Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Out of His Head"

This is the free epic for the May 6, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl reaching the $200 threshold, as selected in an audience poll.  It was inspired by discussion with johnpalmer and technoshaman under the poem "Listening to the Lifebeat."  It also fills the "Possession / mind control" square in my 8-12-13 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family, visible on the Serial Poetry page.

Out of His Head

As the frigid winter gave way
to a raw spring, Victor and Igor
went down to the village
to replenish their supplies.

Adam was crawling now,
and if they put him down
by the hearth one moment,
he'd scramble off the rug the next.

Igor thought that Adam needed toys,
because he was getting into things
and banging them around at home.

"Lóránt the woodcutter makes some toys,"
said Victor.  "We could try there."
A shop next to the brewer's
carried a variety of wood for crafts,
along with wooden tools, wickerwork,
and other related items.

Igor found a rattle with several rings
carved from a single piece of maple.
Adam shook it gleefully.

Victor turned up a set of alder bowls
that could be nested or stacked.
Adam squealed and clapped his hands.

"We'll take these two," Victor said
to the girl minding the store.
Then he took out his coinpurse.

Dorottya hurried in and said,
"I'm so glad you're here.
We have a bit of a problem --
there's a madman in the brewery --
and I'm wondering if you could help?"

"Yes, of course," Victor said,
but he had his hands full of
little wooden bowls and money
and his half-open coinpurse.

"Give that to me," Igor said quietly.
"I'll take care of things here,
then come meet you next door."

Victor assented with relief,
glad to see Igor becoming
more comfortable with sharing
the household responsibilities.

Adam stopped babbling
and started to fuss,
upset by the tension.
"Shush now, be a good boy,"
Igor said, bouncing him a little.

Dorottya took charge of Adam,
who made kissy noises at her and 
then pulled on her cutwork blouse.
Dorottya laughed and let him
have her breast.

When Victor went next door,
Dénes the brewer
waved urgently at him.

"This fellow gave his name as Clyde;
he wanted to buy hard liquor,
which I don't make much of," Dénes said. 
"He seemed addled enough already,
so I told him no.  We don't need trouble.
He hung about for a while, and
then he started doing that."

Victor looked at the scruffy man
crouched in a corner behind some barrels.
His untucked shirt had stains
down the front, probably from soup,
and his dark hair was uncombed.

"Not me, not me," he muttered,
rocking back and forth.
"They're not me.  They're not mine.
These aren't my real thoughts.
I don't feel these things."

Victor wasn't the sort of doctor
who dealt with illness of the mind,
but there was nobody else to call,
so he would have to make do.

He crouched beside Clyde.
"Hullo there," Victor said. "I'm a doctor.
Do you mind if I take a look at you?"

He wrapped his fingers around
the man's trembling wrist.
Clyde's skin felt tacky with sweat,
his pulse shallower than Victor liked
and rapid with anxiety.

"Get out of my head,"
Clyde whimpered.
"Go away.  Go away.
Leave me alone!"

Victor let go of him,
hoping that would help.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
he asked, keeping his voice low.

"It bit me," Clyde said,
rubbing at his throat.
"Evil thing.  Monster."

Victor reached out and
tugged gently at the man's cravat,
baring his throat and part of his shoulder,
but could see no sign of injury.

"They get in your head,"
Clyde said, scrabbling at his hair.
Red lines showed at the edge of his scalp
and down one side of his face.
"They make you ... do  things, feel things.
It hurts.  Make it stop.  I want it to stop."

"He's scratched himself," Victor said. 
"Dénes, get me a clean cloth, please."

"Of course," Dénes said.  He came back
not only with a handkerchief
but a cup of pálinka  to wet it with.

Victor accepted the cloth and the alcohol,
then carefully cleaned the long scratches
that Clyde had made on his skin.

Igor slipped into the shop,
and Dorottya behind him
with Adam still at her breast.
"What seems to be wrong?"
he asked Victor.

"He's more or less raving," Victor replied. 
"I don't see anything wrong physically,
aside from a few minor abrasions,
but something has clearly
driven the man out of his head.
He's hiding, wracked with terror,
and I think he's delusional."

"Hmm," Igor said thoughtfully.
He stripped off his brown sweater
so that his hump showed more
and ruffled his hair to look disreputable.
Then he handed the sweater to Victor.
"Here, hold this a minute."

Next Igor wedged himself
into the corner beside Clyde.
"What are we hiding from?"
he whispered.

"Vampires," Clyde said.

Victor scoffed.
Igor glared at him,
and Victor fell silent.

"We're safe in here," Igor said. 
"We've got a wall at our back,
and we can see the door."

Clyde looked at the door
and edged closer to Igor.
"Safe?" he said.

Igor settled an arm over him.
"There, you see?  Perfectly safe,"
Igor said.  "If they come at us, well,
we're in a brewery.  Plenty of bottles
to throw for ammunition.  I hear
that vampires are very flammable."

"They burn like pinecones,"
Clyde said, "bright and loud."

That was a disturbing image.

"Ah, I see that you've found my man,"
a new voice said from the door.
The speaker was tall and thin,
with graying hair and spectacles.
"He does tend to wander off at times."

"I noticed that," Victor said.
"And you are ...?

"Alcot, and that is Clyde.
We're just passing through,"
the man said in a smooth voice,
"on ... business."

Victor narrowed his eyes.
Alcot's clothes were fine enough,
and his spectacles rimmed in gold;
but the coat was mended in several places,
the frames bent and rebent repeatedly,
the lenses nicked and scratched.

That's a lot of trouble
for a businessman or a scholar
to have gotten into,
  Victor thought,
and those look like hunting calluses
all over his hands

"Come along, Clyde," said Alcot
as he snapped his fingers.
"We've wasted enough of
these people's time already."

Reluctantly Clyde peeled himself
away from Igor's warm embrace.
"Yes, sir," he mumbled.

Alcot smiled, but it did not reach his eyes.
"Good day," he said as they left,
"and watch out for ... vermin."

"I do not like that man,"
Igor said as he dusted himself off.

"Neither do I," Victor agreed,
"but unless he breaks the law,
there isn't much we can do."

"Burning people or buildings
would break the law,"
Igor said quietly.

Victor gave him a sharp look.
"You think that was real?
Vampires are superstition!"

"Vampires might be," Igor said,
"but arson certainly isn't.
I know Clyde sounded insane --
probably is -- but that description
he gave really bothered me."

Bright and loud,  Victor thought,
and shuddered a bit.

Dénes brought out two bottles
of pálinka  and handed them to Victor.
"Here, take these with our thanks,"
the brewer said.  "I'm sorry that
we interrupted your market day."

"It's all right," Victor assured him.
Igor retrieved Adam from Dorottya;
the baby had fallen asleep.

As they went outside,
Victor saw Kálmán the priest
talking to several of the villagers,
who looked restless and wary.

"What's going on?" Igor asked
after the little group drifted away.

"Some fool is spreading tales
about vampires," Kálmán said,
his sandy eyebrows drawing down.
"Foreigners are more bother
than they're worth, sometimes."

"His associate is unwell,"
Igor said.  "That never helps."
"Their heads are stuffed with nonsense,
which is even worse," said Victor.

"I don't like this," Kálmán said.
"That Alcot fellow is trouble.
If he keeps stirring people up,
someone is liable to get hurt."

"Well, let's cover this issue
according to our specialties,"
Victor suggested to him.
"You remind people about
compassion and gentleness
We'll remind them about
logic and responsibility."

Kálmán nodded.  "It's a good plan,"
he agreed.  "I'm glad to see
someone in the castle again,
especially ones who care
about the people of this village.
Too often the lords of science and politics
are not friends of the church or common folk."

Victor looked back at Dénes and Dorottya,
then down at his son sleeping peacefully.
Victor slipped his fingers into Igor's grasp.
"This is our home now," he said simply.
"We do what we can to take care of it."

* * *


Here you can see that the paths have merged between Frankenstein's Family and The Bat Vampires.  I realized that I was writing two series that are sort of "gentle gothic" so they were likely to fit into the same setting.

Read about developmental milestones for babies at eight and nine months. 

Wooden toys are popular with children.  A rattle may be carved from a single piece of wood or pieced togetherStacking bowls may be natural or colored.

The process of negotiating and dividing household responsibilities is necessary to a healthy relationship.  There are special tips for new parents.  After their big blowup, Victor and Igor are finally starting to work out how their lives fit together now.

Know how to respond if someone displays troublesome thoughts and behaviors or some other mental crisis.  Notice that several different strategies are in play: the villagers went for more skilled help, Victor took an authoritative approach and addressed physical matters, while Igor aligned himself with the victim and focused on feelings.

Psychopaths tend to lack empathy.  This can contribute to depersonalization and derealization.  It's not always easy to know if someone is a sociopath or psychopath.  They may view themselves as leaders or heroes.  You can read more about psychopaths and learn how to deal with a sociopath.  Clyde and Alcot are psychopaths invested in hunting monsters.  They see the world through their own distorted perceptions -- of course they're seeing monsters!  Except in the mirror; those they can't see.

Empathy can be a psychological sense or a metaphysical ability.  It is distinct from sympathy.  Some people naturally lack empathy.  There is debate over whether a psychopath can learn empathy.  There are exercises for increasing empathy and tips for showing empathy.  You may also want to work on building an empathic culture.  Now imagine what would happen to someone who grew up without it, and suddenly gained it ...

Hearing voices can be a negative or positive experience, and they can come from many different sources.  Read about what it's like to hear voices.  There are ways to cope with hearing voices.  In this case, the "voices" are empathic impressions from other people.  They're not bad.  They're just alien, and they feel all the more alarming to Clyde because they're new to him and they don't mesh pleasantly with the kinds of things he has done with his life.  The poor guy is actually handling this in a rational manner, trying to tell himself that the voices aren't real (they are, but he doesn't know that) and aren't him.

Empathy can hurt.  It tends to increase the perception of physical and emotional pain.  People with strong empathy can feel overloaded.  When empathy hurts, compassion can heal.  Understand how to deal with empathy.  To a psychopath, suddenly getting flooded with awareness of other people's feelings is disorienting, maddening, and painful.  But it's not an attack or a curse.  Vampires in this setting are gentle, cooperative creatures and that laps over onto the people they feed from.  Usually the effects are subtle, on an ordinary person.  Cases like Clyde's give rise to the more "monstrous" legends. 

Pálinka  is apricot brandy, a popular Romanian beverage.

Vampire hunters are generally considered a literary device, but they existed in history.

Psychological manipulation is one tool of psychopaths and other people with a manipulative personality.  They often use fear to motivate others.  Know how to identify and deal with manipulative behavior, or stop manipulating people if you do it yourself.

Compassion and gentleness are important traits.  You can teach compassion and gentleness.

Logic and critical thinking are also valuable.  Know how to teach logic and critical thinking.  In traditional gothic or horror stories, there's a big divide between the educated and uneducated characters.  Imagine how many plot points would be foiled if people simply taught each other  some basic skills.  You'd wind up with very different stories.  This is much the same thinking that got me to wondering, "What would happen if Dr. Frankenstein had been a good parent instead of an abusive/neglectful one?"

Community spirit binds people together within a neighborhood or other settlement.  There are ways to build community in person and online.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, weblit, writing

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