Chapter 22 – Day 16 – 3 Tributes
My eyes open but they want to close again. I've gotten no sleep practically. My soreness hasn't gone away and I'm thirsty.
I sit up and drink what's left of my water. The water is warm and tastes metallic from the aluminum the bottle is made of. I put the bottle back in its place in my book bag even though I know I won't use it again. Today is the day I will die. I have no capability of killing Billee. He's too close to my heart and even if he tried to kill me without a second thought, I would sit there defenselessly and let it happen. But then that would take an emotional toll on him, and I don't want that to happen either.
I also have no chance against Portia, so I might as well die now.
I wonder how I'll kill myself.
I have my throwing knives, but I don't think I can stab myself. It leaves too much room for error. I might stab myself and create a near fatal wound. I need to know that I'll die.
I stand up and begin to walk, contemplating my other options for death while birds squawk and chirp in the branches above me. The trees begin to thicken and the ground starts to become more uneven with each of my steps. This landscape is familiar to me, but I don't know what from. But then, as I walk through a clearing in the trees I realize how I remember it all.
In front of me is an immense pile of charred wood, bricks, and cloth.
It's the Career house from a few days back.
I walk up to what's left of the house and touch a piece of the black wood cautiously, as if it's still hot. But it's cold and wet with morning dew. However, my fingertips still catch ash and soot on them. I wipe off what I can of the black dust on my pants but it doesn't go away. A constant reminder of my past and present.
Then, I realize I know the way back to Billee's ditch.
I keep a fast pace, easily recognizing the path we took to get to the house in the first place. Then, I see the bush that concealed the front entry.
I push it to the right, letting its leaves brush at my hand. I peer inside and Billee's jacket is lying on the ground. He's out hunting.
I wait for a moment, still looking at his rumpled jacket while I hold the bush to the side. Then I try to think about my purpose of being here. I'm supposed to be killing myself. I should be forgetting about Billee, Instead, I went right to him. I let the bush swing back and I turn on my heel, ready to leave. Then I consider the fact that Billee might have rope.
I rush into the ditch and look around Billee's supplies, knocking cans over and pushing bags aside. Then, I find it: a pile of about twenty feet of rope. I shove it in my book bag and zip it halfway, leaving the other half open so the rope can hang out a little since it doesn't fit. I walk back towards the Career house in search of thicker trees with thicker branches. When I find a good one, I cut the rope down to about 12 feet so my feet don't reach the ground. I tie a noose on the end of the rope, remembering how to from when Annie and I were younger. We used to play with dolls and pretend one of them was in danger by a bunch of villains who were about to hang her. All the other dolls would come to her rescue and one would cut the hanging doll free while the others fought off the villains. I laugh a little at the thought of us being so young and so unafraid. Annie and I were so close. It's a shame I won't ever see her again.
I toss the plain end of the rope over the lowest branch of the tree and climb up to tie it securely. The noose hangs about eight feet from the ground, so I have to find something to stand on while I put my neck head through the loop.
As I search around for a log or something, I think about what I'm about to do. While I have no second thoughts about killing myself, I realize my family will be watching me as I commit suicide. My cousins and aunts and uncles. My grandparents. My mom. My dad (maybe). Annie. They'll all watch as I struggle for air, as I kick and wheeze but slowly stop all movement. They'll see my body swing with my last twitches and movements and slowly stop to hang dead off the branch. They'll watch as a hovercraft lifts my body. They'll cry as my face is flashed across the night sky. They'll receive my limp body and bruised neck in a wooden coffin with the Capitol seal carved on the front. They'll close the door to my bedroom, leaving it the way it was when I left so many days ago. Annie will walk alone to school everyday. My mom will make one less plate of food for every meal. My dad will no longer make two cups of coffee every morning.
I hesitate to continue any further with the thought of these things but I have to. It's what's best for me. And although that may sound selfish, it's a life that's been given to me and me only, and I get to decide what to do with this life, even if it may not be the right decision.
I find a log and return to the noose that dangles in the afternoon sunlight.
I stand shakily on my toes to reach the loop. I rest both my hands inside it and pull it open as much as I will need. The log shifts and rolls forward and back, so I start to work quicker. I take one last deep breath and smell the fresh, crisp air around me. The sun creates a beautiful light green as it dances between the leaves of the trees. I barely put my face past the rope when I hear a canon boom off in the distance. I jump as it breaks my concentration and I slip off the log, causing my head to snap back and fall out of the noose. My hands, which were holding onto the rope, get caught and are squeezed together in the noose that tightens but then slip out quickly and I fall to the ground. I take a moment to digest all that's just happened but then immediately wonder about Billee. Who just died? Was it Billee?
I quit the suicide and make a full dash to Billee's ditch. I get whacked by branches and bushes and vines that are in my way, but I don't care. I need to know that Billee's okay.
But why do I care so much about him? I just established that I have no will to kill him if he's alive and that I can't face Portia if he's dead. But I continue running. I don't stop until I make it back to the ditch, where I find his jacket still lying in the same crumpled mess. Maybe he just hasn't returned yet. I slip inside and decide to wait for him to come back. I wrap myself in one of his extra blankets and wait. I think back to how I was going to commit suicide and the more I think about it the more I realize I was wrong to want to in the first place. I may not want to continue any further but I have to for all those who love me.
How could I be so selfish?
How could I quit when I've gotten so far?
I stand up and pace, biting my nails, anxiously waiting for Billee to return, but he doesn't.
I have no way of knowing who died until midnight when they reveal the faces of the fallen.
He couldn't have died though. I already decided he'd be able to outsmart Portia.
Or maybe he did die.
No he didn't.
Yes he did.
Shut up, Atala, you have no idea what you're talking about.
I sit down again with the blanket and tears begin to stream down my face. I stop myself quickly and drink Billee's extra water and crackers to console myself. I'm denying myself but accepting myself at the same time. I don't want to think he's dead but he might be, and I have no say on who died until tonight. So, I sit patiently. I wait until he returns.
I look at my hair and realize how greasy it is and how I haven't bathed in days.
I go outside and look around for a pond of some sort, and I find one.
I clean out my fingernails first and then scrub my body with them. The water is cold and refreshing at the same time. I rinse the dirt off my skin and pull leaves and filth out of my hair. I let myself dry as the sun begins to set and then return to the ditch once more. There, I comb my hair with my fingers and then tie it in a simple ponytail and letting it rest on my shoulder. Again, I tightly form a blanket around my shoulders and wait.
When the anthem starts, I wake up. I guess I fell asleep while waiting, exhausted from the events of today.
I crawl out of the ditch for the end of the anthem and watch the sky where the Capitol symbol had been. The sky goes blank for a second and I wonder if maybe I had imagined the whole canon thing, but then the words "The Fallen" flash in the sky in a light blue color. Then a face shows up.
I stare at the sky even after his face disappears, hoping to see that they made an error or something, but nothing happens.
I crawl back into the ditch and lie down. The pain doesn't hit me until about thirty minutes later.
I start to cry.
There's nothing to hold me back anymore. No one to make me feel better. I just cry until I can't anymore.
It takes a couple of hours before I sit up again. It's late at night and my eyes and throat hurt. I look to my left side and see Billee's jacket still lying there.
It looks cold just lying there alone.
I strip of my jacket and zip it up, folding it neatly and putting it to the side with the rest of the supplies.
Then, I pick up Billee's and put it on. It's freezing.
I lie down once more and try to fall asleep, but I just toss and turn under the wool blanket. I think about Billee and the past few weeks I've spent with him and how they've all gone to nothing. He's gone now. His story doesn't continue. He doesn't get married and have kids. He doesn't live in the Victor's Village. He's dead, only to be seen by his family in the dark coffin with the Capitol seal.
I turn on my side and fall asleep eventually, but I don't dream.