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HG: House of Cards, Chapter Eight - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: House of Cards, Chapter Eight
Caesar has just tried to help Peeta escape, but Peeta realizes that if he disappears, Johanna and the others will pay for it. He shoves Caesar away and runs, planning to get caught.



Chapter 8
I don't know where I mean to run. If they don't catch me quickly, other people will pay. I'm going to have to make it seem like I forced Caesar to get away from the guard, but I don't know how yet. Hopefully, I'll have a chance before they kill him.

I run down the main path of the city center, where the chariots come during the Games. Somewhere above, I can hear myself asking Katniss who the people she's working with are, and if she trusts them.

My heart is beating too fast, and the shaking I've seen in my hands seems to be in my legs as well. I trip over a stone and nearly fall flat, only catching myself fat the last minute.

"Hey!" someone shouts from a few feet away. "It's him! It's Peeta Mellark!"

I look over my shoulder. Now I can see the screen above the square, my interview rolling on. I am standing here, in the same clothes, still made up. Hard to miss.

I hear the clicks of a hundred cameras, then I'm surrounded. Hands grasp at me, avid eyes glare up into mine. Questions come from everywhere at once.

Are you safe? What are you doing about the war? Is the baby all right? Where is Katniss? Did she break up with you? Will you fight for the Capitol? Do you still love her? Will you marry me instead? Did you win the Quell?

My head spins. The hands seem to be coming out of nowhere, floating in, touching me all over. Someone jabs me in the ribs, where the bone hasn't healed yet. Someone else knocks on my artificial leg. There are fingers on my lips, my sides, my chest, my thighs. I try to back up, but there are people behind me, too, and I lose my balance. One of the hands tugs at my hair, and I feel a piece of it torn away. There are faces behind the hands, but they don't seem connected. They smile, revealing sharp, bright teeth. The eyes are black, like dolls' eyes. The skin seems to be melting, shifting...

Gunfire breaks into the din and I hear several screams, then Peacekeepers grab me roughly and drag me to my feet. The shoo away the crowd, which now seems very small, maybe fifteen or twenty people, even though they took up the whole world a minute ago.

"Not so easy to get away, is it?" one of the Peacekeepers growls. "Cassius ended up in the hospital. You're not going to get it so good." She twists my arm and shoves me forward at the same time, dislocating my shoulder.

"Stop it!" Caesar screams. He is pushed up to me by the crowd of Peacekeepers guarding him.

"Lived through it, did you?" I ask, trying to sound as hateful as I can. "Old man can't even keep control of his own car. All it took was one square hit."

"Peeta!"

"He actually seemed surprised," I say. "Like he really thought I was just going to go back because he said so."

The Peacekeepers look confused by this, but they let up on the pressure they've been holding onto Caesar with.

We're shoved into separate cars and driven not to the prison, but to the President's mansion. It's only on the far side of the square, but they're not taking any chances. We go under a heavy gate and come up into the rose gardens. Beside a fountain, the convoy pulls to a stop, and Caesar and I are both dragged out and pushed into the shadows of the breezeway between the public house and the private areas. We're directed toward the private side of the place. There is no time to marvel at the opulence of the rooms we're shoved through. It makes the public half of the mansion, where Katniss and I once danced, look like a miners' bar on the Seam.

At last, we're manhandled through a heavy wooden door and deposited in a large, lush room dominated by a mahogany desk. The door slams behind us and I hear the lock engage.

"I'm sorry, Caesar," I say quickly, guessing that we're bugged. "After everything you did to try and help me. I betrayed you. I just saw a chance to escape. I couldn't help it. I'm sorry I grabbed the wheel and hit you. You don't have to pretend it was anything else. I get it. I mean... thanks for trying, with the Peacekeepers, but you don't have to fall on your sword for me, and I doubt it'll make a difference. I know what I did was wrong."

"Peeta," he starts, but doesn't follow it up. He goes to a stained glass window and pretends to look through it.

There is a large globe of the word beside the desk. It shows the Capitol in red, each of the districts in blue (except Thirteen, which is in black), and the rest of the empty world in gray. There are a lot of pink dots, marked with numbers. I have to think about it before I realize that they must be arenas. The pink dot marked "75" is southwest of the Capitol, in the empty space between the Capitol and the ocean. The one marked "74" is very close to District Seven. Haymitch's Quell is right outside the Capitol itself. Caesar's is near District One. I turn the globe aimlessly. Many of the early games have their arenas outside of Panem. Mags's games look to be on a cold plateau in Asia. The first Games were in South America. The fifth were in the north part of Africa. Only one of the later Games -- Johanna's -- took place outside Panem. It's smack in the middle of Europe. I remember that it was a ruined city.

I touch the faraway lands, imagining what they're like, wishing I could just dive into the globe, pull my friends with me, go someplace that's empty and safe. I wonder which of the islands is Ireland, where my family came from. None of it is labeled, and all they ever taught us in school were the continents. Dad always looked for books with pictures of Ireland, but we never found any. He just said that his grandfather had said that his grandfather had said that it was supposed to be very green and pretty once, and even after the sea flooded across parts of it, it was still lush... right up until the plagues hit. Maybe the plague is gone by now. Maybe I could fly to Ireland through the skin of the globe, and take Katniss with me, away from the rebels, away from the Capitol. Away.

If only I knew where it was.

I let my hand skate over the globe, my fingers shaking. I can't seem to look away from it. I turn it, away from Panem, away from most of the pink dots. Africa. Australia. Asia. What did we do to ourselves? Why are they gray and empty, with no cities or countries marked on them? How could twelve billion people disappear? Why did everyone left board the rescue carriers? Why not stay and make a go of it?

Or maybe they did stay, but some ancestor of Snow's hunted them down in the merciless arena of the devastated world. Maybe they died off over the years. Maybe they're still out there, hiding, waiting to be found again. I trace a long river in Africa and imagine happy people who've never heard of Panem. Maybe there. Or maybe in the long line of islands that runs between Asia and Australia. Maybe in the wreckage of Europe. There have been arenas in all of those places, and there are no reports of suddenly finding neighbors, but maybe they were just smart enough to stay far, far away.

I want to believe this, but I don't. We may not be able to fly above the clouds the way we used to, but there's nothing wrong with communications, and wasn't before the Catastrophes. Panem was good once, at the beginning. I do believe that. And I don't believe that anyone has been in hiding for four hundred years.

I don't know how long I've been staring at the globe, letting my mind twist along strange pathways, when the door to the study opens and President Snow comes in.

He looks at Caesar. "Don’t imagine for a moment that I believe a single lie out of this boy's mouth. I know what you did, Charlie."

"Are you going to throw me in prison with the others then?"

"No." Snow wrinkles his nose. "No, I think I’m just going to keep a much closer eye on you. Right here. And you're going to be in front of the cameras so much you'll think you've been a private citizen for the last fifty years. So you'd better hope the rebels don't get any traction." He nods over his shoulder and two Peacekeepers come in to march Caesar out of the room. Two more flank the door and stay inside with us.

When he gets to the door, Caesar grabs the edges and calls back, "Peeta! Hold on! Concentrate!"

The Peacekeepers drag him out into the hall and slam the door. I hear the flat sound of him being hit with something.

"You don't need to hurt Caesar," I say. "Don't you have enough people to hold against me?"

"As long as the Capitol stands," he says, "Caesar Flickerman will stand with it. Don't imagine anything else."

I look down. "I came back. Don't hurt anyone. Please."

Snow sits down at the desk, unconcerned. "Where did he tell you that you'd go?"

"One of the districts. I don't remember which."

"Eight?" Snow guesses. "I know the family of that girl from the arena last year saw you on the victory tour. Were they going to help you?"

"I killed their daughter. Why would they help me?"

"Do you remember what I told you would happen if you lied to me again?"

"I asked a question. I didn't lie."

"The question implies a lie." He leans forward. "Who did Caesar have working here in the Capitol? I know they have people in the prison. "

"Caesar's not a rebel. If you have rebels, he doesn't know them."

"Caesar is the most dangerous kind of rebel -- the kind who thinks he's not rebelling," Snow says, but doesn't elaborate or accuse me of lying. "Now, I suggest you tell me who his collaborators are."

"I don't know."

"Think carefully about this," Snow says. "Because right now, your two choices are being useful to me on your terms, or on mine."

I clamp my jaw shut. No matter which option I choose, someone will pay for it. Cecelia's husband, or Kersey Green's family in Eight. Whoever Caesar has on the trains will be found, and however he reached Eight will be learned. They've already lost a hospital full of unarmed men, women, and children there.

If I choose not to cooperate, it will be Johanna and Annie and Effie and the others taking the brunt of Snow's wrath. I know what Johanna would say.

I close my eyes and imagine building a card house. One card at a time. Effie, balanced against Cecelia's husband. Johanna, against Mrs. Green.

Suddenly, I hear heavy footsteps. My arms are grabbed and I'm dragged backward.

I open my eyes.

Snow looks at the Peacekeepers holding me and says, very calmly, "Don't mark his face. I'll need them to recognize him."

He turns away, and they drag me outside, shove me into a car. They don't even wait to get to the prison.

The woman in back with me -- the same one whose friend apparently ended up in the hospital after the chase earlier -- grabs an electrical prod and jams it into my side. The pain is searing, huge, and paralyzing. My muscles clench. I can feel electricity dancing over the wires in my artificial leg, and the signals it sends my brain are confused and muddled. I can see it there on the floor of the car, perfectly still, but my brain feels it thumping up and down.

The Peacekeepers don't ask me anything as they take what seems the longest possible route to the prison. I can see through the windows of the car, though no one can see in. As the prod strikes me again, a little girl with a clip-on braid wanders by, pushing a doll in a stroller. She is eating a blue ice cream cone. It's dripping over her hand.

The Peacekeeper with the prod reaches for the back of my head, but the driver says, "If you burn his hair, Snow will kill you." Instead, she jabs it against my inner thigh and holds it there until I scream. Without pausing, she moves it to the seam of my leg and fries the connecting circuits. The nerves tell me that my foot is on fire. She calls me vile names, but I barely hear them over my own screams.

By the time we get to the prison, there is no chance of me walking. Each of them grabs one of my arms, and they drag me through the back entrance, near the yard. I see men and women gaping at me. A woman with brutally short strawberry blond hair runs to the fence and screams, "Peeta! Peeta! You let go of him, you monsters, or you'll have trouble! I'm a Capitol citizen and I'll make trouble!"

I know the voice. Somewhere, echoing in my head, I hear her say, It's a big, big, big day! I manage to lift my head and look at her. "Effie..."

"Peeta, what are they doing to you? Peeta!"

But I'm dragged away before anyone can answer. From the corner of my eye, I see one of the guards on her side of the fence pull her away and throw her into the mud. Other people in the yard laugh, and I hear it echoing after me until the Peacekeepers slam the heavy door of my ward. The window on Johanna's cell is open, and her face is pressed up against it. "Peeta!" She snarls at the guards. "You're going to pay! I'm going to make all of you pay!"

My cell door opens and I'm thrown roughly inside. The videos are playing again. On one screen, I see that Annie Cresta has been moved to the cell across from mine. They have put caged jabberjays in with her, and she is sitting in the corner naked, rocking back and forth with her hands over her ears. I can't hear what they're saying. It's not for me.

For me, there is the bombing of Twelve. The deaths of my family. But most often, shots of me in the arenas, first opening an artery in Kersey Green's neck, then slicing Brutus open and laughing while his blood covers my hands. They even cut in the fight I had with Clove to demand entrance into the Career alliance.

And my father says, Oh, Peeta.

I push myself up on shaking arms and crawl toward my bunk, dragging my useless leg behind me. In some interview or other, Brutus calls me a rock on Katniss's apron strings, and says I'll get her killed if she doesn't get rid of me.

I reach the bunk and try to pull myself up, but my fingers encounter something cold and metallic. I look up. There is a coffin on my bed The sides are set with thick windows between metal supports.

Floating in the preservation fluid is Brutus, the wound from my knife open like an accusing mouth. His head has been tipped backward to make it look even worse. I can see the gristle and muscles in his neck, the tubes of his esophagus and trachea.

The knife I carried through the arena lies beside him.

I don't know what sound I make. I hear it, but I don't recognize it. It's a sort of a low growl, with a funny whining note over it.

Whatever it is, Johanna hears it. She slams her hands against our shared wall and demands to know if I'm all right. Someone hits her.

I fall back to the floor, trying to keep my face down, to not see anything.

A scoop comes down from the ceiling, like the one in the arena that they use to gather up corpses. It drags me across the floor, slams me into a wall, and turns me over.

On screen, I kill Brutus again, and my father says my name. I stare at the wall across from me, the wall where my mother's hand beckons, and I scream. My niece's body is there, preserved and set upright, lit by the harsh light of the cell. Beside her is my brother's head.

Standing beside them is another coffin filled with fluid, a glass topped coffin lit by its own tracks of light, lighting up her smooth olive skin, making shadows of her floating braid. She is wearing the uniform we trained in last year, before we ever went into the arena.

There is a bullet hole through the center of her forehead.

"Katniss," I gasp, trying to find a way to explain it to myself. Why they would have dressed her in the uniform from last year. Where they'd found her. "Katniss, no..." I crawl across to her, pound on the coffin. She shifts, and I see what I'm not supposed to. A tiny bit of chipped plastic, caught in the fold of the uniform.

I sigh with relief and fall at the base of the coffin. I don't know what Snow means by putting this here, and I don't care. It's not her. It's just an art project.

"Peeta!" Johanna yells. "What is it? What are they doing?"

"Plastic," I tell her. "She's not dead."

"Who's not?"

"Katniss."

There is long silence, then Johanna says, "Peeta, what are they doing?"

"I don't know."

We can't talk anymore because the guards grab Johanna, and I hear her start to scream again. On my screen, I see Annie Cresta muttering, "Stop it, stop it, stop it..." while she presses her head against her knees.

I close my eyes and cover my ears. Think about a card house. Try to build it slowly. Carefully. Concentrate. Lean one thing against another. Balance. No more shaking. Breathe deep, slow breaths, careful not to stir the air. Build it up a level.

My breathing slows down.

My mind starts to clear. There are two bodies in here with me, and, for some reason, a large plastic doll made to look like Katniss.

What are they doing?

The truth is that I don't know. I should know. I need to understand what Snow is trying to do, or I won't be able to stop him.

There is no possibility of sleep that night. The lights remain bright. The videos emit loud sounds, and if I start to drift off anyway, I'm jostled by something that comes down from the ceiling.

By morning, when the man with the needles comes, every part of me already hurts. Without my leg, I couldn't run even if I had somewhere to run to, and I have no chance when the guards grab me and cuff me to the table. There are needle pricks back and forth under my neck, and after them is a time of pain and terror. I see Brutus rise up from his coffin and offer me my knife. My brother's head speaks to me. My niece becomes the baby Katniss lost when she blew out the forcefield, the baby she killed when she blew out the forcefield. I kneel at her coffin and yell "Why?" but she doesn't answer.

People step out of the screens. My father says Oh, Peeta and turns away from me. My mother screams at me through Brutus's mouth, calling me a useless waste, saying I don't stand a chance of staying alive, and I don't deserve one. Katniss kisses me in our cave, and when she draws back, her mouth is full of fangs and her eyes are black bird's eyes. She watches me sleeping, holding a knife and I can see that she wants to use it, to cut the rock from her apron strings, but I'm still useful to her for sponsors.

I shake my head. Remember the beach. Remember her pushing me down into the sand, kissing me, devouring me...

I can hear Johanna still, but her words are distorted, like she's shouting through a tank of water.

At last, the world goes blessedly black, and I drift through a strange dream world, accompanied by Kersey Green, who is spinning yarn on her drop spindle. She begins to wrap me in a cocoon of it.

"What are you doing?"

"Shh," she says. "I'll help you."

It's what I said to her before I helped her bleed to death on the forest floor. I want to tell her that I don't want to die, but I can't seem to talk. She wraps up my feet, my knees. Finch from District Five carefully places nightlock berries in the wrappings.

I'm awakened by a sharp kick to my ribs.

"Now, then, I’m sure that's not necessary."

I look up. Snow is standing in the door to my cell, smiling.

I push myself up to sit. The ceiling momentarily becomes a nest of snakes, but I blink and it goes back to normal, though I think I'd prefer the snakes. "Now what?" I ask.

"They've been in Twelve again," he says. "Would you like to see the surveillance photos?" He doesn't wait for an answer. He pulls out grainy pictures, obviously taken by an automatic camera, probably set in the fence. They skid across the floor to me.

Katniss is sitting beside Gale on a rock outside the fence. They are smiling and feeding each other berries. They're both beautiful and whole.

I look down at my ruined leg, at the bruises all over me, and I start to cry. I hate myself for it, but I can't seem to stop.

"They certainly seem happy, don't they?" Snow asks. "And why shouldn't they be? They have a wonderfully effective campaign going!"

He throws more pictures at me. Toxic waste from a train. Burning food supplies. Dead people. Everywhere, dead people. "What?" I say. "What do you want from me?"

"We're going to need to make a statement about all this," he says. "You know this isn't good, don't you? Not for us, but even less for the districts. Of course, I suppose I could just let them all eat each other alive. Close up the Capitol, let the barbarians have at it. We'd be fine here."

"You have nothing the districts don't send."

He laughs. "Oh, we'd have less than we're used to, certainly. But we have gardens. A lake to fish from. Back-up power supplies that will last long enough for the districts to subdue each other. I assure you, we'd survive. The districts ascribe more importance to themselves than they really have. There's not a single one we can't compensate for."

I look down at the pictures of Katniss and Gale laughing. The picture of the toxic spill has fallen over the corner of it at an angle, and it looks like the sludge is about to pour out onto Gale's boots.

"But," Snow goes on, "I see no need to let so much of the human race annihilate itself if we can help it. So, you'll be going back on tonight. We'll need to tell the districts why we've decided to put a final end to this uprising."

"What?" I manage.

"Have you ever kept a garden?" he asks.

"No."

"I have, all my life. Weeds are the bane of a gardener's existence. The only way to destroy them is to go for the root. Tonight, I plan to go for the root."

"Thirteen," I guess.

"As always." He shakes his head. "They've brought it on themselves. You'll be explaining that tonight."

"No. Katniss is there. Everyone from Twelve. Haymitch. Finnick."

"And they've thrown in their lot with people who are destroying what's left of humanity." He orders the guards to put me into a wheelchair, and personally pushes me out. "After we air your statement, we'll show the end of the war live."

"Peeta, don't!" Johanna screams. "Don't!"

But I have no choice.
13 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: March 15th, 2013 11:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Ouch, that was hard to read. And it's only going to get harder...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 15th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was really hard to write, too. There's only one chapter left here, though, then it's back in Haymitch's less fraught situation.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 15th, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank Goodness...

We're almost done. This has been powerful as anything and a great testament to you as a writer, but as a reader, I can't take much more of this.

Sara Libby
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 15th, 2013 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes -- as a reader, I've been thinking "I really hope this part is over soon," and it's not because it's badly written; quite the opposite.
beceh From: beceh Date: March 15th, 2013 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. Nothing coherent to say. Just wow.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 15th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I kept backing off on it. That's why it took so long.
beceh From: beceh Date: March 15th, 2013 08:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well it was worth the wait!
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: March 15th, 2013 11:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh wow, definitely another great chapter explaining what we missed in Mockingjay. Can't wait for more, as always.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 17th, 2013 01:10 am (UTC) (Link)
One more chapter. Sitting down to it now!
valerie_valerah From: valerie_valerah Date: March 16th, 2013 02:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Poor, poor Peeta. Your writing is incredibly powerful. I've been reading your HG fics obsessively. Thank you for fleshing out characters and story lines that we don't get to see in canon. As far as I'm concerned your stories are what happened out of Katniss's view.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 17th, 2013 01:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks.

I had to write this particular one because it was haunting my head, but I really hate writing it. Poor Peeta indeed.
rosaxx50 From: rosaxx50 Date: March 24th, 2013 08:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, this is brutal, and not just for Peeta.

Effie, so careful about appearances, thrown into the mud with people laughing.

Annie, mentally unstable, surrounded by voices.

Fierce Johanna, helpless even as she refuses to give in.

Peeta's downward slide... ouch. Ouch.

Your writing is incredibly powerful.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 24th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. Yes, for Effie, that would be brutal. Granted, she's not being tortured like the others, but what's done is very focused on who she is and what's important to her.
13 comments or Leave a comment