Scenes from the Seam

Digging Deeper

Digging Deeper (part two)--"I've got all I ever wanted right here."

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The men carefully lowered Katniss into the hole. She clung tightly to the harness she sat in, watching Mr. Tucker's face grow smaller and smaller.

"Remember," he said solemnly as she nodded up at him, "through the large room, it'll be the second passage, and then up the old elevator shaft, a few stories, through another two rooms, the smaller one is the storage room, it'll have the door to the passage where the miners are on the other side…"

The shadows of the mines swallowed Katniss whole before he could see her nod her comprehension.

Katniss didn't know how long it took them to lower her down, but it felt like hours. She nearly screamed when her feet hit the floor, but stopped herself, afraid of what the echo might knock the whole place down. She looked up and the white light at the opening, it was smaller than a tear drop. She put her feet on the ground, hearing a deafening crunch and she switched on her head light and took a deep breath. The air tasted like cold and ash and death.

The beam of light in front of her did not reach the wall. She looked in the opposite direction, the light fell about twenty feet before her and anything could lie beyond it. She gulped so loudly it echoed and willed her feet to walk. They didn't. The muscles in her body froze.

Move, Katniss, move, she told herself again and again, but her feet remained rooted. She thought she could taste the death in the air down here and her heart was beating so loudly, she was afraid it might cause the roof to collapse. Move, Katniss, she willed again, and one of her feet moved. She didn't know where. She didn't know. She was going on pure faith that when she set it down, ground would be there. And it was. Okay, she thought, that wasn't so bad. Just do it again. And again. And she did. And suddenly, she was walking.

The light attached to her helmet was weak, but it was her entire world down her. She walked for minutes before she finally saw a wall. A few abandoned wheelbarrows and tools discarded along its side. She had to walk along it for several more yards before she found the two doors, and took the second one.

This passage was a long, dark tunnel that slightly tilted upwards. She could touch the walls on either side if she wanted to, but she didn't. She walked along it, listening to her heart pound so heavily she could almost swear she could hear it echo.

How had her father been able to work down here every day? She wondered, feeling like the very air was killing her now, choking her lungs. And there was so much darkness down here, it was almost heavy. She could feel it weighing on her, seeping into her skin, the way the sun did, but only opposite.

Katniss remembered for the first time in a long time her father scowling when he came home from work. His stiff shoulders, aching as he reached to hug them. The effort straining his voice as he spun her and her sister around after coming home. When she thought of him, she always remembered him smiling, but now that she considered it, he only ever smiled in the woods. Like she did. Like Gale did.

She wasn't going to let Gale suffer the same fate as their fathers and marched resolutely forward into the darkness.

She nearly screamed as she tripped on old coils and cables, approaching the old elevator shaft. Looking down, she saw the rusting mess and wondered if her father had ever had to take that elevator shaft down; if he'd ever walked through these halls. She let her fingers trail along the cold, hard wall as she peeked inside the shaft.

Her small headlight disappeared in the blackness, offering her no sign of an end. Who needs to know when it'll end, anyway? She told herself, grabbing the corroded handles that lined the wall and pulling herself up. The broken metal of the grips sliced her fingers into several tiny cuts, but she didn't let it stop her as she climbed upwards. She'd only made it about up about six rungs when one slipped and she nearly fell. She thought her heart might have fallen through her chest when the holding came out, but she clutched tightly the next handle and steadied herself, willing her heart to return to her, and continued up.

She made it up ten more pegs before she fell. Her scream shot through the tunnel and echoed loudly as it came back to her, almost mocking. She sat, tears falling from her eyes, cursing the pain in her ankle and tailbone. Minutes passed. The world remained silent and dark and she finally told herself she had to get up. She took the handles carefully, very carefully, and slowly made her assent.

She nearly screamed again when she reached up and felt no new handle to cling on to, but looked up and realized she'd made it to the top. She nearly flung herself up over the edge, body aching from the climb, hands raw and slick with blood, and heart hammering in her ears. "A few stories my ass," she spat snidely, recalling Mr. Tucker's comment, and plowed ahead through the next two rooms.

"I'm coming, Gale," she muttered to herself, remembered the sound of his laughter from this morning, the shape of his smile, the light in his eyes. It seemed to be the only light down here.

The smaller, old storage room was easy to identify as she saw the remnants of old boxes, carts, cords, cables, and wheels lying around it. However, it seemed to be some sort of central storage room, and it had doors on all sides. Which door is it? She suddenly panicked.

Mr. Tucker had had her recite his instructions about twenty times, and she said them to herself again and again now, staring at three doors in front of her and another on the adjacent wall.

"Through the large room, it'll be the second passage, and then up the old elevator shaft, a few stories, through another two rooms, the smaller one is the storage room, it'll have the door to the passage where the miners are on the other side…"

Shit, she swore to herself, shit, shit, shit. I must be forgetting something! She spun around feeling hopeless and panicked.

"Through the large room, it'll be the second passage, and then up the old elevator shaft, a few stories, through another two rooms, the smaller one is the storage room, it'll have the door to the passage where the miners are on the other side…"

She said it to herself again and again, feeling the darkness swallowing her. She imagined herself searching down here, getting lost and dying. All the miners on the other side, slowly starving or suffocating. More men trying to come down and recuse them, getting hurt like Gale did.

Gale, his name popped her eyes open and forced herself to focus. Gale'd never let her down once, not in their entire relationship. He'd never not had her back, always been there for her. She wasn't going to let him down now.

She got up and determinedly marched to the first door and threw it open. It let out an ancient creak and bellow, and she desperately held on to the handle as she realized that it wasn't a door to a room, but another shaft, no ground before her. She threw herself back and didn't dare go near it again. She went to another door and wrestled as hard as could to open it, but it didn't budge. Her injured hands were hardly any help, and she was afraid to throw herself against it in case it opened to another shaft. She momentarily imagined herself throwing herself down it, but got ahold of herself and told herself that would be her last resort. She moved to the next door, which easily opened to some sort of old control panel full of knobs and piping. Her heart began to flutter. The next door had to be it! She was almost to Gale. But then, she was hit with a wave of panic. What if it wasn't? She pushed all her thoughts aside and opened the next door, holding her breath as it swung wide, revealing the next passage.

Despite her injured ankle from the fall, she barreled down the passage, and when it ended, she screamed, "Hello?"

She heared a muffled sound from far away, and she looked in all directions blindly until she saw several small circle lights snap to life. The miners!

"Hello!" she screamed again, running towards the small lights until she was close enough to see the forms of men.

Many mumbled incomprehensibly. She heard bits of prayers and profanity.

"What the hell?"

"Oh, thank the good god."

"Is that a girl?"

One man stood up and approached her. His name was Dustin Bracks.

"Is Gale Hawthorne with you?" she said breathlessly.

The old man chuckled. In the dim light, she couldn't quite place his face, but she knew she knew him. "Is that what you came down here for?''

"Yes," she said quickly, and then added, "I mean, and the rest of you. But they lowered him down the elevator shaft, to see if he could fix it, but it collapsed—"

"Yeah, we heard it," the man said in a tone she couldn't read.

She looked at him with wide, lamp-like eyes. "Don't worry," he finally said with a guffaw, slapping her on the back, "we heard the damn thing tumble down and dug him out."

"So he's okay?" She could feel the hope rising within her, like all the darkness that had just seeped in was running out.

"He will be," he man chuckled again, moving aside and pointing.

Gale was reclined next to a few men. One was holding a towel to his head, but he was awake.

"Gale," Katniss cried, falling on her knees besides him. "Oh, my god, Gale!"

"Catnip?" He seemed utterly confused.

"Yeah, I came to rescue you."

A few of the surrounding me laughed as she said that.

"How the hell did you get down here?"

"I went down an old airshaft."

"By yourself?"

"Yes, but it's all part of Mr. Tucker's plan…"

"But how?"

Katniss cupped Gale's face in her hand and didn't understand why he seemed so concerned.

"We think the boy's got a concussion," Dustin said, "so don't mind his muttering too much." Katniss gulped, trying to process that information. "But if you don't mind, I'd rather hear about how you plan on getting out of her rather than how you got down."

"Right," Katniss said, and explained Mr. Tucker's plan and then pointed the way.

The group of men carefully filed their way into the old passage and approached the exit, taking turns helping to carry Gale, who, Katniss noticed, was very out of it.

Mr. Tucker's men had cleared out an old exit, though, and by the time the group arrived, sun light and fresh air were streaming in. They rushed Gale over to her mother's hospital tent, and she diagnosed him with a mild concussion and dislocated shoulder. He screamed when they popped it back in place, but when he woke up later that night, he didn't recall the pain and only grumbled about having to wear a sling for a few weeks.

"Some birthday," he muttered as she sat next to him on her mother's table. Her mom insisted he be watched for the night because of the concussion. He swore when she said it, insisted he was fine, but Mrs. Everdeen was unperturbed.

"I don't care about my birthday, Gale," Katniss told him, holding one of her hands delicately in her bandaged ones.

"Still," he said, looking at her hands, "you deserve better than this."

She smiled. "I've got all I ever wanted right here," and told him, recalling all the crazy things that had happened that day, sweetly leaning in and kissing him on the forehead.

Gale would later tell himself, that if he hadn't had a head injury, he would have been able to process what was happening, he would have reached out and stopped Katniss before she left after, or said something to keep her there. But instead, he just sat there, disbelieving, as she pressed her lips to him for the first time, and was left with the overwhelming desire for more.

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