Night falls, and we settle into a little shelter I build out of greenwood, in the shadow of a grove of trees. The night broadcast starts, and we find out that the cannon that woke me up earlier was for Clovis Wilbore, from District Ten. Maysilee spent a little time in training with him, and remembers that he kept sheep.
"He could hit a rabbit with a slingshot, or at least he said so. I guess they had to -- the sheep could break their legs in rabbit holes. Horses, too. So Clovis and his brothers had to be able to use slingshots."
I hope the slingshots were approved, or Clovis's brothers will find themselves in trouble, but it's too late to think about that. I guess if he said it in the training center, they already knew, anyway.
"What do you think happened?" I ask.
"At a guess? The Careers found him. Or a mutt. Or he ate something poison, or smelled a flower, or fell in a stream."
"Well, that narrows it down."
She sighs as the anthem winds down. "He was a decent guy. He didn't deserve to die."
"And what? Was Gilla asking for it?"
"No!" Maysilee jabs her hand into her pack, uselessly rearranging it. "No one does. Not even the Careers. This is wrong."
"I guess they should just call it all off, then," I say. "Now that we've had a revelation like that. I'm sure it'll make a difference to everyone. Not that anyone will ever hear you say it. Even if they had the cameras on us, I promise, they're off watching Filigree wash her hair by now."
"You heard me."
"Yeah, that's a real win. I'm sure Panem is shaking in its shoes to think a miner's kid knows right from wrong."
Something hits me in the shoulder. I turn around to find Maysilee glaring at me, her hand full of pebbles for an extended strike. "Why are you like that?"
"You always think things can't be done. And you always put yourself down. I wish you wouldn't do that."
Maysilee's sermons aren't going to be heard by anyone in the audience, but the Gamemakers are hearing them, and this conversation is likely to lead to another volcano, possibly erupting in the middle of our shelter. I decide to derail this. "Yeah, that's what everyone says. Haymitch Abernathy -- modest to a fault."
She rolls her eyes. "You know what I mean, Haymitch."
"Just being realistic."
"No, you're not. You're just being a grump."
"What?" she asks.
"Nothing. Just… Digger says the same thing to me. She asked me if there's a special word for it."
"A word for it?"
"You know -- a philosophy. I told her about existentialism once. She thinks it's funny to have words for how to think."
She considers this. "Well, I guess it could be Fatalism."
"You read philosophy?"
"Sometimes." She sits back, relaxing her hand and dropping the pebbles. "I don't think it's anything so high-falutin', though. I think it's just Grump-ism."
"Oh, yeah. Known in some circles as Abernathism. A belief system predicated on the idea that the proper response to everything is that it's impossible, and all the world deserves is a big eye-roll."
"A wise and practical philosophy," I say. "As opposed to Donnerism, which is based on the idea that guys who tie their shoes together with packing string can change the world by snapping their fingers."
She lets me steer the conversation into a bizarre extrapolation of the higher principles of Abernathism versus Donnerism, and it actually goes on for more than an hour. We smooth out some dirt and write a few of the general ideas with sticks. I use this to remind her (via the Paranoia Principle, a core tenet of Abernathism) that everything we're saying is being watched and will come back on us or people we care about. I don't say it in so many words, of course, since it's true -- I just joke about how no good deed or word goes unpunished. I think she gets it, because, while she creates the rainbow and leprechaun philosophy of Donnerism, she does not make any further statements about the Games or the government.
For all I know, this is on television, for the late night live broadcast. It will depend on what other people are doing. If no one else is having a conversation or hunting someone or dying, Maysilee and I have created a first -- a philosophical conversation (however absurd) aired during the Games. I certainly haven't seen one.
If we are on television, the audience has to be scratching its collective head at this nonsense. Digger might actually be laughing. I imagine her sitting there in the common room at the Community Home, only lit up by the light from the television, trying not to laugh because she's watching me in the arena and I could die any minute, but laughing anyway, because I'm doing my fancy classes while I'm here. I like to think of her laughing.
I touch my bracelet. It's still in pretty good shape. I wonder what she makes of this alliance with Maysilee. She said she trusts me. I mean to make sure she's right to trust me. But this all must look pretty intense to her, and I guess if they're interviewing people who don't know us, they're probably saying things that don't sound very good.
We lose the moonlight after a while, and it's too dark to keep trying to write in the dirt. There's only a faint starlight to go by. The Gamemakers have also apparently gotten control of the weather back, because it's getting cold again. Maysilee and I wrap up in our blankets and rest against our backpacks, close enough to each other to share a little bit of heat.
I take the first watch, since I slept until noon. She drops off easily, her blowgun held loosely in one hand, in case she needs to defend us suddenly.
I take as good a look at her as I can in this light. She hasn't taken many injuries -- certainly, she hasn't tangled with the squirrels, since she's not missing any chunks of flesh -- but she's covered with scratches and dirt. Her long blond hair is tangled and full of leaves. It looks like she tried to tie it back with a piece of cloth torn from her pant leg, but it hasn't done much to keep it neat. I wonder why they didn't do something more practical with it, maybe even cut it, before sending her in here. It's not like they gave us brushes and combs in the backpacks.
I guess either Drake or one of the stylists just saw that pretty spill of golden hair and figured that's how she ought to look on television, without thinking about just what a few days in the arena would do to it.
She hasn't taken on the emaciated look we so often see in tributes. I guess I haven't, either. It's only been five days, and we've both been pretty lucky with food.
I stay up as long as I can, watching over her until the world seems glassy and I am starting to nod off. I wake her to keep her watch, and go to sleep.
I dream that I'm on Calypso's island with Maysilee. Her hair is untangled and loose and golden in the sun, shining against the wine-dark sea. I wake up glad that the cameras haven't figured out a way to get inside my head yet.
Maysilee has gotten some breakfast out of the packs, and caught some rain that fell while I was asleep. It wiped out what we wrote last night, which all seems kind of silly in retrospect.
"Where should we head today?" she asks while we eat.
"Just keep going deeper in the woods."
"Just… let's keep going. See what's there." I try to give her a look to remind her about people listening, but she's not looking in my direction. I shake my head. "Do you have a better idea?"
"No. I guess not. Come on. Let's go."
We don't talk much while we walk. I'm starting to wonder if I'm glad of the company after all -- I didn't have to explain my actions to anyone while I was alone. And I can't very well argue that she doesn’t have a right to know where we're going. She's here with me and matching me step for step. She's on my side. I just can't actually answer her without a lot of other people knowing, and I don't have any special interest in telling them. The worst part is that I can't even explain to her why I'm not explaining, and I'm starting to get irritated that she doesn't just know. It's easier to talk to people when you don't actually have to say anything.
The sun is high when we hear a high-pitched scream. There's no way to tell how far away it is, because we're going through an area with a lot of exposed rock face, and the sound is echoing. We stop. A cannon goes off.
Forty people are dead. We've reached the final eight. In other years, this is where they'd be sending the reporters back to the districts to stay with the families for the rest of the Games, but this year, they may have started that at the final sixteen. Either way, District Twelve will be on screen tonight.
The cannon is followed by laughter.
Maysilee comes up beside me and whispers, "I can't tell where they are."
I nod. "We should get up out of here, in case they're close."
We scramble up to the top of the rocks and into softer, pine-coated ground above. The laughter comes again. It's from somewhere behind us. I have no doubt that it's Filigree. There's another scream, and the cannon blows again.
Maysilee and I look at each other. I expect we're both thinking of the pair of little kids we left food for.
She closes her eyes tightly, then takes a deep, shaky breath. "Come on," she says, and turns. This time, she leads us further into the woods.
Early in the evening, we come out of the woods into a meadow, a smaller version of the one where the Cornucopia sat. This is obviously not accidental. There is a fountain at the center, shaped like the Cornucopia, with water pouring down out of its curved tail, catching in a bird bath at the bottom. Butterflies flutter around it.
"Those things sting," I tell Maysilee.
"Great. Do you think that water is safe?"
"It might be. The Cornucopia food is safe." I shake my head. "But we get enough water when it rains. Let's not chance it."
"Yeah, that's what I was thinking." She wrinkles her nose. "It sure is pretty, though. It's a shame whoever built this one is a Gamemaker instead of a gardener. I bet he could make wonderful gardens for people in the Capitol."
"Maybe it could be a second career," I suggest. "Want to camp down?"
She nods. We head a little way into the woods for cover, but keep the little fountain in sight.
This is the third night now, and we have a rhythm. I set about making a shelter, which I finish just in time for the evening rain, and she goes out with our water bottles. She takes her blowgun and darts with her, and I grab her blanket to set up sleeping spaces.
It's been a while since either of us has seen a mutt (other than the butterflies, which seem to be leaving us alone), and I guess neither of us is really thinking about them. Maysilee is sealing up the water bottles and I'm trying to think of something to do for the night when the little black and white bird hops up and lights on Maysilee's open backpack.
"Shoo," she tells it, waving her hand in its direction.
It dips its head into her pack and grabs a strip of beef. We have a lot, but not enough to feed the birds, unless we're not planning on living very long.
"I said, 'shoo,'" she says, and gives the backpack a little kick.
The bird loses its balance and hops off, but quickly gains its feet. It stubbornly returns to the bag and grabs another bit of food.
She grabs the bag and pulls it over, knocking the bird off. She zips it.
The bird bounces from foot to foot and makes a sound somewhere between a crow and a jay. It doesn't leave. It hops forward and pecks Maysilee in the hand, hard enough to draw blood.
I realize that it's too bold.
She grabs her blowgun.
I think of the squirrels. I manage to say, "Hey, Maysilee, I don't think you should --"
Then she blows a dart into the bird. It falls backward with a shrieking caw, and then the trees around the meadow seem to burst open. Birds boil out of them, responding to the death shriek of the first one.
There is no time to do anything other than try and protect ourselves. We grab our blankets and put them over our heads and run for the rudimentary shelter I've built. My pack is inside, and we huddle around it. The shelter collapses. The greenwood pops up and kills a few of the birds -- or at least stuns them -- but the loose branches and large leaves fall down on top of us.
The world becomes the whirring of wings, the high calls of the birds. My hand is pecked at. Maysilee yells as one gets her knee. She grabs it and wrings its neck, which does no good in the middle of this, but I kind of envy her having the wherewithal to do it.
"No!" I hear her yell, and as she does, the pressure of the birds on us lifts, and I hear them fly away.
Maysilee runs out of the shelter. She throws down her blanket. "My bag!"
I look up. I can see the birds trailing away into the sunset. They must be pretty strong, because they have carried away Maysilee's backpack, and everything in it.
This was apparently the goal, because the attack is over. There are about six bird bodies on the ground, and the whole area is dusted with feathers.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
"Other than having nothing to eat for however long I have left, I'm fine."
"You got your darts?"
She nods. "They were in my pocket. Glad you already had my blanket out."
"Then we're fine. I have enough food for us."
"We don't know how long we'll be here."
"There are only seven of us left," I point out. "It can't be long."
"And one or the other of us will die, anyway?"
I don't answer this. Obviously, it's true. I go into the meadow to check the trees for the mutt-ways that let the birds in. I climb one of the ones they flew out of, and it takes me a while to find them. These are better hidden, but I do finally start spotting them -- they look like little knotholes, but when I stick my finger in, they have no back. There are too many to close, and if I knocked down the trees, it would be a big signal to all the remaining tributes that we're here. I guess I have to leave them alone.
I spit in one, for spite, but it's not going to stop a thing.
When I get back to Maysilee, she's sitting on the remaining backpack and trying to pull apart the knots in her hair. A fairly large chunk falls to the ground.
She picks it up and shoves it in her pocket. She's been crying.
"Let's get the shelter set up again," I say.
She nods, and we work on it until it's reasonably secure. We shake the feathers and bird droppings out of our blankets, then wrap up in them for the night. There are several holes pecked in both of them, so neither of us exactly getting the full benefit. Finally, Maysilee suggests that we put the blankets together, hoping they can cover each other's holes, and share them.
"Just to keep warm," she says, then looks up at the sky. "Digger, if you're listening, he's un-stealable. I'm just freezing cold."
"She trusts me. And you," I say, and start rearranging things. We layer the blankets together, and it ends up with only one place where the holes overlap. I sit up close to Maysilee, and we wrap ourselves up together.
She is quiet for a while, then says, "You started to tell me not to shoot."
"Oh. I ran into trouble with some squirrels earlier. The first one called all the others. Just thought of it at the last minute."
"Those little gold ones. They took a few chunks off me. That's what got my earlobe." I turn my head and tap it.
She looks at it. "Well, you'll have to get that fixed up in the Capitol."
"If I end up back in the Capitol, I'm pretty sure I'll have other things to worry about."
"Oh, but earlobes are important."
"Ask your girl," she says, grinning. "They make darn fine nibbling."
"And whose earlobes have you been nibbling?"
"A lady doesn't nibble and tell." She grins.
I laugh. "Fine. I'll make it up. Let's see, who shall it be…?"
"Eli Cartwright," she says quickly. "He was my boyfriend for months last year. Now, please don't make anything else up."
We hear the strains of the anthem and reluctantly unwrap ourselves. The two faces in the sky are, in fact, the little ones from the "fodder brigade" -- Arav and Kitty. I try to stop myself from thinking we wasted the food we left for them, but I'm not quite fast enough. Instead, I just hate myself for it a little bit.
We go back to the shelter and curl up under our combined blanket again. I put my arm over her shoulder, and she snuggles up beside me, and when she turns, I half think she's going to kiss me, and I'm preparing some way to remind her that I can't do that.
Instead, she says, "Tell me about your girl."
"Tell me about Digger. I don't know her very well. She seems nice. And if she has to see you curled up under a blanket with me, you should at least be talking about her. I mean, this can't look good."
I consider it, and decide it probably is the best way to deal with the situation. I'm most likely not going to get back to District Twelve -- if it comes down to Maysilee and me, I know what's expected of a boy in that situation -- and I don't want Digger's last thought of me to be that I was cheating on her two weeks after our toasting. "What do you want to know?" I ask.
"Whatever you want to tell me. How'd you meet her?"
"She lived down the street from me on the Seam," I say. I have to be careful about this, because some of how we met isn't anyone's business, even Maysilee's. No one needs to know that Digger was trying to hide her father's death, because her mother was already dead and she didn't want to go to the community home. No one needs to know that her baby brother starved to death because she was nine years old and didn't know how to take care of him. I think about it, then say, "It was right after my dad died. She knew Mom was in mourning and wasn't at work. Her little brother was sick. He… he didn't make it. Mom helped her out. Took care of everything for her. And she stayed with us for a few weeks. We got to be friends."
"I'm surprised she didn't just keep staying with you."
"You are?" I raise my eyebrows. "Come on, Maysilee. You know how it is. Half the town didn't want me sitting in class with their little princes and princesses. I remember people saying I'd give everyone fleas or whatnot, and start them up drinking. I'd never even had a drink then, but they said it anyway. You don't really think they'd give my family custody of someone else, do you?"
She makes a hissing sound. "That's stupid. It always has been. And no one has fleas."
"Well, I've been bit by a few that came in with squirrels and rats and things," I say. "But Mom would have died of embarrassment if I'd ended up crawling with bugs myself. I think she was embarrassed that anyone would even think it."
"Anyone who said it ought to be embarrassed for being a filthy liar," Maysilee says. She narrows her eyes and glares at the long-past people who tried to kill my academic career, which has never seemed further away than it does right now. She shake she her head sharply. "So, your mom helped her straighten things out?"
"Yeah. And we stayed friends. She'd join us for dinner sometimes" -- I don't mention that this was usually when she'd caught us a rabbit -- "and we just… we were always together. When everyone started dating, it made sense that we would, too." I feel like this doesn't really express everything. It sounds boring when I say it like that. I consider embellishing it, but it occurs to me that reporters may have already talked to Digger about this, and I don't want to say anything that contradicts what she's said. I decide that it's better to stick to the truth. "I fell crazy in love with her," I finish. It sounds half-rehearsed. "She's great."
"Also, very lucky," Maysilee adds.
"What about you?" I ask. "Anyone special, except for the earlobe nibbling?"
She shakes her head. "No. Not really. I guess I always figured someone who show up and sweep me off my feet. I guess that's off the table."
"You still have a chance. If you win, you should find someone."
She glances up at me, then looks away. With only seven tributes left, the fact that only one of us can live through this is starting to seem much larger than it once was.
I keep watch while she sleeps until the middle of the night, then we switch. I dream about the mountain again, and that burning ring that the ash escaped through. The lightning at its edges. Even the sky isn't real.
When I wake up, Maysilee is using my spare knife to hack off her hair just above the line where it's matted. It's uneven and choppy, but it looks better than the matted mess. She shakes it out and finger combs it.
"Hope you don't mind me borrowing it," she says, putting the knife back. "I just couldn't stand that anymore."
"it's fine. You going to bury the hair, or do you want it in the bag?"
"Can't just leave it here."
"Are we going to start the morning bickering?" she asks.
"No. I'm just saying, why leave breadcrumbs?"
"Maybe those birds will take it and make a nest."
This gives me an idea. I take the matted hunk of hair and climb the same tree I climbed yesterday. I shove it down one of the mutt-ways. Let the Gamemakers decide what to do with it.
We start out again. It's harder to talk in the sunlight, and we pass maybe ten words before we stop for lunch. Maysilee asks where we're going again, and I give her food instead of answering.
We start off again when we finish eating, heading deeper into the woods. We must be going uphill, because I'm winded, but it doesn't really seem like it. Maysilee is also tired, and getting more than a little annoyed at me not telling her and the Gamemakers and the viewing audience what we're doing, despite repeated prodding.
Just before sunset, we get to the hedge.