I enter a nightmare from which I wake repeatedly only to find a greater terror awaiting me. All the things I dread most, all the things I dread for others manifest in such vivid detail I can’t help but believe they’re real. Each time I wake, I think, At last, this is over, but it isn’t. It’s only the beginning of a new chapter of torture. How many ways do I watch Prim die? Relive my father’s last moments? Feel my own body ripped apart? This is the nature of the tracker jacker venom, so carefully created to target the place where fear lives in your brain.
When I finally do come to my senses, I lie still, waiting for the next onslaught of imagery. But eventually I accept that the poison must have finally worked its way out of my system, leaving my body wracked and feeble. I’m still lying on my side, locked in the fetal position. I lift a hand to my eyes to find them sound, untouched by ants that never existed. Simply stretching out my limbs requires an enormous effort. So many parts of me hurt, it doesn’t seem worthwhile taking inventory of them. Very, very slowly I manage to sit up. I’m in a shallow hole, not filled with the humming orange bubbles of my hallucination but with old, dead leaves. My clothing’s damp, but I don’t know whether pond water, dew, rain, or sweat is the cause. For a long time, all I can do is take tiny sips from my bottle and watch a beetle crawl up the side of a honeysuckle bush.
How long have I been out? It was morning when I lost reason. Now it’s afternoon. But the stiffness in my joints suggests more than a day has passed, even two possibly. If so, I’ll have no way of knowing which tributes survived that tracker jacker attack. Not Glimmer or the girl from District 4. But there was the boy from District 1, both tributes from District 2, and Peeta. Did they die from the stings? Certainly if they lived, their last days must have been as horrid as my
own. And what about Rue? She’s so small, it wouldn’t take much venom to do her in. But then again… the tracker jackers would’ve had to catch her, and she had a good head start.
A foul, rotten taste pervades my mouth, and the water has little effect on it. I drag myself over to the honeysuckle bush and pluck a flower. I gently pull the stamen through the blossom and set the drop of nectar on my tongue. The sweetness spreads through my mouth, down my throat, warming my veins with memories of summer, and my home woods and Gale’s presence beside me. For some reason, our discussion from that last morning comes back to me.
“We could do it, you know.”
“Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it.”
And suddenly, I’m not thinking of Gale but of Peeta and… Peeta! He saved my life! I think. Because by the time we met up, I couldn’t tell what was real and what the tracker jacker venom had caused me to imagine. But if he did, and my instincts tell me he did, what for? Is he simply working the Lover Boy angle he initiated at the interview? Or was he actually trying to protect me? And if he was, what was he doing with those Careers in the first place? None of it makes sense.
I wonder what Gale made of the incident for a moment and then I push the whole thing out of my mind because for some reason Gale and Peeta do not coexist well together in my thoughts.
So I focus on the one really good thing that’s happened since I landed in the arena. I have a bow and arrows! A full dozen arrows if you count the one I retrieved in the tree.