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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Twenty-Five - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Twenty-Five
Haymitch has a breakdown and sleeps for four days after the deaths of his mother and brother. They've already been buried, but people have been waiting for Haymitch to come out of it before having a memorial.

Chapter Twenty-Five
Death in District Twelve is a common visitor, and no one has a habit of putting on company best for it. We dress decently and in clean clothes for funerals, but that's about it. Someone puts a black wreath on the door. I don't know who put mine up -- my best guess is Merle, since he does most of the decorating in the Village -- but it's there. Generally speaking, friends and neighbors dig the grave. I've dug a few myself, even though I wasn't exactly anyone's friend. It's just a thing you do from time to time if you have a strong back.

The tributes are buried by the Capitol in their own section of the graveyard, marked by a large, shared stone. The Capitol treats this as an honor; we know better. It's one last slap in the face. Even our dead are no longer our own, to be sent off with our own manner of marking the occasion. Duronda is buried there as well, though she's particularly marked as a victor. I guess I will be, too, though I'd rather be here under the maple tree.

Mom's and Lacklen's graves were dug by the miners Mom worked with, the same ones who dug Daddy's grave. There's not much space left in the cemetery -- and it's not like anyone has enough land to have a family burial site, least of all us (and of course, no one can be buried in Victors' Village) -- so they're nearly touching each other in the earth, at least according to Digger. It's hard to tell from above. I stand there before the memorial meeting, staring at the turned earth, and am horribly ashamed. I broke. I couldn't even see them into the ground decently.

I've ordered a marker for all three of them. I talked to some officious twit in the Capitol, who wanted me to put some kind of holographic display up. State of the art, what everyone is doing for the fashionable dead these days. I know my Mom, though. I think of her laughing at the ridiculous fashions of the Capitol. I'm wasn't about to subject her to a mortuary form of them. I told him a simple stone would do, with their full names. He had to be corrected on the spelling several times, and treated me like I was too stupid to realize that their names aren't real names. I told him that an undertaker named Hilarius would do well not to comment. Digger who was there with me, looked surprised that I made something resembling a joke, but it was the first thing I'd done that felt normal in so long that I'd almost forgotten what that meant.

The stone will arrive on the next train. I will also build a grave house, to keep them safe here, but I will do that with my own hands. I can do that much.

I hear the low tolling of the bell beginning at the bottom of the hill, where a simple wooden platform makes a gathering space. It tolls twelve times for Lacklen, pauses, then tolls forty-two for Mom. One ring for every year of their lives. I don't know how this started. I don't care.

I only know it means that I have to leave them now and go to the memorial. They've waited for me long enough.

I go down. I speak. I don't know what I say, really. I ramble. I know people will whisper that I'm drunk, and I sound it, but I'm not. I will be later. I have promised myself that if I can get through this without going crazy, I will shut the door and drink until the world goes away, at least long enough for this to scab over in my mind. But right now, I'm stone sober. But what do you say? What do you say about a twelve year old boy whose greatest delight was his first pair of glasses? Or a woman who knew she was coming to the end, only to have whatever days remained to her ripped away?

I just talk until I run out of words, then Digger holds me while their other friends give memories. Miners remember Mom's strong back, and the clever ways she would find to make the work easier on everyone. Kids from school talk about Lacklen's sense of humor. I think some of them made fun of him and made his life miserable, but at least they're not ridiculing his death. I let the hypocrisy pass. They probably believe themselves at this point.

At the end, Glen sings an old, mournful sounding tune that is at almost all the funerals, though no one knows where it came from or what it's about.

Once it's over, there's usually food for the bereaved, but everyone knows I don't need to worry about starving anymore, and I told them not to bring me anything. Other people need it more than I do. I asked Danny to come over and use my food and my kitchen to make something for everyone, and he's made a hardy stew and a lot of breads. I tried to pay him. He didn't let me, though I finally talked him into allowing me to owe him a favor.

Mom had a lot of friends from her days in the mines, and most of them come to talk to me and tell me how they'll miss her. I resist the urge to tell them that I don't remember their names, because they've been superstitiously avoiding her since she started to show the first signs of miners' cough.

I walk through the crowd, not sure what to say to anyone. I hear the old people saying ominously that deaths always come in three, and I need to be watched carefully. They draw x-shapes in the air to ward this off, but they all look quite self-satisfied at their grim foreknowledge. I'd point out that, at last count, the latest round of deaths was hovering at around fifty-one, but it seems like too much trouble to argue about it. They wouldn't count the tributes from other districts or the Capitol camera crew, anyway. I don't know why I count the crew, except that they were people, and they're dead, and it's my fault. Snow killed his own people just because they were in the line of fire.

The crowd finally disperses, and I mean to go back to Victors' Village, but Danny catches me and nods toward the square.

"Right now?" Digger asks.

"I can't think of any time people would be less suspicious of Haymitch's friends wanting to be around him."

She nods.

I let myself be led into town. We meet in Herk Donner's stationery shop, in Maysilee's spot in the basement. "We've combed it back to front for bugs," Digger says. "It's safe enough."

We sit down on the floor in a rough circle -- me, Digger, Danny, Ruth, Maysilee's sister, Glen Everdeen. Merle Undersee appears just before Danny starts talking, even though he wasn't in the group before. He gives me a quick wave and sits down.

"Look, Haymitch, you have to be careful in your house," Danny says. "It's bugged."

"You said that in your note."

"I was talking to Ruth about Maysilee," Kaydilyn says. "I said something about how angry she'd be -- nothing even really, you know, rebellious. I said I was going to write a song. Dumb, I know. But when I got to school, they confiscated my guitar and smashed it. Too much of a coincidence. They heard me."

I shrug. I am not surprised.

"You can beat the bugs a little bit," Merle offers. "I heard some of the sound techs -- "

"Wait a minute," Danny says. "They actually admitted it?"

"They didn't even sound like it was a secret. But they said that they couldn't hear anything while I was out trimming hedges, at least when the window was open. They pick up lots of outside noises. It makes it hard to listen."

"Great," I say. "I'll just keep a hedge trimmer in my bedroom so they don't hear me talk in my sleep."

"A vacuum cleaner would work," Digger suggests. "There's one in your front closet."

"Running water, too." Kaydilyn bites her lip. "I would think so, anyway. If they're strong enough to pick up people whispering, then they're going to pick up every ambient sound going."

"It's still not the safest place," I say. I don't trust any of their little fix-its. There's no fixing what the Capitol does. If I need a reminder of that, all I need to do is look around me and see who's missing.

"Probably not," Danny agrees.

"So," Ruth says, "here's what we need to do. You need to come into town every day, and we can all meet and help you out with whatever you need -- "

"No."

They all look at me.

"No," I say again. "Here's what we need to do. You all stop playing games and pretending to be spies. You get back to your lives, and hope you don't end up Reaped next year, because I don't know if I can keep you alive if the Gamemakers want you dead. You let me go back to Victors' Village, and you leave me the hell alone up there."

"No way," Danny says. "We're your friends."

"My friends wouldn't want me to have their messy deaths on my conscience."

Digger gets to her feet. "If you think we're going to leave you alone up there to drink yourself to death, you just think again. I'd never betray your mother that way, among other things. She made me promise to take care of you after she was gone -- "

I grab her by the shoulders and shout into her face. "They. Killed. Her." I look around. No one looks surprised. "They killed her," I say again. "Do you guys get that? Do you get what it means? They killed Mom and Lacklen, just because they could. Because I gave a speech they didn't like."

"Which is why we need to take them down!" Maysilee -- Kaydilyn -- says, standing up, her eyes burning. "They killed my sister, too. I watched her die on live television. If you think I'm playing games here, think again! Not all of us are just going to lay down and take it anymore!"

"I'm not, either," I say. "Which is exactly why all of you are staying away from me. I'm not giving Snow any more targets."

"I'm your wife," Digger says quietly.

I turn away from her. "I don't remember any papers to that effect."

She grabs my arm and swings me around to her, then slaps me across the face. I imagine that the red mark looks about the same as the bruise I left on hers.

"Do you really think they'd scruple at killing my wife?" I ask her. "Or if we had kids, do you think they'd make it much past their twelfth birthday, even if they did manage to make it that far?" I shake my head. "You made a promise. You promised to go on. Go keep that promise."

"I promised to move on if you didn't come back."

"I didn't. I'm never going to. I'm always going to be in the arena, and anyone who's around me is in it with me. And in case you forgot, I didn't turn out to be very good at keeping my ally alive."

There is stunned silence at this. They think I'm crazy. I can almost feel them telegraphing it around their circle.

I'm not, though. Not on this. And if I need proof of it, I only have to go back up the hill to the base of the maple tree. I only have to look at the freshly turned earth there.

I go up the stairs and out of the shop without looking back, though I can hear Digger screaming my name.

People try to talk to me as I push through town. They try to touch me. I push them away. I don't know what I look like. The worse the better. Maybe they won't follow me out. Maybe they'll stop offering to help me. Maybe they'll let me get away from them, and get them out of the Capitol's sights.

I storm up to the cemetery. There's nothing at Mom and Lacklen's grave to talk to yet. Instead, I go down to the huge Capitol memorial, the tributes of District Twelve. Sure enough, they've put up laser drawn, color pictures of this year's tributes. In the damned parade outfits, no less. They are etched onto brass nameplates. I reach for Maysilee's and try to pull it off. I hate the Capitol. Hate it. I hate that they've done this to her.

Hate that I've let them.

I lose what little grip I had on the plate and fall backward with the force of the pull.

Maysilee is looking down at me, alarmed. "Haymitch, what are you doing?"

"They put you in that stupid outfit. The one Drake was trying to whore you out in. I was just trying to get rid of it."

"Haymitch, it's -- "

"It's not okay. It's not. None of this is. Why didn't you come back?"

"Haymitch, it's me. Kay."

I blink. "Kay," I try.

She nods and reaches down to help me up. "You need to get home and go to sleep."

I knock her hand away and get up on my own.

I walk back to Victors' Village without stopping unitl I see the pair of Peacekeepers on patrol. I signal to them.

The look at each other disbelievingly -- Peacekeepers are not in a habit of being summoned -- then come over.

"What can we do for you?" the ask.

"I don’t want anyone in here today," I tell them. "Turn them away. Even if it's before curfew. They're not supposed to be up here, and they're not invited."

"Very well," one of them says. "Anything else?"

"No. That's all."

I go to my house and unlock the door. "Hey!" I call to the bugs. "You listening? I'm sick of them worrying about me and yelling at me. No one's coming up here. I don't give a damn about anyone. Do you hear me? In the Capitol? Do you hear me, Snow? I don't care about any of them."

I slam the door. I can feel hot tears behind my eyes, but I don't let them come. I'm not going to go crazy in here anymore, not where they're watching me. I go to the bar and pour myself something that looks dark and rich. I smell it before I taste it. The fumes go straight to my head, and seem to wrap up everything roiling around inside in a thick blanket.

I drink it in one gulp. It hits like fire, and I sit down on the floor beside the living room door. Someone has delivered mail to me. It must have come through the slot in the door. Three letters, all hand-addressed. I've heard of things like this, but mostly, in District Twelve, people just knock on each other's doors to share news. If there are letters here, they're from out of the district.

I pick them up curiously. Each is addressed to me by my full name, with my house number, in Victors' Village, District Twelve. Each has been opened, so anything subversive has probably been removed.

The first is from Caesar. It's written on his official stationery, with an etched picture of him laughing in one corner, with a handwritten apology for its presence. He's scratched it out with a marker. It's a long letter, and he tells me about conversations he had with Mom, and how he'd heard good things about Lacklen from the doctor he'd sent out here. It's strangely comforting to hear someone else tell stories about them.

The second is from Gia. She writes on thick, creamy paper with an avian-themed border. Doves, I think, though she must have been restless and doodled, since about half of them are colored black. I frown. Not just black. Black with white patches on the wings. Gia has turned her dove border into mockingjays.

What do you see? Maysilee asked me in my dream.

I see nothing. I refuse to see anything. Gia is much safer if I don't see a thing.

Her note is short, but very nice.

Dear Haymitch,
My heart is breaking for you -- after everything, to lose the family who I know meant so much to you. I haven't forgotten that you asked for permission to write to them. How I wish I'd been able to let you! Do you know, I found out recently that no one else has ever asked.

I know you must be hurting terribly, and I wish I could think of anything at all I could do to help you through this. I can't. All I can do is let you know that I am your friend, and if you need something -- anything at all, even if it seems strange or silly -- you can pick up your phone and call me, night or day.

With love and deepest sympathy,
Gia

P.S.: They won't postpone the victory tour this winter. I will help you get ready, since I imagine that, even in a few months, it will be the last thing you're thinking of.


I read it over again. Look at the little mockingjays around the border. I hope whoever read my mail before I got home didn't look too closely at the latter. Gia can't afford to get any closer to trouble than she already is.

The last letter is from Seeder and Chaff in District Eleven. Seeder wrote it, with Chaff by her side. They thought that they pretty much wanted to say the same things -- that they're sorry, that they know what I'm going through (I have a vague memory of hearing that Seeder was widowed as a young woman), and that they will be by my side. "Your mom will be by your side, too," Seeder has written. "I believe that in my bones. The ones we've lost never really leave us."

I put the letters together and take them to my study. I put them in the desk drawer, and I sit and don't think.

I continue not thinking for the next few hours. I just go around my house, wandering from window to window. I look in the refrigerator several times. I have another drink. The shadows start to fill the house.

I go to the living room and turn on the television, but not the lights. I curl up on the couch with a fine down blanket to keep me warm.

Capitol programming, as usual, is boring. I decide this is all right. I wouldn't mind being bored. Being bored sound relaxing.

Tonight's offering is a show about a private detective and his little daughter. They supposedly live in District Four, but I recognize several Capitol streets from my tour, and I'd guess the "sea shore" is really the lake. I have no idea what the mystery is tonight. It involves them swimming through an underwater cave, which takes a long time. The villain is waiting for them at the end of it, when they come up through the pool in his lair.

I wonder why he didn't just plug up his end of the cave if he knew they were coming. This seems very obvious, and I think about it obsessively while they wrap up whatever the plot really was. After it's over, there's a dance contest, where, as far I can tell, every contestant strives to look stupider than the one before. They put a great deal of energy into it, and almost no costuming. I consider turning it off, but that seems like it would be too much trouble. I pull my blanket over my head to go to sleep.

The news comes on. I'd ignore this, too, but I hear Glen Everdeen's voice.

I lower the blanket. The angle is distant and tortured, but I recognize it well enough. Someone filmed the memorial.

I can't even find the energy to be outraged. I just feel dumbly embarrassed, especially when then manage to catch a few words that I said, where I did, indeed, sound quite drunk.

The anchors don't ridicule me, but they do make pitying tsk-tsk sounds, and experts are invited on to analyze my aberrant behavior. Someone dug up something about Dad's drinking, and they go on about it for five minutes, discussing how drunkenness is known to pass in the genes, and isn't it a terrible shame? They go out to do interviews on the street.

"What a way to send your mother off!" a matron says with a scold in her voice. "It's shameful."

Several more come on in this vein, then a young girl with my picture on a tee shirt says, "It was beautiful, and I feel so sad for him! I wish I could go right out there and comfort him."

I throw my shoe at the television, but it doesn't make it all the way. I'm pretty sure there's a button to push to turn it off remotely, but I don't know where it is. The news finishes up with my story and goes on to a fluff piece about the golden squirrels in their new habitat in the Mutt Zoo. They are frolicking around, eating steaks and climbing trees while they live out their nasty little lives.

After the news, there's a whole special about me and my tragic circumstances. They actually show footage that the cameraman got while the house was falling. I see my brother impaled with something, but thankfully, the footage is grainy and at a terrible angle. If the cameraman weren't dead, he'd probably be fired for it. I hear Mom scream. Then it's just a lot of broken wood. More girls seem to want to come out and comfort me as well, and several profess their undying love, and how it's been made stronger by terrible tragedy. A couple of them express the view that they could help me stop drinking, if only I'd let them love me enough.

"I've read a lot of stories about people who are drunk a lot," one says. "There's so much pain…" I have started drinking again, and I picture her as a vampire, sinking her teeth into my head and feeding on my delicious levels of agony. She looks almost drunk on it long distance.

The television is still on when I fall asleep, and it's still on in the morning. I can hear Merle's gardening machines somewhere nearby. I guess I can't stop him from taking care of the rest of the Village.

Someone knocks on my door.

"Go away!" I yell.

"I'm not going anywhere!"

It's Digger's voice. "Go away!" I yell again.

"No." Since I don't answer the door, she comes to the living room window and knocks on it. I stare at her. The window faces east, and the dawn is surrounding her with fire. "Haymitch, let me in!"

I go to the window. It doesn't open. That's fine. "Go home!" I yell through it. I see a blur of motion behind her.

She looks over her shoulder, then turns quickly and puts her hands on her head.

Two Peacekeepers grab her.

"Hey!" I yell as they drag her off the porch. "Hey!"

I go to the door and run out. "You don't need to drag her!"

"I believe it's your orders we're enforcing," one says smugly.

Digger looks at me, her eyes hurt.

Fine. Better hurt than dead.

"He doesn’t know what he's doing," she says. "I'm his wife!"

They don't have the slightest interest in her argument. The pull her to a little cart and drive her away.

I stand on my porch, cold and hung over. Merle looks at me from behind his wheelbarrow, where I can now see that the tarp has been pulled back. It's nowhere near full. He smuggled her in.

I consider telling on him, but decide not to.

It's over now. At least she'll know better than to try that again.
11 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
vesta_aurelia From: vesta_aurelia Date: October 3rd, 2013 12:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
At least she'll know better than to try that again.

Oh, no.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 3rd, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah.
vesta_aurelia From: vesta_aurelia Date: October 3rd, 2013 12:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I definitely have some ideas for your next challenge round.
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: October 3rd, 2013 01:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love this and I hate this. Oh Haymitch.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 3rd, 2013 02:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Doing the wrong thing for himself, and a very dangerous thing for the people who love him.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: October 3rd, 2013 02:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
As sick as the whole TV special on Haymitch's grief is, our media totally does the same thing, not as in-your-face, but still. Voyeurism as its creepy, insensitive finest.

Again, I am struck by the little things like that fact that Merle Undersee, future mayor of 12 is a rebel.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 3rd, 2013 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, if he didn't at least have sympathies, it'd have been pretty careless of him to leave his study unlocked and stay away long enough for Katniss to see a news broadcast!

The media is disgusting after tragedies.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 3rd, 2013 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

So Haymitch

will get to feel guilty for driving Digger to her death. Oh God. Agh. I don't know why I continue to be excited when you post an update when all they do is make me feel SAD.

Also, I love that you have Gia as a rebel. Or. Proto-rebel. How much of the work that we see in Hunger Games do you think is going on in the background here? Are these people (Gia, Seeder, Chaff) making plans or just angry?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 4th, 2013 03:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: So Haymitch

I think there's a lot of unfocused anger, and probably a few useless gestures. We know it takes them twenty-four years to get serious traction, so there can't be much organized. But the victors are probably starting to realize what Maysilee figured out on her own -- that the communications systems in Panem are what allows it to stand unchallenged.
cleindori From: cleindori Date: October 3rd, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Urk. Right in the feels... :-(
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 4th, 2013 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. That was a tough one.
11 comments or Leave a comment