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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Six - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Six
Reaping day is quickly approaching, and Haymitch has been drawn into Danny and Maysilee's group of proto-rebels, while Digger has made friends with Glen Everdeen. After rumors cause them to argue, they decide to put a little more effort into their relationship. And, well, they put a little more effort into it.


Chapter Six
The next morning, Mom finds Digger's shirt in my bed while I'm getting breakfast, and we have an almost surreal conversation. Or, well, she does. I mostly just sit there, while she tells me that I'm not old enough for this kind of relationship, then presumes that I'm going to tell her it's none of her business, which she argues with, then assumes I'd say she can't stop me from growing up, and says she doesn't want to. After a while, she just sighs and sits beside me.

"You were careful?" she asks.

I nod.

She bites her lip. "I do want to see you grow up, Haymitch. Just not so fast." She sniffs. "Then again, maybe you'd best hurry up, if I'm going to see anything at all."

"Mom…"

She takes my hand. "You're going to be something extraordinary someday. My clever boy. I wish I could see it."

I'm not sure what to say, so I just pat her hand.

After a while, she sniffs and wipes some moisture from under her eyes. "I'm sorry. Sometimes it gets to me."

"Me, too." I look at her. "Are you… okay with it? Me and Digger, I mean."

She thinks about it for a long time, then makes a dismissive gesture with her hand. "I suppose. I suppose it's a little late to have an opinion one way or another. Do you love her?"

"Yeah."

"And she loves you?"

"That's what she says."

"Then that's that. We should have talked earlier."

"I wanted to, but I didn't want to, you know --"

"Bother me?" She shakes her head. "Haymitch, I'm sick, but I'm still your mom. Will you please let me be the parent? At least when you need one."

"Okay. I'm sorry."

She nods and shoos me out so she can make my bed.

In the middle of the afternoon, she starts coughing, and it gets worse and worse all day. Despite her protests, Lacklen and I spend most of the night before the reaping up with her, trading out steaming pots of pine-scented water for her to breathe and mopping blood off of her face. By the time dawn comes, the coughing has subsided a little bit. We all look like hell. Mom orders me to sleep while Lacklen cleans himself up, and I obey, because my body won't allow anything else. Lacklen wakes me up an hour later to send me out for my bath.

I grab some ashes for scrubbing, then go out to the cold-running stream behind the house. It comes down through the slag heap, so it's not the cleanest water, but I use it to scrub off most of the accumulated grime, not to mention the dried smears of Mom's blood. I brace myself, then dunk my head in to get my hair clean. Most of the year, District Twelve doesn't care if I'm dressed in torn up miner's cast-offs, or that I wear my father's old work boots in the winter (Lacklen wears Mom's; I used to). It doesn't care that my classmates speculate about my bathing habits. It doesn't care that I have coal dust permanently embedded in most of the creases of my body.

But on reaping day, they care. On reaping day, if you don't show up brushed and washed and dressed in the absolute best you can find, there's hell to pay. The year I was twelve, I showed up the way I normally show up for school, and they fined Mom her entire week's wages. I was told that another offense would lead to something worse. Just what the worse thing would be was left to my imagination.

My hair doesn't ever get terribly clean with just water, but I do my best with it. We definitely can't afford any fines right now. I am freezing by the time I finish, and I duck back inside quickly, wrapping myself in a ragged old blanket as soon as I come through the door. Lacklen has a good fire going, and we sit down in front of it and drink pine needle tea together.

We don't do anything important on reaping day. We never do. Just go along. Have breakfast if you've got it. Talk about anything.

Except the reaping. Except the dark circles under our eyes. Except the piles of bloody rags that I'll have wash this afternoon when we get back, before Mom's coughing begins again.

This morning, we talk about the weather, and how the spring rains finally seem to be over. Mom tells us a story about when she and Dad were courting and Dad took her up to the rise above the mines. They looked out beyond the fence, along the line of the seam -- the real seam, the seam of coal that runs underground most of the way to District Eleven -- and talked about what might be out there.

"You were going to run away and be out-district raiders?" Lacklen asks. "That'd be fun."

Mom laughs softly. "We were going to run down along the Seam until we found some old abandoned town. Fix up a place for ourselves."

"Why didn't you do it?" I ask.

"First of all, because there are raiders out there. Not as many as the television would have you believe, but they're there, and they'd take anything we managed to build." She sighs. "Besides, it would have been lonely. For us. For you. People always think they'd do well on their own, but no one really does. We're social creatures. Even the ones who think they aren't."

"There wouldn't be any reaping," Lacklen says. "They can't reap from the out-districts."

The illusion of a pleasant morning is broken. Mom closes her eyes and says, "Yes. There's that." She sniffs. "Speaking of which, I've been sewing. Sae lent me a needle when we were at the Home, and I had some thread left." She starts to get up, but loses her balance. "Haymitch, be a dear and get the suits from my bed. I sized down one of Daddy's for you. And Lacklen, I sized down the one I made Haymitch."

I kiss her cheek, then go into her bedroom. She must have straightened it up while I was sleeping. She's laid out two suits.

The smaller one, I've worn for three years. She made it when I was thirteen and she was still working in the mines and could afford the material. She made it with lots of extra seam space and hemming, but still, by last year, it was tight, and my ankles were showing. I couldn't even get into the jacket. She's carefully re-hemmed everything and brought it down for Lacklen. I check the knee I fell on when I got into a fight last year, and she's darned it like a sock. I don't know why this makes me feel like crying.

The other suit is Dad's. It doesn't have a jacket, just a fancy blue shirt with a high collar. It was probably in fashion once. It still looks okay, I guess. I remember him wearing it once, when we went to a toasting in town. I don't remember whose toasting. One of his drinking buddies, probably, but that doesn't narrow it down much.

Mom has carefully pulled the shirt in at the waist, and shortened the pants a little bit. I'm getting close to Dad's size now. She's left the allowance for me to finish growing.

I don't know who'll let it out next year. I don't know how, and I'm running out of time to learn.

"Haymitch?" she calls from the other room.

I look up, and wonder how long I've been staring at our reaping clothes. I pick them up and bring them out. Lacklen and I both thank her for doing all that work.

"Don't be silly," she says. "It's boring, lying in bed. I was glad to have something I can still do. I should teach you boys. I made your dad learn. It's annoying how many people can't even fix a button." She smiles wearily. No one is fooled by her reasoning. "Go get dressed," she says.

Lacklen goes to his favorite shadow under the stairs. I have taken over the front closet, and I change in there. As usual, I'm ready first -- Lacklen dawdles -- and I come out and sit down across from Mom. "You shouldn't go into town today," I say. "Even the Peacekeepers know you're sick. They won't punish you."

"I'm going, Haymitch."

"They'll just put you in the middle of a crowd for an hour, then we all go home. You listen to them call some kids. Why do you need to be there? You should rest."

"I need to be there because of which names they call, Haymitch. There's not a parent in the districts who doesn't try to be there. Just in case. You know that."

"It's not fair."

"No. It's not." She pushes one of my curls back behind my ear. "You look so handsome. Indigo's going to be beating the other girls off with a stick pretty soon."

"Digger knows she hasn't got any worries."

"Good." She smiles. "I like her a lot, you know."

"Me, too."

Lacklen comes out from his spot, looking awkward in my old suit and tugging at the collar of the shirt. A few minutes later, Digger shows up. Technically, she's supposed to go with the other kids from the Home, but Sae always looks the other way if the kids want to be with what passes for their families on reaping day. The Home kids wear clothes that are donated, mostly by town kids, and she is in a fussy dress that's a kind of dingy blue, almost at the edge of purple. She says the color is "indigo," and the girls at the Home insisted that she wear it.

We do have one tradition related to the reaping. Mom started it the year I was twelve, the first time my name was in the reaping balls. We read the story of Theseus the prince, sent away as tribute to fight a monster in an inescapable maze. He befriends the princess, who gives him a thread that leads him out, and is able to return home. Unfortunately, he forgets to change the sails, and his dad kills himself in grief.

At least in the Games, you don't have to worry about garbled codes like that. If a tribute lives, it's live on national television.

Of course, if a tribute dies, it's also on national television.

After we finish, Lacklen and I rig up Mom's chair to carry her into town. I expect Danny's mom will let her sit on the bakery porch instead of trying to stand in the crowd. She'll still be in view of the platform.

Everyone's starting to head for the square. I see Hazelle Purdy with her family. She wrinkles her nose at me and whispers something to one of her younger sisters, who giggles. Clay Hawthorne is with her -- they're neighbors -- and I see him say something to her. He looks cross. She looks confused. When we come around the corner, Glen Everdeen comes out of his house and calls out to Digger. He joins us, wearing clothes that can, at best, be described as clean and in one piece. He takes over for Lacklen in carrying Mom. That evens the chair out a little.

"Thanks," I say.

"No problem. Ready?"

"As ever."

"How about you, Digger?"

She shrugs and shakes her head. "Four. There are going to be four. My name's in there too many times."

The crowd gets thicker as we get closer to the square. Glen decides to start singing, and a few people have half-heartedly joined him by the time we get there. I steer us toward the bakery, where Mrs. Mellark does, indeed, let us set Mom's chair on the porch. Danny and Ruth are both there, dressed in their reaping day clothes. Danny's in spotless baker's whites. Ruth is wearing a floaty sort of light blue thing. I know Glen knows Ruth from the apothecary. I'm not sure whether or not he knows Danny, so I introduce them, and they shake hands.

Glen looks around awkwardly, like he'd rather be anywhere else but the porch of a town shop, surrounded by blonde kids in fancy clothes. "Well," he says, "I better go find the seventeens. Abernathy, you hunt me up after, and I'll help you get back. I'm headed that way, anyway." He looks at the platform and smiles nervously. "Well, unless I'm up there, in which case, you're on your own."

"I got it," Danny says. Glen leaves.

Digger smiles. "See, Haymitch? I told you that you should have started being social a long time ago. There's lots of benefits to it."

"I'm not social," I say.

Ruth goes up on her toes and kisses Danny's cheek. "I'm going to go look for the twins. I'll see you after."

"You're not going to be with me?"

She rolls her eyes. "Maysilee's been holed up planning something for the last couple of days. Kaydi and I are going to try and keep her from doing something crazy."

"And you don't think I'd help?"

"I think if she's planning on lighting firecrackers, you'll lend her a match."

Danny puts his hand over his heart and feigns hurt.

She kisses him. "Love you. Meet you after. One way or another."

With that, she wanders off. Halfway across the square, the Donner twins greet her.

The rest of us stay a little longer on the porch. Danny's dad comes out once the bakery officially closes (they have to stay open for the morning, so people can get supplies for their reaping day feasts), and Mom and the Mellarks talk awkwardly about their school days. The square continues to fill up.

About five minutes before two, I turn to Mom and Lacklen. "We better go. You know where you need to be, Lacklen?"

He nods, looking decidedly green.

"Why don't you go find Daisy Conary with the Home kids?" Digger suggests. She's a twelve."

"Okay. Haymitch?"

I shake my head. "Don't worry. It'll be over soon."

"And they'll take four of us."

"It'll be over soon," I repeat.

Lacklen nods solemnly, then heads over to the section in back where the twelves are gathering. I see Daisy Conary welcome him.

"We better go," Danny says. "Get it over with."

No one makes a fuss about saying goodbye to parents before the Reaping. It's believed to be a jinx. Mom tells me to straighten my collar. Danny's dad gives him a sturdy clap on the shoulder, and his mother tells him not to be late for supper if he goes out with his friends after the reaping. Digger gives Mom a kiss on the cheek.

The three of us head out together, but the crowd of sixteens is pretty big this year, and I end up getting pulled away from them by Peacekeepers trying to cram everyone inside. It's the price of getting in late. I see that somehow, Ruth and the Donner girls managed to stay together. They aren't far from me. They are talking very seriously, and Kaydilyn looks scared to death. Maysilee just has her jaw set tightly, like she's about to declare war on the world. Ruth is holding her hand.

On stage, the mayor is testing the sound system. Behind him, I see our new escort, Pelagia Pepper. She's wearing a bright red dress, of just the sort Digger said she wanted. It's made of some kind of shimmery stuff, and almost glows in the grayish afternoon. There's a camera on her, and I see her on the screen here, though we're not live yet. Her eyes are closed, and her lips are moving. Probably practicing her lines. I guess she's pretty by Capitol standards, but it's hard to tell. This year, the style seems to be caked-on makeup glittery eyelash extensions. Her hair is teased up like crazy, and colored wires are looped around in it. No one can really look all that good under that much gunk.

At two o'clock sharp, Mayor Hammond announces that we are going live. We probably aren't actually live -- there are a few other reapings going on around Panem, and they're most likely skipping around to show them all -- but we know what it means. The reaping is beginning.

"Good afternoon," he says, pulling out his script. He is a small man with a shaky voice, and being on television doesn't help much. He looks down and begins to read. "The time of reaping is upon us. There was a time, before memory, when the world was full… "

I know half of the people around me barely believe the story he tells -- a world of bursting cities, grand technology, and great culture. If I hadn't read old stories, stories in which these things were taken for granted, I'd probably refuse to believe it as well. No one knows what really started the chain of disasters that led us to where we are, though the mayor stresses the series of wars that raged across Europe and Asia. Part of the point of the Hunger Games, after all, is to remind us of the horrors of starting wars. Fires burned away ancient lands. Drought drove people from their ancestral homes. The oceans began to rise faster and faster, until all the great coastal cities were drowned. Volcanoes, possibly triggered by seismic weapons, buried much of the land in layers of burning ash.

In the middle of this, pandemics spread through the closely populated world, leaving no continent untouched. People died by the billions, unable to catch up to the diseases. Maybe they were weapons. Maybe they were just new diseases that spread with the rapidly migrating population. Whatever they were, they killed even more than the wars. (Naturally, this year's script stresses that they were, most likely, a result of the wars.)

North America wasn't spared. As the coastal cities went under, their citizens moved inland, and the bitter civil wars that raged across the country left even more places in ruins, and millions more, dead. A nuclear attack in the west left large tracts of desert land uninhabitable for years. On the screen, the ruins of the old world are shown. Burned shells of cities, falling to waste in the middle of a plain. A broken arch by a river, its keystone dashed to the rocks, now overgrown with ivy. A monumental statue of a man on a horse emerging from a mountain, his pointing arm broken off. The rusting skeletons of great cities rising up from the water, fading to their current appearance, which is mostly nothing. The skeletons have long since fallen down.

As mysteriously as they began, the disasters ended. The new shape of the world was in place. The few scattered bands of survivors roamed the planet aimlessly, many groups dying out because they no longer had the numbers to survive.

In this wasteland, in the ruins of a city in the mountains, survivors banded together. They rebuilt. They called to nearby wanderers, and created a shining new city. They reclaimed the technology, and began the search around the world for other survivors, bringing them in until the new city was bursting with energy and creativity, and even needed more room. They fanned out into the first districts, eventually working their way east, where they ran into other existing groups -- including the original miners of District Twelve, and of course, the technological stronghold of District Thirteen. As the story would have it, both populations were just thrilled to join up with the growing society the Capitol was building. Thirteen was happy to give up its lead in technology, and become miners like us, though for graphite in their case. According to the story, here in Twelve, we'd regressed so far that they could barely communicate, necessitating the intervention of the Capitol, and the arrival of the wandering merchants who could talk more easily to both sides.

Then, Thirteen led a rebellion against its benefactors. The tone of the script is one of pained confusion. No mention is made of any grievances, or of several districts having been used as prison colonies. There's no one who doesn't know this. It was only fifty years ago. But it's never mentioned, and it's certainly not written down anywhere. In another fifty years, there will be no memory of it at all.

Thirteen led the other districts to rise up and nearly destroy the world again. After they were destroyed and the rest of us subdued, the Capitol, in its mercy, chose not to kill us all. Instead, as punishment for the lives of children killed in the assault on the Capitol, our children would be taken as tribute. Two a year. One of them would have the chance to live in luxury as a reward, a chance denied to the innocent dead of the rebellion. This year, the mayor reminds us, is the second Quarter Quell, and the tribute is doubled to commemorate the fact that two rebels died for each Capitol citizen.

I somehow doubt the math is right there, but I don't argue. I suspect it was more than that, and that's a reminder that wouldn't help anyone.

"And now," the mayor says, "may I introduce our new escort, Pelagia Pepper?"

We know what we're supposed to do, and we do it. We applaud. Hell, maybe some people are actually glad. She's got to be better than Glass.

"Happy Hunger Games," she says. Her voice is soft and not exactly happy. Then again, she's been bounced down to District Twelve. No one's going to be happy about that.

She announces the girls' reaping and reaches into the glass ball for the first name. It's Gilla Callan, the thirteen year old from the Home who I talked to the night of the card reading. She has to be more or less pushed up to the stage, and she's crying into her hands when she gets there.

Pelagia Pepper signals for the cameras to focus on her, rather than the weeping tribute. This happens somewhere every year, and no one in Panem wants to watch it.

"And now, we honor our Quarter Quell by drawing a second young lady." She reaches into the ball again and draws out another slip. "Maysilee Donner!"

I turn, startled. Merchant kids almost never go, and Maysilee is well off even for a merchant. It has to be because of what she's been doing.

Kaydilyn and Ruth are hugging her and crying. She hugs them back, then goes to the stage, her back straight and her shoulders squared. She stands beside Gilla. I see something glinting in the pale, cloudy light, and I realize that she's wearing the damned mockingjay pin that probably got her into this in the first place.

I am still standing, slack-jawed, staring at Maysilee, when Pelagia moves on to the boys' reaping. The first name she calls is Beech Berryhill. Beech is seventeen, and he isn't the world's brightest kid. When he goes up, he gives the thumbs-up sign to his friends, like he's off to an adventure instead of to his own murder.

"And we have one more name to call," Pelagia says. "One more tribute to represent District Twelve in the Second Quarter Quell."

I stare up at Maysilee, who is not crying, or shaking, or acknowledging Beech and Gilla. She is just staring out at the cameras, her eyes grim.

I look around and find Danny, easy to see in his whites. He looks horrified. It's the first time one of our year -- one of our friends -- has been called, despite the constant panic. I spot Digger at the edge of the crowd, staring at the stage as well.

I almost don't hear it when Pelagia calls out, "Haymitch Abernathy!"
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Comments
sonetka From: sonetka Date: August 5th, 2013 07:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, wow. It's a kick in the gut even though you know it's coming. I know in your other fics you have Effie mentioning that the reaping balls aren't rigged and she can't imagine how they could be -- I take it that's true here as well? I could easily see them as thinking that Maysilee was targeted, but since the population is so small it's not incredible that *someone* from the rebellious group was picked by chance.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2013 03:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's a possibility that Effie's wrong, though to me, she's the strongest evidence that the balls aren't rigged. I just can't see Effie playing along with it. She's not the most tactful person in the world, but she's pretty guileless. Now, if they've found a way to rig it without the escort realizing it, that's a different story.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 6th, 2013 01:51 am (UTC) (Link)
My headcannon involves a rigged situation in the 50th games (in another district), where the (relatively new) escort is told that the protocol is to pick one name from the upper half of the bowl and one from the bottom half. Obviously, not a sure fire way of rigging it, but a possible method where a naive Capitol Escort might not realize they were used to do so.


Loving the story though, can't wait for more.

-Maraudercat
redlily From: redlily Date: August 7th, 2013 12:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I think you could rig the hell out of it without Effie ever knowing. She's not standing there counting beforehand, making sure the number of slips per kid equal the number of tesserae the kid took plus their age minus 11. Hell, in any one-gender container from any year, every slip could've had the same name. I don't think that's what happened, but Effie never would've known.

Assuming Collins didn't intend for Mr. Everdeen or Mr. Mellark to be secret rebels (it's cool alternacanon, but there's nothing in the narrative to point a finger at either of them), then I see no reason for Katniss and Peeta's Reapings to have been rigged. But I think there's more evidence for the Second Quarter Quell, considering the proto-rebellious Mockingjay pin that belonged to Maysilee.

Rigged in Year 50 but not Year 74? Well, it makes sense to me that they wouldn't rig it every year -- if it got too obvious, it would stoke huge anti-Capitol sentiment in the Districts. But to pre-determine the competitors in some Districts some years? Oh yeah, I believe that.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 7th, 2013 02:22 am (UTC) (Link)
It's a good point about the escort not checking the names, but it would sure require someone on the inside.

I think most years it isn't, just because most years, I doubt Snow gives much of a damn who he kills. But if there's someone special he's after, he could probably make it happen.

In Katniss's year, if I were the paranoid type, I'd be looking very closely at Mr. Mellark's activities, because after all, it wasn't Katniss who was reaped. It was the daughter of his former lover, who looked more like him than like her sister... I don't think she is his daughter, but I doubt there'd be any stopping the rumor mill. So one slip out of thousands turns up Prim, and the other... well, five slips unless Peeta really was taking tesserae out of the thousands... turns out to be his good son who makes money for the bakery with his cakes. Coupled with the guilt-cookies for Katniss, I think something's going on with him, anyway...
redrikki From: redrikki Date: August 5th, 2013 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
For a foregone conclusion you still manage to make this chapter feel tense.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2013 03:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! It's definitely a challenge to keep up suspense when you know what's going to happen.
beceh From: beceh Date: August 5th, 2013 04:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very good. Agree with the others, even though you know it's going to happen, it's still nail-biting.

Looking forward to the next instalment!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
The next installment is writing pretty quickly. Plus -- I'm on vacay! So it won't be as long this time.
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: August 6th, 2013 04:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooooooooo, vacay! Fun for you and for us. ;)
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: August 5th, 2013 07:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
"You're going to be something extraordinary someday. My clever boy. I wish I could see it."

Poor Mrs. Abernathy. Poor Lacklen. Poor Digger.
Poor Haymitch.

This is like Greek tragedy. Or a train wreck. I know what's going to happen, but I can't look away.

Edited at 2013-08-05 07:48 pm (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. It's a bad situation for all of them.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 6th, 2013 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 7th, 2013 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks.
jedinic From: jedinic Date: August 7th, 2013 07:22 am (UTC) (Link)
It's incredible how much I love these characters already, and how my heart is beginning to break for them. This is so good.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 7th, 2013 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like them, too. I almost wish I were doing AU instead of back story. What if Haymitch lived happily ever after with his girl and his family? Yay!
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 8th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. You really have built out his world - and now you're about to smash it :(
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: September 5th, 2013 05:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with the other comments. Even though we knew Haymitch and Maysilee would be called, it's still heartbreaking. And poor little Gilla . . . :(
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