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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Four - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Four
Haymitch and his town friends have just witnessed the death of a District Six girl who had been badly whipped and was trying to run away. They bury her together on the far side of the fence, just past the railroad tracks.


Chapter Four
I stay away from my town friends outside of school for a while. They're staying away from each other as well, as much as they can (which I guess isn't as easy for them as for me, given that the Donners are twins, and Danny and Ruth are dating). I know I keep having nightmares that a wild animal digs up the girl's grave, or another rainstorm washes away our shallow coverage, and suddenly the Peacekeepers show up, accusing us of killing her. I guess they're probably having the same kinds of dreams.

This means spending time with Lacklen and Digger, who are still worrying about the Quell, which has never seemed more distant to me. Lacklen starts building more and more complex traps back behind the house, defying me to notice the triggers. I'm not sure if he's practicing building traps for himself, or trying to make me practice getting out of them. Either way, I find myself frequently hanging upside down or stuck behind branches that he's sprung into cages. This turns into a game after a while, and I trap him back. Usually when I do this, I don't take advantage of his poor eyesight, but, as he reminds me, other tributes won't have any compunctions about doing this, so I work with it.

After a few days, Digger realizes that something is wrong beyond the Games. She takes me out into the woods, and I tell her everything. She promises to keep an eye out for any disturbances around the grave.

"You go out on that side of town?"

"Sometimes. I've been looking for our bow-making friend. I think I know who it is."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Do you know Glen Everdeen?"

"By sight," I say. "Big guy, next year up?"

"Yeah. One of the bows has a tree carved on it. Like a black and white, really simple one, you know? He has the same one drawn on his notebook. I know he sometimes sneaks food into the home, too -- he's friends with Hobart Lapley -- so he's definitely a hunter."

I think about it. "Never heard a bad thing about him. Maybe he'll do business with you."

"Maybe." She bites her lip. "Speaking of business... I went to the apothecary."

"What?"

"I went out and gathered up some carpenter's grass and traded it with Ruth Keyton for some pennyroyal tea." She waits for the meaning of this to sink in, then touches my face. "I want to, Haymitch."

I shake my head. "Look, I thought we agreed -- I mean, no offense to Ruth, but that's not exactly surefire. There's women who drink pennyroyal tea and end up having babies anyway. We’ve talked about it. Neither of us can take care of a baby."

"There's girls who swear by it! You just drink it after and no baby." She sighs. "I just... if I get Reaped... I don't want to go away knowing that... you know... that we didn't..."

"You're not getting Reaped," I say.

"You keep saying that. But you don't know. You have no way of knowing that. It's not like you can do anything about it if they call my name. Only another girl can volunteer for me, and none of them would. And I wouldn't let them. Or you, if you could."

"Fine. Let's say you get Reaped. Let's say you get pregnant and then get Reaped."

She pales, then shrugs with exaggerated casualness and says, "I think we can be pretty sure they'd take care of that problem before I ended up in the arena."

"I don't want to take chances."

"I don't want regrets."

She kisses me and touches me, and for a little while, we manage to distract each other from the Games, from the District Six girl's grave, from everything else going on around us. We don't quite end up trusting our lives to a cup of tea, but it's a closer thing than usual, and I'm glad that a cold spring rain is coming down as we head back for the fence.

I kiss her goodnight when we reach the corner that she has to turn away on to go back to the Community Home, and just stand there in the rain, watching her, until she disappears from sight.

I go home. Mom is having a bad evening. I go outside and gather rainwater, boil it over the fire, and throw in some pine needles. I tell her to breathe it in. Sometimes it helps. I think mint leaves would be better, but I don't have any. I need to ask Digger to find some.

I want to ask Mom if she'd trust pennyroyal tea, but she's in no shape to think about things like that, not that she likes to think about it when she's not having a bad day. For the first time in years, I wish Dad were around, so I could casually ask him if he'd ever heard anything good or bad about it. He'd probably be drunk enough that he wouldn't remember me asking in the morning. I lie in bed at night and imagine the scene as well as I can. Dad, crashed in his old wooden rocker, the one he broke falling down on it about a year before he died. He's sitting by the fire, drinking white liquor, and I'm sitting on the floor, tossing wood chips into the flames. I ask him about the tea. He laughs and says, "Things getting a little heated with that Hardy girl, are they?"

I allow that this might be so.

"Well," he says inside my head, "I can't say I ever heard of a girl going wrong with it. Why, my cousin Fenella wanted to give it a try when things were getting het up with her boyfriend, and..."

And then he'd launch into some funny story about some old relative who bought the wrong tea and ended up loopy on it, and we'd never get around to what I'm actually asking.

I stop imagining. Dad probably wouldn’t have given me a straight answer, anyway. I guess I have to keep trusting my gut. I wish it would tell me things I'd rather hear.

I go to sleep listening to Mom coughing and Lacklen crying (thinking no one can hear him, probably). I dream about Digger coming to our house, carrying her dead baby brother, only I have it in my head that it's not her baby brother she's carrying. I get up before dawn and start patching a gap in the kitchen wall where mice and bugs have been getting in.

The next day, Danny Mellark comes to the house, insisting that we do our homework. He's also been allowed to bring four raisins (which were, indeed, on the train for his mother), and we each have one. They're very sweet. I have no idea if they taste like grapes, since I've never had a grape. Danny hasn't, either. Mom eats hers in three tiny bites, and she savors each one for a long time. She's having a better day. Lacklen doesn't like them.

We go back to his place in town, since I don't have the book at home. I have a feeling it isn't about our homework, though we manage to put together a very lazy presentation about the story, since it's due tomorrow. Danny will do most of the talking. I do most of the writing. That means we'll probably get a good grade.

He finishes the last panel of the display, drawing an eagle symbol on the side of a jet, then sits back and says, "They haven't found her."

I look up. I don't care how fine Danny's house is, or how water-tight the living room windows are. I don't trust talking about the girl anywhere on this side of the fence. I look away deliberately. "You think we should put in something about the people who say the atmosphere's recovered and we should be able to have jets again?"

"No. The Donners want to meet in the stationery shop tomorrow night. Their uncle puts up with it."

"Those guys are kind of nuts," I say. "Maybe the atmosphere's all right, but who knows how to make jets anymore?"

"They could use someone with good sense."

I roll my eyes. "Anyone with good sense isn't going to meet with anyone."

He lets it go, and we put a few finishing touches on the presentation. We talk about jets, and about the story that people once walked on the moon. Danny's not sure he believes it, but I've seen pictures in the library, and it looks like the science part of it should have worked, anyway. Judging by the pictures, there's not much up there, and at the moment, we'd do better to explore the out-districts twenty miles from the fence.

"Wonder if it's still radioactive from the war," Danny says.

"Chalfant says they didn't use nukes in this half of the continent."

"Do you think it's true?"

I shrug. "Probably. No point in winning a war if everything left glows in the dark."

"I guess. I hear Thirteen had nukes, though."

"Those, they definitely didn't use. Not during the Dark Days, anyway. There were just the ones the Capitol dropped on Thirteen."

Danny frowns. "We're just about on top of Thirteen here, aren't we? Shouldn't we have had fallout?"

"We're not that close." I look up. "What's with the radiation talk?"

"I don’t know. There's just something weird about it. The story doesn't track."

"Yeah, some editor missed the boat with history. The plot's all screwed up." I grin.

"Don't you want to know what she was talking about?"

I don't answer. Of course, a part of me wants to know what the girl from Six was talking about when she said she was going to Thirteen, in about the same way I want to know if the fisherman who found the genie in Lacklen's book ever pulled the bottle back out of the ocean. It's a useless bit of knowledge, what fairy tales a dead girl believed in. That doesn't mean it's not interesting. But unlike the genie story, following up on this one is more likely to end up with a whipping than a good grade on a lit paper. There are questions it's better not to ask in Panem.

Danny's mother invites me for dinner, but I know she doesn’t really mean it. No one means things like that in District Twelve. No one has extra food to spare for the neighbors, not even the merchants. I thank her and tell her that my mom expects me.

When I get home, Mom is cooking dinner and I spring one of Lacklen's traps, which lands me flat on my back with the drawers of our dressers out over my head. He's placed them on either side of the door and put a tripwire between them to tip them and put the drawers out at angles. He jumps out from where he was hiding and pokes at me with a pine branch.

"Fine, I surrender," I say.

He rolls his eyes. "You can't surrender in the Games, Haymitch. How are you going to get away?"

"If someone gets me good, then I guess I don't get away."

Lacklen rights the dressers and slams the drawers shut. "You're not even trying."

"I'm tired."

He grimaces and sits down on the couch, where he sleeps. "I figure my best bet is to stake out a place and booby trap the way to it, so I can hear if people are coming, and catch them before I have to be able to see them. Then I can just -- you know, beat them -- without my eyes being a problem. What would you do?"

"Sounds like a good enough plan," I say, though a million things could go wrong with it, starting with not being able to find a place to hide and going on to getting caught in his own traps and starving to death in them.

"Haymitch, come on. What would your strategy be? How would you stay safe?"

"There's no safe place in an arena. Come on, Lacklen, you know that. As long as you're in the Games, you're not safe. I don't care how many booby traps you make. And you're not getting Reaped, so you don't have to worry about it."

"What about you?"

"I'm not getting Reaped, either. I got tesserae for you and Mom and me, but that's nothing compared to some people."

"But if you do, I want you to live."

"I want me to live, too. So if I end up in the arena, I'll think of something."

"Promise?"

"Sure. Did you do your homework for tomorrow?"

"Did it in school on Friday."

"It's getting warmish out. You could probably do with a bath."

"I'll take a bath if you tell me how you'd get out of my trap."

"They're not going to have dressers in the arena."

"How do you know? One time, they made it look like an out-district ghost town. There could be furniture. And houses that could fall down. And --"

I laugh.

"What?" Lacklen asks indignantly.

"If they give me falling-down houses, I'm a shoo-in. I'll bet I know more about that than anyone in Panem. I'll just hole up in one and keep it together while everyone else's place falls apart."

"How would you get out of my trap?"

I think about it. "Kick up, if someone's right there. Send the dressers down on them. Get their weapons while they're disoriented. And... beat them."

"What if it's me?"

"What?"

"I was thinking -- nothing in the rules says it can't be two people from the same family. You and me. The Donner twins. It could be a boyfriend and girlfriend. They could take you and Digger. Would you kill her?"

"No. And stop talking about that. It’s not happening. And if it did, I'd send Digger home, end of story. Same if it was you." I pull myself up off the floor and sit in Mom's rocker. "Now go take a bath. I answered your question."

Lacklen heads outside to the pump, picking up the tub on the way. I start the fire.

Mom looks over from the kitchen. "He's scared, Haymitch."

"So why's he scaring himself worse, thinking about things that aren't going to happen?"

"To see if he can handle them." She ladles out some thin soup made from a squirrel that got into the house and brings it over to me. She gives me a sniff and wrinkles her nose. "You could do worse than a bath yourself, for the record. I could, too."

"It's not that warm yet. Give it another couple of weeks. I bet it'll be warm come April." I poke at the fire.

"I probably won't die from getting a little bit wet in forty-five degree weather."

"Probably isn't good enough."

"Now who's scaring himself?"

I don't answer. The chance of either of us getting Reaped, let alone both of us, is next to zero. The chance that Mom's going to catch a cold and die is a lot higher, and she knows it. She watched Dad die, too.

I take a bath after dinner and wash my school clothes for good measure, then go to sleep with them hanging beside my bed, dripping dry. I dream I am in the arena with the District Six girl, and she says she is going to escape and go to District Thirteen. "It glows in the dark," she confides, then it is dark, and she does, in fact, glow. Then she's Digger, and it turns into a different kind of dream.

My clothes are still a little damp when I put them on the next morning, but it's raining again, so no one notices.

Danny and I manage to get through our presentation in Lit without any major difficulties, then the Donner twins take over the rest of the class with their commentary on repressed anger. Ruth seems not to have gotten very far in making them hold back, though she does point out that the volcano killed everyone on both sides of the narrowly averted war, and quite a few people who didn't care about either side.

They have exercise period outside, and we join the girls for running. The exercise supervisor, Mr. Mellon, has a whistle that he's very fond of.

Digger keeps pace with me -- she's a good runner, and I'm not -- and she tells me she met Glen Everdeen this morning.

"He says we can talk," she says, stopping and catching her breath. "About -- you know, things. Do you care if I meet up with him after school?"

"Why would I care about that?"

"Well, some boyfriends would at least pretend to make a fuss over their girls meeting up with strangers."

"I trust you."

She smiles widely. "You know, that's even better." She leans in and gives me a kiss, though I'm not sure what she's so happy about. It's not like I've ever not trusted her.

A whistle sounds. "Abernathy! Hardy!" Mr. Mellon yells. "You're at school, not the slag heap. Back to work!"

We roll our eyes at each other and start running again, and head to lunch in the cafeteria, where we sit with a large group of other people who don't have any lunch to eat. These are mostly Seam kids, and the conversation is mainly about how they're never really going to use the math that even they are required to take. Beech Berryhill, a kind of dimwitted kid who nevertheless works very hard to make his terrible grades, says that he's sure there's a reason we have to take it, and he bets there are plenty of places in the mines where people use math. When challenged to name one, he comes up blank, and looks at me like a trapped animal.

"You have to be able to figure blast forces," I say. "And angles. If you hit the wrong angle, you could bring the roof down." I have no idea whether or not this is true. We make the field trip together every year, but I'm mostly concentrating on not breathing very deeply. I know Dad told me once that math was a good thing to have down there, but I wasn't listening when he said why. I have to work in the mines. That doesn't mean I have to be interested in them.

"Yeah," Forrest Hickman says, climbing up to sit on the surface of the table. "I bet they're all down there calculating angles and trajectories, and quoting Shasker at each other."

"Shakespeare," I say.

"Whatever. It ain't like you're going to use any of that fancy stuff down there. Don't know why you bother with it."

"I'm not going to use it in the sweet shop, either," someone says. I look up and see Maysilee Donner beside the table. "It's no more useful to a merchant than it is to a miner," she continues. "But we all have a right to it. It's our inheritance."

Forrest snorts. "I'd rather inherit something useful, like money or tools or something."

"To what end? You work, you eat, you die. What's the point?"

"I can think of a few points I could give a fine looking girl like you."

Maysilee grimaces and is about to say something -- I can see her bracing for it -- when Beech stands up and says, "You leave Maysilee alone, Hickman. She's always been nice to us."

"Yeah," he says. "We're all such good pets. She can even watch Abernathy do tricks. Look -- you train Seam kids to act just like people. Must be like watching a dog walking on its hind legs for them. Do they give you treats, Abernathy?"

There is a flat smacking sound, which my ears register before my eyes accept that they've just seen Maysilee Donner -- a small, thin blonde girl -- slap a big, muscle-bound sixteen year old boy across the face. She stares at him coldly, then says, "You apologize to Haymitch."

"It's okay," I mutter, looking away from her. She's more or less guaranteed me a beating if I don't watch my back.

"No, it's not okay."

"It's okay."

"I think Maysilee's right," Digger says. "Just 'cause you're stuck here and stuck working in the mines, it doesn’t mean you can't be anything else. I mean, there's got to be more to life than what you do for a living, 'cause that would be pretty depressing."

"Thank you, Indigo," Maysilee says.

"It's Digger. I hear Indigo, I start looking for grown-ups." She smiles. "And don't pay any mind to Forrest. Some people have a chip on their shoulders. He has one in his skull in place of a brain."

Maysilee smiles back and moves on.

Adda Strong, a girl from the Home, shakes her head. "Digger, I can't believe you just made nice with a girl sparking your guy."

Digger kisses my cheek, then rests her chin on my shoulder and says, "I trust my guy, and that means I trust who he decides to be friends with."

I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't think it takes much trust. No one could really think that a girl like Maysilee Donner was actually sparking someone like me.

The bell rings, and we move on to our afternoon classes. I realize we've made it through a whole morning without anyone talking about the Quell.

The afternoon isn't quite as successful. Odds talk happens in math class, and in history, Mickey Slattery manages to somehow bring around the discussion of the south Asian exodus (following the same volcanic eruption Ruth and the twins turned into a symbol) to the Games. It's a kind of tortured route, going through the ingathering and the strong presence of the diaspora in District Three, to the winner ten years ago, a District Three boy who electrocuted the remaining field, to questions about how many people could reasonably be electrocuted at once... what with forty-seven competitors to kill and everything.

"Three of whom might be sitting in your class," Danny says, shaking his head. "Thanks for tipping us off to your strategy."

The class laughs a little uncomfortably. With all the talk, that's one thing no one has really brought up -- that with four tributes from the same district, there's a good chance that, even if one comes home, he or she will have killed friends and neighbors to get there. After history, I have a study period, and I do what little homework I have in the auditorium while the drama club has a technical rehearsal. Their show will be next week. They have to do it before the Reaping, in case half their cast ends up speared.

I wait for Digger at her locker after my last class. She's with Glen Everdeen, a boy I haven't had much of a reason to talk to over the years. He doesn't torment me or Lacklen, and he always seems to have a smile for people, but our paths just never intersected before now. All I really know about him is that he has a great singing voice. They're always getting him to sing the national anthem at school assemblies, and sometimes someone will get out a fiddle or a dulsy down on the Seam, and he'll sing at the top of his lungs. I'm rarely at these gatherings, but I've passed close enough to hear him once or twice. These songs tend to be miners' songs, of the sort that wouldn't be allowed anywhere near a school assembly.

"Hey," I say.

"Hey." He nods vaguely. "I, um... I ran into your girl over at Keyton's Apothecary. We were bringing in some herbs to trade. We just need to talk about a few things."

"Yeah, she mentioned. I'm just here to... well, say see you tomorrow."

"That better come with a kiss," Digger says, coming around me.

I give her a little one -- it's a little awkward with a large future miner standing a foot away -- then let her go. They're talking seriously as they head down the hall.

Since my homework is done, I wander home earlier than usual. Mom is surprised to see me. She hasn't bothered to get out of bed, and I wonder how many times she's barely managed to get up and dressed before I come through the door. I ask if she needs anything. She's embarrassed and cross with me, and tells me that she needs me to be outside and not acting like a mother hen. She promises not to die if I go out and get some fresh air.

I find myself walking along the fence, a looping, strange path around the edge of town. For the first time since the day the District Six girl died, I end up at the train depot. I look around for Peacekeepers, then slip under the fence and into the woods where we buried her.

I can definitely still see the mound, but it looks like any of the other small, uneven patches of dirt.

Except that this one has been covered with little green sprouts of herbs. They seem kind of haphazardly mixed, some dark ones and some light ones.

I frown and climb a tree.

From above, I can see that the mix isn't haphazard at all.

Someone has very carefully planted the herbs in the shape of Maysilee Donner's mockingjay pin.
13 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 24th, 2013 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Great last line! Which one of them did it?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 25th, 2013 02:33 am (UTC) (Link)
The shape would suggest Maysilee, but it's herbs... only one of them has regular access to herbs.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 25th, 2013 06:32 am (UTC) (Link)
That's why I was wondering... Can't quite see Ruth as a revolutionary. Though the girl did die under her care, that makes it personal.
Hope we get to find out.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: July 24th, 2013 01:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
You have a real knack for world building. Seriously, you've probably done a better job at introducing and developing your secondary characters than Collins did. It helps that your narrator is moderately self-aware and actually socializes with people.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 25th, 2013 02:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I think it's because Haymitch (almost) socializes and is (moderately) self-aware. I'll bet Collins has plenty of notebooks, though I'll be happy if she doesn't release them -- more room for me to play. :D
redlily From: redlily Date: July 25th, 2013 01:32 am (UTC) (Link)
For the first time since the day the District Ten girl died, I end up at the train depot. I look around for Peacekeepers, then slip under the fence and into the woods where we buried her.

?? Wasn't she District Six?

On the subject of birth control, I always had some notion that there was birth control available on the cheap (or free) to everyone, since family sizes seemed to indicate as much. (You don't see almost any families with only two kids in a world without contraception. And there was no mention in HG of Katniss and Prim having dead brothers or sisters.)

I could go either way on it. On one hand, for maximum misery, you want women who can't control their own means of reproduction, so to speak. On the other hand, Capitol medical technology has advanced to the point where cheap, effective birth control (for both sexes!) would be so easy to produce and so ubiquitous as to be essentially free. And throughout history, there's nothing in the world that human beings want to get their hands on more than that. So I imagine it would be a hugely popular black market item, if not provided by the Capitol.

I could even imagine it being provided by the Capitol, maybe, so they don't have too many District mouths to feed. But I'm not married to that idea.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 25th, 2013 02:31 am (UTC) (Link)
In a world with where there's been a catastrophic population crash and they worry about things like whether or not they can sustain a viable population? I doubt it would be anyone's priority. Katniss seems to believe that the only way to not have children is to remain single and, erm, uninvolved, and if anyone in D12 would be able to get things easily, it would be the daughter of the local healer.

But there are always folk remedies, and always have been -- pennyroyal and parsley are abortifacients, and have been used for quite a while.

I guess that, generally speaking, it seems that all medical stuff in D12 -- which would include birth control -- comes from whatever folk medicine Mrs. Everdeen or the local apothecary knows. The Capitol doesn't feed the district mouths, and it's in their interest to have a bigger labor force, so I doubt they're going out of their way to help in this single area when they don't help anywhere else. The districts would be on their own, and we've seen what they have on their own. Real medicines in D12, whatever their uses, seem to be prohibitively expensive. I doubt anyone uses them for conditions that aren't life-threatening. I'm sure better stuff is available in the Capitol, where they seem to have pills for everything under the sun.

(And oops, yes, where did District Ten come from? She showed on a train, not a horse...)

Edited at 2013-07-25 03:05 am (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 25th, 2013 03:23 am (UTC) (Link)
FWIW, in my genealogy research, I've seen plenty of families of two or even one or none in an era before birth control pills. Not the majority, I'll grant -- :D -- but they're there often enough that they couldn't have been seen as especially weird. I'm guessing folk remedies, long work hours, natural difficulties (some people just don't conceive easily), and some form of luck (good if they're trying to avoid conception, bad if they're trying to conceive).

Edited at 2013-07-25 03:25 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 25th, 2013 06:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Natural family planning. Avoid the days around ovulation. The kind of knowledge a herbalist/local healer would have and pass on.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: July 25th, 2013 07:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Lack of food would also be a huge factor -- Katniss mentions the high percentage of people who die of starvation, she comes close to it herself, and it's clear that pretty much nobody in the Seam is eating like a king and fairly few people in the town. Insufficient nutrition will shut down ovulation pretty quickly -- it's not foolproof but I'm guessing that that was a pretty big factor in the low number of children.
beceh From: beceh Date: July 25th, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Damn, I really like Digger, Lacklen and Maysilee. :-(
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 26th, 2013 04:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Me, too. :(
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: September 5th, 2013 05:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Me three. :(

I also really like the introduction of Glen Everdeen. He is Katniss' dad? (I've only read the HG series once. Need to fix that . . . ;) )
13 comments or Leave a comment