The Arena: Exit Strategy
The car comes to a stop outside a spice shop. Haymitch watches until its clear then practically shoves us out and the car drives off. We travel down streets and side alleys until it’s a maze of towering buildings and old blocks where few Capitol citizens pass by. I wonder if they’re all gathered watching the Games somewhere or if this area has fewer residents than others.
For all my years spent traveling here for the Games, I still don’t know much about the Capitol itself. I never really had a reason nor the desire to explore it. I hated it. I never wanted to step outside the training facility or the fashion district. I still hate it, even when I’m hiding here.
Haymitch throws his arm up, halting us. He pushes Peeta and me against the wall blocking us as a woman with purple hair walks by. She’s followed by a child wearing a pristine dress and matching purple curls that bounce with each step. They don’t pay attention to us. They don’t even acknowledge us.
“Mommy, if she wins can I meet her?” The child asks, “The Princess?”
My stomach coils and I press myself further against the stone wall until the back of my hand scrapes against the brick. Peeta holds his breath and clenches his eyes shut, trying to do all he can to block it out. And I imagine Ivy winning. I imagine these people standing in hordes calling her name as they grasp and claw for any piece of flesh they can. And I see her face locked in an emotionless expression. I see her eyes staring coldly ahead. She doesn’t scream. She doesn’t cry. She just stares.
“Of course you can, but I want to meet her first,” The woman with purple hair tuts as a laugh ripples from her throat that sounds more monstrous than human. It echoes off the walls of the buildings and scrapes across my vision of Ivy. The woman’s laughter mixing with the screams of her fans and I can’t let this happen. I want the laughter to stop and for the screaming to die. They can’t have my daughter.
They keep walking, the child mimicking Ivy shooting someone with a bow.
“And the way she stabbed that one from Two!” Is the last thing I hear the child say before they turn a corner. My heartbeat picks up. She killed someone else. She’s hunting them. She’s playing. And even if she’s rescued, even if she doesn’t end up in this city with these people, I don’t know how to help her. I don’t know if she’d even want my help. I failed her. I failed her and I failed Bas.
“Haymitch,” Peeta says when the mother and child are gone and it’s all he needs to say. Haymitch nods and pushes us down another alley that twists and narrows until we stop once more.
He knocks on a steel door, glancing around until a latch clicks and the door slides open. We walk inside, the door sliding shut behind us. A light clicks on once we’re inside and I’m shocked to see people in the room with us. After all, who would still follow the Mockingjay now? Who would even want to help?
But here they are.
Johanna. Finnick. Annie. Beetee. Wiress. They all sit around a table. Johanna has her legs propped up as Wiress mutters to herself off to the side. Finnick and Annie sit closer than I’ve seen them do before. And I realize this isn’t like before anymore. This is something new, different. And for the first time I think I feel hopeful.
“What is this?” Peeta asks.
“A blind spot,” Beetee replies.
Haymitch points to two empty chairs for Peeta and I to sit in. I want to ask what’s happening but a part of me already knows or thinks I know. I sit silently, waiting for Haymitch to start, waiting for it to be explained to me. And Peeta does the same, but there’s an agitation to him. I can see it in the way he rubs his thumb and first two fingers together. It’s something he does when he’s trying to calm down, usually he’s rolling dough between his fingers but he doesn’t have any here.
Haymitch clears his throat, standing before an attentive audience. He turns to me first. “We’re getting her out. We’re getting all of them out,” he adds to Finnick, Annie, and Beetee.
“I knew once the quell announcement happened, that we needed a plan,” he continues, “That this was going to be different. That people were going to respond differently.”
“Why not tell us?” Peeta asks, his voice rising, his fingers still. “Why wouldn’t you get them out sooner? Bas died and you couldn’t figure out a way…” And Peeta’s standing now and I feel angry too. I feel lied to, but I know the answer. I know why they couldn’t act sooner.
Haymitch looks at me and I say it before he can. “Because of me.”
Peeta turns and his face falls with his anger. He shakes his head. “I don’t believe that.”
“You can’t have a revolution without support. You can’t win a war when there’s no hope, no focus. When the announcement came out, it was only a matter of time before…”
“Before you finally saddled up and said what needed to be said,” Johanna responds. And I expect her voice to be angry but it’s not. She says it so matter of fact and with the hint of a smile that despite her pain I think there’s pride. I think she’s been waiting a while for this. Maybe I have too.
“Shut it down,” Wiress mutters.
“We tried to keep them alive, to get them sponsors,” Finnick says. “We should have done more but…they were separated, we can’t control all of it.” He stares at the wall, looking anywhere but at me. Annie looks, she watches me, and there’s sympathy. Did she know? Did Finnick tell her there was a plan? Did everyone know but Peeta and me?
“You could have tried harder,” I say and despite my guilt I can’t stop the flow of anger through me. I can’t stop my rage. And Haymitch lied. He stood there and he pretended there was nothing to be done. And Peeta and I we’ve been lying to ourselves thinking we’d find a way when both of us knew there was none.
But Haymitch knew there was one.
“You could have told me,” I say. “I would have…I could have done something sooner.”
“Snow was watching you.”
I remember the meeting, I remember the rose. He would have been paying extra attention, especially to me. This was always about breaking me. It was always about putting me where he needed me and then finally killing me when there was nothing left for him to take. It wasn’t just to eliminate me. It was to eliminate every trace. Make everyone lose faith, make them fall back in line, and then kill me and everyone I love so it never happens again.
“And to be honest, Sweetheart, you’re not the best at faking the part.”
“I’ve done it pretty well for twenty five years.” I’m almost surprised at how restrained I sound, how steady despite the ache in my stomach.
“Not telling the whole truth and trying to inspire people to follow you are two very different things,” Haymitch says and Peeta huffs, backing up from the table. He starts to pace, breathing out through his nose. I twist my finger where my wedding band used to be and it’s another reminder of the child I lost, and of the child I can still save.
“We don’t have time for this,” I start, my voice louder than I expect it to be. “Every second we waste here Ivy’s playing the way they want her to. I heard that child out there, she killed someone.”
“The girl from Two, Victoria,” Beetee answers before I have a chance to ask. “I saw it before I made my way out.” He swallows, and there’s something in the way he doesn’t look at me that scares me. It’s not like Finnick’s look. It’s not avoiding my eyes out of guilt, its worry, its concern. It’s the same look Prim gets when she has to tell the family of one of her patients that they died. It’s the same look I saw on my mother for years.
“What happened?” Peeta asks and his forehead creases, the worry lines etched across his face as deep as I’ve ever seen them.
“The Gamemakers pushed them together by bringing down trees. Ivy and Victoria crossed paths, your daughter walked away.”
“That’s not all of it.”
“You don’t want to know all of it,” Beetee warns. He clears his throat before he continues, “But the Peacekeepers certainly seem more interested in watching the Games rather than the mentors they’re supposed to be imprisoning.”
Peeta runs his hand across his face and he’s on the verge of falling apart. I can see it in his tense shoulders and in the restless way he keeps rubbing his fingers together. It’s only a matter of time before he crashes.
“Of course they’re more interested, a little bloodlust is entertaining, but too much,” Johanna responds, her eyes fixated on the table, “Too much and they’ll get scared they broke their Princess. Good thing she has the star crossed romance to humanize her.”
“Johanna. Don’t.” Peeta stares at her hard. She shrugs with the bare hint of a thin smirk and its bitter, like her words.
“I’m just saying what Flickerman and Templesmith surely are.” Her eyes return to the table.
“Beck?” Annie asks, “Is he?”
“Alive,” Beetee tells her, he removes his glasses and cleans them with his shirt. “But for how long, I can’t say. He was injured in the fight.”
Annie lets out a breath. “So…” Her voice bottoms out and she can’t say anything. She shuts her eyes, pulling something in, taking another long breath and she’s calm when she speaks again, “I need my son back. How are you planning on accomplishing that?”
Haymitch turns to Beetee who stands and starts speaking, “We know where the arena is, we need a hovercraft to get there, preferably with some medical equipment on board for Beck. It’ll be faster than the attack hovercrafts, but we lose fire power to take down the shield around the arena and to stop any other hovercrafts coming after us. And they will send ones after us, but we should have enough time.”
“How much time?” Finnick asks.
“Five minutes,” Beetee answers. “It’s not much, but it’s enough. I can send word to Springer. He’s been sticking close to the bridge and the power comes on twice a day. He can use it to shock the boundary; it won’t be enough to bring down the shield, but…” Beetee lifts a hatch on the floor, fishing out a bag that he drops onto the table. He eyes me and I open the bag. There’s a bow and arrows, all in black, the arrows with different colored feathers. It’s sleek, light, and perfect.
“The blue ones, they’re electrified with enough volts to...”
“Shut it down,” Wiress mutters.
“What are the red ones?”
“You don’t want to use those on the shield.” Beetee gives a half smile and I’m too in awe of the weapon in my hand that I forget about the rest of the plan. I imagine what it would be like to hunt with this. I imagine the silence and smooth delivery of an arrow from this weapon. I wonder when Beetee made this and how long he’s had it stashed away for this moment.
“How do we get the hovercraft?” Peeta asks, his voice is rough, strained, his eyes weary. I’m brought back to the reality of this room as Peacekeeper uniforms are pulled from the hatch.
“We dress as the enemy,” Haymitch says.
“The easiest and closest medical hovercraft is in the training center. I can shut down the power. Then we get to the hangar and take off.”
“And what about our weapons?” Johanna asks, “I’m not going in there unarmed in nothing but a disguise.”
“There’s more in the bag,” Beetee responds.
“So that’s the whole plan? Just get a hovercraft and take off? And then Katniss shoots the arena?” Peeta asks his voice full of disbelief, the tension in his shoulders even more pronounced in the way he holds himself upright.
“I expect there will be some fighting involved. But yes, that’s the plan.”
“That’s not a plan that’s a prayer.” Peeta’s hand falls at his side as he stares Haymitch down. “You honestly expect us to trust that this will work?”
“Do you have anything better?” Haymitch asks.
Peeta glances at me, almost asking, but he shakes his head.
“Then trust it’ll work.” Haymitch closes the hatch. “When the sun sets we move.”
Peeta stalks over to a corner of the room never looking back at the others. I follow him right after. We’re given our space, no one comes to talk to us and no one expects us to talk to them.
Johanna takes a nap on a cot in the back of the room while Beetee and Wiress talk about volts and shutting down the electricity of the training facility. There are some technical words I don’t understand and I tune them out as I get closer to Peeta. Haymitch leaves to send Springer the message or at least that’s what he says, I don’t know how much of what Haymitch says I believe now.
Annie and Finnick take their own corner, their hands never leaving the others as they sit close to each other, their voices never rising above a whisper.
Peeta doesn’t sit. He doesn’t lean against the wall. He doesn’t do anything but pace in our corner. His breathing is heavy as he walks and his eyes follow me.
“Peeta,” I start, swallowing the rising lump in my throat. “I’m…”
“Don’t. Don’t apologize. You and I both know that no matter what they say, the Mockingjay, that’s not on you. They could have…they didn’t have to lie. It’s not your fault. Bas…it’s not.” He keeps pacing, his hands curling into fists.
“I should have known. I should have…I didn’t know he would go off on his own. He saw her…and Cain…he…it’s not; none of this is how it was supposed to go. We did what Snow wanted, we said what he wanted. We don’t deserve…” He snaps and his fists connect with the wall. He punches until his knuckles bruise and crack, leaving marks of blood on the wall. He finally stops punching and that’s when I hear the sobs.
He crumbles and I’m there to stop him from falling. His head lands on my shoulder and his body shakes with each fresh wave of tears.
“I know,” I tell him as he breaks.
“He’s gone,” Peeta chokes out and I fight the tears forming in my eyes as I hold him.
We stay like that even after the sobbing stops and Peeta’s tears have dried. I think I fall asleep for a little while because when my eyes open Haymitch is back and it’s time to go.
We put the Peackeeper uniforms on and I don’t know if this is going to work. I don’t know if any of this is going to be worth it. She could be dead. We could die trying. But there’s worse ways to go and I would rather die trying than hiding.
I put the helmet on, my heavy breath the only sound I hear until Beetee’s voice crackles through the communications he added. He repeats the plan, but I can’t tell which Peacekeeper he is. And we all look the same in these uniforms but Peeta’s gloved hand finds mine as the door opens to the Capitol.
Beetee tells us to move and my hand squeezes Peeta’s before we let go of each other.
I try to scrub the remainder of the blood on my hands as hard as I can while Beck sleeps. His breathing is still pained and short. I don’t know if he has much time. I did what I could, what I knew how to do, but I don’t think it’ll be enough.
I look up to the sky once again, my eyes squinting against the brightness. The sun is high and shining. It’s been the same for hours. I don’t think it’s going down anymore. I think they want us to stay in the light. It’s more dramatic.
The single arrow in the quiver at my back rattles as I stand. I shake off whatever tiredness I’m feeling. I don’t want to sleep. I’ll only have nightmares and one of us needs to stand guard. One of us needs the rest more.
I look to the trees and for a split second I think I see blonde hair but I know it’s not real, it can’t be real. I’m just tired.
A shadow passes by me and I raise the knife but it’s gone. And then I see him standing there.
He stares. That’s it. That’s all he does. And I can’t do anything but stare back. He’s not really here. I know that. But I can’t help that I see him. I can’t help but pretend he is.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him. He says nothing. And then his stomach bleeds and there’s so much red spilling out he looks like he’s drowning in it. “I’m sorry!” I try again, my voice rattled and shaking. He’s gone before I can say it again.
I watch the place where he stood but the only thing there is a tree. I take a deep breath. I have to stay calm. I have to keep myself steady.
Then, there’s an explosion and a cannon and I grab Beck as he startles awake. He can’t move fast. He can’t risk hurting himself more.
“What…” He breathes.
I look to the bridge where smoke rises and then the face appears in the sky. It’s the tribute from Five.
“He must’ve set off a trap. Bas said…” I shut my eyes and I can’t shake him from my mind. He’s not real. He’s not here. Ghosts don’t exist. “He said Springer was putting traps there, hiding out.”
“Bet he’s not hiding anymore.” Beck tries to stand but he groans in pain. I check the bandage. Blood is starting to seep through it, he doesn’t have much time.
“We can’t stay here.” His eyes find mine and I know he’s right. I hand him the trident so he can use it keep himself upright if I can’t. He still needs to defend himself and I only have one arrow. I help him stand, keeping myself positioned under an arm to help him walk.
“I can do it on my own,” he says.
“Yeah? Take five steps and prove it.” He huffs a small laugh.
“I say we move away from the bridge. Cain probably heard that too,” Beck says through labored breaths. I nod.
The slope up from the creek is the toughest. Beck strains himself, his breath getting shorter, and we have to slow down. His arm tightens around my shoulder and I’m carrying more of his weight as we ascend. He uses the trident to try to level out his weight and I’m grateful when the ground flattens and we can pick up the pace.
I ignore the shadow of my brother following me from the trees, the grey eyes and blonde hair that surrounds me with every step I take. I don’t hear his voice yet, though I’m sure it’s coming.
I’m losing it in here. I can feel it. And I can’t stop it. I want to say it started when I killed Victoria, or even when Bas died, but the truth is it started long before that. It started the second I shot August. And I kept it at bay for as long as I could. I focused on finding my brother while I left pieces of my soul scattered about the arena with each death and each choice. Grover drowned and I hardened myself to it. I killed Stone and I didn’t blink but I felt it after. And then Bas was killed and whatever strength I had left to fight this was gone and I gave in.
And even though the sun shines on everything in here all I see is darkness, all I see is blood and death.
Bas stares at me from the river and then I see August and Stone. Grover follows from the trees and Victoria stands in front of me. All my ghosts are in here. There’s no escape.
Beck stops and his eyes fall on another shadow but he can’t see my ghosts, he can’t see what I see. He can’t see Victoria blocking our path. Unless the arena is doing this, unless we’re both going crazy, but I don’t know which would be the more comforting outcome.
I don’t have a chance to find out. The dead disappear and all I see is what Beck sees, all I see is the source of all my hatred, all my rage.
He stands ten feet to the side of us, sword in hand and spear at his back. He’s bruised and there’s dried blood on his shirt and hand. He grips the hilt of the sword readying for a fight. I can’t fight him. We can’t fight him. I hear rustling and I know Emery isn’t far behind.
We have to run.
“This is gonna hurt, but you have to move,” I tell Beck and he nods and we do just that. We move as fast as we can. I throw the knife in the hopes of keeping Cain at bay. He dodges it as it sticks into a tree, picking it up while he runs. Great, now I’ve just given him a knife too.
I half expect him to throw it back but he’s moving slower than before. His injuries must be taking their toll. And then I remember the arrow that went through his hand. The hand he uses to throw with. He can’t use the spear unless he’s in close range.
“Emery!” He’s panting through his words and I think that I could kill him if I tried, but I can’t try. I have to keep moving. I have to help Beck keep moving.
I’m not paying attention as Beck and I slide down a hill full of loose rocks and dried mud. My hands are scraped up as are my legs but I’m mostly fine. Beck groans and he can’t stand. I hear two pairs of footsteps catching up. Emery’s here too.
I look around for anywhere to go and then I see a building looming in the clearing, the quarry behind it. It looks like a factory, a little old and rusted, but its shelter, it’s safe.
I help Beck up and we half limp, half run our way to it. We can block the doors and wait the two out. They’ll need to find food. They’ll need to break apart. We can outlast them.
A spear lands to our left and I turn to see Emery watching us, disappointed. Cain rubs his shoulder blade and there’s fresh blood on his hand. His wound is open again. Emery stops to check it but he shrugs her off, brandishing the sword as he follows Beck and I.
The clearing feels larger than it is and it very well could be. The Gamemakers could be changing the landscape in bits and pieces, drawing this all out, building up the excitement. The dust in the air from the quarry swirls as a breeze flows through. The sun shines brighter if it’s possible and I’m so tired of all of this. I’m so tired of cameras, of the show, of the act I have to put up. All I want to do is scream.
We make it inside as my knife hits the door. I slam them shut, shoving Beck’s trident in between the handles of the doors to keep them closed. Beck and I lean against them, and this is it, this is the last place I’m going to hide, the last place I’m going to run to.
And I’m starting to think Springer might be the biggest challenge out of everyone. He’s well hidden. He’s got traps, supplies. He’s the tribute no one saw coming.
And I’m glad he’ll win over Cain or Emery. I’m glad he gets to go home because I know I’m not going to. Not with two Careers outside, no weapons, and an ally close to death. And I’ve faced death several times. I’ve expected it and it didn’t come. But this time I know it’s real. This time I know it’s the end.
“You can’t hide in there forever!” Cain huffs and I hear him circling, waiting. He says something to Emery that I can’t make out, but I know he’s right. We won’t be able to hide in here forever. Sooner or later, I’ll have to face them.
There are old benches and tables in the factory that Beck and I slide in front of the door to ensure our safety. He moans in pain as the table scrapes across the floor, checking his bandage as more blood seeps through. I search through crates filled with threads and needles, making sure to find one that’s not rusted over and unusable. If I can stitch up Beck’s wound enough, I can get him further, I can keep him alive a little longer. It’s dusty in here and there’s old fabric littering the floor. There’s no food or water. There’s nothing that will help us survive and no back way in or out. There are small windows at the top to let some light in, but nothing we can climb out of.
Cain bangs on the door, kicking and yelling, but the table and trident holds it closed. I turn to Beck and show him the needle and thread. He sighs and I know whatever I’m doing is just delaying the inevitable. He’s pale and his hand shakes as he drinks from the canteen.
When I remove the bandage there’s more blood than I thought there would be. I try to block out Cain as I do my best to sew the wound shut. Beck hisses and winces in pain, looking like he’s going to pass out any second.
“You have to stay awake,” I tell him.
“I know,” he responds. He tries to sound confident, he tries to sound like he’s in control of whatever he’s feeling but he looks scared, and there’s no hiding that. “Ivy…”
“Don’t. I’m not leaving you here, not to them.”
He smirks, his fear abating for a small moment. “I knew you liked me.”
I get about halfway through when I start to smell smoke. I look around and it begins to fill the room, blanketing the ground with swirls of white and grey. Beck whips his head around too, the worry lines etched into his face. He looks older than he did when this started, I’m sure I do too.
I cut the remaining thread with the tip of the arrow and bandage him back up. It’ll have to hold. It’s the best we can do. I hurry to the door and its warm, a light spreading around the edges of the factory. A spear flies through the window and lands in the middle of the room, fire burning on its tip and pluming inside the factory.
And it’s ironic that this is how I’m going to die. My mother was the girl on fire and here I am about to be set ablaze too.
I honestly didn’t think this is how I would go.