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Challenges 7 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 7
Yay, made it. :D

How about young haymitch ,lacklen rhona and if still alive basil watching a Hunger Games between the 46th and 49th for Liam

Momma coughs.

She's trying to hide it, I know. She makes it into a big old show about how silly the name of the District One girl is, like she was just trying so hard not to laugh that it came out as a big, hacking cough. Lacklen might buy it a little bit, but he's eight. Eight-year-olds are stupid. He remembers Daddy, of course. It was only two years ago that he passed. But he doesn't remember how it started with him. He doesn't ever remember that Daddy could run pretty good when he was sober, because by the time Lacklen's old enough to remember anything, Daddy ran out of breath just walking fast.

That happened before the cough. The cough came on like any normal cold at first, and I was only seven. I didn't think anything of it, because seven-year-olds are even stupider than eight-year-olds. But he'd been slowing ever since Lacklen was born. I think the most scared I got back then was when he and Momma were in their room having a nap -- that's what they called it, when me and Lacklen weren't allowed to visit in their room; I know now what it really was -- and he suddenly started gasping for air so loud I could hear it in my room. And that's when my room was still upstairs, when we still had an upstairs. I thought my Daddy was dying right then and there, but he was in a place I was never ever allowed to go in.

It passed. He was fine for another few weeks, except the had a nagging cough. It was winter. He said it was just a cold.

Only the cold never went away, and the coughs became violent and bloody, and he got weaker and weaker.

Momma started getting weak even before Daddy died.

She was working double shifts to bring in money when he couldn't work anymore, and she said she was tired. Only tired doesn't make it so you have a hard time breathing when you walk across a room.

And it doesn't start the cough.

"Haymitch?" she says, waving her hand in front of me. "You're going to get a quiz on the Games tomorrow, and you know it. Can you tell me what just happened?"

I look at the television, where the Careers are sitting by their campfire, toasting marshmallows that someone sent them.

"They're talking about who to kill," I guess, because that's what they're always doing. The girl from One with the ridiculous name -- Rarity -- has marshmallow on three fingers that she's holding up. "They want to go for District Three."


"'Cause he's by himself and he's small?"

She grimaces. "Because he booby-trapped their water supply earlier." She coughs lightly, and this time doesn't try to cover it with anything. She just rolls her eyes and mutters, "Allergies, don't worry." I don't acknowledge this. She shakes her head. "Haymitch, the quiz will not be about my allergies. It will be about mandatory viewing. I hate the spectacle they make of the thing, but if you don't know it, there will be trouble." She coughs again, mutters, "There must be mold," then looks at Lacklen, who is watching the Games and not paying attention. Her meaning is clear: Do not frighten your brother by bringing up the cough. "What did the boy do to their water, Haymitch?"

I have a vague memory of the water jugs they stockpiled spilling out onto the ground, and of the dark haired boy running away. I close my eyes and try to see it. "He loosened the caps, then propped everything so that the first one to try and take a drink from their jars would topple the whole pyramid and spill it all."

"And how did they know it was him?"

"Who else would it be? The rest of the field are dumb."

Momma gives me an exasperated look. I'm not sure why she cares. The chances of our quiz being on anything other than who died today are pretty slim. "The boy from Two, Lucanus, saw his shoe print in the mud. Too small to be one of the bigger ones."

"That's dumb," I say. "It could have been one of the girls. Girls have small feet."

She frowns. "That's true. I don't know how he really knew, then. But that's what the Games showed, and that's what you better know."

"It won't help me if I get reaped, if I can't see the real stuff."

Momma freezes. "Don't talk about that. I don't want to think about that."

This time, I give her the exasperated look. "I'm twelve, Momma. I got six more reapings to get through. I'm only taking tesserae for you and Lacklen --"

"-- which I wish you wouldn't do --"

"-- so it probably ain't never going to be me, but if it is, then the quiz is the littlest thing to worry on."

"Maybe I worry that between your mouth getting you in trouble, and you standing out in those fancy classes Daddy and I put you in, that anything else putting you in the spotlight won't work out well, so if you please, do well on the quiz." She frowns. "And we did not put you in those classes you take so you'd run around saying 'ain't never'. You know better, and you know what Daddy would say."

I consider pointing out that knowing better doesn't always do me much good, as there are other kids in school who've decided that me "putting on airs" is the same thing as me wearing a big sign that says, "Rub my face in the dirt." In the end, I don't. She'll just tell me to have some respect for myself, or if I can't manage that, respect for her and Daddy. And she's right: Drunk or sober, sick or well, my daddy purely hated it when Lacklen and I sounded like rubes. If there's anything after the grave, he probably hates it still, even though he didn't talk any better when he was in his cups. You can be better than me, he slurred at me once, after he tripped over nothing and landed on his backside crushing the rocking chair where he usually watched television. He was already really sick, but that never stopped him drinking, right up to his dying day. I found him after school, at three o'clock in the afternoon, and his cooling body smelled of liquor. You can be better, he said, and it rings in my head. You can be better and you ought to be, or I'm'a haint you from beyond, you hear me? I'll haint you, you see if I don't.

He doesn't haint me, as far as I know, but I sure know what he'd have to say in any situation, and I don't need Momma to remind me of it.

"Here's Twelve!" Lacklen announces, and sure enough, there's our girl, Daisy Malloy. Our boy, Jupiter Hatfield, went down at the Cornucopia. Daisy is crawling around inside some old fortification in the arena, which this year is supposed to look like a medieval battlefield after the war. It's been good for the people outside the Career groups, because it's got little weapon stashes, and Daisy's got her hands on big sword. It's really too big for her, and she'll most likely not be able to use it, but it's a good shot for television. They'll probably show it lots of times. It's strange, seeing her on television. She's two years older than me and one time, she threw my homework in a mud puddle. The girl I'm supposed to be cheering on doesn't seem like the same one at all.

They cut to the studio, where our only victor, Duronda Carson, is watching the whole thing nervously while Caesar Flickerman asks her a lot of questions that she doesn't seem to know, or care about, the answers to. She's in her sixties, but she looks pretty young. Some people say she's had special surgeries in the Capitol for it. She has long, straight black hair, now with ropes of coarse white in it. For television, someone has put a crown of braids around the top, so that it falls down her back like a veil. I've heard ladies in town complain that she dresses like a high-stepping young girl because she wears dresses with big scoops in the neckline, but she looks all right in them, so I'm not sure why they're so angry.

"Her grandson will be twelve next year, won't he?" Momma asks.

I think about Rabbie Maginnis, a skinny little kid who lives on the opposite end of the Seam from me. Duronda's daughter didn't get much benefit from her mother's money. When she got married, she and her husband had to move to a ratty house like anyone else's, and, while Rabbie is never going to starve as long as he can visit his grandmother, he doesn't have any fancy clothes and when he gets sick, he has to have the same apothecary herbs as the rest of us. He's a year behind me in school, so I guess that means he'll be twelve next year. I confirm it to Momma.

"They'll reap him for sure next year, or the year after," she says, and looks down. It takes me a minute to understand: She feels bad for the nervous woman on television… and guilty because she's reckoning that any year Rabbie might be in the arena is a year that I'm not. "Or maybe they'll save him for the Quell. Maybe the Quell will be victors' relatives."

"Duronda doesn't have any girl relatives the right age," Lacklen says. "So they couldn't do it. And some districts don't have any victors."

"You been thinking on that?" I ask him.

"I know as much anybody," he says primly, then looks back at the screen. His eyes are fuzzy, so he's practically on top of the television. "I know all the victors, right back to Edith Alleman. We had an assignment. I did better than anyone. I even know everyone's talent."

"That's nothing to focus on, Lacklen," Momma says. "I don't want you wasting any more time on the Games than the government forces you to."

"School's the government," I remind her. "And they forced him."

"Don't be technical, Haymitch."

"Yes, Momma."

She starts to say something else, but coughs again instead. "Hmph," she says. "These allergies are just out of control this year."

I don't say anything.

Lacklen doesn't notice.

The three of us settle in and stop talking as we take in the night's spectacle.

Something Finnick -- maybe when everything went down with his parents in district four? for Anon

When I come back to myself in one of the spare bedrooms in Mags's house, I look at the clock.

It's six-forty-two in the evening. I've been out of it -- maybe sleeping, maybe just tuning out -- for five hours now. I'd like to say five hours and however many minutes, but how would I know? I wasn't looking at my watch when my father's boat blew up.

I know he launched at around one-fifteen. He was late getting started, because we were playing paddleball downstairs in my game room. He was supposed to leave at one. He might have been further out to sea if he'd left on time, but it wouldn't have changed anything else.

Maybe five and a half hours, then, almost. Somewhere between a quarter and a half. Something like that.

I was just turning away. The cameras were there, like they always were, and I gave them a wave. I don't like them, but they have a job to do, and if someone gets to pay for dinner tonight because I waved goodbye to my father in some incomprehensibly fascinating way, then I guess I've done my part for the economy. They probably caught what happened when the world broke apart a minute later.

I don't actually know if it was a minute. It was about twenty steps. I was heading for the Victors' Village pier, and I think I was planning on doing some pointless acrobatics on the under-structure to entertain the cameras. I don't know. I wasn't even in the shadow of the pier yet, though, so I couldn't have taken a lot of steps.

The force from the explosion was huge. I think I heard someone tell Mags that it was a short near the fuel tank, but I don't think it could have been. It was a deep explosion, something under the water. I was far from the tide line, but I still felt the back of my legs get soaked from the backsplash, and the shockwave knocked me off of my feet. It had to have been a mine, even though he wasn't anywhere near the boundary line.

Why am I in Mags's house?

The question floats up in my head, but I don't think about it, exactly. There's a reason. I'm sure of it. That's all I need to know right now.


At six-forty-six this morning, I was helping Dad with the oyster seed he's been collecting. We're always up early. He always wanted to try oyster farming, to see if we could get a good breed going right here in the waters off of District Four, instead of constantly digging for the things wherever they might be in the wild. "They did it before," he tells me at six-forty-seven. "Used to be, there were oyster farms all over the Ghost Gulf. They were always tinkering with the taste and texture. But when the seas first rose, the water went bad."

"The water went bad?"

He nods. "A lot of the Ghost Gulf is over old cities. It knocked down oil refineries and rigs. They had time to cap most of the wells, or we'd probably still be getting sick, but there was still a lot of swallowed up industrial wasteland out there. Took a couple of centuries to clear out. Didn't you get to any District Four history?"

I allow that there wasn't much of it at school before I got reaped.

"Well," he says, "there were folks who thought it would still be poison. They wanted to go further west, where the desert had kept a lot of cities from popping up. For the first ten years down here, the Capitol had a testing plant, and everything that came up out of the water had to go through it. Finally, they decided the water was clear, and the fish were good, and they… well, they didn't let us be, did they?" he asks, and then I am flying over the sand, the sound of the explosion ringing in my ears, my mother screaming somewhere nearby, and why am I in Mags's house at six-fifty-two, definitely more than five and a half hours after my father died?

Six-fifty-two. Last night at six-fifty-two, I'd finished dinner with Mom and Dad. I was teasing Mom that I meant to tune in for the Cappies, the award show for all of the arts in the Capitol. I am pretending to have strong opinions on the comedy series category.

"How can you tell the difference?" she asks. "None of them leave anyone's bedroom."

"Different sheets," I say. "I think it ought to go to the one that has the blue sheets. Much funnier than the flower sheets."

She shakes her head. "I shouldn't let you watch that nonsense. I..." She wrinkles her nose. "I watched all of it far too young."

"Mom, I've been through the arena. I can handle sex jokes."

"I’m not sure I can handle you handling them."

"You should read the stories girls write about me."

She wrinkles her nose. "No, thank you," and she laughs, and then she is screaming, No! Doolin, No! and I am still dizzy on the beach. Someone is holding me up, and I have a vague idea that I'm yelling, too, though I'm sick to my stomach and every part of me hurts from the shockwave that hit me so hard.

There are cameras running, and a pair of reporters in body shell cameras slink by me, trying for a smooth shot of me screaming. They hate the shell cameras in District Four because it's impossible to swim properly, even though they're waterproof, and only last week I was talking to one of them, and he is sitting on the end of the pier, tossing stones out into the Gulf, and he says, "Bet you feel like you're in a cage up here, don't you?"

I know better than to answer questions like that, because they'll peg me as ungrateful, but I agree. Everyone else down here swims naked, but I haven't shed a stitch where cameras could catch me since the arena. I wasn't especially trying not to strip down during the Games, but the subject never came up, and then there were hands in the hospital, hands reaching under the sheets of my bed and touching me and then I was awake, completely awake, and I wanted to do murder and…


Mags's face appears above me, and she says, "Are you back with us yet, Finnick?"

I say, "No," or at least I think I do. She floats away again.

I float after her a few minutes later. I am in her upper guest room, and it goes out onto a narrow corridor that rings the parlor. White walls are broken by giant arches, and the border of the corridor is a wrought iron fence. When I was little, I scared my mother by climbing over the fence and inching along on its outside part, twenty feet above the dark blue ceramic tiles of the floor. I made it all the way to Mags's grand, sweeping staircase without hurting myself, then Mags scooped me up and scolded me for doing such a fool thing, and Mom just sat there taking deep, shaky breaths while I sat on her lap. I must have been about four.

There is a small fountain at the corner of Mags's parlor. Little goldfish live in it. It makes enough noise to drown out the opening of my door, and my slow shuffle along the corridor to the stairs. I take them carefully. They're marble, so they don't creak or groan, and with bare feet, I don't make any noise, either.

Mags isn't alone down here. Most of the rest of the Village is here. Harris Greaves is standing at the big French doors, staring out at the ocean with his hands clasped behind his neck. Hennesy Doolin, who was some kind of relation of Dad's, is pacing back and forth. His wife, Ria, is wringing her hands and trying to calm him down. Sandi Matta is inside a cloud of bluish cigarette smoke, and Rivie Jasso and his wife are huddled up with Mags. Rogan Lally, the oldest victor in Panem, is at the head of the table. He looks like he's holding court.

There is a broken umbrella stand by the door.

It crashed when Mom… left.

When the Peacekeepers came and arrested her and she screamed, No, it's a lie, Finnick, it's a lie, I wouldn't ever do it, Finnick believe me!

I slide down the wall and sit down on the stairs.

"…ain't about evidence and anyone knows it!" Hennesy is saying. "The girl wouldn't kill her husband. There's no reason for it. It's about the other thing."

They don't say what "the other thing" is, most likely because of the bugs. I can't seem to care why they took her, only that they did, and that it was just not right. That she didn't do the thing they accused her of.

She doesn’t know about bombs. Or mines. Or missiles or torpedoes for all I know. I doubt she'd even know how to make the gas leak they're pretending it was.

But they have her.

"We can't do anything about that," Sandi says. "What about Finnick? We can't leave him in his house alone. He's fifteen!"

"I'll take care of him," Mags says. "That's not a question. They won't let him not live in his house, but I can take care of him there. They won't interfere. Not after the way Haymitch turned out when they left him without any adults. I was Finnick's mentor. And Carolyn was my friend. I won't let the boy down." I feel tears behind my eyes at this, huge and grateful, but I don't let them out. "But we have to keep Carolyn here at the District prison at the very least. I won't have her in the Capitol. Can we all agree to stick to that line? If District One can stick together to push out their escorts, we can stick together to keep Finnick's mother at least in a place he can visit her."

There is murmuring, too indistinct to be heard over the fountain. I frown. They're talking about Mom. They're doing it without me.

I stand up. The marble is cold on my feet, and I can smell the tang of the sea.

Talk stops when they see me, and Mags asks if I'm all right, if I need anything.

I don't say anything.

I just sit down at the table.

After a while, they start talking again.

At seven-forty-three, I rejoin the conversation.


12 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 2nd, 2016 05:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Excellent, as always.

I won't say that I like that Haymitch remembers tributes from when they were just other kids he knew--because you just can't like anything about the situation--but it's something that I think was lacking in the original books: Katniss never recalls a previous district 12 tribute by name, even though they must have been classmates, neighbors, or relatives of people she knew. I think that's what really drew me in to your whole series, starting with Delly and seeing glimpses of Peeta's pre-Games life.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2016 10:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think in Katniss's case, it's because she isolates herself so deliberately. She's convinced herself that she only cares about Prim, therefore, it doesn't matter what happens to anyone else. As the series goes on, that's one of the things she starts to change, ending up in MJ with the memory book, where she weeps over people she really didn't know all that well, because she's part of the world by then. Less explicable is Peeta never mentioning a name, but I'll chalk it up in-universe to Katniss just not registering it, and out-of-universe to not wanting to fill up the pages with names that won't impact the story.
Tracy Wood From: Tracy Wood Date: April 6th, 2016 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's exactly how Katniss seems in the books. And I think maybe the whole family was somewhat isolated even when Mr. Everdeen was alive. Ruth was estranged from her family I guess. And maybe didn't fit in with the Seam people all that well.
willowlistener From: willowlistener Date: April 3rd, 2016 11:04 am (UTC) (Link)
It was lovely to see and hear Rhona again. I think I've missed her, and that makes me a little hungry for your 'author haymitch' mystery novels...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2016 10:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've missed Rhona, too. And Basil, though I haven't written him properly very much. Except insofar as he's a less successful version of Haymitch, I guess.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 3rd, 2016 11:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, Haymitch is way too smart for his own good! Very clever to figure out how to show that.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2016 10:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are times that being smart is not an asset.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 3rd, 2016 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)


Great Challenge Call as always in particular loved mine amd also the Finnick one.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2016 10:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thanks

Thanks. The Rhona one was nice to write!
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 3rd, 2016 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been wondering how they'd make sure people in their homes were actually watching Mandatory Viewing. Having a quiz afterwards makes quite a bit of sense for at least the kids.
I like the subtle elements of Haymitch's narration that makes it clear he's still relatively young yet already tinged with a dark outlook.

Effective and knifetwisting to have Finnick's thought process to jump between pre-incident, the incident, and present. The way he sort of floats around silently is reminiscent of Katniss in the mansion; excerpt the elder victory has a slightly better immediate support structure from the looks of it.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2016 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
It does seem strange that they have mandatory viewing but let the power go out so much that they couldn't very well force a broadcast. Other than quizzes, I can't think how they would check. I'll go with Bellisario's Maxim on this. ;p

I was just thinking, with Finnick, that when I'm in shock over something, the first thing that happens is totally losing track of time. We know from MJ that Finnick is susceptible to psychological shock, so it seems like a thing he'd do.
Tracy Wood From: Tracy Wood Date: April 6th, 2016 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Perhaps it was only during mandatory viewing times, that the power was on in 12.

The way you've written how the government does things in your stories, I'd bet even if it wasn't the individual family's fault if the power wasn't on during the mandatory broadcasts. They would still be punished or fined for it.

It's like how in your story about Haymitch in the 50th games. In the first chapter he's trying to fix the roof of their Seam house. He's got nothing to fix it with except what they scavenged, not even tools. But it says in the chapter they could be fined for it. Or parents being fined if children were dressed good enough for their reaping.

Someone else's story I read had people having to input a code when they had mandatory viewing.

Edited at 2016-04-06 08:48 pm (UTC)
12 comments or Leave a comment