The Games force you to be a light sleeper. At the first note of the Anthem my eyes shoot wide open, just in time to see the Capitol Emblem projected into the night sky. No new deaths today. The forest fire, though it was unsuccessful in wiping out any tributes, certainly served its purpose by forcing us into closer proximity with Katniss. With us camping out right below her, the anticipation the audience must be feeling is exactly what the Capitol needs to keep the viewers on the edge of their seat and the Games impossible to resist.
I tell myself to go back to sleep, since sunrise is still a few hours away, but I silently scope out our camp. The torches are still lit, allowing me to notice Glimmer and Koiya sitting on watch. They’re silent, and for a moment I swear I see Koiya nod off and then catch herself, shaking her head. Tiredness is getting to all of us. I wish they were both asleep, then maybe I could somehow signal for Katniss that the coast is clear. Even then, the sound of her descending the tree, or more likely the sound of me emerging from my sleeping bag, would certainly wake one if not all the Careers. I force my eyes shut, but the rest of my senses are elevated. I can faintly make out a distance ruffle of leaves, a minor cracking of branches from above. I’d bet Katniss is having a sleepless night as well.
A loud crack startles me awake. In a moment I’ve squirmed out of my sleeping bag and with a half-second glance at the source of the noise my instincts tell me to run. A nest of tracker jackers一 mutant wasps created by the Capitol to torment us一 has exploded on the ground. They’re swarming around us and I’m able to get far enough away to escape the dense mass of them angrily buzzing around the camp.
I feel an excruciating sting on my upper arm, then another, and again on my chest and behind my ear, but I swat the massive golden tracker jackers away immediately. That doesn’t stop the venom from seeping in, causing my arms chest and ear to throb and my vision to go fuzzy for a moment. Tracker jacker stings are no petty injury; they have been known to cause maddening hallucinations, that is for those who aren’t killed by large doses of their venom. I fight the urge to succumb to the pain and try my best to keep my mind clear. Though my vision blurs and I stumble, my flight instinct drives me to keep moving forward. This is the most unpleasant sensation I have ever experienced, but I am thankful I’ve only had four stings rather than dozens, even hundreds.
I glance back and notice not all the Careers are so lucky. Like me, Marvel, Cato, and Clove made a run for it, screaming orders to get to the lake, but Koiya and Glimmer, who both appear to have dozed off on their watch shift, are still in the thick of the attack. Glimmer has the bow and arrow in hand, gripping it tightly and swinging it around trying to fend off the swarm. They are relentless, and Glimmer’s struggle is to no avail. Koiya stumbles away, repeatedly tripping and pushing herself back up again, but each time suffering more stings from the deadly wasps.
The scene is so brutally compelling, and it takes everything I have not to look back. I keep moving, knowing that tracker jackers are known to pursue their victims, hence the tracker part of the name. I need to find water一 make them drown before they can continue to sting me to death, as I’m sure is the fate for Glimmer and Koiya.
I’m stumbling through the wood as fast as a can manage, so overcome with pain and confusion that I’ve almost forgotten the reason we were camped out under the tree in the first place: Katniss. She must’ve been the one to cut down the nest.
“Loverboy, over here!” I head Cato’s pained voice calling from my right, and I stagger towards it.
The trees are spinning around me and I can’t seem to decide what’s right and what’s left. Finally I catch a glimpse of three long-limbed figures by a pool of shimmering golden liquid. It seems to be radiating a sparkling steam. For a moment my faulty vision shifts to reality, and the liquid turns from tracker-jacker-gold to a cool blue. The pond.
In my disorientation it seems to take me forever to reach the water, finally slipping into it with desperation. I’m overcome with a cooling sensation that seeps into the stings over my chest and arms, and I sink a little deeper to submerge the back of my head. My hand runs across my arms and chest to feel the plum-sized bulges forming. I remove the four stingers, the size of toothpicks, and I message the affected areas to ease the throbbing. I close my eyes to make the world stop spinning around me. When I open them, I see the sixーno, threeー remaining Careers, looking equally distressed, also soaking their injuries, basking in the glory of the cold water.
We all perk up at the sound of the first cannon.
“The supplies,” Clove exclaims. “Someone has to go back for them.” Her and Marvel, still writhing in pain, seem in no rush to do this themselves.
“I’ll do it. And I’ll finish off that bitch who tried to kill us!” Cato growls, rising clumsily from the water.
I rush to follow. Katniss’ idea, genius as it was, was certainly not without risk. Was she able to escape the frenzy once she climbed back down? Or, like the girls from 1 and 4, is she lying motionless on the ground, covered in blistering stings under relentless attack from the angry swarm? I think back to the cannon. Was it hers?
I find myself running faster and faster, trying to pass up Cato. Though I can’t see straight and can’t think straight, I do know one thing. If Katniss is still there, I need to get there first. Find out what happened to her. Protect her. Another cannon fires. I run faster.
Neither of us are in prime condition, and by the thudding of body hitting the ground right behind me, I know Cato is stumbling too. At this point I am on all fours, hurtling towards the scene I’d just run away from. Out of the corner of my eye I spot a silvery snake slithering just ahead of me, and I strain to reach for it. My hand wraps around a solid thin rod: Marvel’s spear. He must’ve neglected to pick it up during his frantic escape. I’m relieved to be armed, in case this is the moment where I’ll finally have to defend myself, and perhaps defend Katniss, from Cato. I hold the spear above my head, ready to strike, no longer aware of Cato’s location relative to mine.
I burst through the trees and I see her. Katniss, having experienced a fair share of stings herself, is kneeling nearby Glimmer’s body, mangled and blistered to the point where she一 once beautiful with flowing golden hair and an impeccable complexion一 is hideously unrecognizable. She’s pried they bow away from her, and fumbles to load it, ready to shoot.
I lower my spear. I am not a threat to her. I never will be as long as I can help it. But Cato is right behind me and there’s no time to explain that to her. She stares at me, dumbstruck, eyes swimming.
“What are you still doing here? Are you mad?” I yell. I see three Katnisses, blurry and motionless, all giving me identical stares, confused, unaware of my desperation. The three bodies blend back into one. When she doesn’t move, I reverse my spear and prod her with it’s dull side. “Get up! Get up!” As I poke her with the end of the spear I see a geyser of blood erupt from her as she convulses on the ground, her blood floating into the air and creating wisps that swirl around my head. It’s not real, I tell myself. It’s not real.
My mind clears momentarily. The blood disappears. Finally, she’s on her feet, unbalanced, but making no effort to flee. I hear the rustling of leaves behind me and whirl my head around, see Cato stumble through the trees. “Run!” I scream. “Run!”
She finally registers my command and bolts off, bow and arrow gripped tightly in her hand. Now that she has her weapon of choice, the Games are hers. I, on the other hand, am sure my heartbeats are numbered as I see Cato slash through the bushes towards me, scowling and murderous.
I turn to face him, spreading my stance and holding my spear in front of me as if to provide a barrier between Katniss and the Careers. If you want to get to her, you’ll have to go through me.
“You let her get away!” screams Cato, enraged. “I knew I couldn’t trust you!” He’s collected his sword from the site, and brandishes it above his head. I shield myself with the spear and kick him off as he lunges at me. In the next moment I can’t tell if his head has doubled in size from sheer rage, inflammation from his tracker jacker stings, hallucinations from my own, or all of the above. Regardless, he’s clearly discovered I’m not on his side. He gets up, teeth clenched, and launches himself at me, tackling me to the ground. While Cato has a lot of combat skills that I don’t, I’m able to match him in build and strength.
We wrestle, rolling across the forest floor over roots, sticks, and rocks. I hear Cato cry out as a tracker jacker blister on his shoulder bursts in an explosion of pus. He has suffered from many more tracker jacker stings than I have. He rolls me onto my back and has me pinned, but I position my feet on his pelvis and launch him off of me. I get up off the ground, raising my spear as I approach where he landed. Before I can throw it, he wraps his legs around my ankles and pulls, yanking me back to the ground. He hurls himself at me again, wrapping his hands around my neck. I let out a gasp of air, attempting unsuccessfully to take another breath.
I make eye contact with him but his gaze is unfocused and clouded. I glance to my left and spot a jagged rock. In one swift motion I reach out to grab it and smash it against the side of Cato’s head, causing him to release his grip on my neck and cradle his bleeding ear.
I jump to my feet, brandishing my spear. Cato does the same with his sword.
“Alright, Loveboy, that’s it,” he slurrs. “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”
I throw my spear first, striking his shoulder, which throws off the aim of his sword. It catches just below my left knee and he slashes upwards, slitting deep into my leg up to just below my pelvis.
The agony is unbearable. I fall to the ground, trying to cover the wound with my hands, but the blood won’t stop. My eyes are squeezed shut一 I tell myself if I close them hard enough this will all go away. I open them just a sliver to see Cato rise from the ground, stumbling away, cradling his injured shoulder and biting down hard on his lip until it bleeds. He moves dizzily, the affects of the tracker jacker venom clearly taking its toll. He barely has enough strength to stand up, hunch-backed, and lift his sword with his other hand.
“I’d put you out of your misery if I had any respect left for you,” he says as he turns and limps away. “I wish you a very slow, painful death, Loverboy.” Then he collapses in a heap on the ground.Add to favorites