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HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Four - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Four
Whoa, this one is coming slowly.

Danny's mom was being whipped when a siren goes off, and they realize that tree in Victors' Village is on fire.

Part Two: Initiation

Chapter Four
With a snarl, Beckett pulls back her whip and rolls it up, flicking Mom's blood distastefully away from it as she goes. The Peacekeepers outside the bakery let Dad out, and the ones holding me back let go. They run for Victors' Village.

I push through the crowd and get to Mom, let her out of the shackles. Dad gets there a second later. "Nella," he whispers, catching her as she sags to the ground. For the first time that I can remember, they look like a real couple. He even kisses her. "Nella, honey, are you okay?"

"I only took five," she says. "Hurts. But I'm okay." She pulls herself up and looks out toward the tree. Her eyes go wide. "He's started a war," she whispers.

"Whatever he did, it got you off that post," I say. "Let's get you home."

"No," she says. "I can get to my feet. I want to go out there -- "

"Mom…"

" -- but I wouldn't do any good right now. I'll get home. You boys go help."

"But -- "

"They'll forget about me quick enough. I can take care of this…" She winces as she stands up.

"No, Nella," Dad says. "I'll take care of you." He looks at me. "Go on, Danny. Find out what's happening."

"Are you sure?"

He nods.

I head out for Victors' Village. Ruth is a few steps ahead of me, and I catch her by the arm. "Ruthie, my mom… could you check on her?"

"Your… " Her eyes widen. "That was your mom they were hitting in town?"

"It was supposed to be me."

She squeezes my hand. "I've got it. Talk to me at school later, if they have it."

She runs back toward town, and I continue on toward the fire.

It's been an unusually dry fall, and the tree is going up like kindling. Red flames leap up from it, and black smoke billows out.

A crowd from town is here, but the Peacekeepers are blocking us from going in.

"Put this out!" Beckett bellows, but her Peacekeepers just look at each other awkwardly -- they have guns and whips and the power to put us in the stocks, but no one has hoses or buckets.

The gate opens and Haymitch comes out. He sits down on a rock, holding a cigar. "Sorry," he says coolly. "I guess it's easy for a spark to catch when things get this dry."

Beckett turns on him slowly. "You set this."

"Just an accident. You know how it is. Poor, drunk Haymitch, fumbling around, accidentally set a tree on fire. Sorry I interrupted your whipping. Reckon it must have just upset me, and I never can tell what will happen when I get upset." He brings up one hand, in which he's carrying a large kitchen knife, and smiles over the blade. Even I would back away from that smile.

Beckett steps back.

Haymitch puts down the cigar (which is unlit), pulls an apple out of his pocket, and starts cutting it up. His eyes remain fixed on Beckett as he does it. The smile does not change.

Beckett does not look away from him. "Someone put. This. Fire. Out," she hisses.

The Peacekeepers continue to shift uncomfortably, but Merle Undersee -- who was probably first on the scene, as caretaker -- calls out, "Bucket brigade!" He goes up to the Peacekeepers. "Easiest water source is on the far side of the wall. And we kind of have to get there to put out the tree anyway. I can tap the sprinklers."

The Peacekeeper he spoke to says, "Ma'am, this kid says --"

"Do it," Beckett says, not breaking her glare. "Just do it. Get the damned thing out."

The line breaks, and Merle leads the way in. Within minutes, he's got a line operating. I stay as close to the gate as I can. Haymitch gets up to join us, but Beckett pushes him back down. He continues to smile.

It takes an hour to get the fire out, and at the end, the tree is only a blackened fist raised at the sky. Somewhere in the middle of it -- claiming that he's just keeping a rhythm for the bucket passing -- Glen Everdeen begins to sing "The Hanging Tree," an old song about a murderer who wants his lover to join him at the gallows. It's an old song, older than the Capitol in District Twelve. I don't know who was hanging anyone out here before the Peacekeepers, though. I guess it's the tree that made him think of it, though all of us with knotted bracelets probably shiver a bit about the necklace of rope.

I guess I could think of it as all of us offering to go to the gallows to rebel for Haymitch's sake, but I kind of think it's the other way. He was sitting out here on his own. He just joined our rebellion, even if we were using him as a reason. He's the one who didn't need to be at the gallows, but he's come anyway. Though they'd never hang a victor.

Or maybe it's just an old song that happens to have easy harmonies and a steady rhythm.

When the tree is out, and we're all standing, ashy and coughing, in the acrid smoke, Haymitch stands up. He goes to Beckett and stands as close to her as he can without touching her. "Now, leave," he says.

She takes a step back. "You're overestimating your importance, Abernathy."

He steps into her space again. "Guess I'll find out."

She holds her ground for a minute, then grimaces and turns around. "Show's over, people!" she shouts. "Disperse!"

She does wait for at least a few of us to actually disperse before she gathers herself and marches her Peacekeepers back into town.

A muted cheer breaks out, and I'm about to join it when I notice that Haymitch has collapsed back down on to his rock, his hands linked behind his neck.

I go over. "Thanks for helping Mom."

He looks up, confused. "What?"

"With the whipping?"

"That was your Mom?" He jabs the knife into the ground. "I'm going to kill Beckett."

"We're trying to get rid of her. Possibly without having the whole district scourged."

He nods slowly. "I wasn't going to burn the tree," he says out of nowhere, then shakes his head and says, "Get as many as you can to Maysilee's shop after school. Don't all come together. She'll see if you do. I'll try to get in early, but I'll have to dodge them, so they don't post a watch."

"What are we doing?"

"For one thing, you're learning not to get caught."

He gets up and goes back into the Village without saying anything else.

"What's that about?" Glen asks me, coming over as he wipes his hands on his blue jeans.

"Meeting after school."

"Are we supposed to be in school after all that?"

"Didn't hear anything about it getting canceled."

He makes a disgusted gesture. "I don't have anything clean for it, either."

"I'd loan you something, but we're not the same size."

"It's okay. I've been in school in dirty clothes before. Guess we won't be the only ones, anyway."

I look around. Other kids are moving through the smoke like grimy wraiths. As if to rub it in, the school siren goes off -- unexcused absences. They'll be around to round us up in half an hour if we don't get in there.

The fire was early, so by the time we get to school, we've only missed our first classes. Peacekeepers try to gather names, but a lot of teachers mysteriously forgot to take attendance. Mrs. Mozine, who teaches housekeeping, is pulled out of school when she tells the Peacekeepers that she wouldn't share information, anyway. We all hear her screaming at the whipping post during second period drama class, one of our rare electives. I think about Mom while Mir tries -- with a rare lack of success -- to keep the rest of the room interested in a monologue.

I meet Ruth in third period, just before literature class starts. She's just coming in, but everyone's pretending she's been here all morning. She says Mom will be fine. "I cleaned and bandaged the cuts. She'll be a little stiff for a while, but she's okay."

"Thank you."

She takes my hand. "Do you want to do something after school? Maybe… shop for secondhand clothes?" She winks.

"That's such a better offer than the one I already accepted."

She grinds her teeth. "Fine."

"Maybe after?"

She sighs. "No. I only have an hour after school before I have to get back to the shop."

I kiss her. "Tomorrow, okay?"

"Is that a solid date?"

"Getting more solid as we speak."

She laughs and rolls her eyes, and Mr. Kiggen starts class. We're reading Early Capitol literature this term, and I decide that it would be a good idea to distract myself form the idea of "secondhand clothes" as much possible. It's not that difficult -- I like a lot of the stories. I kind of wonder how the Capitol went from the band of hardscrabble survivors who filled out a ruined city to… what it is now. You have to kind of wonder what people who lived hard, nomadic lives for a century after the Catastrophes would think of their descendants creating the Hunger Games and entertaining themselves to death in the lap of luxury.

Even with the stories, it's hard to imagine the world then, before the Capitol. The city that would become District Thirteen was standing, and I guess they were trading with the people who used to live here in Twelve, whose descendants now live on the Seam. There might have been travel back and forth, though no one is sure; the Capitol isn't keen on having people think there was a functioning society in place before they moved in and took over both districts (this is referred to as the "final in-gathering," as it took place after the rash of voyages around the world, finding survivors scattered over the earth and bringing them in to the new land of Panem). I think maybe there was travel, along with trade. Just an instinct. I mean, coal has to be sold somewhere, and the one thing that's sure is that the little remnant surviving up here in the mountains was mining coal, as they'd been doing for generations. And if they were trading, then why wouldn't they travel, at least for business? And what did District Thirteen give us in return, back before they were a district?

Well, not us. The merchants -- my ancestors -- came in later, remnants of the same kinds of wandering bands that founded the Capitol. Here in District Twelve, we mostly came from a group of people who'd escaped a place called Ireland just before the sea rose and ruined the land. We don't really know how long we were traveling around in caravans over our new continent, feuding with other out-District raiders, before we were given a home. My dad will talk about it at length if I give him half a chance. We were traveling traders, and apparently, we understood whatever strange dialect had developed out here (it's long since disappeared), so the Capitol gave us a town, and the next thing we knew, here we were, perpetually stuck between the Capitol and the Seam.

"Mr. Mellark?"

I look up. "Yes?"

Kiggen shakes his head. "You off somewhere in your head that you want to share?"

"Just off on a tangent," I say.

"Is it related to the story at hand?"

Since the story at hand is about how the daughter of one of the nomads builds the first glass house (from fused sand left over from the wars, no less), I allow that it probably isn't, and try to focus for the rest of the class.

In fourth period math, I hear a few people wondering why there are so many kids in school covered with dirt, and then I remember that I'm one of them. The fire at the tree. Mom getting whipped.

School has a way of making everything else seem unreal. I don't know whether I love or hate it for that.

Fifth period lunch brings things back. Several of us in my grade and the next grade up were at the fire this morning, and we look at each other wearily under smoke-stained faces. People who weren't there want the story. I have to be careful who I talk to, who I say what to.

The person I need to talk to most is Kay Donner, but she's giving an impassioned speech to the cafeteria workers. Ruth finally manages to distract her and bring her over, and I write her a note in Haymitch's shorthand about getting into her uncle's shop after school, and keeping it quiet.

"He'll be there?" she asks when she deciphers it.

I nod.

She bites her lip. "Uncle Herk will let him in if he gets there early. I'll get the word out."

"Kay?"

"Quietly," she whispers, putting her finger over her mouth in an exaggerated gesture.

I am in the middle of sixth period (mine safety) when the school network comes on. I drop the fake explosive I'm holding, which is an automatic failing grade for the day.

Standing beside our principal, Mrs. Limbogger, is Lucretia Beckett, smiling unpleasantly.

I look over at Ruth, who has managed to not pretend to blow herself up, but is shaking badly. She puts her fake dynamite down carefully. I take her hand.

Mrs. Limbogger doesn't look like she's far from shaking herself, but she's obviously been told to smile enthusiastically. "Attention, students," she says. "Head Peacekeeper Beckett has come with a great opportunity for our older boys and girls! Officer Beckett?" She steps back from the camera and nearly collapses into the chair behind her desk.

Beckett saunters forward. "Beginning tomorrow," she says, "we have been authorized to train an official emergency response team. Boys fifteen and up -- and girls -- are welcome to apply. This will lead to paid work in the case of emergencies -- explosions, illness, fires, floods, things of that nature. This team will also be appointed to arrange necessary burials."

I look around the room. Everyone looks as suspicious as I am.

"After this morning's rather lackluster performance, it has been decided at the highest levels that District Twelve deserves trained responders. All untrained personnel will be removed from emergency sites, so that inefficiencies like this morning's will not be repeated."

Elmer Parton snorts beside me. "Like she wasn't the one standing around with her thumb where it don't belong." It's the most I've heard him say since she had him taken out of the stocks for a private apology.

Beckett finishes up with an admonition to sign up for training at the Justice Building. They can pick up an application at the school office. I can see a few people fidgeting around, writing down the information -- no chance to make money is going to go completely ignored in District Twelve -- but more just look stunned and puzzled. This is not the way things are done here.

I think about it throughout seventh period (history) and eighth period (physics). Ninth period is for activities, and I'm sort of expected at rehearsal, though I figure I'll have to bail early if I'm going to get to Haymitch's meeting.

When I get to the empty classroom where we do early scene readings, I find Mir filling out a long form.

"The emergency crew?" I ask. "Really?"

"There are enough emergencies around here. It'll be good money. I need to put together a video audition to apply for drama school. It won't be cheap." She signs it with a flourish. "Will you do some scenes with me for my video?"

I sigh. There's no point in dissuading Mir from her schemes to escape District Twelve. When she's not waiting for her father to sweep her away, she imagines that she'll get the single District berth at the Capitol drama school. It's not that she's not good, but I can't believe that someone in District Twelve is ever going to be better than anyone else in all of Panem. Well, except Haymitch this year, but that's not exactly typical. "Sure," I say. "You know I will."

"Are you applying? It shouldn't get in the way of shop work any more than the regular system does, since you always run out for fires anyway."

"No. I don't want to… why are they doing this? We did perfectly well this morning."

"Everywhere else has real, trained forces."

"We're not everywhere else." I glance at the form. "Can I see it?"

She shrugs and hands it to me, then buries herself in her scene. The beginning of the form is more or less the expected -- name, parents' names, address, business. There's the usual specimen slide, where they'll put a drop of Mir's blood to have her DNA on file, like on the tessera forms. I have no idea what that's for, unless they think she'll try to send someone else in to work for her.The rest of the first page is about experience and strengths.

The segue into the next part of the application isn't at all subtle -- it's an oath of loyalty to the "proper government" of District Twelve. After that, there's a series of short answer questions, probably meant to trap any infiltrators from Haymitch's group. They're all about why the new system is going to be preferable to the old one. ("Name two ways in which standardized training will improve efficiency at emergency sites" -- Mir has written, "1. Impersonal motivation. Response will not depend on whether or not the victim is well-liked. 2. Official alarms to let people know what sort of emergency they're responding to?")

I read through the rest and hand it back to her. "Mir, you know people would run in to help you and your mom if something happened at the shop."

"Yeah, right. They love us so much."

"They never liked Haymitch much, either, but they'd have helped him."

She laughs bitterly, and the sun from the window catches in her hair, turning it ice white. I am very aware of the warmth radiating from her hand, which is not far from mine. "Sure they would. I remember how everyone went running when his father half burned their house down."

"Mir -- "

"You'd come running, Danny. You and your mom and dad. Most of them would just throw a party and make fun of us if we got poor." She shakes her head. "You really don't know that, do you? I don't know whether that's sweet or annoying."

There's no opportunity to discuss the true nature of District Twelve, because Kiston Drew, the student direct, comes in with a few other cast members, and makes us go through the opening scenes. I beg off halfway through, since he can still run Mir through her paces in a scene with her attendants. I have to get to the stationery shop.

I at least arrive alone, though it's not really by design. There are a few people there already, mostly Seam kids who tend not to have ninth period activities, though I'm not entirely surprised to find that Kay is one of the early arrivals. She's skipping sports for it.

Haymitch is looking at a sheaf of papers that I realize is one of the emergency crew applications. Gone is the crazy boy from this morning, threatening Beckett. Also gone is the one who collapsed to the rock after she was gone. This Haymitch is studiously casual. He also smells like half a bottle of white liquor.

I go over to him. "Looking for a hobby?"

"They'd never let me get near something where I could burn my face." His words are slurred, but not too badly.

"I don't know what this is all about."

"You don't?"

I wait for him to explain, but he seems genuinely surprised that I haven't gotten there yet. "Well?" I prod.

"We don't have a lot going for us out here," he says. "But we do know how to do the simple stuff. Get people buried. Put out fires. It's not 'cause anyone's especially nice. But you can't really look your neighbor in the eye if you skip out on the fire. Now, you can't do anything at the fire. So there's nothing to answer for. You can stay home and keep your head down. You almost have to." He tosses the application aside. "And they'll pick the ones who'll make the best Capitol pets. Parade them around. I bet they're standing around in uniforms when the cameras come back out here."

It's hard to argue with that, and I guess it's probably a big part of why Mir is applying.

The door to the shop upstairs opens, and a handful of kids comes down. Glen Everdeen is among them. He's wearing a knotted string as a necklace. Ruth comes down a few minutes later. She is knotting another string, and she hands it to Dusty Messersmith as I watch.

She notices me and smiles, coming over and slipping her arm around my waist. "Wasn't expecting you until after ninth."

"I got away."

"A daring escape from the great dangers of drama club?"

"It was harrowing. It involved a swordfight, a hovercraft, and a really strong flying pig. I had to steal some of Mir's hair to make a harness."

Haymitch laughs. He seems surprised by it. Ruth rolls her eyes.

More people drift in over the next fifteen minutes or so. I see most of Maysilee's group, except for the ones who are already working in the mines. They won't be out for several hours. Kay comes over and takes the application from the table where Haymitch left it. She reads it, glaring at it like it is responsible for all of her misfortunes. She sits down beside Haymitch. He glances at her and looks away, decidedly uncomfortable. My guess is that he's fighting really hard not to see Maysilee's ghost. I kind of think he's losing the fight, too.

I try to think of something that will get Kay up off the bench she's sitting on and somewhere out of Haymitch's sight line, but I come up blank, at least for anything Haymitch wouldn't see through right away. It's not like there's anything I can ask her to show me, and since Ruth's right here, I can't pretend that I'm slipping away with Kay to plan some kind of surprise. Anything I could say would very obviously be, "You're making Haymitch crazy. Move." Haymitch would not appreciate that.

He solves it himself after a while of trying desperately to look in any direction other than hers. About ten minutes after what would be the end of ninth period, as the last of the stragglers come in, he gets up and goes to the pile of crates that Maysilee always used as a podium. He doesn't do anything at first, except pull a flask out of his vest and take a long drink of something. My mom would probably tell me that I should stop him (she's death on drinking, since her brother drank too much before he died), but I can't see the harm. He's not doing anything crazy. The booze seems to be keeping him on an even keel at the moment.

I decide not to tell Mom about it.

Finally Haymitch puts the flask away, stands behind the podium, and says, "Hey!"

This doesn't exactly cause everyone in the room to drop their interests and listen, but it does get them started, and it doesn’t take long for conversations to wind down.

Haymitch waits until everyone is looking at him, then says, "Sorry I've been gone. I'm back. And I think we all owe the Capitol a little payback now."
13 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 24th, 2013 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)
It's starting! It's nice to see Haymitch up again, even though seeing him slip into alcoholism is saddening :( good job.

btw, is Danny intended to have math two times a day? (In the fourth and the eighth period)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 24th, 2013 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oops, I had a feeling that was wrong, but it was one o'clock and I didn't go back to check!
redrikki From: redrikki Date: November 24th, 2013 06:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've said this before but I don't think I can say it enough. I really love your world building. I like the details about the history of Panem, the types of classes they have in school and the way the capital uses an emergency response team as a way of oppression. That is such a fascinating idea. Seriously, how did you even come up with that?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 25th, 2013 02:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I just figure the Capitol will use whatever's at hand to solve its problems. District is getting too cozy, learning to work too well with its neighbors? Break their system irrevocably.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 24th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

alwaays a cliffhanger

Love the way you are filing in the gaps. There's always a cliffhanger towards the end; makes it so hard to wait for the next chapter but it is always worth it. Thanks
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 25th, 2013 02:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: alwaays a cliffhanger

Hope it'll be worth it!
patita_fea From: patita_fea Date: November 25th, 2013 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I love seeing the flashes of Peeta in young Dannel. His natural kindness, his perceptiveness about people, his facility for hilarious lies...

And as someone else said, your world-building is excellent. Sometimes I feel like Collins' Panem was a matte painting in the background, and yours is the panes of glass painted with individual layers of trees that comprised the forest in Bambi. Just a few details on each layer, plus the parallax of the moving camera, gives the feeling of so much depth.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 25th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! (Although all the little trees I can paint would look kind of funny just floating out there without the painting in the back. All trees originate in Collins' forest!)

I definitely wanted to have bits of Peeta in Danny, though he's also there in Mir's conscious acting and grasp of the larger narrative. (Though she's limited to seeing how the big picture effects her. Mostly because she's not that interested in anyone else.)
patita_fea From: patita_fea Date: November 25th, 2013 10:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not ragging on Collins. Matte paintings are nothing to sneeze at. Look at the rooftops in Blade Runner!

I remember a few moments in The Golden Mean and The Narrow Path where Haymitch saw Mirrem in Peeta. Sending the lamp across the room in Eleven, giving Katniss the sharp side of his silver tongue post-hijacking... But he recognized where Peeta's improv and performance skills came from, and he gave Mirrem credit for her good qualities as well as her nastier ones. Disliked as she is, you as an author have always been very fair to her.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: November 26th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Typos and Review

I noticed a couple of typos here on my second read: distract myself form the idea of "secondhand clothes" as much possible. Shouldn't it be: distract myself from the idea of "second-hand clothes" as much as possible.?

Sorry it took me a bit to notice these; I'm not sure how helpful my pointing them out will be after you posted to the Archive.:)

As for the review, I wish I could talk coherently, because there are some amazing thematic elements here, but honestly, all I can think of, even on a third reread, was how much I wanted to carry Haymitch around on my shoulders, preferably in a large crowd, every time he opened his mouth. His intimidation of Beckett had me cheering at the computer; she's been so vile for so long, it was cathardic to see her faced down; until I started wincing at possible consequences.

And I just love him planning and then leading the meeting at Maysilee's sweet shop, only marred by that flask. Seeing him slide in to drinking when he is so brilliant and has so much to offer is infuriating; I admire you tremendously as a writer, both for the realistic portrayal and for just being able to write the subject matter in the first place, because frustrating as it is for us, it must be doubly so, being in his head.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 27th, 2013 01:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Typos and Review

Yeah -- I recently found an old newspaper account of my grandfather's first DWI. (Shockingly, he didn't get that many, but that was -- as I understand it -- more good luck than good management.) The sheer brain-waste that goes on is infuriating. My grandfather's hobby was mathematically predicting the paths of hurricanes. For fun. Imagine if he hadn't pickled himself!

On the other hand, at this point, Haymitch's choices appear to be drunk or crazy and suicidal. It strikes me that the Capitol missed an opportunity to provide counseling to the victors after their Games... with a Capitol loyal therapist to use the PTSD to hammer home the idea of Capitol loyalty.

After all the intimidation Beckett had been doing, it seemed like a little payback to intimidate her. But Haymitch will need to be careful with that...
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 27th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

typo?

Kiston Drew, the student ... director?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 27th, 2013 09:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: typo?

Oh, yes. I caught that before I archived, but I forgot to fix it here.
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