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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Sixteen - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Sixteen
After a run-in with mutts leaves them short one backpack, Maysilee and Haymitch end up back at the impossible hedge.

Chapter Sixteen
I swear under my breath. We've got to be miles from the last place I ran into the hedge, but it's still here, and it doesn't show any signs of stopping. There are no guards, and the thing doesn't seem to be armed, so I don't think it's the end of the arena, but they obviously don't want me going any further.

Maysilee stares at it. "What is this, Haymitch?"

"I don't know. I thought it might have petered out somewhere. Guess not."

"Are you maybe going to tell me anything?"

I shake my head. "Let's settle in. This should guard us from the back, but it'll trap us, too, so we can't slack off on watches."

Maysilee sighs. "They couldn't just give us a notebook, I guess." She looks to the sky, but no parachutes come down. I know I've gotten nothing. Maysilee hasn't mentioned getting anything, either. I wonder what Drake's doing back in the Capitol. Is it really that hard to find us sponsors? We didn't seem to be lacking in fans.

Maybe our fans are all broke.

Or maybe Drake can't get the things we want -- things like carrot cake and notebooks aren't exactly in the usual run of sponsor gifts -- and thinks we're doing all right on the things we need.

Or maybe he's not bothering.

At any rate, we're not going to get a notebook. I wonder if I could get across the idea in the code I used for our meetings, writing them in the dirt, but I don't think I can. The symbols I made up were to remind us of things we'd already been talking about. I don't know if I can really express anything that she hasn't already figured out, and if she'd already figured it out, I wouldn't have to figure out a way to tell her.

"Maybe we should go back into the woods," she says. "I don't like being trapped here."

"I like the idea of dealing with District One even less."

I can see her biting down on an argument, and she finally just starts getting us ready to camp down for the night. While we're splitting out something to eat (Maysilee is talking about trying to find some other food, "in the unlikely occurrence that we live for a while"), a cannon goes off.

She looks up at the sky, though we won't know for another couple of hours. "Six," she says. "Who's left?"

"Us," I say. "Two from District One -- Filgree and the redhead boy."

"Moonstone?"

"Did someone really look at a baby and say, 'I know -- we'll call him 'Moonstone'?"

"Apparently." She thinks. "I think one of the boys from Three is still out here. And maybe one of the boys from Seven?" She covers her face. "Haymitch, I can't even keep track of who's dead! There's someone else, and I honestly don't even know if it's a girl or a boy! What kind of person am I?"

I sit down beside her and put my hand on her shoulder. "The kind who's heard forty-two cannons go off in a week. It's really hard to keep track."

She takes a few deep breaths to calm down, then leans back against me. "What are we going to do if it ends up as us, Haymitch?"

"Make the Gamemakers get creative," I tell her. It's even something like a plan.

There's no handy greenwood, so the hedge is our only shelter. We wrap up in the blankets again, arms around each other for warmth, sitting up against a large tree trunk so that it will be easier to get up quickly if we need to. It probably looks romantic to the audience, but we're both dirty and bloodied and we smell terrible. The fact that one or the other of us going to be dead soon puts a pall over things as well. I hope Digger realizes that at home.

We stay up together without talking until the anthem plays. We've lost Birch Holt, from District Seven. Neither of us talked to him in training, but I remember that Filigree threatened to kill him with an axe, because she wanted to prove that she could kill a lumberjack with his own tools. I wonder if that's what happened.

Maysilee goes to sleep beside me. I feel her arms loosen around my waist. After a while, she smiles in her sleep. I rest my chin on her head and try to think straight.

I want to go home.

I don't know what my chances are against the Careers -- or the other two tributes left wandering around -- and I don't know what the Gamemakers may throw at us. The audience doesn't like to watch people starve to death, so I doubt they'd just leave us to wander around. Sooner or later, they'll force us to deal with each other.

I try to remember what they've done with district partners in the past. Most of them split up quickly, probably so that they won't have to think about facing their friends and neighbors if one of them wins and the other dies. I don't have that luxury. We're down this far. At this point, there's a really good chance of it ending up with us. If they send a big mutt, I can always jump in front of it to help her before she gets killed, but what if they decide to just make us crazy? What if I can taste home so clearly that I give in and do what they want me to do?

It's a given that I'd lose what friends I have. They might pay lip service to the idea that the Games make terrible things happen to people, but they'd never forgive me, not really. They're all Maysilee's friends first, even Danny. I can't imagine my family and Digger would quite look at me the same way again, either, even if they'd make an effort. Mom would die thinking she'd raised someone who could kill a friend just to win.

I look up at the hedge, at the way it blocks the starlight, leaving us in a black shadow. I wonder what's on the other side. If it's reasonably safe, maybe I could get her through it and block the way back, then let the rest of us duke it out on the inside.

The thought comes smoothly, but the cold, reptilian part of my brain recoils from it. I have a right to live. I want to live. I want to go home and see my mother and my brother. I want to marry the girl I love -- properly -- and have a real life. It's not too much to ask, and it's not fair that I should have to walk away from it. I might not be the best person in the world, but I sure never did anything I ought to die for.

I think about Gilla and Beech. And Huller and Cotton and everyone else. About Digger's little brother, starved to death on Seam. About Daddy, his overactive brain trapped inside his skull, useless in District Twelve. I think about finding him dead in the living room after school, after watching him waste away for a year. I think about Mom, realizing that her cough wasn't getting any better. It's never fair.

I decide not to decide right now. I don't need a drastic plan of action It hasn't come down to the two of us yet. Maybe it won't be a choice I'll even have to make. Maybe someone will just kill me, the way they generally do in the Games, and neither one of us will be forced into making some kind of ridiculous, unbalanced, sadistic decision.

I stay up into the middle of the night, then wake Maysilee for her watch. I have a dream about home. Mom is healthy -- she just woke up cured one morning -- and she wants to have a picnic. But when she opens the basket, it's filled with the feathers from the black and white birds, and beneath them is the bloody knife from Crispus Bidwell's neck. There are bits of gristle stuck in the serrated edge, and tendons trailing from it.

Mom hands it to me, but when I take it, her grip tightens, and she's Kavan Carroll, kneeling on my chest, blade coming down at me. This time, there is no Maysilee coming to save me. I feel the blade go into my flesh, and Kavan laughs as he digs around inside my body. He pulls out my ribs, my heart, my lungs. I watch him as he burns them, then shoves them back inside me. Someone pulls me away, and then I'm blacked out, and I feel my mother's hands, her fingers combing through my hair. She shushes me and kisses my head.

The dream breaks up, and I coast on the edge of waking for a long time.

When I wake up, I'm holding Maysilee very tightly. I mutter an apology. She tells me not to worry about it.

We count out what's left of our supplies, and decide we can still afford to have a bit of dried beef for breakfast. If I get out of here, I am never going to eat the stuff again. I think I'll also be skipping the raisins, which have been serving as our vegetables when we bother. Maybe I'll just skip dried foods altogether.

"I think we should go back into the woods," Maysilee says again when we've finished re-packing. "Really, Haymitch, this isn't safe." She jerks her chin at the hedge.

I put the backpack on. "Just a little further. I want to get through this hedge."

"Why?"

"Just… come on, Maysilee. If we go back into the woods, we're going to end up dealing with District One."

She sighs and follows me.

By noon, there's no change in the hedge. Maysilee again proposes doubling back. I turn to the hedge and try to separate the branches. I can't even tell how thick it is. I ask Maysilee to wait while I climb a tree and get a better view. She's not gracious about it.

I pick the tallest tree I can find, but I'm only halfway up when the branches become brittle. I'm not even at the top of the hedge yet, but I have to come down. It won't support me. I doubt it would support Maysilee, either.

If I were alone, I would carefully double back, find a taller tree, and have a look. But since the only point of it would be to get the lay of the land and come back here, I decide not to open up the argument again.

We go on along the hedge, and I can almost feel Maysilee's glare on me the whole way. For a little while I try to talk to her in code. I bring up Daedalus and Icarus, stuck in the Labyrinth, the same one Theseus got out of. Of course, since I'm pretty sure it's actually impossible to break out -- which Maysilee knows -- the equivalence isn't perfect. I just thought she might pick up on getting over the wall.

She's tired, though, and not used to not being the leader, or at least the one with the big ideas. I give up talking. She only talks when she stops to ask me where we're going and why.

Even when we camp down at night, we're short-tempered with each other. No one has died today, which means the Gamemakers will be getting restless, too. Maysilee knows it as well as I do. She and I have evaded combat for days. All they have to do is light the hedge on fire, and we'll be forced into Filigree's arms.

I don't know why they haven't done it, honestly. The others must be doing something that looks more interesting.

I pull out some dinner and Maysilee her half. She sits down across from me.

"Haymitch, do you really think they don't know you're trying to get through the ledge? You've been poking around at it for days. You may as well just say what we're doing."

That far, I guess I could. I'm not even sure they'd blink an eye at me trying to find the edge of the arena. I can't be the first one to look for it. I'm sure it's guarded with something more powerful than a hedge, and there's no danger of anyone breaking out. The hedge is probably here to keep us closer to the others, but I'm sure they will find a way, if given time, to work around any breach in it.

The problem is that question she keeps asking -- Why?

I don't entirely know, because I don't know what I'll find. Maybe it will be something I can use in the course of the Games -- weapons, power sources, things like that. I doubt they'd like it very well, since we're supposed to preserve the illusion that we're all just out here killing each other because it's fun. We're not supposed to remind the audience that we're in prison and everything we do is forced. It would embarrass them to be stripped of their pretenses.

And what if there is some way out? What if there are guards, and we tangled with them? They'd retaliate, but maybe -- maybe -- I could get a coded message out to Mom or Digger to get ready to move at a moment's notice.

Then there's the question of Maysilee herself. If she even suspects that the thought of shutting her out there to keep her safe has crossed my mind, she'll be furious. And certainly, if I say anything about it, the Gamemakers will stop me. I've seen a few boys over the years try chivalry in the arena. Those are the boys they love to break and turn into monsters if they don't die quickly enough. If I do end up in a position where I have to save Maysilee -- and I hope I don't -- then it'll have to come as a complete surprise to them.

Given that I'm treating her like baggage that I'm dragging along, I can at least be sure that I'm playing that part right. If something happens to her and I do end up getting home, I will hear about this, at length, from Digger and Mom.

After the anthem plays, we settle down in our blankets. I ask her to tell me about life in the shops, since I told her all about Digger. She doesn't warm to it right away, as she's still not happy with me, but eventually, she gets going. She likes being a shopkeeper. I prod her for all the minutiae -- keeping books, keeping track of recipes, how they pay taxes, everything. I don't know if I'm interested in it or not, but it's something I know absolutely nothing about, and I might as well learn about it. The opportunities for learning about anything in the future seem somewhat limited.

Besides, I'm tired of Maysilee being cold to me.

"And you were going to get your uncle's stationery shop?" I ask when there's a lull.

"Yeah. I like it there."

"I always wondered how they stayed afloat. Who shops there?"

She shrugs. "Some of the other merchants. They have business stationery. The mayor and his wife have a lot of correspondence. The district government buys the school notebooks. We don't sell the reaping cards, of course -- those come from the government and only go to the government -- but we order them and keep them. The tesserae keepers come in every month with new… you know."

"Charming."

"Well, it's not like we were jumping up and down asking for the opportunity. Whoever the stationer is has to do it."

I nod. "Okay. I get it."

"I like the smell of the paper. And all the fancy pens. There's a section where you can buy books, too. That's how we knew your family. Your parents bought books for you and Lacklen from Uncle Herk."

"Really? I always thought they just ordered those from the Capitol."

"Nope. Uncle Herk said that your dad started coming in when your Mom turned up pregnant, and put a little bit of money down every month to buy you a book. Same for Lacklen. Do you still have them?"

"Yeah," I say, thinking of the plastic box in the cupboard. "Yeah, we do."

"Any good stories in them?"

"A few," I say. "Why? Do you want to hear one?"

"If you can remember one." She shrugs. "I don't know. It seems like something to do. I don't feel like sleeping yet."

"Do you have a favorite?"

"No. Tell me your favorite."

I realize that, while I could tell Mom's favorite, or Lacklen's, or Digger's, I never picked a favorite of my own. I decide to tell her Mom's. I figure Mom would like it.

"Once upon a time," I say, "there were three little pigs…"

"Are you kidding?"

"It's my mom's favorite. Are you questioning my mom's taste?"

She holds up her hand and manages a smile. "Never in a million years."

"All right, then. Once upon a time, there were three little pigs. Two of them were idiots." Maysilee snorts laughter; I grin and keep going. "The other one was their big brother, so he had to keep them alive, or Mama Pig would be cross with him. It wasn't easy, because there was a wolf who wanted to eat them. The first pig built his house out of straw, because apparently he'd never heard of wind. The wolf blew it down, but the pig ran next door to his middle brother's place. Not too bright, because that one made his house out of twigs. The wolf?" I make a sweeping motion with my hand. "Blew it away."

"What about the hairs of their chinny-chin-chins?" Maysilee asks. "And the wolf telling them what he's about to do?"

"The wolf in my version isn't that dumb. I mean, if you're a wolf, and you're planning on catching a little pig, are you going to talk to him long enough that he can get out the back and run next door? Those little pigs are just lucky it takes a while to run over straw and twigs."

"I see your subtle point."

"Anyway, both of the little pigs run over to their brother's house. The smart brother. He built his house out of bricks. So they all go inside, and the wolf blows and blows, but the house doesn't fall down. Then the smart pig goes over to the fireplace and says, loud as he can, 'Boy, I hope the wolf doesn't think to come down the chimney. It's hardly guarded at all, and he can get all three of us.' Then he lights a fire.

"Now, the wolf most likely figures that the brick-house one is as dumb as the others -- I would -- and that's when he makes his first mistake. Which also turns out to be the last one. He climbs up on the roof, and jumps straight down the chimney -- right into the soup pot the pigs have just put out. They have themselves a nice dinner. Then the smart one kicks the other two out and tells them to learn to build better houses for themselves before he puts them in the pot, too. The end."

"Why do I think that's not the way it was written down?"

"It gets written down a lot of ways."

We talk a little while longer, making jokes about what would happen if the little pigs had the glass slipper and the genie tried to take it away. It feels good -- normal -- but I know it won't last. In the daylight, she'll start to get impatient again. I guess it's because at night, we're not actually doing anything. In the day, we are, and that's where the trouble comes. That's when things are real again.

Sometime after midnight, or at least what feels like after midnight, a cannon goes off. We're down to five.

Neither of us feels like talking after that, and I let her go to sleep while I keep watch. I don't know if she actually sleeps at first, but she certainly makes a show of it. She's definitely asleep when I wake her just before dawn. My intention is to start right out, but she makes me get a few hours before we go -- "What use are you going to be if we run into someone we have to fight, and you're pretty much sleepwalking?"

When I wake up, the sun is high, but not quite up at noon. Maysilee is sitting on a low branch of a tree, looking out toward the forest. It'd say she was on watch, and I guess if someone came along, her expression would change, but right now, she looks lost in her thoughts.

"Ready to go?" I ask.

She looks down. "It didn't rain last night," she says.

"What?"

She climbs down to a lower branch, then grabs it and swings down to the ground. "It didn't rain. It's rained every day since they started doing it. Except last night."

"We're okay on water," I say. "I have most of a gallon in the pack."

"I think we need to get back to that meadow with the fountain -- the one that looks like the Cornucopia."

"That's where they'll want us to go. To force us into combat."

"And it's where we'll end up going in the end. Maybe we should get there and hold it. It's easier to hold a thing than to take it."

"Just a little further, Maysilee," I say. "Come on."

I start off along the hedge.

"Haymitch, why? Why does it matter?"

I don't answer her. I can't answer her. I don't know it myself. But I know I have to get past this hedge.

I keep going. I know she'll come along. She doesn’t want to be alone any more than I do.

She catches up to me a minute later, and her voice is practically a hiss. "Haymitch, we'll need water. If they've stopped making it rain… if they're trying to bring us there…"

I keep moving. She keeps saying that we should go back, and asking me why we're moving away from the water, when it's only going to get worse as time goes by.

We've been going long enough that I can no longer see where we camped last night when I hear a soft sound behind me.

I turn.

Maysilee is sitting on a mossy rock, her arms crossed and her lips pressed tightly together.

"Just until tonight," I say. "You can pick the direction tomorrow."

"I want to know why you're doing this, Haymitch. I'm mostly willing to go along with you because I believe in you. But right now, we've got a bigger problem than what's on the other side of this hedge, and if you don't tell me why that's all you're paying attention to, then I'm not taking one more step."

"Because it has to end somewhere, right?" I say. I look around. I have no doubt that there are cameras on us. Refusal to answer will be as much of an answer as words -- they'll know I'm doing something I think they won't like. Best I can do is soft-pedal it. They'll know it's more than curiosity. Maysilee is frowning. I sigh. "The arena can't go on forever."

She doesn't look surprised. I guess the Gamemakers aren't, either, though I expect they'll kill me for bringing up the mechanics of the thing when I'm possibly on a live feed.. The audience probably is surprised, but then some of them actually believe we're all happy to be here competing.

"What do you expect to find?" she asks.

"I don't know," I say. "But maybe there's something we can use."

Maysilee nods. "Okay, then. In that case, maybe we should use what we've already got."

She pulls the backpack off of my back and fumbles to the bottom, where a lot of forgotten tools have migrated over the last few days. After a little bit of shifting, she comes up with the blowtorch.

And smiles.
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Comments
sonetka From: sonetka Date: September 7th, 2013 06:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Haymitch's take on the three little pigs, while the cameras are rolling? He really does like getting close to the edge, in more ways than one. And I love how you lampshaded the question of "Who SHOPS at the stores, anyway?" I wonder how many Capitol residents are shipping them at this point? Young Effie Trinket for one, I'm sure, since she got in so much trouble later for saying Maysilee's death was sad.

The back-and-forth with himself on what he should do if they're the last two, and what's happened to previous contenders, is very good. I'd assumed that if the last two tributes refused to do anything the Capitol would probably release mutts on them and the survivor of that would win, but of course the audience probably considers that to be fairly C-grade entertainment as these things go.

It's hardly guarded all, and he can all three of us.'

I think you're missing an "at" and a "get" :).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 7th, 2013 06:34 am (UTC) (Link)
My goodness -- I missed two words in one sentence! Thanks.

I think that story may well bite him in the butt later. But yes, it skates right up to the edge. I'm not sure he realizes how close.
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: September 7th, 2013 03:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wish Haymitch could have figured out how to tell Maysilee in code, but he's right, she wouldn't have understood. She probably would have said something like, "What's that you're drawing in the dirt?" *eye roll*

The part about the two of them trying to remember who's still out there . . . *shudder* I can't remember either, and I could go back and check. ;)

I'm guessing a sponsor sent the blowtorch? It seems like a strange thing to even have in the arena, or for the gamekeepers to allow . . .
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 8th, 2013 05:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd assume it was a sponsor gift. The book just said it was in one of the Careers' backpacks. Maybe when they were wandering around the mountain, they thought they needed it for something?
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 8th, 2013 05:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, despite Haymitch's perspective, I don't understand why more District tribute pairs wouldn't stick together, especially if they know/trust each other a bit already and are at more or less equal skill levels with some complementary skills (as Haymitch and Maysilee are). It seems from the novels as if the career tributes ally by District on a regular basis (and Annie Cresta is surely not the only example ever of going in with a pre-existing relationship with your fellow tribute), so why wouldn't some of the tributes from other Districts emulate this behavior? The odds that it will only be the two of you standing at the end are, frankly, lousy. Why wouldn't the average tribute ally with someone s/he's had more than a few days to get to trust, who might even feel some social pressure from back home to not turn on him/her on national TV (because the families might actually have to face each other)?

Given all this, I feel as if there's a real problem with Collins' claim that Maysilee gave up on her alliance with Haymitch with three other Tributes still at large. Your version has made this decision seem even more foolish (Maysilee has good reason to trust Haymitch, even if he is an annoying SOB, while she knows that Filigree Simms is still out there working her way through tributes and that there are packs of poisonous mutts all over the arena). I'll be interested to see how you write your way out of this!

- Naomi
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 8th, 2013 05:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I have a working theory on the subject, which Haymitch may never find out about.

The Careers seem to end their alliances with a crazy melee, which makes sense to them for some reason, but looks insane to everyone else, so I don't see them being emulated all that much, but I'm sure they would be sometimes.
redlily From: redlily Date: September 8th, 2013 10:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have a working theory on the subject, which Haymitch may never find out about.

. . . But you won't leave us hanging, will you??
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 9th, 2013 03:47 am (UTC) (Link)
If I can't work it out for Haymitch to know explicitly, I'll try to make it clear in the text for the reader. If it's not, I'll tell you at the end. :D
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