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Challenges 6 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 6
Haymitch and Effie... Angsty, happy, before she gets sucked back into Capitol Dreams, after she's rescued--you choose. Something you've been wanting to explore. for Sarah

Adult education takes place in the Games Museum.

I've never been there. I never wanted to be. I can tell that it used to be a pretty nice building as soon as I walk in. It has high, vaulted ceilings, and the unbroken parts of the walls are fine marble from Two. But something apparently blew up near here, because the skylights high above are shattered, and there are holes near the tops of the walls, marks I've learned to recognize as shrapnel damage. Some of it was burning. There are black scorch marks in several places. The broken windows and the skylight have been hastily boarded over with sheets of metal, riveted securely in place. I can't see any sunlight coming through, except through the glass doors, which were undamaged. The holes are filled with whatever concrete they use to build the bunkers in Thirteen.

I try to imagine them restoring the building -- preferably, put to a different use -- but I know they won't. At Strategic Command meetings, Coin's mentioned a demolition crew for damaged buildings. Without much thought put into it, she added, quite lightly, "Once they're done with that, they can move on to those monstrosities at the lake. We don't need people worshipping Capitol ancestors."

Plutarch suggested simply re-structuring the education around them, as they're part of the shared heritage of everyone in the country, but I don't think Coin even understood him. I think she has visions of razing the Capitol and replacing it with something as dreary as it forced the districts to be. At least I hope she thinks it's punishment. The idea that she could might actually prefer that aesthetic is too alien to think about.

I pass through the Hall of Tributes, trying not to look at the images. It's almost impossible, especially when I reach my year, where there are so many. I turn a corner and find myself staring at… me, or at least a full color statue of me as a sixteen year old. It's life-sized, as far as I can remember, and eerily accurate, like I really did die in there, and they found some taxidermist to preserve me. Maysilee is beside me (and she'd best be made of whatever my statue is actually made of), but I'm not looking at her. I have my knife partly raised, and I'm staring out into the distance, most likely at that plastic hedge, but it's hard to tell, since there's no context for the tableaux.

The statue has been defaced with the word "Traitor" (it's been scrubbed a few times, but I can still see it), and has chips where I guess Snow has been letting people throw things at me for the last few months. There's a charred statue further down the hall, and I can pretty well guess who that is, but I turn off on a side corridor before I get there.

I don't know why they do their teaching here, of all places. I don't know what they're even teaching. Effie comes home at night looking spooked and crying a lot, though, so this morning, I decided that I'd pick her up a little bit early for lunch. A guard from Thirteen seems surprised to see me.

"Why are you here?" he asks when I give him my name and rank.

"Just picking up my…" I have no idea what I'm supposed to call her these days. We're not together, exactly, at least not completely. I can't seem to stop kissing her -- weirdly enough, it doesn't even feel like a change in our relationship, however long I resisted the idea -- but that's all there's been, which is pretty tame, given that we're sharing an apartment. "Roommate" doesn't really seem to cover things. Escort isn't true anymore. I consider "my lady," as Dalton tends to put it, but it doesn't feel right. "Meeting Effie Trinket," I finally say.

"For what purpose?"

I raise my eyebrows. "Why do you care?"

"She's on the P.L. -- the privilege list? She was quite pampered in the prior system, you know. She was involved in the Games."

"Yes. As my escort. She's… well she's a friend." That much, at least, is indisputable. "I was going to take her for a walk in the park, if that's completely all right with you."

Like most people from Thirteen, he misses the sarcasm entirely. He checks her schedule and says, "She will have thirty five minutes designated for the meal. Are you on the same schedule?"

I don't check. I just assure him that I am. I wonder if Effie's gotten her hands on their scheduling program yet. I think she'd have given her eye teeth many times over the years for something that could regulate me so efficiently.

I move past the guard post, pretending not to hear him timidly calling out that I really should have clearance to enter the adult education area.

I can hear a voice droning from an open door at the end of the hall. It has the kind of dull stridency that I associate with Coin's people, though until I'm almost on top of the room, I can't tell what the words are. It's not exactly a surprise when I pick up the thread.

"…participated in and benefited from the oppression of the so-called 'districts' of Panem."

"Madam," a high Capitol voice squeaks, "they are districts. They were founded early in the -- "

"A half-truth. The Capitol sent out some settlers' parties, but they also overtook and subjugated pre-existing settlements. And even those settlements which were initially offshoots of the Capitol were treated as mere properties, their people nearly as oppressed as those of us from Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen."

"But -- "

"Come forward."

I lean into the room. It's dark, except for one bright spotlight on what appears to be a stage. This is an auditorium. It must be the place where they played old Games footage in other days. A pair of guards brings a Capitol man forward and pulls him to the podium.

The teacher takes a step to one side and points to her open book. "Please read aloud the page we're discussing -- the true history of Capitol expansionism."

The man looks around in a rabbity way, then, his voice shaking, reads about abductions from foreign lands, repression of nomadic groups in North America, and the annexation of the peoples of the east, who had managed to survive everything until then, possibly with the help of little singing forest creatures and magical pixies, though that part is subtextual. Judging by the tone of the passage, the pixies were all executed, and quite possibly sold as delicacies to rich Capitolites… not unlike the people in the room.

The man's voice loses strength as he reads. By the end, it's rather dull. The teacher tells him he did well. Everyone is to read the assigned text carefully tonight. The lunch break is announced with no fanfare, and barely any reaction. When the lights come up, I spot Effie in a back row. She's wearing a very simple white wig -- they've tried to make her take that off, but she won't -- and biting her nails. She's been doing this a lot. I slide in beside her and take her hand, not commenting on it.

She looks up, surprised. "Haymitch?"

"Let's go for a walk," I say. "Get a little sunshine."

She nods vaguely, her eyes glazed, and lets me lead her out of the room and out into the museum. She stops by the statue of Maysilee and me. "I'm sorry," she says.

"It's okay. I can live with a chipped statue."

"You were so brave. So smart. And you were nice to me."

I frown. "Let's get out of here."

I lead the way into the entrance hall. The sun is bright in the door, and I slow down long enough for her eyes to adjust. When we go outside, I see that it snowed again. The bright mountain sunlight is flooding the whole city, blinding me enough to make it difficult to see the damage. There's a long promenade leading from the Games museum to the Mutt Zoo (closed, as Coin had all of the animals put to death), and I walk her about halfway down it, then brush some snow from a bench and sit down with her on it. I take both of her hands and kiss them. "That's what they do every day?"

"Yeah." She leans against my shoulder, and I let go of her hands to put my arms around her. Her arms slip comfortably around my waist. "Thank you for the sunshine," she says.

"I ordered it special."

This gets a ghost of a grin. "How are the children? By the time I'm done at this, visiting hours are over."

"Peeta's getting a little better. They think the burn scars will mostly go away."

"And Katniss?"

"Still not talking. She's out from the latest surgery. The grafts are taking. But she's…" I don't know how to explain how Katniss is. I've always had the words, until now. The words I know don't seem to apply to anything anymore. "She misses her sister."

Effie nods, then starts to cry. She's been doing this a lot since we got her out of jail. She says that they mostly left her alone there, but I'm not sure I believe her. Something inside of her seems broken.

I guess she can join the club. It doesn't help that my own side isn't any better. She's treated like a leper. I want to hold someone responsible, but I can't get much further than the mirror. I never thought it through. Not really. I pretended to be so cynical, to not believe in the good fairies of Thirteen, but did I make a single argument? Did I even bother to think about what they'd do to Effie? Or to all the stylists and escorts and preps they have executed? Hell, it never even occurred to me that they'd shoot the animals in the Mutt Zoo. Not that I'm over concerned about those damned squirrels, which they kept replenishing because they were a popular attraction. I'd be on board with not making any more in the twisted Capitol labs, but they weren't actually responsible for what the Gamemakers used them for. They didn't deserve a death sentence.

I pat the back of her wig, kiss her head a little bit, and mutter some kind of nonsense to her. I don't know if it means anything, or if she hears it.

Who's going to put the fires out? Prim Everdeen asks in my head.

I pull Effie closer. I can't put the fires out. I can't even make things right for Effie.

She stops crying slowly, and doesn't comment on the subject. I think she's started to take her bouts of crying as natural breaks, things that happen like a fit of hiccups, or a cough when the weather is dry.

"I want to see them," she says. "The kids."

"I know. But they're pretty strict about visiting hours."

"I want to finish the class. They won't tell me what I'm supposed to learn, though. I want to test out. I'll tell them whatever I should."

"Effie --"

"But they won't tell me. I don't know the rules, Haymitch. Can you tell me the rules? I'll follow them, but I don't understand."

"I don't understand, either." I tip her chin up and kiss her, and that, at least, we both understand. "Annie invited us for dinner, though. Jo will be there. I know Jo wants to see you."


"Yeah. She's been trying to rant about the new fashions for a week. She says no one else will understand."

Another little smile. "Well… they are horrible. I think everyone would feel better if we all tried to look nice." She wrinkles her nose. "I said that in class. They told me that I was being frivolous and asked if I was of substandard intelligence."

"Who said that? I've still got a good right hook."

There's a tiny, but real laugh. It sounds fond. I kiss her hands again, and she leans her forehead against mine. "Thank you," she says again.

"For the sunshine?"

"Yes. That's just exactly it."

Anything with Jo. I love the way you write her. Maybe either sometime between her games and the Quell, or something with her being a mom? for Christina

"So, who's this Sunday's boy?" Blight asks, coming in to carry a tray of salads.

I shrug. "Otto something-or-other. I saw him in the camp, and decided to invite him for dinner. Great thighs."

"The basis of many a meaningful relationship."

"Then I'd better dump him quick, before that happens."

Blight nods sagely. "As always, a girl after my own heart."

"You have a heart? I never knew."

He rolls his eyes and picks up the tray. I have the roast beef. I actually managed to cook it properly. I kind of like cooking, but it's probably too late to pick it as a new talent. Besides, the Dala horses I supposedly paint keep five kids in decent shirts for the year, and they're sort of cheerful looking on the mantle. Cooking wouldn't help with that.

It's too early for dinner -- noon -- but if we're going to have anything after dinner, we have to get it done before seven o'clock curfew, and rushing around is no fun.

Otto Whoever is sitting by the fire, looking distinctly uncomfortable in the fancy jacket he's borrowed from Linden. It's a little loose on him, but not by much. He's also wearing a pair of shiny black shoes from Blight, and keeps glancing down at his feet like he's wondering what they are. I have Jack and Linden and Blight in full tuxedos, and I'm wearing a glittering amber gown from Favonius Archer. It came in the mail on Thursday, and I insisted on a full dinner party to debut it. I think it deserves it, and it's not like I'll have anywhere else to wear it. By the time the Games come around next summer, it won't be in fashion anymore, but I just couldn't resist. It was so sparkly.

Maybe I'll let Otto rip it later, since it doesn't have much further use. I'll give it some thought. I won't let him smudge my makeup, though. That took me an hour.

Blight's woman (this Sunday) is a pretty thing from town. Her name is Dottie. She's about my size and I'm not stingy. I've lent her a short blue number from Jupiter Donato. It better not end up ripped. That one's good for clubs, whether it will still be in this summer or not. Dottie seems to like it.

I set the roast down on the table. Jack goes running for the potatoes and assigns Linden the gravy. Dottie asks if she can do something, but I can't think of anything. Otto brings over a bottle of the local rotgut, which he instead on bringing to the party as a hostess gift. I have part of a glass to be polite. I think this stuff would make Haymitch's eyes water.

I raise the glass. "To Favonius Archer," I say.

"Cheers." Jack tips back his glass. He's apparently used to the stuff, because he doesn't even do the hard-liquor cringe. "That is definitely a dress worthy of a toast."

"It's real pretty," Dottie adds.

Otto opens his mouth to say something, but it doesn't quite make it out. Instead, he smiles awkwardly and drinks.

Dottie studies on my dress a little, then says, "How do you know those little round bead spots won't… slip?" She points at her breasts, to the general area where my dress is comprised of two-inch circles of amber beading, supported on thin bronze chains that hook into the oval cut around the bust.

"I don't. That's what makes it exciting."


I smile. Of course, the chains are all pretty well counter-weighted and stressed to the measurements of my body -- that's what Favonius is famous for -- so the whole apparatus is a lot more secure than it looks. But half the fun of wearing it is knowing that people are watching to see exactly what might slip out from under the beads. Maybe I'll avoid ripping it. If I drive Dottie back into town at curfew, maybe there will be someone with a camera. Favonius would like that, anyway.

"It's too bad we can't get him as a stylist," I say.

Jack and Blight give me commiserating smiles. We're stuck with Leta Pettibone and her tree costumes until the end of time, probably. Favonius isn't even in the stylist pool.

"I liked last year's parade costumes," Dottie offers. "I thought the real leaves were nice."

I open my mouth to snap something about this, but Jack cuts me off. "Oh, no Games talk. Come on. It's eight months until the next reaping. Two until we have to entertain Ravish for the Victory Tour. So let's have dinner like normal people."

Blight, who is actually a decent conversationalist as long as his trousers are fastened, keeps us on track through the meal, talking about films and books. There are rules for this. They've grown up in the three years since I won. I'm not sure when or how we adopted them, but we all know them. All topics at Sunday dinner parties must be frivolous. Ridiculous is also allowed. Serious is utterly forbidden. Once someone -- usually Jack -- says "no Games talk," then there is none of it, no matter who we have visiting. There's no politics, and no grim conversation about conditions in the camps or the paper mill. We talk about those things on other days -- sometimes -- but putting on the fancy clothes means that it's time for a break.

The food is good, and Jack, Blight, and I make a fuss about not having room for leftovers, so we can box things up to send home with Dottie and Otto. After dessert -- Dottie brought a really good pie that caps off the fancy meal perfectly -- we watch a movie together on television, and we dance to some awful music of Blight's. I don't generally care what I dance to, though, as long as I can wiggle around to it.

Blight and Dottie head over to his place at around four, and I tell her to meet me in the driveway around seven. Jack and Linden go home. Otto and I entertain each other for a couple of hours. I don't let him rip the Favonius after all. He turns out to be as strong as he looks. After we explore a few upper level rooms, I dare him to bench press me down in the gym in my basement, and he does it quite admirably.

At seven, we go outside. Dottie has changed back into her own clothes -- a pair of jeans and a white tee shirt -- and Otto has ditched the jacket and shoes, putting his own old work boots back on. I pile them into Jack's car. I don't technically have a license, but Jack's tried to teach me, and the Peacekeepers aren't going to arrest a victor for something petty. Bad publicity.

Dottie gets in the back seat and Otto takes shotgun, since we'll get to town before the logging camp. It's already dark, but Jack's car has very bright lights, and it's easy to follow the road.

When we get to town, I don't see anyone around with a camera, so I just let Dottie out. She thanks me for the dress, the dinner, and the ride, and heads off to a dilapidated house by the river. I drive on, out toward Camp Four's yearly bivouac, about five miles north of town. They're about halfway through the clear cut, by the looks of things as we head in by the outskirts. I stop before we reach the trailers. "Thanks for coming by today," I say. "Want to come again?"

He frowns. "I don't know."

I raise my eyebrows. Boys usually say yes, and I just forget to call them. "Why not?"

"Well, you're… you're great. And it was… well, you know. We had fun. But…"

"Spit it out."

"All this!" he points at my dress. "You look like a Capitol doll. People starve down here!"

"I know! Where do you think I come from?"

"So why do you have feasts and play at being Capitol all the time? Even a little bit of what you spent tonight could make all the difference. You don't even act like anything's wrong!"

I feel my jaw tighten. I've spent the last three years working on rebellion, a lot more than he has, but I can't very well talk about it. For all I know, he's a Capitol spy.

And besides, he has no right.

"Where do you think I buy half my stuff? What butcher do you think I bought that roast from? Where do you think I got my potatoes? Right back in town. Blight sometimes orders out of town, if he can't get anything, but I don't. If I can get it here, I do. And that stays here."

"But -- "

"But what? You're mad that I'm rich? I like being rich. I've tried being poor. It wasn't enjoyable. I'm glad not to be poor anymore. I earned not being poor anymore. I paid for not being poor. I'm sorry if that's a problem for you."

"I didn't mean it that way."

"Whatever. Take the leftovers. If they're too Capitol for you, give them to someone who's hungry."

I turn away and don't look at him as he gets out of the car. I wait for the door to latch, then drive away. I don't look back.


18 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 22nd, 2015 02:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! Im on a subway train right now so more of a comment later but i just read mine, and wanted to say thanks. I like your take on the D7 victors. Christina
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 23rd, 2015 07:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're welcome. I enjoy them.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 22nd, 2015 08:16 pm (UTC) (Link)


fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 23rd, 2015 07:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Jo

From: liam Fitzpatrick Date: August 22nd, 2015 08:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
loved johannas rant and the comment on blighs active"Social Life" . Brilliant agakn these chalenges open up the hg wotrld more and more

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 23rd, 2015 07:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's what I like about doing them. Just not necessarily things I would normally think about.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: August 22nd, 2015 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another great set. I especially liked the relationship between the District 7 victors and Jo's reaction to being called out on her conspicuous consumption.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 23rd, 2015 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really don't like it when people are shamed for finding something that makes them goofily happy. She's not hurting anyone by wearing a fancy dress, and she's doing plenty of other work. So I figured Jo would not take well to it.
golden_d From: golden_d Date: August 22nd, 2015 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love both of these - you write both Jo and Effie so wonderfully; it always leaves me craving more.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 23rd, 2015 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like Jo and Effie.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: August 22nd, 2015 10:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
That first one ... considering that I know how their story ends I shouldn't be that depressed but oh, Coin. Great job tormenting the non-movers and shakers there.

I loved Johanna. I can see where Otto is coming from, but I can imagine even a milder personality like Cecelia not giving a damn about how conspicuously she consumes. Otto probably had his eyebrows practically singed off with Johanna's reaction. (I wonder now, did he eat the desserts or not? If it were me I would have really wanted to but then felt so guilty I would have given them away to someone and then gotten upset because I really would have liked to have them and my chance of being invited up to Victors' Village again was now somewhere south of zero).

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 23rd, 2015 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would probably allow myself to be guilted about it, but I don't think it's right. I mean, I see what he means, but that irritating tone of judgment... ugh.

And yeah, she's not inviting him back no matter how good his thighs are.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 23rd, 2015 05:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh wow, that first one...that just breaks my heart. Poor Effie. This is just a masterful way of showing how Coin's regime is just as bad as Snow's. They could have found the people most involved with the killing in the games, or for that matter, fighting the rebellion, but they take people like Effie and just try to crush them over and over again. A little reeducation would not have been a bad thing, Capitol people were certainly indoctrinated, but this idea of constantly shaming and belittling someone to make them "better" (and is used these days for the same purpose), is just ridiculous. Seeing Effie broken was hard, but I'm so glad she had Haymitch there, even though he didn't quite know what to do. He could at least tell her that she did what she could. That she wasn't worthless.
Jo was great. I loved the idea of her, Jack, Linden, and Blight having dinner parties. That idea of having people they could be happy with, even for a little while is a stark contrast to Haymitch's solitary existence. District 7, like District 12 in general will never know what the victors sacrificed for what they have; their bodies, their dignity, their piece of mind, yet they are still willing to fight.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 23rd, 2015 07:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
A little reeducation would not have been a bad thing,

I actually object to "re-education" in this sense no matter what the circumstances. These are people whose minds have been incredibly warped for years, and whose entire world has been turned upside down. They don't know who they are or what's happening.

What the rebellion needed to do was be an example. See, we've managed to get along with each other, and we want to get along with you, too. What kind of new world can we build together? Share food, share stories, learn, after all those years, to see one another as human beings.

Instead, they went for vengeance and violence, both physical and mental. (What these classes are... it's basically just a quasi-intellectual version of a POW camp, where the prisoners are flogged mentally instead of physically, told how worthless they are, how evil everything that ever mattered to them is.) I'm not sure, because Haymitch isn't quite allowing himself to see everything yet, that he understands exactly what's going on. He doesn't understand why Effie says that she's sorry when she's standing by the statue, because it never occurred to him that she was responsible for any of it. She was kind of a haven in the midst of it. So why would she be apologizing? It will dawn on him later, and he will say the right things (as much as he's capable of; the guy's not exactly naturally comforting), but at the moment, he's just seeing that she's upset.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 24th, 2015 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I understand what you mean about re-education. I was think of it more as offering information, background. For instance, if someone only knew one aspect of Christopher Columbus, teaching them more information would offer a broader perspective. It wouldn't necessarily mean that they'd change their view entirely, but it might offer them insight on why other people feel the way they do. In the games perspective, since Capitol people were thoroughly brainwashed, they might not really know why district people were upset. They knew life was "hard" and with the propos, more about Snow's deceptions, but do they know, do they understand the depth of the oppression the Districts lived under? I don't think they need to be hit over the head with it over and over but knowledge leads to better understanding, at least in my experience.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 24th, 2015 05:33 am (UTC) (Link)
If the "re-education" were non-mandatory -- a free-lecture series, say -- and were run by the districts, it would be fine. But making it mandatory, with the implied threat of "You really don't want to find out what happens if you don't take this seriously"? AND this being run by Coin and D13, who _sat out_ 75 years of other-district oppression? Not cool at all.

Instead of Effie being forced to sit through this class, she should be teaching it, along with Haymitch and Jo. Effie could explain district anger to Capitols in ways that Capitols could understand.

-- Tom
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 24th, 2015 06:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Also, something going on in the districts to try and get them to, I don't know, cut it out with the genocidal revenge fantasies? Because that's pretty much where I lost all sympathy with the "cause."
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 26th, 2015 01:47 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you

for another glimpse of Hayffie. But ouch, poor Effie. How very like her to apologize for something that not only wasn't her fault, but that she did everything in her power to soften. In a way the classes are simply continuing the work of the Capitol's "rehabilitation"; having been re-educated into believing that she shouldn't care about the Games and the tributes, she's now being told that she didn't care enough--and not yet back to the place where she was at sixteen, understanding that her job was to care and making it a point of honor to do it well, no matter how personally painful it became. It's amazing that she ever makes it out from under that dual burden. And how very like Coin to go in for exactly the same tactics of collective guilt and punishment that Snow did, in an even more extreme form.

18 comments or Leave a comment