At first when the train is late, I don't think anything of it. Cargo trains aren't like Games trains, or even passenger trains. Sometimes, they're just late. I check at the station, of course, but there's no particular news. It's late for District Eleven, too, though it made the outer-district rotation just outside District Ten, and reported in from the Mississippi bridge station on time. District Six speculates a power glitch, since they've been trying to run on less coal since the accident. There's been no communication. They're sending an aid car in from Eleven, just to make sure.
I go to Haymitch's place to tell him. He's started drinking for the day, but he's not terribly far gone. He seems more suspicious of it than the District Six teams. He comes back into town with me to monitor the situation. Since there's nothing to see, he goes to the bakery and orders a cake for Beetee, and some cookies for Finnick. Apparently, the District Twelve bakery is quite popular among the victors.
The first sign that something is seriously wrong comes just after sunset. Haymitch and I are at the mayor's home, and Merle is suddenly called away from the conversation. Haymitch and little Madge are looking at old pictures at another table.
Kay smiles awkwardly. She is drawn and sickly, and looks considerably older than her husband. "Life in politics," she says. "I'm sure it's nothing. Madge, darling, please play the piano for us."
"But Mr. Abernathy was telling me about Aunt Maysilee!"
"Oh, just stories from the Capitol," Haymitch says. "During training. On the train, things like that." He looks between Kay and Madge awkwardly. "She… well, she asked. I didn't think you'd mind."
Kay sighs. "No. No, I don't mind. Why don't you bring the pictures over and tell all of us?"
We're just getting settled when Merle comes back, looking grim.
"What is it?" I ask.
"The emergency car reached them," he says. "Madge, go upstairs."
"I'm sorry, but that's not a request. Go upstairs, honey." Madge storms off and slams the door. Merle waits until he actually hears her thundering up the stairs before he takes a deep breath and says, "They reached what was left of the relief train."
I stand up. "Was there an accident?"
"It looks like an out-district attack."
"Raiders," Haymitch says.
"Raiders," Merle agrees.
"Either that, or someone who wanted us to believe that."
Merle looks around. "This room isn't bugged, but nothing leaves it, do you understand?" We all nod. Merle grimaces. "The tracks were blown, and when the train stopped, they boarded it and killed almost everyone on board. The camera crew… well, their equipment was used to film their executions. The raiders made off with the supplies. One of the District Six techs hid himself in a maintenance compartment and they missed him. They were on horses, of all things. They rode off for the mountains. Then they set off more charges. The tech barely got out before the whole train blew. They're laying down emergency track now, so Peacekeepers can get back and forth."
"Snow's going to war," Haymitch says.
I don't think there's likely to be much of a war with the handful of out-district raiders, though I suspect the group that attacked the train is going to be dealt with harshly.
I stay the night, but all non-essential Capitol personnel in the districts are called home the next day. They actually send a hover craft. Haymitch sees me off at a platform just outside the liaison quarters. He tells me to be careful. He thanks me for trying to help, even though it didn't end up doing anything. He tells me that I'm "something else sometimes," and gives me a hug before the Peacekeepers impatiently direct me to the passenger area. I've never taken a hover craft before -- they're usually used by government officials -- and I'm surprised at how comfortable they are. I talk to the mine supervisor's family most of the way home.
Whatever is happening in the out-districts, we don't hear a lot about it on the news. Now and then, there will be a celebration of a soldier's life, and people are vaguely aware that something is happening, but the mentions on television are, at best, casual. There are a few reminders, obviously directed toward would-be adventurers, that anyone caught outside of the districts or the Capitol without authorization will be shot on sight, and any Capitol or district citizen caught harboring these criminals will be considered a traitor and treated appropriately. I notice that they stop running movies about adventures in the out-districts, and the wild but honorable bands of raiders that might be found there. These romance staples are replaced by action movies about conquering the wilderness.
When the Seventieth reaping approaches, nothing is said about not taking the train as usual, though I notice when I board it that there are many more armed guards than have been there before. I spend much of the trip looking anxiously out the window, wondering who's out there, but I never see anything. Haymitch is drunk when I get in, though not drunk enough not to look ashamed of himself for it.
I call up two Seam children, Olla Makemie and Briar Sturt. Olla has a huge family, and I spend most of the time before we leave trying to get the keyed-up security personnel to let all of her brothers and sisters in to see her. I barely get a glimpse of Briar until we are underway.
Haymitch is plying himself with coffee, and I've given him the start of his medicine, but as usual, it's just me with the tributes for the first hour or so. I try to get to know them. Olla tells me all of her siblings' names, and shows me her token -- a handmade rattle that all of them have had as babies. Haymitch will have to empty the seeds inside it so she doesn't make noise whenever she moves, but I decide to let him tell her that. Briar doesn't have a token. He claims that he's just as glad to not be dying in District Twelve. "At least the Games will be interesting first," he says. "I'm just about bored to death in school."
I suggest that he doesn't say that to Haymitch.
We watch the reapings. The usual run in Districts One and Two. A weeping twelve-year-old in District Three (jokes are duly made that she might be the next Johanna Mason). District Four has a pair of eighteen year old volunteers -- a sweet-looking girl with long, wild brown hair, and a hulking boy who I assume is her boyfriend, as he kisses her when he gets to the stage. I can see Finnick sitting at the rear, clearly annoyed by the display. Johanna has taken over mentoring the girl from District Seven, according to the reports, though Jack is planning to come to the Capitol. District Ten shows some promise. Olla and Briar are somewhat glossed over ("It's been a tragic year for District Twelve… can our brave tributes turn it around?").
I get them changed into decent clothes, and I've started their dinner and manners lesson when Haymitch finally decides that he's sober enough for company. He sits down and gets to know what he can about them. Olla is being stubborn about table manners. I do not understand the refusal to learn to use a fork, but for some reason, a lot of the kids consider it a positive virtue to avoid flatware. Haymitch tells her that she needs to make her momma proud by not giving anyone anything to make fun of, and this seems to work. Briar has already gotten most of it.
"So," Haymitch says, "the first thing I tell everyone, and you need to listen, is stay away from the Cornu --"
The accident happens so fast that it's over before my mind can come up with a reason for the sudden, screeching, twisting stop that throws all of us against the wall. The train is listing to one side. Glasses and dishes are broken on the floor, and Olla has a cut above her cheek.
"Remain calm," someone orders over the speakers.
No one has had a chance to panic yet, but at those words, I realize that we've just crashed, that the train has gone off the tracks at almost two hundred miles an hour, that I have no idea where we are, and that there are hostile forces out here.
Haymitch grabs me and puts his hand over my mouth. "Be quiet," he whispers. "Effie, just be quiet."
I hear gunfire further up the train, and yells from the security personnel. Out one window, I see horses running loose. A blond man with a large knife runs directly by. He's wearing a mish-mash of clothes from different districts. Time seems to flow in strange, disjointed chunks. I can see my teacup from supper, amazingly unbroken, leaning at an angle where the table has tipped up against the wall. It's still steaming. I stare at it.
There's more shooting. I can see a high district fence in the distance. We're out on the plains. It has to be either District Six or District Nine. I don't see the Rotation, so it must be Nine. Grain. I don't know anything else about it. They keep to themselves out here.
"Are they going to rescue us?" Briar whispers.
"I don't know what they're here to do," Haymitch says. "You stay down."
He starts to get up, but the window shatters at the end of the car.
He puts himself between it and the tributes. "Effie," he says calmly, "grab a knife. Grab me one, too." He nods to the table, which is only a few feet away from me.
I can't imagine myself holding a knife. I can't imagine fighting the men who are crawling through the broken window, bloodying their hands. I can't even imagine moving.
Haymitch looks at me. "Effie, you can do it."
I try to reach for the knives on the table, but there's a thunderous boom. A bullet ricochets around the cabin. Somehow, it doesn't hit anyone.
I grab the corner of the tablecloth and pull everything to me with a clatter. Haymitch grabs a knife. I grab another. There is no way I'll be able to use it.
The first man comes through, and a second starts to.
Haymitch stands up, knife raised. "What's your business here? Hold up your hand."
The man starts laughing. More windows start to break, and I see men outside climbing toward them.
"Are you here to rescue us?" Olla asks eagerly. "From the Games?"
"Oh, yeah, honey," he says. "You'll never see the arena. Let's see how they do if half their tributes can't come out and play this year."
"Really?" Olla stands up.
"Get down," Haymitch says, pushing her away from the raider. "I asked what your business is. Who are you?"
"Name's Dust-rider," the man says. "At least these days. It's just possible I once had another name. Maybe it's on a list somewhere. But we'll stick with Dust-rider for now. And you're Haymitch Abernathy. Victor." He sneers this last word. "Capitol pet. Games whore."
Haymitch shifts his knife slightly, getting a better grip. "You want to stay back."
"Maybe I do," Dust-rider says, with faux regret. "But, see, that would ruin the whole point. There aren't going to be any Games this year. No tributes. No Games. And no victors."
"You want to kill me, try it. Take your chances, anyway," Haymitch says. "But let the kids and Effie go. Take the kids with you. I'm sure it's not an easy life, but it's better than the arena."
"That's not in the plan. See, we didn't permanently damage the tracks. They'll get to the Capitol with their mentor. We'll have you all styled up fancy, too." He looks at me, his eyes tracing up my leg, which is mostly bare. My skirt hiked up on me during the crash, and it's way up over the edge of my panties. "This one, we'll take with us, though. Nice offer. We'll all have a nice, long turn with her."
He reaches over and grabs me by the wig.
I am not strong enough to fight him fairly. He has a gun in his hand. He probably outweighs me by fifty pounds, all of it muscle.
I bring my dinner knife down across his wrist.
He lets go and shoves me down. The next man has come through the window.
"Oh, you don't want to do that," he says. "You want to be a lot nicer to me, if you want us to be nice to you."
The man is taller than Haymitch, so I don't see him coming until the knife flashes. Dust-rider slumps to the ground. He's still breathing, but not by much. Haymitch takes his gun and points it at the new intruder. "Effie, get the kids and move down the train."
I grab Olla and Briar and shove them through a door. Haymitch is between us and the dining car.
"Go!" he yells.
I run. I know there's been shooting down here, but I'm still surprised to see dead Peacekeepers, and dead raiders. The kids are panting and panicked. So am I. But I've been on this train. I've watched them load it.
I run for the wardrobe car.
Since they don't know who the tributes will be, they pack wardrobes in many sizes, with a lot of different styles for the tributes to wear as they get ready for the Games. The wardrobe car is a maze of hanging canvas bags. I push the kids to the back of it and zip each of them into a bag. I should put myself into one, but I don't. I raise my knife again and go to the door.
Haymitch is barreling down the corridor. I signal him inside and lock the door, then lead him back toward where the kids are.
"You need to hide," he says. "I should have taught you to fight. I promised to do it, and I didn't. But I won't let them anywhere near you."
I look out into the corridor. No one is coming. I hear fighting further down the train. I look at Haymitch. "Are these… your people?"
He looks at me, and I expect him to deny any knowledge of what I'm asking. I'd like to deny knowledge of it, but I know better in my bones.
He shakes his head. "No. These aren't our people. I don't know who they are. I have to go fight." He gives me the gun. "You're no good for close range, but maybe you can shoot straight, if you're lucky." He rolls his eyes. "Personally, I can't hit the broad side of a barn. I'll stick with what I know."
He goes out into the fight.
I practice aiming.
Fifteen minutes later, a pair of Peacekeepers shoves Haymitch back into the wardrobe car. His ear is bleeding and he's almost unconscious. He passes out completely when he hits the floor.
"Keep him here," one of the Peacekeepers growls. "We're charged with keeping victors in one piece, and half that gang is out to kill him on sight."
I drag him to the back of the car, near where the kids are. From inside his bag, Briar asks if Haymitch is all right. I tell him that everything will be fine.
The battle goes on for hours. Haymitch starts to come up from unconsciousness after a while, and I have to argue with him to keep him here. Olla is crying, and I let her out of her bag. Briar, too. If they get as far as looking in here, Haymitch says, they'll most likely just slash the bags. He goes to the alteration area and finds an iron and a pair of scissors for the kids, and tells them where to aim if it comes to it.
Twice, raiders are shot near the door, but it's as close as they ever get.
The Peacekeepers come for us just past ten, when the fighting is over. The man who gets us is bloodied and angry. He leads us outside. There's a large pyre burning in the darkness. I don't look at it too closely.
We're led past the train, which is lying in a serpentine-looking tangle along the tracks, the cars pulling this way and that where they've zigzagged. There's an obstruction in the track -- a huge, burned-out hunk of metal that I think was once a truck. We must have been slowing down. If we'd hit it at top speed, the train would have buckled in like an accordion.
Beyond it, there is another, smaller train waiting. We're loaded onto it. They serve us another meal, and we start moving again.
None of us eats.
We manage to get the kids into their sleeping cars, and Haymitch doesn't object when I get them something to help them sleep. I take one myself, but it doesn't do anything. I keep feeling the tug at my wig, seeing the way they were looking at me, waiting for their nice, long turns.
I stay up in the observation car at the back of the train. Haymitch stays with me, and he stays armed.
When we get to the Rotation in District Six the next day, we find that four other tribute trains have been attacked. They managed to limp their original trains this far, but we're joined by Districts Four, Ten, Two, and Five. Finnick and Mags were as obviously in the fighting as Haymitch was. Brutus brags about taking out three raiders. The tributes, already frightened, hang to the back with Olla and Briar. The girl from Four, whose name is Annie Cresta, looks dazed.
"Her boyfriend pretty much threw her to the wolves," Finnick says. "He's a real prince. I'm not going to let her be his ally."
"You're mentoring the girl?" I ask.
"It's not written in stone that it's supposed to be the other way." He shrugs. "Mags suggested it. She seems to think I'm more than willing to let the jackass starve in the arena. And she thinks Annie…well, there was something about 're-focusing'."
"Is she a good tribute?"
"I don't know much about her," he says. "She's one of our local do-gooders. She makes nets, and deliberately makes mistakes so she can put them in the charity bin. She's rich," he says, as if I should have immediately guessed it. "Ship captain's daughter. About as well off as you can be in Four without actually living in Victors' Village. She's a little silly about the boyfriend, but she's nice. Too nice for this business, but I'm going to do everything I can. It's not like the world's overflowing with nice people."
Since no one had the heart to finish manners lessons yesterday, we continue with lunch. There isn't much fight in the kids, and Olla's hands keep shaking when she touches a knife. But we manage to keep them calm. I notice that Finnick is a bigger stickler on this than his escort is. He doesn't even say it's about sponsors. He tells them that they owe it to themselves to give their best presentation.
We are quite late pulling into the Capitol, but Caesar meets the train. The Games, for the first time in their history, have been postponed for a day, ostensibly to honor the heroic Peacekeepers who died defending the trains, but, as Haymitch finds it necessary to point out, probably to give the stylists and prep teams time, so they won't have another lackluster parade.
It's strange staying in the apartment before the parade, giving the tributes a chance to see their costumes and be properly fitted, even sleeping in before they have to start prep. We don't turn on the television. It's not even something that Haymitch and I need to talk about. They will be talking about the attack. None of us wants to think about it.
I do catch some of it while I'm out speaking to sponsors. It was a coordinated attack, much more organized than we usually associate with the raiders. We were all hit a good way from our districts, so we couldn't call for help. Some leaders have been identified as criminals who escaped to the out-districts years ago. They claim it's retaliation for the war since the raid on the supply train. President Snow promises to execute anyone found to have been involved.
When I get back to the Training Center, the kids are well into prep, and Haymitch is having a low, urgent-looking conversation with Chaff, which stops as soon as I come up. We talk about nothing much -- certainly not about what happened on the train -- until the tributes come down from the Remake Center, and we get them ready for their debut. Therinus is back in a literal frame of mind. He has the kids in miners' uniforms. Olla is supposed to carry a live canary. They are both wearing black armbands to commemorate the accident. I'm about to praise Therinus for this touch when I hear him demanding that those ugly things be removed, since they break the line of the arm. I manage to convince him that pretty much everyone in District Twelve is wearing something to remind them of the tragedy, so it's "authentic." He's appeased by this. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Olla realizes that she lost her token in the attack. Haymitch's promise to get her a new token doesn't make a difference in her level of panic, so he goes to the apartment, phones Merle, and gets a picture sent over the wire. He gives it to Olla, who tucks it inside her coveralls.
I don't know what I expect. I feel like things shouldn't be normal, not after a Games train was derailed, and criminals threatened to send corpses to the Capitol. I don't know how it can be normal, when I can still feel their eyes on me.
But it's normal.
The parade introduces the tributes with no mention of why it's a day late. Kids get their fans, the fan clubs separate into factions. They train. They make alliances. The only obvious difference is that our trip together put together districts who don't normally interact, and Briar is actually quite friendly with the District Two kids, who for whatever reason dislike the District Four kids, leaving the usual inner district alliance short two tributes. I guess they convince the District One kids, because they put in a formal request for Briar as an ally. Olla sticks with the kids from Ten and Four. The District Five girl stays with them. The boy is a loner.
There aren't any wild favorites this year. Scores are middling, with a high of ten (District Nine's female tribute). The interviews are forgettable. I tell Olla to talk about her brothers and sisters, but she gets choked up and decides to change the subject before she cries. The boy from District Two announces that he fought in what he calls "The Battle of the Trains," and took down two raiders himself. (Judging by the girl's eye roll, this may not be entirely true.) Annie Cresta talks about sailing, and how nice her mentor is. Johanna's tribute, a girl named Ingrid, tries to stumble through making fun of Johanna's "strategy" -- it's clearly what she was expected to do -- but is too nervous to pull it off.
Games coverage during the lead-up days avoids the battle fully enough to be almost surreal. When it is brought up, it's in the manner of something that happened years ago, like the fall of the Green Tower, or the first Games. I try to talk about it with Haymitch, but he's distracted. Once the interviews are over and real coverage begins, it's not brought up at all.
The arena is a deep valley, surrounded by hills, making a shape like a bowl. High in the hills, there's a lake. You have to climb up to it along a steep, muddy trail. From the first moment it appears, Haymitch is suspicious of it. He starts drawing diagrams of the maps that the Gamemakers are using.
On the third day, Briar's alliance attacks Olla's alliance. The fight is bloody, and we lose both of them (though, thankfully, not to one another). Annie's boyfriend tries to get away from an axe-wielding District One boy, leaving her to fend for herself, but the other boy apparently considers him more interesting prey. He's decapitated in front of her. She kills the District One boy, almost by accident, and runs.
She keeps running, away from the remaining alliance, hiding up in the far hills. Finnick tries sending her food and water, but she's in shock. She can't seem to process what happened. She talks to herself and eats leaves. No one comes near her. At one point, I hear Finnick yell into the phone that he's just a little bit busy, and someone can entertain himself.
The Games get slow, like they always do. There's nothing abnormal at all. I start to question whether I actually survived an attack or not. I dream about it every night. It mixes with the memory of the business with my wig, way back in school, and I wake up in a cold sweat. I can't seem to shake it off.
Haymitch isn't talking about the attack any more than anyone else is. He's meeting constantly with Chaff and Seeder and Johanna, all of whom have lost their tributes. He's watching that lake with great suspicion. He talks about a ballad they sing in District Twelve, about a place called Johnstown, where a lake in the mountains spilled out and killed hundreds of people.
"They can't blow the lake," I hear Chaff say once. "With the force field, it would hold the water like a big fish tank. There'd be no getting away. They'd kill everyone if they did that."
Then they go back to their intense, urgent whispering. I go elsewhere.
There are rumors of more possible attacks. Peacekeepers are on high alert. I notice them watching Haymitch sometimes, but then, they always tend to keep tabs on him here.
Four weeks into the Game, the Gamemakers break down the earthen wall that holds in the lake. Chaff is right. The arena holds the water like a giant bowl. Tributes who weren't swept away in the initial flood tread water until they slip under.
Annie Cresta is still in shock, but her instincts take over. She has spent her life on the water. She knows what to do adrift. She swims. She treads water. Finnick is trying to find a floater to send her when the last cannon goes off, and she becomes a victor.
None of it seems real. It's not helped by the way she is practically yanked out of public sight. They can't have her muttering and mumbling to herself through the final events. They send in doctors with little pills. She keeps screaming for Finnick, but he can't always go to her. He has social obligations.
Annie's been in recovery for eight days on the night I notice that all of Haymitch's friends are gone. Haymitch and Chaff aren't playing chess or holed up in a bar. Finnick and Johanna aren't trading barbs on the couches. Seeder isn't listening to soft music. Jack isn't keeping up a running commentary on the strange post-Games coverage. The District Six mentors, Berenice and Paulin, aren't strung out in the mentors' lounge.
I am alone when the Peacekeepers come looking for Haymitch.