The Arena: Survivors
Springer’s kind of a dick, but I can’t blame him for being so. This is the arena, it’s all about getting through and you have to choose how to do that in the best way that works for you. Being alone works best for him, it doesn’t for me.
I know Ivy’s alive but I don’t think I’m ever going to see her again. I’m not getting out of this thing. I know that too.
I just don’t want to go alone.
Maybe this line of thinking runs in our family, because even though my sister isn’t here I know she’s thinking the same thing. And if it were her or me lying on the ground I know I wouldn’t leave her, she wouldn’t leave me.
And we’d fight to the end to save the other.
I rinse off the welts in the river, the salt helping to heal the wounds. They’re still sore, but they don’t hurt as much as they did when I first got them. And they don’t hurt nearly as bad as seeing that little boy die on the tracks.
I can’t imagine what that boy’s father must feel, or his mother back home. I know Ivy plans to die for me, she plans to lose, but I don’t want to imagine what it’ll feel like if she succeeds in her plan.
I don’t think she’ll miss me as much as I’d miss her. No, that’s a lie I’m telling myself to feel better. She will miss me. They’ll all miss me. Whatever empty space I leave behind though, they’ll fill it. It’ll get better a lot quicker than it would with her.
Sometimes I think my mother loves her more than me, but I know that’s silly. She loves us both, in different ways, but we occupy her heart in an equal space.
I think she regrets how things are with Ivy, which is why it’ll hurt her more if Ivy dies instead of me.
And maybe that’s dark, maybe that’s too dark for this place, but I don’t care.
I hear a cannon and I crouch down. Who was it? Was it Ivy? Is she gone? Was it Springer? Callie?
It could have been anyone. It could have been anything that killed them. Hell, they could have fallen and that’s it. But I don’t want to hang around by the river any longer. I’m exposed and all I have is a knife.
It’s better than nothing, but it won’t do much in a fight against a sword or trident. Maybe if I had been faster at the cornucopia I could have grabbed something better. But I didn’t want to risk it. I wanted to put as much distance between myself and that place as possible. And maybe I should have looked for Ivy, but a part of me didn’t want her to find me.
I thought maybe it would be easier for her to win if I wasn’t there for her to save. But now I’m thinking that maybe it would be easier for her to win if I was there to help. Either way, she’s not here and I’m not with her. So we both have to fight on hoping to get to the other soon.
I pull on my jacket and make my way up river.
Then I hear another cannon and I’m frozen.
One could mean an accident or someone succumbing to the elements, one could mean anything. Two means someone’s attacking. Two means a fight. Two means Careers.
I haven’t seen any sign of the Career pack around here, but that doesn’t mean they’re not close. They could be picking off tributes as I stand here, trying to figure out where to go.
I turn around; maybe Springer will let me stay for a little longer. Or at the very least I can hang around by the bridge until the cannon’s stop. I take a swig of my water. I’ve been rationing it but it’s running out, I’ll need to find more soon.
I hear a hiss followed by a low growl as something moves in the mud at the banks of the river. And I’m supposed to be brave, right? I’m supposed to have a weapon. Be the son of the star-crossed lovers, the son of two victors. This is supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be in my blood.
Bet the audience is really disappointed.
I can’t move as the mass in the mud continues to rise and I see a tail with spikes coming out of it.
The hissing and growling gets louder and more guttural. What’s left of my water falls to the ground as I drop the canteen trying to put it back on my belt.
The mud mass opens its eyes. They’re red. Large and red. And then its massive jaw opens and it looks wide enough to swallow me whole. I can see what looks like a thousand razor sharp teeth all ready to tear me to shreds. It lets out a road and I start to run while it chases me on all fours.
I have no idea what this muttation is. I catch a glimpse and see scales in the light as its claws dig into the ground and snaps it’s jaw at my legs. I barely manage to avoid the bite. Whatever this thing is, it’s going to kill me if I don’t outrun it. And it’s fast, so fast that I don’t think I can outrun it for very long.
I follow the river as the path winds and the tall grass thins out beside me. There’s nothing but a field and some sparse plants now. I don’t know where I am. The creature follows me and I cut upwards towards the field.
I feel the heat of the monster’s breath on the back of my arms. How big is this thing exactly? And I have to push myself to run faster. It’s too close.
I can’t maintain my speed as another bite almost catches my leg again and I jump to the side to avoid it. The creature turns but slows, trying to regain its speed, but I’m staying ahead of it easier now that I’ve changed directions. I do it again before the monster catches up and again I create a gap between us.
I run in zig zags, cutting in all directions, and it keeps me at a safe distance. But I’m not really safe from this thing. And I’m getting tired. And running like this works better than just a straight line but for how long? I need rocks, I need something to kill it or escape it. The knife isn’t going to help me right now.
I can barely make out the cornucopia as I race uphill. It’s so far away, farther away than I should be. And I’m running in the opposite direction of it, I’m running away not towards. It’s only getting smaller.
That’s not good. I’ve wanted to be close to it in case Ivy returned for supplies, but now I’m way off course.
I feel the mutt lunge and I dive out of the way. Sliding and cutting my leg on a rock. I roll as I face the creature head on. It stands tall on all fours, looking like a monster from a nightmare. Its jaw opens powerful and huge, the teeth ready to tear out my insides. Its red eyes stare me down hungry. It hisses and growls and my heart feels like it’s going to explode with how hard it’s beating in my throat.
The mutt swings its tail, the spikes heading straight for me, the scales almost glimmering in the sunlight, the mud dripping off of it. I force myself to move despite my injured leg. I try to run back towards the river, hoping maybe there’s something I can use down there. I can’t make it to the woods. And with my leg, now I’m too slow. Now, it’s catching up and I can’t zig zag. I’m doomed.
And then I see someone yelling at me, a girl. When I get closer I recognize her. Callie.
She throws a rock and I duck. I vaguely hear it connect with the mutt behind me but I keep running. It’s not slowing down and I can’t either.
“Run!” I shout, but I’m sure Callie was going to do that anyway. We’re side by side as we continue towards the river.
And when we reach where the river should be there’s a cliff and nowhere to go.
I hear the growling again and that horrible hissing. I pull my knife. I need a plan. I need a way to get out of this. I have to think.
I need to attack. Or make it attack. Make it charge.
And I have to be quick.
What was that thing that Uncle Gale used to tell me? A good trap is the one they never see.
“What do we do?” Callie asks.
I say nothing. I throw the knife, it hits the mutt’s leg. Even if I didn’t need the knife to actually land a blow that was a damn good shot.
It’s pissed as it charges us and I wait, letting it run at me.
“Don’t move,” I tell Callie, grabbing her arm as she’s about to sprint away. She’s fighting against my grip and I struggle to hold her in place, but I can’t risk her running and the mutt following her.
It gets closer and closer. When I smell its breath, the stench of the Capitol thick on it, Callie is screaming. I’m not sure why I’m not screaming too, but I’m not.
Maybe the audience won’t be disappointed after all. Maybe I am brave. Maybe I am like my parents and my sister.
It swings its claws, still charging, lunging. I push Callie out of the way and dive to the opposite side.
And that’s when I hear the third cannon go off.
Johanna stares. She does nothing but stare.
The cannon sounds and she just stares.
The room feels like it just got about ten degrees colder. And silent. There’s a silence, the same silence that follows a tribute’s death. But this silence is different, this silence feels like a weight.
And Johanna just stares. Her nails digging into the chair, staring at her screen. Finnick approaches her, his hand up, indicating he means her no harm but she doesn’t see it. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t look at him. She just stares.
He touches her shoulder and she keeps staring.
Then Caesar and Claudius are on the screen, and they’re talking and chatting like nothing happened, like it was an unfortunate accident. And they’re happy. Glad that Ivy and Beck escaped, their new favorites. The new, tragic romance they can’t stop talking about.
Grover’s name disappears in the graphics and the count of those remaining goes from thirteen to twelve. The boy from six collapsed from hunger an hour ago.
Peeta emerges from his room in a panic, his hair a mess, his eyes wild and red.
“I heard the cannon, what happened?” And he’s shaking. I stand to stop him, trying to reassure him as Johanna watches the grief on Beck’s face and Ivy returns Grover’s glasses.
“Grover,” I tell Peeta. But I can’t tell him how I had to watch Ivy almost die once again. How I thought about running from the room because I couldn’t bear to see it again. But I can’t. He’ll see the highlights. He’ll know, but I can’t tell him. I don’t know how to get the words out.
And the room is silent once more while everyone waits for Johanna to react, to do something, but there is nothing. It’s like she died too.
And then we’re back to Caesar and Claudius, because the Capitol won’t show grief, it won’t show tributes caring for each other. Ever since my Games, ever since Rue, they’ve been quick to spot it whenever it comes. The mentor’s see more before they cut. They let us see the humanity behind the killers.
For what reason I’ll never understand. Maybe to make it harder, maybe to drive home the point for next year. There’s no room for humanity and kindness in the arena.
“Johanna…” Finnick tries, attempting to coax her up out of her seat, to get her away. She doesn’t need to hear the Capitol treat Grover like he’s nothing. “Come on.”
She nods, resigned, standing stiffly and allowing herself to be guided out by Finnick.
“With a mentor like Johanna Mason, I have to say I’m disappointed we didn’t see more from Grover,” Caesar says through a wide smile.
“Well honestly I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did. I mean he was awfully clever, but he was by no means a Victor.” Claudius laughs.
He laughs and Johanna turns back to the screens. The empty stare is gone, replaced with one that’s dark and full of rage. Her nails dig into her palms and the tense wire she’s become is about to break. I can see the worry in Finnick’s eyes as he drops his hand from her shoulder.
The Peacekeepers stiffen too, the air around the room screams with a storm about to come.
But Haymitch enters and he reads the room and he knows. He just knows.
And he’s beside Johanna before anything happens, pulling her with him, practically dragging her. Effie jumps to attention, following them without being asked. And a door slams.
The room returns to normal, or as normal as it can be. Finnick stares after them glancing back to the screens and then down the hallway, a debate going through his mind. He finally sits back beside Annie, his hands twisting around each other.
And then I look over to the Careers and there’s a smugness, a collective excitement that they all share. All except for Gloss. Once again there’s something I can almost mistake for sympathy in his eyes before he pulls the mask on and plays the part.
I’m too caught up in watching the group to notice Peeta pushing past me in a rush. And when Annie screams I’m caught off guard, ready to fight whatever is attacking, my mind flashing back to a night in the arena when mutts chased me and Peeta.
I hear the cannon and I don’t know what I’m fighting, where I am. I’m reaching for a bow that I don’t have and Peeta’s arms are around me, telling me I’m safe and I’m back in the room again.
But he’s shaking and he isn’t looking at me and Annie is covering her ears and whimpering. And I don’t know what happened.
Finnick covers Annie’s ears with his hands, shielding her from something he can’t look away from. And Peeta is doing the same.
The screens, I remember, the screens. I have to watch. I’m supposed to do my job. I’m supposed to watch.
Finnick glances to River in sympathy but River gives him none in return. His face is steel, his eyes cold, full of blame. And he grabs Stone’s father by the throat, shoving him into the wall.
The Peacekeepers are on him before he kills the man.
They drag River out of the room. He fights and tries to break free, shouting at Stone’s father, blood running down his nose.
“You laughed!” River shouts. And there’s so much rage, so much hatred.
He looks at me then back to Stone’s father. Whatever he wants to say is cut off by the Peacekeeper hitting him with the barrel of his gun. They get him out of the room, the door shutting with finality.
And then we hear a gun shot. And Annie is screaming again. And I remember Twelve. The fire, the bodies, Ivy lying on the ground. I remember Cinna.
And I force myself to look at the screen.
“Peeta,” I choke out, my heart racing, gripping onto his arm as my knees threaten to give out. I’m terrified. They’re both running. Ivy and Bas. In separate parts of the arena, too far away to for me to help, too far away to find each other and save the other. Both running from enemies that will rip them from this world and take them away from me. And I can’t do anything. I can’t do a damn thing.
And I don’t know which one to watch, which one I want to watch. Wherever this ends, whoever is left standing, I don’t know if I can stand to watch the outcome.
I hear furniture crashing and glass breaking from another room. It’s followed by anguished screaming and I know Johanna has snapped.
I know I won’t be too far behind.
My children can only escape death so many times before it catches up to them.
And I remember Bas when he was born, so small, smaller than Ivy. My pregnancy with him had been easier. I wasn’t as sick with him. I wasn’t as tired.
I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to be happy and even when I was reminded; when I had to go mentor another year, pregnant with my son, the Capitol fawning over me, asking about Ivy, I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to feel anything.
The walls were easier to build and easier to break with him because I was so tired of fighting to build them with Ivy.
And in some respects I think I succeeded, in others I know I’ve failed, because if I had built them better I wouldn’t be half lying on the floor ready to break down right now. I wouldn’t need Peeta to keep me standing. To keep me watching.
If I had been stronger, I wouldn’t be here at all. No one would.
There’s no room for sympathy and emotion in the arena. But the truth is there’s no room for it in Panem. Not when you’re a victor. Not when the Capitol keeps a watch on you. You have to play by the rules if you want to live.
And right now, watching what my actions, what Peeta’s and my own words have brought, seeing where the rules have gotten us. I’m done playing.
The spear misses as Beck pulls me to the side, picking up his trident in the process. We start to run as fast as we can and I hear the hovercraft finally descend for Grover. Another follows for Minnow. They hold the Careers back for a moment, enough for us to get a good head start.
I’m breathless as the cold air cuts into my lungs. My head is still a little lightheaded from almost drowning and I’m sure I need to rest. But right now that isn’t an option.
I just hope I don’t pass out and make it easier on them.
I can hear Beck behind me as we run through the quarry. The dust kicks up around us from our boots and the hovercrafts. Over the noise I can hear Stone bark orders. They break off into pairs. Cain and Emery slide down the slope of the walls into the quarry to pursue us while Stone and Victoria follow from above.
The hovercrafts fly off. The Careers all laugh and shout as they hunt us.
But I’ve been trained to be the hunter, not the prey. And I will not fall to the Career pack.
I turn and fire a shot. The arrow strikes Emery’s leg and she drops. Cain keeps up the chase even as she screams in pain. And I can see the cold calculations going in his mind. He’ll leave her for dead. He’ll leave them all if it means he can win. If it means he can kill us.
He wants the glory. And there’s no fear, just pure desire for something I was never raised to want. And maybe for the first time ever I’m so grateful to have been born in Twelve, to have the parents I have, to have had the life I had. Because I was never brought up to believe that there was any honor in winning the Games. I knew what they meant.
For Cain they mean something else entirely. And it’s almost too frightening to understand.
“Get Emery, we’ll take care of them!” Stone shouts but Cain doesn’t stop. He throws a knife and I push Beck to the side, the knife managing to slice my arm as it passes. I’m bleeding and the pain runs through me like a shock, but it’s not that bad and I have to keep going. I have to survive.
We have to survive.
And for a moment I wonder when I became we.
“You’re hurt,” Beck says breathless and he slows.
“No. Keep going.” And I grip his shoulder practically pulling him with me, some of my blood dripping onto his shirt. He keeps the pace and I drop my hand.
“Cain!” Stone shouts and Cain stops. Emery is struggling to stand, to keep up. Cain turns back, following his orders. His mouth a thin line, his eyes glaring after us, his shoulders rising and falling with each heavy breath he takes.
Two down. We can take the other two. It’ll be difficult but we can work with this.
We reach the end of the quarry and climb the slope towards the woods. And I’m so grateful to see trees instead of tall grass and endless shadow.
We push forward as Stone and Victoria arrive on our heels.
And it’s like I don’t need to tell Beck what to do, he just knows. He grabs a rock and throws it. Victoria breaks off to the side and they split up. We lose them in the trees and thickets. They struggle to keep up with us.
I half expect to see Victoria but she never appears.
And we keep running, Stone the final pursuer. He uses the machete to smash down the thickets, to cut through branches and keep us in his sights. We slow down, keeping up the chase. We have no other choice.
When we break into a clearing, I turn as Stone cuts through a branch. Despite the cut on my arm I manage to fire and the arrow hits his knee. He struggles to stay standing and I fire again. The second arrow finds his other knee with ease.
I duck. Beck throws the trident; I can feel it pass over me, the wind off of it moving my hair. Stone struggles to get back up, groaning and panting in pain, as the trident pierces his chest. The cannon booms instantly.
I stand without words. Beck pulls his trident from Stone and my arrows with it, handing them back to me. I can’t look at him. I can’t afford to feel guilty, but I take the arrows and put them back in the quiver.
The hovercraft starts to descend as Victoria enters the clearing from the opposite side, sword in hand. I fire an arrow and she avoids it. Beck and I run towards the east. We can’t go back towards the quarry, Cain might be on his way, and Victoria is good at keeping to the tree line. I can’t shoot her down.
And as a knife lands in a tree beside Beck, we know we’re in for a Hell of a fight with her when the woods run out.
And they do.
But we’re not in open space, we’re in the tall grass. And I’ll have just as hard a time firing an arrow at her in here as she will throwing a knife. And she has a sword, even with Beck’s trident, there’s no way he’ll see her with enough time to throw.
We have to keep running. We have to stay ahead of her.
“Victoria!” Cain calls from the tree line.
“Here!” She returns.
Great. Two of them. I didn’t hear another cannon so Emery must still be alive, but for how long I don’t know. They won’t deem her useful if she’s hurt, especially now that her district partner is gone. It doesn’t matter, if they take care of her that’s one less Career to worry about.
I can hear them pushing into the tall grass as Beck and I do the same. But we’re ahead enough that we have a chance. It’s a slim one, but a chance all the same.
But then there are footsteps near us and we freeze, crouching low. There are more voices, Cain and Victoria’s, followed by the sound of the grass being stomped through. It approaches and fades, sounding like it’s coming at us from all sides.
There’s the occasional sound of wings mixed in, but then it all stops.
“Ivy,” someone whispers, and I think it’s my mother’s voice. I’m wrong, I have to be wrong. I’m just tired. I’m exhausted and injured, she’s not here. I check my forearm, the cut still bleeds, but it has slowed. Still, I’ll need to wrap it.
We wait in the silence before standing to leave. We walk through the grass with sound seeming to fade and echo all over. I can’t help but feel like something is watching us, something other than the cameras and the audience. Something else.
“Beck,” Finnick’s voice says and Beck stops. I try to push him but he won’t move. “Beck!” And it’s Annie screaming and Beck won’t move.
I can hear more footsteps coming closer and we have to get out of here.
“Ivy!” Bas shouts and I look around for him, he’s close, he has to be. And I’m pushing towards the side looking for my brother when I make out Cain. I duck, pulling Beck with me as a bird flutters by Cain’s face.
He shouts, slicing at it with a machete, Stone’s machete I think. The bird is followed by three more and he’s screaming.
I can only make out some of it. “You have to win! You’re from Two! You’re a Victor! Cain! You’re a Victor!”
I hear Victoria screaming further away followed by more fluttering. And I know what’s happening.
“Jabberjays,” I tell Beck. “It’s Jabberjays, don’t listen.”
I grab Beck by the shoulders and pull him forward when the birds descend on us.
“I don’t want him to end up like me,” Finnick’s voice screams in Beck’s ears. “I don’t have a son,” another bird imitates. And Beck tries to keep going, tries to keep fighting. My hand finds his and I keep pulling him with me.
Then I hear my mother, “I can’t love her. I don’t love her.” I shake my head. It’s not true. She eats last. It’s not true. And I keep going.
A baby’s crying. My mother’s crying. My father’s crying. My brother’s screaming. My brother’s calling for me. My mother’s screaming from one of her nightmares. My father calls my mother’s name. My mother calls my aunts name.
Over and over it goes, the voices growing louder as we keep walking. And all I want to do is close my eyes and beg for it to stop but I have to keep us moving, we have to get out of here. I can hear the jabberjays surrounding Beck.
His mother screams. She calls Beck’s name. She tells him he’s doomed to die. That he’ll never be happy. He’ll never have a life. She’s dying because of him. He’s the reason his father is gone. She hopes he doesn’t win, he doesn’t come home. All things I know aren’t true. Fears he must keep to himself.
And then Grover calls his name. Tells him he wants to go home. And Beck drops his trident, his other hand barely holding onto mine. Even as I try to pull him, he can’t walk anymore. He can’t move.
“It’s not real!” I try but Beck shakes his head, his eyes red and watering.
“They copy. They copy,” he repeats.
“These ones are different.”
“How do you know…you can’t know.” He sounds like he’s about to break down and cry. I shake my head.
“I just do.” They can’t copy the dead. It’s not possible. Even if they had some words, they can’t do that. These are new. These are different. These jabberjays were made just for the tributes in here.
My jabberjays increase in their volume. My brother tells me he hopes I die. He hopes he wins. And then I hear Cinna tell me it’s my fault. And I hear laughter from a child and I shouldn’t, they couldn’t possibly have that. But they do. And I can’t move anymore either and I let go of Beck’s hand.
I turn towards him. And he hears waves crashing against shores and laughter of his own. And the laughter turns to screaming and more jabberjays join the frenzy. Every voice we’ve ever heard or known. Every fear making its way into our ears.
“It’s not real!” I scream over it but neither one of us can keep going, can keep fighting this. The birds just keep flying around us. He falls to his knees as the jabberjays swoop in and continue their assault.
“Beck! It’s not real!” I try again as jabberjays do the same to me, trying to keep us separated. I fire at one, then another and I push towards him. The wings flap around me, the voices mixing together and one takes a bite out of my hand, but I keep pushing through them until I reach him.
He won’t look at me. And I hear the child laughing again. I hear gunshots. I hear the Capitol chanting and then my mother screaming the worst I’ve ever heard. I won’t last much longer. I have to fight through the fear, through the flashbacks I know are threatening me. One of us has to be functional when the jabberjays disappear. And I already know it’s not going to be me. And I do the only thing I can think to do. The only thing I know he would recognize.
I shove my hands over his ears and block out the noise, dropping to my knees in front of him. And I close my eyes as the jabberjays fly around me echoing the screams of my family and friends.
“You’re going to die here,” a voice I don’t recognize says. And it chills me more than the cold around us.
“Help us!” All of Twelve seems to scream.
“Ivy!” Bas repeats over and over. “Help!”
And I’m losing myself to this. But I need to keep Beck safe and my hands push harder on his ears. He can’t hear any of this even if it’s no longer for him to be tormented by.
Beck’s hands find mine and he watches me, the expression curious and grateful all at once. He’s coming down from the voices and he sees me. He recognizes me as another scream rips by my ears. I’m going to come undone soon. I can feel it in my shaking fingers, my weighted body. This torture is working.
I focus on his eyes. I focus and think of home as the jabberjays continue. And I can barely feel anything. I can’t remember anything but the green before his hands land on my ears and the sound around me is gone.
It’s just my breathing, just mine and his, and his eyes to keep me from losing my mind.
And we stay like that until the jabberjays fly away. Surviving to fight another day.