The world goes slow again, but there's no advantage it could possibly get me. Nothing to be gained. It's too late.
I run out of the mayor's house without waiting for Snow to break the connection. Outside, the big wheel ride has tilted, and people are trapped on it, screaming, while others run to help. I see Digger in the crowd, and Danny. But if anything happens here, it's incidental, and I know it.
I run for the Seam.
I hear someone running behind me, but I have no idea who it is, and I don't care. Most people are up in the square, not down here checking on their houses, but a few people have wandered outside, cursing about broken windows.
It's not until I get close to home that things look more serious, not until I'm almost there that it looks like a real disaster. Digger's old home, the one she lived in before her parents died, has cracked down the middle. No one lives there now, so no one has been hurt. Another neighbor -- I don't even know the name -- has lost a shed.
I go around the last bend.
My house is lying on the ground, collapsed to half its height, broken things sticking out like skeletal fingers. It has been shaken apart at every join. The supporting timbers have broken, the fire-damaged walls have collapsed. I see the tarp I put up last spring lying twisted on top of the wreckage.
"Mom!" I scream. "Mom!"
I turn wildly, sure that Mom is beside me, ready to come out and tell me it's all a sick joke, or just a warning, that of course everyone was clear. Snow wouldn't kill his own camera crew, after all.
But it's Ruth Keyton, of all people. She is bent over, her hands on her knees, panting from the run. She looks up. "Let me help."
I shake my head. "I -- Ruth -- I --"
"I saw you run." She gasps for breath. "I can help. But don't move things too quickly. If people are trapped, it could…" She breathes heavily. "It could hurt them more."
"But -- "
"Listen. My dad trained me. To help. If there's a mine accident. You know it from mine safety class, too."
I do. I know I heard it. But I never took any interest in the mining classes. I never cared.
Ruth comes around and grabs me by the wrists. "Listen to me, Haymitch Abernathy. You are not going to go crazy. You are going to help your mother and your brother and those Capitol camera people, because you're a good person. Maysilee wouldn't have trusted you if you weren't a good person."
"Yes, you can. Just do what I tell you."
I fight her for a moment, then I nod.
She tells me to approach the pile of rubble slowly. She takes one side, and I take the other. We listen for people calling out. See where there are pockets in the collapsed of girders and wires. It seems too substantial to be the house I grew up in, the wispy twig house that the wind blew through on cold nights. There couldn't be this much of it left. As I pass under the pine tree, I can actually see through to where a live camera light is flashing.
"Hello?" I call. "Mom? Lacklen? Anyone?"
"Ruth! Over here!"
She comes around, looks into the hole and calls, "Can anyone speak?"
"Don't know," someone says. "House… fell in. Explosion."
It's not Mom or Lacklen. "Where's my family?"
"Can't see… anything…"
"Mom!" I shout. "Mom!"
No one answers.
Ruth makes me stop while she examines the pile of wreckage, then directs me to start moving the small things near the hole.
"But -- "
"But nothing. If we move the big beams and then all of that collapses, it'll bury them."
We start to work. It is excruciatingly slow. I'm not sure when other people start to show up, but I know that by the time the sun starts to set, the old miners are helping out. We hear a little bit of talk from beneath the pile, but I'm moved away from the site. I'm not sure who actually does it, but I find myself in a hastily constructed shelter, with Digger's arms around me, though I can't seem to feel them. Ruth's father gives me some kind of tea that makes everything seem very far away.
The mine foreman comes in. I have trouble concentrating on what he's saying, though he's weeping without restraint. He says the instructions came in wrong. Something about improper maps and how there never should have been blasting like that under a residential area. It was meant to be a mile south. He doesn't know how the calculations were so far off. Someone leads him away. I don't care.
Night is falling, and they've set up huge lights to keep working by. One of the other production teams from the Capitol has joined in, and they celebrate when one of their camera people is pulled from the wreck, still breathing. This was the one who talked to me, I guess, and he is brought in and thanks me (and Ruth, though he doesn't know her name) for starting the work, before being taken to the medical station at the mines, the closest thing we have to a hospital.
I ask him about my mother and my brother. He doesn't know. Mom was in her room. I send Digger to tell the crews where the room was.
Ruth herself comes in for a while and shines a light in my eyes. She puts a blanket around me and asks me very strange questions, like how old I am and what my father's name was. I guess I get these right. She leaves, but not until someone else comes in. Danny. He doesn't ask me stupid questions. He just sits there with me until Digger gets back.
They find Lacklen next. He is closest to the cave in. He might have lived for a few minutes, but a piece of broken glass fell in on him. I want to go out and see him, but no one will let me (I hear someone say, "He doesn't need that image in his head," like I can't hear from five feet away), and I can't seem to move on my own. It can't be real. Last night, he fell asleep with his face in a book. We didn't say anything important to each other. There was no last scene, so it's not possible that he's dead, and in some condition that someone thinks I couldn't stand seeing. It's just not.
Then again, most of the kids in the arena didn't get a last scene, either, not even Beech and Gilla. I saw the movie. Most of them were turned into extras in my story.
Snow has turned my brother into an extra. Snow is going to die for this.
The sound technician the site producer are pulled out from the living room. They are dead. I don't care, and I don't ask to see them.
I don't know how long they've been digging -- how long can it take to dig through the remains of my little house? -- when a cry goes up from the far side.
I look up when Clay Hawthorne -- the big young miner from Maysilee's group -- comes in. "We got your mom," he says. "She's alive."
I am not prepared for this. "What?"
He looks down. "She's hurt really bad. But they took her to the medical station. You need to come."
Someone piles me into a road-cart, the sort of thing they use to transport heavy trash around the mines. Digger stays beside me, holding both of my hands. When we get to the medical station, she's not allowed to come in with me. Too many people in there, according to the smirking Peacekeepers.
I want my knife. I want to cut the smirks off of their faces.
But that would take more time than I have.
They lead me to a bed behind a curtain, where my mother is lying still against dirty gray sheets. Her arm is splinted, but no one has wasted material putting a real cast on it. Her eyes are glassy, but open. She sees me, and the corners of her mouth twitch slightly.
"Haymitch?" she whispers.
I go to her, and kneel beside the bed, holding her good hand tightly. "Momma."
"Is your brother hurt?"
I nod. I decide not to tell her that he's more than hurt. Not now. Not when I can almost feel her life seeping out with the blood on her bandages. "He couldn't come," I say.
She nods. "Tell him I love him."
"He knows that, Mom. I know it, too."
She raises her hand and strokes my cheek. "My clever boy," she says. "I'm proud of you. You… you're going to be something… extraordinary. Wish I could… see."
"We're going to get you fixed up. We'll fix everything from the accident, and we'll take you to the Capitol, and I'll make them give you new lungs…"
"Haymitch, you know better. You know the truth."
"Yes." She lowers her hand and presses it against mine again. "Don't look away from the truth. Don't you dare. You've always seen so clearly about everything else. You need to see clearly about me now, Haymitch."
"I don't want you to go."
"I know that."
I can't think of anything else to say. The numbness that's been on me all afternoon while they dug is ripped away, and I start to cry. I sit beside my mother, and I put my head on her stomach, and I cry like an infant.
She runs her fingers through my hair.
"I'm sorry," I say. "Momma, I'm so sorry."
"No, hush. I'm glad to be the momma one more time."
"It's my fault. I shouldn't have --"
"Stop it. You remember what I said this morning."
"Don't you… ever… forget it."
She shivers and I get up to wrap a blanket around her, but by the time I'm actually on my feet, she's gone.
Just like that.
I call the med-tech, but I don't really need him to tell me that she's gone. I can see it. It doesn't matter. I scream for him to get Ruth Keyton, but that doesn't matter, either. Ruth anoints Mom with some kind of herb ointment, but it doesn't do anything.
I am vaguely aware of screaming. I know that Digger is trying to stop me, but it doesn't work. Maysilee is also telling me I need to stop before I say something I shouldn't. I don't care. It's finally Danny and one of the Seam kids who subdue me, though I think someone might drug me before they do.
I'm pulled out into the night and put into a car, and then I'm out in the dark. Alone.
I am searching for Mom and Lacklen. I can hear Lacklen calling me, but I can't figure out how to get to where he is. Mom tells me to turn around and go home, but of course, there is no home anymore. The big bad wolf has huffed and puffed and blown it down.
I wander for a long time in the dark. Now and then, I hear voices calling me, but I ignore them. They aren't what I'm looking for. I can't get to what I'm looking for. After a while, I just sit down in the empty darkness, and wait to die.
I have no understanding at all of where I am when I open my eyes. Some kind of huge hall, with dark wood furniture, and a poster of a half-naked girl who I don't know on the wall.
They promised that would come down.
I blink. The room becomes almost familiar. I've been in it before, anyway.
It's my house in Victors' Village. I'm in my room. If it weren't for that damned poster, I could believe I'd only dreamed about my house collapsing. But I'd never put that thing up. Mom says it's disrespectful to stare at women like that.
I want Mom and Lacklen. I need them. I get up out of my bed, still thinking in a confused way that it could all be some kind of nasty trick. I move across the room.
I tear down the poster. Rip it to shreds. Leave the shreds on the floor.
I go to Mom's room. She was so happy to have a nightgown. Pretty clothes. I imagine going into her closet, sitting there among the fine dresses she was given, and mourning her. Maybe I will take some books from the shelves, the ones Lacklen was so delighted with, and hold them.
I stop when I open her closet door.
There's nothing there. All of her clothes have been removed.
I try to scream, but it just comes out in a few harsh gasps.
I stumble out, go to Lacklen's room. His clothes are gone. The props they put in the room to shoot the tour are gone. It's cold and empty and totally anonymous. He was never here.
I rip out one of the shelves that housed his shoes yesterday, the shoes he'll never get to wear. I swing it at the wall and take out a chunk of plaster. Break the mirror over the dresser. Smash some anonymous pictures on the wall.
I am screaming again.
Strong hands grip my arms and someone takes the shelf away from me. I don't care who it is. I manage to get one arm free, and I strike out with a closed fist. It connects with someone's flesh, but no one hits me back.
In fact, someone comes up close to me. Puts her arms around me.
"Shh. Haymitch, stop it. You need to stop. Your mother wouldn’t want you doing this."
"It's me. It's me."
My head fills up with self-disgust. It slides over my brain like cold slime. "I hit you."
"Your fist was swinging. I got in the way of it to stop it."
"I hit you."
The pressure on my other arm lets up. "You're not going to do it anymore, are you?" a voice says.
It's Danny. My friend. Who has now seen me punch my girl.
I sink down onto Lacklen's bed and put my face in my hands. I can't look at either of them. I look between my hands at the bare floor, now lightly floured with plaster dust.
Digger sits beside me, and I feel her small hand on the back of my neck, rubbing in small circles. I hear a chair being pulled over, and the toes of Danny's big shoes come into my field of vision, along with the frayed cuffs of his jeans.
"What can we do for you?" he asks.
"I guess there wouldn't be," he says. "But we're going to stay as much as we can, anyway. The Peacekeepers keep making rounds -- supposedly about curfew-- so we'll have to leave pretty soon today, but we'll be back. You be here when we get here."
"I'm not leaving," Digger says.
I shake my head. "Do everything they say." I laugh. It sounds crazy. "Little pig, little pig, let me in."
They don't say anything to this. I guess they figure I am crazy, and they're probably right.
"There's a pot of chamomile tea in the kitchen," Danny says. "Come on downstairs. We can have some tea until the Peacekeepers come."
I don't want tea. I let them lead me downstairs anyway. Danny pours me a large mug of tea. He and Digger each tack a small teacup. I guess this is one of Ruth's medicinal brews. If so, it doesn't do anything I can recognize.
Digger tells me that I've been sleeping for four days. People have been coming around all day to make sure I don't wake up alone. "We were afraid you'd wake up at night," she says. "They won't let anyone be here after curfew. Merle Undersee comes as early as they let him in to do the caretaking."
Danny nudges my hand and pushes at some kind of printed napkin. I ignore it.
They've already buried Mom and Lacklen. No one says this, but I know it's because there's no one in District Twelve who does embalming, and they couldn't very well just leave the bodies hanging around until I came to my senses. They have been waiting for me, though, to have a memorial.
The Peacekeepers show up ten minutes later and frog march Digger and Danny out, with an admonition not to let them find them here again.
I sit alone in my kitchen. The bar is handy. I could drink. I could drink a lot. I wonder if there are some kind of painkillers upstairs in the bathroom medicine cupboard. Maybe, if I took enough of them with whiskey, no one would have to worry about me again.
The idea has its merits. I can't actually think of any downside, except that I promised Maysilee that I'd remember her, and dead people can't remember anyone. She'd understand, though. This is too much. At least if I'm dead, I can't annoy Snow enough to kill anyone else.
I pick up my mug, which I've only drunk about half of, and I spot the napkin Danny was trying to push at me. It's covered with writing -- not real writing, but the shorthand I made up for school, the code we used for Maysilee's meetings, which seem to have happened so long ago that I've almost forgotten how to read it. It looks like squiggles and strange pictures. I spot a big insect, which Danny has drawn much better than I'd ever bother with.
I frown at it. I invented this. I can remember it.
It starts to resolve itself, to make sense. There's not a lot that can be expressed this way, and certainly no nuance.
Careful. House seems bugged. There's picture of bread, which I take to mean Danny himself, since I know I didn't make bread mean anything. There's an arrow pointing from it to more words: Explain in town.
I throw it in the trash, and pour the chamomile tea in after it. It swims in a garbagy muck, and the whole thing dissolves into mush.
So they think my house is bugged.
The bare, unfocused rage I felt in Lacklen's room suddenly becomes tight and clear. And cold. Not only did they kill my family, and Maysilee, and Beech and Gilla and all the others -- not only did they make their things disappear, so it would look like they never existed at all -- not only those things, but they've put me in this rich looking prison so they can look down and listen in on me any time they want to. It's like being in the arena, except with no audience to appeal to, just the Gamemakers.
I try to think of what I can do that won't end up with someone else dead. Suicide seems like my best bet, but I figure there must be some reason that Duronda put it off as long as she did, and that I've never heard of anyone else doing it. Then again, the rest of Panem has probably not heard that Duronda did. The news wrote it as an accident.
I turn this over. Snow would probably make it look like an accident, too, especially if I involved the bar in it. But what really stops me is understanding why he'd do that. The victors are supposed to be happy. We're supposed to be all about hope.
If I trashed that image, I have a feeling a lot of people would pay for it. Duronda had been more or less forgotten by the audience by the time she died. I'm still the fresh new victor with the great big, pretty house.
Reluctantly, I take suicide off my mental table. It would be easy on my end, but it would leave everyone else with a big mess. Maybe a lethal one. No one ever says it, but everyone knows that the families of arena suicides are punished. Mom said not to let worries like that stop me from doing what was right, but I can't lie to myself well enough to pretend that suicide was what she had in mind.
Almost anything I do directly will end up on my friends, and everyone knows who they are, because they've been getting themselves in trouble every day trying to come up and stay with me. If I burn down my house -- which is very appealing; burn the thing down and hope the bugs scream in the ears of everyone listening until they go crazy -- they'll burn something else down. Maybe Maysilee's parents' shop. Maybe Danny's bakery. Maybe the Community Home. I can't see them hesitating. They killed their own film crew.
I get up and walk around my house in a daze. I try to read a few of the books, but the words won't come together. I can't understand why I'm sleepy, if I've slept for four days, but I am.
I go outside to clear my head. There's a pair of Peacekeepers on patrol, but they let me be. I'm a victor. I have the run of Victors' Village. There are large lights keeping the place lit up.
I go to the green and sit down on one of the ornate little benches, this one beside a little pond, where I can see big carp swimming around. I am not thinking of anything, except whether or not they could actually bug the green. If not, this would be a good place to talk to people.
I curl up finally and sleep on the hard, uncomfortable bench. There's an early fall breeze blowing, and it brings me to the windy hillside in the arena. I am not surprised to be there.
Maysilee is sitting in the spot where she died. Her hair is long again, and all of the little marks of the arena are gone. I sit beside her.
"Suicide, Haymitch?" she says. "This is your idea of a good solution?"
"I'm not doing it."
"Fine, but it's still a dumb idea. Did we get you through the Games just for you to die? Do you want to stick next year's tributes with Drake?"
"I hadn't thought about that."
She bites her lip and looks up toward the cliff. "Don't you wonder why they're so mad about it? Why Snow's so scared of you that's cutting you off at the knees before you get a chance to do anything?"
"Not really. I don't care. Probably because I was shouting about killing everyone after they killed you."
She gives me a brief laugh. "Yes, that might have something to do with it."
"Are you really here?"
She doesn't answer. "You can't possibly be the only one to scream at them. You can't be the only one to threaten to kill them. I doubt you're the only tribute who's ever been smart enough to figure out the arena. Beetee could have."
"But he didn't. He had electricity. He could have knocked the thing out."
"Right. He didn't." She looks back at me, and she's so beautiful I can't breathe. She rolls her eyes. "Don't expect this to turn into that kind of dream. I'm not done with you yet. I'm not wasting my time on someone who thinks running away is the way to go."
I look down. "I'm sorry."
"You promised me you'd take them down. That's what they're afraid of. Because you have the anger -- which is pretty common -- and you have the brains, which aren't unique. And because you think like them."
I draw back. "Thanks a lot."
"No, I just mean… you understand the way they think. You know that. And that's why they're afraid of you. Because you attack them on their own terms."
"My mother and brother are dead."
"I don't want to start killing anyone's family."
"I said you think like them, not that you are like them." She sighs. "It won't work piecemeal, Haymitch. Every little breach you make, they'll punish, and then they'll make it go away."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"I told you a long time ago. If we can strike at the same time, they don't stand a chance."
I sniff at this. "That's a big 'if.'"
"Not as big as it used to be." She looks up, and suddenly, she's Seeder. Then Chaff. Then Beetee. Then Gia.
"I can't bring them into this," I say.
She becomes Maysilee again. "Who says you're bringing them?" She smiles. "Come on, Haymitch. What did you see?"
Something knocks against the side of the bench and I fall out, waking myself up sharply on the ground. I turn around and see Merle, who has backed into me during his morning rounds. He makes a lot of apologetic noises, then says out of the corner of his mouth, "Peacekeepers are getting suspicious. You better get home. They're waiting."
I nod and head back to my house. Lucretia Beckett herself is here again. Her eyes flicker over me, and I realize that my tee shirt is see-through from a night in the dew. Considerably worse… well, it's morning.
I ignore this. "What do you want?"
"You have a communication from the Capitol."
"A phone call?"
"No." She holds out a very official looking envelope.
I take it and open it. It bears the seal of the Treasurer. There are two pages. The first is a statement of my first month of victor's salary, a sum that it would take me twenty years in the mines to acquire. The second is a bill, for half of that salary.
They've fined me for the shoddy construction work on the house on the Seam, and I've been held responsible for the injuries to the production crew.
I throw it in the trash and go upstairs to change. Beckett can let herself out.