Urrgh, I can't beleive it's been three flipping weeks. Oh, aren't I terrible! But here it is, finally
Chapter 36: Stella
The trees sway beneath me as I jump from one to another. The ant mutts run in an all destroying river of red below me. If I fall I’ll be going home in a thousand pieces.
It hasn’t taken long to reach the nest, they’re still pouring out of it in unimaginable numbers. I shuffle along a branch until I reach the end, all my balance fighting against the bobbing branch, desperately trying to throw me into the pit of giant insects. Trying my best not to look down I gingerly take one hand off the branch above me and reach into my pocket for the matches. When I retrieve them I slide open the box, loop my other arm around the above branch and use my other hand to hold it steady as I strike the match against it. After a few frustrating attempts it ignites. The orange flame dances in the slight breeze as I lean out and drop it.
It plummets towards the ground, disappearing into the darkness of the nest. I wait a few moments, nothing. Hold another match in my sweaty palm and light it, sending it down to join its brother. Just as I’m lighting a third a orange glow appears in the hole. It moves up with tremendous speed as giant ants with flaming bodies burst out. In their panic the fire spreads around them, seeming to set the whole ground ablaze.
I hurry back to the tree trunk and cling to it as the smoke rises, trapped by the endless see of blazing bugs that run past. But I’m mesmerised by the dancing orange flames below, lighting up the ground all around me. It’s only when dark wisps of smoke crawl up my nose that I realise the danger I’m in!
Starting to cough I feel the heat travel up to meet my skin, coating me in sweat. Through watering eyes I desperately search for an opening between the burning mutts as the smoke thickens. I tear off a bit of my t-shirt and tie in around my nose and mouth, breathing deeply. The ants are still coming thick and fast. I’m still trapped! Panic starts to set in as I spot embers fly o the tree trunk. I have to risk it. If I don’t move soon I will either be suffocated or burned to death!
I slowly peel myself away from the bark of the tree and climb down steadily. I want to bolt but the smoke is clouding my mind, making everything blurry. The stream of ants is thinning now as the last few flee their burning home. I spy an opening and hit the ground running. Stumbling for the first few steps I dodge several of the mutts, more concerned with their own survival than with me. The heat on its own is almost painful as I follow them, let alone the flames trying to grab hold of me.
Not watching where I’m going I suddenly find myself falling! My arms flail as I scream and hit the ground over and over again, rolling down a very steep sloop. I lie there for second, the wind knocked out of me. But I refuse to just lay down and die, I refuse to leave my father all alone and leave Jed with that wicked temptress! Dizzy I drag myself up, expecting to see fire all around me, but the only warmth comes from the Sun, beating down through the thick leaves of the canopy. I look up the sloop and see the inferno is raging above, battering against some kind of force field, sealing it in that corner of the Arena, protecting me.
I sit back down thankfully, allowing myself a minute or two to let the nausea settle. As my head clears one thought shouts in my head: Where’s Jed?! Is he still in the fire? Is he burning to death right now?!
New found energy hurriedly pulls up right the sloop until my face is millimetres from the force field. All I see is burning trees, charred mutts and the raging blaze.
“Jed!” I shout, unable to keep the fear out of my voice. “Jed! Jed! Jed!” No answer. I follow the force field all the round, praying I find him safe on this side. Why didn’t I warn him of what I was going to do?! If he dies I know I’ll blame myself. Cole probably would too, why should help the girl who got his son killed?No! There’s still no cannon, there’s still hope!
I tell myself as the image of him rolling around on fire dominates my thoughts. That when I see it lying on the ground: The slingshot! I hold the little thing it my hands, examining its red elastic and oak frame. Yes, it’s the same slingshot I retrieved from the tree which Fuchsia took from me. That means she made it out, so there’s a good chance Jed did too! But what if she left him for dead? Maybe she even hurt him to make sure he could out run the fire! I nearly crush it as my hands turns into a fist of rage. I knew I should have killed her when I had the chance, she’s nothing but trouble!
A sliver glint floating through the sky cuts through the red mist of my anger. I pick the sliver parachute off the group and frown in confusion at my surprise gift: a bracelet like Jed’s district token and a flower, a Fuchsia to be precise. The bracelet is tied around the stem of the plant. Cole is trying to tell me something and he must be using these as symbols. I lean against a tree and look at them intently. The flower obviously represents Fuchsia, so the bracelet must represent Jed, I remember commenting on how he never seems to take it off and I it’s hard to picture him without it. They’ve bound together which could suggest they’re together…
“Oh! Jed is still alive and is with Fuchsia! Right?” I subconsciously ask the sky, but of course get no answer. But if that’s true than why aren’t they waiting for me, why aren’t they going around the force field like I am, looking for me?!
A new anger washes over me as I realise that back stabbing cow has made him go off without me! I knew she’s a heartless Career who hates me but how could she leave me for dead after I saved her skinny little butt from those mutts?! And how could Jed be so blind and stupid to listen to her?! I’m his friend, she’s just some girl who’s waltzed in and batted her eyelashes!
I feel very tempted to scream “Screw you, you gullible idiot! And you nasty, blonde, witch of a girlfriend! Fine, I’m going alone! Have fun getting a knife in the back while you’re making out with her!” But I manage to keep my composure and march off as fast as my tired legs will carry me, pocketing the slingshot. That’s one thing you’re not stealing from me, you cow, Fuchsia.
After about an hour my fatigued body can’t take any more. The smoke hasn’t fully gone from system and I’m wheezing. I slump down on a rock, take a sip of water from the water skin and eat a few raisins. I pour some into my hand and hold out, but then remember there’s nobody here to share them with. A feeling of loneliness swirls in my stomach. As mad as I am at him I already miss Jed.
Sighing, I get up and a small stab of pain comes from my foot. Oh great, I’ve got a stone in my shoe. I groan as I pull it off and tip the tiny pebble out, throwing into the clearing on my right.
The moment it hits the ground a net springs up, perfectly camouflaged among the fallen leaves and encloses it, whisking into the air! The sudden action makes me jump and pull out the switch blade. Someone’s been here, and fact they’ve set up a trap means they’re planning to stick around. I edge around the clearing, making sure to look at where I’m treading and proceed cautiously through the endless rainforest.
Five minutes later I find a snare with some sort of dead hare caught in it. My stomach growls, demanding I take it. Hunger overrides my guilt at stealing and a cut lose and take with me, walking along with a smile on my face for the first time today. Within twenty minutes I’ve found three more snares with various animals caught in them. But with each find I become more and more paranoid, the net and so many snares so close together means someone is very close by. I keep my eyes to the ground, on the lookout for traps…
“Stop!” A voice yells at me from behind. I freeze. I’ve been caught. Wait, I recognise that voice from the interviews. My gaze slowly drifts up. The shines on a thin, also in visible wire tied between two trees, a hares breath from my face.
“You know, you could take someone’s head off with that if they ran into it.” I say, managing to sound confident as I turn around.
Athena Gearsly, the girl from District 3 glares at me through her glasses, arms crossed. Her mid length jet black hair is clipped back with her district token, a sliver hair clip with an image of a butterfly engraved on it. Small almond eyes stare into mine, but in contrast to the rest of her body language they look nervous.
“That’s the idea.” She says, still glaring at my stolen goods, most certainly hers, just about managing to sound tough.
“Then why did you warn me?” I ask. She shrugs.
“You’re too short. It would have just cut your forehead, and as much as I’d like to see a thief like you get hurt, you’d probably tear it down afterwards and I spent a lot time setting it up.”
“I’m not short! The wire’s just really high!” I retort.
“If it is then why does it come up to my neck?” She snaps, walking over and standing beside it.
“Umm…you’re really tall.” I say, looking at her 5’’5 frame. She struggles not to creak a smile.
“No I’m not.”
“To a small person like me you are.” I say. We stare at each other for about two seconds before busting out laughing. The tension melts away.
“True. I like your attitude…Stella, is it?” She says once the giggles subside.
“Yeah, and your Athena, aren’t you?”
“I prefer Attie, but yeah, that’s me.” We shake hands.
“I should have known it was you who set up all these snares and traps, you were amazing at the snare station.” I tell her.
“Thanks.” She smiles. “You were pretty good too.”
“Thanks. Sorry for taking you food, I won’t normally do it, I’m just so hungry.” I apologise, handing them over.
“It’s okay. I’m sorry for nearly taking your head off. I don’t normally making dangerous traps, but I’m just in the Hunger Games.” She grins. I laugh. Maybe I don’t have to be lonely after all.
“Resins?” I ask, holding out the packet.