By dawn the bombers were long gone, the fires dying,
the final stragglers rounded up. My mother and Prim had
set up a medical area for the injured and were attempting to
treat them with whatever they could glean from the woods.
Gale had two sets of bows and arrows, one hunting knife,
one fishing net, and over eight hundred terrified people
to feed. With the help of those who were able-bodied, they
managed for three days. And thats when the hovercraft
unexpectedly arrived to evacuate them to District 13, where
there were more than enough clean, white living compartments,
plenty of clothing, and three meals a day. The
compartments had the disadvantage of being underground,
the clothing was identical, and the food was relatively
tasteless, but for the refugees of 12, these were minor considerations.
They were safe. They were being cared for. They
were alive and eagerly welcomed.
This enthusiasm was interpreted as kindness. But a
man named Dalton, a District 10 refugee whod made it to
13 on foot a few years ago, leaked the real motive to me.
They need you. Me. They need us all. Awhile back, there
was some sort of pox epidemic that killed a bunch of them
and left a lot more infertile. New breeding stock. Thats
how they see us. Back in 10, hed worked on one of the
beef ranches, maintaining the genetic diversity of the herd
with the implantation of long-frozen cow embryos. Hes
very likely right about 13, because there dont seem to be
nearly enough kids around. But so what? Were not being
kept in pens, were being trained for work, the children are
being educated. Those over fourteen have been given entrylevel
ranks in the military and are addressed respectfully as
Soldier. Every single refugee was granted automatic citizenship
by the authorities of 13.
Still, I hate them. But, of course, I hate almost everybody
now. Myself more than anyone.
The surface beneath my feet hardens, and under the
carpet of ash, I feel the paving stones of the square. Around
the perimeter is a shallow border of refuse where the shops
stood. A heap of blackened rubble has replaced the Justice
Building. I walk to the approximate site of the bakery Peetas
family owned. Nothing much left but the melted lump of the
oven. Peetas parents, his two older brothers none of them
made it to 13. Fewer than a dozen of what passed for
District 12s well-to-do escaped the fire. Peeta would have
nothing to come home to, anyway. Except me...
I back away from the bakery and bump into something,
lose my balance, and find myself sitting on a hunk of sunheated
metal. I puzzle over what it might have been, then
remember Threads recent renovations of the square. Stocks,
whipping posts, and this, the remains of the gallows. Bad.
This is bad. It brings on the flood of images that torments
me, awake or asleep. Peeta being tortured drowned, burned,
lacerated, shocked, maimed, beaten as the Capitol tries to
get information about the rebellion that he doesnt know.
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to reach for him across the
hundreds and hundreds of miles, to send my thoughts into
his mind, to let him know he is not alone. But he is. And I
cant help him.
Running. Away from the square and to the one place
the fire did not destroy. I pass the wreckage of the mayors
house, where my friend Madge lived. No word of her or
her family. Were they evacuated to the Capitol because
of her fathers position, or left to the flames? Ashes billow
up around me, and I pull the hem of my shirt up over my
mouth. Its not wondering what I breathe in, but who, that
threatens to choke me.
The grass has been scorched and the gray snow fell here
as well, but the twelve fine houses of the Victors Village are
unscathed. I bolt into the house I lived in for the past year,
slam the door closed, and lean back against it. The place
seems untouched. Clean. Eerily quiet. Why did I come back
to 12? How can this visit help me answer the question I
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