The Point of View of Tazmin Ranger
The girl who is about to cut my head off with a pocket knife is none other than Jack Aspen!
I keep still with my lips clenched together, although it's not like I have a choice right now. To my relief the girl pockets her knife. She starts to drag me away from the District, deeper and deeper into the forest. After a minute I am already further in than I have ever been before. No one back in the District would hear me if I were to scream out now. Finally she drags me to the ground and releases her hold on my mouth, instead focusing on tying my arms around a tree. I try to resist and break free, to escape as fast as can be, but she is too strong and soon I'm tied to a tree.
I'm bursting with questions, but I keep my mouth shut, scared that Jack will pull out her knife again. I am therefore relieved when, rather than leaving me in the forest to be eaten by wild animals, Jack strikes up a conversation.
"So buddy, do you know who I am?"
"Yeah you're Jack; you were in the Hunger Games. But I thought you died!"
"And that's the problem we now have you see, because no one is meant to know I escaped, and you now clearly do."
"Don't worry I'm your biggest fan. I was supporting you in the Games. I won't tell anyone I swear!"
"But you can't prove that can you?"
"No, but trust me. I'll go with you if you want! Why did you even come back to District 7 anyway, and how?"
"There was this train that was easy to hang onto the back of. I had no idea where it was going so when I recognized District 7 I jumped off. I need to get some food and change out of this Hunger Games jumpsuit, it's a dead giveaway."
"But you can't just walk back into town, everyone will recognize you. How about you untie me and I'll go get you some clothes and food."
I can tell Jack is thinking about it. She does need supplies, but what if I report her to the Peacekeepers and return with them? It's a risk, but what choice does she have?
Back in town, first I head over to my house. I grab two backpacks, some knives and food from the kitchen, a drink bottle and an arm full of clothes and blankets. I then grab all the money out of my draw, and head out the door.
"Where you going Taz?" mum asks.
"Just going to go stay the night at Cad's place."
"When were you going to tell me this? I worry about you walking through town after dark. Here take this flashlight."
"Thanks," I say pocketing the flashlight. "But mum, I'm almost sixteen now, I'm old enough to leave home if I wanted."
"OK, just be careful."
In town there are still a few stalls open. I manage to find some hunting traps and women's clothes. The stall holders look at me suspiciously. Usually my parents would buy stuff like this, not me. I hope this dress isn't too small on Jack. She is pretty tall.
Twenty minutes later Jack is waiting impatiently where I left her. As soon as I give her the clothes she gets changed stripping down to her underwear and discarding the jumpsuit. She then makes a pile from all of her stuff including her backpack, knife and food and covers it in leaves.
"What are you leaving all that stuff behind for? Some of it will be useful."
"I'm not keeping anything from the Games. I bet they have micro trackers in everything they give us. It would be so easy for them to do. Plus look at all the stuff you've got. There's easily enough for two people there."
"I'm coming with you," I say.
"No you won't, you will just slow me down and scare away the hunts."
"Do you want this stuff or not. You can only have it if I can come with you."
"Why the hell would you want to leave your easy life in District 7 to go on the run in the bush with me?"
"I don't even know what your name is!" Jack continues.
And then the first tree explodes loudly emitting a massive fireball which causes the neighboring trees to catch fire.
The Point of View of Jack Aspen
I turn to the boy. He is in shock. His eyes are wide with horror and all of the blood has drained out of his face. Obviously he hadn't realized just how dangerous it is to know me right now.
I grab a backpack out of his hands and run in the opposite direction to the explosion. There is a second blast behind me, but I don't even look back.
The boy is following me! Why doesn't he just run away? He might be able to save himself! More likely he would be tortured for information, knowing the Capitol though.
Boom! A tree up ahead explodes. Quickly I change course, wading through the thick undergrowth. Sticks scratch my face but still the boy follows. A tree up ahead is on fire. Some hot sticky substance attaches itself to my shoe as I run past. It is starting to burn through so I stop and kick it off against a maple tree. The whole forest behind us is now ablaze and the air is hot and smoky.
Without wasting any time I divert my course back towards the railway track. It's my only hope of escape. I just know that soon these whole woods will be teeming with armed Peacekeepers from the District.
I keep pushing my way through the undergrowth, snapping twigs and avoiding tree roots. Far behind us there is still the odd blast, but I don't think they are following us. But where is it?
Finally, after what must have been ten minutes of clambering through the woods I can see a clearing up ahead. This must be it. Indeed, as we approach slowly I can see the thick metal railway line snaking past, clearing its way through the forest. I dare not leave the cover of the trees, but I can't just stop moving altogether. I continue at a reduced pace following the tracks whilst remaining under the cover of the trees. The boy is still with me, following on behind like a shadow.
Several hours later we are still walking through the bush. All the while I am keeping an eye on the railway tracks. And then I see it, like a mirage on the horizon. It's a big black metal monster pounding towards us. I drag the boy, to the edge of the clearing, where we crouch down out of sight.
"Keep still so the driver doesn't see us," I say. "Once the front of the train starts to go around the corner I am going to start running so that I can grab onto the back of it."
"I'm coming with you!"
"No, you won't be able to. Just go home, live your life, be free!"
What am I talking about? There is no freedom back in the District for him.
The front of the train has turned the corner and is now out of sight. I make a run towards the train and follow along next to it. It isn't one of the bullet trains used to transport people from District to District, but instead there are a long line of large metal boxes containing who knows what. Even so, with this backpack on, I can't sprint fast enough to keep up. It doesn't matter. I manage to grab a hold of some metal rail and it drags me off my feet jerking me forward. I hang on as tightly as I can as my body swings around threatening to become entrapped beneath the wheels of the train. However this becomes less of an issue when the train reaches a bend in the track, causing a centripetal force which pushes my legs out away from the train so that I am hanging from my arms. I continue to grip onto the bar for dear life.
Thankfully a few seconds later the track straightens out and I am able to clamber up onto the front of one of the carriages. From here I climb up to a more stable position on the top of a large metal container. To my surprise I am not the only one on top of this flat red carriage. The boy must have followed me and somehow got up first. Have I been underestimating him?
I have to admit I am glad to have some company for this ride. The train chugs along steadily weaving through an endless path that cuts its way through the thick forest. It is a mystery to me, who keeps the path so clear. District 7 is soon left far behind and so are the fires and explosions. We seem to have lost them for now.
My attention drifts to the environment that surrounds us. It is just amazing how much beautiful free land there is away from the Districts. If only the Capitol would let people live here rather than fencing us into slave camps. Everyone would be so much better off living free of oppression; free to hunt for their own food and do whatever they want.
Slowly the trees give way to flat grassy plains extending forever in all directions. A few minutes later an ugly fence grows larger on the horizon. It is unmistakably another District. Taz and I lay as flat as we can on the top of the carriage. Even so I cannot help but take a glimpse at the District, which appears to be similar to District 7. All I can see are the dreary outsides of factories, churning out who knows what. The train stops and I can hear people talking but I can't make out much of what they are saying. It would seem there is going to be an exchange. Somewhere up ahead one of the containers is pried open and a bunch of people are unloading something. I keep my breathing shallow, hoping upon hope that they can't see us up here. I don't want to have to run for it again!
It is a great relief when half an hour later the train starts to noisily build up speed again. It seems to be jumping all over the tracks and smoke surrounds us making me cough. The train continues through the grassy plains. At some point we will have to get off. We are several hours from District 7 by now already, and I don't really know where the train will be going next. At school they never taught us anything about the geography of Panem. Instead they made all the Primary school children into encyclopedias of wood cutting and paper making. For all I know the next stop could be the final District. This thought nags at me.
"We will jump off before the next stop," I shout at Taz, above the roar of the engine.
He just nods in affirmation.
I keep an eye out in front of us for the next District, fully aware that it could be hours away. It could even be days away for all I know. I take to scanning the surroundings for spots to jump off. The ground around the tracks is uniformly stony. At this speed we definitely won't be landing neatly on our feet, but that is the price of freedom around here. We would be in a much worse predicament if we tried to escape while the train was stationary.
I am vaguely aware that once we get off we are going to have to live off the land by ourselves. There must be some source of water on these grassy plains, but I can't see it. At least there are some wildlife, large birds and some small four legged animals that I have never learned the names of.
After what must be an hour Taz taps me on the shoulder and points ahead. I squint into the distance and can see it too. Ahead of us there is another fence looming. It must be another District!
Quickly I crawl to the front of the carriage and lower myself over the edge by my hands. Taz follows suit and soon we are holding hands on the edge of the carriage silently daring each other to jump. There is one more corner coming up which will be our last chance. I look Taz in the eye and can tell he is going to go for it. I grit my teeth and just do it. As the train turns the corner we both let go of the rail and jump together out as far away from the tracks as we can.
It's really hard to tell how fast you are actually going when you are on a train.
I am completely surprised when I hit the ground at how hard it hits me back, destroying my legs instantly and spreading my face across dozens of meters of long grass. I tumble around like a rag doll just consciously trying to avoid hitting my head. Finally I come to rest. I lay there still biting my lip. My whole body is screaming out in pain and there are grass cuts all up my face and along my back.
I want to try to stand. To jump up and walk it off, but I wait until the train is out of sight. My whole body is screaming out with pain. It's one of those moments when you just grit your teeth and feel the pain, willing it to go away. Strangely I kind of like these moments, it makes me feel alive. I soak up the feeling, smiling at what it represents: Freedom.
A warm hand is extended in front of my face. I grab hold of it firmly and Taz pulls me to my feet. I look him in the eye and he smiles at me. We have escaped the system! We continue to hold hands as we wade through the long grass, leaving behind the train tracks and embracing our future. At this point I realize one of my knees is busted meaning that I have to limp forward relying on Taz for support. I know however that everything is OK, it will heal with time. This injury is but a small price to pay for freedom!
Over the coming weeks Taz and I survive off of the fruits from wild trees. At first we have a curious look at the District. We had never really known how the other Districts live. There is a towering barbed wire fence that stretches forever enclosing farms and orchards. We see workers enclosed inside like slaves, however they do not see us.
The fence is not enough to stop the spread of nature. Wild fruit trees have multiplied far beyond the perimeter fence. We eat apricots, plums and blackberries pocketing the pits. Taz uproots several small pear trees and carries them over his shoulder. We can't stay here. To obtain freedom we are going to have to leave behind the comforts of District life all together and become independent.
After walking out into the wilderness for several hours we have completely left the District behind along with any signs of its fruit trees and farms. Instead we come to a forest. The wood is lovely, dark and deep, and we set up camp in a pine tree near a stream.
~Three years later~
Taz and I have been living together for what seems like forever. I haven't seen another human being for years and never want to again. We now have a house in the trees, where we live in harmony with nature. Taz is no longer an average lay about fifteen year old, but instead a strong, fully grown man. In hindsight, it is disgusting what the Capitol does to the Districts. People would be much more happy living in small communities and being able to keep what they earn.
Speaking of earning, Taz has just returned from his hunt. He climbs up the tree and jumps up onto the deck with two squirrels strung over one of his muscular shoulders and a hand crafted bow over the other. I would usually join him on a hunt, in fact I taught him how to do it, but for the last few months I haven't been able to.
"How are you love?" Taz asks, as he does every day running his hand over my stomach.
"I'm fine," I reply as always, wrapping my arms around him.
We sit down on a soft pile of dry moss embracing each other. We don't have much in the way of material things, but at least we have each other's undivided attention. The baby will only strengthen the bond between us even further.
All of a sudden there are voices. Human voices. Taz and I look at each other in horror. We had all but convinced ourselves that this day would never come.
I lift up a woven mat and glance down through the branches that make up the floor of our home. On the ground below there are two Peacekeepers standing in front of a line of around ten men. The men look to be prisoners, all dressed in orange overalls, with their ankles chained together in a line.
"What do we do?" I ask Tazmin, in a whisper.
I don't want to run, climb or jump, it could hurt the baby. But if we stay here, we are certain to be found. Already the Peacekeepers are pointing their guns up at our house. One of them is on the phone. This is not good!
"Come down now or I shoot them all," commands one of the Peacekeepers, brandishing his gun at the prisoners.
I look to Taz. He shakes his head.
"Stay still. They're bluffing. They haven't seen us," he whispers.
This may be the case, but it turns out they weren't bluffing about shooting the prisoners. One of the Peacekeepers lines them up and lets fire with his automatic weapon killing them one at a time. The prisons are soon all lying on the ground dead, and the Peacemaker reloads his gun. He then takes aim at our house showering it in bullets.
At this point we don't need to communicate we both know what to do. Tazmin pulls me to my feet and we run along the corridor into the kitchen and out the other side. Here we hold onto a vine and swing over to the bedrooms. By now the Peacekeepers have seen us and are following at ground level. There is nowhere for us to go except up.
I climb first and Taz climbs behind me. If they try to shoot, they won't be able to get the baby. The tree is high, but unfortunately the Peacekeepers can also climb. As soon as they are off the ground we start climbing from tree to tree. However, they see what we are doing. One of them climbs back down and follows on foot, shooting at us. We climb even higher, so that we are now swaying around on the thin branches at the top of the tree. We aren't quite the light little kids we used to be.
Suddenly out of nowhere a hovercraft materializes. A hatch opens and we are frozen. A force field then pulls us through the air and inside the machine. Inside, Taz and I are separated by powerful arms and I am locked inside a dark cubicle. I can't see or hear anything, and there is barely room to move.
They keep me in here for hours. I try to kick the lid open, but it is locked down. I give up and find myself drifting off to sleep. It is almost like the air is sleeping gas. Or maybe I have used up all the oxygen and I am slowly dying of asphyxiation. Either way there is nothing I can do about it; I have failed my baby.
I wake in a hospital bed. My whole body is stiff. I can hear the nurse talking. I keep my eyes closed and listen in.
"OK, so we are going to remove some of the baggy skin around her abdomen, the rest of her body is OK, but we will see what we can do with her face."
Baggy skin? I slowly slide my hand down to my stomach. It's gone! The baby is gone! I can't resist it, I scream and thrash about. Who would do such a thing?
Nurses come running. A dozen of them pin me down and one of them places a mask over my face. Immediately I start to feel drowsy again as the hard chemicals hit my system.