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HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Three - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Three
Okay, back again, and catching up to the end of "End of the World" here. By the way, as always, I use comments for beta... if you notice some dumb typo or missed word or something, please let me know!

Chapter Three
I don't know exactly what Miss Pepper -- Gia; she said I could call her Gia -- says when she reaches Haymitch and Beckett, but whatever it is, it spooks Beckett enough that she doesn't argue when Gia orders her to release Haymitch on the authority of the Gamemakers. Beckett waves it off. Gia gets the shackles off of Haymitch's wrists, then holds him tightly, practically keeping him on his feet.

She signals to me, and I gather him up and lead him back to the bakery. Mom gets him back upstairs to bed.

I go back outside. Gia is sitting on the bakery steps, her arms crossed over her chest, glaring at the whipping post as if it might come to life on its own and hurt her victor.

"You want to come in and sit down?" I ask.

"I need to take care of things. The girl. I should get the burial dress to her."

"She's…" I look down. "I don't think you'll be able to dress her. She's… um…" I sigh and sit down. "It cooked her. She's kind of pulling apart."

Gia grimaces. "I'll find a way. I promised."

"Do you want help?"

She smiles at me faintly. "No. I'll find a woman to help me with something like that."

"My girl, Ruth, will help. She's at the apothecary." I don't think this is something I need to ask Ruth about. She's generally willing to help show respect to the dying and the dead.

"Thank you. You look after Haymitch today. I'll get him back to his place tomorrow and stay with him until he… until he comes around."

"He can stay here."

"I think it's wiser that if someone's going to be crossing your new head Peacekeeper, it's someone who has the protection of Capitol citizenship. She won't touch me. And I can stay in Victors' Village at night."

"She touched Haymitch. Just before you showed up."

Her mouth goes very tight. "I know. She won't be doing that again."

I nod. I hope she's right. "Thanks for coming out here for him."

"He's a good kid." She looks out across the square again. "I saw more of the Games back in the Capitol -- in the Viewing Center -- than you did out here. He's been through more than you know."

"I know enough."

We look at each other, then she pulls herself to her feet and heads for the Justice Building, her garment bag slung over her shoulder. I go back inside.

Haymitch is asleep upstairs for the rest of the day, and no one bothers him. Gia returns from the Justice Building after two hours, saying she has taken care of Digger and is forcing the return of her body for a proper burial. Ruth did help her in the end, and I guess she's not mad at me for suggesting it, since Gia doesn't say anything. I organize Haymitch's friends and Digger's to take care of a funeral. I help Glen a few other boys from school dig the grave the next day, along with a contingent of miners who always volunteer.

Haymitch disappears the morning of the funeral, and comes back from the direction of Victors' Village, drunk out of his mind. Gia puts some pills into him that seem to wake him up a little bit, but he doesn’t try to speak. He is wearing his district token again, which I guess makes sense, since it was from Digger. It's a knotted string that he wears as a bracelet. Kay Donner and Ruth have made quick bracelet of their own from packing string to show support. I half expect Kay to be wearing Maysilee's mockingjay pin as well (Haymitch brought it back to her), but she doesn't. They've made extra bracelets, and several of the people at the funeral are wearing them by the end. If Haymitch notices this support, he doesn't give any sign of it.

We go back to Victors' Village with him and sit in our usual shifts, though Gia keeps him there that night, so I go home alone. It seems very quiet.

The string bracelets start to spread around town over the next week. I make one from a flour sack tie. Most of them are made from the ties around sacks of tessera grain. No one talks about them, but when we see each other wearing them, we nod. We know. Something is building among us, but it's not clear yet what it's going to be.

This doesn't move up to the adult world. They have their boycott of Lucretia Beckett, and they're doing very well at driving her crazy. She has merchandise confiscated on a regular basis, and she locks my father in the stocks for six hours on the manufactured crime of contempt. Ruth's father temporarily has his business license suspended, but he's the only person in the district who sells certain pills the Peacekeepers want access to, so she has to let him open up again.

We tell Haymitch none of this. Though Gia has him cleaned up and sober, we can tell on his forays into town that he isn't right in the head. He terrifies Kay Donner, talking to her as if she's Maysilee and "rescuing" her from crows, sparrows, and even Maysilee's pet canary, which he tries to skewer in its cage two weeks after Digger's funeral.

"I can't have him kill Pineapple," she says, bringing the cage to the apothecary, where Ruth and I are sorting out tessera grain to take down to the Seam. "Ruthie, can you take him?"

Ruth takes the cage. "I don't understand."

"Birds," Kay says. "Birds killed my sister, and now Haymitch has it in his head that he can save her by killing… birds. Any birds in my general vicinity." She sits down on the high counter stool. "I don't know how much of this I can take."

"He'll come out of it," I say.

"You didn't see him. I'm not so sure."

Once Ruth and I finish up, I go out to Victors' Village. I haven't been for a couple of days, and I'm not sure why. Sae is out there, having a long, friendly-looking chat with Gia. Haymitch is listlessly watching television in the living room.

We don't talk, but when I get up to leave, he looks up and stares at me until I sit back down. Once I do, he ignores me again.

He finally starts to come out of the craziness when Gia says she has to leave. She comes by the bakery the afternoon before her train leaves, only a few days before school starts again. Haymitch is running errands at the bank. It's nearly Parcel Day -- when the victor's district is showered with food from the Capitol -- and she will go out on the same train that brings the supplies. She's talking to Mom in the kitchen when I get in from a delivery to the mayor.

"…be okay?" Mom asks. "Are the others? The other victors, I mean."

Gia sighs. "They're not the same anymore. But I was… quite close to Oliver… Blight, you'd know him as. We worked together for six years. We were…" She notices me and looks down. "We were close. That's why I was transferred out here. The point is, Ollie has his problems, but he's all right. He told me the craziness stopped after a few months. He said he was in his right head by the Victory Tour. Haymitch has had a bit more happen to him. But he's also stronger than Ollie, I think."

I sit down at the kneading table and start working. "I'm really glad you could come. Do you really have to leave? I think you help Haymitch a lot."

"I do have leave. I have orders from the Capitol. If I don't follow them, then…"

She doesn't finish, and doesn’t have to. If she ignores the Capitol, she'll end up one more loss to add to Haymitch's growing list.

She sighs. "He needs order in his life right now. Any kind of order. I wish they'd let him go back to school."

"You think he's ready for school?" Mom asks.

"I think he needs it. He'd fight it tooth and nail, of course. But when I gave him a schedule, made him get out of bed, made him wear clean clothes… he seemed to be much better. Will you help him with that, Mrs. Mellark?"

"If he'll let me," Mom says.

"He won't. But please do it, anyway."

"I could teach him to bake," I offer. "He needs a talent, right?"

"Oh, I hope you will," Gia says. "He thinks he doesn’t need a talent. I think he needs something to do."

I promise to try. Mom promises to try.

Gia leaves the next day.

I volunteer to help unpack the parcels for Parcel Day, and I see Haymitch standing at the station, listless in Gia's embrace. When I'm finished with my shift, I go looking for him. He's at Herk Donner's shop, looking at books. I try to engage him in a conversation about them, but his answers are disconnected and distant. He lets me help him carry his purchases back to Victors' Village, but ignores me when he opens the big atlas and starts tracing the world's coastlines.

Sae shows up to make him dinner, claiming that Gia is paying her for this service. It may even be true. She pats my arm and says, "He's on the mend, Danny. It's slow, but he's on the mend." I look up and see him looking over at us, an odd expression on his face.

When I go back the next day, I ask him to tell me about the atlas, and we have an almost normal conversation. Haymitch compares the pictures to the old ones in his father's dictionary, a book rescued from the ruins of his childhood house. It doesn't seem to just be a dictionary. It has maps of places I've never heard of, and biographies of people whose names are long forgotten. I don't even know who got it for him. I should have thought to do it.

"School starts tomorrow, right?" he asks.

"Day after."

"So, you're going to be at school. During the day."

"I'll be up here right after, and if you need anything…"

"No, I'm fine."

"You want me to… I don't know, bring you assignments or something."

He grins. It's empty and horrible, but it's also the real Haymitch, in some way. "You think I want homework?"

"You know… just something normal."

"I can't think of anything less normal than doing that voluntarily. I got my own books. I'll keep up with what I want to keep up with."

"Oh. Right. And Gia didn't think they'd let you. But I still think…"

"They wouldn't let me. Not in a million years. I'm supposed to be enjoying my free time."

"I can see how much you're enjoying it."

"You don't need to babysit, Danny."

"Maybe I just want to spend some time with a friend."

"Yeah, I've been the life of the party, lately. Go home."

"Are you going to be okay if I do?"

"Yeah. Fine as paint."

I don't trust it at all. Neither does Sae. Neither does anyone else. But school is back in session, and we're not allowed to skip. We set a watch on him when we are free, but I have nightmares of coming out after school and finding him dead of poison, or hanging from the fence where Digger died, or having burned down the fine house he lives in. I don't go alone for the first few weeks, since I'm sure I'll need Ruth right away.

None of those things happen, and Ruth has to stop coming. She has duties at the shop. Her father is training her, and Haymitch doesn’t seem to need anything.

Generally, I find him reading. He's also gotten out one of the journals in his study, and is writing in it. He locks it up quickly when I come in.

After a few weeks, it gets easier to not rush over there straight away. I catch Ruth slipping away from me again, and she seems to need me more, and we spend a lot of that fall holding on to each other. She is spending more time with kids from the Seam, too -- without Maysilee, she and Kay aren't as close as they once were, and Kay is spending most of her time with Maysilee's hardcore group of dissenters. Merle Undersee has taken to confiding in me about his worry that she's going to do something crazy. Ruth is having nightmares about Kay being arrested and executed… or worse, sent into next year's arena to die.

At first, when I realize I haven't been to Haymitch's place for a few days, I panic and run most of the way out there, utterly convinced that he's dead, but he never is. Sometimes he even comes into town on his own to do business in the shops. He buys a lot from Mom and Dad, and even brings them a present (a new mixer) as a thank you. He may not be single-handedly keeping us afloat with the Peacekeeper business dried up, but he's a big chunk of the income.

He tells us to stop boycotting Beckett, of course, but the movement has gone way beyond a protest against the treatment of Haymitch Abernathy. Beckett's tendency to punish harshly has not been limited to Victors' Village, and now, nearly everyone has a grudge to tend, including the miners. They may not be boycotting anyone, but they've certainly made a great show of supporting us, which it turns out is something Maysilee was right about: The Capitol just will not have it. They end up with increased hours at no extra pay, and the word from the Seam is that they're being deliberately put in dangerous tunnels. Glen Everdeen is going to need to go down there next year, and he's always full of tales from his neighbors about creaky holding beams and thin walls.

"Of course, they're starting to tell old fairy tales, too, about monsters that you hit if you dig too deep," he says after school, as he walks through town with Ruth and me. He's headed out to the woods, but of course, we can't talk about that. "There's an old song about voices in the mountain."

"How does it go?" Ruth asks.

Glen sings a couple of verses -- it's the same kind of even-tempo tune that's in most miners' songs, for the sake of keeping a hammer rhythm -- but we come to the turn off for the apothecary, and he stops. "It's pretty long," he says. "About fifteen verses."

"If you come into town on Saturday, I'd love to learn it." Ruth grins. I have not seen that grin for a while. I should be glad to see it, for her sake. For my sake, I'm a little leery of it.

Glen agrees to come back into town to teach her the song before he goes "for a walk" on Saturday. He's careful to invite me as well. He saw that smile, too.

"Did you just ask another guy on a date?" I ask, trying to keep my voice light.

She turns and rolls her eyes. "Yes, Danny. It's standard procedure when you're cheating on someone to arrange your trysts in front of him."

"Well, it's just…"

"I'm allowed friends."

"Since when have I ever said you weren't allowed to do anything?" I stare off after Glen, who has long since disappeared toward the Seam. "Ruthie, what do you mean by that? What do you mean by 'allowed'? Did I do something that makes you think that I think… that I'm in a position to… allow?"

"Nothing. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that." We start walking again, without talking. She stops before we reach the apothecary, at the steps of an empty building that used to be a second hand clothing shop. There's still a mannequin in the window, and it watches us impassively. "We've been together a couple of years, Danny. Eight months unbroken. We've… you know." She looks over her shoulder at the shop, where we did, in fact, break in last March and make use of the old private quarters.

"I know," I mutter, trying not to be distracted by images of her upstairs, her pale skin dappled by shadows from the mud splatters on the windows. "I was there, too."

"I guess I just assumed you thought we belonged to each other."

"I don't think you belong to anyone."

She sighs. "A very proper thing to say. Very modern. And complete crap."

"What?"

"I said it was mutual, didn't I?" She smiles and holds out her hand. "For the record, you are not allowed to date Haymitch anymore. Just so there's no vagueness on that end."

"Damn, you caught me." I laugh and take her outstretched hand, and we walk the rest of the way back to the apothecary together.

I dream of the empty shop that night, only it's not empty. Ruth and I own it. I can't tell what kind of business we have, but we are happy, and the house is filled with the laughter of children I can't quite see.

I audition for Agathe the Last after school the next day. There aren't many boys in drama, so I usually get the lead. I'm not too worried about it one way or another. I'm in a good mood. Mir auditions opposite me, and she's in top form, or at least as top as she gets without an audience. She's good in rehearsals and auditions. When she gets an audience, she can play them like well-tuned fiddle. She wants to set up practices right after we read, but I remind her that it generally looks better if we wait until the cast list goes up.

On Saturday, we never do end up having a singing lesson. We wake up to a great clamor in the square. It seems that overnight, someone strung the doors of the Peacekeepers' barracks shut… with a knotted string that had been meticulously colored blue. It couldn't have been much more than a minute's inconvenience, but Beckett uses it to focus all her anger at the boycott. She drags out everyone wearing a knotted bracelet -- except Haymitch -- for "questioning" in public. Stuie Chalfant, an eleven year old kid who became Haymitch's biggest local fan during the Games, tells her to shove it, and gets a lash across the back of the legs. Forrest Hickman, who just started at the mines, loses his job when he tells her the next thing that will get tied up is her. Violet Breen gets a lash of her own, though I don't hear what she says. Glen Everdeen gets four hours in the stocks when he grabs hold of Beckett's whip hand and tells her to lay off.

She hasn't gotten around to Ruth and me when she gets a full confession from Elmer Parton, who foolishly also admits that he wanted to do it up as a fuse, but just couldn't get it to look right. Elmer gets four hours in the stocks as well, but his will be followed by ten lashes.

Beckett smiles unpleasantly at him. "Unless you'd prefer to apologize to me in private."

After two hours in the stocks -- Ruth and I are sitting with Glen -- Elmer starts to cry and says he'll make the private apology. When they pull him up, I see that Beckett or one of her Peacekeepers put two stones on the ground under where he was sitting.

Elmer keeps his head down in school after that.

Our parents keep up the boycott, and I get more than one lecture about not doing anything as stupid as Elmer did. I doubt I'm the only one to get such a lecture. It doesn't help. Elmer's helpless little stunt opens a gateway, and through the month of September, it's rare for a day to go by without some prank on the Peacekeepers, or Beckett herself. Nothing deadly. Nothing even serious. But somehow or other, a length of knotted string, colored blue, ends up worked into it.

I don't do anything. This doesn’t seem very productive to me, and I feel like I'm waiting for something more useful to come along. Kay Donner is furious at how juvenile most of it is. Ruth and I sit with her while she fumes in the basement about playing practical jokes when we should be gathering our resources for an all-out rebellion. Mr. Donner doesn’t pretend not to know about this, and supports her whole-heartedly. Anyone who shows up for her meetings is given free sarsaparilla candies, and the boxes become another symbol we recognize each other by.

"Great," Kay mutters, pacing in the basement. "We have plenty of secret handshakes. That'll come in handy while we're planning to put fart cushions under Beckett's chair."

"What do you want to do?" Ruth asks.

"You know what I want."

"I know you want to rebel, but what do you want to do?"

Kay frowns. I doubt she has any clearer idea than the rest of us. Meanwhile, no one tells anyone else about planned pranks, and the Peacekeepers get better at ferreting out guilty parties. People are excused from phys ed for lash trauma or cramps from the stocks. Teachers who speak against "extreme punishments for children" lose their jobs -- we go through three literature teachers in as many weeks. My mother ends up in the pillory for two hours one day because a letter she has written to Gia has been intercepted. In it, she begged for help for the boys who have been made to "apologize" over and over.

If getting word to Gia is considered dangerous enough to punish, I wonder just how much trouble Beckett might get in. Technically, the Peacekeepers aren't supposed to fraternize. That's why Mir's real father was sent away. Maybe it would be enough, if we could get word through.

I wonder if Haymitch has a way to reach her.

It's the first time I've particularly thought of him in a few weeks. He's been into town, looking mostly sober and well-groomed, doing his errands, but he hasn't joined us at all. I'm not even sure he knows what's going on.

I go out to see him. He is writing in the journal again, and locks it again as soon as I come in. We have a pleasant conversation, during which he uses the word "bug" about a thousand times, reminding me that I'm not free to say anything out here. He asks if I want dinner, and I joke that Ruth has forbidden me to date him anymore. This gets a vague smile. He takes the key to his journal and sets it very deliberately on the mantel of his fireplace, making sure I see this, then says, "You'd best go home, Danny. You have work to do."

I leave. On my way out of Victors' Village, I look back. Haymitch is out on his porch, looking across at the only other house out here that's ever been occupied -- Duronda Carson's. She hanged herself from a tree a few years ago. Or, if you believe the official version, accidentally fell out of the tree, landing on a rope she was trying to secure for a swing. The top of the tree is the highest point in Victors' Village. You can even see it from town.

Haymitch goes back inside, and a minute later, I see the flicker of his television in his front window.

I go home.

I think about that journal key, so carefully placed, and about Haymitch staring at the hanging tree. I think about him acting so completely normal, when I know how far out of his head he was only a few weeks ago. I think of promising him that I'd keep watch.

I haven't been keeping watch. I've been doing everything but keeping watch.

I get up in the middle of the night and climb out my bedroom window. It's far past curfew in town, but even now, the Peacekeepers don't really worry about curfew breaking. I make it as far as Victors' Village, but of course, the gate is closed. There is a patrol here, and I'm marched back to town. I think about telling the Peacekeepers to check on Haymitch, but I don't think that would be very useful. If they check on him tonight, they might stop him doing something crazy right now, but he'll wait them out… and he'll never trust me again.

I can't sleep, so I go to the kitchen in the bakery and take care of the early morning mixing before sunrise. When my parents come down, looking at me with groggy confusion, I head back out.

"Where do you think you're going?"

I look up. Lucretia Beckett is standing in the road, blocking the way out to the Village.

"I was going to drop in on Haymitch before school," I say.

"You were caught breaking curfew last night. What were you doing? What were you planning?"

"Nothing."

She reaches out and grabs my arm, pushing up my sleeve to reveal the knotted bracelet that I'm wearing. "Now, why don't I believe you?"

"Fine, whatever you think I was planning, that's what I was planning, only I never did anything. Can I go now?"

The bored amusement in her voice disappears. "You're expected to show respect to authorities. You're not a victor." She picks up her comm and signals for a pair of Peacekeepers. They drag me into the square. People are starting to move around, doing their errands before work and school. They stop and stare at me.

Beckett takes her whip from its loop.

I resign myself to the post, but before I get there, my mother comes running out of the bakery. "Don't you dare!" she screams. "Dannel was in the bakery. He hasn't done anything."

"He was insubordinate," Beckett says, and directs the Peacekeepers to take me to the post.

"Mom, let it go," I say. "I can take it."

"Like hell I will!" She runs in on Beckett and grabs her arm, wrestling her for the whip.

Now we have a huge crowd. Everyone has had a chance to drift into the square.

Beckett shoves Mom away easily, then yanks my arm and pulls me away from the whipping post. She nods at her Peacekeepers. Two of them grab Mom. Another two hold me back.

Beckett loops Mom's hands into the shackles. She doesn’t bother opening the shirt; that's only for the boys.

The whip whistles through the air, and my mother screams as a line of red opens up on the back of her baker's whites.

Beckett raises her whip for another blow, and another. I am screaming, too, and Dad has come out. He's blocked from the square by Peacekeepers with guns.

I am not seeing much of anything other than my mother's bloody back, but I hear the change in the crowd. A siren goes off. A Peacekeeper runs out into the square and grabs Beckett by the shoulder.

She turns on him in fury, then hears what he has to say.

Her whip hand lowers and she turns away from the post, toward Victors' Village.

I turn slowly, and that's when I see it.

At the edge of town, Duronda Carson's hanging tree is in flames.
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Comments
redrikki From: redrikki Date: November 15th, 2013 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
In the books it stuck me that refusing to let the Victors work or go to school was a neat way of not only distancing them from their fellow citizens but also destabilizing them. You certainly see it with Katniss and how lost she feels without her purpose as her family's supporter and hunter. You make it even more clear here with Haymitch, especially since he has neither family nor a partner to keep him somewhat stable.

Also, Beckett is, I think, worse than Thread, if only because she's also a rapist.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 16th, 2013 02:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Mark from Mark Reads made a comment of that nature -- that everything that they felt identified by is gone, that the things they were are taken away. I definitely agree with that.
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: November 17th, 2013 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Egads, Beckett is terrible. But I am super excited about getting to see more story past where Haymitch's part ends!
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 19th, 2013 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
The scary part is that Beckett probably is about standard for Head Peacekeeper-types. The only reason she can remotely be kept under control in this situation is that (a) Haymitch is a victor and has some pull, and (b) Snow is angry at Beckett for destroying his leverage.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 20th, 2013 04:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that's probably about right. Beckett's a little harder on the stocks than Cray was, but then Cray wasn't overseeing a low-grade rebellion. Other than that, the way she treats the boys is more or less like he treated the girls (though she's trading "lack of whipping" for sex, rather than money).
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 18th, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

5 times

The tension in that last scene is amazing. You've made me fall in love even more with Dannel's parents.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 20th, 2013 04:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: 5 times

Thanks! I like them, too.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: November 22nd, 2013 04:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't have time to give this the comment it deserves, but hopefully, I can quickly hit the important points; please forgive any incoherence:)

I love how you're tying things together here; it's so thematically perfect, with Haymitch's comment about Danny not laying down his life for him in End Of The World, that it's Haymitch choosing not to lay down his life that then saves Danny. The same thing goes for the bit in the previous chapter where we learned that Maysilee rigged the games; Gods, her mention of the stationery shop keeping the cards has so much more weight now!

Beckett, I think for your next challenge call, I'm asking for her mauled by something; maybe the dragon that got Earl in Golden:) My hands were in claws at the computer itching to get at her eyes. I know she's about standard for age and things where exploitation is concerned, but you have such a knack for making her unspeakably vile despite that.

The very realistic consequences of the adults boycott are wonderful. And the way you're slowly leading to the apathy of D12, especially because of how fruitless it all is with the fate you gave Beckett in Golden is just fantastic; yes, after expending so much effort and getting nothing but pain from it; yes, I really can see how they'll be a broken District.

And the way Haymitch is slipping out of every-day life is so spot-on. What all of them are going through, trying to keep him in their lives and not quite succeeding rings so true for me after multiple moves; no matter how hard one tries, so often out of sight really is out of mind.
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