The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games 1) - Page 55

"For what? Nothing's going on here," he says. "Besides I like watching you sleep. You don't scowl. Improves your looks a lot."

This, of course, brings on a scowl that makes him grin. That's when I notice how dry his lips are. I test his cheek. Hot as a coal stove. He claims he's been drinking, but the containers still feel full to me. I give him more fever pills and stand over him while he drinks first one, then a second quart of water. Then I tend to his minor wounds, the burns, the stings, which are showing improvement. I steel myself and unwrap the leg.

My heart drops into my stomach. It's worse, much worse. There's no more pus in evidence, but the swelling has increased and the tight shiny skin is inflamed. Then I see the red streaks starting to crawl up his leg. Blood poisoning. Unchecked, it will kill him for sure. My chewed-up leaves and ointment won't make a dent in it. We'll need strong anti-infection drugs from the Capitol. I can't imagine the cost of such potent medicine. If Haymitch pooled every donation from every sponsor, would he have enough? I doubt it. Gifts go up in price the longer the Games continue. What buys a full meal on day one buys a cracker on day twelve. And the kind of medicine Peeta needs would have been at a premium from the beginning.

"Well, there's more swelling, but the pus is gone," I say in an unsteady voice.

"I know what blood poisoning is, Katniss," says Peeta. "Even if my mother isn't a healer."

"You're just going to have to outlast the others, Peeta. They'll cure it back at the Capitol when we win," I say.

"Yes, that's a good plan," he says. But I feel this is mostly for my benefit.

"You have to eat. Keep your strength up. I'm going to make you soup," I say.

"Don't light a fire," he says. "It's not worth it."

"We'll see," I say. As I take the pot down to the stream, I'm struck by how brutally hot it is. I swear the Gamemakers are progressively ratcheting up the temperature in the daytime and sending it plummeting at night. The heat of the sun-baked stones by the stream gives me an idea though. Maybe I won't need to light a fire.

I settle down on a big flat rock halfway between the stream and the cave. After purifying half a pot of water, I place it in direct sunlight and add several egg-size hot stones to the water. I'm the first to admit I'm not much of a cook. But since soup mainly involves tossing everything in a pot and waiting, it's one of my better dishes. I mince groosling until it's practically mush and mash some of Rue's roots. Fortunately, they've both been roasted already so they mostly need to be heated up. Already, between the sunlight and the rocks, the water's warm. I put in the meat and roots, swap in fresh rocks, and go find something green to spice it up a little. Before long, I discover a tuft of chives growing at the base of some rocks. Perfect. I chop them very fine and add them to the pot, switch out the rocks again, put on the lid, and let the whole thing stew.

I've seen very few signs of game around, but I don't feel comfortable leaving Peeta alone while I hunt, so I rig half a dozen snares and hope I get lucky. I wonder about the other tributes, how they're managing now that their main source of food has been blown up. At least three of them, Cato, Clove, and Foxface, had been relying on it. Probably not Thresh though. I've got a feeling he must share some of Rue's knowledge on how to feed yourself from the earth. Are they fighting each other? Looking for us? Maybe one of them has located us and is just waiting for the right moment to attack. The idea sends me back to the cave.

Peeta's stretched out on top of the sleeping bag in the shade of the rocks. Although he brightens a bit when I come in, it's clear he feels miserable. I put cool cloths on his head, but they warm up almost as soon as they touch his skin.

"Do you want anything?" I ask.

"No," he says. "Thank you. Wait, yes. Tell me a story."

"A story? What about?" I say. I'm not much for storytelling. It's kind of like singing. But once in a while, Prim wheedles one out of me.

"Something happy. Tell me about the happiest day you can remember," says Peeta.

Something between a sigh and a huff of exasperation leaves my mouth. A happy story? This will require a lot more effort than the soup. I rack my brains for good memories. Most of them involve Gale and me out hunting and somehow I don't think these will play well with either Peeta or the audience. That leaves Prim.

"Did I ever tell you about how I got Prim's goat?" I ask. Peeta shakes his head, and looks at me expectantly. So I begin. But carefully. Because my words are going out all over Panem. And while people have no doubt put two and two together that I hunt illegally, I don't want to hurt Gale or Greasy Sae or the butcher or even the Peacekeepers back home who are my customers by publicly announcing they'd breaking the law, too.

Here's the real story of how I got the money for Prim's goat, Lady. It was a Friday evening, the day before Prim's tenth birthday in late May. As soon as school ended, Gale and I hit the woods, because I wanted to get enough to trade for a present for Prim. Maybe some new cloth for a dress or a hairbrush. Our snares had done well enough and the woods were flush with greens, but this was really no more than our average Friday-night haul. I was disappointed as we headed back, even though Gale said we'd be sure to do better tomorrow. We were resting a moment by a stream when we saw him. A young buck, probably a yearling by his size. His antlers were just growing in, still small and coated in velvet. Poised to run but unsure of us, unfamiliar with humans. Beautiful.

Less beautiful perhaps when the two arrows caught him, one in the neck, the other in the chest. Gale and I had shot at the same time. The buck tried to run but stumbled, and Gale's knife slit his throat before he knew what had happened. Momentarily, I'd felt a pang at killing something so fresh and innocent. And then my stomach rumbled at the thought of all that fresh and innocent meat.

A deer! Gale and I have only brought down three in all. The first one, a doe that had injured her leg somehow, almost didn't count. But we knew from that experience not to go dragging the carcass into the Hob. It had caused chaos with people bidding on parts and actually trying to hack off pieces themselves. Greasy Sae had intervened and sent us with our deer to the butcher, but not before it'd been badly damaged, hunks of meat taken, the hide riddled with holes. Although everybody paid up fairly, it had lowered the value of the kill.

This time, we waited until dark fell and slipped under a hole in the fence close to the butcher. Even though we were known hunters, it wouldn't have been good to go carrying a 150-pound deer through the streets of District 12 in daylight like we were rubbing it in the officials' faces.

Tags: Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Science Fiction
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