I stare into the dark eyes of the small girl I held in my arms when she took her last breath of life. Though warm and innocent in life, they are now blank and empty, as dead as her body. I hear the growls and snapping of teeth from the creature her eyes are now attached to. Its large body extends and claws from below at the tree I have found myself trapped on. Shavings of bark fall to the ground as the mutt continuously claws its way towards me. I reach for an arrow but none find my hand. It snaps its teeth once more, sending a wave of panic through me. The scream escapes my mouth, I feel the earth shake and I'm falling...falling...
"Katniss! Katniss, wake up!"
I open my eyes and see a dark figure above me, a soft hand leaving warmth on my arm. I know it's Prim that shook me awake. I instantly reach for her other hand, grasping it in my own. She wipes the damp locks of my hair away from my face shushing my panic away.
"You were screaming," she trembles, tears brimming her eyes.
"I'm fine now, Prim. Just a nightmare." If there's one thing I can't handle, it's to see my little sister cry.
"You don't have to do that," she whispers. She takes in my puzzled expression. "Lie to me," she adds. "I know you're not fine."
She's right, of course. It's been just over a week since I've been back from the Games, but I know I'm far from fine. Even in my sleep the Capitol taunts me with their games, trapping me in nightmares that I'm sure will never leave me.
She sinks into the bed next to me, wrapping me in her arms. I'm reminded of the night before the reaping when we shared a bed, only I'm not the strong one anymore. It seems like a whole lifetime ago that I protected Prim from her nightmares. The worry they must have felt, knowing I could die at any second, never returning home again. I imagined if it had been Prim...No. I'm her sister and I made sure that would never happen to her.
"Thank you, Katniss. I can never thank you enough."
"For what, Little Duck?"
"For coming home to us. I knew you would try, but I thought...I thought...I couldn't live with the guilt..." She's taking deep breaths trying to suppress her tears. I immediately pull her close to me with a gentle touch only she can bring out of me.
I compose myself as my heart rate slows to normal. I can't be broken anymore. I need to be as strong as she's being for me. I sit up.
"I'm here. I made it home. I'd do anything to make sure nothing ever happens to you. I will always protect you." I lift the sheets and climb out of bed before tucking her in after me.
Oh, Prim. The one person I'm certain I love. I brush my fingers through her hair for a few moments before leaning down to give her a brief kiss on the forehead.
"Go back to sleep. I need to go somewhere." She smiles and nods her head. We both know where I'm going.
I turn and descend down the stairs of my new house in the Victor's Village. Though it's not grey and shabby with everlasting coats of coal dust, its new and pristine condition leaves a sour scowl on my face. Everything from its white walls to it's orderly furnished rooms wreaks of the Capitol. Our small house in the Seam still feels like home with its single bedroom and shabby walls. The place that holds the distant memories of my father.
As my feet take me through the Victor Village, I see the early light of dusk approaching. I notice a light on in Peeta's house, from what I assume is the kitchen. He must be baking bread. I let myself wonder if maybe he is haunted with nightmares like I am. Peeta and I haven't talked since that day we came home on the train. I miss him. I pass his house and force my thoughts to pass with and continue through to the Merchant homes.
By the time I reach the Seam, my feet carry me on their own accord through a path I've traveled hundreds of times. In the cold dusk of early morning I see the old, rusted fence. I stop to listen for the quiet hum of electricity but only hear silence. I lower myself to the ground and snake my way under the fence. I drift through the meadow finally feeling a small sense of liberty since the reaping. Here is safe. Here is where I can be myself and not some product of the Capitol.
When I reach the forest, I find the hallow log and take my father's bow and arrows and game bag, slinging them around my shoulder. I make my way up the small hills, comforted with my father's old hunting jacket and the place I feel solitude.
I find a big tree with thick branches and begin my climb. I relax on a branch as high as I deem safe to be and see the forest before me. The sun has begun to rise now, illuminating the sky with soft shades of yellows, pinks and everything in between. The leaves softly rustle in the morning breeze as the forest slowly comes alive with sounds. The morning birds sing all around me, surely some are mockingjays. I whistle Rue's tune and immediately hear it floating in the distance away from me. I wonder what is in the unknown beyond the trees or if it just goes on and on forever.
I stay put until the sun is shining brightly in the sky. The animals are up and roaming about now. I begin climbing lower, ready to bring in some new game for the Hawthornes and maybe take some to the Hob. I'm perched on the lowest branch, bow in my hands, aiming at the squirrel in my line of vision. I shoot and in an instant it falls, arrow straight through the eye. This time the guilt doesn't well up inside of me as it did when I was in the Games. Taking an animal's life for food and a human's life for cruel entertainment are undeniably different.
I jump down with a loud thud and retrieve my arrow, putting the squirrel in my game bag. That's when I hear something unfamiliar from a close distance behind me. The erratic footsteps so unlike any animal I've encountered confuses me. I whip around, braid falling to my side. That's when I see what looks like a very ragged man. His dark skin is pale and sunken to his skull, his face looking gaunt. Blood is oozing down his face from what looks like sores not even my mother can heal. His clothes are torn and dirty like he hasn't bathed for months. He stumbles along aimlessly and slowly. That's when I call out to him.
He looks slightly more alive than before and his pace quickens. I hear a low moan as he approaches closer to me. There's a ripe smell of rotting that he brings with him. He's close enough that I catch his eyes and they look empty and dead. That's when I quickly back away, wondering if this is a worse fate for an outlaw than being an Avox. Without another moment of hesitation, I reach for an arrow and take aim. All sound stops when his body hits the ground.
I take cautious steps forward, keeping my bow high and ready. When I look down at the dead body lying on the ground, I feel no guilt for my actions. This man was already dead before I shot him.