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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Twenty-Three - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Twenty-Three
The film crews have arrived to show the tour of Haymitch's new house, and then, there's a holiday scheduled in town.


Chapter Twenty-Three
It takes them an hour and a half to get us camera ready. Domestics -- pointedly not including Digger this morning -- sweep through to make our beds and put things back in order after our wild spree of not doing anything at all last night. A production assistant chooses clothes for me that will, in theory, look good on camera. Mom is allowed to wear the forest green suit she liked last night, and a team of emergency make-up technicians flutters around her, trying to show her miraculously restored to health after our amazing windfall. Lacklen refuses to take off his glasses, and a producer mutters something about how Caesar should have sent contact lenses.

"He offered to," Lacklen tells me. "But I figured if I broke the glasses frame, I could tape it up. And it doesn't really matter how old the glasses are. If anything breaks down, I'll still be able to see a little bit. If contacts go bad, I'd have to get new ones from the Capitol or be blind again."

"Good thinking," I tell him.

"Can you tell that to your Capitol friends?"

I shrug. They seem to have relented, anyway.

The books Lacklen got out are carefully re-shelved, and furniture is moved around to cover the shelves up in the living room. Set dressers put some kind of sports equipment in Lacklen's room. Mine gets a poster of some actress from the Capitol wearing a barely-there dress. I ask one of the set technicians what that's about.

"Oh, don't worry about it," he says, waving it off. "We'll take it down before we go. But we want to establish you as a normal boy."

"By hiding the book shelves and giving me a half-naked girl instead?"

This just seems to confuse him, so I let it go. He probably doesn't know, anyway, and I do -- it's another step in making me seem stupid. Haymitch Abernathy, just one more teenage boy whose brain is located somewhere south of his belt buckle. I am not surprised to see him scatter around a few magazines that look like they might have been the source of the poster.

I leave my room and go downstairs, where they're setting up an interview area in the living room. The techs don't notice me come in.

"I heard His Highness is grumpy," one of them grumbles as they move a lighting array.

"Well, who can blame him? I mean, this house only has four bedrooms. And he doesn't have to pay any taxes, but you know, it's all so dreary."

The first one snorts. "Rate my taxes are building up, I'll end up in debtors' prison. But no, I can't possibly understand his pain."

"Maybe we should get him a drink. I hear that mellows him out."

They both laugh.

I fade back to the kitchen, where they're rearranging the food in the refrigerator, and joking about how a bunch of District Twelve hicks probably don't know what half of it is. (That this is true -- there's some kind of cheese in there that I can't even pronounce -- doesn't make it sting any less.) I go outside to the garden. Merle Undersee is back, being bossed around by the set dressers.

One of them grabs his pruning shears. "Can't you people do anything right?"

I go over and grab the set dresser's arm. I pry the pruning shears out of his hand and stare at him long enough for him to remember that I'm not someone he wants to see with a sharp object. Then I say, "Merle's my new gardener, and he's doing the garden the way I want it." I hand the shears back to Merle. "Thanks," I say. "I think it looks great just the way it is. I'll pay you on Saturday, like we said, right?"

He frowns thoughtfully as he puts the shears in the canvas bag he has slung over his shoulder. "Thank you."

I shrug.

He loads up his cart and wheels it away.

"You're going to have those misshapen bushes seen all over Panem," the set dresser sniffs. I just told him to make them look like dogs."

"But I don't want dogs, and it's my garden." I look over at the little Cornucopia fountain. "And while I'm at it, I think I'd rather buy my own fountain. Take that thing back to the Capitol with you."

"Well, I -- " His face flushes, then he mutters something not complimentary and goes back to his team. I see him pick up some kind of mobile communication device.

I am not surprised a few minutes later when the producer calls me inside. "You have a phone call," she says, looking awed. "It's the president."

I go to my study and close the door, shutting the whole crew outside. I pick up the phone. I've never used one before, but it seems straightforward. I press the "speaker" button.

"You're not being cooperative," President Snow says, without waiting for a hello. His voice comes out of a little black box.

"I don't want my shrubs looking like dogs."

"The fountain will remain."

"I don't think so."

"Oh, you don't?"

I sit down behind my desk. "Seems to me, you told me not to mention anything that wasn't in the broadcast. You skipped the whole time Maysilee and I spent in the meadow with the little fountain. If they ask about it -- and someone will, because someone saw it -- then all the sudden, I'll have to be telling them about all sorts of things that didn't end up in the highlights."

There is silence on the other end of the line. I imagine Snow flaring his nostrils. Finally, he says, "All right."

I didn't expect capitulation, and I don't trust it. "Then I'll send it back with the crew."

"What on earth would we do with it? Melt it down, if you don't want it." He pauses. "Of course, it -- along with your house -- is Capitol property. You'll want to be sure your new Head Peacekeeper doesn't find out."

"I watch television. I know you won't have them do anything to a victor."

"To you? Oh, no. I've seen your test scores. You're too smart to something like that. I'm not sure about your mother and brother, though. They may not be as smart as you are. They might destroy Capitol property. And your mother doesn't look like she'd last through much of a punishment."

"You leave them out of it."

"I'm not suggesting bringing them into it. I'm only suggesting that, were something to happen to our property, they would be obvious suspects --"

"You're only trying to blackmail my boy!"

I look up. Mom is at the top of the spiral staircase that leads down from my room. She's made up to look healthy, and at the moment, she looks like the rough and tumble mine girl people once knew better than crossing. The make-up doesn't help her movement, though, and as she comes down the stairs, she is clinging to the railing.

"I know what you've been doing. You let up on him!"

"Ah," Snow says. "Mrs. Abernathy. What a delight. I'm sorry we haven't been able to speak in person."

Mom reaches the bottom of the stairs, and nearly falls at the edge of the desk. She grabs it with both hands and stares at the phone box. "I'm not delighted. I know what you put Haymitch through. I know what happened to those children. All of them."

"Congratulations. You've mastered the art of watching television."

"Don't you talk to my mother like that," I say.

"I feel I've been quite civilized." He sighs loudly. "I only called to remind you that the cameras will be on you today. You will be live, for the most part, though we can certainly cut you off if it becomes necessary. We had a conversation in the Capitol, Mr. Abernathy. I urge you recall it in detail."

"I remember it."

"Really? Because there have been several occasions only in the last two days that have made me question your memory."

"I remember."

"And you are also to remember that the audience expects certain things from you, including undiluted delight at the improvement of your material situation. They will not want to hear you waxing philosophical. Don't disappoint them. Or Miss Pepper. Or me."

There's a loud click, and he's gone.

"What conversation?" Mom asks. "And does that Pepper woman have to do with it?"

"She's nice," I say. "And he can reach her. You can figure out the rest of the conversation from there."

Mom nods. I get up and guide her into the chair. "Haymitch, you worry too much," she says.

"He'll do it."

"Oh, I'm sure he will. But what he does isn't your responsibility."

"But -- "

She shakes her head. "Bullies make threats all the time. You know that. Sometimes they carry them out. But they aren't a force of nature. They're not wild animals that you're goading into attacking. They're human beings who make a conscious choice to do whatever it is they do. If they choose to do something wrong in order to hurt you, that doesn't make it your fault. It's their choice."

"Yeah, except that I know it's what he'll choose. If Gia ends up in trouble, I can't exactly say I didn't know what would happen if I crossed Snow."

"Because he's made a choice to be that way. Which is his moral responsibility, not yours."

I can't answer that. She's right, but it doesn't make a whole lot of difference whose moral responsibility it is if Gia ends up in prison because I do something that annoys Snow. She'll still be in prison.

And then, there was the thing he said about accusing Mom and Lacklen of committing crimes.

Mom picks up on this. It's not surprising. It's where she walked in. She puts a sharp finger under my chin and forces me to look at her. "The same goes for me. And your brother. You do what's right, Haymitch Abernathy. If Snow does something absurd in response to it, then so be it."

The study door opens and the camera crew comes in. Everything is set up, and they need me to lead them on a tour of the house.

This takes about an hour, much of it spent on lighting adjustments. They make Mom show her room. Lacklen and I carry her up the stairs and back down again. (I put my foot down on letting them film this, so I can be sure it won't be shown.)

Once we've finished, we're put through another, shorter prep before we're all loaded into cars to back to town for the festival.

Duronda's victory was so long ago that I doubt anyone in town remembers attending her holiday, and I have no idea what to expect. I'm pleasantly surprised -- they've allowed it to at least resemble a District Twelve gathering. There's a big pavilion set up near the giant screen, and Hickory Mayne is already up on a stage at one end of it, playing his fiddle while people dance, pounding out the rhythm with the soles of their shoes. Glen Everdeen is up there with a guitar, too, and I hope they let him sing.

Aside from the music, a line of booths with food of all sorts snakes down along the government side of the square, and all of the shops have some kind of contest going on to win some of their wares. There are also skill games, with little prizes that the children all seem to want, and carnival rides that spin merrily against the sky. Little kids are laughing at the top of a big wheel that takes them around and around.

Yeah, I tell myself. They're just getting footage for when those same little kids end up speared in the arena.

Maybe so.

But they're laughing now. I think I'll just let them laugh.

They have to make a huge fuss about me getting out of the car, of course. I wish they wouldn't. But my neighbors are in a good mood, and they cheer. I wave to them. The cheer becomes deafening. I don't kid myself that it's any great feeling they have for me, but they're having a good time, and I guess they figure it's my coming home that got it for them.

Hickory, who's stopped playing his fiddle, goes to the microphone. "Looks like the man of the year has finally gotten up!"

There's mostly good-natured laughter at this. I guess they've spent enough time with the film crews lately that they know I haven't exactly been loafing.

There's motion in the crowd, and I grin when I see Digger pushing her way through. She smiles at me.

"You going to kiss her or not?" Hickory calls from the stage.

I do remember Snow saying that I should keep things quiet with Digger, but there's a red light flashing on the stage that means we're live -- and everyone already heard Hickory call out, and they definitely hear half of district twelve picking it up: "Kiss her! Kiss her! Kiss her!"

She shrugs.

I kiss her.

There is more cheering.

The Capitol crew looks confused.

"Why don't we go to the midway?" the producer suggests. "I guess you could… win a bear for your girl or something." He looks at Digger suspiciously. She's not part of the script.

"Or you could marry her," Mom suggests blithely, clearly picking up the hostility. "I'll give you permission right here and now."

Given her general position on this, I guess she's figured the whole situation out. After lecturing me about not giving in to Snow's bullying, I guess she decided to offer a life lesson on the subject.

I smile. "I'm going to hold you to that, you know. But we have to wait until the government offices are open."

She laughs. It's forced.

Finally, we get an order to "mingle." The flashing light goes out, and on the giant screen, I see them showing footage from the tour of my house. There are floor plans cut in, and Capitol decorators are called out to comment on how I can improve on what Claudius Templesmith refers to as perfection.

Digger and I roll our eyes at each other.

We end up in the pavilion, surrounded by neighbors who keep bringing me food from the booths. I don't know most of them, though a few people from school are there. It's busy and the camera crew gets bored watching the same scene play over and over. I get a terse reminder that I'm supposed to give a speech as soon as the miners get off work -- if it can be called a reminder when I don't remember hearing of it before -- and an instruction to keep my clothes clean. They head off to film the midway games. Lacklen loudly proposes taking Mom on some of the slower rides, and she's more enthusiastic than she should be. I take the meaning: spend time with Digger.

It seems like a good idea, though it's hard to talk about anything important in the middle of a crowd, while Glen sings and plays the guitar up on stage.

Danny finally gets away from the contest at the bakery (an old miner woman named Comfrey McGee has won a loaf of bread every week for a year), and he sits down at the table with Digger and me.

"Welcome home," he says.

"Thanks."

"Didn't get a chance to say it the other night."

"Oh. Yeah. I should have come over and said something. That stack cake was terrific."

"Glad you liked it. And you looked a little busy."

"They really making the sweet shop run a contest?" Digger asks him.

He nods. "They are. But I think Kay's up for it." He looks at me. "She wants to make sure you know they're glad you got home, if Maysilee couldn't."

"Danny, come on," Digger says. "I told you not to --"

I take her hand. "It's okay. Maybe I'd better be able to talk about it. I have to give a speech."

"When?" Danny asks.

"When the miners get off work. I thought they'd be off today."

"Yeah, they did, too," Digger says. "But they got called in for a half-day. They're blasting out a new tunnel down under the Seam. Glen says there were some window rattlers this morning. Scared the pants off a film crew at your old house."

"I won't miss that," I say.

Digger wrinkles her nose. "Why would you miss anything?" She looks at Danny. "You have to go see his new place."

"Saw it on the screen," he says. "I'm going to come cook in your kitchen. You know that, right?"

"If you can tell me how to pronounce the names of the cheeses they stuck me with, you can cook as long as you want."

He laughs. Ruth comes over after a little while. She looks pale and is very quiet, but she tells me that she'll help me with any medical treatment I need -- money doesn't always mean you can actually get medicine to buy out here. Danny tries to cheer her up, but the best he gets is a wan smile. He ends up asking Glen to sing a ribald song about a miner's daughter, and that finally brings out a real smile.

The other members of Maysilee's group start coming over, ostensibly to greet me and welcome me home, but it really seems to be mostly because they spent the whole Games together, and got very close. Glen even comes down from the stage. I stay quiet. They're a group of their own now. Ironically, the fact that I didn't watch the Games puts me on the outside.

I don't mind. I don't feel like talking, anyway.

Mom and Lacklen come back from the midway, and they are part of things as well. Lacklen tries to bring me in, telling me stories about how they all got together to decide what to tell the cameras. Danny apparently got them going on a story about how Maysilee and I once supposedly took out a twenty foot bear that was threatening the bakery, which they believed until he decided that the bear should breathe fire.

"Jabberjay drill," he explains.

"It's the strangest game," Mom says. "They sit around lying to each other for fun."

"She won three rounds," Danny tells me.

I laugh. More people come over. There is a bar in the pavilion, but no one suggests that I have a drink, and, though it occurs to me to have one (pretty much every time I look over there), I don't actually feel a strong compulsion to do so.

During all of this, we occasionally feel what Glen calls "window rattlers" -- little tremors that come from blasting in the mines near where they run under the town. Here in the square, they're distant, but down on the Seam, they do rattle windows, and sometimes break dishes.

They finally start to trail off, and I see the miners start to come up into the square. They're washed up and not covered with coal dust (I hope my Capitol preps are watching and notice this for next year), but they're still in their overalls.

The producer comes over and says, "Now's the time. Do you know what you're going to say?"

I don't, but I figure I'll wing it.

I stand up. Mom's hand comes out and wraps around my wrist. "Say what you mean, Haymitch. No jabberjay drills up there."

She looks at me solemnly, and I know what she wants me to do. I'm not sure I'll do it, but I know.

I go up to the stage and lower the microphone so it's right in front of me. I try to remember how long other victors have spoken. It doesn't seem to me that it's been a long time.

The red light indicating a live broadcast starts flashing again.

I'm not sure where to start, so I just say, "Is everyone having fun?"

This gets enthusiastic applause.

"I'm real glad to hear it," I say. I look over at the table I came from, at my friends, who spent the Games together, who are helping each other out now. I think about what Maysilee said in her interview.

I know what I'm going to say.

"There's a lot of things I'm not glad about," I start out. "I'm not glad that I'm alone up here -- "

The producer takes a quick step forward, but then presses his fingers to his ear, listening to an instruction. He stops, looking puzzled.

" -- and I'm sure not glad that no one in any of the other districts is having fun. I had a chance to meet lots of good people from other districts. And from the Capitol. I sure wish you could all meet Caesar and Gia."

This gets puzzled looks, but I know what I mean to do.

"I guess I never thought about it much before. How we don't talk to each other when we should. It occurred to Maysilee, though. She knew we needed to talk. And she'd be pleased, I think, to see the way everyone is here together. It's the one thing she really wanted. The one thing that meant the world to her. So she'd be happy to see tables full of people where you can't tell if it's more Seam or more merchant."

I pause and wait to see if the live broadcast light goes off. It doesn't.

"I got to spend a lot of time in the Capitol with Beech and Gilla, too. They both loved their people a lot, and I guess they'd be glad to see you happy.

"I thought a lot about home in the arena. I don't know how much you saw at home -- Maysilee and I, we talked about a lot of things. She loved her shop. She wanted to know more about my life, and especially about my girl, Digger Hardy. We told each other our stories. That's a good thing.

"And I just wanted to say -- let's keep it up. If I learned anything in the Games, it's that having allies makes all the difference. We're all District Twelve here."

I step away from the microphone.

Mom starts the applause. Some people in the audience seem perplexed, but Maysilee's group has an inkling that I just suggested that we need better communication lines and stronger alliances. They don't know, of course, that I systematically broke all of Snow's rules.

The red light goes out.

I go back to the table. Mom gives me a big hug.

The producer comes over, looking uncomfortable. "That was quite a little speech," he says.

"Thanks."

"I thought it was wonderful," Mom says.

"Yes, well." The producer looks around. "We'd like to get some final shots before we put together the montage for the news about you moving into your new house. We need to go down to the old one and get footage of you moving your things out."

We start to leave the square, surrounded by the crew, but we're stopped by some commotion coming through the crowd. I see a flash of white, then three Peacekeepers come through. Standing at the front of the little troika, smirking unpleasantly, is Lucretia Beckett.

"Someone wants a word with our victor," she says.

"We have to get footage," the producer says, sounding peeved. "You don't have the authority -- "

"Oh, trust me," Beckett says. "The call waiting for him has the authority to override you."

He grits his teeth. "Fine. We'll take everyone else down there, and when he's done getting more laurels, he can join us."

"Go on," Mom says. "We'll get your things."

I nod.

They pull her away toward a car. Beckett marches me toward the mayor's house.

There's a little tremor under my feet as we go. I guess they didn't let all the miners off after the morning shift.

Beckett shoves me through the door of the mayor's house, and upstairs to a large study. The phone here doesn't just have a voice box. It's actually connected to a screen. I see myself in one corner of it, coming in. The rest of it is taken up by President Snow.

"Charming speech," he says coldly. "I believe I told you to avoid discussing things not on the highlight reel."

I grin. "Sorry. It just came up."

He presses his lips together. "Yes. I can see how such a thing could happen. The attitude of the crowd must be almost as intoxicating as the whiskey you drowned yourself in at our banquet. But I strongly suggest you stick to the whiskey, because this sort of intoxication will prove dangerous for you."

"What you do is on your head," I tell him. I feel better than I have since I got back. I don't feel like the laughingstock of Panem.

"We'll see," he says. He looks down at something in his hand, then goes on. "As long as you were bringing up conversations not seen on the approved reel, it's quite the pity that you failed to mention which story you told your ally. It was quite an interesting one, involving pigs and a wolf, as I recall."

"The subject didn't come up."

"I was particularly interested in your commentary. Your apparent belief that the wolf was foolish to tell the little pigs what he meant to do."

"Gave them a chance to get away, didn't it?"

"Ah, yes. And therein was the problem. He allowed them to have a back door. If he were wiser, he would have blocked the escape routes before announcing himself."

The buzz I had from talking to the crowd starts to fade. "What are you talking about?"

"I've read that story in its other versions, Mr. Abernathy. The wolf's failure was not in his threat. He did carry through on it, after all."

Suddenly, the world goes glassy. I see an ant on the windowsill, crawling along with lumbering steps. A little tremor makes it all the way up here. A stronger tremor than there generally is from simple mine blasting.

I take a step back. "I'm sorry. I won't do it again."

"It's a bit late for that, Mr. Abernathy. And I have a feeling that this cockiness didn't develop on its own, did it?"

There's another tremor from the mine.

I blink slowly. "Please… no."

"What was it the wolf said? The line your ally urged you to return to the story?"

I close my eyes. Another tremor comes.

"Ah, yes." Snow picks raises his hand, and I see that he's got some kind of signaling device. "It was, I'll huff" -- he presses the button, and the world shakes -- "and I'll puff" --

The next one is an actual jolt.

"No!" I say. "Please!"

"And I'll blow your house down."

Snow presses down on his button again, and there is a huge blast. The world gives one solid shake.

And then the screaming begins.
11 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: September 28th, 2013 12:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
The buildup, the horror of that last conversation....

*whimper*
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 28th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. Snow sucks. I spend enough time hating on Coin and dealing with Snow as more or less affably evil that I sometimes lose touch with exactly how evil he is.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 28th, 2013 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

oh shit...

The way Snow appropiated the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf right before he pressed the red button gave me CHILLS

and No Glen. No Everyone.

You write an even scarier Snow that the one in Canon.

~A
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 28th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: oh shit...

And now, Haymitch will never be able to think about his mother's favorite story without some serious flashbacks.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 28th, 2013 06:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Next Story

I've been reading all of your Hunger Games stories on Fanfiction (moonlight goose is my fanfiction name)and here on the Phantom Librarian and I was wondering if you were going to do the first book of the Hunger Games in Haymitch's point of view as well? You would do a wonderful job since you're such a great writer and I'm certainly hoping you do because you catch Haymitch's personality perfectly!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 28th, 2013 07:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Next Story

I hadn't planned on it -- "The Final Eight" was the take on that -- but a lot of people have been asking for it, so I've been considering it.
vesta_aurelia From: vesta_aurelia Date: September 29th, 2013 02:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Next Story

Please???

*gives adorable kitten with big begging eyes look*
sonetka From: sonetka Date: September 28th, 2013 06:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
You can see where Haymitch got his courage from, no doubt. Damn, but it must have taken brass ones for Mrs. Abernathy to do that. (Of course, she might have been thinking "I'm dying, screw what they do to me" but I can't imagine she'd be that cavalier with Lacklen's or anyone else's life).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 28th, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have a feeling that she didn't believe, in her bones, that they'd go after Lacklen. She just wanted Haymitch to not feel trapped by the threats. She may have even felt that standing up to a bully would make the bullying stop... a belief right up there in realism with Haymitch's notion that he's going to get her new lungs and she'll live forever.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: September 29th, 2013 01:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Damn. Wow. That ending was quite the kicker. He's so affably evil in the books and tends to send intermediaries rather than get his hands dirty, but I can see him doing something like this to someone he sees as this much of a threat. The fact that Haymitch and his mom kept pushing his buttons makes his reasons for doing this seem a lot more believable than the reason Haymitch gives in the book.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 30th, 2013 12:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that "the business with the forcefield" is the short form Haymitch and Snow both kind of default to, when it's really, "the business with Haymitch being able to see clearly exactly who his enemies were from day one, and having the brass balls to spit in their faces at every opportunity." Or something along that line. At any rate, that the business with the forcefield is not itself a huge thing, but what it symbolizes about Haymitch and his attitude toward the Capitol is vast.
11 comments or Leave a comment