Pitch darkness turns to vivid imagery.
I’m back at the bakery. Ryean and Rottee are asleep beside me. Suddenly the roof collapses and a hive of tracker jackers falls to the ground, exploding with an angry swarm. Oddly, they don’t charge at me; instead, they surround my brothers until you can’t see an inch of them, buzz around their bodies for a few seconds, and then fly away, their jobs done, and Rotee and Ryean collapse to the ground, looking more like a skeleton-shaped pile of blisters than the healthy, human bodies they were moments before. Like Glimmer, the red welts pulsing over their skin cover any hint of life that there once was, and in the distance I hear a cannon. Or was it a cannon?
I open the door to run downstairs but a burst of fire from the hallway sends me flying backwards. The room floods with flames and there’s another cannon一no, it’s an explosion, and it sends another wave of fire through the door. I can’t get out that way. I make a break for the window and leap out, taking one last look at my brother’s mutilated bodies, tears finally forming from a mixture of grief and the effect of the smoke.
I jump out of the window and land in a pile of skulls. I pick one up, holding it in the palm of my hands and staring into its sullen eyes, when all of a sudden the bone turns to flesh and the lips curl into a familiar smile. I am holding the head of my best friend, Delly Cartwright. In an instant her face melts away and again reveals the cracked gray, anonymous skull, and I drop it to the ground, where it joins the pile of thousandsー lost people, forever indistinguishable from one another. All of District 12 is desolate, and before I have time to regain my feet, I hear a loud crash and see a bomb strike the cobblestone street in the middle of the square. Again I’m blown backwards, and I crawl to take shelter behind the bakery.
My Father is there, ducking under the windowsill which has just been blasted through.
“Peeta, thank God you’re alive,” he takes me under his arm as if to shield me. “Where are your brothers?”
I can’t speak, but I answer his question with a sob as I bury my face deeper into his chest.
Suddenly I’m a kid again. Eleven years old. My face is still buried into my father’s shirt, but now it smells of fresh detergent rather than fire and smoke. I look up into his youthful face and he wipes the tears from my eyes.
“I’m sad too, son,” he says. “It was a tragic, horrible accident.” He pulls me close again.
“What are they going to do now?” I say, sniffling. “They lost their father, there’s no more money. They’re going to starve.”
“Shhhhh,” he coos, ruffling my hair. “They’re not going to stave. They’ll find a way. They have a family of fighters.”
“Can we make them a breadbasket?” I ask, wiping the tears from my eyes.
“That’s very thoughtful,” he says, turning up my chin so my eyes match his. “Of course we can. Just don’t tell your mother,” he winks.
The scene ripples away, like it’s fast-forwarding a few hours. I can feel a welt on the back of my head from my mother’s rolling pin; as it turned out, she had noticed the missing bread. My father returns home, looking disheveled and depressed. I run up to him, hugging his waist. “What happened?” I ask, desperate for good news but, from his look, expecting the opposite.
“She’s not the same,” he sighs. “She wouldn’t even look at me.”
Everything goes black again and a moment later I’m in the Everdeen’s house. Laying on the floor, I see Katniss, Prim, and their mother wasting away into skeletons, rotting, with rats scampering over their lifeless bodies.
Gale bursts through the door and walks right through me, as if I were a ghost. He scoops up Katniss and the moment she is in his arms, her body glows, and she springs back to life. She embraces him, and, to my dismay, presses her lips against his. They kiss passionately, as if they were molding into one person. Their lips finally part, and Katniss’ eyes bore directly into mine.
“You are nothing, nothing compared to him,” she pronounces. “You are weak. You are useless. Get out of my sight, baker’s boy.” She turns back to Gale and passionately caresses him, as if I wasn’t there.
A series of explosions rouses me from my nightmares. Though, I can’t quite tell if I’m just entering a new one. Through my eyelids, I can make out the glowing of the sun directly above me. I gradually open my eyes, but the dried mud that I’m coated in restricts me from opening them fully. I don’t how long I’ve been out. Through my narrowed vision, I see that my camouflage is still holding up. In fact, the clay has hardened and, to the untrained eye, I am unquestionably one with the rock. My brain tells my fingers and toes to wiggle, but even that is impossible. From my own weakness and my self-inflicted clay prison, I cannot move.
I return my thoughts to the explosions. They happened in succession, and though I tried to keep a count of them, I’d lost track. They sound like they’re coming from my left, which I reason is towards the lake. What could’ve caused it? Still woozy, tired, and dehydrated, I can’t bring myself to give it too much thought. I decide whatever it is doesn’t concern me much. Here under this rock shelf, I am as safe as I can be, given the state I’m in.
For all I know, I could either have been out for several hours or several days. Aside from my nightmares一 likely hallucinations brought on by the tracker jacker venom一 I have no recollection of anything since I passed out. But those dreams are not something I will soon forget. I think of home. My family must be watching. I doubt the cameras are focused on me at the moment, however, especially with those explosions likely wrecking all sorts of havoc somewhere in the distance. My camouflage stillness is not the hot topic of the moment, though I’m sure the cameras feature me every now and then to remind the audience I’m still here, still alive, though barely so. However, I bet my family has already accepted their loss and moved on with their life. I dug my own grave the moment I laid down in this place, and business must go on. I wonder if they’ll bake a cake in my honor, maybe write something cheesy like “Gone from the world but not from our hearts,” in icing. An insincere tribute to my “noble,” or rather, pathetic, death.
Another explosion interrupts my train of thought. Two others follow shorty after. What the heck is that? A cannon booms. Wherever the explosion was, and whatever set it off, seems to have picked off another tribute. Who was it this time? I run through the list of remaining tributes, to the best of my knowledge. But who knows what’s happened since I blacked out? Marvel, Cato, and Clove must’ve escaped the tracker jacker attacks. I never saw their faces in the sky officially, but I assume Glimmer and Koiya are done for. There was no coming back from tracker jacker stings as severe as theirs. District 5… I’m trying to remember their tributes. I know the boy died in the bloodbath. The female tribute… who was it? Ah yes. the red-haired girl. I vaguely remember her interviewー “No weapons can match a brain,” she’d said. Maybe her wits have kept her alive thus far, unless she was killed while I was out. Districts 6 and 7, as I recall, were wiped out on day one as well. I wonder what the citizens of those districts do when all hope is lost so soon. Do they pick favorites from a different district and cheer them on? Do they watch to see the demise of the tribute who killed their children, cheering on their opposition?
I’m sure everyone in District 12 is cheering for Katniss. She’s always been more of a contender, and that move she pulled with the tracker tracker nest was pure geniusー especially considering she hadn’t only wiped out two tributes, but two Careers. And the audience, unlike the rest of the tributes, has probably seen Katniss’ aptitude for shooting. Now that she has a bow, she in unstoppable. Or at least, I can hope she is.
Again I think of Haymitch. Mentors have to pick favorites, don’t they? Only one of us will live, so why not focus all of the attention, sponsorships, and money on the one that’s had better odds from the beginning? And this is what I asked for; I told Haymitch I wasn’t going home before Katniss, that she had to be the one to win over me. Sitting here on this riverbank, at the edge of my life, I’m as close to receiving a silver parachute with the life-saving medicine from the Capitol as I am to winning these Games. Though I can’t move my head to glance down at my feet, I can imagine that the condition of my leg has only gotten worse. The bleeding must’ve finally stopped, or else I’d probably be dead by now. But the agony is incessant and there is no chance that an injury such as this can heal naturally, let alone in the limited time I have before the Games come to an inevitable end.
I wonder how much longer the Games will last. I try and count the days I’ve been in the arena. As I recall, the tracker jacker incident and my encounter with Cato was the fifth day of the Games. Add on however many days I’ve been passed out, and I conclude that I probably have less than another week or two to live. The Gamemakers rarely allow the Games to last more than a few weeks, depending on how much action they’re getting in a typical day, since they have to keep the audience engaged.
After hours of agony and an inability to go to sleep, the sun finally begins to set. Staring into the orange sky with waves of fluffy pink clouds, I hold on to the only piece of beauty I can capture. The beauty that says this day of pain is ending, but the hope of tomorrow is coming soon.
The faces of two tributes appear in the sky tonight: the boy from District 3 and the boy from District 10. The last time I saw the former was at the campsite by the lake, teaming with the Careers to set up the bomb trap around the pile of supplies. That’s when it dawns on me… the explosions. Though I’d lost count, I’d bet there were twenty-four of them total.
It occurs to me that this is the first night that I am without a sleeping bag, disregarding the night or nights I was unconscious. The clay around me is hard and cold, encasing me in an ice cube. Nothing I can do could alleviate this numbness. It seems as if all the blood in my bodyー what’s left of it, that isー has stopped flowing. Left to my thoughts, unable to move, and swimming in inescapable pain that I have come to accept, tonight is by far the longest night of my life.Add to favorites