Gasping for air, I enter a world of darkness. My eyelids are extraordinarily heavy to the point where I'm unsure if I've gone blind. It takes a moment or two just to pry them open. Finally I relax as my heartbeat returns to normal, allowing my breathing to slow as well. Carefully I shift to the side for Peeta's comfort, but he's not there. Nothing is there. Not the bedside table, where the old picture of my parents sits. Not the walls where Peeta's paintings hang. Not even the closet, where my father's old hunting jacket remains. This isn't our room. This isn't even our house.
Panicked, I call out Peeta's name as the room begins to spin. I must still be dreaming, I remind myself. Unfortunately, this time I do not wake.
Sitting on what appears to be a hospital bed, I find myself hooked up to three different tubes, which allow a colorful assortment of drugs to flow into my left arm. The image of this reminds me of my time spent in the Capitol's Hovercraft after winning my first Hunger Games. Trapped in confinement.
Cautiously but hurriedly I extract each of the three tubes from my arm, which triggers a rush of disorientation and wooziness. This is quickly followed by a gut-churning queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, when I notice that the smell of white roses lingers in the air. Snow was here.
"Stop it. Snow is dead. He died after the war ended," I remind myself. "You're dreaming." Without hesitation, I get up, but my legs are pretty shaky. I steady myself and make my way toward the door, a hospital gown flowing past my knees.
As I clutch the handle, I'm left with disappointment. It's locked. No way out.
Finally the room stops spinning, and as I regain my balance, it starts to feel more and more like I'm awake. Fear builds up inside me. My initial response is to scream for Peeta. Maybe he'll hear and wake me. But as I yell, the door opens abruptly. Two men in white coats come in to restrain me, hooking my arm back up to the IVs. As they do so, I scream even louder. I kick and claw and try everything I can to get them to loosen their grasp of me. Struggling to control my erratic movements, they whisper to one another.
"How? …when did she wake up?"
"I don't know. Cameras caught her getting up a couple of minutes ago. I didn't think she wasn't ever going to. The doctor was almost certain she was a lost cause."
As the one on the left hooked my arm back up to the IVs, I could tell that he seemed alarmed by my consciousness. My focus quickly shifts to the other, when I see him pull out a syringe. I struggle even more now. I shake and yell and curse them for not letting me go, fighting to keep my eyes open, but it's no use.
It's not a dream. I awake in the exact same position. All the evidence seems to indicate that this is real, and that I'm somewhere in the Capitol. But why? Where is Peeta? And where are our children?
This time there is a light in the room, so I can now see what was hidden in the darkness before. Not that there is a whole lot. Two cameras sit on the upper wall across the room. Both are focused on me. To my right there is a window, but even from this angle I can see the chinks in the armor that remain outside. The Capitol's way of saying you can try and jump out, but don't expect to get very far. The room is pristine, but otherwise empty. Just me and the Capitol's cameras. Wish I could say I didn't already know the feeling.
Cold metal slides into my hand, and I realize that I'm holding a pair of scissors, which remain concealed beneath my arm and the blanket that lies on top of me. I'm not sure where they came from, but carefully I begin sawing and clipping away at my restraints. Grasping the scissors it's clear that they are old, as the rust and coating of dried dirt scratch against my fingertips. Finally, I free my right arm, and start on the left restraint quickly, before the cameras realize what I'm doing. This time I rip the tubes from my arm, let out a sigh of relief, and let my feet hit the ground with a thud. Focusing my attention on the door, I wait for the men in white coats to burst through again. Only this time, I'll be ready for them.
No one comes. Maybe they aren't paying attention. Or maybe they just don't care at this point. Either way now is my chance to try and find a way out.
I approach the door, making sure I'm quiet this time. Carefully, I reach for the doorknob, when I hear a soft whisper coming from behind me. I can't make out what it says at first, but I pause and look towards the bed. Crouching down I find that the bed is positioned in front of a ventilation shaft. The voice whispers again. This time it's clear what she says.
"Get the cameras."
Quickly I pull the bed forward so I stand high enough to reach the first camera. At first I just snip away at a few wires, but then I smash the rest in a hurry, hoping no one suddenly decides to pay attention to what's happening in my room. I then reposition the bed to reach the second. When I'm finished I move the bed back to its original position, crouch down, and whisper to the vent. "Okay, they're gone."
I can see the vent unhinged and pushed up from below. "Follow me," the voice says.
"Hurry Katniss, before they come back." Alarmed by the thought of the men returning, I crawl under the bed, into the vent and close the cover behind me.
It's so dark I can barely see anything. Shuffling through the vent, all I can do is try to match the mystery girl's pace. Especially since the outline of her shoes is all I can distinguish out of the darkness. I have no idea where we're going or how this person knows my name. All I know is she just helped me escape and she's taking me away from that room. And right now that's all I want.
The tunnels seem endless. There are plenty of twists and turns and drops and inclines. I've already lost track of how far we've crawled. "I really hope you know where you're going," I grumble.
"Almost there," she responds.
We come to a stop, so the girl can unhinge another vent. Patiently I stay put, relieved by a gleam of light shining in, allowing me to see once more. At last the vent falls forward and we get out into what looks like some sort of garbage facility.
Standing up I can see that she's just a young girl. She signals me to follow, while guiding me through the mounds of trash. Most of which are over fifty feet tall.
As we continue through the maze of garbage, I notice that the majority of what I see, I would never bother throwing away. It always astounds me how much goes to waste in the Capitol. Eventually the girl brings me to a spot near an old mattress. It looks as though she has designed a bedroom for herself using what discarded scraps and trinkets she has found down here.
"Do you live down here?" I ask.
"Yeah, about two and a half years now," she answers. "About time you woke up though. You were the only one from your group that I could get to."
My group? I quickly realize who she must be talking about and immediately jump up. "You've seen Peeta? And our children? They're here?" I ask attentively.
"Yeah…Uh, children?" She pauses. She looks familiar, but I can't place her face. "There weren't any children brought in that I know of. Peeta is definitely here though. I'm pretty sure that is how they found you to begin with. They probably tracked him right to you. The rest were just the other soldiers you were with."
"Soldiers?" I hiss.
"Yeah, I didn't recognize many of them. Just you, Peeta, I think your cousin, and then Finnick Odair. The rest were some combination of soldiers from District 13 and the Capitol, I guess."
I freeze. What was this girl talking about? "Is this some kind of joke? Finnick Odair died over twenty years ago. And Peeta and I haven't been back to District 13 since the war ended. Why would we be with soldiers from 13?" The girl stares back at me bewildered, but I continue. "And by my cousin, are you talking about Gale? Why would he be here?"
Her eyes widen, as if she now understands. "You don't remember, do you?"
I finally admit, "I recognize you, but I can't remember from where. What's your name?"
"My name is Bonnie. We met in the woods near District 12. I was on my way to District 13."
I freeze again. Suddenly all of the repressed memories come flowing back. The Hunger Games. The war. District 13. Prim.
"I remember meeting a Bonnie during the war. She was with someone else named…Twill. But you can't be Bonnie. You're not old enough. The real Bonnie would be much older by now. You're practically the same age as when I met her."
Bonnie stares into my eyes for a while, thinking over what I've just said. Then she turns around, rummaging through her discarded treasures. She certainly has collected a lot. Most of which are tools. I remain silent as she digs through wrenches, pliers, hammers and bolts. I even see some jewelry in the mix. She pulls out what appears to be a cracked piece of a mirror, and hands it to me.
When I look into it I see myself, but not how I expect. There are no scars. There are no wrinkles. I look exactly as I did before the Hunger Games. My first thought is that this must be some sort of trick, an illusion, but when I look at Bonnie I know she isn't lying. What has happened? Why am I young again? How can this not be a dream?
Bonnie stares at me wide-eyed, as if she is unsure of how to proceed. Then she begins to slowly speak again. "How much time do you believe has passed since the day that we met? You made it sound as if it's been more than twenty years. Is that right?" I nod, but remain silent. Whatever Bonnie is planning on telling me, I wish she would just do it already. She seems to be taking her time, as if she's hoping to lessen the shock. "What if I told you, that it hasn't been more than three years?"
"I'd probably think you were crazy," I say.
Bonnie smiles. "That's good. I can work with crazy." With each pause she seems to be carefully planning out what she will say next. "What if I told you that the war never ended?" I throw her a look of disbelief. "Alright, what if I told you that you were captured the moment you stepped out on the battlefield, and have been here ever since?" My expression then shifts from slightly skeptical to completely confounded. "What if I told you that every memory you have since you attempted to storm the Capitol has been manufactured using a version of tracker jacker venom?"
I can't believe this. "Stop it," I snap. "There is no more war. Snow is dead. The Hunger Games are over. We rebuilt District 12. I have two kids. Ask Peeta! He can tell you about our children. He'll know what's going on. He must know," I cry.
Bonnie looks caught off guard. She sits silently, processing every word I've just said, planning out how to respond. However, nothing could prepare me for what she asked next. "What are their names?"
Bonnie continues, "You said you have two kids, so what are their names? What do they look like? Tell me everything you can about them. Can you remember their faces?"
At first I'm livid. I can't believe she's even challenging what I've just told her. As if I would make them up. So, I get ready to tell her every last detail when I realize that I can't remember their names. Why can't I remember their names? I then decide to skip to their descriptions, but other than the color of their hair, I draw a complete blank. I try to remember their faces, but I can't. Even the hair I'm not entirely sure about. Why can't I remember them? I sit there frustrated and silent, trying to give this girl proof that I'm not making them up, but I have nothing.
She sits there unsurprised. "Look, I know it might be hard to believe right now, but you've been trapped here for two years. It's not like you would have had time to have kids anyway. Let alone with that Peeta guy. In his condition, I don't think he could be trusted around children. Or you for that matter."
"Wait you've seen him?" I try to ignore most of what Bonnie has just said to me. I can't stand the thought that my children may be gone. The possibility that they never existed is even worse. It's too much. However, if she knows something about where Peeta might be, then I'll start there.
I look at Bonnie, waiting for her to break the silence and tell me where Peeta is. However, it's as if all I can see is pain in her eyes now. "I've seen him. A few more times than I was hoping to actually. He had the cell next to mine and Twill's. We were going to help each other escape, but… well things just didn't go as planned, I guess."
"Well where is he now? Take me to him," I demand.
"Katniss, I can't. Even if I could, I don't think it would be a good idea. He's kept away from the other prisoners. I think it's because they finally finished with him. His mind is so warped now he doesn't even know he's a prisoner anymore." I glare at her. She can tell I'm not backing down. "Look, I tried to help him escape once, but he was caught within an hour. After that they tortured him until he didn't remember me anymore. I was glad to hear he made it out with two others, when District 13 busted in here. I just didn't expect him to wind up back in here, or with you."
Just then I remember. Peeta was here before. This is where he was tortured all those years ago. Remaining silent, I sit down. The dizziness I felt, after waking earlier, has return. This can't be real. Please let this be a dream. I don't know what I'll do if this is real. All I can do is start with the earliest things that I believe are true. Calmly I say to myself, "My name is Katniss Everdeen. I'm from District 12. I volunteered for the 74th annual Hunger Games of which I was crowned victor. I…"
Bonnie stops me. "Well, you seem to be taking this better than I thought you would. I think you just need some time for now. I'm getting tired anyway. I haven't been sleeping for two years like some people." I shoot her a hardened look. "I'm sorry, Katniss. It's been a long day. Tomorrow morning I'll tell you whatever you want to know. It might take some time, but I'll help you piece together what you know with what I know. Right now I just need to get some sleep."
I nod and stare down at the mirror fragment in my hands. Without a word she brings me a torn blanket and some old worn out cushions. I try to get some sleep, but I can't. My mind won't let me. If what she says is true, then my children don't even exist. They were never born. And Peeta. He won't even know about our life together. He won't know about our children. In fact, if Bonnie is right then that means that he never got better. He'll be back to hating me, and wanting me dead. Somehow everything I knew and everything I loved has now been taken from me. I don't know if I'll be able to get it back, but I need to try.
"Good morning! It's time to wake up sleepyhead. It's time for another big, big day!" I jump up, suddenly terrified. I guess I managed to get some sleep after all. Bonnie is strutting around with several plates of half eaten food. She's also apparently possessed by the always chipper spirit of Effie Trinket. Hurriedly she sets a few of the plates in front of me. "Eat up. We've got a lot to accomplish today." My eyes fixate on the scraps left in front of me, if you can even call them scraps. Bonnie managed to find whole biscuits, sausage links, half eaten pastries and toast. It's no wonder she's been able to survive down here, for over two years. If I had access to any of this during the Hunger Games, I never would have needed to worry about sponsors.
I start on my food, gazing around at all the garbage. "So, is this where the whole city's garbage ends up?" I ask.
Bonnie lets out a little giggle. "No this is just the garbage from the Containment building. You wouldn't know it, but we are actually on top of a giant conveyor belt right now. You see that white line on the ceiling?"
I look up and the ceiling must be around two hundred feet high. Sure enough there is a thick white line that stretches across the ceiling and even continues down the walls. "What's it for?" I ask.
"It marks the halfway point. Every month the city comes by to collect half of the junk that's in this place. That whole wall over there is actually a giant mechanical door. When it opens, the conveyor belt rotates and all the garbage falls off the edge there into a collector. That's why I need to keep track of my days. Whenever collection day comes, I need to make sure all of my things are moved as far back towards the other wall as possible. Then over the course of the next month I wait for new garbage to fall down from those five shoots on the ceiling over there."
I'm actually impressed by how Bonnie has found a way to stay alive down here without being noticed. Her cleverness reminds me of Foxface in a way. She hides right under her enemy's nose and survives off their excess, so they don't even realize she's been sneaking around in the first place. It's no wonder she's been able to hide here all of this time.
As I finish eating, I can tell my stomach isn't used to it. According to Bonnie all my nutrients were being pumped into me through those tubes. It's surprising my body remembers how to digest food at all.
Bonnie, on the other hand, has been ready to go all morning. She has a pack that she was able to patch up with the tools and extra fabric she's found in the mounds of junk. All morning she has been gathering and double checking her supplies. I'm not sure where she plans on taking me today, but she's certainly making sure we're prepared.
In addition to her collection of tools, Bonnie has also managed to gather a substantial amount of clothing. It's a relief to finally get rid of the hospital gown. Surprisingly there is nothing particularly worn out. One thing that does attract my attention is an old brown jacket. It was the first thing to catch my eye, since it reminded me of the one my father once wore.
Without delay, Bonnie pulls out an old communicator that she was able to fix. Over breakfast she explained it to me. Someone had apparently thrown it away, but Bonnie and her collection of gadgets were able to fix it. She was also able to rig it to listen in on other frequencies. However, when she first got it working, there were several signals from peacekeepers attempting to contact a Lieutenant Cooper. It didn't sound like they were ever able to find him, so it was assumed to be his communicator. Bonnie then named it Cooper as her own private joke.
"Okay Katniss, I was going to take you to a few areas that might either trigger some memories or help us figure out what is going on here. However, Cooper overheard some interesting conversations today, so we have a change of plans." I try to interject, but Bonnie just rambles on. "Anyway, according to the conversations Cooper's been eavesdropping on, the guards finally realized that you went missing, and they are tearing this place apart looking for you. Don't worry though. They're way too stupid to figure out where you went. However, there is some good news. One of the members of your group was just relocated to an area I can actually get to. More bad news there, I'm afraid. Prisoners relocated to that sector usually end up executed. So let's get ready, we've got a search and rescue mission today."
"What are you talking about?! Are you crazy? We can't go back up there, while everyone is looking for us." While I appreciate Bonnie's optimism, I couldn't stand the thought of going back. Ending up in that room again is not an option.
Bonnie just smirks at me. "Now is the best time," she argues. "All the peacekeepers are so busy looking for you that they aren't paying attention to the prisoners they're supposed to be guarding. It's perfect! First we'll save my friend. Then we can go save yours."
"Wait, who else are we saving?" It's bad enough Bonnie wants to risk doing one rescue mission. Now she wants to do two. This is all happening way too fast. Who else could she possibly want to save? Then it hits me. "You want to go and save Twill too?"
Bonnie freezes for a second. "No um… we don't need to worry about Twill. This is someone else. You'd like her. She kind of had that annoying Capitol attitude about her at first, but I think all the confinement has put things in perspective for her. I couldn't do it before because I needed a second person. Please Katniss, I made a promise that I would look out for her. I really need your help on this one."
I don't know if it was my imaginary maternal instincts or if I just knew how she felt. But I agreed, and the next thing I knew I was back in the pitch-black ventilation systems, with no idea where we were going.
Bonnie says that we need to go up a few floors for her friend and that later we will need to go all the way to the bottom to get to mine. I just wish I knew who mine was. Secretly I wish for Peeta or one of our children. However, at this point I think I'm just avoiding reality. But who's to say that they aren't a part of what's real? Bonnie? Not even a full twenty-four hours ago they were a part of my reality. I had a life away from war and destruction, yet somehow I've been brought back into it. Of all that the Capitol has put me through, this may be the worst punishment they've come up with yet.
Continuing through the vents, Bonnie mentions that the building goes several floors below ground. That's where the vast majority of the prisoners are kept contained. The only prisoners kept above ground are those who are from the Capitol. They include those who were caught speaking out against the war, those who were caught fleeing, and those who were caught conspiring or working with people from the Districts.
I ask Bonnie what her friend was brought in for, but Bonnie seems somewhat unclear on the details. One minute the girl was with all her friends and coworkers, and the next they had all vanished. They had fled to the Districts and ended up fighting against the Capitol. Even though the girl wasn't completely sure how it happened, I suppose the Capitol decided that she was guilty by association.
As we continue onward in the vents, it feels as though we're zigzagging through darkness. I keep questioning Bonnie on how she is so certain that she was leading us in the right direction. I still don't know how she does it. It's too dark to keep track of where you are going with any sort of map. Bonnie must have it all memorized. Every turn, every drop and climb has been stored safely inside her head. What's even more impressive is how she's been able to do it all by touch, without ever actually needing to see where she's going. I suppose Bonnie has had more than enough time to practice though.
I started wondering how Bonnie was able to even meet this friend of hers. Bonnie is from District 8. She must have been kept below ground with all of the others from the Districts. Fortunately, Bonnie explains it all on the way.
A week after she had found Cooper, she overheard a discussion between some of the guards. They spoke of a prisoner that they had been torturing for weeks. She apparently had no information of any use to them. When one guard mentioned execution, the other said that it wasn't an option. The prisoner needed to be kept alive.
"That's when I knew, and I began searching for her," Bonnie whispers. "When a prisoner is of no further value, they are killed. No questions asked. This prisoner knew nothing, and yet they were keeping her alive anyway. I figured she had to be important, otherwise why is she still here?"
"Did you find out why she was so important?" I ask. Bonnie never got the full story. Most of the specifics were left out, but after Bonnie found her, the girl told Bonnie that she is alive for the exact same reason she is a prisoner. "Whoever this girl's friends were, they must have been pretty important," I say.
We finally arrive at a tunnel filled with streaks of light, which shine from the rooms below, through the grating in the vents. This time the ventilation shaft stretches above a walkway between the prisoners' cells. As we crawl through, I look down through the grating to see the dimly lit prison cells that lie below. The first few I look into are empty. But as we progress, I distinguish a few bodies here and there. Most of the prisoners look dead. Some of them probably are. I have a hard time believing that these people come from the Capitol. If someone were to ask me to discern the prisoners below me from the people born in the Districts, I don't think I could do it. When you take away the fancy clothing and the makeup, and then drain away the brilliant colors and dyes, you see the same people underneath, who have been kept hidden all along.
We've stopped. Bonnie points to a cell down below. I see what appears to be a person curled up into a ball. That must be her. Her hands are placed over her head, blocking out the screams and cries of neighboring cells. Bonnie repositions herself so she's on the opposite side of the grating facing me.
"This is where things get tricky, Katniss," Bonnie sighs. "It's why I needed a second person helping me. A few yards away are where the peacekeepers usually wait. It'll be hard to see them from here. In a few moments I'm going to unhinge the vent and check if the coast is clear. Then one of us will need to jump down, swipe a keycard and open the cell, all while the other waits up here to pull everybody up."
Bonnie rummages through her pack and then pulls out a white keycard. Already I don't like where this is going. With all the time I've spent lying in a hospital bed, not eating, I've become as light as a feather. I'm going to be the one going down there, and judging by the look on Bonnie's face, she knows it too.
The vent is unhinged. Thankfully, Bonnie is an old pro at this so she was able to do it with very little sound. She pokes her head down for a few short seconds, and pulls herself up. The coast is clear, but we don't know for how long. We must be quick about this. There are two visible cameras that rotate so I must time it perfectly. I focus on the timing between the two to gauge how big of a window I have. I should have about twenty seconds. I take a couple of deep breaths and three…two…one.
I drop down, almost falling over backwards, but I quickly recover. I pull out the keycard, swipe it and open the door. Bonnie's friend is still clumped into a ball on the floor. I bend over to help pick the girl up, when I see her face. I could barely recognize her at first. The curls have fallen straight, and the dyes have faded. Her clothes are tattered and washed out. All of the makeup has been washed away and replaced with a few scratches and a layer of dirt. She looks up at me with tears in her eyes and smiles.
The person I have come to rescue is Effie Trinket.
End of Chapter 1
M. Cooper Jinks