My Mockingjay alternate ending
November 3, 2010
[My alternate ending starts in the middle of Chapter 27 of the original, at the moment where Coin has asked the game survivors to vote on holding a final Hunger Games – I start in Katniss’s head as she is about to cast her vote]
And there we are, discussing an atrocity as if it weren’t the most terrible decision we’ll ever make. Is it possible that some years ago, in a scene just like this, a group of survivors sat around a table and voted to begin the first Hunger Games? Was it just as difficult for them to decide what was worse – killing innocent children in a public ritual or allowing the districts to seethe in anger over their losses and possibly raise up another army of rebels? Some of the hatred I have built up for founders of the games begins to unravel. But just some of it.
They made their decision for their reasons and now it is our time to make our decision, for our reasons. And my reasons are becoming painfully clear. I entered the Hunger Games to save Prim. Because of me – no, because of the Mockingjay – the games are finally over.
But Prim is dead. What reason do I have left?
Regardless of the choice I make, Coin has me precisely where she wants me. She wants these games to happen, that much is clear. All this talk about some people not being satisfied is so much political posturing, even though the cameras aren’t buzzing around her. Coin wants these games because she wants things to be the way they were before – tightly controlled, comfortably disciplined and grey, like the lives of the people in District Thirteen, buried underground, smothered, for their own safety.
And she would smother me if I let her. She would smother us all and claim it is for our own good, just the way Snow poisoned those around him – all of us, really, poisoning us with hate, suspicion, and mistrust between the districts. And all to preserve the peace. Because a president only has the power that he or she preserves. And Coin, like Snow before her, intends to preserve power.
Has she already calculated the odds? Of course she has. She knows the feelings of this group. She knows that they are all smart enough to see how much they will depend on her grace if they hope to have anything close to normal lives after this. She knows that with the right words, she can get them to support the games again. But she can’t be obvious about it so she has to make it seem like it comes down to a vote among equals. A vote whose results can’t be pinned on any one of us by name.
But she’ll know. She’ll know who lined up behind her and who did not. She’ll know who to reward and who to smother.
I’m the only thing she doesn’t have neatly tied up. Her Mockingjay, sufficiently deranged from the loss of her baby sister, sufficiently easy to smear on the broadcasts should I step out of line.
Power preserves itself. It always has, I see that now. And it always will. The only solution is to give the presidency to someone who doesn’t want it but could do it. Someone who cares enough about the people we’ve saved and the people we’ve lost. Someone who the people will believe as president but whom the people don’t have to fear as president. Only there is no such person.
Or is there?
I formulate my plan almost immediately.
“I vote yes,” I say, suddenly, catching everyone by surprise, “for Prim.” The last statement ends any protest that Peeta was going to offer, it silences the room. It does not silence a small grin from rising on Coin’s face.
“But I have a condition,” I say, almost as quickly. “I want to announce it, immediately after the execution.”
Coin hesitates, the others appear puzzled. To appease all of them, I offer, “The people should know that their Mockingjay supports this final Games, the atrocity to end all atrocities.”
I can see her calculating. I have surprised her, it is true, but her shrewd mind – the same mind that has plotted this exact ending for years while buried underground – can see not only the wisdom of it, but how brilliantly it plays to her advantage. The Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion, stands and validates the reign of the new president by not only executing her predecessor, but approving of her first official act.
“That will be arranged, presuming the last vote is affirmative?” She looks at Haymitch and he eyes me, sober and resolute. Does he truly understand me now? Does he know what I’ve decided? I want him to trust me.
Whether he does or not, he nods. “I’m with the Mockingjay. We all have to be.”
Distressed sounds rise from those who oppose, Peeta is looking at me, I can feel his stare like a penetrating ray of light but I will not let it shine on me. I cannot let his desire for me to be the girl he fell in love with stop me from what I have to do.
Coin dismisses us and waves her staff in to outfit me with a headset so I can broadcast the news after I dispatch my arrow through Snow’s heart. She tries to restrain her triumphant glower, but she fails. I have given her more than she could have hoped for. I ask for a favor in return. Stopping her as she passes by me, I hold up a single white rose, its smell so vile I can barely tolerate it.
“A favor?” I ask, holding the rose in front of her knowing eyes. “Can you see that this is placed directly over Snow’s heart?”
“Certainly, Mockingjay.” And she leaves, her smile broad as ever.
“Peeta,” I call out as he’s leaving the room, answering his earlier gaze and stopping him in his tracks. “I need you to be on the platform with me.” The surprise that registers in his eyes is so genuine, even in his rage against me, I can see that he would do nearly anything to protect me. “I’m…” I hesitate, and nearly falter, but press on, “I’m worried that there might be Snow sympathizers here. They would love nothing more than to get one last shot at the Mockingjay, er, me. Would you be willing to stand by me?”
“Are you sure I can be trusted?” he asks, bluntly, but with no malice.
“I don’t know anyone I can trust more,” I say, words that should be warm but I’m wounding him by endorsing the hunger games and simultaneously encouraging his affection and I know it. True to his real self, he replies.
“Yes, I will stand by you.”
This time I’m the one wounded by words that should be – and are – warm. I hope, in time, he will understand. And that he will forgive.
Then I am swarmed and I have to fight the urge to flee the incoming team as they tease my hair, apply the last flash of makeup, and outfit me with a headset so that once I have done my duty and killed the most dangerous person alive, my announcement can be heard loud and clear.
That is precisely what I want, so I comply, but the memory of swarming trackerjackers rises to unsettle me. I feel my hand grip the bow which hums slightly to one side. I do not set it down because I am afraid I will lose my nerve.
Will I? Should I? I have fought the temptation to let war make me into a monster and now the war is over yet I am about to become more of a monster than even the Games made me. In the Games, I killed to survive. Even in the war, I killed to keep those close to me, friends, family, and allies, alive.
Now I will kill to keep everyone alive. But do the lives of those I think I will save make up for the monstrous murder I am about to commit?
And worse, what if I fail? I don’t doubt my aim, but my words. Can I find the words to explain what I am about to do or will I be just another in a line of monsters that history has recorded before and will continue to record into eternity?
No, it must stop here, with me. I must make a new beginning, one in which monsters can never again exist. And it will take a monster, me, to make it happen.
Still, I feel the pouch on my left shoulder. The small pill is there, waiting for me. Good.
Now the crowds have gathered and I’m being rushed out to the platform. The cameras are going, a commentator announces the activities for all to hear and as I step out before the enormous audience, bent on vengeance, there is an eruption of cheers. Their Mockingjay stands before them, worse for wear, but a survivor, a symbol of all that they have been through, and their shouts make their excitement clear. They want the Mockingjay to finish this now.
The bow seems to sense my own agitation and hums to life in my hand. It is only then that I look across the platform to see them drag out Snow and tie him to a pole just ten meters from me. No wonder they only supplied me with one arrow, at this distance it will be impossible to miss.
He’s dressed in white, the rose pinned over his heart just as I requested. He trembles a bit, coughing, a trickle of blood flowing from his lips as he tries to lick them clean. The guards retreat from him after they fasten him to the pole, standing close enough to prevent any escape. They needn’t bother. He’s not going anywhere.
The announcer says something, I presume it’s to invite me to take aim, but my bow is already high, extended. I place the one arrow securely in the bowstring and listen to the hum. Within seconds it will all be over.
I think only of Prim, not the girl blown up in a merciless attack, but the girl I stood for in the reaping. No one should have to take a life in order to save a life again.
No one, that is, but me, just this one time more.
Quickly, I act. I pull back the bowstring and with the sudden grace of a bird altering course in midair, I point the bow in a new direction, and release.
My intended target falls from her place on the podium, with no time for even a look of surprise to register on her already dead face.
President Coin’s reign is officially over.
The act is so sudden and unexpected that I’m sure I’ll have at least a few seconds to begin my speech before either the microphone is shut down or the guards can run to attack me. I know they won’t kill me, they will want me alive and with my one arrow now spent, I’m not a threat to anyone else.
To my side, I hear a gurgling chuckle that must be Snow. Yes, President Snow, I promised I would not lie to you and this is the most honest thing I will ever do! I am tempted to turn to Peeta and implore him to protect me but I don’t want to make him an accomplice, yet a part of me knows that I don’t need to ask.
So I step boldly forward and begin my address.
“People of Panem!” I shout, grateful that the microphone is still working. They are screaming and shocked but they can hear me so I continue. “I, Mockingjay, winner of the Hunger Games, declare an end to the games forever! President Coin is now dead and gone with her is the temptation to ever hold another Hunger Games as long as we live. I declare an end to the killing of the weakest among you in order to preserve the rest of us. Because as long as there is a president over us who wishes to remain in power indefinitely, there will be a Hunger Games, there will be the murder of innocents, and there will be those of us who,” my bravado begins to weaken as I realize I am speaking mostly for myself here, “will participate in the murder of innocents in order to survive.” The words I’m saying are starting to spin in my head and though I can tell most of those present have stopped to listen, I am not sure I can say what I planned to say.
Behind me, Peeta is shouting, “Katniss! I can’t keep them back much longer! Finish it!” A scuffle ensues; I don’t need to turn to know that in seconds I will be thrown to the ground. I long to reach for the pill, to end this, leaving it in the hands of these people who I have worked so hard to keep alive.
But I cannot. I step forward to the edge of the balcony and shout, both hands open, raised in the air, “You have the choice! You can now find and elect the next Snow or Coin; or you can choose to make me your president. A president who would sacrifice her own life to keep you alive rather than take from you the lives of your child–”
I intend to say “children” before the blow on the back of my head knocks me forward, doubling me over the railing. My vision blackens and I lose the ability to speak. I feel hands on me then, what seem like dozens of them, pulling me back from the edge of the balcony and throwing me to the ground, where the same hands hold me firmly in place while I continue to drift further and further from consciousness.
The last thing I am aware of is the sound of a friendly voice screaming, “Katniss! Katniss!” The screams seem to fade until they are gone completely
The sensation that wakes me is one of intense pain. This means I am at least alive. If only barely. Evidently, my new, pink skin was torn to shreds in the wrestle to pin me to the ground and I can scarcely peel myself from the bed on which I lie.
The part of me that wants to die is back. I thought I made that choice on the balcony, but it is back now, reminding me that death is the easier way. Leave the mess that is Panem in the hands of people willing to fix it. Except, I remind myself, that the people most willing to fix it are those willing to fix it to their own advantage. More Coins, more Snows. I know that I cannot die, I cannot take the easy way out because I have to give the people an opportunity to choose me as president.
But will they? It is in their hands. Do they know what I did for them? Even if they do, they may be so bent on this new game we’ve established – the game called kill the president – that it might be too late.
If they choose death, I will take it.
Opening my eyes hurts, as does every other act I perform, including breathing. How long have I been out? I don’t know, but from the look of my skin, I have been healing at least a day or two. I’m still not a pretty sight, but evidently no one has signed my execution warrant yet.
I stand and take stock of my aches. The pain in my skin radiates down into my bones and I can’t honestly say whether it is caused more by my outside injuries or my internal dilemma. Waiting to find out whether you are the president of a nation or its next casualty of war provides a pain all its own.
I don’t have to wait long. Soon, the door opens slightly.
“Ah, yes, the sensors said you were awake. I’m glad, though you look a mess.” It’s Plutarch. He thinks for a moment and adds, “Though that might be perfect. In fact, that will be perfect.” Tossing me a bundle, he says, “Here, put this on, we have an appointment we don’t want to be late for.”
Ever the showman, he’s so concerned with how things will look. But he has yet to tell me what I’m dressing for. Inauguration or execution?
I open the bundle and retrieve a silk gown. It’s blue, both dark and light, the two colors twisting slightly up the gathered legs of the outfit and across my chest up onto my shoulder. The effect evokes a cool, blue flame, and the silk against my body offers the same soothing feeling.
It’s beautiful, it comforts, and I resist the temptation to wonder if the outfit says anything about what has happened in the past two days.
I take a deep breath, feeling the air inside my lungs even as the skin stretched across my rib cage screams out in pain, soothed only slightly by the soft temper of the silk. Only then can I step out of the door where Plutarch awaits.
“Finally!” he exclaims, “We have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. It’s important that we strike exactly the right balance in this one, it took a lot to get us where we are today—“
“We?” I ask, somewhat exasperated. “Who is we and where, in fact, are we?” I sputter, racing alongside him to keep up while the rushed movements wreak havoc with the pain in my skin.
“Oh, that’s right, you don’t even know, do you! That’s even better, a lot has happened in the three days you have been out—“
“Three days?” I exclaim, head spinning from the vigorous movement and the realization that I had missed more than I expected.
“Yes, three days. That’s enough time for Acting President Paylor to have reestablished control over the peacekeeping forces and to have sent out envoys to all the districts to keep watch over the riots.”
“My little Mockingjay,” he starts, in a mocking tone all his own, “did you think your little show would cause everyone to suddenly see the light and reverse 75 years of hatred?”
“I had hoped…”
“Right, there is always hope. And with you, there is a special measure of hope. That’s what makes you so perfect for the job.”
“The Mockingjay job, of course. We all saw it, even when you didn’t. We still do,” he starts to say but he’s interrupted when we arrive at our destination, a conference room in the president’s mansion where sit Haymitch and Peeta.
We stop our rushed pace and my skin relaxes, allowing blood to flow back into my raw nerve endings, I am ablaze with pain. Looking around, I have a familiar feeling and say the first thing that comes to mind, “If I didn’t know better, based on who’s here, I would think that we’re strategizing for the next Hunger Games. We’re just missing the prep team.”
“Oh, they’ll be here,” says Haymitch, his face a pinch red, his mood dour. Evidently his supply of liquor has run out.
I’m confused, but also a bit dizzy, the pain is now making me want to lock up, stop moving, I find the nearest chair and sit.
“What do you mean, they’ll be here?”
Peeta, smiling only slightly, answers, “It may not be the Hunger Games, Katniss, but you’ve started a new game of sorts.”
“I have? Plutarch mentioned something about riots…”
Plutarch answers, “Well, they were supposed to be riots, at least the people instigating them intended them as such. But in the end, in most districts, the people who gathered came to call for peace than to call for more violence.”
Haymitch now, “In other words, it worked. As always you were brilliant. And for once, you actually seemed to understand just how important your performance was.”
“It wasn’t a performance,” I retort, testily.
“That’s exactly why it worked,” he returned. “That is the power of our Mockingjay. She only says what she feels and this time the things she feels captured the feelings of an entire nation.”
My head is still buzzing, but now it’s with hope.
It’s less than an hour later and I have been prepped as best I can. The simple blue flame that runs coolly from my legs to my shoulder burns almost as bright as the pain in my skin. I’m led to a familiar hallway where I stood just days before. There, on cue, I step forward onto the balcony, casting a glance to where there should be a stain of blood, but there is none. Standing in front of the crowd, cameras covering her from every angle, is Acting President Paylor, dressed in full military uniform. This seems appropriate given that we owe the troops a great debt for not only winning the war, but peacefully stepping aside to let the new president take office.
I am that new president. From what I am told, Paylor seized immediate control of the government upon Coin’s death and my imprisonment. She went live before a nationwide audience and called for peace, insisting that she would send peacekeepers to every district to ensure that the war we fought so hard to end would stay in the past.
It did, through her leadership. And many began to whisper that maybe this problem would solve itself. Coin was dead, the Mockingjay could be safely tried and either executed for her crime or perhaps sent to live in exile – for Dr. Aurelius had testified in an open hearing that my mental state was probably questionable, at best.
But Paylor refused. She insisted that the people cast a vote and elect their new president. Or rather, that they choose whether they would accept me as president or not. If they did not, Paylor explained, she would remain in power until a new election could be held, considering more candidates than just me.
That’s when the riots were organized. Old leaders under either Snow or Coin who had made promises to their constituents that in exchange for protesting against – and voting against – the Mockingjay, they would make sure that whoever the new president was would favor their interests.
But the people refused.
Not for any special love for me, but because they are tired of living only to die. Fighting only to survive. In the Mockingjay, they have hope that life can be different.
And so I stand, beside Acting President Paylor, as she announces the formal end of her temporary government and gives all the rights and duties of the presidency of the thirteen districts of Panem to me.
And as I stand, all eyes on me, I experience a slight separation from the present. I am there, but I am also elsewhere, at the reaping, surprising myself by standing up to take Prim’s place. Keeping my little family, my little sister, alive seemed so important then that it was worth dying for. Now, here, keeping my nation alive is so important that it is worth living for.
Ten years have passed, enough time for the grass to grow back on the meadow in District Twelve. There’s a new medicine factory being built by the old district hall and it’s attracting a few families from the old days.
We’re walking together across the meadow, a green expanse, bordered by new homes that have been built to accommodate the new arrivals. There’s so much hope and opportunity here that even people with no ties to the district have been settling here in hopes of building a new life.
Children run the length of the meadow. School is out and they are free to play, or best of all, to hunt. At times, I take some of them out into the fields with me to show them how to shoot and how to trap. But it is different. There are no electric fences, there’s no Seam to bring the meat back to Greasy Sae and see what price you can get for your catch that day.
As the children run the length of the field, playing tag among the dandelions, I am certain they are unaware that they play on a graveyard. And I wonder, should they be? Is it better to chain them to an awareness of their awful past so they never repeat it? Or is it better to simply let them live a life in which fields are for running and hunting is an enjoyable way to pass the time rather than a means of survival.
I don’t answer the question for now. My time for answering questions is over.
When I first suggested that my presidency should have a fixed end point as well as a fixed beginning point, there were many rumors and much concern. It took some time – years, even – before I could explain to people in a way that they understood that president should be a job, not a person. That way, people who thought there was a better way to do things didn’t have to plan rebellions and coups. In response, instead of spending resources preserving power, a president could spend time and energy sharing power.
Eventually they came to understand that it was the right choice. And they foolishly thought it was because their Mockingjay was once again proving wise beyond her years.
But they were wrong.
Not because it wasn’t the right thing to do, it was. But because I did it as much for me as I did for the nation. The first five years in the presidency were difficult ones. My nightmares never went away; worse, they evolved to include all the new worries and threats that were around me. Hunger, medical care, education, opportunities for men and women to obtain a home and raise their children, these were the new mutts that surrounded me in my dreams. I eventually came to see why it’s infinitely easier for a president to spend time preserving arbitrary power, because at least that’s a goal you can accomplish. Each year you remain in power, goal accomplished.
But working on tougher problems is not always so satisfying. You can’t simply launch an attack and beat back the enemy. You can’t just dress up in extravagant clothing and say smart things in an interview. Instead, you have to get your hands dirty, you have to work hard to outsmart the rules of the game, and you have to care more about others than you do for yourself.
That is something I was able to do. Some say quite well, which is why when my ten years were up many people begged me to remain in power. Graciously, and with the sort of style that would have made Cinna proud, I refused.
Because it was time for me – for us – to spend some time caring about ourselves.
We walk hand in hand over the meadow. My right hand is in his left, and my left hand is on my outstretched belly. The baby that moves inside me is still a stranger to me and this world, but it is our baby, and it’s time for me to be a bit selfish about it.
We have a primrose bush planted outside our modest home, it reminds me what it means to care for someone more than I care for myself, enough that I would have died to keep Prim alive. It was that feeling that eventually taught me to care more for Panem than myself. And now it’s time to let someone else give that a try.
President Gale has held the rights and duties of the presidency for going on nine months now. We haven’t visited him in the Capitol yet, but periodically his hovercar will appear above the meadow and he’ll come to share news, see the improvements in the district of our birth, and even ask for advice. The only advice I ever give him is to love the people more than he loves himself.
It’s a lesson I still live by. Though now, hand on my belly, the list of people I love more than myself has focused down somewhat.
Peeta and I have come to an understanding. It wasn’t easy. I was the president of a nation for years before I could be his wife. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to be my husband, either. If my nightmares had changed, his had simply gotten more complex for now the woman who terrorized him in his trackerjacker venom-inspired dreams was the same woman he longed to be with. But his ability to forgive me – both for the things he was brainwashed into thinking I did as well as the things I actually did – healed him and me just enough that we could have hope again.
Not just hope for Panem. That hope was restored several years into my role as president. But hope for us. There was a time that I thought I would never live a normal life. A walking casualty of war, a Mockingjay that could serve as a symbol of hope for generations to come, but a bird unable to actually fly.
But now, his scarred hand in my scarred hand, Peeta and I take flight together.
We make it a point to sit together often and tell the stories of the people we have loved and the people we have lost. We share the same stories over and over. Tonight, we will do the same. Haymitch has responded to one of our frequent dinner invitations and while we eat, breaking and sharing a perfectly baked loaf made by Peeta’s hand, we will share the stories with him and he will pretend he hasn’t heard them. The stories of Rue, of Peeta’s parents, of Prim, and maybe Haymitch will share more of his memories – the ones the liquor hasn’t taken away.
And when we’ve bid him farewell and cleaned up around the house, we’ll retire to our bedroom upstairs. Peeta will ask to put his hand on my stomach and I’ll gladly peel back my shirt to reveal the stretched skin. He’ll place his warm hand on my warmer belly and say, “You love me. Real or not real?”
And I’ll answer, “Real.”
Copyright 2010 by James McQuivey; Mockingjay title, character names, and themes copyright by Suzanne Collins
Finally, to answer something several of you have asked: Yes, I am an aspiring novelist. If you liked this, please see my novel on Amazon. It’s entitled Broken Mirror Girl and it is no coincidence that it is also young adult fiction centering on a uniquely haunted and powerful teenage girl. It’s no Hunger Games, but I encourage you to read it and see what you think.