The impact with the hard-packed earth of the plain knocks the wind out of me. My backpack does little to soften the blow. Fortunately my quiver has caught in the crook of my elbow, sparing both itself and my shoulder, and my bow is locked in my grasp. The ground still shakes with explosions. I can’t hear them. I can’t hear anything at the moment. But the apples must have set off enough mines, causing debris to activate the others. I manage to shield my face with my arms as shattered bits of matter, some of it burning, rain down around me. An acrid smoke fills the air, which is not the best remedy for someone trying to regain the ability to breathe.
After about a minute, the ground stops vibrating. I roll on my side and allow myself a moment of satisfaction the sight of the smoldering wreckage that was recently the pyramid. The Careers aren’t likely to salvage anything out of that.
I’d better get out of here, I think. They’ll be making
a beeline for the place. But once I’m on my feet, I realize escape may not be so simple. I’m dizzy. Not the slightly wobbly kind, but the kind that sends the trees swooping around you and causes the earth to move in waves under your feet.
I take a few steps and somehow wind up on my hands and knees. I wait a few minutes to let it pass, but it doesn’t.
Panic begins to set in. I can’t stay here. Flight is essential. But I can neither walk nor hear. I place a hand to my left ear, the one that was turned toward the blast, and it comes away bloody. Have I gone deaf from the explosion? The idea frightens me. I rely as much on my ears as my eyes as a hunter, maybe more at times. But I can’t let my fear show. Absolutely, positively, I am live on every screen in Panem.
No blood trails, I tell myself, and manage to pull my hood up over my head, tie the cord under my chin with uncooperative fingers. That should help soak up the blood. I can’t walk, but can I crawl? I move forward tentatively. Yes, if I go very slowly, I can crawl. Most of the woods will offer insufficient cover. My only hope is to make it back to Rue’s copse and conceal myself in greenery. I can’t get caught out here on my hands and knees in the open. Not only will I face death, it’s sure to be a long and painful one at Cato’s hand. The thought of Prim having to watch that keeps me doggedly inching my way toward the hideout.
Another blast knocks me flat on my face. A stray mine, set off by some collapsing crate. This happens twice more. I’m reminded of those last few kernels that burst when Prim and I pop corn over the fire at home.
To say I make it in the nick of time is an understatement. I have literally just dragged myself into the tangle of hushes at the base of the trees when there’s Cato, barreling onto the plain, soon followed by his companions. His rage is so extreme it might be comical – so people really do tear out their hair and beat the ground with their fists – if I didn’t know that it was aimed at me, at what I have done to him. Add to that my proximity, my inability to run or defend myself, and in fact, the whole thing has me terrified. I’m glad my hiding place makes it impossible for the cameras to get a close shot of me because I’m biting my nails like there’s no tomorrow. Gnawing off the last bits of nail polish, trying to keep my teeth from chattering.
The boy from District 3 throws stones into the ruins and must have declared all the mines activated because the Careers are approaching the wreckage.