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Poem: "Stretched" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Stretched"
This poem is spillover from the November 2014 Creative Jam.  It was inspired by a prompt from DW user Dialecticdreamer.  It also fills the "injury" square in my 9-1-14 card for the Genprompt Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the Danso & Family thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and is a direct sequel to "Clipped."

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: lb_lee, janetmiles, rix_scaedu, Frode Austvik, Stephen Laird, DW user Fyreharper

232 lines, Buy It Now = $116
Amount donated = $85.75
Verses posted = 45 of 67

Amount remaining to fund fully = $30.25
Amount needed to fund next verse = $2.25
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $2

WARNING: This poem features some intense topics. Highlight to read warnings, some of which are spoilers. Topics include physical and emotional upset, superpower injury, self-blame, awkward problem-solving, and dealing with difficult feelings. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your mindstate before deciding whether to read further.


Despite the teleporter's obvious care,
the trip home made Danso feel even worse.

He could hear Amada's sharp exclamation of worry
and the barely quieter demands of the children.
Every sound went through his brain like an ice pick.

"No he is not fine," Hannah said. "Amada, I'm sorry,
I need somebody to watch the little ones
for a while longer. Can you do that,
or do I need to call a new sitter?"

"Of course I can stay," Amada said.
"Go take care of Danso."

Hannah kept an arm around him
while she helped Danso get ready for bed.
It was embarrassing, but better than
faceplanting into the floor.

On top of the headache, the world had that
wavery quality it got when he pushed himself too far.
Danso didn't think he had done much, but then again
he was trying to do something different than
he'd done before, so maybe that was why.

The memories were worse, but he shied away from those.

Hannah brought in the blue chamomile,
which she applied by pressing the open mouth
to each of his wrists and then upending the bottle.
That was a lot more than the drop or two that
Danso usually took when he overstrained himself,
but he felt like crap so he didn't argue.

It made him feel less like he was being
stabbed in the brain with an ice pick,
and more like being poked with a nerf bat.

"Get some rest if you can," Hannah said
as she smoothed the blankets over him.
"I need to go make a few calls."

Danso heard her pacing back and forth outside
his bedroom door, her usually mellow voice
tight with anxiety. "Piotr? It's Hannah,"
she said. "I need your help."

The sound of her footsteps lulled Danso into a doze;
now and again her voice rose as Hannah
talked to different people on the phone.

Danso drifted in a haze of exhaustion
and heartache and blue chamomile.

Someone sat down on the bed beside him,
making the mattress creak and shift.
Danso roused enough to recognize Aidan,
which made him feel all the more confused.

"What're you doing here?" he mumbled.
"It's not the first. Should'n be back yet."

Aidan picked up Danso's wrist, fingertips
pressing, moving, pressing again until
they settled at the base of his thumb.
"Hannah said it was an emergency," he said,
"so I called a teleporter friend to jump me here."

"What emergency?" Danso said,
struggling to sit up in bed.
"Did one of the kids get hurt?"

"You're the emergency, Danso,"
said Aidan. His hand on one shoulder
pushed Danso back down, gently but firmly.
"Please believe that you are important enough
for me to drop everything but my new daughter
when I heard that you needed me."

"Where's she?" Danso asked.

"I left her with Piotr, and they're bonded,
so she'll be okay for a little while --
but I'll have to check back with her
fairly often," Aidan explained.
"That means we don't have time to waste.
I need you to tell me what you remember,
how you feel, and whether you want my help."

The pain welled up again, a sudden shocking wave
that nearly pulled Danso under the surface of memories
where he could see people hurt but had no way to fix any of it.

Then Aidan drew him up and out, steadying Danso
with a careful touch. "Shh-shh-shh, I've got you,"
Aidan said. "Words first. Tell me what happened
at SPOON to knock you so badly off your balance."

Danso took a deep, shuddering breath.
"This girl came in. Her parents had someone
try to take her power away -- did take most of it,
I think, but what was left of it was hurting her," he said.
"There's not many people who could do anything for
that kind of injury, so Granny Whammy asked me."

The look on Aidan's face was so grim and implacable
that it scared Danso, even though he knew
that Aidan would never hurt him.

Aidan seemed to sense his upset,
because he patted Danso tenderly and said,
"I am not angry with you. Do not worry about
the clipper; something will be done about him
by people whose sort of business that is.
I'd like to hear more about what you did at SPOON."

"Well, I asked Cassandra if she'd let me look at her,
and she said yes, so I tried ..." Danso shook his head.
"It was so weird! Like trying to see through a muddy window
or something, and then I pushed a little more, hoping
that it would come clear, but when it finally did,
I wished that it hadn't after all."

"What did you find?" Aidan asked gently.

"It was like ... this time when I was eight,
a car wrecked in the intersection ahead of us
and when we drove past my mama told me not to look
but I did anyway and it was one of the dumbest things
I ever did," Danso said, wrapping his arms around himself.
"There was this lady inside with her body all torn open and
the paramedics were trying to save her but I'm pretty sure
she was dead already. I had nightmares for a month."

Aidan's hand shifted up to where he could reach
the side of Danso's neck, thumb drawing soft circles there.
"That sounds awful," Aidan said.

Danso turned his head, trying to get his cheek
on Aidan's hand to increase the contact.
It may have been childish, but he just
really wanted something to cuddle right now.

Aidan moved again, cupping the base of his skull,
then down a little to press on two points behind his ears.

Danso felt like his whole body was melting.
Oh, that was wonderful.

"What happened next?" Aidan urged.

"I started feeling sick, but she needed help, so I
tried to pack it down and work around it," Danso said.
"I could see where ... where her superpower used to be,
and that it was healing some but the ends were all ragged ..."
He broke off, gasping for breath again, his stomach
flopping the way it had back at SPOON.

Cloth at his cheeks, then, Aidan wiping away the tears
with a handkerchief that had something scratchy
embroidered on one corner.

"Those are very good observations," Aidan said,
and that made Danso feel a little less
like a complete waste of space.
"How about what you felt with your gift?"

"I was trying to reach out to her, but it just ...
wouldn't come together in my head," Danso said.
"I felt sort of ... stretched, like I was grabbing for
something a little out of reach, and then
it started to hurt and I got scared."
He picked at a loose thread on his blanket.
"So I told her that I didn't know what I was doing
and I was afraid I'd make things worse. Then
I really got sick so I had to run to the bathroom."

"It was very brave of you to admit that you couldn't help,"
Aidan said. "I'm afraid that one never gets easier."

"So I'm basically useless," Danso said,
folding his hands over his waist.

"No, you gave us some very valuable information,
which not many people could have gotten," Aidan said.
"That fact that you're too young to do anything about it
is not your fault. Think of it like ... if you saw a house fire,
you'd call the fire department and tell them what you saw,
because you don't have a firetruck. You've got a potent gift,
but it hasn't developed fully yet. I think you must have
reached for a part of it that wasn't ready to come out.
That's why it hurt when you tried to stretch too far."

"I guess that makes sense," Danso said.
"It's all so awful. I hate this! I wish that
I could forget it ever happened."

"Then you wouldn't learn anything from it,
so you might make the same mistake again,
and somebody could get hurt even worse,"
Aidan pointed out. "Besides, cutting things
out of people's memory tends to have
terrible side effects more often than not."

"So you can't do anything either,"
Danso said glumly, looking away.

Aidan clucked his tongue at Danso.
"I didn't say that. There are plenty
of other things I can do to help,
if you'll let me in."

"Sure," Danso said as he let
his hands fall to his sides.

What Aidan did next just plain looked funny,
and Danso wanted to laugh, except that
as Aidan patted the air above Danso's body
he could feel it somehow in a way
that he couldn't quite describe.

Danso remembered the time that Aidan
had let him into the older man's mind,
how warm and soft and strange
that mental touch had felt.

He tried to imagine opening himself
like a door to let Aidan inside.

"Good, that's perfect, keep going
right like that," Aidan encouraged.

Then he hit something that made Danso yelp.

"Ah. There it is." Aidan lifted his hand
a bit higher but kept circling above Danso's middle.

"What?" Danso asked, wondering what
Aidan had found, but it was like trying
to see the back of his head without a mirror.

"That 'stretched' part," Aidan explained.
"I'm going to push it back where it belongs.
Hold still for me; this may hurt a little."

There was an odd sort of pop, like the time
Danso had pulled his thumb out of joint
and the doctor had to put it back in, which
throbbed deeply and then felt a lot better.

"Wow, that ... really helped," Danso said.

"Good," Aidan replied. "Stay here.
I need to get something from the kitchen."

Danso poked tentatively at his stomach
but it seemed the same as always.

Aidan came back carrying half a glass of water.
He slipped his free hand behind Danso's back
and lifted gently. "Here, sit up so you can drink this."

Danso obeyed, but the strange taste made him splutter.
"What did you do, spit in this?" he demanded.

"No, of course not," Aidan said with a chuckle.
"Trust me. Blue chamomile works faster
from the inside out, and you need it."
He nudged the glass upward again.

"Tastes like moldy mint," Danso whined,
but he gulped down the rest of it.

"Thank you," Aidan said as he
set the empty glass on the nightstand.
"You should feel better soon."

Within minutes Danso got even sleepier,
and the piercing headache faded altogether.
"Not sure I can ... stay awake much longer,"
he admitted, blinking slowly at Aidan.

"That's the idea," Aidan said. "Lie back down."
He helped Danso settle into the bed.
It should have been embarrassing, but
Danso was too fuzzy-headed for it to register.
"Good boy. Go to sleep now."

The present tangled up with the past,
and Danso wished fiercely that
his mother was there to kiss him goodnight.

The last thing he felt before sinking into sleep
was a soft pressure at his forehead,
and in that moment he could imagine

that all was right with the world.

* * *


Like psychic powers, one of the risks in superpowers is overstrain.  Some of the symptoms (discomfort, disorientation, wobbly speech or motion) and treatment (a safe place, rest, water, and someone to keep watch) resemble those for alcohol intoxication.

Chamomile has many physical and emotional benefits; it may be taken internally or externally in various forms. Blue chamomile is a leading first-aid supply for people with superpowers, although it works for ordinary people too.

Harsh experiences can cause emotional trauma, especially if the person feels helpless or overwhelmed by what happened.  There are tips for helping a traumatized person.

Bottling emotions can have unhealthy consequences.  Talking about difficult topics and feelings helps process them, so you can move on.

Negative memories can be difficult to handle.  It helps to focus on neutral parts of the memory such as objects or actions, rather than feelings.  There are ways to stop bad memories and let go of them, so they don't overwhelm the present.

Acupressure can help relieve depression, anxiety, or other emotional upset.

The aura is an energy field produced by living things, which can be detected by some sensitive individuals or with special equipment, and it conveys information about health and other factors.  You can learn how to feel your own or someone else's aura.  In Terramagne, some soups can perceive auras, especially if their powers relate to the body/mind/spirit or other energies.

The Solar Plexus Chakra deals with personal strength, learning, and boundaries.  It can cause problems when out of balance.  There are many practical ways to heal it.

A kiss on the forehead can mean many things, especially platonic love, respect, and blessing.

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10 comments or Leave a comment
starcat_jewel From: starcat_jewel Date: January 31st, 2015 05:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Poor Danso! But he really did get some information that will be useful to the other people trying to help Cassandra, so his effort wasn't wasted even though he couldn't fix her himself. I hope he reaches the point of being able to see that eventually.

If I were looking for blue chamomile here, would I be more likely to find it at a place like GNC or at a mystical shop?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 31st, 2015 05:20 am (UTC) (Link)


>> Poor Danso! But he really did get some information that will be useful to the other people trying to help Cassandra, so his effort wasn't wasted even though he couldn't fix her himself. I hope he reaches the point of being able to see that eventually. <<

It will be easier for him to see when he doesn't feel like hammered crap. Also that mental maneuver of seeing the positive things you've accomplished, when the situation is still a mess because you're in over your head -- that takes practice. Learning that is what helps Terramagne heroes not mangle themselves at the rate typical in, say, DC or Marvel.

>> If I were looking for blue chamomile here, would I be more likely to find it at a place like GNC or at a mystical shop? <<

Mystical shop, essential oil specialty store, or online. It was never cheap and has gone up since the last time I bought some. But it works great for some talent-related stuff even in this world.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: January 31st, 2015 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

«Like psychic powers, one of the risks in superpowers is overstrain.»

And everyday, ordinary powers/abilities as well. Muscle strain from pushing yourself too hard physically. At a lower level, fatigue ditto. Mental fatigue, confusion, and inaccuracy from too much editing! So Danso's kind of overstress is a logical extension.

Edited at 2015-01-31 06:47 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 31st, 2015 07:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Absolutely. That's exactly where it's coming from. Whatever you can do, if you overdo it, there will be consequences.

What happened to Danso really is like a kid stretching a muscle from overexuberant activity. It's small fiber fraying that is miserable but will heal on its own in a few days or a week, not larger rips that require a visit to the clinic or worse. But you darn well learn not to make that mistake again because ow!

Also a lot of what contributed to flattening him was plain emotional shock. It was an awful situation, and he wasn't equipped to handle it. He actually did quite well with the resources at hand. Again, it's something that heals well as long as people are sensible about it, and his family did all the right things such as taking the pressure off and providing comfort.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 31st, 2015 11:41 am (UTC) (Link)

Danso-- and the damage he's sufffered

Right now, he's getting the reassurance, and the emotional help he needs, but MAN, this makes me so freaking ANGRY at Granny Whammy.

She shoved the kid with ZERO training-- into what is essentially a field surgery! Talk about unrealistic expectations!

It DID hurt him, severely. If Hannah and Aidan hadn't been there to give IMMEDIATE and trained help, I think Danso could've retreated from his OWN powers.

I am SOOOO looking forward to the Finns' reaction when she tries that again.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 31st, 2015 08:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Danso-- and the damage he's sufffered

>>Right now, he's getting the reassurance, and the emotional help he needs,<<

Yes, and that helps make the recovery quick and clean.

>> but MAN, this makes me so freaking ANGRY at Granny Whammy. <<

She certainly screwed the pooch this time. Danso may be willing to let her off due to hero-worship, but Hannah and Aidan certainly won't.

>> She shoved the kid with ZERO training-- into what is essentially a field surgery! Talk about unrealistic expectations! <<

Exactly. Granny Whammy got into this mess because of ...

* Desperation. They really are shorthanded all the time, and that leads to mistakes like this.

* Inexperience. Superpowers have been widely known for less than a century, and still aren't really common. That hobbles people's ability to learn how they work and how to deploy them safely. Terramagne is still struggling to learn how to fit soups into the first responder systems of nations that recognize them, and to understand their vulnerabilities as well as their assets. She just plain overestimate what Danso could handle, and underestimated the risk.

* Related factors stemming from her age.
** She's still using mostly the same expectations typical of her own time, and not accounting for some shifts in culture, as often happens with elders.
** She's not accounting for the lack of training. Most the young bucks she saw doing amazing things had Basic Training.
** She's not accounting for the difference between an emergency that happens right in front of someone, and an emergency that they are summoned to handle. If someone keeled over in front of Danso, he would've handled it to the best of his ability; but putting that responsibility on him was inappropriate at his age and experience level. The biggest mistake was putting an untrained person on the hot-call list. Most of the "rise to the challenge" examples that she has seen were either in combat or on-the-spot civilian emergencies.

>> It DID hurt him, severely. <<

It hurt him somewhat. It was a miserable experience, but even without Aidan to patch him up quickly, it would've healed fine in a few days or a week. More serious talent injuries are definitely possible. Danso got off with minor overstrain because he very sensibly stopped what he was doing when he recognized danger signs. The serious injuries are either compounded ones (when somebody keeps going) or cascades (when they try to do something enormously beyond their capacity all at once) and can lead to major ruptures that won't heal on their own.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 31st, 2015 08:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Danso-- and the damage he's sufffered

>> If Hannah and Aidan hadn't been there to give IMMEDIATE and trained help, I think Danso could've retreated from his OWN powers. <<

Context matters. He's had time to learn some things about what he can do, and his powers are very survival-useful. A lack of support would have shaken his trust in the adults around him, and made him more cautious about his powers. It would have taken wrong responses to make him retreat -- like if people tried to force him to keep going, he would probably lie and say he couldn't, and try to make like it had broken something permanently. Not a bad strategy, and it can work.

>> I am SOOOO looking forward to the Finns' reaction when she tries that again. <<

The idea is to prevent things like this from happening again. Sure Granny Whammy will make other mistakes, she's only human. But this was a very sharp clue that some things in SPOON need to change, and some things in wider society do too.

It's going to inspire another push to ban or at least restrict clipping, and to guarantee minors a chance to talk with someone other than their parents if they feel unsafe at home. Those are things that Hannah and Cassandra can be involved in if they wish, or not.

On the SPOON side, they'll push for more training and for not putting people on any kind of call list unless they either get training through SPOON or they volunteer based on personal experience from outside. Frex, a perfectly appropriate contribution for Danso would be talking to other homeless youth, because he knows what it's like and how to cope. He already has the experience, and if they added a weekend class in how to offer resources to kids in trouble then that would add refinements. The flexible, unofficial nature of SPOON has advantages and disadvantages; this was one of the disadvantages, and will encourage people to think about how to prevent a repetition.

But yeah, the Finns are people who would stomp on Granny Whammy for making this kind of mistake, as well they should.

There is a very erratic response to soups even in the better societies. On the one hand, many people are leery of them. But people want what they can do. So there is a great deal of pressure on soups, especially certain types of high-demand ability or anything valuable that is really rare. Someone who has Healing but doesn't want to fix people is going to get a lot of grief over that, and it causes problems, as Stiletto demonstrates. Someone who wants to be a businessman instead of a volunteer, like Junket, gets a different kind of complaint -- especially from people in Granny Whammy's generation who were raised to "do their part" and thus expect others to do likewise.

One of the most crucial things that the Maldives changed is actually a sideline to offering citizenship. It's that they made the social contract explicit and equal. You come here and use your powers on behalf of our country, then that earns you citizenship with this list of perks. Nobody's getting anything for free or getting shafted. It's a mutually beneficial exchange of resources and respect. That's why it works. What starts as a trickle of first adopters is going to become a massive hemorrhage of talent, until some other countries realize it and take steps to retain their superheroes. But by the time that happens, the Maldives will already have creamed off a lot of the best people. Oh, now suddenly you want us back, after we've found someone who treats us better? Yeah no.
fyreharper From: fyreharper Date: February 2nd, 2015 07:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Is such good takingcareofs :) These people, I <3 them.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 2nd, 2015 07:26 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad you enjoyed this so much. I try to model good caretaking in Polychrome Heroics. Gods know they need it. You look at DC and Marvel, it's no wonder the characters are all such emotional wrecks, they almost never get help for any of the trauma they go through.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: February 4th, 2015 11:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
It strikes me that another problem Granny Whammy may have is what I call the "two foot yardstick". She measures other soups against herself and her own abilities and experience. Danso's powers are subtle, while Granny's most emphatically are NOT. That will give her trouble understanding abilities that the user has to grow into or figure out, because she's really never had to do that.

People also tend to measure by what they can do now, rather than what they were able to do at a much earlier point in their lives. My grandfather, for example, was terrified that I was going to lift too much and injure myself when I was carrying chaise lounge cushions for his patio furniture into the barn before it rained. He wanted me to take one at a time. He was in his late 80s and had gotten very frail. I was in my middle 30s and walked 3-5 miles daily just for fun. Measuring against yourself is a natural thing to do, but if you aren't aware of it, it can lead to problems such as this.
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