Someone once told me that death is easy: it's the dying part that's tricky. But from my experience, I have to say I disagree. In fact, I found the exact opposite to be true.
For me, dying was simple. It was nice. Beautiful. All colours, brighter than you could imagine, glowing with light and beckoning to me in welcome. After living my whole life in the dark, I finally understood. The whole world shifted into place and everything, absolutely everything suddenly made sense. I was lost and I found the way. I discovered the truth. I knew what was going on around me, it was just how everyone had guessed since the beginning of humanity. There was a bright light, and I knew I had to go towards it.
I did, and that was it. I died.
Dying was easy. It felt like floating. No effort.
But, after that … things got a lot more difficult.
First, everything went dark and I thought, "Oh, okay, so this is death, eh?" I became part of everything, my energy, my force, and it was all so full of life that mine no longer mattered. My spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it, wandered the Earth and passed through everything. It was just how I expected. And I knew that soon, everyone I loved would join me there. We would be full of that life for eternity.
The complications came next. Things got heavy, and I could feel myself. My body, I mean. A body that shouldn't have been there.
And now, I find myself here. And … I don't know. I can't seem to find my way back. And it's not easy, this death. It's harder than anything I've felt before.
I thought that death would be better than life, but it's not. It's so, so much worse. But I don't think I'm in hell. Not exactly.
But I don't like it anyway. Death … Afterlife … Here.
It's not what I expected.
"But you are not dead, Annie," Doctor Jeckyll would say. "You survived the Games! You lived! You didn't die at all!"
I would just stare out of the window, watching leaves of orange and brown, curl up and fall from the trees.
"No, Annie. You didn't! You're here. You're alive."
"Yes! You are!" she says in encouragement, as if that should make me feel better.
It doesn't, of course. It's one thing that makes me feel worse.
One day, Doctor Jeckyll had come back to my room in the hospital and told me that I was ready to have sessions with her. She's not a real medical doctor at all, but a psycho-analyst. Apparently it's normal for someone like me to suffer from what they keep calling anoxic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. It makes it sound like I'm crazy. I'm supposed to talk to the analyst about what I feel, but that's hard when the doctor has the lowest level of comprehension of my situation you could imagine.
I mean, how could anyone from the Capitol understand trauma? And if they understood, why were they doing it to us?
Tell me, Doctor, what do you know about metaphors?
"Metaphors?" she asks, crossing her legs and rolling her pen through her fingers. "Quite a bit, I should think. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance."
So in other words, one might say, "a part of me has died," when this is not the case literally, but merely a representation of one's feelings.
"Well, yes, I think that sounds about right."
Oh okay, I think I understand now. Thank you, Doctor. You are so terribly clever.
And yet when I say I'm dead you don't seem to hear me.
For it was quite some time ago that I realised I wasn't dead. I never was dead. And I decided I had to stop convincing myself that I could wake up and everything would be back to the peace there was before. I'm alive. I survived. But, metaphorically speaking, I can still say I'm dead.
Doctors. They just don't get it.
The next time Finnick shows up, he seems distant. And that's not a metaphor, I mean he literally seems distant. I reach out to touch his face, and even though it's right there my hand just moves through him and falls onto my lap. What I'm seeing doesn't match when I try to move. I start breathing fast, turning away.
"Annie, what's wrong?"
"My, um, my … you know," I said, unable to find the words. I wracked my brain, it was on the tip of my tongue.
"It's OK, just take your time," he says, and I feel his hand around mine. It feels comforting and distressing all at once, as I recognise the weight of my heart growing and the curious sensation that swells inside me.
I exhale and close my eyes. "You know like the thing — the thing that makes a car go?"
"No, no, like the thing inside — like the fast boats?"
"Oh, a motor?"
"Yes!" I say. "Motor, motor. My, um … mine aren't working."
He pauses for a moment. "Your motor skills aren't working?" I nod fervently, sighing in relief. Finnick's eyes soften. "Yeah, they told me that was one of the side effects. That's really amazing that you figured that out, Annie. But you needn't worry, it should get better over time."
"That and my words," I say.
"Yeah, your speech, too. Although I kinda like being the only one able to understand you." He smiles at me, and I find myself blushing.
"You were … that was always," I say, looking down shyly. My stomach turns over, but not in the gentle, nervous, excited way that Finnick made me feel before. Everything that once felt right now feels wrong. These gentle words feel tainted and foul.
I may not believe I'm in hell, but there are some astounding similarities about this place and my position in it. I guess I was in a limbo before the Games. Neither saint nor sinner. But then a change fell over me.
A little loss of innocence.
Is this why I didn't get the death I chose? Am I cursed to this earth like whore to her bed? I feel sick; it starts within my chest and grows outwards like a weed. My lungs are laden with a heavy fungus: infecting and decaying my pure, clean cells with their tendrils until all that's left is disease. It fills my mind and my stomach: this hideous, rotting sin.
There is an angel in the shadows, but he is growing fainter. And a demon comes to see me once a week to tempt me further into the circles of inferno.
He's sitting far away from the bed, and his voice barely reaches me.
"Come closer," I tell him. He leans forwards but he's still sitting on the other side of the room, which keeps stretching off into the distance. "No," I say. "Come up beside my bed."
"Annie," he says, his voice pulsing through my head as my vision begins to blur. "I can't move any closer." Then he reaches out, his arm stretching impossibly far towards me to take my hand. He gets further and further away, and I look around the see the walls being pushed away from me like a box, or else I'm shrinking in my bed. I look down and my body is way longer than it should be, and the ground is far too close. I snatch my hand away and find that time seems to have doubled, or tripled in speed, and then I'm hyperventilating, then screaming, then the waves rush in and all the noises crash around me again. I clasp my hands over my ears and curl up under the covers. I start to cry, just before I'm knocked out.
When I wake up, Finnick is still here. But he's talking to Nurse Hyde. They see I'm awake and come over.
It's only when Hyde asks me what happened before that I realise it wasn't a dream. And I'm scared. Dreams aren't the problem any more. Even when awake, it's like I'm seeing things that aren't happening. I know that if I explain what happened — visions of the room growing or me shrinking, time speeding up, all the thoughts flying around my head in a frenzy — they'd only think I was crazy. So I say I felt dizzy, and he says that it's just a side-effect of the medication I'm on. Still, he looks a bit concerned, and when he leaves I see him on the other side of the glass, talking to Doctor Jeckyll in the hallway.
Finnick looks totally freaked as well. He sits down in the seat beside my bed with a sigh and rubs his face wearily.
I don't know what's going on. I don't know what to say, so I say nothing.
What happened to having our sessions here in my room?
Jeckyll laughs, though I don't see what's funny. "You're doing much better, Annie. You should be able to survive a trip down the hallway to my office."
It's just that since you're already here in my room, I don't really see why we have to move.
"Because we do, Annie," she replies.
I hate the nurses and doctors and the way they simply must say my name at the end of every sentence. Yes, Annie. We know, Annie. Don't forget to tie your shoelaces, Annie.
"How are you feeling today, Annie?" she asks when we're sitting down in her office, which is also white and bright, like everything else in this hospital. Her desk is made of glass on thin iron legs that curl up on the floor in fancy spirals. She has a file cabinet, and there's a table beside my chair with a water jug, a potted plant, and a small bowl of mints. There's a plush couch to one side but I refuse to lie down. This psychotherapy stuff is just mumbo-jumbo witchcraft and chanting around a bonfire, if you ask me. I don't need these people to tell me how I'm feeling. And what I'm feeling is none of their business.
I'm feeling fine, Doctor.
For a while she stares at me, her hands clasped over her knee and her notebook and pen laid forgotten on her desk. She's waiting for me to talk first, to share. But I don't. I'm never the first to speak.
"Is there," she pauses speaking to give a heavy sigh, "anything you'd like to talk about today, Annie?"
She cocks her head to one side, and clears her throat. "Annie, I'd like to write down that you began at least one of our sessions," she says kindly, but the simple statement is dripping in its threatening tone.
You can write down whatever you like, Doctor.
"There must be something you'd like to share." I purse my lips thoughtfully, then shake my head. She leans forwards, looking at me sternly. "Annie, I can only help you if you tell me how you're feeling. This system of me asking questions and you just answering can't continue. You need to share your thoughts with me."
Well, being forced to share my thoughts doesn't seem like a very good system either.
She frowns at me.
Actually, you know, I do have something I'd like to share.
You can't help me.
"Why can't I help you?" she prompts gently.
I don't need to be helped?
She pauses, picking up her clipboard and scribbling down a few notes as I clench my fists, digging my nails deep into my palms. After a moment she looks up and contemplates me for a moment. When she speaks, her voice sounds soothing. But everything she says is patronising and dishonest.
"Annie, you've been through a great struggle. Nobody is saying that you need help. But you're confused, and this is a very efficient method of getting you through this trauma. I only want to help you."
So you're saying I don't need help yet you need to help me? Get your story straight, Doctor.
"I'm merely saying," she says too calmly, "that speaking to me will do you good."
No. No, it won't. You have no clue — no bloody clue! How do you think it feels, eh? What do you think it's like … to be so completely convinced that you are going to die? You've thought about it over and over. There's no way to avoid it. And you've actually managed to come to terms with it. Then it happens, and you're happier than you ever were. How would you feel then, to suddenly wake up, only to find that you're actually still alive? Alive and trapped in a little room when before you were free to roam all over the Earth?
And what's more … you being alive means that your best friend is gone.
Lance is gone and I never get to see him again.
And I got the future he was supposed to have. I stole his life. And he got my future, my death. But all the time we spent arguing about who would be the sacrifice, I never quite understood that we were being selfish.
I realise that I'm crying. I'm almost jealous of Lance, you know? And that makes me feel horrible, but I can't help it. He's dead, but in a happier place. That's what I believe, what I've always believed. And I'm the one stuck here, alive and missing him, and forced to spend the rest of my life suffering in this godamn miserable world.
You really want to know what I feel? Scared. Vulnerable. Haunted. Angry. Resentful. Suspicious. Trapped. Lonely. Isolated. Confused. Sad. Jealous. Guilty. Empty. Dying. Dead. Dead. Dead.
I take big gulps of air as the doctor looks at me over the clipboard. A smile pulls at the corners of her mouth.
"I think we've made real progress today."
And that's when I take the potted plant and smash it through her desk.
After that, I take a vow of silence for a while. The only people who come in are those who run tests of my mental and physical condition, and dance around me like I could start spitting fire at any moment. I don't see why I need to talk to an analyst. So maybe every once in a while everything seems to get too loud, and my head begins to rush and my thoughts fly around at ten times the volume and a hundred times the speed. So what if I need to block out the noise for a while? And maybe I forgot a few things. Maybe I still can't remember anything that happened from being taken into a hovercraft before the Games to the moment I felt myself lying in a bed in this place. So what? I can remember some dreams I had from before I was dead. The jewelled crabs in the cave, the flowers in the jungle, the jumping spiders and bouncing mice and the butterfly passing from Juliet to Lance and the sunset painting the scene red. I haven't learned what happened in the Games exactly, because honestly I'd rather not know. But Finnick mentioned a cave, and that makes me think that those dreams may not have been so imaginary after all. And I remember Finnick, but that part is perhaps more confusing than all the rest put together.
I think the first few episodes — anxiety attacks, refusing to go near the bath, fragmented periods of screaming and lying desolate in bed for days on end — are ignored. It's fairly normal; I've been through a lot, as they keep on reminding me. But something seems to change after the episode in Doctor Jeckyll's office. My arms are bandaged from the glass because I fainted again, and there's at least one doctor or attendant standing outside my room at all times, conspicuously spying on me in case I do anything insane.
When Finnick comes to visit, I'm vaguely suspicious that he's been sent to spy on me too. Still, he's the only person I allow myself to speak to.
"What's going on?" I ask him one day.
Finnick doesn't beat around the bush. He doesn't pretend that nothing is wrong, that everything is normal and things are going as planned. However, just because he's honest doesn't mean he's helpful. "I don't know," he says, sighing tiredly. He meets my eyes, then looks down at our hands, fingers laced together. "The doctors don't seem to think you're quite ready to leave yet."
I roll my eyes. "Because I got angry and smashed a pot?"
"I'd say it's more to do with how you've been teasing them with riddles and speaking in metaphors," he replies with a tiny smile. "And passing out a lot."
I smile back, but it turns quickly into a frown. Finnick stole my innocence. I may have wanted him to at the time, but now I miss it. I try changing the subject. "Finnick, how long were you in recovery afterwards?"
"Me?" he asks quickly, and chews his lip. "I dunno … A couple weeks."
I try to meet his eyes but he's avoiding my gaze. "How many weeks?"
"Uh … one. Half. Okay, maybe … three days?"
"Three days!" I exclaim, running my hands through my hair.
"Well, I didn't have all the same stuff you've had to deal with … Lance, and almost drowning, and … eccentricities to begin with …"
He looks at me, biting his teeth together in a pained smile. I meet his eyes with a sense of dread. "You think I'm crazy, don't you?"
"Why, Annie, I always thought you were crazy," he says, and grins widely at me. It seems he can't maintain a smile for long either, though. I look across the room where some natural sunlight is streaming in through the window. Inside the rays you can see the dust swirling around in strange patterns. I remember when that dust was me. When I had no body, just particles floating in the air.
"Look," I tell Finnick, pointing at the dust.
He turns in his seat and looks. "There's nothing there."
I watch his face sadly as he keeps looking, then meets my eyes with his brow furrowed in confusion. "The dust," I say. "Where do you suppose it comes from?"
I can't stand the way he's looking at me, so I return my gaze to the light. "It could be Lance. Just part of the cycle. But Lance wouldn't waste his time in this stuffy room, he's probably out exploring the world."
I don't look at Finnick, but I see him turning towards the window facing the corridor where two nurses, one of them Hyde, are keeping an eye on us.
It takes him a while to voice what he's thinking. He's either too freaked out or can't bring himself to say it. "You … You're not making any sense, Annie."
I close my eyes tight and shake my head. There he goes, saying my name like I'm a stupid child.
I lie down and roll away from him, burying in my face in my pillow.
"Au contraire, Finnick Odair. I've never made more sense in my life."
I thought Finnick was the one who understood me. I thought we had some divine connection. But when he's here I no longer feel good. Maybe I look more beautiful on the outside, because my insides sure feel ugly as hell.
I thought I was ready to give up my innocence, but I never should have kissed Finnick Odair. Maybe he thinks I'm ready to go home, but I don't want to go anywhere with him or anyone else.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily …
But when I next wake up, I'm in a different bed, in a different room. It's less bright, a single light bulb hangs without a shade over the bed and the walls are painted a queasy sort of mauve colour. I look around the room for a moment, then get up and try the door.
There are two. The first leads out onto a wide hallway, and I catch a glimpse of a few other people ambling around, dressed in pale blue shirts and loose pants like the ones I'm currently wearing. It's not the same hallway that leads to Doctor Jeckyll's office, down underground in the Training Centre. I don't think it's even the same building. But it still looks like a hospital. Another bloody hospital.
I get frightened, and quickly close the door. The second door is of a bathroom with no bath, only a toilet, sink and shower.
I look around the room again. It's nothing as lush as the rooms I had on the train and in the Training Centre, but it's not completely hopeless. It's about as un-Capitolish as I think you can find while still in the Capitol. Fancy enough, but not overdone.
Suddenly, I notice that there are bars on the window.
This doesn't make sense at first, but slowly I walk to the window and look out. There's a sort of yard, with more blue-clothed patients playing some game, and a high fence running all around the outside of the space. Nothing seems too strange at first, but after a moment I notice the way one of the figures stands alone by the fence, gripping the metal wire with his fingers and, seemingly, muttering to himself. Someone else is staggering around aimlessly in circles. One of the people playing the game keeps throwing the ball in the wrong direction, and another player gets mad and shouts every time this happens, a grown woman whining and stamping her feet like a spoiled child.
There has to be some mistake, I try to tell the doctors. I appear to be in some sort of mental institution.
"It's only temporary," they assure me in their cheerful voices, which are even more condescending than the staff at the Tributes' hospital. Over and over they tell me. "Just until you're feeling fully stable again."
Problem is, I've never felt fully stable in my entire life.