It’s my mockingjay.
It makes no sense. My bird baked into bread. Unlike the stylish renderings I saw in the Capitol, this is definitely not a fashion statement. “What is it? What does that mean?” I ask harshly, still prepared to kill.
“It means we’re on your side,” says a tremulous voice behind me.
I didn’t see her when I came up. She must have been in the house. I don’t take my eyes off my current target. Probably the newcomer is armed, but I’m betting she won’t risk letting me hear the click that would mean my death was imminent, knowing I would instantly kill her companion. “Come around where I can see you,” I order.
“She can’t, she’s—” begins the woman with the cracker.
“Come around!” I shout. There’s a step and a dragging sound. I can hear the effort the movement requires. Another woman, or maybe I should call her a girl since she looks about my age, limps into view. She’s dressed in an ill-fitting Peacekeeper’s uniform complete with the white fur cloak, but it’s several sizes too large for her slight frame. She carries no visible weapon. Her hands are occupied with steadying a rough crutch made from a broken branch. The toe of her right boot can’t clear the snow, hence the dragging.
I examine the girl’s face, which is bright red from the cold. Her teeth are crooked and there’s a strawberry birthmark over one of her chocolate brown eyes. This is no Peacekeeper. No citizen of the Capitol, either.
“Who are you?” I ask warily but less belligerently.
“My name’s Twill,” says the woman. She’s older. Maybe thirty-five or so. “And this is Bonnie. We’ve run away from District Eight.”
District 8! Then they must know about the uprising!
“Where’d you get the uniforms?” I ask.
“I stole them from the factory,” says Bonnie. “We make them there. Only I thought this one would be for … for someone else. That’s why it fits so poorly.”
“The gun came from a dead Peacekeeper,” says Twill, following my eyes.
“That cracker in your hand. With the bird. What’s that about?” I ask.
“Don’t you know, Katniss?” Bonnie appears genuinely surprised.
They recognize me. Of course they recognize me. My face is uncovered and I’m standing here outside of District 12 pointing an arrow at them. Who else would I be? “I know it matches the pin I wore in the arena.”
“She doesn’t know,” says Bonnie softly. “Maybe not about any of it.”
Suddenly I feel the need to appear on top of things. “I know you had an uprising in Eight.”
“Yes, that’s why we had to get out,” says Twill.
“Well, you’re good and out now. What are you going to do?” I ask.
“We’re headed for District Thirteen,” Twill replies.
“Thirteen?” I say. “There’s no Thirteen. It got blown off the map.”
“Seventy-five years ago,” says Twill.
Bonnie shifts on her crutch and winces.
“What’s wrong with your leg?” I ask.
“I twisted my ankle. My boots are too big,” says Bonnie.
I bite my lip. My instinct tells me they’re telling the truth. And behind that truth is a whole lot of information I’d like to get. I step forward and retrieve Twill’s gun before lowering my bow, though. Then I hesitate a moment, thinking of another day in this woods, when Gale and I watched a hovercraft appear out of thin air and capture two escapees from the Capitol. The boy was speared and killed. The redheaded girl, I found out when I went to the Capitol, was mutilated and turned into a mute servant called an Avox. “Anyone after you?”
“We don’t think so. We think they believe we were killed in a factory explosion,” says Twill. “Only a fluke that we weren’t.”
“All right, let’s go inside,” I say, nodding at the cement house. I follow them in, carrying the gun.
Bonnie makes straight for the hearth and lowers herself onto a Peacekeeper’s cloak that has been spread before it. She holds her hands to the feeble flame that burns on one end of a charred log. Her skin is so pale as to be translucent and I can see the fire glow through her flesh. Twill tries to arrange the cloak, which must have been her own, around the shivering girl.
A tin gallon can has been cut in half, the lip ragged and dangerous. It sits in the ashes, filled with a handful of pine needles steaming in water.
“Making tea?” I ask.
“We’re not sure, really. I remember seeing someone do this with pine needles on the Hunger Games a few years back. At least, I think it was pine needles,” says Twill with a frown.
I remember District 8, an ugly urban place stinking of industrial fumes, the people housed in run-down tenements. Barely a blade of grass in sight. No opportunity, ever, to learn the ways of nature. It’s a miracle these two have made it this far.
“Out of food?” I ask.
Bonnie nods. “We took what we could, but food’s been so scarce. That’s been gone for a while.” The quaver in her voice melts my remaining defenses. She is just a malnourished, injured girl fleeing the Capitol.
“Well, then this is your lucky day,” I say, dropping my game bag on the floor. People are starving all over the district and we still have more than enough. So I’ve been spreading things around a little. I have my own priorities: Gale’s family, Greasy Sae, some of the other Hob traders who were shut down. My mother has other people, patients mostly, who she wants to help. This morning I purposely overstuffed my game bag with food, knowing my mother would see the depleted pantry and assume I was making my rounds to the hungry. I was actually buying time to go to the lake without her worrying. I intended to deliver the food this evening on my return, but now I can see that won’t be happening.
From the bag I pull two fresh buns with a layer of cheese baked into the top. We always seem to have a supply of these since Peeta found out they were my favorite. I toss one to Twill but cross over and place the other on Bonnie’s lap since her hand-eye coordination seems a little questionable at the moment and I don’t want the thing ending up in the fire.
“Oh,” says Bonnie. “Oh, is this all for me?”
Something inside me twists as I remember another voice. Rue. In the arena. When I gave her the leg of groosling. “Oh, I’ve never had a whole leg to myself before.” The disbelief of the chronically hungry.
“Yeah, eat up,” I say. Bonnie holds the bun as if she can’t quite believe it’s real and then sinks her teeth into it again and again, unable to stop. “It’s better if you chew it.” She nods, trying to slow down, but I know how hard it is when you’re that hollow. “I think your tea’s done.” I scoot the tin can from the ashes. Twill finds two tin cups in her pack and I dip out the tea, setting it on the floor to cool. They huddle together, eating, blowing on their tea, and taking tiny, scalding sips as I build up the fire. I wait until they are sucking the grease from their fingers to ask, “So, what’s your story?” And they tell me.
Ever since the Hunger Games, the discontent in District 8 had been growing. It was always there, of course, to some degree. But what differed was that talk was no longer sufficient, and the idea of taking action went from a wish to a reality. The textile factories that service Panem are loud with machinery, and the din also allowed word to pass safely, a pair of lips close to an ear, words unnoticed, unchecked. Twill taught at school, Bonnie was one of her pupils, and when the final bell had rung, both of them spent a four-hour shift at the factory that specialized in the Peacekeeper uniforms. It took months for Bonnie, who worked in the chilly inspection dock, to secure the two uniforms, a boot here, a pair of pants there. They were intended for Twill and her husband because it was understood that, once the uprising began, it would be crucial to get word of it out beyond District 8 if it were to spread and be successful.
The day Peeta and I came through and made our Victory Tour appearance was actually a rehearsal of sorts. People in the crowd positioned themselves according to their teams, next to the buildings they would target when the rebellion broke out. That was the plan: to take over the centers of power in the city like the Justice Building, the Peacekeepers’ Headquarters, and the Communication Center in the square. And at other locations in the district: the railroad, the granary, the power station, and the armory.
The night of my engagement, the night Peeta fell to his knees and proclaimed his undying love for me in front of the cameras in the Capitol, was the night the uprising began. It was an ideal cover. Our Victory Tour interview with Caesar Flickerman was mandatory viewing. It gave the people of District 8 a reason to be out on the streets after dark, gathering either in the square or in various community centers around the city to watch. Ordinarily such activity would have been too suspicious. Instead everyone was in place by the appointed hour, eight o’clock, when the masks went on and all hell broke loose.
Taken by surprise and overwhelmed by sheer numbers, the Peacekeepers were initially overcome by the crowds. The Communication Center, the granary, and the power station were all secured. As the Peacekeepers fell, weapons were appropriated for the rebels. There was hope that this had not been an act of madness, that in some way, if they could get the word out to other districts, an actual overthrow of the government in the Capitol might be possible.
But then the ax fell. Peacekeepers began to arrive by the thousands. Hovercraft bombed the rebel strongholds into ashes. In the utter chaos that followed, it was all people could do to make it back to their homes alive. It took less than forty-eight hours to subdue the city. Then, for a week, there was a lockdown. No food, no coal, everyone forbidden to leave their homes. The only time the television showed anything but static was when the suspected instigators were hanged in the square. Then one night, as the whole district was on the brink of starvation, came the order to return to business as usual.
That meant school for Twill and Bonnie. A street made impassable by the bombs caused them to be late for their factory shift, so they were still a hundred yards away when it exploded, killing everyone inside — including Twill’s husband and Bonnie’s entire family.
“Someone must have told the Capitol that the idea for the uprising had started there,” Twill tells me faintly.
The two fled back to Twill’s, where the Peacekeeper suits were still waiting. They scraped together what provisions they could, stealing freely from neighbors they now knew to be dead, and made it to the railroad station. In a warehouse near the tracks, they changed into the Peacekeeper outfits and, disguised, were able to make it onto a boxcar full of fabric on a train headed to District 6. They fled the train at a fuel stop along the way and traveled on foot. Concealed by woods, but using the tracks for guidance, they made it to the outskirts of District 12 two days ago, where they were forced to stop when Bonnie twisted her ankle.
“I understand why you’re running, but what do you expect to find in District Thirteen?” I ask.
Bonnie and Twill exchange a nervous glance. “We’re not sure exactly,” Twill says.
“It’s nothing but rubble,” I say. “We’ve all seen the footage.”
“That’s just it. They’ve been using the same footage for as long as anyone in District Eight can remember,” says Twill.
“Really?” I try to think back, to call up the images of 13 I’ve seen on television.
“You know how they always show the Justice Building?” Twill continues. I nod. I’ve seen it a thousand times. “If you look very carefully, you’ll see it. Up in the far right-hand corner.”
“See what?” I ask.
Twill holds out her cracker with the bird again. “A mockingjay. Just a glimpse of it as it flies by. The same one every time.”
“Back home, we think they keep reusing the old footage because the Capitol can’t show what’s really there now,” says Bonnie.
I give a grunt of disbelief. “You’re going to District Thirteen based on that? A shot of a bird? You think you’re going to find some new city with people strolling around in it? And that’s just fine with the Capitol?”
“No,” Twill says earnestly. “We think the people moved underground when everything on the surface was destroyed. We think they’ve managed to survive. And we think the Capitol leaves them alone because, before the Dark Days, District Thirteen’s principal industry was nuclear development.”
“They were graphite miners,” I say. But then I hesitate, because that’s information I got from the Capitol.
“They had a few small mines, yes. But not enough to justify a population of that size. That, I guess, is the only thing we know for sure,” says Twill.
My heart’s beating too quickly. What if they’re right? Could it be true? Could there be somewhere to run besides the wilderness? Somewhere safe? If a community exists in District 13, would it be better to go there, where I might be able to accomplish something, instead of waiting here for my death? But then … if there are people in District 13, with powerful weapons …
“Why haven’t they helped us?” I say angrily. “If it’s true, why do they leave us to live like this? With the hunger and the killings and the Games?” And suddenly I hate this imaginary underground city of District 13 and those who sit by, watching us die. They’re no better than the Capitol.
“We don’t know,” Bonnie whispers. “Right now, we’re just holding on to the hope that they exist.”
That snaps me to my senses. These are delusions. District 13 doesn’t exist because the Capitol would never let it exist. They’re probably mistaken about the footage. Mockingjays are about as rare as rocks. And about as tough. If they could survive the initial bombing of 13, they’re probably doing better than ever now.
Bonnie has no home. Her family is dead. Returning to District 8 or assimilating into another district would be impossible. Of course the idea of an independent, thriving District 13 draws her. I can’t bring myself to tell her she’s chasing a dream as insubstantial as a wisp of smoke. Perhaps she and Twill can carve out a life somehow in the woods. I doubt it, but they’re so pitiful I have to try to help.
First I give them all the food in my pack, grain and dried beans mostly, but there’s enough to hold them for a while if they’re careful. Then I take Twill out in the woods and try to explain the basics of hunting. She’s got a weapon that if necessary can convert solar energy into deadly rays of power, so that could last indefinitely. When she manages to kill her first squirrel, the poor thing is mostly a charred mess because it took a direct hit to the body. But I show her how to skin and clean it. With some practice, she’ll figure it out. I cut a new crutch for Bonnie. Back at the house, I peel off an extra layer of socks for the girl, telling her to stuff them in the toes of her boots to walk, then wear them on her feet at night. Finally I teach them how to build a proper fire.
They beg me for details of the situation in District 12 and I tell them about life under Thread. I can see they think this is important information that they’ll be bringing to those who run District 13, and I play along so as not to destroy their hopes. But when the light signals late afternoon, I’m out of time to humor them.
“I have to go now,” I say.
They pour out thanks and embrace me.
Tears spill from Bonnie’s eyes. “I can’t believe we actually got to meet you. You’re practically all anyone’s talked about since—”
“I know. I know. Since I pulled out those berries,” I say tiredly.
I hardly notice the walk home even though a wet snow begins to fall. My mind is spinning with new information about the uprising in District 8 and the unlikely but tantalizing possibility of District 13.
Listening to Bonnie and Twill confirmed one thing: President Snow has been playing me for a fool. All the kisses and endearments in the world couldn’t have derailed the momentum building up in District 8. Yes, my holding out the berries had been the spark, but I had no way to control the fire. He must have known that. So why visit my home, why order me to persuade the crowd of my love for Peeta?
It was obviously a ploy to distract me and keep me from doing anything else inflammatory in the districts. And to entertain the people in the Capitol, of course. I suppose the wedding is just a necessary extension of that.
I’m nearing the fence when a mockingjay lights on a branch and trills at me. At the sight of it I realize I never got a full explanation of the bird on the cracker and what it signifies.
“It means we’re on your side.” That’s what Bonnie said. I have people on my side? What side? Am I unwittingly the face of the hoped-for rebellion? Has the mockingjay on my pin become a symbol of resistance? If so, my side’s not doing too well. You only have to look at what happened in 8 to know that.
I stash my weapons in the hollow log nearest my old home in the Seam and head for the fence. I’m crouched on one knee, preparing to enter the Meadow, but I’m still so preoccupied with the day’s events that it takes a sudden screech of an owl to bring me to my senses.
In the fading light, the chain links look as innocuous as usual. But what makes me jerk back my hand is the sound, like the buzz of a tree full of tracker jacker nests, indicating the fence is alive with electricity.