The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games 1) - Page 37

I hear Cinna's voice, carrying images of rich fabric and sparkling gems. "Katniss, the girl who was on fire." What a good laugh the Gamemakers must be having over that one. Perhaps, Cinna's beautiful costumes have even brought on this particular torture for me. I know he couldn't have foreseen this, must be hurting for me because, in fact, I believe he cares about me. But all in all, maybe showing up stark na**d in that chariot would have been safer for me.

The attack is now over. The Gamemakers don't want me dead. Not yet anyway. Everyone knows they could destroy us all within seconds of the opening gong. The real sport of the Hunger Games is watching the tributes kill one another. Every so often, they do kill a tribute just to remind the players they can. But mostly, they manipulate us into confronting one another face-to-face. Which means, if I am no longer being fired at, there is at least one other tribute close at hand.

I would drag myself into a tree and take cover now if I could, but the smoke is still thick enough to kill me. I make myself stand and begin to limp away from the wall of flames that lights up the sky. It does not seem to be pursuing me any longer, except with its stinking black clouds.

Another light, daylight, begins to softly emerge. Swirls of smoke catch the sunbeams. My visibility is poor. I can see maybe fifteen yards in any direction. A tribute could easily be concealed from me here. I should draw my knife as a precaution, but I doubt my ability to hold it for long. The pain in my hands can in no way compete with that in my calf. I hate burns, have always hated them, even a small one gotten from pulling a pan of bread from the oven. It is the worst kind of pain to me, but I have never experienced anything like this.

I'm so weary I don't even notice I'm in the pool until I'm ankle-deep. It's spring-fed, bubbling up out of a crevice in some rocks, and blissfully cool. I plunge my hands into the shallow water and feel instant relief. Isn't that what my mother always says? The first treatment for a burn is cold water? That it draws out the heat? But she means minor burns. Probably she'd recommend it for my hands. But what of my calf? Although I have not yet had the courage to examine it, I'm guessing that it's an injury in a whole different class.

I lie on my stomach at edge of the pool for a while, dangling my hands in the water, examining the little flames on my fingernails that are beginning to chip off. Good. I've had enough fire for a lifetime.

I bathe the blood and ash from my face. I try to recall all I know about burns. They are common injuries in the Seam where we cook and heat our homes with coal. Then there are the mine accidents. A family once brought in an unconscious young man pleading with my mother to help him. The district doctor who's responsible for treating the miners had written him off, told the family to take him home to die. But they wouldn't accept this. He lay on our kitchen table, senseless to the world. I got a glimpse of the wound on his thigh, gaping, charred flesh, burned clear down to the bone, before I ran from the house. I went to the woods and hunted the entire day, haunted by the gruesome leg, memories of my father's death. What's funny was, Prim, who's scared of her own shadow, stayed and helped. My mother says healers are born, not made. They did their best, but the man died, just like the doctor said he would.

My leg is in need of attention, but I still can't look at it. What if it's as bad as the man's and I can see my bone? Then I remember my mother saying that if a burn's severe, the victim might not even feel pain because the nerves would be destroyed. Encouraged by this, I sit up and swing my leg in front of me.

I almost faint at the sight of my calf. The flesh is a brilliant red covered with blisters. I force myself to take deep, slow breaths, feeling quite certain the cameras are on my face. I can't show weakness at this injury. Not if I want help. Pity does not get you aid. Admiration at your refusal to give in does. I cut the remains of the pant leg off at the knee and examine the injury more closely. The burned area is about the size of my hand. None of the skin is blackened. I think it's not too bad to soak. Gingerly I stretch out my leg into the pool, propping the heel of my boot on a rock so the leather doesn't get too sodden, and sigh, because this does offer some relief. I know there are herbs, if I could find them, that would speed the healing, but I can't quite call them to mind. Water and time will probably be all I have to work with.

Should I be moving on? The smoke is slowly clearing but still too heavy to be healthy. If I do continue away from the fire, won't I be walking straight into the weapons of the Careers? Besides, every time I lift my leg from the water, the pain rebounds so intensely I have to slide it back in. My hands are slightly less demanding. They can handle small breaks from the pool. So I slowly put my gear back in order. First I fill my bottle with the pool water, treat it, and when enough time has passed, begin to rehydrate my body. After a time, I force myself to nibble on a cracker, which helps settle my stomach. I roll up my sleeping bag. Except for a few black marks, it's relatively unscathed. My jacket's another matter. Stinking and scorched, at least a foot of the back beyond repair. I cut off the damaged area leaving me with a garment that comes just to the bottom of my ribs. But the hood's intact and it's far better than nothing.

Despite the pain, drowsiness begins to take over. I'd take to a tree and try to rest, except I'd be too easy to spot. Besides, abandoning my pool seems impossible. I neatly arrange my supplies, even settle my pack on my shoulders, but I can't seem to leave. I spot some water plants with edible roots and make a small meal with my last piece of rabbit. Sip water. Watch the sun make its slow arc across the sky. Where would I go anyway that is any safer than here? I lean back on my pack, overcome by drowsiness. If the Careers want me, let them find me, I think before drifting into a stupor. Let them find me.

And find me, they do. It's lucky I'm ready to move on because when I hear the feet, I have less than a minute head start. Evening has begun to fall. The moment I awake, I'm up and running, splashing across the pool, flying into the underbrush. My leg slows me down, but I sense my pursuers are not as speedy as they were before the fire, either. I hear their coughs, their raspy voices calling to one another.

Still, they are closing in, just like a pack of wild dogs, and so I do what I have done my whole life in such circumstances. I pick a high tree and begin to climb. If running hurt, climbing is agonizing because it requires not only exertion but direct contact of my hands on the tree bark. I'm fast, though, and by the time they've reached the base of my trunk, I'm twenty feet up. For a moment, we stop and survey one another. I hope they can't hear the pounding of my heart.

This could be it, I think. What chance do I have against them? All six are there, the five Careers and Peeta, and my only consolation is they're pretty beat-up, too. Even so, look at their weapons. Look at their faces, grinning and snarling at me, a sure kill above them. It seems pretty hopeless. But then something else registers. They're bigger and stronger than I am, no doubt, but they're also heavier. There's a reason it's me and not Gale who ventures up to pluck the highest fruit, or rob the most remote bird nests. I must weigh at least fifty or sixty pounds less than the smallest Career.

Tags: Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Science Fiction
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