Chapter One: I Had A Little Bird
"Katniss, I made you some tea."
I blink my eyes and open my mouth but am prevented from acknowledging my sister Prim's words because I'm overcome with another coughing fit. It's the third one in the last ten minutes. I know it won't be the last.
Prim sets the mug of tea on the table next to the bed and lifts me up into a sitting position. The coughing eases slightly, letting me breathe, and I smile gratefully at her. Five days. It's been five days since I felt the first headache signaling that I’d contracted the disease that’s been plaguing Twelve for the last three weeks. The symptoms got worse from there until the only thing I could do was lay in my bed with Prim at my side and hope that I wouldn’t die. Death is still a distinct possibility. Many people have already died and even more have gotten sick. My mother has been working almost non-stop since the disease began but there isn't a lot she can do. The disease is resistant to most of her herbs and the most she can do is make people comfortable.
"You need to drink this," Prim insists once my coughing has gotten under control, "It'll make you feel better."
I nod my head and take the proffered mug into my hands, letting the warmth of the cup seep into my fingers. I sip the hot liquid and wrinkle my nose at the taste. It's bitter and grassy and not even the mint Prim put in it can cover up the flavor of the medicinal herbs. I force myself to drink it anyway.
When the mug is empty, I hand it back to Prim with a raspy, "Thanks."
She takes it and puts it on the table and says, "The Hawthornes have the flu now. Posy, Rory and Vick. Mrs. Hawthorne told Mom when she stopped by this morning. Mom gave her some medicine but we're almost out of everything useful and I know Mom is keeping the rest for us just to be on the safe side."
I digest what she tells me, trying to think of something to say. There isn’t anything so instead I ask, "Soup?" Prim scurries off to get me something to eat and I settle back onto the bed to think about everything that's happened. It's surprising the Hawthornes have made it this long without someone from their family going down with the flu. I guess their luck just ran out.
It started innocently enough, mimicking the typical springtime creepy crud that happens every year. Then Darius, the redheaded flirtatious Peacekeeper, died less than a day after he fell sick. He was the first of many. Unlike the seasonal flu which mostly strikes the young, elderly and infirm, this disease seemed to ravage everyone. Young and old, healthy and sick, the flu hit them all. Darius' death shocked the district, since as a Peacekeeper he had access to Capitol-made drugs and treatments. Almost overnight, more and more people fell ill and started dying. There weren't enough graves for all of the dead and the ground was too hard and frozen to dig more. Panic started to set in.
Then word came from the Capitol: the dead were to be burned, martial law was going into place, and all non-essential gatherings were cancelled. They set up the funeral pyre near the Tribute Graveyard and it’s been burning ever since. They closed the school a week ago. The mines remain open, even though their work force has been decimated.
They’re not the only ones - this disease has hit merchants and Seam alike.
Prim returns with a bowl of soup. I take it gratefully and lift the spoon to my lips when she says, “I signed up for tesserae.”
My spoon hovers halfway up to my mouth and I ask, “Why?”
“You’ve been sick and people haven’t been paying Mom because no one wants to pay a physician whose patients die. We needed food. It was the only way.”
I make a face but I know she’s right. I haven’t been able to hunt or gather since I got sick and it’s late enough in the winter that most of our food reserves are gone. And without Mom’s income, there really isn’t anything we can do.
“It’s not that bad, Katniss. There was a line going out the Justice Building, kids and families signing up for tesserae. I even saw Delly Cartwright there, and she’s a merchant. She wasn’t the only one either.”
I sip my soup and think. My sister is trying to reassure me that she’s not actually in danger, and it does help, but I’m still not happy that she had to take out tesserae at all.
I change the subject. “Where’s Mom?”
“She’s at the Mayor’s house. His wife and daughter are sick.”
“I thought they could afford Capitol drugs?”
Prim shrugs. “The Mayor asked her to come. Hopefully she’ll get paid.”
I finish my soup in silence and Prim wanders off to do something, I don’t know what. I lie down again and let sleep overtake me.
I wake up and it’s dark out. I can feel a cool hand stroking my hair and I open my eyes to see that it’s my mother and not Prim. “When did you get home?”
“Just a little bit ago.”
“How are Mrs. Undersee and Madge doing?”
Her face falls. “Mrs. Undersee died this afternoon. Madge seems to be stable but I don’t know for sure. This flu is just too unpredictable.”
“Did you get paid?” I ask, thinking back to my sister’s words earlier.
“A little. I’ve got to go back tomorrow and check on Madge again.”
“Prim took out tesserae,” I say accusingly.
My mother sighs. “She told me she was going to.”
“And you didn’t stop her?” I’m angry and it comes out in my tone.
“I didn’t stop you,” she points out.
It’s not good enough. “Well maybe if you hadn’t gone away I wouldn’t have had to.”
“You’re never going to forgive me for that, are you?” she asks with a sigh.
I haven’t forgiven her. I don’t know if I ever will be able to. I’m not sure if I can forgive her for letting Prim sign up for tesserae either. I roll over until I’m facing the wall. My mother sighs again. Eventually she gets up and leaves the room. I’m glad to hear her go.
I stew in silence until I’m distracted from my thoughts when another coughing fit overtakes me. When it’s finally over, I force myself to fall back asleep, hoping that things will be better in the morning.
I wake up shivering and drenched in sweat. I throw the wet covers off, struggling to find some warmth. Prim is instantly by my side. She reaches out and places a hand on my forehead. “I think your fever’s broken.”
I smile; it’s the first good news I’ve had in a long time. From what my mother and Prim have told me, if the fever breaks, you’re very likely to make it. Prim gets me some fresh bedding and I wrap the blankets around me and settle down into a deep, healing sleep.
Over the next couple of days, my condition slowly improves. My appetite gets stronger and my symptoms start to recede. I notice both Prim and my mother seem very relieved to see me doing better. I’m relieved myself.
Three days after my fever breaks, I wake up and get dressed for hunting. My mother spends most of her time at the Undersees nursing Madge so only Prim is home to protest my going out.
Which she does. “Are you sure you’re well enough to go out?” Prim asks.
“I’ve already been sick, I won’t get sick again, and we need food.”
“We’re still okay,” she insists. “You don’t need to push yourself.”
“I can’t stay cooped up in here any longer,” I tell her. “I’m about to fly out of my skin and I need to do something.”
“Fine,” she says, relenting. “If you trade at the Hob, we could use more white liquor. Mom’s been making it into a cough syrup and we’re almost out.”
I nod and pick up my hunting bag. “I’ll try,” I tell her as I walk out the door.
Outside, I take several deep breaths and note that the air smells of death and smoke under the usual coal dust. I debate stopping by the Hawthornes’ to see if Gale wants to join me but I decide against it. He’s probably too busy taking care of his siblings. If I get extra food I may stop by later, but not now.
Even though there’s no school, I only spend a few hours hunting because it’s so cold out. I set a few snares, collect some pine needles, some willow bark, and what herbs I can find for my mother. I manage to find a few rose hips and walnuts that made it through the winter and hungry animals. I’m still not feeling a hundred percent and when I try to hunt, it’s one of the few times I miss my targets. I only hit one of the three squirrels I shoot at. It’s embarrassing and I’m glad Gale’s not here to see me off of my game. The snares do a bit better, netting me two rabbits. I finally decide to call it a day when the wind starts to pick up. I don’t want to catch a chill when I’ve barely recovered from the flu so I carry my catches back underneath the fence and head into town.
My first stop is the bakery, since the baker likes squirrels and he’s usually willing to trade.
Unfortunately, he’s not there. His wife opens the door, says “Oh, it’s you,” and slams the door in my face.
I stand there blinking at the painted wood in shock. That’s never happened before. Normally Mrs. Mellark works the front counter and either Mr. Mellark or one of their sons answers the door. Something is wrong.
Shaking my head, I make my way to the Hob. Hopefully things will be better there and if worse comes to worst, Greasy Sae will buy anything.
But when I get there, I immediately notice that her booth and four others are empty. My stomach sinks. I walk through the Hob, noticing that the secondhand dealers have heaping piles in their booths. That’s not normal. I see Ripper in her usual spot and walk over to her. “Where’s Sae?” I ask.
“Haven’t you heard, dearie? She and that granddaughter of hers died three days ago.”
I blink. “How much have I missed?”
“Plenty. District’s fallin’ apart.” Ripper motions at the nearest secondhand dealer. “People have been bringing in their dead folks’ belongings all desperate like and them’s been happy to take advantage. It’s enough to make a person sick.” She fixes me with a look. “I wouldn’t trade with them unless you’re looking to buy, then you might get a good deal. Otherwise...” She trails off to let me draw my own conclusions.
“Thanks, “ I tell her and mean it. It’s always good to get the lay of the land.
“No problem.” She eyes my bag with interest. “You looking to trade, girl?”
I nod and pull out the squirrel. “I’ll trade you this for two bottles of your white liquor.”
“Done,” she says quickly, not even bothering to haggle.
I realize I could have gotten more for the squirrel but make the trade anyway, tucking the bottles carefully into my bag.
Since Sae is gone, I decide I should trade the spare rabbit to the butcher, Rooba. As I’m walking out of the Hob, one of the secondhand dealers, Jacob, waves at me to get my attention. “You got fresh meat?” he shouts across the Hob.
I pause. “Maybe,” I say warily.
He motions for me to come over and when I do he whispers, “I’ll give you coin for what you’ve got. Butcher’s shipment hasn’t come in yet and my little ones could really do with a spot of fresh meat.”
I consider it. It’s not worth the walk back into town if he’s willing to trade coin and he’s given me valuable information. I pull out the smaller of the two rabbits and place it on the counter.
He looks at it. “Three coin?” he asks.
It’s the start of a spirited bargaining session with me ending up with eight coin and a new winter coat for Prim. It’s more than I could have gotten before the flu.
My trading done, I head for home with the last rabbit, the herbs, the white liquor, the coat, and the money.
When I get there, my mother takes the rabbit and white liquor from me gratefully, her eyes widening when she sees the coat. “You must’ve had a good day.”
“Not really. Everyone’s so desperate for fresh meat.” I pause. “Except for the bakery for some reason.”
My mother’s eyes narrow but she doesn’t say anything about the bakery. Instead she says, “I think Madge is going to recover.”
I allow the change of subject and say, “That’s good. I’m surprised the Mayor didn’t get Capitol medicine for her.”
“There’s no medicine to get,” my mother says absently. “The Capitol and other districts have been hit too so there’s nothing coming out to Twelve.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“I overheard the Mayor and Cray talking. It sounds like there’s an epidemic going on.”
That’s bad, I think to myself, but I refrain from saying anything because Prim comes in, babbling about a mouse Buttercup caught. She’s even more attached to that blasted cat now that Lady is dead. Right around the same time the flu started Lady got sick and she died a few days later. My mother refused to let us butcher her for meat, saying that we didn’t know what killed her. I kind of miss the scarred goat.
I stop Prim. “I’ve got something for you,” I say and hand over the coat.
Her eyes widen. “Thank you.” She shrugs off my old winter coat that’s threadbare at the elbows and slips the new one on. It’s too big for her, but that gives her room to grow.
I slip the coins and herbs to my mother and take the rabbit over to the counter to start butchering it for a stew.
The next two days I spend more and more time out in the woods hunting and gathering what I can. The pickings are still sparse but everyone in Twelve is so starved for fresh meat that I get good prices for everything I catch.
The good deals from my trade are offset by the news that I hear from town. More and more people are dying, including Delly Cartwright, who was quite possibly the nicest person ever to exist. I hear rumblings that there’s no way that the mines will be able to make their quota and that the Capitol is unwilling to accept the Mayor’s excuses for the shortage. Things are getting even more dire.
One bright point occurs when Madge comes by and gives my mother a gold pin in the shape of a mockingjay as a thank you for saving her life. My mother gives it to me, saying that every woman should have some jewelry and she already has some, motioning to her locket and wedding ring. It feels weird to take the brooch and I consider selling it, but I decide that I don’t want to upset Madge. Besides, the second-hand traders aren’t paying much for jewelry at this point.
The first day of spring, I’m butchering a turkey when I hear a knock at the door. My mother answers it to reveal Gale on the other side. He looks haggard, with dark circles and bloodshot red eyes, like he hasn’t slept in days.
“Gale, what’s wrong?” My mother asks.
He leans heavily against the door frame. “Posy. My mom.” He draws a ragged breath. “They’re dead.”