My eyes follow the line of her finger up into the foliage above me. At first, I have no idea what she’s pointing to, but then, about fifteen feet up, I make out the vague shape in the dimming light. But of… of what? Some sort of animal? It looks about the size of a raccoon, but it hangs from the bottom of a branch, swaying ever so slightly. There’s something else. Among the familiar evening sounds of the woods, my ears register a low hum. Then I know. It’s a wasp nest.
Fear shoots through me, but I have enough sense to keep still. After all, I don’t know what kind of wasp lives there. It could be the ordinary leave-us-alone-and-we’ll-leave-you-alone type. But these are the Hunger Games, and ordinary isn’t the norm. More likely they will be one of the Capitol’s muttations, tracker jackers. Like the jabberjays, these killer wasps were spawned in a lab and strategically placed, like land mines, around the districts during the war. Larger than regular wasps, they have a distinctive solid gold body and a sting that raises a lump the size of a plum on contact. Most people can’t tolerate more than a few stings. Some die at once. If you live, the hallucinations brought on by the venom have actually driven people to madness. And there’s another thing, these wasps will hunt down anyone who disturbs their nest and attempt to kill them. That’s where the tracker part of the name comes from.
After the war, the Capitol destroyed all the nests surrounding their city, but the ones near the districts were left untouched. Another reminder of our weakness, I suppose, just like the Hunger Games. Another reason to keep inside the fence of District 12. When Gale and I come across a tracker jacker nest, we immediately head in the opposite direction.
So is that what hangs above me? I look back to Rue for help, but she’s melted into her tree.
Given my circumstances, I guess it doesn’t
matter what type of wasp nest it is. I’m wounded and trapped. Darkness has given me a brief reprieve, but by the time the sun rises, the Careers will have formulated a plan to kill me. There’s no way they could do otherwise after I’ve made them look so stupid. That nest may be the sole option I have left. If I can drop it down on them, I may be able to escape. But I’ll risk my life in the process.
Of course, I’ll never be able to get in close enough to the actual nest to cut it free. I’ll have to saw off the branch at the trunk and send the whole thing down. The serrated portion of my knife should be able to manage that. But can my hands? And will the vibration from the sawing raise the swarm? And what if the Careers figure out what I’m doing and move their camp? That would defeat the whole purpose.
I realize that the best chance I’ll have to do the sawing without drawing notice will be during the anthem. That could begin any time. I drag myself out of my bag, make sure my knife is secured in my belt, and begin to make my way up the tree. This in itself is dangerous since the branches are becoming precariously thin even for me, but I persevere. When I reach the limb that supports the nest, the humming becomes more distinctive. But it’s still oddly subdued if these are tracker jackers. It’s the smoke, I think. It’s sedated them. This was the one defense the rebels found to battle the wasps.
The seal of the Capitol shines above me and the anthem blares out. It’s now or never, I think, and begin to saw. Blisters burst on my right hand as I awkwardly drag the knife back and forth.