This poem was inspired by a comment from siege. It also fills the "stalkers" square in my 7-31-14 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.
The first time I see him,
I almost think I'm imagining it --
but no, there he is,
ghosting around campus
in a sharp black suit:
I duck away.
He turns where I turned.
He's following me.
No -- stalking me.
I dive inside myself
where he can't follow.
I don't like to come out
when there's a conflict, but
this is my kind of fight --
dealing in what can be seen
or what can be concealed.
I spin illusions like spidersilk
to hide my trail as I go along,
scatter reflections down false paths,
and leave everyone uncertain
of whom they have seen.
It's so easy, I laugh
at his confusion
as he chases in circles.
Inside, Maze is still agitated,
so I head for home.
On the way to the bedroom,
there's Mallory sprawled over the futon
on the upper landing, with a bucket beside her.
"Morning sickness?" I ask.
"Morning sickness, afternoon sickness,
she says. "You don't look so good either. Rough day?"
I look down and notice clothes and hair
in disarray from Maze's hasty retreat.
"I saw Mindflare on campus today," I admit.
"He was following ... me."
"No wonder you're shook up," Mallory says.
That guy is a creeper. You can stick with me,
and I'll curse him if he comes near you."
Oddly enough, that makes me feel better.
"Do you want to come downstairs?" I ask.
I can put on some ginger tea, and
we'll sit on the couch and watch cheesy TV."
She nods, so we walk down together,
and there's something reassuring
about having her to watch my back,
even if she used to be a supervillain.
I keep watch for Mindflare.
I see him around campus,
twice, three times,
lurking in the distance.
I let Mira throw him off our trail
with her clever illusions,
but I'm the one who tracks him,
keeping a record of his appearances
to see if I can find a pattern.
All I can tell is that
he's watching me, and
it makes me uncomfortable.
Then one day I don't see him
until he grabs me in a swirl
of black coat lined with red satin.
It's just like the day we were born,
the day that Maisie died.
I lunge forward,
pulling Clarity back to safety,
because I'm the one
hungering for a taste of Mindflare.
This is what I've been training for.
I ram my elbow back into his short ribs
and he gives a shocked grunt of pain.
I hit him again, manage to nail his solar plexus,
then stomp hard on the arch of his foot.
Mindflare lets go with his hands
but grabs hold with his superpower,
pulling me inward.
We both wind up
in the house that is my head.
"I never anticipated this,"
Mindflare says, staring at me --
at the real me, all olive skin
and toned muscles and flat chest,
so different from Maisie's body.
"Surprise," I agree,
and punch him in the face.
He pins me with his mind.
All around us, the doors open
as my headmates join the fight.
Clarity pries loose Mindflare's hold.
Maze pulls him away from me.
Mira blinds him with a dazzle of light.
"His ribs are cracked," Clement says,
and Keane sharpens the pain
until Mindflare gasps.
"You're outnumbered," I say.
"And outclassed," Clarity adds.
I can feel it as Clarity rips loose the knowledge
of our nature from Mindflare's head and
shoves him roughly back to the outer world.
He's still fighting against us, trying to cut,
but unfocused now and flailing blindly.
when Savoir Faire arrives and says,
"I received your ransom note --
well, this is a surprise."
"I rescued myself this time," I say
as Mindflare rakes one last attack
across us and then flees, clutching his ribs.
"Halt, you miscreant!" shouts Savoir Faire.
He sets off in hot pursuit.
He can have it.
My head is killing me.
Mindflare's ridiculous top hat
lies on the ground, and I stomp it flat with
a vicious kick that just makes my headache worse.
Keane, get out here and
make yourself useful for once.
I move forward as Ham moves back,
our familiar dance limping from strain.
With my talent so sore, it's hard
to get a handle on the headache,
but I manage to damp it down enough
that I can find my way home and
flop onto the living room couch.
Someone exclaims over me,
sharp and anxious, then
tugs at my hand.
Maybe if I ignore it,
they'll go away.
Then something slippery and cool
touches my wrists, and my head
starts to clear a little bit.
Mallory is leaning over me,
closing a bottle of blue chamomile.
That explains the relief,
if not the reasoning.
"You seriously can't crash down here
where just anyone could walk in," she says.
"It's not safe. You need to get upstairs."
She throws my arm over her shoulders,
the bones sharp against my skin,
and hauls me to my feet.
I stumble going up the stairs,
but Mallory keeps me from falling.
"What happened to you, anyway?"
she says as she lowers me into my bed.
"You look totally wrecked and
your talent feels funny too."
"Not my first fight," I mutter,
even though strictly speaking
it was Ham and Clarity doing
most of the actual fighting.
Mallory pulls off my boots.
"Let me guess, I should see the other truck."
"Yeah, Mindflare didn't come out
on top this time," I say. "Maybe
he'll think twice about the stalking."
"Maybe. He likes attention, though,"
she says she drops a blanket over me.
"Didn't like having his ribs cracked,"
I say. "Self-defense classes paid off."
Her hand feels cool and strange
against my forehead. She pulls back
and rubs her fingers together.
"What in the world did you
do to your superpower?" she asks.
"Mindflare grabbed me with his,
tried to cut me up, but it didn't
work too well for him," I say.
"Hmm," Mallory says thoughtfully.
"You know, if you're still flickering,
that's okay. Sometimes it takes a while
for people's ability to settle down."
"It's kind of ... more a mess than that,"
I confess. I don't want to talk about it,
can't take the risk of word getting out.
The trouble is, she's not just some
ordinary person I can fool
and walk away from.
She's seen me -- us -- fighting,
more than once, knows
some of what we can do,
and seems to have a sense
of our shifting powers.
She's not the only one, either;
there was Mindflare today,
Macavity and Dr. Infanta earlier,
even Dan the ice cream man
wondering about our changing tastes.
Even if they don't know for certain,
I may not be able to keep this secret forever.
I guess flickering is as good a cover
as I'm likely to get, though.
I'll take it as far as I can.
Mallory doesn't argue or pry.
She just says, "Yeah,
I know how that goes."
"Thanks," I say
as she moves away.
She turns off the light,
but pauses in the doorway.
"I'm glad you made it home safe,"
she says, then closes the door behind her.
It's odd to think of her as part of that,
but she sympathized about Mindflare
and she got me upstairs into bed.
Maybe she's just mimicking
the kinds of things that Clement
has done for her before.
Then again, maybe it's more.
* * *
Stalking is a creepy kind of power trip. In this case, it's a stalker without a crush -- the romantic kind is more common -- because Mindflare really just wants attention and this is an effective way of getting it. There are tips for dealing with different types of stalkers.
The short ribs, solar plexus, and arch of the foot are among the vulnerable points taught in self-defense classes. As Ham so capably demonstrates, the short ribs are more susceptible to fracture because they are anchored only to the spine and don't close in front.
Headspace is a multiple system's mental world. This appears in tropes such as "journey to the center of the mind" and "battle in the center of the mind." Picking a fight inside someone else's head is generally a bad idea. Usually a telepath has an advantage over a non-telepath in a mental fight, and a soup over a nary in almost any circumstance -- but Mindflare doesn't know that the nary girl he kidnapped before has souped up into superhero team, let alone that Clarity has Mind Powers.
Self-rescuing damsels are awesome. Of course some of Damask aren't damsels but you get the idea.
Blue chamomile is an essential oil derived from the chamomile plant, often shortened to "blue" among soups, which has soothing qualities. It laps over from physical to metaphysical effects, so in Terramagne it's used to treat the symptoms of overusing superpowers and subtle injuries from certain superpowers such as telepathy.
"You should see the other truck" is a phrase used when someone looks like they came off the worse in a conflict, but want to imply they did more damage than they took.
Flickering is one form of superpower development, most often seen in young people, involving manifestations that appear and then disappear quickly. Different episodes may display the same ability consistently, related abilities within a field, or wildly diverse ones. None of this means that the person will "keep" any particular ability, although the more often one appears, the more likely it will become permanent. The intermittent pattern makes it difficult to identify and control any ability. Usually one or more abilities will stretch out for longer periods of time until the final manifestation becomes clear.