Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Best of All Instructors"

This poem is from the May 3, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from ng_moonmoth, book_worm5, kestrels_nest, [personal profile] capriuni, and [personal profile] moongoddessgirl. It also fills the "Mr. Grenade and Hadyn practicing" square in my 5-1-16 card for the Finish It Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by EdorFaus and daisiesrockalot. It belongs to the Danso and Family thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"The Best of All Instructors"

Mr. Grenade worked as a mercenary,
and he routinely took dangerous missions
in bottom-ten countries without hesitation.

Today he was terrified, and
trying not to show it.

"I don't know the first thing
about kids, Muffler," he said.
"God knows, I owe you more than
I can ever hope to repay, but ... are you
sure that this is what you want?"

"I'm sure," she said firmly.

"I don't know how to teach," he said,
"except maybe for the school of hard knocks."

The Muffler shook her head.
"The School of Hard Knocks
has a terrible curriculum, and
the tuition is way too high!"

"Then what do you expect?" he said.
"I'm a mercenary, not an instructor."

“Practice is the best of all instructors,"
she said, reaching up to pat his shoulder.

"I'm afraid that I can't give her
what she needs," he admitted.

"Oh Borys," the Muffler said gently,
"what Hadyn needs most isn't a lesson
in how to control her gift. She needs
to see that being a Self-Detonator doesn't
automatically make someone a bad person."

"I'm a supervillain," he pointed out.

"I know," said the Muffler. "I also
know why you left the military --
over a point of ethics."

"Can't argue with that one," he said.

"I should think not," she said.
"Now get your tail in that house,
my girl's chewing her nails to
the quick waiting for you."

Mr. Grenade remembered
that firm, no-nonsense voice
which had anchored him during
the most chaotic time in his life and
held him together when nothing else --
including his superpower -- could.

So he squared his shoulders
and lifted his chin and marched
into the quiet little house.

Hadyn turned out to be
an eleven-year-old girl with
wavy blonde hair that fell
just past her shoulders.

She was hiding behind
a gangly black boy who looked
ferociously protective but said,
"Good morning, Mr. Grenade," in
a carefully polite tone. "I'm Danso."

"Pleased to meet you,"
Mr. Grenade replied,
and shook hands with him.

"I'm Hadyn," the girl warbled.

Mr. Grenade remembered
how gently the Muffler had
dealt with him when he was
freaking out over his power,
so he crouched down to meet
Hadyn at her eye level.

"So you're my new camping buddy?"
he said. "We'll have a great weekend!"

"I haven't been camping much,"
she whispered, "unless you
count living on the streets."

Mr. Grenade was really glad
that the girl's asshole father
was already dead and not
currently in need of killing.

"This will be a lot more fun
than that," he promised.
"I have a tent, but I guess
you will need to pick out
your own sleeping bag."

Hadyn looked at the Muffler.

"My treat," Mr. Grenade specified.

"Okay," Hadyn said. She wouldn't
hold onto him when they walked
out to the car, but the Muffler had
warned about that -- and also
the importance of not grabbing
Hadyn, ever -- assuring him
that she wouldn't run off.

Mr. Grenade decided to trust
the girl unless she misbehaved.

She didn't. She was
almost scarily good.

At the store, Hadyn picked out
a loud pink-and-blue sleeping bag
that evidently came with a small one
to suit some traveling doll that she had.

Despite her lack of experience,
the kid had a good work ethic
and willingly pitched in to help
set up their campsite, listening
carefully as Mr. Grenade
explained what to do.

"We made a camp!" she said.

He looked at the tent and
the firepit and the larder bag
swinging neatly from its tree.

"We sure did," he said.
"Now it's time to go practice."

Her face fell. "If we have to,"
Hadyn said glumly.

"You don't like practicing?" he said.

"I don't practice," she said.
"I have a bad power. All it
ever does is hurt people."

Mr. Grenade got a sinking sense
that maybe this was even worse
than he had thought going in.

"Your power scares you?"
he asked, crouching down again.

She nodded. Her lip trembled.

He felt like a gigantic jerk
for scaring a little girl.

"Maybe it would be less scary
if I went first?" Mr. Grenade said.

"Really?" Hadyn said, tilting her head.
"I never saw anyone else do it.
They all do different things."

"Well, from what I hear, my power
works a little differently than yours,
but it's still Self-Detonation," he said.
"So let's go out to the meadow.
You can stand behind a tree,
and I'll show off for a while."

"Okay," she said, and
trotted along behind him while
they went to the practice field.

As they walked, Mr. Grenade
let the living metal seep out
to cover his skin.

"Wow," said Hadyn.
"You look like a statue."

He laughed. "I have actually
made pocket money, posing
as a living statue," he admitted.
"But I make a much better mercenary
than I do a busker, in the end."

Mr. Grenade gathered up
some cans that had tumbled
out of a toppled trash can, and
lined them up along a fallen log.

"Okay kid, get behind a tree,"
he said. "I've got enough
point control to hit those, but
I want to make sure that
you're safe, first."

Hadyn hid behind a tree,
one eye peeking out.

Mr. Grenade held out
both hands toward the cans,
and then carefully fired off
marble-sized bits of skin.

Pow! Ping! Pop!
went the metal missiles
as the metal cans flew off
of their perch on the log.

"Yay!" said Hadyn, which
was as close as she'd come
to admitting that Self-Detonation
might not be entirely awful.

"Thank you," he said with a bow.
"Now for the grand finale -- you
might want to cover your ears."

Then he centered himself,
breathed in, breathed out,
and let go of his superpower.

Metal skin exploded in all directions.

Mr. Grenade shivered in the aftermath
of the release, which always left him
a little giddy with the relief.

When he walked back to the tree,
Hadyn exclaimed, "Are you okay?
Didn't that hurt?" She looked worried,
her hand hovering over the pink expanse
of his freshly regenerated skin.

"I'm fine," he said. "When I blow
my metal skin like that, it just takes
a few minutes before I can do it again.
It doesn't hurt me; it feels like a release."

"Oh," she said. "You're lucky."

"Hadyn, does it hurt you when
you use your superpower?" he asked.

"It did," she said.

"I've heard that happens for
some people," he said. "Others
say that it hurt at first, but then
they learned how to do it right,
so that it doesn't hurt anymore."

Hadyn started crying.

"I don't want to do it," she said.
"I hate my superpower! I wish
that I didn't have it. I never want
to use it again. Please don't make me!"

Mr. Grenade might not know much
about kids, but knew that if they cried,
you were supposed to cuddle them
or something like that.

"Okay," he said. "Let's take a break.
How about a piggyback ride?"

Hadyn appeared to think about it
for a long minute, then held up
her arms. "Piggyback," she agreed.

To his strength, she weighed
next to nothing as he lifted her
onto his back, letting her
hang onto his shoulders.

By the time they got back
to their camp, she was laughing.

At least she wasn't terrified of him.

However, now he needed to find
some other way of convincing her
to explore her superpower.

Maybe it would help if he found
some way to make it appeal to her.

Mr. Grenade had no idea how
to do that, though, so he just
set it aside for the time being.

Instead he sent her to the pump
for water, and to the woodpile
for firewood, and then he
set about making supper.

Hadyn watched him like a hawk.

"You like cooking, huh?"
asked Mr. Grenade, seizing
the opportunity for connection.

"I like girl things," Hadyn said.
"Mom says that cooking is
a useful life skill. It's more fun
than what I learn in school, too."

Mr. Grenade wondered how
the teachers at her school
dealt with the 'difficult' kids,
especially the criers, because
he had no freaking clue.

"Have you ever learned about
campfire cooking?" he asked.

Mutely she shook her head.

"Okay, I'll show you,"
said Mr. Grenade. "It's easy."

So he told her about campfires
and what kind of wood worked
best for cooking, and how to make
a nice bed of coals in the ring.

He talked about the ingredients
that he'd packed and what they
could make with those.

He made beef stew with
dehydrated hamburger,
freeze-dried vegetables,
and gravy powder.

He baked potatoes with
slivered onions in tinfoil.

"It's good," Hadyn declared
as she licked the last of it
from her fingertips.

"Now those are things that
you can do with an ordinary fire,"
he said, "but let me show you a trick."

He stuck a marshmallow onto
the end of a collapsible fork --
without extending it -- and
held the thing over his hand.

Carefully he released his grip
on his superpower, just a little.

A line of tiny orange sparks
crawled across his palm.

The marshmallow began
to bubble and turn brown.
Deftly Mr. Grenade spun
the fork in his other hand.

When the marshmallow
was perfectly toasted,
he pinched it between
a graham cracker and
a chocolate bar, then
slid it off of the fork.

"How did you do that?"
Hadyn asked, her eyes wide.

"Superpowers," he said casually.
"Eat your dessert, kid."

She ate her dessert.

He waited.

"Can I have another?"
Hadyn asked.

"When you can make it
yourself," he said with a grin.

Hadyn looked at the bag of marshmallows.

That's when Mr. Grenade
finally began to believe that
he could actually make this work.

It took Hadyn the entire rest of the weekend
to learn enough control to cook marshmallows
without vaporizing them, and she accidentally
shot him in the crotch once -- which was no fun
even with Super-Armor -- but it was worth it
to see the triumphant smile on a tiny face
no longer shadowed by fear of her own gift.

Mr. Grenade stayed with her the whole time,
showing her how to breathe and how to stand
and helping her figure out which mental tricks
worked for her in terms of holding on or letting go.

It wasn't really the kind of thing that
you could teach in a schoolroom, with
books and desks and blackboards.

You just had to get outside
and do it, to find out
how it worked.

Having an experienced coach
helped a lot, though. Mr. Grenade
knew that Hadyn was learning this
much faster than he had.

Sometimes, he even surprised himself.
He hadn't thought he would make
a good teacher, but maybe
he had, after all.

"I think that was a success,"
he said to Hadyn as they
packed up their camp.
"What do you think?"

Hadyn smiled at him in
an impish way that made
her suntanned nose crinkle.

"When can we come again?" she said.

* * *


Mr. Grenade (Borys Bergmann) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He is tall and broad, with bulging muscles. His heritage is primarily central European, including German, Polish, and a little Russian. He speaks English, German, Italian, and Russian.
Mr. Grenade is a self-detonator who works as a supervillain henchman. His people skills focus on professional or casual interactions; he doesn't know much about how to handle closer relationships. Although primarily inspired by money, he is also known for a slow but serious temper, hence his tagline. Borys spends a lot of time outdoors where he enjoys hiking, camping, and various other wilderness activities. Since gaining his superpowers he has also paid attention to rocks and metals, but his knowledge there is still only average. He knows Hannah Patterson from spending a few weeks with her as part of learning how to control his superpowers.
Origin: Borys served in the military, and enemies threw a grenade into his unit. He dove on top of it, expecting to die. Instead he turned into a living grenade. He calmly walked over to the enemy position and detonated himself. But the military wanted to exploit his new superpower, so he quit and became a mercenary. Now he chooses his own missions, and only takes orders that he agrees with.
Uniform: As little as possible. Because activating his superpower ruins whatever he's wearing, Mr. Grenade dislikes wasting money on clothes. In warm climates he often wears nothing but shorts and shoes -- he doesn't even bother with socks. In colder weather, he favors cheap tracksuits in dark colors.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Unflappable, Good (+2) Iron Will, Good (+2) Mercenary Fighter, Good (+2) Outdoorsman
Poor (-2) Intimacy
Powers: Good (+2) Metal Skin (Signature Stunt: Controlled Burst), Good (+2) Regeneration, Good (+2) Super-Strength
Mr. Grenade can turn his skin to living metal, and it serves as Super-Armor. Then if he wishes, he can use Self-Detonation to produce a cloud of shrapnel from it. His Regeneration takes about five minutes before he can re-arm his Grenade Skin. During that time he is vulnerable, his soft human skin unable to turn aside attacks.
Usually he blows off his entire skin at once, but he can use the Controlled Burst stunt to fire a small burst or single rounds at a specific target. This version reduces his Super-Armor to Average for five minutes.
Motivation: "Once you have pulled the pin from Mr. Grenade, he is no longer your friend."

The Muffler (Hannah Patterson) -- She has straight black hair now streaked with silver, hazel eyes blending brown and green, and tan skin. Hannah works for SPOON, raising children with superpowers who need foster or adoptive care. Her usual limit was two at a time, but she has just taken on a set of five siblings-of-choice.
Origin: Her powers grew in slowly over time. As more children began to manifest superpowers, she realized that her gifts could help them when nobody else could, so she became a foster mother.
Uniform: Street clothes. Hannah usually wears a light colored top with darker pants or skirt, and sometimes a cardigan over the top.
Qualities: Master (+6) Foster Mom, Expert (+4) Eyes in the Back of Her Head, Expert (+4) Soup Contacts, Good (+2) Crafts, Good (+2) Never Mess with the Mommy, Good (+2) Pillar of the Local Church, Good (+2) Sports Fan, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Love Life
Powers: Good (+2) Power Nullification, Average (0) Empathy
Motivation: Love makes a house a home.

Boomer (Hadyn Kennedy) -- She has wavy blond hair past her shoulders, brown eyes, and golden-fair skin. Her ability to explode and reform her body has made her anxious and skittish, because she can't control it much. She clings to Danso as a protector and an anchor. Hadyn particularly enjoys jumping rope and has taught Lakia how to do it. She is currently eleven years old.
Origin: Her superpowers manifested at ten, when her father sexually abused her. Neither he nor their house survived the incident. Hadyn fled and lived on the street alone until she met Danso.
Uniform: Street clothes. Hadyn likes girl clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Cute, Good (+2) Girl Stuff, Good (+2) Survivor
Poor (-2) Sexual Abuse Trauma
Powers: Average (0) Regeneration, Average (0) Self-Detonation
Motivation: Avoid conflict.

* * *

“Practice is the best of all instructors.”
-- Publilius Syrus quotes (Roman author, 1st century B.C.)

Traumatized children often suffer lasting effects. In Hadyn's case, the trauma includes sexual abuse, traumatic manifestation of Self-Detonation which destroyed both her father and their home, and homelessness. There are tips for foster parents and other caregivers of traumatized children.

See the Journey Girls Sleeping Bag set.

Camping food safety includes bearproofing your edibles. One easy method involves suspending the food in a sack slung over a tree branch.

Living Statue is a style of street performance. It is rather popular with soups who have metallic or stony looking skin. Read about how to be a living statue.

Campfire cooking relies on having appropriate ingredients. You can use dehydrated meat, freeze-dried vegetables, and other things that store well. Browse some recipes for dehydrated foods.

A telescoping marshmallow fork is a useful tool for campfire cooking.

Self-lighting charcoal is often used to burn incense. Watch a video of this in action. Some people with Self-Detonation can mimic this effect using their superpowers.

Marshmallows are among the most popular camping foods. They may be roasted in various ways.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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