Theres been next to no rain to disturb the piles of ash left by the attack. They shift here and there, in reaction to my footsteps. No breeze to scatter them. I keep my eyes on what I remember as the road, because when I first landed in the Meadow, I wasnt careful and I walked right into a rock. Only it wasnt a rock it was someones skull. It rolled over and over and landed faceup, and for a long time I couldnt stop looking at the teeth, wondering whose they were, thinking of how mine would probably look the same way under similar circumstances.
I stick to the road out of habit, but its a bad choice, because its full of the remains of those who tried to flee. Some were incinerated entirely. But others, probably overcome with smoke, escaped the worst of the flames and now lie reeking in various states of decomposition, carrion for scavengers, blanketed by flies. I killed you, I think as I pass a pile. And you. And you.
Because I did. It was my arrow, aimed at the chink in the force field surrounding the arena, that brought on this firestorm of retribution. That sent the whole country of Panem into chaos.
In my head I hear President Snows words, spoken the morning I was to begin the Victory Tour. Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, you have provided a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem. It turns out he wasnt exaggerating or simply trying to scare me. He was, perhaps, genuinely attempting to enlist my help. But I had already set something in motion that I had no ability to control.
Burning. Still burning, I think numbly. The fires at the coal mines belch black smoke in the distance. Theres no one left to care, though. More than ninety percent of the districts population is dead. The remaining eight hundred or so are refugees in District 13 which, as far as Im concerned, is the same thing as being homeless forever.
I know I shouldnt think that; I know I should be grateful for the way we have been welcomed. Sick, wounded, starving, and empty-handed. Still, I can never get around the fact that District 13 was instrumental in 12s destruction. This doesnt absolve me of blame theres plenty of blame to go around. But without them, I would not have been part of a larger plot to overthrow the Capitol or had the wherewithal to do it.
The citizens of District 12 had no organized resistance movement of their own. No say in any of this. They only had the misfortune to have me. Some survivors think its good luck, though, to be free of District 12 at last. To have escaped the endless hunger and oppression, the perilous mines, the lash of our final Head Peacekeeper, Romulus Thread. To have a new home at all is seen as a wonder since, up until a short time ago, we hadnt even known that District 13 still existed.
The credit for the survivors escape has landed squarely on Gales shoulders, although hes loath to accept it. As soon as the Quarter Quell was over as soon as I had been lifted from the arena the electricity in District 12 was cut, the televisions went black, and the Seam became so silent, people could hear one anothers heartbeats. No one did anything to protest or celebrate what had happened in the arena. Yet within fifteen minutes, the sky was filled with hoverplanes and the bombs were raining down.
It was Gale who thought of the Meadow, one of the few places not filled with old wooden homes embedded with coal dust. He herded those he could in its direction, including my mother and Prim. He formed the team that pulled down the fence now just a harmless chain-link barrier, with the electricity off and led the people into the woods. He took them to the only place he could think of, the lake my father had shown me as a child. And it was from there they watched the distant flames eat up everything they knew in the world.
Excerpted from Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Copyright © 2010 by Suzanne Collins. Excerpted by permission of Scholastic. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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