Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "And Thunder Calls in the Distance"

This poem is spillover from the July 4, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] kengr, [personal profile] antisocialite_forum, [personal profile] curiosity, [personal profile] redsixwing, [personal profile] alatefeline, [personal profile] sweet_sparrow, [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] mdlbear, [personal profile] chanter_greenie, and [personal profile] callibr8. It also fills the "blood" square in my 1-1-17 card for the Dark Fantasy Bingo fest.  This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] across_space_and_time, [personal profile] technoshaman, and [personal profile] alatefeline. This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics. It directly follows "We Are All Related," so read that first or this will make no sense.

WARNING: This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. You-all wanted to see the gaybashers who attacked Kenzie curbstomped by the Iron Horses, so here it is. Watch out for conspiracy to commit assault, religious issues, conflicting obligations, bloody souvenirs, desire for vengeance, magical/spiritual stalking of culpable parties, Thunderbird is fucking scary and so is his follower, rude language, using superpowers against ordinary opponents, gaybashers stalking around a gay bar, oblique references to pony play, references to poaching and hazardous equipment, graphic violence, vigilante justice, use of barbed wire as a rumble weapon, probable permanent injury, brutal application of inconvenient truth, temporary hearing impairment, explanation of internalized oppression and repression of identity, complicated transgender issues, and other mayhem. This is a major plot development, so skipping it would leave a big gap, but the main thing you need to know is simply that the Iron Horses hunt down the gaybashers and beat the shit out of them. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"And Thunder Calls in the Distance"

The Iron Horses stay with Kenzie
through the day they found him
and the night that followed.

The next day, though, they have
another responsibility to fulfill.
While Kenzie dozes in bed,
they slip out to talk about it.

Overhead, gray clouds cover the sky,
and thunder calls in the distance.

"Wakan Tanka hides his face
from us," Ron says, frowning up
at the clouds. "This is not good."

"We must do something about
those hoodlums," says Blair.

"We can't let them keep attacking
the two-spirits," Ron agrees.
"That's dangerous for everyone."

"Yes, we must deal with this, but
we also have an obligation to Kenzie,"
says Joseph. "Who will stay with him while
the rest of us hunt down his attackers? That
watch must include one of the first three people
whom he named as his Sun Dance mentors."

That means Joseph, Ben, and Ron.
The three men look at each other.

Ben sighs and says, "I'm the medic.
I can stay behind to watch Kenzie."

"No, I'll do it," Ron says. "You're also
one of our best fighters, and I'm not
that fond of fighting. Besides, they will
need you in case anyone else gets hurt."

"We'll need to visit the shaman next
and ask if he can help us," says Joseph.

"Good idea," says Mick. "What do
we have for a tracking ritual?"

Smoking Breath could make medicine
from all sorts of things, and that would
make it easier to find the offenders.

Joseph doesn't think it will take much
to talk the spirits into helping them.

"I saved these," Ben said, opening
his pouch to reveal two bloody pieces
of barbed wire as long as his hand.

"I kept some too," Ron says. He
has the bits that he removed from
Kenzie's hair, some of them twined
with strands of copper where he had
needed to cut through the tangles.

"Well done," Joseph says. It is
good to have options, and this way
they can use some for tracking and
still have others left in case Kenzie
wants a medicine bag of his own.

They warn Kenzie, because
it wouldn't be fair to leave without
letting him know, and also to make sure
he understands that his attackers won't
be in any shape to bother him again.

Kenzie looks small and scared where
he huddles underneath the star quilt
that someone has loaned to him.

"Do not worry, little brother,"
Ron assures him. "I will stay
with you while the others
go to run their errands."

"I'm staying too, since
I know this rez," Kyle says.

"Okay," Kenzie says. Then
his voice drops to a fierce growl.
"I hope that you find them."

"Oh, we will," Mick says.

Next they go to Smoking Breath
and ask about a tracking ritual.

"Do you have anything that
belonged to the men who
attacked Kenzie?" he says.

"No, but we have these,"
Ben says, bringing out
the pieces of barbed wire.

Smoking Breath takes one
that has blood on it but no hair.
"This will work, since his attackers
must have gotten his blood on them,
and it will keep Kenzie a half-step
away from the working."

"We did tell him that we're
going," Blair says. "Ron and
Kyle are staying here to watch him."

"That is good," says Smoking Breath.
"I will go make a tracker for you to use.
You may help by making prayer ties."

He brings out four baskets full of
cloth squares in black, white, yellow,
and red; a pouch of tobacco; and
a ball of white cotton string.

The Iron Horses sit in a circle
and pray over the supplies.

Then they pick up the squares
and set to work. Joseph knows
from previous experience that they
have as long as the ritual takes to make
as many ties as they can to raise power
for the task that lies ahead of them.

By the time Smoking Breath returns,
they have several respectable ropes
draped over the nearby bushes.

"Here, this will guide you to your quarry,"
the medicine man says as he holds out
a pouch marked with a sacred hoop.

As Joseph takes it, he feels
a faint tug and notices that it is
leaning slightly toward the west.

They pass the bag around,
and when it reaches Mick,
he suddenly lifts his head
and says, "I have the scent."

When the Iron Horses go
to their motorcycles, though,
they find someone waiting.

"Blair, I have something for you,"
says James Distant Thunder.

"What is it?" Blair asks
as she turns toward him.

"A blessing," the old man says.

He might not look like much,
but Joseph has heard the story
about how he got his powers,
and Thunderbird is scary.

Blair steps right up anyway,
and looks him in the eyes, even
the left with its silvery streak cutting
across the brown ring of the iris.

"Thunderbird wishes for someone
to see the truth," says James.
"You will know who to give it to
whenever you find him."

"I will do my best," she says.

With that they are off.

They mount their motorcycles and
ride back the way they had once come
with Kenzie carried carefully between them.

They don't get rained on, although
the clouds hang over the road all the way.
The wind whips in their hair and the miles
flow away beneath their wheels.

Soon they reach the edge
of the city and slow down.

Mick ranges ahead, scouting
for their prey as he weaves
through the lazy traffic.

Eventually he loops back
and they pull over to talk,
dropping their feet down
to steady their motorcycles.

"Remember how Kenzie
told us that five or six people
jumped him?" Mick says.

"Yeah, six on one is just
a disgrace," Blair says.

"Turns out it was seven,"
Mick says. "Four rednecks,
a couple of Jesus freaks, and
their leader is a hatemonger.
Apparently they crossed paths at
a construction project on campus."

"Do any of the enemies pose
a significant threat?" Joseph asks.

Mick shakes his head. "Not to us.
The college kids are no big deal, and
the construction workers are just beef.
Is that going to be a problem?"

"If they wanted a fair fight,
they shouldn't have all picked on
the same victim," Blair says, cracking
her knuckles. "Turnabout is fair play."

Mick gives a snickery, coyote laugh.
"Oh, we'll play all right," he says.
"Follow me, everyone."

As they peel out of the parking lot,
the thunderclouds grumble agreement.

They find the no-good little gang
sneaking up (badly) on the back door
of what looks like a charming gay bar
with a neon cowboy on the roof.

The t-shirts worn by some patrons
make Joseph chuckle -- Save a horse,
ride a cowboy!
-- but it's the alternate design
with a ponyboy that makes him suspect
why this bar is such a target.

There's no trouble confirming
their own prey, because one of
the Jesus freaks is bitching about
the bandaids on his right hand.

"Little beast bit me," he whined.

"It's just a fox, man," said the other.
"We'll set a trap tonight -- I know
where to find a coyote getter."

Mick growls, low and mean,
but they want their enemies
to make the first move here.

When the shortest redneck shoves
a cute boy wearing a horseshoe flag,
Joseph decides that it's time to start
leaving some hoofprints of his own.

He starts with a boot to the rear
of the redneck while Blair shoos
the ponyboy out of the way.

Naturally the other rednecks
pile into the fight while some
of their less-robust friends
egg them on from the side.

Joseph dances back,
tempting the other men
to pursue him as he moves
the fight farther and farther
from the cowboy bar.

They slip into a dark alley --
there is never any shortage of
dark alleys near a gay bar, although
the privacy is questionable and Mick
has his scoutwork cut out for him.

More pushing and shoving ensues,
and Joseph finds it easy to ram
his shoulders into the men and
knock them down to be trampled.

"Fucking hell, this one's a chick!"
shouts the shaggy-haired redneck.

Joseph grins at the meaty thud
which follows that ill-advised remark.
Blair hates getting misgendered.

"Fuck you, bitch!" her victim yells,
and flicks open a switchblade.

"That's what I've been waiting for,"
Ben says, and lets loose a length of
barbed wire around his armored gloves.

He swings it back and forth through
the gang, tearing long shallow rips
in their skin as they scream.

Joseph remembers how Kenzie
looked when they picked him
out of the fence, and he feels
no pity for their enemies.

Mick nips around the edges
of the fight, keeping it contained,
making sure none of the men escape
and no innocent bystanders can
wander into the line of fire.

The two Jesus freaks have
unwisely grabbed makeshift clubs
from the ground to swing at Ben.

He gives them a lazy swat
with the back of his hand that
knocks them into the nearest wall
hard enough to break its boards.

The strength of the bear is in him,
and they are no match for that power.

Two of the rednecks try to trap Blair
between them, but she just laughs
and headbutts one, breaking his nose.

They didn't know they were fighting
a caribou with such a hard head.

From Kenzie's fuzzy description,
Joseph is pretty sure the short one is
the person who threw him out of the truck.

When the offender tries for a backstab,
Joseph lashes out with his full strength and
feels a knee break backwards under the blow.

Normally he doesn't strike to cripple or kill,
just to count coup, but these fools could have
killed Kenzie, and there is a price to pay for that.

The fight begins to break up as rednecks
who remain mobile scoop up their wounded
and beat a hobbling retreat from the alley
as the Iron Horses nip at their heels.

Blair cuts their leader out of the gang,
and even though he has managed to avoid
the worst of the fighting, he can't escape
the hand she wraps around his throat.

Joseph notes the steely glint in her eyes
as she says, "Now you will see the truth
in all its faces, and you will be unable
to turn your gaze away from it. All who
see you will see your truth in return.
No lie will grant you refuge, either
in the speaking or in the hearing.
So the Thunder has spoken!"

As Blair shoves her victim away,
lightning strikes a nearby power pole
with a deafening clap of thunder.

Joseph blinks the dazzle away
in time to see the gaybashers
abandon their fallen leader as
they flee in search of safety.

The man looks to be screaming,
although Joseph can't hear more
than a tinny jangle right now.

Blair bends down to wrap him
in the barbed wire that Ben offers.

The neighborhood has gone dark,
its safeties engaging to keep the surge
from shorting out anything that lies farther
away from the site of the lightning strike.

"That's our cue to get out of Dodge,"
Mick mouths, and Joseph nods.

It's starting to rain in earnest now.

Blair slings her captive over the back
of her motorcycle like a deer carcass.

They swing by the police station
and dump the gaybasher on the steps,
their actions veiled by curtains of water.

By the time they reach the city limits,
though, Joseph has his hearing back
and the storm is easing up a bit.

He waves to the Iron Horses
to pull over, and they stop at
a diner for supper in hopes
that the rain might blow over.

The service there is decent,
the food is good, and the prices
are surprisingly cheap.

The Iron Horses chatter
over their meal, glad to be
done with the dirty work.

By dessert, the rain is
down to a drizzle, and
they'll probably be able
to ride out once they finish.

Joseph can't resist asking Blair,
"So what was up with the leader?"

"You know how some homophobes
are actually homosexuals in disguise?"
she asks, leaning over the table.

"I've seen it, yes," Joseph says.

"Well, sometimes that's not quite
what they're hiding," she says.

Joseph thinks about that,
and about Kenzie's fluid nature,
and how the spirits really don't like
people messing with two-spirited folks.

"And now?" he wonders, tilting his head.

"Thunderbird made her see herself,
and now she can't unsee that," Blair says.

Joseph remembers that it was one of
the tribal council who gave Blair
that blessing in the first place.

"Justice is done," he says,
and thunder calls in the distance.

* * *


James Distant Thunder -- He has light copper skin, brown eyes, and long curly hair that used to be brown but is now mostly gray. His left eye has a silvery streak through it. His heritage includes Lakota, Shoshone, and Pawnee; he speaks all three languages fluently in addition to English and Plains Indian Sign. As an elder, James sits on the tribal council and is known as an excellent judge. He works with troubled youth and solves disputes. His gardening skills include native plants along with imported herbs and vegetables. James often protects his garden with charms made from animal parts.
Origin: As a young man, he performed the Sun Dance. Out of the clear blue sky, a lightning bolt struck the pole and traveled down the leather thongs to James, knocking him back hard enough to tear loose. He was left with Lichtenberg scars that look like wings spread over his chest, and a pale line across his left eye that mars his eyesight.
Uniform: Most of the time he wears comfortable, outdoorsy men's clothes. His powwow regalia has thunderbird designs quilled and beaded onto buckskin.
Qualities: Master (+6) Existential Intelligence, Expert (+4) Elder, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Gardener
Poor (-2) Eyesight
Powers: Good (+2) Thunderbird Powers
Thunderbird powers include flight, life, death, thunder, lightning, rain, and truth. Of these, James can most consistently call on rain, followed by truth. Thunder, lightning, and flight have manifested occasionally. It really depends on what Thunderbird wants to send at any given moment.
Motivation: To serve the truth.

Lightning injuries can cause a variety of effects. Lichtenberg figures are feathery burns that usually fade over time, but sometimes leave scars. About half of lightning survivors have eye injuries, such as cataracts or retinal ruptures.

Gerry Stamer -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He has "USA" tattooed on his left forearm. Although he has never really felt masculine, he fakes it as hard as he can, refusing to admit any other possibility. He has a penis, therefore he has to be a man. He harbors a secret interest in men, but he's not actually a gay man; he's a straight woman. Gerry talked a group of gaybashers into attacking Kenzie Nolan, and is the one who suggested they throw him out of the truck.
Qualities: Good (+2) Charisma, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Troublemaker
Poor (-2) Internalized Transphobia

Hampton Kraus -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair already beginning to recede. He is short and thick. He works in construction. Hampton is beer buddies with Vallance Lobsinger, Jammy Middeldorf, and Pud Overbeck. They participated in beating up Kenzie Nolan. Hampton is the one who threw Kenzie out of the truck.
Qualities: Good (+2) Construction Worker, Good (+2) Beer Buddies, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Short

Vallance Lobsinger
-- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short dark hair. He wears glasses, but still can't see very well. He is tall and sturdy. Vallance is beer buddies with Hampton Kraus, Jammy Middeldorf, and Pud Overbeck. They participated in beating up Kenzie Nolan.
Qualities: Good (+2) Beer Buddies, Good (+2) Smarter Than He Looks, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Vision

Jammy Middeldorf -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and shaggy brown curls. He is skinny and not in great health. He smokes both tobacco and weed, along with even less advisable things. Jammy is beer buddies with Hampton Kraus, Vallance Lobsinger, and Pud Overbeck. They participated in beating up Kenzie Nolan.
Qualities: Good (+2) Beer Buddies, Good (+2) Stoner Lore, Good (+2) Streetwise
Poor (-2) Smoker

Pud Overbeck -- He has fair skin, hazel eyes, and short brown hair. He is skinny and has a serious alcohol problem. Pud is beer buddies with Hampton Kraus, Vallance Lobsinger, and Jammy Middeldorf. They participated in beating up Kenzie Nolan. Pud was driving the truck (drunk, of course) when they threw Kenzie out of it.
Qualities: Good (+2) Beer Buddies, Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Knowing Where to Score
Poor (-2) Drunk

Amaziah "Amazing" Metz -- He has fair skin, blue eyes, and short blond hair. He is a college student with a major in Organizational Leadership and a minor in Bible Studies at South Dakota State University. He wants to help run a church someday. Amazing is friends with Gershon Cork and has not realized they are slowly falling in love, because they both think homosexuality is a sin. They participated in beating up Kenzie Nolan. Amazing was bitten by a fox shortly thereafter.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bible Studies, Good (+2) Tall, Good (+2) Work Ethic
Poor (-2) Zealot

Gershon Cork -- He has tinted skin, blue eyes, and short brown hair. He is a college student with a major in Religious Education and a minor in Child and Adolescent Studies at South Dakota State University. He wants to teach youth programs at a church someday. Gershon is friends with Amaziah "Amazing" Metz and has not realized they are slowly falling in love, because they both think homosexuality is a sin. They participated in beating up Kenzie Nolan.
Qualities: Good (+2) College Student, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Loyal
Poor (-2) Intolerant

* * *

(These links are ugly.)
Gaybashing is a serious threat which has taken many lives, such as Matthew Shepard who was murdered in a situation not unlike Kenzie's. It doesn't just harm queerfolk, though; being mistaken for gay is just one of the ways it can hurt straight people too. Learn how to stop being homophobic or fight homophobia when you see it.

A medicine man is a worker of spirituality and magic who may have access to different abilities depending on tribe and personality. People argue over whether "medicine man" or "shaman" is the preferred term, and there are many other titles across indigenous languages.

Shamanism is the practice of bridging the material world with the spirit world. Practitioners often work with animal guides or other spirits to accomplish their goals. Among the common abilities is finding lost objects or people.

This is a star quilt that someone has loaned to Kenzie, in a style called the whirlwind star. Star quilts of various designs are important in Native American cultures.

Federal reservations include the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

Tobacco prayer ties are traditional artifacts in Native American cultures. Read about making them or watch a video. A note about moon blood, often mentioned in this context: the reason not to make prayer ties while bleeding is the same as why you don't put a magnet next to a compass. Moon blood is so powerful that it tends to overwhelm other types of energy. So the set of rituals that a person can do at that time is different. Prayer ties are often strung into ropes like this.

The medicine wheel or sacred hoop is a circle with a cross through it, appearing in many tribal contexts. In general, circles feature throughout most tribes -- Lakota tipis are even circular at ground level.

A medicine bag is a magical artifact which may hold various contents of magical or spiritual significance. You can buy bags and kits for this purpose.

This is the medicine bag that Smoking Breath gives to the Iron Horses. It's made from smoke-tanned buckskin. The sacred hoop is quillwork. Additional decorations add their own power, such as a wolf claw for trailing prey and a horsehair tassel for speed. Seashells grant protection and define the area of search as Turtle Island (North America). The crinoids come from anthills; ant stones are another source of power and also relate to searching and finding things. Inside the bag go objects which further define its purpose or add power. Often the bag is stuffed with sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, and/or other sacred herbs to keep those contents from shifting around.

Here is the Cowboy Bar. Its souvenir t-shirts usually picture a regular horse, but some show a ponyboy instead. Pony play is a popular type of kink, and a subset of animal roleplay, in which people pretend to be horses or other equines for fun. The pony pride flag features a pair of horseshoes over a black-and-blue background (the colors of kink pride).

(These links are horrible.)
A coyote getter is a device to kill large wildlife, originally with an exploding shell, but now typically with cyanide. The problem is that these things kill far more than coyotes -- including dogs, other predators, and more than a few humans. They are illegal in some but not all areas, probably less used in Terramagne-America than local-America, but still obtainable.

Vigilante or frontier justice happens when people lose faith in the law and/or conventional police simply can't address certain problems. It's more flexible than codified law, but often less accurate. Vigilantes overlap a great deal with superpowers. The Iron Horses aren't actually superheroes or supervillains, although some people call them one or the other; and they aren't exactly vigilantes either, although mainstream police may well consider them as such. They're tribal warriors, which means they do have authority, but they're working with a totally different set of cultural parameters and practices compared to most soups.

Knocking someone across a room can cause serious injuries. In superhero entertainment, it often involves a wall cracking under the impact. Typical injuries include widespread bruising, broken ribs, and concussion. In Terramagne, cape fights are usually dominance fights, but this one is about punishment, so the injuries are deliberate. Bears are immensely strong, and one of their favorite attacks is a slap with a clawed paw.

Headbutting is a popular tactic in fights. Like most antlered deer, caribou have reinforced skulls that make it relatively safe for them to fight by clashing antlers or headbutting each other. A broken nose is a common brawling injury, usually painful but not dangerous. This one is probably more serious than can be fixed by packing it with gauze, though.

(Some of these links are gross.)
Knee injuries can be severe, particularly hyperextension such as occurs when a knee is broken backwards. They are notorious for healing poorly. One reason is because cartilage doesn't regenerate much if at all; tendons and ligaments don't heal easily either, and some nerves won't heal at all once severed. It's common to lose some or all flexibility in the joint, and not rare to lose some sensation or control below the injury. Unless Hampton somehow finds a healer to put his knee back together, he just lost his ablebodied privilege and construction career. Understand how to assess and treat knee injuries.

(So are these.)
Horses are powerful animals with a tendency to kick. Many kicks produce only minor injury due to a glancing blow, and most kicks are fairly casual. By casual I mean the horse wants to push you away, not mash you to paste; even a casual kick can easily leave a hand-sized bruise. A full-force kick often requires medical care, and can cripple or kill.

(These links are tense.)
Transgender people often have problems due to transphobia. This can cause internalized oppression, leading to boomerang bigots such as Gerry. In a trans-hostile environment, young transfolk may repress their nature so thoroughly that they don't even recognize it. Now imagine having that ripped away in an instant by a pissed-off spirit. Know how to handle transphobia.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, weblit, writing
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