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 cant escape?
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.
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