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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Three - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Three
Again, sorry about the delay.

I wanted to get into why Snow might really have decided to double the youth tribute in Haymitch's year, so I wanted to look at what the generation might have been doing.

Chapter Three
For the next couple of weeks, I'm glad our television isn't working, even more than usual. The Capitol may not want us talking about the circumstances of the Quell, but they certainly want us talking about the Games. There's news every day that even I hear, with the gossip in the halls in school.

Our regular escort, Ausonius Glass, has been promoted up to District One. They call it a "transfer," but no one is fooled. An escort retired, and now they've got some new man out in Seven, and we get Seven's escort, Pelagia Pepper. This is a major topic of conversation among the girls, who look at her dresses. (Digger likes them; Kaydilyn Donner does not.)

Tansy Mathers, whose sister died in the Games last year, says it's a good thing -- apparently, Glass spent ten minutes on the phone tormenting her parents about how district kids deserved to die to pay for the uprising. Anyone, she says, would be better. A teacher hears her talking about this and shushes her very quickly.

There's speculation about the arena, and whether it will be bigger, to accommodate all the tributes like a normal year, or just more deadly, so the extras die quickly. Apparently, the stylists are being accosted about their plans for the parade and interviews. Like every other year, this leads to speculation about what they'll do with us. Not that this is much of a mystery -- they turn us into coal miners every year, though they somehow forget to have us bleeding from our lungs.

I try to stay out of it, but Lacklen's hanging on every word, and has worked himself into a complete panic. Usually when he does this, I can count on Digger to jolly him out of it, but she's been sucked in almost as much. She's going through her handful of possessions at the Community Home, telling me to memorize where she wants them to go. I let this run over me, for the most part, though I have repeated nightmares about carefully distributing all of her things (and sometimes her arms and legs and fingers and toes).

Mom tries frantically to distract Lacklen from the Quell and me from her cough, but she doesn't do very well with either of us. She finally takes to just ordering both of us to talk about and do other things. I don't feel like I should. She tells me that my lurking around the house on the deathwatch makes her feel worse, and she'll be healthier if I do something else. This doesn't make me feel less guilty, but I do try to obey her.

Even the school library, which is usually pretty deserted, is crowded now. Games tapes have actually been put on reference so that people don't check them out and keep them, and the librarian, Mr. Crockett, has taken to playing them for the late study period every day. People are taking notes. All of my usual reading spots are full.

I don't like to take my school books home -- too much chance of the roof leaking on them and me having to pay for them -- so I take to going to the school's auditorium and reading in the half-dark of the audience section. The drama club has a play rehearsing, but without the sound system on, I can ignore them, and for the most part, they ignore me. Danny Mellark always says hello on the way in, and Mirrem Murphy always takes a moment to wrinkle her nose like she simply can't be expected to breathe properly around me. The others, I don't know. We move in different circles.

All I can tell about the play is that in involves Mirrem wandering around looking lost and heartbroken. She does it pretty well. You'd never guess that she doesn't actually have a heart. At least they're not talking about the Games.

About two weeks after the reading of the Quell card, Danny stops on the way out of the auditorium and says, "You finished with that story for lit?"

I look up. "Which one?"

"Vanishing Air."

"I read it a week ago. They blow up the jets in the end."

"I know. I read it last night. You working with anyone on the project?"

"I never work with anyone."

"Want to work with me?" He shrugs. "I hate working alone."

"What about your girlfriend?"

"She and the twins are doing the volcano story. Maysilee's trying to turn it into a big symbol. Ruth's trying to convince her not to."

"Why? It is a symbol. Didn't you hear Chalfant talking about the Sino-Indonesian war? The Toba thing is supposed to be about the nuclear strike."

"They didn't end up having a nuclear strike."

"That's because the volcano went off. Symbol."

"Yeah, but... the twins are getting a little political. They want to talk about repressed district anger or something. Maysilee wants to be mayor someday. That's not going to happen if she keeps tweaking the Capitol's nose." He shifts his bag to his other hand. "So, are you going to do the project or not?"

I shrug. "I don't work well with people. And your mom doesn't like me."

"She's fine with you as long as we don't get into Dad's stash." He grins. Both of our mothers decided we were bad influences on each other two years ago when we drank half a bottle of the white liquor his dad hides away. They're both right. He provided the liquor. I provided the dare. It was just before Mom's cough started to get bad, and she yelled at me loud enough for the whole Seam to hear. I'm sure the town got a good earful from Mrs. Mellark, too.

Mom's forgiven Danny now, mostly because he atoned by cleaning our oven, which kept the smoke out of the house for months. Dannel Mellark is maybe the only merchant kid in District Twelve who could get away with coming to our house with no consequences. Everyone manages to get along with him, no matter which part of town they're from. Even the Capitol liaison's kids treat him like a person.

I agree to do the project with him, mainly because it has to get done anyway. I'm better at thinking up theories about the stories. He's better at impressing the teachers in presentations (though our grades are about the same on written stuff). More to the point, it's not about the damned Quell.

I stash my things for the night, then meet Lacklen by the door and tell him to go straight home and check on Mom. If she needs anything, he's to come get me at the bakery right away. I start giving him a list of instructions about what to check, but I see his eyes glazing over. He lives with her, too. He'll know if there's an emergency.

I feel a little guilty when Danny and I leave school. If Mom dies and I'm off writing a lousy report about engineers having an argument about jet engines and the damaged atmosphere, I'll probably go crazy. But I can hear her voice in my head most times, and she'd probably be the first one to tell me to put the effort in. Dad did not drag himself out of his death bed to go and argue with the town council to get me into classes just so I could do a half-baked job on my homework. I've heard the line before.

We're about five minutes out from the school when it starts raining again, and by the time we're passing the train depot, it's too wet to walk. We duck into the little shelter where presumably people used to wait for trains, when they were actually allowed to leave. It's a tiny, broken-down room made of plastic, long-covered in mold. The tiny porch area, where people waited, is overgrown with creepers, and the tiny window is cracked in several places. There's a big fence blocking the way to the track now -- a gap at the bottom betrays where adventurous kids have snuck out for years -- but we can see the train that's unloading cargo.

"Wonder what they're bringing," I say.

"Dunno. But there better be raisins. Mom ordered raisins six months ago. We haven't been able to make hermit cookies."

I smirk. "It's a tragedy for the ages."

He turns, irritated. "It's not like we eat them. The mine chief and his family like them, and a bunch of Peacekeepers. We're losing money because they don't want to buy anything else."


"It's so stupid. There used to be wine country just north of here. Maybe a hundred miles. I bet there are grape vines going crazy up there. We could bring some down, plant them, and dry them out for as many raisins as we could eat. You can cook the grape leaves, too. They're pretty healthy."

There's no more to say about this than there is about Lacklen needing glasses. It all may be perfectly true, but there's not much point to wishing for it. The difference between Danny and me is that he keeps wishing anyway.

I go to the window and look out at the train. It's not the fancy kind that takes tributes away. Just a cargo run -- rusty and spewing coal smoke. It's probably picking up more than it's dropping off. A burly District Six guy a couple years older than us jumps down from a car a few down from us and slogs through the mud, head down against the rain. He opens the door of the car nearest us and jumps up.

A minute later, a ramp thumps down from the dark recesses, and the man pushes out a crate on a dolly. He drops it in the mud very close to the fence, then shoves the ramp inside and closes the car. He looks nervously around and whips a small pry bar out of his pocket. He quickly pops off four nails, leaving the side closest to us free to open, then pounds the top twice and runs off down the length of the train.

"What's that all about?" I ask.


I gesture Danny over to the window and he looks out. It's small enough that I have to step away for him to do it. I start to tell him about the attendant's behavior, but suddenly, he climbs down and says, "Give me a hand, Abernathy."


"Just... come on. Before the checkers make it down here."

He doesn’t wait for me. He ducks out onto the old porch and is under the fence before I can even yell for him to stop.

The crate is moving. Something is pounding faintly and...

I stop.

A small, pale hand is grasping at the open edge.

Danny looks over his shoulder. "Come on," he hisses.

I look over my shoulder, then roll under the fence.

Between us, we manage to yank the front panel of the crate all the way down. I look down the track. The Peacekeepers are all gathered around the cargo dump, about seven cars down from us. The rain is masking our sounds.

I look back at the box.

A teenage girl falls forward, unconscious, from a pile of hay.

Danny grabs her and drags her to the fence. I hold up the wire so he can push her through. When he does, I see that her back is covered with bloody lash marks.

The cargo is almost fully unloaded.


I look at the crate. Open, facing the fence, with blood spots that seem very bright in the gray, almost glowing, like the dress Digger said she wanted to buy.

"Get her inside," I say. "Just do it."

I don't watch to see that he does. I go to the crate and pull out the bloodied hay. I shove it under the fence, then try to flip the panel back up. It doesn't hold.

I do the only thing I can. I turn the whole thing over, jamming it into the mud at a skew, like it might have fallen off on its own. I toss more mud at it.

There's no time for anything else.

The train whistle blows. I roll under the fence, grab the bloody hay, and dive under the cover of the old depot.

Outside the window, I see a pair of Peacekeepers jog up to the crate. They pull out some hay. One of them laughs. I can't hear much over the rain and through the window, but I catch something about "District Ten" and "horses," so I guess the ruse worked.

A few minutes later, the train starts to move.

I don't look away from the window until it is gone, and the Peacekeepers have returned to whatever duties they supposedly have in town.

"Haymitch," Danny says.

I look over my shoulder. "What?"

"Haymitch, she's really hurt."

I look down at the girl, almost forgotten in the rush to cover up her arrival. Danny's got her cradled in his lap, and she's breathing shallowly.

"What's wrong with her?" I ask.

"Whipped, it looks like. Then I don't think she had much air in there. I have to get Ruth." He sets her down carefully. "You watch out for her. Don't let anyone in."

"Who is she?"

"No idea. Does it matter?" He runs out into the ran again.

I sit down beside her. She's my age, maybe a little younger. She blinks up at me. "Water?"

I go to the door, check it quickly, then stick my hand out and catch some rain. I run back to her before it slips away and pour it over her lips.

She swallows, then coughs. "Thank you."

I sit down on the floor beside her and try to think of something to say. Finally, I come up with, "Hi."

"Hi," she whispers.

"I'm Haymitch. Are... are you from District Six?"

She nods.

"You're in District Twelve. Did you mean to be here?"

She shakes her head -- it's a dumb question, I guess; no one means to be in District Twelve -- then her eyes slip shut. I put my hand over her mouth and feel a flutter of breath. I have done this too many times in the last year.

I don't know how long I sit in there with the District Six girl, hoping she won't die while I'm alone, before Danny comes back. Ruth Keyton is with him, and so are the Donner twins. Maysilee is wearing her pin on her rain coat. Ruth is carrying the satchel she drags around when she's treating people. If you want to know everything there is to know about District Twelve, it's that the apothecary's sixteen year old daughter is the closest thing we have to a doctor.

"When did she pass out?" she asks me.

"A couple of minutes after Danny left. She didn't tell me her name. She's alive."

Ruth nods and kneels down beside her, feeling for her breath the same way I did. She presses a hand to the girl's forehead and draws it back quickly. "She's burning up. Those cuts are infected. Kaydilyn, give me the feverwort. Best I can do for now. I have to clean the cuts."

"You want Haymitch and me to leave?" Danny asks.

"What for? "

"Aren't you going to take her shirt off?"

Ruth rolls her eyes. "She's got nothing you haven't already seen a few times, Dannel." A drop of rain makes it through the roof, and she looks up like it's become her mortal enemy. "And try to stop that up, will you? Take my rain jacket. Haymitch, Maysilee, take my bowls and catch some cleaner rainwater outside. We'll get this all cleaned up."

She's so firm in her order that I find myself obeying without thinking about it, which almost never happens. Maysilee Donner and I fish out two stainless steel bowls from her work bag and go outside together.

"She always like that?" I ask.

Maysilee holds her bowl out to catch water. "When someone's sick, yeah. Do you think that girl's going to die?"

"Yeah. I don't think rainwater and feverwort are going to do much."

"I wonder where she was going."

"Not here," I say. "That's all I know."

"Could be anywhere. The kids in District Six sometimes..." She stops talking and looks at me strangely, then says, "I hear they sometimes just ride the rails to see where they can go."

Whipped up like that, I doubt the girl was playing around, or delivering some kind of secret message that only Maysilee Donner can hear, but I don't say it.

I haven't thought of what I should say, really, when a tearing scream comes from inside.

Maysilee and I grab our bowls, half-full, and run in.

The first thing I notice is that Ruth looks completely overwhelmed. The girl from Six is writhing on the floor, her back up, now whimpering. Her shirt has been pulled away and cast to one side, and her back seems to be boiling. Bright red stripes criss-cross her skin, all of them swollen and oozing some kind of blood and pus and clear... something. I don't know what it is.

Ruth raises a shaking hand and says, "Water." I hand her the bowl and steady her hand as she brings it down. She takes a few sharp breaths, then says, "Kaydi, there's a white cloth in my bag." Another breath. Her voice becomes calmer. "I'm going to start cleaning. You help me."

"I -- I can't..."

"You get down here, Kaydilyn Donner, or so help me, I'll make you sorry for it."

"Ruth -- " Danny starts.

"And you. I'm still getting dirty water in here."

He nods and tries to spread the raincoat further. I signal him to hand me the other end, and we spread it out over Ruth and the girls like a tent.

"Maysilee, I need you to take your water bowl and make a tincture, like I showed you, with the feverwort. We have to kill the fever. Tea would be better, but there's no time."

Kaydilyn sits down beside Ruth and hands her a cloth soaked with rainwater. Ruth takes it and touches it to the girl's back.

She tries to stifle a scream.

"I know it hurts," Ruth says gently. "But we'll get you fixed up. We have to clean it."

"No... no... want to go home..."

"We'll get you home, but you can't make the trip like this."

"I'm... so stupid..." the girl says. "Thought I could go... Thirteen..."

"We'll get you back to Six," Ruth says.

"They'll kill me. Inciting riots. They whipped me. I ran." She turns her head, then gasps. "Mocking... jay..."

Maysilee looks up from the tincture, startled. The girl is looking straight at her. "Yes," she says. "It's a mockingjay." She takes the pin from her coat and presses it into the girl's hand.

The girl holds it and her mouth twitches, almost smiles. "It... always... lives..." Her hand goes stiff and she starts jittering in place, her jaws clenched, a strange, keening sound coming from her throat.

"She's seizing up," Ruth says. "Kaydi, catch her..."

There is nothing we can do. Kaydi catches her, Danny and I drop the coat and try to hold her still so she doesn't hurt herself, but the seizure doesn't stop.

At least not until everything stops.

With one last throe, the girl freezes, her eyes wide open. Then it's over.

Her body relaxes onto the floor.

Ruth puts her hand in front of the girl's mouth, then listens at her chest. She doesn't say anything.

We stay there for a long time, Danny and I holding the raincoat over the huddled girls, three living, one dead. Ruth finally lets us put it down, but insists on staying a little longer because, she says, sometimes people only seem dead.

But there is no change.

At last, Kaydilyn says, "What are we going to do with her?"

"We have to bury her," I say. "If they find her here, they'll ask a lot of questions."

The rain has stopped while we've been here, and we know that if we don't do it now, we never will.

Maysilee goes outside and checks for Peacekeepers. The coast is clear.

We all go under the railroad fence and over the tracks into the woods. No one has a shovel, but the muddy ground is easy to pull up by the fistful. With five of us working, it takes an hour to get a two foot grave dug. Water is already pooling at the bottom.

We set her in it. I start to cover her up, but Danny says, "Wait... I... just wait, all right?"

He ducks back into the depot.

The girls and I don't say anything to each other. We're dirty and tired and we don't know each other very well. A few minutes later, Danny slides back under the fence, a piece of paper clasped in his hand. It's a drawing of a mockingjay -- quick and not very detailed, but a mockingjay nonetheless. He leans down to the grave and puts it in the girls' hands.

We cover her.

Go back under the fence. Get our school bags.

There is no talk of doing homework. We look at each other, then head off our separate ways.

When I get home, Mom asks how the project went.

I tell her we didn't get much work done because we got stranded by the rain, which is why I'm so muddy.

Lacklen asks me to tie his wrists, so he can practice getting away.

I do it, then go into the kitchen and get dinner started.
13 comments or Leave a comment
rocky_t From: rocky_t Date: July 15th, 2013 11:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad to see you are continuing with this story! I also appreciate that the symbolism of the mockingjay began much earlier than anyone suspected.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 15th, 2013 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I figured there had to be a reason Madge was so insistent that Katniss take the pin. It must have meant something before.
matril From: matril Date: July 15th, 2013 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Their drama club has a working sound system? Lucky! The high school where my husband teaches drama has no such thing, so he just has to teach his kids to project really well. Never thought I'd be jealous of anything in this universe. ;)

But anyway, I like what you're doing with this. Intense stuff.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 15th, 2013 05:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Panem's so obsessed with showmanship -- they probably do assemblies in the aud. Gotta have the stuff for it.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: July 15th, 2013 01:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think its interesting that the people most involved in the whole rebellion movement are the ones best off. Although, I suppose when you aren't busy working yourself to death to put food on the table you have more time to think and plot and rebel. As usual, you did nice world building between the school, Haymitch's classmates and what's up with what passes for a rebellion.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 15th, 2013 05:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
People kept working sixteen hours a day and still starving, and largely deprived of anything more than a practical education... they're not the ones likely to come up with an idealistic rebellion using symbolism about birds.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 15th, 2013 02:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hooray, I check for updates every day so I was so pleased to see this! The deeply ingrained fatalism in these kids is kind of fascinating.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 15th, 2013 05:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd think a culture like Panem's would inculcate a lot of fatalism. Part of the point of the Games, after all, is to put an exclamation point on their powerlessness to oppose the Capitol.
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: July 16th, 2013 06:29 am (UTC) (Link)
This is so good, Fern. I love the world building you've got going with Haymitch's circle of friends, and the District 6 person. It's all very heartbreaking, knowing how it will end, but still hopeful. Loving it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 17th, 2013 04:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I think I'm getting into the swing now. It can't help not being a cheerful and fluffy story, but I'll try to include more of his friends (who live).
jedinic From: jedinic Date: July 18th, 2013 08:38 am (UTC) (Link)
This just gets more and more intriguing. I love your world-building!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 20th, 2013 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I like looking around at the place and trying to figure it out. It's like fictional anthropology. :D
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: September 5th, 2013 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
The poor girl from District 6! As an adult, I've seen people have seizures and it's pretty horrifying even having training and knowing what's happening. Those poor kids . . . :(
13 comments or Leave a comment