“The slag heap next to the east entrance,” says Prim patiently.
“No. When did you say that?” I demand. “Last night,” Haymitch chimes in.
“It was definitely the east,” adds Peeta. He looks at Haymitch and they laugh. I glare at Peeta and he tries to look contrite. “I’m sorry, but it’s what I’ve been saying. You don’t listen when people talk to you.”
“Bet people told you he didn’t live there today and you didn’t listen again,” says Haymitch.
“Shut up, Haymitch,” I say, clearly indicating he’s right.
Haymitch and Peeta crack up and Prim allows herself a smile.
“Fine. Somebody else can arrange to get the stupid goat knocked up,” I say, which makes them laugh more. And I think, This is why they’ve made it this far, Haymitch and Peeta. Nothing throws them.
I look at the Peacekeepers. The man’s smiling but the woman is unconvinced. “What’s in the bag?” she asks sharply.
I know she’s hoping for game or wild plants. Something that clearly condemns me. I dump the contents on the table. “See for yourself.”
“Oh, good,” says my mother, examining the cloth. “We’re running low on bandages.”
Peeta comes to the table and opens the candy bag. “Ooh, peppermints,” he says, popping one in his mouth.
“They’re mine.” I take a swipe for the bag. He tosses it to Haymitch, who stuffs a fistful of sweets in his mouth before passing the bag to a giggling Prim. “None of you deserves candy!” I say.
“What, because we’re right?” Peeta wraps his arms around me. I give a small yelp of pain as my tailbone objects. I try to turn it into a sound of indignation, but I can see in his eyes that he knows I’m hurt. “Okay, Prim said west. I distinctly heard west. And we’re all idiots. How’s that?”
“Better,” I say, and accept his kiss. Then I look at the Peacekeepers as if I’m suddenly remembering they’re there. “You have a message for me?”
“From Head Peacekeeper Thread,” says the woman. “He wanted you to know that the fence surrounding District Twelve will now have electricity twenty-four hours a day.”
“Didn’t it already?” I ask, a little too innocently.
“He thought you might be interested in passing this information on to your cousin,” says the woman.
“Thank you. I’ll tell him. I’m sure we’ll all sleep a little more soundly now that security has addressed that lapse.” I’m pushing things, I know it, but the comment gives me a sense of satisfaction.
The woman’s jaw tightens. None of this has gone as planned, but she has no further orders. She gives me a curt nod and leaves, the man trailing in her wake. When my mother has locked the door behind them, I slump against the table.
“What is it?” says Peeta, holding me steadily.
“Oh, I banged up my left foot. The heel. And my tail-bone’s had a bad day, too.” He helps me over to one of the rockers and I lower myself onto the padded cushion.
My mother eases off my boots. “What happened?”
“I slipped and fell,” I say. Four pairs of eyes look at me with disbelief. “On some ice.” But we all know the house must be bugged and it’s not safe to talk openly. Not here, not now.
Having stripped off my sock, my mother’s fingers probe the bones in my left heel and I wince. “There might be a break,” she says. She checks the other foot. “This one seems all right.” She judges my tailbone to be badly bruised.
Prim’s dispatched to get my pajamas and robe. When I’m changed, my mother makes a snow pack for my left heel and props it up on a hassock. I eat three bowls of stew and half a loaf of bread while the others dine at the table. I stare at the fire, thinking of Bonnie and Twill, hoping that the heavy, wet snow has erased my tracks.
Prim comes and sits on the floor next to me, leaning her head against my knee. We suck on peppermints as I brush her soft blond hair back behind her ear. “How was school?” I ask.
“All right. We learned about coal by-products,” she says. We stare at the fire for a while. “Are you going to try on your wedding dresses?”
“Not tonight. Tomorrow probably,” I say.
“Wait until I get home, okay?” she says.
“Sure.” If they don’t arrest me first.
My mother gives me a cup of chamomile tea with a dose of sleep syrup, and my eyelids begin to droop immediately. She wraps my bad foot, and Peeta volunteers to get me to bed. I start out by leaning on his shoulder, but I’m so wobbly he just scoops me up and carries me upstairs. He tucks me in and says good night but I catch his hand and hold him there. A side effect of the sleep syrup is that it makes people less inhibited, like white liquor, and I know I have to control my tongue. But I don’t want him to go. In fact, I want him to climb in with me, to be there when the nightmares hit tonight. For some reason that I can’t quite form, I know I’m not allowed to ask that.
“Don’t go yet. Not until I fall asleep,” I say.
Peeta sits on the side of the bed, warming my hand in both of his. “Almost thought you’d changed your mind today. When you were late for dinner.”
I’m foggy but I can guess what he means. With the fence going on and me showing up late and the Peacekeepers waiting, he thought I’d made a run for it, maybe with Gale.
“No, I’d have told you,” I say. I pull his hand up and lean my cheek against the back of it, taking in the faint scent of cinnamon and dill from the breads he must have baked today. I want to tell him about Twill and Bonnie and the uprising and the fantasy of District 13, but it’s not safe to and I can feel myself slipping away, so I just get out one more sentence. “Stay with me.”
As the tendrils of sleep syrup pull me down, I hear him whisper a word back, but I don’t quite catch it.
My mother lets me sleep until noon, then rouses me to examine my heel. I’m ordered to a week of bed rest and I don’t object because I feel so lousy. Not just my heel and my tailbone. My whole body aches with exhaustion. So I let my mother doctor me and feed me breakfast in bed and tuck another quilt around me. Then I just lie there, staring out my window at the winter sky, pondering how on earth this will all turn out. I think a lot about Bonnie and Twill, and the pile of white wedding dresses downstairs, and if Thread will figure out how I got back in and arrest me. It’s funny, because he could just arrest me, anyway, based on past crimes, but maybe he has to have something really irrefutable to do it, now that I’m a victor. And I wonder if President Snow’s in contact with Thread. I think it’s unlikely he ever acknowledged that old Cray existed, but now that I’m such a nationwide problem, is he carefully instructing Thread what to do? Or is Thread acting on his own? At any rate, I’m sure they’d both agree on keeping me locked up here inside the district with that fence. Even if I could figure out some way to escape—maybe get a rope up to that maple tree branch and climb out—there’d be no escaping with my family and friends now. I told Gale I would stay and fight, anyway.
For the next few days, I jump every time there’s a knock on the door. No Peacekeepers show up to arrest me, though, so eventually I begin to relax. I’m further reassured when Peeta casually tells me the power is off in sections of the fence because crews are out securing the base of the chain link to the ground. Thread must believe I somehow got under the thing, even with that deadly current running through it. It’s a break for the district, having the Peacekeepers busy doing something besides abusing people.
Peeta comes by every day to bring me cheese buns and begins to help me work on the family book. It’s an old thing, made of parchment and leather. Some herbalist on my mother’s side of the family started it ages ago. The book’s composed of page after page of ink drawings of plants with descriptions of their medical uses. My father added a section on edible plants that was my guidebook to keeping us alive after his death. For a long time, I’ve wanted to record my own knowledge in it. Things I learned from experience or from Gale, and then the information I picked up when I was training for the Games. I didn’t because I’m no artist and it’s so crucial that the pictures are drawn in exact detail. That’s where Peeta comes in. Some of the plants he knows already, others we have dried samples of, and others I have to describe. He makes sketches on scrap paper until I’m satisfied they’re right, then I let him draw them in the book. After that, I carefully print all I know about the plant.
It’s quiet, absorbing work that helps take my mind off my troubles. I like to watch his hands as he works, making a blank page bloom with strokes of ink, adding touches of color to our previously black and yellowish book. His face takes on a special look when he concentrates. His usual easy expression is replaced by something more intense and removed that suggests an entire world locked away inside him. I’ve seen flashes of this before: in the arena, or when he speaks to a crowd, or that time he shoved the Peacekeepers’ guns away from me in District 11. I don’t know quite what to make of it. I also become a little fixated on his eyelashes, which ordinarily you don’t notice much because they’re so blond. But up close, in the sunlight slanting in from the window, they’re a light golden color and so long I don’t see how they keep from getting all tangled up when he blinks.
One afternoon Peeta stops shading a blossom and looks up so suddenly that I start, as though I were caught spying on him, which in a strange way maybe I was. But he only says, “You know, I think this is the first time we’ve ever done anything normal together.”
“Yeah,” I agree. Our whole relationship has been tainted by the Games. Normal was never a part of it. “Nice for a change.”
Each afternoon he carries me downstairs for a change of scenery and I unnerve everyone by turning on the television. Usually we only watch when it’s mandatory, because the mixture of propaganda and displays of the Capitol’s power—including clips from seventy-four years of Hunger Games — is so odious. But now I’m looking for something special. The mockingjay that Bonnie and Twill are basing all their hopes on. I know it’s probably foolishness, but if it is, I want to rule it out. And erase the idea of a thriving District 13 from my mind for good.
My first sighting is in a news story referencing the Dark Days. I see the smoldering remains of the Justice Building in District 13 and just catch the black-and-white underside of a mockingjay’s wing as it flies across the upper right-hand corner. That doesn’t prove anything, really. It’s just an old shot that goes with an old tale.
However, several days later, something else grabs my attention. The main newscaster is reading a piece about a shortage of graphite affecting the manufacturing of items in District 3. They cut to what is supposed to be live footage of a female reporter, encased in a protective suit, standing in front of the ruins of the Justice Building in 13. Through her mask, she reports that unfortunately a study has just today determined that the mines of District 13 are still too toxic to approach. End of story. But just before they cut back to the main newscaster, I see the unmistakable flash of that same mockingjays wing.
The reporter has simply been incorporated into the old footage. She’s not in District 13 at all. Which begs the question, What is?
Staying quietly in bed is harder after that. I want to be doing something, finding out more about District 13 or helping in the cause to bring down the Capitol. Instead I sit around stuffing myself with cheese buns and watching Peeta sketch. Haymitch stops by occasionally to bring me news from town, which is always bad. More people being punished or dropping from starvation.
Winter has begun to withdraw by the time my foot is deemed usable. My mother gives me exercises to do and lets me walk on my own a bit. I go to sleep one night, determined to go into town the next morning, but I awake to find Venia, Octavia, and Flavius grinning down at me.
“Surprise!” they squeal. “We’re here early!”
After I took that lash in the face, Haymitch got their visit pushed back several months so I could heal up. I wasn’t expecting them for another three weeks. But I try to act delighted that my bridal photo shoot is here at last. My mother hung up all the dresses, so they’re ready to go, but to be honest, I haven’t even tried one on.
After the usual histrionics about the deteriorated state of my beauty, they get right down to business. Their biggest concern is my face, although I think my mother did a pretty remarkable job healing it. There’s just a pale pink strip across my cheekbone. The whipping’s not common knowledge, so I tell them I slipped on the ice and cut it. And then I realize that’s my same excuse for hurting my foot, which is going to make walking in high heels a problem. But Flavius, Octavia, and Venia aren’t the suspicious types, so I’m safe there.
Since I only have to look hairless for a few hours instead of several weeks, I get to be shaved instead of waxed. I still have to soak in a tub of something, but it isn’t vile, and we’re on to my hair and makeup before I know it. The team, as usual, is full of news, which I usually do my best to tune out. But then Octavia makes a comment that catches my attention. It’s a passing remark, really, about how she couldn’t get shrimp for a party, but it tugs at me.
“Why couldn’t you get shrimp? Is it out of season?” I ask.
“Oh, Katniss, we haven’t been able to get any seafood for weeks!” says Octavia. “You know, because the weather’s been so bad in District Four.”
My mind starts buzzing. No seafood. For weeks. From District 4. The barely concealed rage in the crowd during the Victory Tour. And suddenly I am absolutely sure that District 4 has revolted.
I begin to question them casually about what other hardships this winter has brought them. They are not used to want, so any little disruption in supply makes an impact on them. By the time I’m ready to be dressed, their complaints about the difficulty of getting different products — from crabmeat to music chips to ribbons — has given me a sense of which districts might actually be rebelling. Seafood from District 4. Electronic gadgets from District 3. And, of course, fabrics from District 8. The thought of such widespread rebellion has me quivering with fear and excitement.
I want to ask them more, but Cinna appears to give me a hug and check my makeup. His attention goes right to the scar on my cheek. Somehow I don’t think he believes the slipping-on-the-ice story, but he doesn’t question it. He simply adjusts the powder on my face, and what little you can see of the lash mark vanishes.
Downstairs, the living room has been cleared and lit for the photo shoot. Effie’s having a fine time ordering everybody around, keeping us all on schedule. It’s probably a good thing, because there are six gowns and each one requires its own headpiece, shoes, jewelry, hair, makeup, setting, and lighting. Creamy lace and pink roses and ringlets. Ivory satin and gold tattoos and greenery. A sheath of diamonds and jeweled veil and moonlight. Heavy white silk and sleeves that fall from my wrist to the floor, and pearls. The moment one shot has been approved, we move right into preparing for the next. I feel like dough, being kneaded and reshaped again and again. My mother manages to feed me bits of food and sips of tea while they work on me, but by the time the shoot is over, I’m starving and exhausted. I’m hoping to spend some time with Cinna now, but Effie whisks everybody out the door and I have to make do with the promise of a phone call.
Evening has fallen and my foot hurts from all the crazy shoes, so I abandon any thoughts of going into town. Instead I go upstairs and wash away the layers of makeup and conditioners and dyes and then go down to dry my hair by the fire. Prim, who came home from school in time to see the last two dresses, chatters on about them with my mother. They both seem overly happy about the photo shoot. When I fall into bed, I realize it’s because they think it means I’m safe. That the Capitol has overlooked my interference with the whipping since no one is going to go to such trouble and expense for someone they plan on killing, anyway. Right.
In my nightmare, I’m dressed in the silk bridal gown, but it’s torn and muddy. The long sleeves keep getting caught on thorns and branches as I run through the woods. The pack of muttation tributes draws closer and closer until it overcomes me with hot breath and dripping fangs and I scream myself awake.
It’s too close to dawn to bother trying to get back to sleep. Besides, today I really have to get out and talk to someone. Gale will be unreachable in the mines. But I need Haymitch or Peeta or somebody to share the burden of all that has happened to me since I went to the lake. Fleeing outlaws, electrified fences, an independent District 13, shortages in the Capitol. Everything.
I eat breakfast with my mother and Prim and head out in search of a confidant. The air’s warm with hopeful hints of spring in it. Spring would be a good time for an uprising, I think. Everyone feels less vulnerable once winter passes. Peeta’s not home. I guess he’s already gone into town. I’m surprised to see Haymitch moving around his kitchen so early, though. I walk into his house without knocking. I can hear Hazelle upstairs, sweeping the floors of the now-spotless house. Haymitch isn’t flat-out drunk, but he doesn’t look too steady, either. I guess the rumors about Ripper being back in business are true. I’m thinking maybe I better let him just go to bed, when he suggests a walk to town.
Haymitch and I can speak in a kind of shorthand now. In a few minutes I’ve updated him and he’s told me about rumors of uprisings in Districts 7 and 11 as well. If my hunches are right, this would mean almost half the districts have at least attempted to rebel.
“Do you still think it won’t work here?” I ask.
“Not yet. Those other districts, they’re much larger. Even if half the people cower in their homes, the rebels stand a chance. Here in Twelve, it’s got to be all of us or nothing,” he says.
I hadn’t thought of that. How we lack strength of numbers. “But maybe at some point?” I insist.
“Maybe. But we’re small, we’re weak, and we don’t develop nuclear weapons,” says Haymitch with a touch of sarcasm. He didn’t get too excited over my District 13 story.
“What do you think they’ll do, Haymitch? To the districts that are rebelling?” I ask.
“Well, you’ve heard what they did in Eight. You’ve seen what they did here, and that was without provocation,” says Haymitch. “If things really do get out of hand, I think they’d have no problem killing off another district, same as they did Thirteen. Make an example of it, you know?”
“So you think Thirteen was really destroyed? I mean, Bonnie and Twill were right about the footage of the mocking-jay,” I say.
“Okay, but what does that prove? Nothing, really. There are plenty of reasons they could be using old footage. Probably it looks more impressive. And it’s a lot simpler, isn’t it? To just press a few buttons in the editing room than to fly all the way out there and film it?” he says. “The idea that Thirteen has somehow rebounded and the Capitol is ignoring it? That sounds like the kind of rumor desperate people cling to.”
“I know. I was just hoping,” I say.
“Exactly. Because you’re desperate,” says Haymitch.
I don’t argue because, of course, he’s right.
Prim comes home from school bubbling over with excitement. The teachers announced there was mandatory programming tonight. “I think it’s going to be your photo shoot!”
“It can’t be, Prim. They only did the pictures yesterday,” I tell her.
“Well, that’s what somebody heard,” she says.
I’m hoping she’s wrong. I haven’t had time to prepare Gale for any of this. Since the whipping, I only see him when he comes to the house for my mother to check how he’s healing. He’s often scheduled seven days a week in the mine. In the few minutes of privacy we’ve had, with me walking him back to town, I gather that the rumblings of an uprising in 12 have been subdued by Thread’s crackdown. He knows I’m not going to run. But he must also know that if we don’t revolt in 12, I’m destined to be Peeta’s bride. Seeing me lounging around in gorgeous gowns on his television … what can he do with that?
When we gather around the television at seven-thirty, I discover that Prim is right. Sure enough, there’s Caesar Flickerman, speaking before a standing-room-only crowd in front of the Training Center, talking to an appreciative crowd about my upcoming nuptials. He introduces Cinna, who became an overnight star with his costumes for me in the Games, and after a minute of good-natured chitchat, we’re directed to turn our attention to a giant screen.
I see now how they could photograph me yesterday and present the special tonight. Initially, Cinna designed two dozen wedding gowns. Since then, there’s been the process of narrowing down the designs, creating the dresses, and choosing the accessories. Apparently, in the Capitol, there were opportunities to vote for your favorites at each stage. This is all culminating with shots of me in the final six dresses, which I’m sure took no time at all to insert in the show. Each shot is met with a huge reaction from the crowd. People screaming and cheering for their favorites, booing the ones they don’t like. Having voted, and probably bet on the winner, people are very invested in my wedding gown. It’s bizarre to watch when I think how I never even bothered to try one on before the cameras arrived. Caesar announces that interested parties must cast their final vote by noon on the following day.
“Let’s get Katniss Everdeen to her wedding in style!” he hollers to the crowd. I’m about to shut off the television, but then Caesar is telling us to stay tuned for the other big event of the evening. “That’s right, this year will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Games, and that means it’s time for our third Quarter Quell!”
“What will they do?” asks Prim. “It isn’t for months yet.
We turn to our mother, whose expression is solemn and distant, as if she’s remembering something. “It must be the reading of the card.”
The anthem plays, and my throat tightens with revulsion as President Snow takes the stage. He’s followed by a young boy dressed in a white suit, holding a simple wooden box. The anthem ends, and President Snow begins to speak, to remind us all of the Dark Days from which the Hunger Games were born. When the laws for the Games were laid out, they dictated that every twenty-five years the anniversary would be marked by a Quarter Quell. It would call for a glorified version of the Games to make fresh the memory of those killed by the districts’ rebellion.
These words could not be more pointed, since I suspect several districts are rebelling right now.
President Snow goes on to tell us what happened in the previous Quarter Quells. “On the twenty-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that their children were dying because of their choice to initiate violence, every district was made to hold an election and vote on the tributes who would represent it.”
I wonder how that would have felt. Picking the kids who had to go. It is worse, I think, to be turned over by your own neighbors than have your name drawn from the reaping ball.
“On the fiftieth anniversary,” the president continues, “as a reminder that two rebels died for each Capitol citizen, every district was required to send twice as many tributes.”
I imagine facing a field of forty-seven instead of twenty-three. Worse odds, less hope, and ultimately more dead kids. That was the year Haymitch won… .
“I had a friend who went that year,” says my mother quietly. “Maysilee Donner. Her parents owned the sweetshop. They gave me her songbird after. A canary.”
Prim and I exchange a look. It’s the first we’ve ever heard of Maysilee Donner. Maybe because my mother knew we would want to know how she died.
“And now we honor our third Quarter Quell,” says the president. The little boy in white steps forward, holding out the box as he opens the lid. We can see the tidy, upright rows of yellowed envelopes. Whoever devised the Quarter Quell system had prepared for centuries of Hunger Games. The president removes an envelope clearly marked with a 75. He runs his finger under the flap and pulls out a small square of paper. Without hesitation, he reads, “On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome