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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Two - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Two
Okay, found the title. If the world's going to end, it needs some building, so here's some wandering around Haymitch's life.


Chapter Two
We all get baths that night, since it's bath night at the Community Home and Sae's willing to look the other way on anyone who wants one. We all get six minutes to wash, and only three people use the water before the tub is re-filled. Most of the Community Home kids are cleaner than we are, so Lacklen and I arrange to be the last to use the tub on our turns. Mom gets a tub to herself because she's a grown-up, and also probably because I hear her coughing wildly in the water, which means it's likely bloody.

By the time we get to the room Sae has given us, we are cleaned up and combed. Mom looks much better. She grins and tells me that I'm to stay in this room, and not go up to Digger's. This really doesn't need to be said. Digger has two roommates. Besides, there are certain facts of life in District Twelve that we've both decided ought to keep us in our own rooms, at least until we're allowed to make a little bit of money. Or at least until we age out of the Reaping, which, conveniently, is the same year. There've been a fair few times I've ended up jumping in snowbanks this winter. I don't mention this to Mom. I think she's happier imagining that she's just joking about the rule.

It's warm and dry in the Community Home, and I go to sleep easily. I dream that the Quell card really read that every district would host its own Games, and every kid in the district would have to participate, all live on Capitol View. Digger and I climb the fence to get away, but then we're lost in the woods and there are mutts everywhere. Digger is carrying her baby brother, who starved to death when we were nine, just after her parents died, which was right around when Dad died.

In my dream, they're all alive and healthy, but the grown-ups can't help anyone in the Games. They're all in prison or something. Digger and I are on our own.

I wake up when it starts raining, both in my dream and in the world. In the world, it's a miserable, freezing rain, driven by a howling wind that pelts the community home with nasty smacking sounds. I have a feeling I'll have more repairs to do back at home after school today. I hope Mom stays here and Sae finds a way to sneak her some food.

Mom and Lacklen are still sleeping peacefully, since it's not even dawn yet. I go downstairs to the television room and watch news about the upcoming Quell. I try to do the math to figure out my chances, and Lacklen's, and Digger's. There are about eighty-five hundred people in District Twelve. Most are fifty or under. There are seven years when people are eligible for Reaping, so I figure it to be about a seventh of the population. Maybe twelve-hundred. But the older you get, the more entries you have to have, so there are more slips in the Reaping balls than that. Maybe five thousand. Then the tesserae, and who knows who's got those? I don't have the numbers I need, and it bothers me.

I'm still trying to puzzle it out and make educated guesses when the Community Home alarm clock goes off, and the residents start tromping downstairs for breakfast. Since we were explicitly not invited, I go back to our room and get ready for school. My clothes feel particularly scratchy and dirty, with me being clean under them. Lacklen is grumbling sleepily about his clothes as well.

Mom wakes up and says that she wants to talk to Sae after everyone has left for school. Lacklen bolts from the room.

"I think I frightened him," Mom says.

I sit down on a rickety chair beside her bed. "Maybe a little. He's really scared of coming here."

"I want to make sure they don't take you out of your classes."

I take her hand. "I won't let them. But you try to hold on, okay? I'll finish school, and I'll take care of Lacklen."

"No."

"What?"

"You should have your own life. I don't want you to... " She shakes her head. "I don't want you to have to raise your brother. I think you'll both be better off here, after."

I look at her, sunken deep into the pillows, her eyes bruised-looking despite a good night's sleep. I look down. "I don't want you to die, Mom. Could you please not die?"

She smiles and strokes my hair. "I'll try, Haymitch. But I probably won't succeed. And I need you to know what I want. I need to know that you and Lacklen will be all right."

"I bet they know how to cure this in the Capitol."

"Maybe. But I don't see why they'd have needed to learn it. No one's breathing in coal dust in the Capitol." We sit there for a while, then she pulls her hand away and pats my arm. "You'd best get to school. I don't want any more tardy notes."

"Okay."

"And don't worry. Today's not bad."

I nod and leave without saying anything else. She says that most days before I go to school, even though it's patently not true on a lot of them. Every day when I get home, I wonder if it'll be the day I find her, still and cold, on the other side of the door. Just like Dad. It sometimes makes leaving in the morning a little hard, and I keep going back to check, which makes me late for school. She is not happy with me when I do that.

I meet Digger and Lacklen downstairs and we head off together in the rain. None of us has an umbrella, so we're pretty soaked when we get there. So's everyone else, though, including the teachers, so we're not exactly conspicuous.

On any other day, someone would notice us anyway and make a clever comment about me finally getting a bath, but today, no one cares. People are talking about the Quell card, about what they'll do if they're called, about how it could be anyone at all with the double Reaping. Elmer Parton, who's the best in our math class, is trying to talk about what the odds are, and how no one's odds are really up that much, but he hasn’t made any headway by the time the homeroom bell rings. Digger and Lacklen and I go our separate ways.

My homeroom is filled with the other kids who take the elective classes. Maysilee Donner is prominently wearing a pin shaped like a mockingjay. She's worn it before. For some reason, she hoarded all the gold coins that she's gotten from Peacekeepers in the sweet shop, and she melted them all to make a pin. It's pretty enough, but the coins probably could have found better uses. She's reading a poem she wrote about how mockingjays survive everything the world throws at them. It has a beat to it, and some of the others are clapping along. Her twin sister, Kaydilyn, is singing a little bit as a background. Maysilee and Kaydilyn spoke to the school board when Dad was arguing for me to take classes. Maysie said I was the smartest person in elementary school, and I should be able to learn whatever I wanted. I don't know why she did it, and she hasn't had much to say to me since we started taking classes together, other than occasionally asking me to clarify something I've said.

I look at their friend, Ruth Keyton, who can generally be counted on to be more sensible. Ruth's dad runs the apothecary shop. She's probably the prettiest girl in school, other than Digger. She's staring out the window like she can't see or hear anything. Her boyfriend, Danny Mellark, is trying to coax her into turning around. He gives up and looks up at me. "Hey, Abernathy. Guess you caught the news last night."

"Not much choice."

"How bad do you think it's going to be?"

I shrug. "Elmer Parton says the odds aren't changing that much."

"Yeah, but it'll be somebody. What do you think the Games will be like when they're killing forty-seven kids?"

I sit down. "Pretty much like when they kill twenty-three, except twice. Plus one."

Our homeroom teacher Mr. Chalfant, who also teaches history, comes in and puts his books on the desk. Quietly, he pulls out eight chairs and lines them up against the back wall. Two for every year that we've been in the Reaping, though he doesn't explain it. He pulls out four more, taking one away from Maysilee, and shoves them in a corner.

He says nothing about this.

"I've been instructed," he says, "to remind you that the Quarter Quell is a requirement of the Treaty of the Treason. It is not to be questioned, or discussed in any manner until the Reaping and the Games, and then only as the Games are always discussed. Are we all quite clear on this?"

We all make appropriate noises.

He looks at Maysilee. "And Miss Donner, I highly recommend you revisit the rules on ostentatious jewelry in the school setting."

Maysilee crosses her arms under her pin and glares at him.

Chalfant takes attendance and gives us a two-question quiz on mandatory viewing to prove we all watched it, then the bell rings and we go on to classes.

The instruction to not discuss the Quell has all the authority of a piece of wet tissue paper trying to block the rain. In math, Elmer Parton tries to explain that the second drawing will only have one less entry than the first, so the second odds aren't a whole lot worse than the first. At lunch, people are trying to guess who will be targeted and why the Quell is what it is. In physical education, people are talking about training, since the odds are much worse this year. In Chalfant's history class, we talk about the end of the old Roman Empire, even though we're supposed to be talking about the Sino-Indonesian wars. Now and then, the teachers go by and scowl, stopping the conversation temporarily. I guess it doesn't matter to them what the odds are. The odds are one in one that they're going to lose four students instead of two.

"I wonder what they'll do if they draw the same name twice," Lacklen says on the way home. It's stopped raining, but the cold puddles soak through our shoes. "I mean, except for twelve-year-olds, everyone's name is in more than once, and they won't stop the Reaping to take all the duplicates out."

Digger shrugs. "They'd probably just pick again."

"Are they allowed to do that? Just keep picking until they get a name they can use?"

"It's the Capitol," I say. "They're allowed to do pretty much anything they decide they're allowed to do."

We turn down the Seam together. Sullen teenagers are throwing knives at boards. A few are wrestling, though not by any rules the team at school would recognize. Evert McKinley is practicing tying knots. As far as preparation for the Games goes, this is about as much as anyone from District Twelve gets. Lacklen wants to stop and watch for a little while, but I want to get back to the house and check on Mom, so we move on by.

Mom is actually pretty chipper after a good night's sleep. The tarp I put up yesterday has held, and there's been very little leakage. (It's not totally watertight, so there's some, but it didn't rip and let through a torrent. Most of what came through got absorbed by the insulating material we've jammed up against the ceiling.) Mom has been mopping up what puddles there are. Someone from the Community Home must have brought back her rocking chair, because it's sitting by the fire like always.

"Tell me about school," she says.

"Everyone's talking about the Quell," Lacklen says. "I heard Ettis Carroll talking about the last Quell, and he said--"

Mom holds up her hands. "There is enough talk about the Hunger Games. Tell me about school, Lacklen. What did you learn today? Do you have homework?"

Lacklen bites his lip. "Some. In math. But I couldn't see the problems to write them down."

"Did you ask your teacher?"

"I did," Digger says, and produces a piece of paper from her bag. "Well, not me, but Daisy Conary, from the Home. She caught up with me at lunch and said she didn't think you got your homework. I think she's sweet on you, Lacklen."

Lacklen blushes and takes the homework, scurrying over to his corner of the room to work on it.

Mom grins. "Thank you, Indigo."

"Well, I recommend the Abernathy boys as model boyfriends to all aspiring girls."

I roll my eyes.

"Well, you'll have no argument from me," Mom says. "Now, will you take Haymitch out somewhere and not let him worry about me for a few hours?"

"Mom..."

She raises her eyebrows. "Look at me, Haymitch. I'm clean, I'm rested, and I'm not coughing. I had a ride back home in a proper truck from the Community Home."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure. Go out. Have some fun. And no Quell talk."

"Come on," Digger says. "I have a place I want to be. You should come."

I don't take much more convincing. Mom does look all right, and has moved on to start hectoring Lacklen through his math homework. Digger raises her eyebrows, and I shrug.

We go back outside.

"You don't mind being a little naughty, do you?" she asks, approaching the fence. It's supposed to be electrified, but it never is. "I best get Sae some meat, or she'll give me the stink-eye at dinner tonight."

I frown. I've never been hunting with Digger before. I don't even know how to hunt. She pulls up a wire on the fence and rolls underneath it. I follow. It's not the first time I've done this, but it's the first time I've done it without actually knowing why.

"What are we doing?" I ask when we're a good distance from the fence.

"You are going to practice with my slingshot. And you're going to teach me to get away from someone who's grabbed me. Then I'm going to hunt and hopefully catch something, and I'll teach you how to gut it."

I raise my eyebrows. "So much for no Quell talk."

"Haymitch, I can't stop them from Reaping either one of us, but maybe we can have a better chance if we practice something."

"District Twelve never has a chance," I say. "Those kids from One and Two -- and Four, sometimes... there's no way they just learn that stuff between the Reaping and the Games. They've been practicing for years."

"But we have won. Duronda Carson won, back in the third Games."

"Dumb luck. Have you seen those Games? She just got lucky. That boy from Four slipped and fell into the ravine."

Digger crouches down and reaches into a hole at the base of a tree. She brings out a little canvas bag. "She also knew what she was doing. She did make it to second place before he slipped. She came to the Home once, just before she died, and she told us stories. She said it was scary, but if you keep your head, you can win."

I decide not to push the subject where it's begging to go, which is that two years ago, Duronda Carson stopped keeping her head. I guess forty-four years of not being able to get a single tribute through on her theory of "keeping your head" finally got to her, especially with the last one being her twelve-year-old grandson. Or maybe it was living alone out there in Victors' Village. Whatever it was, she hanged herself from an oak tree behind her fancy house out there. The official story is that she fell out of the tree and broke her neck, but everyone knows what really happened. Why would a woman fifty-nine years old be climbing a tree to fall out of in the first place?

Digger gets her slingshot from the bag and spends a few minutes teaching me the mechanics of it, then an hour growing increasingly dismayed at my utter inability to hit anything. After a while, she mutters that she needs to try and catch something, and disappears with the slingshot for half an hour, instructing me to sharpen her hunting knife while I wait. She comes back with raccoon. She apparently generally dresses her kills back at the Home (Sae can apparently stretch out the innards for a good distance), but she wants me to practice being precise with a knife. My skills here are more satisfactory to her, though she doesn't believe I could do it if she'd brought the raccoon back alive.

"I've killed things," I say. "Lacklen makes traps in the back yard. Got some squirrels and mice and stuff. I can do it, if I have to."

"And if they're not trapped?"

"What do you want me to do, Digger?"

She sits down heavily. "I don't know. Maybe this is dumb. Maybe it doesn’t make a difference."

I realize something and say it before I think. "You're actually scared."

She glares at me. "Yeah, I'm scared. Of course I'm scared. They're going to pick four of us this year to go and die. Why aren't you scared?"

There's not a good answer for it. I could talk about the odds, like the Capitol people do. I could talk like the more paranoid people around here do, and point out that the Capitol doesn't have any reason to pick me -- or Digger -- so I don't have to worry. The truth is just that I have about a million other things to be scared of -- Mom hacking out her lungs a chunk at a time being the biggest of them -- and there's nothing left in me to be scared about whatever the Capitol's up to.

I don't say any of those things. I just shrug. "Guess I figure what'll happen will happen."

"Well ain't that philosophical," she says.

"Maybe."

She looks at me a long time, then rolls her eyes and leans back against a tree. "Has it got some kind of special name? Like Exo-whatever-it-was that you told me about?"

"Existentialism," I say. "I don't know. I think probably. I don't remember reading it anywhere. Just seems sensible."

"I can't believe you learn words for thinking in school."

"I didn't. Well, I did learn it in school, but not in class. It's just a book I was reading at the library."

She smiles fondly. "If I get Reaped and then win, I'm buying you a whole library of your very own just so you can tell me the names of the things I'm thinking about."

"Why don't you buy one for yourself?

She laughs at this idea, as she always does, but doesn't explain herself. She just thinks the idea of her taking "fancy" classes or learning fancy things is self-evidently ridiculous for some reason. She tips her head back and closes her eyes. "You know what else I'd buy?"

"What?"

"A red dress."

"A dress? You?"

She opens her eyes and looks over at me. "Not just a dress. A red one. Bright red, the kind that sort of glows when it's cloudy out. And a bright blue one, and a bright green one."

"Why?" I ask.

"'Cause I'm tired of gray. Even when we have colors, the homespun makes them gray, and the dust makes them grayer. The reds are gray. The blues are all gray. Even the grass is gray from all the coal dust. If I was rich, I'd never want to look at another gray thing in my life, except your eyes."

I smile. "But they'd make the cut?"

"Well, it wouldn't be worth it to be rich if I couldn't have that, at least." She smiles. "That would be your cue to come over here and kiss me, if you're wondering."

I scoot over to her tree, avoiding the raccoon guts, and kiss her. She settles into the crook of my arm and slides her arms around my waist. "What would you do?"

"What?"

"With money."

"Oh. Get Mom to the Capitol and make them give her new lungs. I read they could do that."

She sighs. "Pretend your mom has been magically cured and Lacklen has glasses, and I'm well fed and all the little orphans have been happily adopted and we've re-built your house. Come on, what would you buy just for yourself?"

"Dunno. I only ever had two luxuries."

"And what are those?"

I grin. "My books, and my girl."

"I'm a luxury?"

"Well, I feel spoiled, anyway."

"Come on. Something you can buy."

"I'd probably ask you what I should get."

"I'd tell you a fine suit or two. And a pocket watch."

"A pocket watch?"

"Yeah. So you'd stop being late to half your life." She grins. "Besides, watch chains are sexy."

I raise my eyebrows. "Watch chains?"

"Oh, yes. Very sexy."

"All right. I'll buy myself a fine suit and a pocket watch. I'd buy you whatever makes you happy."

"Like what?"

"This is a test, isn't it?"

"I gave you imaginary presents. Now I want to unwrap mine."

The first thing that comes to mind is the prettiest, biggest ring I could find for her, but it's not time to mention something like that. "Well, I'd... I'd give you those dresses you want. Didn't know you wanted them, or I'd have said that right off. And books with all the poems you like best in them -- "

"You'd still say the poems out loud, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would. I'd have time read them to you all day, if you want."

"I want."

"And maybe a solid jacket and umbrella for when it rains. And a fine hunting rifle."

"That's what I love about you. Out here in the woods, all alone, and you're thinking about arming me."

"What can I say? I'm always worried about bears eating you out here."

She laughs. "Of course, if you bought a rifle, they'd just take it away. Maybe a bow and arrow. There's someone around here who makes them. I've found a couple when I'm out."

"Just left around? Aren't they afraid you'll steal them?"

"They're hidden in logs. But everyone who comes out here knows that everyone else who comes out here needs to. Might leave a note sometime, though, to see if we can do some trading business." She smiles sheepishly. "I did try it once, though. No one was around. So I shot an arrow. Took me forever to find it, and it was nowhere near where I meant it to be. I put it all back."

"They were just in logs?" I ask.

"Yeah, why?"

"I don't know. Just asking. Wonder if there are any hidden in town."

"Nothing to hunt in town," Digger says. She looks up at the sky. "It's getting late," she says. "We should go back." She puts the gutted raccoon in her game bag, then reaches down for my hand. I stand up beside her, and she leads the way back to town.
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Comments
Dashinista From: Dashinista Date: June 29th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I got a bit teary when Haymitch and Digger were talking about what to buy if they were victors.
Cruel (but good) foreshadowing!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 30th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! They want really simple things, too.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 29th, 2013 07:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know what's going to happen but am still hoping it doesn't -- I love seeing even more fleshing out of District 12, though. And the first victor's story is horrifying.

I loved Haymitch's mother and teachers constantly telling the kids to talk about something besides the Quell and of course failing miserably. Some things about teaching and parenting don't change :). The thing with the chairs sounds like it's Capitol-mandated but it could be read as pretty subversive, depending on the teacher!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 30th, 2013 12:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, there's no way they weren't going to talk about that.

The teacher was definitely being subversive, reminding them about the empty chairs. Not that they were forgetting.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 30th, 2013 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)
It makes sense -- I wasn't entirely sure because I could see the chairs thing being framed as "We, the Capitol, will have two of you taken away every year and there is not a damn thing you can do about it. Just to make sure you remember, look at the chairs they're no longer sitting in."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 30th, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it's one of those things that either side might want to remind people of. The difference is whether they're expected to feel cowed or angry at the reminder.
redlily From: redlily Date: June 30th, 2013 03:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh geez, that is a helluva home situation. I don't remember what you said happened to his family, and now I'm too scared to go back and look . . . .
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 30th, 2013 06:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Something about the Haymitch flashback (to his Games) made me think that he was scarred by something before he ever got to the arena. And I thought about what Katniss said about no one living to be old, and all the black lung disease in Appalachia, and... well. Add it to the way drinking wreaks havoc on family finances and reputation, and that would give some pretty big scars.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 1st, 2013 01:52 am (UTC) (Link)

The End of the World Ch. 2

Aw. Haymitch is such a somber, hard-working kid. Sweet but sad that his only joy comes from his family, his girl, and books.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 1st, 2013 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The End of the World Ch. 2

And he ends up losing everything but his books, which have to be carefully hidden.
patita_fea From: patita_fea Date: July 1st, 2013 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I love that Haymitch is recognizably himself. All the heartbreak and alcoholism didn't change him, really. This story is just a look at what's underneath the scar tissue.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 1st, 2013 02:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm really glad that comes out. It's about what causes the scar tissue, sure, but yes, it's about what's under it as well.
jedinic From: jedinic Date: July 3rd, 2013 01:22 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm loving this already.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 15th, 2013 01:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Brick Wall?

Hi Fern. Am I sensing a block on this one? Maybe its the all pervasive depression of what you've got the write. Maybe you should do a future fic...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 15th, 2013 01:59 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Brick Wall?

Nah. I'm working on Chapter 3 now. I'm just stuck at a transition point in the story. I've gotten past it now, and, while I'm still dawdling, I've done a thousand words today.

Edited at 2013-07-15 02:00 am (UTC)
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: September 5th, 2013 03:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have no hope of even following the math to figure out odds, let alone doing it. ;)


Poor Duronda. That totally made me choke up. I can't imagine having to train her own grandson, especially when he was so young. :(
16 comments or Leave a comment