that holds a spile for tapping trees, and the pearl Peeta gave me a few hours before I blew out the force field. District 13 confiscated my tube of skin ointment for use in the hospital, and my bow and arrows because only guards have clearance to carry weapons. They‘re in safekeeping in the armory.
I feel around for the parachute and slide my fingers inside until they close around the pearl. I sit back on my bed cross-legged and find myself rubbing the smooth iridescent surface of the pearl back and forth against my lips. For some reason, it‘s soothing. A cool kiss from the giver himself.
“Katniss?” Prim whispers. She‘s awake, peering at me through the darkness. “What‘s wrong?”
“Nothing. Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep.” It‘s automatic. Shutting Prim and my mother out of things to shield them.
Careful not to rouse my mother, Prim eases herself from the bed, scoops up Buttercup, and sits beside me. She touches the hand that has curled around the pearl. “You‘re cold.” Taking a spare blanket from the foot of the bed, she wraps it around all three of us, enveloping me in her warmth and Buttercup‘s furry heat as well. “You could tell me, you know. I‘m good at keeping secrets. Even from Mother.”
She‘s really gone, then. The little girl with the back of her shirt sticking out like a duck tail, the one who needed help reaching the dishes, and who begged to see the frosted cakes in the bakery window. Time and tragedy have forced her to grow too quickly, at least for my taste, into a young woman who stitches bleeding wounds and knows our mother can hear only so much.
“Tomorrow morning, I‘m going to agree to be the Mockingjay,” I tell her.
“Because you want to or because you feel forced into it?” she asks.
I laugh a little. “Both, I guess. No, I want to. I have to, if it will help the rebels defeat Snow.” I squeeze the pearl more tightly in my fist. “It‘s just… Peeta. I‘m afraid if we do win, the rebels will execute him as a traitor.”
Prim thinks this over. “Katniss, I don‘t think you understand how important you are to the cause. Important people usually get what they want. If you want to keep Peeta safe from the rebels, you can.”
I guess I‘m important. They went to a lot of trouble to rescue me. They took me to 12. “You mean… I could demand that they give Peeta immunity? And they‘d have to agree to it?”
“I think you could demand almost anything and they‘d have to agree to it.” Prim wrinkles her brow. “Only how do you know they‘ll keep their word?”
I remember all of the lies Haymitch told Peeta and me to get us to do what he wanted. What‘s to keep the rebels from reneging on the deal? A verbal promise behind closed doors, even a statement written on paper—these could easily evaporate after the war. Their existence or validity denied. Any witnesses in Command will be worthless. In fact, they‘d probably be the ones writing out Peeta‘s death warrant. I‘ll need a much larger pool of witnesses. I‘ll need everyone I can get.
“It will have to be public,” I say. Buttercup gives a flick of his tail that I take as agreement. “I‘ll make Coin announce it in front of the entire population of Thirteen.”
Prim smiles. “Oh, that‘s good. It‘s not a guarantee, but it will be much harder for them to back out of their promise.”
I feel the kind of relief that follows an actual solution. “I should wake you up more often, little duck.”
“I wish you would,” says Prim. She gives me a kiss. “Try and sleep now, all right?” And I do.
In the morning, I see that 7:00—Breakfast is directly followed by 7:30—Command, which is fine since I may as well start the ball rolling. At the dining hall, I flash my schedule, which includes some kind of ID number, in front of a sensor. As I slide my tray along the metal shelf before the vats of food, I see breakfast is its usual dependable self—a bowl of hot grain, a cup of milk, and a small scoop of fruit or vegetables. Today, mashed turnips. All of it comes from 13‘s underground farms. I sit at the table assigned to the Everdeens and the Hawthornes and some other refugees, and shovel my food down, wishing for seconds, but there are never seconds here. They have nutrition down to a science. You leave with enough calories to take you to the next meal, no more, no less. Serving size is based on your age, height, body type, health, and amount of physical labor required by your schedule. The people from 12 are already getting slightly larger portions than the natives of 13 in an effort to bring us up to weight. I guess bony soldiers tire too quickly. It‘s working, though. In just a month, we‘re starting to look healthier, particularly the kids.
Gale sets his tray beside me and I try not to stare at his turnips too pathetically, because I really want more, and he‘s already too quick to slip me his food. Even though I turn my attention to neatly folding my napkin, a spoonful of turnips slops into my bowl.
“You‘ve got to stop that,” I say. But since I‘m already scooping up the stuff, it‘s not too convincing. “Really. It‘s probably illegal or something.” They have very strict rules about food. For instance, if you don‘t finish something and want to save it for later, you can‘t take it from the dining hall. Apparently, in the early days, there was some incident of food hoarding. For a couple of people like Gale and me, who‘ve been in charge of our families‘ food supply for years, it doesn‘t sit well. We know how to be hungry, but not how to be told how to handle what provisions we have. In some ways, District 13 is even more controlling than the Capitol.
“What can they do? They‘ve already got my communicuff,” says Gale.
As I scrape my bowl clean, I have an inspiration. “Hey, maybe I should make that a condition of being the Mockingjay.”
“That I can feed you turnips?” he says.
“No, that we can hunt.” That gets his attention. “We‘d have to give everything to the kitchen. But still, we could…” I don‘t have to finish because he knows. We could be aboveground. Out in the woods. We could be ourselves again.
“Do it,” he says. “Now‘s the time. You could ask for the moon and they‘d have to find some way to get it.”
He doesn‘t know that I‘m already asking for the moon by demanding they spare Peeta‘s life. Before I can decide whether or not to tell him, a bell signals the end of our eating shift. The thought of facing Coin alone makes me nervous. “What are you scheduled for?”
Gale checks his arm. “Nuclear History class. Where, by the way, your absence has been noted.”
“I have to go to Command. Come with me?” I ask.
“All right. But they might throw me out after yesterday.” As we go to drop off our trays, he says, “You know, you better put Buttercup on your list of demands, too. I don‘t think the concept of useless pets is well known here.”
“Oh, they‘ll find him a job. Tattoo it on his paw every morning,” I say. But I make a mental note to include him for Prim‘s sake.
By the time we get to Command, Coin, Plutarch, and all their people have already assembled. The sight of Gale raises some eyebrows, but no one throws him out. My mental notes have become too jumbled, so I ask for a piece of paper and a pencil right off. My apparent interest in the proceedings—the first I‘ve shown since I‘ve been here—takes them by surprise. Several looks are exchanged. Probably they had some extra-special lecture planned for me. But instead, Coin personally hands me the supplies, and everyone waits in silence while I sit at the table and scrawl out my list. Buttercup. Hunting. Peeta‘s immunity. Announced in public.
This is it. Probably my only chance to bargain. Think. What else do you want? I feel him, standing at my shoulder. Gale, I add to the list. I don‘t think I can do this without him.
The headache‘s coming on and my thoughts begin to tangle. I shut my eyes and start to recite silently.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is alive. He is a traitor but alive. I have to keep him alive…
The list. It still seems too small. I should try to think bigger, beyond our current situation where I am of the utmost importance, to the future where I may be worth nothing. Shouldn‘t I be asking for more? For my family? For the remainder of my people? My skin itches with the ashes of the dead. I feel the sickening impact of the skull against my shoe. The scent of blood and roses stings my nose.
The pencil moves across the page on its own. I open my eyes and see the wobbly letters. I KILL SNOW. If he‘s captured, I want the privilege.
Plutarch gives a discreet cough. “About done there?” I glance up and notice the clock. I‘ve been sitting here for twenty minutes. Finnick isn‘t the only one with attention problems.
“Yeah,” I say. My voice sounds hoarse, so I clear my throat. “Yeah, so this is the deal. I‘ll be your Mockingjay.”
I wait so they can make their sounds of relief, congratulate, slap one another on the back. Coin stays as impassive as ever, watching me, unimpressed.
“But I have some conditions.” I smooth out the list and begin. “My family gets to keep our cat.” My tiniest request sets off an argument. The Capitol rebels see this as a nonissue—of course, I can keep my pet—while those from 13 spell out what extreme difficulties this presents. Finally it‘s worked out that we‘ll be moved to the top level, which has the luxury of an eight-inch window aboveground. Buttercup may come and go to do his business. He will be expected to feed himself. If he misses curfew, he will be locked out. If he causes any security problems, he‘ll be shot immediately.
That sounds okay. Not so different from how he‘s been living since we left. Except for the shooting part. If he looks too thin, I can slip him a few entrails, provided my next request is allowed.
“I want to hunt. With Gale. Out in the woods,” I say. This gives everyone pause.
“We won‘t go far. We‘ll use our own bows. You can have the meat for the kitchen,” adds Gale.
I hurry on before they can say no. “It‘s just… I can‘t breathe shut up here like a… I would get better, faster, if… I could hunt.”
Plutarch begins to explain the drawbacks here—the dangers, the extra security, the risk of injury—but Coin cuts him off. “No. Let them. Give them two hours a day, deducted from their training time. A quarter-mile radius. With communication units and tracker anklets. What‘s next?”
I skim my list. “Gale. I‘ll need him with me to do this.”
“With you how? Off camera? By your side at all times? Do you want him presented as your new lover?” Coin asks.
She hasn‘t said this with any particular malice—quite the contrary, her words are very matter-of-fact. But my mouth still drops open in shock. “What?”
“I think we should continue the current romance. A quick defection from Peeta could cause the audience to lose sympathy for her,” says Plutarch. “Especially since they think she‘s pregnant with his child.”
“Agreed. So, on-screen, Gale can simply be portrayed as a fellow rebel. Is that all right?” says Coin. I just stare at her. She repeats herself impatiently. “For Gale. Will that be sufficient?”
“We can always work him in as your cousin,” says Fulvia.
“We‘re not cousins,” Gale and I say together.
“Right, but we should probably keep that up for appearances‘ sake on camera,” says Plutarch. “Off camera, he‘s all yours. Anything else?”
I‘m rattled by the turn in the conversation. The implications that I could so readily dispose of Peeta, that I‘m in love with Gale, that the whole thing has been an act. My cheeks begin to burn. The very notion that I‘m devoting any thought to who I want presented as my lover, given our current circumstances, is demeaning. I let my anger propel me into my greatest demand. “When the war is over, if we‘ve won, Peeta will be pardoned.”
Dead silence. I feel Gale‘s body tense. I guess I should have told him before, but I wasn‘t sure how he‘d respond. Not when it involved Peeta.
“No form of punishment will be inflicted,” I continue. A new thought occurs to me. “The same goes for the other captured tributes, Johanna and Enobaria.” Frankly, I don‘t care about Enobaria, the vicious District 2 tribute. In fact, I dislike her, but it seems wrong to leave her out.
“No,” says Coin flatly.
“Yes,” I shoot back. “It‘s not their fault you abandoned them in the arena. Who knows what the Capitol‘s doing to them?”
“They‘ll be tried with other war criminals and treated as the tribunal sees fit,” she says.
“They‘ll be granted immunity!” I feel myself rising from my chair, my voice full and resonant. “You will personally pledge this in front of the entire population of District Thirteen and the remainder of Twelve. Soon. Today. It will be recorded for future generations. You will hold yourself and your government responsible for their safety, or you‘ll find yourself another Mockingjay!”
My words hang in the air for a long moment.
“That‘s her!” I hear Fulvia hiss to Plutarch. “Right there. With the costume, gunfire in the background, just a hint of smoke.”
“Yes, that‘s what we want,” says Plutarch under his breath.
I want to glare at them, but I feel it would be a mistake to turn my attention from Coin. I can see her tallying the cost of my ultimatum, weighing it against my possible worth.
“What do you say, President?” asks Plutarch. “You could issue an official pardon, given the circumstances. The boy… he‘s not even of age.”
“All right,” Coin says finally. “But you‘d better perform.”
“I‘ll perform when you‘ve made the announcement,” I say.
“Call a national security assembly during Reflection today,” she orders. “I‘ll make the announcement then. Is there anything left on your list, Katniss?”
My paper‘s crumpled into a ball in my right fist. I flatten the sheet against the table and read the rickety letters. “Just one more thing. I kill Snow.”
For the first time ever, I see the hint of a smile on the president‘s lips. “When the time comes, I‘ll flip you for it.”
Maybe she‘s right. I certainly don‘t have the sole claim against Snow‘s life. And I think I can count on her getting the job done. “Fair enough.”
Coin‘s eyes have flickered to her arm, the clock. She, too, has a schedule to adhere to. “I‘ll leave her in your hands, then, Plutarch.” She exits the room, followed by her team, leaving only Plutarch, Fulvia, Gale, and myself.
“Excellent. Excellent.” Plutarch sinks down, elbows on the table, rubbing his eyes. “You know what I miss? More than anything? Coffee. I ask you, would it be so unthinkable to have something to wash down the gruel and turnips?”
“We didn‘t think it would be quite so rigid here,” Fulvia explains to us as she massages Plutarch‘s shoulders. “Not in the higher ranks.”
“Or at least there‘d be the option of a little side action,” says Plutarch. “I mean, even Twelve had a black market, right?”
“Yeah, the Hob,” says Gale. “It‘s where we traded.”
“There, you see? And look how moral you two are! Virtually incorruptible.” Plutarch sighs. “Oh, well, wars don‘t last forever. So, glad to have you on the team.” He reaches a hand out to the side, where Fulvia is already extending a large sketchbook bound in black leather. “You know in general what we‘re asking of you, Katniss. I‘m aware you have mixed feelings about participating. I hope this wi
Published 1755 days - 0 stars
The Hunger Games
By: Suzanne Collins
PART 1 'THE TRIBUTES'
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
I prop myself up on one elbow. There's enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother's body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim's face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.
Sitting at Prim's knees, guarding her, is the world's ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he's a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.
I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has molded to my feet. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap, and grab my forage bag. On the table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from hungry rats and cats alike, sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves. Prim's gift to me on reaping day. I put the cheese carefully in my pocket as I slip outside.
Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to the morning shift at this hour. Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces. But today the black cinder streets are empty. Shutters on the squat gray houses are closed. The reaping isn't until two. May as well sleep in. If you can.
Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam. I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with barbed- wire loops. In theory, it's supposed to be electrified twenty- four hours a day as a deterrent to the predators that live in the woods packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears that used to threaten our streets. But since we're lucky to get two or three hours of electricity in the evenings, it's usually safe to touch. Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is live. Right now, it's silent as a stone. Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out on my belly and slide under a two-foot stretch that's been loose for years. There are several other weak spots in the fence, but this one is so close to home I almost always enter the woods here.
As soon as I'm in the trees, I retrieve a bow and sheath of arrows from a hollow log. Electrified or not, the fence has been successful at keeping the flesh-eaters out of District 12. Inside the woods they roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real paths to follow. But there's also food if you know how to find it. My father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing even to bury. I was eleven then. Five years later, I still wake up screaming for him to run.
Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, more people would risk it if they had weapons. But most are not bold enough to venture out with just a knife. My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers. My father could have made good money selling them, but if the officials found out he would have been publicly executed for inciting a rebellion. Most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who hunt because they're as hungry for fresh meat as anybody is. In fact, they're among our best customers. But the idea that someone might be arming the Seam would never have been allowed.
In the fall, a few brave souls sneak into the woods to harvest apples. But always in sight of the Meadow. Always close enough to run back to the safety of District 12 if trouble arises. 'District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety,' I mutter. Then I glance quickly over my shoulder. Even here, even in the middle of nowhere, you worry someone might overhear you.
When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. Do my work quietly in school. Make only polite small talk in the public market. Discuss little more than trades in the Hob, which is the black market where I make most of my money. Even at home, where I am less pleasant, I avoid discussing tricky topics. Like the reaping, or food shortages, or the Hunger Games. Prim might begin to repeat my words and then where would we be?
In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Gale. I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods.
'Hey, Catnip,' says Gale. My real name is Katniss, but when I first told him, I had barely whispered it. So he thought I'd said Catnip. Then when this crazy lynx started following me around the woods looking for handouts, it became his official nickname for me. I finally had to kill the lynx because he scared off game. I almost regretted it because he wasn't bad company. But I got a decent price for his pelt.
'Look what I shot,' Gale holds up a loaf of bread with an arrow stuck in it, and I laugh. It's real bakery bread, not the flat, dense loaves we make from our grain rations. I take it in my hands, pull out the arrow, and hold the puncture in the crust to my nose, inhaling the fragrance that makes my mouth flood with saliva. Fine bread like this is for special occasions.
'Mm, still warm,' I say. He must have been at the bakery at the crack of dawn to trade for it. 'What did it cost you?'
'Just a squirrel. Think the old man was feeling sentimental this morning,' says Gale. 'Even wished me luck.'
'Well, we all feel a little closer today, don't we?' I say, not even bothering to roll my eyes. 'Prim left us a cheese.' I pull it out.
His expression brightens at the treat. 'Thank you, Prim. We'll have a real feast.' Suddenly he falls into a Capitol accent as he mimics Effie Trinket, the maniacally upbeat woman who arrives once a year to read out the names at the reaping. 'I almost forgot! Happy Hunger Games!' He plucks a few black- berries from the bushes around us. 'And may the odds' He tosses a berry in a high arc toward me.
I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet tartness explodes across my tongue. 'be ever in your favor!' I finish with equal verve. We have to joke about it because the alternative is to be scared out of your wits. Besides, the Capitol accent is so affected, almost anything sounds funny in it.
I watch as Gale pulls out his knife and slices the bread. He could be my brother. Straight black hair, olive skin, we even have the same gray eyes. But we're not related, at least not closely. Most of the families who work the mines resemble one another this way.
That's why my mother and Prim, with their light hair and blue eyes, always look out of place. They are. My mother's parents were part of the small merchant class that caters to officials, Peacekeepers, and the occasional Seam customer. They ran an apothecary shop in the nicer part of District 12. Since almost no one can afford doctors, apothecaries are our healers. My father got to know my mother because on his hunts he would sometimes collect medicinal herbs and sell them to her shop to be brewed into remedies. She must have really loved him to leave her home for the Seam. I try to remember that when all I can see is the woman who sat by, blank and unreachable, while her children turned to skin and bones. I try to forgive her for my father's sake. But to be honest, I'm not the forgiving type.
Gale spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese, carefully placing a basil leaf on each while I strip the bushes of their berries. We settle back in a nook in the rocks. From this
place, we are invisible but have a clear view of the valley, which is teeming with summer life, greens to gather, roots to dig, fish iridescent in the sunlight. The day is glorious, with a blue sky and soft breeze. The food's wonderful, with the cheese seeping into the warm bread and the berries bursting in our mouths. Everything would be perfect if this really was a holiday, if all the day off meant was roaming the mountains with Gale, hunting for tonight's supper. But instead we have to be standing in the square at two o'clock waiting for the names to be called out.
'We could do it, you know,' Gale says quietly.
'What?' I ask.
'Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it,' says Gale.
I don't know how to respond. The idea is so preposterous.
'If we didn't have so many kids,' he adds quickly.
They're not our kids, of course. But they might as well be. Gale's two little brothers and a sister. Prim. And you may as well throw in our mothers, too, because how would they live without us? Who would fill those mouths that are always asking for more? With both of us hunting daily, there are still nights when game has to be swapped for lard or shoelaces or wool, still nights when we go to bed with our stomachs growling.
'I never want to have kids,' I say.
'I might. If I didn't live here,' says Gale.
'But you do,' I say, irritated.
'Forget it,' he snaps back.
The conversation feels all wrong. Leave? How could I leave Prim, who is the only person in the world I'm certain I love? And Gale is devoted to his family. We can't leave, so why bother talking about it? And even if we did . . . even if we did . . . where did this stuff about having kids come from? There's never been anything romantic between Gale and me. When we met, I was a skinny twelve-year-old, and although he was only two years older, he already looked like a man. It took a long time for us to even become friends, to stop haggling over every trade and begin helping each other out.
Besides, if he wants kids, Gale won't have any trouble finding a wife. He's good-looking, he's strong enough to handle the work in the mines, and he can hunt. You can tell by the way the girls whisper about him when he walks by in school that they want him. It makes me jealous but not for the reason people would think. Good hunting partners are hard to find.
'What do you want to do?' I ask. We can hunt, fish, or gather.
'Let's fish at the lake. We can leave our poles and gather in the woods. Get something nice for tonight,' he says.
Tonight. After the reaping, everyone is supposed to celebrate. And a lot of people do, out of relief that their children have been spared for another year. But at least two families will pull their shutters, lock their doors, and try to figure out how they will survive the painful weeks to come.
We make out well. The predators ignore us on a day when easier, tastier prey abounds. By late morning, we have a dozen fish, a bag of greens and, best of all, a gallon of strawberries. I found the patch a few years ago, but Gale had the idea to string mesh nets around it to keep out the animals.
On the way home, we swing by the Hob, the black market that operates in an abandoned warehouse that once held coal. When they came up with a more efficient system that transported the coal directly from the mines to the trains, the Hob gradually took over the space. Most businesses are closed by this time on reaping day, but the black market's still fairly busy. We easily trade six of the fish for good bread, the other two for salt. Greasy Sae, the bony old woman who sells bowls of hot soup from a large kettle, takes half the greens off our hands in exchange for a couple of chunks of paraffin. We might do a tad better elsewhere, but we make an effort to keep on good terms with Greasy Sae. She's the only one who can consistently be counted on to buy wild dog. We don't hunt them on purpose, but if you're attacked and you take out a dog or two, well, meat is meat. 'Once it's in the soup, I'll call it beef,' Greasy Sae says with a wink. No one in the Seam would turn up their nose at a good leg of wild dog, but the Peacekeepers who come to the Hob can afford to be a little choosier.
When we finish our business at the market, we go to the back door of the mayor's house to sell half the strawberries, knowing he has a particular fondness for them and can afford our price. The mayor's daughter, Madge, opens the door. She's in my year at school. Being the mayor's daughter, you'd expect her to be a snob, but she's all right. She just keeps to herself. Like me. Since neither of us really has a group of friends, we seem to end up together a lot at school. Eating lunch, sitting next to each other at assemblies, partnering for sports activities. We rarely talk, which suits us both just fine.
Today her drab school outfit has been replaced by an expensive white dress, and her blonde hair is done up with a pink ribbon. Reaping clothes.
'Pretty dress,' says Gale.
Madge shoots him a look, trying to see if it's a genuine compliment or if he's just being ironic. It is a pretty dress, but she would never be wearing it ordinarily. She presses her lips together and then smiles. 'Well, if I end up going to the Capitol, I want to look nice, don't I?'
Now it's Gale's turn to be confused. Does she mean it? Or is she messing with him? I'm guessing the second.
'You won't be going to the Capitol,' says Gale coolly. His eyes land on a small, circular pin that adorns her dress. Real gold. Beautifully crafted. It could keep a family in bread for months. 'What can you have? Five entries? I had six when I was just twelve years old.'
'That's not her fault,' I say.
'No, it's no one's fault. Just the way it is,' says Gale. Madge's face has become closed off. She puts the money for the berries in my hand. 'Good luck, Katniss.' 'You, too,' I say, and the door closes.
We walk toward the Seam in silence. I don't like that Gale took a dig at Madge, but he's right, of course. The reaping system is unfair, with the poor getting the worst of it. You become eligible for the reaping the day you turn twelve. That year, your name is entered once. At thirteen, twice. And so on and so on until you reach the age of eighteen, the final year of eligibility, when your name goes into the pool seven times. That's true for every citizen in all twelve districts in the entire country of Panem.
But here's the catch. Say you are poor and starving as we were. You can opt to add your name more times in exchange for tesserae. Each tesserae is worth a meager year's supply of grain and oil for one person. You may do this for each of your family members as well. So, at the age of twelve, I had my name entered four times. Once, because I had to, and three times for tesserae for grain and oil for myself, Prim, and my mother. In fact, every year I have needed to do this. And the entries are cumulative. So now, at the age of sixteen, my name will be in the reaping twenty times. Gale, who is eighteen and has been either helping or single-handedly feeding a family of five for seven years, will have his name in forty-two times.
You can see why someone like Madge, who has never been at risk of needing a tesserae, can set him off. The chance of her name being drawn is very slim compared to those of us who live in the Seam. Not impossible, but slim. And even though the rules were set up by the Capitol, not the districts, certainly not Madge's family, it's hard not to resent those who don't have to sign up for tesserae.
Gale knows his anger at Madge is misdirected. On other days, deep in the woods, I've listened to him rant about how the tesserae are just another tool to cause misery in our district. A way to plant hatred between the starving workers of the Seam and those who can generally count on supper and thereby ensure we will never trust one another. 'It's to the Capitol's advantage to have us divided among ourselves,' he might say if there were no ears to hear but mine. If it wasn't reaping day. If a girl with a gold pin and no tesserae had not made what I'm sure she thought was a harmless comment.
As we walk, I glance over at Gale's face, still smoldering underneath his stony expression. His rages seem pointless to me, although I never say so. It's not that I don't agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn't change anything. It doesn't make things fair. It doesn't fill our stomachs. In fact, it scares off the nearby game. I let him yell though. Better he does it in the woods than in the district.
Gale and I divide our spoils, leaving two fish, a couple of loaves of good bread, greens, a quart of strawberries, salt, paraffin, and a bit of money for each.
'See you in the square,' I say.
'Wear something pretty,' he says flatly.
At home, I find my mother and sister are ready to go. My mother wears a fine dress from her apothecary days. Prim is in my first reaping outfit, a skirt and ruffled blouse. It's a bit big on her, but my mother has made it stay with pins. Even so, she's having trouble keeping the blouse tucked in at the back.
A tub of warm water waits for me. I scrub off the dirt and sweat from the woods and even wash my hair. To my surprise, my mother has laid out one of her own lovely dresses for me. A soft blue thing with matching shoes.
'Are you sure?' I ask. I'm trying to get past rejecting offers of help from her. For a while, I was so angry, I wouldn't allow her to do anything for me. And this is something special. Her clothes from her past are very precious to her.
'Of course. Let's put your hair up, too,' she says. I let her towel-dry it and braid it up on my head. I can hardly recognize myself in the cracked mirror that leans against the wall.
'You look beautiful,' says Prim in a hushed voice.
'And nothing like myself,' I say. I hug her, because I know these next few hours will be terrible for her. Her first reaping. She's about as safe as you can get, since she's only entered once. I wouldn't let her take out any tesserae. But she's worried about me. That the unthinkable might happen.
I protect Prim in every way I can, but I'm powerless against the reaping. The anguish I always feel when she's in pain wells up in my chest and threatens to register on my face. I notice her blouse has pulled out of her skirt in the back again and force myself to stay calm. 'Tuck your tail in, little duck,' I say, smoothing the blouse back in place.
Prim giggles and gives me a small 'Quack.'
'Quack yourself,' I say with a light laugh. The kind only Prim can draw out of me. 'Come on, let's eat,' I say and plant a quick kiss on the top of her head.
The fish and greens are already cooking in a stew, but that will be for supper. We decide to save the strawberries and bakery bread for this evening's meal, to make it special we say. Instead we drink milk from Prim's goat, Lady, and eat the rough bread made from the tessera grain, although no one has much appetite anyway.
At one o'clock, we head for the square. Attendance is mandatory unless you are on death's door. This evening, officials will come around and check to see if this is the case. If not, you'll be imprisoned.
It's too bad, really, that they hold the reaping in the square one of the few places in District 12 that can be pleasant. The square's surrounded by shops, and on public market days, especially if there's good weather, it has a holiday feel to it. But today, despite the bright banners hanging on the buildings, there's an air of grimness. The camera crews, perched like buzzards on rooftops, only add to the effect.
People file in silently and sign in. The reaping is a good opportunity for the Capitol to keep tabs on the population as well. Twelve through eighteen year olds are herded into roped areas marked off by ages, the oldest in the front, the young ones, like Prim, toward the back. Family members line up around the perimeter, holding tightly to one another's hands. But there are others, too, who have no one they love at stake, or who no longer care, who slip among the crowd, taking bets on the two kids whose names will be drawn. Odds are given on their ages, whether they're Seam or merchant, if they will break down and weep. Most refuse dealing with the racketeers but carefully, carefully. These same people tend to be informers, and who hasn't broken the law? I could be shot on a daily basis for hunting, but the appetites of those in charge protect me. Not everyone can claim the same.
Anyway, Gale and I agree that if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker.
The space gets tighter, more claustrophobic as people arrive. The square's quite large, but not enough to hold District 12's population of about eight thousand. Latecomers are directed to the adjacent streets, where they can watch the event on screens as it's televised live by the state.
I find myself standing in a clump of sixteens from the Seam. We all exchange terse nods then focus our attention on the temporary stage that is set up before the Justice Building. It holds three chairs, a podium, and two large glass balls, one for the boys and one for the girls. I stare at the paper slips in the girls' ball. Twenty of them have Katniss Everdeen written on them in careful handwriting.
Two of the three chairs fill with Madge's father, Mayor Undersee, who's a tall, balding man, and Effie Trinket, District 12's escort, fresh from the Capitol with her scary white grin, pinkish hair, and spring green suit. They murmur to each other and then look with concern at the empty seat.
Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read. It's the same story every year. He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty- four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch this is the Capitol's way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion.
Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. 'Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen.'
To make it humiliating as well as torturous, the Capitol requires us to treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, a sporting event pitting every district against the others. The last tribute alive receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food. All year, the Capitol will show the winning district gifts of grain and oil
and even delicacies like sugar while the rest of us battle starvation.
'It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks,' intones the mayor.
Then he reads the list of past District 12 victors. In seventy- four years, we have had exactly two. Only one is still alive. Haymitch Abernathy, a paunchy, middle-aged man, who at this moment appears hollering something unintelligible, staggers onto the stage, and falls into the third chair. He's drunk. Very. The crowd responds with its token applause, but he's confused and tries to give Effie Trinket a big hug, which she barely manages to fend off.
The mayor looks distressed. Since all of this is being televised, right now District 12 is the laughingstock of Panem, and he knows it. He quickly tries to pull the attention back to the reaping by introducing Effie Trinket.
Bright and bubbly as ever, Effie Trinket trots to the podium and gives her signature, 'Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!' Her pink hair must be a wig because her curls have shifted slightly off-center since her encounter with Haymitch. She goes on a bit about what an honor it is to be here, although everyone knows she's just aching to get bumped up to a better district where they have proper victors, not drunks who molest you in front of the entire nation.
Through the crowd, I spot Gale looking back at me with a ghost of a smile. As reapings go, this one at least has a slight entertainment factor. But suddenly I am thinking of Gale and his forty-two names in that big glass ball and how the odds are not in his favor. Not compared to a lot of the boys. And maybe he's thinking the same thing about me because his face darkens and he turns away. 'But there are still thousands of slips,' I wish I could whisper to him.
It's time for the drawing. Effie Trinket says as she always does, 'Ladies first!' and crosses to the glass ball with the girls' names. She reaches in, digs her hand deep into the ball, and pulls out a slip of paper. The crowd draws in a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and I'm feeling nauseous and so desperately hoping that it's not me, that it's not me, that it's not me.
Effie Trinket crosses back to the podium, smoothes the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice. And it's not me.
It's Primrose Everdeen.
One time, when I was in a blind in a tree, waiting motionless for game to wander by, I dozed off and fell ten feet to the ground, landing on my back. It was as if the impact had knocked every wisp of air from my lungs, and I lay there struggling to inhale, to exhale, to do anything.
That's how I feel now, trying to remember how to breathe, unable to speak, totally stunned as the name bounces around the inside of my skull. Someone is gripping my arm, a boy from the Seam, and I think maybe I started to fall and he caught me.
There must have been some mistake. This can't be happening. Prim was one slip of paper in thousands! Her chances of being chosen so remote that I'd not even bothered to worry about her. Hadn't I done everything? Taken the tesserae, refused to let her do the same? One slip. One slip in thousands. The odds had been entirely in her favor. But it hadn't mattered.
Somewhere far away, I can hear the crowd murmuring unhappily as they always do when a twelve year old gets chosen because no one thinks this is fair. And then I see her, the blood drained from her face, hands clenched in fists at her sides, walking with stiff, small steps up toward the stage, passing me, and I see the back of her blouse has become untucked and hangs out over her skirt. It's this detail, the untucked blouse forming a ducktail, that brings me back to myself.
'Prim!' The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. 'Prim!' I don't need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
'I volunteer!' I gasp. 'I volunteer as tribute!'
There's some confusion on the stage. District 12 hasn't had a volunteer in decades and the protocol has become rusty. The rule is that once a tribute's name has been pulled from the ball, another eligible boy, if a boy's name has been read, or girl, if a girl's name has been read, can step forward to take his or her place. In some districts, in which winning the reaping is such a great honor, people are eager to risk their lives, the volunteering is complicated. But in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are all but extinct.
'Lovely!' says Effie Trinket. 'But I believe there's a small matter of introducing the reaping winner and then asking for volunteers, and if one does come forth then we, um . . .' she trails off, unsure herself.
'What does it matter?' says the mayor. He's looking at me with a pained expression on his face. He doesn't know me really, but there's a faint recognition there. I am the girl who brings the strawberries. The girl his daughter might have spoken of on occasion. The girl who five years ago stood huddled with her mother and sister, as he presented her, the oldest child, with a medal of valor. A medal for her father, vaporized in the mines. Does he remember that? 'What does it matter?' he repeats gruffly. 'Let her come forward.'
Prim is screaming hysterically behind me. She's wrapped her skinny arms around me like a vice. 'No, Katniss! No! You can't go!'
'Prim, let go,' I say harshly, because this is upsetting me and I don't want to cry. When they televise the replay of the reapings tonight, everyone will make note of my tears, and I'll be marked as an easy target. A weakling. I will give no one that satisfaction. 'Let go!'
I can feel someone pulling her from my back. I turn and see Gale has lifted Prim off the ground and she's thrashing in his arms. 'Up you go, Catnip,' he says, in a voice he's fighting to keep steady, and then he carries Prim off toward my mother. I steel myself and climb the steps.
'Well, bravo!' gushes Effie Trinket. 'That's the spirit of the Games!' She's pleased to finally have a district with a little action going on in it. 'What's your name?
I swallow hard. 'Katniss Everdeen,' I say.
'I bet my buttons that was your sister. Don't want her to steal all the glory, do we? Come on, everybody! Let's give a big round of applause to our newest tribute!' trills Effie Trinket.
To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps. Not even the ones holding betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.
Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don't expect it because I don't think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim's place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means goodbye to someone you love.
Now I am truly in danger of crying, but fortunately Haymitch chooses this time to come staggering across the stage to congratulate me. 'Look at her. Look at this one!' he hollers, throwing an arm around my shoulders. He's surprisingly strong for such a wreck. 'I like her!' His breath reeks of liquor and it's been a long time since he's bathed. 'Lots of . . . ' He can't think of the word for a while. 'Spunk!' he says triumphantly. 'More than you!' he releases me and starts for the front of the stage. 'More than you!' he shouts, pointing directly into a camera.
Is he addressing the audience or is he so drunk he might actually be taunting the Capitol? I'll never know because just as he's opening his mouth to continue, Haymitch plummets off the stage and knocks himself unconscious.
He's disgusting, but I'm grateful. With every camera gleefully trained on him, I have just enough time to release the small, choked sound in my throat and compose myself. I put my hands behind my back and stare into the distance.
I can see the hills I climbed this morning with Gale. For a moment, I yearn for something . . . the idea of us leaving the district . . . making our way in the woods . . . but I know I was right about not running off. Because who else would have volunteered for Prim?
Haymitch is whisked away on a stretcher, and Effie Trinket is trying to get the ball rolling again. 'What an exciting day!' she warbles as she attempts to straighten her wig, which has listed severely to the right. 'But more excitement to come! It's time to choose our boy tribute!' Clearly hoping to contain her tenuous hair situation, she plants one hand on her head as she crosses to the ball that contains the boys' names and grabs the first slip she encounters. She zips back to the podium, and I don't even have time to wish for Gale's safety when she's reading the name. 'Peeta Mellark.'
Oh, no, I think. Not him. Because I recognize this name, although I have never spoken directly to its owner. Peeta Mellark.
No, the odds are not in my favor today. I watch him as he makes his way toward the stage. Medium height, stocky build, ashy blond hair that falls in waves over his forehead. The shock of the moment is registering on his face, you can see his struggle to remain emotionless, but his blue eyes show the alarm I've seen so often in prey. Yet he climbs steadily onto the stage and takes his place.
Effie Trinket asks for volunteers, but no one steps forward. He has two older brothers, I know, I've seen them in the bakery, but one is probably too old now to volunteer and the other won't. This is standard. Family devotion only goes so far for most people on reaping day. What I did was the radical thing.
The mayor begins to read the long, dull Treaty of Treason as he does every year at this point it's required but I'm not listening to a word.
Why him? I think. Then I try to convince myself it doesn't matter. Peeta Mellark and I are not friends. Not even neighbors. We don't speak. Our only real interaction happened years ago. He's probably forgotten it. But I haven't and I know I never will...
It was during the worst time. My father had been killed in the mine accident three months earlier in the bitterest January anyone could remember. The numbness of his loss had passed, and the pain would hit me out of nowhere, doubling me over, racking my body with sobs. Where are you? I would cry out in my mind. Where have you gone? Of course, there was never any answer.
The district had given us a small amount of money as compensation for his death, enough to cover one month of grieving at which time my mother would be expected to get a job.
Only she didn't. She didn't do anything but sit propped up in a chair or, more often, huddled under the blankets on her bed, eyes fixed on some point in the distance. Once in a while, she'd stir, get up as if moved by some urgent purpose, only to then collapse back into stillness. No amount of pleading from Prim seemed to affect her.
I was terrified. I suppose now that my mother was locked in some dark world of sadness, but at the time, all I knew was that I had lost not only a father, but a mother as well. At eleven years old, with Prim just seven, I took over as head of the family. There was no choice. I bought our food at the market and cooked it as best I could and tried to keep Prim and myself looking presentable. Because if it had become known that my mother could no longer care for us, the district would have taken us away from her and placed us in the community home. I'd grown up seeing those home kids at school. The sadness, the marks of angry hands on their faces, the hopelessness that curled their shoulders forward. I could never let that happen to Prim. Sweet, tiny Prim who cried when I cried before she even knew the reason, who brushed and plaited my mother's hair before we left for school, who still polished my father's shaving mirror each night because he'd hated the layer of coal dust that settled on everything in the Seam. The community home would crush her like a bug. So I kept our predicament a secret.
But the money ran out and we were slowly starving to death. There's no other way to put it. I kept telling myself if I could only hold out until May, just May 8th, I would turn twelve and be able to sign up for the tesserae and get that precious grain and oil to feed us. Only there were still several weeks to go. We could well be dead by then.
Starvation's not an uncommon fate in District 12. Who hasn't seen the victims? Older people who can't work. Children from a family with too many to feed. Those injured in the mines. Straggling through the streets. And one day, you come upon them sitting motionless against a wall or lying in the Meadow, you hear the wails from a house, and the Peacekeepers are called in to retrieve the body. Starvation is never the cause of death officially. It's always the flu, or exposure, or pneumonia. But that fools no one.
On the afternoon of my encounter with Peeta Mellark, the rain was falling in relentless icy sheets. I had been in town, trying to trade some threadbare old baby clothes of Prim's in the public market, but there were no takers. Although I had been to the Hob on several occasions with my father, I was too frightened to venture into that rough, gritty place alone. The rain had soaked through my father's hunting jacket, leaving me chilled to the bone. For three days, we'd had nothing but boiled water with some old dried mint leaves I'd found in the back of a cupboard. By the time the market closed, I was shaking so hard I dropped my bundle of baby clothes in a mud puddle. I didn't pick it up for fear I would keel over and be unable to regain my feet. Besides, no one wanted those clothes.
I couldn't go home. Because at home was my mother with her dead eyes and my little sister, with her hollow cheeks and cracked lips. I couldn't walk into that room with the smoky fire from the damp branches I had scavenged at the edge of the woods after the coal had run out, my bands empty of any hope.
I found myself stumbling along a muddy lane behind the shops that serve the wealthiest townspeople. The merchants live above their businesses, so I was essentially in their backyards. I remember the outlines of garden beds not yet planted for the spring, a goat or two in a pen, one sodden dog tied to a post, hunched defeated in the muck.
All forms of stealing are forbidden in District 12. Punishable by death. But it crossed my mind that there might be something in the trash bins, and those were fair game. Perhaps a bone at the butcher's or rotted vegetables at the grocer's, something no one but my family was desperate enough to eat. Unfortunately, the bins had just been emptied.
When I passed the baker's, the smell of fresh bread was so overwhelming I felt dizzy. The ovens were in the back, and a golden glow spilled out the open kitchen door. I stood mesmerized by the heat and the luscious scent until the rain interfered, running its icy fingers down my back, forcing me back to life. I lifted the lid to the baker's trash bin and found it spotlessly, heartlessly bare.
Suddenly a voice was screaming at me and I looked up to see the baker's wife, telling me to move on and did I want her to call the Peacekeepers and how sick she was of having those brats from the Seam pawing through her trash. The words were ugly and I had no defense. As I carefully replaced the lid and backed away, I noticed him, a boy with blond hair peering out from behind his mother's back. I'd seen him at school. He was in my year, but I didn't know his name. He stuck with the town kids, so how would I? His mother went back into the bakery, grumbling, but he must have been watching me as I made my way behind the pen that held their pig and leaned against the far side of an old apple tree. The realization that I'd have nothing to take home had finally sunk in. My knees buckled and I slid down the tree trunk to its roots. It was too much. I was too sick and weak and tired, oh, so tired. Let them call the Peacekeepers and take us to the community home, I thought. Or better yet, let me die right here in the rain.
There was a clatter in the bakery and I heard the woman screaming again and the sound of a blow, and I vaguely wondered what was going on.
Feet sloshed toward me through the mud and I thought, It's her. She's coming to drive me away with a stick. But it wasn't her. It was the boy. In his arms, he carried two large loaves of bread that must have fallen into the fire because the crusts were scorched black.
His mother was yelling, 'Feed it to the pig, you stupid creature! Why not? No one decent will buy burned bread!'
He began to tear off chunks from the burned parts and toss them into the trough, and the front bakery bell rung and the mother disappeared to help a customer.
The boy never even glanced my way, but I was watching him. Because of the bread, because of the red weal that stood out on his cheekbone. What had she hit him with?
My parents never hit us. I couldn't even imagine it. The boy took one look back to the bakery as if checking that the coast was clear, then, his attention back on the pig, he threw a loaf of bread in my direction. The second quickly followed, and he sloshed back to the bakery, closing the kitchen door tightly behind him.
I stared at the loaves in disbelief. They were fine, perfect really, except for the burned areas. Did he mean for me to have them? He must have. Because there they were at my feet. Before anyone could witness what had happened I shoved the loaves up under my shirt, wrapped the hunting jacket tightly about me, and walked swiftly away. The heat of the bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life.
By the time I reached home, the loaves had cooled somewhat, but the insides were still warm. When I dropped them on the table, Prim's hands reached to tear off a chunk, but I made her sit, forced my mother to join us at the table, and poured warm tea. I scraped off the black stuff and sliced the bread. We ate an entire loaf, slice by slice. It was good hearty bread, filled with raisins and nuts.
I put my clothes to dry at the fire, crawled into bed, and fell into a dreamless sleep. It didn't occur to me until the next morning that the boy might have burned the bread on purpose. Might have dropped the loaves into the flames, knowing it meant being punished, and then delivered them to me. But I dismissed this. It must have been an accident. Why would he have done it? He didn't even know me. Still, just throwing me the bread was an enormous kindness that would have surely resulted in a beating if discovered. I couldn't explain his actions.
We ate slices of bread for breakfast and headed to school. It was as if spring had come overnight. Warm sweet air. Fluffy clouds. At school, I passed the boy in the hall, his cheek had swelled up and his eye had blackened. He was with his friends and didn't acknowledge me in any way. But as I collected Prim and started for home that afternoon, I found him staring at me from across the school yard. Our eyes met for only a second, then he turned his head away. I dropped my gaze, embarrassed, and that's when I saw it. The first dandelion of the year. A bell went off in my head. I thought of the hours spent in the woods with my father and I knew how we were going to survive.
To this day, I can never shake the connection between this boy, Peeta Mellark, and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I was not doomed. And more than once, I have turned in the school hallway and caught his eyes trained on me, only to quickly flit away. I feel like I owe him something, and I hate owing people. Maybe if I had thanked him at some point, I'd be feeling less conflicted now. I thought about it a couple of times, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself. And now it never will. Because we're going to be thrown into an arena to fight to the death. Exactly how am I supposed to work in a thankyou in there? Somehow it just won't seem sincere if I'm trying to slit his throat.
The mayor finishes the dreary Treaty of Treason and motions for Peeta and me to shake hands. His are as solid and warm as those loaves of bread. Peeta looks me right in the eye and gives my hand what I think is meant to be a reassuring squeeze. Maybe it's just a nervous spasm.
We turn back to face the crowd as the anthem of Panem plays.
Oh, well, I think. There will be twenty-four of us. Odds are someone else will kill him before I do.
Of course, the odds have not been very dependable of late.
The moment the anthem ends, we are taken into custody. I don't mean kwe're handcuffed or anything, but a group of Peacekeepers marches us through the front door of the Justice Building. Maybe tributes have tried to escape in the past. I've never seen that happen though.
Once inside, I'm conducted to a room and left alone. It's the richest place I've ever been in, with thick, deep carpets and a velvet couch and chairs. I know velvet because my mother has a dress with a collar made of the stuff. When I sit on the couch, I can't help running my fingers over the fabric repeatedly. It helps to calm me as I try to prepare for the next hour. The time allotted for the tributes to say goodbye to their loved ones. I cannot afford to get upset, to leave this room with puffy eyes and a red nose. Crying is not an option. There will be more cameras at the train station.
My sister and my mother come first. I reach out to Prim and she climbs on my lap, her arms around my neck, head on my shoulder, just like she did when she was a toddler. My mother sits beside me and wraps her arms around us. For a few minutes, we say nothing. Then I start telling them all the things they must remember to do, now that I will not be there to do them for them.
Prim is not to take any tesserae. They can get by, if they're careful, on selling Prim's goat milk and cheese and the small apothecary business my mother now runs for the people in the Seam. Gale will get her the herbs she doesn't grow herself, but she must be very careful to describe them because he's not as familiar with them as I am. He'll also bring them game he and I made a pact about this a year or so ago and will probably not ask for compensation, but they should thank him with some kind of trade, like milk or medicine.
I don't bother suggesting Prim learn to hunt. I tried to teach her a couple of times and it was disastrous. The woods terrified her, and whenever I shot something, she'd get teary and talk about how we might be able to heal it if we got it home soon enough. But she makes out well with her goat, so I contrate on that.
When I am done with instructions about fuel, and trading, and staying in school, I turn to my mother and grip her arm, hard. 'Listen to me. Are you listening to me?' She nods, alarmed by my intensity. She must know what's coming. 'You can't leave again,' I say.
My mother's eyes find the floor. 'I know. I won't. I couldn't help what'
'Well, you have to help it this time. You can't clock out and leave Prim on her own. There's no me now to keep you both alive. It doesn't matter what happens. Whatever you see on the screen. You have to promise me you'll fight through it!' My voice has risen to a shout. In it is all the anger, all the fear I felt at her abandonment.
She pulls her arm from my grasp, moved to anger herself now. 'I was ill. I could have treated myself if I'd had the medicine I have now.'
That part about her being ill might be true. I've seen her bring back people suffering from immobilizing sadness since. Perhaps it is a sickness, but it's one we can't afford.
'Then take it. And take care of her!' I say.
'I'll be all right, Katniss,' says Prim, clasping my face in her hands. 'But you have to take care, too. You're so fast and brave. Maybe you can win.'
I can't win. Prim must know that in her heart. The competition will be far beyond my abilities. Kids from wealthier districts, where winning is a huge honor, who've been trained their whole lives for this. Boys who are two to three times my size. Girls who know twenty different ways to kill you with a knife. Oh, there'll be people like me, too. People to weed out before the real fun begins.
'Maybe,' I say, because I can hardly tell my mother to carry on if I've already given up myself. Besides, it isn't in my nature to go down without a fight, even when things seem insurmountable. 'Then we'd be rich as Haymitch.'
'I don't care if we're rich. I just want you to come home. You will try, won't you? Really, really try?' asks Prim.
'Really, really try. I swear it,' I say. And I know, because of Prim, I'll have to.
And then the Peacekeeper is at the door, signaling our time is up, and we're all hugging one another so hard it hurts and all I'm saying is 'I love you. I love you both.' And they're saying it back and then the Peacekeeper orders them out and the door closes. I bury my head in one of the velvet pillows as if this can block the whole thing out.
Someone else enters the room, and when I look up, I'm surprised to see it's the baker, Peeta Mellark's father. I can't believe he's come to visit me. After all, I'll be trying to kill his son soon. But we do know each other a bit, and he knows Prim even better. When she sells her goat cheeses at the Hob, she puts two of them aside for him and he gives her a generous amount of bread in return. We always wait to trade with him when his witch of a wife isn't around because he's so much nicer. I feel certain he would never have hit his son the way she did over the burned bread. But why has he come to see me?
The baker sits awkwardly on the edge of one of the plush chairs. He's a big, broad-shouldered man with burn scars from years at the ovens. He must have just said goodbye to his son.
He pulls a white paper package from his jacket pocket and holds it out to me. I open it and find cookies. These are a luxury we can never afford.
'Thank you,' I say. The baker's not a very talkative man in the best of times, and today he has no words at all. 'I had some of your bread this morning. My friend Gale gave you a squirrel for it.' He nods, as if remembering the squirrel. 'Not your best trade,' I say. He shrugs as if it couldn't possibly matter.
Then I can't think of anything else, so we sit in silence until a Peacemaker summons him. He rises and coughs to clear his throat. 'I'll keep an eye on the little girl. Make sure she's eating.'
I feel some of the pressure in my chest lighten at his words. People deal with me, but they are genuinely fond of Prim. Maybe there will be enough fondness to keep her alive.
My next guest is also unexpected. Madge walks straight to me. She is not weepy or evasive, instead there's an urgency about her tone that surprises me. 'They let you wear one thing from your district in the arena. One thing to remind you of home. Will you wear this?' She holds out the circular gold pin that was on her dress earlier. I hadn't paid much attention to it before, but now I see it's a small bird in flight.
'Your pin?' I say. Wearing a token from my district is about the last thing on my mind.
'Here, I'll put it on your dress, all right?' Madge doesn't wait for an answer, she just leans in and fixes the bird to my dress. 'Promise you'll wear it into the arena, Katniss?' she asks. 'Promise?'
'Yes,' I say. Cookies. A pin. I'm getting all kinds of gifts today. Madge gives me one more. A kiss on the cheek. Then she's gone and I'm left thinking that maybe Madge really has been my friend all along.
Finally, Gale is here and maybe there is nothing romantic between us, but when he opens his arms I don't hesitate to go into them. His body is familiar to me the way it moves, the smell of wood smoke, even the sound of his heart beating I know from quiet moments on a hunt but this is the first time I really feel it, lean and hard-muscled against my own.
'Listen,' he says. 'Getting a knife should be pretty easy, but you've got to get your hands on a bow. That's your best chance.'
'They don't always have bows,' I say, thinking of the year there were only horrible spiked maces that the tributes had to bludgeon one another to death with.
'Then make one,' says Gale. 'Even a weak bow is better than no bow at all.'
I have tried copying my father's bows with poor results. It's not that easy. Even he had to scrap his own work sometimes.
'I don't even know if there'll be wood,' I say. Another year, they tossed everybody into a landscape of nothing but boulders and sand and scruffy bushes. I particularly hated that year. Many contestants were bitten by venomous snakes or went insane from thirst.
'There's almost always some wood,' Gale says. 'Since that year half of them died of cold. Not much entertainment in that.'
It's true. We spent one Hunger Games watching the players freeze to death at night. You could hardly see them because they were just huddled in balls and had no wood for fires or torches or anything. It was considered very anticlimactic in the Capitol, all those quiet, bloodless deaths. Since then, there's usually been wood to make fires.
'Yes, there's usually some,' I say.
'Katniss, it's just hunting. You're the best hunter I know,' says Gale.
'It's not just hunting. They're armed. They think,' I say.
'So do you. And you've had more practice. Real practice,' he says. 'You know how to kill.'
'Not people,' I say.
'How different can it be, really?' says Gale grimly.
The awful thing is that if I can forget they're people, it will be no different at all.
The Peacekeepers are back too soon and Gale asks for more time, but they're taking him away and I start to panic. 'Don't let them starve!' I cry out, clinging to his hand.
'I won't! You know I won't! Katniss, remember I' he says, and they yank us apart and slam the door and I'll never know what it was he wanted me to remember.
It's a short ride from the Justice Building to the train station. I've never been in a car before. Rarely even ridden in wagons. In the Seam, we travel on foot.
I've been right not to cry. The station is swarming with reporters with their insectlike cameras trained directly on my face. But I've had a lot of practice at wiping my face clean of emotions and I do this now. I catch a glimpse of myself on the television screen on the wall that's airing my arrival live and feel gratified that I appear almost bored.
Peeta Mellark, on the other hand, has obviously been crying and interestingly enough does not seem to be trying to cover it up. I immediately wonder if this will be his strategy in the Games. To appear weak and frightened, to reassure the other tributes that he is no competition at all, and then come out fighting. This worked very well for a girl, Johanna Mason, from District 7 a few years back. She seemed like such a sniveling, cowardly fool that no one bothered about her until there were only a handful of contestants left. It turned out she could kill viciously. Pretty clever, the way she played it. But this seems an odd strategy for Peeta Mellark because he's a baker's son. All those years of having enough to eat and hauling bread trays around have made him broad-shouldered and strong. It will take an awful lot of weeping to convince anyone to overlook him.
We have to stand for a few minutes in the doorway of the train while the cameras gobble up our images, then we're allowed inside and the doors close mercifully behind us. The train begins to move at once.
The speed initially takes my breath away. Of course, I've never been on a train, as travel between the districts is forbidden except for officially sanctioned duties. For us, that's mainly transporting coal. But this is no ordinary coal train. It's one of the high-speed Capitol models that average 250 miles per hour. Our journey to the Capitol will take less than a day.
In school, they tell us the Capitol was built in a place once called the Rockies. District 12 was in a region known is Appalachia. Even hundreds of years ago, they mined coal here. Which is why our miners have to dig so deep.
Somehow it all comes back to coal at school. Besides basic reading and math most of our instruction is coal-related. Except for the weekly lecture on the history of Panem. It's mostly a lot of blather about what we owe the Capitol. I know there must be more than they're telling us, an actual account of what happened during the rebellion. But I don't spend much time thinking about it. Whatever the truth is, I don't see how it will help me get food on the table.
The tribute train is fancier than even the room in the Justice Building. We are each given our own chambers that have a bedroom, a dressing area, and a private bathroom with hot and cold running water. We don't have hot water at home, unless we boil it.
There are drawers filled with fine clothes, and Effie Trinket tells me to do anything I want, wear anything I want, everything is at my disposal. Just be ready for supper in an hour. I peel off my mother's blue dress and take a hot shower. I've never had a shower before. It's like being in a summer rain, only warmer. I dress in a dark green shirt and pants.
At the last minute, I remember Madge's little gold pin. For the first time, I get a good look at it. It's as if someone fashioned a small golden bird and then attached a ring around it. The bird is connected to the ring only by its wing tips. I suddenly recognize it. A mockingjay.
They're funny birds and something of a slap in the face to the Capitol. During the rebellion, the Capitol bred a series of genetically altered animals as weapons. The common term for them was muttations, or sometimes mutts for short. One was a special bird called a jabberjay that had the ability to memorize and repeat whole human conversations. They were homing birds, exclusively male, that were released into regions where the Capitol's enemies were known to be hiding. After the birds gathered words, they'd fly back to centers to be recorded. It took people awhile to realize what was going on in the districts, how private conversations were being transmitted. Then, of course, the rebels fed the Capitol endless lies, and the joke was on it. So the centers were shut down and the birds were abandoned to die off in the wild.
Only they didn't die off. Instead, the jabberjays mated with female mockingbirds creating a whole new species that could replicate both bird whistles and human melodies. They had lost the ability to enunciate words but could still mimic a range of human vocal sounds, from a child's highpitched warble to a man's deep tones. And they could recreate songs. Not just a fe