Finnick Odair had always known that ghosts were real. Everyone in Four did. The spirits of the dead were as real as the sands on the shore and the water in the sea. As real as the Games and the graves that went with them.
Parents and grandparents would tell stories of fishermen who died at sea finding their way home to their families. Of slender girls emerging from the sea only to disappear on the sands. Of young men and women with frightened eyes and squared shoulders boarding trains never to return.
Finnick saw his first ghost when he was four. A beautiful dark-skinned woman with gleaming eyes and white teeth wearing a dress of red and gold. She smiled at him, held a finger to her lips, and disappeared.
When Finnick told his mother, she just nodded and said, “Ah, that’s just young Odette. Don’t you worry. She’s a nice one.”
Finnick saw his second ghost when he was ten. Unlike Finnick’s first ghost, this one wasn’t a nice one.
In fact, it was someone Finnick knew. A boy. An angry boy. Bile. The tribute from that year. The one who’d died in the bloodbath by a lucky strike from the girl from Seven. The boy didn’t have a family to mourn him, and so he wandered the halls of the training center, taking out his anger at being forgotten on all of the rest of the trainees. Even those who weren’t sensitive to ghosts could feel this one, could feel his rage and the terror he created.
Classes were shifted. Moved. So the angry poltergeist wouldn’t tear his way through the training sessions, leaving a swath of ruined teenagers in his wake.
It didn’t work.
Each time a class moved, he came back even more vengeful, determined to destroy the futures of these children as his had been destroyed.
Finally they left the training center altogether, but by then it was too late. Both of Four’s tributes died in the bloodbath, their nerves frazzled and their aim broken by the angry ghost who’d followed them to the Capitol.
But he didn’t stay in the Capitol. After the Games, Bile returned to Four and returned to tormenting the trainees.
It took a suggestion from a girl two years behind Finnick, Annie Cresta, to create a memorial for all of the tributes who didn’t make it out of the Games -- especially the ones without a family to mourn them -- for the boy’s spirit to be at peace. The simple wall of shells wasn’t much as far as memorials went, but if it could keep the restless spirits at bay, Finnick would gladly add whatever bits of coral and conch he found to the ever-growing wall.
After that, Finnick saw many ghosts, most of them the tributes lost in the Games. But sometimes he saw others. Others like the thin woman and her dog, walking along the beach playing fetch in the waves. Others like Odette once again, the specter never saying anything, but still teaching him in her own way how to seduce people without ever saying a word. Others like his grandfather, long lost at sea after a hurricane sank his ship and the ships of many other fishermen and women from Four. His grandfather rejoiced in Finnick’s ability, showing off the trident skills which had made him a legend among the fishermen of Four. Still others, once they knew of Finnick’s aptitude, ran from him.
Finnick wasn’t the only one who saw them. The girl, Annie, saw them too. And more, she could talk to them. It made most people feel uncomfortable around her. But not him. He knew she was like him.
When Finnick was fourteen, he volunteered for the Games to spare a twelve-year-old. There’d been an epidemic -- measles -- so most of the other older tributes had been stricken or taken -- their shades hovering anxiously over their friends and loved ones before fading away. So many were ill, weak. But not Finnick.
He won his Games handily, using the skills his grandfather’s ghost would be proud of, killing tribute after tribute with impunity. Their spirits stood there in shock as their bodies dropped to the ground before they disappeared to who knows where. One shade lingered, his district partner. He’d liked Nadine, mourned her death at the claws of a Capitol mutt, and snuck her district token into his pocket to take home to her family.
Nadine returned the kindness. Pointing out warnings, including the silent approach of the girl from One -- which allowed him to win his Games. Standing over the eighteen-year-old’s body, panting, Finnick watched as Nadine gave him the ancient salute from Four. A dip of water. A touch of the lips. A finger to the sky.
Then she was gone.
And Finnick was alone.
When he made it home, victorious but broken, his fellow tributes asked him about the Games. Most of them focused on what it was like to see someone die. But not Annie. She didn’t ask him anything, just sat with him while he wrestled with his demons and the angry spirits of the tributes he’d killed who’d followed him home.
The girl from One was especially vicious. Angry at having come so close only to be defeated.
Eventually they grew tired of hurling invectives at him. And one by one, they disappeared, going to Finnick knew not where -- but so long as it wasn’t by him, he didn’t care.
When Finnick was nineteen, Annie’s name was called. She went into the Games resigned, strong. She returned home damaged. Unhinged. Broken. And with her, the ghost of her district partner followed. He’d been a friend, a close one. He’d loved Annie but had never had the courage to show it.
Now he refused to leave her. He stayed with her throughout the Games, urging her to tread water, to stay strong, to hold out. To win.
And when she did, he wanted to stay with her. Be with her as he couldn’t in life. And he -- not the Games -- drove Annie insane.
For years, the dead tribute hovered. Lingered. Until young Odette appeared with anger in her eyes, grabbed his hand, lifted a finger to her lips, and they both disappeared.
When Finnick mentioned it to his mother, she just nodded and said, “She’s a nice one, young Odette.” And then didn’t say any more.
He didn’t ask what she meant.
Over the next five years, Finnick saw many more ghosts. Those who haunted the bedrooms of ministers favored by President Snow. Servants with secrets. Tributes who held grudges. And even occasionally other ghosts. Older ghosts. Like people dressed in loose brightly colored clothing, their bodies bloated and cracked, partially wrinkled from some disaster long forgotten.
Finnick ignored them all. It was the only way he knew to survive.
When he returned to the Games, the ghosts came too. Cashmere, Gloss, Wiress -- they all hovered near their bodies, then followed him through the Arena. Somehow they knew he, unlike the rest, could see them. Mags hung on, her presence solid in a way that reminded him of young Odette.
She’s a nice one, Mags , his mother might say if his mother were still alive to say anything. Instead her spirit had followed him as far as the train station, seemingly knowing that this would be the last time she’d see her son. In death or in life.
Annie wasn’t with him, not in Thirteen. He almost wished she was; her ghost would mean she was dead, but it would also mean she wasn’t suffering. Snow never paraded Annie across the screens the way he did Peeta, and the questions haunted Finnick’s mind far more than ghosts ever had.
Mags stayed, watching over him, as silent in death as she had been in life. And when Annie returned, Mags kissed her forehead, nodded to them both, and finally disappeared to wherever the spirits went.
Finnick wondered if his mother was there.
The ghosts still roamed Thirteen’s halls -- dressed in the uniforms of Thirteen or clothes from before, many of them covered in burns.
And children. So many children. Most followed people Finnick assumed were their parents, but not all. Some trailed him, never speaking. But there. Watching. Waiting.
Annie built a memorial here, too. Nothing so nice as the wall of shells, but little pieces of metal, plastic -- whatever detritus they could find. Katniss didn’t understand. He wasn’t surprised; Twelve didn’t know their ghosts the way Four did. Thirteen, even less. But the shades would have this. They would have their tribute. Their respect. Their memorial.
It was all they could do.
One night, after a bout of passion no shade could dampen, Annie turned to him and said, “You have to go.”
He knew what she meant. Go to the Capitol. Confront Snow. Finnick hated to leave her alone with the ghosts, but he had to. He knew he had to. And it gave him some measure of peace knowing she did too.
Some peace. But not nearly enough.
When he died in the sewers in the fight for the Capitol, he woke again on the beaches of Four. The sun sparkled on the waves as they lapped at the sand. The memorial wall lay half-broken behind him, its pile of shells anchoring him to this place as securely as iron and rope. In his heart he felt a yearning. A calling. An urgent plea to wait. Wait for something. Someone. But what? Who?
He didn’t know.
He didn’t care.
Until he saw her.
Annie. Brilliant, beautiful Annie holding a tiny human against her. As if the two could sense him, they both turned in his direction. Finnick’s eyes met ones so like his own, and he knew. Knew! That this was what he’d been waiting for.
He knew Annie saw it too because she pointed at him and smiled, her eyes warm for the baby on her hip. “That’s your father.”
Beside him, Odette appeared. “That your boy?” she asked, her voice startling him. She’d always been silent each of the other times he’d seen her. “He looks good.”
“He is. Thanks. I wish I could stay and watch my family grow.”
Odette flashed the smile he’d always pictured her with and said, “Love, why do you think I’ve been looking out for you and your girl all these years?” She placed a light hand on his shoulder. “You’re mine. Kin. And here we look out for our own.”
Finnick’s eyes stole back to his family, still coming toward him with smiles on their lips. “That’s right. We do.”
Don’t fear to die in the Games. You’ll come back.
Death is an old friend. The departed are never really gone.
Family looks after family. That’s the way of it here. That’s the way of Four.