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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Eight - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Eight
They've gotten onto the train and left District Twelve behind. The escort, Pelagia Pepper, tells them that they can eat and then get a good night's sleep.

BTW, I did add a little bit to Chapter Seven in the archival form. Nothing that directly reflects, but enough that I felt like I should mention it.


Chapter Eight
We might be scared, but that doesn't stop anyone from eating just about everything they put in front of us. It'll probably be our last chance to have anything good. While we eat, they play the reapings from across Panem. None of us pays much attention.

Gilla and Beech and I just dig in, drinking soup straight from the bowls, pulling apart chicken with our fingers. Gilla may have had some training at the Home, but not much. On the Seam, silverware is kind of a sometime thing. Maysilee drinks her soup carefully and uses her knife and fork on the meat. I guess I'm as self-conscious as the others when I notice this -- I've done many things with my town friends, but I haven't eaten a whole meal with them, and it didn't occur to me that Maysilee probably thinks of silverware as a normal part of every table. I look up and hastily grab a napkin to wipe the grease off my fingers.

She rolls her eyes, puts down her knife, and picks up a chicken breast to take a big bite.

Pelagia laughs nervously. "Well, since we won't meet your mentor and stylist until we get to the Capitol, maybe we can spend some time tomorrow morning on… on the way people in the Capitol generally eat. You may have cameras on you at the table during training. Sometimes, it's better to use the host's manners. Manners everyone understands."

"Are they filming us on the train, Miss Pepper?" Gilla asks.

"No, honey. And you can call me Gia. My friends call me that."

"You're not our friend," Maysilee says coolly.

Pelagia looks hurt.

"You just chose us to die," Maysilee goes on.

"And now I'm going to do my best to help you live."

"Which one of us?"

Of course, there's no good answer to that. The best case scenario is three of the four of us dead. Pelagia looks down, then leaves the car.

"You don't have to be mean to her," I say after the door shuts. "She's just doing her job."

"Her job is helping them kill us."

"Maybe they don't have any more choice about jobs in the Capitol than we do. Don't know about you, but I wasn't exactly looking forward to the mines." I consider this. "Though, to tell the truth, they look pretty good right about now."

"What's your point?" she asks.

"Seems I remember someone saying the Capitol loves to set people up against each other."

"Seems I remember someone saying the Capitol didn't care."

There's an awkward silence, then Gilla says. "I wanted to be house mother at the Community Home."

"Yeah?" I ask, mostly to direct the attention away from Maysilee.

"Yeah. Sae's real good. She's always helping us out. Someday, she'll get old for it, and then I want do it. Or, well… I wanted to." She looks over at Beech. "What about you?"

"I don't know," he says. "Guess I'd have been in the mines like everyone else."

"What about at home?" Gilla prods.

"Figured I'd get married. Maybe have a couple kids or something." He thinks about it deeply. "And a cat. My brother has a cat that follows him around. I think that would have been a good thing to have." He looks at me. "How 'bout you, Abernathy?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Did Digger do the toasting?" Gilla asks abruptly.

"What?"

"Well -- the Mellarks always give bread to the tributes, and Sae sent her daughter to light a fire in there -- she works as a maid -- so that, if you and Digger wanted to…"

"Yeah." I said. "Yeah, we did." They're all staring at me. I reach into my pocket and pull out the half-piece of toast, which is mostly crumbs now. I shake it free of the indigo string and eat a piece of it, then pass the rest out to the others. Usually at a toasting, the rest of the loaf gets passed out to guests, but I make do with what I have. Not that I wanted to invite guests, but I should have known that the fire wasn't a coincidence in warm weather.

They look down at their bits of toast. Gilla starts crying as she nibbles at it. Beech pats her shoulder awkwardly.

There doesn't seem to be anything left to say. For a while, I stay with Beech and Gilla, because Maysilee is being distant, but I finally get tired of them talking about all the things they'll miss on the Seam, and all of the people they know, many of whom have made my life miserable. I stand up and go over to Maysilee, who is sitting in a window seat, watching the dark countryside go by. I have no idea what districts I'm seeing. Our maps are actually kind of vague about where they are.

"Sorry," I say. "About arguing with you."

"It's okay. You were right. For all I know, there's a gun at her head." She sighs and looks down at my hand, where I'm holding Digger's string. "Is that going to be your token?"

"Yeah. I guess."

"It'll break pretty fast if it gets wet. Let me see what I can do with it. Kaydi and Ruth and I used to make jewelry out of packing string when we were little."

I don't really want to let go of it, but maybe she can do something with it that will do some good. I hand it to her.

She looks at it, then measures my wrist with one end of it. "We thought we were so fancy," she says, "with our rings and necklaces and bracelets. Sometimes, Ruth would make different colors of tea, and we'd dye them to match our clothes."

She starts knotting the string, nothing fancy. About halfway through, she asks for the buttons from the cuffs of my shirt. ("They're going to give you new clothes, anyway. Spoil this one before they try to put it in the tribute museum.") The buttons are the kind with loops on the back, and she threads them onto the string, putting a single knot between them, then she continues single knotting the rest of the way. By the time she's done, it's about the right length to tie around my wrist, and looks like it might actually last longer than I will.

"Thanks," I say as she ties it carefully. "Are you wearing your pin?"

"If they let me."

There's nothing to say. We watch the world go by until Pelagia come back and tells us that we really do need our sleep. Maysilee apologizes to her. She nods and accepts it. Her eyes are red.

We each go to our own compartments, which have been stocked with clothes in our size. I guess they must have a bunch of different sizes stashed in the other cars. I put on a pair of pajamas. I don't think I've worn actual pajamas since I was about five. They're considerably softer than my long underwear.

The sheets on the bed are some kind of shiny, slippery material, and I'm afraid I'll slide right out of bed at first. After a while, though, the soft mattress, the smooth sheets, and the carefully controlled temperature lull me to sleep. I dream I am in the woods with Digger, slashing through the brambles, trying to find our way to the out-district place where Mom and Dad and Lacklen are all living. We never do make it, though we glimpse it from the top of a hill. I wake up before we get there.

The morning on the train is taken up by a huge breakfast, made much less pleasant by Pelagia's manners lessons. Maysilee tries to make up for yesterday by backing her up, saying that if we are on camera, it will be easier to get sponsors if we're polite. This doesn't endear her to Beech and Gilla, who can't see why they should put on airs.

For myself, I figure it may be my last chance to learn anything other than how to kill people. Granted, it's kind of a stupid thing to learn. I can't imagine why anyone bothers to have three different forks for a meal, and even more spoons. But I memorize them dutifully, and ask Pelagia questions about how the rules came to be, and when we might use some other examples she brings out.

By the time we're done, we're all calling her "Gia," and Gilla and Beech have mastered the basics. It's also time for lunch. Gilla suggests that we make a game of remembering everything. The last thing I want to think about is playing a game, but it seems to be calming her down, so we ask Gia to keep score. Maysilee and I conspire without discussing it to let Gilla win, deliberately making one mistake in every course, and passing her the easiest foods.

Gia announces the end of the game as we go into the tunnel through the mountains that will get us to the Capitol. She crowns Gilla the winner and lets her wear a fancy hair clip into town as a prize.

"Now," she says as the darkness surrounds us, "when we get into the Capitol, put on your friendliest, best-mannered faces. Albinus and your stylists will meet us at the training center. I'm afraid that they haven't increased the numbers of stylists, so the girls will share Atilia, an the boys will share Lepidus. I'm sure that Albinus will tell you this, but just to be sure, you really must do as your stylists tell you. It's not always pleasant -- though I rather enjoy most of it myself -- but it's for your good."

We come out into the light at a train depot in the Capitol. I take the city in quickly: colored glass towers, gleaming windows, statuary glinting in the afternoon sun. It's so bright, so far from coal-covered District Twelve, that it might be some fairy tale place. I think that Digger would like it.

Except that it means to kill me.

With that, I disconnect from its beauty. Maybe under other circumstances, I'd stop and look at it, but there are never going to be other circumstances. Even victors need to be invited to visit here.

The other three are staring, gape-mouthed, at the buildings. Even though we've all changed into clothes provided by the Capitol, we look like hopeless rubes here.

Then again, none of us are stuck wearing feathered leggings that make us look like malformed birds, and I can see at least three people in the crowd who seem to be. I glance at them as we move, and again, the world seems to resolve itself in little flashes. I have a very clear and useless view of a man trying to be subtle while he scratches his private parts.

We're piled into another car and driven to the center of town. I pass things I've seen on television, and things that never seem to get shown. There's a little statue on a corner where we stop. It has a couple of shiny birds on top of a ball. It seems largely forgotten among the tall glass buildings around it, and I can see that a few real birds have visiting it recently. Further down, there's a small statue of a family huddled together, looking up at the mountains.

Finally, we reach City Circle, a place I feel like I know as well as a native. This is where the speeches happen every year, where the chariots will bring us tonight. It's already being set up, of course, though people are still going about their daily business. I guess the city doesn't really shut down for the Games until tonight.

We go around City Circle and down the wide parade promenade, into the tall, grand building called the Training Center. We see it from the outside every year, of course, and now and then, they show scenes from a gymnasium that's here somewhere, but I really am not sure what to expect.

When we go through the big arch where the chariots emerge, we find ourselves in a cavernous basement. I can already see the chariots lined up. Horses are in stables. The smell isn't good, but not as bad as the pig pens some people keep back in Twelve.

People are milling about everywhere. Some are victors I recognize from television. Last year's winner, Brutus Emmett, is chatting with a woman who has cat whiskers, and Seeder, a pretty victor from Eleven, is over by the horses, feeding them something from her hand. The other victor from Eleven -- a guy named Chaff, who won a few years ago but lost his hand, is prowling around and grumbling near the place they stop the car.

Beside him is Albinus Drake of District Two. He's dressed casually for a victor in the Capitol, and he's standing between two frightened looking mice in Capitol clothes. He only won six years ago, so he can't be any older than twenty-four, but whatever he's been doing since the games has aged him a lot. Gia brings us to him.

"Did you take a detour somewhere?" he asks her.

"It's a long trip from District Twelve," she says. "Here are the tributes." She pulls Gilla forward. "This is --"

Drake waves his hand dismissively. "I saw the reapings. I know their names." He looks at Gilla. "How are old are you?"

"Thirteen."

"Figures." He sighs and looks at the woman cowering behind him. "Atilia, do your best. She's got nothing up top, so you're not going to be able to sell much that way. Play up how young she is. Pigtails or something." He moves on to Beech. "You -- are you as strong as you look?"

"Yeah. Guess so."

"Good. Maybe you'll survive a little while. Play on that, Lepidus."

I look at the man he calls Lepidus -- a small, thin man with spectacles framed in what looks like ice, complete with icicles hanging from the frames. This must be my stylist. He looks like a strong breeze would bowl him over, and like maybe Drake has already bowled him over a few times.

"And you." Drake stops in front of me. He squints. "What have you got going for you?"

"On a guess," I say, "I'm smarter than you."

"That'll do you a lot of good when your head's off your body." He snorts. "Well, you're not bad looking. I could probably scare up a few sponsors for you." He glances at Lepidus. "Make sure the genius here is showing off his… brains."

Lepidus gives me an apologetic look, then shrinks back.

Drake moves on to Maysilee and smiles lecherously. "You barely need any work, Beautiful. I'll have sponsors lining up for you. Maybe I'll take the time to give you a little private mentoring." He reaches out toward her chest.

She slaps him hard enough that most of the people in our vicinity hear it and turn. I see the victor Chaff grin at her.

Drake pulls back his arm to strike her. I grab his arm. I don't know exactly what I'm doing, but I hope he'll try and grab hold of me. I know how to get away if he does. It doesn't take long. He turns me around and gets me in a headlock -- a move I've known how to get away from for two years. I turn enough to get my arm in front of his body, then put my leg behind his legs, then throw myself backward to the ground, pulling him with me. I use my free elbow to jab at him, and get him just below the throat. He doesn’t let go, so I aim a little lower down his body with the next shot.

The arm around my neck withdraws, and I get to my feet. "You don't talk to any of us that way again," I say. "Got it?"

Drake gets to his feet, wincing. "Good luck with those sponsors, Genius," he says, then turns to the stylists. "Do what I said."

He stalks away stiffly.

"Need a little help walking there, Albinus?" Chaff calls after him, then laughs. He turns and gives me a wink.

I figure I might like him, but there's no time to talk. We're whisked away by the stylists just as another car comes in. I guess it's carrying the District Eleven tributes, because Chaff and Seeder go up to it.

I lose track of the halls we go through. The girls and Atilia get swept into a room at least one level up from where we started, and Beech and I (along with Lepidus) end up a few levels above that. The room is obviously made to be used for one person -- it's large, but there's a lot of duplicate equipment shoved into it, and a temporary canvas tub set up in one corner. A cloth divider on a metal frame is wheeled into the middle, but we aren't separated yet. Six people in smocks are standing in a row.

Lepidus clears his throat meekly. "These are the tributes from District Twelve, um…"

"I'm Haymitch," I say. "He's Beech."

"Thank you. Get them down to Base Zero, and, of course… make sure the lines of the clothes aren't disturbed. Atilia and I will be sizing the costumes. Send someone when they're ready.

He disappears.

The next two hours are probably the most embarrassing I've ever spent, including the time I had to wear one of Mom's blouses to school because I tore Dad's on the way out the door and there was no time to fix it. Beech is taken to the other side of the divider, and three gossipy women proceed to strip me naked and dump me in the canvas tub. They tackle me with scrub brushes and heavy, gritty soaps, scouring the coal dust off parts of me that the audience better never get a glimpse of. I feel like they take off about half my skin with it, and I sting all over by the time that little treatment is done.

The women try to talk to me while they're working -- how do I like the Capitol, what do I like in school, things like that -- but it's a little awkward to talk to people who are turning you over like a flapjack and chatting about television shows while they use rough gloves to try and get coal dust out of skin wrinkles I didn't even know I had. I do catch that their names are Fabiola, Igerna, and Medusa. Medusa does not understand why I think it's funny that she's doing my hair.

"We'd best get the shot taken care of now that we're done scrubbing," Fabiola says while they're draining the tub and getting it ready for whatever they plan to do with me next.

"Shot?" I ask.

She smiles. "Um… well, it's just a little something to… well, to make sure that no one takes any embarrassing pictures of you while you're wearing tight clothes."

"What do you -- " I don't finish the question, as I realize just what might be embarrassing in tight clothes. I feel my face flush red hot. "I don't think so."

"Oh, honey, all the boys will have the same shot. It'll last all the way through the Games. Don't worry, none of them will be talking about it." She jabs a needle into my arm without waiting for my response to the idea that certain things are apparently being shut down for the rest of my life. She and the others go back to talking about a fashion show they saw, and they dump me into a much less uncomfortable bath, this one full of moisturizers and scented oils. They're much gentler without the scrub brushes, and I can't help but notice that being gently caressed by three pretty women is having absolutely no effect on me.

I decide that I will take this to the grave, no matter how soon that is.

My hair is cleaned next, probably the first time in years it's gotten a real wash. Medusa coos over how thick and curly it is, and says they can't possibly cut it. Instead, they opt for some kind of goo that's supposed to make it shiny, and spend half an hour getting the curls in exactly the places they want them. By the time they're done, Beech has come around the curtain. He's naked as the day he was born, and trying desperately to cover himself with his big hands. One of his preps goes running for Lepidus.

We both end up standing against the wall while the remaining preps clean up. I'm wearing the string bracelet from Digger, and nothing else.

"You clean?" I ask.

"Never been so clean in my life," he says. "They even gave me some shot so I look better on camera. Who knew there was a shot for that?"

I consider explaining it to him, then decide not to. He'll probably figure it out pretty soon.

Lepidus arrives, carrying two miners' helmets… well, something that the Capitol apparently thinks are miners' helmets. They're shiny yellow things with big, sparkly lights on them. These are set down, and Lepidus produces two wrapped packages. Each contains underwear and a gray miners' uniform. The underwear is kind of tight, and it has a little elastic pouch that pushes things forward a little more than I'm used to. The shirt is too tight to button much higher than the bottom of my ribs. It's apparently been taken in specifically for this purpose. The pants are kind of tight, too.

"I think you brought me the wrong size," Beech says. "I can't hardly bend over in these without worrying about them splitting. That wouldn't work too good in the mines."

"You're not going to the mines," Lepidus says. "This is meant to enhance your… um, masculinity. It will appeal to sponsors. They like to see boys who look like big men who can win."

I look down. "What, exactly, do they think we're competing at?"

"Just do as you're told. And don't annoy Albinus any more. He's your only lifeline in the arena."

"Then I don't think I've got a lifeline."

Lepidus smiles nervously. "Now, we're about to go down to the chariots and meet the girls. When you're out there, you wave to the crowd. Be personable. If someone absolutely insists on sponsoring you, Albinus has to send you what they want, even if he's still mad at you."

I have a feeling there are ways around this, but I don't say anything.

Lepidus checks us once more. He tells me not to wear the helmet, since apparently, I have great hair. I'm supposed to carry it casually. Beech's helmet is perched at a jaunty angle. Finally, he takes out a box of black powder and, adding insult to injury, artfully applies it to our faces. I try to tell him that there are sinks up at the mines, and most of the miners wash their faces before they come home, but it doesn't go anywhere.

When we get downstairs, the girls are done up in similar costumes. Gilla's hair is in bouncy pigtails tied off with big hanks of oversized yarn, and the helmet has been modified so they stick out through holes in it. Maysilee's shirt has been hiked up and tied right under her bosoms, so her belly is bare. The tie is about all that's holding the shirt closed, too. Her pants are shorts, because, as everyone knows, it's smart to leave your skin uncovered in the coal mines. She has been enthusiastically decorated with the fake coal dust. Like all of us, she's wearing artfully distressed work boots, but hers are high-heeled.

"I tried to tell them to do me up as a shopkeeper," she says. "I said I'd even do a sexy shopkeeper. But it turns out they have no idea there's anyone in Twelve who doesn't work in the mines. On the plus side, I've still got this." She flips up the collar of her shirt -- which is opened very wide -- and reveals the mockingjay pin. It won't show much in this get-up.

Drake comes back and arranges us in the chariot. I'm pleased to see that he has a large bruise on the back of his head, where he hit the floor earlier. He doesn't mention this. He puts Maysilee and Beech front and center in the chariot, since they're tallest, then puts Gilla and me on the outside. He hands all of us dull plastic pickaxes. Since I'm already carrying my helmet, he takes away the pickaxe, deciding that I look too laden down.

"And what's that crap on your wrist?" he asks.

"My district token."

"Looks like a craft project. Lose it."

"Not a chance in hell," I say.

"I'm your mentor --"

"And that's his district token," someone says. I look up to see Chaff, from earlier, glaring at Drake. "You got no right to take someone's district token unless it's a weapon, and I doubt even your golden boy over there" -- he nods toward Brutus -- "could figure out how to make that little thing into a weapon."

"These are my tributes. Watch your own, Chaff."

"I'm keeping an eye on everything. Don't you forget it."

"Pity you can't be more hands on about it."

Chaff rolls his eyes and turns directly to me. "You hold onto that. Looks like it means something real special. And if this ass tries to do anything, remind him that you already whipped him once. You remember that -- you've already whipped one victor. Put him down like he was nothing." He goes back to his own chariot, where Seeder is trying to calm down four frightened kids in farmer costumes. He pulls the littlest, probably a twelve-year-old, onto his lap, and starts to speak softly to her.

A few minutes later, a signal sounds, and the chariots move out into the night.
13 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
redlily From: redlily Date: August 10th, 2013 03:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Her pants are shorts, because, as everyone knows, it's smart to leave your skin uncovered in the coal mines.

HA. Now that's a Haymitch line, no two ways about it.

He goes back to his own chariot, where Seeder is trying to calm down four frightened kids in farmer costumes. He pulls the littlest, probably a twelve-year-old, onto his lap, and starts to speak softly to her.

Jesus Christ. If one image can illustrate the horror of the Games, I think that's it: a little kid dressed up as the farmer she'll never be, being eased into her eventual death by the mentor who has to watch her die. *shudders*
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 10th, 2013 04:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, Haymitch has a sarcastic streak about a mile wide.

Jesus Christ. If one image can illustrate the horror of the Games, I think that's it:

And the horror is for the mentors, too. At least Chaff is trying to make the last few days a little bit better.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 10th, 2013 08:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: FILL: Charming/Red/Snow, Cuddles

The sexualization of the children is pretty disgusting. It was lightly touched on in THG but you definitely bring out it's horror quite well.
Like the previous reviewer, the image of the 12 year old sitting on Chaff's knee is terribly sad. Perhaps because I've had an 11 year old plop in my lap or bring out a stuffed animal they still sleep with, enough to be reminded that even if they're "bigger kids" they're still babies.
Haymitch is such an astute kid. Love him.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 10th, 2013 08:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: FILL: Charming/Red/Snow, Cuddles

I think in the books, because they're narrated by Katniss, the fact that these are CHILDREN isn't stressed all that much. Katniss thinks of herself as the "normal" age. But when you think about not only Finnick (whose patrons started lusting after him when he was 14, even if they did wait two years) but about the fact that kids are sent down the parade route naked on a fairly regular basis, you really kind of get the idea of what's being done to these kids.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 10th, 2013 09:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I was never the biggest Chaff fan in the books, but I really love your Chaff.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 10th, 2013 08:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I figured there was probably some good reason he and Haymitch were friends.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 11th, 2013 02:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Chaff is...

Completely awesome, telling Haymitch that he's already bested a victor. And the fact that he totally ignores the hand comments. And just absolutely everything about him.

I LOL about Medusa and the hair.

And the line about having no physical reaction to three women with their hands all over him. Another LOL. Digger would probably be pleased that the shot was administered when it was!

Altogether terrific and fascinating.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 11th, 2013 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Chaff is...

Thanks!

Yeah, the Capitol... if they'd read half the stories they take their names from, they'd have been a lot more careful.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 11th, 2013 02:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I Don't Get it.

what did they do to Haymitch and the other boy tribute? the shot thing?

why would It prevent people from taking pictures?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 11th, 2013 07:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
It doesn't prevent anyone from taking pictures. It makes sure that certain things that tend to physically happen to sixteen year old boys at inopportune moments don't break the line of their suits.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: August 12th, 2013 01:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, you really jumped feet first into the who over-sexualization/ pre-pimping of children angle of the games. The 'mentor' isn't even subtle about it but I don't think Haymitch has quite caught on.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 12th, 2013 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, the mentor is a victor. He does know what's coming and what the score is.
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: September 5th, 2013 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
LOL at Haymitch knocking Albinus on his butt, Medusa, and the shot. I love Haymitch's sarcasm, too. ;)

Chaff is made of win. That poor little girl.

13 comments or Leave a comment