Chapter 4:A bad nights sleep
The day is finally over, and now we have some time to rest. I do not have my personal belongings chest; as they were all sent to the Acropolis for safekeeping. All I kept was my sword and scabbard, the sword cleaners, a spare pare of boots, and my toiletries. All the metals and awards I won, all my reading books, and all the whale bone carvings, pearls, dried coral, and other souvenirs I got from District 4 are with my mother and Annona in the Acropolis.
I am am sitting around a campfire with the others, trying to ignore the peaceful quiet of the night and the chirping crickets; both things that I once enjoyed the sound of but now cause anxiety. I talk with my friends to so that we can all distract ourselves from what our bodies have been trained to believe is calm before the storm.
Harod, who is seemingly perpetually cheerful, speaks first. "Anna said she might volunteer as an army nurse, they could give her basic training. I hope I get to see her if she passes."
Hearing him talk about his fiancée brought out the grandfatherly side of Crispin, "I take it you like her?"
"Well, she is my fiancée."
"Whats she like?"
"Well, she's compassionate, nurturing, smart, thoughtful; I can list off her good qualities for years."
"Well, that's enough for now. What does she do?"
"Anna is a preschool teacher in our town, she loves children."
"An honest profession. How long have you known eachother?"
"We were friends since childhood. I first began to have romantic feelings for her just before the teen years."
"I'd say you found yourself a good one."
I am beginning to become tired, so I retire to the tent. I read a few pages from a book Montgomery loaned me, normally I am not particularly interested in science but there is nothing else to read. I put the book away once it becomes apparent my eyes are insistent on drooping. I fall asleep before I realize it.
I am standing atop the cornucopia of the 74the hunger games, clad in my uniform and holding in my hand the cavalry saber of my grandfather before me. I am standing next to Cato, who is dressed in his tribute clothes and gripping the gladius he used to slay Thresh. Standing at the other side of the cornucopia is Katniss Everdeen, nervously holding a bow with only one arrow left in it.
I can hear Cato reassure me, "We can still do this. We can still do this: one more kill. Bring pride to our district."
However, before I can advance alongside my cousin and finish her off, a malicious smile spreads across her face. "You won't be bring any pride home, District 2 is dead."
Cato and I turn around and look out. The cornucopia transforms into the the top of the mountain beneath which the acropolis was built. All the clouds clear away and Cato and I are able to see the whole District. We grasp with complete and utter horror.
The central city of the district is aflame shouldering ruins from which black smoke billows up. Statues of heroes and victors from a glorious past are reduced to melted chunks of blackened crude. Despite the smoke, I can still see with clarity the grotesque trauma on the ground. Corpses of men, women, children, pregnant women, peacekeepers, elderlies, babies, and many others blanket the streets and ground and fields; so many rotting and decaying corruptions of what were once human beings who lived and laughed and loved, so many that there is no part of the streets showing.
Even from this height I can hear the echoing of screams that were silenced possibly hours ago; while most screams are primal sounds of someone in pain about to meet their mortality, others are clear and crisp and I have no trouble hearing the sounds of the various lamentations of murdered loved ones.
Beyond the central city, I can see all the burning and smoldering villages and towns surrounded by blazing forests and blackened rivers and decomposing deers. Some villages have ceased to exist all together and are nothing more than piles of ash and charred bones.
Beyond the smoldering woods of District 2, I can see that District 4 died in a similar way. The ocean is black and the bloated cadavers float and bob alongside the skeletons of once mighty steamships and the broken splinters of wooden sailboats. They are feasted upon not by pleasant pelicans or seagulls, but by ravenous flocks of Mockingjays. Gnawing on the rendered flesh and pulling on the blackened limbs are doglike monstrosities; the more I look at them I get the sense they were once human.
It seems that geography is irrelevant, as I need not turn to see the identical death of District 1. Melted statues lie in molten puddles on the ground, buildings that have not outright collapsed into piles of ashen debris are but charred frames. From the frames hang innocents from nooses, women pregnant or otherwise, children, babies, old men, husbands, peacekeepers, careers, too many to count. Once again, dogs that might have once been human gorge themselves on the suffering of others and even pull fallen victors out of the crypt to add to their disturbing feast.
Katniss must have seen these too, based on what she says. "Did you really think I'd stop with my own district?"
I do not know how, but when she says this my vision extends to and fixes upon District 12. It is not even ruins now, it is just a lake of ash and soot. Any bodies or buildings have been thoroughly cremated until there is nothing to distinguish the ashes of human with those of buildings or trees or animal. Even the wind is silenced here, and the lake of ash sits undisturbed. It is clear that nothing will ever live here again, no insect or cell or person; nothing.
Katniss says something tauntingly now, and my blood goes cold. "Saved the best for last."
I can now see mushroom cloud after mushroom cloud plum up and swell with glowing fusion in a place where the Capitol should be; buildings getting vaporized in the flashes of light. There have to be at least a thousand nuclear detonations wiping away the lives of millions. I can hear the agonized wails and screams as countless humans face their last moment in that quick instant. This is to horrifying to watch, I turn back towards Katniss. By the way Cato holds his gladius, and by the scowl of blinding rage that fills his face, it is clear he is also upset. However, I am also upset, so I speak first.
"You monster, why must you do this to innocent people?"
"I'm sending a message: you'll all burn with us."
"I won't let you ever get away with this, you'll answer for your evil!"
"No, I think I'd rather add two more careers to the pile."
With that, Katniss lets her arrow fly, it hits Cato through the heart and he collapses onto his knees. Forgetting the foe behind me, I kneel down next to my cousin whom I grew up with and who I loved as dearly as a sibling.
"Please, stay with me. You're gonna make it. You're gonna make it! Please?!"
By this point I am sobbing to the point where I have to take off my helmet for fear of drowning in my tears. As I hold Cato's hand and we stare deeply into each other's eyes, I can see his bright blue eyes grow cold and lifeless as I feel his muscular hand doing the same. His short and shallow breaths become softer until his chest no longer rises. Soon his skin develops a pallor of death and his arm grows limp and his hand falls from my hand.
"No, no, no no no no no ..."
I repeat this over and over as I sob bitterly beside him. Then Katniss speaks.
"He's dead, I killed him. Hearing his screams of agony while the mutts ate him alive, it was like music to my ears. I liked it so much that I didn't stop there; your mother, his parents, any your girlfriend are also dead."
" I even gave your girlfriend a special send off; I had the two District 13 soldiers finish what they started when you met her."
"She screamed and cried after the first hour like the whore she is."
"Ill kill you!"
I then reached for Cato's gladius. Once it was in hand, I charged at her with screams of hatred erupting from me. She pulled back her next arrow and was about to fire it at me. This is it, one of us is going to die in a few seconds.
I am shaken awake from my torment by a friend. I am awake but this was a reminder that no matter how safe or calm I may think I am, the real nightmare is far from over.