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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Seventeen - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Seventeen
After Maysilee stops and demands that Haymitch tell her what they're doing, she accepts his idea to get past the hedge, then pulls out a blowtorch from the bottom of the backpack.

Chapter Seventeen
I take the blowtorch, which I hadn't thought of since we found it in Donnell Moran's backpack. "How long have you been waiting to tell me I forgot about this?" I ask.

She shrugs. "I figured I'd wait until you told me what we were doing. Wouldn't want to give anything away."

I look at the settings. It comes with its own flame striker, so we won't need matches. "I wonder what the Careers wanted it for."

Maysilee shudders. "I can honestly say, I don't want to know."

I prime the striker a few times, and a small lick of flame appears at the tip of the torch. There's a controller on the side that brings up the intensity. I've taken enough mining safety classes -- everyone has to -- that I almost reach for a pair of goggles to protect my eyes, but of course, I don't have any. I guess if something blows up, I'll have worse problems than shrapnel in my eyes.

I start cutting the hedge. Sparks travel a little distance, but, no matter what it looks and feels like, this hedge is not dry wood. That must be why they didn't burn it earlier. It's some kind of plastic, and it stinks as it melts.

Maysilee works at my side, pulling away the rubbish and tossing it aside as we make our way through, a little bit at a time. We have to clear it in layers, since it doesn't just pull away. I make arched gateways, going about six inches deeper into the hedge with each run. We switch jobs for a while. The pile of plastic twigs is getting high, and I think that it would make a pretty effective way to block her out there, if it comes to that. Just pile it back up, melt it together, and lock the door, so to speak.

The sun sets, and we decide, reluctantly, to stop working. I'm convinced they'll find a way to seal it up while we sleep. Maysilee thinks they won't bother.

When they play the anthem, we see Cora Finley, from District Five. I did knot training with her, but that's all either of us can remember. It's down to us, the two from District One, and a boy from District Three.

It's very cold, and Maysilee and I settle into the hole we've made in the hedge. It's not the safest place there is, trapped on three sides, but it's warm, and honestly, we haven't seen anyone else for days.

"Where do you think they are?" Maysilee asks.

"Probably where you said. The little meadow with the fountain. Waiting for us."

She sighs. "Well, let's hope we find something on the far side so we don't have to go there."

"Yeah -- and if we don't… I'm sorry." I can't imagine anything sounding weaker -- "Hey, sorry I may have gotten you killed because I had get through the hedge" -- but Maysilee just smiles and leans against me to sleep. I'm becoming very used to the feel of her beside me.

I reach across and hold tight to my token from Digger. She seems so far away, like I lost her years ago, and I've been in mourning. I don't close my eyes -- I'm on watch -- but I try to bring her into my mind, building her up one bit at a time. She has tiny feet. They always swim in her charity shoes. Her skinny legs always have little scratches on them from her forays into the woods, and whenever she wears skirts to school, I can see them. The curves of her body are deep for a girl as thin as she is. I can put my hands around her waist. She has a long face, and kind of a square chin… I think. I try to remember. Is her chin pointed, or squared off? This seems very important.

I picture her at the lake, her short black hair spread out in a halo on the ground. It seems to be choppy, cut off with a knife.

I shake this away, and remember it as it really is -- soft, curled under, just above her shoulders. She says it's something Sae does when she cuts it that makes it do that. When she needs it away from her face, she pushes it back with… something.

I try to remember. A length of braided yarn, maybe? I know it's not a ribbon. No one can afford ribbons. I try to remember how she had her hair done at the Justice Building, when we did the toasting. I can't do it. Every time I try, it's something different, and none of the things I think of seems right.

Her eyes, though… I remember her eyes. They are huge, and pale even by Seam standards. Eyes the color of fog that rises over the forest. They're ringed by long, thick lashes. When she's been eating right, they're strikingly beautiful. When she's starving, they seem to sink back into her head.

I sit here in the dark of the arena, holding Maysilee and thinking about Digger's eyes. I can't remember what Digger's body felt like beside mine. I can't remember what I felt that day at the lake, not really. The arena has taken it from me. I hate the Gamemakers for this. It's not only knowing that I will never leave. It's feeling like I've never been anywhere else.

Maysilee shifts in her sleep, and I kiss the top of her head. Comb my fingers through her hair. It hasn't been washed properly with soap, but with the rain every day, it's not too dirty, now that she's cut it.

I stop, realizing that the cameras are on me. Maybe they'll show it, maybe they won't -- it depends what story the Gamemakers are telling -- but someone will see it.

I don't feel like sleeping. I just stay up through the night, trying to piece together my life in District Twelve in my mind. I'm careful to include the bad things. They make it more real. But no matter what I do, it doesn't seem really there. This scares me more than anything else that's happened to me here, and it just keeps spiraling further out of control.

When I can't sit still any longer, I move Maysilee as gently as I can, and go to the tree and back, pacing. I want to say something to them at home, but I can't think what. I don't know if it would be shown, no matter how slow things are in the late night live show.

My heart is pounding in my ears.


I turn.

Maysilee is standing at the hedge, blinking at me sleepily. "What's wrong?" she asks. "I mean, aside from everything."

I shrug. Aside from everything, nothing's wrong, except that I can't remember how my girl wears her hair, and I'm not sure what my mother was wearing when I left, and I think I was supposed to help my brother with his homework after the reaping. And I don't know who's going to keep the roof from leaking after I die, or make the fire so Mom stays warm.

Maysilee stares at me for a long time. I don't know what she's seeing. Then she comes over and wraps her arms around my waist. I grab hold of her tightly. This isn't about wanting to kiss her or do any of the things I was thinking of yesterday morning. It's about having someone here, someone who's real, who's breathing, who smells bad and has ragged nails and cuts and scrapes all over her from the hedge.

We hold onto each other for a long time in the moonlight.

"Maysilee," I say, "if you get home -- will you take care of my family? And Digger? You'd like her. I promise. And she'll need a friend."

"So will I, if I get home," Maysilee says. She pulls away and wipes her face. "You'll take care of mine, too, right?"

I nod.

She takes my hand and leads me back to our gateway. We wrap up in our blanket. I go to sleep. I dream that my father is waiting on the other side of the hedge. He's sitting on a rock and reading his dictionary. I am able to slip between the branches and go sit beside him.

"Look at that," he says. "'Quell' means calming someone down. Do you think anyone is being calmed down?"

"It also means to subdue," I tell him, and sit down. "I think that's more the point. Aren't you going to tell me all the old languages it comes from?"

He snorts, the way Maysilee did when I was telling her about the three pigs. "I can't tell you a damned thing you don't know. And you didn't look it up, did you?"

"No, sir."

"Didn't I always tell you to look words up, even if you think you know what they mean?" He shakes his head. "Do you know what 'sacrifice' really means?"

"Do I have to die, Daddy? I don't want to."

He looks at me. "You know the right thing to do." Blood comes from the corner of his mouth, the way it did so often in the last year of his life, and he fades around it until it's only a bright stab of red in the gray day, glowing the way red does when everything around it is dull.

Then he disappears.

When I wake up, Maysilee has already started to work on the hedge again. I get to my feet and start hauling off the extra twigs. The pile is more than waist-high now. Last night's panic seems very distant, and we're all business in the morning light.

It's about noon when we break through the final layer. We push it through, and Maysilee gives a little cheer.

We step out beyond the hedge.

This is scrub land, the sort of thing I saw through the windows of the train as we approached the Capitol. It stretches out for miles in both directions. I can see it curving around the hedge in the distance. Far off to the left, I can still see the mountain, but even that is partly hidden by the hedge. It must run around the whole arena.

Not far ahead of us, I can see that the land just ends.

"There's not much, is there?" Maysilee asks.

"There's something," I say. "There has to be."


"Because they went to a lot of trouble to keep us from getting here."

"It could just be a staging area. Just a place that they had for builders before they finished it all."

This is possible. Maybe there are ways down into the maintenance complex, too, but I don't say this. "Why would they just have a fringe around the arena if there's nothing here? It doesn’t make sense. Unless we're already out. Do you think we're out?"

She shakes her head. "No. You know we're not out, because nobody's shooting at us."

"Then we're still inside the arena, and this is here for some reason. There has to be something. They wouldn't block the way otherwise."

She sighs heavily. "Maybe there's clean water. If it's not the stuff that we were supposed to use, maybe it waters the real plants." She sets off to the right, her head down against a dry wind that's blowing out here.

"I'm just going up there for a minute!" I call, pointing at the end of the land.

"Haymitch, why?" she yells. "Why do you need to get there?"

"I just do." I head up the hill. I don't think she'll follow me, but she does. I hear her come up beside me.

"You're crazy," she says. "I never noticed that at home."

She may be right about that. There's certainly nothing obvious up here. There are no supply crates or weapons or water sources that I can see. Just garbagy grassland with the occasional weed in it. Maybe it's not poison, since it's outside of the part of the arena that's built up.

I look back down the hill at the gate we made in the hedge. A flock of pink birds comes through it and starts settling on the hillside. Some kind of crane, certainly a mutt version. I bet women in the Capitol are already placing orders for skirts made out of their feathers.

"Well," Maysilee says, "at least we'll have food over here, if we can shoot one of them."

"After what happened with those magpie mutts? I don't think it's a good idea."

She nods and sighs again. We keep walking until there's nowhere left to walk. We've reached the end of the Gamemakers' world, and the beginning of the world beyond it.

It's a cliff. It goes off in all directions, concentric to the hedge. It's obviously not a natural formation. The broken rocks at the bottom were cut from the living stone of whatever this place used to be. There is a clear line of demarcation between whatever the arena is and the world beyond, which seems to be a kind of sparse pine forest. A pile of what I take for pine needles creeps along a circular path against some barrier I can't see. Something in the air is making the hair on my arms stand up.

There actually is a stream running peacefully along just beyond it, and some perfectly normal robins and mockingjays flitting around. There's no way down that I can see, unless there's some way to collapse the cliff and get a ramp of rubble. I consider this possibility. My brain seems to be exploding with possibilities here.

Maysilee comes up and stands beside me. "That's all there is, Haymitch," she says. "Let's go back."

I shake my head. "No, I'm staying here."

She looks down at the base of the cliff, then frowns at me. I can see the question in her eyes, the one she's asked all along: Why?

What she says is, "All right. There's only five of us left." She waits for me to say something, but I don't. "May as well say good-bye now, anyway. I don't want it to come down to you and me."

I'm not really listening. I hear her, I acknowledge what she's saying, but I'm looking at that line of pine needles. At the world outside the arena. The real world. I have never wanted anything as badly as I want it right now.

And it's close enough to touch.

"Okay," I say. I move further along the cliff. I hear her start to walk away. I figure she'll change her mind, like she did when I decided to come up here. I'll be right where she can find me.

Maybe it's good to have a few hours apart. Maybe I can figure out some way to just get down this cliff, down past that barrier, down to where the stream is twinkling in the sun. If we could get to it, we wouldn't need to worry about the Cornucopia fountain back in the forest. If there are guards, maybe they'll shoot me if I find a way to break the arena wall, but let Maysilee get a drink. If she can just hold out here, she can outlast Filigree and Moonstone and the other boy.

I can't see anything where I am, so I turn left and head up toward the mountain. A lot of the machinery in the arena has to be there. That was a big effect.

My head is buzzing, and I feel like I did when I drank the wine at the apartment -- not fuzzy-headed like that, but full of a strange kind of wild, untamable energy, like my nerves are being charged up with a direct electrical feed.

I turn and look down toward the stream again. A mockingjay takes to the sky and flies toward me. About halfway, it abruptly swerves and goes back. I see the flash of white on the bottom of its wing.

It felt something, too. It felt whatever it is between here and the world.

I trip a little bit, and a pebble goes flying off the edge of the cliff. I watch it, listening for how long it takes to hit the bottom. I have a wire. Maybe, if the cliff isn't as high as it seems, I could use the wire as a kind of rope.

Why? Maysilee asks me in my mind. Why does this matter?

I still don't know. But when she comes back, I'll have to tell her about the mockingjay. She'll see it as a symbol. Mockingjays always --

Something hits me in the shoulder, and I turn around, expecting to find Maysilee and a handful of pebbles. She's not there.

But rolling away from me on the hard ground, there is a pebble. The one I've been waiting to hear land.

I pick it up. It's warm to the touch.

And something else.

I run up along the edge of the cliff, looking for something that catches the sun. Anything will do, except for my wire, which I might need.

I find a rock with flecks of metal in it. It's about the size of my fist. I pitch it over the side.


I hear it this time, a faint, frying kind of sound. Then the rock comes back to me. When it lands in my hand, a shock of electricity runs up my arm.

Of course.

I don't know a lot about force fields, but I've seen them now and then. I've certainly read about them. They're electrically generated, and they have enough power to through anything backward if it hits them.

This one is strong enough to hurl rocks up several meters. It has to have a strong charge. I think about the lightning around the top of the volcano.

What are you looking at? Mom asks me. What are you trying to tell yourself?

I start laughing. I'm not sure why, and I must look as crazy as Maysilee accused me of being. But it's a force field. Electrical. It can be shorted out. They did it deliberately at the volcano, to make a hole for the ash to escape through. If we could just get a charge somehow...

We could break out. We could break the arena completely. There are no guards here, no weapons. There's not a good place for their hover crafts to land. We could get away for a little while and we could actually wreck the Games. Maysilee will love this. She'll understand it right away. They'll probably execute us for it (unless all of the other tributes are dead, I guess; they have to have a winner), but maybe it would be worth it. If we could just --

A scream breaks into the closed circle of my thoughts. I almost ignore it. I almost keep going with my little experiment. How strong is the force field? What could I do to it?

Then I realize something: Only one person is close enough to make that sound.

My wild, insane train of thought crashes down, breaking into pieces on the sharp rocks below me.

"Maysilee!" I yell.

She screams again.

I run down the hill, at an angle, toward where she left me, so sure she would come back. But now she's screaming, and it's not stopping.

I crest a rise, and I see the pink birds I spotted earlier. They are swarming around the thrashing form of Maysilee Donner. She's halfway back to where I was.

I see her hand reach up and grab at one of them. It's covered with blood.

I pull out my knife and run for her, full-tilt. A bird flies at me, and I cut its wing off with one stroke.

One of the others raises its head and drives its beak down into Maysilee's throat.

She stops screaming.

I grab the nearest bird and cut its head off. There's no reason to do it. They've done their job, and they're retreating to the forest. The last one gives me a sharp peck in the arm as it leaves, but I don't pay it any attention.

I fall to my knees beside Maysilee. She is convulsing on the ground, jittering and shaking, blood pulsing up out of the artery in her neck. It soaks my hands when I try to cover it, to make it stop.

"Maysilee, come on," I say. "You can't… you have to keep going. Hold on, hold on, please…"

She reaches up, fumbling for my hand, and I grab it tightly with both of mine, as if I can force her to stay with me. She turns her eyes up to me, and I can see her trying to speak, but she can't. Her lips just keep opening and closing. Her eyes dart around, terrified. I don't know what she's seeing. I want her to tell me, so I can keep it away from her. I feel like, if she could just talk, she could explain everything.

"It's okay, Maysilee," I tell her. "It's okay, everything's okay, I'll get you out, I'll get you home. I'll --"

Her hand tightens on mine, and I can feel her ragged fingernails digging into my skin. Her back arches, and her feet drum a crazy rhythm on the ground.

Then, she's still.

"Maysilee?" I whisper. "No, no, this… no. You were going to come back. We… you…"

The cannon goes off.

I can't breathe.

I pick her up, shake her, beg her to wake up again, to come back to me. I tell her I'm sorry. I tell her I shouldn't let her leave. I promise not to keep any more secrets, and to go wherever she needs me to go, if she'll just wake up. Her eyes are open already.

Blood from one of her wounds runs into it, and she doesn't move to wipe it away. It pools above the edge of the eye, blocking out the blue, blinding her.

I wipe it away with my sleeve. It actually touches her eye. She doesn't jerk away from it.

"Come on," I whisper. "Oh, please, Maysilee, come on, this isn't the way it works. We can do this. I saw a mockingjay. Do you hear me? I saw a mockingjay. It's on the outside. They always survive."

She isn't hearing me, or seeing me. The blood is pooling in her eyes again.

I close them.

I don't put her down. I can't. I hold her, as I've held her at night for days. I try to clean the blood from her hair, which has gone scarlet. I take some of my water and wash her face. I kiss her cheeks.

She stays dead.

I glare up the sky. I can see a hover craft now, circling.

I put Maysilee down as gently as I can, then I lean over and kiss her on the mouth. I know she's dead, because she doesn't even care about this.

"You can't have her!" I shout at the hover craft. "I won't let you take her!"

There's a blast of wind, but I don't let it move me.

"Do you hear me? I won't let you! She's not yours!"

The hover craft backs off.

I go back to Maysilee's body and pick it up again. I don't know how long I hold her. I'm not aware of much, except that she's not breathing, and her body seems to be cooling down faster than it should. It has to be a long time before I hear the hover craft again. This time, it comes back accompanied by two others. Fighters.

I put Maysilee down and I draw my knife. If they want combat, they can have it.

"Come down here!" I yell at them. "Get down here! You want to kill me, you get down here and fight!"

There is a huge roar of wind. I can feel myself being pushed backward. A hook is coming down from the center craft. The others are forcing me away.

"I'm going to get out of here!" I yell. "I'm going to get out of here, and I'm going to kill all of you!"

There is a sound like thunder, and I am thrown backward through space, thrown toward the cliff I so needed to reach. I expect them to just hurl me over it, but they don't. Once I'm far enough from Maysilee's body for them to gather her, they lose interest in me. I see her pulled up off the ground, the ends of her chopped off hair reaching toward the earth as she's taken away.

Then there is one final gust of wind. I'm thrown like a rag doll, and I come crashing down onto the rocky ground. The world goes dark, and I know nothing for a little while.
18 comments or Leave a comment
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: September 10th, 2013 08:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Ohhhhhhhh, Snow would not be happy watching that.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 10th, 2013 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. And you can be sure that, while it's absolutely not running to the audience, Snow and the Gamemakers have a very close eye on it.
vesta_aurelia From: vesta_aurelia Date: September 10th, 2013 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, Haymitch.

That's the problem with making someone crazy in the arena. They forget to act "safe."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 10th, 2013 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Which is probably what they think of as great entertainment... until the crazy is turned on them.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: September 10th, 2013 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Damn. Maysilee's death and his reaction to it were intense. Even before that I was reminded of what Peeta said in the 3rd book about how being in the arena strips away who you are and narrows down the world so it's like everything out there ceases to exist. You can see it happening to Haymitch and that, as much as anything, is why he's trying so hard to get out.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 10th, 2013 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd forgotten that Peeta said that, but it would have to be true -- a really intense experience, horrible, with the knowledge that you're very unlikely to get out of it. It would have to have that effect.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 10th, 2013 01:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm curious

It reads to me like Maysilee thought he was going to jump and that's why she left him to it. After him asking her to look after the others back home and his (to her, probably) irrational desire to reach the edge of the arena it might make sense in her mind.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 10th, 2013 02:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I'm curious

Hmm. I'm not sure about that. She certainly has more than an inkling that he's planning on her getting out at this point, but I don't think she'd leave him to jump. I think she was expecting him to follow her, same as he was expecting her to come back.
vytresna From: vytresna Date: September 11th, 2013 11:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: I'm curious

I read it as her sacrifice, to make sure the Gamemakers aren't focused on whatever Haymitch is trying to pull. Now you've mystified me all over again.
beceh From: beceh Date: September 10th, 2013 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. Damn.

I read this on my break at work. And now my eyes are all watery.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 11th, 2013 12:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Sorry for the soggy workspace! :D
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: September 11th, 2013 12:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Poor Maysilee. *sobs*

And attack flamingos? What were the gamemakers thinking? :P
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 11th, 2013 12:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I know. It's one of those things where you're screaming and also trying not to laugh at the horrible thing that's also funny, in the most awful way imaginable. Like the golden squirrels that attacked Haymitch... and it was probably played for laughs on the broadcast.
patita_fea From: patita_fea Date: September 11th, 2013 12:11 am (UTC) (Link)
"You know the right thing to do."

Chivalry in the arena? In addition to treating the Gamemakers and the arena itself as the true enemies? Haymitch, the Capitol can only handle so much subversion in one day.

I am curious about the chivalry, actually. A chapter back, Haymitch says something about what boys are expected to do, and he's spent at least a couple chapters imagining ways to send Maysilee home.

Is this chivalry specific to Haymitch, or is it commonly accepted? Panem as Collins writes it seems to have achieved gender parity. Female tributes are just as numerous and respected as males, Peacekeepers and presidents come in both genders, men wear lipstick, and women in combat are uncontroversial. Hell, even sexual slavery appears to be equal opportunity.

But then, those are the values of the Capitol and/or Thirteen. It's harder to tell what they believe in District 12.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 11th, 2013 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that there are some men it simply would never be bred out of (all the social change in the world doesn't change the biological imperative of "women can have men's babies after men are dead, but not vice-versa" after all), and Haymitch is an avid reader of old books, encouraged in this by his parents. I imagine the Capitol would be seriously trying to force boys like this to do heinous things, because any time they start treating someone as more important than immediate survival, then it undermines the Capitol's hold. Any sort of self-sacrifice (chivalric or other) would be discouraged.

We do see in the books that both Gale and Peeta have varying degrees of chivalric attitudes with Katniss. She ends up saving Peeta, of course, but he's the one who steps up with the sacrifice play in the first place. Both Boggs and Gale shelter her with their bodies during the bombing of District Eight. Having legal and social equality (albeit equality on the low end of the scale) doesn't seem to negate the protective urge in the males of the world.

I would note that the main difference seems to be that the girls -- Katniss, certainly, and I promise, in my version, Maysilee -- are equally committed to the idea, which kind of gets into a seriocomedy of manners, like in Catching Fire, where they're both determined to die for each other, and Haymitch trumps them both with paternal instinct.

Edited at 2013-09-11 12:28 am (UTC)
patita_fea From: patita_fea Date: September 11th, 2013 12:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I like your take on these issues, perhaps because it seems to mirror mine (and I am vain).

the girls...are equally committed to the idea

I think this is the only way that you could have both gender equality and chivalry at once.

Peeta does have something akin to courtly love going on, doesn't he? He falls in love at first sight with an unattainable lady fair - a lady already deeply attached to another man, even. She inspires him to feats of valor and self-sacrifice, and it's all very tragic. Sounds like courtly love to me, 'cept he gets the girl in the end.

But then, in a lot of other ways they've got the traditional gender roles on backwards. So that's fun.

And I'm glad I'm not the only one who found Catching Fire's great drawn-out argument -
"I'm going to die for you!"
"No, I'm going to die for you!"
"No! You can't possibly!"
"Watch me!"
- at least a little bit funny.

Edited at 2013-09-11 12:44 am (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 11th, 2013 05:13 am (UTC) (Link)
I did one of those video courses on the middle ages, and any time I doubt the power of fiction, I remember about chivalric romances -- deliberately introduced to give the rampaging nobles of the time something higher to aim for. Of course, they frequently fell short, but it was within a couple of centuries that people were barred from tournaments for falling too short of the chivalric ideal. Now, that's some effective fiction writing!
vytresna From: vytresna Date: September 11th, 2013 11:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't have access to the precise quote, but one bit of punditry that really stuck with me contrasted the Titanic with a shipwreck from 2011 or so: in 1912, there was an ideal that women and children go first, and women and children survived. Now, there is no such ideal, and the survivors of the recent shipwreck were about 65% male, and overwhelmingly fit and young, to the point where nobody over 70 or under 10 made it. Thus, human failings or no, best to have an ideal to reach for; to do otherwise is to assume the worst of human nature as the default.
18 comments or Leave a comment