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HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Two - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Two
Whoa, that took a while. Sorry!

Chapter Two
"I'm not sure what we can do," Mrs. Breen says. She runs the haberdashery up the hill. "They can take everything."

"They have taken everything from Haymitch Abernathy," I remind her.

"Except a house to live in. Which all of us would stand to lose." She holds up her hand. "I know, it sounds very trivial when you're sixteen and righteously outraged, but --"

"I'm not sixteen," Mr. Donner says. "And frankly, after losing a daughter, it sounds pretty damned trivial to me, too."

"So your answer is to risk the other one?"

"No one's saying it's cheap," Ruth's dad says. "But we have to stop putting up with it. Even if it's just something small. Refusing service to Beckett. We know she ordered that girl killed."

Mr. Donner shakes his head. "We can do more than that, Keyton. You know we can. You know where we come from. We lived in the out-districts for decades before we settled here. We can -- "

"That was two hundred years ago, and we don't have guns anymore."

"What about the miners?" Ruth asks. "I know they're mad about Digger. They want to do something."

"We should get guns," someone else fumes.

"We could burn down the Justice Building -- "

"We could -- "

My mother steps forward and holds up her hand until people are quiet. I've never understood why this works, but it does. "I think," she says, "that we need to talk about what we want to accomplish. And what we can."

This is followed by an awkward silence.

"What do you mean, Nella?" Mr. Donner asks.

"I mean, we have to do something. But we need to start out thinking what the end is going to look like. I know the miners are angry, Ruth. And they could do a more powerful thing than we could, cutting off the coal supply. But that would bring down the full weight of the Capitol. I don't think we can handle that. But maybe… maybe we could get rid of that woman. Maybe we could make her quit, or make her do something that would get the Capitol to recall her."

"You want to stop at one person?" Mr. Donner asks. "After… after everything?"

"I want to do something that we can do." Mom shakes her head. "Yolus, we can't take a real attack from the Capitol. you know that. I'm sorry about Maysilee, and if I could snap my fingers and make things happen, I'd take the whole rotten structure down. Stop the Games. Do you think I don't worry every year that they'll take Danny?"

"Which brings up another point," Mrs. Breen says. "Let's not kid ourselves. Some of the drawings may be honest -- mostly because it's less trouble when there's nothing specific to look for -- but we all know that if we do anything seditious, our kids could end up paying for it."

There's an explosion of outrage at this. About half the adults believe the drawings are far. The other half think it's obvious that they're rigged. (Personally, I'm with Mom. I think for the most part, it would be too much trouble to rig them, but I'm sure the Capitol's more than willing to put in the effort if it's deemed necessary.) Maysilee's tendency to denounce the government is duly brought up. I don't know if she would have been considered important enough to rig the reaping for. I do know that she didn't take any chances. The night before, she filled out fifty Reaping cards from the stock of old ones in Herk Donner's shop, and snuck them in with the rest in the town offices.

I consider pointing this out, but we've all sort of agreed to not let parents know about it. Or Haymitch. It wouldn't make any difference now. Also, her uncle could lose the shop and end up in jail if the government found out she used it to tamper with the reaping.

The meeting has mostly degenerated into a free for all, everyone accusing everyone of letting things get this bad, no one really saying anything useful. Mr. Donner wants all-out war with the Capitol. He doesn't care if he dies. Mrs. Breen and Rooba Murphy (the butcher's daughter) don't want to have any trouble, and only came to try and stop people from doing something insane. Beside me, Ruth is getting that distant look on her face again, that far-off stare that means she's about to go away from me.

"Are you okay?" I whisper.

She shakes her head. "I need to get out of here, Danny."

I nod. Neither of us is in a position to make any decisions, and our parents will fill us in. I lead her upstairs.

Kay comes around the counter. "What is it? Is it over?"

I shake my head.

Kay takes a look at Ruth, shakes her head in disgust, and goes back to her stool. She steals a piece of chewing gum from one of the barrels (her father will find out later and probably make her pay for it) and starts smacking it loudly.

I start to ask what her problem is, but I'm a little worried that she'll answer -- and that it would be hard to argue with. It's Kay who lost a sister, and Ruth who's been falling apart.

I lead her outside.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I just… why can't we even do something simple without tearing at each other's throats? I thought when they said they were meeting that -- "

"That what?" I ask . "That they'd sing some inspirational songs and issue marching orders?"

"Kind of." She moves on down the street and turns up a little path that leads to what we call our park, a windblown hill-top with crisscrossed logs that serve as an exercise toy for the little kids, and a seating area for parties for us. She gets to the first one and sits down heavily. From here, we can peek through the trees and see down to the street outside the sweet shop. "I just… I always told Maysilee she was crazy to rant the way she did. But she was right. And I thought…" She looks down. "I thought I could show her that I knew that. But they took it away, and they can't even do as much as we did."

"We never did much, Ruth."

"We buried that girl."

I sit down beside her. We don't talk about the girl from Six, the girl that Haymitch and I found dying of infected whip wounds. Ruth tried to save her, but it was too late. We buried her. "It's not that much," I say. "It's what anyone would have done for her… well, anyone not from the Capitol."

"No, it's not. You drew that picture to go in the ground with her. We covered her. You know they'd put us in jail for that. She was obviously in trouble. It was a real rebellion."

"It was a funeral, Ruth."

"Glen says it's the biggest rebellion, taking care of people when we're only supposed to be worrying about ourselves."

"It's not a rebellion. It's just what decent people do."

"Doesn't it bother you how few decent people there are, then?"

"I think there are plenty. And I bet they come out of there with a plan."

She looks at me skeptically, then settles into my arm. We don't talk.

An hour later, we see adults starting to come out of the Donners' place. She goes back to the apothecary to find out what her parents are going to do. I stay on the hill a little while longer, then go home.

Mom raises an eyebrow at me. "Thought you'd want to be there."

"Ruth was kind of sick. From the fighting. Did the fighting stop?"

Mom nods. She takes us all back to the kitchen and turns on a mixer. Since we can barely hear each other, I guess bugs won't pick anything up. The upshot of what the adults decided was that our workable goal would be to remove Lucretia Beckett from her position, either by getting her to ask for a transfer or goading her into doing something that the Capitol would punish her for.

"That's all?" I ask, my heart sinking at the thought of Ruth's reaction. "Get rid of one Head Peacekeeper?"

"It's something we might actually be able to accomplish," Mom says. "We're not going to throw off the Capitol. But we can do this, at least. It starts with refusal of service. There are only a handful of shops that are going to be doing any business with Beckett. It'll make her stay very inconvenient."

"There are some shops that will?"

"The Undersees are in trouble if the government backs off. Their main business is keeping the public areas up. It's not like anyone has an ornamental garden."

"Merle's not going to like that."

"And the butcher shop. The Murphy girls. I guess we should have expected that."

I don't say anything. The Murphy girls -- really two girls and their middle-aged mother -- are cordially detested by most of the town. The mother had an affair with a Peacekeeper before (and after) her husband died, and the rumor is that the younger daughter, Mirrem, isn't a Murphy at all. Mirrem believes this totally, and doesn't miss a chance to tell everyone she sees her "better" blood will show, and she'll go off and see the world. Mrs. Murphy lives in a fantasy where she also is going to be taken away to a magical fantasy world where she won't have to slaughter pigs anymore. Rooba, the older girl, does most of the work. She's steady and reliable, and most people would probably like her, except that she finds it necessary to stand up for her mother and sister, and has gotten into more than one fight about it.

I'm maybe the only other person in town who doesn't hate Mirrem (though I hate their mother quite freely). Mir's in drama club with me, and she's a really good actress. She starred in the commercial we sent to other districts to get them to order our special cakes (a huge expense, but it's paid for itself). She's just fifteen, and I think she's going to grow out of… everything. I also think that she's going to get her heart broken before that happens.

Also, while Ruth and I were broken up for a few weeks last winter, I spent a good amount of time licking powdered sugar off Mir's lips. That may factor into my not disliking her as much as some people do. It certainly contributes to Ruth disliking her a good deal more than most.

There's no chance to further discuss who's participating in the targeted boycott of Lucretia Beckett, because the afternoon customers start to come in, and I have clean-up and fire-tending to do. I also have my least favorite job, getting rid of the pastries. I tried to give them away once to some hungry kids, but we got in fairly serious trouble for distributing food without a charity license. The opportunity to buy such a license comes up every ten years, and is exorbitantly expensive. We had to pay a fine. So I have to discard perfectly good -- if somewhat dry -- pastries while hungry kids walk by outside. I do the best I can, and put it out as far from garbage pick-up as I can, but unfortunately, the trucks are pretty diligent about garbage pick-up.

Around dinner time, Merle and Kay bring Haymitch back. He looks dazed and out of it, and I wonder if he's been drinking. Mom sets a place for him at the table, but he ends up just going back to bed. Mom brings him a little bowl of soup, but comes back with it and says that he's sound asleep.

"Boy has to eat something," Dad says.

"He will," Mom says. "But honey, what happened yesterday -- it's going to take a while for him to come back from that."

Our evening routine is the same as ever, with the addition of Dad locking things up again. I check on Haymitch, who's sleeping fitfully, then go to my room and lie down. Try to think of nothing at all.

Somewhere in the small, dark hours of the night, Haymitch wakes up screaming.

I beat my parents into the room by a few steps. Haymitch is out of bed, crouching under the window, his hand balled up like he has a knife in it.

"Haymitch -- "

"Leave me alone! Leave us alone!"

"Haymitch, man, it's me, Danny. You're okay, you're safe…"

He rocks back on his heels and starts to laugh wildly, and the laugh becomes a scream.

Mom takes a few steps toward him, and he swings at her with his fist, making a sharp downward arc at the end, like a stab. He gets up and starts pacing the room, swinging his arm in brutal swipes at something that's not there. He punches at the window, but misses, which is probably a good thing. Putting his fist through broken glass could get him seriously hurt.

Dad nods to me, and we rush in on him. It's probably not a great idea, since he seems to be dreaming of the arena, but we have to get him calmed down. I grab him from the right and Dad grabs him from the left.

He screams and lashes around, twisting and kicking.

We hold on.

Suddenly, he goes stiff as a board and lets out an anguished scream that sounds like it's tearing his guts out. When it ends, he collapses down to the floor, weeping in harsh, braying sobs.

Dad and I hoist him up and carry him to the bed. He's mumbling something that sounds like "Momma," so Mom gets up beside him and puts her arms around him.

"I'm so sorry," he mutters. "Momma, I'm sorry."

"Shh," Mom says. "It's all right, Haymitch. It'll be all right." She looks at Dad and me. "You two, get lost. Get some sleep."

I go back to my room, but sleep isn't an option. He keeps letting out pained screams for a long time, until it finally tapers off. A little while later, I hear Mom leave the room, but as soon as the door clicks shut, Haymitch starts screaming again.

I go in this time, and hold my hand up for my parents to stay out.

"Get out!" he yells. He's waving an invisible knife again. I guess he's dreaming of the arena.

I do the only thing I can think of to do -- I join him there.

"Haymitch," I whisper, "I think they're far off. You want me to keep a watch so you can get some sleep?"

He looks at me warily.

"We're allies, remember?"

He frowns. "Did Chaff just make that up?"

I have no idea what he's talking about, but I say, "Yeah. Chaff made it up. Chaff thinks we should be allies. So I'm here. And I have your back. You go on and get some sleep. I'll wake you up if anything happens."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I got some sleep earlier, remember?"

He nods solemnly and sits down on the bed, curled protectively up against the headboard. "Okay. But don't let me sleep too long. We need to get moving in the morning."

"Sure," I say.

He drops off to sleep very quickly. I doubt it's an easy sleep, and I don't want to be the one to startle him out of it, but it seems solid enough.

I know I don't really need to stay awake. No one is coming after us, and there are no mutts in the bakery, but I stay awake anyway, keeping watch until the dawn starts to creep in and Mom leans in to signal me to come down to work. I guess I can keep watch from downstairs, since there's only the one door to the living area. I leave it open so Haymitch can come down and see he's safe if he wakes up with a mind to.

I'm not sure at first that I can just start the morning's baking like I haven't spent the last several hours dealing with a crazy friend, but the routine is numbing, and it feels good. I knead and shape and frost and drizzle. I mix spices for Mom and take things out to cool for Dad. I do some of my special cinnamon rolls. They're very expensive to make, and Dad never dared make them himself, even though we had Grandpa's recipe. If we're going to take a hit from the Peacekeeper business, I may not be able to keep doing it, but for now, we have what we need.

I'm surprised by our first customers of the day -- a pair of miners named Woodruff and Knight (at least according to the tags on their uniforms). They bypass all the cheaper breads and head straight for my fresh baked cinnamon buns.

"Like one of those, if we could split it," Woodruff says. "Hear they're the mayor's favorite."

I don't harp on the price. They can see it clear enough on the sign, and it's not my business to tell them how they can spend their own money, or suggest that they can't afford something. They'd take it as an insult, and they'd be right. "I think they're big enough for two," I say. "They use about the same dough as about an eighth of a loaf, so it'd be like two pieces of bread… but with better stuff inside. Want me to cut one in half for you?"

"Nah, we can split it our ownselves," Knight says. "Lots of people hearing good things about what you make here. I wouldn't be surprised if you see more of us coming in." He nods, and I understand. The shopkeepers may be making our little statement, maybe putting a little bit on the line, but somehow, word of it has gotten down to the Seam. Knight and Woodruff and telling me that people are going to trying and help keep us in business. They're not going to be able to help much in any real sense, but the idea that we're all in it together makes it more real and more possible.

I put the bun in a little box, then sprinkle it with a just a smidge of extra sugar and cinnamon. I wink. Woodruff winks back. We understand each other.

They leave, picking at the bun curiously.

Dad rolls his eyes at me.

The bell rings again. It's Mir Murphy this time, with butter from the butcher's cow to trade for bread. It's our usual deal.

She leans over the counter while I get her bread. "How're things?" she asks.

"Passable," I say. I'm not sure if she knows Haymitch is staying with us, or how she'd react if she did know since she considers Haymitch a very unsuitable friend. Even after the Games. Lots of people are pretending now that they didn't loathe Haymitch before he became a victor, but I have to give it to Mir -- she's consistent. She always thought he was a low-class dreg, and she still thinks so, though now she's also embarrassed that everyone sees him as the face of District Twelve. She's wrong, but I can almost respect the honesty.

At any rate, the feeling's always been mutual, so I guess I can't judge Mir for what Haymitch is equally guilty of. After all, people thought I was nuts to be his friend, too.

"Ready for school?" she asks. "I hear they're going to do Agathe the Last for drama. Are you up for it?"

"I don't know that one."

"It's that play that's in Denmark -- you know, in Europe? Her consort is dying and she stays with him even though there's a flood?"

"Oh. Yeah, sure, why not? Where'd you hear that?"

"Oh, around. I eavesdrop at school."

"There's got to be a better way to spend your time."

"In District Twelve?" She wrinkles her nose and gives an icy (but quite beautiful) smile. "I somehow doubt it."

She usually takes this kind of opportunity to spin a story about how she'll get out of here one day, but today, she just takes the bread I hand her and blows me a kiss across the counter. I don't think Ruth could fault me for catching an air kiss, but I make a show of ducking it anyway. She sticks out her tongue and leaves.

Mom just shakes her head. I shrug. It was a refreshingly normal conversation.

We go back to work. It would be easy to believe that nothing unusual is happening until the bell rings for the third time. I look up.

Lucretia Beckett herself comes in, eyeing the breads and buns avidly. "Loaf of white bread," she says without a hello. "And one of the cinnamon raisin as well."

Mom pulls me back away from the counter, then fishes under the cash register. She pulls out the "Closed" sign and puts it up.

"You don't want to do that," Beckett says.

Dad, who's usually pretty silent, stands up straight and says, "You're not welcome in this shop, or any other in District Twelve."

Beckett knows that, technically, we have the right to refuse service to anyone. It's on the license sign by the door. Everyone knows that this is really there to let dirty kids with no money know that they aren't welcome (not that my parents have ever turned anyone away before now), but the way it's phrased, we're well within our legal rights. She sneers. "Then every shop in District Twelve is going to be in a world of hurt. Ask Abernathy here."

I look up and, for the first time, notice that Haymitch has stepped out into the hall.

"Leave them alone," he says quietly.

"Or what?"

He looks at her blankly, and the low, quiet voice he answers with is more terrifying than any of his screaming last night "I won the Hunger Games. And I'm about ten feet from a whole lot of knives."

Beckett sees it as well. She tries to cover for it, but I can tell that she's actually a little bit frightened. "They'd hang even a victor for that," she says. "They might hang you just for saying it."

"At this point," Haymitch says, coming further into the room. "Do you think I really care?"

What happens next happens fast. She presses a button and two more Peacekeepers thunder into the bakery. They grab Haymitch by the arms, and my father yells that they can't take a guest from under his roof. They pull a gun on him. I see Haymitch's face, and I know that he has visions of more death coming down on his head. I touch my father's arm to get him to back down, then I throw off my apron and follow Haymitch and the Peacekeepers outside into the square.

"What's he being charged with?" I ask, and get no answer. "He hasn't committed any crimes. What are you going to do? What are you going to tell the Gamemakers?"

None of this gets an answer, but the mention of the Gamemakers sinks in a little bit I see the Peacekeeper on the right slow his pace a little bit. Unfortunately, Becket shoves him and they start moving again, toward the old whipping post. It stands in the square like a war memorial, and that's all anyone has ever treated it as. It's a place people meet up after school, or at night to sneak off and have a little romance. (Ruth and I met up at the whipping post the first time we decided to sneak off for a little private time.)

Haymitch is dragged to it, his arms dragged up to the hanging shackles. Beckett fastens them around his wrists then yanks off his shirt.

I try to get to him, to get in the way, to… I'm not really sure what I mean to do, actually, but whatever it is, the Peacekeepers keep blocking me.

I see Beckett reach out and run her hand down Haymitch's spine.

Everyone sees it, at least everyone in the square. And they must see the way Haymitch shudders, like someone's just dropped a leech on him.

Someone brushes by me, and I see a flash of bright lilac. A trail of perfume swirls around in the air.

Pelagia Pepper ignores the Peacekeepers entirely, goes up to Beckett, and says, "What exactly are you doing to my victor?"
10 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 8th, 2013 07:33 am (UTC) (Link)

But why

did Maysilee want to be in the Games?? I feel like I'm missing something here.

Interesting the way you've made Ruth's emotional reaction to difficulty and grief foreshadow her more sever depression at the time her husband dies.

I was hoping we'd get to see some of the Danny/Ruth/Mirrem/Glen interactions - glad they're coming in here.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 8th, 2013 07:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: But why

I think Maysilee had two purposes -- the first was to have a bully pulpit. The second was more complicated. She felt the Reapings were too easy on her, and that she should take on the same risk as the highest risk eighteen-year-olds on the Seam. I think she also thought (probably correctly) that it would get more merchant buy-in to her revolution if they had more skin in the game.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: November 8th, 2013 08:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: But why

My first thought on reading that was "You know, Maysilee, you could just volunteer," but then the effect wouldn't be the same if it were seen as something she had control over. What would she have done if her name hadn't been drawn? Said something, or waited till next year?

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 9th, 2013 04:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: But why

Among other things, she'd have convinced herself that it was proof that it was rigged.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 9th, 2013 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: But why

Sorry, don't understand what you mean by bully-pulpit.

The second reason rings true.

And the third - well, that's some serious idealism - she can't have been expecting to survive the Games, so what she's hoping is that her death will add impetus to the revolution.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 10th, 2013 02:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: But why

Bully Pulpit.

Yeah, she's definitely an idealist.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: November 8th, 2013 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like how you keep using scenes that are reminiscent of things we saw in both the books and your earlier stories. Like the one at the end with the whipping and the attempt to invoke the gamemakers to fix things.

I also liked the world building about the different licenses. I can't decide if knowing Maysilee rigged her own drawing makes what happened more tragic or just crazy.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 9th, 2013 04:22 am (UTC) (Link)
They are underpopulated in a world full of natural resources -- there would have to be some fairly serious sadistic red tape in order for people to starve.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 8th, 2013 09:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Love seeing Danny perspective. His back and forth with Mirrem is interesting.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 9th, 2013 04:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I think he sees her almost as an oasis from the rest of the mishegoss.
10 comments or Leave a comment