The Quarter Quell: Aftermath
I don’t really remember when the gunshots started. I don’t remember when the Peacekeepers set fire to the wall and started raiding the houses for contraband. I don’t remember how it all began, it just sort of collapsed into one giant frenzy of chaos. And I started running with Bas through it all.
I hear screaming. I smell fire. I’m choking on smoke. And before I know it I’m grabbed by a Peacekeeper. Bas tries to push his way through the crowd to get to me. But it’s impossible. He’s fighting against a wave of frightened people and he can’t break through.
“Mellark!” The Commander, I think his name is Slate, shouts as I’m pulled with a group of others to stand in a clear area surrounded by shacks.
We stand in a line. A small unit of Peacekeepers in front of us, others continue to make their way through the Seam, rifling through homes for contraband and any sign of resistance is met with swift action. Its chaos and all I hear are the sounds of it.
I have never felt this terrified in my life. I have never seen what Peacekeepers will do when faced with opposition or the extremes the Capitol will take. My heart pounds as Slate walks up and down the line.
“I should have known you’d be involved, just like your stupid mother,” he snaps, inches from my face, his breath reeking of alcohol and mint. “If you weren’t scheduled for the arena, I’d shoot you on the spot.”
He looks like he’s about to continue up the line but then snaps his fingers as if a realization has hit him. I see the act. The show he’s putting on for all of us. This is fear. This is power. He is in charge and he’s enjoying it. “Still, examples must be made.”
He hits me. Hard. Right across my face. I fall to the ground, spots dancing across my vision. A pain throbs across my right cheek and up to my eye. It hasn’t begun swelling yet, but I know in a few minutes, it will. I taste blood and subtly check if all my teeth are still in. They are. It’s coming from a cut on my lip.
I didn’t know a single punch could do so much damage. I really am unprepared for the arena. I am unprepared for what I’ve caused or thought about causing. And I think I’m starting to regret everything. That fear returns, the panic that felt like it was going to kill me right after the Quell announcement.
I feel my lungs burn and my breath gets shorter, sharper. I can’t let this happen. Not here. Not in front of them. I try to fight it, but I’m failing and Slate looks at me with victory etched all over his satisfied smile. But it’s not enough for him.
“Kill the rest,” Slate orders.
“No!” I’m suddenly on my feet, screaming, trying to grab the guns, to do something. But Slate hits me again and this time he twists my arm as I’m forced to the side.
The Peacekeepers raise their guns. I look at an older woman. Her eyes find mine and I see no anger towards me. These people should hate me. This is my fault. Bas painted the symbol, but I was going to do the same thing with words. What did I think was going to happen when it came time to fight? Did I really believe that my mother lived her life according to their rules for no reason? Did I think I could fight without consequence? Did I think I could win?
It must show on my face because the woman smiles like she’s trying to comfort me.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. She looks at me curiously and very slightly shakes her head. She turns back to the firing squad before her and spits. It hits one of their boots.
I hear a laugh from a child. And then the guns go off.
I hear someone screaming. I only realize it’s me when I feel the tears on my cheeks and the rawness of my throat. Slate throws me to the ground in disgust, I can’t tell. He and the Peacekeepers leave me there as they finish raiding the houses and put out the fire.
What have I done?
I look at the shoes and count them. Six pairs. Six dead. Four are men. One is the old woman. And one is too small to be lying there. This shouldn’t have happened.
What have I done?
I see blood, mixing with the black coal dust and the slush. I want to throw up. But I can’t move. I’m shaking, cold and wet, but I stay lying on the ground.
I thought I knew what Hell was. Living with traumatized parents, one who let her fear beat her down and break her. The threat of the arena. Constant attention and invasion of privacy from the Capitol, the whole of Panem knowing my name before I could talk. But I had no idea. I don’t starve like these people. I’m trained to hunt. And the Games pale in comparison to this moment right now. I deserve to be in that arena. For this right here.
And so does Bas.
We thought we were so smart. That we knew more, that we could do more, should do more. But what can we really do? And should we, when this is the result?
We were wrong. I was wrong. I was stupid. Why would anyone want to bring back the Mockingjay when this is the result?
I’m climbing through the fence when I hear screaming. I look towards the Seam where I can see smoke rising. Then I hear gunshots and my heart stops. This shouldn’t be happening. Why now?
I am running towards the screams. I have to be there. I shouldn’t be seen. It will only make it worse. I should stay away but there’s something telling me to go.
Run faster. Can’t slow down. Don’t question.
I barely notice when I pass the bakery and Peeta runs out to join me.
You have to hurry.
You have to run faster.
You have to.
I freeze when I see a crowd of people pushing their way into the town square, away from the Seam, and a blonde haired boy of fourteen is with them.
“Bas!” I scream. He looks at me, his grey eyes wide with fear.
I force my way through the people to him. Peeta behind me. We reach him. I check him over. He’s a little dirty, covered in soot, but otherwise fine. I don’t have time to ask him why he’s here or what’s happening. I only know there’s one other person I need to find.
“Where’s your sister?”
Bas looks around, shakes his head like he’s been expecting her. But then I see his hands shake as he comes to a realization.
“They grabbed her.”
A different fear settles in my stomach. An acid burns in my throat. This isn’t the same anger and expectation that I had when the Quell was announced. This is new. This is direct interference. This is harming her before they play with her.
Peeta nods to me and pulls Bas to the side. I hear him say, “Tell me everything that happened,” before I’m running towards the Seam. Towards the very danger I’ve tried to prevent from returning.
I feel like I’ve been running in a giant circle. This has all happened before and it will all happen again. Never ending. Never changing. Panem today. Panem tomorrow. Panem forever.
I hear a final round of gunshots and I stop. They wouldn’t kill her. Not when she’s going into the arena. They need their Games. They need their tributes. But I can’t say for sure what they would or wouldn’t do. I’m cold and I feel like a hole has been torn through me. But I push myself forward. I need to know for sure.
With each step I remember the old me. The one who went hunting to feed her family. The one who would do anything for her sister. And I don’t think I’ve changed that much. But then I remember laughing with Gale. Peeta feeding me and giving me hope when I had none. When I went into the Games. Killed Marvel. Lost Rue. The Mutts. The berries and what all of it has done to me. I feel broken again.
Then, I remember falling for Peeta. The boy with the bread. The one who brought me back to life. I remember him holding me on our victory tour. Making the nightmares go away. And even though we were forced into it, even though we did it to prevent war, I remember our wedding. And I think I was happy.
I remember giving birth to our daughter. I remember hearing her cry and being too afraid to touch her. Afraid to love her. Afraid I would destroy her. Afraid that I would infect her with whatever weakness I had caught from being under the Capitol’s control.
I stopped them from dying.
That’s the lie I keep telling myself. In reality, I killed their hope. And I know firsthand how powerful that feeling is and what it can give to someone.
When my son was born, my fear had lessened. I became complacent. I accepted my life. I accepted the new me. And forgot all about the girl I once was.
The girl on fire. A Mockingjay. Something the Capitol tried to kill but couldn’t. Because she’s still in me, still there. Still willing to sacrifice herself for others.
And now she’s fighting to the surface with every step.
I hear Peacekeepers ahead of me and hide behind one of the shacks. They are laughing while their leader, Slate, runs down a list of new rules for Twelve.
“Anyone out after curfew will be killed on the spot. Anyone outside the fence will be beaten then executed. Anyone caught trading will be beaten. And I want guards at the entrance to the Victor’s Village day and night, as well as, patrols around the fence and mines. Twelve has been lax in their laws for far too long.”
They pass by and my hand shakes. I can’t go in the woods. I can’t have my freedom, if only temporarily. But then another thought crosses my mind. How will I make sure Ivy is ready for the arena? She can’t go in like me, unsure, afraid to die. She has to be stronger. She has to come out alive.
But if she does, Bas will die. And I need the silent, peaceful boy to live. I need them both to live.
And that’s when it truly hits me. What these Games will mean. No matter what happens, I will lose at least one of my children. I had been avoiding thinking about it. Been deluding myself, like Bas. But now, I can’t stop imagining what will happen. How one of them could go. How I will feel with one walking out, damaged, but alive, while the other lies in a plain box to be buried.
I shake my head as if willing it away. I need to find Ivy. I need to make sure it hasn’t already happened.
The Seam feels empty. There are no more screams. No more gun shots. And all I hear is a faint crackle as the last embers die out. The Peacekeepers have all gone and all the people who live here are surely scattered about Twelve cursing my name. After all, this wouldn’t have happened if not for me. If I had just eaten those stupid berries long ago.
The sun begins to set as I step over a body. Someone trampled to death in the chaos and I force myself to check them. To make sure it isn’t Ivy. It’s an older man. Rail thin. It’s possible he had already been dead before the attack, but I can’t be sure.
Then I look up and down the pathway between the shacks and I see a small clearing, where laundry lines intersect and the shacks surround in a circle. I see someone lying on their side, back facing me. I can’t make out who it is or if they are even alive. But then I recognize the messy ponytail. And the jacket Effie gave her long ago. It’s similar to my fathers, but it’s a darker shade and made of richer, almost red, leather.
I feel like my limbs have turned to liquid metal and as I get closer, its hardening, slowing me down, preventing me from continuing forward. I’m afraid of what I’m about to find, of what they’ve done to her. I force myself to keep moving.
I get closer and I can see that she’s breathing. I’m relieved but only for a moment. A gust of wind whistles through the Seam and I pull my jacket closer. I’m cold and getting colder as it gets darker. I don’t know how long she has been lying there in the snow and on the freezing ground. I need to get to her.
With a final push I jog the rest of the way to her. And see a row of bodies in a line down from her. I only look long enough to see that they have been shot. And I feel guilty for bringing this upon my District. Once again my decision to save Peeta and myself years ago brings damage to everyone else around me. And Snow will continue to remind me how powerless I am and how much control he has. It’s not enough to take my children, he needs to make sure after it’s over I’m still his spokesperson for submission, his distraction.
I turn to Ivy whose vision is frozen upon the bodies. And I see a dark swollen bruise along her jaw and up her cheek, stopping near her eye. I know what it means to watch someone die, I know what it means to kill, but she hasn’t seen anything like this. I never wanted her to.
I block the bodies as I crouch in front of her. I gently touch her forehead. She’s too cold. Possibly hypothermic, something my mother used to treat when winter came around. I remember her telling me to boil water, not too hot or it would shock the system. Just enough so that it was warm, but not too warm. Slowly get the body back to the right temperature without losing a limb or killing them.
“Ivy,” I say, my voice straining from my run here.
She doesn’t respond. She doesn’t move.
“We have to go,” I try. “You need to get warm or you’ll die out here.”
She’s shaking. “I deserve it.”
“It’s our fault,” she chokes out, blinking back tears. Finally breaking from whatever state she forced herself into.
“What did you do?”
She shakes her head, barely moving. And I remember that I need to get her inside before I can continue this discussion. I rub her arms, and hold her hand, trying to pull her up but she doesn’t grab it back and just remains lying.
“Ivy, lying here is not going to help anyone.”
I feel like I’m lying. Like I shouldn’t tell her to get up when I’ve been faced with the same feeling for years. Before we were successful in stopping the revolution, I watched a man in Eleven get shot for whistling a familiar tune as the people saluted me. And I felt responsible. I was responsible. All the tributes I’ve lost, I’m responsible for them too. There are days where I don’t want to get out of bed. I should tell her I understand, but first I need her to move.
“I’m tired.” She begins to close her eyes and I shake her.
“No, you can’t sleep right now, okay? We need to get home, you can sleep there.” I know I can’t carry her. I can’t save her on my own.
Peeta could. I wish he was here.
I remove my father’s jacket and drape it over her. Then, I lie down beside her. The ground is freezing against me and I begin to shake. I hold her close, trying desperately to keep her warm.
“Please. Get up,” I whisper.
The sun disappears and I wonder why no one has returned yet. Maybe they aren’t ready to see the dead. Maybe they want us to die out here.
I can no longer feel my limbs. And when Ivy closes her eyes, I realize I am too cold to stop her. I start to feel tired. And when I hear footsteps, my eyes shut.
I only choke out, “Save her.”