FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

HG: The Hanging Tree, Chapter Eighteen

They've finished the interviews, and Haymitch has sent the kids to bed the night before the Games begin, knowing that the Gamemakers will be calling them early.

Chapter Eighteen
I sleep on the couch again, hoping I can say goodbye in the morning, but I'm summoned by the Gamemakers even before they are. In the lounge, I see the other mentors, all blinking blearily, none of them seeming surprised, so I guess this is normal. I find Chaff, Seeder, and Beetee, and no one seems to care whether or not we ride together over to the Viewing Center. I guess most of this cluster of buildings -- from the Training Center to the Viewing Center to Caesar's towering office building -- is just Games Headquarters, but I can't seem to think of it as anything so unified. There are buildings here that I'm not allowed to go into, and buildings that, at certain times, I won't be allowed to leave.

No one is in a talkative mood, and dawn in the Capitol, even at the start of the Games, is empty and slow. As the car passes through Headquarters, I see an Avox sweeping the street. He looks up at the car dully, then goes back to work.

Beetee is nervously twisting his watch and Seeder is looking fixedly at her hands. Chaff is staring out the window. He turns to me and starts to say something, then stops. The car is most likely bugged.

When we get out of the car, but before we enter the building, he grabs me. "Haymitch, we have to talk."

"Where can we do that?"

"Only here. They'll suspect something, but it doesn’t matter."

A cold, creeping feeling comes over me, starting at the base of my spine. "What are you talking about?"

"Last night, Dibber told me that Ginger asked him to do something."


"It was while they were in the crowd, getting off the stage. She said she doesn't want to slow anyone down trying to help her. She asked him…" He looks away from me. "She asked him to make it quick, if he gets to her first. To make it look real so no one would punish her family, but to make it quick."

I decide that I am still dreaming. This is not real. This is just some kind of anxious image, and soon Mom will appear in my head asking me what I'm trying to tell myself. "Is he going to do it?"

"He's thinking about it. He's not sure he can." Chaff sighs. "They spent time together in training. He likes her a lot. He wants to do what she asked. He doesn't want her bleeding out for hours because she can't get up."

All I can think of to say is, "I hate this."

Chaff nods, and leads us inside just before someone from Games Security decides to take matters into his own hands.

We file inside and go to our tables. Since Beetee and I have a formal alliance, he pushes his table over beside mine. The escorts aren't here yet, but there's a set of the tongs Glass uses to grasp things set up in front of a chair. Since my last visit here, I see that they've set up a row of clear booths, each equipped with a telephone of its own. They look like a line of ice sculptures.

"For privacy," Seeder explains. "When we have to call the families. They're soundproofed."

I look at the booths, sleek and impersonal. I will have to go into them, sit on those hard chairs, and tell the McCulloughs and Mr. Parton that their children are dead. They'll know, of course -- they'll see it live if it happens during mandatory viewing hours -- but there's still the phone call. The voice from home confirming it, making it real. That will be me. Haymitch Abernathy, the face of the district's murdered children.

Hadriana Livingston comes to the front of the room, smiling. She seems fairly pleased with herself. I don't know how she does it. She doesn't seem like a particularly bad person, but she actually seems to like her work. How does she separate herself like that?

"Welcome, mentors," she says. "The Games begin today. Your accounts will be active as soon as the countdown ends, with all of the previously pledged funds available to you." She presses a button in her hand, and a list of items appears on a screen. "These are the items available in the supply craft this year. You'll find it on your personal screens as well. You may order off-list, as always, but it is much more expensive. To order items not on this list, you must request a meeting with the Gamemakers… and we are obliged to grant those meetings without delay. Special items need to be approved as well as affordable."

She goes on with the general rules. Mentors have full say over gifts. Mentors may not send messages with the gifts. Mentors are expected to be fully reachable at all times. Our tributes lives are in our capable hands.

I listen with half an ear, but mostly pay attention to the list of supplies. Food is at the top, from simple fare like a slice of bread (maybe one of my donors could afford it) to full-course meals, which would bankrupt my entire sponsor base twice over. Water isn't too exorbitant, but it comes in plastic bottles which would catch the sunlight and act like a beacon to a tribute's location (the list doesn't tell me that, of course, but it's obvious). Unless the water in the arena is poison again, and I don't think they'll do that two years in a row, then I'll avoid sending water bottles.

There's a large selection of blankets available, and they're relatively cheap on the first day. Probably it will be warm at first, so no one will think of blankets, then cold at night, and they'll go up in price once it's clear that they're needed. I'll wait until the end of the Cornucopia bloodbath and if…

I shudder.

If my tributes are alive, I'll send them blankets while I can still afford it.

"You okay, Haymitch?" Chaff asks me quietly.

I shake my head.

Seeder takes my hand and holds it for the rest of Livingston's introduction. Most of it is stuff that was already covered at the orientation, but I guess they need to make sure we all really understand it.

"Will they show us the arena now?" I ask Beetee when it's over.

"No. We see it when the tributes do. What did you spot on the list?"

"Blankets. We need to get them today, or they'll be expensive. Or is this what they always cost?"

He glances down. "No. They're usually pretty pricey. Good call."

"Well, it could be that there's not going to be any need…"

"No, they don't bother putting them in the supply craft if there's never going to be a need."

I nod.

The Capitol attendants serve us a huge, celebratory breakfast, complete with a montage video of all the victors in our most victorious moment. I am the only one who was unconscious and having seizures for it. There are spicy tomato based drinks, and I have one to calm myself down, but ask Beetee to make sure I don't take another. I'm still taking my medicine, so the physical desire is tamped down, but my brain has never wanted so badly to be drunk.

The tributes are in flight now. Estimated flying time, an hour, which could put them almost back at the Mississippi, or up north beyond District Five. It could be anywhere, I guess. It doesn't mean anything, anyway. I saw the edge of the arena last year. It can be an entirely different biome inside from what I'd expect to find outside.

On screen, Caesar is doing the opening patter from his studio, remotely interviewing people on the street (what few are out in the Capitol). A boy who is wearing a shirt bearing Brutus's image says he only wishes Capitol kids were allowed to play, because he'd destroy the field.

An older woman coos over the male tribute from District Seven, and makes my skin crawl when she says, "He really is very, very beautiful, isn't he? I'd love to see him come back every year."

Caesar looks as disturbed by this as I am, and switches to questions about the arena. What kind of terrain are people hoping for? What sort of weather, what kinds of natural dangers? What have their favorites been?

Most people seem to be hoping for a fantastical arena, full of nearly magical mutts and gadgets, though the arenas they name as their favorites are almost universally primitive.

"I just hope the arena isn't as nasty this year," a woman in a giant blue wig says. "There were so many we barely got to know! I want to know them all before they're gone."

"Who are you rooting for?"

"District Twelve!" she squeals. "Oh, I just loved them last year, and little Haymitch Abernathy is the most darling thing! I just know he'll do well as a mentor."

Beside me, Chaff actually laughs out loud, then reaches over and pinches my cheeks. For a minute, I forget that his tribute is weighing the question of whether or not to murder mine, as she requested that he do.

I wave my butter knife at him as menacingly as I can. I have spent the last year puking and passing-out drunk, most famously with a strange girl's head face down in my lap. If that hasn't cured me of being "little" and "darling" to this woman, I can't think what will. Maybe I should call her for money.

The countdown to the beginning of the Games appears. Ninety minutes.

The squealing woman was apparently meant as a segue to a few minutes in Twelve, to reflect on the end of their victor's year. Now, it's back to having no monthly care packages… a benefit I had somehow forgotten they'd been getting, what with the whippings and hangings and hours in the stocks that have come along with it.

Mandatory viewing hasn't started yet, but people are starting to settle in the square in front of the huge broadcast screen, and I guess they showed my excitable fan, because they catch Danny trying not to crack up. He is sitting on the bakery steps with an arm over Mir's shoulders. He agrees that he's a friend of mine, and suggests that I'm mostly a good guy.

"Do you think Haymitch Abernathy can bring another victory year to District Twelve?"

I can see the laughter fading from Danny's face. "I think he'll give it his level best, and that's nothing to sneeze at. If I could pick someone to be in my corner, it would be Haymitch. But we went forty-six years without a victor. I don't expect anything."

The camera turns to Mir. It loves her. It catches the sun in her golden curls, and turns the icy flash of her eyes to a harmless twinkle. She expounds on how she helped distribute food from the packages, and this might even be true. She works the production team like a pro.

Between that and the fact that she's a cold-hearted bitch with a violent streak, she'd probably have a pretty good chance in here, come to think of it. If she's ever reaped, I'll end up with a next door neighbor. Great. I wonder if there's anyone in town I could stand living next to who'd ever have a chance.

I shake this off. I don't want to start thinking of people I want to bring here.

They move on to the Donners, all of whom are subdued. Kay looks like she's been taking a lot of whatever pain medication her parents got for her, and she pronounces everything slowly and with extraordinary care. "I believe in Haymitch," she says quietly. "My sister believed in Haymitch. My sister, Maysilee Donner."

The reporters don't seem to know what to do with this, but I mentally applaud Kay. Stoned or not, she's managed to remind everyone -- politely and within the bounds of the law -- that Maysilee existed, and was someone's sister, and mattered.

At nine-thirty, coverage cuts back to the rabid fans in the Capitol. Some are still up from Games parties they had last night. One or two have actually dragged themselves out of bed early for the celebrations. I don't pay much attention to them. This part is the same every year, and last year was the only year of my life I didn't hear it. Who's your favorite, are you betting, who has surprises up his or her sleeve. I wonder -- ridiculously -- if any of last year's hyperventilating fans were guessing they'd end up with a victor from Twelve who was unconscious during his final kill. I somehow doubt it.

Mostly, I'm bracing myself. I see everyone else in the room doing the same, in various ways. At the District Six table, Drake is already pouring himself shots of whiskey. He has them lined up in front of him in a row. I wonder if he'll start drinking before the bloodbath, or after. Districts One, Two, and Four, are having what looks like a serious conference. They must have their alliance in place. Across our abutting tables, Beetee is scanning our supply list. Blight is staring at the empty chair beside him. I wonder if Gia used to show up early. Woof from Eight has his eyes closed and his arms crossed over his chest. He's swaying back and forth, muttering under his breath. Faraday Sykes has moved over to the District Nine table, and they're all morosely comparing notes. Earl and Toffy from Ten are idly playing cards, but there's something very deliberate about the way they've oriented themselves away from the main screen. Chaff and Seeder are holding hands (Seeder is still holding my hand with her free one).

And I guess, if I were sitting somewhere else, I'd think that weird kid from District Twelve is just staring at everyone. Rookie.

The escorts start arriving fifteen minutes before the Games begin. I gather they've been at a meeting, mostly because Glass takes his seat, then glares at me and says, "I do not appreciate you going over my head."

"What do you mean?"

"Contacting tributes' families is one of the defined jobs of a Capitol escort."

"It's in the mentor's book, too. And I think I'll keep that one."

"And you found it necessary as well to question my potential handling of sponsors? I have never treated a Capitol citizen with less respect than is deserved." He smiles unpleasantly. "Of course, I've never treated you district brats with less respect than you deserve, either."

I almost get angry at Caesar, assuming that he shared the details of our meeting, but I realize before I open my mouth that Glass is just baiting me, hoping I'll confirm what he clearly suspects. I don't deny it, but I don't say anything, either.

Beetee introduces me to his escort, a thin man named Vitranio who keeps looking nervously at Glass. He's wearing a strange wig with straight, ear length metallic hair, and a suit that seems to be made of glimmering, woven ribbons. I guess the feather fad is over.

A soft but persistent tone fills the room, bringing conversations to an end. The opening strains of the Games theme play, and the screen fills with images of previous Hunger Games, all set to the same majestic fanfare we hear every year.

One of the two small screens on my desk -- the one marked "Elmer Parton" -- flickers to life. I see a clean prep room, and Lepidus running a comb over Elmer's black hair. It's a very strange angle. Ginger's remains dark, and I don't see either of Beetee's on.

"Of course," Glass says. "The way they pander to you, naturally they've chosen the boy to see entering the arena."

Vitranio gathers his courage and says, "It's probably just because Twelve won last year, Ausonius."

Glass turns on him and says absolutely nothing. Vitranio backs down and looks at his feet. The broadcast has now turned to the lead-in to this year's Games. Claudius Templesmith voices over the montage. "And now, we enter the fifty-first Hunger Games. We've only just met this year's tributes, and the test that's now upon them will tell us more than an interview ever could. Who will be noble? Who will be clever? Who will have the heart and strength to bring all the glory home?"

On the little screen, I see Lepidus get Elmer situated in the tube, and then the perspective becomes even odder as whatever little micro-cam it is follows him. It floats up beside his ear, and I get a very clear view of how clean his neck is, then it turns and floats up to eye level. I stare at the blank wall of the tube.

Look up, Elmer, I will him. Look up and let your eyes change, so the sun doesn't blind you.

Of course, I'm not actually seeing through his eyes, just through the camera beside him, so maybe he is looking up. I can't see him, so I don't know.

I do know that my mind is trying to take me back to my prep room last year, to the sunlit field and the beautiful smells and the glittering butterflies with their poison stings.

I fight it off. I'm not in the arena now, and Elmer and Ginger can't afford my flashbacks.

"The time is here!" Claudius announces manically. "Welcome to the Fifty-First Hunger Games!"

The image on the screen switches to the feed I've been getting on Elmer's camera, and I see the tube begin to slide down. Light seeps in from above, and then the screen goes almost white with it.

When the glare clears, I see the Cornucopia, gleaming in the heavy sunlight. The broadcast goes to a wide shot, showing the twenty-four tributes standing in their usual circle. There's not time to see much, but I can see a rough, grassy plain with clumps of bushes. There do seem to be occasional trees, but nothing that will make forested cover. The aerial shot shows a river glinting as it passes along the east side of the arena. Claudius breathlessly identifies the terrain as "inspired by the grandeur of the African plain of legend, known as the Serengeti."

I know the word, but that's about all. My book of stories from around the world had stories that supposedly came from there. Animal fables, I think.

Mutts, then. Probably big ones. Once the bloodbath is over, I'll have to see if there's anything to throw animals off their scents.

The shot circles down again, and the countdown begins.

"This is the environment where the human race began," Claudius says ominously. "It was our first testing ground as a species. Who will pass the test this year?"

On my desk, Ginger's camera has now come on. She does not have a brace. She's across the circle from Elmer. Dibber is a few tributes down.

The gong sounds.

On Elmer's screen, I see him rush for a nearby bag and I can only hope that's all he means to go for. It's too much as it is. He should be running far away.

Ginger steps calmly off her platform and looks to either side. She doesn't limp toward the Cornucopia or away from it.

She spots Dibber and starts a limping run at him.

Dibber's managed to snag a small bag out of the tall grass and is running for whatever they'll find in the wilderness.

Ginger screams and runs at him, lurching on her bad leg.

He catches her.

Turns her around.

Snaps her neck with one strong jerk of his hands.

She falls, the first lost on the field.

Dibber screams and runs for the river.

Ginger's screen goes dark.

I know what happened, but I can't process it. It's too much. I think of her on the train, humming her jingles. I think of her begging me to tell her name to next year's girl. I think of --


My head comes up. Beetee points at Elmer's screen. He's gotten his bag, and he's running for a tree on a rise. It's the most obvious place I can think of, and anything at all could be hiding in the giant trunk.

"What do I do?" I ask.

Beetee shakes his head. "Look. They've got it. It's a system." He points at his screen, where Wiress is making a vague motion with her hands. She and Ikris are making for the same tree.

"They must have worked out a signaling system back in training," Beetee says. "They can do this."


"I know. I'm sorry."

"I should make the -- NO!" On Elmer's screen, I see the boy from One -- Lapis -- running full tilt in my tribute's direction. He has some kind of sling that he's picked up from the ground. He's spinning it over his head.

A rock flies out of it, and Elmer falls on the open plain.

Lapis runs at him, drawing a knife, and I know that I'll have to call Mr. Parton, too, that neither of my tributes will make it to any place where they'll need sponsors.

There's a war whoop from off to one side, and a small red-haired boy tackles Lapis to the ground, grabbing a handy rock from off to one side. He brings it down viciously onto the other boy's head, and the first of the Career tributes goes down. The red-haired boy is identified on screen as Simoneus Drear, from District Six.

Wiress and Ikris arrive, panting. Ikris has managed to scavenge a decent knife, and Wiress has a small backpack, tied with a string. She's got the string stretched between her hands. She could use it as a garrote, though with the bag dangling, it would be awkward and not very strong.

Simoneus swipes the sling and the knife from the dead boy, but holds his hands up in surrender. "Allies!" he shouts. "I think your friend is still breathing!"

On the main screen, coverage cuts to a frenzied fight at the Cornucopia, with most of the Career tributes (minus Lapis, of course) scooping up the rich findings there and using the good weapons against anyone stupid enough to follow them.

Wiress goes in, and now I see her on Elmer's camera. Elmer is bleeding from a wound on his head, but his feed is still there. I see his eyes flutter.

"We need to…" Wiress starts, then waves vaguely in a direction away from the Cornucopia.

Ikris grinds his teeth. "We need to what?"

She points again.

It's enough. The boys pick up Elmer -- Ikris at his shoulders, Simoneus at his feet -- and follow Wiress over a small rise, away from the tree. Wiress spots a beaten track and guides them into the tall grass alongside it. This is at least a partially smart move. The trail will be a beacon, but the grass will hide them.

I just hope it doesn't lead to a mutt lair.

No one is following them yet. Around the room, I see other screens going dark.

"There's an ointment," Beetee says. "My girl had a cut two years ago, like the one Elmer's got. It's not too expensive, and it will heal that up quickly." He passes over the supply list.

I start to look at it, but I realize that I can't. That there's something even bigger than Elmer's cut, bigger than the new alliance. I see my own face reflected in the black emptiness of Ginger's screen.

"I need to call…" I trail off. The chair beside me is empty. I look across the room and see Glass in one of the communication booths. The light is on. He looks up at me and smiles wickedly.

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