For some reason, I wake up with the distinct feeling that something is wrong. Looking myself over, I realise what.
I'm caked in blood.
Yes, that's probably it. That, and the fact that this dress I'm wearing is white. White shows blood rather well, don't you think? Well, something must be wrong here, because there isn't a stain.
Now, where the heck am I? A forest… Forests are illegal… Oh, wait, I know this! Hunger Games… Pink birds… Smiles…
Oh, great. I'm dead, aren't I?
Hold on… Then why aren't I dead? This is literally making no sense to me whatsoever here. In past experience, dead people don't wake up randomly.
I look around and catch Haymitch. I'd be relieved, if he didn't look so terrified. His hand is gripping the handle of some kind of knife, and he's staring at me like I'm some sort of unpredictable wild animal. I raise my left arm to wave, smile to myself at how effortless the movement feels when I seem to distinctly remember it causing more pain than I've ever felt before.
"It's okay." I tell him. "I think… Do you mind explaining what's happening here, exactly?"
"You died." He retorts curtly.
"Oh, thanks." I say bitterly. "What a great answer."
"But you did!" He splutters, clearly just as confused as I am on this matter. "I was there! There was a cannon and everything! And dead people don't just show up in a pretty dress and act like it never happened; they die, Maysilee!"
I tilt my head to one side as my brain processes this information. The scab on my neck doesn't seem to mind this movement in the slightest. "Well, this is very confusing, isn't it?"
"It is." He agrees, taking a slow step towards me. "Hold on, I'm just going to…" He reaches out cautiously with one hand, the other still gripping the knife's handle. The outward reaching hand pokes my shoulder, only I don't feel a thing. "My finger is going right through your arm."
"So it is." I agree. It takes a moment for me to realise that that shouldn't be happening. "Why is that?"
"Because you aren't there." Haymitch decides firmly. "I'm going to go. Don't follow me." And he walks off. Typical Haymitch.
"Well, what am I supposed to do?!" I shout after his retreating form. "If there's some brilliant place dead people are supposed to go, I have yet to find it!"
He ignores me. I know he heard me, and that he's just choosing to pretend he didn't.
Well. Seen as I'm clearly untouchable right now, I think I'll go mooch around the Arena for a while. Go see what I've missed.
I learn via a broadcast from the Gamemakers that there are three tributes left; Haymitch (yay!), Pixie (boo!) and some kid called George. Judging from the drawstring bag, sitting in the Cornucopia waiting for him, he's District 9.
Haymitch shows up to collect his 'gift' first. He pretends he can't see me sitting cross-legged, right next to the giant metal structure that gives this place its name. Though from the way he hurriedly averts his gaze every time it meets mine, I know he can still see me.
He quickly dashes away before either of the other two can catch him, bag in hand. I wonder what in contains. Food, probably. Food, water, maybe some sort of weapon? They'll be readying for the finale, surely.
The next arrival is some boy I don't recognise with mousy brown hair, which has grown a little unkempt over the last… However long it's been… I died on Day 10, so at least ten days now.
He doesn't seem to see me. Just to experiment, I stand and walk round to the metal table on which the remaining two bags sit. Resting my arms on the table, I grin brightly. He doesn't so much as bat an eyelid.
I'm akin to the idea that only Haymitch can see me when George dashes off. The boy from 9 has successfully managed to ignore my singing, dancing and shouting. To the point that I'm honestly doubting my own existence right now.
Pixie shows up last. A snide grin is plastered across her face, unwavering, as she stalks up to the table with that short-handled axe in her hand. Even though she can't touch me, I still feel that wave of fear every time her icy blue eyes wash over me. But she doesn't seem to see me.
Her hand is clasping the drawstring bag, and she's turning to head away from the table. And then, something happens to confuse me even more, if that's even possible.
"Maysilee!" A familiar, very dead, voice says. The table doesn't show the slightest sign of movement as Billy jumps onto it, sitting beside me and grinning. He's wearing white, too, although not a dress; though that would look funny! No, he's instead wearing a pair of white trousers coupled with a white shirt he seems to have forgotten to button up all the way to the top.
"What's going on?" I ask him bluntly.
"We're dead." He says without batting an eyelid.
"I got that much."
"Only we can't do anything about it until the funeral." He continues. "Grandma always said that funerals are what send the soul to the other world, or whatever. Until after the Games, when they have the funerals…"
"We're stuck in limbo." I conclude. He nods grimly. "Well, how come only Haymitch can see me?"
"It must be an alliance thing; only Pixie seems able to see me." He shrugs casually.
We turn back to Pixie, who's standing a little way away with a slightly bewildered expression. "Billy…" She says in that maniacal tone she's adopted. "Who are you talking to?"
"An old friend." The boy from 4 hops off the table. "That's all." He walks off, sending me a bright grin over his shoulder. I refrain from rolling my eyes, smiling back as happily as I can. Not very happily then, I feel.
Once Pixie's gone, I decide to go find George. He can't see me, so I won't be as disruptive as I would be to Haymitch, and he doesn't terrify the wits out of me like Pixie does.
I find him leaning down, licking his thumb and rubbing it across his hand. Over and over, like he's trying to remove some sort of stain which came out long ago.
"Get off." He keeps saying. "Get off, get off, get off!"
I want to ask what he's talking about, if he's okay, but I know any attempt to do so would be futile. All I can do is watch, intrigued but also afraid, as the scene unfolds.
There was one, and I ignored it…
A fluffy golden squirrel dashes down a nearby tree trunk and scampers across the forest floor. It stops beside George, staring up at him inquisitively, and chirps cheerfully.
He doesn't appear to notice at all, engrossed in the task of removing a stain that no longer exists anywhere safe for in his mind.
Same when a second showed up, and a third.
Another two squirrels make their way down from the branches, joining their fellow bringer of death. Still, George doesn't look away from the task at hand. Literally.
These three are quickly joined by many more. They flood to the area from all directions, quiet as mice. It isn't until one lets out another small, soft chirping noise that George finally looks up, and there's something like horror in his expression.
Before I realised I was in danger, there was at least a dozen of them.
He's much quicker than me at working these things out. He can't run, he can't fight. And he accepts his fate quicker than I did, too. He just stands, with his eyes closed, and waits for the squirrels to rip the flesh from his bones. And that they do.
I can't watch. So I run. I'm good at that.
The 'epic finale' comes down to Haymitch and Pixie. Of course, I'm rooting for the former, not just because he's from my District, but because he's a nice guy. He has a little brother, and parents, and a girlfriend to go home to. Besides, if he can't go home to tell Macy I love her, who else will? Wilhelm certainly won't.
I follow the action as quietly as I can, which is actually a lot easier than it used to be. My footsteps are literally silent. Still, Haymitch seems to notice me early on, and I make sure to keep back after that. I can't distract him and have Pixie seize the chances that would arise; I'd never forgive myself. Mind you, if this is the finale, my funeral won't be too far away; never isn't a very long time for me anymore.
It's an even match. Pixie relies mostly on being crazy. There's no emotion in her face as she swings that axe, inflicting injury upon injury on the poor guy. Safe for insanity and, hey, maybe a bit of loneliness. Not that I feel sorry for her, or anything. She killed Betony, and injured Jill's leg, which triggered her death. I feel no sympathy for the monster at all.
It's awful. Utterly awful. I wasn't ever sure Haymitch could inflict such damage, but it's easy to see the tribute who took down both Veronica and Clair. He takes Pixie's right eye out, or there abouts. It's left hanging from the socket by some sort of pink, jelly-like string. If I wasn't dead, I think I'd vomit at the sight of it, I truly do.
And the blood. I never knew there was so much blood in someone's eye socket.
Haymitch is heading towards his cliff. Of course, I know that, having helped him get there in the first place. But Pixie doesn't.
He might get there, too. At least, I think he might, until Haymitch is disarmed by Pixie and her axe. He can't get his knife, which has been sent spiralling into a tree trunk, as that would stick him in a tricky situation which the Career would surely take advantage of.
As it is, she takes advantage of his momentary shock, and, to make it worse, the way she does it is so reminiscent of what she did to Jon on Day 1. She flicks her wrist casually, her eyes dancing with glee, and slits Haymitch's stomach open. Literally.
He runs, holding his insides in for as long as he can. He just reaches the cliff, and that five-year-old-like smile appears on his face as he turns to face her.
Pixie throws the axe, just as Haymitch collapses to the floor. It flies off the edge of the cliff and, for all she knows, is lost forever. She raises her other hand and tries to squish her eye back into its socket, failing miserably. It must hurt so, so much. Not that I feel sorry for her.
Haymitch is lying there, convulsing on the floor. Dying, and with no-one to hold his hand, or hum songs to him.
"Stay with us, Haymitch." I whisper, crossing my fingers for luck. "Please." His eyes lock on mine, just for a moment.
Though that moment is long enough for me to miss it.
The axe hits Mr. Force Field and flies back up, hitting Pixie in the head and killing her instantly. The hovercraft carries her away, and then there's trumpets and music to signal that Haymitch has won.
They have to carry him onto the hovercraft.
I'm sitting in the corner of his hospital room. They've patched him up, fixed his stomach without even so much as a scar to show for it. And he's currently lying exhausted in the hospital bed, ignoring me.
Wilhelm stalks in, pulling a chair into place at his bedside and sitting in it.
"You have your interview later." He states.
"Wilhelm, please," Haymitch manages to sit up groggily. "I don't feel like it."
"That doesn't matter, Curly." Our mentor insists. "What you feel like doing just doesn't matter to anybody anymore."
"What does that mean?" Haymitch asks, and I have to admit, I agree with him.
"Nothing, nothing." He helps Haymitch out of bed and sets to work fixing his hair 'just right'; something I never thought I'd see Wilhelm do. "Now, listen to me, this is important; you can't let anybody know you can see her."
I feel my heart stop momentarily. Or, rather, what I think would've been my heart if I was still alive. I stare at Haymitch, anxious to hear his response to this.
"What makes you think I can?" He asks eventually.
"It's written all over you, Curly," Wilhelm tugs on a lock of his hair and seems to relish in the boy's resulting wince. "I was just the same, and I didn't have someone who'd been there and done that to warn me of the demons."
"Tell him I'll be going after the funeral." I tell Haymitch, walking over and feeling pretty bitter. I forgot how annoying Wilhelm can be. "Billy said so."
He looks a little unsure, but complies. "She's leaving after the funeral, she says."
"Does she now?" Wilhelm laughs, though I don't see how that's funny. "Anika told me a similar story. And you know what, Curly? She never left."
"Don't I get a say in this?" I snap, aware that he can't hear me but knowing I must voice my thoughts nonetheless. "I don't particularly want to haunt Haymitch forevermore. I'd much rather be in the afterlife, eating cake and dancing round fields of flowers. So there." For good measure, I stick my tongue out at him too. Childish, I know, but definitely worth it.
Haymitch blanks me. "How do you cope?"
"Cope?" Wilhelm laughs again. "I don't cope! What do you think the straps on my bed are for, Curly?"
"I assumed it was so you couldn't kill yourself, or attack Delicia, or something." Haymitch admits.
"Kill Delicia?" Wilhelm echoes. "Man, you've got Arena on the brain! Why would I want to do that?"
"True. But I wouldn't want to kill her for it." His face takes on a serious expression. "Listen; I know because I'm on your boat with you, and the other victors will most likely pick it up. But you can't tell anyone else. Not here, not in District 12, nowhere."
"What about my sister?" I ask. I want to see Macy again, want to tell her that I love her, and that it's okay, and that she has to live a super amazing life now to make up for everything I've missed.
Haymitch voices my question, and I think Wilhelm's answer tears that would-be-a-heart-if-I-was-alive place in two. "No-one."
He leaves the room and Haymitch waits until the door's swung shut behind him before turning to face me.
"Is this making any sense to you at all?" He asks.
I smirk and shake my head. "None at all." I fold my arms. "But you, Mr. Abernathy, have an interview to prepare for."
"Don't remind me." He groans.
You could pretend we'd never been in the Games; we're joking and laughing like before them. If we weren't in a pristine hospital room the likes of which no-one sees in 12, if Haymitch wasn't wearing one of their iconic gowns, if Wilhelm's words didn't hang over the room like a heavy fog.
And if you could see me. Because anyone watching wouldn't be able to. All they'd see would be the latest victor of the Hunger Games talking to thin air, laughing at a voice only he can hear. And they'd call him crazy. Maybe he is.
Might seem a little weak after last chapter, but I've been planning an ending like this since the beginning.
And now, it's officially over. I'll put up the first chapter of the sequel next Saturday (UK time, as usual), so keep an eye out for it.
For everyone who celebrates it, merry Christmas! And for those who don't, happy end-of-winter-start-of-spring! :)