The Straw Man
The Straw Man
Summer itself begins to sweat.
The thunderstorms start rolling in, and I sit in my living room whenever the black clouds start gathering and watch with wonder.
I flinch and am amazed every time a flash of electricity pierces the sky. I bring Bird in to watch with me sometimes, I place his cage near the window so he can look out.
He clings to his golden bars with his tiny talons and flutters nervously every time thunder booms. Making it seem like he appreciates being in his cage, and not out there in the storm.
Peeta begins to use my oven more often to bake things. Peeta sitting beside me, Bird singing, and sweet bread making smells waft through my house makes me feel a pinprick of happiness. And I cherish every second of it.
It's especially nice to work on our book during a storm. But sometimes our lights will flicker and diminish. That's when we break out candles and light the fireplace, and I sit with my head on Peeta's shoulder while he sketches his brothers into the book.
With the patter of the hot rain and warm glow of the candles and stormy sky, a certain calmness begins to seep into my bone marrow. And for a moment, just a moment, I forget the pain that I carry with me every day.
Heavy air slips into my town. Every window is opened, every door is propped, children run barefoot through the corn fields and the town. Some travel barefoot into the woods and pick tiny apple's that still haven't ripened.
I have to keep braiding my hair back throughout the day because it will fray and go places it shouldn't.
The heat seeps into everyone's floorboards, a sheen of sweat covers people's foreheads, and despite my ugly scars and skin grafts, I have to wear short clothing.
One day, during a particularly bad electric storm, Peeta turns on the television before the power can go out.
I jump at the sound of the thing coming alive and I glance suspiciously at it until I hear a voice say that this is one of the hottest summer's the country has ever known, breaking a 76 year record.
"They say the storm should last more than a few days." Peeta says next to me on the couch, handing me a glass of much needed water. I begin to fan myself with a sheet of Peeta's drawing paper.
The television gives out tornado warnings to the southern districts, and one hurricane watch to District Four.
"I think it's a tornado on ocean water."
"Oh," I say, taking a large gulp of the water. I think about my mother in District Four. I haven't called her in a long while.
The news channel goes on to talk about the latest fashion trend so Peeta turns it off.
"I don't know if I can draw anymore. I'm sweating all over the page."
I grin, "S'okay. It's so hot. I don't think I can do anything but sleep."
"Sleep sounds nice." But he says it with a hint of regret. Neither of us have gotten a good night sleep in a very long time.
"Nap time?" I ask, scooting closer to him and pulling a couch pillow beneath both of our heads, not bothering to go upstairs.
We sleep through the lethargic afternoon, letting the rain and Bird drift us to sleep in each others sticky arms.
I'm sleeping on Peeta's stomach when the front door bangs open and a sopping wet Haymitch brings in a gust of humid air, blowing in winds and hail.
"Get up." He says shortly. "Every hand is needed."
And just like that he's out the door again, leaving my front door swinging wide open, letting the driving sheets of water plummet onto my furniture and Peeta's paper.
Peeta pulls himself off me and catches our book papers before they can fly away while I slam my front door shut, yelling curse words at Haymitch as he heads into the town.
Before the door slams shut however, I catch a glimpse of the funnel cloud, and I am slightly confused.
I had never before in my lifetime seen a tornado, or anything like it. But I'm not stupid, and I know menacing things when I see them.
It's huge and gray and black, a huge cancerous wisp of cloud, thinning out until it touches the ground.
"Where do you think Haymitch wants us to go?"
"I don't know. But look." I say, pointing towards the window.
He looks out the window and raises an eyebrow at the cloud off in the distance.
"Well...what do we do with that?"
I shrug. "Why would Haymitch want us to go out there during this with him?"
"I saw him walk into the fields.""
We both run up to an upstairs wndow and open it, straining to catch a glimpse of him through the pelting rain and hail.
"There he is!"
Haymitch's tiny figure was stumbling and fighting his way into the corn fields.
"He's drunk!" Peeta yells over the whistling wind and storm. We both tuck our heads back inside.
"He's drunk." He says again. "I'll go get him," he says, already departing from the room.
"Not without me." I say determinedly, following him out of the house.
We have to hang onto each other as the wind and hail pound at us. All of the trees are bent in half, the wind swaying them and making their trunks groan in protest. Birds have crash landed onto anything solid, houses and structures are and the sky is so dark, it's darker than midnight.
I hear a child crying in the wind, though when I look around I don't see anyone. The high pitched yell sends a shiver down my spine. I know it isn't the weather, the air is too heavy, and the rain is too hot to ever chill me.
The wind sends rocks and trees and leaves into our eyes, I bend my neck down and try to keep my face behind Peeta's shoulder as he powers through it.
I trip on a rock, and I realize that I'm not wearing any shoes or a jacket.
We're half way to the fields now, and I try to spot Haymitch in the stalks of swaying and breaking corn.
"Can you see him?" I try to ask, but it never makes it out of my mouth.
A particularly large gale of wind practically lifts me off the ground and Peeta shouts in surprise as he grabs onto my waist and glues me to his side.
"Don't blow away!" He demands.
I curse loudly at Haymitch Abernathy.
"Look! Other people!" Peeta shouts then.
And sure enough, men and women and even children are sprinting into the crop fields, holding baskets and old pillow cases.
"What are they doing?" I say, trying to yell over noise.
But as I say it, I see a tiny Seam girl trying desperately to shove as many ears of corn into her woven basket, and some even into her shirt. Her mother is holding the back of her faded old dress to keep her from blowing away.
"Hey!" Someone calls over. They're voice practically lost over the storm. A particularly bright flash of lightning lights up the face of Thom as he runs over to us, handing us each a game bag.
"Start collecting!" He yells and then runs back into the stalks of corn.
Peeta lets go of me when I'm safely in the fields and masses of people.
I have never seen corn on the stalk before, but when I find the lump on the thick stem and see the golden yellow peeking out from under it, I quickly grab and yank with all my might to pull it off. But apparently they aren't really attached very well, because the ear comes off easily and I end up almost punching myself in the face with my own fist.
Peeta never strays more than a few feet away from me as we rapidly shove the corn into our bags.
"The whole district is here!" He yells. I look around. Sure enough more and more people spill into the forest of corn as the wind and the hail and the sound of something roaring fills up the air.
I see Greasy Sae as she pulls up to yank the ears of corn beside me, muttering and cursing under her breathe.
"Never in my years. Never in all of my long years, have I ever-"
I guess this is new for her too.
I look over my shoulder every now and again to be sure of Peeta. And only when I can see his brow furrowed eyes filled with concentration can I really work. It's hard though, the sky is so pitch black, and mostly we rely on the constant flashes of lightning to move on and pick everything.
It seems like ages, as we all listen nervously at the roaring in the distance, and try to keep the hail from hitting our eyes and crops. But it ends up useless, the hail now comes in a ball just slightly smaller than the size of my fist. As they hit my head I can feel the ice crack on my skull, making the world shudder for a while as I try to regain my balance.
I can hear Thom calling out to everyone in our field and the nearby crops.
"Faster! It's coming! Hurry up!"
Peeta reaches over to touch my shoulder every few minutes, I think just to be sure that I haven't blown away yet.
When I see his hands shaking I do a double check. Is he just frightened or is he going mutt?
"You okay?" I ask him as I ready myself to drop everything.
He's paler than usual, his skin practically neon in the dark as the rain falls on his ash-blonde hair. His blue eyes strike out at me when lightning strikes, making him seem like a vibrant.
"Stay," I say to keep him in check. "Stay in the moment. The food, Peeta, the food!"
He nods hurridly at my little pep talk and turns back to the corn and begins to mutter to himself.
"She might fly away. She can't fly away, bring her inside, bring her inside...too dangerous...too dangerous."
"Peeta, I'm right here. I'm not flying anywhere." I encourage, gripping his wrist to prove my point. "See?" I say gesturing my wet bare feet firmly planted into the dirt.
He nods again but doesn't let go of my hand and we both have start picking again with one arm.
"This isn't right! The children can't be out here! Who cares about the crops!" Greasy Sae yells at Thom then, who has appeared at my side.
Thom shakes his head, straining his voice to be heard. "Lives are depending on this crop! My life!" He yells as he hurridly shoves the food into his shirt.
The sound in the distance increases and changes then. And some children give a shriek at the difference.
Greasy Sae curses. "It's hit the tree line! The edge of the forest!"
As I think about it, that cracking sound does sound like trees being ripped out of the earth.
We move down onto another row of corn where less people are massed together and I squint into the dark, wet green for glimpses of barely apparent yellow.
But instead I see a very large wooden post shoved into the ground.
The brown post rises up from the ground and I see empty bags of flower that have been stuffed with golden straw made to look like legs, and as I travel it up with my eyes I see the flour sack torso and the flour bag head with a straw hat sewed on top.
A cruel face has been drawn onto the tattered bag with coal.
A string of cans clanging in the wind has been tied around the scarecrow's neck to scare away birds, but now it just looks like it's hanging the scarecrow.
And there, under the armpit of the straw man, hides a thick and papery ball- like the bulk of a Tracker Jacker's nest.
I freeze in my tracks, my heart almost stopping.
I feel as if I'm in a dream as the wind howls around me.
Why hasn't it blown away? Why oh why hasn't the nest blown away by now?
But it's hanging there, in the crook of the straw arm, swaying menacingly. And I stare up at it in fear and wonder.
I look over at Peeta slowly.
My eyes wide, I seem to watch in slow motion as Peeta's eyes raise and lock in on the bulk, I see them widen, and then I see his pupil's dilate in the lightning filled dark. I feel his hand on my shoulder squeeze tightly as his nails dig deep into my flesh and claw down to my forearm.
I hear my voice ring loud and clear with pain as Peeta drops his bag of corn and shoves me to the ground with two hands.
"Get away from me!" He screams seethingly mad. The now icy cold rain is now hammering down onto his face, the hail openly hitting his head as he shoves himself in the opposite direction, looking around himself in panic.
"You." He says, his eyes set in extreme hatred towards me. But I can barely hear it over the chaos.
He's breathing heavily now and clenches and unclenches his fists.
I see Greasy Sae tense up beside me as she gazes intently at Peeta.
"Now, just hold on a minute there, Peeta Mellark." She says warningly.
Peeta sets his jaw and stares intently at me as he shuffles his feet and looks around him.
He takes a step closer to me, holding his hands at shoulder length, not caring about the hail that hits them, as if he's itching to strangle me.
"Now wait just one minute-" Greasy Sae warns again, panic rising in her.
I drop my corn as Peeta lunges at me, but I slip in the mud as his strong hands reach me, gripping my shoulders as he throws me to the ground.
I give a yell and I feel tears mixing in with the rain as it flows down my face.
"Peeta!" I yell just before his fingers grip my windpipe.
I see Thom dart out from the corner of my eye at him, and knocks him off me.
I gulp a breathe of air before I throw myself at a Thom who is striking punches at a fighting Peeta.
"Stop it!" I scream at the top of my lungs. "Stop it! Don't hurt him!"
I try to grip Thom's shoulders as he shakes Peeta who is now on his back.
I scream and yell and thrash as I throw myself over Peeta and feel Thom's fist hit my ribs, sending a shock through me.
Thom stops and pulls back, bewildered and frightened as he sees me screaming and sobbing.
"Peeta!" I yell at him as Thom helps me throw him onto his back.
I sit ontop of him as I kiss him.
"Stay!" I yell as loud as I can in his face between kisses. "You stay with me!"
People around us are screaming at this sight, Thom and Greasy Sae are dazed, I notice there are less people than there were a few minutes ago.
More people are yelling and screaming as they flee the fields.
I think they are afraid of us, when I remember the funnel cloud coming our direction.
"Peeta!" I call. He gives a groan as I kiss him more. I feel his muscles begin to relax and tears spill onto his face as he begins to yank out his own hair.
I feel his arms gently encircle me as he kisses me back, both of our hearts thumping wildly in fear.
""Run!" I hear people scream around us. "We're such god-damn idiots! Run! Run away!"
Thom loses his nerve after looking up and takes off sprinting, while Greasy Sae shuffles on her feet screaming at us to get up before she caves in and takes for the safety of her own home.
"Always." I hear him say between kisses.
And then I get off him and pull him up.
"Peeta! We have to leave! Run!" I say.
"The food-" He's barely able to moan.
"Forget about it!" I yank on his arm some more. But as Peeta begins to get up from his position he gives a cry of deadly pain. I scream too, just because it hurts to see someone you love in pain.
Someone I love.
More screams, more hail, more rain, more straw-man noose cans clanging, more thunder, more lightning.
"Peeta!" I plead. "Peeta, Please!" I try to force him up onto his feet.
He gives another cry, and thats when I see the knife stuck into his hip, blood oozing out of it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the brown post begin to sway harder and as I fall over to protect Peeta, I see the scarecrow with the cruel face fall through the air over us.
I feel it crash onto my skull and I see spots fill my vision before the screams drown out and the wind fade away before I see the black, scruffy figure with a rum bottle and corn bag hover over me before everything disappears completely.