Mark Reads ‘Mockingjay’: Chapter 22

In the twenty-second chapter of Mockingjay, we will never be the same again. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mockingjay.

I was never, ever prepared for this.

The grace period has ended. Perhaps Snow had them digging through the night. As soon as the fire died down, anyway. They found Boggs’s remains, briefly reassured, and then, as the hours went by without further trophies, began to suspect. At some point, they realized that they had been tricked. And President Snow can’t tolerate being made to look like a fool. It doesn’t matter whether they tracked us to the second apartment or assumed we went directly underground. They know we are down here now and they’ve unleashed something, a pack of mutts probably, bent on finding me.

It’s very Hunger Games-esque, isn’t it? I’m reminded of chapter twenty-five of that first book, of the appearance of the mutts for the first time, and the terror they brought to the story. The parallel is eerie, and it continues to build as the events of this chapter unfold.

Katniss knows that something is coming after her, but she’s shocked (as was I) that Peeta himself was also saying her name. Was he programmed to do this, too?

I position my arrow to penetrate his brain. He’ll barely feel a thing. Suddenly, he’s sitting up, eyes wide in alarm, short of breath. “Katniss!” He whips his head toward me but doesn’t seem to notice my bow, the waiting arrow. “Katniss! Get out of here!”

My first thought was that Peeta was always meant to do this, that perhaps Snow had intended to give Peeta back and wait for some specific moment to “activate” him so that he could attack Katniss. But then I realized that if this was the case, that moment had already happened out in the streets of the Capitol. So what was happening now? What was coming after them?

Katniss quickly surveys the team of people with her after she suggests splitting up so that these “mutts” don’t go after people who should have never been with her in the first place. I love that Collins didn’t just stick the whole Star Squad with each other, as adding the camera crew makes things more interesting. Well, it’s also a whole lot scarier, but I like this ragtag band of people a lot.

The quickly leave the room they are in as the hissing continues to get louder. What the hell hisses? I thought.

My mind wanders to the wolflike creatures in the first arena, the monkeys in the Quarter Quell, the monstrosities I’ve witnessed on television over the years, and I wonder what form these mutts will take. Whatever Snow thinks will scare me the most.

Well, they hiss. And in the past, Katniss has compared Snow to a snake. So…snakes? Snake mutts? That can whisper? Ugh, I don’t want to know, do I?

We’ve covered about three more blocks via an overflow pipe and a section of neglected train track when the screams begin. Thick, guttural. Bouncing off the tunnel walls.

“Avoxes,” says Peeta immediately. “That’s what Darius sounded like when they tortured him.”

“The mutts must have found them,” says Cressida.

“So they’re not just after Katniss,” says Leeg 1.

Well, then I am glad they didn’t split up. It would have been pointless. It also speaks to the desperation of Snow at this point. He’s willing to kill absolutely everyone down below in order to get Katniss. Shit is fucked up, y’all. And still, Katniss, wrecked with guilt over the idea that she is sending more people to their death because of what she’s done and who she is, insists that they split up. I know it’s an irrational plan, but I’m glad she still cares.

Ugh.

The screams stop and the whispering is now closer than ever. And in a moment of panic, knowing they can’t head further down like they planned, Katniss directs everyone to put their masks on:

I’m the only one losing my stew because I’m the only one reacting to the odor. Drifting up from the stairwell. Cutting through the sewage. Roses.

Snow knew. He knew she’d react to this. Jesus christ, this is SO TERRIFYING.

Katniss immediately turns away from the stairway leading further down and stumbles into the Transfer, where the Capitol delivery trucks are supposed to be. Katniss goes after the first pod that’s supposed to be there, disabling it, and presses on as quick as she can, knowing that something called the MEAT GRINDER is actually underneath the street they are on and can be triggered by one wrong step. And that’s the moment I realized this was not going to end well. My god.

I whip back around, arrow poised for flight, but what can be done? Two of Gale’s arrows already lie useless beside the wide shaft of golden light that radiates from ceiling to floor. Inside, Messalla is as still as a statue, poised up on the ball of one foot, head tilted back, held captive by the beam. I can’t tell if he’s yelling, although his mouth is stretched wide. We watch, utterly helpless, as the flesh melts off his body like candle wax.

ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS????? OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t. I can’t. I cannot fucking believe that, COLLINS HOW DID YOU EVEN THINK OF THAT. Oh my god, Messalla is dead. Is this it? Is this when Collins is ready to lay out her final hand and show us that we were never in a billion goddamn years prepared for this?

In short, absolutely.

Because they then move on, forcing themselves to forget about Messalla (HOW COULD YOU EVER FORGET THAT?!?!?!), watching as a squad of Peacekeepers come rushing into the transfer, the infamous “Meat Grinder” separating them. To their advantage, the Star Squad is made up of the best shooters, so Katniss has a moment to feel better about the situation as she watches the Peacekeepers drop like flies. But then more arrive, out of the same tunnel they just came through. And nothing will ever compare to this.

They are white, four-limbed, about the size of a full-grown human, but that’s where the comparisons stop. Naked, with long reptilian tails, arched backs, and heads that jut forward. They swarm over the Peacekeepers, living and dead, clamp on to their necks with their mouths and rip off the helmeted heads. Apparently, having a Capitol pedigree is as useless here as it was in 13. It seems to take only seconds before the Peacekeepers are decapitated. The mutts fall to their bellies and skitter toward us on all fours.

If Kasper was reading this book along with me, I would have made this review an AIM chat. (I do miss those. They were fun.) And at this point, I would have keysmashed like I have never keysmashed before. It would have gone on for minutes, to an absurd level, just to make a point: I was utterly unprepared for this fucking book.

I can’t. I don’t even know what else to say. This is beyond just fucked up. It’s one of the most disturbing things ever.

Katniss, knowing that time is limited, shoots the street to activate the Meat Grinder, giving them (hopefully) some time to escape. She then frantically asks Pollux the easiest way aboveground, and that’s when this gets even worse. The only way to get aboveground? THROUGH THE CLAUSTROPHOBIC, TINY, SMELLY SEWER SYSTEM. Oh, and it’s not just normal sewage, as it’s clearly so toxic that SOME OF IT IS ACTUALLY ON FIRE. Yes, it’s an absurd scene, but I think Collins is acutely aware of how awful this is. She has just ramped up the terror to a level we have not seen in the entire series. If Messalla is dead, who else is she willing to kill off?

In an alcove at the far side, Pollux smacks a ladder with his hand and points up the shaft. This is it. Our way out.

A quick glance at our party tells me something’s off. “Wait! Where are Jackson and Leeg One?”

“They stayed at the Grinder to hold the mutts back,” says Homes.

WHAT THE FUCK!!! NO. NO. NO. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS, COLLINS.

“Don’t waste their lives, Katniss. It’s too late for them. Look!”

Homes nods to the pipe, where the mutts are slithering onto the ledge.

Oh my god. They’re dead. They have to be, if the mutts got by. Oh my god, what the fuck??? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.

That’s when Gale sends an explosive arrow into the other side of the bridge, guaranteeing Jackson and Leeg One’s death.

For the first time, I get a good look at them. A mix of human and lizard and who knows what else. White, tight reptilian skin smeared with gore, clawed hands and feet, their faces a mess of conflicting features. Hissing, shrieking my name now, as their bodies contort in rage. Lashing out with tails and claws, taking huge chunks of one another or their own bodies with wide, lathered mouths, driven mad by their need to destroy me. My scent must be as evocative to them as theirs is to me. More so, because despite its toxicity, the mutts begin to throw themselves into the foul sewer.

My god, this is Collins’s most horrifying creation. Their ferocity is only made worse by the “perverse psychological twist” they carry: the scent of roses. Katniss freezes in terror, just as Snow meant for her to, and it takes someone yelling at her in order to get her to robotically climb the ladder to the surface. There’s no way they could hold off the mutts. They have to escape.

We reach a platform. Switch to a second ladder. Rungs slick with sweat and mildew. At the next platform, my head has cleared and the reality of what’s happened hits me. I begin frantically pulling people up off the ladder. Peeta. Cressida. That’s it.

WHAT. NO. NO. NO!!!!! NO THIS CANNOT BE. WHAT?!?!!?!?!

As Katniss tries to climb back down to see what happened, Gale shouts at her to go back to the next platform.

I’m back up, hauling him in, peering into the gloom for more. “No.” Gale turns my face to him and shakes his head. Uniform shredded. Gaping wound in the side of his neck.

I can’t. I can’t. There are tears in my eyes. This can’t be happening. Everyone except for these five are dead? NO. COLLINS CAN’T DO THAT! THAT’S TOO MANY! And then Katniss hears someone down below and swears to Gale that there’s a chance someone is still alive, which he denies. It’s only mutts.

Unable to accept it, I shine the light from Cressida’s gun down the shaft. Far below, I can just make out Finnick, struggling to hang on as three mutts tear at him. As one yanks back his head to take the death bite, something bizarre happens. It’s as if I’m Finnick, watching images of my life flash by. The mast of a boat, a silver parachute, Mags laughing, a pink sky, Beetee’s trident, Annie in her wedding dress, waves breaking over rocks. Then it’s over.

No fanfare. No epic goodbye. Just like that. Finnick is gone forever.

I will never be ok with this. Jesus christ, SOMEONE HOLD ME.

Katniss pulls out her Holo and repeats “nightlock” three times and drops it down into the platform, destroying the mutts and humans left, and then Pollux closes the cover and that’s it. Everyone’s gone. Just Pollux, Gale, Peeta, Cressida, and Katniss. That’s all that is left.

Understandably so, when Katniss tries to make everyone keep moving so they can hide, Peeta doesn’t move. He’s just seen what the mutts did to all of those people, and he fears that he is no better than they are, that the future will just repeat this moment over again, and Katniss will suffer yet again.

Hot, bitter hatred courses through me. Snow has won to much already today.

It’s a long shot, it’s suicide maybe, but I do the only thing I can think of. I lean in and kiss Peeta full on the mouth. His whole body starts shuddering, but I keep my lips pressed to his until I have to come up for air. My hands slide up his wrists to clasp his. “Don’t let him take you from me.”

Is this the most frightening kiss of all time? It’s touching, yes, but after everything that has just happened, it fills me with terror.

His pupils contract to pinpoints, dilate again rapidly, and then return to something resembling normalcy. “Always,” he murmurs.

Distracting, but did anyone else think of Snape when Peeta said this? SNAPE’S “ALWAYS” IS BETTER. But this is still a HUGE moment in the book.

Katniss asks Pollux how much further the street is and he gestures that it’s the next level up.

I climb the last ladder and push open the lid to someone’s utility room. I’m rising to my feet when a woman throws open the door. She wears a bright turquoise silk robe embroidered with exotic birds. Her magenta hair’s fluffed up like a cloud and decorated with gilded butterflies. Grease from the half-eaten sausage she’s holding smears her lipstick. The expression on her face says she recognizes me. She opens her mouth to call for help.

Without hesitation, I shoot her through the heart.

I can’t. I am not even over Finnick’s and Jackson’s and Leeg One’s and Messalla’s and Castor’s deaths (HALF OF THEM WERE KILLED IN ONE FUCKING CHAPTER) and Katniss just murdered someone. Do we know this woman? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON.

Ugh, please picspam me with Finnick so I can wallow in my sad.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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