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Challenges 6 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Challenges 6
I'm curious to know whether Effie notices the changes in Haymitch's behavior and attitude as the realization that he could have a winner (or even two) in Katniss and Peeta sinks in for Sarah

---
"…and the children!" the man on the other end of the phone weeps. "Oh, I want them to go home. I want them all home!"

I don't let it hang, because the sponsor phones are obviously bugged, and I don't want him in any trouble. "Well, we certainly were glad to hear that they could both come home if we can get them through."

A pause. "Yes. Of course, yes, that's what I mean. Katniss and Peeta." There's another long bout of racking sobs. "I loved a girl when I was that young man's age. She was the prettiest thing I ever saw."

"What happened?"

"She…" More weeping. "It was an accident. It was an accident. She didn't know what the pills did."

"Oh," I say. "I'm sorry."

"I want them to go home and live on together. I've got" -- he names a small, but not insignificant sum -- "for them. Will you take it and put it toward anything they need?"

"I will. You can thumb your pad, I have the account open for you."

A light flashes as the money comes in, and, incongruously, he weeps, "Thank you! Thank you for letting me help!"

Then he hangs up before I can get a thank you in edgewise.

The phone is already ringing, but Cecelia, who's been watching the second line, suddenly grabs my arm and points at the main broadcast screen. "I'll get it," she says and grabs the phone. I hear her say, "This is Cecelia from District Eight! I'm happy to help Katniss and Peeta tonight…" but after that, it fades into background noise.

The Capitol coverage -- even the District broadcast, I think -- is out on the streets at the parties, but they're showing Haymitch and Chaff. It's not the usual "poke fun at the drunks" coverage that we see. There's no microphone on him, but I can see Haymitch crouching down in front of a little girl, smiling, holding out a sparkler to her.

The coverage goes to a Games reporter on the street, one of the young ones who's only covering the parties. "In an extraordinary moment of these extraordinary Games, normally surly mentor Haymitch Abernathy has reached out to his tributes' fans here in the Capitol." Behind him, Chaff starts handing out sparklers by the fistful. "Fans here are touched, and Abernathy himself seems almost…" The reporter pauses, struggles for a word. "He seems touched as well. He seems…"

Loving, I think, looking at the close-up of him handing out the sparklers to children. Kind. Hopeful and generous.

The reporter comes up with, "He seems to be in good spirits."

The coverage turns to a feature on Haymitch in the Capitol, how he went from a cocky young tribute to an angry victor in his first year to the generally sullen mentor that the public gets a glimpse of when he's not drunk. "But," a voiceover says, and I swear it's Caesar Flickerman, though he isn't identified, "there has always been another Haymitch Abernathy, known to his friends here."

From out of nowhere, there are interviews and clips I've never seen before, because they have never been shown before. Finnick, not long after his Games, gushes that Haymitch looks out for him. Chaff and Haymitch sit quietly in the park, playing chess with old men. A few of the Daughters extol his generosity with his time. There's even a very old clip of Mimi Meadowbrook, a few week after his first Games as a mentor, saying, "He's the kindest boy I've ever been with" and then, out of the depths of the vaults, a terribly, frighteningly thin woman says, "My son is a good man." The little boy beside her, a smaller version of the boy I remember in the arena, grins and says, "And he's going to come back!"

It cuts back to the street, where Johanna and Annie have come out to join Chaff and Haymitch. Haymitch's hand is on Jo's shoulder, and she looks up at him with a fond smile.

The reporters keep babbling about something, but I watch Haymitch's face. It's a face I know, though it's been gone for a while now. It's the face he offers his tributes when they're frightened, the face he offers me when we're alone and he's accidentally tender with me. But it's more than that.

He looks younger, I realize.

Oh, the lines on his face are the same, and he's been sleeping so little that he has bags under his eyes, but those are things they always correct on television, and I still haven't seen him look this young for years. It's in his eyes, and his smile. It's in the way he's moving.

I hadn't really given it much thought, but it's not just for the camera. Over the years, I've gotten used to Haymitch moving around like an old man. Part of it is the drinking -- it doesn’t do anything for coordination -- but most of it is a sense that every step causes him pain somewhere. No matter what he's really doing, he always looks like he'd rather be back in his house, curled up in the dark, not dealing with the world.

But now?

They show him crouched down easily in front of the little girl, rising up smoothly to speak to the crowd. His hands move animatedly when he speaks and his feet don't drag at all when he turns and walks the distance to the sparkler vendor.

And he hasn't begged for a drink.

I have been about to look down and start working again, maybe feeling a little better, maybe letting myself feel my long-standing fondness for Haymitch, but that thought strikes me like a lightning bolt.

I thought when I told him that we'd have to white-knuckle it without his pills this year that the screaming fight in his head would be consuming him bay now. The physical craving can be controlled with a small amount, but mentally, he's depended on the thought of drinking for so long that he barely functions without it. But I've been watering down even what I have given him the last few days, and he left some in the flask last time. It's usual that he's not drunk in this situation, but it's not usual the he doesn't even seem to notice that he's not drunk.

"Effie?" Cecelia says, hanging up the phone. "Is everything all right?"

"He's sober," I say.

"He's usually sober while he has tributes," she points out.

I shake my head. "No. He's usually dry. He's not impaired. But a dry drunk is still a drunk -- his words, not mine. But he's not a drunk right now. He's just… he's sober. He's like he would be if he didn't drink at all."

Cecelia watches the silent action out on the streets, where they're running the little children with sparklers in slow motion, with the light of them dancing across the planes of Haymitch's face, like he he's standing in the chariot with Katniss and Peeta, Cinna's magic streaming over him.

"He's certainly firing on all cylinders," Cecelia says. "He's interested in it this year."

"He's always interested," I say, and I let her think I mean that he's just interested in his tributes' survival. That much is true. He's always interested in the Games, though. I watch his brain rev up every year while he works the arena. "But this is different. He's not just interested. He's… optimistic." I blink. That word, in relation to Haymitch, never occurred to me. "He believes. I've seen him enthusiastic about tributes before, but I've never seen him believe."

Cecelia nods. "Yes. Yes, that's exactly what it is."

For a split second, I realize that I lied, that there was a year I saw him believe in a tribute. It was the year of Nasseh Rutledge.

It was the year Haymitch tried to…

The year he had an accident after Nasseh died.

An accident with pills he'd never taken before and hasn't since.

My heart seizes up.

Belief is dangerous. If he loses these two, there won't be any saving him from another accident. He won't be making such a half-baked attempt. If these two die, Haymitch will.

So we won't lose them, I think. Not this time. Never.

I look up at him on the screen for another minute, then the phone rings again, and I answer it to find a woman weeping in ecstasy, wanting to give me everything she's saved in her life, if only Katniss and Peeta can both live.



How about a critical review of Haymitch's mystery writing? for FFR
(Note: This is shorter than the others, just because it's an article.)

---
Red Shines In Gray
Calico Danes, bk. 3
Reviewed by Febris Tembler
Wasn't there supposed to be a renaissance? Shouldn't we be seeing art we've never seen before, hearing new voices saying new things? Shouldn't the age of empty circuses be long past?

But Haymitch Abernathy's latest entry in the bestselling Calico Danes series is one more re-tread of his old and outdated themes.


While the first two novels in the series, Handful of Dust and Countermoves showed some promise from the victor-turned-novelist, the signs of wear were already showing. Calico Danes is nothing if not a warmed-over, fictionalized Katniss Everdeen, about whom we have heard more than enough already. But her first novel at least addressed the question of what a detective does if she solves a mystery and no one believes her, and Abernathy rendered his protégé well, as a very human young woman who was in over her head.

The ending showed the first signs of strain, as suddenly, Danes is able, with the help of her oh-so-perfect twin brother Shadrack, to convince authorities before she has to do anything morally compromising, and suddenly acquires the money -- from an undisclosed source that is almost certainly meant to be one or another of Abernathy's rich sponsors -- to start an agency.

The second book, Countermoves, was well-plotted, but again, the distracting life-figures from Abernathy's history made for an eye-rolling read at times. Shadrack's "secret identity" as Gale Hawthorne was so obvious that people suggested a Hawthorne lookalike for the role in the inevitable movie. The killer is so plainly based on former President Snow that one hardly had to bother reading it to the end. Some people find this kind of game amusing -- after all, why else indulge a celebrity victor's ego projects, if not to get a glimpse into the lives of the other celebrities around him? -- but I consider it tedious and somewhat vulgar.

It's here in the incomprehensibly titled Red Shines In Gray that the wheels come off entirely. The two main characters behave in ways utterly inconsistent with their sources (Calico herself is abruptly a scientist, not exactly a skill we've seen in Katniss Everdeen!) and Shadrack spends his time romancing a dreary series of entirely ridiculous women until -- and I suppose this is a spoiler -- one of them turns out to be crazy and kidnaps him, sending this overplotted mess of a novel in yet another pointless direction. (One can only imagine the response of Hawthorne's real-life partner, Johanna Mason, who was likely upset at her portrayal by long-time friend, Abernathy.)

It has its bright spots. The chase to rescue Shadrack, in which Calico teams up with the only wholly original character in the series -- an older Capitol woman who has been in hiding in District Four -- to find her way through the old Glamor District is an exciting action piece, but then, no one has accused Abernathy of not being able to write flash-pow action scenes. If nothing else, the movies will certainly have high energy car chases.

But ultimately, there is little else to these books. No one really considers the actions they take, and the level of violence in them makes one wonder just how far away from murder Abernathy might still be. When one of the characters is stabbed in the side, I learned somewhat too much about the physical result of such an injury. One almost imagines Abernathy luxuriating in such scenes.

As we haven't managed to visit all of Abernathy's famous friends in fictional form, I suppose we will have more of these efforts to endure, but for myself, I'm finished. I'll leave them for readers who expect somewhat less than I do.

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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 30th, 2016 06:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay! Shorts!

Loved all the call-backs in the second piece (and how pompously wrong the reviewer comes off).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2016 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yay! Shorts!

I based it on a "Robert Galbraith" review that was basically, "This children's writer is not doing what I expect"!
ratioray From: ratioray Date: March 30th, 2016 09:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Thats really good..
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2016 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks!
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 30th, 2016 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Very Elegant...

The way you tied the original caller and his girlfriend's overdose to Effie's worry at the end that if they lose Peeta and Katniss, they're going to lose Haymitch as well. It's really creepy, in a sad and altruistic way, how these sponsors are trying to find redemption for their own pasts by investing in what are really total strangers. It shows that their moral compasses are in the right place, obviously, but it's very sobering. And meant to be so, obviously.

The nasty review is *funny*, especially considering how much we (and by extension, Haymitch's closest friends) know the reviewer got wrong. I'm imagining them reading it aloud to each other (not necessarily in one big group, but in their own little family groups) and giggling over it. Although Haymitch is probably left with that really nagging persistent worry after anyone reads a bad review of their work, "Is my writing really that clunky?"

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2016 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Very Elegant...

I almost had a "comments section" with Jo responding to it. It just seemed like something she'd do.

I think that when a narrative catches on something, it usually reveals more about the people who accept it than about the subject of the narrative.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 30th, 2016 03:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I love the way the review suggests parallels between the Calico Danes mysteries and the actual Hunger Games novels...of course Haymitch would "write it out".

And I love "my" fic. I hadn't realized that Effie would still have so much mental clarity despite the Capitol's "treatment", and I'm glad to see her--your version of her, whom I love--essentially there. As an earlier reviewer said, the connection between the beginning and the ending is chilling. And I love the hint that Caesar has been storing up material for a rehabilitation of Haymitch's public image, and is now deploying it to help Haymitch himself as well as Katniss and Peeta. I might have to ask for that the next time you do a challenge call.

Thanks!
Sarah
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2016 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Caesar, I think, adores Haymitch, and has been waiting a long time for an unassailable excuse to rehabilitate him.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: March 30th, 2016 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved the book review, both for the idea of what the books actually entail and for just how much of it the reviewer clearly does not get. Man, I love unreliable narrators and that smug feeling I get as a reader who knows more about what's going on than the narrator does.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2016 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's fun to have smug feelings about smarmy critics. :P
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 30th, 2016 09:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heartwarming to see the effect of hope on Haymitch via a third party, and no wonder he bonded with the kids in a way that likely surpassed even the general mentor-new-victor theme. Of course, hope can indeed be a two edged sword; it'd safer to keep expectations lower... but it's not necessarily healthy.

Bwahahaha! This truly is a critical review in every sense of the word.
Even if we don't recognize that the reviewer is completely off-base in the character analogies, there's so much haughty smarm there that I want to read this story just out of spite. It's like you channeled the top ten most humorless reviewers out there when creating Trembler.
Seriously thanks for doing this. It's great! Not to mention the nice little touch by creating even a cover design.

--FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2016 08:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I figured, since it was so short, I should add a little something :D.

From: (Anonymous) Date: March 31st, 2016 05:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

It was a dark and stormy arena

Can you post links to your earlier drabbles about Haymitch's novel-writing? I remember there was one where the heroine's brother was based on Danny Mellark (Peeta's father), NOT on Gale Hawthorne, but I can't find that drabble again.

-- Tom
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 31st, 2016 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: It was a dark and stormy arena

It was in the Epilogue to the new "Narrow Path." I was re-reading it yesterday.

Sara Libby

PS: Is Calico meant to be an amalgam of Katniss and Wiress?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2016 08:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: It was a dark and stormy arena

Calico is something of a paean to Haymitch's mother, actually, though she has traces of a lot of the women he's admired.
Tracy Wood From: Tracy Wood Date: March 31st, 2016 11:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
In the first challenge, I'm thinking maybe watching Haymitch being so hopeful while interacting with the capitol kids is maybe what starts waking Effie up too. (That is to say, breaking through the Capitol Dreams brainwashing).
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 10th, 2016 05:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just realized while reading "Sober" that Effie very clearly realized Haymitch tried to kill himself. In The Golden Mean he intimated that he thought she only thought he had drunk to much on accident. Made my heart squeeze for both of them.
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