In the fourteenth chapter of The Hunger Games, why does this exist nightmares forever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hunger Games.
There’s no shame allowed here and certainly no judging. But I read chapter fourteen before I went to bed and I absolutely had a nightmare.
In my dream, I was camping on the North Rim in the Grand Canyon. (If you recall, I went there during my read of Half-Blood Prince and it was also when I inadvertently re-ignited the Ginny Weasley Slut Shame War of 2010. THANKS GUYS.) Anyway, that’s not actually the point. In my dream, I’m camping in the sparse forest up on the top of the rim and because I am the very worst klutz of all time, I somehow tripped on a fire? Look, I don’t even know how that’s possible, but it happened. And then the tent was on fire. IT’S A NIGHTMARE IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO MAKE ANY SENSE. When I set the tent on fire and no one else was freaking out, I then upset a nest of tracker jackers. And guess where they decided to sting me? No, not there.
Seriously, it was an awful dream, despite being so comical. So let’s start off this review with a compliment: Suzanne Collins, the tracker jackers are one of the most horrifying creations I’ve ever read. Bravo.
My eyes follow the line of her finger up into the foliage above me. At first, I have no idea what she’s pointing to, but then, about fifteen feet up, I make out a vague shape in the dimming light. But of…of what? Some sort of animal? It looks about the size of a raccoon, but it hangs from the bottom of a branch, swaying ever so slightly. There’s something else. Among the familiar evening sounds of the woods, my ears register a low hum. Then I know. It’s a wasp nest.
YEAH THIS IS GOING TO BE TERRIBLE. Even re-reading this a second time, I am not a fan of this.
More likely they will be one of the Capitol’s mutations, tracker jackers. Like the jabberjays, these killer wasps were spawned in a lab and strategically placed, like land mines, around the districts during the war. Larger than regular wasps, they have a distinctive solid gold body and a sting that raises a lump the size of a plum on contact. Most people can’t tolerate more than a few stings. Some die at once. If you live, the hallucinations brought on by the venom have actually driven people to madness. And there’s another thing, these wasps will hunt down anyone who disturbs their nest and attempt to kill them. That’s where the tracker part of the name comes.
So, first of all, they are SOLID GOLD WASPS. Then Collins continues to make it worse. Poisonous? Sure! Stings that cause swelling the size of plums? Totally! Fatal reactions? You betcha! Hallucinations that happen EVEN IF YOU SURVIVE THE STINGS? Oh, definitely! And if you can escape all that, WAIT YOU CANT BECAUSE THEY TRACK YOU.
Pure genius. A terrifying brilliance, yes, but genius nonetheless.
The problem here is that Katniss now has a weapon against the tributes, but it’s one that can hurt her and can definitely kill other people. The risk she has to take is one that will probably hurt herself and will change our view of her if she actually goes through with killing other Careers.
Katniss takes advantage of the anthem playing to provide sound cover for her as she makes her attempt to saw the branch holding the nest off.
Once I’ve got a groove, the work requires less effort but is almost more than I can handle. I grit my teeth and saw away, occasionally glancing at the sky to register that there were no deaths today. That’s all right. The audience will be sated seeing me injured and treed and the pack below me. But the anthem’s running out and I’m only three quarters of the way through the wood when the music ends, the sky goes dark, and I’m forced to stop.
GOD DAMN IT. She was hoping the smoke would keep them groggy and that the anthem would mask the sound of her cutting down the branch, but both of those hopes have now been eliminated. It’s frustrating to read, but the fact that so much goes wrong adds a bit of realism to an otherwise fantastical story.
That sort of realism is the only thing we really have to ground any of this. It would be more entertaining for events to simply continue, for the nest to drop to the ground and for Katniss to escape because we could feel as if she’s being victorious, as if she has a chance. I appreciate that this is still difficult for her, though, and that random chance can still affect her life.
In the faint light of the Careers’ torches, I inch back down to my fork to find the best surprise I’ve ever had. Sitting on my sleeping bag is a small plastic pot attached to a silver parachute. My first gift from a sponsor! Haymitch must have had it sent in during the anthem. The pot easily fits in the palm of my hand. What can it be? Not food surely. I unscrew the lid and I know by the scent that it’s medicine. Cautiously, I probe the surface of the ointment. The throbbing in my fingertip vanishes.
Is it weird to say I was looking forward to see how Katniss deals with her burns? Not on a personal level, but just to see how Collins wrote it. This is an interesting way to deal with the burns and to also show us how the sponsors actually work towards a player’s advantage in the game. And I’m ok with that, especially since we get this moment instead:
“Oh, Haymitch,” I whisper. “Thank you.” He has not abandoned me. Not left me to fend entirely for myself. The cost of this medicine must be astronomical. Probably not one but many sponsors have contributed to buy this one tiny pot. To me, it is priceless.
I don’t think we’ve seen a moment of humility like this from Katniss so far. So much is about her display of her ego and her contempt; this, however, is something more raw and real than anything before. She genuinely means it when she thanks Haymitch.
After rubbing the ointment on her, which quickly begins the healing process, Katniss has a newfound sense of purpose: it’s time for her to drop the tracker jackers’ nest. She decides to warn Rue before she does so, though:
I call Rue’s name in a hushed whisper and the eyes appear, wide and alert, at once. She points up to the next again. I hold up my knife and make a sawing motion. She nods and disappears. There’s a rustling in a tree nearby. Then the same noise a bit farther off. I realize she’s leaping from tree to tree. It’s all I can do not to laugh out loud. Is this what she showed the Gamemakers? I imagine her flying around the training equipment never touching the floor. She should have gotten at least a ten.
WHAT!! Oh man, now I’m cheering for Rue to somehow survive with Katniss. I don’t expect it to be long before they pair up either.
At the tree limb that holds the nest, I position the knife in the groove and I’m about to draw the teeth across the wood when I see something moving. There, on the nest. The bright gold gleam of a tracker jacker lazily making its way across the papery gray surface. No question, it’s acting a little subdued, but the wasp is up and moving and that means the others will be out soon as well.
And thus begins the most harrowing and disgusting set of scenes in the book. I don’t know whether to trigger warning this or just put a general disclaimer, so this will have to do:
THIS IS REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DISGUSTING.
First of all, as Katniss is cutting the branch, a tracker jacker stings her on the knee. So even if Katniss gets away, it’s already going to be horrible. Then a second and a third sting sends poison into her system and even though she manages to pull the stingers out, the poison is already doing its work. But what happens below is just…jesus fuck.
It’s mayhem. The Careers have woken to a full-scale tracker jacker attack. Peeta and a few others have the sense to drop everything and bolt. I can hear cries of “To the lake! To the lake!” and know they hope to evade the wasps by taking to the water. It must be close if they think they can outdistance the furious insects. Glimmer and another girl, the one from District 4, are not so lucky. They receive multiple stings before they’re even out of my view. Glimmer appears to go completely mad, shrieking and trying to bat the wasps off with her bow, which is pointless. She calls to the others for help but, of course, no one returns. The girl from District 4 staggers out of sight, although I wouldn’t bet on her making it to the lake. I watch Glimmer fall, twitch hysterically around on the ground for a few minutes, and then go still.
Oh my god. She did. She killed someone, right? I honestly thought Collins would find a way to avoid Katniss actually killing someone, but she didn’t. Oh my god.
People have not exaggerated the effects of the tracker jacker stings. Actually, the one on my knee is closer to an orange than a plum in size. A foul-smelling green liquid oozes from the places where I pulled out the stingers.
WHAT THE FUCK IS ALL THIS. This means that if Katniss’s ONE sting did this, then…
The swelling. The pain. The ooze. Watching Glimmer twitching to death on the ground. It’s a lot to handle before the sun has even cleared the horizon. I don’t want to think about what Glimmer must look like now. Her body disfigured. Her swollen fingers stiffening around the bow…
This is seriously so gross. Also KATNISS KILLED SOMEONE WHAT THE FUCK
Katniss realizes she has precious little time before the canons sound and the hovercraft takes Glimmer’s body, the bow and arrows going along with it. So she risks being stung again to go back and get the weapon.
I reach Glimmer just as the cannon fires. The tracker jackers have vanished. The girl, so breathtakingly beautiful in her golden dress the night of the interviews, is unrecognizable. Her features eradicated, her limbs three times their normal size. The stinger lumps have begun to explode, spewing putrid green liquid around her. I have to break several of what used to be her fingers with a stone to free the bow. The sheath of arrows is pinned under her back. I try to roll over her body by pulling one arm, but the flesh disintegrates in my hands and I fall back on the ground.
WHAT THE FLYING FUCK IS GOING ON. How is this movie going to be PG-13??? Oh my god, this is like a billion times more disgusting and real than I could have ever imagined. Oh my god what the hell, guys.
Katniss is unsure whether this actually happened or if she’s hallucinating. The hovercraft comes to pick up the girl from District 4 and she knows she has little time to act. Unfortunately, by the time she secures the bow, she hears the Careers returning, either to kill her or get the dropped weapons.
And Peeta shows up.
“What are you still doing here?” he hisses at me. I stare uncomprehendingly as a trickle of water drips off a sting under his ear. His whole body starts sparkling as if he’s been dipped in dew. “Are you mad?” He’s prodding me with the shaft of the spear now. “Get up! Get up!” I rise, but he’s still pushing at me. What? What is going on? He shoves me away from him hard. “Run!” he screams. “Run!”
WHAT THE FUCK. Peeta didn’t try to kill her? Did Peeta just save her?
When Cato crashes into their area, a glimmering sword in his hand, Katniss breaks into a run, obeying Peeta, attempting to escape.
The world begins to bend in alarming ways. A butterfly balloons to the size of a house then shatters into a million stars. Trees transform to blood and splash down over my boots. Ants begin to crawl out of the blisters on my hands and I can’t shake them free. They’re climbing up my arms, my neck. Someone’s screaming, a long high-pitched scream that never breaks for breath. I have a vague idea it might be me. I trip and fall into a small pit lined with tiny orange bubbles that hum like the tracker jacker nest. Tucking my knees up to my chin, I wait for death.
Sick and disoriented, I’m able to form only one thought: Peeta Mellark just saved my life.
Then the ants bore into my eyes and I black out.
Shit cannot get any realer than this. I don’t see how.