Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Taste of Rust"

This poem came out of the August 5, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by [personal profile] stardreamer. It also fills the "vicious" square in my 7-30-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the series Polychrome Heroics. It's a direct sequel to "Turning Leaves" and you need to read that first for this to make much sense.

WARNING: [personal profile] stardreamer wanted to know what happened to Shiv, so this poem is about him rather than our heroes, and the inside of Shiv's head is an unpleasant place. If grimdark comics are not your thing, you'll probably want to skip it. But if you like knowing what happens to clue-resistant characters, highlight for spoilery warnings. This poem contains nonconsensual bondage, a hospital stay, serious head injury, lingering physical and emotional problems, mostly awful coping skills, homicidal ideation, and other unpleasantries. Consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether to click through.

"The Taste of Rust"

The first time, Shiv woke up
with the taste of rust in his mouth
and a blinding pain in his head.

One wrist clinked when he moved,
handcuffed to the side of the bed.

Shiv flung his free arm over his eyes
and went back to sleep.

The second time he woke,
his head still hurt but not as much --
a sharp ache in back and
a duller one across the front --
and the light stabbed at his eyes
until he found the switch to turn it down.

Everything was just a little bit blurry.
Shiv used his free hand to rub his eyes.

Everything was still blurry.

It would go away eventually;
he recovered well from injuries,
always had, useful in his line of work.

When the doctors came, Shiv
bore them with grudging tolerance.
He lied as best he could, because
they were looking for problems
and the exact last thing he needed
was any record of weakness
following him into jail.

Fear tastes like a rusty knife
and do not let her into your house,

Shiv reminded himself.

The doctors muttered amongst themselves
about possible this and probable that,
worried about his vision and emotions.

He'd heal. He always had.

A day passed, then another;
his head hurt less and less
but his vision didn't clear.

Frustration seethed in him,
honing his temper to a vicious edge.

Shiv took it out on the next doctor,
cutting into him with sharp words.
The older man stammered out
that the problems might be
correctable with glasses --
might be.

Feeling inside himself,
Shiv found his talent intact.
He could have turned the man's bones
into knives and splinters, could probably
even carve his way out of the hospital
if he could fucking stand on his own two feet.

So far Shiv still wobbled when he stood,
dizzy and disoriented; his vision swam unless
he kept his head perfectly motionless.

The doctor hovered over him,
soft brown hands fluttering,
soft brown voice murmuring,
trying to help him feel better.

Shiv spat curses at him
until he scurried out of the room.

He'd deal on his own. He always had.

Laboriously Shiv pulled tissues from the box
and made a row of one hundred spitballs.
He flicked them, one at a time, into the wastebasket.

His aim was barely half what it used to be.

Shiv took another tissue
and made some more spitballs.
He did the exercise again and again,
but the results never improved.

The rust that he was tasting was
the remains of his hand-eye coordination.

Shiv remembered his friend Antimatter
who turned out to be a fucking useless wuss
and basically stabbed him in the back
for some pretty-boy superhero so thick
he never even saw Shiv coming.

They shoved him into a pile of bricks
and broke his aim but good.

Hatred twisted in him, sudden and vicious.

Fuck 'em both, Shiv thought.
I've been in jail before.
Someday I'll get out,
and when I do ...

I'm coming for those fuckers.
I'll stab them straight through
and lick the blood from the blade

They won't see him coming this time either.

* * *


Shiv (Egon Harrison) -- He has fair skin and silver eyes. His streaky blond hair is straight and silky, worn long on top so that it that flops over his face. His head is a long triangle ending in a narrow chin. He has a lot of small scars from fights, but he heals well, having survived several injuries that could easily have proven fatal. Egon is currently 19 years old.
His superpower is a narrow form of telekinesis. It lets him create knives out of almost any nearby material, or take control of small bladed weapons from anyone else. He can't manage anything larger than a machete, though.
Origin: While in Juvenile Hall, he was stabbed by another inmate. Shortly thereafter, Egon developed his superpower. He believes that there was something on the knife -- or in the material itself -- which caused this to happen.
Uniform: Street clothes, but with several bandoliers of throwing knives.
Qualities: Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Generous, Good (+2) Hoodlum, Good (+2) Recovering from Injuries, Good (+2) Streetwise
Poor (-2) Can't Keep His Mouth Shut
Powers: Good (+2) Knife Control
Note that the knives which Shiv makes or controls are saturated with his superpower, meaning they do damage on a super scale. For instance, they can penetrate abilities such as Super-Armor or Invulnerability and do real damage, although they still won't kill someone with Immortality.
Motivation: Puncture ALL the egos!

* * *

Back in "Turning Leaves," Stalwart Stan and Antimatter knocked Shiv into a pile of bricks. When there's an impact and someone doesn't get up, that usually indicates a real problem. Closed head injuries can cause brain damage in various ways; here's a picture for a rear blow. The primary visual cortex lies at the back of the skull, while higher mental functions and emotions lie at the front. You can see the effects of brain damage on these areas.

Traumatic Brain Injury can have a variety of negative effects. For Shiv, the most significant and persistent ones are visual and emotional. Read about what brain injury survivors want you to know.

"Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house."
-- John Cheever

People often lie to hide weakness from others, including their doctors. While this has obvious drawbacks, people usually do it when they believe it is better than the alternatives. Shiv's experiences is that any show of weakness triggers an attack, not assistance. This is frequently true in prison, and increases the likelihood of rape.

Generally speaking, people who are hurting tend to hurt others. Know how to cope with that.

Hand-eye coordination is an important skill, easily harmed by head injuries. Try some exercises to improve your aim.

Feeling betrayed is a natural result of expectancy violation and relational transgression. There are good ways to get over it. Revenge, while popular, is not one of them. Of course, Shiv didn't have great life skills even before he hit his head.

Licking the knife is a famous trope, but it's more dangerous than most people realize, both figuratively and literally.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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