The Caged Bird Sings

Corncrake


Corncrake


I manage to get to the forest, green and lush, dark and light, looking broken and beautiful in the sun that shines beams of gold. Silk that I can't touch but it warms me, yet the clouds hover, as they always do, warning that nothing lasts forever. And it's true, they don't. Because I'm set on fire when acid rain drops onto my skin, leaving the flesh red and bleeding, small wisps of smoke dancing into the sudden frigid air. I continue to walk. I pay it no attention, my feet carrying me to the screaming of my name in the distance.

The crier is close to death, from the way they sound strangled. I walk into a large opening, where the grass is yellow and dead, brittle child fingers, and the voice is there.

Peeta is staring at me now, crying out to me and I rush to him but he gets farther and farther until, finally—finally—I reach the boy who loved me and when I pull back, so full with joy I could rupture, the relief is flooding into frozen horror as I stare into Cato's face, scarred and shining and sadistic.

"Love me!" the two scream, blurred images of red and gold, eyes of ice and skies yearning and clashing onto me, to trap me and to free me, reaching to embrace me, to murder me.

My shivering doesn't end for hours. My throat is still aching from screaming. Prim had taken Hyacinth to bed with her last night, and for that I'm grateful. She had offered me before but she felt that I really needed the rest and she's the only one I trust with him. I wasn't going to allow him to leave me at first but I felt I needed to be alone. It's a good thing she took him—I'd have woken him up, I would have to whisper again, for the umpteenth time that he's okay, mommy's just going crazy and she's sorry for ruining his dreams with her frights.

Pacing in the dark, since the light would bother me, I find myself thinking and pondering of nothing and everything. It's the first nightmare where both came, dying and living in my arms.

My knees are weak so I scurry to the toilet before I collapse and as I do my mouth is filling with vile acid, scorching my tongue and throat. It annoys me that I practically don't eat yet I still wind up vomiting now and again.

Everything in and about me is weak, from my legs to my heart. I walk to the window that's allowing moonlight to spill in, whiter than milk, and I'm thirsty. I need something to fill me up, so I walk to the kitchen of the vicinity, grabbing the tallest glass, filling it with water and chugging it until the last drop is in my mouth. It does the trick, filling me without the sickness I get with solids. I sit on a chair and hold my head in my hands, wondering why everything is still jagged, with no sign of pieces fitting together.

But none of the pieces are matching up—I'm too lost to find paths that will cross and lead to the same destination. I think of everyone who loves me and I wonder if I truly love them back. Am I capable of loving people? Prim was the only person before my life ended that I was certain of loving; now it includes my son. But do I truly, completely love them, flesh of my flesh, and blood of my blood?

There are thoughts sometimes with that voice, when I look at my sister, pale and perfect and pretty, and it murmurs to me, showing me images of a past, present and future that don't exist except for in my own mind: Prim, struggling to survive, naked and stark for the world to ridicule and dangle over pits; I think of what I've endured and I can't imagine her going through the same ordeal. When she holds my child, I wonder of her if she had been the girl to bear a child so young. My sister has a spirit all her own, but there's only so much she can take before crumbling.

No, I do not wish that upon my sister, who is half of me as I am half of her.

Everyone else is another story. I don't know how to comprehend all these people—people that claim they care; if they did, why did it take them so long to rescue me? My location wasn't exactly a secret to the whole of Panem. They witnessed it: my captor on their screens, tall and dangerous, robbing me of things I never thought I would be robbed of.

I sigh into my hands, feeling the warmth of my breath on hands that are far too icy. I get up and walk out, too restless to remain in spot.

"You're worried about her aren't you?"

I halt, recognizing the voice. My body automatically slides to the wall, to not get caught, whether I'm predator or prey doesn't matter—I can't be noticed.

"Of course I am. It kills me every time I look at her, all the things she's gone through."

"She's making good progress—"

"Progress? She can barely maintain eye contact without looking down after a few seconds, like she's afraid someone will literally rip into her skin. She's terrified of us. Cinna, of all people, tried to touch her yesterday and she flinched so badly she knocked herself into the wall!"

"I know," Madge says, voice rising a little, agitated, "She gets jumpy but we need to remember that this is going to take a lot of time. Like you've said, she's gone through a lot. We haven't seen her in over a year—things are going to be different."

"I understand that—what pisses me off is that there's nothing I can do to help her!"

"And you don't think it doesn't anger me to see her in so much pain, that I enjoy her misery? She's my friend too, Gale, or have you forgotten that fact?"

"No… I didn't forget."

I hear something in Gale's voice, something akin to bitterness. But to whom? To me? For not remembering how to be Katniss, the girl of District 12? Madge and Gale both sounded intense, too tired and upset by what's been going on. I lean a little, only my left eye going far enough to watch them.

Madge sighs, rubbing her fingers into her temple. She walks forward and her hands move into Gale's, holding them. He relaxes slightly, and the change, even though it's insignificantly tiny, is astounding to watch; she has control over him a little. Huh. Blonds and their control…

"What are you going to do?"

Gale pulls away leaning back against the wall, "I would like it if she continued with her medical attention, but if there's one thing Katniss will always be is stubborn. So we're going to need to find another approach involving that aspect of her stay here. What my concern is what to do about her and Cato?"

"You really don't want her to go to him."

"Who would? The thing is that what she said is right: we can't afford to kill him. Snow had specifically told us not to."

This makes no sense. I have to kill my captor but Snow told everyone else that he wants him alive.

What is that snake doing?

"Which is complete bullshit," Gale continues, "Part of the damned truce, of all things; she deserves to kill him,"

"That may be," Madge replies, voice rising slightly, "But we can't afford to break it."

"I'm ready to break the stupid thing—this whole ordeal is getting out of hand! Katniss isn't going to cooperate with him, we all know it, and the bastard won't understand that you can't have a leader who doesn't even get what's going on."

Wait.

What…?

"Oh Gale," I hear her say, and I watch as she takes him into her arms, and he begins to shake within the safety of them, leaning into her shoulder, and I'm painfully reminded of Peeta, who would often hold me in the Games, comforting me from the darkness and horrors of life.

"I'm sorry," he murmurs, pulling back, his forehead brushing against hers, "I shouldn't be yelling at you."

"We need to process it all."

"We've had months to process this, Madge. It's too much…"

"I know you want to help her," she tells him, pressing her fingers upon his lips, hushing him. "You love her."

He doesn't say anything, only leaning his forehead upon her shoulder.

She takes him into her arms again, soothing gentle words, and my stomach churns, ready to heave, hating it all, hating people, hating them, hating the others, hating love.

It makes you do unspeakable, ridiculous things.

My footsteps are quiet until I find myself completely and utterly alone, and I break into a run, the echoes resounding all around me until they are the only accompaniment to my heartbeat and breathing.

I'm beyond angry, beyond rage, beyond myself. What in the world are Gale and Madge talking about? Me, a leader? A leader of what—a new world order? An elite squad to fight the Capitol? What does Snow have to do with it? Why is it always me—haven't I been burned enough?

I run faster until I'm before the door, not even recalling how I made it there. My son is safe with Prim, so I don't worry too much about him. I request the guards to allow me entrance; they oblige, always reluctant, but they do so.

I can barely get in there fast enough. It's the only place where everything is quiet, where the world is drowned out by silence. I sink to the floor, a sigh releasing itself from my chapped lips. I look up and see I disturbed him. He's just watching me, with eyes so cold and warm that I don't know what my chills really mean.

He cocks his head arrogantly, voice soft, a contradiction, "Come here."

I take my time, walking over slowly before sitting in front of him, knees pulled up to my chest.

"What's wrong with you?"

I shake my head, "Too much crap."

He tilts his own, peering into me. For the flicker of a moment, he looks concerned. "Want to elaborate?"

"I don't have to elaborate anything," I huff, glaring petulantly at him. It frightens me when he's kinder. It makes him more human to me, dashing away the monster I know him to be.

He shrugs noncommittally, "Alright, but don't blame me when you leave and you wind up not having anyone else to vent to."

I sigh, knowing he's right. He knows he's right too.

"What's wrong?" he asks again, leaning forward.

I stare at him for a while, and I wonder about him. I wonder how he can be so cruel and then kind, brutal then soft, terrifying then enlightening.

"Everything,"

He comes forward, the chains rattling, and I'm reminded of Peeta, crying in the depths of my soul.

"Tell me,"

"I can't." I reply to him, afraid of him still, the way he makes everything blurry.

He inches forward until his face is near mine, looking into frozen skies and sunshine. The nervous way he makes me tremble is peculiar, even now, and I don't comprehend anything. I find myself tearing up, from failing the people I love and don't love, from feeling helpless.

"Hey, it's all right," he murmurs to me, and my arms ache to reach for him, to hold someone solid and warm. I make them move up, digging my fingers into my hair, raking my scalp, because I can't afford to touch him and get burned in dozens of scary, lovely ways.

I rise quickly, causing the walls to spin and laugh. I'm walking to the door and I barely hear it, the whisper behind me, the sound of his voice shaking my insides and mind.

"I know it doesn't matter, I know you don't care but…"

I don't want him to say it but I want him to as well. Everything in me is screaming for him to scream and to be silent.

"I love you."

I turn to him and the way he stares makes me quiver, tighter than the bowstrings I pull.

All he's done to me rushes into the forefront of my mind—the abuse, the way he made my body yearn for filth and sex, the way he made my mind doubt its ability to think, made my soul weep and my heart die, how he'd pull me into and onto his frame and turn me into a girl that's on fire; all of him confused and bewildered me, when he did gentle sweet things that left my body weak, unguarded, and he'd pour acid into my bloodstream.

He's always in control; even with those chains holding him to the walls.

"You know I hate it when you tell me such things."

He smiles, a grin that's so genuine it feels like fire. "You did the same for me."

"You're a sick bastard."

He laughs, replacing the grin with the sadism that I'm so used to from him. "You liked it when I was rough with you, you know it,"

I shudder because he may be right about it. The disgust with me spurts into my mouth and I taste bitterness. "You hate me don't you?"

"No more than you hate me."

"That's true," I agree. The hatred burns in me.

"How is he?"

"He's none of your concern."

"I'm his father—"

"You are not his father!" I harshly whisper, glaring intently at him, hoping to set his frame aflame.

He laughs scornfully, baleful shards in tone and gaze, "You had the kid all on your own?"

"Look you sick asshole, he's mine—"

"He is mine too, whether you like it or not, Girl on Fire."

"He is not! He'll be nothing like you, nothing."

"What will he be?"

"He'll be a human being."

"I'm not a human being?"

"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say—of course you're not a human being,"

"No?" he says, creeping to me and I'm glad for the chains, "I don't feel things? I don't have emotions, or wants?"

"There have been plenty of times where you've clearly proven that you're incapable of feeling anything!"

His face contorts into something so hideous it makes me hurt to look, "That's what you believe—you're always thinking you're so self-righteous don't you?"

"Self-righteous? You think this has to do with me proving myself right? You're more disgusting and awful than I ever thought you could be!"

He struggles in his chains, and he can't do anything but hurt me with words. They penetrate, but I've learned a little not to take everything he says to heart; he can't hurt me anymore than he's already done.

"What am I then, Katniss, what am I then?"

I hate when he does this—making himself appear more human; because he's not. Human beings don't hurt other human beings. "No, you're nothing but a lie,"

"A lie? How can I be a lie when I'm the only person you're sure of?" he suddenly raises his voice and my first instinct is to cower, cringe in fear, because it's hitting too close to home—when he'd make me curl into a corner and beat me senseless until I didn't feel anything but black weight pressing on me.

He's right. He's the only person I can predict, because he can be predicted with his unpredictability. Nothing and everything about him makes sense, from the way he speaks to the way he moves, acts, laughs, kisses and destroys. He's this paradox of evil and innocence, a child that loves to hurt things.

I turn to leave, listening to the sound of his chuckles.

I break into a run, because hate is one thing to face—it's something I can cling to and it'll give me power and control; love is a dangerous force that kills me, because it's so awfully selfless.

Selflessness will get me nowhere. It led to me running in this hallway, cursing love and all good things. I've never felt weaker and stronger than with the boy who robbed me of all I knew, including myself.

The question: what do I do now?

The answer: I choose the emotion that will not only be his fate, but mine. But which do I want?

I never knew it would happen to me.

Falling in love with someone I hate; because both are unspeakable in the game of death and life.

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