Author: Annwyd PM
"No two nightmares are alike, my little brother tells me." Katniss's daughter learns more from her parents than anyone wanted her to. The first story in the Iris timeline.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Family - Words: 2,282 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 2 - Published: 09-20-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6338849
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
No two nightmares are alike, my little brother tells me. It's one of his pieces of wisdom. He has too many for a ten-year-old. Just like I have too many nightmares for a thirteen-year-old. It's true. None of them are exactly alike.
The other children in my class are told that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. Even they don't get off that easy, though, because on winter days after it's been windy, the snow that falls is tinted grey with old ash. And we've all been told why. How District 12 used to be a coal mining town. How it was bombed to cinders during the Revolution. But the other children, most of them can't visualize what bombs are like.
I can. It's not because my father paints them—he tries to keep those paintings hidden from us, anyway, when he can't help but make them. Hearing the things my mother says in a low voice when she thinks we're not listening would be enough. As if just being the daughter of Katniss Everdeen wouldn't be enough anyway. But my mother has enough to worry about with her own nightmares. No matter how many times I've resented her for being who she is, I can't let it show. So I hide my nightmares. From the first night they start when I am six years old, I react by lying in bed, very still, clinging to the blankets around me. Later, as he gets old enough to understand, Kirraska sometimes figures out when I'm having a bad night and comes in to sit on the edge of my bed. He's good at figuring these things out. My mother isn't, so much. Not so long as my brother and I conspire to hide them from her.
The weather is just growing warm in my thirteenth spring when she finds out.
I'm up very late that night. I can't sleep. The nightmares were particularly bad the night before, so I lie awake now, trying not to think about them. Trying not to remember the images that I shouldn't even know well enough to dream about, since we only saw them in school. But I see them in my mother's face as well. In my father's, too. So I dream about them. Dream about people I've never known dying, wake up with the conviction that it's my fault. I don't want this night to be as bad as the last, so I lie awake until it's too late and sleep finally claims me.
But the next day is one like any other, and I have to be up early for school. So I drag myself out of bed still exhausted and go through the motions. It's a struggle not to doze off in most of my classes, but never in my history class. I'm always wide awake for that one, because I know if I fall asleep during it, the nightmares will be worse than ever. I make it through the school day, somehow, and Kirraska meets me outside the building.
The rest of the kids trickle out around us—it will never be a stream of them, here in District 12, at least not for a long while yet. But there's enough that the two of us are mostly ignored, especially since our classmates are used to us huddling together, separate from the rest.
"Last night was bad," Kirraska says, looking at my face.
I shake my head. "The night before it."
He nods, understanding. "Let's go to the Meadow. We can go home later." I must look too recognizably haunted to brave our parents' domain. I'm thankful to my brother for noticing it, because I wouldn't. I don't look in mirrors a lot.
The Meadow is a good idea. We find the patch of it where our parents planted my namesake. The littlest ones have bloomed fully by now, although it will be almost summer before the larger, most numerous purple ones do. A few of the ones in between have started to bloom. I don't pick any. I want them to grow. For now, I pull my knees up to my chest and try to nap. In the sunshine, it's harder to have nightmares. But the other kids are arriving to play. Kids my age, Kirraska's age, younger and in between. The noise of their games wakes me now and then. Mostly, I ignore it.
Awareness of something creeps uneasily into my mind. I don't like what they are playing. It started out as tag, but now it's something else. No, it's still tag. But they're using the wrong words. If the adults caught them playing tag this way, they'd be punished, but then, that's why they do it. Because it's forbidden. I hug my legs tighter and try to block it out. I'm just tired enough to do it.
But what it brings on is inevitable. The dream. Not the same as any I've had before. Somehow they find a way to never repeat, but still be awful every time. Kirraska and I are standing on a metal plate, like the ones that brought our parents up into the arena. We're huddled close, like we do in real life when he notices that I need him to be there. But closer, this time, so we don't step off the edge of the plate. Bad things happen if we step off the edge of the plate.
In the center of all the plates—each one is crowded with children—is not the Cornucopia we learned about, but the reaping ball. It rolls around and around and spits out a name. A voice booms from nowhere: "Kirraska Mellark."
I wake up, shaking, and Kirraska is talking. "I wasn't even playing," he says. The kids playing tag have gathered at our spot. At the peaceful iris patch.
"Doesn't matter," says their leader. "I tagged you. You're the next tribute. Your turn to get the rest of us!"
The word they're not supposed to use, at least not supposed to play with. I'm hazy with sleep and dreams and I can't process that it's only a game. If it ever was. It's never just a game. I jump up, my cramped legs protesting. "No! I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!"
The girl who tagged Kirraska looks at me. "You can't volunteer," she says. "It goes girl-boy-girl-boy, and it's time for a boy now. You can't take a boy's place."
"I don't care!" I start to say, but she's right, everything I know tells me she's right. My shoulders shake. I try to stifle tears. Kirraska is a tribute and somehow it's all my fault. I dreamed it first. That made it happen. Maybe if I get the others first, he'll be safe. It's against the rules, but my parents did things against the rules, too. I lunge at the girl, who's a year younger than me, and knock her to the ground. Then I start to kick the nearest boy—right in the knee, because if I get him just right there, he'll fall down and be useless. I figure these things out, you know.
"Iris, stop," Kirraska protests, but I'm scratching and biting now. The others try to scatter, but I run to pursue them.
That's when adult arms grab me from behind and lift me so that my legs dangle. I know by the smell who it is, even though it makes no sense that he'd be here in the Meadow instead of back in his house, and I know also that there's no point in struggling; he has me in just the right position so I can't do any damage. I struggle anyway, because this is my little brother at stake. I manage to get in a backwards kick in the stomach, and I don't feel the least bit sorry for hurting an old man.
Haymitch just grunts. "Should've aimed a little higher," he tells me. "Are you done yet?"
"They want to take Kirraska as tribute," I say tearfully, but the nightmare is finally clearing from my eyes, and I start to feel stupid. There are no more tributes. There are no more Hunger Games. Kirraska is safe. As safe as anyone ever can be. I sag in his grip.
"Yeah," he says. "I knew this game would lead to trouble with you two."
"You knew about it?" Kirraska asks from below.
"Hard not to, when I follow you two on bad days," Haymitch says as he puts me down.
"Why didn't you do anything about it?" I demand, spinning around to face him.
"An old man, trying to stop kids from playing," he says. "That'd work out real well. Now are you going to tell your mother about the nightmares this time, or am I going to have to do it?"
"I'll tell my father instead," I say.
"No kidding," Haymitch says. "Sweetheart, he already knows."
Kirraska shuffles his feet guiltily. I glare at him. "I didn't tell him," he says. "But he's talked to me about it. I made him promise not to tell our mother. Not until you'd done it first."
Tears threaten again. I'm not sure if they're angry ones or not. "You always expected me to tell her someday," I say.
"Well, yeah," Kirraska says. "Let's go home, Iris. I'll—" He stops, looking at me. Even so young, he can tell that I don't want his help this time.
"I'll tell her myself," I say, just to make it clear. Still, it's almost dark by the time I trudge into our house and find my father waiting for me.
"Your mother's in the kitchen," he says simply, and then he goes upstairs. The message is clear. I face this by myself.
She's sitting at the table, looking a little puzzled. But mostly, she looks the same as always. Her hair, greying now, in that braid. Her features fierce. I sit down across from her and force myself to look into her grey eyes. She gets that lost yet determined look on her face. Like for a moment, I'm the only thing in the world that matters. Usually, it makes me feel protected. Right now, it makes me feel guilty.
"You have something to tell me," she says.
I mean to work up to it, but I can't. Sometimes I have my father's gift for words, but not right now. Not looking my mother in the eye. "I have your nightmares," I say.
She shakes her head. "You can't," she says. It hasn't sunk in yet. She's in denial. "You never saw those things, Iris. I made sure of it."
I know. I know from things I've heard her say to my father. She would never have had me and my brother if she thought we'd have to experience the things she and my father did. The guilt of it lies heavily on my shoulders. I've betrayed her most basic expectation of me. "I see them when I sleep," I say.
Her hands are clutching at the table. "You can't," she repeats.
What can I tell her? I can't tell her the real reason. I can't tell her that I learned these things for my nightmares by seeing them in her face and hearing them in her screams at night. She has enough guilt already. "I don't think they're over yet," I say instead. "The Games. The Revolution. All those things you went through."
I try to fumble for more words, but she cuts in. "They aren't," she says. There's understanding on her face. Even though I tried not to tell her, she's figured it out. Where I got the nightmares. "So long as I'm alive, they're still going on somewhere."
"I'm sorry," I blurt out. "I'm sorry I—" I'm sorry I what? How do I apologize for being exactly what she didn't need?
Before I can think of the rest of the words, she's up out of her chair and around the table and pulling me up out of my chair. "You're not allowed to apologize," she says, pulling me to her chest.
"I need to," I say, trying not to sob. "I need to. Otherwise I'll have nightmares of hurting you. I'm sorry I hurt you."
"You can't hurt me," she says. Tears staining my face, I look up to meet her eyes again, and I see what hasn't been spoken. It's only the other way around.
I want to protest, but she's holding me too close. I will have new nightmares now, I know. Nightmares of not being able to protect my parents from myself. They won't be like any of the others, because none of the nightmares are the same. But this time, at least this time I can wake my mother and my father up when the nightmares have come and gone, and I can cry for them, because it's too late, and they know.