It's an Innocent Youthful Thrill [Sampson Oneshot] Oct 19, 2019 3:09:44 GMT -5
Post by zori on Oct 19, 2019 3:09:44 GMT -5
I don’t belong here.
It’s what I thought, all those years ago, looking at my reflection across the ripples of the watering hole. A part of me wishes I’d gone and died during the sixty-fifth like Iago had. It’s like, feeling that Iago’s stepping forward had pushed the universe into some sort of ordered chaos. If I’d gone and died in his place, feels like maybe I’d have paid off some sort of debt we’ve been forced to pay. But Iago didn’t come up whole, much less clean. He’d taken tongues, and eyes, and all manner of parts across an arena. We had to pay for it – Levi, Salome, Raquel, Gabriel – blood of my blood.
I don’t suppose you’d think I’d have made it out, after all the commotion. I might have been brash but I wasn’t stupid. See the thing about it all was, that people who do terrible things, they want to stop and admire the work they’ve done. Like somehow taking in the carnage was going to make me feel like a bigger person. All the flames and the fire, and the screams, that wasn’t what I did it for. Not that I won’t admit it helped me sleep better, knowing that I’d gone and done something. They all had gone on living life like it was just about the same as it always was, and me – for the briefest of moments – had set fire to the whole thing, let them know that there were still some of us that didn’t believe in the whole we’ve got it all under control façade.
I’d ducked out and past the town square, over cobbled stone and out onto the gravel road, leading farther into the district. I didn’t stop running, not until I got to the spot on Bakar’s patch of land where the wall was too low. I hoisted one leg over another, and threw my body over, crashing down into the dirt before jumping up and sprinting off again. I was in my boots, jeans, and the sweater I’d gotten from one of my aunts last ratmas. The runaway gear of someone that knew he was in for some cold nights ahead. I went and found the old irrigation tunnel back from all those years ago.
It was like ripping away at the flesh of the earth, digging out the metal cover. Thank the capitol for making us so skinny, that I could slide down the thin tube until I touched soft earth at the bottom. I’d gone and dug it out for the month before hand, each and every night before I had to be back to get some sleep. Not that I got much sleep then, anyway, gray circles collecting under my eyes until my friends started calling me raccoon faced. But I would just smile and nod along, on account of them thinking that I’d taken on some boy. It’s amazing the things people tell themselves to have to not ask how you were doing, or everything was all right. Especially boys. We’re taught that it’s better to hurt than to cry, as though blood’s better than tears. Funny that both set us free, except too much of one ended everything.
A fresh rain had muddied the earth. With each pull of dirt my fingers ached. But I came alive when I felt it collecting in thick clumps under my fingernails. There was no turning back, no way behind me, just a way forward, or death. I had nothing to turn around too – not the sounds of folks rushing from the city center, not the smoke that was starting to climb higher and higher into the sky. Just the earth under my hands, the little bits that kept me from freedom.
I’d given up on ever thinking about how the world would be fair. It’s a fool’s paradise to think we’d ever see a fair world – people are too selfish for that. They’d try to teach me that we were supposed to be living for one another, but after six of us have died, seems like it was a lot better to teach us that we had only one person we ought to have been looking out for. But that’s never been the Izar way, save for maybe Iago, and even he got what was coming to him.
And it doesn’t dull the ache, late at night, when you’re all alone in your bed, thinking about how the world’s gone to hell without them.
Twenty years since my brother went into the hellmouth of the games. It’s hard to remember his face, now – the curls of his hair, or the way he used to smile to himself because he was about to tell another stupid joke. He was supposed to grow up and get married, have a hundred kids, take care of the farm, lift us up. Hell – he could’ve been a better mayor, without all this talk of love – a man that would’ve at least thrown in some truth now and again.
I dream about it sometimes, when I’m feeling down. Think about how he used to sit with me, out in the cool light of autumn, playing his fiddle and whispering about how the world was better without doing much of anything at all. Just letting people be was as good as having to throw out a helping hand. Didn’t need to do anything big, or bold – just let them be. He was gentle in the way that big brothers rarely are; he saw me for what I still had yet to become, and didn’t pull me along too quick. Instead he said that I was on time, that I’d go on and be exactly the man I was meant to be.
They don’t pay much mind to his grave anymore, save for those of us that go out to clean the weeds. Deval’s stopped going, at least, haven’t seen him in enough time. I imagine it’ll get overgrown now, weeds coming up along the base of the little cross, flowers left there turning brown and falling to dust.
I did it for him.
For the fact that there’s no difference now than there was then. That the government isn’t going to save us any more than they want us to be free. They’re not going to let us all rise up, and be equal. I’ve been saying it for years, that the only thing that they respect is absolute chaos, that when enough of us stand up to tell them that the sort of dictatorship they got going on isn’t acceptable, would they ever take notice. The whispers and starts that scream out from time to time always got snuffed out because they knew how to pull those people apart.
And those were the same people that wanted to stand on top of everyone else, anyway.
You know the types, the men and women that would’ve gladly taken Snow’s place if they got the chance. The kind that say they don’t hate anyone else, until the second they get challenged for who they are. Then there’s an all out war to crush the people that disagree. After all, you can’t go around having someone point out what might be your flaws, when you’ve always wanted to be seen as perfection. Can’t be a ruler if it means that someone else might be right – calls into question the whole point of you being charge in the first place.
Except, in the span of the years that I’ve been alive, in the twenty-odd years since Benat’s death, I’ve come to find that I don’t have the sort of patience for anything like that. I’d rather melt down all the fucking crowns in the world than wear one. You know? The world’s got enough would-be rulers. I’d rather go ahead and burn the whole lot of it down and start the fuck over.
That’s what I used to say, mostly to Alfer, because he’s the only one that would listen. He’d nod along and blow a puff of smoke, and tell me that I had some ideas. I’d tell him that we needed a good plague to wipe out all the fucking idiots that walked the earth, so that there were enough of us left to just start over. Wipe out the ones that were mouth breathers, too stupid to ever be of use in the first place. And then take out the ones that thought the world was made up of haves and have-nots, the ones that thought you could pull yourself up by your bootstraps. The ones that thought so long as we were civil, we could all just get along. The ones that thought they’d seen just as much pain and suffering as me, and smiled. Girls that giggled in the street and boys that laughed too loud.
They all deserved what they got, heads in the sand, ignoring what was right in front of their faces.
What good was even trying to change them, anymore, when all they wanted was the same thing they’d always wanted?
I remember thinking that I could’ve saved some of the dynamite for the irrigation tunnel. I sat there for a second, and listened to my own breathing. I took in the warmth of the earth there, the fact that I could barely crawl through the fucking space, that I could’ve just laid down and died right there, and they’d spend the rest of their lives wondering who had done such an awful thing right in the middle of the district.
Of course, some folks know by now.
And I hope they find me, too.
Hope they think that by making me a martyr, they’ll bring back all those people that got hurt, or maybe killed.
That’s the insanity of people like that, the ones that think they can deal out justice like it works. I already went ahead and rolled the dice, and got exactly what I wanted.
I saw the way the flames licked the sky. I saw the heat, in that moment, when the fire burst out from underneath the stage, and lifted up above our heads. The screams – oh god – the way that there was a cry that sounded so deep and then cut off so quick. The gurgling of someone that’d coughed up their own blood. The panic on their faces when they couldn’t control what was going on. That was the best part of it all, seeing the loss of control. That no matter how wonderful they made their little world, I could still come through, hammer in hand, and smash part of it to pieces. You could have all the power in the world, but you’d never be able to deal with someone like me – try as you might – when I didn’t give two shits about whether or not this was going to get me anything. Because some of us don’t care about whether or not we get anything, we care about the moment, the feeling, the chaos.
I hadn’t meant to wait for the bomb to go off, if you were wondering.
Vasco takes so much fucking longer with that cane of his, and he’d been watching so closely, I hadn’t thought he wouldn’t make it to the center of the stage.
I thought maybe he’d go up in smoke with the rest of it all, or get blasted to bits. Shower the whole of us with every last fucking chunk, like he was some sort of mayoral piñata. Would’ve served the world better to be rid of him.
But he didn’t fucking move. He just stared up at the firework, watching it with those big green eyes of his. And then he looked over at me, just as I got through the first set of barricades.
Men like him live in a different world than the rest of us.
The happiness that seemed to always bubble up astonished me. That was the only way to put it, that he could somehow see the best in things as though there was nothing else there. That’s what made people say that he was foolish, or so I’d heard them say. How could you be so happy in spite of everything? And he’d give you some sort of half-assed advice, the sort of thing that we might say to get someone to stop talking to us. Except he was earnest, really believing that we could find the best in each other, somehow.
I don’t know if it was just that he was the youngest, or that of the five of his brothers that he had had something that I hadn’t. They all got to grow up, and grow old together. They had memories of being together, of being young and foolish, that I knew I could never have. A world that – maybe they were poor – few managed. They could think of times when even as bad as things were there were others there to have their backs, to hold them, to celebrate them, to tell the truth to them. Not living in a world that seemed hopeless but, that they could have hope for. I’d never know something like that, never had a taste of anything close.
He once told me when I was young, how close he was to Benat. How the two of them used to play music together, how they’d talk about the stars, and that he’d wanted Benat to come and live closer to him when he got old enough. He was in love with him, I think – fucking loved his own cousin – talking about how sad he was after my brother died. As though he could suck up all the attention, that he could say how he felt and that I would know. The type of man that thought that because he could feel anything at all, it meant the rest of us wanted to hear about it. He tried to help me feel better by showing me what it meant to be happy. At least, he’d come and visit and give me toys he carved out of wood, or little cakes he’d have his wife make.
He didn’t leave me alone, didn’t stop to think that maybe I just wanted my space, rather than someone always poking and prying. He was never around when there was real trouble. When Bakar decided that he was going to lay hand and fist to me and Deval, or that we went to bed without dinner three nights a week. Family was more important than gold, at least, that’s what he seemed to champion.
But sometimes family is toxic, sometimes it’s something that’s got to be bled out of you. We don’t have to live with the people that make us miserable. And it doesn’t make us better or bigger to have to take in all the nonsense and bad things that they decide to tell us. Living with it is what turns your heart against itself. You can’t live in a place that doesn’t have sunlight, that doesn’t water the earth.
I hated seeing him come around the house. You know? How he would talk in that stupid fucking language, when he would try and teach us who we used to be instead of who we were now. We’re districters, all under one panem. We’re not from some place far away from long ago, speaking a language none of us ever knew. That was just nonsense to make us different from everyone else, to turn us into something that other folks could despise.
He would talk about how the folks treated them different for years, that we already looked different enough, but to think that we had to talk different too – but folks bought into it. They liked the gentle sense of being part of some big quilt or bullshit like that. Generation after generation all sitting down, talking to one another, getting to be different, together. They get to go back to a time when we didn’t live underneath the capitol’s gun, to not have to think about all the struggles and hunger and bullshit.
You ever wonder why so many of those other languages died out? It’s because the folks of Panem all thought it was better to live under one; that there wasn’t a good enough reason for us to be different. I wish I’d learned that earlier, that the world was an easier place if you just kept your head down and tried to be a part of what the rest of them were.
But that’s bullshit too. None of the rest of these assholes have any idea what it really means to be free.
Vasco thinks that it means all of us coming together, and standing tall, and accepting our differences as though that’s going to be the thing that tips the scales. And he doesn’t say how the rest of the world has mistreated him, and his family. He lets them do it, lets them just destroy the rest of the district, and his family, so that we could live in some sort of peace. And I think it must be so nice to live in some sort of dream world, where the littlest dreams can make you count out all the terrible things that people do.
I wanted to kill him, honestly. I wanted him to die so that I could hurt him, tear him and all the rest of them apart.
He used to be a smaller man, years ago. Back when he had two daughters and a son, and kept to his own little farm. Didn’t see him much back then. Used to think a lot less about what the world was, I suppose. Used to think that it wasn’t worth walking out on that dirt road and preaching about how the rest of us were supposed to live.
Then he went and got the idea that he could change the world, somehow.
He was good at that, truth be told. Telling us how we were supposed to feel – charismatic, handsome – he had all the trappings of someone that you could believe.
I went door to door for him, until I told some bitch that was voting for Maya Fel that if she didn’t vote for Vasco she was a rude cunt.
I guess I thought he had a real shot, when I started to watch how people would listen to him. He had what I’d never had. The sort of vision that folks seemed to sink into. He’d speak about how the whole world could be put back together, that eleven could get better if we all worked hard enough, and prayed, and did good things. He didn’t rest, not without going to see each and every person, to show him what his ideas were, whether or not they agreed with him.
I’d thought it’d be closer than it was – Maya Fel was a known name, and the other one was a victor’s brother – but then the results rolled in, and he got to put that little title in front of his name.
When he was about a month in, I’d gone and visited him, told him that there was a group of men and women that could help crack some skulls, if we needed. People that wanted the world to change, if we were willing to give them a chance. I remember how he started off smiling, sitting in that leather chair that was too big for him, and then that started to slip away. By the time I’d gone and finished, he sat with a look on his face like I’d gone and told him his wife was missing – empty. And he didn’t do much else but stand from his desk, hands there on the hard wood, and told me to get out.
He was just like the rest of them, then. Just a little puppet that did little things like fix wells, or help run the food bank, but nothing that was going to change the world. Nothing that lived up to the change that I thought he was going to bring. An Izar, in office – a family that had known real hardship – and all he seemed to dream was small ideas. Ideas that meant people could feel good about themselves without having to feel much else at all.
When we locked eyes, and he could see me, I saw him, then. I saw a man that was in over his head, that had taken a job that he wasn’t smart enough for and that he didn’t have the energy for. That the sickness that had come and almost killed him wasn’t the worst of what he was going to experience. In fact, he wasn’t destined for anything great at all, just failure.
I gave him a big smile, because I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next when the fuse blew.
He flew like a rag doll off the stage, all fire and smoke behind him. Lucky, though – a few feet to the left, and he’d probably have been scorched, or at least a part of him. Could’ve lost a limb, or been torn apart by the shrapnel. But he proved a little wilier than I’d ever give him credit for.
We don’t get second chances, no matter what we might try and tell ourselves. Benat had gone and died, and I grew up into exactly the sort of awful person the capitol had made me out to be. The type of sad boy that had gone from having no one at all, a family broken to pieces, into a man that got angry at the thought that there were folks out there living like this was normal. Nekane was about the only one that bothered to listen to me, but even she told me what I was going to do was wrong.
She’d stopped me once before. I was younger then, without all the hardness. I was too soft to go through with the thought of hurting anyone else. I just wanted to sit and rage, to cry and have someone hear what kind of pain I was in. That was what youth really was about, all the anguish and misery that we were somehow to supposed to grow out of, or worse, into.
I never got the point of letting that settled underneath my skin. Never got the idea that living that way was healthy for any of us. I remember being sixteen and wanting to crush a whole stack of dinner plates against the floor, just so that my father could come home and we’d have nothing to eat on.
He’d tell us we hadn’t been good enough to eat, some days. He’d told us that we could’ve been skinnier, that we didn’t know what it really meant to be poor. He’d grown up at a time when the crops weren’t good and that the land was bad. That when he was young in eleven, the Izars weren’t a name folks recognized so much as turned over in their mouth and spat back out again. I had to admire his cruelty, sometimes. He seemed right in showing us how awful the world could be, so that we could get accustomed to it.
He never managed to break Benat before he died. Even after all the nights he took him out back and beat the living shit out of him, Benat didn’t fall apart. I think it was half the reason he laughed so much, so that he didn’t have to show the rest of us how much he hurt on the inside. But I remember it, I remember seeing the shadows out along the side of the house. My father used to take out his belt at the dinner table, and pull Benat by the arm. Never for much more than laughing, or saying that he’d gotten a poor mark in school. He liked to hear Benat scream, I think. Made him feel like a bigger man to see his oldest son fall apart, come inside with tears in his eyes for the rest of us.
I want to be that sort of man, the kind that could live without the love of his own children. The one that could run out on his family and just live another life, far and away. Or better – just drop one of his kids altogether.
Rum Tum’s out there, somewhere. I think. Somewhere beyond the wall, on the far side of the world. A piece of my father’s life that he cast out like he didn’t need to love.
And the twin that he kept – Benat – he’d gone and watched died.
I don’t even know if he visits Benat’s grave.
He wasn’t in the crowd, I don’t think. Not when the fire swept up the sky. I had tried to get him to come to the square that day. I’d gone to his house first, before going to see little Yani.
You see – I thought, after what happened with the peacekeepers – that maybe I’d show him what the world was still like. Except when he saw the way that I’d been handled, he asked me what I had been doing to get myself in trouble in the first place. He believed that whatever I’d done was justified in getting a beating, which – I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
He always believed the worst in people.
Tried to tell him how Vasco was going to make a speech, but he just spat out on the ground from the porch, hands across his chest and gave a grunt. It did make me smile, at the least, the way that he didn’t give one shit whether or not his brother was mayor. Vasco had gone and tried to make him vice mayor, on account of how much they disagreed with each other so much, but he’d flat out refused. Said that he hadn’t voted at all because of all the bad choices in the election, and left it at that.
Still, would’ve been nice to see him close to the stage.
To see the flames lick up his clothes, and start to immolate the rest of his body. I could see him waving his arms, the fire spreading, the world deteriorating around him. One casualty that I would’ve liked to see most of all, if I got the chance.
Not that I was trying to kill anyone – it was more like stepping on an anthill more than anything else. They didn’t even realize just how stupid that they were, versus targeting any one of them in particular.
Maybe some of them would wake from the dream, for just a minute. They could see through the smoke, the fire, and all the pain, and think about how they’d failed. Think about how even if a victor came home to them, they’d still have people like me lurking, ready to strike. People that would never be happy, not even a little bit, while they close their eyes and covered their ears.
I don’t want to hear the bullshit that there’s no way for them to change anything.
They could stand up and walk out. They could give up on the crops, and let the rest of the world starve. They have more power than any one of them knows, but they’re too scared or too stupid to ever put it all together. That, and they think the little bit of life that they have is good enough. It’s what happens when you don’t have much else to cling to. You find something small enough that you live off of it, the power and strength that it gives you. I don’t think that there’s much that can be done when people are so blind. I think that’s what took me so long to realize that I just needed to blow something up, because people weren’t going to see one way or another.
But even now, I know that the rest of the world is just going to go back to sleep. Even when this day ends, and the next one begins, they’ll wake up and count their lucky stars that they weren’t the ones caught up in the smoke and fire. They might still curse the capitol, but they’ll thank them, too. Because they think about how Snow is still there, some guiding force, some stability, the devil that they know just living and breathing. They can live with that, without having to think on their own. They don’t have to think about how much he’s put them through.
I don’t feel sorry for them, really. I feel sorry for not seeing it sooner, that the world doesn’t owe much to me other than letting me get away.
It’s why I thought about blowing myself up, rather than keeping myself alive, or trying to escape.
Something comforting about ending the world on your own terms. Knowing that you’ve gone and made a mess of things as you’ve gone out. And then they’re all left to deal with the aftermath, while you drift away to nothing.
I guess I couldn’t bring myself to do it because of how scared I was. That was the real reason, nothing more than that. I don’t know what to think of death, or what happens afterwards. Just that I know the world will keep going on without me, and that I don’t have much of a say otherwise.
Still – I had thought about how there might be something worse, too. That after all the things I’ve done, maybe there really is someone keeping count of the good or bad. Maybe all this was going to write me off into a bad place, where I’d suffer even more.
But that would be bullshit, to have to live a life that centered on some morality steeped in how much other folks had started with. We’d all gotten a shit hand, and a worse one still. If I didn’t send a message to the capitol, no one else would. There hadn’t been one victor that even bothered to utter a word against them, as though they lived some sort of charmed life. But we knew better – some of us – that they had to do what they did. And yet they did nothing for us, rather than train someone else for death to take their place.
Would’ve been nice to purge eleven of a few of them, except they were all away in the capitol. I don’t know if I hate any of them in particular, save maybe cricket, but they all might as well be dead at this point.
I guess I could go on the hunt for them on the outside.
I think about all the people that I’ve told about this tunnel. A couple of girls that I don’t know if they exist anymore, and Vasco. That’s about the long and the short of it, that the only one that might know how to get to the other side would never think about leaving eleven. I think Vasco might have bled whatever was eleven’s blood (was it peach juice? Or maybe crushed corn).
I was ready for the other side, again.
It wasn’t the first time that I’d gone on the other side of the wall. I’d run out on eleven after the sixty-fifth, when I was young and didn’t know better. I had all these dreams that I could climb mountains, and live off the water from a river, make myself a little shack in the woods. I’d seen on the other kids my age survive for a whole week alone, and thought about how it was better than staying in a house that I didn’t love, in a place that didn’t want me there.
But dreams came up empty.
First, it was colder than I imagined at night, and I cried myself to sleep without knowing where I was. I remember how the clouds cut out any sight of the stars, and that it started to rain early in the morning. I was tucked between some trees but my head got all wet, and my hands went numb. I thought about how I was going to head back, through the wall, and just give myself up to some peacekeepers if I could. Thought about how the whole world could tear me apart for wanting to leave a place that felt toxic as it could be.
But I stuck it out, for a while. Wiped away the tears, told myself that I was a real man, that I was big enough for what was about to come to me. They liked to tell me that I wasn’t big enough, that I wasn’t strong enough – my cousins, the boys at school – but I didn’t let things like that bring me down, or break me. Didn’t let it make me cry too much, just so that I wouldn’t be able to move on. So I put one foot in front of the other, and determined that I was going to live the way that I wanted to live. They could all be damned to hell for all that I cared.
Rum Tum saved me, of course.
Well – we saved each other.
He was blind, then. Something about a mud that put poison in his blood and I – I remember seeing him again, the face that hurt my heart, that he looked exactly like Benat. And he sounded like him, even smelled like him, when he nestled in close to me at night, after laying next to the fire. Hard not to imagine how much that hurts your heart, looking at someone and seeing someone else. They weren’t the same, but they weren’t too far apart, neither. Benat told more jokes, though, would’ve never shut up if the two of us were walking out along the wilderness.
But Rum Tum liked to let the moment sit, so the both of us could take it in. He would tell me to listen, and take in the world, rather than having to fill it up with words. It was the best eight months of my life, walking out in those woods, and along those shores. I remember seeing the ocean in winter, with snow on the beach. It was too cold, I said, but Rum Tum made us listen to the way the water broke on the sand, and had me taste some of the water. He laughed at me when I wretched, and told me how it wasn’t meant for drinking, but that I needed to see what it was like for myself, in case I never got to see it again.
I don’t know what sort of world I’d make if I ever got the chance, but that was about as close to what I might’ve wanted, I think. Living out in the middle of nowhere, without much of anyone else.
We didn’t have to listen to folks that wanted us to live a different way. Got to see things that no one else had seen in our lifetimes, like the crumbling little bits of buildings. The carnival that had rusted clear over, but still stood as though it was just waiting for someone to pay admission. The lighthouse that looked out on the bay, nevermore shining for boats to keep them from running ashore. And we were free, then, that word that I never knew could exist other than in my mind. Clear and free, because we were writing a story that was outside of the games, that existed just between the two of us, as though the world could keep marching and we’d stay exactly the same. I loved him, my other brother.
I got too sick, is what Rum Tum had said. He said that he couldn’t let me die out there, that he didn’t know how to heal me. That I had too many fevers, too many chills, too much – that we wandered and wandered back to where it had all begun. Outside the wall, along where the little hole was.
And he’d told me, before I was to go back down again, that the world was going to be different from then on.
When you see the truth, it’s hard to go back to living in a lie.
That’s all I could imagine, when I hugged him and begged him that we shouldn’t part. He wasn’t going to live much longer without me, blind as he was, but – somehow, I don’t think he worried much about himself. He was too quiet to say, to let me know that he didn’t think the rest of his story was worth writing.
He’d whispered out that there would always be a way out of this, that I knew how to live without him. But I didn’t think that I’d ever go back out again, not when I went back to this life. I thought I’d get swept right back up, with my name in the bowl. Or that I’d march forward and put myself in so I could free myself.
I’d thought about it when Katelyn had gone in. I knew her from the watering hole. I could’ve just stepped forward and gone and done it – but it was Levi’s time, not mine. Would my head have been crushed like his, if I had?
We didn’t have much of a chance, anyway. With the way the world changed, with the quiet that came for those few years, it felt different. Eight long years without an Izar in the games and it felt like things were getting better. I fooled myself into thinking that could be true. Thought that there was a way that the world hadn’t closed in on the rest of us. Went to birthday parties and celebrated out of morbid curiosity. Tilled the fields, babysat my cousins. Learned our language, and kept it closer to my heart than I should’ve. I was another ghost taking part of it all, trying to live through what shouldn’t have been normal.
But it all changed, didn’t it? Slowly, at first – failing to run for mayor. Failing to get to be a part of the rebels. Failing to convince Vasco to do much of anything against the capitol. So what choice did I have, watching them tear all of us apart, until we were exactly the same as we’d always been?
When I move the grate stopping me from the other side, I take a moment to look back into the darkness toward what would’ve been district eleven. It might be the last time I look at it, after all.
I want to feel something. I want to hear some kind of sign, as though there’s a higher power, to tell me that maybe what I’m doing is going to come back to haunt me. That there’s an easier choice than this, but – nothing comes. Just the silence of the darkness, and the smell of warm earth. And so I spend another minute pressing through the dirt and exiting out underneath the sky full of stars.
I stare back at the wall that marks out district eleven, the fence with the razor wire and guard posts. The space that keeps the rest of us in, as though there’s only one life to live. I’m not sad to see it, to know what it looks like again. The white color of the fence, and the way there are men radioing overhead, lights flashing through the darkness. My heart pounds but I remind myself they’re not looking for anyone on the outside, just yet. They’re looking for the folks that are causing trouble in the district, and trying to put out the fires and flames.
Probably wondering how something like this could ever happen in a place like this.
For the first time, I stare up at the stars overhead and wonder. It’s just after sunset, I think. The purple of sky fades into a darker shade of black, so that the lights overhead tell a story. All the different spaces that are blinking out through time; a collection of old names that I should’ve learned long ago. Benat used to talk about the stars, and tell me their names. But now it’s all gone and been forgotten, twenty years of other things to blot out what’d been good for me to know.
He would’ve loved the outside of the walls, I think.
I get a good mile from the wall, pressing through brush and over dead logs, and bits of underbrush, before I finally set myself down next to an oak.
I start crying like a little bitch, all the tears coming down my cheeks and onto the leather of my jacket.
I want to think that there might be a better reason for why I feel this way. That maybe I’m tired, or just put out for all the things that I’ve had to see. But I can’t shake the thought that each and every person that I’ve ever known, I probably won’t see again. That the world outside the walls is a great, big empty place. I can live a whole life alone without any of them, but – maybe there would be times that I wouldn’t want them to be completely gone.
Loneliness works that way, tearing us up and putting us out.
But I’m not so much lonely as I am tired. It’s like the weight of all of it is gone, off my shoulders, and the pressure’s come and gone. I want to believe that means that everything will be different. I won’t have to listen to the knuckle dragging folks talk about how the corn has come in so good, or that the strawberries are real nice. No more am I going to have to stand in line waiting to be told which bushels to take in, or where I was going to have to get my fill from. There was an emptiness to that sort of thing, the day in and day out of the world, that I’d never been able to walk away from. I tried good as I could, but here – now, I knew that I never had to face that sort of thing again.
They would’ve laughed, I think, for me to get this chance. That I would be the one on the other side of the wall, looking back at them. They would’ve expected me to stay and fight. But I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of telling them all the things that they should already know, only to be left without so much as a care. They’d find it all out on their own, just as soon as they decided that they would listen to me.
We used to talk about how there would be a place for all of us, one day. A little land and a little house, and a way that we could all walk to be with one another.
But that was just the pipe dream of a bunch of fools.
I sat there for a good while, letting the sound of sirens in the distance blare. I looked up at the stars, and thought about how Vasco used to tell us stories with shadows and candles before we’d go to sleep.
He used to come over, the months after Benat died, and tuck us into bed.
There was a night when he told the story of the little prince, of how he went from planet to planet, how he was looking for something. I don’t remember the story but I remember how animated his face was in candlelight, how he wanted so much for us to be listening, and taking it all in. And I remember wishing so badly that he was my father, and not the man that was in the next room, drinking scotch and talking about how awful each of his sons had turned out to be. Why did the world let men like that be fathers, the sort of men whose hearts were so small, too small for boys like me and Deval?
I remember asking him if he believed that we’d ever go to the stars. He’d finished his story, and was moving to tuck the sheets up over my shoulders. He sat there for a minute, and ran a hand back through his hair, with a whistle. He didn’t say anything right away, as though he was putting some thought to the question of a child. It’s what I remember, that no matter how silly it may have seemed, he still treated me like I wasn’t just a kid, that what I had to say mattered. And I hate it now, thinking that all those years ago, that he told me how it wasn’t something we could do then, but it was a good dream.
We never got to talk about those times, when the world was smaller. He brought over things from the market, and Emma would help him cook for us. When my mom was feeling sick and my father took to spending days on the back porch, away from all of us. He told lots of stories; he brought Raquel, whose big brown eyes used to leer a little too much.
I wonder why we had to be the ones to sacrifice so much?
Did other people just deserve more, or is it that they thought we deserved less? It’s what it felt like, that the world had gone and decided our pursuit of happiness was less than, less than what the rest of them deserved. I wish I could’ve told them how I feel then, that they could’ve listened to me, rather than seeing that I was some sort of man acting out of rage. I’m not the first one to think that we should burn it all down, and I wasn’t going to be the last.
But they’d never give what I had to think a second thought, not so much as they would hope that I never came back. I’d gone and damaged their precious home, I’d marred what should’ve been a better moment for eleven. When the world was close to having another from eleven come home. And I hope she did, too – that there would be another one to see just how much hurt had passed through us in the short span of time that she’d been gone.
Wouldn’t make a difference, would it?
We just had the pleasure of knowing that the world was going to ride on and on, with all the same stories.
I made my way further on, the next morning, waking with a bit of chill. The sun rose and started to clear up the cold, though I found that I was thirsty by midday. It was a lot of what I remembered, walking through the space between trees, along a river, toward nowhere. I followed the moss on the north side of trees, and stayed away from spaces with fewer trees. It wasn’t the same, though – walking now didn’t feel like then.
There was a difference when I had a reason to run away, when I didn’t look back and wonder if there was someone at my back. Would they send someone for me, to pull me up and to carry me back? They had to have someone to crucify for daring to do anything against the capitol, much less what I had managed. There would be blood, whether mine or someone else’s, for what I’d done to the town square.
Or maybe I was giving them too much credit. Maybe they wouldn’t do much of anything at all. Sometimes I imagined that the world worked differently; that we all would think they needed a person to blame for a failure. But the capitol was fantastic at believing nothing had happened at all. They could just press for the world to move on, to forget about the explosion, to never speak of it again. They would just roll on with a victory tour; they would tell us that we were lucky at all to be alive.
Didn’t matter much to me now, I suppose. Didn’t matter so much as I’d made a point, broke clear and free of what I’d been a part of, and now I was here, walking away from it all.
We’ve all got that in us, I think.
The power to burn through all of it, to get so angry, to be pushed, and pushed, until at last there’s not much else we can do. We have to let it go, to push back, to fight. There are some that sort of crumble, who never want to do much of anything. But I’ve never been one of those people. Instead, I’ve had to do this since just about the time I was twelve. Release the anger, let it out somehow.
It used to be easier, just running off on my own, and letting out a yell, or swimming, or teasing someone that didn’t deserve it. Like the trash girl that had gone and dated Deval. But even after I drove them apart from one another, didn’t feel so good about myself. I’d only wanted to prove that we were a stronger bond than what she had, even if they’d been old enough to marry. They didn’t need to be together, not when I knew what was better.
Except each year it was like the way I could handle anger just sort of stalled, that it would build up in me and just fly out too much. That I was too hot, too angry – that it took living with a house of boys to know just how bad – that they didn’t let me get away with it, at all. They told me that I was being an ass, that I needed to be different. They stopped talking to me when I was like that, or told me I was acting like a fool again. And I’d rage and be a tempest, but they would just stare and shake their heads.
I miss them now, out here in the wilderness. Just about the only folks I could call friends, now.
They might have to say something, with me going missing. Or they wouldn’t say much of anything at all. Put an ad in the paper, get a new roommate, act as though I had just run off. Maybe got caught up in something bad, or not. I don’t think they’d fault me for what I’d done, much more than say I’d gone too far. I had a way of going too far, or so that’s what most of them said.
I think what I’d miss most of all, was – well, I guess that it was easier to be in a smaller place like eleven. I’d known just what I was facing, staying. That I could’ve walked those streets the rest of my life and known each and every line like the last. That there may have been eighty-some Izars but I could name the most of them. They’d know me, or at least whisper to who I was. But out here, it was all unknown.
And maybe it’s better that way, having to live in the unknown. We were the ones that were supposed to be here, to live here, to live out and alive and onward. They didn’t know what they were missing, the world as it was, the trees that reached up toward the sky, or the sunrise. It was different out here, without all the people to ruin it.
But I know that they’ll never see any of this. They’d be too afraid to walk out the gates and leave behind what they knew. That was this brave new world, that you had to abandon who you’d been before to be able to embrace it. Rum Tum would tell me that the land was only forgiving if you decided to give your heart to it. You had to live again, to start again, to learn to be the man you were supposed to be. To bury what you’d left behind and think of it as a part of you that was dead and gone.
Easy for folks to think of what is living, and what's not. To shuffle things around so that the dead can be buried and forgotten. It's a better parting of ways that holding it close to your heart so it gets poisoned. No, I know that it has to be this way, for things to part. No matter how much it hurts, no matter what. Not like I can say I'm so grown up that I know a better way.
That’s what I tried to do, to live without the world behind me, to move on from everything that I’d ever known. It was easy now, numb as I was, to move on. If I were a praying man, I’d have said a prayer for the ones that I left behind, the ones that mattered, anyway. But there isn’t anything that comes to me, nothing that stands out when I sit there, staring out on the horizon. Watching the trees for birds, knowing that the sky goes on and on, forward.
They could have their world, their broken little districts, their leaders. I’d make my own way, through the new beginning. Something new.