The Quarter Quell: Plans
I storm into my room. Pacing, desperately trying to wake myself up from whatever nightmare I’m in. It can’t be happening. Why is it happening?
I slide against the door and sit on the ground trying to breathe. It feels like my lungs are collapsing under a siege of water and I can’t force any oxygen in. I’m drowning. I’m dying.
No. Not yet. Not until the arena.
A chill falls over me as I think about the one thing that’s been my greatest fear. My father’s paintings of it. My mother’s screaming through the night. It’s the only constant throughout my seventeen years of life. Every year watching new tributes go through it, knowing full well what the winner comes out with. It’s not riches, it’s not victory. Its memories of bloodshed and violence you can’t escape. It’s damage, not glory. And being forever stuck underneath the Capitol’s watchful gaze and obsession.
Maybe I’ve always been heading to this moment. An arena waiting for me. A family legacy I can’t escape.
But I don’t want to escape it. I never have. Even with the Capitol dragging my brother and me out every year for interviews. My father has tried and failed to keep the attention away from us, away from me, but the Capitol doesn’t care about the star crossed lovers from Twelve as much as they care about the children of those tributes. And it’s clear now with the Quell announcement how much they value those children’s lives.
I am angry now. Angrier than I have ever been. They want to invade our lives, know all the details, claim to love us, and then they cheer when our lives are threatened. When they know only one of us is going to live through it. And they celebrate it without mercy. Like it’s some kind of honor. But I know there is no honor in this. Not in victory. Not in death. And still they cheer.
My breath evens out the more I think about it. The drowning feeling stops and I want to burn the Capitol to the ground. I want to, but I can’t. I am trapped in this Hell. Even the whispers of hope, of a time before I was born, when revolution was a possibility, won’t save me now. I may be the daughter of the Mockingjay, but the Mockingjay was caged and the fire inside her died.
And she took the people of Panem with her.
No. She didn’t do it. The Capitol did it. Snow did it. Snow destroyed her.
I’ve seen highlights from my parents’ Games. I’ve seen the spark and the fire in her. Not just in the footage of her time in the arena. From her early interviews, her reaping, the moment she volunteered for my Aunt Prim, and the moment when she was willing to sacrifice it all to prevent herself from killing my father. The moment she defied the Capitol.
But it isn’t just in all of this, images of the past, that I see it. I’ve seen it when we are out in the woods. Like the further we get away from everything, the more she is allowed to live again. It’s the times in the woods that I feel like she can breathe and that she truly loves me. But it’s gone when we cross the fence.
Any defiance she had has been replaced by a scared woman willing to obey rather than fight, all to prevent war. To prevent death. Our deaths. But it’s coming anyway. So what was the point?
My father still paints her as she once was, as she should be. Her dress on fire. The little girl, Rue, who died in the arena. The one she doesn’t talk about. The one she buried. I’ve heard the story from my father, who she told long ago, back when the memories were fresh and the world was rallied behind her. I don’t know how she didn’t see it, how she didn’t want it as badly as they did. To be free.
Maybe it’s all a lie. Maybe there is no freedom. Maybe I should just accept my fate.
Not just my fate. My brother’s too. And that is something I can’t allow to happen.
I can’t ask my mother about the Mockingjay. I can’t ask why she didn’t fight. Or why she was so afraid of it. I can’t free her from her cage. I can’t change the Quarter Quell announcement. Or fight the Capitol.
I can save my brother. That I can do. And I will.
I don’t understand why I’m not scared. There’s a confidence that I have about saving Bas, like it’s not even a possibility that I will fail. And then I realize why.
I’ve been preparing for the Games my entire life. The trips in the woods. Hunting with my mother. Interviews with the Capitol. I know how to handle everything they will throw at me. I’ve spent my life with mentors. And I’m not just another tribute going into the arena. I’m a career.
Bas is not. And my parents will not choose between us, even though they should focus on him. So I have to decide for them. And I know who to share this decision with.
But I can’t do that now. Not with the announcement so fresh and the reaping a few weeks away. I will have to plan what to say as I so often do. But this isn’t like speaking to Caesar Flickerman and the Captiol audience. This is family or as good as. And the planning is only to soften the blow of announcing that I have no intention of making it out of this arena alive. But I will ensure that my parents do not lose both of their children. I have to.
I hear someone walk down the hall, but I know they will not knock on my door. Everyone in this house needs time away to cope with the announcement. And falling onto each other and crying isn’t going to do anyone any favors. Or so I think.
That is until I actually hear someone crying. It’s faint and muffled, like they are trying to hide it, but so full of grief that it is impossible to do so.
I’m quiet as I open the door and I can hear the sobs easier now. They originate across from me, from the closed door of my parents’ room. And that’s when I recognize who it is. My mother. But it’s not just her. Every now and then there’s another faint sniffle, of someone doing their very best to hold it together while the other lets out their grief. I get closer to the door and listen between the broken sobs as they speak.
“I did everything he asked. I stopped the rebellion. I had them because he told us to,” my mother breaks, and I look at the floor. This news doesn’t come as surprising to me. She’s always kept us at a distance and it’s something I’ve long suspected. But it still stings to know that I wasn’t born out of love, but out of survival, and a need to stifle rebellion. It doesn’t stop me from continuing to listen.
“Maybe that’s why he wanted us to,” my father says bitterly. And the sobs stop. I can feel the same anger within me rising in my mother. And with it a hope follows. Like I’m witnessing a resurrection of someone long dead.
“He couldn’t have known we would have both.”
“But we did. And two is a bonus.”
“They are not a bonus,” she whispers it so suddenly, so viciously, that I feel guilty for wondering if she loves me. But it’s always a back and forth and I know as quickly as that guilt comes, I will go back to wondering and feel justified in it.
“They are for him.”
“We can’t talk about this. He’ll…”
“What? Throw them in the arena?” I can hear my father’s smirk from here. And the thought of the arena seems to pull her back together.
“Peeta, how are we going to save them?”
There is silence after the question and I know there is no answer he or my mother could come up with that would seem good enough. Even if there was, I don’t want to hear it.
I return to my room, falling onto my bed without changing. I just want to shut it all out for a few hours. Be no one as I close my eyes. Reborn when they open. Ready to fight. Ready to save my brother.
There may be a ticking clock on my life, but until it finishes counting down, I’ve still got time. Time to plan, time to mourn, and time to enjoy breathing, for however long that is.
The next day I have school, but I see even less reason to be there now than I ever did before. So I stop going. I don’t think either of my parents or anyone at school has a problem with it. And if they do, they don’t say anything. Not when they know that in a few weeks I’m going into the arena.
Bas still goes through the motions. I think he likes pretending and everyone in my family lets him. There’s no talk about the Games yet, no discussion of the Quell announcement. And I know there won’t be. Not for another week or two, when my father tries to bring up strategies or things we should be thinking about. My mother will stay silent. As will I. As will Bas. We won’t talk about it until we are on the train. Until we have to and there’s no escaping it.
With Bas at school, my mother out hunting, and my father at the bakery, I am left to my own devices. Normally I would want to go with my mother, but today, I feel like being alone. I won’t have this time to myself much longer. So I’m learning to value it.
I walk around Twelve for a bit, through the Seam, the Hob. I don’t really have a set destination. Soon it will be time to head back to the Victor’s Village where I will see Haymitch and tell him which of the Mellark children he has to save.
I am still trying to prepare what I will say as I wander and only pay half attention to where I walk. But then I begin to feel eyes on me and force myself to look around.
Everyone I pass, they all look at me, their faces a mixture of sympathy and mourning. I can’t help but imagine this as my funeral. And when they pull my body out of the arena, when it’s brought back to Twelve to be buried, this is how they will look at my family.
I nod to them because I know, just as they know, that I’m not coming home once I leave. They don’t want me in the arena any more than I want to be there, but this is the way of the world, and until it changes I have to keep my head up. I have to be confident, even when I feel like I’m about to break. Make the other tributes see me as the threat. Put all eyes on me and keep them away from Bas. It’s only a matter of surviving long enough for him to win. And I will.
I am still trying to figure out what to say to Haymitch. He probably already knows. He’s always had things figured out before everyone else. And he seems to be the only one who has never questioned whether my mother loves my father. Or me and my brother. I have never asked him why. And some days I think I will, but then I think I don’t really want the answer.
I get tired of the looks and head back earlier than intended.
I pass the bakery on my way but don’t stop inside. I’m not fond of my grandmother and my father rarely makes me see her, but I do usually like to say hello to my father and get a cookie when he can spare one. But it’s after the announcement and everything is different.
I can’t do things as I once did. I can’t be little Ivy, the girl who used to sneak sweets and who would run around in the woods until the sun set. I have to be Ivy Mellark, tribute from Twelve, a calculating career. And I’m afraid that if I stop, if I try to pretend like my brother, it will only hurt that much worse when my name is called. It will only remind my parents that I’m going to die. I can’t hide it in my eyes. They have always been able to read me better than anyone and they will know. They will see that I have a plan and they will ask me about it. And I will not lie. But they are not ready for the truth yet, so I can’t stop. I can’t pretend.
I enter the Victor’s Village feeling the weight on my back. The weight of keeping my brother alive. The weight of killing others. The weight of changing myself for it all to work. They are all self-inflicted. Things that I have to carry, that I am making myself carry. Only one is heavier than the rest.
I walk into Haymitch’s house as I’ve done before in the past. Albeit, it was with one of my parents and I’m fairly certain they had me wait by the door, but still, times have changed and I need to do things now that I haven’t done before.
He’s sitting in an overstuffed chair, feet up, drink in hand as per usual. I don’t see the same glassy expression that normally accompanies his day of drinking. When he speaks, he’s clear, lucid, and I realize what’s in his glass is nothing more than water.
He indicates a chair across from him. I take a seat. It’s clear he’s been expecting me.
“Are you coming to ask me if I have some bastard running around somewhere?” Haymitch quips but I shake my head. He continues, “I take it you’ve been thinking about what to do with your brother.”
“He needs to be the one you focus on. He needs to stay alive,” I’m surprisingly steady. Haymitch smiles.
“I was really hoping you weren’t gonna say that. Why can’t you just be selfish and ask me to save you? No, you gotta be like her. Big damn hero.”
“I’m not trying to be a hero. I just don’t want him to die.”
Haymith claps his hands together, “There it is again. You know you keep up all these similarity things and the Capitol’s gonna eat it up.”
Then I look at him and I’m cold, “Good.”
He seems to have thought of something I haven’t yet come to the conclusion of. His next question is calculating, and I’m not entirely sure of his meaning.
“You looking to make a statement?”
“If it keeps them away from Bas, yes.”
“I’m not talking about Bas, I’m talking about you. What do you want them to see?”
I shrug. I’m not entirely sure what I want. I don’t want them to look at me like I’m scared. Like I can’t win. I want them to see me like my mother before. Like the girl on fire. I want all of them to see it. And I want them to be afraid of me. I feel the anger again. Anger at the Capitol, at President Snow. I want to remind them what they tried to kill. I want my mother to see it, to become what she should have always been. The Mockingjay. I want her to believe, to hope, again. And I want these Games to change things.
I know I shouldn’t be thinking about sending a message. About restarting the very rebellion my parents stopped. I should be thinking about saving Bas. About the weeks to come. The Games. My arena. My grave waiting for me.
I finally answer my voice strong, angry, “A threat.”
He laughs as he dumps the water. Pours some alcohol in the glass and tips it to me. He swallows it all down with one gulp and pours some more.
“Your parents aren’t gonna let me choose between you two. Your mother will shoot me, and your father? Well, he’ll just talk me to death. Or maybe punch me. Hard to tell with him sometimes. Maybe you should break the news to them.” Haymitch smiles but it doesn’t reach his eyes and I’m reminded more than I should be of my limited time.
“They won’t understand.”
“You’d be surprised what they would understand.”
“In any case, its best they don’t know until it’s too late.”
“And when they find out?”
“I’ll be happy I’m in the arena.”
He fights laughter and swallows another glass before pouring more, “What’s your strategy?”
“I’ll figure it out when I’m in there. I can handle it.”
“You might think you’re prepared and maybe you are, but let me tell you, you aren’t the only one whose been raised by a victor. And One, Two and Four are careers raised by careers.”
I swallow. I’ve been too caught up in my plans, forgetting the very words that brought me and others like me here. I may be a career, I may have been raised by victors and mentors, but so has everyone else. And some might be more like Bas, who can’t kill or won’t, but others, the ones I had failed to consider, they will. And they will enjoy it just a bit too much. They will see this as a way to make their parents proud, a way to continue a family tradition. And they will work even harder to win for themselves than all the rest.
Haymitch smirks, “You didn’t think about them. Huh?”
My resolve tightens, I can’t give up, I just have to prepare for them, “Save Bas. Focus on getting him sponsors and anything he needs in the arena. And I’ll take care of as many tributes as I can.”
I stand, ready to leave, when Haymitch speaks again, “And what do I tell them when they ask why I’m not helping you?”
“You tell them this is my choice,” I start, hesitating on my last thought, finding the right way to say it. A way to make him fully realize what else needs to happen, the idea he’s given me, “And that they shouldn’t have forgotten the effect they can have.”
I’m out the door before he responds. I want to hurry home, hide away in my room once again but I’m greeted by my brother’s face as I leave. He seems just as annoyed to see me as I do to see him.
“What are you doing here?” I ask and he shrugs.
“Same thing as you apparently.”
I grab his arm, he might be stronger than me but I can still drag him around with ease. Sometimes I think he lets me, but then I remember that I punched him in the face once when we were kids and that he’s still afraid of me.
“You are not going to sacrifice yourself for me,” I grumble as we walk out the Victor’s Village. We can’t have this conversation in front of our parents and I can’t risk that my mother has returned early. So we head back towards town.
“And neither are you,” he argues. I let go of him. Frustrated.
“This isn’t about me.”
He continues, “I don’t need you to protect me. I’m not a weak little kid.”
“I know that. It’s just…you have to be the one who comes home, Bas.”
“And what about you? You want to die?” There’s a sharp anger in his question that accompanies a clenched fist and I’m stunned. These past two days have brought out something in him that makes him volatile and emotional. Just as they have made me cold and calculating. We are operating under new circumstances and it is bringing out the unexpected in us.
I hesitate and consider crafting a lie to convince him to let me go through with my plan. I decide to be honest. He can’t stop me anyway, “No. But they need you more than me.”
He laughs, “They need their kids not to die.”
“Well we can’t change that.”
He shrugs, “But we can prove a point.”
I stare at him. Has he come to the same conclusion as me? That we have a chance to do something important. And I smile my first real smile since the announcement.
“What did you have in mind?” I ask my voice bright, full of possibility.
“What did you?” He returns with just as much enthusiasm.
“Make them remember us.”
He nods and then grabs my arm. I look around as he leads me towards the Seam. The houses here are smaller and the people much thinner than myself or Bas. But still, they don’t look at us with any jealousy. Why would they? They don’t want to be in the arena.
“Do you blame her?” I ask. Quietly, sullen, like I regret saying it the second it came into my head. It’s true. If she hadn’t given up, if she hadn’t let them get to her, maybe we wouldn’t be here now facing death and all its agents intending to put us in the ground.
I don’t know what the Capitol is truly capable of. I only know my limited time in its spotlight and that it will do anything to keep the Districts in line. I just don’t know all the lengths they will go to. But it doesn’t stop me from wanting a different world. Haymitch has given me something invaluable. I can see a way out for everyone and everything, or at least, I want to see it.
Bas looks at me, and I can hear the gears turning.
“She let them kill her,” he says as if realizing it, “but I think she was trying to save everyone and did what she thought was best. And that meant sacrificing herself.”
I forgot how perceptive Bas can be. More than myself. I face the world for what it is, and see it just the same. When someone gives me a reason I can see what it could be. And I see people in the same light. Except my mother. I can’t face her when at her worst. I’m too afraid to see how broken she is.
Bas understands people a lot more than I do. He hides from what he doesn’t like and refuses to accept it for what it is. He will see people as they are but will see why, and he sees what they could be and should be.
It’s like he’s been given a sense into people’s minds that he knows exactly where they stand. If he trusts someone, they are worthy of it. And he knows how to deal with all of the people he encounters within a minute of meeting them.
When it comes to our mother he has never questioned her love for us, even when I’ve asked him about it. And while I hide from the damage, he seeks it, and knows just how to fix it.
Bas stops in front of a row of shacks. There’s a wall behind them poorly built, covered in dust, separating the road from the homes. And on the wall, red and bright, fresh and new, is the painting of the Mockingjay symbol.
I look at Bas who beams at the artwork. I don’t need to ask, I know this was him. I feel a sense of pride looking at it. Like a piece of me has been resurrected with this act. The piece I lost in the announcement. When I look at it, I understand the power of this symbol. And I add a new plan to my growing list.
My mother is very protective. That is one thing I will never deny about her, and given that it’s her first instinct I am sure this announcement has put it on overload. Especially given the fact she can’t protect us both. And it’s those instincts I’m counting on to show the world what they saw during her Games.
It’s time to remind Panem that the girl on fire is still here, still alive. That the Capitol hasn’t won. I have two missions, two decisions that I am final in. Keep my brother alive during the Games. Keep the hope of the Mockingjay alive until I die. And pray for the best when it’s over.
I will do it the only way I know how, with words and an unfailing resemblance to my mother.
In a few weeks we will be changed. We will forget home and forget what it meant to be as safe as we could be. But right now, before all the fear, before all the bloodshed, we stand in front of the very symbol we will do all we can to protect. And when we turn and see half of Twelve behind us, staring at it with smiles and tears, their three middle fingers raised in salute. We believe we can succeed. We believe we can change the world.
That is until the Peacekeepers arrive and I’m shown firsthand what the Capitol will do to people who even think of defying them.